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

From: Jamal MacCaffral, Triaan'i Udom Junior School, Daan'a, Kanzanea, Ziemia

To: Ambassador Kuboul Rabaransa Losaet Ingeta Ngoh dam J'salf, c/o GCU Pretentious Twaddle

Dear Ambassador Ngoh,
I hope you remember me. I wrote to you a few years ago. Thank you very much for your reply to my questions. I know your reply was in Marain, which took me some time to fully understand, but it was very helpful in the end.
I have another question which has been confusing me a lot.
I hear stories of strange alien monsters out in the galaxy, great and wonderful creatures which are supposed to be powerful and intelligent. I have also seen pictures of Culture people and you look human, just like me. Are there more humans out there, on other planets?
Also, I hear you make intelligent machines, computers which are as smart as people, or even smarter and more powerful. If the machines are better than people, why don't the machines take over and kill all the people.
I hope you can help me again with my questions.
Yours sincerely,
Jamal MacCaffral (Aged 11)


From: GCU Pretentious Twaddle, currently in orbit around Ziemia

To: Jamal MacCaffral, Triaan'i Udom Junior School, Daan'a, Kanzanea, Ziemia

Dear Jamal,

Yes, of course I remember you. I am glad to hear that my answers were helpful to you.

In the greater galaxy, there are many, many more species which would look human to you and me. We even have a term for this: pan-human. For some reason, evolution seems to converge on the human pattern for intelligent beings quite often.

However, the Culture did not start as a single species. A long time ago, eight different humanoid species came together to form a single society. Even back then, biological technology allowed our genes to be blended, modified, improved to make us what we are today.

Now, there are trillions of Culture people all over the galaxy, but very few of them live on a planet. Some live on our great ships, the General Service Vehicles. Some live in Rocks and other semi-mobile habitats. Most live on Orbitals, rings three kilometres wide but three million kilometres across which provide plenty of living space.

In the vastness of the galaxy, though, the human form is very much in the minority. There are thousands of other common forms, billions of other species. Many are strange, indeed, sometimes almost impossible to understand. The Culture tries to be friends with all of them.

The Culture does make a great many intelligent machines, although they are not really computers as you would understand it. My colleague here is a machine, a kind called a drone; it is called Formali-Kai and is a very old friend of mine; indeed, it has been friends with my family for millennia. Actually, drones are people too, and have the same rights and privileges as any of our biological citizens.

The Culture is basically run by very smart machines; these are called Minds. They exist almost entirely in hyperspace and are immensely smarter than any human. Fortunately, the Minds genuinely like us. They seem to be fascinated with us, humans and drones alike. Our lives and loves, our society, the way we interact with one another: every aspect of our lives. The Minds look after us.

Sincerely yours,
Ingeta

Kuboul Rabaransa Losaet Ingeta Ngoh dam J'salf
Culture Ambassador to planet Ziemia

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