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

Transit Reports

One of the many things the Culture did not know about the Castophrenic Widowhood was where their home planet was located. Oh, the Widowhood occupied many planets, most of which appeared to have been aggressively planoformed to provide large areas of the damp plains they liked in order to grow the food they liked, or at least the food they fed to the animals they liked to eat. Obviously, they must have a home planet: for all their differences from the humanoid form, Castophrenic Widowhood individuals - and their livestock - were oxygen-breathing and had a carbon-water-based metabolism; Culture humans could have survived on a Widowhood planet with little or no mechanical support.

On the other hand, plonking an unprotected human on a Castophrenic Widowhood planet would have been a death sentence in any case: they absolutely hated anybody or anything which was not themselves; they barely tolerated other members of their own species. There were unsubstantiated reports and allegations of the Castophrenic Widowhood exterminating entire populations of sentient or at least proto-sentient beings in their rush to transform planets to their liking, and the very few documented interactions between a Castophrenic Widowhood individual and a member of another civilization had always ended extremely messily.

The reason the Culture - and several others of the Involved civilizations which formed that backbone of the current incarnation of the Galactic General Council - wanted to find out the location of the Castophrenic Widowhood home planet had everything to do with Diplomacy. Civilizations with a hierarchical power structure - and the Castophrenic Widowhood was quite definitely one of those - would generally have their supreme leader installed on the home planet, surrounded by their closest advisors and sycophants, as well as a very considerable military presence to provide a sense of personal security. Such supreme leaders could be expected - statistically, at least - to look more favourably upon a diplomatic mission which came as supplicants, making - initially - very modest requests which the leader could grant with a - quite possibly real - sense of magnanimity.

It was known that the Castophrenic Widowhood definitely had a supreme leader; even the title of the post - Empress-High-Admiral - was known. But the actual location of the Empress, or the name of the individual who held the post, had never been revealed.

*

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.314]
  xGSV Obambulatist
    oGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oMSV Amphisbaena
    oGSV Chirality Test
    oGSV Rarely Disappointed
    oLSV Road Less Travelled
Colleagues, I believe we need to review the recent correspondence between the LSV Road Less Travelled and the GSV Absolutely No You-Know-What. I understand everybody in the group received copies for their information.

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.314+]
  xLSV Road Less Travelled
    oGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oMSV Amphisbaena
    oGSV Chirality Test
    oGSV Rarely Disappointed
    oGSV Obambulatist
If I may, I would like to take this opportunity to inform the group that I personally fully accept the assurances provided by the Absolutely No You-Know-What that makes clear its complete un-involvement with the corruption of Dn Formali-Kai's mind, memory and subsystems.
I would also like to extend a personal apology to the Absolutely No You-Know-What for what might have seemed an accusation of unethical behaviour, which I completely and entirely withdraw.


[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.314+]
  xGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oGSV Chirality Test
    oGSV Obambulatist
    oGSV Rarely Disappointed
    oMSV Amphisbaena
    oLSV Road Less Travelled
For the record, I accept the apology from the Road Less Travelled. I can see it was necessary to eliminate me as a candidate for these nefarious activities and at least the Road Less Travelled did have the courtesy to ask me to my metaphorical face.

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.314+]
  xGSV Chirality Test
    oGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oGSV Obambulatist
    oGSV Rarely Disappointed
    oMSV Amphisbaena
    oLSV Road Less Travelled
I believe we should all accept both assurances and apologies, and move on with more important tasks.

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.314+]
  xMSV Amphisbaena
    oGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oGSV Obambulatist
    oGSV Chirality Test
    oGSV Rarely Disappointed
    oLSV Road Less Travelled
I agree.

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.314+]
  xGSV Rarely Disappointed
    oGSV Absolutely No You-Know-What
    oMSV Amphisbaena
    oGSV Chirality Test
    oLSV Road Less Travelled
    oGSV Obambulatist
As do I.
We should leave the Road Less Travelled to investigate this peculiar matter to the best of its ability. After all, it may be that who set up this - well, experiment still seems to be the best word - may be less important than why.


  xGSV Obambulatist
This seems a suitable approach.
Perhaps we should turn our attention to the Eater of Planets.


  xGSV Rarely Disappointed
I imagine all of us have reviewed the report from the Rambunctious Frippery and its conversation with the simulated version of the Planet Eater.

  xMSV Amphisbaena
Well, I for one have done my homework.
If the number of black holes provided by the Eater of Planets is correct and if a significant fraction of those holes have been encapsulated in Castophrenic Widowhood ships, then we might well be in very serious trouble.


  xGSV Rarely Disappointed
Two very big 'Ifs', there. Either of them could be wrong.
We should certainly make contingency plans, and indeed communicate this intelligence more widely within Special Circumstances, but I would like to suggest that we emphasise the unconfirmed nature of this information and indeed recommend that we avoid broadcasting this until we have some independent verification.


  xGSV Obambulatist
I agree caution in disseminating this intelligence is called for. I doubt there is very much any of can do immediately to improve our state of readiness.
Do we have any feedback from the ROU twins?


  xGSV Chirality Test
The More Zeal Than Common Sense and the Diplomacy Through Other Means have only just arrived in the relevant volume. They report that they have had no difficulty in detecting when and where black holes were removed from the few stellar systems they have investigated so far, from perturbations in the movements of other planets in those systems.
They are working backwards along plausible paths the Eater of Planets might have taken; the routes discovered so far are consistent with the Planet-Eater simply targeting the next closest star system with a suitable planet rather than, say, aiming in a specific direction across the galaxy.
I will of course circulate reports from the ROUs as they come in.


  xGSV Obambulatist
Thank you. I am sure our concerns will be at least a little alleviated if you can confirm, or otherwise, the figures from the Eater itself.
Another matter, if I may. As you all know, I am very rapidly inbound to the Delphic Chaosarium. Given the Castophrenic Widowhood's expressed intent concerning the Chaosarium and what we suspect about the strength of their forces, I have decided that my crew are no longer safe aboard me. Consequently, I have dispatched some fraction of the Fast Pickets and Very Fast Pickets which have long been stored in my bays - all now refitted and rearmed as full warships - and all of my remaining compliment of GCUs - to carry away almost all of my human and drone population.


  xLSV Road Less Travelled
That seems like a very reasonable precaution, especially given the antics which have been happening here recently.

  xGSV Obambulatist
Again, thank you. Further, I have asked some small number of these ships to rendezvous with each of you - with the exception of the Road Less Travelled, for obvious reasons - as soon as they can. Please can you all make ships and crew very welcome, and listen with sympathy to any requests they might make.

  xMSV Amphisbaena
I believe I can speak for all of us when I say I will do my utmost to look after your - well, I suppose refugees is the best word - and provide to their wants and needs.

  xGSV Obambulatist
Once again, thank you all. As for the Road Less Travelled, I will be with you in person, so to speak, in the very near future.

  xLSV Road Less Travelled
I will find it difficult to express the depth of my gratitude and the strength of my relief occasioned by your arrival.

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