Galen gazed at his right thumb. The puncture marks were so small that someone not knowing what he saw might easily dismiss them as nothing, a mere scratch. Two tiny red pinpricks, set but a few millimeters from each other. Yet the pain they caused, oddly both burning and numbing at the same time, was much worse than he could've expected, no matter what sort of poison the snake had had. It was still centered on the bite, but he could feel it reaching slowly, so very slowly, along the finger, towards his hand.

There was only one thing he knew that might induce such a feeling. The more he thought of it, the more certain he became, his tech following the thoughts, agreeing with him and confirming his fears. He couldn't suppress a shiver at the idea.

His tech was dying.

And unless he could do something to stop it, so was he.

From the moment he had approached this planet with his techno-mage ship, Galen had been sure that something odd was afoot here. The two moons were full of the dark activity of the former Shadow minions, burrowed through and through with tunnels, serving as important mining sites for the Drakh. From the planet itself, however, he found no trace of them, although there was a strange energy there he could not locate nor name. It reminded him of the familiar mage-energy, but wasn't quite like it.

Besides, there were no techno-mages out here in the universe that he didn't know of. Most were still in hiding and would never have left without the knowledge reaching him very quickly. Alwyn's whereabouts were familiar enough to him, and Elizar and Razeel were gone, had been gone for quite a while already, dead in the destruction of Z'ha'dum.

There was obviously some great power down on the planet, and the Drakh were avoiding it most of the time. He had observed them for a while before making any move. He had seen a few Drakh ships visit the planet and return again, but had been unable to follow them all the way down and see what they were doing. There seemed to be some kind of a shield blocking him from the planet. Perhaps, had he been able to put a probe on one of the Drakh ships, he might have had more luck. Of course, now that he thought of it again, he should have done that. But he had lacked patience, he had been a fool, and now he would die because of it.

The numbing pain had reached the joint where his thumb connected to his palm, and he could hardly move his thumb anymore. The tech received no information from it, and any organelles that they tried to send to heal it became inactive so quickly that they soon stopped trying. They set the organelles to fight at the border of the evading death, to stop it from moving further, but it was equally useless.

Galen had had his tech disabled, turned off, shut down, once before in his life, and it had been one of the most unpleasant things he had ever experienced. It had left him weak and stumbling, made him loose all sense of balance and most of his control over his body. Still, it had been different, and this would be much worse.

At that previous time, years ago, when Elizar had tricked him into a room with a Shadow device crafted to stop their techno-mage creations should they turn against them or otherwise become difficult, Galen had still been the master who was as good as a slave to the Shadow programming imposed on the tech, continuously struggling to control it. Now, unlike any other techno-mage, he had overcome that programming and fully merged with his tech. They shared a common goal and a common purpose. More than that, they were one, one complete being, originally built of two different parts, but now perfected.

Another techno-mage, Blaylock, had also been caught in Elizar's trap room. Blaylock, now dead, had been far older than Galen. He had also been striving to become as connected with his tech as possible, allowing it to grow and entangle itself in his system as much as he could. When his tech had been disabled, Blaylock had ended up as good as brain dead, unable to respond even when Tilar, Elizar's minion and another cast-out techno-mage, had began flaying him alive, brutally tearing the tech out of his arms. Although he had come back when his tech was turned on again, it had never fully healed.

And the poison spreading through Galen was killing the tech from the inside, instead of just blocking it through a transceiver at the base of his spine, as had been the case with the Shadow device. He did not know if there was any way of undoing this damage should he survive it.

Galen had landed on the surface without any trouble at all, his sensors finding no hint of any kind of a distortion or shield, but as soon as he had reached the ground, he had found that his relay in the orbit was beyond his reach. He had known at that very moment that this was a trap of some sort, but for whom, and who had set it up, he could not say. That was why he had went on nevertheless, thinking that whoever the expected target was, it certainly wasn't him, or any techno-mage, and that he could easily overcome it.

Arrogance. A usual trait in techno-mages. Still, he told himself, it was not only arrogance, but curiosity as well, that had made him continue. The need to question everything, to understand, and through understanding, create new questions.

He had found no understanding, no answers so far. The site he had chosen for landing was in the tropical zone of the planet, a true jungle, full of strange trees and animals. As he had approached the planet, he had been able to pinpoint the odd energy roughly at this area, but the area was still very large. He had hidden his ship carefully, not only with the usual illusions, but with trees and leaves as well, since he couldn't know whether the power that lived here would be able to see through his magic.

Now, he was happy he had done that. It was clear that whoever had set up this trap, had done so with techno-mages in mind. Why else would there have been such a skillfully crafted poison, or, as he suspected, a nanotechnological killer, that targeted a techno-mage's tech? For no usual poison, no matter how exotic, would be able to do such a thing. But as every bit of the tech that came into contact with the killer was first caught in excruciating pain and then complete numbness as it died, he was unable to learn the poison's composition.

Nanotechnology, similar to many of the techno-mages' creations, was his best guess. Had this been anything close to a regular, natural poison, it would have spread faster once it had invaded his bloodstream, but that had not happened. It had worked its way slowly down his thumb. Now, although the pain was still lingering at the stem of the finger, he could sense it turning to follow the lines of the tech further, towards the tip of his index and middle finger, and to the other direction, where it would soon start its inevitable passage through his wrist, down his arm.

It was as if it had been built to cause as much pain and suffering as possible, a slow, lingering death. He had to admit, though, that death might not have been the original plan of the poison's creator. A young initiate who had not fully mastered the tech might survive its shutting down almost without consequences, and as for an older techno-mage, death would be likely, yet they just might live on as well, though horribly crippled. Galen was the unlucky exception, the only one who was thoroughly inseparable from his tech. Shutting it down would kill him as surely as stopping his heart.