by Greg Egan

Curved trajectories


“Almost everything about this world remains to be discovered,” Lahl said. “Until someone is willing to pursue the matter vigorously, the few scraps of information I’m carrying will mean very little.”

Rakesh was beginning to feel as if he was being prodded awake from a stupefying dream that had gone on so long he’d stopped believing it could ever end. He’d come to this node, this cross-roads, in the hope of encountering exactly this kind of traveller, but in ninety-six years he’d learnt nothing from the people passing through that he could not have heard on his home world. He’d made friends among the other node-dawdlers, and they passed the time together pleasantly enough, but his old, naive fantasy of colliding with a stranger bearing a surfeit of mysteries — a weary explorer announcing, “I’ve seen enough for one lifetime, but here, take this crumb from my pocket” — had been buried long ago.

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A million years from now, the galaxy is divided between the vast, cooperative meta-civilisation known as the Amalgam, and the silent occupiers of the galactic core known as the Aloof. The Aloof have long rejected all attempts by the Amalgam to enter their territory, while permitting travellers to ride as data in their communications network, providing a short-cut across the galaxy’s central bulge. When Rakesh encounters a traveller, Lahl, who claims she was woken by the Aloof on such a journey and shown a meteor full of traces of DNA, he accepts her challenge to try to find the uncharted world deep in the Aloof’s territory from which the meteor originated.

Roi and Zak live inside the Splinter, a translucent world of rock that swims in a sea of light they call the Incandescence. Living on the margins of a rigidly organised society, they seek to decipher the subtle clues that can reveal the true nature of the Splinter. In fact, their world is in danger, and as the evidence accumulates Roi, Zak, and a growing band of recruits struggle to understand and take control of their fate.

Meanwhile, Rakesh and his travelling companion Parantham gradually uncover the history of the lost DNA world, a search which ultimately leads them to startling revelations that encompass both the Splinter, and the true nature and motives of the Aloof.

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Incandescence / created Friday, 24 February 2006 / revised Wednesday, 3 March 2010
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