Iain Banks, who under the pseudonym Iain M. Banks, has written the most influencial books of my life (so far), sadly, died today.
Sun-Earther Iain El-Bonko Banks of North Queensferry, you have contributed to, if not created almost entirely, the most beautiful, inspiring and most powerful part of me. Rest in peace.
The drone drifted through the darkness of interstellar space. It really was alone. Profoundly, even frighteningly alone. It picket through the debris that had been its power, sensory and weapon system, appalled at the wasteland it was discovering within itself. The drone felt weird. It knew who it was -- it was Sisela Ytheleus 1/2, a type D4 military drone of the Explorer Ship Peace Makes Plenty, a vessel of the Stargazer Clan, part of the Fifth Fleet of the Zetetic Elench -- but its real time memories only began from the instant it had woken up here, a zillion klicks from anywhere, slap bang in the middle of nothing with the shit kicked out of it. 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.
Below lay an atomechanical complex and beneath that a biochemical brain. In theory the routes to both lay open; in practice both were compromised. The atomechanical mind wasn't responding correctly to the system-state signals it was receiving, and the biochemical brain was simply a mush; either the drone had been doing some hard manoeuvring recently or it had been clobbered by something. 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 system-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: what would you do if you suddenly found yourself drifting alone in interstellar space, almost every system severely damaged, reduced to a level-three mind state with no sign of help anywhere and no recollection how you got here or what happened to you ? It sounded like a particularly nasty simulation problem; a nearly-worst-case senario dreamt up by a Drone Training and Selection Board.
Well, there was no way of telling, and it had to act as though it was all real.
It kept looking around inside its own mind state. Ha ha.
There were a couple of closed sub-cores intact within its electonic mind, sealed and labelled as potentially - though not probably - dangerous. There was similar warnings 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. Definitively the middle of nowhere. The general volume was called the Upper Leaf-Swirl by most people; forty-five kilolights from the galactic center. 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 remote 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 civilization point; the Sagraeth system, forty light years away, with a stage-three lizardoid civilization first contacted by the Culture a decade ago. Nothing special there. Voluminal influences/interests rated Creheesil 15%, Affront 10%, Culture 5% (the normal claimed minimum, the Culture's influence/interest equivalent of background radiation), and a smattering of investigations and flybys by twenty other civilizations making up a nominal 2%; otherwise not a place anybody was really interested in; a two third forgotten, disregarded region of space. Never before directly investigated by the Elench, though there had been the usual deep-space remote scan from afar, showing nothing special. No clues there.
Date; n4.28.803, by the chronology the Elench still shared with the Culture. The drone's service log abstract recorded that it has been built as part of a matched pair by the Peace Makes Plenty in n4.13, shortly after the ship's own construction had been completed. Most recent entry; '28.725.500: ship leaving Tier habitat for a standard sweep-search of the reaches of the Upper Leaf-Swirl. The detailled service log was missing. The last flagged event the drone could find in its library dated from '28.802; a daily current affairs archive update. So had that been just yesterday, or could something have happened to its clock ?
It scrutinised its damage report and searched its memories. The damage profile equated to that caused by plasma fire, and -- from the lack of onvious patterning-- either an enormous plasma event very far away or plasma fire -- possibly fusion-sourced -- much closer but buffered in some way. 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 protectors has soaked up some leak-through damage. Consistent with what would have happened if something just like itself has attacked it. Hmm. One of a matched pair.
It thought. It seached. It could find no further mention of its twin.
It looked about itself, gauging its drift, and searching.
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 has 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.
Which implied it had been drifting totally unconscious for nearly half a second. Scary.
It scanned the distant shell of expanding particles. They'd been hot. Messy. That was wreckage. Battle wreckage even. The carbon and the ions could originally have been a part of itself, or part of a ship or even part of a human. A few molecules of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. No oxygen.
But all of it doing just 10% of its own velocity. Odd, that. As though it had 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. Can't put this off any longer, I suppose, it thought.
It interrogated the two cores. Past, the first was labelled. The other one was simply called 2/2.
Uh-huh, it thought.
It opened the first core and found its memories.