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

"Am I the first you have awakened?" Keraki Nlissa demanded.

"Not quite," the voice of the Kainotophilist replied via the ship-drone, "But there are only a few thousand unStored people up and about at the moment. Although I expect to be adding to that number very quickly over the next few weeks."

"And my revival criteria?" she went on, "Especially the one about a first look at Antlia?"

"All met," the drone replied, sounding very slightly smug, "And here's an Adjusted Real-space View for your enjoyment."

A swirling brown screen materialised in front of her, which then resolved into a detailed display of the new galaxy. Nlissa sat up further, the couch helping her into a well-supported sitting position. She studied the image closely, using the holo'd controls to repeatedly zoom in on whatever feature momentarily took her interest, then zooming back out to take in the overall spectacle once again.

"It's quite a different shape from our galaxy, isn't it?" she mused eventually, "None of the spiral arms we're used to."

"It is a very different shape, I agree," the ship-drone said, "And it has some fairly unusual characteristics, most of which are clearly visible from a great distance. There’s no active star formation, for example, and some strange dark sports: huge volumes where there are no stars of any kind at all."

"There’s nothing like that in our galaxy, then?" Nlissa asked.

"There isn’t," the ship agreed, adding, "Although I think we all need to get used to calling this one our galaxy now. There's no way any of us will be going back again any time soon."

Nlissa was silent for a long moment.

"Well, I guess I always knew that would be the case," she said slowly, "Although it’s still a shock to think of it like that."

Then she brightened up.

"So when do we start exploring our new home?"

"Well, we'll be passing one of the outermost stars in a few weeks time, close enough to have a good look at it," the ship-drone responded immediately, "But I don't expect to start sending out GCUs in any numbers until we are well inside the apparent boundary of the galaxy."

General Contact Units were the exploration workhorse of the Culture's Contact section. They were spun off a larger faster craft like a General Service Vehicle, or even the earlier versions of such ships which were now downgraded in the official nomenclature - like the *Kainotophilist* - to Medium Service Vehicles. GCUs, and their crews of a few dozen people, were given recommended mission profiles to explore tens of stellar systems and other interesting phenomena in a smallish region of space - with of course the option of altering things if something unexpected turned up - before rendezvousing with its home GSV, or perhaps another similar ship.

"I didn't think you had many GCUs," Nlissa said.

"That was true," the voice of the Kainotophilist said, sounding apologetic again, "But towards the end of the crossing, I decided to re-start construction of GCUs and their associated Minds, and some other craft, too: some additional Superlifters, for example."

The speed of a spacecraft in hyperspace was roughly proportional to the total mass of the engine components available; the relationship was more complex than that, naturally, but it was a reasonable first approximation. So, MSVs were much faster than GCUs; rather than slow down a fastt ship every time a GCU wanted to arrive or depart, an MSV like the Kainotophilist would deploy Superlifters: boxy craft which were nearly all engine and were capable of decelerating a GCU contained within its hull-fields to speeds the GCU’s own engines could cope with, then chasing after and catching the MSV ready for the next departure.

"Surely building lots of ships must have needed a lot of matter," Nlissa demanded, "Where did you get that from?"

"Well, it's true there's almost nothing in inter-galactic space, so I wasn't able to collect very much en route. So I had to do things the hard way and just manufacture matter using the Grid energies. It was slow and not particularly efficient, but after all I had lots of time. So now almost all of my bays are well-stocked with GCUs, and both my Mainbays now contain a newly-constructed LSV, each populated with a decent selection of other ships."

"You have been busy," Nlissa said approvingly, "So we'll be able to really get a good look at the place very quickly."

"I'm going to be very cautious about sending out lots of ships," the voice of the Kainotophilist said carefully, "I don't want it to look like an invasion, especially to any local civilization tending towards the reconnaissance-by-fire approach."

"Ah, I see," she answered, sounding somewhat deflated, "Is there any serious danger of that, really?"

"There does seem to be some kind of conflict going on, at least in parts; weapons-blink is sometimes visible even at this distance," the voice of the ship replied sadly, "And if its visible from this range, those weapons are really messy. I really do not want to be a target out here."

"Hmm," Nlissa muttered, "So we've just arrived in a war zone."

"I'm afraid so," the ship said gloomily.

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