Part 1: Copykate


Waking up inside a cramped, dark metal box is somehow even more disconcerting the second time.

There are extenuating circumstances, I suppose. The first time I’d done this, I was full of excitement and optimism about my new job as the head foldgate tech on an entirely new planet, and while I had been a bit apprehensive about climbing into an actual fold-shielded transport crate for the rickety journey through a foldgate built with tech a full century older than I was instead of the smooth, instant journeys I was used to, I was too eager to get going to be properly apprehensive, and my destination was too busy for me to sit in the box and stress out all that much. Whereas this second journey, taking place nearly two years after the ancient gate’s foldfield had unexpectedly collapsed, stranding six of us over eighty lightyears from Earth with limited supplies and no hope of ever re-establishing contact, is in somewhat more harrowing circumstances. My five companions are long dead, meaning there’s no particular rush to get up before properly reflecting on my situation, and the fact that I made this journey through a collapsed foldgate isn’t helping.

Also, there’s a bunch of dirt in the box with me that wasn’t here when I went in. I’m not sure what that means but it’s probably really bad.

Fortunately, I’m a fucking genius. I mean, I’m by definition the best foldgate tech on the planet, so. That has to count for something. Right?

The absurdly outdated tech of our fold gate was mandated by simple physics. Sure, we had long ago mastered instant travel; I could step out of my dormitory on Earth and into a bar on the moon for no cost higher than a few hundred ditting and some motion sickness induced by the sudden gravity change (a fair price to pay considering that low gravity was the best for getting absolutely pissed in), but that’s because foldgates already exist in those locations. Going to a planted ninety lightyears away means transporting the gate ninety lightyears through normal physical space, subject to the twin tyrants of fuel capacity and time. My great-grandparents hadn’t been born when this gate was originally built.

Which is absolutely fantastic news for me, and the entire reason I’ve just travelled through a disconnected foldgate that can only take me to the location I started in; a poorly maintained giant dome on a faraway planet featuring one (1) living colonist.

See, here’s the thing about old foldgates: they’re absurdly inefficient. A modern gate, you step in, you step out, it’s all smooth, no problem. You don’t need to be crammed in a shielded box or lose any time; they transmit your data and matter perfectly through the fold with very few, and very rare, errors. Old gates? Nothing like that. They hadn’t figured out informational efficiency in transmitting string field data when this thing was built. It does the job with about the same rate of accuracy, but it’s messy. It’s bulky. It holds too much data too long, and now that the fold gate’s collapsed, it has nothing to do with that data except feed it back to itself. What’s the point of a fold gate that just pulls you apart, moves you really inefficiently in a tiny circle, and puts you back together again?

No point at all, if your goal is transport. But if you’re a foldgate tech very highly trained on modern methods of packing data, given unrestricted access to an ancient beefy piece of shit that technology abandoned a century ago but was, at least, designed to deal with vast amounts of inefficiently packed data that required external shielding, in an environment completely free of most distractions and in a desperate race for your own survival, and, let’s be honest, an absolute fucking genius, you start to think outside the foldfield.

Or more specifically, very much inside the foldfield. Specifically, the data inside the foldfield. ‘Cause do you know what we call transport that doesn’t go anywhere?


The error-ridden mess of a machine currently towering over my little metal box (I assume, I can’t see it right now) was a real deathbee to work with, but honestly, failure wasn’t an option. The foldfield had collapsed before any living supplies were brought through; we hadn’t had any seeds to grow, any algae to farm. We had stored, sterile food, and we had carbon and hydrogen and oxygen and the other trace elements necessary for life, and we had energy to store in it in our nuclear reactor, but no little living biomachines to turn it into life we could eat and gain that energy from. So I’d had to make my own machine, before time ran out. A foldgate picks up what goes into it, transmits the material and the data of the position of all its little bits relative to the rest to another foldgate via the field, and then it comes out the other end identical, more or less, to how it went in. Then it’s done. But what if you looped a foldfield from one gate to itself (the only option I’d had, way out here), and transmitted the data round and round indefinitely? That’s stored data. A stored pattern.

And what if you broke a bunch of the safeties so that the data kept going round after you built it at the other end?

And what if you broke more safeties so that matter could be accepted into the field without storing the necessary data, and instead copying it from other data still in transit? Then you don’t have a transport machine at all. You have a copy machine.

According to my calculations, there should be enough energy in the foldfield to store roughly nine thousand patterns. That’s far, far more than I need. I had transported every kind of food I had, clean water, and oxygen, and lived alone for nearly a year letting the foldgate and the nuclear reactor take control of pretty much all of my life support before realising I could push further.

This is a big dome, that I live in. It’s a very lonely dome. And even with the foldgate taking care of so much, the dome requires far, far more maintenance than one person has the time to give it.

So that’s why I’m in here. Transporting myself, to make copies later. Putting my data into the foldfield, to cycle around and around and let me make as many Kates as I need.

So you can see why I’m apprehensive. I had to break so many safeties on this thing, and its ability to deal with simple matter doesn’t guarantee it can handle me. I’m not stupid; I ran as many living tests as I could, but as I’ve said, life is pretty rare out here. It’s me and the bacteria that came on our bodies. I cultured up some of those and ran them through and observed them for several days, but a human’s a shipload more complicated than a microbe.

I… seem to be fine. Except the dirt. I’m not happy about the dirt. That wasn’t in the box when I went in, meaning there’s something wrong with the data, meaning there could be all kinds of shit inside me. I’m going to have to run as many medical tests as possible. As soon as possible.

I push the lid of the metal box up and go to climb out into the empty, desolate transport room.

It’s not empty.

The young woman at the control terminal looks like she hasn’t slept in days. She peers dimly at me with bloodshot brown eyes under limp, tangled chestnut hair plastered to her head in some places and sticking out in others. The usual bouncy curls hang in greasy helical strings. Her eyes are so heavily shadowed that the sockets look bruised against her pale skin, and she has the look of someone who’s usually pretty well-filled-out but has missed multiple recent meals. Even her orange jumpsuit doesn’t look clean. Her eyes widen as I emerge – not with shock or surprise, she was clearly expecting me – but widen, nonetheless.

“Holy fucking whalepiss,” she breathes. “I can’t believe that worked.”

Also, she looks exactly like me. I mean. Obviously. Everyone else is dead, remember?

I’m still adjusting to the situation as I clamber out of the box. I can’t believe I didn’t consider this possibility; I mean, the dirt in the box is a dead giveaway. If I’d been the original, going through the foldgate to make the copy data, then the gate would be building me out of the material that entered it; nothing lost, nothing gained. But when building a copy out of random materials, it’s better to oversupply than undersupply, lest your clone come out missing whatever there wasn’t enough matter to build. So, obviously, there’d be a few extra scoops of raw matter left in the box. I used to get leftovers when I was first experimenting with copying food this way, too.

Original Kate rushes over to help me, supporting my arms as I step out. “Look at you!” she breathes. “You’re beautiful!”

“I look like you, and you look like shit,” I point out.

She laughs. “But my genius is beautiful, and you’re a creation of my genius, ergo you must be, also. How are you feeling? We need to do, like, so many health tests.”

“What about you?” I ask. “You clearly came out alright.”

“Oh, that was days ago. I’ve run every medical test I can on myself, but it’s more risky for you. Because of the – ”

“Because the foldfield’s been cycling the information around for awhile, yeah. Well, apparently it can handle it, even information this complicated. We are so fucking clever. Am I the first?”

“Yes. I’m thinking that once we’ve confirmed that you’re successfully copied, we should fire it up again and make – ”

“Nine more, yes, I remember running the efficiency calculations.”



We look at each other.

I crack my knuckles. “A whole bunch of medical tests, and then…”

She cracks her knuckles. “And then, we get to work.”


Waking up inside a cramped, dark metal box is somehow even more disconcerting the second time.

There are extenuating circumstances, I suppose. My five companions are long dead, meaning there’s no particular rush to get up before properly reflecting on my situation, and the fact that I made this journey through a collapsed foldgate isn’t helping.

Also, there’s a bunch of dirt in the box with me that wasn’t here when I went in. I’m not sure what that means but it’s probably really bad.

Fortunately, I’m a fucking genius. I mean, I’m by definition the best foldgate tech on the planet, so. That has to count for something. Right?

I… seem to be fine. Except the dirt. I’m not happy about the dirt. That wasn’t in the box when I went in, meaning there’s something wrong with the data, meaning there could be all kinds of shit inside me. I’m going to have to run as many medical tests as possible. As soon as possible.

I push the lid of the metal box up and go to climb out into the empty, desolate transport room.

It’s not empty.

There are six women in the room, and except for the one standing next to the box and offering me a hand out, they’re all ignoring me. They seem pretty relaxed about the situation, most of them typing away at computers. One of them sweeps the floor. They’ve certainly all showered and slept a lot more recently than I have.

They all look exactly like me. Obviously.

“Welcome to Kateland, population: Kate,” the Kate over my box says as she helps me out. “Let’s get some food and water in you and then we can get you your tasks.”

“We need to make a new copy,” one of the other Kates says.

“We are,” another Kate says. “In fact, we’re going to make – ”

“Four more, yeah, that’s not what I meant. I mean, one of us should go through and copy ourselves.” She flicks her fingers at me. “Everyone comes out hungry and tired and disoriented, and then we have to help them recover and get them up to speed, which is a completely unnecessary waste of time. Why not copy someone who’s well-rested and knows what’s going on?”

“Who should we copy?” another Kate asks. “You?”

The first Kate shrugs. “Or you. Whoever’s in the best physical condition I guess. It doesn’t matter. We’ve only been different people for a few days, it should all work out the same.”

“Let’s get Kate-6 up to normal,” says the Kate helping me out of the box, “and then we can spin a bottle for it.”


There’s dirt in the box when I wake up.

We’ve figured out the correct materials needed by now, of course, but we decided to keep putting extra in anyway – both for safety, and as an orienting aid. There’s dirt, so I know I’m not the Kate who walked into this machine to make a foldfield copy. I’m the copy.

That’s good information to have. Knowing what’s going on in advance is all good information to have. Kate-4 was right; this is much less disorienting than last time. We’d decided to copy new Kates from a few different existing Kates, so if they kept the copy order the same, I should be the last of the initial ten off the line. The eleventh Kate to exist.

Maybe earlier, if they changed the copy order. It shouldn’t matter, one way or the other. I push the box open.

There’s a Kate there to help me out, of course. Orange jumpsuit, clean hair, alert expression. Everything I expect.

Well. Except for the fact that she looks at least a decade older than me. Little crow’s feet in the eyes, grey streaks in the hair… yeah, this Kate is approaching forty.

Ah, there’s the feeling of confusion and disorientation! I knew it had to be somewhere.

She offers me a hand. “Welcome to Kateopolis, population: Kate,” she says, in the rote tone of someone who’s said it many, many times before.

“We still haven’t come up with a real name for this place?” I ask.

She leads me down the hall out of the transport room at a brisk pace. “We still haven’t come up with a real name for this place. Now, to answer your next handful of questions: it’s been fourteen years. Yes, I know I look good for my age, thank you. Yes, I’m also surprised we somehow managed to keep this total circus going for so long and aren’t all dead yet. No, I’m not your Kate ancestor; I’m Kate-4. Yes, your Kate ancestor, Kate-3, is still alive. Yes, I know that from your perspective you and I were just having a conversation ten minutes ago, and yes this is weird. You’re the fourth copy of Kate-3, and the third copy to be made recently. There are thirty nine Kates in Kateopolis. And the reason you exist is to be a doctor.”

“A doctor? I don’t know any more about medicine than I need to to alter the fold – ”

“The foldgate, yes, I remember. We’ve got a couple of Kates who have dealt with medical issues who will teach you what they know, and we still have all the medical books and papers and stuff that Reginald brought with him.”

I nod. Reginald was one of the colony doctors, the only doctor among the six of us who’d gotten through the foldgate before the foldfield had collapsed. He’d brought a huge amount of Earth’s medical knowledge with him in digital form, because why not? Having local access to as much information as possible just made sense.

“If you have a medical problem, why not have a Kate who’s picked up some medical knowledge already deal with it? Why get an entirely new one who doesn’t know anything?”

“We don’t have a medical problem. We’re building doctors for when we do.”

“… What?”

Kate-4 sighs impatiently. “Okay, so we can make as much of anything as we want so long as we have the power, the base material, and a base to copy it from, right? That includes experts. It makes no sense to just ad-hoc learn whatever we need on the spot when we have an expert-copying machine right there. So that’s what we’re making. We’ve decided to develop specialists in medicine, engineering, chemistry, and computer tech; then, if we need to, we can have as many experts as we need later on without having to train any new people. Now, one of us could do it, but the enemy here is time. All the foldgate tech in the world won’t stop us from ageing, and it takes time to develop expertise. If one of us did it, we’d be on a totally unnecessary ten-year disadvantage; ten years older for the same level of experience and knowledge. It’s best to start with a Kate as young as possible, and the Kate-3 copy data was determined to be the best candidate. So, you exist.”

“And I don’t get to pick my own speciality?”

“No point. All four of you are the same person right now, you’ll all have the same speciality preferences. You drew medicine. So we want you to spend a year studying up on basic biology and medicine, as much as you can, and then we’ll send you through the foldgate to store your data. Then you can branch out into whatever medical field you like the most, I guess, and we can send you through the foldgate again when you’re good at it. As we need more specialists in different areas of medicine, we can make copies of our ‘basic biology’ Kate and get them to specialise differently. We’re limited by how many resources this place can support at once, due to the power limitations of the reactor determining how much food we can print, but we should have a pretty solid repertoire of experts within a couple of generations.”

“Oh, you’re planning long term. You really think we’ll survive that long?”

“Why not? We survived this long, the domes and machines were designed to support a full colony indefinitely, and don’t forget, we’re a fucking genius.”

“Well. That is true.”

As we walk out of the transport centre into the main dome, I can’t help but gasp. The colony had been built (be labourers and their machines who’d come through, worked, and left before we colonists had started to arrive) with a lot of “open air” areas, big spaces between buildings all capped by giant domes to hold the breathable atmosphere in. Much more resource-intensive and difficult than simply connecting all the buildings together and making them into pressure vessels, but it had been deemed psychologically important for a large colony of people, most of them unlikely to return to Earth for years or even decades at a time, to be able to go “outside” and see the “sky”. Admittedly the ‘sky’ is a pure white with neither stars nor sun in sight, but you can look up and almost convince yourself it’s just a really cloudy day.

Anyway, the last time I’d been out here, things hadn’t been in the best shape. Nothing important had been broken, but years of a location designed for thousands of people being inhabited by sixpeople that slowly dwindled to one hadn’t made things like “keeping stuff pretty” a high priority. Dirt and damage don’t accumulate very quickly in a tightly controlled atmosphere with almost no life in it, but what little dust had gathered had remained untouched, and there’s been boxes of random supplies opened and scattered among the “streets” – with no weather to damage them, there was no need to store them carefully. The whole place had felt abandoned, because it mostly was.

That’s no longer the case. The buildings immediately surrounding the transport centre have apparently been converted into living spaces, and the mess that surrounds them is the mess of life – overalls hanging on a clothesline to dry (even though there’s no reason for them to dry faster outside the house than inside), any boxes are on the doorsteps, the streets are kept clear for foot traffic. Most of the dome is probably still abandoned except for necessary system maintenance, but here around the transport centre, it’s alive.

“All the buildings close by should be furnished,” Kate-4 says. “Pick one without a Kate in it and set up shop. I’ve gotta go and make us an engineer.”

I nod. Time to get to work, I guess.


“Hey.” I hand a bag of chocolate-coated peanuts to the Kate tapping away at the computer next to me. “Eat something.”

“You’re not my mum,” Kate-3-2 (“computer Kate”) says, but she takes the proffered bag. Us four ‘new Kates’, the four printed to become specialists, tend to stick together – after only a month since printing, Kateopolis is still pretty disorienting, and I don’t think the older Kates realise that. They’ve been building this place for a decade and a half; they’re used to things, know how they work. They don’t understand what it’s like to go into a foldgate and wake up fourteen years in the future, surrounded by reflections of yourself who are all more competent and settled-in than you are.

“We need names,” I say. “In eleven months, we’re gonna copy our data to fork off prints into different specialisations, and we can’t call each other ‘computer Kate’ and ‘engineer Kate’ when there’s other IT specialists and engineers running around.”

“Use the numbers then.”

“I’m not calling anyone by a fucking serial number.”

Computer Kate rolls her eyes, but I know she agrees with me. Of course she does; we’re only separated by one month of time, we can’t be that different. The numbers make sense for tracking copy threads, but not everyday use.

Sometimes it astounds me how different we are, or at least seem to be, after only one month of separation. Computer Kate is my favourite Kate, even though she should be nearly identical to me, Doctor Kate, and Chemist Kate. But she is different. I like the person I can be when I’m around her. There’s something about her unwavering seriousness that makes me feel okay being lighthearted and silly, so long as she’s there to pick up the slack on the serious side. And I haven’t asked, but I think the feeling’s mutual; she can focus on her serious, analytical side without feeling any pressure to be personable and try to lift the mood, when I’m around to do that.

“I think the older Kates have names,” I say. “I mean, they’d have to by now, wouldn’t they. I’m sure I heard one of them call another one Sunny yesterday.”

A rare laugh from Computer Kate. “One of them named herself after our childhood dog?”

I shrug. “Who understands the deep mysteries of our mind once it’s been matured for fourteen years int his fucking place? It’s good to know that we can apparently last that long here and not want to kill each other. Gives me hope for the future.”

“Mmm,” Computer Kate says neutrally. I peek at her screen; she’s apparently learning something about some new programming language. (Well, presumably an old programming language that I don’t know. The only programming I know how to do is directly related to foldgate operation, but Computer Kate needs to learn all the computer systems used throughout the dome, even though we’re using very few of them (we can’t farm, don’t need to light or clean most of the space, and can replenish oxygen and clean water with the foldgate).

“So, if you don’t want to be named after a dog, what should I call you?” I ask. “It is going to get confusing, when we have a whole bunch of Computer Kates running around.”

“How many computer specialists do you think we’ll need?”

“You never know.”

“Counterpoint: it’ll be even more confusing if we get names. Because then we’ll end up with a bunch of Kates running around who all remember being named the same thing and aren’t any more. Do you think it’d be any less confusing to have ten Kates running around all thinking their name is Dolly?”

“So you want to be called Dolly, then?”

“You want to be called Dolly.”

“You can’t prove that.”

“Of course I can, Dolly. We’re almost exactly the same person.”

“You can be Dolly if you want,” I allow.

“Nope. You’re Dolly now.”

I roll my eyes. “I bet one of the older Kates is Dolly. I bet they snapped up the name first thing.”

“Fuck ‘em.”


I’ve been alive for thirty years, but I’ve also been alive for eleven months. And in that eleven months, I’ve acquired the most important skill an IT specialist can have – I have mostly learned not to completely hate the computers. I’m going through the foldgate in one more month to make a copy of me to act as a template for future IT specialists, so if I can learn to like the computers by then, that’ll certainly be advantageous.

Of us four “new Kates”, I’ve often wondered how much of our differing personalities are just down to a general mood difference in having better or worse jobs. Dolly’s our engineer, the closest field to our initial foldfield expertise, and is easily the most upbeat among us. Whereas our chemist is a total bitch.

“Hi, Sandy,” Dolly calls, walking into my home without so much as a knock (as is her wont). I give her a wave without looking away from the computer. “You work too hard.”

“You should be working hard. You’re aware that we’re in our last month before making the templates, right? Don’t you want future engineers to have the best basis possible?”

She rolls her eyes. “They will, because I’m awesome at engineering. It’s not my fault that you find computers so hard.”

I get up and gesture to my seat. “You’re welcome to do it.”

“Ha, no. Anyway, if you take longer than the next month to be basically competent, you can always just make a new template later on. They only gave us a year so there’d be a deadline.”

I slump back down into my seat. She sits on my lap, eyes trained on my screen.

“You’re making it hard to get any work done,” I point out.

“Ooooh nooo. You might have to take a break.” She pushes her head forward to block my view of the screen. Her eyes rest on my lips for a second. She looks away, blushing.

She’s been doing this for over six months now. She won’t get over it and she won’t make a move, and I’m just not that patient. So I kiss her.

The reaction is immediate. She pushes herself off my lap and scrambles away, cheeks aflame. “We can’t!”

We can. But pushing won’t help, so I just shrug. “Okay.”

“I mean. Do you want to?”

“Have we ever kissed anyone we didn’t want to kiss, Dolly?”

“The others won’t stand for it.”

“Fuck ‘em.”

“We can’t just…”

“Dolly. There is no one else here. Only Kates. Do you intend to be alone for the rest of your life?”

“The… all the other Kates don’t…”

“Some of them have been here for fifteen years. Do you really believe that?”

“They wouldn’t…”

“What you and I want is proof that they would.”

“I have to… go.”

“Alright.” I turn back to my work. I let her leave.

I can’t concentrate on getting any work done.


I look away from Dolly and Sandy in the corner giving each other lovey eyes, not bothering to hide my scowl. “It’s disgusting,” I tell the doctor. “They’re so fucking shameless.”

“Mm-hmm.” She pours boiling water into her dehydrated meal pack and seals it up.

“Doesn’t it piss you off? Doesn’t it gross you out? Aren’t you as disgusted as I am?”

“Yeah, obviously. But what do you want me to do about it?”

“Do about it? We’ve got this incest going on and we’re just supposed to ignore it?”

“I don’t think it’s incest if it’s yourself. I think that’s just narcissism.”

“Whatever! We can’t just – ”

“What do you want me to do about it? What can anybody do about it? Put them on opposite sides of the colony and not let them see each other? Or do you just want to follow them around with a spray bottle and squirt them any time they touch each other, like a cat? If they want to be weird and gross, that’s their problem.”

“I don’t understand how you can be calm about this. I can’t believe they would – ”

“Or you can’t believe you would?”

“I’d never!”

Doctor Kate gestures across the room at the pair with her fork. “Apparently, you would.”


“Does it work?” the chemist asks me, not bothering to disguise the sneer in her voice.


“Your stupid little incest thing. Does it actually make you feel less lonely? Like you’re not on a planet all by yourself with all of humanity an unreachable number of lightyears away?”

“A bit. Well. Not really. Does being a total bitch and picking constant fights with everyone make you feel less lonely?”

“Yes, actually.”

I can’t help but laugh disbelievingly. “Seriously?”

“Of course. It reminds me how different we are, if we disagree so much.”

“And you need to feel different to me, don’t you? You need to feel better than me.”

“Oh, don’t you fucking act like – ”

“Excuse me. I have work to do.”


There’s dirt in the box.

That means I’m not Dolly, then. Or, I’m not the Dolly who went through the foldgate to copy her data and was immediately reformed at the other end. I’m a copy, so I can expect some time to have passed. The last thing I remember doing was going in to make the basic template for new engineers, so that means I exist because the colony wants to train a new specialist engineer.


I push up the lid of the box and am helped out by Kate-4, the foldgate manager, just like last time. I know it’s her because she has a big patch on her jumpsuit that reads KATE-4, FOLDGATE MANAGER. Presumably to head off some of the repetitive new Kate questions. She looks essentially the same as last time I saw her, which is a little worrying. Why do they need a new engineer so soon? Maybe they’re just being proactive, getting as many different kinds of specialists trained up and templated as possible. Just in case.

“Welcome to Kateopilis, popu – ”

“Population: Kate, yeah, I know,” I grumble as I let her help me up. I glance at the calendar on the wall. I only made – Dolly only made my template about two months ago. “Why do you need a new engineer so fast? Is there some kind of emergency?”

“Hard to say. There’s been some… inconsistencies with the sensory hardware outside the dome. Dolly’s been looking into it, but we need someone to take over more general engineering duties, so.”

So that’s me, then. That’s… less jarring than any other option, actually. I’d been expecting to keep doing general engineering when I’d gone into the foldgate last, so picking up the same line of work coming out of it is good. It’ll be difficult to adapt to a new name, difficult to adapt to being the fifth, youngest Young Kate, but I’ll manage.

As we walk out of the transport room and out into the open dome, I see two Kates hanging out outside a house, and my heart freezes, because I know exactly who they are. One has her arms around the other’s shoulders, and they’re looking into each other’s eyes, smiling. Then Dolly glances up and spots me.

“Oh, hey! Sandy, it’s the new engineer!” She gives me a wave. “Welcome to Kateopolis!”

I wave back, a little uncertainly. She’s looking at me like a friendly stranger, like I’m not her from just a couple of months ago. And then Sandy looks up, and looks at me with those calm yet piercing eyes that look like every other Kate’s eyes but somehow oh so different, those eyes that she’d settled on me just five minutes ago when giving me a final kiss right before I got into the transport crate, and looks at me happily, but politely. With a little nod.

And then she turns back to Dolly, and looks at her like she’s the whole world.

I’m her! I want to scream. I’m her from just two fucking months ago, and I’m nothing to you? What great intimate strides could you two have possibly made over just two months that makes me nothing to you by comparison?!

“There’s a free house over this way,” Kate-4 says, leading me away from the couple, in the opposite direction to the house I remember living in for the past fucking year. I follow her as quickly as I can.

I have some feelings to feel, and I don’t want to be feeling them in public.


I’m crying in my space suit as I drag Kate-0 in through the airlock. We don’t even cycle it properly, just let it pump air in until it makes up the difference between the thin outside atmosphere and the 1atm inside the dome. Any toxic outside atmosphere it lets in doesn’t fucking matter, we can deal with that later. It doesn’t fucking matter.

Not next to this.

Kate-0, the original Kate, the one who successfully stabilised the looped foldfield and lived a year getting it ready to make living copies and went through to copy her own data to create all of us and all of our copies, isn’t breathing. She’s not responding to anything I say, not moving in my grip, and her pulse is flat. It didn’t seem to matter which Kates went out to check the external dome equipment, so we just sent the two of us with the most out-of-dome experience. It didn’t seem to matter, until the seals on her suit failed, and we were way too far away from the airlock.

I drag her into the dome proper and we’re immediately surrounded by other Kates, ripping her helmet off, dragging her out of her suit, starting CPR. We have three doctors now and all of them are present, and the fact that all of them have had time to beat us here tells me that getting back inside took way too long. There’s no chance.

Kates take turns doing CPR anyway. Some Kates exchange glances with me, ask if I’m okay. But I can’t help but wonder if they wish I’d died instead.

It’s what I would wish, in their situation. A Kate is a Kate is a Kate, and it’s frankly amazing that we’ve gone so long without a death; we’d expected to lose some eventually. I hadn’t realised that it would hurt so much to specifically lose her.

We weren’t even that close, is the thing. I didn’t know her that well, beyond the twenty nine years of life memories I shared with all Kates. But she was, in ways I’d never really considered, kind of our link to Earth. Our original. The Kate who’d stood on Earth soil, once, and come here, and made us.

Which is a stupid nonsense perspective. When you step through a foldgate, your matter is all squished up, and reassembled at the other end. You could argue that we ‘die’ and are revived every time we use a foldgate, so what makes her more of the person that stepped in than me? Because she was printed first, out of the same physical matter that went in? That’s a stupid distinction. Carbon is carbon and hydrogen is hydrogen; why does it matter if it comes from deconstructed cells or deconstructed soil? Besides, cells change, die, get replaced over time, and it’s been twenty years – her bones are probably still made of the same calcium as the bones that stepped in the foldgate on Earth, but most of her, like the rest of us, is made of food replicated here, from matter that was brought from Earth in a decidedly not human form. There’s no distinction, no real distinction, that makes Kate-0 more of an ‘original’ than me or any other Kate around me.

But it feels like there is.

An unbroken line of continuity, a woman who stepped into a gate on Earth and walked out here, of the same flesh. Who built the rest of us out of soil and lived among us as one of us; we’d certainly never bothered to make any distinction when she was alive. A Kate was a Kate was a Kate. But looking at her lifeless on the ground, I can only feel that she was THE Kate. Something precious, lost forever.

An unbroken line of continuity… broken. From the grief and worry and desperation in the eyes around me, I know that the other Kates are experiencing something similar.

And then someone’s eyes widen in realisation. She looks up, catches the eyes of another Kate, who lust looks confused… but another Kate’s eyes widen, too. A third Kate, a fourth.

And then I realise. Everything clicks together, and I know what we’re about to do.

We’re about to do something irrational and stupid.


Waking up inside a cramped, dark metal box is somehow even more disconcerting the second time.

There are extenuating circumstances, I suppose. My five companions are long dead, meaning there’s no particular rush to get up before properly reflecting on my situation, and the fact that I made this journey through a collapsed foldgate isn’t helping.

Also, there’s a bunch of dirt in the box with me that wasn’t here when I went in. I’m not sure what that means but it’s probably really bad.

Fortunately, I’m a fucking genius. I mean, I’m by definition the best foldgate tech on the planet, so. That has to count for something. Right?

I… seem to be fine. Except the dirt. I’m not happy about the dirt. That wasn’t in the box when I went in, meaning there’s something wrong with the data, meaning there could be all kinds of shit inside me. I’m going to have to run as many medical tests as possible. As soon as possible.

I push the lid of the metal box up and go to climb out into the empty, desolate transport room.

It’s not empty.

“Welcome to Kateopolis,” the older woman standing over me says, giving me a gentle smile. “Population: Kate.”

She looks like me (obviously, there’s no one else here), except about fifty years old. My first thought is a somewhat delirious, ‘oh, I guess it took a really long time to perfect this tech, then’. But the badge sewn into her uniform reads KATE-4, FOLDGATE MANAGER, suggesting some level of organisation. And at least four other Kates.

She gives me a brief rundown of Kateopolis, how things work and what to expect, as she helps me out of the box and we head outside. There are a lot of Kates, some general labourers, some specialists. A doctor, if I need medical attention. There’s a house all ready for me to move in, and she gives me the address of a Kate to go to who can arrange anything else I might need.

“So what’s my job, then?” I ask.

“Oh, whatever comes up. We can fit you into the general labour roster easily enough; patrolling for problems, that sort of thing.”

They made me for no reason? “You just… felt like making a new Kate?”

Kate-4 shrugs. “We recently lost a Kate. It’s good to keep the numbers stable. For inventorying purposes.

That… kind of makes sense… I guess. I follow Kate-4, let her show me the bar and the common eating area and the supply depot, then escort me to my new house. The last time I saw this place, yesterday (twenty years ago yesterday), it had been a reception building, but everywhere around the foldgate has been turned into a living space now. It’s well-furnished and tidy, and very close to the foldgate (amazing it wasn’t already taken.) It’s a good place.

It takes me about a day to realise that something is really, really wrong with this place.

Most notably, everyone is so nice to me. That’s fucking weird. These people are me and I’m not nice. I’ll walk into a room containing two Kates having a good long bitch about a third Kate and suddenly they’re all smiles and hellos and answering any questions I have as nicely and gently as possible. Nobody seems overly keen about making sure I’m actually on any work roster, which is fine, I guess everything’s already handled, but why make another Kate if you don’t have work that needs doing? More Kates means more food and water production via the foldgate, more power being used by the reactor, more work for the oxygenation system, just generally more labour and fuss. Not a huge amount, but why make extra work for no reason?

Also, there are no Kates my age. Both in terms of, no one is twenty nine, and no one has been printed recently. The most recently printed Kate I can find was printed two years before me. A lot of the older Kates are talking about how over the next few years they’re going to get too old to do quite so much physical work, and they’ll need new, younger Kates, but they haven’t started making those, yet. Maybe I’m a sort of test run, a preliminary younger Kate? No; that doesn’t make sense. There’s no reason to do that.

What am I for?

Foldgate tech is what I know, what I’m good at, so I start helping out Kate-4 with the foldgate in my spare time, and no one stops me. After a little while, while we load canisters of carbon dioxide into the foldgate to turn them into oxygen canisters and graphite, I’m able to needle an explanation out of her.

“I told you how we lost a Kate recently, right?” she says. “Well, she was Kate-0. The original. It’s hitting everyone pretty hard.”

“Okay, but you know that doesn’t actually mean anything, right? I mean, death sucks, but the ‘original’ part. She wasn’t any diff – ”

“Yes, we know that, but it still feels… well. I don’t want to depress you, but after awhile, living here on a dead end world surrounded only by echoes of yourself and with the persistent knowledge that you’re too far from anywhere and too dependent on a single life support dome to actually built any civilisation that can actually go anywhere, knowing you’re just running down an invisible clock alone until something breaks, can get a little… wearing.”

I nod. I’ve only been here a week and I’m already getting that impression. I remember the years before being printed all too well; the desperate race for survival, for a food source in altering the foldgate, and, during the monotony of food security and routine maintenance tasks with a terrifyingly long, lone future stretching out ahead of me, for company.

“What’s that got to do with me, though?” I ask. “I’m not her.”

“Well… yes,” Kate-4 admits. “You are.”

I almost drop the canister I’m holding. I stare down at the box we’re loading, then back up at her. She nods.

“We had her body,” she explains. “We just needed to put life back into it. So we put it in the foldgate and printed from the only template we had of her. Which is the first one.”

“There was… there was dirt in the box when I woke up,” I point out.

“Well, yes. She’d lost a fair bit of weight towards the end of her life; we needed to be sure there was enough matter to make you. Honestly, I was a little worried; if the foldfield had used all the dirt first and left bits of the body in there, your awakening could’ve been… unpleasant.”

I shudder at the thought. “You never made another template of the original Kate?”

She shrugs. “It never seemed necessary? We make templates of people when we have a reason to replicate them. Most of them are from second generation copies, our specialists. She – you – mostly did general labour, like most of us older Kates. There was no reason to replicate; we didn’t… we didn’t really think it was important, until you were gone.”

“I’m not her,” I say firmly, even though I am. But what I mean is, I’m not any more her than the other Kates.

“No? Do you remember doing it? Altering the gate, running the microbe experiments, climbing into the box and just hoping you’ll make it out of the other end alive, willing to take the risk because the alternative is a life alone all the way out – ”

“You remember that, too! We all did that!”

“I’m sure you remember it more clearly than me.”

“Yes, because I’m a lot younger! It was just last week for me! That’s going to be true of any Kate you print from an early template, not just me. I’m not going to be anyone’s mascot!”

Kate-4 looks at me sadly. “I don’t think either you or I really have much of a say in that.”

Life in the colony continues. People keep treating me extra gently, and knowing why just makes it more frustrating. It’s little things; more patience, more consideration. An absolute refusal to let me do anything dangerous, which is just fucking patronising. I learn pretty quickly that most of the other Kates have new names, probably to avoid confusion. Some don’t; some just go by ‘the doctor’ or ‘green-door Kate’ or whatever, but most of them call themselves something new. Kate-4 explains that she still goes by Kate-4 mostly to avoid confusion with new prints. “It’s a lot less confusing if new Kates can see who I am in relation to them immediately,” she explains, tapping the name sewn into her jumpsuit. “And I’d rather just keep the same name everywhere.”

Nobody, ever, even suggests calling me anything other than ‘Kate’. Even when I start introducing myself as Kate-7, they won’t say it.

Kateopolis is… well. To be honest, I don’t know how so many Kates have survived for two decades in this place. They have their hobbies and their distractions, making art or whatever, but it’s all just me talking to myself, isn’t it? There’s no point to any of it, it’s so unbearably lonely. It takes me a while to realise why I’m handling it worse than they are; none of them will talk to me, not properly. Oh, we’ll have conversations. But they don’t disagree, don’t argue, don’t snap at me even when ‘m being a total bitch on purpose. They’re just smiling reflections of me, of various ages. I’ve often wondered if the kind of absurdly powerful people with no real friends are ever lonely, surrounded by yes-men; it sounds like the loneliest fate one could have. Well, I’ve found one that’s even lonelier. Being surrounded by yes-reflections.

I look at them, and I can’t see them, because they won’t let me. They look at me, and I know they don’t see me, either. But they don’t see me as a reflection of them; they see me as her. Their talisman, their pretend unbroken chain connecting them to an Earth that none of us will ever see again. I exist to be a coping mechanism, and I don’t think it’s even worth telling them that I’m not coping.

One morning, I glare at my own reflection in the mirror for ten minutes. This is, somehow, less lonely than going outside; at least my reflection will glare back. I can have an argument with my reflection; I can pretend there’s someone on the other side more than I can if I go outside and talk to real people.

I glare at my reflection for a bit longer, and then I go and get a knife. I make sure it’s sharp and clean, and I bring a first aid kit with me to clean up after. The last thing I want is an infection.

I think it might help, see, if I make it so the other Kates look less like reflections of me.

And I think it might help, see, if they can look at me and see someone who looks irreconcilably different from the Kate they want to pretend I am.

I set the knife blade to my cheek and, very carefully, I get to work.