Author: Alastair Millar

As I walked the rocky path from !X’alt, above the vapours that rise from that city on the great ammoniac lake, I came upon a native temple beside the way, and though I could not discern its name among the inscriptions thereon it seemed to me that I was tired and could rest in its shade.

As I took my ease upon the stone steps, the iridescent Cetian who dwelt in the utter darkness within scuttled out, and sat beside me, and such was its beauty that I was compelled to turn and look into its shifting eyes.

“Hearken to Me,” it said, “A traveller of your species came here, and I could not say from whence. His flight suit was scarred, its insignia worn away. But I saw in his eyes that he would partake of the Waters within, that erase the memories of you humans. Being Guardian of this treasure, I bade him tell me why he would drink of them. And he gave me no answer, but looked around as if he heard the voices of the mute rocks and stone lintel, and therefore I spoke to him again, and then a third time in his mind.”

“Then at last he looked at me, and said ‘That which I was, I am no more. That which was most precious to me has been chained, and there is no returning to the Garden in which I dwelt, where roses bloomed for all that weeds grew there also. In my youth, I walked with my face to a yellow Sun and found joy in its warmth, yet now I cannot raise my eyes, and all suns are alike, pale and cold to me.’”

“‘I hear the sounds and voices around me, yet none in such a wise as I may listen only to one – nay, they all strive for my attention, but I cannot concentrate upon any for the clamour of the others, all insistent, howsoever insignificant they may be. Thus I have no peace from this wall of noise that presses in upon me, except in utter solitude and quiet. I must avoid the crowd, and have lost my friends because, becoming bemused and incoherent, I offended or appalled them beyond hope of reconciliation.’”

“And I saw in the hollows of his eyes that he spoke the truth.”

“‘I have visited a dozen worlds and a score of species,’ he continued, ‘but I have found no respite or cure for this infirmity. I have sought refuge in the Void of Space, and in the Unreal Virtuality, but the labour of my mind is without pattern and hopeless. The work of my hands is stilled, for there is no clear pattern to guide them, and the words of my mouth are hushed, for they would be lost in the din.’”

“In this state of hopelessness he came to me, yet I knew not whether that Gift which is mine to bestow could rightly be given to him, and he saw the confusion in my eyes, and said nothing, but rose and continued upon his Way. But I know that he will return again to this world, to this place, and demand of me the answer which I could not give.”

And I looked upon the Cetian, even as it gazed upon me, and could likewise give it no answer, and thus we sat upon the temple steps in silence, above the vapours that rise from the city by the ammoniac lake.