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The Crimes of Domini Duvall

a short story

by Eric Brown


This story has a complicated history. Some stories -- very occasionally, more's the pity -- write themselves. Others come grudgingly, and then require so much reworking Deep Future by Eric Brownthat little of the original remains. I wrote the first draft of "The Crimes of Domini Duvall", then entitled "A Process of Vitrification", in the October of 1990. Upon completion of the story, I was dissatisfied. I filed it away and hauled the ms out every year for the next three years. I cut scenes and descriptions, even a sub-plot, and still I was not happy with it. It was a Sapphire Oasis story, one of three or four I'd written set in the Saharan artists' colony. The mistake I'd made in "Domini..." was that I'd included in the narrative two characters from an earlier story, for no good reason other than they appeared in that first story. It took me a while to work this out -- I'm slow when it comes to obvious things like that -- but once the penny dropped I was ruthless with the excision, and the story seemed to work far better. Eventually, in 1994, it sold to the new British SF magazine Beyond... which folded a few months later without publishing the story. So I filed it away yet again.

Skip a few years. In 1998 I began selling stories to the popular US magazine SF Age, edited by Scott Edelman. After making three sales to Scott, I was casting around for something else to send him when I recalled "Domini..." So I dragged it out of retirement, did yet another major re-write and cut, and posted it off to the States with little hope of it ever seeing print. By that time I was so close to the story, and frankly so sick of it, that I expected it never to sell. Imagine my surprise when Scott accepted it.

But it nearly didn't make it to print. Early in 2000 the publishers of SF Age -- the best-selling SF magazine in the US -- decided in their wisdom that the magazine wasn't making enough money, and decided to axe the title. The May 2000 edition would be the last. As luck would have it, "Domini" somehow made it into that final edition, ten years after I wrote it.

[This story also appears in Eric's collection Deep Future.]

The Crimes Of Domini Duvall

At midnight I left the dome, for the first time since arriving at Sapphire Oasis, and joined the party on the lawn. I moved from group to chattering group beneath the star-filled Saharan night, a little drunk with both the alcohol and the exalted company. I had produced no work for well over five years, and yet artists like Standish and Bartholomew and Hovana -- people I had never met, and knew by reputation only -- accepted me as one of them. I could tell by their polite avoidance of any conversation concerning my whereabouts for the past few years that they knew full well what I had been through.

I was standing by myself, looking out across the water, when someone touched my elbow. I turned. A rather striking woman was smiling unsurely at me. "Excuse me," she said in a strangely accented voice, "but aren't you Luke Chandler, the sculptor?"

I smiled and admitted that I was.

"I haven't seen you before at our gatherings."

I could hardly tell her that it had taken two weeks for me to summon the courage to socialise. "I've been working on a difficult piece. It's almost finished. I heard the party. So..." I shrugged.

She was small, slim. Her skin was the colour of burnished copper, and I found her origins hard to place. Her high forehead and rather full lips spoke of Africa, while her straight nose and blue eyes suggested Europe. I later learnt that her lineage consisted of equal parts Berber and Basque, though she was born on the colony planet of Soloman's Reach, Epsilon Aurigae III.

"I'm sorry," I said, "we haven't been introduced."

"Duvall, Domini Duvall. I work in crystals and lasers. I have a few pieces in the Ludo, Prague."

She was undoubtedly beautiful, but exhibited none of that don't-even-look-at-me hauteur assumed by most stunning women. In fact, as we stood beside the oasis and traded small-talk, she struck me as unsure of herself, almost diffident.

I must have appeared even more frightened. I had shunned company for years, and my social skills -- especially with women -- were atrophied to say the least.

I covered myself by asking about her work. Her replies were technical in the extreme, and left me nodding in bewilderment.

During the period of my isolation, scientific research and the resultant technological breakthroughs had hit new heights. Already, that evening, I had found out that the Push now embraced not merely five of the nearest star systems, which had been the case before my retreat, but fifty; that fusion power was on-line; and that, due to advances in genetic research, many of the killer diseases of old were no longer a threat.

"But enough of me," she said. "What have you been doing with yourself over the past few years? The last exhibition I caught of yours was at the Guggenheim in '65."

I stared at her, aware of the thudding of my pulse. I had assumed that everyone knew of my recent past. Where had Domini Duvall been for the last five years?

"I... that is-" I began. "I'm sorry, I've been through a difficult period. I'd rather not talk about it, if it's all the same."

"I'm sorry. I didn't realise..."

Shortly after that I made my excuses and left. I spent a sleepless night, not so much as a result of the memories Duvall's questions provoked -- those memories were ever-present, anyway -- but because, despite myself, I was attracted to the woman... and hadn't I vowed never to allow myself to get close to another human being, ever again?


We met most nights for the next week.

Domini was open and honest. She was intelligent in her appreciation of the arts -- we talked shop for hours and hours -- and wise in the ways of the world. I found myself seeking her out at every party, feeling disappointed when she was not present, jealous when she was in the company of other men.

At the end of the first week I took her hand and led her towards the water's edge. We sat and drank wine in the starlight. I noticed a hesitancy in her eyes, a pause in her voice before she ventured words. I wondered if her circumspection was that strange combination of apprehension and wariness we all feel when we find ourselves attracted to another.

"I never answered," I said, "when you asked me what I'd been doing for the past few years."

She smiled and touched my hand. "Luke, it doesn't matter. You don't have to tell me anything."

I wondered if someone had told her about me.

"Five years ago," I said, the words coming with difficulty, "I was happily married to Ella, a woman I'd known and loved for almost fifteen years."

Ella was an art historian. We made New York our base for six months of the year, so that she could be close to the heart of the art world, and we wintered in the Seychelles: I needed isolation in which to produce my best work. It was the happiest time of my life. We were in love. After the uncertainties of youth, when love can be a strange and frightening enchanter -- by turns beneficent and cruel -- we had settled into the certainties of middle-age. We knew each other absolutely, faults and all, and it seemed that our time together might be eternal.

Then Ella died in a sub-orb accident on take off from Spain. Or rather, she did not die immediately, but a day later of massive internal injuries; she died in an impersonal hospital ward, alone, while I did my best to get to her from the Seychelles.

"I think I went mad for a few months," I said.

Domini held my hand. "How did you survive?"

"I honestly don't know. I lived from day to day." I smiled. "This sounds trite. It's what everyone says, but it's true. Looking back on it, I don't know how I coped. If I were to find myself in that situation again..." I closed my eyes. "A few months later I retreated to a monastery in Bhutan. I meditated. I renounced this world, this illusion."

"What made you return?"

"I don't know... Maybe the realisation that I was playing a game. That hiding myself away was helping no one, not even myself. I'd benefited from the seclusion, the meditation... But I needed to be creating again, to say something after so long without saying anything."

Hesitantly, self-consciously, Domini brushed a strand of hair from her face, leaned over and kissed me. Then she stood and without a backward glance returned to her dome.

I watched her go, something within me beginning to respond, after years of dormancy, to her sexuality. I was at once thrilled and appalled by this. Part of me knew that I could not be held back by the shackles of past experience; while another part, more circumspect, was loath to precipitate myself into a situation where I might face the possibility, however tenuous, of being destroyed again by loss.


One evening, an hour before midnight, Domini came to my dome. I was in the studio, working on a small experimental piece. A sharp tapping on the wall surprised me. I looked up as the entrance panel sighed towards me and slid to one side. Domini stepped through.

I was suddenly ill-at-ease. Her entry into my private sanctuary indicated a subtle shift in the rules of our relationship.

"Luke...?" She remained by the entrance, one hand on the door, as if at a word from me she would willingly retreat. She wore a long white gown, with a hyacinth in her hair. "Do you mind?"

"No... please." I lay down my cutter.

She walked slowly around the studio, regarding the dozen or so pieces I had completed since my arrival. I watched her in silence.

She paused before the tableau I had titled Hostages to Fortune. I'd carved the figures from a slab of ebony, each one in a posture of supplication to some terrible fate -- emaciated figures with scooped-out stomachs and cavities beneath their rib-cages.

One figure in particular seemed to interest her. She examined it for longer than was necessary.

"Is this your wife?" It was almost a whisper.

I crossed the studio and stood beside her, regarding the statue. My throat was constricted by an emotion I thought I'd worked out long ago. Only now, when Domini drew my attention to the fact, did I realise that I had given this female figure the subtle semblance of my wife's facial features. Her expression was drawn, torn by the realisation of a terrible destiny.

I was aware that Domini was watching me. I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.

She murmured, "I think it's beautiful."

Beautiful seemed a strange way to describe a representation so harrowing, but I thought I knew what she meant.

She turned to me. Perhaps the reach of a child separated us. We had exchanged little more than a dozen words since her arrival. A silence connected us, an understanding more eloquent than any declaration.

She reached out, and with the back of her hand traced the line of my jaw, staring into my eyes. "You remind me..." she began, and her eyes clouded, as if with doubt.


"I don't know..." She linked her arms around my neck and pressed herself to me. I held her, looking over her shoulder at the expression I had carved on the ebony representation of someone I had once loved. For perhaps a fraction of a second, I froze. Then, the warmth of the woman in my arms banished the frigidity of oblivion. I closed my eyes and led Domini from the studio to the living area of the dome.

Later, she gently disengaged herself from me, sat up and looked about for her gown. I reached out and with my knuckles traced the archipelago of her vertebrae. "Domini... stay. You don't have to leave."

She found her gown. "I must. I-"

"Then come earlier tomorrow. We could meet at six for a meal."

"Luke, I have to get back."

I recalled that she had told me she was no longer working. "I thought you said you'd finished the piece?"

She smiled and locked my lips with a long-nailed finger. "I'll see you tomorrow at midnight, okay?"

And then she was gone.

This set the routine for the next few days. We made love in a raging silence, with no time or need for words. It was as if we had replaced the intellectual discourse of our very first week with a commitment of passion based on the mutual understanding we had established. I was idiotically happy. Even Domini's insistence that she leave before dawn, and could not meet me before midnight, failed to spoil my contentment.


The following morning I began a sculpture which was full of hope, of rebirth, to represent how I felt. Barely one hour into the process, the light above the door of my studio flashed, signalling that I had a visitor.

I switched off my cutter, laid it aside, and crossed to the entrance.

The glass panel slid aside and a short, thick-set man in his fifties, with incongruously long hair, stepped through as if he owned the place. I recognised him from the gatherings, though we'd never spoken. He was Douglas Wiltshire, a failed painter who now made his living as a critic. I'd heard that a bad review from Wiltshire had wrecked the career of many an aspiring artist.

"This is rather unexpected," I said.

He gazed around him, at the pieces I had created, the works in progress. Something in his expression suggested that he was not here to discuss my status in the hierarchy of Modern Art.

"Can I help you?" I said.

"Perhaps you can, Mr Chandler." He had the disconcerting habit, while speaking, of not looking me in the eye but letting his gaze to wander around the studio. "I'd like the answers to a couple of questions, that's all."

"Questions?" I almost laughed, nervous. Something in his manner intimidated me.

He strolled across to a mobile hanging from the ceiling. He gave it a casual flick. "I understand that you are -- how shall I put it? -- involved with Domini Duvall?" He moved on, bent over to examine my most recent piece.

I stared at him. "I am seeing Domini, for all it has to do with you."

He nodded, moved on to the next piece. "How long have you known Ms Duvall?"

I was tempted to tell him to go to hell. Instead I said, "A fortnight -- a little longer. Look, I don't--"

"Has Ms Duvall spoken to you of her recent past?"

When I came to think about it, Domini had spoken only of her childhood Soloman's Reach. I had asked her about her life on the Reach, trying to find out if she was attached, but she had always managed to change the subject.

I came to my senses. I was not going to allow this pompous little critic to ride roughshod over my privacy and peace of mind. "Look, I don't know who the hell you think you are-"

Without taking his eyes from a sculpture, he said, "She hasn't mentioned why she came here, Mr Chandler?"

"As a matter of fact she's here for a working holiday."

"Are you quite sure she hasn't mentioned what happened on the Reach six months ago? She hasn't said anything that struck you as odd, suspicious?"

I stared at him. "If you're so eager to find out, why don't you speak to Domini yourself?"

"Oh, I have, Mr Chandler. I visited her on Soloman's Reach before she left, and spoke to her then." He straightened up from his examination of a miniature, thanked me and left the dome before I had time to gather my thoughts and question him.

For perhaps fifteen minutes I paced the studio, going over what he had said and cursing myself for putting up with his imposition. What had he said? "Are you quite sure she hasn't mentioned what happened on the Reach six months ago?"

I decided to find Domini. I left the dome, crossed the greensward which separated our studios, and climbed the steps to her lounge.

I paused on the balcony. I was about to press the chime when I noticed, through the frosted glass of the sliding door, the blurred shape of two figures, facing each other across the lounge.

Domini had told me that she was here alone, and that she never had visitors. It occurred to me, for a ridiculous second, that she might be entertaining Douglas Wiltshire. A part of me wanted to enter the dome and discover the identity of her guest; another part told me that I was being paranoid.

I retraced my steps across the lawn, took refuge in my studio and opened a bottle of scotch.


I was a little drunk by the time midnight arrived.

Domini was as punctual as ever. She slipped through the sliding door. She wore a tight black, off-the-shoulder dress. The hyacinth was in place in her hair.

She hugged me, pulled away. "You've been drinking, Luke."

I withdrew, crossed the lounge and turned. "Douglas Wiltshire was here earlier. The critic."

Her confused expression was convincing. "Who?"

"He seemed interested in you, for some reason. He asked questions, how long I'd known you, what you were doing on Soloman's Reach six months ago."

Her pretty frown deepened. "Luke, I honestly can't imagine why..."

"He said he'd visited you on Soloman's Reach. What did he want?"

Her gaze misted, as if she were trying to think back over the preceding months. "Luke, I honestly don't know anything about Douglas Wiltshire."

Smiling, she crossed the lounge and led me to the bedroom. "Let's forget about him," she whispered. We made love, and I gained the impression, by something rote in her movements, something distant in her expression, that her thoughts were elsewhere, contemplating something else entirely. I was in a semi-conscious slumber hours later when she drew away from me and dressed quickly, but nevertheless I was aware of her haste, and the fact that she left without saying goodbye.


I slept badly and awoke late. By the time I dragged myself down to the studio and began work, the day was almost over. I could not concentrate on what I was doing. At the forefront of my mind was Wiltshire's visitation yesterday, and how Domini had acted last night.

Unable to work, I lay aside the cutter, showered, then had a meal on the balcony overlooking the oasis. The last of daylight was seeping from the sky, and darkness was descending rapidly. A cool breeze blew in from the dunes.

Outside the flattened orb two along from mine -- Domini's studio, I realised -- a gang of workmen were busy conveying curved steel shields, perhaps two metres high, from the flat-bed of a delivery float to the dome. I recognised the shields as the type used to protect the surface of studio walls.

I contemplated what Domini and Wiltshire had told me. Obviously, someone was not telling the truth. Either Wiltshire had visited Domini on the Reach, or he had not. I left the studio and walked around the oasis to the critic's dome.

I ran up the spiral staircase to the balcony of the lounge and rapped on the rectangular viewscreen. I opened the door and stepped inside without waiting for a reply, repaying him for his own intrusion yesterday.

Startled, Wiltshire looked up from where he sat in a sunken sofa, watching a satellite screen.

I stood and faced him across the room. "What's going on, Wiltshire? I asked Domini about you last night. She doesn't remember you from the Reach. She couldn't even recall meeting you."

He glanced up from the screen, casually. "And you would rather believe her than me, Mr Chandler?"

"What do you think?" I said. "Look, why all those questions yesterday? Why the interest in her?"

He sat back in the sunken sofa and folded his arms. "Please believe me, Mr Chandler, Duvall was lying to you."

He gestured across the room, to a genuine wooden desk. It was not the desk, however, that he was pointing at -- but what sat upon it.

The stuffed monkey stood perhaps half a metre high, a red-furred primate with a wise, circular face and a skull tapering to a point. It was at once anthropoid and very, very alien. I expected, when I reached out to take it, to feel the texture of coarse fur -- and my surprise was such that I almost dropped it. The surface of the animal was as smooth as glass, as if it had been petrified and varnished.

I looked to Wiltshire for an explanation.

"It's been vitrified," he said. "The process will revolutionise many aspects of the arts. Objects which undergo the process will last for ever."

I replaced the unfortunate creature on the desk. I shrugged, a little uneasily. "I don't see what this has to do with Domini."

"The vitrification process," Wiltshire said, "was invented by Domini's husband, James Duvall."

"Her husband?" I said, feeling suddenly sick; then, fatuously, "she's married?"

Wiltshire raised his eyebrows at me.

"That's ridiculous! She would have told me... She said nothing about-"

"Please..." the critic said. He picked up a computer board from the table before him, activated it and passed it across to me.

Still pix scrolled down the screen. I watched with appalled fascination, hardly able to believe what I was seeing. At the same time I experienced a growing dislike of Wiltshire, who had cruelly brought my idyll to an end.

The pix showed Domini Duvall on a cantilevered balcony above a surging waterfall, against the background of a jungle. She was standing next to a tall, athletic-looking man, with long black hair and a beard, who held her with possessiveness and pride. Other pix showed the couple admiring the rainbow-spangled falls, sparkling in the light of two huge moons.

"James Duvall was a naturalist and a taxidermist," Wiltshire said. "For a long time he'd worked on the means of preserving flora and fauna which would supersede all the old methods. He was also a very good friend of mine."

I shook my head, whispered, "She would have told me... Where is he now?" Then I recalled the figure I had seen in Domini's dome last night.

Wiltshire answered my question. "James Duvall is dead."

I stared at the pix of the naturalist.

"Eight months ago," Wiltshire said, "he was found at the foot of the waterfall beneath his villa. His death shook the whole community. There was no suspicion of anything other than an accident. Everyone assumed he'd fallen to his death from the clifftop. When I heard what had happened, I naturally made my way to the Reach. I had no reason to think that his death was anything other than a terrible accident."

He paused, then went on. "Perhaps a month after his death, the authorities were approached by a native of Soloman's Reach, a semi-sentient distant relation of this ape." He indicated the animal on the desk. "They communicate with humans through sign language. The police brought in an interpreter and found out what had happened."

"What?" I asked.

"The alien told the police that he'd seen someone push James Duvall to his death from the balcony of his villa."

I stared at him. "Who? Who did it see?"

"According to the alien, the person who pushed him was his wife, Domini Duvall."

I felt instantly cold inside, as if the vitrification process had taken hold of me, would turn me into a statue so that my pain and anguish might be preserved for ever.

Wiltshire said, "Ms Duvall left the planet soon after her husband's death, and a private detective I hired searched the villa and found that she had taken everything pertaining to the vitrification process. He also discovered that a year before the death of her husband, Duvall left the Reach under a false identity and travelled to the Persephone Stardrift. The detective discovered her exact whereabouts during that six month period; he told me where she'd been, and what she'd been doing."

I found a level surface and sat down heavily. I stared at him. "Where had she been? I asked.

"To a planet called Mendicini, Mr Chandler."

"Never heard of it."

"Mendicini is the Rio of the frontier," he went on. "It's the place to buy black market spare parts, biological and mechanical."

"What was Domini doing there?"

He looked at me. "The detective discovered that she had purchased a Second, Mr Chandler."

My expression must have declared my incomprehension. "A Second?"

He nodded. "That's right-"

I almost grabbed the man in frustration. "What the hell is a Second?"

He stared at me as if I were an imbecile. "A Second is a clone. The original Domini Duvall went through the process of having herself illegally reproduced."

"Why?" I asked, feebly. "Why would she...?"

Wiltshire shrugged. "I don't know. The detective I hired couldn't tell me, either. He lost track of her movements after that. A month ago I traced Duvall here, to the Oasis." He hesitated. "The detective is arriving here tomorrow, to fill me in on what he's found out so far."

"Does she know you're onto her?"

"She knows the authorities suspect her," he said. "That's why she left the Reach in such a hurry."

I stared at the pattern of the carpet until it became meaningless. I could not bring myself to believe that the woman with whom I had shared such intimacies was a murderer. The image I retained of Domini Duvall as loving and compassionate did not square with the profile of her as a cold-blooded killer who had murdered her husband to gain the secret of the vitrification process.

I experienced again the numbing sense of disbelief which, five years ago, had overtaken me on hearing that my wife was dead.

"It just isn't possible. She would never..."

Wiltshire was watching me. "I'm sorry, Mr Chandler."

"There must be some mistake. You've only the evidence of some semi-literate alien!"

"Then why," he said, "did she run away with the vitrification process?"

"I don't know... I need time to think." I hurried to the exit, then stopped. "Why have you told me?" I asked. "I could easily warn her, get her out of here."

He was shaking his head. "No, you couldn't, Mr Chandler. I have a man at the station, ready for just that eventuality. As for why I told you..." He paused there, staring across at me. "I like your work. I respect the man who produced it. I know what you went through five years ago, and I don't want to see you suffer another terrible loss. Take my advice, Mr Chandler, and break off your relationship with-"

I almost ran from the dome in my need to escape the sound of his voice. I hurried around the oasis. A party was in progress and mood-music reverberated through the warm Saharan night. The sight of so many people, laughing and enjoying themselves, served only to emphasise the fact of my unease.

I recalled what Domini had said to me in my studio, before we made love for the first time. She had touched my chest and said, "You remind me..." with sadness in her voice. The image of James Duvall returned to me, posed on the balcony of his colonial villa.

I returned to my dome and drank steadily as the hour of midnight approached. As much as I wanted to believe that Domini was innocent, it came to me while I waited that her guilt might explain her furtive behaviour: she had never ventured out before twelve, had always returned to her dome well before first light.

She arrived at midnight precisely.


I was standing with my back to the entrance when I heard the door slide open. When I turned I was unprepared for the sight of her. She was radiant, illuminating the room with her presence.

She hurried into my arms before I could protest.

I had planned to stand my ground and tell her that I knew all about her past on Soloman's Reach, and demand the truth. I wanted to know if what had attracted her to me had been nothing more than the fact that I resembled her husband. But the warmth of her in my arms, the smell of her perfume, melted my resolve.

We undressed in silence and I carried her to the bed.

As we lay beneath the stars, I wondered how I might bring myself to ask for her version of the truth. She rested her head on my chest and traced my ribs with the back of her hand. Her eyes were distant, as if looking into the past.


She looked up.

"Domini -- why me?" I hesitated, then said, "Why didn't you tell me that you were married?"

Her expression did not change, but her eyes reacted; her pupils dilated in surprise, as if I had slapped her.

"Let's not talk about..." she said.

I took her shoulders in my hands. "I know," I said. "I know what happened. You..." I could not bring myself to accuse her of killing her husband. "After your husband's death, you stole the vitrification process."

She was shaking her head. "No, Luke. You don't understand."

"Then tell me!"

"I... I can't. It's too... I don't know-"

I shook her, angry. "I want to know what happened, Domini!"

She tore herself from my grasp and pulled on her gown, not bothering with the belt but clutching it together with both hands.

There was a light in her eyes that scared me.

I stared at her, something very like hatred burning within me. "You killed him, didn't you? You murdered your husband and then stole the vitrification process." I stopped there, understanding coming to me. "But before that you travelled to Mendicini, bought a Second... a clone... Did you hope to blame the killing on the clone, Domini?"

She shook her head. "You don't understand," she whispered, and without another word ran from the dome. A part of me wanted to follow her, demand from her the truth of what had happened on Soloman's Reach, but another, wiser part realised that I would be unable to accept the truth.

I found the bottle of scotch and proceeded to drink myself senseless. The last thing I recalled before passing out was the light of dawn limning the arching curve of the dome.


It was early evening by the time I came to my senses; the sun was setting over the desert, filling the dome with a rich ruby light. I saw the bottle lying beside me on the floor, and the memories of yesterday -- what Wiltshire had told me, Domini's reaction to my accusations -- came flooding back.

I picked myself up, and only then did I see the activity on the greensward. A crowd had gathered outside Domini's dome, held back by a laser cordon. Two police hover-cars were parked beyond the cordon, their beacons pulsing scarlet blooms in the quick Saharan twilight. Wiltshire stood on the lawn beneath the pendant globe of Domini's studio, like an actor on a stage.

My stomach turned. I staggered from the dome, crossed the grass and pushed through the press of murmuring artists. I tried to duck beneath the cordon, but a uniformed policeman stopped me.

Wiltshire turned. "It's okay," he called. "Let him through."

The cop unhanded me. I hurried across to Wiltshire. "What the hell's going on?"

"The detective I hired contacted me this morning," he said. "He found out why Ms Duvall bought the Second."

I experienced a sick feeling in my gut. "Why?" I whispered.

He hesitated. Impatient, I tried to push past him, into the dome. He restrained me, went on, "The Domini Duvall you knew was the Second, Mr Chandler -- the clone. The original Domini Duvall had her identity copied and downloaded into the Second -- but not the memories of her marriage to James Duvall, or what happened later."

I felt suddenly, gloriously light-headed with relief. The fact that the Domini I knew was a clone explained her surreptitious behaviour, her odd attitude last night, the fact that she had failed to mention her husband.

"So my Domini isn't a murderer," I said. I stopped, then. "But why? Why would Duvall bring her clone here?"

Wiltshire gazed off across the oasis, something uneasy in his expression. I gestured to the police cars. "What's going on, Wiltshire? I want to go inside!"

"Please, Mr Chandler... Perhaps it would be best-"

I ignored him, some awful premonition pulsing like a migraine in my head. I hurried up the spiral staircase to Domini's studio. I was aware of Wiltshire, following.

I paused on the gallery overlooking the working area of the studio. Down below, the curved shield I had seen being delivered yesterday was in place, protecting the wall of the dome. Before it, a device like a camera or small laser cannon was set up on a tripod, directed at something hidden behind the curve of the shield.

Wiltshire was by my side.

Across the gallery a small, tanned woman was being escorted between two police officers. "Domini?" I called.

Wiltshire touched my arm. "Mr Chandler," he said, "she's the original." There was something almost compassionate in his tone.

"Then where's my Domini?" I asked.

The original Domini Duvall swept past me without so much as a second glance, and her resemblance to my Domini, and at the same time her difference -- an arrogance of bearing my Domini had never possessed -- filled me with unease.

I gripped Wiltshire's arm. "Where's my Domini?" I shouted.

I turned to the gallery, gripped by a dread premonition.

Wiltshire indicated the departing woman. "The original Domini Duvall left a note down there, a suicide note, saying that she was unable to go on without her husband. She planned to take a taxi to the shuttle-port at Timbuktu -- the case would then be closed. Domini Duvall would assume a new identity, be free." He looked into my eyes. "I'm sorry, Mr Chandler."

"No!" I cried. "No..."

I ran across the gallery and around the shield, and stopped when I came face to face with the woman I had come to love.

She was perfect, of course, caught forever in her prime. She stared out at me, and only when I looked into her eyes did I see the beginnings of fear in her expression as she apprehended what the original Domini was about to do to her.

Slowly I stepped forward and knelt beside the stilled figure of the cloned Domini Duvall. A remote control lead connected the clone to the vitrification cannon, to make it look as though Domini Duvall had indeed taken her own life.

I wept as I stared into Domini's bright blue eyes, the beauty of her face preserved forever beneath a subtle, glazed patina.

I whispered her name, reached out and touched the cold, hard surface of her cheek.

I sensed Wiltshire behind me. "Luke," he said, gently.

I stood, aware of something cold closing about my heart, as he took my arm and led me from the dome, out into the rapidly falling African night.

© Eric Brown 2000, 2004
This story first appeared in SF Age, and is reprinted in Eric's collection Deep Future.
Deep Future by Eric Brown
Deep Future was published by Cosmos Books in 2001.

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