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

Bryam Bromon stood in the main room of her apartment, her stance upright, her booted heels together, her head slightly back, her hands clasped behind her back. She was dressed formally in what might have been the Quietudinal Service uniform of long dark grey boots, grey trousers, a light blouse and a plain grey jacket with a stiff, high collar. She had a pen terminal in the breast pocket of the jacket and a back-up terminal in the shape of an earbud attached to the lobe of her left ear.

"Ms. Bromon, hello."

"Good day."

The avatar of the GCU Till We Meet Again, OAQS had appeared, Displaced, in front of her a moment earlier, its coming heralded half an hour before by the call she'd received. She had time to dress and compose herself. The avatar took the form of a tiny silvered drone, not more than ten centimetres in any dimension. It floated at eye level.

"I shall take it we may dispense with any pleasantries," it said.

"That would be my choice," Bryam agreed.

"I see. In that case, are you ready to ... ?"

Bryam flexed her knees, picked up a small soft bag at her feet and stood again.

"Fully," she said.

"Okay then."

The avatar and the human female disappeared inside two silver ellipsoids which had hardly appeared before they shrank to two points and vanished, not quite fast enough to create two tiny claps of thunder, but sufficiently quickly to cause a draught that ruffled the leaves of nearby plants.

  xGSV What’s Not To Love?
    oGCU Xenagogue
Quietus have been extremely helpful. The GCU Till We Meet Again, OAQS is on its way there, expected arrival in a little over twenty hours.

  xGCU Xenagogue
    oGSV What’s Not To Love?
Very good.
And a human representative?

En route on the same ship. One Gent-Kitelsa Bryam Enhocca Bromon dam Besket-west. [Summary attached]

Hmm. Quite a bit of experience. Let's hope she's up to this task.

The Quietudinal Service - Quietus, as it was usually called - was that section of Contact which dealt with the dead. The dead outnumbered the living in the greater galaxy by some distance, if you add up all those individuals existing in the various Afterlives the many different civilisations had created over the millennia. Mercifully, the dead tended to keep themselves to themselves and caused relatively little trouble compared to those for whom the Real was still the place to exist within and try to exploit.

Relatively small in terms of ships and personnel, Quietus could nevertheless call on whole catalogued suites of dead but preserved experts and expert systems - not all of which were even pan-human in origin - to help them deal with such matters, bringing them back from their fun-filled retirement or out of suspended animation, where they had left instructions that they were ready to be revived if they could be of use when circumstances required.

Quietus ships added the letters OAQS - for On Active Quietudinal Service - to their names when they were so employed, and usually took on a monochrome outer guise, either pure shining white or glossily black. They even moved quietly, adjusting the configuration of their engine fields to produce the minimum amount of disturbance both on the sub-universal energy grid and the 3D skein of real space.

Similarly, the human and other biological operatives of Quietus were expected to be sober, serious people while they were on duty, and to dress appropriately.

"Ms. Bromon, welcome aboard."

The GCU Xenagogue did not bother with any kind of avatar, avatoid or ship-slaved drone, and the ship's voice emerged from nowhere in particular.

"Thank you."

Bryam Bromon stood straight, hands once again behind her back in the accommodation section, having been Displaced aboard seconds earlier.

"I trust you are quite well?"

"I am. And ready to start as soon as you wish."

"Indeed. I'm sure you've studied the briefing I supplied, as well as that from the Till We Meet Again, OAQS."

"Both. Carefully."

"Good. I believe you do not have a neural lace..."

"That is correct."

"So you will need to lie down somewhere comfortable and slip this on your head."

A soft pop announced the arrival of a slender pedestal topped by something silvery and metallic-looking. Bryam picked it up and studied it: an almost-not-there-at-all construction of fine wires with the slightest of bulges where the wires met and joined.

"What is it?"

"It's an induction helmet. To communicate directly with your brain. To scan your personality."

"Oh. Couldn't you just do that remotely, using your Effectors?"

"I could. But there would be a risk I would be reading your mind. At least partially."

"I see."

Bryam placed her bag on a convenient table, sat on a nearby couch, shook the helmet and laid it on her head. The device immediately came to life, burrowed gently through her hair and, unfelt, insinuated even finer fibres into her scalp.

She lay down, took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

  xGCU Xenagogue
    oGSV What’s Not To Love?
    oGCU Till We Meet Again, OAQS
Ms. Bromon is on her way. Interfaces to the processing substrates have been established and her consciousness will resolve there momentarily.

  xGSV What’s Not To Love?
    oGCU Xenagogue
    oGCU Till We Meet Again, OAQS
Are we still sure this approach will work?

  xGCU Till We Meet Again, OAQS
    oGCU Xenagogue
    oGSV What’s Not To Love?
I have high confidence in our research in the archives, the advice from several of our experts - unusually consistent, for some reason - and of course Ms. Bromon's own considerable and persuasive talents.

  xGSV What’s Not To Love?
    oGCU Xenagogue
    oGCU Till We Meet Again, OAQS
Okay. We wait.

  xGCU Xenagogue
    oGSV What’s Not To Love?
    oGCU Till We Meet Again, OAQS
...and see.

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