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

Welcome Back

"What do you mean?" Yasline demanded, obviously full of distress and confusion.

Her husband squeezed her hands again.

"Here, things will be very different. Perhaps frighteningly so," he said gently, "But let me re-emphasise: this place is entirely safe. You could not hurt me, or even yourself, or anybody."

"But how can that be so?"

"Think of all this as magic," he suggested, untangling one of his hands and gesturing around the accommodation space, "It's not, quite, but it will help you to believe that, here, almost anything you can imagine can be done, instantly and without effort."

Yasline took a deep breath, let it out slowly.

"Very well," she said, slightly shakily and sitting down very carefully on one of the couches which littered the space.

"Firstly," her husband said, sitting down next to her, "Let me introduce you to our ship. The ship of space within which we currently exist is called, well, in translation, the Tell It To The Court, or something like that. The ship is alive, intelligent - more so than any human - and is all around us, protecting us, right now. So, it should be no surprise that the voice of the ship also comes from all around us."

"Madame Yasline," the voice of the ship said, "My apologies for alarming you. But let me assure you that everything your husband has told you is quite true."

"All true? Even the bit about magic?"

"Quite true," the ship reiterated.

Without Yasline quite being aware of how it happened, a low table appeared next to the couch upon which she sat, almost as if it had somehow been extruded from the floor. On that table stood a tall goblet made of polished glass more fine and more shiningly transparent than anything she had hitherto seen. As she watched, the glass filled with a rich red liquid which looked very much like the wine her husband had poured for her when he had first started making potions. She spun to face her husband again to find that he was already holding an identical glass of wine. He smiled at her, raised the glass in a silent toast then drank deeply. Yasline picked up her own glass, sniffed first with suspicion and then with approval, and took a dainty sip. The wine was delicious.

"Was that magic?" she asked him breathlessly.

"Everything that happens here has a rational, logical explanation with no need to invoke any mystical powers," her husband replied gently, "The trouble, for the moment at least, is that often it is a very complicated rational, logical explanation. So, not magic, but the invocation of, well, technologies beyond anything currently possible on your planet - on the planet we have just left, I should say."

"So I should treat it all as an adventure?" she asked, brightening noticeably.

"You should," he agreed, "An adventure where the future is unknown, perhaps just a little like the time when you ran away from home to join Mistress Beatrix. I think I can promise that it will be interesting and fun, at the very least."

"And will you always be with me?" she demanded.

"I will be with you for as long as you want," he promised earnestly.

He stood up, turned to face her.

"But first I should introduce myself, properly, as it were," he announced, "I am Forytal Ynarrisa Trista Shilde Hy-Golten dam Bruchalle, at your service."

He finished with a flourish and a low bow, accompanied by the disarming grin she had already become very familiar with.

Yasline looked shocked. She recognised some of the syllables her husband had just uttered, but the unfamiliar accent and the complexity of the words had taken her entirely by surprise.

"That's your name?" she demanded incredulously.

"It is," he confirmed, "I simplified it while I was on Epsilona, in various forms, to make it easier for people to pronounce. That Full Name, as it is called, tells everybody who might be interested both the place where I was born and my mother's name, as well as giving an indication of what I think are my strengths."

(More coming soon)

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