[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
ROBERT J. SAWYER
Hugo and Nebula Winner


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Opening Chapters

HYBRIDS

Volume 3 of The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 2003 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.


Hardcover: Tor, September 2003, ISBN 0-312-87690-4
Paperback: Tor, November 2004, ISBN 0-765-34906-X


Spoiler Alert! Don't read this until after you've finished Hominids and Humans, the first two volumes in the trilogy.


Chapter 1

      

"My fellow Americans — and all other human beings on this version of Earth — it gives me great pleasure to address you this evening, my first major speech as your new president. I wish to talk about the future of our kind of hominid, of the species known as Homo sapiens: people of wisdom ..."

      

       "Mare," said Ponter Boddit, "it is my honor to introduce you to Lonwis Trob."

       Mary was used to thinking of Neanderthals as robust — "Squat Schwarzeneggers" was the phrase The Toronto Star had coined, referring to their short stature and massive musculature. So it was quite a shock to behold Lonwis Trob, especially since he was now standing next to Ponter Boddit.

       Ponter was a member of what the Neanderthals called "generation 145," meaning he was 38 years old. He stood about five-eight, making him on the tall side for a male of his kind, and he had muscles most bodybuilders would envy.

       But Lonwis Trob was one of the very few surviving members of generation 138, and that made him a staggering one hundred and eight years old. He was scrawny, although still broad shouldered. All Neanderthals had light skin — they were a northern-adapted people — but Lonwis's was virtually transparent, as was what little body hair he had. And although his head showed all the standard Neanderthal traits — low forehead; doubly arched browridge; massive nose; square, chinless jaw — it was completely devoid of hair. Ponter, by comparison, had lots of blond hair (parted in the center, like most Neanderthals), and a full blond beard.

       Still, the eyes were the most arresting features of the two Neanderthals now facing Mary Vaughan. Ponter's irises were golden; Mary had found she could stare into them endlessly. And Lonwis's irises were segmented, mechanical: his eyeballs were polished spheres of blue metal, with a blue-green glow emanating from behind the central lenses.

       "Healthy day, Scholar Trob," said Mary. She didn't take his hand; that wasn't a Neanderthal custom. "It's an honor to meet you."

       "No doubt it is," said Lonwis. Of course, he was speaking in the Neanderthal tongue — there was only one, so the language had no name — but his Companion implant was translating what he said, pumping synthesized English words out of its external speaker.

       And what a Companion it was! Mary knew that Lonwis Trob had invented this technology when he was a young man, back in the year Mary's people had known as 1923. In honor of all that the Companions had done for the Neanderthals, Lonwis had been presented with one that had a solid-gold faceplate. It was installed on the inside of his left forearm; there were few Neanderthal southpaws. In contrast, Ponter's Companion, named Hak, had a plain steel faceplate; it looked positively chintzy in comparison.

       "Mare is a geneticist," said Ponter. "She is the one who proved during my first visit to this version of Earth that I was genetically what they call a Neanderthal." He reached over and took Mary's small hand in his own, massive, short-fingered one. "More than that, though, she is the woman I love. We intend to bond shortly."

       Lonwis's mechanical eyes fell on Mary, their expression impossible to read. Mary found herself turning to look out the window of her office, here on the second floor of the old mansion that housed Synergy Group headquarters in Rochester, New York. The gray bulk of Lake Ontario spread to the horizon. "Well," said Lonwis, or at least that was how his gold Companion translated the sharp syllable he uttered. But then his tone lightened and his gaze shifted to Ponter. "And I thought I was doing a lot for cross-cultural contact."

       Lonwis was one of ten highly distinguished Neanderthals — great scientists, gifted artists — who had marched through the portal from their world to this one, preventing the Neanderthal government from severing the link between the two realities.

       "I want to thank you for that," said Mary. "We all do — all of us here at Synergy. To come to an alien world —"

       "Was the last thing I thought I would be doing at my age," said Lonwis. "But those short-headed fools on the High Gray Council!" He shook his ancient head in disgust.

       "Scholar Trob is going to work with Lou," said Ponter, "on seeing if a quantum-computer, like the one Adikor and I built, can be made using equipment that exists — how do you phrase it? — `off the shelf' here."

       "Lou" was Dr. Louise Benoît, by training a particle physicist; Neanderthals couldn't pronounce the long "ee" phoneme, although their Companions supplied it as necessary when translating Neanderthal words into English.

       Louise had saved Ponter's life when he'd first arrived here, months ago, accidentally transferred from his own subterranean quantum-computing chamber into the corresponding location on this version of Earth — which happened to be smack-dab in the middle of the heavy-water containment sphere at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, where Louise had then been working.

       Because she'd been quarantined with Ponter and Mary, as well as physician Reuben Montego, when Ponter had fallen sick during his initial visit, Louise had had a chance to learn all about Neanderthal quantum computing from Ponter, making her the natural choice to head the replication effort here. And that effort was a high priority, since sufficiently large quantum computers were the key to bridging between universes.

       "And when will I get to meet Scholar Benoît?" asked Lonwis.

       "Right now," said an accented female voice. Mary turned. Louise Benoît — beautiful, brunette, 28, all legs and white teeth and perfect curves — was standing in the doorway. "Sorry to be late. Traffic was murder."

       Lonwis tipped his ancient head, obviously listening to his Companion's translation of those last three words, but, just as obviously, completely baffled by them.

       Louise came into the room, and she did extend her pale hand. "Hello, Scholar Trob!" she said. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

       Ponter leaned close to Lonwis, and whispered something to him. Lonwis's brow undulated — it was a weird sight when a Neanderthal who still had eyebrow hair did it; it was downright surreal, Mary though, when this centenarian did it. But he reached out and took Louise's hand, grasping it as though he were picking up a distasteful object.

       Louise smiled that radiant smile of hers, although it seemed to have no effect on Lonwis. "This is a real honor," she said. She looked at Mary. "I haven't been this excited since I met Hawking!" Stephen Hawking had taken a tour of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory — quite the logistics exercise, given that the detector chamber was located two kilometers underground, and 1.2 kilometers horizontally along a mining drift from the nearest elevator.

       "My time is extremely valuable," said Lonwis. "Can we get to work?"

       "Of course," said Louise, still smiling. "Our lab is down the hall."

       Louise started walking, and Lonwis followed. Ponter moved close to Mary and gave her face an affection lick, but Lonwis spoke up without looking back. "Come along, Boddit."

       Ponter smiled ruefully at Mary, gave a what-can-you-do shrug of his massive shoulders, and followed Louise and the great inventor, closing the heavy, dark wooden door behind himself.

       Mary walked over to her desk and started sorting the mess of papers on it. She used to be — what? Nervous? Jealous? She wasn't sure, but certainly it had originally made her uneasy when Ponter spent time with Louise Benoît. After all, as Mary had discovered, the male Homo sapiens here at Synergy often referred to Louise behind her back as "LL." Mary had finally asked Frank, one of the imaging guys, what that meant. He'd been embarrassed, but had ultimately revealed it stood for "Luscious Louise." And Mary had to admit Louise was just that.

       But it no longer bothered Mary when Ponter was with Louise. After all, it was Mary, not the French-Canadian, that the Neanderthal loved, and big boobs and full lips didn't seem to be high on the Barast list of favored traits.

       A moment later, there was a knock on her door. Mary looked up. "Come in," she called.

       The door swung open, revealing Jock Krieger, tall, thin, with a gray pompadour that always made Mary think of Ronald Reagan. She wasn't alone in that; Jock's secret nickname amongst the same people who called Louise "LL" was "the Gipper." Mary supposed they had a name for her, too, but she'd yet to overhear it.

       "Hi, Mary," said Jock, in his deep, rough voice. "Do you have a moment?"

       Mary blew out air. "I've got lots of them," she said.

       Jock nodded. "That's what I've been meaning to talk to you about." He came in and helped himself to a chair. "You've finished the work I hired you to do here: find an infallible method for distinguishing a Neanderthal from one of us." Indeed she had — and it had turned out to be pig-simple: Homo sapiens had 23 pairs of chromosomes, while Homo neanderthalensis had 24.

       Mary felt her pulse accelerating. She'd known this dream job, with its hefty consulting fee, was too good to last. "A victim of my own genius," she said, trying to make a joke of it. "But, you know, I can't go back to York University — not this academic year. A couple of sessional instructors" — one of whom is an absolute bloody monster — "have taken over my course work."

       Jock raised a hand. "Oh, I don't want you to go back to York. But I do want you to leave here. Ponter's heading back home soon, isn't he?"

       Mary nodded. "He only came over to attend some meetings at the UN, and, of course, to bring Lonwis up here to Rochester."

       "Well, why don't you accompany him when he goes back? The Neanderthals are being very generous about sharing what they know about genetics and biotechnology, but there's always more to learn. I'd like you to make an extended trip to the Neanderthal world — maybe a month — and learn as much as you can about their biotechnology."

       Mary felt her heart pounding with excitement. "I'd love to do that."

       "Good. I'm not sure what you'll do about living arrangements over there, but ..."

       "I've been staying with Ponter's man-mate's woman-mate."

       "Ponter's man-mate's woman-mate ..." repeated Jock.

       "That's right. Ponter is bonded to a man named Adikor — you know, the guy who co-created their quantum computer with him. Adikor, meanwhile, is simultaneously bonded to a woman, a chemist named Lurt. And, when Two aren't One — when the male and female Neanderthals are living separate lives — it's Lurt that I stay with."

       "Ah," said Jock, shaking his head. "And I thought the Y&R had confusing family relationships."

       "Oh, those are easy," said Mary, with a smile. "Jack Abbott used to be married to Nikki, who was born Nikki Reed. That was after she was married to Victor Newman — for the first two times, that is, but before the third time. But now Jack is married to ..."

       Jock held up a hand. "Okay, okay!"

       "Anyway, like I said, Ponter's man-mate's woman-mate is a chemist named Lurt — and the Neanderthals consider genetics to be a branch of chemistry, which, of course, it really is, if you think about it. So she'll be able to introduce me to all the right people."

       "Excellent. If you're willing to head over to the other side, we could certainly use this information."

       "Willing?" said Mary, trying to contain her excitement. "Is the Pope Catholic?"

       "Last time I checked," said Jock with a small smile.

      

Chapter 2

      

"And, as you will see, it is only our future — the future of Homo sapiens — that I will be addressing tonight. And not just because I can only speak as the American president. No, there is more to it than that. For, in this matter, our future and that of the Neanderthals are not intertwined ..."

      

       Cornelius Ruskin was afraid the nightmares would never end: that Goddamned caveman coming at him, throwing him down, mutilating him.

       Cornelius had spent most of the day after the horrid discovery lying in bed, hugging himself. The phone had rung on several occasions, at least one of which was doubtless somebody calling from York University to find out where the hell he was. But he couldn't bring himself to speak to anyone then.

       Late that night, he'd called the genetics department and left a message on Qaiser Remtulla's voice-mail. He'd always hated that woman, and hated her even more now that this had been done to him. But he managed to keep his tone calm, saying that he was ill and wouldn't be back in for several days.

       Cornelius watched carefully for blood in his urine. Every morning, he felt around the wound for seepage, and took his own temperature repeatedly, to assure himself that he didn't have a fever.

       He still had trouble believing it, was still overwhelmed by the very idea. There was some pain, but it diminished day by day, and codeine tablets helped — thank God they were available over the counter here in Canada; he always had some 222s on hand, and had initially been taking five at a time, but now had himself down to the normal dose of two.

       Beyond taking painkillers, though, Cornelius had no idea what to do. He certainly couldn't go see his doctor — or any doctor, for that matter. There was no way his injury could be kept secret if he did that; someone would be bound to talk. And Ponter Boddit had been right: Cornelius couldn't risk that.

       Finally, when he was feeling up to it, Cornelius went to his computer. It was an old no-name 90 MHz Pentium that he'd had since his grad-student days. The machine was adequate for word processing and E-mail, but he usually saved web surfing for when he was at work: York had high-speed lines, while all he could afford for home was a dial-up account with a local ISP. But he needed answers now, and so he suffered through the maddeningly slow page-loading.

       It took twenty minutes, but he finally found what he was looking for. Ponter had returned to this Earth wearing a medical belt that included among its tools a cauterizing laser scalpel. That device had been used to save the Neanderthal's life when he'd been shot outside the United Nations. Surely that was how he had —

       Cornelius felt all his muscles contracting as he thought yet again of what had been done to him.

       His scrotum had been slit open, presumably by the laser, and —

       Cornelius closed his eyes and swallowed hard, trying to keep stomach acid from climbing his esophagus again.

       Somehow — possibly even with his bare hands — Ponter had then wrenched Cornelius's testicles from his body. And then the laser must have been used again, searing his flesh shut.

       Cornelius had frantically searched his entire apartment for his balls, in hopes that they could be reimplanted. But after a couple of hours, tears of anger and frustration streaming down his face, he'd had to face reality. Ponter had either flushed them down the toilet, or had disappeared into the night with them. Either way, they were gone for good.

       Cornelius was furious. What he'd done had been so wonderfully appropriate: those women — Mary Vaughan and Qaiser Remtulla — had stood in his way. They'd gotten their positions, and their tenure, simply because they were female. He was the one with a Ph.D. from Oxford, for God's sake, but he'd been passed over for promotion as York "corrected historical gender imbalances" among its various faculties. He'd been shafted by that, so he'd shown them — the department head, that Paki bitch; and Vaughan, who had the job he should have had — what it was really like to get the shaft.

       Damn it, thought Cornelius, feeling once more between his legs.

       God damn it.


       Jock Krieger went back to his office, which was on the ground floor of the Synergy Group mansion. His large window faced south toward the marina, instead of north toward Lake Ontario; the mansion was on an east-west spit of land in the Rochester community of Seabreeze.

       Jock's Ph.D. was in game theory; he'd studied under John Nash at Princeton, and had spent three decades at the RAND Corporation. RAND had been the perfect place for Jock. Funded by the Air Force, it had been the principal U.S.-government think tank in the Cold War, carrying out studies of nuclear conflict. To this day, when Jock heard the initials MD, he thought of a megadeath — one million civilian casualties — rather than a medical doctor.

       The Pentagon had been furious about the way the initial encounter with Neanderthal Prime — the first Neanderthal to slip into this reality from that one — had gone. The story of a modern caveman appearing in a nickel mine in Northern Ontario had seemed pure tabloid stuff, akin to alien encounters, Bigfoot sightings, and so on. By the time the U.S. government — or the Canadian one, for that matter — were taking things seriously, Neanderthal Prime was out and about among the general public, making it impossible to contain and control the situation.

       And so money had suddenly appeared — some from the INS, but most from the DoD — to create the Synergy Group. That had been some politician's name for it; Jock would have called it "Barast Encounter-Repetition Emergency Taskforce," or BERET. But the name — and that silly two-worlds-uniting logo — had been set before he was tapped to lead the organization.

       Still, it had been no accident that a game theorist had been selected. It was clear that if contact ever did reopen, the Neanderthals and the humans — Jock still reserved that word, at least privately, for real people — would have different interests, and figuring out the most advantageous outcome that could be reasonably expected in such situations was what game theory was all about.

       "Jock?"

       Jock usually kept his door open — that was good management, wasn't it? An open-door policy? Still, he was startled to see a Neanderthal face — broad, browridged, bearded — peeking around the jamb. "Yes, Ponter?"

       "Lonwis Trob brought along some communiques from New York City." Lonwis and the nine other famous Neanderthals, plus the Neanderthal ambassador, Tukana Prat, had been spending most of their time at the United Nations. "Are you aware of the Corresponding-Points trip?"

       Jock shook his head.

       "Well," said Ponter, "you know there are plans to open a bigger, permanent, ground-level portal between our worlds. Apparently your United Nations has taken the decision that the portal should be between United Nations headquarters and the corresponding point on my world."

       Jock frowned. Why the hell was he getting intelligence reports from a bloody Neanderthal? Then again, he hadn't yet checked his own e-mail today; maybe it was there. Of course, he'd known that the New York City option was being considered. It was a no-brainer, as far as Jock was concerned: obviously the new portal should be on U.S. soil, and putting it at United Nations Plaza — technically international territory — would appease the rest of the world.

       "Lonwis says," continued Ponter, "that they are planning to take a group of United Nations officials over to the other side — my side. Adikor and I are going to go down to Donakat Island — our version of Manhattan — with them, to survey the site; there are considerable issues related to shielding any large-size quantum computer from solar, cosmic, and terrestrial radiation, lest decoherence occur."

       "Yes? So?"

       "Well, so, I thought perhaps you might like to come along? You run this institute devoted to establishing good relations with my world, but you have not yet seen it."

       Jock was taken aback. He found having two Neanderthals here at Synergy just now rather creepy; they looked so much like trolls. He wasn't sure he wanted to go somewhere where he'd be surrounded by them. "When's this trip happening?"

       "After the next Two becoming One."

       "Ah, yes," said Jock, trying to keep up a pleasant facade. "I believe our Louise's phrase for that is, `Par-tay!'"

       "There is much more to it than that," said Ponter, "although you will not get to see it on this proposed trip. Anyway, will you join us?"

       "I've got a lot of work to do," said Jock.

       Ponter smiled that sickening foot-wide smile of his. "It is my kind that is supposed to lack the desire to see beyond the next hill, not yours. You should visit the world you are dealing with."


       Ponter came up to Mary's office and closed the door behind him. He took Mary in his massive arms, and they hugged tightly. Then he licked her face, and she kissed his. But at last they let each other go, and Ponter's voice was heavy. "You know I have to return to my world soon."

       Mary tried to nod solemnly, but she apparently was unable to completely suppress her grin. "Why are you smiling?" asked Ponter.

       "Jock has asked me to go with you!"

       "Really?" said Ponter. "That is wonderful!" He paused. "But of course ..."

       Mary nodded and raised a hand. "I know, I know. We will only see each other four days a month." Males and females lived largely separate lives on Ponter's world, with females inhabiting the city centers, and males making their homes out at the rims. "But at least we'll be in the same world — and I'll have something useful to do. Jock wants me to study Neanderthal biotechnology for a month, learn all that I can."

       "Excellent," said Ponter. "The more cultural exchange, the better." He looked briefly out the window at Lake Ontario, perhaps envisioning the trip he would soon have to take. "We must head up to Sudbury, then."

       "It's still ten days until Two become One, isn't it?"

       Ponter didn't have to check his Companion; of course he knew the figure. His own woman-mate, Klast, had succumbed to leukemia two years ago, but it was only when Two were One that he got to see his daughters. He nodded. "And after that, I am to head down south again, but in my world — to the site that corresponds to United Nations Headquarters." Ponter never said "UN;" the Neanderthals had never developed a phonetic alphabet, and so the notion of referring to something by initials was completely foreign to them. "The new portal is to be built there."

       "Ah," said Mary.

       Ponter raised a hand. "I won't leave for Donakat until this next Two becoming One is over, of course, and I'll be back long before Two become One once again."

       Mary felt some of her enthusiasm draining from her. She'd known intellectually that even if she was in the Neanderthal world, twenty-five days would normally pass between times when she could be in Ponter's arms, but it was a hard concept to get used to. She wished there was a solution, somewhere, in some world, that would see her and Ponter always together.

       "If you are going back," said Ponter, "then we can travel to the portal together. I was going to get a lift with Lou, but ..."

       "Louise? Is she going over, too?"

       "No, no. But she is going to Sudbury the day after tomorrow to visit Reuben." Louise Benoît and Reuben Montego had become lovers while they were quarantined together, and their relationship had continued afterward. "Say," said Ponter, "if all four of us are going to be in Sudbury at the same time, perhaps we can have a meal together. I have been craving Reuben's barbecues ..."


       Mary Vaughan currently had two homes on her version of Earth: she had been renting a unit at Bristol Harbour Village here in upstate New York, and she owned a condominium apartment in Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto. It was to that latter home that she and Ponter were now heading — a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Synergy Group headquarters. Along the way, once they'd gotten off the New York State Thruway in Buffalo, they'd stopped for Kentucky Fried Chicken, which Ponter thought was the greatest food ever — a sentiment Mary didn't disagree with, much to her waistline's detriment. Spices were a product of warm climates, designed to mask the taste of meat that was off; Ponter's people, who lived in high latitudes, didn't use much in the way of seasonings, and the combination of eleven different herbs and spices was unlike anything he'd ever had before.

       Mary played CDs on the long drive; it beat constantly hunting for different stations as they moved along. They'd started with Martina McBride's Greatest Hits, and were now listening to Shania Twain's Come On Over. Mary liked most of Shania's songs, but couldn't stand "The Woman In Me," which seemed to lack the signature Twain oomph. She supposed she could get ambitious someday and burn her own CD of the album, leaving that song out.

       As they drove along, the music playing, the sun setting — as it did so early at this time of year — Mary's thoughts wandered. Editing CDs was easy. Editing a life was hard. Granted, there were only a few things in her past that she wished she could edit out. The rape, certainly — had it really only been three months ago? Some financial blunders, to be sure. Plus a handful of misspoken remarks.

       But what about her marriage to Colm O'Casey?

       She knew what Colm wanted: for her to declare, in front of her Church and God, that their marriage had never really existed. That's what an annulment was, after all: a refutation of the marriage, a denying that it had even happened.

       Surely someday the Roman Catholic Church would end its ban on divorce. Until Mary had met Ponter, there'd been no particular reason to wrap up her relationship with Colm, but now she did want to get it over with. And her choices were either hypocrisy — seeking an annulment — or excommunication, the penalty for getting a divorce.

       Ironic, that: Catholics could get off the hook for any venial sin just by confessing it. But if you'd by chance married the wrong person, there was no easy recourse. The Church wanted it to be until death do you part — unless you were willing to lie about the very fact of the marriage.

       And, damn it all, her marriage to Colm didn't deserve to be wiped out, to be expunged, to be eradicated from the records.

       Oh, she hadn't been 100-percent sure when she'd accepted his proposal, and she hadn't been completely confident when she'd walked down the aisle on her father's arm. But the marriage had been a good one for its first few years, and when it had gone bad it had only done so through changing interests and goals.

       There had been much talk of late about the Great Leap Forward, when true consciousness had first emerged on this world, 40,000 years ago. Well, Mary had had her own Great Leap Forward, realizing that her desires and career ambitions didn't have to take a back seat to those of her lawfully wedded husband. And, from that moment on, their lives had diverged — and now they were worlds apart.

       No, she would not deny the marriage.

       And that meant ...

       That meant getting a divorce, not an annulment. Yes, there was no law that said a Gliksin — the Neanderthals' term for a Homo sapiens — who was still legally married to another Gliksin couldn't undergo the bonding ceremony with a Barast of the opposite sex, but someday, doubtless, there would be such laws. Mary wanted to commit wholeheartedly to Ponter as his woman-mate, and doing that meant bringing a final resolution to her relationship with Colm.

       Mary passed a car, then looked over at Ponter. "Honey?" she said.

       Ponter frowned ever so slightly. It was an endearment that Mary used naturally, but he didn't like it — because it contained the ee phoneme that his mouth was incapable of making. "Yes?" he said.

       "You know we're going to spend the night at my place in Richmond Hill, right?"

       Ponter nodded.

       "And, well, you also know that I'm still legally bonded to my ... my man-mate here, in this world."

       Ponter nodded again.

       "I — I would like to see him, if I can, before we head off from Richmond Hill to Sudbury. Maybe have breakfast with him, or an early lunch."

       "I am curious to meet him," said Ponter. "To know what sort of Gliksin you chose ..."

       The CD changed to a new track: "Is There Life After Love?"

       "No," said Mary. "I mean, I need to see him alone."

       She looked over and saw Ponter's one continuous eyebrow rolling up his browridge. "Oh," he said, using the English word directly.

       Mary returned her gaze to the road ahead. "It's time I settled things with him."

      


More Good Reading

An excerpt from Hybrids by Robert J. Sawyer.
Copyright © 2003 by Robert J. Sawyer. All rights reserved.


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