My complete stories & my book ORPHANS

by Steve Schlich


The sonic booms came while Alt and his comrades lay on their backs in the soft swamp moss. Their spindly legs gaggled upward in imitation of the weeds. Boom-boom-boom! All flinched at the unexpected noise from above. The small forest of multi-jointed legs quivered stiffly, listening, tracking the noise across the sky until the movement became painful.

The boom was followed by a distant rumbling that grew steadily louder. Patches of the leg forest abandoned the watch and flexed ritually to restore circulation. Alt's huddle was a race of compact, overstuffed creatures; gravity and their tight hides pinched the flow of blood unless their joints were exercised often. Out of the water, life was a constant search for the position of comfort that did not exist.

Gray-green hillocks smothered with leafless, spongy-limbed trees and moss sprawled across Alt's planet like loose carpeting. A network of wide, shallow swampy rivers veined this fuzzy topography. There were no oceans. In the distance across the river from Alt, a trio of peaks excepted the geological rule and jutted skyward. At day's end, the sun would impale itself upon them before dropping behind, a dull red coin in the perpetual mist.

But the sun was simply a warm blur to Alt and his friends, and the savagely beautiful peaks a distortion of terrifying dimensions. They were the towers of sickness and insanity. Alt had been much closer to Three Vertigo than his present side of the river, but he feared the way it upset his perceptions.

Considered differently, the peaks made a reliable landmark.

The tiny hyperspace scout ship clapped off a final sonic boom and spat retrofire in a wide arc over the landmark. It set down tiredly in an open area between the peaks and Alt's swamp. Alt was not equipped to "see" the landing or the two humans who descended a ladder to the planet's surface, but vibrations in the mist and the ground telegraphed their version of these events to him.

Alt's group maneuvered into a tight floating huddle, linking minds to consider this newness. It lacked an adequate name: "Maker of Rumblings in the Direction of the Three Vertigo?" No, a true name told a thing's reason, not merely its result. That knowledge was a prize.

Fear and curiosity washed the group consciousness in alternate waves. Unnames bred confusion; they could be dangerous. Yet naming required impressions, images... contact. That could result in death. Fear had no firm grip on Alt. He drew an image of the huddle much closer to the Unname, gathering finer impressions but still safe. He let the excitement of a fresh contact flow from him to the others. With some reluctance, they agreed.

They broke the formation and made their way to the opposite side of the swamp. The water around them was filmy with the chemical residue of their thought-link. They moved in single file, maintaining a light contact, threading the trees toward the "Maker of Rumblings" like a string of beads drawn through a maze.

A different sort of residue remained with Alt. Of all in his group, he felt it strongest. The drive—the need to know more—that kept them moving toward potential danger was the same irresistible urge that always coaxed them out of the water. And the water was their womb, the weightless Mother who freed them from gravity's constrictions and pinches. The drive: Why are things?

Sometimes after a painful day on land, a dark answer to that question echoed down the mirrored mental hallways of communication: Why leave the water to find out?

The light contact that the creatures maintained was a wispy link of daydreams. Random images asserted themselves from all points as individuals sifted the collective memory. Each contributed his part to the whole, but drew his own conclusions.

Quivers of fear and wonder played along the line as they approached their destination. Vertigo! Insanity! The new thing was a pillar of it, smaller than Three Vertigo but oh so painfully dense. The dark energy that always surrounded a thing of vertigo shimmered before them like a translucent curtain. Hesitation fastened the group's feet to the ground. Alt fought it, loosened and washed it away with his images of safety and joy and contact. Movement began again. The line spiraled inward around the bubble of vertigo until the creatures ringed it three deep and could sense the object within.

The edge of influence was sharp, with little impurity. This single pillar of sickness had not grown. Nor was it solid and lifeless like Three Vertigo. One Vertigo held separate movements within, independent shapes. Visitors? The vertigo's energy blurred all but the ghosts of images to Alt. Bah, what living creature could survive in the belly of such concentrated vertigo?

The group's link strengthened. Conclusions orbited the circle with the speed of electrons. One Vertigo had come from above, that was sure. Had it come from the peaks of Three Vertigo? But One was only similar to Three, not its duplicate. All previous things from above had struck the ground and remained still. Some had been weak chunks of sickness. One Vertigo dwarfed all previous things from above. One Vertigo was a thing totally new.

The circle swayed as its members worked their limbs to restore circulation. Alt knew what must happen next, and he drew soft images of it for the others. Curiosity fought fear again in a dizzying spiral, and won again. The action was decided.

Dark friction filled Alt as he left the circle's security, broke through the barrier of vertigo and started toward the moving shapes. He was like the mist before a storm, heavy and swollen with anticipation. Inside the sharp boundary of influence, One Vertigo's drain on him grew very strong. He had to keep control of himself. Without control, he faced a swift progression of loss: from his circulation to his mobility to his life.

The task of Naming had fallen to Alt. In truth, he had sought it out. He wondered if it would bring about his enlightenment or his downfall.


Captain Jacobs cavorted like an overweight child on the rubbery surface of the new planet, shaking the stiffness from his bones after a cramped month in hyperspace. The bulge at his midsection flopped dreamily in the 56% gravity. He rarely felt this exhilarated after twenty jaded years of strange new worlds, and he wanted to preserve it somehow for later use. He knew it wouldn't last.

Crewman Lamm denied himself the relaxation and concentrated instead on the tourist's load of instruments slung around his neck. A spindly man with sandy hair and pinkish cheeks, he was like a squirrel intently gathering nuts for the winter: measure this, record that, compare these. This mission was close to the Captain's hundredth, but it was Lamm's first.

"Will you look at those mountains?"

Jacobs discovered the trio of peaks as if no living thing had ever viewed them before. Besides the ship, those peaks were the only break in the gray-green panorama. The ship's instrumentation had spotted them from orbit and had chosen this landing site because of them.

Lamm frowned. "We guessed right. They're the only concentration metal on this metal on this whole planet. Like a big spike glued to a sponge ball. It could play hell with any magnetic equipment we have."

Jacobs eyed Lamm; the man looked like a walking equipment locker. He felt his good mood fading. "Where's the Holoflex? Have you got it?"

Lamm disentangled himself from several straps and produced the camera. Jacobs accepted it with a disapproving glare. Lamm shrugged. "I didn't want to come out unprepared."

"Fine," sighed Jacobs. "Fine." He began taking pictures of the peaks.

With the elbow room of an entire planet now, things would at least be finer than they had been. In some ways, Jacobs pitied his intense young crewman. The kid wore an ex-Saint Christopher medal for a good luck charm. He guarded his instruments like a jealous lover. And he seemed to have memorized the mission manual.

Conclusion: Lamm was in Exploration to hide from something. Unhappy love life? Overbearing family? Himself? When you got down to it, the motivation didn't matter. What mattered was that Lamm immersed himself in procedures and regulations that Jacobs had spent years learning to disregard. What mattered was the endless minutiae that carried so much baggage on the kid's logic train. What mattered was that Lamm brought to his tunnel vision an innocent youthful exuberance that had long ago atrophied in the Captain.

In some ways, Jacobs hated Lamm's guts.

"ALERT!" Lamm's voice cut through the mental haze. Jacobs looked up to see a lone creature moving toward them. It was gray-green like the surroundings, and he had to look closely to make out its exact shape. When the initial surprise wore off, he burst out laughing.

The thing was a waist-high fuzzy footstool! Four legs with multiple joints rippled beneath as it glided toward them. Jacobs' laughter died abruptly as a stench rivaling fresh manure reached him. He fumbled through his pockets and thumbed a pair of nostril filters into place. Lamm did the same. The instruments that okayed planetary atmosphere for human consumption did not take odor into account.

The creature stumbled, regained its balance, and halted some thirty meters from the ship. It swayed, edged forward another meter, and stayed there.

"What in hell?" Jacobs squinted at their visitor. "Thing looks like a footstool and smells like a pig farm!"

"It's alive, that I'll guarantee. Has to be, to stink like that!" Lamm started toward it casually. "I hope it's friendly."

"STOP!" Jacobs shouted. "What in hell do you think you're doing?"

Lamm stared at him. "I'm going to try and make contact, what in hell do you think?"

"Don't be stupid! We know nothing about that ...thing. What if it bites?"

"Relax. Looks pretty harmless to me. I don't even see a mouth."

Furry images danced grotesquely across Jacobs' memory. "Seven years ago I lost two crewmen to a carnivore half the size of that thing you say 'looks pretty harmless.' You're so big on regulations. Think a little. And remember the ones on caution!"

Lamm looked stung. "I wasn't going to ask it to dance, for Christ's sake! I know the dangers. And don't you forget the regs on contact. We have to try! You can't survey an inhabited planet if you hide in the ship." His tone softened. "Let me do this, Captain. I'll be careful."

Jacobs shrugged in resignation. Lamm won his arguments by sheer unwillingness to lose. "Draw your weapon and keep it ready," Jacobs told the kid. Part of his mind wondered if the rest of the mission wouldn't go smoother without this fanatically purposeful half of the crew. Yes, the regs specified contact where possible. Let Lamm get himself killed following them.

In fact, Lamm felt that he had little to lose. He had overlaid the regs with his own priorities. Sometimes Exploration didn't realize its own true objectives, or refused to admit them. Paving the way for "civilization" over the broken bodies of natives didn't seem very civilized. Yet the historical precedents for it were numerous.

He could do little to change that, and reform wasn't his reason for being out here anyway. He was looking for something, something that could be felt but not touched. Something that had passed him by on Earth. He needed to be understood by somebody. Listened to by somebody. Anybody. But what did he have to say?

Lamm circled the alien (no, it was the native and he the alien now) at a distance of five meters. "No mouth or eyes that I can see," he called back to Jacobs. "No face at all." But he could feel the creature watching him in some way.

Goose bumps ran down his back and arms. The prospect of communicating with a thing so alien boggled him.

The creature really did seem harmless, though. It reminded Lamm of a fat old stomach running around on four legs. Otto the animated German beer gut from a childhood story. Its hide undulated; misty greens and purples sparkled in iridescent patterns along the bristle edges of its hair. It could not stand still for an instant, but there was nothing menacing about its movements.

Lamm moved close enough to touch. "Easy now," he told the creature softly. "Are you going to shake my hand or eat it?"

The otto made no sound, no move forward. It swayed back and forth to a rhythmic breeze that Lamm could not detect. Adrenaline heaved and tightened Lamm's stomach as he worked up the courage to make physical contact. Suddenly the otto did it for him, simply leaned over and brushed its hairy green stomach-ball body against him. F-l-o-c-k-! A spark of energy mixed withsomething elseflashed between them.

Lamm found himself on his back. The otto lurched around drunkenly but did not fall. Jacobs charged them, his weapon drawn.


Alt had forced himself forward against a strong preservation instinct. Movement and logic became disjointed this close to One Vertigo. Inside its boundary of influence, the drain on his sanity was strong. Fear tried to hold him back, but curiosity drove him forward.

Why are things?

At last he could come no closer. The shapes had stopped moving except for a vague wind that seemed to vibrate between them. One Vertigo blurred all details. But one of the shapes moved closer to Alt, and things focused a bit.

Alt struggled to name the being that circled him. Now he was sure that it lived. Fluids gurgled inside it, as inside himself. Alt sensed the tiny currents of distortion they produced. The being was considerably larger than Alt. It moved around. It sucked mist inside itself like food, only to spit it out again in vibrating blasts of wind.


Alt's mental grip weaker in astonishment as the shape came closer. Vertigo charms littered its body! Alt steadied himself. To wear a charm of vertigo in the morning was to go insane by afternoon and to die by evening. Yet this visitor wore many charms of excruciating purity. More, it had come from the belly of the powerful One Vertigo, and lived! Could such a creature really exist? Would he name it Avatar or Demon?

The overlapping fields of vertigo that had wracked him with sickness now strengthened him. Alt stood in awe of the child of One Vertigo, the survivor of charms. Had it come from the peaks of Three Vertigo, or beyond? Alt moved forward with reverence.

F-l-o-c-k-! The force of contact threw them apart and the visitor to the ground. It lay still and sadness shivered through Alt. He had killed it! The other now charged terrifyingly forward to avenge its comrade's death. Was this to be Alt's reward for seeking contact?

But no, no! The downed visitor stirred to life! It stood and blew a vibrating wind toward the other. The other halted its charge and mist vibrated between the two for a time, touching off eddies and ripples that reached to the trees. Trembling, Alt studied the exchange. Imaging? It must be. The visitors could pass impressions, perhaps even link, without touching. At a distance!

He reviewed the images gleaned from his instant of contact.

Chaos. The visitor overflowed with random impressions, all overlapping and altering each other like a huddle of infants. New concepts fought each other for naming. Opposites were juxtaposed within the chaos. The dark friction, the drive that pulled Alt away from his safe circle yet pushed him back as well, was present. There was the excitement of discovery, new contact, but tempered by a strange fear of its own kind. Why was that?

Abruptly the mist-imaging ceased and the visitor that had fallen reached out again. The urge to flee swept Alt powerfully and he used all of his will to master it. If the visitor before him was a child of the Demon, Alt would die. But if it was not...He had to learn its nature!

They touched, timidly at first. Alt muted the purity of his images, concentrating on reception. Impressions flooded through, and this time the visitor did not falter or break the contact. They were linked!

Puzzling: the visitor had never practiced the ordering of images. His interior was like a child's. No single memory had time to congeal before another swept it aside. Alt staggered under the deluge of impressions.

Did the Demon wear a guise of innocence? That seemed unlikely. But how could the Avatar? Alt plunged deeper into the stream of thought, searching.

A great emptiness seemed to permeate every image: a vacuum that threatened to swallow everything, to collapse the self inward. It was somehow tied to the fear that Alt had read in their first contact. Abandoned, I that bad? The visitor had been deserted by one dear to him. The emptiness left behind was a deep pain. The visitor hid himself from this pain with a strong devotion to the present. Somehow this should negate the past. But it did not.

Alt understood little of this, only the sadness that hung over it. His own drive question Why are things? tried to assert itself into the image flow. It had once been a dominant force within the visitor, as it was with Alt. Now, within the visitor, it was a faint, whispering cry. WHO CARES? blotted it out, and Alt recognized the analogue within his own consciousness: Why leave the water? The same basic unrest enveloped them both.

Was the creature that stood before Alt an alien thing or a reflection of himself?

Alt drew into himself and recalled the simplest and purest moments of happiness —impressions of floating on the water with a belly full of squigglers. He wove those images gently into the pattern of sadness that lay between them, concentrating to bring it into slow focus. He succeeded easily. The pall over them dissipated and the visitor replied with a barrage of new images.

A feeling of here and now, and of great happiness, traversed the link between them. In another place the visitor had been cramped, ignored, confined. His desire to communicate had been caged. He now thanked Alt for releasing it. The rebus fell together with a flash of recognition:

Our meeting is pleasure.

and on the heels of that,

I am a friend.

Friend! The revelation filled Alt with such joy that he broke contact and danced it on the ground, trying to send a crude message to his comrades in the forest. Friend, Avatar! Excitement rumbled back from the circle. AVATAR! It coursed through Alt's consciousness. Avatar... The Demon greeted no one as a friend; that was fact. The Demon's other names were death and fear.

The soft ground quivered. Alt knelt before his new god in supplication: I am like the mist before you.

The Avatar bowed in reply, holding a charm in his hand. It was a tiny but painfully pure disc of vertigo, and Alt trembled as its field intersected him. Pulsing energy filled his consciousness and he fought to keep his sanity. The Avatar waved the charm again and pressed it against him.

Pressed it against him!

Alt spasmed, his mind short-circuited by the charm's powerful field of vertigo. Chosen! It seemed suddenly that he was in full huddle with the circle again, so intense was his fever. Images flashed back and forth:

Chosen...Avatar...Ask! Why are things? Ask it! WHY?

The huddle exploded inward, all thumping forward to touch the Avatar, eager to learn why, eager to be chosen, too.


"Lamm? Lamm!"

When Lamm's first contact with the alien knocked him flat, Jacobs charged reflexively, his weapon ready. Visions of cute little fuzzies with blood on their shiny carnivore's teeth danced in his head. The fool, the fool! Death came easily to the careless in a hostile universe. He had watched it happen before—-his responsibility. No, he couldn't let it happen again. His responsibility!

But Lamm stirred and got up shakily. The little footstool creature backed off and shook itself in surprise.

"Are you all right, Lamm? Talk to me!" Jacobs' mind was trying to superimpose blood on the other's face. "Say something, for God's sake!"

"Stay back! You'll scare him away!"

Relief filled Jacobs' mind for a moment, before flashing red anger exploded it. "I'll melt that little bastard! You almost got killed, or did you notice?"

Lamm rubbed his face with both palms, still quivering with a vague electric charge. "No, I'm all right. N-no injuries." His eyes went wide as his head cleared enough for him to think. "My God, Captain—it has intelligence! It tried to communicate with me!"

"I doubt that." Jacobs' weapon remained pointed at the creature. "It tried to kill you. Don't you think I know what an attack looks like? And just look at the thing! No tools, no technology...not even clothing. It's got a brain the size of a pea, if any. No intelligence. All it can do is sit in the sun and stink."

Lamm's arms waved madly and he moved into Jacobs' line of fire. "You're wrong! I felt something when it touched me. Like a mind reaching out. A question, a hunger..."

Jacobs rolled his eyes. "A hunger, all right. Still got all your fingers? You fool, we've got a job to do here! Survey and prep the planet. People are going to be living here in less than a year! You think they'll put up with this stink? I'm going to tag the place for a Total Clearing and we can be on our way home."

"NO!" Lamm's eyes were dark and shiny, three-quarters pupil. He had felt something, the first something he'd felt in over a year, and all the Captain could think to do was kill the source. Keep that feeling in limbo. Cage it away.

"No! You shoot this creature and I'll have you up on charges, I swear. I was told to watch you, you know! 'Is Jacobs getting too old?' I'll tell them. I'll tell them when we get back and you'll never see the inside of a ship again!"

The weapon twitched in Jacobs' hand. The furry little deadlies were blanked from his consciousness temporarily, replaced by a new and closer enemy. Jacobs' eyes met Lamm's.

They stared at each other intensely. Lamm did not waver.

Jacobs' grip relaxed; he looked away and lowered his weapon.

"What do you want to do?"

"I want to communicate!" Lamm didn't calm down at all, only transferred his excitement to its previous focus. "The directives say negotiate first. Talk with the natives if you can. There's no danger. You just said that this otto here can't do anything but vegetate. Listen to yourself!" Lamm was almost in tears. "I'm going to touch him again. Talk to him if I can. Just don't interfere!"

"Otto?" repeated Jacobs. Blurry shapes with glistening teeth lurked at the edge of his consciousness again. They were not called Otto. "It's not a goddamn teddy bear you can name and play with! I don't like this."

"You've got your weapon," Lamm told him. "And I'm willing to take my chances. Give me that chance."

Jacobs nodded acquiescence, frowning as the dark shapes and blood crept closer through the mental fog. Lamm turned and touched the otto again. He was disappointed when the energy jolt he expected didn't repeat, but he had no time for regrets. Reality dropped away as if he had fallen headlong into a mine shaft.

An inquiring force of will swept probing fingers through his mind, sifting and examining his memories. Sections of the past and the emotions tagged to them frothed to an uneasy surface within him: the bliss of his marriage, obscured by the pain of the divorce; the dull aching emptiness that work could not seem to fill; the way his cries to be heard fell on deaf ears.

His wife. The Captain. Them—the Exploration Service, the whole damn universe: they were all against him. Independent thinking did not profit, and he had never mastered the art of blind submission. How easily was the magic of discovery perverted into a jaded routine! And you built your own hell. It seemed that the whole of what was wrong with his life summed into a lump that lodged in his throat, choking him.

The otto shared his sadness. Lamm knew it. They existed in a symbiosis, linked on a gut level where the only images were of the soul, the inner being. How a thing affected you named it. And then softly, like a comforter tucked over a sleeping child by its mother, the happy satisfied warmth of a full stomach blanketed them. Lamm realized dreamily that it had come from the otto, not himself.

Communication! By God, the creature was trying to console him. Maybe offering a meal? Lamm recalled the month-long journey in hyperspace with his bored career soldier Captain. He'd been stifled, scoffed at, his ideas dismissed as those of a fool.

Simply landing on the otto's world had released much of Lamm's built-up tension, but now he felt as if his soul had been set free. He felt the emotion echo between the two of them in a rebus:

Our meeting is pleasure.

and on the hells of that,

I am a friend.

The otto broke away and danced on the ground: a victory dance. He knew what Lamm knew; they understood each other! The mist felt charged with excitement. Lamm wracked his mind for the next logical step. Diplomacy. A gift, yes, a token of friendship! Something meaningful. He fingered the Saint Christopher medal and slipped its chain off his neck.

"This is for you," he told the otto as he laid the gift on its hairy hide. The creature flinched and backed away twitching, his four swamp grass legs undulating as if a strong current pulled at them. Jacobs brought his weapon to bear on the alien again.

With a rumbling that caught both humans off-balance, the forest began to close in on the ship. No, it was more ottos, a great number of them, converging into a wild stampede! Lamm welcomed them with open arms. He felt a heated excitement that obscured every shred of his unhappy past.

Jacobs' grip on the weapon was knuckle-white. His options had vanished quickly. The dark furry shapes, small and horrible and lurking at the threshold of his mind had been real, ohnogod REAL! And they were swarming forward to crush and kill...

Lamm became the nucleus of a writhing clot of ottos. Anxious thought-fingers dug deep trenches into his consciousness. Logic spun away, blasted by the force of a hundred minds probing him at once. A riot of images assaulted him. Questions slid by too quickly to grasp, too intense to deny:

Why? Why are things? Why does learning hurt? Why learn?

What is life? Is your sadness like life? Is it? WHY?

His own pain and emptiness was transmitted to Alt. The huddle magnified it a hundredfold. It filled him completely and kept coming. Lamm's mind overheated, supernovaed, and collapsed into a lifeless lump. When Jacobs' second shot cut him down, Lamm was quite incapable of pain.

But Jacobs didn't know that. He cursed and ran for the ship when Lamm fell. He'd only been trying to protect the fool— No time to think, the ottos had trampled Lamm and were now charging him! They grew clumsier the closer they got to the ship, and Jacobs killed them easily before they could reach him. But he ran just the same. He made it to the ladder and he made it inside the ship and he fired the rockets as quickly as he could. He got the hell off the planet and tagged it for a Total Clearing in his log.

He made it, but a month of solitude in hyperspace did not erase Lamm's final expression from his memory. It had come just before Jacobs shot him down—damn it, accidentally—maybe part of the reason that he'd done it. He kept seeing Lamm's face frozen into a grotesque mask of pain, as if all the miseries in the world had suddenly crushed down on his shoulders.

Compared to that, death seemed a welcome release.

At home, Jacobs might be paraded and praised or fired and disgraced, but Lamm would be the real enigma. Lamm was beyond reprimand. He met the most important qualification for heroes and martyrs: he was dead.


Why are things?

The true sequence of events never jelled for most of Alt's comrades. One moment they had huddled with Alt and the Avatar, assimilating Alt's knowledge of Him and reflecting it back with the force of their multiple consciousness. The next moment they were cut down by quick bolts of skyheat thrown by the Avatar's dark twin, the destroyer of life, the Demon.

Every messiah carries his personal devil. Alt survived the holocaust. He remembered; he lived where his god had died. Linked with Him, Alt had felt the death bolt meant for himself rip through the Avatar instead, a searing heat echoing throughout the huddle, concluding with a peaceful descent into death. But before that

The Demon's skybolt brought death to the Avatar, but the huddle had killed Him already. Alt knew; the huddle knew. The force of all their eager questions, the intense flow of all their images, had been too strong for Him. He had been fragile. He had opened up totally to them, and they had overwhelmed Him. In the instant before He died, the Avatar's mind had exploded.

They drove the Demon away. It cost them dearly. Alt had been helpless to join the huddle then. The skybolt that killed the Avatar had grazed Alt, and he was too weak to charge with the others. He lived. But One Vertigo was gone, and with it the Demon. This did not still their new, learned fear.

Why had they come together, the Avatar and the Demon? Because separation of the two was impossible? And where was the Demon now? Perched, perhaps, on the peaks of Three Vertigo and smiling down on them horribly?

The Avatar decomposed quickly, as did the bodies of Alt's fallen comrades. But His vestments remained. Alt laid out His charms on the spot where they had huddled (and where He had died), fighting the vertigo with a new, purposeful will within him.

He instructed the huddle on the images that had passed between his god and himself. They considered the vast sadness that had permeated the Avatar's being. Was this sadness life's true name? Or had death come before the truth was ever broached?

Why are things? At a time of His life, the Avatar had felt pain like theirs. He had asked questions like theirs. At the time of His death,He had achieved what He most desired. And He had died from it.  Why are things? Was the answer to that question, Don't look too deeply?

The demon lived, reason enough for the huddle to beg forgiveness of their fallen Avatar. For in their haste to possess Him, they had killed Him. They huddled and remembered His sadness. Some died wearing His charms of vertigo. And Alt taught them a litany to help regain their forfeited salvation, an image that gave their lives purpose:

He died for us.

My complete stories & my book ORPHANS