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so elegant. It had its needs, and she fulfilled them. Without its needs, what would she do? Without the machine, what was she?

In the suffocating blackness she became aware of a body within her body, a body within the machine. It was all that still remained alive. Yet it was choking, dying. It was her core, the central processing unit of the machine.

It was a Human being, wired into the heart of the ship.

The ship slammed into the ground, and they screamed as their body broke apart, tumbling, collapsing, disintegrating. As if from a great distance, Galen felt his own body growing suddenly heavy, as if he were in an elevator decelerating before a stop. In the next instant that distance between him and his body vanished. He slammed into the ground hard, and pain jolted through him.

For a moment he thought he had lost her. Yet as they faded toward unconsciousness, they retained their connection a moment longer, and in that moment, Galen searched for a remnant of the person this woman had once been, before she had been turned into a component of a machine, before she had been hardwired to obey, before circuits and programming had overruled her life. As they fell into oblivion and the connection failed, all he could find that survived was a name: Anna Sheridan.



* * *



After checking on Ing-Radi, Elric left Gowen to care for her. Somehow, with the aid of Gowen's healing, she had found the energy to continue, at least a while longer. In fact, she was looking better than she had since arriving on the station. Elric encouraged her to rest until it was time to execute the final stage of their plan.

Then he had to speak to Alwyn. He hurried to the observation room, where mages coordinated their surveillance of different areas of the station. Normally the
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