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bag, excited him the most. "Real meat!" he said, pinching one between his fingers.

Ko'Dan had a great passion for breen, and he lectured them as he worked. "The exterior of the ball must be firm but not too firm. The interior needs to have a certain... chunkiness."

Galen stood on one side and Isabelle on the other, and over the cooking breen their eyes met. Isabelle smiled.

Batch after batch failed to meet Ko'Dan's standards. But he was determined, now that he had begun, to unlock the secret of the perfect breen. Under his direction, Galen stirred up another batch, while Isabelle cooked the previous one. Ko'Dan stuck a spoon into Galen's batter and tasted a sample, his tongue flicking in and out of his mouth. "That, I think, is our finest mix yet." He reached into the frying pan and removed one of the cooking balls with his fingers. He squeezed it between thumb and forefinger. "Better. We are getting closer to that perfect composition-soggy but meaty."

Galen stopped stirring. "But I thought the perfect texture was a hint of a crunch followed by juicy meaty moistness."

"No, no." Ko'Dan shook his head. "No. No. You want no crunch. No crunch at all. Soggy but meaty. That's the key. Soggy but meaty." He waved his batter-covered spoon for emphasis, and a lump of the moist mixture flipped onto Galen's cheek. Galen started. The lump stayed in place. Ko'Dan scraped it off with a finger, studied it. "Soggy but meaty."

Isabelle broke out in silent laughter, her body shaking. Her face and ears turned a bright red, and at last the sound burst from her, light, breathless. Galen felt the irrepressible urge rise up in himself, this sense of lightness, and he started laughing. It felt as if his internal organs were convulsing, about to rupture. Yet he couldn't stop. He
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