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

[tight beam, M8, tra. @n4.29.127.339]
  xGSV Imperscriptiblist
    oMSV Kainotophilist
Hello old friend. Trust all is well with you.
A question: have you had any recent communications with any of these? [List of ship names attached.] Or contact from before you left the galaxy on your retreat?


[tight beam, M8, tra. @n4.29.127.346]
  xMSV Kainotophilist
    oGSV Imperscriptiblist
Good to hear from you. All well here.

I have just reviewed my records in some detail. I have had no direct communication with any of the craft you mention, except for the GCV Mischievous Dalliance, and that was decades before I even considered my current, admittedly slightly Eccentric, course of action.

Why do you ask?


Every one of those ships has also decided to leave the galaxy. And they made that decision within a few hundred days of your departure. A curious coincidence, don't you think?

I made no secret of my decision to leave, although I also made no special effort to advertise my intentions particularly widely either. I'm sure there will have been reports of my action in the usual news feeds.

So, I would assert it's not a coincidence at all. Surely it’s just parallel lines of reasoning, similar reactions to the same starting conditions?


Perhaps you’re right. But you have certainly started something of a fashion back here.


"Hello Rahanna. Me again. I'm very well. Thank you so much for your thoughts on my previous message. I guess you're right: there's nothing I can do to change the past; my focus should be on avoiding making the same mistakes again."

"There's been quite a buzz here, all of a sudden. Debates, votes, arguments - some surprisingly heated - have been going on for days, even weeks. It's been really exciting. A bit like the old days."

"For a long time, the Kainotophilia has been sending probes to investigate some of the isolated star systems we've passed. There's a fair number out here, apparently. But one particular system has got everybody excited. It's got a marvellously complex humanoid society, spread over all of the potentially habitable planets in their system. So, very much Stage 4 - just about the right point where we would normally expect to Contact them."

"And we really need to Contact them! They've been alone in the universe for thousands of years - nothing in their night sky except a few distant nebulae, nothing to even give them a hint that there might be other beings out there. They're so unstable, so chaotic: the whole society could go up in flames at any moment. They've nearly snuffed themselves a couple of times already, and it would only take one unstable lunatic in a position of power to turn all of their planets into fireballs."

"So normally we'd be readying a GCU and people would be queuing up to volunteer for a stint on a Contact mission. But there's another factor. It would be a mission from which nobody would come back! Not a suicide mission, exactly, but, what with the speeds being so much less out here, and the likelihood that there will be no GSV - or even MSV - along this way for a long time, there's no way a GCU could return to the galaxy in less than thousands of years. Effectively, gone forever!"

"So that's what the debates and arguments are about. The GCUs aboard - there's only a handful - have expressed disquiet, even unhappiness, with a mission like that. There's a few people - and a few drones, too - who've stated that they would be willing to go. But we'd have to make a GCU take on this task - unlikely, I know - or to build a new GCU with a Mind readied for the job. So we've been debating. And voting, too, of course."

"And the strange thing is, most people don't want a GCU and crew to leave us - to reduce further the population of the ship. After all the debates, the call to high moral ideals about saving a society from itself - balancing the loss of Mind and crew against the teeming billions of a stellar system about to implode on itself, all the votes have been against such an assignment."

"It's as if we're afraid of the dark around us, huddling together like primitives around a fire."

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