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

A General Contact Unit was an avowedly peaceful craft. The Culture had long since ceased building warships, and the colossal armada it had built during the long distraction of the Idiran war had been stood down, deactivated, componented, stored and demilitarised by the tens of thousands. Still, a GCU wasn't entirely without military capability; in particular, highly advanced Electro Magnetic Effectors - in a sense the very, very distant descendants of electronic countermeasures equipment from your average stage three civilisation, and the most sophisticated, powerful but also precisely controllable weaponry the average Culture ship possessed.

"The way to counter exponential growth," the sourceless voice of the Kainotophilist explained, suddenly sounding more confident, "is with more exponential growth. So, we need something extremely plentiful that can be made to work for us. And the obvious candidates are the Swarm Objects themselves."

"Ah-hah," Nlissa exclaimed, "So, use of Effectors, then?"

"Exactly so," the ship replied, sounding pleased, "A GCU's heavy-duty Effector has a range, against something like these Swarm Objects, of a little over ten light-years. So, I'm proposing to ask all the GCUs which are willing to help to configure their offensive Effector capability to reprogram every Swarm Object they can find."

"Reprogram to do what?"

"Rather than absorbing dumb matter from stars and asteroids, they should seek out and consume other Swarm Objects," the Kainotophilist went on, "So that the individuals rapidly grow in size and mass. To get really fat and slow, basically. Then, when they reach a certain critical mass, they cease chasing down unaltered Swarm Objects and instead seek out others of a similar mass."

"So the Objects will start clumping together?"

"They will, and will become even slower and less responsive as they do," the ship confirmed, "Eventually enough super-sized objects will form large enough agglomerations that gravity takes over, compressing all that matter and heating it. And sucking in even more large objects as it does so."

"Artificial star formation?" Nlissa breathed.

"Yes, indeed," the ship agreed, "Although the star composition will be very unusual. Their extremely high metallicity would mean that they wouldn't be performing nuclear fusion very quickly or efficiently, but they would shine dimly and last an extremely long time before effectively burning out."

"How long will it take for these new stars to form?" she asked excitedly.

"Normally, the formation of a star from a gas cloud might take millions of years," the ship replied, "But here the fragments might come together so quickly, my modelling suggests, that the first newly-created stars might being to shine in less than five years."

"That quickly?" Nlissa said, adding, "So the stars in this galaxy will be reborn from the ashes of those who ate the old ones."

"Indeed. Very poetic."

"But will it work?" she demanded.

"The simulations look encouraging," the ship replied, "There is a small risk of losses, failures, deaths for ship Mind and crew members alike. But I do expect we will prevail, especially since we should be taking a step back once the counter-explosion has started."

"I want to be a part of this!" Nlissa exclaimed, jumping to her feet, the fire of her excitement burning away the effects of the calming drugs she had been glanding, "Can I go on a GCU?"

"You can, if you wish, if you are sure," the voice of the Kainotophilist said gravely, "Indeed, the GCU Excitable Matter is still seeking crew members and is the next craft scheduled to leave. And, of course, there is certainly the chance of, shall we say, more conventional Contact activities with civilizations both advanced and otherwise. I am sure your experience will be very useful."

"I'll go! Where can I find this GCU?"


[wide beam, M2, tra. @n4.34.971.113]
  xGSV Imperscriptiblist
    oMSV Kainotophilist
Greetings, my old friend.
The Culture still thrives, much to the surprise and - I suspect - disgust of many of the Involved, although it is the case that major parts of our society have peeled off, Sublimed, Stored or retreated into simulations. On the other hand, the fact is that Contact is still as busy and popular as ever it was, which I take to be a good sign, and is certainly keeping me busy.
And you? How do you fare in the Antlia galaxy? Tales of your exploits are eagerly awaited - do tell all.

[wide beam, M2, tra. @n4.34.997.914]
  xMSV Kainotophilist
    oGSV Imperscriptiblist
Dear friend, things have been surprisingly busy over here since I arrived. Just look what I have been up to! [Reports attached.]

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