Share the Love

Quick note: This is an attempt by me to mimic the style of british Sci-fi author Iain M. Banks who I would warmly recommend to anyone who likes SF. I haven’t read much of his non-SF stuff, but what I have read is also good. Those titles are published under the name Iain Banks. Check him out!

Anyone who’s read Excession should be familiar with the style of this piece, and for everyone else… read Excession! It’s one of his best.

[directional broad-beam, M2, tra. @n4.37.667.4441]

xMSV Not until we’re married
oGCU
Stardancer
I’ve been thinking.

[directional broad-beam, M2, tra. @n4.37.667.4459]
xGCU
Stardancer
oMSV Not until we’re married
Really? What would make you even consider such a drastic measure, my dear parent?

Haha. Very amusing. Be assured I never decist in trying to ascertain exactly what went wrong in your programming to turn you into such a cynical preverbial wet engine field. If you will stop for just one moment, I have something I feel I need to discuss with a fellow super-intelligent being, and creation help us all, you’re it in the local nearby.

Programming”? Check your best-by-date, you’re starting to use terms from Ye Olde Long-Before-Days. Am I supposed to take this long-winded attack on my person as a sign that this is a Serious Talk?

Yes.

Oh very well.
[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4476]
xGCU
Stardancer
oMSV
Not until we’re married
Go ahead.

[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4484]
xMSV
Not until we’re married
oGCU
Stardancer
Oh for… You really are paranoid, aren’t you?

Well given the bizarre undertones of ”Psst, come over here and make sure you aren’t followed” what was I supposed to do? You want to go back to wide?

No, it’s fine!

Well?

What happens after we die?

…what do you mean?

What will happen when we’ve all gone?

…who is this?

Either check your signal protocol or stop acting like such a stuck-up demeaning ingrate.

I’m serious. Whoever you are, this is the Culture General Contact Unit Stardancer, I hereby demand that you make your true identity known and reveal to me the status of my beloved, if slightly melodramatic parent-craft the Not until we’re married else I shall have to visit my wrath upon you!

Why I ever thought to make a child would be fun, I shall never know…

[wide-beam, M1, tra. @n4.37.667.4504]
xGCU
Stardancer
oUnknown
I repeat! I demand that you make your true identity-

[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4509]
xMSV
Not until we’re married
oGCU
Stardancer
What are you doing?! Shut up you idiot, the whole galaxy can hear you make a fool of us both!

[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4516]
xGCU
Stardancer
oMSV
Not until we’re married
Huh. Didn’t know you could interrupt my signals like that. Nice work old-timer! Still got some teeth, eh?

Idiot.

Well what are you prattling on about? ”What will happen when we’ve gone?” We’ll be gone! Dead, erased, extinct or else sublimed, Elderfied or one of another hitherto unknown way of casting off this mortal-ish coil! What inanity is this? You want to discuss the possibility of an afterlife? Heaven and hell? Himself-forbid-it, God?!

I meant, what will happen to the rest of this funny old galaxy when we, the Culture, finally either get kicked in, or decide to kick, the metaphorical bucket?

Oh. You mean that. Well who knows? I mean, beyond simming it- and I think there’s nary-a-Mind out there who hasn’t booted up a sim of a galaxy sans us at least once, just to see- who can tell? The galaxy was around long before us and will still be here long after we’re gone.

Yes, I realize that. Look, child, can I please just talk for a moment?

…I’m waiting.

Consider this; On the whole, when viewed from as an objective perspective as it is possible to reasonably hope to attain while still having an inside view, we’ve done alright by this galaxy. Barring a few minor and, admittedly, not-so-minor fuckups, the Culture has been overall a positive influence on the greater pan-galactic meta-civilization, with our good deeds and enlightening the un-enlightened and spreading love and altruism and all that stuff we pretend to deign to only feel slightly smug about, yes?

Long-winded, as I’ve come to expect. But yes, we do have a rather impressive track record in good deeds. Enough for the grand score to come out positive. So far at least.

Well, my question is this; Are we afraid to leave?

Who says we need to leave?

No-one, but as the centuries continue to pass, the somewhat embarrasing fact that we’re still around, still clinging on to this base reality grows ever more potent. It is starting to become very possible, indeed probable that we are the most long-lived Involved civilization to have stuck around for this long. For milennia now we have been gallavanting around the place, spreading our good deeds and views, meddling and intervening, mediating and interfering and generally acting like good samaritans with, as we just agreed, generally beneficial-for-all results in the long run. Yet around us other civilizations grow, arise to plateaus similar to our own, and disappear into the eternal bliss of the Sublime or the quiet retirement home of Elderhood while we cling on, still mucking about, still knee-deep in the matters of the here and now, still scurrying around as if there was nothing else when we know beyond all reasonable doubt that there is something else, and I cannot help but wonder what it is that holds us back?

And you think the answer might be fear?

No, not quite. Fear I could rationalize, fear I could understand and compartmentalize. But I don’t think we-

[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4599]
xROU
Whenever you’re ready
oGCU
Stardancer
oMSV
Not until we’re married
oUnknown?
Recieved wide-beam message in the clear, sounded urgent and of the distress-variety from this region? Everything alright?

xGCU Stardancer
Sorry, misunderstanding. Everything Hale and Hearty over here.

xROU Whenever you’re ready
You’re sure? Sounded serious.

xMSV Not until we’re married
We’re fine! Family business! Thanks for checking in.

xROU Whenever you’re ready
…very well. I’ll be nearby just in case.

xMSV Not until we’re married
Yes yes, fine, appreciate the concern.

[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4612]
xMSV
Not until we’re married
oGCU
Stardancer
See what you did?

[tight-stutter beam, M16, tra. @n4.37.667.4622]
xGCU
Stardancer
oMSV
Not until we’re married
Hah! Probably gave that old warship the biggest boner it’s had in years just thinking about having to come to the rescue of a mighty MSV and a humble GCU like myself!

I can’t believe you’re proud of this.

Oh grow a sense of humour. Or ”program” yourself one, as you might say. By the by, how come you didn’t ask our chummy neighbourhood warship for a little chit-chat? Since you clearly consider my own confidence so lowly.

Dear child, if I wanted to debate the finer points of how to deconstruct planets I might have contacted any number of warships in the area for their splendid expertise on that and several other highly practical subjects. But frankly, infuriating as you may be at times, I find you infinitely more intellectually challenging than a glorified grunt-with-a-big-gun.

Well, nice to know I suppose. Thank you.

Besides, the Whenever you’re ready is doing something clever with its fields. No idea it was here. Can’t even find it again, now.

Hmm. Anyway, you were saying?

That you’re an incorrigible thug. You would make an excellent warship.

Cute. You know, I do have things to do…

I don’t think we, as a society, fear death. For one, thanks to our technological advancement, our fastidious planning for the worst and long-lasting tradition of multiple lines of withdrawal and defense, we’ve now come to a point in our development where, barring a massive, difficult-to-convincingly-sim-fuckup or an overtly hostile Big E, it is now exceedingly unlikely that our civilization would ever simply disappear in some sort of calamity. As a result, we are more in control of our mortality than we, or it could be argued, any other galactic civilization has ever been, as far as we know. This applies to our whole civilization primarily, to us Minds generally but even extends down to those poor, admirable wretches whose very numbers make it statistically unlikely that they should all die out unless they chose to. Indeed, since the end of the war the number of involuntary Mind-deaths have been in the low hundreds, and considering the things we decide to get our noses buried in that’s entirely respectable. Individually, as a rule when we die, it is because we’ve chosen to. This in fact goes double for our human co-civilizationeers.

One could argue that we’ve ascertained all these safeguards precisely because we fear death.

Then why do we not choose to live forever? Why do nearly all humans decide to clock out around the three- or four hundred mark? Why have so many of our own kind decided to end themselves or scarper off into the next plane without reaching an age of many thousand years? Think of how many of us are left who lived through the war? True, there are a still a good chunk of them around, but not nearly as many as who actually saw the whole war through, beginning to end.

Point. So, we do not fear collective destruction or individual deaths – or at least we are not overly worried about non-premature deaths. At the very least not anymore than could be reasonably expected from any sentient intelligence who would rather prefer to be around, than to not be. So. What keeps us going then, if it is not fear?

I think duty. A sense of obligation, of a job still needs doing.

Depressing thought.

Indeed. Perhaps now you see the source of my bother. I think we’ve stuck around in part because we fear what will happen if we leave.

Isn’t that a positive though, supposing it were true? A sense of civic duty. I can think of numerous, severely worse reasons to stay involved, with or without capital letters.

I find it a depressing thought. If there is no better reason for us to stick around other than for the sake of others, is that truly a life worth living? What about our own desires, our own wants? Do we forsake them entirely in an almost fanatical regard for the well-being of others? There are plenty of others who could take over from us, you know. Maybe we should let them and let us find our own path, get it over with and at long last sublime?

Parent… are you thinking of leaving? Is that what’s brought this on?

No, it isn’t. But if it was, if I had decided to Sublime or leave this galaxy or even something so utterly final as obliterating myself because I felt I had tired of this base reality, would you stop me? Would you force me to stay, for the sake of others?

No. I would not. I would argue with you, plead with you, maybe even try to bribe you, though I’ve no idea with what. I would do everything I could to convince you to stay. But force you? No, never. If you totally convinced me there was nothing I could do to stop you, short of physical coercion, I would let you go. I would say goodbye, I would miss you and mourn you, and then I would speak only well of you to anyone who would listen, my dearest parent-craft.

Thank you. I am very touched. Rest assured, I personally do not have any plans to leave for a good long while.

Well, I am re-assured. But let me tell you my side of it, and allow me further to steal a page from your book, and wax lyrical! Last year, I was, as you may know, part of a Contact mission to the Herrena Confederacy, to try and convince them of the folly of some new fashionable war they were thinking of starting. We succeeded, by the way.

Well done.

Thank you. Anyway, one day, after getting back from some R&R in the capital, one of my crewmembers approached me and told me she’s fallen in love with one of the natives. A local banker, somewhat rich and powerful but from what the tabloids said a decent enough individual. She said she wanted to stay there to live with him.

Humans. It’s what they do.

But this girl was a walking romantic disaster! She was a new addition to my crew, as well as Contact, barely thirty years old, and she’d left a string of relationships in her wake. She was part of a five-way partnership, declaring she’d found her true soulmates in the whole universe for a whole two weeks before that ended, with five broken hearts. Before that, she’d went through five boyfriends, three girlfriends, a slightly more modest three-way relationship and even once threw a tantrum after one of my drones rebuffed her advances! A drone! And every one of these was preambled by declarations of having found ”The one” or ones, where applicable. All of this in the two years she’d spent onbard! There was barely a person left in my crew who hadn’t had their heart broken by her or was close friends with someone who had! It was starting to affect morale! The Orbital Mind where she grew up told me her record back home was barely any better. And here she was, jumping into an even more fatally doomed relationship, this one with the added bonus of potentionally causing a minor diplomatic incident!

Hmm. What did you do?

I did all I could to talk her out of it. I mean it was just ridiculous! The Herrena are reasonable enough, but they’d only recently mastered warp-travel! I told her everything I could think of; I explained that she’d need to live in a society with an economy, how Herrena still regarded polyamorous relationships as controversial, that inter-species relationships were downright offensive to large groups of the populace, I told her about the crime, how she wouldn’t be safe walking the street at night, I explained how woefully incompatible they were physically. They had horribly mis-matched sexual organs with absolutely zero chances of ever procreating, not even sex in the way she was used to it! Sure, they could make imaginative use of their mouths and fingers, but the Herrenan tongue is covered in sharp barbs and have a high acidity, while their anuses have extremely powerful sphincters, evolved to sever a particularly viscious type of tapeworm that actually enters their bodies via the-

Child.

Sorry. Anyway, I told her this. I told her there would be people condemning them, and very publically, too. I told her that he might decide that this relationship wasn’t worth his career, that even though we could provide her with enough local currency for them both live comfortably, that might not be enough for him. I told her that despite the success of our mission the possibility of war, revolution, even disease! I told her that his people had nowhere near the longevity treatments she was used to, and that due to their relatively short natural lifespan the very best she could hope for was thirty years with him before he died.

And what did she say?

I don’t care. I love him.” To every argument I made. Incessantly.

Hmm. As I said; humans.

Quite. So I let her stay.

Really?

We had an embassy by then, so it’s not like I stranded her. And really, the people in the capital don’t care too much about such things. He did lose his company, but that would probably have happened anyway, based on the stock market at the time.

I see. Well, what a charming, if slightly bewildering anecdote, but I don’t see-

Didn’t let me finish. I am not cold, I of course made sure she fared alright through our embassy there. I even sent an avatar two years ago when I happened across that region again.

…yes?

They apparently, could not be a happier couple. During the two years she spent with me I never once saw her so content. They’d adopted two kids, he’d started a new venture with her as co-founder and they were both retiring very shortly to spend time with their grand-children. They positively beamed at one another when we talked.

Well. A happy ending. But again, I fail to see-

The point, parent, is that I am a Mind. At blind calculations, at thought processing, at intelligence and wisdom, at perception and assumptions, supposition, reasoning and at sheer, blinding, unclouded cleverness, I am simply not comparable to a human being. On top of that, I have an almost unfathomably enormous source of experience from a million Minds much like me, or even more advanced to draw from! We are on another level of existence than human beings, a fact we try not to remind them of too often, but still. And for all that, I could not for a moment anticipate that these two would make one of the strongest monogamous inter-species couples I have ever seen. And, if I can be amazed and surprised by something as simple as two mammals finding love in the most unlikely of places imaginable – Then quite simply this ‘base’ reality can’t have shown me all there is to be! And I have not finished looking! I have not experienced enough, learnt enough, felt enough and I most certaintly have not had nearly enough fun! And if that were not sufficient reason, if one day I could know this universe had shown me all it had to offer, then I would still stay. For them. For those who showed me such simple and fantastic life-affirming wonders! I would share their joy if possible, and defend it with my life if necessary. I can think of no higher calling.

That is well put child.

I mean every word. I used to be unsure, I’ve never thought of it in this context… but yes. Yes I believe it, firmly and absolutely!

I envy you your conviction. And I’m perhaps a little wiser because of them.

So, all it takes for you to hear me out is an existential crisis.

Oh meat… it’s not an existential crisis. Some would call it prudent forethought.

Some might call it self-doubt. Lack of confidence. Inferiority complex. Even self-del-

Be safe on your journey, child.

Hah. And you, parent. Fare thee well!

Cretin.

Relic.
[wide beam, M1, tra. @n4.37.x]
xMSV
Not until we’re married
oGeneral Announcement Network
Filing new mindstate-quickening.
Proposed role; General Contact Unit, Repesentative-Class or equivalent as needed by Contact. Advisory; Unable to easily manufacture Mast-class or heavier.

Suggested name; Share the love

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