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that was aimed struck home, and for all the good that it did, they might as well have been clean misses. For that matter, they could just as easily not have been shooting at all, thereby saving themselves the cost of ammunition.

"Negative on hit, Delta Seven," said a discouraged Watkins in Delta 2.

"Damn," murmured Marlette, and then more loudly he called out, "Okay, come about, we'll..."

And then an alarmed shout came from Thomas, who was hanging back in Delta 9. "Delta Seven ... the artifact! It's changing!"

Marlette looked up from his instruments and saw to his utter shock that Thomas was right. Marlette was the one who had been most worried about the defensive and offensive capabilities of the artifact, but he had never imagined that it might do anything along the lines of what it was doing now.

The artifact began to-there was no other word for it, really- blossom. Like a flower opening or, for that matter, like a sea anemone revealing the spines that provided the greatest threat. The tines, ribs ... everything on the object that appeared the least bit spiny ... began to move, to unfold.

And it looked familiar to Marlette, for some crazy reason. It took him a few moments to put his finger on it, but when he something that might have resembled a very eccentric, very surreal, and very corrupted version of a jumpgate.

Leo Rosen staggered down the hallway, tilting his head back, trying to stop the bleeding. And it was at that moment that Alex and Sheila ran past in the other direction, heading for Alex's quarters and safety.

Alex took one look at Leo, and sure, Leo had been acting off lately. And yeah, Leo'd been on the verge of destroying whatever happiness he and Sheila might actually have a shot at. But the bottom line was, they were brothers,
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