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destroy itself. If he failed to contact it for twenty-four hours, it would destroy itself. And once it detected his death, it would destroy itself. He would leave the Shadows nothing to aid them.

As he moved away from the ship's shelter, his coat whipped against his body, and the windblown dust raked over his raw hands. Though it was day, the light from the distant sun was weak, refracted by the dust and other elements in the atmosphere. The planet seemed to exist in twilight. The gravity, 1.3 times standard, pulled at his feet.

Through the dust, he saw the silhouettes of the other ships among which he had landed. Some were Shadow ships, but others represented a variety of species; agents and associates reporting to their masters, he supposed. Among them, he hoped that he might go unnoticed for a short time. To one side of the landing area ran a series of rocky outcroppings, the trailing fragments of a vast black mountain range that stretched into the distance. From several places along the length of those outcroppings, faint energy emanated. They were openings, he believed, to the vast underground complex his sensors told him stretched below.

As he headed toward the closest one, he approached one of the towering stone monoliths that covered the planet. These ancient monuments, great upthrust fingers of stone, were spaced a regular 2.432 miles from one another, spread over the entire planet's surface. Each was carved with an inscription of some kind, the vertical line of characters glowing from an internal light. The light pulsed brighter and dimmer in a steady cycle, like the beating of a heart.

Galen drew closer to the pillar, and as the wind shifted, for a moment, he could see the characters clearly. They were runes, he realized with a start, from the language
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