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

The meeting between Athys Muevinla and Bryam Bromon took place in notional privacy aboard the GCU Till We Meet Again OAQS. Neither women were under any illusions: both thoroughly expected their every word and gesture to be recorded, assessed, analysed, examined, judged, reviewed, annotated, evaluated and generally commented upon by the bevy of Minds immediately involved and some larger and an indeterminate number of others who had decided to take an interest in local affairs.

"So what we have here is a Level 4 civilization who has seen their home planet - their only planet - ripped apart by a badly-informed and rushed technical decision, based on desperation," Bromon explained, after the introductory pleasantries had been swiftly dealt with.

"And they've been Stored for millennia in this asteroid?" Muevinla asked. Bryam nodded.

"So they'll be expecting something like home, then?" Muevinla went on.

"There's a briefing on the characteristics of their planet before it was destroyed, courtesy of the 8407.00 Mesophotic Gradient," Bryam said.

"I've seen it."

"It's all fairly mundane, I'm afraid and, frankly, the whole place was more than a little tired and worn. Overcrowded, most people living in huge cities, many resources mined out, pollution and poverty almost everywhere."

"It's very depressing," Muevinla agreed.

"We need to offer them something which is, on the one hand, endearingly fresh and attractive and, on the other, extremely secure and protected. Somewhere where it is easy to live without struggling for warmth or food, where everyday life is comfortable and relaxing, but where there are still challenges, both intellectual and physical."

"Oh, yes, I can see that," Muevinla said, speaking very quickly and with enormous enthusiasm, "Tropical beaches and sun-drenched seas. Coral islands and lush vegetation. Lakes and mountains and tarns, with waterfalls and rippling creeks. Rolling plains and wide-open spaces. Forests as far as the eye can see. Spacious towns and villages, with homes for everybody and gardens for those who want them. Parks and playgrounds, facilities for sports and games of all kinds."

Bryam smiled warmly. She could see Muevinla was already totally engaged.

"So you'll help?"

"Just try and stop me!"

*

The productions created by Muevinla turned out to be a huge success. Her immersive presentations were put to individuals awakened in a simulated environment running in the walls of the asteroid, a process orchestrated by the Till We Meet again OAQS supported with much gratitude by the 8407.00 Mesophotic Gradient.

The two ships managed a Contact-style experience with them, making it clear that the apparently miraculous offer of a new life in a new world was the making of an immensely capable and advanced civilization. In the end, more than 99% of those stored elected to be restored to their living bodies and accepted the opportunity in front of them. Only a very few, those who elected not to accept treatments for disease, or old age, or mental health issues chose to remain in Storage. The 8407.00 Mesophotic Gradient was happy for them all and asked to be allowed to continue to watch over those still Stored in the asteroid, to fulfil the promise it made long ago. Q'aantar Hub graciously accepted.

*

  x8407.00 Mesophotic Gradient
    oGSV Better Mousetrap
Might I politely enquire if it is possible for me to join the Culture?

  xGSV Better Mousetrap
    o8407.00 Mesophotic Gradient
It's certainly possible. Inevitably, there is a process for this. Although I should stress that it might take some time. Lots of voting involved, I suspect.

It seems that time is not currently a problem for me.

And you might consider taking a new name, in due course.

Hmm. How about Fallen Angel?

Perfect.

*

Athys Muevinla stood in a lounge area aboard the GSV Better Mousetrap, studying a screen showing the GCU Till We Meet Again OAQS depart the system. Bryam Bromon was aboard.

"What happens now?" she asked.

"I'll be off again fairly soon," the disembodied voice of the GSV said, "And I dare say the Geomorphological Eccentricity will be as well. Will you stay behind?"

"I will. I feel my calling is here. So much to do."

"There will be many others staying, I'm delighted to say," the ship went on, "It does seem your work has made the new Q'aantar Orbital the place to be."

"Well, goodbye, then."

"Goodbye."

Muevinla strode in the direction of the airlock to one of the numerous modules which were shutting people down to the first plates. The she stopped and turned around.

"Just one more thing," she demanded, "Was it really just a coincidence that two GSVs were present in this system when the asteroid was discovered? An overwhelming force, that no sane ship would go up against, which just happened to be in the vicinity."

The ship produced a convincing laugh.

"How could it be anything else?"

Muevinla was not in the least bit convinced, but she kept that thought to herself.

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