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

[tight beam, M8, tra. @n4.29.79.129]
  xMSV Kainotophilist
    oGSV Imperscriptiblist
Hi. All quiet out here. [Report attached.]

[tight beam, M8, tra. @n4.29.79.131]
  xGSV Imperscriptiblist
    oMSV Kainotophilist
Good to hear from you, old friend.

Your report sounds boringly reassuring. No problems crossing the galaxy?

None at all. Made good time, without pushing the envelope on my engine capacity.

And your crew-stroke-passengers? Are they in good spirits?

Generally, yes. Some modest fraction I have already Stored - at their own request, of course.

The remainder seem dedicated to staying awake - partying, mostly - for the entire crossing. They've even invented a name for themselves: The Pilgrims. It’s a historical reference, apparently.

Some of them seem very addicted to looking at the stars - not that there are very many out here - and the galaxy from, as it were, the outside.

Well, that's humans for you.

Stay well. Keep in touch.

I will.

"I have a message from Keraki Nlissa for you."

"Thank you, House. On screen, please."

Rahanna Owhanic stood in her studio, a high-ceilinged space with bright natural sunlight pouring through the skylights - not glass, but some more perfectly transparent material - above her head. She held paintbrush and palette, and was skilfully applying pigment to a large canvas set on an easel, her habitual grey dress protected - mostly - from paint splashes by a stained smock.

A wall-screen which had hitherto been imitating one of her most acclaimed works flickered once, then showed a moving image of Nlissa lounging in a web seat in front of a huge screen or window displaying a view of a galaxy. Her galaxy, she realised with a sudden shocking awareness: somewhere in that teeming mass of millions of stars was the one around which her home, her Orbital revolved sedately; the star whose light shone though the panes set into her ceiling.

"Hello Rahanna. I hope this finds you well."

The screen Nlissa was clad in a simple white shift. Her skin, hair and eye colour appeared to be unchanged since the last time the two of them had been together. Her blue eyes sparkled with an enthusiasm that Owhanic immediately recognised.

"I do hope you like your new home. I know that familiar surroundings are important to you. I still feel guilty that you had to move from the Kainotophilist."

"The old ship doesn't seem quite the same without you. There's still plenty of very exciting parties and so on; us Pilgrims really know how stage a bash! And I’ve met some very, ah, interesting people - even some men!"

"But there are not quite so many people any more - especially since loads of us have asked to be Stored until we arrive. But it's still all great fun - and just a bit different, too."

"I've been watching the stars out here, sometimes. At home, with the night sky full of bright constellations, you don't really see the stars themselves, not as individuals - they're just pretty patterns in the sky. But when there are so few, and half the bright objects are nebulae anyway, any lone star had a real attraction. The ship says there's life out here, civilizations never Contacted, around stars so remote that they might never be able to escape from their home system."

"The thing which really draws the attention - of pretty much everybody, it seems - is the galaxy. It's still the brightest thing visible, and it’s beautiful. And it’s so far away."

"I've found time to think, out here. There's something about the remoteness, the inaccessibility, which seems to be catching. It's not just me. Everybody I speak to on the ship feels the same way."

"I've been reflecting on my own life: all the crazy things I did, all those missions I undertook for Contact, so many civilizations changed, for the better, of course, but still different from what they might have attained on their own. And then there's the things I've never been able to explain satisfactorily: that strange episode which might have been SC throwing a curve ball without actually telling anybody, that other incident which I'm pretty certain was a direct Special Circumstances intervention, although it was always denied."

"And I've found myself wondering: have I ever really known what I've been doing all these years? And understood at all the real consequences?"

Previous Top of Page Next