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the depths of the ship. Ing-Radi caught Muirne as she stumbled, and wrapped Muirne in her four skeletal arms. Even now she sought to comfort.

The far end of the hold erupted with a spray of shrapnel and a great gust of fire. It roared across the room, engulfing it. In the space of a few seconds that would haunt Elric for the rest of his life, the mages were burned alive. Some were killed instantly in the intense flash of heat; others managed to throw up shields, to gain a few moments as superheated gas and flames penetrated inward. Their screams were no illusion, nor their brief, desperate struggles for escape. Ing-Radi and Muirne shot up above the flames, arms tight about each other, the subtle blue of a shield flickering around them. But the confined heat was too intense, and they were too weak. The blue vanished, and in a flash their robes incinerated, skin blackened, flaked to ash. Within the great furnace of the cargo hold, they were little more than a cinder buoyed on the heat of the flames.

On the flight deck, the probe's image shifted from the panicked, screaming crew to Carvin's face. She was crying. She too had seen what had happened in the hold. She was whispering to herself, or perhaps, to them all. "No, my God, no, no."

The booming chain reaction of explosions reached the flight deck, and as the ferocious fire blasted out from the wall in a churning, orange corona about Carvin's head, the probe's image went black.

Through the window beside him came a quickfire series of brilliant flashes, and the fragile ship flew apart.

In Command and Control, the same light flashed through the observation port, and John jerked his head toward it. "What?" He took a few steps forward, the sound of his breath hard. But when he spoke again, his voice was only a
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