The insect pursues an oblivious Marine through a warren of hallways. The generator is down, but daylight, streamed from overhead, glances off of polished floors, giltwood cartouches and silver mirrors, illumes heraldic patterns and fades volatile pigments. Veering into the Oval Chamber, the trooper stops to inspect a jammed assault rifle; the insect loses interest but remains.
The room is an elegant nexus with multiple connecting doors. Casualties litter the floor; cowled volunteers stoop over them and aggravate their wounds. A perfume like sweetened rust mixed with fat mixed with lint rises to the cupola far above, where it will exit open vents and mingle with fresh morning air along linden-flanked boulevards.
A quad UAV negotiates a half-open door. Though quiet, its entry galvanizes the insect, which darts between whirring props toward a raised platform installed above the GPS module. A miniature stage composed of walnut board with chamfered corners and a dark mottled veneer, it houses a perpendicular wheel sectioned into four painted backdrops and a bronze-mounted, triple-beveled viewing lens. The insect alights behind the latter, magnified and ready for action.
Any genus of phasmids endemic to these interiors is fated to evolve a repertoire that makes humans reluctant to kill it. One might abruptly change its color or develop stripes. It might fold a trinket out of a tiny paper scrap using only its antennae, or exude an absurdly pleasant defensive odor, or gesticulate like a character from local tradition.
And now, with the backdrop wheel set to a stock pastoral vista (furnished with a meadow, grove and weedy balustrade), this specimen initiates a dumbshow familiar (one assumes) to a previous generation: Curving backward on its hind legs with the middle pair folded away and upper femurs and tarsi theatrically flailing, it mimes the protestations of a certain goatherdess whose suitor wooed her by making appear, as if by magic, a floating cornucopia of roses and doves — which soon became a storm cloud teeming with incontinent bats once the actual conjuror (hiding in nearby foliage) was stung by nettles. At least, the creature’s current motions would best support this reading.
But the blind instinct that chose the sketch was in error: The requisite props and overhead machinery are absent, and the suitor was only a wobbling glimmer bounced from a mirror, now dispelled by a slight tilt of the drone. This will make no real difference, as no one alive in the whole room has been paying attention. Then again, this hovering theater, like some low-hanging chandelier, is in perfect consonance with the other fixtures, with the silk-lined wall panels of intense green, with hand-stamped patterns of silver narcissi, with neatly bloused trouser legs, spent casings and spotless glazed vessels overflowing with fresh daffodils.
Colin Raff is a writer, visual artist and animator of American origin based almost gratuitously in Berlin. Find a mess of pertinent links and follow him at his Twitter account: @zestybagatelles