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

Rogue Program

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.301]
  xGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oLSV Road Less Travelled
Esteemed colleague, I have to report that I have carried out a comprehensive review of the procedures used during the upgrade of Dn Roosh Formali-Kai Za-Handraden Xato Roul, with independent assessments undertaken by several randomly-selected drones and humans from my crew [report attached].
In summary, I can find absolutely no evidence that, with or without my knowledge, Dn Formali-Kai was altered, reprogrammed or otherwise tampered with while aboard this ship.
Further I can identify nothing to suggest that any of the other Minds aboard interfered with Dn Formali-Kai, including the Cliff class Superlifter Greased Lightning and the ROU Negotiation Is Overrated, at least while the latter was within my purview.
As before, I have copied this report to the rest of the Coleopterologists.

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.301+]
  xLSV Road Less Travelled
    oGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
Dear friend, may I thank you profusely for both your promptness and your diligence in reviewing your procedures. This provides me with more than enough material to confirm that I need to look elsewhere to find whoever it was who interfered so grievously with Dn Formali-Kai.
Did you also manage to review how drone and humans came to be selected for the mission to the Chaosarium?

Huh. I am sure you have heard the old adage: 'Utility is 90% proximity'.
The mission profile I was given strongly suggested that Special Circumstances experience was essential. I actually had quite a number of humans with SC background on board, and both Histoker and Valbada volunteered as soon as they were asked. But I had very few drones, and the only one with anything like the right experience was Formali-Kai.

This is all news to me.
I assume it was somebody from the current Incident Group who suggested this mission, provided the desired profiles?

Well, no, this was before I was asked to join the Group.
The operational suggestion came from an old hand, an ancient Mind with much more experience than most in the activities of the Castophrenic Widowhood. It was right at the point when we had received the Widowhood's ultimatum about the Delphic Chaosarium and sending a team there made perfect sense.

And who is this wizened sage with dark knowledge of the Widowhood?

It was the LSV Allochthonic Presence.


The mood aboard the Road Less Travelled was distinctly glum after the revelation that Formali-Kai had been mentally violated, one of its knife missiles corrupted and made to act violently against its own drone and its human companions, who were in turn forced to defend themselves and kill said missile with extreme prejudice.

The LSV had promised to report to the drone and its human companions once a further response from the GSV Absolutely No You-Know-What had been received. Accordingly, Valbada and Histoker had been gently alerted via their terminals that they were both invited to a meeting; the two humans had prepared themselves and gathered at the appointed hour in the shared lounge section of their accommodation. Formali-Kai had retreated to some other part of the great ship; no doubt the LSV itself knew where the drone was hiding but had politely acceded to a request to keep that information to itself. Nonetheless, the shining orb which represented the less pretentious face of the Road Less Travelled and the drone itself had appeared at the door within seconds of each other.

"What news, then?" Histoker demanded, as drone and orb positioned themselves neatly in the lounge, politely hovering at head height for the seated humans.

"Firstly," the voice of the Road Less Travelled began, "I am now entirely convinced that the Absolutely No You-Know-What had nothing to do with the illicit modifications made to Dn Formali-Kai, nor any other Mind aboard that GSV."

The drone's aura field flickered briefly, showing the grey of displeasure and frustration.

"So we are no nearer in discovering why Formali-Kai's memory was altered?" Valbada said, sounding frustrated.

"Well, we have eliminated an obvious possibility from the scope of our enquiries," the ship said, apparently trying to sound positive about the situation.

"Hold on," Histoker said, looking puzzled, "If it was not the Absolutely No You-Know-What who altered the knife missile, who did? The new ones were installed in Formali-Kai while it was aboard the GSV, before we all transferred to the Negotiation Is Overrated."

"Well, it definitely wasn't the Absolutely No You-Know-What," the ship said, "The logical answer is that Formali-Kai made the modifications to its own knife missile itself, under the influence of the rogue program in its own mind, and then was forced to forget doing so by the same hidden influence."

"I certainly have the technical capability to coopt a knife missile, even a modern one like the upgrades I received," the drone said dourly, "Knife missiles aren't particularly bright. But I certainly don't remember doing so."

"There are lots of gaps in your memory," the ship said in a kindly voice, "A huge number, in fact. Some of them occur in periods going back centuries and others are much more recent, including quite a number in the last few days. Most of them are probably decoys, of course, so we have no idea when Dn Formali-Kai's mind was actually tampered with. Nor when it reprogrammed the knife missile."

"Wait, are you saying that Formali-Kai could have this corruption in his mind for hundreds of years?" Valbada said, sounding horrified, "Just waiting for the right moment to act?"

"It is very possible, unfortunately," the ship agreed, "It sounds like somebody is playing a long game here."

The drone's aura of frustrated grey deepened noticeably.

"My records show that Dn Formali-Kai retired from active Special Circumstances duties nearly five hundred years ago," the ship went on, "And since that time, it has travelled as a passenger on a surprisingly large number of different GSVs, MSVs and LSVs, and very rarely staying long on any Orbital or other habitat."

"Yes, that's correct. I used to like to travel the galaxy, seeing more of it than when I was in SC, and generally under better circumstances, too," the drone muttered, "I've already supplied the Road Less Travelled with a list of all the ships I have travelled on and habitats I have visited. At least, all the ones I remember. Not sure anybody really wants to trust my memories any more."

"Yes, thank you for that," the ship said, "In principle, any of those GSVs, or Orbitals, or indeed any of the other ships which travelled with the GSVs or docked with the Orbitals, could have performed the memory modification, quite possibly without anybody else noticing."

"That must be a huge number of Minds!" Histoker exclaimed.

"Two thousand, one hundred and seventeen," the voice of the Road Less Travelled said, "According to the records that I have access to. Reassuringly, this tallies with the list provided by Dn Formali-Kai. And, interestingly, none of them are the LSV Allochthonic Presence."

"Who?" Histoker and Valbada said in unison.

"The Allochthonic Presence," the ship said calmly, "Is supposed to be a long-term expert in the Castophrenic Widowhood. It is also the ship which made an operational suggestion to the Absolutely No You-Know-What to assemble a team to send to the Delphic Chaosarium, to try and follow up on what still seems a scrappy and nebulous piece of intelligence about a plot to perturb the objects - a plot which succeeded, as we now know - and could quite possibly have known that Dn Formali-Kai was the only device aboard with capabilities which matched the mission profile it suggested."

"So you think we have identified some kind of a plot, a conspiracy within the Culture?" Valbada gasped.

"I believe we have," the ship confirmed, "And we can also conclude that at least one of those two thousand plus Minds are involved."

"How can we find out which one it was?" Histoker asked, sounding shocked.

"I'm not sure we can, at least immediately," the voice of the Road Less Travelled came from the pearlescent orb, "I certainly don't intend to ask them all directly; I would get a full set of reassurances and protestations of innocence, at least one of which would be a flat lie, and the exercise would only serve to alert some Minds that I was on to something. I think I will have to do some deep research into all these Minds and see if that throws up something. But I wouldn't hold your breath."

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