file:///G|/rah/Greg%20Egan/Egan,%20Greg%20-%20Wang's%20Carpets.txt WANG'S CARPETS Greg Egan Here's another story by Australian writer Greg Egan, whose "Luminous" appears elsewhere in this anthology. Nineteen ninety-five was a good year for Egan in short fiction, and, like Ursula K. Le Guin and Robert Reed, he published four or five different stories this year that might well have made the cut for a best-of-the-year anthology in another year; the story that follows, though, would be hard to match anywhere for the bravura sweep and pure originality of its conceptualization, as Egan provides us with a First Contact story unlike any you've ever read before . . .
file:///G|/rah/Greg%20Egan/Egan,%20Greg%20-%20Wang's%20Carpets.txt library estimated that Orpheus had enjoyed a relatively stable climate, and freedom from major impacts, for at least the past hundred million years.
file:///G|/rah/Greg%20Egan/Egan,%20Greg%20-%20Wang's%20Carpets.txt orbiting the first planet ever found to hold alien life. And I've sacrificed nothing—left nothing I truly value behind. This is too good, too good. He felt a pang of regret for his other selves—it was hard to imagine them faring as well, without Elena, without Orpheus—but there was nothing he could do about that, now. Although there'd be time to confer with Earth before any more ships reached their destinations, he'd decided—prior to the cloning—not to allow the unfolding of his manifold future to be swayed by any change of heart. Whether or not his Earth-self agreed, the two of them were powerless to alter the criteria for waking. The self with the right to choose for the thousand had passed away.
file:///G|/rah/Greg%20Egan/Egan,%20Greg%20-%20Wang's%20Carpets.txt you think they'd notice the presence of robots a millionth their size? If they're unified organisms, they don't appear to react to anything in their environment—they have no predators, they don't pursue food, they just drift with the currents—so there's no reason for them to possess elaborate sense organs at all, let alone anything working on a sub-millimeter scale. And if they're colonies of single-celled creatures, one of which happens to collide with a microprobe and register its presence with surface receptors . . . what conceivable harm could that do?'' "I have no idea. But my ignorance is no guarantee of safety." Elena splashed him back. "The only way to deal with your ignorance is to vote to send down the microprobes. We have to be cautious, I agree—but there's no point being here if we don't find out what's happening in the oceans, right now. I don't want to wait for this planet to evolve something smart enough to broadcast biochemistry lessons into space. If we're not willing to take a few infinitesimal risks, Vega will turn red giant before we leam anything." It was a throwaway line—but Paolo tried to imagine witnessing the event. In a quarter of a billion years, would the citizens of Carter-Zimmerman be debating the ethics of intervening to rescue the Orpheans—or would they all have lost interest, and departed for other stars, or modified themselves into beings entirely devoid of nostalgic compassion for organic life? Grandiose visions for a twelve-hundred-year-old. The Fomalhaut clone had been obliterated by one tiny piece of rock. There was far more junk in the Vegan system than in interstellar space; even ringed by defenses, its data backed up to all the far-flung scout probes, this C-Z was not invulnerable just because it had arrived intact. Elena was right; they had to seize the moment—or they might as well retreat into their own hermetic worlds and forget that they'd ever made the journey.
file:///G|/rah/Greg%20Egan/Egan,%20Greg%20-%20Wang's%20Carpets.txt Paolo reached over and took her hand. The pool, the sky, the courtyard vanished—and he found himself gazing down on Orpheus again . . . nightside, but far from dark, with his full mental palette now encoding everything from the pale wash of ground-current long-wave radio, to the multi-colored shimmer of isotopic gamma rays and back-scattered cosmic-ray bremsstrahlung. Half the abstract knowledge the library had fed him about the planet was obvious at a glance, now. The ocean's smoothly tapered thermal glow spelt three-hundred Kelvin instantly—as well as backlighting the atmosphere's telltale infrared silhouette.
file:///G|/rah/Greg%20Egan/Egan,%20Greg%20-%20Wang's%20Carpets.txt fusion fire from beyond the orbit of Mars. Then things settled down to the usual prosaic matters: Elena, the gang, shameless gossip, Carter-Zimmerman's ongoing research projects, the buzz of inter-polis cultural tensions, the not-quite-cyclic convulsions of the arts (the perceptual aesthetic overthrows the emotional, again . . . although Valladas in Konishi polis claims to have constructed a new synthesis of the two).
file:///G|/rah/Greg%20Egan/Egan,%20Greg%20-%20Wang's%20Carpets.txt critical size. The purely mechanical break-up of a colony—if that was what it was—might have little to do with the life cycle of the constituent organisms. It was frustrating. Paolo was accustomed to a torrent of data on anything which caught his interest; for the diaspora's great discovery to remain nothing more than a sequence of coarse monochrome snapshots was intolerable.
file:///G|/rah/Greg%20Egan/Egan,%20Greg%20-%20Wang's%20Carpets.txt talking reptiles, and—mirabile dictu!—they got talking reptiles. There are self-modified transhumans in this polis more alien than the aliens in Ashton-Laval." Paolo smiled. "All right. Forget Ashton-Laval. But forget the marginal polises, too. We choose to value the physical world. That's what defines us—but it's as arbitrary as any other choice of values. Why can't you accept that? It's not the One True Path which the infidels have to be bludgeoned into following." He knew he was arguing half for the sake of it—he desperately wanted to refute the anthrocos-mologists, himself—but Orlando always drove him into taking the opposite position. Out of fear of being nothing but his father's clone? Despite the total absence of inherited episodic memories, the stochastic input into his ontogenesis, the chaoti-cally divergent nature of the iterative mind-building algorithms.