Darko Macan is probably best known outside Croatia as a writer of scenarios for comics, working for Marvel and Dark Hose, amongst others. Nevertheless, his activities spread from writing and illustration to editing, and he won SFERA Award four times. Living in Zagreb, he is generally considered one of the leading personalities of Croatian SF generation that arose during nineteen-nineties, having published two novels and other works. The story we bring you here won the first place on the short-story competition held in the Croatian region of Istria this year.
ACROSS THE KALAVALAHALATINE
Translated with the invaluable assistance by Tatjana Jambrišak
The turquoise orb of Wife, our principle star, has risen over the immense ocean of tiny, dark-blue crystals. The seven of us are treading over the endless emptiness of the Kalavalahalatine desert, with our human friends and their equipment on our backs.
I am the fourth in the column. Right in front of me my friend Norozorobuck waddles, whose rump is swaying before my snout in the rhythm of our sixsteps with a hypnotic regularity, which reminds me of a supple stir of the bitches that our friends the humans rewarded us with, last night, in the pen.
Bitches bitches bitches, my insides are singing happily.
Bitches bitches bitches.
Bitches bitches bitches bitches bitches bitches bitches bitches bitches bitches…
The turquoise darling Wife is joined today by New Husband, her small but radiant orange companion, circling low over the horizon. He adornes the crystals of the Kalavalahalatine with a deep green sparkle, and this is a fitting color for a day-long walk. It is warmer than yesterday, yet not unpleasant.
I am the third in the column. We take turns leading, for in the desert it is easy to follow, but hard to lead. “You will take turns,” said our friends the humans while strapping their equipment onto us, saddling us for the trip. It was a wise decision, it is much easier this way.
A moment ago we paused for a while because Achtibachtinono has hurt one of his sidelegs. The wound does not look bad – his shin has been rubbing against his armor a bit too much during the long march – yet our friends the humans decided to dress the wound anyway and to redistribute a part of Achtibachtinono’s burden onto us, the younger ones. I would not be surprised to find out that Achtibachtinono, that old shirker, has arranged somehow for this wound in order to lighten up his burden. It would not be the first time.
It seemed like Norozorobuck has wanted to tell me something during the halt, but he was not very clear and I preferred a roll in the crystals to talking with him, anyway. A good roll cleans you from the parasites and the green sand’s warmth was coy, reminding me thus once more of the night before the last and the pleasures of the pen.
Ah, the bitches!
Bitches, bitches, bitches.
The turquoise Wife and her orange New Husband twirl in their wedding dance above our heads. The flames of their passion make the Kalavalahalatine perspire, its sweat vaporizing instantly. The horizon is ashen and blue and white and hazy with the mist.
I am the second in the column, right behind the Norozorobuck. Neither does his posterior wobble as the other day, nor am I paying attention. The protective scales are covering our eyes, half of our hearts working on cooling the feet; the future does not extend past the next sixstep.
Then, at the very moment of the star climax, it is as if I am hearing someone’s voice. And yes, it is Norozorobuck and I receive him a lot clearer today, my mind feels sharper, despite the heat.
“Balichalidon!”, he is calling me: “Balichalidon!”
“Norozorobuck? What is it?”
“Can you see what they are doing to us?”
“Who does what to us?”
“Our friends the humans?”
“No friends, them! Can’t you see what they are doing to us?”
For a moment I almost do, but the heat makes it hard to think and the images Norozorobuck is sending are not clear. Let the evening come, let the evening come, let the evening come…
Achtibachtinono died while I was in the lead. His death pains me and I feel it as my responsibility even though I know I could not have helped him. The wound on his sideleg has infected and festered, and he kept quiet while the poison was killing off his hearts, one by one. He would not say a word so not to slow us down. He was dead for at least two leagues before he collapsed. When my turn to die comes, I hope to do it with half a such devotion and dignity that Achtibachtinono showed.
When the celestial spouses reached the zenith I felt that all of us shall die today. Spurned Mistress appeared on the horizon, the rarest seen of our suns. Purple-red is she, like an overripe fruit or poisoned blood, and she is lunging at the Spouses with fervor, the blaze of her rage joining the flames of their conjugal passion and threatening to destroy all of us, all their children lost on the black sands of the Kalavalahalatine desert.
With my head bowed deep, I treaded on. I led the column which depended on me today. I treaded on, seeing nothing but the black sand. And suddenly, from the well of suppressed knowledge, a memory appeared – a thought that we should not be walking across the black sands. In the days of black sand our people stay at home. In the days of black sand we do not go marching across the deadly plains of the Kalavalahalatine!
“Norozorobuck!”, I called to my friend at the rear. My mind was weeping.
“Can you see?”, he asked me. “Balichalidon, can you see?”
The sands were brown. Wife and the Spurned Mistress have hid behind the horizon for a day, to decide with a fight to whom New Husband would belong tomorrow. It was less torrid and we could breathe with more ease.
At the rear of the column, Norozorobuck and I talked.
“Do you remember, Balichalidon?”
“Do you remember everything?”
I remembered everything. I remembered our life from before the humans came. Our long, prodzctive mindtalks, our learning and arts, our cities, our culture built under tens of thousands of cycles of the stellar drama, the culture sired in the days when New Husband was still called Son and lived with Spurned Mistress, then called Daughter; in the days when Wife was contently living with her first Husband.
“What did they do to us, Norozorobuck? How?”
“Do you remember the barrier?”
I remembered the barrier. I remembered the cities split into male sectors and female sectors. I remembered the lesson that was taught to us in the days when the first Husband burst from too much passion and created the Kalavalahalatine desert.
“Once a year!”, Norozorobuck was confirming all my recollections: “We saw the bitches once a year! Because, because…”
“…because our people would amount to nothing otherwise!”, I finished his sentence.
My people are not like the humans. My people can think of nothing but mating when males and bitches are near each other. We are like the stars which have to dance regardless of what their passions consume. And after the mating, for days after the mating, our minds are dull. We do not talk and do not think. We do what we are told, witlessly content.
The humans used this trait of ours against us. Our friends the humans. No friends, them.
“We have to wake the others!”
“We have to!”
“We have to rebel!”
“We have to!”
“We have to stomp them into the ground!”
“We have to!”
By the morrow’s midday, Norozorobuck and I managed to more or less wake up the remaining four of our people. We explained to everyone what our friends – no friends – the humans, did to us, how did they ensure our obedience. We made them all angry. New Husband was making love to Spurned Mistress in the sky, and their glow turned the sands into a whiter shade of violet, but we burned hotter than even them. We were ablaze with shame and the thirst for revenge. We desired human blood.
Compared to us, the humans were puny, fragile, their senses underdeveloped, having even no armor. Soon, at Norozorobuck’s signal, we would rear up, throw down them and their equipment and crush them into the dust finer than the crystals of the Kalavalahalatine. Soon!
Then, the warm desert winds had brought us a trace of the scent from a station a half a day away. All of our senses were better developed than those of the humans, we can sniff what they can not imagine. So we knew, all of us, that in the station half a day away there was a cold water reservoir and, nearby, a pen.
A pen with bitches.
As one, no talk and no signal, we sped up. The humans on our backs were taken aback for a moment – the one on my back almost fell over – but then they started laughing and whipping us, spurring us to trot.
Trot, mind you! By ourselves, we were galloping already.
The endless Kalavalahalatine is light blue today. Spurned Mistress has been spurned again and Wife is coming back to her New husband.
I am fourth in the column, behind the new bull that our friends the humans have bought at the station. His rump is bobbing perkily in front of my snout and I find pleasure in walking behind it, a sixstep after sixstep, my insides singing contently.