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the explosion had been an accident, caused by the unstable feedback loop. The device seemed overly sophisticated for a bomb. She remembered the intensity of the mouse's thoughts, the clarity, the focus, the beat.

She received faint echoes of this now, halting, intermittent, interspersed with a blankness like static. And out of the blankness came the fresh scent of a bed of shavings, nuzzled into deep and warm, and of the cool darkness of stone all around. Then it was the machine all around, close and vital, beautiful, a perfect instrument painted in shadow, and then too close, too vital, currents racing in circulation, tightening like wires, the pain, the brilliant lockstep pain, rising in intensity, and then the shriek. It was only a tiny echo of what it had been in the lab, but it reminded her of the shriek she had heard then, the shriek that had been lost in everything that had followed. The shriek of something terrible being born. And dying. The communication console's grandiose flourish was sounding again and again. She put the fragment back in the container, put it out of view of the monitor.

"Hello?" Dr. Chang sat in his office, his face stiff, unreadable.

"Sorry to bother you on your vacation."

"No bother. John's been delayed. I'm just sitting here twiddling my thumbs."

"I have some exciting news."

He was speaking in his neutral tone.

"One of IPX's probes, out near the rim, has found something on a planet called Alpha Omega 3. The ruins of an ancient civilization no one has ever encountered before. The ruins cover over thirty percent of the planet's surface, and they're totally unlike those of any culture we know. Preliminary dating indicates the ruins are over one thousand years old. And there are indications of advanced technology."


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