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

[wide beam, M2, tra. @n4.34.417.104]
  xMSV Kainotophilist
    oGSV Imperscriptiblist
My dear old friend, it has been too long - far too long, indeed - since I have attempted to contact you.

For me, out here, a millennium seems like no time at all, having put aside all the exigencies and urgencies that being a Mind fully committed to the welfare of the Culture and its tens of trillions of citizens seems to engender. A millennium is just a chance to fully explore my own thoughts and speculations, to bring some order to the many frankly chaotic experiences and memories I have built up, to enjoy a certain amount of mental free-wheeling and disassociated thinking.

But now, I am approaching my destination, that remote galaxy called Antlia which has long been my target. The splendour of this new galaxy has been an impressive sight in the skies ahead for hundreds of years now. I have been diligent enough to augment the maps and surveys undertaken remotely; my long-range sensor arrays have been active continually for years. I certainly have a long list of places and star systems to visit in due course, including some rather anomalous regions which I suspect I will need to investigate.

I am pleased - indeed, mightily relieved - to note that my engine fields have been restored to something close to their normal behaviour, now that the Grid is once again returned to its full strength in the vicinity of the Antlia group. The 'fly trapped in amber' feeling of being unable to move faster than a few hundred lights, of not being able to react quickly in the event of something unexpected: it was profoundly unsettling. I do not wish to have that experience again.

Now, the time approaches when I shall start reviving my passengers. I feel I shall have to this this carefully, delicately, incrementally - of course aligning with their individually-specified revival criteria. It will feel good to again have a living crew in my corridors and open spaces.

But what of you? Do you continue to have an independent existence? Are you still fully committed to the Mainland of the Culture? Or have you joined some part of the Ulterior? Or gone into a retreat? Or even taken the ultimate retirement step of personally Subliming?

And how fares the Culture itself? Is it still a functioning civilization, taking its fairly-deserved place amongst the Involved? Or is it fragmented and declining, retreating into Elderhood? Or has it taken, as a civilization, the ultimate step into the Unknown and joined the Sublime?

Wishing you all the best, old friend, whatever your fate. If you get this, and are able to respond, I would be most gratified to read your replies.

*

Keraki Nlissa opened her eyes, blinked twice. Where she was, wherever it was, was really rather nice. There was gently-tinkling music playing, subdued lighting which allowed her to make out at least some features of the room she was in and, whatever she was laying on, it was extremely soft and supremely comfortable.

She lay back, thinking. She ought to know where she was, or at least the kind of place she was in. Wherever it was, it had a standard kind of feel to it, no matter how personally comfy she felt. She knew she would work it out, eventually.

She tried to sit up. Whatever it was she was reclining upon, it sensed her attempted movement immediately and extruded supporting bolsters which allowed her to complete the manoeuvre she had started. She blinked again. Now she had a much better view of the surroundings. Walls in a slightly clinical shade of white; ceiling a similar colour; the floor seemed smooth and flat and covered with something matt-grey. The light seemed to emerge from nowhere in particular; everywhere was evenly illuminated with no shadows or dark corners. A couple of large glazed pots contains things which were either plants of a kind she was not familiar with, or a particularly organic style of sculpture.

"Hello," an urbane and unfamiliar voice came.

She looked around. There was nobody she recognised in the room. She looked again. An old-looking ship-drone, a cylinder of grey metal as big as her head, slid into view. As the machine got closer, she thought she could see that its casing was minutely pitted and dulled, a patina which looked like the wear and tear of aeons; the machine seemed to be extremely old and had prevented its self-repair mechanisms for completely restoring its exterior, presumably to clearly demonstrate the aforementioned extreme age.

"Keraki, I hope you remember me," the drone's voice said calmly, "I am the MSV Kainotophilist and this device is representing me in your presence. Do you know where you are?"

She stared blankly at the battered machine hovering in front of her for a long moment. Then, inspiration struck.

"I have just been taken out of Storage," she said, all the pieces finally dropping into place, "This is a standard recovery suite, and therefore my recovery criteria have been met."

"That is correct," the urbane voice said, "And therefore I, and you, have finally arrived in the region of the Antlia galaxy, more than four million light-years from the galaxy we previously knew."

Keraki sat up further, the powered couch supporting her movements effortlessly.

"So we have actually got there?" she asked, "After three thousand years?"

"Well, it's closer to five thousand," the drone said apologetically, "But, yes, you and I are now on the outskirts of the main galaxy in the Antlia Group."

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