until it reached his skin. The heat pressed into him, building, searing, cooking him alive, burning away all coherent thought until he was left only with the pain, the blazing, radiant pain, penetrating deeper and deeper until it reached, at last, the very heart of Z'ha'dum. His heart.
* * *
Anna ran to the balcony's edge, bent over the balustrade.
John was a tiny dot of movement against the blackness of the abyss. How could he choose death over her? Why would he?
Whatever the reason, she had failed. She would never have the Eye now.
The abyss was filling with light. It shone down from above, spread through the cavern. She looked up to the great skylight, and it looked like a sun, a tiny burning sun racing down toward them.
It burst through the skylight, and as it plunged into her city, she realized what it was: the White Star.
The Eye had also failed, had failed to protect the liberators, had allowed chaos into their midst.
The nexus John would destroy them all.
She despaired for the liberators, for their ancient knowledge, their great machines. But for herself, if she would never be rejoined with the machine, then she would welcome death, and she would meet it, as her sisters did in battle, shrieking.
There was a brilliant, mind-stopping flash of whiteness. And then in a strange, attenuated moment, the shock wave struck through her, ripping apart tissue, cells, atoms, particles- dissolving her, reducing her entirely to chaos.
Galen awoke, his back on fire. He jerked, finding himself disoriented in the darkness, covered in-something. He touched a hand to his face, but his fingers were numb. Then he remembered.
His back was raw with burns, while his chest and hands had no sensation. He struggled