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was tilted to one side. A partially healed cut ran down the right side of her forehead into her thin, upslanted brow. Her lips were slightly parted, her grey eyes blank and cold. Her skin carried an odd shininess, a sense of artifice. This was not her. This was an empty vessel. The light of her essence had gone.

And he had failed to save her.

The full weight of his grief at that moment fell upon him, and more than anything he wanted to lash out, to find some release from the pain. Yet he knew. She had died because he had upheld his vows. He had sworn to be worthy of the Circle's trust. He had sworn to follow the Code. And he had done so, even when it had cost her life.

Now would he break that Code? Would he reveal that she had died for nothing?

No. No.

He took refuge in a mind-focusing exercise, blocking out the images of the ship's sensors, closing down his thoughts, burying the memories, narrowing his attention to a blank screen in his mind. First he visualized just the letter A in glowing blue on the left side of the screen, fixing on it with ferocious intensity. The image echoed back to him. Then he visualized B appearing beside A, and he held the image of them both in his mind. Then it was ABC, all in his mind at once, each individual letter clear while the whole also remained clear. Retaining clarity required concentration, and became more difficult as the exercise progressed.

He added letter after letter in a neat row, keeping the images of them all in his mind at once. The orderly progression echoed back to him. Bit by bit, the energy calmed, decreased. Gradually his heart slowed; his trembling stopped. The heat dissipated from his body. The anger remained, and the constant undercurrent, yet he would not act on them.

He had almost slipped, as
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