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

[tight beam, M8, tra. @n4.28.555.1967]
  xGSV Better Mousetrap
    oGSV Geomorphological Eccentricity
Dear friend, I cannot tell you how delighted I am to learn that you too will be involved with the construction of Q'aantar Orbital.

[tight beam, M8, tra. @n4.28.555.1969]
  xGSV Geomorphological Eccentricity
    xGSV Better Mousetrap
Hey there! Great to hear from you. Yes, I'll be in the Hakanth system in a little under 30 hours [Course Diaglyphs attached] assuming no last-minute changes.

This is excellent news. I have already started building my complement of Plate-construction ships and equipment. My Bays are getting to be quite crowded.

Yep. Fettling my own machinery right now. And the lucky Mind that's been selected to run this Orbital?

Mind-state quiescent in one of my sub-cores, as it requested. I am assembling a new substrate for the Hub as we speak.

I'm still a bit worried that an ex-Warship Mind has been selected for this task. Warships are never the most stable of entities. Nut-jobs, some of them.

The GOU Pressing Matters had a very distinguished career in the Idiran war and certainly demonstrated a degree of wisdom during that chaotic time. Rather than being Stored, or going Eccentric, or whatever, it specifically requested the opportunity to undertake something less, ah, bloodthirsty, and was happy to wait until a suitable opportunity arose. Surely you can understand the motivation?

I guess so. And I know it comes highly recommended. Hope it settles into its new role.

I’m sure it will.


"Two GSVs? In the same system? At the same time? Is there some emergency?"

Athys Muevinla had a skill, a knack, a not-easily-reproducible talent for suggesting geographical and geomorphological features which were likely to appeal very strongly to the average Culture citizen - if there really was such a being - to be incorporated into the design of new Plates. It was not that she made decisions, exactly - this being the Culture, anything new was vociferously debated and earnestly voted upon, and in any case the local Minds would have to agree - but still, her design ideas seemed to catch the popular imagination and thus become the citizens' expressed preference.

"There is no actual emergency," the voice of the Plate class GSV Better Mousetrap replied urbanely, its voice emerging from nowhere in particular, "Although I will agree that gatherings of multiple GSVs are sufficiently rare that we probably need to invent a new metaphor for the occasion."

Muevinla snorted. She had accepted the invitation to join the Better Mousetrap when it announced its intention to stop off at the Hakanth system, to bootstrap the Orbital construction process, install the Hub Mind and get the first tranche of construction machinery fully operational. After that, Orbitals tended to construct themselves or, at least, be built under the direction of the Orbital's own Mind, Plate by Plate, until the whole three-million-kilometre structure was complete.

"So why the rendezvous with the Geomorphological Eccentricity?" she demanded, shifting slightly to make herself more comfortable on the poolside lounger she was currently occupying.

"Well" the GSV said, sounding very slightly equivocal, "Entirely by chance, our course schedules would have brought us fairly close, even without the slightly surprising decision to start the construction of a new Orbital."


"Indeed. This Orbital's been under consideration for years, decades. There's been a sudden rush to push through a decision, a little less than a hundred days ago."

"Just before you invited me?"

"Just so."

"Do we know why?"

"Actually, no. I’m sure there’s a good reason."

Muevinla had done her own research in the immodestly vast archives, repositories and data stores that the Culture made available. The Hakanth system was thought to be long unpopulated, with no planets considered even remotely suitable for metre-scale humanoids - not that the Culture tended to focus on planets very much - although there was an asteroid belt which might indicate the explosive destruction of a rocky planet sometime in the past. There were - she had read - far fewer and larger asteroids than would perhaps be usual, suggesting that whatever cataclysmic event shattered the planet must have occurred in the relatively recent past, at least on a galactic timescale. It also had the usual collection of ringed gas giants and their concomitant collection of moons, as well as an extensive Oort cloud which would, together with the asteroids, provide a plentiful supply of raw material.

Perhaps more importantly, the political position was positively benign. There were no claims from any other Involved or Aspirant civilizations, no objections from the Galactic Council or any of its sometimes semi-detached members, no Elder species or societal remnants staking a position. So, all-in-all, it seems like a good spot for the Culture to start building a new Orbital, just like a million others around the greater Galaxy; just another on a long, long list of candidate systems where the Culture might just, one day, put together one of its favourite homesteading constructions.

"There's no objection, is there?"

"There never was," the ship replied, "This place has been abandoned for millennia."

"That's what I thought."

"So, do you have any thoughts for our first Plates?"

Muevinla smirked.

"For one of them, at least, think... archipelagos, hidden coves, sea caves, secluded beaches, volcanic peaks, lush jungles and loads of pretty flying fauna."

"Ah. We're going Tropical Paradise, then, are we?"

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