“We don’t expect you to understand, but it was necessary to perform the test under those conditions. Anything more controlled or closer to your experience would have invalidated the point.”

“So that’s it, then?” Rich snarled. “What would have happened if I wasn’t so lucky?”

“The experiment would have been a failure, and a different subject procured.”

“And Marie? What about her?” Rich demanded. His cheeks were burning and he found it hard to see the form of his accusers through welling tears.

“Ms. Cullen was a necessary incentive. You will find her in her apartment, asleep, though we must stress that she was never more than a template.”

Rich gritted his teeth, thinking of Marie at Pearlsea Fortress, at the Rift, and on that stack of hay in the Endlands. “Bait,” he sighed. “Cheese for the mouse in the maze.”

“An inelegant metaphor, but one not without some primitive merit. Are we done here, Mr. Richmond? Or must we persist in lowering ourselves to your base questions?”

“I just have one more,” Rich said. “Why me?”

The lights of his accusers modulated, with the answer in quizzical, almost mocking tones: “Why not?”