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Its moistness touched his forehead and flowed down his skin, its fingers sliding over eyes, nose, ears. In the stretching, reaching, contracting of its progress, he sensed its desire. It searched for his nature, to classify him-machine or being, ally or enemy. It poured under the collar of his robe, down his chest and back. It found the tech that ran closest to the surface of his skin, along his shoulder blades and spine. Its thickness gathered there, rippling, considering.

Galen held to the equation of motion. As he continued forward, the membrane reached farther and farther down his torso, to his legs, and he thought it must release his hand, which remained extended in front of him, or his face. Yet they remained coated in warmth, the membrane's volume seemingly endless. Then its grasp curled around his boots, and his entire body was contained within it. If it would not release him, then it would either have to stop his forward progress or detach itself from the shaft. But it did neither.

At last the warmth broke away from his fingers, withdrawing down his hand, his wrist. In another moment its warm grip released his head, the membrane splitting apart, working its way down forehead, eyes, nose, mouth. He gasped for air.

The dampness retreated down his neck, chest. The membrane was letting him pass. It, too, realized they were kin.

It released his legs, reconstituted itself in its old shape.

He stopped his forward movement. He lay now beside the vent. He buried his head in his arms, muffled his greedy breathing.

Morden's smooth voice came to him. "We know Elric's student. His name is Galen. He's young, vicious, and undisciplined-fortunately for you. A more experienced techno-mage would have killed you long before security arrived."

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