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

[tight beam, M8, tra. @n4.29.31.559]
  xGSV Imperscriptiblist
    oMSV Kainotophilist
So you really are intent on this course of action?

[tight beam, M8, tra. @n4.29.31.559+]
  xMSV Kainotophilist
    oGSV Imperscriptiblist
I am. To remind you, I have been a diligent member of Contact for nearly five hundred years, and fully a part of the Culture for two hundred years before that. I have averted natural disasters, changed the course of history - covertly and overtly - on thousands of worlds, closely observed supernovas and stellar collisions and cosmic phenomena of all kinds, and thus gained new insights into the physics of our universe, taken part in one war - one too many, I might add - and painstakingly cared for billions of Culture citizens, whether they knew it or not.

I believe I am entirely justified in my view that a proper break from the urgencies and vulgarities of the demands of our society is something that I deserve, nay, need to restore some kind of balance to my mental state. I will be stepping away, winding down, kicking back and metaphorically putting my feet up.

Yes, well, I truly sympathise with your position. I'm sure we all feel like that sometimes.

But do you really have to go so far?

I do. If I remain relatively local, there will always be the temptation to re-engage with the day-to-day life of the Culture. Or, worse still, to be asked, even begged, to engage in some matter perceived to be of vital importance by my peers.

So, I am leaving the galaxy entirely. I will be heading to the edge of the Local Group and off in the direction of the Antlia galaxy. A region which, according to my researches, we have never explored before.

I beg you, please keep in touch, at least occasionally. I for one would very much to be reassured that you and yours are safe and well.

I will consider it, from time to time.

Fare well, old friend.

I will. And you.

"The ship's really going? Are you sure?"

Keraki Nlissa was an excitable and enthusiastic woman. Over the seventeen or so decades of her life, she had thrown herself into numerous occupations, hobbies, amusements, pastimes, entertainments, passions, fads, crazes, manias and obsessions with great and sometimes worryingly monomaniacal concentration.

She was of rather less than average height, by prevailing Culture standards, and slightly built, but made up for any perceived lack of stature with boat-loads of energy and eagerness for whatever amusement had attracted her interest. Over the decades, she had mastered many skills, achieved many - admittedly, self-set - objectives, had been the recipient of widespread acclaim on three separate occasions, as well as twice being the target for general opprobrium. At this particular moment, she had coffee-brown skin, white-blonde hair and electric blue eyes - all subject to change without notice, of course - and was currently wearing only a brightly-coloured sarong - and thus entirely naked from the waist up.

"Yes. It's made a public announcement. And it's asking for volunteers to go with it."

Even in her most emotional moments, Rahanna Owhanic seemed to radiate an aura of serene calm. She was a tall matronly woman with long black hair, currently held in a simple plait which fell to her waist. She wore a modest dress of dark grey which covered her from neck to ankles. For almost all her adult life, she had strived to become a passionate and skilful artist, using only the archaic medium of oils on canvas. She would very occasionally put on exhibitions - almost always well-attended - of her works, hung unframed on white walls or stood on easels. She was always delighted when some attendee expressed an interest in one of her works; invariably she would press the piece in question on the visitor as a gift. Over the many decades they had known each other, Owhanic had become a close friend, frequent companion and occasional lover of Keraki Nlissa.

"I've heard! It's so exciting!" Nlissa squeaked, holding out her arms and spinning like a top, "I’ll put my application forward right away. And the hot gossip says that anybody who applies will be accepted on the voyage."

Owhanic smiled tranquilly.

"I had heard," she said calmly, "The talk seems to be of nothing else at the moment. And I am happy that you have decided to go."

"I'm so looking forward to the expedition," Nlissa said, staggering dizzily for a moment, "And you, my dear friend. Will you come with me?"

Rahanna Owhanic took both her friend's hands in her own and looked deep into her eyes.

"No, Keraki, I will not come with you. This is something you must do on your own."

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