The Technician

Prologue

Three Years before the Rebellion (Solstan 2434)

The sculpture had been mounted on a rock which, though far from the Northern Mountains of the continent, Chanter knew to be the tip of a mountain itself submerged in the underlying tricone-generated soil of the planet Masada. After studying the screen display for a moment longer, he turned to the other displays arrayed before him and did some checking. His mud-marine had risen to the surface pushing up the rhizome mat as a shield above it, so should be all but invisible to the cameras peering down from the Theocracy laser arrays. However, he ensured that the chameleonware shield was functioning too and now extended to the rock, so would cover his departure from his vehicle. It was only by such attention to detail that he had remained undiscovered under the eyes of the Theocracy for so many decades.

He spun his seat round then heaved his bulky amphidapt body from it, traipsing across to the door to one side, his big webbed feet making a wet slapping against the floor. Beside the door he unclipped his root shear from its rack and turned it on. The thing looked like a dental-floss stick, the handle extending to a bow-shaped section across which a monofilament stretched, now vibrating at high frequency.

The door opened with a thump, extruding in towards him then sliding aside into its cleaner compartment. Inevitably, mud and chunks of flute-grass rhizome spilled in towards him. Amidst this mess a nest of green nematodes also tumbled in and began to wetly writhe apart, so Chanter took the time to grab up a sample bag and scoop the worms inside. Waste not want not – he had not had his body adapted to this environment to no purpose, and here was lunch.

The rhizome mat overhung the exit like a pergola collapsing under an excessive weight of vines, but the work of a moment with the root shear dropped it all back down into the black mud below. Chanter next returned the shear to its rack before stepping out. He paused for a moment to breathe deeply, gill slits opening to increase his air intake and thus winnow out the small amount of oxygen in the air. He held his right webbed hand up before his face, peering at the sculpture through the translucent skin between forefinger and mid-finger, but the infrared image gave him no more data than his mudmarine’s sensors had already obtained. The next web across gave him ultraviolet and evidence of some puzzling trace radioactives, but that was all.

Chanter sighed and now trudged through mud then across the flattened layer of flute grass to the rock and gazed up at the sculpture. The structure of carved bones had been joined together with plaited sinew threaded through drilled holes, or small mortise-and-tenon joints carved with a precision normally only available to machines. One of the grazers of this world had been disassembled, its poisonous fats meticulously extracted from its still-living body and discarded, in fact, stacked neatly in a pyramidal Chinese puzzle to one side, glistening in the light of the sun, whilst the rest, excluding sinew and bone, had been consumed. The predator had then taken the hard remains and made this.

As always Chanter felt a species of awe upon seeing such expressions of the artistic temperament, yet though the sculpture had been fashioned with such precision, such symmetry and such definite purpose, he still had no idea what it represented. The thing before him looked like something living, but bore little resemblance to its original form. To his recollection, it also