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discipline. They would say that the rules of engagement must not be broken, that he must keep himself above the conflict. That, he had done.

And the fabulists had gone.



* * *



It caressed her like the whisper of lips, the faintest, most desirable touch. Her skin tingled as its touch intensified, spreading over her, warm, pulsating with power. Then she was enveloped by it, and in an exhilarating rush of sensation, they connected. She sent herself out through it. Signals raced down neurons, information sped through circuits. It became her, and she became it. The skin of the machine was her skin; its bones and blood, her bones and blood. At last, she was whole again.

Quickly she restarted the pumping circulation, activated the multileveled systems, restored the flawless march of the machine. After a millennium of sleep, it stirred, awakened. Its power ran through her, and she felt tireless, invulnerable. Eagerly she coordinated, she synchronized. All systems of the machine passed through her. She was its heart; she was its brain; she was the machine.

Without it, she had been no one, nothing-a bodiless spirit, lacking purpose or direction. Only in fulfilling the needs of the machine, only in carrying out the instructions of the Eye did her life have meaning. Only when she was whole could she know the thrill of battle, the ecstasy of victory. Above those, there was no greater purpose.

Stabilizing the long-dormant systems, she anticipated the joys she would soon feel: the dizzying delight of movement, the exhilarating leap to hyperspace, the red rapture of the war cry. She would shriek an oratorio of bloodshed. She would let no one strike her down again. She would engage and never break off, not until the enemy was utterly destroyed.

Now Anna had regained
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