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

Contulet Losaetsa Romea Enhocca Escobas dam Besket-Quest was Homeless. This did not mean that he had to carry around all his worldly possessions at all times, or be forced to sleep in an alley like some Age of Scarcity primitive. For one thing, he did not actually have any possessions; it was perfectly possible in the Culture to live solely by asking Hub for whatever comestible or clothing one desired and have it delivered within minutes. Also, Romea did not maintain any dwelling or residence of his own, preferring to ask for directions to the nearest available sleeping accommodation, or simply bunking down with various friends, acquaintances and lovers.

The truth was that Romea liked to travel and did so, all the time. On a world as big as an Orbital, there were enough places to visit and experience and enjoy to fill several lifetimes, even over the three-to-four hundred year extended lifespan of an average Culture citizen, and of course, with two Orbitals in the same system, there were double the opportunities for new experiences.

For reasons which might have been as simple as hometown loyalty, Romea had spent most of his young wandering life on Contulet Orbital. Still, the ease of travel between the two worlds meant that he could not have resisted visiting at least some of the more famous attractions on Mapague Orbital. He had always had an open friendly and easy-going personality, generally getting on well with people who he met for the first time so, when he struck up an acquaintance with another young traveller called Samson while visiting the famously impressive Ice Falls of Aqa-Abi, on the high plateau of Nogero, he was promptly invited to a party.

In the Culture it was possible - with only a modest amount of effort - to spend every hour of every day attending a gathering, party, event, assembly, meet-up, audience, get-together, reunion, soirée, ceilidh, fete, bash, knees-up, and any other social occasion of every size and type that could be imagined. Many people went through a phase of attending parties all the time; some never stopped; almost everybody attended some kind of event from time to time. There were even people who were professional party-throwers - although the notion of a "professional" in the Culture's post-scarcity society was a bit of a puzzler - and there were famous parties which had been going on continuously for decades.

The planners - whoever they were - for this particular party had made an enthusiastic attempt at recreating a medieval feast, the likes of which could be found in any number of developing level-2 civilizations of human - or at least humanoid - peoples. The venue, as Romea arrived, appeared to be a vast stone-built hall with a high vaulted roof supported by great baulks of timber, lit by flickering candles and warmed by wood-burning fires set in massive stone fireplaces along the walls. Set on the uneven stone flags were rows of long wooden tables and benches already occupied by a great many raucous people. The boards were set with flagons of alcoholic drink - not all of which managed to actually get drunk, judging by the fluids sloshing around on the floor - and trenchers of roast meats - actually very good reproductions assembled by Culture-standard synthesisers - accompanied by hunks of bread and other presumably-authentic foodstuffs. Food and drink were served by buxom wenches and rather handsome young men, all of whom seemed to enjoy the ribald banter, bottom-pinching and general fondling which seemed to go with the territory.

Romea and his new friend Samson squeezed themselves into a space on one of the worn wooden benches and were immediately presented with hulking tankards containing some authentically foaming beverage by a strapping lass wearing tight leather shorts and, frankly, very little else. She bent forward, kissed Samson full on the lips while clasping him to her considerable bosom, covering his face with a mass of tangled blonde curls.

"Samson, you rogue! Glad you could make it. Who's your new friend?" she demanded, once she had released him from her clasp.

"Rosalli, this is Romea," Samson said, "Only just met him, so I know nothing bad about him, yet. But the evening is yet young, and I'm sure I can dig up the dirt in short order."

Romeo unfurled one of his most winning smiles in the direction of Rosalli, who snorted in amusement.

"Oh, you'll do," she replied, grinning widely, "Enjoy yourself!"

She set off in the direction of the bar, presumably to collect more flagons and accost other guests.

Romea threw himself into the revels with great gusto, much to Samson's approval. He engaged in a spirited bout of competitive quaffing - which added considerably to the dampness on the flagstones, not to mention his beard and clothing. He also tucked into his trencher of foodstuffs, deftly delivered by another of the serving staff with a wry grin. Looking around, he could see that bones and other debris were supposed to be thrown over one's shoulder to be picked up by a variety of hairy quadrupeds with evil-looking stares and worryingly large teeth, who patrolled the walls and snarled alarmingly at each other. A quick check with Hub reassured him that they were mere bio-automatons, rather than actual live animals, and therefore just a part of the decoration.

Romea chatted amiably with the other guests sitting around him, who seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere and general antics at least as much as he was. He was engaged in an enjoyably animated debate on the merits of rhyme-scheme glyphs when an attractive young woman wearing, it seemed, a skin-tight catsuit fabulously decorated with whorls and swooping patterns stepped up onto the table and began dancing. She twirled and pirouetted her way along the tabletop accompanied by shouts of encouragement and toasts drunk from the tankards, her bare feet nimbly avoiding the flagons and boards being swept out of the way by the other guests. Romea had, of course, been watching the dancer's progress closely so, when she stumbled and slipped, he had just enough presence of mind to catch her as she fell, the two collapsing back on the bench in a giggling heap to much ribald applause. It was, therefore, just at this moment that Romea realised that the sniggering squirming woman in his lap was not, in fact, wearing a cat-suit but was both heavily tattooed and completely naked.

This was how Romea had first met Juliann.

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