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Hook: I took another stab at this passage. I used some of uour (and others') suggestions, and added some of my own ideas. I'm sure no one will say that it's perfect as is, but I hope it is at least significantly better than before. (Changes and additions are highlighted in bold. Deletions are unmarked.)

The following is copyright 2003 by Mark T. Chapman. All rights reserved.

* * * * * * * * * *
Guido's peals of laughter turned suddenly into shrieks of terror, his voice fading away as he fell to his death. We rushed to the edge of the platform in time to see Guido disappear into a cloud hundreds of meters beneath us.

Cap and Tom and Sparks and I backed away from the edge and stared at one another in horrified silence. How could it happen so fast? There was nothing we could do but watch helplessly.

“My G--“ Sparks began, and then choked up. He covered his mouth with his hand, eyes wide in shock.

“Wha-what happened?” Tom asked, his normally olive complexion gone pale. “How? These things have been operating for billions of years. Why now?”

I shook my head, still trying to understand what went wrong. “I...guess everything breaks eventually, even Progenitors' stuff.”

“What are we going to do now?” Sparks asked, with a tremor in his voice. “What are we going to tell his wife -- and his baby? We don't even know where his body is.”

We tell them the truth: that we got him killed.” I was numb inside. “He was the one who was always worried about being killed by aliens. We teased and cajoled him into coming along, and what happened? He was killed by an alien device on an alien world.”

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” Sparks said under his breath. Tears ran down his face.

I thought I saw a moist glint in Cap's eyes as well, but I couldn't be sure. I was having trouble seeing clearly at that point.

Tom sat down heavily, like a marionette abandoned by a child. “What do we do now?” he asked softly, echoing Sparks' earlier query. We all looked to Cap, our leader.

Cap took a deep breath and exhaled sharply. “We go home,” he said, squaring his shoulders. It might have sounded uncaring to someone else, but we all knew better. Cap turned and headed back to the portal. I could see his neck muscles tighten as he fought the temptation to look back one last time. The rest of us -- minus one -- trailed listlessly behind him.

* * * * * * * * * *

Some comments re. the changes:
I left the mention of "hundreds of meters below" because although the sky city was described as floating among the cloads, there was no mention of where individual clouds were located (nor any need to do so earlier).

A few sentences may look similar at first glance, but have actually been rearranged (clauses moved from back to front, or to another sentence).

I preferred the previous marionette reference, but this way it shouldn't evoke thoughts of cliche.

Mark (sensing the sharks circling already <g>).
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