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he visualized a blank screen.

Upon it, he conjured... nothing.

At the center of the brilliant, pulsing orb of his body, something shifted. The rhythm of the machine's beat stumbled. It made an awkward attempt at recovery, squeezed out a few, irregular beats, then stalled in a fixed, stagnant light. Along the machine's far edges, the jaundiced, yellow web faded into darkness, and that darkness spread silently inward, the web shrinking, failing, until it reached the burning orb of his being, and that too began to fade, contracting as if a black hand closed around him, until his fire was extinguished.


With a convulsion his heart seemed to burst open, and he thought that the Circle's device had been triggered. But instead of pain, well-being poured down the lines of his tech, a brilliant, pale yellow luminescence that carried no fire but a deep, relaxing warmth, reaching up his spine and curling in intricate coils through his brain, spreading in an embrace across his shoulders, stretching down his arms. It did not race or churn. It simply inhabited him, its warmth diffusing out from the threads of tech, permeating muscles, tissue, blood, neurons, pervading him, blending into him.

The tech knew everything he'd ever thought, everything he'd ever felt, everything he'd ever dreamed-it shared all those things-and it wanted to show them to him. And as it joined with him, it pulled him forward, down that endless tunnel within which he had retreated, until the fist of his will at last slackened its grip, the exercises, one by one, fell still, the walls peeled away, and he came out into the open, where all that he had hidden from survived, not threats to himself, as he had thought, but pieces of himself, of who he was, and he accepted them all, the pain and
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