4/5; 4 stars; A-I've had this book in my TBR for such a long time and am kicking myself for taking so long to read it. This book was interesting, imaginative, and highly entertaining. I loved the idea of 'Witness' that travelled around with the artifact, the incredibly cool robots and gadgets, the concept of a 'colony ship' that has been wandering around for generations (and how whacked out its crew became), and the story of Gem himself. Lee and MIller always has so many creative ways to distinguish the various planets in their universe. Each has some quirky technology or cultural or religious practice that sets it apart from the others. In Balance of Trade, the Combine is referred to as a powerful organization that a person would aspire to be a part of. In this book, the Combine has been revealed to be something rather corrupt and downright nasty. I wonder how that came about? I hope that in one of the future books or short stories that thread is tied up. I don't recall any mention of the combine in later books (Val Con and company). Sounds like there must have been an interesting war in there somewhere. Anyway, I think this book left the door open to a follow up story and I read on a blog interview with Sharon Lee that one had been in the works but it was put on hold. Maybe one day it will be dusted off and completed.