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passages carried him endlessly around.

Built in haste on a desolate asteroid, their retreat was too crowded, too close, small rooms packed together in two nested circles. Even in the quiet of early morning, while most still slept, the presence of the other mages pressed at him, and the walls seemed to constrict around him.

The regulated temperature remained several degrees below his comfort level. He buttoned the long black coat that he wore over sweater and pants. The tech echoed his discomfort.

It had been twenty-one months since he had walked outside, since he had felt the wind on his face and smelled fresh air. Those things, he would never do again. Although the others might eventually return to the universe, he would never leave this place.

He finished one mind-focusing exercise and began another, a mathematical progression. He calculated one element after the next. One. Three. Six. He maintained the exercises from the time he arose in the morning until the time he went to sleep. For the most part, he was barely aware of them. Only in moments of particular stillness or agitation did he become conscious of the progression that built step by orderly step in his mind. The disciplined mental activity helped him retain control, helped him keep buried those thoughts and memories that would threaten his equilibrium.

As he had cloistered his body away, so had he cloistered his thoughts away. The process had begun long ago; now he had nearly perfected it. With each mind-focusing exercise his attention narrowed, telescoping on the here and now, forming walls that held out past and future, that kept his thoughts fixed on a single path, a safe path. He had learned that he could not allow himself to withdraw from the present, to drift away like a ghost. In drifting
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