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

Even though Juliann had been born and brought up on an Orbital, and indeed had spent all of her short life living on one, nonetheless she found the view of the sunlit rings from the inter-world shuttle craft immensely fascinating. She stood in the centre of the cabin having asked that the walls, floor and ceiling all become effectively transparent giving her the sensation of being entirely surrounded by stars. Some people, she knew, found the illusion of being unprotected in interplanetary space profoundly unsettling, even though they were of course perfectly safe, but she found the experience to be completely relaxing and ineffably mellow, a feeling of being at one with the totally of the universe.

Looking to aft, she could see the sun-lit hoop of Mapague receding into the distance, while ahead lay the second shiny band of Contulet, just a suggestion, a silver band like a ring or amulet just visible against the startling magnificence of the stars. She knew, of course, that what she could make out with her naked eyes was some infinitesimal fraction of the stars in this galaxy despite the near-perfect transparency of the windows provided by the ship, which were themselves a vanishingly tiny portion of all the stars in the universe. The mechanisms, the physical processes which drove the production of light and energy in stars of all kinds were of course perfectly understood by the Culture, and naturally enough all sorts of tests and checks were used to assess the stability of a star before any decision was made to build an Orbital around one.

"Hello, Juliann, Mapague Hub here," a deep voice said, the sound emerging from nowhere in particular.

"And Contulet Hub," a similarly deep voice added.

Oh-oh, Juliann thought, two Hub Minds at once. Not good, not good at all.

"What's going on?" she asked, unable to keep her unease out of her voice.

"We have a problem," one Hub voice - she was not sure which one - said urgently.

"A very big problem," the other voice added, "And one which was extremely unexpected."

"Okay," she said, adding dubiously, "Can I help in some way?"

"We are here to help you," a Hub voice said.

"You are in very considerable danger," the other added, "And you may not like the way we propose to save your life."

"What's going on?" she demanded, now sounding alarmed.

"The sun is going crazy," a deep voice said.

"A huge and unexpected coronal ejection," the other one added, "Big enough to engulf both Orbitals and the space between them."

"What?" Juliann exclaimed, "Surely that's not possible!"

"I agree it wasn't supposed to be possible," a Hub voice said, "But it's happening nevertheless."

"Questions Will Be Asked," the other voice intoned.

She glanced in the direction of the sun visible through the transparent walls of the shuttle. It did seem noticeably brighter, even though the worst of the glare was being shielded by a darkened patch on the not-glass which surrounded her.

"The people on Mapague? And on Contulet?"

"We can protect them, with certainty," one voice said.

"But this little runabout, it cannot get to either Orbital in time to save you," the other one added.

"Oh, so a Displace, then?" she asked.

"I'm afraid that won't be possible," one Hub said, "Our field projectors will be at maximum capacity."

"And we will be forced to use all of our Displacers to prevent the fields from being overwhelmed."

"Ah," Juliann said, a sudden realization settling uncomfortably in her stomach.

"We're forced to do a remote backup," one voice said, "It's the only way to save you."

"Encode your mindstate," the other one added, "Transmit it here and grow you a replacement body."

"I always said I'd live once and then die," she said slowly, "Never to be reborn, never to enter a simulation."

She shrugged and looked embarrassed.

"Intensity," she said, "You know; make the most of your one time."

Juliann had met a lot of people her own age, mostly male, who felt this way. Some people reckoned to live riskier and therefore more interesting lives because they did back-up a recorded mind-state every so often, while other people believed that you were more likely to live your life that bit more vividly when you knew this was your one and only chance at it.

"We understand your feelings on this matter," one deep voice said.

"But, for one so young," the other voice went on, "One with so much of her life still to be lived, we must urge you to reconsider."

"A one-time exception," the first voice said, "Just to get you off this runabout, which will be entirely destroyed in less than a minute."

Juliann shrugged again.

"I guess I don't really have much choice," she said sadly.

"We hoped you would see things this way," the voice of one Hub said.

"So you probably won't recall anything after..."

For Juliann, everything went black. There was a roaring, buzzing noise in her ears, and that was all she could remember. Her lifeless body collapsed to the floor of the runabout.

A few moments later, a wall of yellow flame overran the runabout that, as predicted, almost immediately overwhelmed the craft's ability to maintain structural integrity. The little ship simply dissolved in the hot plasma of the coronal ejection. The shuttle's AI, itself at least as smart as most humans, had already agreed to be copied remotely, so there was no permanent loss of mind-state at all.

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