The Replicator

For intergalactic explorers instant teleportation was the ultimate
freedom. Seated at the console of a space portal, an armchair
explorer could punch the coordinates of any galaxy, solar system,
or planet and see it appear on the wide screen. Once satisfied,
about the type of equipment required for the exploration, the
explorer only needed to step through the space portal.

In this way, Jack Nomad discovered the Replicator on a rainy
November afternoon; oppressive clouds seemed to touch the
treetops, a constant drizzle driven by the wind gave the
impression of rain invading his office at the Space Exploration
Center.

The gloomy afternoon pressed down on his mind as he
methodically moved through a list of promising solar systems
in galaxy M182. For over two centuries, astronauts using the
space portal had combed hundreds of galaxies without finding
other civilizations. True, many new life forms had been
discovered, but all, although fascinating, were rather brutish.

Jack yawned and sipped his coffee. He adjusted the command
head set, and mentally ordered the portal to zero in on SSLP-
3533-3. SSLP stood for solar system with life possibilities.
Jack observed without much interest the third planet from
the star. It looked like Mars. He was about to switch the view,
when from behind the curvature of the horizon a moon
appeared.

“Pete come here, hurry!”

“What is it?”

“Look at this.”

“That can’t be! That thing has an ocean.”

“It has an atmosphere, too.”

“It’s about the size of our moon, it can’t possibly retain an
atmosphere or water for long.”

“Unless…”

“Exactly, unless it was terra-formed recently by someone.”

“Take a chemical reading. Let’s see what elements are present,”
said Pete.

“It’s just like Earth. Same atmosphere.”

“I need to sit down.” Pete returned dragging his chair.

“You know what. This moon has half the gravity of Earth,”
said Jack.

“No way!”

“Yep, someone manufactured this baby.”

“You made it buddy. Your name is in the history books now. This
is the evidence every one has been seeking.”

“Oh God! Do you realize there might be aliens on that moon?
I could be the first human to meet an extraterrestrial. Look
at my hand. I’m shaking all over. I don’t think I could walk
through that portal right now.”

“Let me do it. I’ll go down and check. You were the one to discover
it, let me be the first to set foot on it.” Without waiting for an
answer, Pete rushed to the portal.

“No Pete, we need to inquire further, we…”

Jack looked in horror as Pete stepped through the portal and was
gone. Pete’s feet landed on a soil of crunched rocks.

As if a fleet of trucks had been downloading the stuff for centuries,
the brown reddish dunes extended to the horizon. The place
looked desolate, not a tree, bush or blade of grass to be seen,
only dunes dotted with rocks of all sizes, shapes, and colors.
It looks like a dumpsite, thought Pete. He moved toward the
seashore a hundred meters away. The ocean, if a body of water no
bigger than the Gulf of Mexico can be called an ocean had the look
of smoked glass. The sky above, struck him as the clearest, palest
sky he had ever seen. The emptiness and distance overwhelmed
him. The sky lacked the protective feeling that the deep blue of
Earth’s skies gives. This barely blue, transparent sky felt as
threatening as the void. The silence seemed as deep as the sky;
only the crunching of his feet on the pulverized rocks made a
sound that echoed in the emptiness. Echoed? How could this
open space have an echo? He thought.

“Pete, look behind you!” Jack yelled in his earphone.

Pete turned and saw a line of men following him. They looked
exactly like him and dressed in identical clothes. The ones
closer to him seemed frozen in awkward postures and looked
almost transparent as if caught in the act of materializing.
Those further away moved toward him, shedding as they went
transparent replicas of themselves. In the few seconds he had
been observing, hundreds of these creatures had materialized
and crowded around him blocking his view.

“Pete, are you there?” called Jack.

“Yes, I’m here.” Thousands of voices reply in unison.

“Pete, listen, it’s imperative no one moves. Only the ones walking
are replicating, you and the ones standing around you aren’t.
Order everyone to stop.”

“Stop walking. Everyone stay where you are and don’t move,”

“Okay, it worked. The replicating has stopped.”

“How am I going to get back to the portal?” Pete asked, a tremor in
his voice. ” Jack, I’m with my back to the sea surrounded by these
creatures. For me to get to the portal, they will have to move, which
will start the replication again, and will hem me in more tightly.
What can I do?

“Hmm, looks like you have a problem. Hate to say it at a time like
this, but you shouldn’t have rushed down there like that without
sending a robot probe first. I’m afraid you’ll never live this one
down.”

“Thanks, pal. Our true nature always comes out in a pinch and you
just showed yours.” Pete turned and faced the water. “It looks like
I’ll have to get wet. I’ll take my shoes off and tie them around my
neck.” That done, he stepped in.

“Whoa!” He plunged all the way to his waist. He bobbed vertically
like a cork. ” This sure isn’t Miami Beach. The water must be 50
degrees Fahrenheit and my feet aren’t touching bottom.”

He swam along the coast. In the low gravity, he only needed to
paddle his feet. Pete estimated the edge of the crowd was about
thirty meters away. He looked behind. No trail of doubles
followed him. Evidently, the replicator wasn’t programmed to
work below water. But his head was above the water.

“Oh my God!”

“What?” Asked Jack

He couldn’t answer. Panic numbed his mind. Hundreds of
decapitated heads bobbed in the water like coconuts. He
started swimming as fast as he could. He shot forward like a
speedboat.

He came out of the water panting. He looked back expecting to
see a trail of ghastly heads, but he saw none. This mystery
calmed him down by making him think. Does speed have
something to do with it? To test this theory, he ran as fast as
he could toward the portal. He almost overshot it. He looked
back. No trail of clones followed him. Those twins of him
standing close by were the ones he had left behind when
he arrived.

“Jack, I’m here. I’m coming in. Make sure to turn the portal off as
soon as I get in. Although as you know, the portal is programmed
to admit no one or nothing but us, these people are my exact
replica and could get in.”

“Roger, proceed.”

Pete collapsed in the armchair he had left only fifteen minutes
ago. “What a mess!” he said, glancing at Jack. Jack continued
working at his computer. Peter looked toward the window, the rain
droned on the windowpane with a soothing rhythm.

“Anything new here?”

“I sent a small probe to the moon while you were gone. It found a
cylindrical metal building, about the size of a grain silo two
kilometers from where you landed. It houses the replicator. The
probe is already inside and is investigating,” Jack spoke with his
eyes fixed on the screen.

“Any results, yet?”

“Yes, the probe found pictures.”

“Pictures of what? Aliens?”

“No, huge spaceships. They replicated millions of spaceships on
this moon. That could explain why the replicating area is five
kilometers around the replicator, beyond that the replicating
effect ceases. ”
“Who are they?”

“The creatures who lived on that planet below the moon. It seems
they had to evacuate it in a hurry. You, of course, saw how badly
scarred the surface of that planet is. It looks like thousands of
asteroids, some as big as mountains rained on that place. This is a
tremendous discovery, Pete. Too bad you’re going to reap only ruin
from it.”

“Not necessarily.”

“Not necessarily! Are you aware of all the laws you broke? I just
don’t understand how a man of your intelligence could have done
something so stupid. You recklessly contaminated another world
with Earth’s bacteria, which is against the Exploration Act, and
punishable by incarceration. You violated the Reproduction Act
against unlicensed natural birth and cloning which is punishable
by death. Could you, at least, tell me why?”

“I don’t know. Perfectly decent, intelligent people sometimes break
the law for causes they don’t understand. We see it once in a while,
the shocking news of prominent citizens accused of shoplifting,
rape, or even murder. Frankly, a crazy feeling came over me
overpowering my will to resist. I felt it was my destiny to go there
then, without delay. That doing so, was my life’s mission. Do you
understand what I mean?”

“No, I don’t.”

“I didn’t think you would. Anyway, if, you could only delay
reporting the news of your discovery for a few days, I could find
a way of correcting that mess.”

“Do you realize what you’re asking me to do? You’re asking me to
become an accomplice to a capital offence. I can’t keep this quiet.
There is no way.”

Pete sat in silence staring at Jack while rubbing his chin. Jack
looked away.

“There is one way,” said Pete, moving toward his desk. He removed
a computer cable from his drawer. He looked at it for a few seconds.
A muscle in his cheek twitched. Pete wrapped both ends of the thin
cable around his hands and tested its strength. The bastard, he
could’ve moved that portal right in front of me, and he made me
sweat and swim. Well, now it’s his turn to sweat.

****

Jack’s lifeless body began his orbit around the replicator’s moon.
What else could I have done? Pete thought, lifting Jack’s coffee cup
to his lips. The coffee was cold and he swallowed it making a face.
He leaned back in Jack’s chair and watched the body perform
slow somersaults as it floated away.

God, I strangled the poor bastard. What a day! But what else could
I have done? It wasn’t just a matter of saving my own skin. I had
to think of all those replicas of myself too. They’d have been put
to death also. The Reproduction Ministry won’t allow 15,044
human replicas to survive. Well, under the law, they could spare
one, but which one? How could they distinguish between me,
and the others? Very interesting legal problem, hopefully, if
everything goes well, they won’t have to wrestle with it.

Pete opened the drawer where Jack kept his lunch. He peered
inside the bag. “Time to feed the children,” he said aloud. He
reset the portal to the exact spot where he had landed before.

“Hey, come over here,” he said to the replica standing nearer to
him. “Run fast. Yes, that’s the way. No, not you guys, you stay put.
Only him.”

“Who are you?”

“Pete,” said the replica.

“You remember stepping through the space portal?”

“Yes, I remember. All the guys I asked remember that too,” said the
replica.

“Good. Do you have a wife?” Pete asked.

” Yes, her name is Nancy.”

“Do you remember killing anyone?”

“No, I have never done that.”

“Good. That means we share only those memories that happened
prior to the replication. We are identical twins, but separate
individuals. Here take this bag; it’s a ham sandwich and an apple.
Toss the bag up and it will replicate, then pass one to the next guy
and tell him to do the same. In this fashion, all of you will be able
to eat lunch from one bag. Oh, and you can move around, but run
fast if you do. It’ll be best if you all move five kilometers due south,
so you can move freely without replicating”

****

Later that evening, a shamed faced Pete observed as his wife
hastily piled the dinner dishes to take them to the kitchen.
Although he had not mentioned Jack’s murder, Pete could see
anger and reproach in her stare. She came back and sat across
from him. She played with a strand of her long black hair. She
twisted it around her index finger; pulled down, let it go, only
to start again. Pete toyed with a saltshaker. He avoided her
smoldering stare.

“Why, Pete?”

“I don’t know, but don’t worry, I won’t get caught. I have erased all
traces of the trip from the portal, and I’ll continue to do so every
time I return.”

“Return? You mustn’t return.”

“I have to. How can I leave thousands of human beings to perish
from hunger on a deserted world?”

“Are they really human?”

“Yes, I have populated a planet in my own image. I have fed a
multitude with one sandwich and an apple, and I’m ready to die for
them.”

“Please stop doing that.”

“Doing what?”

“Massaging that saltshaker, it’s getting on my nerves.” She took it
away and placed it out of his reach.

“What plans do you have? Tell me the truth, don’t hide anything.”

“I plan to sneak in food, seeds, baby chicks, pigs, lambs, fishes,
tools and you.”

“Me? Are you crazy? What for?” Nancy resumed pulling the
strand of hair.

“You’ll be their Eve. Our love will multiply a thousand fold. We’ll
start a new race.”

“Oh, my God, you have gone loony!”

****

It took Pete months to convince Nancy to play Eve for his little
world. During that time, he stocked the place with saplings of his
favorite trees and his favorite foods. Since only one item of each
was needed, it wasn’t much of a problem, except for tools and
building materials.

Once, his boss saw him carrying plasterboard into his office. “What
in the world are you going to do with that?”

“I’m taking it home later, I hope you don’t mind me bringing it in
here?”

“No, I don’t. Oh, by the way, that policewoman investigating
Jack’s disappearance came by to see you at three o’clock
yesterday and you were not in your office. She said she waited
for over an hour and you didn’t show up.”

“Yes, I had to go somewhere on an urgent personal matter.”

“Are you going somewhere today?”

“No.”

“Good, I’ll phone her then. Will three be okay?”

“Fine.”

“Good. I’ll drop by after she’s gone.”

His boss stood in the hall and watched him go into his office.
When Pete leaned the board against a wall, he saw the wet
print of his palm on the board.

God, I’m glad I don’t have long to go. I don’t think I could
keep this up much longer without getting caught.

****

“Good Morning, Janet.”

“Good morning, Mr. Harris. That policewoman called, she had to
postpone her visit till next week.”

“You know Janet, Pete Panis is behaving peculiarly lately, don’t
you think?”

“Oh, yes sir. I saw him yesterday bring in a cage with two piglets.”

“Piglets?”

“Yes sir.”

“Please remind me later in the week to drop by his office
unannounced.”

****

Next day Nancy stood in front of the space portal looking at it
with great misgiving. “Pete, are you sure I won’t feel any
pain?”

“None whatsoever. Pain happens in time and teleportation takes
place outside time/space.”

“Would you hold my hand?”

“Sure. Let’s step in.” Nancy closed her eyes and stepped in.
“Open your eyes.”

“You were right it didn’t hurt. Oh God, what a dump this world is!”

It looks a lot better, where we built the village. It’s six
kilometers from here, outside the replicator range. Grass and
flowers are already growing there.”

Nancy didn’t stay long, seeing thousands of replicas of herself
gave her the creeps.

“Relax! It’s over. You were great. You don’t know how grateful
I am. Take a seat. Do you want a cup of coffee?” They’d just
returned to Pete’s office.

“I don’t know how you can stand being around those things.”
“They are not things, dear. They are humans; they are `we’. Well,
sort of, you know, the first few days, when I held a conversation
with one of them, it was like talking to myself but now they are
beginning to have their own opinions. They argue and contradict
me. And sometimes, they are right. Isn’t that amazing? They
are developing their own personalities. I love it!”

“Yeah, and some day, one will kill you like Cain killed Abel.”

“Nah, I’m their creator, not their brother.”

“When do you think your `Eden’ will be self-sustaining?”

“Oh, I guess they could do without me right now.” Pete
answered ignoring her ironic tone.

“Good, you won’t have to go there again then.”

” I have to study the development of the colony. One day I
will make public my discovery and assure my place in
History.”

“You will assure your death sentence, you fool.” She put
her coffee cup down and stood up.

“The statute of limitations for reproduction crimes is only twenty-
five years, after that I’m free to publish.”

“Don’t kid yourself, genius, if you keep going there, you won’t last
a year.” She slammed the door behind her.

****

Nancy, of course, was right. That Friday his boss dropped by his
office while Pete was visiting his Eden. Mr. Harris looked around
searching for pigs, turkeys, jackhammers or any other items
unsuitable for office use. He saw none, and was on his way out
when he noticed that the portal had been left on. He looked at
the console and saw no indication of any trip in progress.

Pete had made sure no traces of his escapades could be detected
without a special password. Mr. Harris checked the computer and
saw nothing relating to a trip. Being just a bureaucrat and not a
scientist, he was satisfied that no trip was going on. Shaking
his head at Pete’s negligence, he turned the portal off. And so,
Peter Panis was trapped in his unearthly paradise.

Nancy waited all night for him. She was certain something terrible
had happened. Nancy was sad, afraid; she was very angry with
the damn fool.

“Mr. Harris, Pete didn’t come back home last night, could you
check if he’s in his office?”

Silence. Then, he said, “Yes, Mrs. Panis, I will.”
With a vague premonition of disaster, he went to check. Now that
the allocation hearings were in progress, another unexplained
disappearance could be bad for the budget,. He opened the door
with a fluttering heart. He saw a gloomy empty office. “Oh God!
That’s all I needed.”

“Mrs. Panis, he’s not there. Nancy…” Mr. Harris cleared his
throat. “Are you aware if Peter was involved in any private
project?”

Nancy didn’t answer.

“Nancy, as you know, Jack disappeared a few months back. I’m
afraid these two incidents are related. I have a feeling they
were involved in an illicit project. If you want your husband
rescued, it’s imperative that you tell me everything.”

Nancy felt trapped. If she told Mr. Harris, they would find Pete
only to execute him.

“No, I’m not aware of any project.”

“Well, he might turn up one of these days. Let’s hope for the
best. I will leave it up to you to report his absence to the
police. Of course, I will have to terminate him for unreported
absenteeism, that is, if he doesn’t return to work within seven
days.”

“I understand, Mr. Harris, good bye.”

“Good bye, Mrs. Panis, let me know if I can be of help in any way.”

Mr. Harris hoped Nancy wouldn’t report the case to the police, he
feared that embarrassing publicity could hurt his already
precarious budget. He suspected that if Pete were found, he’d
have to admit turning the portal off without a thorough
investigation.

****

Pete’s enthusiasm for his project died the moment he stepped
through the portal and it didn’t work. It was now dead, useless.
He realized the power had been cut off. The panic he felt as a
child when trapped in a closet, gripped his mind now. If the
replicas that usually followed him to the portal begging him
to take them along, had not bombarded him with questions,
God knows when he would have recovered his nerve.

This certainly put a new light on things. The Nancy replicas had
been grumbling all along about staying on this moon. Their
view that they should be allowed to return to Earth was gaining
in popularity among the Re-Petes. A revolt was brewing. Now,
Pete joined the revolution.

It was easy for him to decide that his replicas should remain
here to contribute to his experiment, but to be trapped in this
nasty little world was another thing. Small meteors could be
seen streaking through the sky every few minutes. A gorgeous
sight that came at a price, the small projectiles had killed ten
replicas already.

Pete decided to embark on a project to restore power to the portal.
The robot probe sent by Jack on the day of the discovery, was still
on the moon. With its help, they could figure a way to tap the
energy source of the replicator to power the portal. The computer
on board the probe could be replicated to fashion a console for the
portal. He had no idea how long this would take, but it’d give
purpose and hope to the whole colony.

Every one rejoiced at the news that they’d be allowed to go to Earth.
Teams formed to work at different tasks, and enthusiasm and
cooperation were universal, but as the months dragged into years,
factions, rivalries and quarrels arose. Pete saw with a mixture of
fascination and fear, his replicas turn into someone else.
Had this not been the way at the beginning, when humans first
appeared on Earth? Had not the few humans alive then been as
one? Had not they, as they grew in numbers lost their sense of
kinship? And so, as they multiplied, brothers changed into
friends, friends into strangers, strangers into foes. And the
killing began.

****

Devastated, Nancy, adjusted to the new reality of earning a
living on her own. As the years went by, she thought less and
less of her stranded husband and his faraway home among the
stars of M182. She never sought a divorce, but didn’t deprive
herself, as she put it, of male entertainment.

Then one day, twenty years after Pete’s disappearance, while
watching the news she heard a news release that electrified her.
A moon very similar to earth had been discovered in a distant
galaxy. Amazingly, creatures very similar to humans had
inhabited this moon. A space portal was found in one of the
buildings. Who were these creatures? Where had they come
from? And where had they gone? No one knew.

She sat there, pulling her hair, twisting the now graying strand
around her finger. She had no doubt Pete and his gang of Re-
Petes had managed to build a space portal and had left that
dreary moon. But where had they gone? Then she remembered
an incident she had completely forgotten from a few years back.

She had seen a remarkable Pete look-alike walking downtown.
Nancy had rushed to catch up with him, but the man disappeared
in the crowd. Another thought struck her that made her sit up
straight, as tense as a cat that has spotted a mouse. Did not the
CEO of Celestial Discount Stores, the multi- billion worldwide
retailers, look a lot like Pete? Could Pete and his gang be
running a smuggling business? Could they be replicating
valuable items on that moon and selling them at bargain prices
on Earth?

She sat there fascinated, a mixture of happiness, relief and anger
flooding in. How could he? What callousness! Why hadn’t he
contacted her? True he was surrounded by thousands of Nancy’s,
but she was the real one. Didn’t he realize that?

“Hmm!” she said as she pulled on the strand of hair. ”
I think I’ll pay a visit. Some of that money belongs to me.”

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