Some tens of thousands of light-years away from Cuckoo, on the inner curve of one of the spiral arms of the Galaxy toward which Cuckoo was hurtling, there was a GO-type star of no great intrinsic interest that had in orbit around it the planet Earth.
Earth and its dominant race, humans, were new among the galactic races. They were fully accepted as equal members. The streets of cities like Chicago and Peking were already used to the sight of darting She- liaks, glittering Scorpian robots, and a hundred other races. Every major city had its own tachyon- transmission center, through which flowed the traffic of many worlds. All the buildings were alike in that they were huge, new, towering over the structures around them, filled with the enormous mass of hardware that met the power requirements of tachyon transmission. Each wore proudly the gauzy spiral that was the emblem of the Galaxy.
Across the tiled flooring of the great concourse of die tachyon center in Old Boston a young woman named Zara Gentry walked with grace and assurance. She had been there before. She had been almost everywhere, for Zara Gentry was a famous stereostage personality, known everywhere for her on-the-spot reportage of the Earth’s doings to the Earth’s people. She had been everywhere and tried almost everything. She had in fact been herself a volunteer for tachyon transport, several years before. One copy of her lived on Sim One. Another worked and lived in an orbiting station around the planet inhabited by the Boaty-Bits, in the constellation Bootes. Those two she knew of, for they were direct copies sent from Earth. There could well be more. The tachyon duplicates could themselves have been duplicated; there could be a hundred Zaras, or a thousand.
It was strange, Zara reflected, how little she knew about those other selves. They were so much herself, and yet so different; so close to her, and so impossibly far away.
The whole process of tachyon transport was loaded with trauma. She well remembered the quirky fears that had beset her when first she volunteered to be scanned, mapped, blueprinted, and recreated thousands of light- years away. It had been unbelievably scary; she had signed up and called to cancel her signature; signed again and withdrawn again. At the end it was only her conscience that made her go through with it, because by then there had been such an investment of time and training that she could not let it be wasted.
So she had walked into the tachyon-transmission chamber—
And, moments later, walked out again. And it seemed that nothing had happened at all.
She knew with one part of her mind that every atom in her body had been identified and placed in its exact coordinates, and that the blueprint that carried her minutest specifications was even then racing, tachyon- borne, through the Galaxy toward Sim One.
The other part of her mind was wholly occupied with wondering where her date would take her that night for dinner; and that dichotomy had been as frightening as the process itself.
It was frightening and unsettling to think that somewhere someone who was exactly, identically you was doing things you did not know about, might be terrified or joyous, angry or ill; might even be dead, and you would never know, except as you might hear of what had happened to some former acquaintance. It was frightening and unsettling, but you could not go on being frightened and unsettled forever. So you put it out of your mind. You told yourself that you would keep in touch with your other selves. For a while you did. The two Zaras had exchanged tachyon communications for weeks and months, and then, less frequently, for a year or so. They had even spoken “face to face”—at least, in tachyon-borne stereostage communication.
But all that was now years in the past. When she had sent the second copy of herself to the Bootian planet she had tried to keep in touch with her, also, but that too had trailed off.
And now she was about to expose herself to the trauma for the third time.
Zara grinned to herself, dodging a Purchased Person who carried a hive of Boaty-Bits as she made her way to the elevators. I never learn, she thought good- humoredly.
But it was exciting, you had to admit. Especially this time! This copy of herself was going clear out of the Galaxy entirely, to the strange object identified as Lambda One and more familiarly called Cuckoo. With less fear than anticipation, she rose to the hundred and eighteenth floor and reported for her checkup interview.
The man in charge of her transport was old, tanned, lean, good-looking; he had bushy white eyebrows and a great sweep of white hair like high surf breaking over his forehead. He maintained dignified objectivity in what he said, but they had become friends over the last weeks. “Zara! It’s nice to see you again. Well. Tomorrow you make the great leap forward. How do you feel about it?”
On her program Zara would have answered, “Thafs a dumb question—look at the psych test profile in my folder. You know how I feel better than I do.” But she wasn’t on her stereostage program; she said, “Well, a little scared. Otherwise fine.” And she smiled.
“That’s natural enough,” he agreed absently, leafing through her folder. “Mmm. Yes.” Something in the folder seemed to attract his interest; he stared at it thoughtfully for a long time. Then he raised his head and said again, “Mmm. Yes. Have you seen the legal officer?”
“Not yet,” she confessed.
“Oh, but that’s very important!” He was upset. “Please don’t put it off any longer, Zara. The documents must be signed. You know that the copy of you will be, to all legal intents and purposes, yourself. It can sign your name as well as you can—no,” he said, correcting himself ruefully, “not ‘it.’ ‘She.’ She is the same as you, Zara. She has an equal right to all your property and is equally obligated with you on the fulfillment of contracts, unless you state clearly in advance which of you shall have which property and responsibilities. You must file your statement of settlement at once!”
“I will,” she promised. “I have done this before, you know.”
“Yes, of course, but each time you create a copy you create the same problem.” Then he relented, smiling. “To be sure,” he said, “when you come right down to it, the problem is more legal than real. There isn’t much chance you’ll ever see your copy again, is there? And a half-interest in a condominium in Buzzard’s Bay isn’t going to mean much to the copy of you that’s on Cuckoo. But there is always the chance some question could arise, and so you have to file that statement. Otherwise they won’t accept you for transmission.”
“Don’t make that too tempting,” said Zara, not wholly joking.
“Mmm,” he said thoughtfully, and made a checkmark on her personality-profile card.
“I really do want to go,” she said quickly. “Or at least, I’m going to.”
He nodded. It was not an unfamiliar reaction; if the tachyon boards rejected applicants who were doubtful they would never send anyone at all. “I see you’ve been issued all the cassettes.”
“And listened to them,” she said.
“So you’re about as well briefed on Cuckoo as you can get, I imagine. Do you have any questions?”
She said, “Well, those briefings are more distinguished for the questions they raise than the answers they give, aren’t they? I mean, nobody seems to know exactly why the object’s as funny as it is. The size is all wrong for the mass, and nobody seems to understand how come there are creatures so much like humans and Sheliaks and Boaty-Bits on it.”
He grinned. “If we knew things like that, we wouldn’t have to send people like you to find them out for you. That’s why you’re going.” He hesitated, looking thoughtfully at her papers. “That in general, of course. But there seems to be some particular reason for you. Do you happen to know why you were requested by name?”
“No, I don’t,” she said. “And I’ve wondered. The request came from Sim One, I understand. I have a copy there. I suppose she’s behind it. But we haven’t been in touch lately, so I don’t know any more than you do.”
“We could send her a message, if you like. You could ask for yourself.”
“Oh,” Zara said, “actually I’m rather intrigued by the mystery. I’m not fearful about it. That other Zara can’t have changed all that much in a couple of years. If she thinks it’s a good idea for me to go to Cuckoo, then it probably is. I mean, after all, she is me.” She hesitated, then said, “The only thing that does puzzle me is why she doesn’t send a copy of herself.”
The man said with visible pleasure, “You don’t know how glad I am that you asked that. I can answer it. It puzzles me too, so I got her records. The other Zara, you’ll be pleased to know, married a man named Ben Pertin. He’s a copy too, of course; his identification is Ben Charles Pertin. And she expects to bear their first child in a couple of months. My impression is that she was anxious enough to go, but not with an unborn baby going along.”
“Ah!” said Zara, vastly relieved. “I’m glad for her. What a nice thing to hear about yourself!”
“And you yourself, Mrs. Gentry? I see you’re married. Are you planning a family?”
“Why, very likely,” she said, “but I’m not pregnant now.”
He nodded and closed her folder. “I think that takes care of all the loose ends,” he said. “See the legal officer; get a few more shots. Then you’ll be all ready to go.”
“I’m ready now,” Zara Gentry said.
When she was through with the legal officer—an episode which left her with the feeling she had signed a part of herself into slavery—she took the express elevator that dropped her into the physical-training rooms below ground. The splat of firearms told her the weapons class was in session. She tarried at the door, looking in at the range. The cassettes had been quite candid about the possibility of physical danger on Cuckoo. Several transportees had already experienced close calls, and two were dead. Besides the known predators—winged creatures like flying seals, armed savages, creatures like Sheliaks gone mad, and others—there were countless trillions of square miles of surface that had been only sketchily photomapped from orbit. What dangers they held no one could tell.
The other thing that troubled Zara in the conscious part of her mind was that the Zara who went to Cuckoo would not be, quite, the Zara Gentry who filled the stereostage receivers on Earth. Cuckoo’s surface gravity was so preposterously slight that the first transportees had nearly destroyed themselves leaping about like jumping beans. Her physical attributes would therefore be slightly modified. They had promised that her appearance would not be changed, but she would be a little weaker, a little slower in reaction time. Even so, they said, she would have to watch herself; but it was thought that a little extra strength and speed might be helpful, against the known and unknown dangers of Cuckoo.
The class was ending, and one of the men caught sight of her, grinned, waved, checked his gun with the instructor, and came toward her. “Three bull’s-eyes and twelve in the first circle,” he said proudly, running a hand though his tousled mop of red hair. He was no taller than Zara, but weighed more than she did, and had muscles like steel and a great barrel chest. He would need a great deal of editing, she thought, leaning forward to be kissed. “I’m all set, dear,” she said. “We’re due for shots in half an hour, and that’s the last.”
“Great,” her husband said, putting an arm around her. “Cuckoo, here come the Gentrys!”