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

Plot Summary

Unseen Footprints book cover I am writing a Fan Fiction novel called Unseen Footprints, set in the Culture universe, as invented by Iain M. Banks and used as the setting for many of his own works.

This page will provide (it is currently a work in progress) a summary of the plot of Unseen Footprints, in chapter order. Warning: spoilers.

See also the list of characters and places which I am working on, and which accompanies this chapter-by-chapter synopsis.


1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14
15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24

1: Traveller's Rest [Top]

The man known as the Traveller approaches the walled market town of Brunanburh. He stops at the Monastery of the Brothers Thewall to rest and spend the night before proceeding to the town.

The following morning, the Traveller cautiously enters the town. He seeks the company of others in a tavern, where he might find information on where employment as a blacksmith might be found.

2: Hidden Quarry [Top]

Aboard the Culture General Contact Unit Partial Arbitrage, the crew come together to debate a new assignment. The ship briefs the crew, including Lizzat Fremtahl and Folkiss Lemahr, about a request to travel to the planet known as Epsilona which may, or may not, be the location of an Absconder called Trista Hy-Golten.

Records recently acquired by the Culture from the Blitteringueh Conglo suggest that Hy-Golten might be resident on Epsilona, transported by the Future Perfect and now carefully disguised as a native.

3: Ancient Grudge [Top]

Aboard the Deluger Franchisement ship Swat with Passion, Actiing-Captain Allthog Mathaclorian of the Ambalshore Respawning is trying to enjoy a relaxing experience.

Giving up, the Acting-Captain reviews a recording of an interview between a Deluger Full-Captain called Welfron Chinicharian of the 120th Ambalshore Respawning and an unknown human from the Culture's Contact section. The Full-Captain is asking the human to assist him in recovering an ancient artifact known as the Dynastist's Foot from the Blitteringueh Conglo, with whom the Deulgers are currently at war.

The Culture human appears to be at the point of agreeing to help when suddenly he decides to leave without explanation, while muttering "Excession".

4: Common Business [Top]

Winter in Brunanburh finds the Traveller working as a blacksmith and farrier for Jahn the Smith.

The traveller occassionally visits taverns and public houses, always listening for tales of strange happenings, without result.

On another occasion, the traveller visits the Mansion of Mistress Beatrix, a bordello, seeking out Mistress Beatrix herself. While waiting, he makes the acquaintance of a young woman who we later learn is called Yasline.

The Traveller is admitted to Mistress Beatrix's grand reception room, where he gives his name as Triss Higolter. He offers Beatrix his services as an apothecary.

5: Ready Equipped [Top]

The GCU Partial Arbitrage messages the GSV Neat Solution Overall to state that the GCU is now under way to the planet Epsilona to attempt to locate the Absconder Trista Hy-Golten. The GCU plans to use its human crew to investigate places on the planet where Hy-Golten might be hiding.

The Partial Arbitrage asks Lemahr if she would be prepared to assist in the search on the planet's surface. She agrees. The ship states that Lemahr will have to become male in order to fit in with the native population. Fremtahl overhears the conversation and expresses her satisfaction with this change.

The Partial Arbitrage again messages the GSV Neat Solution Overall to announce its arrival at Epsilona, and that no Culture citizens or technology are visible to its scanners on the planet.

Lemahr admires his new male form in mirrors and reverser fields, which also meets with the approval of Fremtahl.

6: The Game is Afoot [Top]

Lieutenant-Captain Allthog Mathaclorian and the Swat with Passion are formally representing the Deluger Franchisement at the High Seat of the Safanariumal Empire on Bhlan Orbital.

During the ambassadorial function, the Lieutenant-Captain chances to encounter the Culture representative, Trista Hy-Golten.

7: Fair Employment [Top]

After a pointed negotiation with Triss Higolter, Mistress Beatrix accepts his proposal to provide apothecarial services for the ladies of Mansion of Mistress Beatrix. She further agrees that Yasline would become his assistant and companion.

8: Cunning Disguise [Top]

Aboard the GCU Partial Arbitrage, Lemahr discovers that he is almost alone, with most other crew members already on the planet surface. Lemahr has already been briefed on his mission by the ship and is presented with a walking stick which is actually a collection of knife missiles in disguise.

The ship provides a module to deliver Lemahr invisibly to the surface, allowing him to walk the remaining few kilometres to the minor port and fishing village of Streoneshalch.

9: Turning Wheels [Top]

Hy-Golten and Acting-Captain Mathaclorian converse at the ambassadorial function at the High seat of the Empress of the Safanariumal Empire. They discuss the long-ago failure of the Culture to return the artifact known as the Dynastist's Foot to the Deluger Franchisement, which is even now still held by the Blitteringueh Conglo.

During a speech from the Empress, Hy-Golten quietly offers to return the Dynastist's Foot to Captain Mathaclorian in return for an unspecified favour.

10: Successful Test [Top]

Yasline visits the market in Brunanburh to purchase supplies for Higolter's apothecary work. She returns to the side door of the Mansion of Mistress Beatrix. Both Higolter and Mistress Beatrix are pleased with her efforts.

While Higolter tidies away the purchases, Yasline explains how she came to become a whore in the Mansion of Mistress Beatrix. He listens sympathetically. Higolter takes some time to manufacture the first few potions required by Mistress Beatrix while Yasline bathes and changes.

11: Zero Result [Top]

The GCU Partial Arbitrage reports to the GSV Neat Solution Overall that its first attempts to locate Hy-Golten on the planet Epsilona have been unsuccessful.

Lemahr and Fremtahl debate his failure to locate Hy-Golten. While Lemahr sleeps, Fremtahl does some research of her own, and suggests that Brunanburh might be the next best bet. The GCU agrees.

12: Unexpected Turn [Top]

On Bhlan Orbital, Hy-Golten confirms to Captain Mathaclorian his proposal to deliver the Dynastist's Foot to the Deluger Franchisement in exchange for helping Hy-Golten Abscond from the Culture. They agree to meet again at the next ambassadorial function.

On the way back to the Swat with Passion, the Deluger captain decides he will not adhere to the deal he has just agreed.

13: Convenient Join [Top]

Yasline meets with Beatrix in a private sitting room in the Mansion of Mistress Beatrix to discuss the results of Higolter's apothecary work. Both women profess themselves satisfied with the arrangements.

The two women are joined by Higolter. Mistress Beatrix offers to make the position permanent; Higolter accepts, subject to three conditions. Yasline continues her role supporting Higolter's work over the winter and into spring, the results of which considerably improve business at the Mansion.

Higolter elects not to go travelling again; instead, he elects to stay in Brunanburh. He requests Beatrix to release Yasline from her service, and proposes marriage.

14: Second Attempt [Top]

The GCU Partial Arbitrage communicates Fremtahl's suggestion to the GSV Neat Solution Overall. The GSV is impressed. The GCU says it will send Lemahr to Brunanburh shortly.

Later, Lemahr approaches Brunanburh ready to search for Hy-Golten.

15: Recovery Operation [Top]

Hy-Golten leaves Bhlan Orbital aboard a small module, heading for a rendezvous with the VFP Tell It To The Jury. On arrival, Hy-Golten confirms that his interview with Captain Mathaclorian went as expected. Ship and human set off the recover the Dynastist's Foot from the Blitteringueh Conglo Library Clan based in the Mattaringhalg Habitat.

The Tell It To The Jury informs the GSV Meddlesome Kids that it is on the way to Mattaringhalg Habitat. The GSV advises speed and caution

The Tell It To The Jury dispatches the same module with Hy-Golten aboard to rendezvous with Mattaringhalg Habitat, where he is welcomed by a very strange little man.

16: Settled Existence [Top]

Higolter and Yasline quietly marry in Brunanburh. They set up a household together, over their shop which sells ingredients for apothecaries. Higolter also quietly continues his production work for Beatrix at the Mansion of Mistress Beatrix.

Yasline is both surprised and worried when Higolter returns home one evening in a foul temper.

17: Upon the Scent [Top]

Lemahr enters Brunanburh generally unremarked, ready to look for Hy-Golten.

The GCU Partial Arbitrage and the GSV Neat Solution Overall debate the curiously large genetic variability of the humans on planet Epsilona. The two ships speculate that Epsilona was deliberately set up to make it easier to hide almost any human, subject to equiv-tech technology, and therefore they might be other aliens in hiding on the planet.

The Partial Arbitrage warns Lemahr of this possibility, via his neural lace.

18: Return Journey [Top]

Hy-Golten is welcomed aboard Mattaringhalg Habitat by Phlick, a representative of the Blitteringueh Conglo Library Clan.

Phlick escorts Hy-Golten to meet the Master of the Library Clan, who presents him with what purports to be the Dynastist's Foot. Hy-Golten returns to his module and departs.

The VFP Tell It To The Jury informs the GSV Meddlesome Kids that the Blitteringueh Conglo are mucking about with a fake artifact. The VFP is instructed to go and steal the real one. The VFP collects the module and Hy-Golten with a high-speed Displace before collecting the Dynastist's Foot.

19: Contingent Move [Top]

Yasline demands to know what has upset her husband Higolter so much. He explains that he is an alien, from one of many worlds away from Epsilona, and that he has been hiding in Brunanburh. He does not explain the reasons he is hiding.

Higolter says he must leave Brunanburh immediately. Yasline asks to go with him; he accepts. Eight days later, the couple climb to a high moor where there is a circle of tall stones. Higolter topples one of the stones, explaining that this is a message for "a friend" to come and collect him. They wait together by the fallen stone.

20: Mistaken Identity [Top]

Lemahr stays overnight in a tavern in Brunanburh, where he reviews the speculations about other aliens being present on Epsilona from the GCU Partial Arbitrage and the GSV Neat Solution Overall.

While consuming his breakfast, Lemahr's eye is caught by a woman in the market (Yasline), based on the way she walked. He concludes that she is not the Absconder he was seeking. He continues looking until he spots another person moving in a strange way; we later learn that this is Phostrian Calgo.

Prompted by the GCU Partial Arbitrage, Lemahr acosts Calgo, speaking in Marain. Calgo is confused, confirming that he is not the missing Absconder Hy-Golten.

A short exchange between the Partial Arbitrage and the GSV Neat Solution Overall confirms the truth of the hypothesis that there are many aliens on Epsilona.

21: Shell Game [Top]

The VFP Tell It To The Jury informs the GSV Meddlesome Kids that it has stolen the Dynastist's Foot from the Blitteringueh Conglo and is now on its way to Bhlan Orbital at high speed. The two ships agree that Captain Mathaclorian is not to be trusted, and that a new plan is needed. The VFP agrees to persuade Hy-Golten to go along with this new plan.

The Tell It To The Jury makes a third, very good copy of the Dynastist's Foot. It asks Hy-Golten to deliver the Blitteringueh Conglo's poor copy to Mathaclorian, while arranging to deliver its own very good copy to the Deluger Franchisement central government, while it expects the original to be returned to the Conglo.

Later, Hy-Golten rejoins Captain Mathaclorian on Bhlan Orbital with the Dynastist's Foot on a float pallet. The Captain agrees to take Hy-Golten away with him as soon as the ambassadorial fucntion is over.

22: Escape Route [Top]

The VFP Tell It To The Jury is revealed to have been loitering for hundreds of years, investigating Metamathics, or the Land of Infinite Fun, until it detects the message from Epsilona sent by Hy-Golten. The VFP leaps into action, accelerating towards Epsilona as quickly as it can.

The Tell It To The Jury welcomes Yasline and Triss Higolter aboard; Higolter and Hy-Golten are revealed to be the same person. Yasline is understandably confused.

23: Missed Encounter [Top]

The GCU Partial Arbitrage reports to the GSV Neat Solution Overall that what looks like a Culture VFP has just hurried through the Epsilona system, snap-Displacing something from the surface of the planet. The GSV claims no knowledge of any ship and promises to make enquiries.

Aboard the Partial Arbitrage, Lemahr reviews his encounter with Calgo in conversation with Fremtahl. The ship interrupts the two humans to tell them about the sudden exodus of suspected aliens from Brunanburh, as well as the surprise appearance of a VFP which has appeared to Displace two people from the planet's surface. They suspect that Hy-Golten has now left the planet.

24: Willing Prisoner [Top]