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control on each cell."

Galen remembered his initial discomfort with the implants, his feeling that they had a will, that they had desires. Perhaps it was the microcircuitry he had been responding to.

Burell's research seemed important and valid, yet Galen couldn't imagine how she'd been able to obtain samples for study. "Burell," Galen said, "how have you been able to examine the tech in such depth?"

"Another mage used to live in the next system over. Do you remember Craiselnek? Sour old woman. She died about eight years ago. I arrived to pay my respects before any of the members of the Circle. By the time they arrived to oversee the burning and disposal of her remains, there were a few pieces missing."

"You flayed her?" Galen was appalled.

"I took a few small samples. I wish now I'd taken more." A spasm passed over her broken face, and her breath caught in her throat. Her hand squeezed tightly around Isabelle's.

After a few moments, the hand relaxed, her breathing resumed. She continued as if nothing had happened. "There are many other elements in the implants. Clumps of micro-circuitry, like ganglia, that are interconnected with the neurons. Transceivers, relays, capacitors. Biochips that work as sensors. Some of the stem cells develop into specialized cells that are actually tiny manufacturing plants, building our organelles. Others develop into types of cells I've never seen before. Cells whose purpose I can't even guess." Burell took her hand from Isabelle and pressed her palms flat against the arms of the chair, shifting her weight. They slipped off, too weak. She slumped to one side.

Isabelle made the arms on the chair higher to hold Burell upright. "You can finish later," Isabelle said. "Or just give us access to your files. You need to rest.
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