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

Modest Deceit

~Esteemed colleague, the Mind of the Obambulatist sent, Many thanks for agreeing to join me within my hull-field enclosures.

~Dear friend, the Road Less Travelled replied, I am sure it is my pleasure. But, I do think some kind of an explanation is called for.

~It is. There have been some very significant developments. [Reports attached.] In short, the Castophrenic Widowhood have been able, sometimes, to decipher even our most secure communications for a long time. They have also devised techniques to make their own ships, communications and sensors very difficult for us to detect. Thanks to excellent observations and first-rate analysis by the Extended Adolescence, supported by the Reformed Pacifist and myself, we now have a reformulated mathematics of hyperspace which has allowed us to replicate the CW's abilities in these areas.

~Hmm, let me take a look. Ah, yes. Yes, indeed. This is great stuff, really insightful. I can now see why you wished me to join you within your hull fields.

~Indeed. And why I did not wish to communicate any of this remotely.

~Entirely understandable. And your desire to evacuate your crew? I take it this was a cover to send out information to at least the other members of the Coleopterologists, if not more widely in the Culture.

~Correct. Although it was unfortunate that we had only uncovered a solution to the engine field noise problem before I chose to dispatch the bulk of my craft.

~And now that we know that the Castophrenic Widowhood are converging considerable firepower here, you feel it is unwise to send out any more?

~Again, correct. If we are to put up any kind of defence against such forces, even with the engine, sensory and communications changes I have already instigated and I can see you are undertaking even as we speak, we will need every ship we can muster. I recommend you recall the ROU Negotiation Is Overrated and any GCUs you have lurking about for an ultra-rapid reconfiguration, and any ships and weapons pods you have built need to be upgraded too.

~All in progress. The Negotiation Is Overrated is asking awkward questions, as you might expect from an OU, but I've pulled rank, as it were, and very strongly recommended that it gets back here pronto.

~Good. So, now I have to ask a difficult question.

~Which is?

~Are we prepared to agree to lie, at least by omission, to the rest of the Incident Group? At least in supposedly – but not actually - secure communications?

~Ah. I think we have to. I can see no other option. No solution to the comms and sensor problems to be admitted to, then? Even to our closest colleagues?

~Agree. We'll just have to 'fess up as and when this whole mess is sorted out.

~The moral implications of such a deceit worry me.

~And me. But we are at war, and unfortunately we have to make decisions, sometimes, in the interests of tactical and strategic advantage to the detriment of the values of the society we are trying to defend.

~At least the arrival of some of your ships with other members of the group will provide part of a justification.

~True. And I hope that our colleagues are smart enough and canny enough to react discreetly to the information received.

~I do hope so. Now we should talk to the whole group?

~Well, yes, I guess it is the time to reconvene the Coleopterologists.

*

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.402]
  xGSV Obambulatist
    oGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oMSV Amphisbaena
    oGSV Chirality Test
    oGSV Rarely Disappointed
    oLSV Road Less Travelled
Colleagues, I would like to announce that I have arrived at the Delphic Chaosarium and successfully made a rendezvous with the LSV Road Less Travelled.

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.402+]
  xLSV Road Less Travelled
    oGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oMSV Amphisbaena
    oGSV Chirality Test
    oGSV Rarely Disappointed
    oGSV Obambulatist
I confess myself both delighted and relieved to have the company.
The Obambulatist and I have agreed a strategy for the defence of the Chaosarium.


[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.402+]
  xGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oGSV Chirality Test
    oGSV Obambulatist
    oGSV Rarely Disappointed
    oMSV Amphisbaena
    oLSV Road Less Travelled
You think there is a Castophrenic Widowhood force in the volume?

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.402+]
  xLSV Road Less Travelled
    oGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oMSV Amphisbaena
    oGSV Chirality Test
    oGSV Rarely Disappointed
    oGSV Obambulatist
We cannot be sure, of course, but it seems prudent to assume that there is and make what preparations we can.

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.402+]
  xGSV Chirality Test
    oGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oGSV Obambulatist
    oGSV Rarely Disappointed
    oMSV Amphisbaena
    oLSV Road Less Travelled
Such arrangements would seem entirely wise.
In other news, I have received copious reports from the More Zeal Than Common Sense and the Diplomacy Through Other Means [reports attached].
In summary, the data from the ROUs show that the Eater of Planets was making one black hole every fifty years or so, for as far back as they have been able to follow.


[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.402+]
  xGSV Rarely Disappointed
    oGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oMSV Amphisbaena
    oGSV Chirality Test
    oLSV Road Less Travelled
    oGSV Obambulatist
Hmm. So, if the Eater of Planets really has been around for a billion years - as it claims - then that would be consistent with the twenty million holes that the Eater itself suggested to the Rambunctious Frippery.

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.402+]
  xMSV Amphisbaena
    oGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oGSV Obambulatist
    oGSV Chirality Test
    oGSV Rarely Disappointed
    oLSV Road Less Travelled
So, we are forced to conclude that our current estimate of the number of CW ships out there is robust - that we really are up against a civilization that can field many millions of capable vessels.

  xGSV Chirality Test
I think we are.
The other thing of note in the reports from the ROU twins is that considerable other mass is also missing from those systems - asteroids, comet nuclei, gas giant moons and so on - and that mass has been removed much more recently. This suggests that the Castophrenic Widowhood have constructor ships which sweep up mass from a system, transmute it, and construct a new ship around the hole in situ. The newly constructed ship then ducks into hyperspace, effectively removing the hole from the system.


  xGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
Well, if you insist on moving entire black holes through hyperspace just to be able to enjoy their gravitational attraction, then you are going to need a lot of material to build some kind of a shell around it for all your living space, even if it is only a skeleton in places. Not to mention the colossal engines you would need to move the damn things. And then there's the field generators you'd require, just to keep the structure stable. And so on.
So it makes sense to do all this work in a stellar system with lots of material to hand, especially if you don't worry too much about disassembling a few potentially inhabited moons.


  xGSV Rarely Disappointed
It's a plausible theory, I'll agree.
But it does seem curious that we, or anybody else as far as we can tell, have ever observed the Castophrenic Widowhood actually doing this, or anything like it.


  xMSV Amphisbaena
The Widowhood have been remarkably successful in concealing their activities from our metaphorical eyes. I suspect that they favour secrecy over efficiency, or even speed of action. They've spent generations - hundreds of generations - quietly building up their forces, staying away from everybody else. And now they've unleashed it all on us.

  xGSV Rarely Disappointed
And we'll just have to respond as best we can.
Talking of responding, I am delighted to confirm that several of the ships dispatched by the Obambulatist have now arrived and are now safely stowed in one of my bays. Ships and crew have been made very welcome and I am doing my best to respond to their requests as quickly as I can.


  xGSV Chirality Test
I too can confirm several recent arrivals, and that I have understood their specific requirements and am making appropriate accommodations and changes even as we speak.

  xMSV Amphisbaena
I can also report arrivals and accommodations.

  xGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
As can I.
A further piece of good news. I can confirm that an Abominator-class ex-Picket ship has been allocated to support the defence of the Delphic Chaosarium. It is the GOU Rapid Planned Disassembly, about which I have heard nothing bad. I have asked that it briefly rendezvous with me before it sets off in your direction.


  xLSV Road Less Travelled
Good news indeed.
Do we know when this particular asset might be in our vicinity?


  xGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
We do not. Abominator-class GOUs are notoriously tight-lipped on their exact capabilities, but I dare say it will be moving particularly quickly.

  xGSV Obambulatist
Excellent news. And perhaps you would ask this craft to similarly rendezvous with either myself or the Road Less Travelled upon its arrival.

  xGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
I will.
And I know that I speak for all the rest of us when I wish you both good luck with your defensive preparations.


  xGSV Obambulatist
Thank you all. I suspect we are going to need it.

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