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

  xGSV What’s Not To Love?
    oGCU Xenagogue
A hideaway Afterlife that nobody knew about. Curiouser and curiouser.
Any idea who's Heaven it is in there?

  xGCU Xenagogue
    oGSV What’s Not To Love?
The substrate management system formally identified itself as representing as a humanoid civ called the Astrials. Nothing in my records which says anything about them. [Report attached]
And I'm not sure it can be entirely described as Heaven, either.

I'll do some digging in the archives, see what I can find.
And, I think it's time to put in a call to some of my contacts in Quietus.

Agree. There's some seriously fucked-up people in there.

The Astrials, as the General Service Vehicle What’s Not To Love? would shortly discover for itself, were an otherwise unremarkable humanoid race with a number of ideocentric beliefs. One of their eccentricities was that they claimed to be the descendants - or at least the creations - of the beings who originally created Type I stars; the supergiants whose demise as supernovas generated most of the "dirt" - heavy elements, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and all the rest - which eventually became the basis of most living things in the universe.

Exactly who these beings were the Astrials could not say - they just called them Demiurgo, a name not known in anybody else’s records - nor could they explain why such beings would return so much later specifically to create just another bunch of fairly ordinary humans.

The Astrials clung to this religious viewpoint even in the face of much derisory laughter and desultory criticism across the galaxy, but ultimately their position was tolerated because it was not something, everybody thought, which could ever be subject to proof, either way.

  xGSV What’s Not To Love?
    oGCU Xenagogue
A very considerable spelunking session in the archives has finally turned up something on the Astrials. [Civilization summary attached]

  xGCU Xenagogue
    oGSV What’s Not To Love?
So, thought to be entirely deceased, long gone from the galaxy at large. And it seems this pseudo-rock is their last resting-place. Anything on the species which wiped them out?

There was a war, which the Astrials comprehensively lost.
Their opponents were the Xenoliths. Still extant, by the way. [Civilization summary attached]

Xenoliths were - and are - slow-dwellers. Most people, most of the time, would have called them rocks, though this term could be insulting, depending on the language the term was expressed in and the species doing the describing. Xenoliths looked like roughly domed, multiply-limbed pill bugs at metre scale, with exoskeleton and limbs of metallic silicon reinforced with carbon nanotubes. They were cold, slow-talking, slow-moving beings with glacially-slow life processes, who inhabited large rocky planets in the outskirts of stellar systems, chilly places with an atmosphere of ammonia, mostly, and lakes and seas of methane and ethane.

The Xenoliths had been around for billions of years, having evolved almost immediately after the stars had begun to form and, amazingly, were still a functioning galactic civilization. They kept themselves very much to themselves, bothering nobody, rarely being the owners of anything anybody else wanted and generally having little to do with wider galactic affairs.

Nevertheless, news of the Astrials curious beliefs finally came to the ears - or analogous body parts - of the Xenoliths. After a thoughtful period of a few thousand years, and perhaps as a way of joining in the general joshing of the Astrials, the Xenoliths made it known that, from their direct experience, Type I stars - or any other kind, for that matter - did not have a progenitor of any kind. Their long lives, individually and as a civilization, meant that they had observed the birth, life and death of all kinds of stars over aeons and it was, as everybody else thought anyway, a natural gravitational process starting with clouds of gas and dust.

The Astrials reaction to massed derision from the rest of the galactic community was one of isolation and paranoia, which drove them along a lonely byway of civilizational development eventually reaching Level 8 with a considerable fleet of well-equipped warships.

This heresy - which the Xenoliths refused to retract, or perhaps just failed to understand the import of their remarks - led to the escalation of threats from the Astrials, which the Xenoliths ignored, culminating in a Declaration of War and the dispatch of fleets to various locations of perceived importance.

  xGCU Xenagogue
    oGSV What’s Not To Love?
So a bunch of slow-thinking rocks managed to defeat a martially organised equiv-tech war machine?

  xGSV What’s Not To Love?
    oGCU Xenagogue
You don't last as a species for billions of years without acquiring an impressive amount of firepower.

Remind me not to mess with them anytime soon.
Anyway, we have another problem. The pseudo-asteroid's management system is smart, but not sentient. It answered my initial queries promptly enough, but soon wanted to get a human - a dead human - involved.

I don't see the problem.

Astrials won't talk to machines - Minds, AIs and the like. They claim it's too much like talking to the Rocks they despise.
So we need a live human to communicate with the dead in the Afterlife.

Hmm. I'll rattle the cages of my friends in Quietus and see what they suggest.

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