I read almost exactly half of "Surface Detail," Iain M. Banks' latest Culture novel while I was traveling to take care of my brother's affairs. And it was, in part, almost eerily appropriate:
"There had always been specialist sub-divisions within the organisational behemoth that was Contact. Special Circumstances was only the most obvious and, uniquely, it had been formally separate almost since its inception; largely because it sometimes did the sort of things the people who were proud to be part of Contact would have been horrified to have been remotely associated with.
"As time had passed though, especially over the last half-thousand years or so, Contact itself had seen fit to introduce various re -organisations and rationalisations which had resulted in the creation of three other specialist divisions, of which the Quietudinal Service was one.
"The Quietudinal Service – Quietus, as it was usually called – dealt with the dead....
"Relatively small in terms of ships and personnel, Quietus could nevertheless call on whole catalogued suites of dead but preserved experts and expert systems – not all of which were even pan-human in origin – to help them deal with such matters, bringing them back from their fun-filled retirement or out of suspended animation, where they had left instructions that they were ready to be revived if they could be of use when circumstances required.
"Slanged as “Probate” by some of those in SC, Quietus had links with Special Circumstances, but regarded itself as a more specialised service than its much older and larger sibling utility. Most of the humans within Quietus regarded any links with SC as deplorable in essence and only very occasionally necessary, if ever. Some just plain looked down on Special Circumstances. Theirs, they felt, was a higher, more refined calling and their demeanour, behaviour, appearance and even dress reflected this.
"Quietus ships added the letters OAQS – for On Active Quietudinal Service – to their names while they were so employed, and usually took on a monochrome outer guise, either pure shining white in appearance or glossily black. They even moved quietly, adjusting the configuration of their engine fields to produce the minimum amount of disturbance both on the sub-universal energy grid and the 3D skein of real space. Normal Culture ships either went for maximum efficiency or the always popular let’s-see-whatwe-can-squeeze-out-of-these-babies approach. "