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


The Mind of the Extended Adolescence was finally reembodied as a state-of-the-art General Contact Unit by the GSV Obambulatist. It also took a new name: the Mature Reflection.

After the news of the part the Extended Adolescence had played in the strange nearly-a-war with the Castophrenic Widowhood had spread - this being the Culture, this took almost no time at all - the Mature Reflection was a popular choice for those who wished to spend some time in Contact and the reborn ship found absolutely no problem keeping its crew roster completely full. Still, it was disappointed that Bryoni Matlyen consistently declined invitations to re-join the crew.

The LSV Road Less Travelled resumed its contemplative duties coordinating the Culture's presence in the volume around the Delphic Chaosarium. The LSV, and the Culture generally, elected to keep quiet about the relationship between what the Castophrenic Widowhood called the 'Universal Model' and the capabilities of their ships; still, this did not prevent surprisingly large numbers of Involved and the more determined Aspirant civilizations from stationing a permanent presence in the volume.

Bryoni Matlyen elected to remain on the Road Less Travelled, finding the atmosphere of quiet contemplation much to his liking. Although a small number of Culture people - humans and drones - returned to the LSV, the craft never became anywhere close to full, and Matlyen could enjoy the peace and solitude he very much craved.

Matlyen also continued his newly-discovered role as a Referrer, especially in matters related to the mathematics of chaos and, something to his surprise, the future actions of the rump of the Castophrenic Widowhood society. He never really enjoyed this responsibility but, as it was explained to him, his insights had already saved the lives of millions - perhaps billions - of people who would have suffered if the Widowhood had been able to press their agenda effectively unresisted, and perhaps might help avert a similar catastrophe in the future.

The Castophrenic Widowhood slowly became a machine-only civilization. The mind-states of almost all of the former biological entities were progressively shifted to immersive simulations in subspaces of their ships' AIs, where they could continue their scheming and plotting without actually harming anybody.

Despite the concerns of the members of the Keepers of the Mantidae Vivarium, relatively few CW ships had to be outright destroyed. The abilities of Culture ships – Culture warships - to run rings around even the most capable Widowhood craft – once the CW technologies had been incorporated into those warships – was not lost on the intelligences now running the ex-CW ships, and indeed several other of the more energetic Involved civilizations who might have been considering throwing their weight around.

The Castophrenic Widowhood home planet was never discovered. It remained pure speculation that it had at some point been destroyed by the Eater of Planets – which would certainly have contributed to the suspicious nature of the civilization.

The AIs now running the society seemed to adopt some of the attitudes and preferences of their progenitors and took to hiding themselves away in quiet, out-of-the-way, obscure parts of the greater galaxy. They continued to make widespread use of their ultra-quiet engines and stealthy camouflage - still effective against the sensors of most civilizations, even though transparent to the newly-calibrated capabilities increasingly widely deployed by Culture ships - and continued to have little to do with the day-to-day activities of anybody else.

Occasionally, though, a ship in difficulties from one of the many Aspirant and other lesser civilizations would find itself suddenly rescued by a vast and darkly-enigmatic craft which provided whatever technical aid or evacuation support was required with a minimum of conversation, and then disappeared without waiting for either thanks or payment.

The GSV Obambulatist and its colleagues in the Coleopterologists Incident Group emerged with their reputations largely unscathed from the inevitable post-debacle inquiries and investigations. The GSV Absolutely No You-Know-What, the MSV Amphisbaena, the GSV Chirality Test and the GSV Rarely Disappointed rapidly forgave their erstwhile colleagues for their dissimulation once a full understanding of the reasons was achieved.

The Obambulatist resumed the role the Culture expected of large throughput-biased General Systems Vehicles, that of roving the greater galaxy acting as a mobile marshalling point for people, materiel and other vessels. It still found it prudent to maintain a stock of quiesced but otherwise fully-armed warships of various specifications and configurations, just in case of future altercations.

The trinity who called themselves the Keepers of the Mantidae Vivarium, by contrast, emerged from the inquests with distinctly mixed reviews. Special Circumstances did not, as a policy, approve when a little cabal of Minds - even with the best of intentions - set off to redirect the development of an advanced society without telling others about their plans. And they certainly did not approve of anybody implanting a mimetic virus in the mind of a Culture citizen, no matter how important the need might have seemed to be.

On the other hand, the depth of their long-term planning and the success of their two hidden agents was noted, for, first, effectively distracting and, second, converting a large fraction of the fighting force of the Castophrenic Widowhood, and the subsequent substantial reduction in both the duration and the casualties of the war. On balance, the inquiries and examinations agreed, their actions were justified, although all three were rather bluntly reminded of the Culture conventions around full disclosure and joint responsibility.

Dn Roosh Formali-Kai formed a close but ultimately platonic relationship with Dn Goart Harunda-Lua. The two machines travelled together for centuries aboard the GSV Obambulatist before joining the same Group Mind, there to wait out the day when the Culture decided to Sublime.

Qu-el Histoker and Foklane Valbada were eventually returned to the GSV Absolutely No You-Know-What, having been completely absolved of any blame associated with the incident in the Cathedral. They were, with the aid of the usual perfect hindsight, merely innocent dupes of the plot hatched by the GSV Tangible Influence and its co-conspirators.

There, Histoker and Valbada parted ways. Both had varied and mostly successful careers in Special Circumstances in various parts of the greater galaxy but, although they corresponded occasionally, they never met again.

Tsaritsa-Admiral Winter-Garden-Yellow, recently promoted from Queen-Captain following the untidily messy demise of the previous incumbent, exulted. The squadron of ships under her command, led by her own flagship 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform, had just succeeded in running down a pack of Culture-scum GCUs, destroying most of them and managing to capture one mostly intact, disabling it before it could self-destruct. She had, finally, succeeded in the goal capturing a Culture Mind which would soon, undoubtedly, be put to the Question and forced to give up its secrets.

It was just as well all this was running in a virtual environment, an immersive simulation hosted and maintained by the AI of the 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform, mainly for its own entertainment.

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