Polity 4 - 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 did not
look like anything else on this world, nor on any of the other worlds he had
visited. The skull had been shortened, the grinding plates removed, cut into spikes
along one side then reinserted sideways to give the skull pointy teeth. The
thing sat upright, like the statue of some Human god, which was perhaps why
Theocracy proctors destroyed these things if they got to them before Chanter.

The rib
bones had been closed together vertically and added to at the bottom to form a
cone-like structure. The rear legs extended up from behind and had been
substantially altered; the long bones sliced thin, lengthways, and splayed out
almost like a peacock’s feathers. Forelimbs formed a single hoop looping round
from the top of the cone to its bottom – a perfect circle.

Chanter
whistled, and Mick came trundling out of the mudmarine, long-toed feet
extending almost like paddles from the sides of the low, flat louse-like robot
to keep its weight supported on the delicate rhizome mat. It headed straight
over to the sculpture, stalked eyes hingeing from under its front end to
inspect the thing for a moment, then arms folding up from each side of its flat
body to reach out with long-fingered hands to probe into the bonework and
ensure the thing would remain undamaged when shifted to Mick’s flat-ribbed
back. Soon afterwards Mick had safely installed the sculpture inside the
mudmarine.

Sighing
yet again, Chanter realized he was no nearer to understanding the work of this
artist. This sculpture would join the rest of his unfathomable collection in
his underground base. Of course, he shouldn’t be surprised, even after fifty
years, at his lack of comprehension. This was no ordinary artist. The
Technician, as some had begun to call it, was a very strange and lethal beast
indeed.

The Rebellion from Underneath (Solstan 2437)

‘Damnation!’ Chanter exclaimed.

Hauling
himself up by the console from the tilted floor of his mudmarine, he plumped himself
back in his chair. Once ensconced, he pulled across safety straps he only used
when negotiating particularly moist strata of mud – the stuff that possessed
currents and was also navigated by tricones the size of gravcars.

On his
screen he called up a seismic map created by the various infrasound emitters
he’d planted about Masada, but what it showed just didn’t quite make sense. At
first he’d thought the shockwave slamming into his conveyance came from a test
firing of the Theocracy’s new weapon – that massive coilgun they’d named
Ragnorak and intended to use to punch missiles right down through the mountains
into the rebels’ cave systems – but no, they could not have moved it into
position so soon and the readings here were just not right for that. The
seismic map showed that something big had come down just fifty kilometres away
from his present position below the surface, but that it hadn’t come down hard
enough to be a direct fall from orbit.

He
wanted more data – something was going on and he needed to know what it was,
and to collect that data he must surface and take a look. He engaged the
vehicle’s conveyor drive and it began to worm its way forwards, then up as he
pulled the control column up. Occasionally there came a bump as the mudmarine shoved
tricones aside, but they were of little danger to him, since though their
grinding tongues could turn the toughest metal to powder, or sludge, out here
he tried not to stay in one spot long enough for them to converge, and when
halting did become necessary, he had the means to repel them.

Within
an hour he was near the surface, the marine travelling faster in the less dense
soil. He slowed almost to a halt below the rhizome mat, taking the precaution
of engaging chameleonware before surfacing, then eased the vehicle up. Once it
was stable, he first extruded a camera up through the mat to take a look
around. No Humans in the vicinity, no technology, and he was a good distance
from any Theocracy arachniculture. However, an unseasonal storm was blowing out
there, the grasses waving about vigorously and the air filled with broken stems
– the aftermath of the same shockwave he had felt below. Also the light seemed
odd. It was night out there and, though the nights here were never that dark,
it seemed oddly bright. Maybe a distant fire fed by some oxygen supply? Perhaps
a spaceship had come down – that certainly matched the seismic profile, but
pointing the camera in the direction of the impact revealed no fire. Finally he
tilted the camera upwards, and gasped in surprise.

Meteor
showers and the extended dull orange blooms that were the after-effect of
massive orbital explosions filled the sky. Obviously some major events had
occurred above and whatever had come down was probably a result of them. Had
the Polity finally intervened here? The AIs had not been showing much sign of
doing so over the last few years. As he understood it, intervention here was a
bit of a political hot potato that might result in trouble on Line worlds whose
Polity affiliation was . . . delicate. He decided the camera wasn’t good
enough, retracted it and next extruded his main sensor array.

Further
surprises. Chanter swore quietly. The Theocracy satellite array was gone or,
rather, now formed a cloud of wreckage feeding that meteor storm. However,
though the powerful radio telescope in his sensor array showed him much detail
of this, and even revealed that the shipyard on the Calypse moonlet Flint had
also been destroyed, it did not reveal what had done the damage. He began
searching frequencies for Theocracy communications and, slowly weaning fact
from rumour and all the religious dross, finally figured out the chronology of
events.

The
thing they called Behemoth, which he knew as one of the remaining three of four
massive alien organisms that originally formed the entity called Dragon, had
arrived in rather bad temper. It had destroyed the Flint base then, by
pretending to head directly for Hierarch Loman’s ship, forced him to call the
Fleet away from Masada to protect him. Dragon had then U-jumped to Masada, and
the Fleet, with ships that could not engage their underspace drives from a
standing start, had been unable to pursue. Here it had destroyed the laser
satellites before hurling itself to the surface and crash-landing. Chanter considered
what this might mean.

Almost
certainly, now, Lellan Stanton and her rebels would take advantage of the
situation. They would head for the surface, and he knew there were enough of
them, with enough armament, to take it. Loman would then respond, sending
forces down from space to retake the surface – those troops presently training
in the cylinder world Hope. The ballot for Polity
intervention, being secretly collected here, might climb above the required 80
per cent but, even if not, there would be such a mess here that Polity
intervention seemed inevitable. Chanter was of two minds about that. He rather
liked his secretive molelike existence here, enjoyed his singular research and
the lack of interference.

He
retracted the sensor array and re-engaged his mudmar-ine’s drive. Large events
were in the offing and things were due to get a little fraught up there, but he
intended to remain underneath it all. Right now, he intended to take a look at
a Dragon sphere, from the underside.

Chanter slowly drew his mudmarine to a halt as the seismic image of what
lay ahead became clearer and clearer. After checking data stored in his
computer system he had ascertained that Dragon spheres were a kilometre across.
This one had lost a large portion of its substance and no longer bore the shape
of a sphere.

Its
impact with the soft ground had thrown up mountains of debris around it on the
surface, and within the crater these enclosed, a substantial quantity of alien
remains lay visible. The signals from his seismappers revealed incredibly dense
bones of a material similar to ceramal but intricately formed and laminated
with cellular structures. Other items up there looked like the by-blows of
fusion reactors and giant animal organs. Scales strewn about the area reflected
as dense as a Polity dreadnought’s armour, and other softer items formed an
encompassing morass. Anyone stumbling across this would feel sure they had
found all that remained of the creature, but it was all for show.

Underneath
the ground the story was very different. A half hemisphere of Dragon remained,
being pushed deeper into the ground on some thick stalk almost like a mushroom
growing the wrong way up. Activity within that hemisphere was intense enough
for Chanter to also pick up energy readings through the intervening mud.
Seismics showed that internally the hemisphere had divided up into a cellular
structure that bore no resemblance to the debris above. Each cell lay about a
metre across and was rapidly forming something at its heart. Dragon, it seemed,
was not dead and was up to something nefarious, which by the record seemed par
for the course for this creature.

Also
remembering how dangerous were the Dragon spheres – one had, after all,
destroyed a runcible on the cold world of Samarkand, resulting in something
like thirty thousand deaths, and this one had just thoroughly shafted the
Theocracy – Chanter began to consider just how precarious his position here
might be. But no, he was passively picking up data from his seismappers as they
transmitted infrasound pulses through the ground. The nearest seismapper lay
twenty kilometres away and Dragon should have no awareness of his own presence
here, nearby. Chanter sat back with a sigh and tried to dispel his unease, just
as the seismap reformed from new data to reveal something snakelike, and two
metres thick, punching from the hemisphere directly towards his mudmarine. He
swore upon seeing the end of this thing opening like the head of a tubeworm
into many strands, just as they closed about his vehicle, jerked it into
motion, and began to reel it in.

Nothing
Chanter did would shake free Dragon’s grip. He tried the device that had been
described to him as a ‘cattle prod for seriously big cows’ – the thing he used
to drive away persistent tricones when he needed to stop somewhere deep down
for maintenance, or sleep – but the Dragon hand of pseudopodia on the end of
that massive tentacle shook his mudmarine so hard he thought the hull would
crack, so he desisted. Still it reeled him in and now the seismapper images
were becoming clearer. There were things growing inside those cells developing
within Dragon’s remaining body. They looked like nymphs; somewhat similar to
the young of mud snakes, though possessing a more alarming foetal
look. Then his instrumentation went crazy before blinking off and, after a
moment, the lights went out.

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