The Horse Chestnuts

A galaxy of blood oranges burst all around them, planets and stars glowing with the same sensual twilight. It was an unexpected development, a surprise of physics and mathematics. The smoking paralus crashed into the surface of a planet covered in silver streams and expansive horse chestnut trees. It was forever autumn here. The surviving paraloi disembarked. Several of them gifted in rhetoric gave speeches on the correct course of action. They voted and decided to explore, forage, salvage and scavenge before the next meeting. After voting, the paraloi sang the paean and set off into the woods to gather and eat the horse chestnuts. The horse chestnuts were shiny and delicious. Besides being narcotic, they enabled the paraloi to calculate and meditate at hitherto unknown speeds. Before long, they had measured the circumference of the planet, established its rotation and revolutions, counted all the blood oranges in the night sky, and discovered their lack of food security. Moreover, they began to experience symptoms of poisoning, for horse chestnuts are toxic elsewhere as they are here. Although some were content to eat other things, the majority consumed the horse chestnuts. They met again to vote on the next steps of their adventure. There were long speeches. They voted to conquer the planet, enforce their hegemony over the trees, find a way to return home, make the voyage home, and build trade routes for transporting and selling the horse chestnuts. Once again, they sang the paean and set off to implement their schemes. One would often see one of the paraloi, covered in sick and still cramming raw or cooked chestnuts into his mouth, his eyes lost to faraway dreams or investigations. Others leaned against trees, coughing blood from their lungs and weeping. They invariably lost weight. At another meeting, one of the speakers announced that he was the first wanax of the planet. All native aliens–if any were discovered–and paraloi would be subject to him and pay tributes of horse chestnuts and other materials. The wanax had already selected some paraloi to form a bodyguard. All voted in favour, sang the paean, and entered into a new life of tending trees, gathering and processing horse chestnuts, serving their brutal wanax and waiting for their next narcosis that would alleviate the symptoms of poison and withdrawal. Most were slowly starving to death or succumbing to the toxicity. None were able to think of repairing the paralus and returning home. Runaways left the horse chestnut forests behind to dwell in the gray mountains. Their bodies slowly healed. Desertion meant that they were no longer citizens or paraloi, no longer entitled to speak, vote or sing the paean with the other paraloi. In silence, they ate colorless things from the mountains. Sometimes, a runaway would recall the symptoms of toxicity and shudder, but would still miss the taste, texture and golden pulp of the horse chestnuts with their fragrant narcosis. Some would briefly return to the woods to steal a handful of treats, but would see that the horse chestnuts were really quite colorless, tasteless and dysphoric. Straightaway, they would be running back to the silence and the peace beyond the trees.The mountains were gray and empty. The blood oranges were far, far away.