Author: Josie Gowler

“What do you see?”

The last bandage came off and I opened my eyes, blinking hard. Even in the low lighting, everything was stark and clear. And astonishing, vibrant, like I could taste and hear the colours. But I wasn’t going to say that. That just sounded crazy.

“Seven, all seven. Bright,” I replied. “I mean, I’d heard about it, I could pick out some of them, I knew the mnemonic, but I’d never… I’d never appreciated it, you know?”

“Does it give you a headache?” Dr Noakes asked.

“No… no… it’s just… well, hard to explain. Same as when people used to say ‘what’s it like?’ and I gave them a funny look because the whole point was that I didn’t know what being colorblind was like because I’d always been colorblind.”

“Here, try this.”

Dr Noakes held up some cards covered in coloured dots to do an Ishihara test. I laughed out loud. The letters were so obvious now, leaping out from their background of blobs of other colours. I read them out easily. Previously I couldn’t see any letters at all.

“So, what’s the first thing you’re going to do once you get out of here?”
“I’m going to enjoy the journey back home, marvel at seeing everything as nature intended it… then I’m going to redecorate the house. I bet it looks horrible to me now.”

Dr Noakes laughed. “Now you’ll get to find out whether your husband was simply being polite about your choices.”

“I never appreciated what colorblindness really was until now I’m not colorblind any more. This is awesome.”

“What can I say, Lieutenant, other than welcome to the space programme. Such a waste, careers being closed off because of something as trivial as a few cones in the back of the eyeballs.”

I stood up and stretched, grinning. “Thank you, Doctor. And about the other… proposal, that’s fine by me too.”

Dr Noakes chuckled. “Well, let’s get you used to seven colours before we branch out. Not like the tech’s going anywhere.”

“Well, whenever you think I’m ready,” I said. Two PhDs and an exobiology career in the military, I knew I’d always been ready, and that was before I studied agronomy as an extra.

Dr Noakes carried on. “With your experiences of having been colorblind and then not, you’ll have more idea of what it felt like to be the aliens, how UV and IR expanded their range….”

“And how it enabled them to use their food production tech,” I finished for him.

Dr. Noakes smiled. “I’ll leave you to get used to the change and call back in an hour. All being well, you’ll be on your way home by dinnertime.”

He left the room. I picked up my hand terminal and flicked through the pictures I’d got stored there. Circuit diagrams were suddenly brighter: I could figure them out in an instant. And with the next upgrade, who could tell what would happen? Yeah, people had used goggles and filters, but it wasn’t going to be like living the colours. I knew that from my forays with colorblindness-fixing glasses compared with the eyeball upgrade I had now. And that was why I reckoned we couldn’t get the alien tech to work – it simply didn’t understand us on a visceral level. And solving that would mean food for everyone, both home system and colonies.

I stood up and walked over to the window and stared at the bluest sky I had ever seen. And now I was actually going to travel beyond it.