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

Unexpected Turn

Lieutenant-Captain Allthog Mathaclorian stopped dead, squatted silently for a long moment, his mouth set in the nearly square gape of confusion. Trista Hy-Golten waited silently at his side.

"Sir, I may have misunderstood you," the Acting-Captain said slowly, "Could I ask you to repeat yourself?"

"Of course. Let me explain fully," the human replied, smiling broadly, "The failure of your ancestor to retrieve the Dynastist's Foot, and the similar failure of my Contact colleague to assist you in this endeavour, has damaged the reputation of your clan for many generations and caused embarrassment to the Culture. I have a possibly unique opportunity to, extremely belatedly, retrieve the artifact from the Blitteringueh Conglo and return it to you. You can in turn present to your leadership which will, I am sure, reverse the loss of standing of your clan, and of you personally."

"You would do this?" Mathaclorian asked quietly, "You can do this?"

"I can and would, as a personal favour to you," Hy-Golten replied, equally softly, "In exchange for you performing a personal favour for me."

The Lieutenant-Captain was again silent, apparently deep in thought.

"I now understand," he said carefully, "And the offer you have made is, I will immediately confess, potentially of great interest. But what is it, a lowly Captain in the Deluger Franchisement, do for you, a member of the glorious Culture?"

The human made a snorting noise the translation device rendered as "scoffing".

"Well," Hy-Golten answered, "You have a ship at your disposal, yes? With some flexibility as to where you command that ship to go?"

"This is true," Mathaclorian said, with the shoulder wriggling movement which signified confusion.

"Well, I no longer wish to be part of the 'glorious Culture', as you put it," the human said, "I wish to leave, discreetly, without anybody knowing about it."

"And you propose to do this aboard my ship?" the Deluger Captain asked suspiciously.

"I do," Hy-Golten confirmed, "If you would agree to my proposition."

"Where do you wish to go?" the Captain enquired.

"It doesn’t matter," the human said reasonably, "As long as it is outside the Culture’s sphere of influence."

"And how can I be sure you will be able to get the Dynastist's Foot to me?" Mathaclorian pressed.

"How I get it is my problem," the human said reasonably, "And I propose that I carry it with me when I arrive on your ship."

The Acting-Captain was mollified, at least a little.

"No Foot, no ship," he said, grimacing in agreement.

"Exactly so," Hy-Golten said, with an expression the Deluger translated as 'smug'.

"And when and where will this trade take place?"

Hy-Golten waved his hands about, presumably trying to encompass the entirety of the vast space which was the High Seat of the Safanariumal Empire.

"These Ambassadorial functions occur every eight-and-a-bit standard Culture days," he said, "Why don't you arrange to be the Deluger Franchisement representative at the next one, and I will arrange to bring to you the Dynastist's Foot. You and I can join your ship afterwards."

The Acting-Captain thought deeply again, motionless while the ebb and flow of the Ambassadorial representatives moved around the little isle formed by himself and the human.

"I will need to see the Foot, inspect it closely, before we proceed," Mathaclorian insisted, putting on an impression of canny intelligence.

"Of course," Hy-Golten demurred, "I feel certain you would wish to be absolutely assured of the veracity of the artifact before any further action on your part."

"I would expect no less," the Deluger said, "And I will therefore agree, with these conditions, to this arrangement."

"You promise this?" Hy-Golten asked, sounding anxious.

"I swear it, most profoundly," Acting-Captain Mathaclorian intoned, using a form of words in the Deluger tongue indicating unfeigned honesty.

Hy-Golten seemed to relax.

"Excellent," he replied cheerily, backing away with a respectful bow, "So, I will leave you now and meet you at the next of these functions. Go well, Captain."

"Fare well, Culture human," Mathaclorian said, bobbing politely, "May your quest to recover the Dynastist's Foot meet with great success."

*

On his way back to the Swat with Passion, Lieutenant-Captain Allthog Mathaclorian thought hard about the offer he had just received from Trista Hy-Golten and the solemn pact he had just sworn. He decided that the human was just too trusting to be taken seriously and deserved to be taken advantage of; he absolutely would not abide by the agreement, despite its earnest solemnity earlier. He would simply take the Foot when he brought it and strand the damn human somewhere where the Culture would undoubtedly find him and, no doubt, punish him for his crimes, not to mention the ensuing ructions with those Blitteringueh bastards.

That, he considered, would be suitable revenge for the decades of disrespect the Culture had caused his family.

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