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direction and found another approaching from there.

"Are these the ones you serve?" Anna asked.

"Why don't they talk to us?"

"Them?" Churlstein brayed out a laugh.

"They're servants."

Anna sensed an opening and pressed it. This had been her original plan: to confront the creature in the nodule. It had hidden itself, had used distractions, deceptions, representatives. If only she could get through to it, perhaps there would be a way out.

"Then where are they? Don't they talk to you?"

"They're talking to me right now. They're right here. They're all around you."

The cave walls behind Churlstein, dark in shadow, began, in vertical bands, to shift. The cave was no longer empty of light; it was filled with darkness. Anna recognized the solid, structural movement of bodies. They were bodies of darkness, darkness as a positive presence. The darkness gathered, in its shifting, fibrous movement, a shape momentarily suggesting a limb, another a head.

Ghosts of constellations followed her eyes like afterimages. Reality was fraying apart. Through the gaps radiated a furnace of desire, malice cutting straight into her, a hole opening up inside her just as Donne had said, a hole into which she was falling, a hole which needed to be filled. She thought she was screaming, but then she realized it was Donne screaming, jerking back and forth, hands clasped to her helmet. The scream cutting a notch louder, Donne jerked her hands down from her head and brought the PPG to bear.

Churlstein flew back with the first blast, his chest blossoming with a black flower. Donne hit the roof of the passage next, to block out the shifting darkness, and a huge ledge of rock dropped-oddly fast in the higher gravity-and triggered a cascade. Anna ducked down against the parapet
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