In the future humanity has spread throughout the universe in a Golden Age technology, exploration and co-operation between the various forms of consciousness. In an era of benign diversity and tolerance a way has been found for artificial intelligences, mechanised sentients, genetically engineered humanoids and natural humans to co-exist together, but there are inevitable tensions because the Right to Life Party has insisted on an intrinsic bias towards natural evolution from the outset.
At the tail end of a devastating war an acolyte has been sent to a redundant prison planet. As part of his novitiate he has been apprenticed to Commander-General Erinei du B'lanche, erstwhile military leader and First Sword of the Confederation of United Intelligences, but now at the end of hostilities reduced to a token supervisor of the prison. The planet is in caretaker mode, in virtual shutdown, with only a skeleton staff to oversee basic maintenance. A series of killings shocks the remaining personnel, because murder is regarded as impossible.