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

The hold of the yacht felt chilly and damp after the warmth of the afternoon sun, and slightly dark, too, despite the stark lighting which cast deep shadows in unexpected places. The boat itself was, Shoo had become to realise, was more of a working ship rather than a pleasure cruiser. The interior space was given over to machinery and rigging and engines, all in an astonishingly antique style, rather than the reception spaces and party areas of a typical Culture yacht. It showed all the signs of primitive construction techniques: welded plates, bolts and rivets everywhere, plastic windows and wood panels apparently cut by hand and colourful paint applied with great skill.

"So, what do you think of the Calypso?" Refan-Haifeen asked, as he guided Shoo along the companionway and through the bulkhead door into the hold.

"It's very impressive," she replied, "I take it you've made this ship yourself?"

"We've made it, all of us together," he corrected, with an understandable touch of pride in his voice, "A team project. We've been building boats and submersibles for decades."

Shoo nodded. This was exactly the kind of hobby a Culture citizen might indulge in: the recreation of artifacts to ancient patterns, using only their own hands and tools that they had made themselves. Of course, it was quite pointless, from one point of view; any Culture Orbital Hub worth the name could have fabricated this kind of simple machinery in seconds. It was the sense of personal achievement that counted, she understood, that somebody could still make something with their own hands for their own enjoyment.

"But why submersibles?" Shoo pressed.

"We all love the water," Refan-Haifeen said, "The seas, oceans. Swimming, surfing, diving, exploring the deeps. But, there are limits to how deep any of us can go unaided - even Ranu-Kiraa with all his augmentation."

Ranu-Kiraa rumbled in agreement. The twins nodded, unconsciously in unison.

"Sure, I could have got Hub to make us a few Gelfield suits and we'd be able to go anywhere," Refan-Haifeen went on, "But where's the fun in that? The challenge?"

Shoo nodded, understanding from her own experience over a long life the appeal of doing something yourself, contributing, achieving a goal or ambition. Without such things, human existence would be meaningless, purposeless, boring.

"So I made a few enquiries and made contact without others who were interesting in diving deeper. Tiksan was already an experienced submarine engineer, making working models of craft whose original designs date back nine or ten thousand years. Ranu-Kiraa was an artist..."

"Still am an artist," Ranu-Kiraa insisted.

".. is an artist, whose previous works were created by welding together huge pieces of sheet metal to form monumental underwater sculptures that could only be experienced by diving down and feeling the form of the work in the darkness, or seeing it using hand-held torches. Which is how we met Anka and Shera."

"My ambition, my life's work," Ranu-Kiraa interjected, "is to create a sculpture in the deepest part of every ocean on this Orbital. Most oceans are shallow enough for me to work directly, using ordinary underwater welding gear."

He waved a webbed hand to indicate a collection of obscure pipes, cylinders and tools set on racking at the side of the hold. To Shoo's eyes - with her Contact experience on numerous primitive planets - they looked rudimentary, even crude - but they also showed the unmistakeable patina of heavy use.

"But there are just two on this Orbital which are too deep for me, unaided," Ranu-Kiraa went on, "This one, and..."

"Let me guess," Shoo interjected, "The ocean on Grafikic Plate?"

"Bingo!" Refan-Haifeen exclaimed, "Ranu-Kiraa's art is one of the reasons we wanted to dive deeper. It's a shared goal, something we've been working towards for decades."

"We're great fans of Ranu-Kiraa's work," Shera said animatedly, clutching her sister's hand, "We've visited all of his sculptures now. Including the one he's just completed here."

"It's called Seclusion not Solitude, Silence not Emptiness," Ranu-Kiraa said with a touch of pride, "I think it's one of my best works."

"It's an amazing piece," Anka added, "Such pathos, such poignancy."

"Which brings us to the real reason you're here," Refan-Haifeen said, indicating something bulky hidden by a greasy-looking tarpaulin suspended from a derrick in the centre of the hold. He tugged dramatically on a rope, which loosened the tarpaulin but - perhaps predictably - he failed to totally remove it, much to Shoo's private amusement. It took several more sharp yanks for the cover to come free.

"This is the Seahorse," Tiksan said, his habitual shyness apparently burned away by the glow of his enthusiasm, "My best bathyscaphe yet."

Despite herself, Shoo was enormously impressed. The submersible consisted of a bulbous sphere almost hidden by encrustations of lights, claw-like manipulators, cutters, welding torches and numerous other devices whose purpose was not immediately obvious. A pair of bulging observation ports emerged from the forward section, like the enormous eyes of an underwater monster. The pressure vessel sat at the forward end of a latticework of welded rods to which were fixed engines of various kinds, propulsion and steering units, and dense cylinders that Shoo took to be flotation tanks or perhaps ballast.

"You go into the deeps in that thing?" she demanded, "You're crazy!"

"It's quite safe," Tiksan said, sounding annoyed, "It's been thoroughly tested, and we've made dozens of dives to help Ranu-Kiraa with his sculpture."

"Besides, you could have yourself backed up," Refan-Haifeen suggested, with just a trace of snark in his voice.

"Huh," she snorted, then added more thoughtfully, "Hub will have known that the sculpture here was complete, yes?"

"Of course," Refan-Haifeen replied, "So the timing of its call to me - and you too, I imagine - was far from coincidence. Our party out there is to celebrate the completion of Ranu-Kiraa's work."

"So, the Calypso and its crew needs to be moved to another plate entirely?" she asked.

"Correct," he replied, "I've already asked Hub to Displace it, tomorrow."

Shoo smiled.

"It would be rude to leave the party so early, would it not?" she said.

Refan-Haifeen grinned in response.

"It would. All those people out there, here for a special celebration."

"So, let's go and join in!"

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