A novel set in the Culture universe created by Iain M. Banks

Activation Decision

The Contact section had, for many millennia, sought out all manner of interesting and - as far as the Culture was concerned - unknown things in all parts of the greater galaxy. Of course, one of the many interesting things which were uncovered on a regular basis were previously undiscovered societies, usually - but not always - based on a planet of some kind. Generally, such discoveries were made by one of the huge number of General Contact Units the Culture continued to manufacture on a regular basis, although there were still large numbers of the much smaller Limited Contact Units still in service.

The first action on encountering an inhabited stellar system was to discover everything there was to know about a newly-identified populated planet. A typical noisy GCU Mind was never more in its element when doing its hoovering act on a new world, at the end of which everything which had ever happened which had not been subsequently completely obliterated would be known and understood, and even then significant information about the state of play before global catastrophic events - asteroid impacts, thermonuclear war, and so on - would easily be inferred from the evidence available.

The gathering of such a colossal amount of data required an equally prodigious amount of analysis; this was of course exactly the kind of thing that Culture Minds - especially those involved with Contact - revelled in. Unlikely connections between apparently unrelated facts, implications of obscure decisions made in the past, detailed inferences on future behaviour: all of these results and more were included in the voluminous reports that a GCU Mind would generate for circulation amongst its peers, especially including the group of supposedly wise Minds which formed the local Contact Coordination Committee.

Generally, the next step was to decide what to do, with the principal criteria being: 'what would be best for the locals?' This being the Culture, there was naturally an immense amount of debate on this topic, especially given that there were a huge number of options; everything on a scale from 'nothing, just go away quietly' to 'hello everybody, we're here! on every communication channel on the planet'. This discussion, or dispute, even verging on an argument at times, could go on for months until some kind of consensus finally emerged.

Generally, though, Contact approaches tended to be on the quieter end of this scale, especially when the species involved tended towards nervousness, fright or even flat-out paranoia, which might be understandable given that there was a super-powerful spaceship full of weird aliens hiding in orbit around their planet. Under these not-unusual circumstances, a popular approach was initial contact, in secret, with a small number of individuals that all that earlier research suggested might be amenable to persuasion and cooperation, and to use that intellectual bridgehead to slowly bring around an increasing fraction of the population to the idea of peaceful collaboration with the Culture.

*

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.355]
  xGSV Tangible Influence
    oLSV Allochthonic Presence
    oLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
Friends, I believe we are now approaching the time we should activate our second agent.

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.355+]
  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
    oGSV Tangible Influence
    oLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
What leads you to that conclusion?

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.355+]
  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
    oGSV Tangible Influence
    oLSV Allochthonic Presence
Indeed. I too am curious as to your reasoning.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
I am sure we all appreciate the ancient truism that plans should be adapted to circumstances, rather than attempting to alter the circumstances to fit a plan.

  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
No plan survives contact with the enemy.

  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
Platitudes are all very well, but these goes nowhere to answering the question.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
Hmm. I think you both need to give more of your attention to dispositioning sims.
I believe the situation is developing to a point where activating our agent is both prudent and well-advised.


  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
I would be interested to learn the reasoning which leads you to that conclusion.

  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
As would I. I am sure we would all agree that an ill-timed intervention would at best be ineffective and at worst result in all manner of undesired outcomes.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
I fully agree we would wish to avoid such 'undesired outcomes'. Nevertheless I maintain that things are in fact coming to a head.
You will recall that, after my accidental encounter with our agent’s first very discreet message, I constructed scores of specialised devices – space-capable drones with certain additional capabilities – and spread them liberally around the most likely directions our agent might go.


  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
I do recall. Very clever, I’m sure.

  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
And these devices do seem to have escaped the attention of the Castophrenic Widowhood, at least for now.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
So, from recent message exchanges with my devices, we know for certain that our agent is currently not so very far from the Delphic Chaosarium.

  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
Wait. On a galactic scale, perhaps 'not very far' might be correct.
Still, there are a considerable number of light-years between its current position and that of the Chaosarium.


  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
And I see no evidence that our agent would be motivated to move closer.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
Here I must beg to differ.
We know our experiment at the Chaosarium was successful. This cannot be kept a secret from the Widowhood, given their declared interest in the object for reasons which still remain inscrutable. I strongly suspect that the result has already been observed by the CW and that they are preparing a response.


  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
But this is just speculation, conjecture on your part. We cannot, must not act unless we see an actual response from them.

  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
And in any case, we do not know what form any Castophrenic Widowhood response would take.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
Well, I believe my modelling and simulations lend weight to the view that the Widowhood is very probably aware of the impact on the Cathedral and is with similar probability preparing to move in considerable force on the Delphic Chaosarium.

  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
Supposing, even for a moment, this was true, why would our agent also be in the Chaosarium volume?

  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
Hmm. Perhaps our agent will simply be swept up in the general rush to the Chaosarium, if such a thing were actually to happen? I must admit this sounds plausible to me.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
I agree, and, if that was the case, we would have the desirable outcome of our agent and a substantial number of Widowhood ships being clustered together in a relatively small volume.
I contend that might be the perfect moment for our agent to be fully activated.


  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
I must urge caution. We must not activate our agent unless, and until, we are entirely sure that the congregation of CW ships is actually happening. We cannot risk relying on models and sims alone.

  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
Agree that both caution and positive confirmation is an absolute requirement. We also need to consider the case where our agent is, in fact, a double; loyal to its progenitors and only pretending to be a rebel wanting to defect.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
If our agent is actually not ours and fails to follow our directions, then under the circumstances I am considering the outcome would be no different from that where the agent was not activated at all.

  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
Either of these possibilities would be very bad for the Culture as a whole, especially those individuals in the region of the Delphic Chaosarium.

  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
Undoubtedly true, but there appears to be nothing we could do in any case. Our colleagues at the Chaosarium will be in grave danger if our agent does not do as it will be requested.
We will have metaphorical blood on our hands.


  xGSV Tangible Influence
So, do we agree that, upon positive evidence of a substantial Castophrenic Widowhood presence in the region of the Delphic Chaosarium, and the simultaneous presence of our agent, we attempt to activate that agent. Otherwise, we do nothing.

  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
Agreed.

  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
Also agree, although I want all of us to see the evidence of CW activity before going ahead.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
It will be done.

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