Culture 5 Excession. Home · Culture 5 Excession Author: Iain Banks. 51 downloads Views KB Size Report. DOWNLOAD EPUB. Excession by Iain M. Banks; 4 editions; First published in ; Borrow · DAISY for print-disabled Download ebook for print-disabled (DAISY). The fifth Culture book from the awesome imagination of Iain M. Banks, a modern master of science fiction. Iain Banks came to widespread and controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, THE WASP FACTORY, in He has since gained enormous popular and.
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Excession EPUB. by Iain M. Banks. Part of the Culture series. Download - Immediately Available. Please note: eBooks can only be purchased with a UK issued. things on its mind. A novel of extraordinary imagination, richness and energy, Excession is Iain M. Banks at his magnificent best. Excession; that was what the Culture called such things. It had become a 'Complete download. Upload. Iain M Banks Excession Epub Download by Franphi, released 02 November Iain M Banks Excession Epub Download.
Two and a half millennia ago, the artifact appeared in a remote corner of space, beside a trillion-year-old dying sun from a different universe. It was a perfect black-body sphere, and it did nothing. Then it disappeared. New Feature: You can now embed Open Library books on your website!
And there have been no mind-state total losses at all except that brought about by your displacer. But let me explain all this in more comfort…. But with that, the effector weapon altered its set-up momentarily, and - in effect - sucked the little machine's intellect out of its ruined and smouldering body. Colonel Alien-Befriender first class Fivetide Humidyear VII of the Winterhunter tribe threw four of his limbs around the human and hugged him tightly to his central mass, pursing his lip fronds and pressing his front beak to the human's cheek.
Ha ha! What the crushingly powerful four-limbed hug would have done to a human unprotected by a suit designed to withstand pressures comparable to those found at the bottom of an ocean probably did not bear thinking about, but then a human exposed without protection to the conditions required to support Affronter life would be dying in at least three excitingly different and painful ways anyway without having to worry about being crushed by a cage of leg-thick tentacles.
He released the man from its grasp, twirled with surprising speed and grace and - clasping one of the human's hands in a tentacle end - pulled him through the roaring crush of Affronters near the nest space entrance to a clearer part of the web membrane. The nest space was hemispherical in shape and easily a hundred metres across. It was used mainly as a regimental mess and dining hall and so was hung with flags, banners, the hides of enemies, bits and pieces of old weapons and military paraphernalia.
The curved, veined-looking walls were similarly adorned with plaques, company, battalion, division and regimental honour plaques and the heads, genitals, limbs or other acceptably distinctive body parts of old adversaries. Genar-Hofoen had visited this particular nest space before on a few occasions. He looked up to see if the three ancient human heads which the hall sported were visible this evening; the Diplomatic Force prided itself on having the tact to order that the recognisable trophy bits of any given alien be covered over when a still animate example of that species paid a visit, but sometimes they forgot.
He located the heads - scarcely more than three little dots hidden high on one sub-dividing drape-wall - and noted that they had not been covered up. The chances were this was simply an oversight, though it was equally possible that it was entirely deliberate and either meant to be an exquisitely weighted insult carefully contrived to keep him unsettled and in his place, or intended as a subtle but profound compliment to indicate that he was being accepted as one of the boys, and not like one of those snivellingly timid aliens who got all upset and shirty just because they saw a close relative's hide' gracing an occasional table.
That there was absolutely no rapid way of telling which of these possibilities was the case was exactly the sort of trait the human found most endearing in the Affront. It was, equally, just the kind of attribute the Culture in general and his predecessors in particular had found to be such a source of despair.
Genar-Hofoen found himself grinning wryly at the three distant heads, and half hoping that Fivetide would notice. Fivetide's eye stalks swivelled. The waiter was half the size of the big male and childishly unscarred unless you counted the stump of the creature's rear beak. The juvenile floated closer, trembling even more than politeness dictated, until it was within a tentacle reach. It might look like prey but it is in fact an honoured and treasured guest and it needs feeding much as we do; rush to the animals' and outworlders' serving table and fetch the sustenance prepared for it.
The juvenile eunuch waiter vented away with suitable alacrity. Fivetide turned to the human. God-shit, how we spoil you, eh! The gelfield suit absorbed the blow by stiffening; Genar-Hofoen staggered a little to one side, laughing. Do you like my new uniform?
Genar-Hofoen made a show of looking the other being up and down. The average fully grown Affronter consisted of a mass the shape of a slightly flattened ball about two metres in girth and one and a half in height, suspended under a veined, frilled gas sac which varied in diameter between one and five metres according to the Affronter's desired buoyancy and which was topped by a small sensor bump.
The principal eyes and ears were carried on two stalks above the fore beak covering the creature's mouth; a rear beak protected the genitals. To the central mass were attached, congenitally, between six and eleven tentacles of varying thicknesses and lengths, at least four of which normally ended in flattened, leaf-shaped paddles. Fivetide's uniform consisted of multitudinous broad straps and sashes of metallic-looking material which were crisscrossed over his central mass and dotted with holsters, sheaths and brackets - all occupied by weapons but sealed for the formal dinner they were here to attend - the glittering discs Genar-Hofoen knew were the equivalents of medals and decorations, and the associated portraits of particularly impressive game-animals killed and rivals seriously maimed.
A group of discreetly blank portrait discs indicated the females of other clans Fivetide could honourably claim to have successfully impregnated; the discs edged with precious metals bore witness to those who had put up a struggle. Colours and patterns on the sashes indicated Fivetide's clan, rank and regiment which was what the Diplomatic Force, to which Fivetide belonged, basically was… a point not wisely ignored by any species who wished to have - or just found themselves having - any dealings with the Affront.
Fivetide pirouetted, gas sac swelling and buoying him up so that he rose above the spongy surface of the nest space, limbs dangling, taking hardly any of his weight. The stalks' gaze rose and dipped, looking the man up and down. The posture of the Affronter's eye stalks indicated that he found something highly pleasing in this statement; probably Fivetide was congratulating himself on being incredibly diplomatic.
He thought himself rather overdressed. There was the gelfield suit itself of course, so much a second skin it was possible to forget he wore it all. Normally the suit was nowhere more than a centimetre thick and averaged only half that, yet it could keep him comfortable in environments even more extreme than that required for Affronter life. Unfortunately, some idiot had let slip that the Culture tested such suits by Displacing them into the magma chambers of active volcanoes and letting them pop out again not true; the laboratory tests were rather more demanding, though it had been done once and it was just the sort of thing a show-off Culture manufactory would do to impress people.
This was definitely not the kind of information to bandy about in the presence of beings as inquisitive and physically exuberant as Affronters; it only put ideas into their minds, and while the Affront habitat Genar-Hofoen lived within didn't re-create conditions on a planet to the extent that it had volcanoes, there had been a couple of times after Fivetide had asked the human to confirm the volcano story when he'd thought he'd caught the Diplomatic Force officer looking at him oddly, exactly as though he was trying to work out what natural phenomena or piece of apparatus he had access to he could use to test out this remarkable and intriguing protectivity.
The gelfield suit possessed something called a node-distributed brain which was capable of translating with seeming effortlessness every nuance of Genar-Hofoen's speech to the Affronters and vice versa, as well as effectively rendering any other sonic, chemical or electromagnetic signal into human-meaningful information. Genar-Hofoen had insisted on a model with the intelligence fixed at the lower limit of the acceptable intellectual range, but it still meant that the suit literally had a mind of its own even if it was 'node-distributed', - one of those technical terms Genar-Hofoen took some pride in having no idea concerning the meaning of.
The result was a device which was almost as much a metaphorical pain to live with as it was in a literal sense a pleasure to live within; it looked after you perfectly but it couldn't help constantly reminding you of the fact. Typical Culture, thought Genar-Hofoen. Ordinarily Genar-Hofoen had the suit appear milkily silver to an Affronter over most of its surface while keeping the hands and head transparent.
Only the eyes had never looked quite right; they had to bulge out a bit if he was to be able to blink normally. As a result he usually wore sunglasses when he went out, which did seem a little incongruous, submerged in the dim photochemical fog characteristic of the atmosphere a hundred kilometres beneath the sun-lit cloud-tops of the Affront's home world, but which were useful as a prop.
On top of the suit he usually wore a gilet with pockets for gadgets, gifts and bribes and a crotch-cupping hip holster containing a couple of antique but impressive-looking hand guns. In terms of offensive capability the pistols provided a sort of minimum level of respectability for Genar-Hofoen; without them no Affronter could possibly allow themselves to be seen taking so puny an outworlder seriously.
For the regimental dinner, Genar-Hofoen had reluctantly accepted the advice of the module in which he lived and dressed in what it assured him was a most fetching outfit of knee boots, tight trousers, short jacket and long cloak - worn off the shoulder - and in addition to an even bigger pair of pistols than usual had slung over his back a matched pair of what the module assured him were three-millimetre-calibre Heavy Micro Rifles, two millennia old but still in full working order, and very long and gleamingly impressive.
Naturally, each article in this outfit was covered in its own equivalent of a gelfield, protecting it from the coldly corrosive pressure of the Affronter environment, though the module had insisted that if he wanted to fire the micro rifles for politeness' sake, they would function perfectly well.
Cradled in three of its limbs was a large tray full of transparent, multi-walled flasks of various sizes. Fivetide extended a tentacle and rummaged around on the tray, knocking things over. The waiter watched the containers topple, fall and roll on the tray it held with an expression of wide-eyed terror Genar-Hofoen needed no ambassadorial training to recognise. The genuine danger to the waiter of any of the containers breaking was probably small - implosions produced relatively little shrapnel and the Affronter-poisonous contents would freeze too quickly to present much of a danger - but the punishment awaiting a waiter who made so public a display of its incompetence was probably in proportion to that conspicuousness and the creature was right to be concerned.
Is it? Fivetide turned on the waiter. Its gas sac deflated and it ran across the floor membrane for the banqueting area of the nest space, dodging the Affronters gradually making their way in that direction. Fivetide turned briefly to acknowledge the greeting slap of a fellow Diplomatic Force officer, then rotated back, produced a bulb of fluid from one of the pockets on his uniform and clinked it carefully against the flask Genar-Hofoen held.
Fivetide snorted derisively and dodged briefly to one side, apparently attempting to stick one tentacle-end up the anus of a passing Fleet Captain, who wrestled the tentacle aside and snapped his beak aggressively before joining in Fivetide's laughter and exchanging the heartfelt hellos and thunderous tentacle-slaps of dear friends.
There would be a lot of this sort of stuff this evening, Genar-Hofoen knew. The dinner was an all-male gathering and therefore likely to be fairly boisterous even by Affronter standards. Genar-Hofoen put the flask's nozzle to his mouth; the gelfield suit attached itself to the nozzle, equalised pressures, opened the flask's seal and then - as Genar-Hofoen tipped his head back - had what for the suit's brain was a good long think before it permitted the liquid inside to wash through it and into the man's mouth and throat.
Genar-Hofoen nodded as the drink warmed its way down his throat to his stomach. He coughed, which had the effect of making the gelfield ball out round his mouth like silvery chewing gum for a moment - something which he knew Fivetide thought was the second funniest thing a human could do in a gelfield suit, only beaten for amusement value by a sneeze.
My compliments to the chemist. Affronter formal dinners were held round a collection of giant circular tables anything up to fifteen metres across, each of which looked down into a bait-pit where animal fights took place between and during courses.
In the old days, at banquets held by the military and within the higher reaches of Affront society, contests between groups of captured aliens had been a particular and reasonably regular highlight, despite the fact that mounting such fights was often hideously expensive and fraught with technical complications due to the different chemistries and pressures involved. Not to mention frequently presenting a very real danger to the observing dinner guests; who could forget the ghastly explosion at the Deepscars' table five back in ', when every single guest had met a messy but honourable end due to the explosion of a highly pressurised bait-pit domed to simulate the atmosphere of a gas-giant?
Indeed, amongst the people who really mattered it was one of the most frequently voiced objections to the Affront's membership of the informal association of other space-faring species that having to be nice to other, lesser species - rather than giving the brutes a chance to prove their mettle against the glorious force of Affront arms - had resulted in a distinct dulling of the average society dinner.
Still, on really special occasions these days the fights would be between two Affronters with a dispute of a suitably dishonourable nature, or between criminals. Such contests usually required that the protagonists be hobbled, tied together, and armed with sliver-knives scarcely more substantial than hat pins, thus ensuring that the fights didn't end too quickly.
Genar-Hofoen had never been invited to one of those and didn't expect he ever would be; it wasn't the sort of thing one let an alien witness, and besides, the competition for seats was scarcely less ferocious than the spectacle everyone desired to witness.
For this dinner - held to commemorate the eighteen hundred and eighty-fifth anniversary of the Affront's first decent space-battle against enemies worthy of the name - the entertainment was arranged to bear some relationship to the dishes being served, so that the first fish course was accompanied by the partial flooding of the pit with ethane and the introduction into it of specially bred fighting fish.
Fivetide took great pleasure in describing to the human the unique nature of the fish, which were equipped with mouth parts so specialised the fish could not feed normally and had to be raised leeching vital fluids from another type of fish bred specially to fit into their jaws.
The second course was of small edible animals which to Genar-Hofoen appeared furry and arguably even cute. They raced round a trench-track set into the top of the pit at the inner edge of the circular table, pursued by something long and slithery looking with a lot of teeth at each end. The cheering, hooting Affronters roared, thumped the tables, exchanged bets and insults, and stabbed at the little creatures with long forks while shovelling cooked, prepared versions of the same animals into their beaks.
Scratchounds made up the main course, and while two sets of the animals - each about the size of a corpulent human but eight-limbed - slashed and tore at each other with razor-sharp prosthetic jaw implants and strap-claws, diced scratchound was served on huge trenchers of compacted vegetable matter.
The Affronters considered this the highlight of the whole banquet; one was finally allowed to use one's miniature harpoon - quite the most impressive-looking utensil in each place setting - to impale chunks of meat from the trenchers of one's fellow diners and - with the skilful flick of the attached cable which Fivetide was now trying to teach the human - transfer it to one's own trencher, beak or tentacle without losing it to the scratchounds in the pit, having it intercepted by another dinner guest en route or losing the thing entirely over the top of one's gas sac.
The morsel sailed through the air in an elegant trajectory that ended with Fivetide barely having to rise from his place to snap his beak shut on it. He swivelled left and right, acknowledging appreciative applause in the form of whip-snapped tentacles, then settled back into the padded Y-shaped bracket that served as a seat.
He sat to Fivetide's right in a Y-bracket place modified simply by placing a board across its prongs. His feet dangled over the debris trench which circled the perimeter of the table, and which the suit assured him was reeking in the manner approved by Affronter gourmets.
He flinched and dodged to one side, nearly falling off the seat, as a harpoon sailed by to his left, narrowly missing him. Genar-Hofoen acknowledged the laughter and exaggerated apologies from the Affronter officer five along the table who had been aiming at Fivetide's plate, and politely gathered up the harpoon and cable and passed it back.
He returned to picking at the miniature pieces of indifferent food in the pressurised containers in front of him, transferring them to his mouth with a gelfield utensil shaped like a little four-fingered hand, his legs swinging over the debris trench. He felt like a child dining with adults. Ha ha ha! He slapped Genar-Hofoen on the back with a tentacle and threw him half off the seat and onto the table.
Genar-Hofoen smiled politely and picked his sunglasses off the table. The Diplomatic Force colonel went by the name of Quicktemper. It was the sort of title which the Culture found depressingly common amongst Affronter diplomats. Have another throw! Just because you can't eat the damn stuff, you shouldn't let that keep you from joining in the fun! A harpoon thrown from the far side of the table sailed over the pit towards Fivetide's trencher.
The Affronter intercepted it deftly and threw it back, laughing uproariously. The harpoon's owner ducked just in time and a passing drinks waiter got it in the sac with a yelp and a hiss of escaping gas. Genar-Hofoen looked at the lumps of flesh lying on Fivetide's trencher.
Fivetide jerked upright. Bugger me, what sort of manners do they teach you in that Culture? Good play! Seven; that's my dog! Mine; I bet on that! I did! You see, Gastrees? I told you! Genar-Hofoen shook his head slightly, grinning to himself. In all his life he had never been anywhere as unequivocally alien as here, inside a giant torus of cold, compressed gas orbiting a black hole - itself in orbit around a brown dwarf body light years from the nearest star - its exterior studded with ships - most of them the jaggedly bulbous shapes of Affront craft - and full, in the main, of happy, space-faring Affronters and their collection of associated victim-species.
Still, he had never felt so thoroughly at home. It was the module, speaking through the suit. Genar-Hofoen thought. No, I'm not leaving. Good grief, are you mad? I only just got here. Now the current state of the-. A bet?
Genar-Hofoen slapped the table with his hand. Several eye stalks turned in his direction. Fivetide, who was from a family of the sort that would describe itself as comfortably off rather than rich, and to whom fifty suckers was half a month's disposable income, flinched microscopically, then slapped another tentacle down on top of the first one. He looked at the others, exchanging knowing looks and sharing in the general laughter; the human had been out-limbed.
Genar-Hofoen twisted in his seat and brought his left leg up to stamp its booted heel onto the table surface. Fivetide flicked a fourth tentacle onto the limbs already on the table in front of Genar-Hofoen, which was starting to look crowded. They laughed too, some of the juniors dutifully, some of the others - friends and close colleagues of Fivetide's - overloudly, with a sort of vicarious desperation; the bet was of a size that could get the average fellow into terrible trouble with his mess, his bank, his parents, or all three.
Others again looked on with the sort of expression Genar-Hofoen had learned to recognise as a smirk. Fivetide enthusiastically refilled every nearby drinking bulb and started the whole table signing the Let's-bake-the-pit-master-over-a-slow-fire-if-he-doesn't-get-a-move-on song. A thousand! Fivetide can't afford that sort of money if he loses, and we don't want to be seen to be too profligate with our funds if he wins.
Genar-Hofoen permitted himself a small grin. What a perfect way of annoying everybody. So; the message? He is my responsibility when he's out of your immediate locality, after all, Scopell-Afranqui.
I mean, be fair. It's all very well you sitting up there-.
Culture 5 Excession
Genar-Hofoen told them, having to stop himself from shouting out loud. Fivetide was saying something about the Culture to him and he'd already missed the first part of it while the two machines were filling his head with their squabble. He lowered the gelfield utensil into one of the food containers and raised the food to his lips.
He smiled and made a show of bulging his cheeks out while he ate. Fivetide belched, shoved a piece of meat half the size of a human head into his beak and turned back to the fun in the animal pit, where the fresh pair of scratchounds were still circling warily, sizing each other up. They looked pretty evenly matched, Genar-Hofoen thought. Genar-Hofoen was mildly impressed. Apparently it is. Look, do you want this message or not? And I did say it was urgent. Genar-Hofoen, are you paying attention here?
But come on; can't you just tell me what the message is? I haven't looked at it; it'll be stream-deciphered as I transmit it. Here is the text of the message: Then another voice took over:. Genar-Hofoen performed the mental equivalent of sighing and putting his chin in his hands while - thanks to the quicken now coursing through his central nervous system - everything around him seemed to happen in slow motion. The General Systems Vehicle Death and Gravity had been a long-winded old bore when he'd known it and it sounded like nothing had happened in the interim to alter its conversational style.
Even its voice still sounded the same; pompous and monotonous at the same time. I see you are currently one of our ambassadors to that childishly cruel band of upstart ruffians known as the Affront; I have the unhappy feeling that while this may have been envisaged as a kind of subtle punishment for you, you will in fact have adapted with some relish to the environment if not the task, which I assume you will dispatch with your usual mixture of off-handed carelessness and casual self-interest-.
I'm quite happy here. I've been bounced into all sorts of Special Circumstances shit in the past on the strength of a Hey-come-and-do-one-little-job-for-us come-on line. This was not in fact perfectly true; Genar-Hofoen had only ever acted for SC once before, but he'd known - or at least heard of - plenty of people who'd got more than they'd expected when they'd worked for what was in effect the Contact section's espionage and dirty tricks department.
I want details of this exciting new opportunity or you can shove it. Who the hell else is going to start hauling a gifted and highly effective ambassador off -? Go on. I don't care how fucking delicate the task is, I'm not even going to consider it until I know what's involved. The scratchounds were in mid-pounce now, both of them twisting as they leapt. Shit, thought Genar-Hofoen; this might be one of those scratchound bouts where the whole thing was decided on the initial lunge, depending entirely on which beast got its teeth into the neck of the other first.
Then you will make the return journey to take up wherever you left off with our dear friends and allies the Affront. I take it all that doesn't sound too much like hard work, does it? The scratchounds were meeting in the air a metre above the centre of the bait-pit, their jaws aimed as best they could at each other's throats. It was still a little hard to tell, but Genar-Hofoen didn't think it was looking too good for Fivetide's animal.
What's in it for me? Why the hell should I-? Oh, fuck…. The two scratchounds met and locked, falling to the floor of the bait-pit in a tangle of slowly thrashing limbs.
The blue-collared animal had its jaws clamped around the throat of the red-collared one. Most of the Affronters were starting to cheer. Fivetide and his supporters were screaming. Do it now or take personal responsibility for a major diplomatic incident. Up to you. Come on; I know that last upgrade let you sneak it under their monitors. Look at that. Can't you just feel those prosthetics round your neck?
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Fivetide must be kissing his diplomatic career goodbye right now; probably already working out a way to challenge me to a duel.
After that, doesn't really matter if I kill him or he kills me; probably come to war between-. There was a buzzing sensation on top of Genar-Hofoen's right shoulder. The red scratchound jerked, the blue one doubled up around its midriff and loosened its grip. The red-collared beast wriggled out from underneath the other and, twisting, turned on the other beast and immediately reversed the situation, fastening its prosthetic jaws around the throat of the blue-collared animal.
At Genar-Hofoen's side, still in slow motion, Fivetide was starting to rise into the air. Genar-Hofoen asked with a laugh in his thought, as the blue-collared scratchound writhed hopelessly in the other beast's jaws and Fivetide started to turn to him. From the corner of one eye, Genar-Hofoen watched one of Fivetide's limbs begin to flip towards him.
He readied his slow-reacting body for the blow. Tell the module not to wait up.
Now, suit - command instruction: Genar-Hofoen halted the effects of the quicken. He smiled and sighed a happy sigh as Fivetide's celebratory blow landed with a teeth-rattling thud on his back and the Culture lost a thousand suckers. Could be a fun evening. The horror came for the commandant again that night, in the grey area that was the half-light from a full moon. It was worse this time. In the dream, he rose from his camp bed in the pale light of dawn.
Down the valley, the chimneys above the charnel wagons belched dark smoke. Nothing else in the camp was moving. He walked between the silent tents and under the guard towers to the funicular, which took him up through the forests to the glaciers. The light was blinding white and the cold, thin air rasped the back of his throat.
The wind buffeted him, raising veils of snow and ice that shifted across the fractured surface of the great river of ice, contained between the jagged banks of the rock-black and snow-white mountains. The commandant looked around. They were quarrying the deep western face now; it was the first time he had seen this latest site.
The face itself lay inside a great bowl they had blasted in the glacier; men, machines and drag-lines moved like insects in the bottom of the vast cup of shining ice.
The face was pure white except for a speckling of black dots which from this distance appeared just like boulders. It looked dangerously steep, he thought, but cutting it at a shallower angle would have taken longer, and they were forever being hurried along by headquarters….
At the top of the inclined ramp where the drag lines released their hooked cargoes, a train waited, smoke drifting blackly across the blindingly white landscape. Guards stamped their feet, engineers stood in animated discussion by the winch engine and a caravan shack disgorged another shift of stackers fresh from a break. A sledge full of face-workers was being lowered down the huge gash in the ice; he could make out the sullen, pinched faces of the men, bundled in uniforms and clothes that were little better than rags.
He looked round to the ice face again to see the entire eastern half of it crumbling away, collapsing and falling with majestic slowness in billowing clouds of whiteness onto the tiny black dots of the workers and guards below.
He watched the little figures turn and run from the rushing avalanche of ice as it pressed down through the air and along the surface towards them.
A few made it. Most did not, disappearing under the huge white wave, rubbed out amongst that chalky, glittering turmoil. The noise was a roar so deep he felt it in his chest. He ran along the lip of the face-cut to the top of the inclined plane; everybody was shouting and running around. The entire bottom of the bowl was filling with the white mist of the kicked-up snow and pulverised ice, obscuring the still-running survivors just as the ice-fall itself had those it had buried.
The winch engine laboured, making a high, screeching noise. The drag lines had stopped. He ran on to the knot of people gathering near the inclined plane. I know what happens here , he thought. I know what happens to me. I remember the pain. I see the girl. I know this bit.
I know what happens. I must stop running. Why don't I stop running? Why can't I stop? Why can't I wake up? As he got to the others, the strain on the trapped drag line - still being pulled by the winch engine - proved too much. The steel hawser parted somewhere down inside the bowl of mist with a noise like a shot. The steel cable came hissing and sizzing up through the air, snaking and wriggling as it ripped up the slope towards the lip, loosing most of its grisly cargo from its hooks as it came, like drops of ice off a whip.
He screamed to the men at the top of the inclined plane, and tripped, falling onto his face in the snow. Most of the rest were cut neatly in half by the scything hawser, falling slowly to the snow in bloody sprays.
Loops of the hawser smacked off the railway engine with a thunderous clanging noise and wrapped themselves around the winch housing as though with relief; other coils thumped heavily to the snow. Something hit his upper leg with the force of a fully swung sledgehammer, breaking his bones in a cataclysm of pain.
The impact rolled him over and over in the snow while the bones ground and dug and pierced; it went on for what felt like half a day. He came to rest in the snow, screaming. He was face-to-face with the thing that had hit him. It was one of the bodies the drag line had flicked off as it tore up the slope, another corpse they had hacked and loosened and pulled like a rotten tooth from the new face of the glacier that morning, a dead witness that it was their duty to discover and remove with all dispatch and secrecy to the charnel wagons in the valley below to be turned from an accusatory body to innocent smoke and ash.
What had hit him and shattered his leg was one of the bodies which had been dumped in the glacier half a generation ago, when the enemies of the Race had been expunged from the newly conquered territories. The scream forced its way out of his lungs like something desperate to be born to the freezing air, like something aching to join the screams he could hear spread around him near the lip of the inclined plane. The commandant's breath was gone; he stared into the rock-hard face of the body that had hit him and he sobbed for breath to scream again.
It was a child's face; a girl's. The snow burned his face. His breath would not come back. His leg was a burning brand of pain lighting up his whole body.
Why is this happening to me? Why won't it stop? Why can't I stop it? What makes me re-live these terrible memories? Then the pain and the cold went away, seemed to be taken away, and another kind of coldness came upon him, and he found himself… thinking. Thinking about all that had happened. Reviewing, judging.
None of this sloppiness. Was it some attempt at poetry, to bury them in the glacier? Interred where they were so far up the ice sheet, their bodies would stay in the ice for centuries. Buried too deep for anyone to find without the killing effort we had to put into it. Did our leaders begin to believe their own propaganda, that their rule would last a hundred lifetimes, and so started to think that far ahead?
Could they see the melt-lakes below the glacier's ragged, dirty skirt, all those centuries from now, covered with the floating bodies released from the ice's grip? Did it start to worry them what people would think of them then? Having conquered all the present with such ruthlessness, did they embark on a campaign to defeat the future too, make it love them as we all pretend to? They came out in the long trains through the burning heat and the choking dust and the ones that hadn't died in the black trucks we offered copious water; no will could resist the thirst those baking days spent amongst death had built up in them.
They drank the poisoned water and died within hours. We incinerated the plundered bodies in solar furnaces, our offering to the insatiable sky gods of Race and Purity. And there seemed to be something pure about the way they were disposed of, as though their deaths gave them a nobility they could never have achieved in their mean, degraded lives.
Their ashes fell like a lighter dust on the powderous emptiness of the desert, to be blown away together in the first storm. The last furnace loads were the camp workers - gassed in their dormitories, mostly - and all the paperwork: We were all searched, even I. Those the special police found hiding diaries were shot on the spot. Most of our effects went up in smoke, too. What we were allowed to keep had been searched so thoroughly we joked they had managed to remove each grain of sand from our uniforms, something the laundry had never been able to do.
We were split up and moved to different posts throughout the conquered territories. Reunions were not encouraged. And we suffered, too. Not just in the physical conditions, though those were bad enough, but in our minds, in our consciences. There may have been a few brutes, a few monsters who gloried in it all perhaps we kept a few murderers off the streets of our cities for all that time , but most of us went through intermittent agonies, wondering in moments of crisis if what we were doing was really right, even though in our hearts we knew it was.
So many of us had nightmares. The things we saw each day, the scenes we witnessed, the pain and terror; these things could not help but affect us. Those we disposed of; their torment lasted a few days, maybe a month or two, then it was over as quickly and efficiently as we could make the process. I am proud of what I did. I wish it had not fallen to me to do what bad to be done, but I am glad that I did it to the best of my capabilities, and I would do it again.
That was why I wanted to write down what had happened; to witness our belief and our dedication and our suffering. He was back in reality, back in the present, back in the bedroom of his house in the retirement complex, near the sea; he could see the sunlight hitting the tiles of the balcony outside the room.
His twinned hearts thumped, the scales had risen on his back, prickling him. His leg ached, echoing with the pain of that ancient injury on the glacier. The dream had been the most vivid yet, and the longest, finally taking him to the ice-fall in the western face and the accident with the drag line deep buried, that had been, in his memory, submerged beneath all the dread white weight of his remembered pain.
As well as that, whatever he had experienced had gone beyond the normal course, the usual environment of dreams, propelled there by the reliving of the accident and the image of fighting for breath while he stared transfixed into the face of the dead girl. He had found himself thinking, explaining, even justifying what he had done in his army career, in the most definitive part of his life. It was a deep, deliberately authoritative voice, its pronunciation almost too perfect.
There were a few hidden records - books, photographs, sound recordings, indices, which contradicted the re-written histories - but they still didn't directly explain why so many people, so many peoples seemed to vanish so suddenly, without any sign of assimilation. Your self-justifications have been noted. That is not an excuse, but it is a point. What gives me the right to crawl inside your brains, as you put it, is the same thing that gave you the right to do what you did to those you murdered; power.
Superior power. Vastly superior power, in my case. However, I have been called away and I have to leave you now, but I shall return in a few months and I'll be continuing my investigations then. There are still enough of you left to construct a more… triangulated case. He fell through the bed, the single ice-white sheet tore beneath him and tumbled him into a bottomless tank of blood; he fell down through it to light, and the desert, and the rail line through the sands; he fell into one of the trains, into one of the trucks and was there with his broken leg amongst the stinking dead and the moaning living, jammed in between the excrement-covered bodies with the weeping sores and the buzz of the flies and the white-hot rage of the thirst inside him.
He died in the cattle truck, after an infinity of agony. There was time for the briefest of glimpses of his room in the retirement complex. Even in his still-shocked, pain-maddened state he had the time and the presence of mind to think that while it felt as though a day at least must have passed while he had been submerged in the torture-dream nevertheless everything in the bedroom looked just as it had earlier.
Then he was dragged under again. He awoke entombed inside the glacier, dying of cold. He had been shot in the head but it had only paralysed him. Another endless agony. He had a second impression of the retirement home; still the sunlight was at the same angle. He had not imagined it was possible to feel so much pain, not in such a time, not in a life-time, not in a hundred lifetimes.
He found there was just time to flex his body and move a finger's width across the bed before the dream resumed. Then he was in the hold of a ship, crammed in with thousands of other people in the darkness, surrounded again by stink and filth and screams and pain.
He was already half dead two days later when the sea valves opened and those still left alive began to drown. The cleaner found the old retired commandant twisted into a ball a little way short of the apartment's door the next morning. His hearts had given out. The expression on his face was such that the retirement-home warden almost fainted and had to sit down quickly, but the doctor declared the end had probably been quick. I am on my way.
I would have thought that one of the last places one would have expected to find on any itinerary concerning the search for truth would be inside the minds of mere animals. When the mere animals concerned have orchestrated one of the most successful and total expungings of both a significant part of their own species and every physical record regarding that act of genocide, one has remarkably little choice.
Well, let me wish you all the best with whatever it is our friends might require of you. He left a trail of weaponry and the liquefied remains of gambling chips. The two heavy micro rifles clattered to the absorber mat just outside the airlock door and the cloak fell just beyond them.
The guns glinted in the soft light reflecting off gleaming wooden panels. The mercury gambling chips in his jacket pocket, exposed to the human-ambient heat of the module's interior, promptly melted. He felt the change happen, and stopped, mystified, to stare into his pockets. He shrugged, then turned his pockets inside out and let the mercury splash onto the mat.
He yawned and walked on. Funny the module hadn't greeted him. The pistols bounced on the carpeted floor of the hall and lay beading with frost. He left the short jacket hanging on a piece of sculpture in the hall. He yawned again. It was not far off the time of habitat dawn.
Very much time for bed.
Excession by Iain M. Banks (ebook)
He rolled down the tops of the knee-boots and kicked them both down the corridor leading to the swimming pool. He was pulling down his trousers as he entered the module's main social area, shuffling forward bent over and holding on to the wall as he cursed the garments and tried to kick them off without falling over. He leant on an antique cabinet and finally hauled his trousers off.
The figure - tall, white-maned and with a light smile playing on its craggily severe face - stood up and adjusted its long formal jacket. The hologram put its head back and fixed him with a measuring, questioning look.
Genar-Hofoen scratched his head and muttered something to the suit. It began to peel off around him. The suit gathered itself up into a head-sized ball and floated wordlessly away to clean itself. The hologram of his uncle breathed out slowly and crossed its arms in a way Genar-Hofoen remembered from his early childhood. Quick scan around, nothing immediately threatening, it would seem… Hmm. Floating in space. Nobody else around. That's funny. View's a bit degraded.
Oh-oh, that's a bad sign. Don't feel quite right, either. Stuff missing here… Clock running way slow, like it's down amongst the electronics crap… Run full system check. The drone drifted through the darkness of interstellar space. It really was alone. Profoundly, even frighteningly alone. It picked through the debris that had been its power, sensory and weapon systems, appalled at the wasteland it was discovering within itself. The drone felt weird.
What a mess! Who had done this? What had happened to it? Where were its memories? Where was its mind-state? Actually it suspected it knew. It was functioning on the middle level of its five stepped mind-modes; the electronic. In theory the routes to both lay open; in practice both were compromised. It felt like dumping the whole biochemical unit into space now but it knew the cellular soup its final back-up mind-substrate had turned into might come in handy for something.
Above, where it ought to be right now, there were a couple of enormously wide conduits leading to the photonic nucleus and beyond that the true AI core. Both completely blocked off, and metaphorically plastered with warning signals. The equivalent of a single lit tell-tale adjacent to the photonic pipe indicated there was activity of some sort in there. The AI core was either dead, empty or just not saying.
The drone ran another systems-control check. It seemed to be in charge of the whole outfit, what was left of it. It wondered if the sensor and weaponry systems degradation was real. Perhaps it was an illusion; perhaps those units were in fact in perfect working order and under the control of one or both of the higher mind components.
It dug deeper into the units' programming. No, it didn't look possible. Unless the whole situation was a simulation. That was possible. A test: It sounded like a particularly nasty simulation problem; a nearly-worst-case scenario dreamt up by a Drone Training and Selection Board. There were a couple of closed sub-cores intact within its electronic mind, sealed and labelled as potentially - though not probably - dangerous. There was a similar warning attached to the self-repair control-routine matrices.
The drone let those be for the moment. It would check out everything else that it could before it started opening packages with what might prove to be nasty surprises inside. Where the hell was it? It scanned the stars. A matrix of figures flashed into its consciousness. Definitely the middle of nowhere.
The general volume was called the Upper Leaf-Swirl by most people; forty-five kilolights from galactic centre.
The nearest star - fourteen standard light months away - was called Esperi, an old red giant which had long since swallowed up its complement of inner planets and whose insubstantial orb of gases now glowed dully upon a couple of distant, icy worlds and a distant cloud of comet nuclei.
No life anywhere; just another boring, barren system like a hundred million others. The general volume was one of the less well-visited and relatively uninhabited regions of the galaxy. Nearest major civilisation point; the Sagraeth system, forty light years away, with a stage-three lizardoid civilisation first contacted by the Culture a decade ago. Nothing special there. Never before directly investigated by the Elench, though there had been the usual deep-space remote scans from afar, showing nothing special.
No clues there. Date; n4. The drone's service log abstract recorded that it had been built as part of a matched pair by the Peace Makes Plenty in n4.
Most recent entry; ' The detailed service log was missing. The last flagged event the drone could find in its library dated from ' So had that been just yesterday, or could something have happened to its clock?
It scrutinised its damage reports and searched its memories. The damage profile equated to that caused by plasma fire, and - from the lack of obvious patterning - either an enormous plasma event very far away or plasma fire - possibly fusion-sourced - much closer but buffered in some way.
Index of /public/Books/SciFi_Fantasy/Science Fiction/Banks, Iain M/
A nearby plasma implosure was the most obvious example. Not something it could do itself. The ship could, though. Its X-ray laser had been fired recently and its field-shields projectors had soaked up some leak-through damage. Consistent with what would have happened if something just like itself had attacked it. One of a matched pair. It was drifting at about two-eighty klicks a second, almost directly away from the Esperi system. In front of it - it focused all its damaged sensory capacity to peer ahead - nothing; it didn't appear to be aimed at anything.
Two-eighty klicks a second; that was somewhere just underneath the theoretical limit beyond which something of its mass would start to produce a relativistic trace on the surface of space-time, if one had perfect instrumentation.
Now, was that a coincidence, or not? If not, it might have been slung out of the ship for some reason; Displaced, perhaps. It concentrated its senses backwards. No obvious point of origin, and nothing coming after it, either. Hint of something though. The drone refocused, cursing its hopelessly degraded senses.
Behind it, it found… gas, plasma, carbon. It widened the cone of its focus. What it had discovered was an inflating shell of debris, drifting after it at a tenth of its speed. It ran a rewind of the debris shell's expansion; it originated at a point forty klicks behind the position where it had first woken up, eighteen fifty-three milliseconds ago.
It scanned the distant shell of expanding particles. They'd been hot. That was wreckage.
Battle wreckage, even. The carbon and the ions could originally have been part of itself, or part of the ship, or even part of a human. A few molecules of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. No oxygen. Odd, that. As though it had somehow been prioritised out of a sudden appearance of matter.
Again, as though it had been Displaced, perhaps. The drone flicked part of its attention back inside, to the sealed cores in its mind substrate with their warning notices. January 7, History. By Iain M. Go to the editions section to read or download ebooks. Excession Iain M. Excession Close. Want to Read. Are you sure you want to remove Excession from your list? About the Book. People Genar Hofoen. Excession June 12, , Le Livre de Poche.
Excession , Bantam Books. Readers waiting for this title: Excession , Orbit. History Created December 11, 11 revisions Download catalog record: Libraries near you: WorldCat Library. Excession , Bantam Books in English - Bantam mass market ed.
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