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turned to leave.

"No, wait." Her voice softened. "Why don't you come and watch? I'm making your father's birthday present."

He came and sat across the worktable from her, scratching at the edges of a patch of burned skin on the back of his hand. It hadn't yet healed.

"No, come and sit here beside Mother."

He came around the table, climbed onto a stool beside her.

She held up an unfinished silver band. "It's a ring. It will have a stone here, which will copy any data crystal it touches."

"How can it do that?"

She gave a tight smile, the expression seeming unnatural, and pointed to the small black stone clamped to the work-table. "The inner layers store information, just as a normal data crystal. The outer layer will look the same, but function differently." She continued her explanation as she added layer after layer to the stone. When she was done, she turned to him, and a hardness came into her face. "Not a bad teacher, am I?"

"No," he said.

"Now we need to insert the stone in the ring, and connect it to the microcircuitry in the band." She worked over it with spidery fingers.

"You're not angry with him anymore, then?"

"He claims he's turned over a new leaf. I can do that too."

She made another connection in the band.

"What's that?" he asked.

"Some additional memory." She looked up at him. "I know your father tells you horrible things about me. But you love me, don't you, my darling?"

"Of course."

"Tell me."

"I love you, Mother."

"Show me."

He leaned forward and kissed her lips. She crushed him in a smothering embrace. "I'm the only one who really loves you," she said. Her fingers kneaded his back. "Do you believe he's turned over a new leaf?"

"I-don't know," he said.

"Do you believe I have?"

He didn't know
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