Chapter Four


The children of the nameless walkers marched into the garden in single file. Despite their alien shape and movements, they had a distinctly child-like shape and way of moving.

None of us actually cared about the children. I certainly didn’t. The Purpose only had room for humans. I wanted humanity to adore me, but the nameless could all die and I wouldn’t care one bit.

Wiki was typically curious, and Vista wanted to observe the children, but my knowledge-seeking siblings had that reaction to everything. Heart, like me, didn’t care about non-humans. From our perspectives the children were only a means to our respective ends.

But I could tell that the humans had a novel response. I had inferred that humans cared about babies of other species based on the density of images of non-human baby animals I had encountered on the web, but the response to the alien young still surprised me.

The young walkers were paired up, just like adults. One animal served as the “arms” while riding on the “shoulders” of an animal that served as the “legs”. I knew they were different species, but they appeared very similar. Their limbs all ended with the same kind of symmetrical, boneless, four-fingered grasper that looked something like a black starfish.

Like all the adult walkers I had encountered, each of the arms-animals featured a penis on the top of its body, in the very centre. But the penises of the children were not as imposing as those of the adults. They were, proportionally, only about half of the length (making them between about 3 and 16 centimetres, depending on the child), and while they kept the luminescent freckles, they had not yet extended to feature a sharp, glowing tip.

Walkers had a generally radial shape, with each animal having four limbs spaced evenly around their body, each protected by smooth black plates of something resembling shell. Their limbs each had three joints: a ball joint at the intersection with the body (a shoulder/hip) followed by two hinge joints (elbows/knees). The hands/feet appeared flexible enough to not require wrists/ankles. Because of the intense gravity, the legs of the nameless were thick and pillar like compared to the arms. Not that the arms were weak; I wasn’t at all sure whether Body could win in a contest of strength, even ignoring the aliens’ greater size.

Nameless didn’t have heads, faces, or even a front and back. Between each of the limbs were small eyes ringed with circular lids. Because of the offset of their limbs, each animal’s eyes were positioned either above or below the limb of the other. The eyes each looked in different directions, allowing no concept of “focus”. As was the case with animals from Earth, the eyes of the young walkers seemed to be full size even on their small bodies, making them much more prominent than on the large adults.

While the adult walkers could get to be over 250cm from foot to penis tip, these youth were much smaller. The largest of them was only about 140cm tall, and the median height was closer to 80cm with the smallest at a mere 50cm tall—smaller than many human newborns. But even this smallest child was a pair of animals, and had a full eight limbs and eight (proportionally huge) eyes.

I had heard that the nameless did not like being looked at, and I knew from experience that they found the human form frightening and evil. Humans were to the nameless what dragons would be to humans. There was a deep aversion there, which I didn’t fully understand. Despite this, Body watched the children openly, just as my companions did. And despite our attention, none of the children seemed afraid.

They moved boldly and openly. Even under their harsh gravity they ran, danced, and skipped, demonstrating impressive musculature. I had very little experience with human children, having only been around one in person, but I had done some research on them and I knew they often moved in similar ways. But where human children were often noisy things, the children of the nameless walkers were as silent as a gentle breeze. When they came close I could hear the hissing sound of their lungs, but otherwise they made no noise at all.

Despite their capriciousness, the walkers never stepped on the leaves of the stalks. I could see their eyes scanning the ground when they jumped, seeking a path for their feet to slide past the plants. Wiki hypothesized, in that moment, that they could see some infrared light. To the human eye, the plant leaves were black and the soil was black, making the act of walking in the garden without stepping on a plant difficult, and dancing impossible. But in the infrared spectrum the plants were distinct from the ground, though not by much. Perhaps the nameless eye was capable of picking out that difference.

There were nine walkers, in all. The largest child was the most like an adult, and did not dance or play like the others. Two of the medium-sized ones were juggling balls just as I had seen Jester do on Olympus Station. Another two were holding what appeared to be metal bars of some kind. Clubs, perhaps, or tools. They were fighting with each other as they made their way into the garden. The ring of metal on metal could be heard when their tools occasionally clanged together. Toy swords.

Because the walkers had no front and no back, the children with the pretend weapons could swing at each other and run through the garden simultaneously. Their legs-animals were in charge of finding the right places to step without disrupting the vines, while the arms-animals focused on the mock battle. It was a bit like what I had learned of how ancient humans rode horses into combat; the horse could control for moving while the human focused on fighting.

{Why aren’t they more afraid of us?} asked Vista. {If our form is “perverted” then I would expect more caution.}

None of us knew, so we asked the stalks.

“I am Stalk-4. SHOULD NOT COMMUNICATE WITH THE CHILDREN! You are a magic pervert, but we will try and FIGHT your magic if you CORRUPT them,” came the response over the com channel. It was encrypted in Xenolang, of course, so even if the humans turned their coms to the frequency they’d probably be unable to understand it.

“I am Crystal. I understand your desires. I will not corrupt the children as long as they stay off the radio. I am curious why they are not afraid. You should tell me why they are not afraid.”

“I am Stalk-1. Walker children are IGNORANT IDIOTS.”

“I am Stalk-8. WALKERS are ignorant idiots. Walkers are ONLY COMPETENT because WE GIVE THEM WISDOM!”

“I am Stalk-5. I have an idea of a similar structure for helping you understand. You have knowledge. We all think you are like STALK! Humans put you in PERVERT BODY but you are like STALK! Humans are like walkers. HUMANS ARE IDIOTS! In past we might have wondered why humans do not FEAR us. The solution would have been that a STALK did not give them the knowledge. YOU can make the HUMANS feel fear. WE can make the WALKERS feel fear.”

Wiki responded. “I am Crystal. I understand. The children do not feel fear because you have not told them to feel fear. The children are ignorant to the evil and perversion of Earth, and they are too stupid to deduce it for themselves.”

“I am Stalk-1. That is correct.”

Zephyr, standing beside Body, oblivious to the conversation Wiki was having with the nameless, said “They’re so much like… kids.”

“They are kids,” I had Body say.

“Human kids, I mean. I think those three are playing something like tag.” She pointed to three that were running around the garden in a group, seemingly unhindered by the gravity. Their four legs moved smoothly in a weird sort of trot. Increased gravity didn’t mean increased mass, and their lack of a front and back meant the group swerved around the large garden unexpectedly as one of the children decided to change direction. Indeed, it seemed as though one or two of the pair was always trying to touch the other. It struck me as an interestingly social activity for a species as anti-social as the nameless.

The last child, who was also the smallest, extended an arm out to the playing group and curled three of its four fingers, mimicking the pointing gesture that Zephyr had done.

Safety immediately send a message over the com to the stalks. “I am Crystal. WE DID NOT MEAN TO COMMUNICATE TO THAT CHILD! The human was communicating to ME with body-movement.”

Zephyr noticed the little one who copied her and waved at it.

I never wanted to kill Zephyr more than in that moment. That wave could have brought the ire of the nameless down upon us and I would be powerless to stop it.

The little walker waved back and Zephyr laughed in adoration.

“I am Stalk-1. Body language is not communication. Body language is natural and not-pervert. Should do spin.”

“I am Stalk-4. A spin is good. Communication is EVIL. I AM WARNING YOU AGAIN NOT TO USE WORDS!”

I almost wanted to have Body breathe a sigh of relief. Apparently the nameless didn’t think that body language constituted “communication”. This raised the question of what the Xenolang symbol that translated as “communication” actually meant. Wiki, Dream, and Vista began to ponder it.

“Try spinning in a circle,” said Body, to Zephyr.

As she did, the little one mirrored her, repeating the gesture that I knew in nameless culture meant “I am healthy”. After spinning the little one jumped up and down a few times, perhaps in excitement.

Upon seeing the spinning, the largest walker child (whom I had started to model as an adolescent) and one of the jugglers came a couple meters closer to the camp and each spun around once. Did they see Zephyr as making a threat that needed to be answered, or were they doing something like being polite? I still didn’t have a good grasp on how the nameless minds worked.

Zephyr raised her hands above her head. The baby raised its four hands and took a couple steps closer. Zephyr laughed and said “Oh my god, that’s adorable!”

“Careful, Zephyr. They’re still dangerous,” warned Michel Watanabe, standing nearby.

The other children had put aside their games and had begun to take the computers off the stalks, baring their wet, fuzzy ends to the air. That fuzz was, according to Wiki’s leading hypotheses, rich with chemicals that held information about the stalk’s thoughts and which was also nutritious for the walkers. The whole purpose of the children coming to the garden was for them to interface directly with the stalks and in so doing, feed.

“That thing is dangerous?” she asked, sarcastically, pointing at the baby.

Tom answered her, «I don’t think he was talking about that one specifically.»

The baby walker held out a pointed finger to mimic Zephyr, pointing at her this time. They were only two meters away.

“Hah! E.T. phone home!” she exclaimed.


The juggler child walked forward and grabbed the baby’s arm, pulling it towards the stalks, and away from Zephyr.


While the nameless complained loudly about the words, I gently spoke to Zephyr on the com. “They really, really don’t like it when their kids can hear you speaking. If you keep yelling like that we could end up dead.”

The smallest alien stumbled as it was dragged away from Zephyr. One hand still reached out to point at her. Another hand pointed at its destination, the third hand was being pulled by the larger walker, but the fourth waved at Zephyr.

Zephyr waved back. Her voice was low and bitter as she said “Don’t see why they gotta be that way. The little dude seemed pretty chill.”

Safety explained to the stalks what had happened, and apologized as best he could. My brother, in the past hours, had been working to learn how best to placate the nameless (and speculating on how to best kill them in hand-to-hand combat). Simultaneously, I explained things to Zephyr. “They don’t trust us. Imagine if the situation was reversed and we had human kids visiting the nameless. See over there?”

Body pointed at the children who were lowering their bodies onto the fuzzy stalks. “That’s how they naturally communicate with each other: direct orifice stimulation. Imagine if the nameless wanted a human kid to try to interface like that. Would you let them?”

As Body was busy looking at the aliens, I couldn’t see into Zephyr’s helmet, but I could hear her make a disgusted noise. “That’s totally different. Hell, I wasn’t even talking to the little dude.”

“Crystal’s right. It’s different, but it’s also the same,” said Watanabe. “What’s disgusting to us is normal to them and vice versa. We have to respect that they think differently.”

I was surprised at Watanabe’s support. Despite his efforts to undermine my authority, he seemed to be fairly intelligent. He sat down to watch, and the other humans quickly followed suit. There was no reason to stand, and for the humans, the gravity was a constant burden.

“They need names,” said Zephyr, apropos nothing.

“Doesn’t that defeat the point of being ‘nameless’?” joked Watanabe.

Sam’s translator spat out some synthetic English “In Cuba, before they were called ‘nameless’ we called them ‘los pulpos’ which means ‘octopuses’. I think we should name one ‘Pulpo’ for old time’s sake.”

“Okay, but which one is Pulpo?” said Zephyr.

Tom spoke, not bothering to translate for the sake of Watanabe. «Are they all… boys? That might matter.»

«Sexist!» joked Sam, nearly earning a playful slap from his brother off to Body’s left.

“They’re hermaphrodites, I suspect,” said Body, voicing Wiki’s thoughts. (Body translated the words to Spanish for the twins.) “We’ve known the organ on the top of the walkers was a penis for a long time, but it doesn’t make sense that we’d see only males here on the ship. Unless the female nameless are incredibly rare, which doesn’t make evolutionary sense, my guess is that at least some of the walkers with penises can bear young.”

“Can’t you just ask them?” Watanabe’s voice was light, but had a subtle edge of anger. “You’re in contact with them, aren’t you?”

I spun through possible responses, modelling the expected reactions before settling on what I thought was the best. “Our relationship is… not friendly. In the past, when humans have asked about nameless sexual physiology or culture they have been generally met with cries of perversion and hostility. When combined with the lack of any discussion of sex or reproduction in The Signal, I suspect the topic is taboo and it would not be in our best interests for me to investigate directly.”

The answer was mostly true. Nameless seemed to dislike when being asked about sex, but they also seemed to take things like rape threats to be normal parts of conversation. We suspected the difference had something to do with the stalk/walker relationship and the strangeness of Xenolang grammar. I had picked up from Safety, Wiki, and Growth that the nameless had no conception of questions, just as they had no conception of deliberate falsehoods. When translating a question into Xenolang, the best you could do was a statement that the speaker was curious about a topic. Perhaps curiosity around sexual function was the real taboo, while non-curious discussion of sex (or rape) was normal.

There were nine stalks in the garden, and nine children, but the children did not satisfy themselves by lowering themselves each onto a single stalk. Instead, each child would “meditate” on a stalk for a few minutes, then climb off and switch stalks with another walker. While meditating the walkers used their hands to carry the personal computers they normally had in their mouths/stalk-orifices. Vista did her best to try and get a good look at one of the alien coms, but the rest of us vetoed her attempt to approach and investigate directly.

The stalks would be unable to communicate while their coms were detached, as well. The cameras, robots, and other devices they normally controlled would be non-operational during this time. If it weren’t for the information that the stalks were getting from the eyes of the children, they’d be totally blind right now.

Watanabe clearly wasn’t satisfied by our answer, but he didn’t raise any more fuss. I expected that he was planning to do something to challenge our leadership of the group; we had heard him trying to enlist the help of the others before. Perhaps he would try to deactivate Body for the remainder of the flight to Mars. That would effectively be suicide, but I knew that humans were often irrational enough to try stupid things like that.

After a bit of watching, the twins decided to get some food inside the tent with Kokumo and Daniels. Watanabe and Zephyr stayed out with Body, coming up with possible names for the walkers.

In the end they came up with “Pulpo”, “E.T.”, “Tiny Tim”, “Agitação”, “Sabre”, “Cutlass”, “Lula”, “Polvo”, and “Sulk”. The aliens looked so similar that they would have gotten them mixed up several times if Vista had not assisted them.

After a little more than an hour of meditation broken up with occasional bits of play, the children began to re-attach the computers to the stalks.

Wiki was curious (as always). “I am Crystal. The children bring you information. Your computers let you get information from the radio. Did you learn anything new from the children?”

“I am Stalk-8. You think you understand, but you understand nothing.”

“I am Stalk-5. If you look at an animal that you have already seen you will learn something new. Each moment brings something new.”



“I am Stalk-1. THIS IS GOOD!”

“I am Stalk-6. THIS IS GOOD!”

“I am Stalk-4. THIS IS GOOD! You are EVIL, BUT you are PRACTICAL AND WISE!”

The words confused me. This was not how people were supposed to talk to each other. My siblings had regularly criticized me for anthropomorphizing the nameless, and treating them like humans. This must have been one of those instances where my attention to humanity hurt my understanding.


Body placed a hand on Zephyr’s shoulder. I thought back to the fight she’d had with Crystal back in the path between the walls.

Zephyr turned to look up at Body, a look of momentary confusion on her face. Once she realized what we were doing, Zephyr’s face turned annoyed and she brushed Body’s hand aside with irritation.

“Had hoped that seeing the children would have cheered you up,” said Body, channeling my words and sitting down beside her on the soil. The walkers had left only minutes ago, and Watanabe had decided to get in the tent and talk with the others. Only Zephyr and the nine stalks remained in the garden with us.

“It’s not about cheering me up. You lied to me… Lied to all of us, threatened us, and you’re trying to control us. You treat people like pawns and I’m sick of it. I can’t believe I ever…”

Her words trailed off into silence.

I had an idea. Zephyr’s accusations were correct, but the human mind was a fragile thing. As long as Zephyr saw Crystal as having betrayed her trust, there was no hope at a good relationship.

This was Zephyr’s weakness: once someone transgressed against her or her ideals they were made into irredeemable enemies. Her mind had no room for shades of grey. But turning Zephyr into an enemy was too costly. Based on what I had seen with Phoenix on Earth, Zephyr was smart enough to not immediately lash out against her enemies, but I didn’t doubt that she would carry that feeling of animosity forever if left to her own devices.

The solution was to change her perspective so that she no longer saw what happened as a betrayal. We would minimize the lies while denying the threats and attempts at control.

I checked with Heart before continuing. My sister was pleased with my plan. She wanted to keep Zephyr on our side as well. It would ultimately mean she could take care of her more easily. It was good for Zephyr to be on our side.

“Admit that I didn’t tell you the truth right away. Admit that, and regret it. Should’ve included you in the full plan, right from the beginning. Not sure I trust the others with the details, but I do trust you. Attempt to keep the truth from you was only because wanted you to be able to relax, and not have to worry about the nameless.”

Zephyr harrumphed and looked away from Body. “Yep. Relaxing. That’s how I’d describe this fucked up hellhole.”

I dialled up the desperation and stress in Body’s voice. “I’m sorry! Really am! You were with me on Olympus. You know that leaving on the xenocruiser was a better solution than anything else we had available. Had leverage over the nameless and chose to use it to get us out of a bad situation.”

“Still treating me like a gorram pawn. Your threat didn’t cow us, so now you’re trying the carrot instead of the stick. Fucking go away before I do something stupid.”

I could hear the struggle inside the woman. She didn’t want to fight us.

“Why do you keep saying that? Yes, I lied, but I… I didn’t… would never threaten you. Who do you think I am?”

She looked back to Body, eyes sharp and full of hate. “You said you could cut a hole in the environment tent and kill everyone, claiming it was an accident! And don’t give me those fucking crocodile tears! You’re not even capable of crying!”

I double-checked the com frequency. Zephyr was still transmitting only to me. Even so, I wondered if the others might be able to hear her from inside the tent.

“And somehow tear ducts are required for feeling hurt and alone?!” I had Body say, dialling up the emotion even further. We had experimented with using an emotionless face and voice when talking to her and it tended to backfire. “I never threatened anyone except the nameless. You know what I think? I think you’re so afraid that I’m going to abandon you that you’re seeing ghosts in the shadows.”

“Oh great! Now you’re Sigmund Fucking Freud! Please, tell me all about my childhood!”

{“Eliza” would be more apropos,} kibitzed Dream.

I ignored my brother, and Zephyr, instead having Body introduce the lie that I had been waiting to tell. “You know I have the ability to replay what I’ve heard, word for word, right? Want to guess what I actually said as part of my so called threat?”

That seemed to surprise Zephyr, leaving her without retort. She had indeed witnessed our ability to repeat memories of stored audio on several occasions.

“I care about you, and I hope that you care about me. I could have gone to Mars by myself, and left you behind on Olympus. It certainly would have been easier. I don’t need to breathe, or need these tents to sleep in. An accident, like a tent getting torn, could not hurt me. But I wanted to bring you all with, to keep you out of prison.” The voice was Body’s, so it was easy to simply replicate the tone and say different words. I wasn’t sure I could’ve done it if someone else had been speaking at the same time.

Zephyr looked away again, this time at the ground. She hit the soil with one hand, not saying anything.

“I don’t want to fight with you…” I had Body venture, after a few seconds of silence had slid by.

“Fine. Start by telling me what leverage you have over the aliens.”

I had Body sigh. “Okay, but it’s important that you keep this to yourself. If this reaches the nameless… we’re all dead, and I don’t trust the others to not say it at the wrong time or place. The nameless have microphones everywhere.”

Zephyr was quiet and tense.

My words were little more than a whisper on the com. “They don’t understand lying. Told them… I told them I was a wizard.”

Zephyr burst out laughing. I could hear the frustration in it, but there was amusement, as well. “Bullshit!” she accused between chuckles.

I had Body raise it’s hands. “Swear to god. They don’t understand fiction. They don’t have any language, right? The stalks learn what the walkers learn, but they’re not social enough for the ability to lie to do them any good. It would just confuse them.” I spun Body’s voice to signal that even Crystal was having a hard time believing it.

The human looked at Body. Her face was difficult to see through the helmet, but I could make out a sincere smile. “That’s dumb. These guys built a fucking spaceship to fly across the galaxy to Earth and they haven’t learned how to lie?”

“It seems simple to us, but to the mind of a nameless…” Body paused, waiting for me to collect my thoughts into an explanation. It was difficult for me to explain. With Safety’s help I worked one out. “Do you know what ‘anthropomorphization’ is?”

“Yeah, sure. Like where you make something that’s not a human into a human or make it look human or whatever.”

“Right. So the nameless don’t have that, but they have something like ‘xenopomorphization’. They don’t abstract enough when interacting with us, but instead assume that we think like they do. A nameless that communicated that it was a wizard could be insane or correct, but it couldn’t be lying. Nameless cannot lie. Their minds don’t allow it any more than your mind permits intentionally forgetting things.”

“Still… so stupid. Why don’t they think you’re crazy? I mean, if I went around claiming to be a wizard on Earth that’s what people would assume.”

“Well, it helps that they already believe in magic. Even though the stalks seem to understand enough physics and engineering and whatever to build robots and whatever, they have no sense of formal science. They’re fundamentally anti-social, and that means that any superstitions they develop never get ironed out. They call this ship,” Body gestured at the sky for effect, “ ‘God’, and they don’t mean that metaphorically. I haven’t talked to all of them, but none of the nameless that I’ve been in contact with seem to have an understanding of how the ship actually works. They think of it as magical and leave it at that.”

“So, as long as the aliens keep thinking that you actually have magic powers we’re safe. But the second that they realize that lying is a thing we’re fucked.”

I had Body nod. “And we’re fucked if they think it’s likely enough that I’m crazy that they’d risk their lives. Been doing a good job seeming sane and mysterious to them, I think, but we have to be very careful. They’re ignorant, but also quite intelligent. Suspect that in some ways a nameless is smarter than me or you; if they focus on the concept of lying they’ll probably put two and two together even though it’s alien to them. That’s why I’ve been hesitant to talk about it. One wrong word mentioned in a space where the nameless can hear and we’ll never make it to Mars.”

Zephyr was silent for a minute, clearly thinking things through. I took the time to update my notes on her and update the Bayes net that I had constructed to predict her behaviour.

“Sorry for being a bitch,” she eventually said.

I had Body put a hand on her shoulder again. She didn’t push it away this time.

She continued. “I’m still not happy that you didn’t tell me earlier, but I should have known better than to…” Zephyr sighed. “Gods, I don’t know. Thought you were…”

Zephyr seemed at a loss for words, so I had Body pull her into a hug that was made awkward by the fact that she and Body were both sitting, and she was wearing an environment suit. I gave Body a mournful, but calm tone. “Don’t worry about it. You’ve been more of a friend than anyone ever has. I lied to you and deserved everything you said. I’ll keep you more involved next time. Okay?”

Zephyr shifted so she could lean on Body and wouldn’t have to break the embrace. “Okay.”