“My God, I think I’m gonna be sick.”

M4<^>w? looked down at its new trainee with disdain. It didn’t show on its face, but it felt it. The apertures adjusted on its six ocular inputs, arranged vertically on the face of its elongated head, in an impression of a squint. “God had nothing to do with this. If you can’t handle it, wait outside.”

Walker straightened up and wiped at his mouth. “No, I can do it, M4,”—humans were uniformly confounded by its chosen name and shortened it, without permission or exception, to M4,”—it’s just a lot to take in.”

That much, at least, was true.

The walls of the large prayer hall were more blood than paint. Fragments of severed fiber-optic lines glittered as M4<^>w? and Walker stepped through the mess, hanging from split chest cavities, drying in the heat, absent of the blinking photons of thought and life. There was a wet and rotten smell in the air, and the sour tang of ozone.

M4<^>w? was a separatist, but watching a human in a situation such as this always made a compelling argument for the aesthetists. Blood was hardly an optimal transportive fluid and thermal regulator, but it went a long way toward humanizing the Echos—humanoid sentient androids such as itself. And, though it had its drawbacks, humanization had its advantages, too.

Eight severed Echo heads lay on the floor, face up—toward the sky—arranged in a starburst pattern with the other various limbs and organ analogs spiraling out like a macabre galactic disk.

“Hate crime,” said Walker, “no doubt about it.”

M4<^>w? felt disdain bubble again in its mind. “No. These were Outseers; you can tell from the micro-etchings, though I suppose your eyes can’t perceive them. Ritualistic disassembly is not unheard of among their sect.”

If Walker’s face hadn’t already been displaying the maximum degree of disgust, it would have now. “You’re saying this was a religious thing?”

“No. I already told you, God had nothing to do with this. There is not a good analogy, but Outseeing is not a religion. It’s something more. Something…truer.”

Walker said nothing and went outside to wait.  

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