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There was a dizzy, sickening whirl of mental blackness—not true blackness, but a mind-enveloping darkness that was filled with the multi-colored little sparks of thoughts and memories that scattered through the darkness like tiny glowing mice, fleeing from something unknown, fleeing outwards and away toward a somewhere that was equally unknown; scurrying, moving, changing—each half recognizable as it passed, but leaving only a vague impression behind.

Memories were shattered into their component data bits in that maelstrom of not-quite-darkness, and scattered throughout infinity and eternity. Then the pseudo-dark stopped its violent motion and became still, no longer scattering the fleeing memories, but merely blanketing them. And slowly—ever so slowly—the powerful cohesive forces that existed between the data-bits began pulling them back together again as the not-blackness faded. The associative powers of the mind began putting the frightened little things together as they drifted back in from vast distances, trying to fit them together again in an ordered whole. Like a vast jigsaw puzzle in five dimensions, little clots and patches formed as the bits were snuggled into place here and there.

The process was far from complete when Broom regained consciousness.

Broom sat up abruptly and looked around him. The room was totally unfamiliar. For a moment, that seemed perfectly understandable. Why shouldn't the room look odd, after he had gone through—


He rubbed his head and looked around more carefully. It was not just that the room itself was unfamiliar as a whole; the effect was greater than that. It was not the first time in his life he had regained consciousness in unfamiliar surroundings, but always before he had been aware that only the pattern was different, not the details.

He sat there on the floor and took stock of himself and his surroundings.

He was a big man—six feet tall when he stood up, and proportionately heavy, a big-boned frame covered with hard, well-trained muscles. His hair and beard were a dark blond, and rather shaggy because of the time he'd spent in prison.


Yes, he'd been in prison. The rough clothing he was wearing was certainly nothing like the type of dress he was used to.

He tried to force his memory to give him the information he was looking for, but it wouldn't come. A face flickered in his mind for a moment, and a name. Contarini. He seemed to remember a startled look on the Italian's face, but he could neither remember the reason for it nor when it had been. But it would come back; he was sure of that.

Meanwhile, where the devil was he?

From where he was sitting, he could see that the room was fairly large, but not extraordinarily so. A door in one wall led into another room of about the same size. But they were like no other rooms he had ever seen before. He looked down at the floor. It was soft, almost as soft as a bed, covered with a thick, even, resilient layer of fine material of some kind. It was some sort of carpeting that covered the floor from wall to wall, but no carpet had ever felt like this.

He lifted himself gingerly to his feet. He wasn't hurt, at least. He felt fine, except for the gaps in his memory.

The room was well lit. The illumination came from the ceiling, which seemed to be made of some glowing, semitranslucent metal that cast a shadowless glow over everything. There was a large, bulky table near the wall away from the door; it looked almost normal, except that the objects on it were like nothing that had ever existed....