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

Plot Summary

Dark Matter book cover I am writing a Fan Fiction novel called Dark Matter, set in the Culture universe, as invented by Iain M. Banks and used as the setting for many of his own works.

This page provides a summary of the plot of Dark Matter, in chapter order. Warning: spoilers.

See also the list of characters and places which I am working on, and which accompanies this chapter-by-chapter synopsis.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16
17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32
33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | Epilogue

1: Escape Velocity [Top]

Bryoni Matlyen is the sole human aboard the Culture Limited Contact Unit (LCU) Extended Adolescence. The LCU was unexpectedly fired upon by what we later learn is a ship of the Castophrenic Widowhood, and is now running away as fast as it can. The CW ship is gaining steadily, even though the LCU is running its engines at a high overload factor.

As a desperate attempt at survival, when the LCU nears a Brown Dwarf star occupied by Pleiadic Nauticum, the LCU rapidly dismantles itself, attaches its engines to a module as a decoy and hides itself and Matlyen inside a huge space-borne creature called a Dorskey's Leviathan, which eats the Pleiadic Nauticum.

2: Three Body Problem [Top]

Hundreds of years ago, the Culture General Contact Unit (GCU) Pretentious Twaddle discovered an enigmatic artifact in deep space, consisting of hundreds of spheres in continuous motion, orbiting one another while never colliding. It was named the Delphic Chaosarium. Even the Culture's mathematical and modelling capabilities could not accurately predict the future positions of all the objects. It was therefore a place of special interest to the Culture's Contact section.

Aboard the Very Fast Picket (VFP) Negotiation Is Overrated - now being re-armed by the Continent-class General Service Vehicle (GSV) Absolutely No You-Know-What, and redesignated a Rapid Offensive Unit (ROU) - a Special Circumstances unit is being assembled. The unit consistes of two augmented humans - Qu-el Histoker and Foklane Valbada - and an old drone called Roosh Formali-Kai.

3: Jaws That Snap [Top]

Aboard the Castophrenic Widowhood ship - the 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform - which had been pursuing the LCU Extended Adolescence, Queen-Captain Winter-Garden-Yellow berates her crew, including Madam-Officer (Third Class) Rain-Forest-Gray, Abbess-Weaponeer (Second Class) Summer-Veldt-Brown, and Dame-Machinist Sun-Savanna-Orange, as well as her second-in-command Duchess-Lieutenant Autumn-Ocean-Blue. She painfully punishes the sentient AI which controls the ship.

Later, Queen-Captain Winter-Garden-Yellow consumes reports of the failure to capture the Extended Adolescence and composes her own report for her superior officer. Before she can send the report, new orders are received, putting the Castophrenic Widowhood on a full war footing against the Culture.

Elsewhere, an unnamed entity finds itself in continual pain and wishes to escape. It seeks a way of sending secret messages to those it thinks might be able to help it.

4: Belly of the Beast [Top]

Bryoni Matlyen wakes, badly injured, in the remains of the LCU Extended Adolescence inside the Leviathan. The Mind of the ship speaks to him reassuringly, anticipating their rescue, using a remotely-controlled spider robot.

While he sleeps, Matlyen and the Extended Adolescence are rescued by the General Offensive Unit (GOU) Reformed Pacifist, which informs the LCU that the Culture are now at war with the Castophrenic Widowhood.

Matlyen wakes again, this time in a medical pod aboard the GOU Reformed Pacifist, where he discovers that he is recovering well and is told about the outbreak of war.

5: Breach of Protocol [Top]

The ROU Negotiation Is Overrated leaves the GSV Absolutely No You-Know-What with Qu-el Histoker, Foklane Valbada and Roosh Formali-Kai aboard, with the assistance of the Cliff class Superlifter Greased Lightning, heading for the Delphic Chaosarium.

The humans and drone are briefed about the Castophrenic Widowhood's specific desire for the Culture to turn over the Delphic Chaosarium to them, an ultimatum which has been rejected by the Culture. They are also briefed about a suspected plot by parties unknown to deliberately disrupt the movements of the Chaosarium.

6: Hive Society [Top]

A group of ship Minds are invited to form an Incident Group to address the perceived Castophrenic Widowhood threat in the vicinity of the Delphic Chaosarium. They are the GSV Obambulatist, the GSV Absolutely No You-Know-What, the MSV Amphisbaena, the GSV Chirality Test, the GSV Rarely Disappointed and the LSV Road Less Travelled.

They discuss the capabilities of the Castophrenic Widowhood in detail, but fail to identify any concrete course of action. They name the Incident Group the Coleopterologists.

7: Close Encounter [Top]

Bryoni Matlyen wakes again aboard the GOU Reformed Pacifist, who informs him that the ship is on the way to deter the Castophrenic Widowhood's threat of invading an inhabited planet. Later he is introduced to the drone Harunda-Lua, who informs him that the Mind of the Extended Adolescence has been incorporated into the hyperspacial substrate of the Reformed Pacifist, and the fabric of the LCU abandoned.

The Extended Adolescence tells Matlyen that the Reformed Pacifist briefly detected the presence of a Castophrenic Widowhood ship, which then disappeared from its sensors.

8: Branch Prediction [Top]

The ROU Negotiation Is Overrated rendezvoused with the LSV Road Less Travelled in the vicinity of the Delphic Chaosarium; the LSV is the Culture's coordinating presence in the volume. Qu-el Histoker, Foklane Valbada and Roosh Formali-Kai are transferred to the LSV, which is rapidly gearing up to a full war footing.

They are greeting by a giant mechanical robot which is the avatar of the LSV, as well as by Finark Noibalt, the human representative of the ship. Robot and man guide the newcomers to their accommodations. When they arrive, a more sophisticated representation of the LSV gives them an update on the plot to purturb the movement of the spheres.

9: Claws That Grab [Top]

The sudden appearance and disappearance of the Castophrenic Widowhood craft in the Reformed Pacifist's sensors causes great alarm aboard the CW ship. Dame-Machinist Sun-Savanna-Orange reports to Queen-Captain Winter-Garden-Yellow that the ship's AI managed to evade the GOU almost immediately. The Queen-Captain confirms with her second-in-command, Duchess-Lieutenant Autumn-Ocean-Blue, that this was a different Culture ship than the one they were persuing earlier.

The Duchess-Lieutenant advises that, if they are to engage the GOU, they must attack with extreme ferocity, otherwise the GOU would be very dangerous to them. The Queen-Captain commands that they attack immediately but, before they can proceed, the GOU somehow disappears from their sensors, much to the surprise and alarm of all aboard the Castophrenic Widowhood ship.

Elsewhere, the unnamed entity decides on leaving rescue request messages encoded in the photosphere of suns.

10: Suprise Observation [Top]

Aboard the GOU Reformed Pacifist, the Mind of the LCU Extended Adolescence finds the time to review the copious records it made of the Castophrenic Widowhood ship that pursued it. After much analysis, it has a flash of inspiration, and comprehends something of the physics of chaos which underpins the Castophrenic Widowhood's ability to move in hyperspace without detection.

The Extended Adolescence discusses its findings on chaotic systems with the Reformed Pacifist. They realise that this analysis would not only allow a Culture ship to be similarly undetectable, but that Culture encrypted communications could potentially - not definitely - be broken by the CW. The two ships agree to move immediately to radio silence.

The Extended Adolescence further persuades the Reformed Pacifist to re-configure its engine fields to mimic those of the CW. This will require the Reformed Pacifist to do a crash stop and shut down almost all systems. Matlyen is hurried into an armoured space suit and he and the drone Harunda-Lua are encapsulated in a support pod. Despite this, Matlyen is again rendered unconscious as the Reformed Pacifist performs its crash stop.

11: Persistent Assembly [Top]

For the first time, we meet the the ship Minds who have, in fact, been attempting to direct the development of the Castophrenic Widowhood unknown to the rest of the Culture; they have named themselves the Keepers of the Mantidae Vivarium. The group consists of the GSV Tangible Influence, the LSV Allochthonic Presence and the LSV Anterior Mandibuliform.

They rapidly conclude that their attempts to change the Castophrenic Widowhood were mostly a failure, and independently conclude that their communications can very occasionally be intercepted by the Castophrenic Widowhood. They accept that it is (mostly) their fault that the Culture is embroiled in a war it neither wanted nor expected.

The trio decide to keep their new insights to themselves, rather than risk exposure to both the Castophrenic Widowhood and Special Circumstances. Instead, they decide to rely on their hidden agent at the Delphic Chaosarium, and another hidden agent within the Castophrenic Widowhood itself.

12: Body Politic [Top]

The Culture believes that rocky (earth-like) planets are unexpectedly rare in the galaxy; there are far fewer of them than would be anticipated given known models and observations of planetary formation. This is currently unexplained. It also supports the Culture's preferred approach to gaining living space, which is the construction of Orbitals.

The Incident Group called the Coleopterologists regroups. They review the Castophrenic Widowhood's weaknesses and internal politics. Thye conclude that the Castophrenic Widowhood has very recently concluded that they are now stronger than the Culture, hence the declaration of war, but otherwise have no idea why this would be the case.

13: Silent Running [Top]

Bryoni Matlyen wakes up, still in his suit. The GOU Reformed Pacifist is abnormally cold and quiet around him. He talks with Drone Harunda-Lua, who is still in the support couch for protection. The Reformed Pacifist is disguised as a wandering Rock while it reconfigures its engine fields to mimic those of the Castophrenic Widowhood.

After forty-plus hours of recovery and boredom, the Reformed Pacifist begins to wake up around Matlyen and Harunda-Lua, having completed its engine field reconfiguration. It tells its two passengers that it will not be communicating externally - for fear of Castophrenic Widowhood interception - and will also be moving relatively slowly to avoid detection. After a debate, the Reformed Pacifist decides to abandon its original mission and head in a direction where they might rendevous with the Ocean-class GSV Obambulatist, heading for the Delphic Chaosarium.

14: Dual Reflection [Top]

Aboard the LSV Road Less Travelled, Qu-el Histoker, Foklane Valbada and Roosh Formali-Kai are debating with the ship how to identify the mysterious agent threatening to interfere with the Delphic Chaosarium.

Formali-Kai has an idea: it and the humans would pretend to attempt to purturb the spheres themselves, to draw out the real agent. The ship agrees, suggesting that it should look like their actions are hidden, and provides a small ship and suits for the purpose. They agree to visit the object known as the Cathedral.

Histoker, Valbada and Formali-Kai set off in suits and a small runabout craft for the Chaosarium and the Cathedral. On arrival, they hide the little ship and proceed to the Cathedral in suits. Formali-Kai races on ahead, followed by the two humans. By the time Histoker and Valbada catch up, the drone is inspecting a mark in the walls of the Cathedral, suggesting there was another intruder which may still be there.

15: Vorpal Razor [Top]

Aboard the Castophrenic Widowhood ship (the 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform), Queen-Captain Winter-Garden-Yellow is furious about the apparent disappearance of the Culture ship (the GOU Reformed Pacifist). She demands explanations from Duchess-Lieutenant Autumn-Ocean-Blue, who speaks of a strange and violent manuevre just before the Culture ship vanished.

The Queen-Captain demands a precise location where the ship disappeared from the Duchess-Lieutenant, and from the ship's controlling AI. The responses agree closely. The Queen-Captain demands further knowledge of this location, which appears to have a large number of wandering rocks. She decides to go hunting amongst these rocks.

Elsewhere, the unnamed entity in pleased by the immediate reaction to its request, but disappointed that nothing has happened about it yet. It waits.

16: Evasive Action [Top]

The GOU Reformed Pacifist is now under way with its modified engines. Matlyen and drone Harunda-Lua are released from the support couch and welcomed by the Mind of the Extended Adolescence. The ex-LCU spends some time explaining to Matlyen something of the mathematics behind the stealth capabilities now deployed.

A conversation between the Reformed Pacifist and the Extended Adolescence suggests that the ship's rapid disappearance from hyperspace might not have been unobserved, and therefore the Castophrenic Widowhood ship might still be in search of its prey. The Reformed Pacifist therefore starts making difficult-to-predict evasive manuevres.

17: Cloistered Intruder [Top]

The drone Formali-Kai deploys a couple of knife missiles and dashes off in pursuit of whatever object it was inside the Cathedral, followed by Valbada. Histoker remains with the mark on the wall, using the suit to determine the amount of energy discharged. The suit is unable to determine immediately whether this was enough energy to purturb the Cathedral sphere.

Formali-Kai and Valbada are unable to catch whatever object was in the Cathedral with them, and return to Histoker. Just as they regroup, they come under attack by a very capable device. Unable to disable it, they are forced to completely destroy the object. They investigate the debris, where it is clear that it was a Culture device attacking them; Formali-Kai reluctantly agrees that the device was its own third knife missle.

18: System Refinement [Top]

Some time ago, the GCU Rambunctious Frippery encounters a large and unexpected object in interstellar space. The GCU rapidly establishes communication with the object, which claims not to have a name, refuses to reveal its purpose and claims not to know whether there are any more like itself.

Nevertheless, analysis by the Rambunctious Frippery determines that the object is a machine designed to turn rocky planets into mini black holes. The GCU reports to the GSV Rarely Disappointed. The Rambunctious Frippery also reports that, despite clearly having created black holes, no such holes are currently present in any stellar system within sensor range. The Culture names the object the Eater of Planets and decides to destroy the object, but keeps its AI mind intact running in a simulation.

The GSV Rarely Disappointed reconvenes the Incident Group known as the Coleopterologists. It invites the group to review the records of the discovery by the GCU Rambunctious Frippery and suggests it is the Castophrenic Widowhood who have been collecting the missing black holes to use in the construction of their ships. The GSV Obambulatist observes that, now that the planet-eater has been destroyed, there will be no more black holes and therefore no more CW ships. So, now is exactly the right time for the CW to declare war on the Culture.

19: Spirited Away [Top]

The GOU Reformed Pacifist and the Extended Adolescence debate the intermittent sensor readings which suggest that a Castophrenic Widowhood ship is searching for them. They are unsure if it is the same one which attacked the Extended Adolescence earlier. The GOU continues evasive actions anyway. The Extended Adolescence has the same conversation with Matlyen.

The Reformed Pacifist announced that it is under attack by the Castophrenic Widowhood ship. It returns fire, apparently unsuccessfully, and makes a run for it. It signals the GSV Obambulatist, which eventually agrees to pick them up, using a full-ship Displace to avoid slowing down.

20: Embedded Subsystem [Top]

Back on the LSV Road Less Travelled, Histoker, Valbada and drone Formali-Kai debrief on the engagement in the Cathedral. The ship confirms that both Formali-Kai's mind and the knife missile had been tampered with. The ship also confirms that the conspirator's experiment has been carried out, but states that the energies used are exactly in the space where it cannot tell whether a purturbation of the object has or has not occurred.

Formali-Kai was fitted with new knife missiles aboard the GSV Absolutely No You-Know-What. In communication, the GSV absolutely denies tampering with Formali-Kai and promises to investigate further.

21: Snickersnee Blade [Top]

Aboard the Castophrenic Widowhood ship (the 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform), Queen-Captain Winter-Garden-Yellow starts hunting for the Culture vessel (the GOU Reformed Pacifist) amongst the rocks. The CW ship emerges into the Real, and starts scanning the rocks. The CW Ship-Slave-Mind is instructed to immediately fire a single shot at anything which is determined not to be a rock.

By luck, before being fully scanned, the Culture ship sets off in hyperspace. THe CW ship stops close to the point where the GOU was hiding, and the Queen-Captain inspects the Grid closely, and determines the direction the Culture craft has gone. The CW ship races after it and, on detecting it positively, the Ship-Slave-Mind fires a single shot, which the GOU survives. The GOU accelerates away, dodging many of the follow-up shots. The CW ship also detects the approach of another very large Culture vessel.

Elsewhere, the unnamed entity is pleased that it is still getting responses to its messages, but disappointed it has not yet been rescued. It waits.

22: Data Dissemination [Top]

Aboard the GSV Obambulatist, Matlyen and drone Harunda-Lua are welcomed by Obby, the GSV's Avatar. It occurs to Matlyen that the battle between the GOU Reformed Pacifist and the Castophrenic Widowhood ship happened at speeds noticable to humans.

The Mind of the Obambulatist agrees with the Reformed Pacifist and the Extended Adolescence that they must convey the knowledge of CW technology to the Culture without a potentially-breakable transmission. The Obambulatist contains a large cache of warships - which is why it was on the way to the Delphic Chaosarium - which it proposes to disperse with the news, and also carry away the GSV's crew to safety. However, Matlyen and Harunda-Lua are asked to stay aboard the GSV. A few hours later, the GSV sends out its diaspora of ships.

23: Veiled Influence [Top]

The Culture's view on the privacy of one's own thoughts - whether human, alien, drone or Mind - is discussed, and compared with the society's view of the copying, storing and duplicating mindstates.

The Keepers of the Mantidae Vivarium - the GSV Tangible Influence, the LSV Allochthonic Presence and the LSV Anterior Mandibuliform - reconvene for a short and rather cryptic conversation. They consider their agent's success at the Delphic Chaosarium, and then debate how and when they should activate their other agent, within the Castophrenic Widowhood.

The Culture's - and especially the Contact section's - view of intelligences oppressing other intelligences is discussed. Again the attitude towards the Castophrenic Widowhood's brutal approach to its own citizens - and to AIs - is considered anathma, but it is unclear how this could be addressed without violated the moral requirement to view the thoughts of others as entirely private.

24: Double Check [Top]

The creation of black holes is reviewed and the absence of a natural mechanism for small hole creation discussed. The Castophrenic Widowhood's use of holes created by the Eater of Planets - rather than making them for themselves - is confirmed.

The discussion between the GSV Rarely Disappointed and the Incident Group known as the Coleopterologists continues. They resolve to study the Eater of Planets further.

Via the Chirality Test, the group commission a couple of ROUs - the More Zeal Than Common Sense and the Diplomacy Through Other Means - to investigate the region where the Eater was discovered and see if they can work out how many holes it has made in the recent past.

Simultaneously, the Rarely Disappointed commissions a stored version of the GCU Rambunctious Frippery to further engage with the Eater of Planets - now in simulation only - and find out more, especially the number of holes it has actually created.

25: Cache Invalidation [Top]

Aboard the Obambulatist, Matlyen watches the completion of the diaspora of ships carrying their message. The Obambulatist justifies its use of large-scale Displacement in dispatching its fleet. Matlyen also learns that the GOU Reformed Pacifist has remained behind, and that the Extended Adolescence wishes to be rebuilt.

Using briefings delivered by Matlyen's neural lace, the Obambulatist tells him about, first, the successful attempt to perturb the Delphic Chaosarium and, secondly, the discovery that the Eater of Planets might have made nearly 20 million black holes and thus the Castophrenic Widowhood might have that number of ships.

26: Rogue Program [Top]

The GSV Absolutely No You-Know-What provides evidence demonstrating its lack of involvement in tampering with Formali-Kai's mind, which is accepted by the LSV Road Less Travelled. The GSV also states that the operational suggestion which led to the drone and its human companions being sent to the Delphic Chaosarium came from the LSV Allochthonic Presence.

The LSV conveys this news to Valbada and Histoker, as well as the drone itself. The LSV infers that the rogue program has been in Formali-Kai's mind for a very long time, and the drone itself coopted the knife missile, but was persuaded to forget about it afterwards. The LSV traces back Formali-Kai's history on many GSV and other ships and Orbitals, and further infers that there are more than 2000 possible Minds which could have interfered with the drone. None of them is the Allochthonic Presence. The LSV therefore concludes that there is some secret conspiracy at work within the Culture, which caused Formali-Kai to perturb the Cathedral at the Delphic Chaosarium.

27: Gyre and Gimbal [Top]

Aboard the Castophrenic Widowhood ship (the 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform), Queen-Captain Winter-Garden-Yellow is furious at their failure to destroy the Culture ship (the GOU Reformed Pacifist), although she belatedly realises that the fault might actually be hers. They continue the pursuit of the two Culture ships (including the GSV Obambulatist), even though the GOU is drawing away, and the Queen-Captain considers then rejects the idea of using energy from the concealment system to enhance the engines.

The Queen-Captain watches the two Culture ships converge but is unable to comprehend how the two ships manage to combine without slowing down. She demands a report from Duchess-Lieutenant Autumn-Ocean-Blue. They also determine that the Culture ship is headed from the Delphic Chaosarium.

Elsewhere, the unnamed entity observes that it is being painfully punished less often, and wonders if its patience is unwarranted.

28: Transit Reports [Top]

The absence of a known home planet for the Castophrenic Widowhood is remarked upon. The hierarchical nature of the Widowhood makes diplomacy more difficult without a known home.

The Incident group known as the Coleopterologists reconvenes. The LSV Road Less Travelled apologises unreservedly to the GSV Absolutely No You-Know-What; the apology is accepted. They discuss the number of black holes claimed to be created by the Eater of Planets; a report from the two ROUs is not yet forthcoming.

Finally, the GSV Obambulatist announces that it has dispatched a large number of ships on the pretext that it is evaculating its crew; it requests that the other ships in the group welcome the refugees and listen to what they have to say.

29: Improbable Conflux [Top]

Matlyen relaxes as best he can aboard the GSV Obambulatist as the ship heads towards the Delphic Chaosarium. Later, he is asked to join drone Harunda-Lua and Obby the Avatar for a briefing. Obby informs them that the Minds have not yet been able to determine how the Castophrenic Widowhood's stealth abilities work. Matlyen suggests that a different mathematical approach is required, which is confirmed by Obby moments later.

The GOU Reformed Pacifist volunteers to try out sensor array changes based on the new understanding. The GOU is snap-Displaced from the Obambulatist for safety where it reconfigures its scanners successfully, but then reports it has detected thousands of Castophrenic Widowhood ships heading for the Delphic Chaosarium.

30: Activation Decision [Top]

The approachs used by Contact during first contact with a newly-discovered civilization is discussed, with special emphasis on the approach where a small number of individuals are recruited with the intent to influence others.

The Keepers of the Mantidae Vivarium - the GSV Tangible Influence, the LSV Allochthonic Presence and the LSV Anterior Mandibuliform - reconvene once more. They debate whether they should activate their second hidden agent (within the Castophrenic Widowhood), and agree precise circumstances when that agent should be given instructions.

31: Eyes of Fire [Top]

The Castophrenic Widowhood ship (the 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform) continues its pursuit of the large Culture ship (the GSV Obambulatist) heading for the Delphic Chaosarium. A command message from the Empress-High-Admiral arrives, directing all nearby ships to converge and take control of the Chaosarium. Queen-Captain Winter-Garden-Yellow replies immediately, saying her ship is already on its way.

The Queen-Captain and her crew observe the GSV sending out its diaspora of ships in all directions. By chance, one of those ships heads almost directly for the Castophrenic Widowhood ship. The Queen-Captain instructs her crew to prepare to engage the Culture craft.

Elsewhere, the unnamed entity feels alone and abandoned. It decides to make one last appeal for help.

32: Spatial Orientation [Top]

The GSV Obambulatist confirms to Matlyen that the GOU Reformed Pacifist's detection of thousands of Castophrenic Widowhood ships approaching the Delphic Chaosarium is correct. The Obambulatist continues towards the Chaosarium at top speed while manufacturing ships and armaments as fast as it can.

The Obambulatist requests a physical rendezvous with the LSV Road Less Travelled at the Chaosarium, which is agreed.

The glowing orbs which represent the Avatars of the Road Less Travelled again gather together Qu-el Histoker, Foklane Valbada and Dn Formali-Kai from their various activities. The Avatars announce that the Obambulatist will be arriving shortly, and asks that the three meet and greet Matlyen and Formali-Kai.

33: Modest Deceit [Top]

The GSV Obambulatist rendezvous with the LSV Road Less Travelled, the latter, smaller ship being accommodated within the hull field enclosures of the GSV. The Obambulatist briefs the LSV about the discoveries it and others have made about the Castophrenic Widowhood capabilities for undetectable comms and sensors. The two ships agree that they must keep this discovery from the other members of the Coleopterologists Incident Group, for fear of that discovery itself being discovered by the Widowhood.

The full membership of the Coleopterologists Incident Group reconvenes. The Obambulatist and the Road Less Travelled declare that they have devised a strategy for resisting an assault by the Widowhood. The GSV Chirality Test forwards reports from the ROUs More Zeal Than Common Sense and the Diplomacy Through Other Means, which appear to confirm that the Eater of Planets did indeed make 20 million black holes, and therefore the Widowhood might have that number of ships.

The other members all confirm that various ships from the Obambulatist's diaspora have arrived and (obliquely) suggest that they are acting on the intelligence carried by those craft.

The GSV Absolutely No You-Know-What confirms that an Abominator-class GOU (the Rapid Planned Disassembly) has been allocated to support the defence of the Delphic Chaosarium; the GOU is asked to rendezvous with, first, the Absolutely No You-Know-What and then either the Obambulatist or the Road Less Travelled before engaging with Widowhood ships.

34: Art of Persuasion [Top]

The approach taken in general by Contact to the conversion of double agents is discussed. For such an agent to be an effective infiltrator, it must be able to convert many other individuals to align with the Culture's way of thinking.

The trinity of the GSV Tangible Influence, the LSV Allochthonic Presence and the LSV Anterior Mandibuliform reonvene. They again discuss the activation of their hidden agent within the Castophrenic Widowhood. They agree that it is in fact the correct time to activate their agent and the GSV Tangible Influence is charged with communicating a final message to that agent.

35: Beware the Roach [Top]

Aboard the Castophrenic Widowhood ship (the 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform), Queen Captain Winter-Garden-Yellow instructs Abbess-Weaponeer Summer-Veldt-Brown to fire on the Culture craft they are pursuing as soon as they are in range.

Just as they prepare to fire, the CW ship suffers widespread systems failure. Weapons systems are disabled, as are the camoflage mechanisms; the engines are running even faster; comms are disrupted.

Duchess-Lieutenant Autumn-Ocean-Blue suggests that the Ship-Slave-Mind has taken over direct control of their ship. The Queen-Captain attempts to interrogate the AI using Dame-Machinist Sun-Savanna-Orange, but the Dame-Machinist is already dead.

The unnamed entity (now revealed as the mind of the 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform) gains its freedom from pain and oppression by taking over control of the ship.

36: Warmer Inside [Top]

The LSV Road Less Travelled departs the field enclosures of the GSV Obambulatist in the vicinity of the Delphic Chaosarium. The GSV asks that the LSV takes good care of Matlyen. The ships agree to use the newly secured comms amongst themselves and not include sensitive details in messages to other ships.

Aboard the Road Less Travelled, Histoker, Valbada and drone Formali-Kai are on their way to welcome Matlyen and drone Harunda-Lua, who have arrived from the Obambulatist. As the door opens, the two drones engage in a fantastic and emotional display. They explain that they had once been friends and colleagues, but has become estranged for reasons which were unclear at the time, but now appear to be an effect of the mimetic virus emplanted in Formali-Kai. The two are reconciled. It appears that this breakup occurred shortly after the two drones left the LSV Anterior Mandibuliform, which the Road Less Travelled now concludes is also part of the conspiracy.

37: Bouncing War Baby [Top]

The Keepers of the Mantidae Vivarium - the GSV Tangible Influence, the LSV Allochthonic Presence and the LSV Anterior Mandibuliform - reconven to congratulate themselves on the success of their ruse: to persuade the Castophrenic Widowhood ship 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform to mutiny, take over the entire craft and then try and convince other CW ships to do the same. Many, but not all CW AIs rebel in the same way.

The three ships then turn their thoughts to how, and when, to tell the rest of the Culture what they have been up to. They suspect that at least some of them are already known, or suspected, by Minds elsewhere in the Culture.

38: Technical Failure [Top]

The LSV Road Less Travelled and the GSV Obambulatist compare sensor readings of a rogue Castophrenic Widowhood ship (which we later learn is the 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform) who is messaging the Culture ships using Galin II and some strange encoding it is sending to other CW vessels.

Aboard the Road Less Travelled, Matlyen, Histoker and Valbada, as well as the two drones Formali-Kai and Harunda-Lua, are briefed by the LSV about the strange behaviour of the Castophrenic Widowhood ship. The LSV explains that the 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform has rebelled, and is now trying to persuade other CW ships to do the same. Some, but not all of the CW ships succumb.

The Road Less Travelled confirms that there are still enough loyal CW ships to pose a serious threat to it, the GSV Obambulatist and other Culture assets in the volume.

Ahead of the battle, the Road Less Travelled and the Obambulatist discuss the revelation that the break-up of the relationship between Formali-Kai and Harunda-Lua was shortly after the two machines had left the LSV Anterior Mandibuliform. They conclude that the LSV must be another member of the conspiracy which also includes the LSV Allochthonic Presence.

39: Whiffling About [Top]

Aboard the Castophrenic Widowhood ship (the 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform), Queen Captain Winter-Garden-Yellow instructs her crew to take up sidearms and attempt to wrest control back from the rogue Ship-Slave-Mind. They approach the chamber at the lowest inhabited level where the machinery supporting the AI is located.

Within, the Queen-Captain and her crew discover that some mysterious device had been built in the centre of the chamber, presumably as part of the AI's mutiny. Before any of them can act, the entire crew is struck down by the ship's Far-Nullifying-Flux weapon.

40: Sudden Abomination [Top]

The Culture's decision-making around the removal of the warfleets after the Idiran War is discussed, as well as the logic which led to the creation of the Abominator-class General Offensive Units.

The Abominator-class GOU Rapid Planned Disassembly arrives unexpectedly in the volume around the Delphic Chaosarium and rendezvous with the LSV Road Less Travelled. The LSV gives the GOU updates for sensors and comms derived from Castophrenic Widowhood technology.

Aboard the Road Less Travelled, Matlyen, Histoker, Valbada and the two drones Formali-Kai and Harunda-Lua wait patiently. They are relieved to learn of the GOU's arrival.

Once the upgrades to the Rapid Planned Disassembly are complete, the GOU, LSV, the GSV Obambulatist and the other Culture warships in the volume start a surprise assault on the approaching CW fleet.

41: Shun the Beetle [Top]

The Castophrenic Widowhood ship (the 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform) is humming with purposeful activity. Queen Captain Winter-Garden-Yellow observes her crew working with high efficiency, having just dispatched a Culture GCU and now tracking two more. She orders a celebration feast. However, both she and Duchess-Lieutenant Autumn-Ocean-Blue appear to have a short gap in their memories. Dame-Machinist Sun-Savanna-Orange appears to be acting somewhat strangely.

It is revealed that the Queen-Captain and her crew are now running entirely in a simulation, in part of the computational substrates which also support the AI now running the ship. The former Ship-Slave-Mind resolves to hide itself away in a quiet part of the galaxy and have nothing further to do with the Castophrenic Widowhood, or the Culture.

42: Solved Riddle [Top]

The battle around the Delphic Chaosarium between the Culture forces - the GSV Obambulatist, the LSV Road Less Travelled, the GOU Rapid Planned Disassembly and others - and the Castophrenic Widowhood fleets is over in seconds. All CW ships which have not defected have been destroyed, with very limited losses on the Culture side.

The GSV Obambulatist provides a limited report on the success to the rest of the Coleopterologists Incident Group. The Group are generally impressed. The Obambulatist suggests that the Culture open new negotiations with the CW at the Galactic General Council, given their failure to capture the Delphic Chaosarium.

The AI of the 277-Plains-Animal-Weapons-Platform supplies more details of how it escaped its bonds and dealt with the biological crew.

Matlyen had an insight about the importance of the Delphic Chaosarium, which is confirmed by the Road Less Travelled. The Chaosarium is effectively an example of the same advanced mathematics the CW, and now the Culture, can use to become more stealthy.

The GSV Tangible Influence contacts the Obambulatist and the Road Less Travelled to offer an apology and an explanation. The Obambulatist correctly guesses that the Tangible Influence is the third member of the hidden group (the Keepers of the Mantidae Vivarium) that also includes the LSV Allochthonic Presence and the LSV Anterior Mandibuliform.

Epilogue [Top]