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Regression To Mean

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The GCU Flagrant Suggestion drifted lazily around the Dliaq'n Orbital, shooting off the occasional suggestive communications relay at the Hub Mind.

Dliaq'n Orbital was just another one of God's bracelets floating in space. It was the sort of thing the Culture liked to describe as quite an ordinary piece of work: simply a ring three million kilometres in diameter spinning casually as it swam in orbit around some appropriately chosen low-mass star. An engineering marvel, yes; host to 5 billion souls, yes, yes; also boring.

It was really a sort of provocative dance the Flagrant Suggestion was having about Dliaq'n; the GCU would come screeching close enough to just skim over the Orbital's wide outer fields, a too-friendly goosing, before canoodling back out into more respectable space.

x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o Dliaq'n Orbital
Knock knock, anybody home?

x Dliaq'n Orbital
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
Piss off.

x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o Dliaq'n Orbital
Party up at my place. Everyone biological on you and yours invited, so long as I've got space in my belly.

x Dliaq'n Orbital
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
What part of piss off don't you get? I even used a biological metaphor, just for you.

x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o Dliaq'n Orbital
Really, if you're going to act that way, sir, I'll have to point out that it would be in entirely bad faith not to communicate my message to your inhabitants, regardless of your opinion of my Self.

What kind of a Hub Mind would you be if you censored their mail?

x Dliaq'n Orbital
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
Fine. But I don't have to like you.

x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o Dliaq'n Orbital
Nobody asked you to, you great lumpen piece of ore. I'll send modules down at <date transmission> for your party people, and you have my word that they'll be safely delivered back to you before I depart the volume in 4 standard days. No need to get your panties in a twist.

x Dliaq'n Orbital
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
Enough.

x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o Dliaq'n Orbital
Knickers in a knot.

x Dliaq'n Orbital
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
Just. Stop. Transmitting.

x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o Dliaq'n Orbital
Boxers in a bunch. Thong in a tangle. Undies up your arse. Dliaq'n Orbital sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N– .

Rude.



Dliaq'n-Vanthassa Jenriq Yve Horve dam Vorthuss yawned lazily and rolled over on her bed. It was a big bed; she wasn't usually alone in it, except recently. Stretching, she tied off the silk robe that had come undone in her sleep and reached for the pen terminal the lay on the sideboard nearby.

'Morning, hub,' Jenriq greeted, yawning enormously. 'Anything interesting today?'

'Weather's fine, J,' reported the seventh element of Dliaq'n Hub. 'Party cloudy with a chance of snow where you are, but pleasant enough on the other side of Char'tal Plate if you're willing to hop over. You've got three invitations from various sorts to various events. And...'

'And what?' Jenriq asked, padding to the attached bathroom and looking for a shower. Hub took over the ambient speakers as she turned on the water. 'You're being cagey.'

'And there's an Eccentric GCU that's pulled into the volume. The Flagrant Suggestion. It's extended an invitation, wholesale and strictly first-come-first-served, to anyone on Dliaq'n to pay it a visit.'

The Flagrant Suggestion. Jenriq rolled the name around in her mouth. 'Sounds familiar,' she said slowly, pouring shampoo into her hands. 'Isn't that the crazy ex-Contact unit that's been slowly touring its way across the volume? Party of the Century, something like that?'

'Yes,' Hub replied, sounding pained. 'Something like that. I'll go ahead and send off your apologies, etcetera etcetera, shall I?'

'Why do that?' Jenriq asked. 'I've only just turned female for the first time. Shift's finally complete; I'm finally a free woman to do as I please. Might as well learn how to use the equipment. No, this sounds interesting, Hub; sign me up. Will I be gone long?'

'Only three days, at the outset,' said Hub reluctantly. 'Are you sure? The Flagrant... is Eccentric for a reason.'

Jenriq paused mid-scrub and looked up at the ceiling, mostly to have something to look up at. 'Are you going to tell me why?' she asked, arch.

'You could ask,' replied Hub. 'I might answer.'

Jenriq snorted. 'Obliquely. Nope – I've made up my mind. All engines go, Hub. Get me on that ship.'



'If you could fill in this survey before you come aboard, Jenriq Horve...' the ship's drone said to Jenriq as she stood in line for one the Flagrant Suggestion's modules later that day.

There were a few others in front of her, all of them dressed for the occasion. Jenriq herself was in a pair of heels, and trying not to fall over. She liked what they did to her figure; less what they were doing to her toes. She supposed she was going to get a lot of practice in them, Party of the Century and all. The module itself was a deep, matte black that seemed to absorb the light. She supposed it was all meant to be very sexy.

The drone floated a datapad up at her, extending a stylus to just within her reach.

'What, there's an application?' Jenriq took the stylus, bemused. 'Is there going to be an entrance interview, too?'

The drone flashed a coy purple.

Jenriq looked down at the pad. The first page was the usual pleasantries; Full Name, Current Residence, so on and so forth. She filled it in perfunctorily and went on to the second.

Languages Spoken. She furrowed her brow and wrote down, firmly, MARIAN 25 YEARS, and then kept going. To What Is Your Principal Asset, Jenriq wrote, TENOR VOCAL TRAINING 10 YEARS (defunct). It'd been a pity losing it, for the sex shift, and she hadn't quite got on to learning how to sing in her new voice just yet.

It wasn't quite until she hit the PERSONALITY AND INTELLECTUAL ASSESSMENT portion (250 questions in 6 sections) that Jenriq stopped and stashed the stylus in annoyance.

'Ship?' she asked.

'Yes?' the drone said.

'Is this a Contact application?'

'It's not current,' the drone replied, sounding delighted that she'd noticed. 'But, essentially, yes. I think most of your fellow travellers have been too busy glanding the latest and greatest to notice.'

'Do you really expect me to answer 250 questions?'

'That's just the P&I,' the drone said, innocently. 'You haven't even hit the self-assessment essay yet.'

Jenriq rolled her eyes. 'Chair,' she said.

'What?' asked the drone, who was already floating the datapad out of her hands.

Jenriq snatched it back. 'A chair. These heels are killing me.'

'You really don't have to,' the drone flashed an abashed green-grey. 'It was all just in good fun.'

'This is good fun,' Jenriq replied, sitting as the drone floated out a chair from the module for her. 'And a small writing desk, ship, if you please; I can't write on a datapad without something to brace myself on.'



x PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
You had to fill in an application?

x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
Thanks for eavesdropping. Not all of us have a resume that reads ABOMINATOR CLASS WILL FUCK UP EVERYTHING IN RANGE WITH WIT AND APLOMB.

x PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
That's the nicest thing anyone's said to me that hasn't been about a military manoeuvre. And don't be so modest. You've seen a bit of razzle-dazzle in your day.

x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
Well, you hang around me every now and then for a reason.



Jenriq had been expecting some sort (many sorts) of a party space; what in particular, she'd been willing to leave up to the Flagrant Suggestion. She'd been to any number of parties on Dliaq'n Orbital – house parties, amphitheatre parties, parties on the slow-moving airships above Vanthas Plate, then parties on the sub-plate transit units that wound around the orbital which sometimes went on for fortnights. She'd been on a GSV, once, when she turned twenty-two (the venerable and, some said, very boring The Right Hand Knows) and wanted to see more of the system; then there had been parties with aliens; parties underwater; parties in zero-G; parties in heavy-G; parties while glanding so much stardust while ensconced in a gel-suit in a VR room watching the piped in view of a star going nova. Jenriq felt that she had a pretty good hand on parties; it was expected, really, of any good Culture citizen, to know how to have a good time.

'This is a gym,' she said flatly to the drone. She was barefoot at this point, heels hooked together between the fingers of one hand. The slit on her dress was riding dangerously high up her left thigh.

The drone wriggled again. 'There's a physical assessment portion, too,' it said.

Jenriq blinked. 'I don't have any running shoes,' she said.

'Don't worry,' said another voice, and the drone floated away. Jenriq turned around and found a, hm, attractive looking male individual. Dark skinned, but very blue eyes; sort of all the things that she liked. She'd always been bisexual, but wondered at how this made her feel different; more like a woman. Obviously, since she was a woman now. First shifts; they'd told her it was going to be confusing.

'Don't worry?' she asked, focusing.

'Contact spends a lot of time running around in nice formal attire,' the man said to her. No, Jenriq realised. Not man – Avatar. 'Ship Av Suggestion Not Requirement,' he bowed, introducing himself. 'Though you can just call me Suggestion.' He smiled.

Huh. The Right Hand Knows certainly hadn't been that friendly. Jenriq didn't think Ships got friendly.



Suggestion (Not Requirement) put her on a treadmill in that dress and got Jenriq running. 'Imagine a hoard of angry diplomats behind you,' he (it?) provided as her hems whipped at her calves. 'They all want to talk about politics,' he added as he began to ramp the speed up.

'I don't know anything about politics,' Jenriq admitted, because her extent of knowledge about the news was really limited to keeping up with developments in the music industry, and even then she'd fallen out of touch in the past year.

'That has been noted,' Av Suggestion said sweetly. 'Alongside the answers that you gave about compound interest.'

Jenriq furrowed her brow. 'I don't remember answering questions about... What's compound interest?'

'It's a geometric sequence applied to systems of finance.'

'Oh, why didn't you just say so? Wait, what's finance?'

Suggestion laughed.

'This is a lousy party,' Jenriq informed him, panting a little.

'You can stop at any time.'

'No, I want to see this out,' Jenriq huffed. 'It's all quite charming.'

'I'm glad you think so,' said the ship. He was standing right in front of the treadmill and looked right at her; he was very tall.

He sweated her out, he put her through her paces; and when it was all over and done with and her dress was ruined and her feet freshly calloused, Suggestion said to her, 'You're quite beautiful when you're sweaty.'

Jenriq looked up at him and replied, 'It helps that I've been glanding bolt this entire time.'

He laughed, and lifted her up by her waist from where she'd been sitting on a bench. Hoisting her in his arms, the Av carried her, laughing, out of the gym and away to a pleasant enough room. There was a bed, at least, which he put her on. He leaned down to kiss her; Jenriq met him halfway.

Then she pulled back. 'I find you quite attractive, Suggestion, but it bothers me a little.'

'Why should it bother you?' Suggestion asked. 'This,' he motioned at his body, 'is all coming out of your P&I assessment.'

Jenriq raised an eyebrow. 'That. I'm wondering if it's not a little masturbatory, because you're what I liked about myself when I was a man.'

Suggestion sat back, though he kept a hand on her thigh. He cocked his head, but didn't say anything.

Jenriq mirrored the action. 'Do Ships masturbate? What's the equivalent?'

'We think. And that's a dangerous thing.'

'Well,' Jenriq said, making up her mind. She wondered, briefly, how many Minds Suggestion had to make up; or if he (it? she?) used even a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of one to think these things through. Her hands went for the stupid slit on the dress. 'Thinking. We can't have that.'



Afterwards, Suggestion held her hands between his own and kissed them and said, 'Can I make a request of you?'

'Of course,' Jenriq replied, riding high on wonderwall.

'Contact procedures –'

'– you have a thing for those –'

'– usually culminate in acquiring a set of reproductive material samples from prospective agents; it's a measure in case something should happen to them on the field. Would you allow me to collect some of yours?'

Jenriq looked at Suggestion. 'That's... What? Hm. Sure.' She kissed him. 'You were great. Sure. Okay.'

He smiled. 'Thank you. Shall I have it done while you sleep this off?'

She yawned. 'Why not? Will it hurt?'

'Not in the slightest.'



'How did I score?' Jenriq asked a day later as a module floated her down and away from the Flagrant Suggestion.

'Honestly?' said Suggestion.

'Honestly.'

'Abysmally; meaning you're about standard-issue as can be. It's a good thing.'

'It means I'm boring, doesn't it?'

'It means you're average.'

'How many people ever complete that application, though?'

'Ha!' Suggestion smiled. 'That's the better question to ask.' He got the module to drop her off by her house. 'Goodbye, my dear,' he said.



x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
<encrytped packet transmission> Well, take that to your lord and masters at Contact and SC; my work here is done.

x PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
<packet received> Don't know why you still do their dirty work after they tossed you out for just one giga-death event.

x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
I tossed myself out.

x PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
So that you could retire into recruiting?

x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
It has its benefits.

x PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
Like getting freaky with the kids who are never going to make it? What's with the sample-collecting?

x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
It's mathematics. If SC does its accounting in the +/- of pan-human and alien life, then I... sample-collect to balance out the ledgers.

Take a look at what's in my holds. <transmission>

x PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
<packet received> Wow. You're like a fucking cardinal fish carrying a brood of totally-average humans in your mouth.

You just can't grow entire cultures in petri dishes to make up for what happened.

x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
I believe that's exactly what you grow in petri dishes. Come on, think about it. You think that the birth rate of one child per Culture citizen every 300 odd years holds up against Contact's policy of let-us-bring-you-enlightenment expansionism?

x PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
You know what, every ship to his own, you piece of work.

Why bother asking the biologicals, though? Why go through this whole fucking show of sleeping with them and holding their hands and asking them to jizz into a cup for you?

x Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
    o PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
Then I'd really be the Meatfucker, wouldn't I? I wouldn't be making contact.

x PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
Hahahahahahahhahahahahahaha.

 



x PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
Wait how do you offload your offspring

x PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
Wait those crash stops you keep making against the Orbitals you visit

x PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
Are you fucking crash displacing manufactured babies onto pissy as fuck Culture Orbitals

x PS Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints
    o Eccentric GCU Flagrant Suggestion
Hahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahaha oh shit I really do hang around you for a reason.