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on your own. And I know now that your curiosity will not be turned to a safer subject, though this has been a bittersweet truth for me to accept."

Burell paused, her uneven shoulders rising and falling with her tired breaths. She raised her gaze to Isabelle, though her head remained hanging. "If you are to study the tech, then I must tell you everything I know. Then perhaps you can succeed where I have failed. Then I can save you from what has happened to me."

Isabelle took her hand. "We will carry on your work together."

Burell gave her a crooked smile. "I can't pretend to understand it. All I can do is point to some pieces that seem similar to things I understand, and ignore the pieces that don't." Her uneven eyes flicked to Galen. "As my resourceful daughter has discovered, a large part of the tech is made up of stem cells. These stem cells develop into different types of cells, growing into an additional system within each of our bodies, like a second nervous system. It connects itself intricately with all our systems, and in part becomes almost a mirror of our brain, something that echoes our processes, yet also enhances them. Our DNA comprises about half of the genetic material within these cells. The other half, I can't identify. It may be from species we don't know, or it may be engineered.

"The cells also carry what we would think of as nonbiological elements. Some very sophisticated microcircuitry is in the cytoplasm, and more is on the cell membrane itself. On the membrane, this microcircuitry looks almost like"-she lifted an emaciated hand and pointed over her shoulder, where the implants would have discolored the skin around her spine-"on a much smaller scale. The microcircuitry seems to direct the growth and functioning of the implants, to impose
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