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hovering over his shoulder.

"What is that?"

It appeared nearly intact, strings of dried muscle and tendon holding it together. The dry environment had helped to partially preserve it. It wasn't a mouse; the shape and structure were different. It was roughly circular, about a foot in diameter, but only about two inches thick. The bones and connective tissues were a rust color, the bones extremely delicate, narrowing to needlelike thinness for much of their length and widening to about one-quarter inch at the joints.

The configuration of the bones seemed more geometric than organic, on the top bones radiating out from the center of the circle to its edge, joined to short bones that went halfway down its side. The bottom was a mirror image of the top, the overall shape reminiscent of a spoked wheel. The inside of this structure was mainly empty, except for its center, where an odd dried-out twist of connective tissue fastened a smaller formation of bones to the top and bottom of the outer skeleton. In her mind the division was made automatically and instinctively: the outer skeleton and the inner skeleton. The inner bones poked through the remnants of a layer of tissue. They were cruder, more of a uniform thickness, and whiter, and they also appeared more familiar and more functional.

She could see what appeared to be limbs, and a skull. But what would limbs and a skull be doing at the center of this creature? Structurally and evolutionarily, it made no sense. She would have liked to believe that the larger creature had swallowed the smaller one, but that would not explain the connective tissue. This was either a single organism of a totally new, unfamiliar type, or two organisms tied together in some symbiotic or parasitic fashion. Except that the outer organism
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