Just before the went back into warp and its crew sat down at the table, the ship expelled the limp corpse of Zallin. Where it had found a live man in a suit, it left a dead youth in shorts and a tattered shirt, tumbling and freezing while a thin shell of air molecules expanded around the body, like an image of departing life.
Anyway, you can't leave her like that. You can't do that to the woman. She doesn't deserve it; nobody does. You don't belong to her and she doesn't belong to you, but you're both part of each other; if she got up and left now and walked away and you never saw each other again for the rest of your lives, and you lived an ordinary waking life for another fifty years, even so on your deathbed you would still know she was part of you.
...for all its apparent speed, the ship was almost perfectly silent, and he experienced an enervating, eerie feeling, as though the ancient warship, mothballed all those centuries, had somehow not yet fully woken up, and events within its sleek hull still moved to another, slower tempo, made half of dreams.
In the end, he had to admit, he didn't really understand her. He didn't understand women. He didn't understand men. He didn't even understand children very well. All he really understood, he thought, was himself and the rest of the universe. Neither anything like completely, of course, but both well enough to know that what remained to be discovered would make sense; it would fit in, it could all be gradually and patiently fitted together a bit at a time, like an infinite jigsaw puzzle, with no straight edges to look for and no end in sight, but one in which there was always going to be somewhere for absolutely any piece to fit.
I sucked that smoke in and made it part of me, joined mystically with the universe right at that point, said Yes to drugs forever just by the unique hit I got from that one packet of fags Andy liberated from his dad. It was a revelation, an epiphany; a sudden realisation that it was possible for matter - something there in front of you, in your hand, in your lungs, in your pocket - to take your brain apart and reassemble it in ways you hadn't thought of previously. This was better than religion, or this was what people meant by religion! The whole point was that this worked! People said Believe In God or Do Well At School or Buy This or Vote For Me or whatever, but nothing ever worked the way substances worked, nothing ever fucking delivered the way they did. They were truth. Everything else was falsehood.
You know, when I was in Paris, seeing Linter for the first time, I was standing at the top of some steps in the courtyard where Linter's place was, and I looked across it and there was a little notice on the wall saying it was forbidden to take photographs of the courtyard without the man's permission. [..] They want to own the light!
Why couldn't it just not have happened? Why didn't they have time-travel, why couldn't he go back and stop it happening? Ships that could circumnavigate the galaxy in a few years, and count every cell in your body from light-years off, but he wasn't able to go back one miserable day and alter one tiny, stupid, idiotic, shameful decision...
Stories set in the Culture in which Things Went Wrong tended to start with humans losing or forgetting or deliberately leaving behind their terminal. It was a conventional opening, the equivalent of straying off the path in the wild woods in one age, or a car breaking down at night on a lonely road in another.