Liam Baldwin

Emigrate! Get a new life!

Alvi Emigrated on Tuesday. He and Kate had argued, had another of their real door-slamming, throwing things, screaming at each other to the point of incoherence, yelling matches on the Friday night and were still not on speaking terms four days later. It looked as though their tempestuous five year, on-and-off-and-on again relationship had finally come to an end. He couldn't remember what had sparked this particular row. He never could. Some small seed, a innocent chance remark miscontrued had blossomed in the festering fertile soil of their mutual dependency and loathing into a row that had gone on long into the night. All the old tropes were rehearsed yet again, the same old rituals of blame and counter blame, accusation and exaggeration, and somewhere in the middle of it all he had a blinding moment of clarity - later he would describe it as a revelation - when it suddenly came to him that he was bored. Bored with his job. Bored with his life. Bored with Kate. Bored with this argument. Bored with finding that fighting with Kate, the only relief from his boredom, had now, in itself, become boring.

He marched into the downtown Emigration offices the next morning and filled out the forms in a mad rush. The sour-faced receptionist at the desk had gone through them with meticulous attention and then passed him onto another clerk who had shown him into the first of a bewildering succession of interview rooms and medical examination booths where he was questioned, re-questioned, prodded, and poked by a seemingly endless procession of humourless, pallid, office-bound troglodytes. Name. Age. Occupation. National Identity Number. Interlog number. This number. That number. Think of a number. "How many fingers am I holding up?" Retina scan. Fingerprints. "Spit in the bottle and hold still while I take a tissue sample from... thank you, now drop your pants, bend over, and read the chart..."

"Don't want you getting to Colony Dirtbowl Shithole Four, sobering up, and changing your mind now, do we? Not when there's no way back."
The process was a long, frustrating, humiliating experience. Only his determination to go had carried him through. After being asked the same set of meaningless questions for the fifth time, he formulated the idea that most of the stuff he was asked to submit to was there merely to weed out the weak-hearted and the weak-willed. Emigration didn't really need fifteen separate DNA samples from him and the names of all his Great Great Grandparents, it was an exercise in winnowing. Put up with this bullshit, he realised, and you made the grade. Get angry and leave and you obviously weren't going to make it on a frontier world. He gritted his teeth and submitted to the tedium of reciting his National Identity Number again and again.

At the end of three hours he found himself sitting alone in a small green-walled, clock-free cubicle wearing nothing but a hospital gown which, being far too small for him, didn't meet at the back. The only seat in the room was a cold metal bench that vibrated slightly. He suspected it was refrigerated.

The curtain swished back and a medically dressed orderly handed him a bag containing his clothes and thrust a clipboard under his nose. "Sign here!" he said.

Alvi signed. The orderly checked off a box on another sheet on the clipboard and turned to go.

"Hey wait," Alvi said. "What happens now? I've been sitting here freezing my nuts for an hour now, am I finished or what? Did I pass?"

"Oh yeah, we're through with you. You passed. Come back next Tuesday."


"Next Tuesday. Back. Come," the orderly repeated with sarcasm so heavy you could almost hear it hit the floor.

Alvi had a very strong temptation to punch the man in the face. "Yes..." he said, " I understand what you just said. I just don't understand why you said it. If I'm passed for Emigration why can't I just go now?"

The orderly rolled his eyes, sighed theatrically and explained, in the tone of voice usually reserved for idiot children, that there was a mandatory four day cooling-off period. "Don't want you getting to Colony Dirtbowl Shithole Four, sobering up, and changing your mind now, do we? Not when there's no way back."

Alvi dressed in sullen silence. It was raining when he left the building.

The sullen silence followed him home and was already permeating the apartment when he arrived. Kate was watching TV. She didn't look up when he came in, though she could hardly fail to have noticed him enter. He stood at their shared living room doorway looking at her, wondering for a moment if there wasn't a way back. He took a breath but before he could speak she raised her arm, pointed the remote, and turned up the TV volume. Placatory words that had been forming in his mouth turned to a grunt of disgust. He didn't bother again. He wasn't sure if he had been going to tell her about his decision to emigrate but he wouldn't now. There was no need to. She would never know anyway - even after he had gone.

He phoned in sick on Wednesday and spent the next two days relocating his apartment. Luck was with him and he found a short-term commune over on Bleakerstrasse that would take him on as a probationer. He waited till Friday - and waited till Kate had gone to work - before he detached his half of their shared living unit and moved it across the city. He didn't leave a forwarding address.

On Saturday, the cooling off period spent, he presented himself to the Emigration Bureau on Bleakerstrasse. The offices were plusher than the utilitarian hell hole that he has visited four days before. Somehow, amazingly, the split with Kate had landed him in a nicer neighbourhood.

The doors slid shut behind him with a soft whoosh, deadening the street noise to a muted background hum. He walked across the deep-carpeted foyer to the reception desk. The girl was ravishingly beautiful; tall with blonde hair that fell to her shoulders in loose, natural waves. The simple Emigration uniform looked elegant and stylish on her. She looked up as he approached and smiled her perfect, reception desk smile at him.

"Hello," she said. "Welcome to Emigration."

"Hi, I want to... Emigrate," Alvi said. The words came out flat and clumsy. He felt suddenly tongue-tied before this woman's beauty.

"No problem, I'll just get you to fill in a few forms and then we..."

"Oh. I've done that already," he interrupted. He fumbled his copy of the forms out of his wallet. "Sorry, they're a little folded now. I registered four days ago and filled them out, but..." his voice trailed off.

"The cooling-off period. You wanted time to think about it. It's a big step. We don't ever want anyone to regret Emigrating." She took the papers from him and glanced through them. She entered a string of figures into her terminal, fingers moving with a bewildering speed. "Be with you in a sec," she smiled, "Just have to access your account here..." she bent her head to her keyboard and typed again.

Was it a big step? Alvi thought. Everyone he knew had Emigrated at least once and everyone he knew had expressed a sense of disappointment once they had gone through with it. He looked around the plush reception area then back at the girl. Emma. He read her name tag as she processed the paperwork. Emma Stanton - Embarkation Officer - Emigration. The badge was black with silver lettering. It was clipped to the front of her blouse. The blouse was metallic grey and the fabric gaped slightly between two of the buttons. He could see the smooth curve of her right breast. She looked up and he was momentarily flustered to be caught staring at her chest. She smiled again and gathered up the papers.

"Well, everything seems to be fine with these. Would you care to follow me?" She stood and moved away from the desk. Another woman appeared, as if from nowhere, to take her place.

"This way," said Emma Stanton and led him through a double door into another part of the building. The atmosphere was more clinical beyond the reception area, the lighting harsher, the carpet replaced by clean floortiles. She led him down a long corridor; doors led off both sides at irregular intervals. They passed a small waiting area with chairs and the latest celeb magazines scattered on a small table. It was all as quiet and well furnished as the reception area but there was the disturbing metallic tang of ozone in the air and, behind the walls, he heard the high potential hum of vast, powerful machinery. Emma Stanton led him to one of the smooth, blank doors. There was a small number by the door handle otherwise it was unmarked. Room 247.

"After you," she said. The door obediently opened for them. The room was not as he had expected. Not as depicted in the movies. There was no high-backed chair with straps and manacles. No white-coated technicians tending rows of complex machinery. There was very little in the room at all: a ceiling-high, cylindrical, glass and metal device stood at one end of the room and a terminal desk at the other. The terminal looked like a miniature version of the reception desk they had just left. Emma completed the illusion by sitting at the chair and logging in.

"Is that it?" he asked, pointing at the glass cylinder.

"That's it." she said.

"It looks like my shower at home. I was expecting... I don't know what I was expecting."

"You were expecting something a little more complex. I know. Like in the movies. Old stereotypes die hard."

He looked at the machine again. That was it. That was Emigration. It looked like his shower. There was one button on the wall at the back of the cylinder. It was red. A big red button on the wall.

"Do I press that?" he asked, moving towards it.

"Yes, but not yet. A few more formalities to go through first." She angled a small cam towards him with a well-manicured finger. No wedding rings, he noticed. Not one. Not that that meant anything these days. He knew many married people who didn't advertise the fact. Even some in Polys chose not to wear the usual multiple rings to show how many spouses they had.

"Look into the cam," she said, "and please state your name." He did so.

"Do you undertake this Emigration of your own free will and state that you are under no coercion or threat forcing to take this action?"

I am? I do? How am I supposed to answer that? he thought, before finally simply saying; "Yes."

"You understand that by entering Emigration an identical copy of yourself will be created on the Colony planet of..." she glanced at her screen, "Zogarian Delta seven. This identical copy will be identical to you in every way. It will have your body, your face, your thoughts, and your memories - even the memory of entering this building and the memory of this conversation. The copy will be you. One of you will step out of this room into an alien world. Do you understand this?"

Yes he understood. Everyone understood. It was how the colonies were populated. Long range drone ships took years to reach possible new Earths, their only cargo a quantum entangled matter transmitter. Once a new, habitable (however vaguely you described it) planet had been found the matter transmitter was deployed and its twin back on earth uncrated. At first a few simple machines were sent through, The simple machines built a larger matter transmitter, then the complex machines were sent through, then the colonists. It was a one way trip.

"You will not be permitted to return. Once you have Emigrated you will never be able to return to Earth. Do you understand that?"

"Yes," he said. He felt strangely dislocated as if he were making a decision that wasn't going to affect him in any way - yet it would irrevocably affect him for the rest of his life. He thumbprinted the pad where she indicated. She keyed in a few more instructions before blanking the screen.

"That's it," she said. "You are ready to go. Watch your step when you get there. According to the screen, Zog D seven has a slightly lower gravity than Earth and a higher atmospheric oxygen. It might take a few days to adjust."

"I'll be careful," he said.

She led him over to the Emigration Machine. He stepped inside and took a deep breath. In a moment he would press the big red button and step out into a new and alien planet halfway across the galaxy - and he would step back out of this very machine as if nothing had happened. I'm about to give birth to myself, he thought.

His finger hesitated half way to the button.

"Just one thing," he turned to her. "My quantum twin - just how entangled with me is he? I mean, if he gets drunk do I get the hangover?"

Emma smiled. It was a very pretty smile and he felt a regret that he would never see it again, and he thought he would ask her out. Tomorrow night, he thought, that new place down at the waterfront. He decided to ask her after he pressed the button. If she said yes, he wasn't sure if he would be able to leave and not go on the date.

"No, your copy isn’t entangled with you in any way." she said. "The machine on Zogarian Delta seven has components that are entangled with identical components in this machine but your copy - your twin, as you put it - will be made from elements, raw materials, mined locally on the planet. There is no way they can be entangled with the matter in your body. There is no way you can get your twin's hangover, or be forced to commit a murder, or do silly things in embarrassing situations. That's all good fun in the movies but there's no chance of it in reality. You will have no entanglement."

"And you?" he asked. "Any entanglements?"

She hesitated for a moment before replying. "No," she said with another smile. The smile was genuine. She looked into his eyes. "No entanglements."

He pressed the button.

And it vanished. He suddenly found himself looking at a blank wall. He felt dizzy, took a step back and stumbled. He fell - slowly.

Oh my god! he thought, I'm here. Lower gravity - higher atmospheric oxygen. I'm somewhere else!

Someone caught him. Arms supported him, steadied him, stood him on his feet again. The momentary nausea and panic passed and he turned round.

She was wearing coveralls. Her hair was short, cut back in a practical but attractive crop. They looked at each other for a moment, then she smiled.

"Hello, Emma," he said.

© Liam Baldwin 2008 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 09:44 Wed 12 Nov 2008
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