Wnf saw the round rolling along the straight a while before they met. Time enough to weigh his options. The flat looked around, keeping it casual. Sunny and warm though the revolution was, he knew it could be his last.
They were the only ones on the straight. And the round looked too big to cover. Wnf flapped along a little slower. He felt the round, too, had slowed her roll. To one side of the straight were a few open highs, to the other a public broad. So she had enough opportunities to avoid him.
She took none, and the flat readied himself.
“Wnf,” he said, when they came abreast. She smelled like fluid.
“Mlp,” the round responded, wobbling affably.
“Hello, Mlp,” he said, encouraged enough to be up front with her: “Well, what do you think?”
“I’ve seen worse flats,” she said with a wobble. “But my found used to say one should always take the tour…. Show me what you’ve got, Wnf.”
The reference touched him. Past tense applied to his found as well, though he couldn’t recall a pithy saying of hers to bring her alive. He considered invoking Found’s Zkian accent and choppy speech, but discarded the thought in favor of taking the invitation.
He flapped a corner. “Your found was wise.”
And with that, he stretched every corner to the limit, and then he stretched some more. When he was done, he was big enough to cover Mlp. Exhilarated, he popped out his sharps and flapped them at her.
“So cool,” she said, wobbling like crazy.
But the display had drawn others. Another round, not as big as Mlp, rolled off the broad toward them. And a second flat, possibly bigger than Wnf before stretching, flapped out of the carved opening to a high.
“Rsj,” the flirty new round said.
“Wnf,” he said, talking over the other flat.
It didn’t work. “Mlp. I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.”
“Gxh,” the rival flat repeated. “Nice to meet you, Mlp. And Rsj.”
Wnf’s sly flap barely moved the gas. “But not me, huh?”
Gxh just launched into an aggressive display. His sharps popped before he even stretched his corners. At full, he was bigger than Wnf. And he kept right on flapping. Then Wnf flapped too, harder and harder, directing it at both rounds. With every flap, the frequency rose until they were vibrating, putting out hums that wove over and under and around each other.
The rounds were rapt.
But Rsj, the smaller one, wanted more than just show. “Take it to the next level, guys. C’mon!”
Ready to go, chemical coursing through their tracts, the flats turned toward each other like buzz-saws.
“Wait,” Mlp screamed. “Retract first—retract your sharps!”
Rsj rolled. “Oh please. Let’s have it all the way.”
Mlp turned on her furiously. “Easy for you to say, you stupid twit.”
“All right, then.” Rsj rolled some more. “Let’s hear it from their cords: are you guys up for really settling this or not? ’Cause that’s what I want—a real flat!”
The flats had paused, their hums trailing off. But at that, Gxh fired up again, keening high over Wnf’s wavering drone.
“How about you, Wnf? You strong enough to be my flat?”
“Or dead enough for nothing.” Mlp’s tone switched from scorn to pleading. “Be smart about this, you guys, please!”
It got to Wnf. He retracted his sharps, stilled his flaps. The drone died, and he was at Gxh’s mercy.
“No backing out,” Gxh roared. “Use the sharps or I will!”
Fighting his survival instincts like crazy, Wnf simply lowered his corners. “Do what you want. I’m done.”
A period passed.
Then Gxh trumpeted his triumph. The sound echoed off the highs and across the broad. Strollers turned to check. Dwellers peeked outside, seemed to recognize Gxh, and withdrew.
Rsj rolled over to him, wobbling seductively. “Let’s go, Gxh.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Forget these losers.”
And they disappeared into the carved opening.
Conflicted, his chemical still high, Wnf turned to Mlp. Taking her in again in the palpable silence, he felt better. Something about her was beautiful. To him, anyway, and that was all that mattered.
“That was exhausting,” she said.
He lifted a corner. “I’m glad, now, that you stopped me.”
“It was brave of you to stop. I was scared for you.”
They paused, still seeing each other afresh. He could smell her fluid once more.
“My found grew up in Zk,” he said eventually. “She didn’t say anything as memorable as yours did, but she had an endearing accent to her last revolution.”
Mlp wobbled at him. “I wish I could have heard it! Love to hear more about her.”
“Love to tell you.”
“Listen, I’m famished. Let’s go find a place where we can ingest some solid while you tell me about her.”
“Makes sense,” he said. “Can’t have you feeling exhausted and famished. Which way should we go?”
“I passed a small place a ways back. Nothing fancy, but it’ll do. Unless you have a better idea?”
“Nah, let’s do it.”
He put a corner to her as she swiveled close, so close he felt chemical shoot through him as they set out together along the straight. It stretched past the highs to a hazy horizontal. Wnf felt he could see the distance the straight would take them.
What was undoubtedly happening right now between Gxh and Rsj would also, sooner or later, happen with them. For all of Gxh’s machismo, he was not destined to stay a flat. Nor was Wnf. He and Mlp would get it on. In a high somewhere, he’d stretch to his utmost, flap like a demon, pop forth his sharps, and cover her. She’d absorb his sharps into the density of her fluid, deep, deeper, until they were humming warm surface to warm surface. The hum would become a keen as the sharps locked. Forever. At fever pitch, pods would fill with fluid and push out of his back, now their unified front.
Then, neither flat nor quite round anymore but at last a found, they—she—would roll out of the high and along the straight, ingesting way more solid to build her strength and feed the pods. Orbits would pass. The pods would expand and, eventually, split open. Little flats and rounds, inhaling their first gas, loudly exercising their new cords, would drop to the straight to be nudged and nursed by their found. Ingesting fluid like little gluttons, they’d grow. Soon they’d get on solid and grow some more. Flapping and wobbling around, they’d look up and say, “Fa?”
Almost bursting with pride, their found would yell, “Yes! I’m your found. Found. Can you say the D? Founduh. That’s right: found.”
More orbits would pass. She’d raise them to be good kids, keep them from wandering off the straight. She’d keep them safe. All the dangers pressing in from the highs, blowing hard off the broad, she’d keep those at bay. Inevitably something would get past her, and she would not be able to save them all. She’d have to get over that fast, put up her guard again, and keep them moving along the straight. Keep them fed. Keep them happy. Keep them learning. Until one fine revolution they’d be grown, the rounds as big as her, the flats bigger, protecting her now, all of them, fending off danger before she even knew of it.
Yet danger would sneak up on her from the one place they couldn’t guard: her insides. Right about then, with her replacements—Wnf’s and Mlp’s replacements—firmly in place, the universe would deem her superfluous. Built-in expiry dates would pass, self-destruct mechanisms would kick in, and she’d start to implode. Slowly. Painfully. Unstoppably. Her very fluid would evaporate, leaving her a weak, shrunken raisin, until one sad revolution they’d all gather around her, and she’d say her last goodbyes.
After she was gone, the brood would lose cohesion, spread out a little, maybe cross the broad, travel other straights. A few might even reach Zk. Her handsome flats would meet rounds along the way, her beautiful rounds would meet flats. They’d say, “You know, my found had the faintest trace of an accent. Not all the time, just some random word now and then that sounded a little different coming from Found. I could never quite place it. Until now! I honestly think, listening to you, it may have been Zkian.” Charmed, their new friends would flap or wobble encouragingly, then ask for the tour or give it.
And life would continue.
Sohrab’s first book, Ticket to Minto: Stories of India and America, was the first by an Asian American to win the Iowa Short Fiction Award. His novel, Go Home, was shortlisted by Stanford University Libraries for the William Saroyan International Prize. An excerpt, ‘Distant Vision,’ in Slice was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He taught literature and creative writing at University of North Florida and was Visiting Writer in Residence at Augsburg College. He was an artist in residence at Yaddo and a Florida Individual Artist Fellow in Literature/Fiction. The South Asian Literary Association (that’s right, SALA) bestowed on him its Distinguished Achievement Award. His website is http://www.fracis.com.