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head and climbed to her feet, holding the desk for support. Her knees were shaking.

"Shit!"

The mouse had exploded. The lights in the isolab had been blown out, as had the window, yet she could see in the remaining light that little of the mouse survived. Fragments of skin and bone and glops of quasi-organic matter were splattered over the inside of the isolab. There went her Nobel. There went her reputation. There went the only example of biomechanical technology. But most of all, there went her opportunity to understand this thing, this semicreature that had fascinated her and presented her with the chance to learn so much. Her pinpoint light into the darkness of this unknown culture had blown out.

She should have gone slower, should have started with only a moment of telepathic contact. She could be impatient, and she had been. Now she knew how John felt when he "screwed the pooch." It felt like crap. She noticed that Terrence wasn't moving. He'd been knocked straight over and was still in the chair, on the floor. She climbed over the desk toward him, noticing shiny streaks on his face. Blood.

Fragments of the window had pierced his cheeks and neck. He was saying something, but she couldn't hear. She realized an alarm was blaring. She pushed aside her own empty chair and knelt beside him.

"Terrence!"

His wounds didn't appear severe, but he seemed dazed. His eyes danced without focus, and his lips continued to move. She grabbed his shoulders and leaned in close.

"Terrence, what is it? Are you hurt?"

She brought her ear to his lips. They whispered over her skin as his deep voice flowed out.

"I am the machine. I am the machine. I am the machine."

She jerked back, and then the door to her lab burst open, knocking aside the bookcase that had fallen
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