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For Michael

Without his ever-loving persistence, this story never would have been written.




Chapter One



"The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens." –Rainer Maria Rilke



A strident crash startled her awake, and when she slammed into the icy tile, she realized she wasn't dreaming.

Before she could scream, her head struck the floor with a thump, violently jarring her eyes open and forcing her into a world she was not yet ready to handle. Under her naked body, a steel table stuck out at an oblique angle, its warped hinges having buckled from the strain of her weight. She searched her memory for any recollection of the recent past but came up blank, and a renewed sense of panic trapped the breath in her lungs.

Her heartbeat surged as she pulled herself to her feet. No windows broke the monotony of the featureless walls around her. The sweet scent of ether permeated the air, and the flicker of jade monitors imparted an eerie sense of familiarity. Yet she remembered nothing of this place.

A single lab coat hung on an array of hooks mounted near the door. She slipped it on and browsed an assortment of electronic tools arranged by size on a workbench. Looking for some clue regarding her whereabouts, she picked one up—a sapphire blade with hooked flange. A connectorization cleaver. She wouldn't be repairing fiber optics anytime soon but stashed it in her pocket anyway.

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