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The Frankenberg Process

The Director was still being interviewed by Security, so Freeman was called to the planning office to oversee a minor change in the schematic of the stealth interceptor.

He checked the plans, going through the changes. From time to time, white-coated techs hurried across the room with softscreens for him to check and initial. One hour later he sat back and admired the interceptor on the screen. It reminded him of a starship.

A starship, he thought to himself, smiling: what a quaint notion.

A rumour had spread through the manufactory that morning: Director Ruskin was under suspicion of selling secrets to the Indians. Freeman found it hard to believe. Ruskin had been seen in the city’s Shah Jehan Tandoori last week, where, the story had it, he’d passed secrets to an Indian official over spiced ginger tea and barfi.

Freeman swivelled in his seat and stared out at the countryside rolling away to the horizon. The contrast between the stark silver geometry of the manufactory and the unspoilt rural beauty could not be more marked. Britain had prospered under the Western Alliance for the past thirty years; indeed, the West had never known such times. TelMass had brought that about, aided by the new range of stealth fighters. How could India and the Asian bloc compete with the Alliance? The Indians still explored the Out-there with slower-than-light ion-driven starships, rendered obsolete with the advent of TelMass.

So why would anyone of the West even consider dealing with the East?

Freeman stirred, uncomfortable. From time to time a tiny, insidious voice whispered the answer, and he tried not to listen.

The com chimed. The screen, set into the arm of the chair, flared. He was surprised to see the bloated, over-indulged face of General Carstairs staring out at him. The Government man wore a black, side-fastening suit. Freeman was struck by the thought that, so dressed, out of uniform, the General was hiding something.

“Freeman? If you’d care to meet me in the green office immediately.”

Freeman nodded. “I’m on my way.”

He left the operations room and paced the long, curving corridor around the manufactory to the admin centre.


General Carstairs sat behind an oval silver desk. Overweight and old-fashioned, the military man struck Freeman as out of place in Director Ruskin’s swivel chair.

Ominous, he thought.

“Take a seat,” Carstairs said.

Only as he sat down did Freeman see, seated in the corner of the room, a casually-dressed civil servant he recognised from the news broadcasts: Carstair’s aide-de-camp, Richards.

The General nodded towards a com-screen on the desk. Freeman made out lines of text.

“I’ve been assessing your records, Freeman. I’m impressed. Five years of exemplary duty under Ruskin. You’ve learned a lot. Whenever you filled in for him, you did well.”

He was happy with his post of assistant Director. He had never hankered after promotion, and everything that would entail...

He knew what was coming. And he knew, too, that the rumours he’d heard that morning had been far from groundless.

Carstairs said, “I want you to consider promotion. Directorship of the manufactory. Starting next week. Of course, a translation to Beta Hydri 5 would be a concomitant. We know you must have considered the likelihood that one day... Even so, I’ll give you until tomorrow to think about it, talk it over with your wife. However” – and here Carstairs fixed him with an unflinching gaze – “acceptance of the promotion would be highly advisable. Any questions?”

He shook his head, a feeling very much like sickness in his stomach. “None.”

For the first time, Richards spoke. “Very good, Mr Freeman. I advise you to download the recommended philosophical tracts, if you haven’t already done so. Frankenberg’s treatise on the process will help you get your head around the finer ethical points.”

Freeman nodded. “I’ll do that.”

General Carstairs killed his desk-com. “Very well, that will be all. I’ll see you here at noon tomorrow.”

Freeman stood, nodded to the General, and left the room.

In a daze of disbelief he took the escalator to the concourse, and only as he alighted did he notice the crowd of admin workers gathered on the piazza. They were staring across the sunlit square at a sleek blue security van parked outside the Director’s office.

As if on cue, two guards emerged through the double doors. Between them, attempting to maintain some semblance of dignity, strode Director Ruskin. He stared straight ahead, his expression fixed, his complexion ashen.

Freeman felt his stomach turn.

Soon, a news report would announce the accidental death of Director Ruskin. His funeral would be attended by close family only, and given minimal coverage. Not long after that, all record of the Director’s ever being a part of the Western Alliance’s extensive infrastructure would be expunged from the record books.

Soon, Director Benjamin Ruskin would never have existed.

A salutary warning, Freeman thought. He could not suppress, however, the sickening sensation that curdled in his gut as Ruskin was manhandled into the back of the security van and driven away at speed.


As he sat back and slipped the auto into self-drive, Freeman considered the implications of the promotion offer.

Parkland sped by. Cloudless sky. The occasional hamlet came and went in a flash of designer-quaint terracotta tiles and topiary. Freeman closed his eyes.

The opportunity of a new start. The thought beguiled, and at the same time unnerved him. He would have to read Frankenberg, as Richards had suggested. He had never been able to fully understand the philosophical intricacies of the Process.

He reached out and activated his com. He entered Hansen’s code. The screen set into the dash flared, and seconds later Doug Hansen was smiling out at him. “Joe. It’s been too long.”

“Busy, Doug. You wouldn’t believe it. You free?”

“Just finished the afternoon shift. Why not come over? I’ll be in the office.”

The TelMass station soared high above the vales of rural Warwickshire in a classical series of scimitar sweeps. Atop the tripod, on the deck of the derrick itself, the control rooms were silhouetted against the afternoon sunlight like the superstructure of a battleship.

Freeman rode the elevator up the side of the station and walked down carpeted corridors to the manager’s office overlooking the translation pad.

Doug had coffee brewed and poured. They sat on leather recliners before the floor-to-ceiling viewscreen and watched a team of technicians inspect the wiring beneath the deck plates.

“What do you fear?” Doug asked him, once Freeman had explained the situation. Trust Doug to cut to the quick!

“I don’t know. I fear...” He sipped his coffee. “I fear staying here, I fear going.”

Doug smiled. “Then you’ve nothing to fear,” he said.

Doug Hansen had gone to Beta Hydri six months ago. Freeman was hoping for more than just platitudes from the man.

“What does it feel like?”

“Like nothing at all happened,” the TelMass manager said. “Nothing at all. But, I admit, it is strange to think that out there...”

He stopped and stared at Freeman. “How is it between you and Emma?”

Freeman shrugged. He kept his gaze on the deck. “You know, when you love someone who doesn’t love you... sometimes I don’t know what I feel. For so long I’ve told myself that I do love her, hoping that some day she might change, say she loves me again.” He shook his head. “I must admit, I’ve been thinking about a new start, a new life. I’d miss her, but how can you keep on loving someone who doesn’t love you?”

Doug shook his head. In his eyes, Freeman could see an infinite sympathy. Doug’s own marriage was damned near perfect.

“Joe, would Carstairs take no for an answer?”

“I could refuse, but I dread the consequences.” He saw, in his mind’s eye, the image of Ruskin being taken away by the security guards.

“Then you can’t refuse. Go.”

Freeman shook his head, near despair. “But what will it be like, Doug, to leave behind all I know, to start again on an alien world, a new life, with no going back?”

“Read your Frankenberg,” Doug said, gently. He looked at his watch. “Dammit. I said I’d meet Caroline at five. Look, let’s meet up tomorrow, okay? How about dinner at the Barn? Around six?”

They took the elevator to the parking lot, and Freeman watched the TelMass manager climb into his auto and speed onto the slip-road.


How can one be true to oneself under a totalitarian regime, he wondered?

There is no choice, when all free choice has been taken away by the dictates of central government. One cannot follow one’s heart, because one’s head knows full well the consequences. One is forced into doing what one is ordered to do – because to do otherwise would be considered insubordinate, and duly punished.

We are pawns, Freeman thought. Pawns pampered and cosseted, on a board of the finest mahogany, but pawns nonetheless.

We can but march relentlessly onward...

He’d heard that things were different in India and the other states of the East. Did Ruskin know something? Was that why he had taken the ultimate risk, and paid the price?

His auto drew into the drive of his villa. Emma would be home from school. How would she take what he had to tell her?

He felt an immense weariness settle over him as he climbed the steps and entered the lounge.

“You’re late.”

“I had to go over see Doug.”

“Dinner’s ready.”

He followed her into the dining room.

She was small, slim, dark-haired, more attractive now in her late thirties than when he had met her five years ago.

She’d been married before and had a son, who split the week between Emma and her ex-husband in Warwick. Something about the fact that she was a mother – the centred, caring air it gave her – had immediately attracted Freeman. He had loved her from the outset, while in recent years she had showed him no more, it seemed, than grudging affection.

They ate in near silence, Freeman preoccupied with his thoughts.

Over coffee, she watched him above the rim of her cup. “What is it?”

He hesitated, wondering how she might take it. “I’ve been offered promotion.”

Her eyes widened. “The Directorship? What happened to Ruskin? I thought he was there for life?”

He shook his head, shrugged, too sickened by what Ruskin had done to elucidate. “He was sacked. I don’t know why.”

She lowered her cup, staring at him. “Does it mean you’ll be going off-planet?”

He nodded. “Beta Hydri 5.”

Her jaw set as she tried to control her reaction. “I see. Of course, you could always refuse–”

“You don’t understand. Refusal would be impossible. I’d be demoted, at least.”

Her gaze was hard. “How do you think you’ll manage? Alone, I mean. Without me?”

He shrugged. He dropped his gaze and let out a long sigh. “Emma, if our marriage was perfect... If you loved me, showed me affection from time to time–”

“You’re such a romantic fool.”

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask.”

She pushed her cup aside, angry. “Your boss shouts, and you jump through the hoops.”

“For Godsake, it isn’t as if you’ll be here alone.”

“But you’ll be there, Joe, without me.”

He stared at her.

That was what this was about. She could not bear to think that he could live without her.

“I’ve had years of loving you and getting damn all back,” he said. “You don’t know what that does to someone.”

He thought of an analogy. It was like working for the Government, working for a totalitarian regime, believing in it, until, finally, experience taught you that your belief was founded on nothing.

How could he tell her that?

“I thought you were satisfied with what we had,” she began.

He knew that it would escalate into a shouting match, but he was saved by the chime of the house-com.

Emma jumped up and padded into the lounge. He heard her accept the call, a few indistinct words of the caller, and then his wife’s strangled gasp, “Oh, my God!” followed by, “Joe... Joe!

His stomach turning, he pushed himself from the table and almost ran into the lounge. Emma was kneeling on the floor, staring at the screen.

A face stared out, a woman’s face made ugly by tears.

Caroline Hansen, Doug’s wife.

Emma looked up at him, shaking her head. “It’s Doug,” she said. “Doug’s dead. A road accident. Coming home. His auto-com malfunctioned and he ran into the back of a container-craft.”

Freeman stared at Caroline. “We’ll be right over, okay? We’re on our way.”


Doug and Caroline Hansen lived on a secure estate of mansion houses on the outskirts of Warwick. A militia van was parked outside the house. Two black-uniformed civil guards stood to attention beside the front door.

Freeman showed his ID card and pushed his way into the house.

Caroline sat on the settee, sobbing into a tissue. A policewoman sat beside her. When Emma ran to Caroline and took her in her arms, the policewoman stood and tactfully left the room.

While the women embraced, Freeman found himself looking around the room. Pictures of Doug and Caroline adorned the walls. The perfect couple. Freeman had never entered the lounge in the past without feeling a stab of involuntary jealousy at the good fortune of his friend.

He went in search of Scotch and found a half bottle behind the bar in the corner.

He poured three stiff measures. Emma forced the drink to Caroline’s lips, and Freeman moved to the French window and stared out.

The sun was setting, reflecting off the lake that backed onto the mansions. A flight of mallard rose in a perfectly co-ordinated skein from the surface of the water, as if startled by the grieving woman’s sobs.

Doug Hansen was an important man. A very important man. The government could not do without a TelMass manager of his calibre.

He considered the code of ethics laid down by Frankenberg in his writings. The scientist had suggested that a star-traveller should never return, for obvious reasons.

But, in the case of Doug Hansen, wouldn’t it be different?

He wondered if such a case had occurred before in the five years since the initiation of TelMass travel.

He glanced back at the sobbing woman and cleared his throat. “Has General Carstairs been informed?”

Emma shot him a glance that said eloquently, Not now, Joe!

Caroline sniffed, shook her head. “The militia, they... they suggested he should be told. He’s on his way over. To be honest, I don’t really feel up to... If you could put him off.”

Emma said, “Of course.” She looked up at Freeman. “We’ll take you back with us, Carrie.”

Freeman heard a car draw up outside. He moved from the lounge, past the policewoman in the hall. When he opened the front door, General Carstairs and the ever-present Richards were striding up the path.

The general looked surprised. “Freeman?”

“My wife and I are friends of Doug and Caroline,” he explained.

He showed the two men into the lounge. To his wife he said, “General Carstairs would like a little time alone with Caroline.” He gestured his wife from the room.

She followed him into the adjacent kitchen. “At a time like this,” she began as soon as they were out of earshot, “the last thing Carrie wants is the commiseration of some stuffed-shirt like...” She gestured towards the lounge.

Freeman ignored her. He stood by the window and stared out. The ducks were sweeping over the copse on the far side of the lake.

He wondered at the type of wildlife he might find on Beta Hydri 5. He had never bothered to access the documentaries about the planet. Perhaps, now, he would have to do a little research.

“Anyway,” Emma was saying, “what does General whatever-his-name want with her? She needs to be with friends.”

Five minutes later Freeman heard the sound of footsteps in the hall. The General and his aide were leaving.

Emma hurried into the lounge; Freeman followed.

Caroline was sitting upright on the sofa, slowly shaking her head as if in amazement. She smiled, radiantly, as Emma crossed the room and took her hand.

Freeman watched from the door.

“He’s... he’s coming back,” Caroline managed. “General Carstairs said that rules are made to be broken. Can you believe that? Doug is coming back from Beta Hydri!”


That night, Freeman sat with a beer on the verandah of his villa and stared up at the mass of stars stretching across the heavens.

He pulled the softscreen onto his lap and called up the Frankenberg file. He read for fifteen minutes, but the convolutions of the complex logic defeated him.

He could understand the science behind the Frankenberg Process, but it was the idea underpinning the effect that had always left him baffled. Philosophers of every ilk and hue had tried to resolve the paradox, but never to his satisfaction. He supposed it would be a case of having to undergo the process himself, but even then he failed to see how he might come to understand what had eluded him for so long.


He accepted General Carstair’s offer, of course, and the date of his departure was set for June 2nd, coincidentally the day of Doug Hansen’s return from Beta Hydri.

On the evening of the 1st, he dined with Emma as if nothing untoward was about to take place. That night, in bed, she relented to his advances and allowed him to make love to her. It was like all the other occasions – a pleasure soon over, he inhibited in his passion by her evident reluctance to allow herself to let go, to give herself fully, to experience the pleasure that might have been possible.

In the morning she followed him out to the auto. He paused before slipping into the front seat.

“Goodbye,” he said, meeting her gaze and attempting to read the emotions behind her eyes.

She reached out and touched his cheek. “Bye, Joe,” she whispered.

“See you tonight,” he said.

He drove away without a backward glance.


Freeman was strapped into the stasis frame on the deck of the TelMass derrick. He tensed as the countdown began. The medics had talked him through the process, explained some of the sensations he could be expected to undergo. He had read his Frankenberg over the course of the last few days. He knew full well what to expect.

But the theory could in no way prepare him for the fact.

“Three... two... one... zero!

The word exploded in his head, along with the pain.

The pain... why hadn’t they mentioned the pain? They had, of course – the medics had told him that he would experience a momentary burn as his physical self was shredded molecule by molecule and transmitted.

But no words could ready him for the absolute and exquisite agony that seemed to stretch for an eternity as he hung in the frame, head flung back, mouth torn open in a scream that issued from the depths of his soul.

And then it was over.

Oh, blessed cessation of all that was unholy.

A calm descended over his body, a balm. He was whole again, and without pain, and he felt cleansed, and made anew.

He was overcome with a sudden, insatiable curiosity. Where was he? He opened his eyes – and made out the TelMass derrick, the smiling faces of the technicians, and beyond them the rolling green hills of his beloved Warwickshire countryside.

Where was he? Where had he expected to be? He had known, all along, what to expect.

The Frankenberg Process.

He was examined by the medics, passed fit, and allowed home for the rest of the day before he took up the post of Director at the manufactory.

He left the TelMass station and dove home to Emma.


“Three... two... one... zero!

The pain... why hadn’t they mentioned the pain?

He hung in the frame, head flung back, and screamed out loud.

And then it was over.

A calm descended. He was whole again, and without pain. He felt cleansed, made anew.

He was overcome with a sudden, insatiable curiosity. Where was he? He opened his eyes – and made out the TelMass derrick, the smiling faces of technicians... but technicians new to him. Strangers.

He looked beyond the derrick and saw the alien landscape of Beta Hydri 5.

Where was he? Where had he expected to be? On beta Hydri 5, of course. He had known, all along, what to expect.

The Frankenberg Process.

The medics unfastened him from the stasis frame and led him across the deck to the recovery lounge. He stared about, in wonder, at the strange alien world that encroached on every side.

Would he ever become accustomed to so bizarre an environment?

He looked up, into the heavens, at the unfamiliar constellations in the dark sky overhead.

Somewhere out there, he knew, was Earth, and upon the Earth, as if nothing at all had happened, was one Joseph Freeman. But who was the copy, he asked himself, and who the original?

“Joe! Joe – it’s great to see you!” He looked up. A familiar figure entered the room and hurried across to him, hand outstretched in greeting.

“Heard you were translating, Joe,” Doug Hansen said. “Come on, I’ll show you to your dome, give you a guided tour...”


They took a hanging mono-train to the residential domes, and Freeman sat and watched the alien world speed by outside.

He recalled the literature he’d read about the planet. Beta Hydri 5 – or Brightwell, named after the scientist who discovered it – was a jungle world. The colonists dwelled in a clearing filled with an agglomeration of domes like massed soap bubbles. The TelMass station occupied another clearing a kilometre away, linked by a mono-rail, and in the same clearing was the manufactory.

The trees were far taller than any variety found on Earth, and possessed great leaves which sprouted directly from their boles, confounding Freeman’s image of what a tree should look like. And they were blue, or seemed to be in the twilight. From time to time deep booming sounds interrupted the smooth electric humming of the train. Doug explained that this was the mating call of the planet’s dominant primate analogue.

Before he stepped from the carriage, Freeman pulled on the gloves Doug had given him, along with the face-mask.

There was oxygen in the atmosphere, but not sufficient to allow the colonists to go without the masks, which both supplied clean air and filtered out virulent spores harmful to the respiratory system.

Freeman followed Doug from the rail terminus along a suspended cat-walk through the jungle to his dome.

His new home was luxurious: a spacious lounge in the upper hemisphere, a bedroom and kitchen on the lower floor. At least the Alliance had spared no expense with accommodation, to compensate for the hostility of the planet beyond the wall of the dome.

Doug poured two drinks from a central bar and strode to the transparent membrane, staring out.

Freeman sat on a lounger with his brandy, still trying to come to terms with the fact of his translation.

Doug was leaner than when he had last seen him, a week ago on Earth. Of course, this was a different Doug to the one he’d known then. Or was it? No, it was the same Doug, but a different version. To think, just four days ago he’d attended Doug Hansen’s funeral in Warwick.

He raised his hand and stared at it.

Doug turned from the wall, saw him and smiled.

“I know. Takes some getting used to.”

“Who’s the copy, Doug? I mean, is the Freeman back on Earth the original?”

Doug was shaking his head. “Haven’t you read your Frankenberg? The dualist concept of copy and original breaks down in the process of translation. The subject is split, is the best way of describing it, and one remains on Earth while the other is flung... wherever.”

Freeman took a shot of brandy. “How did you feel about going back, Doug, when you found out about the accident?”

“The Governor broke the news. He explained the situation, said they needed me back in Warwick. The thing was, I’d always missed Caroline and Earth. The pain at times was unbearable. I was excited by the prospect of returning to Caroline – of, from her point of view, returning from the dead.”

“Even though you knew that another... another you... would remain here?”

“That’s the paradox that even Frankenberg could never resolve, Joe.” He smiled. “It’s enough to know that I’m back on Earth, with Caroline. That she’s not alone.”

“But it can’t ease the pain you must be experiencing now?”

Doug raised his glass. “We all make sacrifices, Joe. And what better sacrifices can one make than for the Alliance?”

Freeman stared into his drink, nodded finally.

He recalled Ruskin. “What happened to the Director, here?”

“Ruskin was removed from his post three days ago. I’ve only heard rumours from Earth. I was hoping you could fill me in.”

“I heard he was secrets to the Indians. He was recruited just three months ago, apparently. Before that, he was a loyal Alliance man. It seems unfair that–”


Freeman looked up at Doug, standing tall and foursquare, glass in hand, beneath the curving wall of the dome.

“Ruskin came to Brightwell a year ago,” Freeman said. “The Ruskin, here, is innocent of any crimes that the Ruskin on Earth committed. It seems harsh that he should pay for the sins of his Earth version.”

Doug was shaking his head. “What you must remember, Joe, is that the Ruskin here can no longer be trusted. He’s predisposed to treachery, by the very actions of his Earthbound-split.”

“What happened to him? He wasn’t–?”

Doug shook his head. “No. No, he was given some menial administrative post on the other side of the planet, well out of harm’s way.”

He moved to the bar and refilled the glasses. “Fill me in on Earth, Joe,” he said. “How’s Emma? How was Caroline the last time you saw her?”

They talked long into the night, as three huge moons climbed into the sky and illuminated the dome like searchlights.


Freeman took up his post two days later.

He socialised with Doug and his colleagues at the manufactory. The colony on Brightwell numbered some two thousand individuals, equivalent to the population of a small town on Earth. There were a few bars, a holo-vision cinerama, a sports complex.

From time to time Freeman took tours, in a sealed flier, to view the many wonders of the alien world, but always he returned to the safe familiarity of his dome with a feeling of relief.

He had been on Brightwell for a month when he realised that, not only did he miss Earth, but it was a nostalgia that would not be easily assuaged. There was no way that he might come to view this planet as home. It was too hostile and alien to senses and perceptions conditioned by almost forty years on Earth. There was nothing at all familiar about Brightwell. Even its name was a misnomer. The nights were long, the days short – six hours – and the quality of light during the day not bright at all, but aqueous. The trees bore no resemblance to trees on Earth, nor the wildlife – the specimens he’d come across were vicious, fanged things, like beasts from a nightmare. Even the flowers were spined and sickly-hued.

He missed the perfection of the sedate Warwickshire countryside. He wanted to step from the claustrophobic confines of the domes into fresh, clean air, without the encumbrance of face-masks or gloves. He missed the green hills and the blue skies of Earth, and the sense of history, the architecture that linked one subliminally with the past, that gave one a sense of connectedness he had altogether taken for granted. You only appreciate, he realised, what you have lost.

But most of all he missed Emma.

He missed the simple fact of her familiar humanity, the predictability of her ways. She was a good person, caring and humane. She might not have loved him – but she had felt some form of affection for him. And, anyway, what was love but a variable term applied to a concept that no one person could define absolutely?

As the weeks passed, he spent long hours after work alone in his dome, considering Emma and his lost life on Earth.


His job at the manufactory soon palled. He could delegate many of his duties, and when he was in the design office he often found his attention drifting.

He threw himself into the round of parties and social events with which the colonists attempted to amuse themselves. There was a soirée of some type or another every night, with imported spirits and locally fermented stuff in plentiful supply.

He met a number of single and attractive women, but the thought of initiating a relationship did not appeal. The image of Emma always intruded, reminding him of what he had left behind.

After a while, he discovered that there were others beside himself who were less than enamoured by life on Beta Hydri 5. Of course, on the surface, all appeared as it should: an industrious, loyal colony working hard for the betterment of the Alliance. But there was a constant sense of despair in the air. The colonists had the aspect of survivors of some apocalyptic accident, hanging on in desperation. Late at night, the parties winding down and alcohol having worked to loosen inhibitions, true feelings and sentiments were prone to make themselves known.

At one such party, in a dome by the edge of the clearing, he sat in a sunken sofa bunker with a woman in her twenties and finished off a bottle of gin.

He was aware of someone seated cross-legged on the floor, level with his head. It was Doug.

Freeman gestured drunkenly. “Doug, Doug, my good friend, Doug. Come and meet...” He peered at the woman. “What’s your name?”

She smiled. “Susanna.”

“Come and meet Susanna. She was saying – saying how she hated this hell-hole, Doug. I mean. Look at it!” He gestured through the wall of the dome at the monstrous forms of the bloated trees lowering over the settlement.

Doug joined them. He sat, legs outstretched, and regarded the glass balanced on his stomach.

“Actually, I didn’t say hell-hole,” Susanna said.

“But you meant it!” Freeman cried.

She laughed. “There are worse places, so I’ve heard. Groombridge 7 – what’s it called? Can’t remember. Anyway, it’s supposed to be the pits.”

He wondered if Susanna had changed the subject because she did not want to be seen to be criticising the Alliance.

He raised his glass. “If it’s worse than this purgatory, then it must be bad.”

Doug clapped a hand on his shoulder. “If you don’t like it, why don’t you request a move?”

A move? He’d had no idea that, having undergone one translation, another was possible. “A move? Request a move?” He hiccuped. “They’d allow that?”

Doug nodded. “So long as you’ve done a year here, and of course the move must be onward, to another colony world. You can’t go back to Earth.”

Freeman shook his head. “You can’t go back to Earth...” he echoed drunkenly.

“Of course not,” Susanna said, touching his leg. “The other you is there.”

Freeman considered the other Joe Freeman, living his life, oblivious of Brightwell, in the rural idyll of Warwickshire. Did the bastard appreciate what he had, he wondered?

A move? He shook his head. “But it’d be no good!” he said, close to tears now. “I mean, I’d still be here, wouldn’t I?”

Susanna smiled. “One of you would.”

He peered into his glass, then looked up at Doug, who was staring at him. “I want to go back to Earth,” he said. “I miss England. The beauty of the place... the sense of age, the things I took for granted when I was there, but can only appreciate now that I’m here. Christ, nostalgia is a terrible malady.”

Later, Freeman thought back to the party and regretted his drunken honesty. What if some informer had overheard his woeful lament? The place was crawling with despicable yes-men, ready to denounce colleagues to curry favour and advance themselves.


A week later, Doug Hansen appeared at the manufactory just as Freeman’s shift was ending. The sun was going down over the near horizon, but the three moons were rising: for the next four hours they would provide a magnesium half-light before the onset of the dark night proper.

Doug had hired a flier.

“I want to take you on a little trip,” he explained as he escorted Freeman across to the vehicle. “Show you something.”

They flew for two hours towards a range of central mountains, landing in the crumpled foothills where black water torrents tipped themselves like tongues of jet over cliffs of silver rock.

They stepped out beside an almost perfectly circular lagoon of sable water, like a brimming sink of crude oil, reflecting the bright light of the moons overhead.

Far away on the jungle horizon, Freeman made out the towering shape of the TelMass station, and beside it the manufactory.

“Beautiful,” he said, “in its own way.”

Doug had been quiet during the journey. Now he sat on an outcropping of rock and looked at Freeman through the tinted visor of his face-mask. Dressed from head to foot in scarlet coveralls, they appeared out of place in the alien landscape.

“What you said at that party the other week,” he began, his voice muffled.

Freeman smiled. “Which party is that, exactly?” He had attended parties and dinners every night for months.

“You talked with Susanna and myself. About Brightwell.”

For a terrible, heart-stopping moment, Freeman thought that Doug was about to tell him that his indiscretion had got back to the Governor.

“What about it?”

Doug stood and walked towards the edge of the drop, staring out across the jungle as it extended to the horizon.

“You said you wanted to go back to Earth.”

Freeman hesitated. “That’s right, I did.”

“How do you feel now?”

Doug still had his back to him. The effect of talking to someone like this was unnerving.

It came to him that Doug might be an informer, one of the many government men set up to report on the sins of fellow workers.

He dismissed the thought. He’d known Doug Hansen for years. He was aware that he’d reddened, ashamed of the groundless suspicion.

“I... I still feel the same. I don’t like it here. I made a mistake. Perhaps I should have remained on Earth, even if that would have meant losing my job.” He shrugged. “Of course, I’m being wise after the event.”

“But you still want to go back to Earth?”

Freeman smiled and kicked a shard of shale. “It’s a futile dream, but one that’s never far away.”

His friend was silent for a time, then said, “It’s possible, Joe.”

At first, Freeman was sure that he’d misheard. “Excuse me?”

Doug turned and stared at him. “I said it’s possible. It isn’t a dream. It’s possible to go back to Earth.”

Freeman smiled. “Yes – if I die on Earth, you mean. That’s the only way the authorities would allow it.”

But Doug was shaking his head, and Freeman’s heart commenced a loud and laboured beating.

“There’s another way, Joe. A way of sending you back to Earth – the real you who’s standing here now, not some split.”

Freeman shook his head. “I don’t see how...”

Doug sat down, cross-legged, on the black sand. Freeman joined him.

“I want to tell you something. This is between you and me, okay? If it ever got out...”

“You know you can trust me.”

Doug nodded and released a long sigh. “Okay. The Frankenberg Process – the splitting of individuals at the moment of translation... Scientists working for the Alliance have made an important discovery.”

For the life of him, Freeman could not imagine what the discovery might be.

“We’ve known about it for a year now. The big-wigs use it, Carstairs and the others, when they move back and forth between Earth and the colonies.”

“Back up, Doug. You’ve lost me. What do you mean, use it?”

Doug said, “They use the TelMass process, the translation, without splitting. It’s no longer a corollary of TelMass travel. You can go to your destination without somatic duplication, without leaving yourself behind. I’ve been overseeing the process, in secret, for nearly six months.”

Freeman felt dizzy. He held his head in his hands, working through the implications of what Doug had told him.

“But why hasn’t it been made public?”

Doug snorted a laugh. “Think about it, Joe! It benefits the Alliance to split its workforce, to have all its top men and women duplicated. It’s cost-effective, and that’s all the government thinks about.”

Freeman stared at the scimitar shape of the TelMass station on the horizon.

He felt at once anger at the treachery of the Alliance, and a rapidly growing elation at the possibility...

“Doug, you mean it? You said I could go...?”

Doug licked his lips, nervous. “It’s a risk. If we’re caught... But I can do it. There’s a consignment of cargo going off in three days, late at night. Once it arrives at Warwick, it’ll be placed in storage before being unpacked. All you have to do is get out.”

“Earth...” he said. Emma...

“The thing is, Joe, once you’re there, you’ll need a new identity. You’ll be starting a new life, after all. You can’t go back to how it was. You, a version of you, is still there.”

Christ, Freeman thought, to meet oneself, to see oneself as others see us...

Doug was watching him. “You’re aware of the risks? You still want to go through with it?”

“If you’re prepared to risk it, Doug, then nothing can stop me.” He paused, considering. “What about at this end, though? Won’t they investigate my disappearance?”

“Hire a flier the day before you go. Program it to fly into the jungle and stay there, then meet me at the station. Let the authorities assume the rest.”

For the next three days, Freeman had little thought for his work. He considered his return to Earth, what he might do upon his arrival. The thought of existing in a familiar landscape, of perhaps meeting Emma once again, filled him with elation.


Doug Hansen ensured the security were elsewhere that morning, and escorted Freeman across the deck.

He said goodbye to Doug, took one last look around at the jungle crowding in over the deck of the TelMass derrick, and stepped into the container.

Doug gripped his shoulder in farewell, then sealed the lid. Simple pressure from the inside would release the seal once the journey was over.

He crouched in the darkness, his heart labouring. He closed his eyes. He could see, as in the recurring dreams of Earth he’d been having lately, the green vales of England.

The container tipped, surprising him, as it was transported across the deck prior to translation.

Long seconds elapsed. Minutes.

The minutes stretched to what seemed like an hour, two.

Then he heard the countdown, and braced himself for the pain.

It tore through him, searing his every nerve ending. It was all he could do to stop himself from screaming out loud.

And then, as quickly as it began, the pain ceased.

He was on Earth... and no longer in pain. This was the start of his renewed life, his new beginning.

The container tipped. He was transported across the deck, tipped again, upright this time. Silence.

He would give it time, before unsealing the lid. Doug had explained that the containers were stored in a secure chamber for a day, before they were transported onwards. He’d given Freeman the exit code.

Ten minutes, he thought. Then he’d quit the chamber and take the service elevator to the parking lot. From there he could get a taxi into Warwick. He could withdraw sufficient funds from his account to set himself up in a new life somewhere.

He heard footsteps, shouted commands.

The container tipped. Light flooded in, blinding him, as the lid was forcibly removed.

Rough hands hauled him out. Security guards.

He was hauled to his feet and dragged from the container, aware only that this was the end. That there could be no salvation, now. He looked around him in disbelief, wanting to scream aloud in fear and desperation. He was not on Earth. Beyond the deck was the jungle of Beta Hydri 5.

But he had undergone translation, hadn’t he? He had experienced the unmistakable, searing pain.

So what had happened?

And Doug? Oh, Jesus Christ...

Not only was he doomed – but Doug, too.

Then he looked across the deck towards the control room. Behind the long, rectangular viewscreen, two figures stood in silhouette. One was the Governor, the other Doug Hansen.

They were shaking hands.

As he was escorted across the deck between the guards, Freeman roared his rage at Doug’s treachery, his lies.


Freeman heard the countdown and braced himself for the pain.

It tore through him, searing his every nerve ending. It was all he could do to stop himself screaming.

And then, as quickly as it began, the pain was gone.

He was on Earth... This was the start of his renewed life on Earth, his new beginning.

He heard footsteps ringing on the panels of the deck, and then shouts. “Start over here – we’ll work through the consignment. They said he was concealed in a...” He lost the rest as the sound of his heartbeat deafened him.

He had been found out. Somehow, the authorities had discovered Doug’s plan, notified the station personnel here.

He broke the seal on the lid and peered out. Half a dozen blue-uniformed security guards were moving across the deck, snapping the seals on containers identical to the one in which he was cowering.

Quickly he tipped the container and struggled free. In desperation he crawled across the deck and concealed himself behind a stack of crates. Beside him, on the deck, was an inspection cover. He lifted it and slipped inside, breathing more easily now that he was out of immediate danger. He pulled himself along the tight passage-way until he came to a downshaft, then climbed the ladder to the corridor and exited in the elevator.

As he left the station, he wondered how he had been found out, and if on Brightwell Doug Hansen was at this very second facing the terrible consequences...


He stared out of the taxi at the green fields slipping by outside. It was hard to believe that just fifteen minutes ago he had been on Brightwell, twenty light years away. Good God, but the beauty of the countryside was painful. He felt a stab of guilt as he considered Doug.

He instructed the driver to stop beside a cash-point on the outskirts of Warwick. He applied his palm to the dispenser and withdrew a thousand New Pounds, the maximum withdrawal allowable. It would set him up for a while.

He returned to the taxi, hesitated, and then gave the driver the address of his villa. There was the danger, of course, that security would send men to his house – but how could he began a new life in England without seeing Emma for one last time?

As the vehicle turned off the main road and approached the hamlet along the familiar, winding lane, Freeman thought of his wife and the new life he would have to lead without her.

This would be a hard goodbye, unlike the last one.

The taxi halted outside the villa. He paid the driver and approached the house. Only then, as he pushed through the gate, did he notice that his own auto was standing in the drive.

But by then it was too late to turn and run.

A figure moved behind the study window, and seconds later the front door opened.

The figure halted on the top step, staring at him in disbelief. Freeman swayed, dizzy. He was staring at himself, an identical copy of himself, and yet, though familiar, this Joseph Freeman before him possessed an aura of difference. It was, he realised later, merely that he was viewing himself in his entirety, a figure in the context of his environment, as he had never before seen himself.

Freeman raised a hand. “I can explain.”

“My God,” his double said, moving down the steps and approaching him along the path.

Realising that his double presented a danger, Freeman said, “We’re the same, you and me. We need to work together.”

“Jesus Christ, what happened?” His double was backing off, turning and running back into the villa.

If he contacted the authorities, warned Carstairs of what had happened... There was no way he could allow his double, in fright, to do that.

He gave chase.

The phone was in the kitchen, and that was where his double was heading.

Freeman sprinted after him, shouting, “Think about it! Listen to me...”

His double was already at the phone and frantically stabbing in the code. Freeman reached him and knocked the receiver from his grip.

“Listen to me!”

He looked into his own eyes, wide with fright, and did not like what he saw there. His fear, his cowardly reaction to the unknown.

His double backed towards a storage unit, and only when he reached behind him and pulled open the drawer did Freeman realise what he intended.

His double dived at him with a nine-inch carving knife.

Freeman parried the blow, then managed to grip his double’s arm, the blade of the knife inches away from his chest.

In desperation, realising now that he was fighting for his life, he kneed his double in the crotch and forced the knife away from him.

His double lurched forward and, before Freeman could react, slipped on to the blade. It buried itself deep in his chest, and Freeman could only stare in horror as he – as his double – fell onto his back and stared at the ceiling, blood pumping from the wound and staining his white shirt.

Seconds later his double gasped, and his eyes glazed over, and Freeman fell to his knees beside the body and wept.


He looked up at the clock on the wall. It was three-thirty. Emma would be back at four.

How long had he been kneeling like this, sickened and disbelieving?

He had to move himself, get rid of the body.

He could always bury it in the garden – it would never be found: no one was looking for it, after all. But that would take time, and time he did not have.

He recalled his auto in the drive.

He tried to pick up the body, but was surprised by its weight. Instead of carrying the corpse, he grabbed the legs and dragged the body through the hall.

At the front door, he dropped the legs and hurried out to the auto. He opened the boot and checked the lane. There was no one about. He returned to the villa and manhandled the corpse through the door, wincing as its head cracked repeatedly against the stone steps.

With difficulty, he managed to lift the body into the boot. Exhausted, he slammed the cover and locked it, then returned to the villa.

There was a slick of blood on the kitchen floor, and a great arc across the wall. He mopped up, then moved to the hall and scrubbed the carpet. He showered and changed, wadding his old, blood-stained clothes into a plastic bag and stashing it with the corpse in the boot of the auto.

He returned to the villa, sat in the lounge and worked to calm himself.

No one need know anything about the events of the last few minutes. He would slip into his old life, blameless. There would be a gap in his memory of a few months, but he need not worry unduly about that. He would get by.

No one, after all, would suspect what had happened.

He heard the sound of an auto in the lane.

Emma, he thought.

It would have been a momentous event as it was, to meet his wife again after so long – but now he would have to face her knowing that he had, albeit accidentally, murdered her husband.

Thirty minutes ago, he told himself, I killed myself.

There was a knock at he door. But why would Emma bother knocking?

He left the lounge and moved to the hall. He made out two indistinct figures through the glass of the door.

He opened the door and stared. General Carstairs and his aide, Richards. He tried to remain calm. He reminded himself that he had nothing at all to worry about.

“Freeman,” the General said. “We need to talk. Something rather untoward has cropped up.”

His mind racing, Freeman showed the men into the lounge. They sat side by side on the sofa, refused a drink, and stared at him.

“Sit down,” Carstairs said.

Trembling, he did so.

“This is a damned difficult situation, Freeman. Technically, of course, you’re innocent.”

“What happened?” he asked.

“Something occurred on Brightwell earlier today, an... indiscretion, let’s say, involving yourself. That is, your Frankenberg-split. To cut a long story short, he managed to return to Earth illegally. We’re doing all we can at this end to locate and arrest him.”

He nodded, wondering how they had discovered Doug’s plan in the first place.

He saw where this meeting was leading.

He gestured. “I don’t see how this involves me.”

“Technically, of course, you’re not to blame. However, your Frankenberg-split did contravene Alliance edicts. He’s under arrest on Brightwell as we speak, and of course can expect to suffer the consequences.”

Freeman nodded, understanding suddenly hitting him like an unexpected upper-cut.

His Frankenberg-split was under arrest on Brightwell. Then everything Doug had told him...

There was no such thing as a one-way trip!

Doug had been lying, all along, in order to entrap him. The bastard was a loyal Alliance man, through and through.

The General was saying, “Such is the law that, in these situations, the innocent party must suffer certain consequences.”

Freeman nodded. “I see.” His pulse raced, and he realised that he was sweating. “What can I expect...?”

Carstairs waved. “No criminal proceedings, of course. But we will have to relieve you of your post as Director. Unfortunate, but the circumstances leave us with no other option. We’ll find you some government admin post in town.”

Freeman nodded, a sensation of relief sweeping through him. He would lead a reduced life-style, but he would have his freedom, and Emma.

“Of course,” Richards was saying, “we’ll have to requisition the house, as government property.”

“Of course. I understand.”

His visitors stood. General Carstairs nodded. “Very well, Freeman. I think that will be all for now. You’ll need to appoint a lawyer. There’ll be an official hearing in a month or so.”

He showed the men to the door. They walked down the drive, past his auto, and stopped.

Carstairs and Richards spoke in hushed tones, glancing at the vehicle, and a hand closed around Freeman’s heart, squeezing.

Carstairs returned to the front door.

“The auto is government property, too. If you could give Richards the key-card, he’ll return it to the manufactory.”

It was all Freeman could do to remain upright. He felt the blood drain from his face, and he could not find the words to protest.

He reached into his pocket for his key-card – but of course it was not there.

“Ah...” he found himself saying. “If I could possibly keep the car for an hour. You see, I pick up my wife from school around now. I could always drop the car back myself.”

Carstairs returned to Richards. They conferred, and Freeman realised that his life depended on the General’s next few words. He turned to Freeman.

“Very well,” General Carstairs said, “but get it back by tonight, understood?”

“Perfectly, sir,” Freeman said, and prayed that his wife would not choose that second to return.

He watched the men climb into their auto and move off down the lane.


Freeman sat in the lounge and considered his future. Short term, he would dispose of the body tonight, before returning the car. Long term... He considered his experiences, the treachery of the man he had once considered his best friend.

The terrible thing about living in a totalitarian state was that one could not be true to oneself... He saw again the fear in his double’s eyes.

He knew a lot, he thought. What he could tell the so-called enemy about the top secret designs...

A minute later Emma steered her auto into the drive, and seconds after that she appeared in the doorway to the lounge. The sight of her, after so long, was shocking.

He stood, heart pounding. Emma approached him, reached up and kissed him on the cheek.

He put his hands on her shoulders, delaying her withdrawal. He could feel tears welling in his eyes.

He hugged her to him, relishing her warmth, her reality.

She pulled away from him and said, “Have I told you, Joe – ever since you left me, you... it’s almost as if you’ve become a different person.”

He felt a stab of insane jealousy, and smiled. “I don’t think you’ve mentioned that, Emma.”

She said, “You’re more thoughtful, philosophical. Perhaps you’ve been considering the Process, what happened to you. And the other night, when you mentioned your doubts about what they did to Director Ruskin...”


“Joe... for years I’ve wanted to hear you criticise the regime! I think I saw your compliance with the Alliance, and hated you for it.”

He felt a welling of joy in his chest, and pulled her to him.

Emma changed the subject. “What’s for dinner, Joe? I’m famished.”

He considered what he had to tell her about his imminent demotion. He could do that over a meal.

“How about a take-away, Emma? I’ll go fetch it now.” He smiled. “I’ve heard the Shah Jehan is good.”

The meal, he thought, would be the symbolic start of his imminent treachery.

She kissed him and moved to the bathroom.

Freeman left the house, climbed into his car, and drove from the house. The sun was going down, and a full moon rose insubstantial above the woods ahead.

He stopped in the track beside the lake, climbed out and stood in the dusk before opening the boot. He stared into the sky, at the stars appearing overhead, and realised that he was weeping tears of joy.

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