The Pulse: Paris & Skrakta
The Horsefly & the Rose
Meant to Be
Horsefly was probably the horniest creature in the entire Kraslika. But when he saw Tarandafilla his stinger stopped its frenzied twitching. His whole body was calmed, from his five buzzing antennae to the hundreds of tiny suction cups that lined his posterior tarsal pads, which were constantly on alert, primed to eject from their centres exact degrees of watery glue onto the surface of whatever they touched.
Up until this moment Horsefly felt that he'd been living his life in a blender, being diced and sliced by every strange desire he couldn’t control. Yet everything changed the moment he set his eyes on Tarandafilla. Now he felt that he was being poured into a long, flat martini crystal. He felt that he was lingering in alcoholic splendor while the flavours of the moment waltzed and tangoed in the languor of a long afternoon.
Tarandafilla on the other hand saw Horsefly and immediately woke up from her usual torpor. Sitting at her desk on the 273rd floor of the Elysée Tower, she spent hours dreaming of things that floated and hummed, tranquil in a quiescent pink sea. In one of her more inchoate fantasies, she imagined herself swimming in a thick turquoise and emerald swamp. Her lithe, serpentine body swam like a water eel in the turgid liquid when all of a sudden a large bright bird darted in the air above her. She couldn’t see if it darted up or down because at that precise moment she saw Horsefly flit through the portal and into the office. He went from the elevators to the middle of the office in a sixteenth of a second. This was slow-motion for a Dalitian, yet it was considered the polite thing to do when visiting other galaxies — otherwise it looked like the Dalitian had appeared out of nowhere, which was a scary thing to see at any time.
Horsefly was eight feet long (not counting his stinger or wings) and his body was rock-hard in places and leather-like in others. His thorax and abdomen were jet black, offset by wavy patterns in navy and silver. His head was multi-coloured and decorated with the more intricate patterns of his thorax. He reminded Tarandafilla of the Fallarian horsefly she’d seen on the weekend in the Bois de Boulogne, only he was ten times larger, and a hundred times faster. He had twelve wings of various sizes. His two large wings allowed him to soar over large distances at speeds of over 300 kilometres an hour, while the ten small ones allowed him to manoevre with agility, darting in confined spaces in a split second. The speed of his movements in confined spaces was like that of a hummingbird, yet his body was large and powerful, graceful and equine, sumptuous and irresistible.
Horsefly flitted up to her desk and hovered there for several seconds before telling her that he had been invited to this office for an interview. Tarandafilla had difficulty responding because she was mesmerized by his stinger. It was muscular, ribbed, erect, a full sixteen inches long. The satin folds of her slender body instinctively wanted to form a coil, with her six tongues lining the tunnel she would make to devour his agile prothorax, his tapered thorax, and finally his glistening green wings. At the end of the tunnel, just at the tip of his stinger was her labial cranium, the lips of her brain.
The Planet Skrakta
The Dalitians and the Vallorians were destined to find each other, yet this didn't seem obvious for the first five billion years of their history. Indeed, the Dalitians started out as a serf-race, held in bondage to the hooded Superions, while the Vallorians were for over ten thousand years mere accountants in the great hierarchy of the Pink Sea, the most powerful echelons of which were located in the galaxy of Vallorità. This galaxy was formally invaded ten thousand years ago by the Seabreezers, who were content to let the conquered inhabitants live, as long as they proved themselves useful to the Seabreeze Empire.
The Dalitians were initially a scornful, bitter species from the planet Skrakta. The Dalitians were like this because they lived for over 50 thousand years beneath the yoke of the Superions. A Superion wouldn’t touch a Dalitian even if the Superion was slipping off the edge of the Gilzat Cliff and the Dalitian held out its dark little tarsal pad to rescue it from falling into the Fiery Abyss. If not for the intervention of the Bakhtars, the Dalitians would still be toiling beneath the Superion’s electric shackles. Without the Bakhtars, they would still be cleaning the toilets, servicing the Superions’ sexual needs, ridding the foothills of infectious mites and bacteria, or serving as whipping posts whenever Superions were in bad moods.
The Bakhtars are high-flying birds who can carry massive tanks of radioactive poison. 25 thousand years ago they started dropping these on the Superions whenever they treated the inhabitants of Skrakta as slaves. The Superions soon learned to treat their fellow Skraktans with dignity, and soon made their dignity a hallmark of their superior virtue.
Superions come from either the Anglott, Bramzatt, Parsnip, or Zermatt clans, all of whom inhabit the Mount Blonque Mountain Range. This range forms a continuous belt along the 220,0000 kilometre equator. The Range is about six kilometres wide and has an average height of seven thousand metres. The capital city district, Shambalalaland (“Golden in the Sunset”), has a population of 86 million and sat above the thick clouds at 12 thousand meters.
From their lofty peaks, the Superions literally and figuratively look down on the swamp and jungle dwellers beneath them, only bothering to swat them occasionally when they tried to climb up to safety from the millions of infectious diseases and blood-curdling predators that plagued their perilous lives. Before the Bakhtars interrupted the reign of the Superions, the various Skraktan species were terrified of breaking their rules, which forbade killing and eating each other, or doing anything that would otherwise interrupt the economic system the Superions had set up to maintain their cool and fragrant mountain kingdom. As soon as the Bakhtars saved the Dalitians and the other Skraktans from the Superions, all hell broke loose. Species ate species, and all the built-up resentments of history surfaced from the deep waters and dense jungles. Only the most agile and powerful species suyrvived. The brutality of the struggle only confirmed to the Superions that they had once been the benevolent patrons of a Golden Age. The inconceivable brutality lasted for five hundred years, after which an alliance was formed between the Dalitians, the Bendagadians, and the Devagarians. Vegetarian laws were passed, and the Bakhtars enforced them from above.
Only later was it disclosed that the Bakhtars weren’t from the planet of Skrakta. They were in fact advance squadrons of the Badrigar Empire. They were sent from Badrigar Prime to take down the Superions before they got any ideas about space travel.
Learning to Fly
Horsefly was an orphan from a small village in the vast swamp of Miasmabite. In his native mandible (or tongue), his name sounded like Ztrpfliltlic. If humans were to pronounce this accurately, they would need to have two velcro-coated tongues and quickly rub them together in the same way one might clang two cymbals. This would also need to be accompanied by tripple notes played simultaneously by seven sitars, seven ouds, and thirteen electric guitars. Ztrpfliltlic is best translated as 'Horsefly,' which on Skrakta were small insects that plagued the slim, eloquent trees of Klashmara, the silky talking forest that took a different shape and spoke a different language each time it entered one of its fourteen seasons. The trees resented the insects, and wished that they had stingers or glands that could poison their tormentors. Yet, alas, they were just singing trees, and remained at the mercy of tour operators and singing-tree importers who disrupted their choirs and arias on a daily basis.
One day Horsefly’s parents were so mesmerized by the bright lights of Shambalalaland that they completely forgot about their little cocoon, who was the pride of the family’s holometabolous nursery. Their abrupt departure didn’t bother Horsefly, however, since he had never been interested in what his parents said. Even in the cocoon he knew they would never really let him spread his wings.
The parents never came back to Miasmabite, having made millions on the Casino Tunnels, and having made it all the way to the Final Tunnel, that took them to a place that no Dalitian outside the Gambling Committee had ever been permitted to write about. It was rumoured, however, that beyond the Final Tunnel lay the Candyland of Bright Glittering Things, edible chocolate honeycombs, seventy-armed goddesses (which is alot of arms, even for a Dalitian), flying laptogills which float in watery currents of turquoise nectar with the aid of their three-metre wings (which are large, even for a Dalitian), and sub-orange jetways which take the lucky winners in mere seconds to the best restaurants on the estern edges of the Frozen Skiff. No one blamed the parents at all, since every Dalitian would have done the same.
As a result, Horsefly had to transform himself into a kinderfly all on his own. He didn't mind, however, since this gave him the opportunity to go wherever he pleased, flicking from one stalk of nursery grass to the next. Without his parents, he could flick into any nursery cell he chose. He spent time in the dodgiest cells, one week experimenting with the effect of polyisomangsters and exquisilicites, and the next sticking his stinger into every sort of blissful toxic angiomorph imported or invented by the nursery scientists. Because the scientists were perpetually buzzed on the angioboxes and angiosliders they invented, they had no time to worry about teenagers sowing their wild oats. Sometimes a hyperganglian scientist would take a stray youngster under its thirteen wings to do secret experiments. The papers this allowed the hyperganglion to publish garnered it praise in the highest echelons of the Badrigar military squadrons. They were given coveted seats to the stinging matches held monthly in the Oscoleum. The hyperganglions enjoyed watching the matches, yet they were an ambitious lot: while the other spectators threw popcorn into the air and sang, they diligently took notes about the death-throttles of alien species, and about subtle jabbing techniques that were so fast and so hidden that even the Badrigar military experts couldn’t see them. The observations of the hyperganglians garnered them even more praise and even better seats to the stinger games, from which they could also see the way the aliens were herded into the ring and dissected upon their removal.
When Horsefly morphed into an adult Dalitian, he vaulted from skyscraper to desert well, in search of new sensations that could satisfy that itching bliss that his stinger demanded at accelerating rates. Travelling on the orange beams and networks that crisscrossed Kraslika from the pinnacles of Vicnio Prossima to the gulfs of Fallar Prime, he arrived at last in the recently civilized city of Paris, on a planaet called Earth.
Tarandafilla didn’t dare tell the stranger what she was thinking — that finally her dream of marrying a flying unicorn would come true. The bright darting thing she saw in her daydream a few moments ago, darting above the teal swamp, was in fact this alien, this virile form she had never seen before. She felt like she knew this with an absolute certainty. But how could she know this? She’d worked in almost every major sector of the Nordern hemisphere, yet she’d never seen anything like him before. Looking down at the resume on her screen she realized the reason why: he wasn't from the Nordern hemisphere at all. He was from the Soodbelt! No wonder he was built the way he was: he was from one of the scariest, most violent cosmoi in the Kraslika: the Frozen Skiff. She had heard rumours about life in the dark or blinding, icy or fiery realms of the Skiff, but she had never imagined that these lands might produce such magnificent beings.
While Tarandafilla was in fact twice as large, and twice as beautiful as the stranger from the Frozen Skiff, for a moment she felt intimidated, but in a way that made her want to bow to the sovereignty of the powerful warrior before her. She felt like a malnourished shepherd's daughter on a scruffy island off the coast of northern Scotland — when across the icy water she saw a Viking longboat battering the waves. On its prow she saw a rugged blond-haired god who could with his hatchet wreak more damage and provide more riches for his family than all the wealthy landowners of the south.
She wanted to be protected by him, bear his offspring, and play the domestic headmistress so that their children would one day sail from one galactic island to the next, collecting glory and tribute everywhere they set their seal. Together, their two races would create the most powerful, most intelligent, most agile and swift-moving species known in the thirteen cosmoi. They would call them the Quetzelcoatlaii, from the winged serpent of early Mesoamerica.
First, they would take over the Midbelt, flicking aside the Green Buzzards, the Violet Hoopers, and the clueless Baulians. Then they would bend to their will the entire Kraslika, from the swampy darkness of the Fallarian Deep to the honey-combed refulgence of the Vicinese Heights.
All this she saw in his thousand eyes, each one on which directed its hypnotized stalks directly at the secretary who he saw sitting before him, the most beautiful slithering creature he had seen in his life.
Fra Sole had done impeccable work.
Next: From the Battery