SFWRITER.COM > Short Stories > "The Hand You're Dealt"
The Hand You're Dealt
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1997 by
Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved
First published in the anthology Free Space, edited
by Brad Linaweaver and Edward E. Kramer (Tor, 1997). [This is the
author's preferred text as published in the anthology
Crossing the Line].
- Hayakawa SF Magazine (in a Japanese translation by Masayuki
Uchida), January, 1998.
- Crossing The Line: Canadian Mysteries With a Fantastic Twist,
edited by Robert J. Sawyer and David Skene-Melvin, 1998.
- Winner Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award for
Best Short Story of the Year
- Finalist Hugo Award for
Best Short Story of the Year
- Finalist Aurora Award for
Best English-Language Short Story of the Year
- Finalist Arthur Ellis Award for
Best Short Story of the Year
The Hand You're Dealt
by Robert J. Sawyer
And ye shall know the truth, and the
truth shall make you free.
"Got a new case for you," said my boss, Raymond Chen.
My heart started pounding. Mendelia habitat is supposed to be a
utopia. Murder is almost unheard of here.
Chen was fat never exercised, loved rich foods. He knew
his lifestyle would take decades off his life, but, hey, that was
his choice. "Somebody offed a soothsayer, over in Wheel Four,"
he said, wheezing slightly. "Baranski's on the scene now."
My eyebrows went up. A dead soothsayer? This could be very
I took my pocket forensic scanner and exited The Cop Shop. That
was its real name no taxes in Mendelia, after all. You
needed a cop, you hired one. In this case, Chen had said, we
were being paid by the Soothsayers' Guild. That meant we could
run up as big a bill as necessary the SG was stinking
rich. One of the few laws in Mendelia was that everyone had to
Mendelia consisted of five modules, each looking like a wagon
wheel with spokes leading in to a central hub. The hubs were all
joined together by a long axle, and separate travel tubes
connected the outer edges of the wheels. The whole thing spun to
simulate gravity out at the rims, and the travel tubes saved you
having to go down to the zero-g of the axle to move from one
wheel to the next.
The Cop Shop was in Wheel Two. All the wheel rims were hollow,
with buildings growing up toward the axle from the outer interior
wall. Plenty of open spaces in Mendelia it wouldn't be
much of a utopia without those. But our sky was a hologram,
projected on the convex inner wall of the rim, above our heads.
The Cop Shop's entrance was right by Wheel Two's transit loop, a
series of maglev tracks along which robocabs ran. I hailed one,
flashed my debit card at an unblinking eye, and the cab headed
out. The Carling family, who owned the taxi concession, was one
of the oldest and richest families in Mendelia.
The ride took fifteen minutes. Suzanne Baranski was waiting
outside for me. She was a good cop, but too green to handle a
homicide alone. Still, she'd get a big cut of the fee for being
the original responding officer after all, the cop who
responds to a call never knows who, if anyone, is going to pick
up the tab. When there is money to be had,
first-responders get a disproportionate share.
I'd worked with Suze a couple of times before, and had even gone
to see her play cello with the symphony once. Perfect example of
what Mendelia's all about, that. Suze Baranski had blue-collar
parents. They'd worked as welders on the building of Wheel Five;
not the kind who'd normally send a daughter for music lessons.
But just after she'd been born, their soothsayer had said that
Suze had musical talent. Not enough to make a living at it
that's why she's a cop by day but still sufficient
that it would be a shame not to let her develop it.
"Hi, Toby," Suze said to me. She had short red hair and big
green eyes, and, of course, was in plain clothes you
wanted a uniformed cop, you called our competitors, Spitpolish,
"Howdy, Suze," I said, walking toward her. She led me over to
the door, which had been locked off in the open position. A
holographic sign next to it proclaimed:
Let Me Reveal Your Future!
Fully Qualified for Infant and Adult Readings
We stepped into a well-appointed lobby. The art was unusual for
such an office it was all original pen-and-ink political
cartoons. There was Republic CEO Da Silva, her big nose
exaggerated out of all proportion, and next to it, Axel Durmont,
Earth's current president, half buried in legislation printouts
and tape that doubtless would have been red had this been a color
rendering. The artist's signature caught my eye, the name Skye
with curving lines behind it that I realized were meant to
represent clouds. Just like Suze, our decedent had had varied
"The body is in the inner private office," said Suze, leading the
way. That door, too, was already open. She stepped in first,
and I followed.
Skye Hissock's body sat in a chair behind his desk. His head had
been blown clean off. A great carnation bloom of blood covered
most of the wall behind him, and chunks of brain were plastered
to the wall and the credenza behind the desk.
"Christ," I said. Some utopia.
Suze nodded. "Blaster, obviously," she said, sounding much more
experienced in such matters than she really was. "Probably a
I began looking around the room. It was opulent; old Skye had
obviously done well for himself. Suze was poking around, too.
"Hey," she said, after a moment. I turned to look at her. She
was climbing up on the credenza. The blast had knocked a small
piece of sculpture off the wall it lay in two pieces on
the floor and she was examining where it had been affixed.
"Thought that's what it was," she said, nodding. "There's a
hidden camera here."
My heart skipped a beat. "You don't suppose he got the whole
thing on disk, do you?" I said, moving over to where she was. I
gave her a hand getting down off the credenza, and we opened it
up a slightly difficult task; crusted blood had sealed its
sliding doors. Inside was a dusty recorder unit. I turned to
Skye's desk, and pushed the release switch to pop up his monitor
plate. Suze pushed the recorder's playback button. As we'd
suspected, the unit was designed to feed into the desk monitor.
The picture showed the reverse angle from behind Skye's desk.
The door to the private office opened and in came a young man.
He looked to be eighteen, meaning he was just the right age for
the mandatory adult soothsaying. He had shoulder length
dirty-blond hair, and was wearing a t-shirt imprinted with the
logo of a popular meed. I shook my head. There hadn't been a
good multimedia band since The Cassies, if you ask me.
"Hello, Dale," said what must have been Skye's voice. He spoke
with deep, slightly nasal tones. "Thank you for coming in."
Okay, we had the guy's picture, and his first name, and the name
of his favorite meed. Even if Dale's last name didn't turn up in
Skye's appointment computer, we should have no trouble tracking
"As you know," said Skye's recorded voice, "the law requires two
soothsayings in each person's life. The first is done just after
you're born, with one or both of your parents in attendance. At
that time, the soothsayer only tells them things they'll need to
know to get you through childhood. But when you turn eighteen,
you, not your parents, become legally responsible for all your
actions, and so it's time you heard everything. Now, do you want
the good news or the bad news first?"
Here it comes, I thought. He told Dale something he didn't want
to hear, the guy flipped, pulled out a blaster, and blew him
Dale swallowed. "The the good, I guess."
"All right," said Skye. "First, you're a bright young man
not a genius, you understand, but brighter than average. Your IQ
should run between 126 and 132. You are gifted musically
did your parents tell you that? Good. I hope they encouraged
"They did," said Dale, nodding. "I've had piano lessons since I
"Good, good. A crime to waste such raw talent. You also have a
particular aptitude for mathematics. That's often paired with
musical ability, of course, so no surprises there. Your visual
memory is slightly better than average, although your ability to
do rote memorization is slightly worse. You would make a good
long-distance runner, but . . ."
I motioned for Suze to hit the fast-forward button; it seemed
like a typical soothsaying, although I'd review it in depth
later, if need be. Poor Dale fidgeted up and down in quadruple
speed for a time, then Suze released the button.
"Now," said Skye's voice, "the bad news." I made an impressed
face at Suze; she'd stopped speeding along at precisely the right
moment. "I'm afraid there's a lot of it. Nothing devastating,
but still lots of little things. You will begin to lose your
hair around your twenty-seventh birthday, and it will begin to
gray by the time you're thirty-two. By the age of forty, you
will be almost completely bald, and what's left at that point
will be half brown and half gray.
"On a less frivolous note, you'll also be prone to gaining
weight, starting at about age thirty-three and you'll put
on half a kilo a year for each of the following thirty years if
you're not careful; by the time you're in your mid-fifties, that
will pose a significant health hazard. You're also highly likely
to develop adult-onset diabetes. Now, yes, that can be cured,
but the cure is expensive, and you'll have to pay for it
so either keep your weight down, which will help stave off its
onset, or start saving now for the operation . . ."
I shrugged. Nothing worth killing a man over. Suze
fast-forwarded the tape some more.
" and that's it," concluded Skye. "You know now everything
significant that's coded into your DNA. Use this information
wisely, and you should have a long, happy, healthy life."
Dale thanked Skye, took a printout of the information he'd just
heard, and left. The recording stopped. It had been too
much to hope for. Whoever killed Skye Hissock had come in after
young Dale had departed. He was still our obvious first suspect,
but unless there was something awful in the parts of the genetic
reading we'd fast-forwarded over, there didn't seem to be any
motive for him to kill his soothsayer. And besides, this Dale
had a high IQ, Skye had said. Only an idiot would think there
was any sense in shooting the messenger.
After we'd finished watching the recording, I did an analysis of
the actual blaster burn. No fun, that: standing over the open
top of Skye's torso. Most of the blood vessels had been
cauterized by the charge. Still, blasters were only manufactured
in two places I knew of Tokyo, on Earth, and New Monty.
If the one used here had been made on New Monty, we'd be out of
luck, but one of Earth's countless laws required all blasters to
leave a characteristic EM signature, so they could be traced to
their registered owners, and
Good: it was an Earth-made blaster. I recorded the
signature, then used my compad to relay it to The Cop Shop. If
Raymond Chen could find some time between stuffing his face, he'd
send an FTL message to Earth and check the pattern
assuming, of course, that the Jeffies don't scramble the message
just for kicks. Meanwhile, I told Suze to go over Hissock's
client list, while I started checking out his family fact
is, even though it doesn't make much genetic sense, most people
are killed by their own relatives.
Skye Hissock had been fifty-one. He'd been a soothsayer for
twenty-three years, ever since finishing his Ph.D. in genetics.
He was unmarried, and both his parents were long dead. But he
did have a brother named Rodger. Rodger was married to Rebecca
Connolly, and they had two children, Glen, who, like Dale in
Skye's recording, had just turned eighteen, and Billy, who was
There are no inheritance taxes in Mendelia, of course, so barring
a will to the contrary, Hissock's estate would pass immediately
to his brother. Normally, that'd be a good motive for murder,
but Rodger Hissock and Rebecca Connolly were already quite rich:
they owned a controlling interest in the company that operated
Mendelia's atmosphere-recycling plant.
I decided to start my interviews with Rodger. Not only had
brothers been killing each other since Cain wasted Abel, but the
DNA-scanning lock on Skye's private inner office was programmed
to recognize only four people Skye himself; his office
cleaner, who Suze was going to talk to; another soothsayer named
Jennifer Halasz, who sometimes took Skye's patients for him when
he was on vacation (and who had called in the murder, having
stopped by apparently to meet Skye for coffee); and dear brother
Rodger. Rodger lived in Wheel Four, and worked in One.
I took a cab over to his office. Unlike Skye, Rodger had a real
flesh-and-blood receptionist. Most companies that did have human
receptionists used middle-aged, businesslike people of either
sex. Some guys got so rich that they didn't care what people
thought; they hired beautiful blonde women whose busts had been
surgically altered far beyond what any phenotype might provide.
But Rodger's choice was different. His receptionist was a
delicate young man with refined, almost feminine features. He
was probably older than he looked; he looked fourteen.
"Detective Toby Korsakov," I said, flashing my ID. I didn't
offer to shake hands the boy looked like his would shatter
if any pressure were applied. "I'd like to see Rodger Hissock."
"Do you have an appointment?" His voice was high, and there was
just a trace of a lisp.
"No. But I'm sure Mr. Hissock will want to see me. It's
The boy looked very dubious, but he spoke into an intercom.
"There's a cop here, Rodger. Says it's important."
There was a pause. "Send him in," said a loud voice. The boy
nodded at me, and I walked through the heavy wooden door
mahogany, no doubt imported all the way from Earth.
I had thought Skye Hissock's office was well-appointed, but his
brother's put it to shame. Objets d'art from a dozen
worlds were tastefully displayed on crystal stands. The carpet
was so thick I was sure my shoes would sink out of sight. I
walked toward the desk. Rodger rose to greet me. He was a
muscular man, thick-necked, with lots of black hair and pale gray
eyes. We shook hands; his grip was a show of macho strength.
"Hello," he said. He boomed out the word, clearly a man used to
commanding everyone's attention. "What can I do for you?"
"Please sit down," I said. "My name is Toby Korsakov. I'm from
The Cop Shop, working under a contract to the Soothsayer's
"My God," said Rodger. "Has something happened to Skye?"
Although it was an unpleasant duty, there was nothing more useful
in a murder investigation than being there to tell a suspect
about the death and seeing his reaction. Most guilty parties
played dumb far too long, so the fact that Rodger had quickly
made the obvious connection between the SG and his brother made
me suspect him less, not more. Still . . . "I'm sorry to be the
bearer of bad news," I said, "but I'm afraid your brother is
Rodger's eyes went wide. "What happened?"
"He was murdered."
"Murdered," repeated Rodger, as if he'd never heard the word
"That's right. I was wondering if you knew of anyone who'd want
"How was he killed?" asked Rodger. I was irritated that this
wasn't an answer to my question, and even more irritated that I'd
have to explain it so soon. More than a few homicides had been
solved by a suspect mentioning the nature of the crime in advance
of him or her supposedly having learned the details. "He was
shot at close range by a blaster."
"Oh," said Rodger. He slumped in his chair. "Skye dead." His
head shook back and forth a little. When he looked up, his gray
eyes were moist. Whether he was faking or not, I couldn't tell.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Do you know who did it?"
"Not yet. We're tracing the blaster's EM signature. But there
were no signs of forcible entry, and, well . . ."
"Well, there are only four people whose DNA would open the door
to Skye's inner office."
Rodger nodded. "Me and Skye. Who else?"
"His cleaner, and another soothsayer."
"You're checking them out?"
"My associate is. She's also checking all the people Skye had
appointments with recently people he might have let in of
his own volition." A pause. "Can I ask where you were this
morning between ten and eleven?"
"In your office?"
"Your receptionist can vouch for that?"
"Well . . . no. No, he can't. He was out all morning. His sooth
says he's got a facility for languages. I give him a half-day
off every Wednesday to take French lessons."
"Did anyone call you while he was gone?"
Rodger spread his thick arms. "Oh, probably. But I never answer
my own compad. Truth to tell, I like that half-day where I can't
be reached. It lets me get an enormous amount of work done
without being interrupted."
"So no one can verify your presence here?"
"Well, no . . . no, I guess they can't. But, Crissakes, Detective,
Skye was my brother . . ."
"I'm not accusing you, Mr. Hissock "
"Besides, if I'd taken a robocab over, there'd be a debit charge
against my account."
"Unless you paid cash. Or unless you walked." You can walk down
the travel tubes, although most people don't bother.
"You don't seriously believe "
"I don't believe anything yet, Mr. Hissock." It was time to
change the subject; he would be no use to me if he got too
defensive. "Was your brother a good soothsayer?"
"Best there is. Hell, he read my own sooth when I turned
eighteen." He saw my eyebrows go up. "Skye is nine years older
than me; I figured, why not use him? He needed the business; he
was just starting his practice at that point."
"Did Skye do the readings for your children, too?"
An odd hesitation. "Well, yeah, yeah, Skye did their infant
readings, but Glen that's my oldest; just turned 18
he decided to go somewhere else for his adult reading. Waste of
money, if you ask me. Skye would've given him a discount."
My compad bleeped while I was in a cab. I turned it on.
"Yo, Toby." Raymond Chen's fat face appeared on the screen. "We
got the registration information on that blaster signature."
Ray smiled. "Do the words `open-and-shut case' mean anything to
you? The blaster belongs to one Rodger Hissock. He bought it
about eleven years ago."
I nodded and signed off. Since the lock accepted his DNA, rich
little brother would have no trouble waltzing right into big
brother's inner office, and exploding his head. Rodger had
method and he had opportunity. Now all I needed was to find his
motive and for that, continuing to interview the family
members might prove useful.
Eighteen-year-old Glen Hissock was studying engineering at
Francis Crick University in Wheel Three. He was a dead ringer
for his old man: built like a wrestler, with black hair and
quicksilver eyes. But whereas father Rodger had a coarse,
outgoing way about him the crusher handshake, the loud
voice young Glen was withdrawn, soft-spoken, and nervous.
"I'm sorry about your uncle," I said, knowing that Rodger had
already broken the news to his son.
Glen looked at the floor. "Me too."
"Did you like him?"
"He was okay."
"Where were you between ten and eleven this morning?"
"Was anyone else there?"
"Nah. Mom and Dad were at work, and Billy that's my
little brother was in school." He met my eyes for the
first time. "Am I a suspect?"
He wasn't really. All the evidence seemed to point to his
father. I shook my head in response to his question, then said,
"I hear you had your sooth read recently."
"But you didn't use your uncle."
A shrug. "Just felt funny, that's all. I picked a guy at random
from the online directory."
"Any surprises in your sooth?"
The boy looked at me. "Sooth's private, man. I don't have to
tell you that."
I nodded. "Sorry."
Two hundred years ago, in 2029, the Palo Alto Nanosystems
Laboratory developed a molecular computer. You doubtless read
about it in history class: during the Snow War, the U.S. used it
to disassemble Bogatá atom by atom.
Sometimes, though, you can put the genie back in the
bottle. Remember Hamasaki and DeJong, the two researchers at
PANL who were shocked to see their work corrupted that way? They
created and released the nano-Gorts self-replicating
microscopic machines that seek out and destroy molecular
computers, so that nothing like Bogatá could ever happen again.
We've got PANL nano-Gorts here, of course. They're everywhere in
Free Space. But we've got another kind of molecular guardian,
too inevitably, they were dubbed helix-Gorts. It's
rumored the SG was responsible for them, but after a huge
investigation, no indictments were ever brought. Helix-Gorts
circumvent any attempt at artificial gene therapy. We can tell
you everything that's written in your DNA, but we can't do a
damned thing about it. Here, in Mendelia, you play the hand
My compad bleeped again. I switched it on. "Korsakov here."
Suze's face appeared on the screen. "Hi, Toby. I took a sample
of Skye's DNA off to Rundstedt" a soothsayer who did
forensic work for us. "She's finished the reading."
"And?" I said.
Suze's green eyes blinked. "Nothing stood out. Skye wouldn't
have been a compulsive gambler, or an addict, or inclined to
steal another person's spouse which eliminates several
possible motives for his murder. In fact, Rundstedt says Skye
would have had a severe aversion to confrontation." She sighed.
"Just doesn't seem to be the kind of guy who'd end up in a
situation where someone would want him dead."
I nodded. "Thanks, Suze. Any luck with Skye's clients?"
"I've gone through almost all the ones who'd had appointments in
the last three days. So far, they all have solid alibis."
"Keep checking. I'm off to see Skye's sister-in-law, Rebecca
Connolly. Talk to you later."
Sometimes I wonder if I'm in the right line of work. I know, I
know what a crazy thing to be thinking. I mean, my
parents knew from my infant reading that I'd grow up to have an
aptitude for puzzle-solving, plus superior powers of observation.
They made sure I had every opportunity to fulfill my potentials,
and when I had my sooth read for myself at eighteen, it was
obvious that this would be a perfect job for me to pursue. And
yet, still, I have my doubts. I just don't feel like a cop
But a soothsaying can't be wrong: almost every human trait has a
genetic basis gullibility, mean-spiritedness, a goofy
sense of humor, the urge to collect things, talents for various
sports, every specific sexual predilection (according to my own
sooth, my tastes ran to group sex with Asian women so far,
I'd yet to find an opportunity to test that empirically).
Of course, when Mendelia started up, we didn't yet know what each
gene and gene combo did. Even today, the SG is still adding new
interpretations to the list. Still, I sometimes wonder how
people in other parts of Free Space get along without soothsayers
stumbling through life, looking for the right job;
sometimes completely unaware of talents they possess; failing to
know what specific things they should do to take care of their
health. Oh, sure, you can get a genetic reading anywhere
even down on Earth. But they're only mandatory here.
And my mandatory readings said I'd make a good cop. But, I have
to admit, sometimes I'm not so sure . . .
Rebecca Connolly was at home when I got there. On Earth, a
family with the kind of money the Hissock-Connolly union had
would own a mansion. Space is at a premium aboard a habitat, but
their living room was big enough that its floor showed a
hint of curvature. The art on the walls included originals by
both Grant Wood and Bob Eggleton. There was no doubt they were
loaded making it all the harder to believe they'd done in
Uncle Skye for his money.
Rebecca Connolly was a gorgeous woman. According to the press
reports I'd read, she was forty-four, but she looked twenty years
younger. Gene therapy might be impossible here, but anyone who
could afford it could have plastic surgery. Her hair was
copper-colored, and her eyes an unnatural violet. "Hello,
Detective Korsakov," she said. "My husband told me you were
likely to stop by." She shook her head. "Poor Skye. Such a
I tilted my head. She was the first of Skye's relations to
actually say something nice about him as a person which,
after all, could just be a clumsy attempt to deflect suspicion
from her. "You knew Skye well?"
"No to be honest, no. He and Rodger weren't that close.
Funny thing, that. Skye used to come by the house frequently
when we first got married he was Rodger's best man, did he
tell you that? But when Glen was born, well, he stopped coming
around as much. I dunno maybe he didn't like kids; he
never had any of his own. Anyway, he really hasn't been a big
part of our lives for, oh, eighteen years now."
"But Rodger's DNA was accepted by Skye's lock."
"Oh, yes. Rodger owns the unit Skye has his current offices in."
"I hate to ask you this, but "
"I'm on the Board of Directors of TenthGen Computing, Detective.
We were having a shareholders' meeting this morning. Something
like eight hundred people saw me there."
I asked more questions, but didn't get any closer to identifying
Rodger Hissock's motive. And so I decided to cheat as I
said, sometimes I do wonder if I'm in the right kind of
job. "Thanks for your help, Ms. Connolly. I don't want to take
up any more of your time, but can I use your bathroom before I
She smiled. "Of course. There's one down the hall, and one
The upstairs one sounded more promising for my purposes. I went
up to it, and the door closed behind me. I really did need to
go, but first I pulled out my forensic scanner and started
looking for specimens. Razors and combs were excellent places to
find DNA samples; so were towels, if the user rubbed vigorously
enough. Best of all, though, were toothbrushes. I scanned
everything, but something was amiss. According to the scanner,
there was DNA present from one woman the XX chromosome
pair made the gender clear. And there was DNA from one man. But
three males lived in this house: father Rodger, elder son
Glen, and younger son Billy.
Perhaps this bathroom was used only by the parents, in which case
I'd blown it I'd hardly get a chance to check out the
other bathroom. But no there were four sets of towels,
four toothbrushes, and there, on the edge of the tub, a toy
aquashuttle . . . precisely the kind an eight-year-old boy would
Curious. Four people obviously used this john, but only two had
left any genetic traces. And that made no sense I mean,
sure, I hardly ever washed when I was eight like Billy, but no
one can use a washroom day in and day out without leaving some
I relieved myself, the toilet autoflushed, and I went downstairs,
thanked Ms. Connolly again, and left.
Like I said, I was cheating making me wonder again whether
I really was cut out for a career in law enforcement. Even
though it was a violation of civil rights, I took the male DNA
sample I'd found in the Hissock-Connolly bathroom to Dana
Rundstedt, who read its sooth for me.
I was amazed by the results. If I hadn't cheated, I might never
have figured it out it was a damn-near perfect crime.
But it all fit, after seeing what was in the male DNA.
The fact that of the surviving Hissocks, only Rodger apparently
had free access to Skye's inner office.
The fact that Rodger's blaster was the murder weapon.
The fact that there were apparently only two people using the
The fact that Skye hated confrontation.
The fact that the Hissock-Connolly family had a lot of money they
wanted to pass on to the next generation.
The fact that young Glen looked just like his dad, but was
subdued and reserved.
The fact that Glen had gone to a different soothsayer.
The fact that Rodger's taste in receptionists was . . . unusual.
The pieces all fit that part of my sooth, at least, must
have been read correctly; I was good at puzzling things
out. But I was still amazed by how elegant it was.
Ray Chen would sort out the legalities; he was an expert at that
kind of thing. He'd find a way to smooth over my unauthorized
soothsaying before we brought this to trial.
I got in a cab and headed off to Wheel Three to confront the
"Hold it right there," I said, coming down the long, gently
curving corridor at Francis Crick. "You're under arrest."
Glen Hissock stopped dead in his tracks. "What for?"
I looked around, then drew Glen into an empty classroom. "For
the murder of your uncle, Skye Hissock. Or should I say, for the
murder of your brother? The semantics are a bit tricky."
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Glen, in that
subdued, nervous voice of his.
I shook my head. Soothsayer Skye had deserved punishment,
and his brother Rodger was guilty of a heinous crime
in fact, a crime Mendelian society considered every bit as
bad as murder. But I couldn't let Glen get away with it. "I'm
sorry for what happened to you," I said. The mental scars no
doubt explained his sullen, withdrawn manner.
He glared at me. "Like that makes it better."
"When did it start?"
He was quiet for a time, then gave a little shrug, as if
realizing there was no point in pretending any longer. "When I
was twelve as soon as I entered puberty. Not every night,
you understand. But often enough." He paused, then: "How'd you
figure it out?"
I decided to tell him the truth. "There are only two different
sets of DNA in your house one female, as you'd expect, and
just one male."
Glen said nothing.
"I had the male DNA read. I was looking for a trait that might
have provided a motive for your father. You know what I found."
Glen was still silent.
"When your dad's sooth was read just after birth, maybe his
parents were told that he was sterile. Certainly the proof is
there, in his DNA: an inability to produce viable sperm." I
paused, remembering the details Rundstedt had explained to me.
"But the soothsayer back then couldn't have known the effect of
having the variant form of gene ABL-419d, with over a hundred
T-A-T repeats. That variation's function hadn't been identified
that long ago. But it was known by the time Rodger turned
eighteen, by the time he went to see his big brother Skye, by the
time Skye gave him his adult soothsaying." I paused. "But Uncle
Skye hated confrontation, didn't he?"
Glen was motionless, a statue.
"And so Skye lied to your dad. Oh, he told him about his
sterility, all right, but he figured there was no point in
getting into an argument about what that variant gene meant."
Glen looked at the ground. When at last he did speak, his voice
was bitter. "I had thought Dad knew. I confronted him
Christ sakes, Dad, if you knew you had a gene for incestuous
pedophilia, why the hell didn't you seek counseling? Why the
hell did you have kids?"
"But your father didn't know, did he?"
Glen shook his head. "That bastard Uncle Skye hadn't told him."
"In fairness," I said, "Skye probably figured that since your
father couldn't have kids, the problem would never come up. But
your dad made a lot of money, and wanted it to pass to an heir.
And since he couldn't have an heir the normal way . . ."
Glen's voice was full of disgust. "Since he couldn't have an
heir the normal way, he had one made."
I looked the boy up and down. I'd never met a clone before.
Glen really was the spitting image of the old man a chip
off the old block. But like any dynasty, the Hissock-Connolly
clan wanted not just an heir, but an heir and a spare. Little
Billy, ten years younger than Glen, was likewise an exact genetic
duplicate of Rodger Hissock, produced from Rodger's DNA placed
into one of Rebecca's eggs. All three Hissock males had indeed
left DNA in that bathroom exactly identical DNA.
"Have you always known you were a clone?" I asked.
Glen shook his head. "I only just found out. Before I went for
my adult soothsaying, I wanted to see the report my parents had
gotten when I was born. But none existed my dad had
decided to save some money. He didn't need a new report done, he
figured; my sooth would be identical to his, after all. When I
went to get my sooth read and found that I was sterile,
well, it all fell into place in my mind."
"And so you took your father's blaster, and, since your DNA is
the same as his . . ."
Glen nodded slowly. His voice was low and bitter. "Dad never
knew in advance what was wrong with him never had a chance
to get help. Uncle Skye never told him. Even after Dad had
himself cloned, Skye never spoke up." He looked at me, fury in
his cold gray eyes. "It doesn't work, dammit our whole
way of life doesn't work if a soothsayer doesn't tell the truth.
You can't play the hand you're dealt if you don't know what cards
you've got. Skye deserved to die."
"And you framed your dad for it. You wanted to punish him, too."
Glen shook his head. "You don't understand, man. You can't
"I didn't want to punish Dad I wanted to protect Billy.
Dad can afford the best damn lawyer in Mendelia. Oh, he'll be
found guilty, sure, but he won't get life. His lawyer will cut
it down to the minimum mandatory sentence for murder, which
"Ten years," I said, realization dawning. "In ten years, Billy
will be an adult and out of danger from Rodger."
Glen nodded once.
"But Rodger could have told the truth at any time revealed
that you were a clone of him. If he'd done that, he would have
gotten off, and suspicion would have fallen on you. How did you
know he wasn't going to speak up?"
Glen sounded a lot older than his eighteen years. "If Dad
exposed me, I'd expose him and the penalty for child
molestation is also a minimum ten years, so he'd be doing the
time anyway." He looked directly at me. "Except being a
murderer gets you left alone in jail, and being a pedophile gets
you wrecked up."
I nodded, led him outside, and hailed a robocab.
Mendelia is a great place to live, honest.
And, hell, I did solve the crime, didn't I? Meaning I am
a good detective. So I guess my soothsayer didn't lie to
At least at least I hope not . . .
I had a sudden cold feeling that the SG would stop footing the
bill long before this case could come to public trial.
• The End •
If you enjoyed this short story by Hugo and Nebula Award-winning
science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, how about giving one of his
bestselling novels a try? The opening chapters of each of them are
right here at
More Good Reading
About the science in this story
Introduction (in English) to the Polish edition of this story
Other short stories by Robert J. Sawyer
Sample chapters from Rob's novels
A bibliography of all Rob's short stories
A profile of Rob from Tangent
concentrating on his short-fiction career