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

Embedded Subsystem

Qu-el Histoker, Foklane Valbada and drone Roosh Formali-Kai regrouped in their quarters aboard the LSV Road Less Travelled. The mood was despondent, dour. The clunky mechanical robot which had previously been slumped outside their door had disappeared, presumably too comical an effect for the serious situation they now found themselves in. The LSV was once again represented by the glowing pearlescent orb, its light gently reflected in both humans’ eyes.

The old drone had been entirely silent on the trip back, resting slightly lopsidedly on the console and showing no aura fields. Neither Valbada nor Histoker had had the heart to ask any questions, despite an early exchange with the LSV. On the advice of the Road Less Travelled even before they had departed, the drone had ejected its other two knife missiles which Valbada had then rather gingerly placed in a couple of secure storage boxes produced by the runabout.

"I'm afraid," the voice of the Road Less Travelled said gently, "That I am going to have to undertake a certain amount of invasive testing at this stage."

Formali-Kai wobbled in the air; the drone equivalent of a shrug. The LSV said "Now", and the drone went suddenly, rigidly still surrounded by a coruscating array of layered fields. After a moment, the fields disappeared with a slightly theatrical pop, and the drone bobbed in the air like a partially inflated balloon.

"Your memories have been tampered with," the voice of the Road Less Travelled announced, "Quite severely, in places: parts have been deleted, and others modified. And there's been no attempt to disguise the modifications: either the agent which did this didn't care, or they were pressed for time."

Both Histoker and Valbada were shocked, horrified. One of the very few things in the Culture which was actually forbidden - or at least effectively so - was reading another being's mind without explicit permission, and non-consensual updates of another's mind-state was, if anything, even more taboo. Still, these things did, very occasionally, happen although in general there had to be an extremely good operational reason, otherwise the sanctions against the Mind performing such actions would be substantial.

"You also had a set of mimetic suggestions and triggered instructions embedded," the LSV went on, "So your idea of pretending to perform a perturbation ourselves was almost certainly an implanted intimation. And there were some changes to some of your internal subsystems, too: for example, the ability to open your housing to allow the knife missile to leave without you being aware of it."

The two secure storage boxes from the runabout had followed the humans and drone to their quarters on their own AG fields, then quietly parked themselves in a corner. The coruscating fields surrounded them for a few moments then disappeared.

"Neither of the other knife missiles show any sign of having been tampered with," the ship's voice announced, "So we can conclude that the purpose of the furious attack was not to harm the humans, or indeed the drone itself, but to force the complete destruction of the device, eliminating our ability to investigate its programming."

For the first time since the Cathedral, Formali-Kai showed an aura field: the purple of contrition with little circulating motes of the deep brown of displeasure.

"I should recluse myself from any further part of this mission," the drone said in an emotionless formal voice, "And remain apart from all of the crew until this situation has been fully resolved."

"I don't think that will be necessary," the ship said, "I am completely confident that I have identified and removed anything within you which might constitute a threat. We know that the damage has been done, the illicit experiment carried out."

"So, is the Chaosarium reacting? Moving differently?" Valbada demanded.

The ship made a noise which sounded like a sigh.

"I can't tell," it said, "Histoker's suit sent me its measurements and analyses, of course, but even my own modelling hasn't revealed whether I should expect a measurable change in motion. And, despite some very careful measurements, I've not been able to detect any changes. Yet, at least."

Histoker frowned.

"What about the firepower we directed at the knife missile?" he asked, sounding very worried.

"You were attacked from a direction which led directly to open space," the ship said immediately, "Misses would have exited the Cathedral entirely and dissipated well away from any objects in the Chaosarium. I suspect this is not a coincidence."

"Ah, okay," Valbada said, adding, "And the energies the missile directed at us?"

"It was using only Effectors and CREWS," the voice of the Road Less Travelled said, "Effectors would not have affected the Cathedral at all, and the coned fields the suits and Formali-Kai produced scattered the coherent optical and UV light in many directions. The cumulative impact of the radiation would quite definitely have a negligible effect on the motion of the object. Again, not a coincidence, I believe."

"So our discovery and destruction of the agent which impacted the wall of the Cathedral did not invalidate the experiment, from the conspirator's point of view?" Histoker asked.

"I believe it did not," the ship's voice said from the glowing orb, "I have carefully reviewed the records from the suits and I now know that the sole significant impact on the fabric of the Cathedral was what turned out to have been a single plasma discharge. That kind of shot is well within the capabilities of Formali-Kai's new knife missiles."

"New missiles?" Valbada and Histoker said in unison.

"Yes," Formali-Kai replied, "When war was declared, I was given a very rapid refit aboard the GSV Absolutely No You-Know-What. One of the easiest upgrades was swapping out my old missiles - which were mostly disabled anyway - with a trio of new state-of-the-art devices. Lots of other upgrades, too, but nothing which required any external changes to my mind-state, as far as I know."

"So, we need to move to the much bigger question," the ship interjected smoothly, "How was the tampering with drone and missile undertaken? It would need a Mind-level intelligence, or something close, to do this without detection by Formali-Kai itself."

Both Valbada and Histoker looked shocked, again.

"You think a GSV would do something like this?" Valbada almost squeaked.

"I doubt it," the ship said glumly, "But I will have to ask."


[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.291]
  xLSV Road Less Travelled
    oGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
Esteemed colleague, I regret to have to report that I have much news about the hitherto-unknown plot to destabilize elements of the Delphic Chaosarium. It seems that the attempt was successful. [Report attached.]
It seems possible that you may have had something to do with facilitating its success.
I have copied this report to the rest of the Coleopterologists for their reaction as well.

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.291+]
  xGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oLSV Road Less Travelled
I absolutely, categorically deny any prior active participation in this affair. I certainly did not corrupt, reprogram or otherwise interfere with Dn Roosh Formali-Kai Za-Handraden Xato Roul nor any of its internal or independent subsystems.
I find it difficult to believe that this kind of extensive incursion into another's mind could have been carried out on this ship without my knowledge. Nevertheless, I undertake to perform scrupulous - and independently recorded - re-assessments of both my upgrades to Formali-Kai and to any other action associated with setting up the SC unit aboard the ROU Negotiation Is Overrated.
I too have copied the rest of the group on my response.

Thank you for your prompt response and for your candour in this matter. I look forward to receiving your further reports in due course.
You might care to review how it was that Dn Roosh Formali-Kai and indeed the humans Perojamb Alkatishsa Catoban Qu-el Histoker da'Mussolaen and Gailloff Mersoitsa Yaybool Foklane Valbada dam Leflotha were selected for this particular mission.

I shall take your operational suggestions on board, as well as those from other members of the Incident Group.
More reports to follow.

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