He†watched them leaving, filing out of the door, taking their noise and movement with them. The door to the stairwell closed and he heard their footsteps hammering down the metal steps like the clatter of poorly lubricated machinery. The sound was accompanied by the occasional voice, their words echoing back up the stairs, jumbled into incoherence but comforting nonetheless. Then the footsteps were dissipating, the sound lost impetus and rhythm, they stuttered, trailing away, the voices too. He knew they would be passing one by one through the connecting door from the tower to the station. The door would be closing behind them on its slow hinge, leaving him alone. He could have asked Aarvon to stay but what would be the point? It was better if he faced the ship alone, as he always did.

He stood at the window, staring out at the great ship squatting beside its tiny defenceless prey like a hideous giant. It had the power to do whatever it liked and neither he nor the Parians had any physical defence against it. Their only protection was his personal link with the ship but this delicate association was thinning and wasting as each year passed. Maybe it had completely gone. If it had they would be completely defenceless. He wouldn't know until it started speaking. And it soon would.

In the silence he could feel its presence, a voice waiting to speak, poised in his ear, waiting for the right moment. He felt invisible fingers invading his body, connecting up to old receptors, inspecting him, examining him, looking for new weaknesses and deficiencies, stripping away his privacy. And he knew when it did finally speak it would do so from inside him, as only it could.

ĎHello...

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