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that it was smoother than it had been up to that point and more of a uniform height. No headache stones here. Someone had cleared them away.

"That nodule was here before to block our way," she said.

"They didn't want us to get any farther. On this side I see definite evidence of improvement to the cave."

"If there is a living society on this planet, it's most likely underground," Morden said, "where our scanners haven't been able to read."

Perhaps it was the stillness, the darkness that focused her thoughts. Or perhaps it was her decision to block out the human distractions and focus on the culture they had encountered. But connections were becoming obvious to her. Either they had moved underground during the war, or they had always lived underground and the structures on the surface had been a diversion. The cave entries were kept natural to disguise their presence. This was a secretive race, a race who worked through diversion, misdirection.

"I think they knew we were coming. Could they have found the beacon on board their ship?"

"Why do you think they knew?"

"It's all too neat. They live underground, where our scanners can't detect them and our probe can't go. Above ground, all we find is ruins... and one astonishing, living artifact. An artifact that promises all that is desired. And everyone who goes to investigate that artifact disappears."

"Given my choice I would have gone there, instead of the caves."

"Maybe they thought they would catch us all that way. With that bait. They didn't expect us in the caves. When we came in, they blocked our way."

"And now the nodule is gone. Does that mean they're ready for us?"

"Yes, it does."

She stood.

"They provide an intriguing energy source to draw us in. And here we are. But what I can't
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