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She wanted to break open the husks now, to see the condition of the mice, to run a whole series of tests on them, but it was too dangerous a procedure to do with the probe. She could damage them. She should wait. She should wait.

"I'll just stay a little longer," Anna said.

"You've been in there eight hours," Chang said, surprising Anna.

"Get out of there and come join the party."

She became aware of the aching in her legs and arms, the tightness at the back of her neck, the pounding in her head. Anna closed down the session, returning the probe to automatic, twisted her sweaty hands out of the gloves, and pulled off her helmet. She was exhausted. As she pulled herself out of the chair, her leg muscles spasming, she realized that she had totally lost track of her body. She had, in a sense, melded with the machine. For those eight hours, she had been the machine. And as she scanned the controls and panels and communications equipment surrounding her, it struck her: the machine had been the universe.

* * *

It was eighteen hundred by the time the general left him in his quarters. John was breathing hard, as if he'd been running rather than standing at attention while the general chewed him out. He leaned a hand against the bulkhead, lowering his head. He'd failed. He could feel his career slipping away from him, and the sensation was terrifying. Being an Earthforce officer was what he was meant to do. He couldn't imagine a life apart from the service.

He'd completely misjudged Ross, and that error in judgment might cost him his career. They'd been engaged in a battle simulation with the heavy cruiser Hyperion. During the mock battle, the Hyperion, in an ingenious maneuver, had managed a hit to the Agamemnon's targeting system, knocking it out.
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