Culture 5 Excession by Iain Banks

By Iain Banks

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The Affronter said. 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.

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.

Unhealthy and poisonous,' Genar-Hofoen told the Affronter. 'Perfect copy. ' 'I'll pass them on,' Fivetide said, crushing his drinking bulb and flicking it casually at a passing servant. 'Come now,' he said, taking the human by the hand again. ' 'No no no, you have to flick it, like this, you stupid human, or the scratchounds'll get it. Watch…' 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.

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