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

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Opening Chapters


by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1997 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

Hardcover: Tor, June 1997, ISBN 0-312-86325-X
Paperback: Tor, November 1998, ISBN 0-812-57108-8
Trade Paperback: Tor, November 2005, ISBN 0-765-31316-2

British edition: HarperCollins Voyager, 1999


It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.

— André Gide,
winner of the 1947 Nobel Prize in literature

Berkeley, California
The Present Day

       It seemed an unlikely place to die.

       During the academic year, twenty-three thousand full-time students milled about the well-treed grounds of the University of California, Berkeley. But on this cool June night, the campus was mostly empty.

       Pierre Tardivel reached out for the hand of Molly Bond. He was a good-looking, wiry man of thirty-three, with narrow shoulders, a round head, and hair the same chocolate brown as his eyes. Molly, who would turn thirty-three herself in a couple of weeks, was beautiful — stunningly so, even without makeup. She had high cheekbones, full lips, deep blue eyes, and naturally blond hair parted in the center and cut short up front but tumbling to her shoulders in back. Molly squeezed Pierre's hand, and they began walking side by side.

       The bells in the Campanile had just chimed 11:00 p.m. Molly had been working late in the psychology department, where she was an assistant professor. Pierre didn't like Molly walking home alone at night, so he'd stayed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, poised on a hilltop above the campus, until she'd phoned saying she was ready to leave. It was no hardship for him; on the contrary, Molly's usual problem was getting Pierre to take a break from his research.

       Molly had no doubts about Pierre's feelings for her; that was one of the few good things about her gift. She did sometimes wish he would put his arm around her as they walked, but he didn't like doing that. Not that he wasn't affectionate: he was French-Canadian, after all, and had the demonstrative nature that went with the first part of that hyphenate, and the desire to cuddle against the cold that came with the second. But he always said there would be time for helping to hold him up later, with her arm around his waist and his around hers. For now, while he still could, he wanted to walk freely.

       As they crossed the bridge over the north fork of Strawberry Creek, Molly said, "How was work today?"

       Pierre's voice was richly accented. "Burian Klimus was being a pain," he said.

       Molly laughed, a throaty sound. Her speaking voice was high and feminine, but her laugh had an earthy quality that Pierre had said he found very sexy. "When isn't he?" she said.

       "Exactly," replied Pierre. "Klimus wants perfection, and I guess he's entitled to it. But the whole point of the Human Genome Project is to find out what makes us human, and humans sometimes make mistakes." Molly was pretty much used to Pierre's accent, but three utterings of "yooman" in one sentence was enough to bring a smile to her lips. "He tore quite a strip off Shari's hide this afternoon."

       Molly nodded. "I heard someone do an imitation of Burian at the Faculty Club yesterday." She cleared her throat and affected a German accent. "`I'm not only a member of the Herr Club for Men — I'm also its chancellor.'"

       Pierre laughed.

       Up ahead there was a wrought-iron park bench. A burly man in his late twenties wearing faded jeans and an unzipped leather jacket was sitting on it. The man had a chin like two small fists protruding from the bottom of his face and a half inch of dirty-blond hair. Disrespectful, thought Molly: you come to the very home of the 1960s hippie movement, you should grow your hair a little long.

       They continued walking. Normally, Pierre and Molly would have swerved away from the bench, giving the resting fellow a generous berth — Molly took pains to keep strangers from entering her zone. But a lighting standard and a low hedge sharply defined the opposite edge of the path here, so they ended up passing within a couple of feet of the man, Molly even closer to him than Pierre —

       About fucking time that frog showed up.

       Molly's grip tightened, her short unpainted fingernails digging into the back of Pierre's hand.

       Too bad he's not alone — but maybe Grozny will like it better this way.

       Molly spoke in a quavering whisper so low it was almost lost on the breeze: "Let's get out of here." Pierre's eyebrows went up, but he quickened his pace. Molly stole a glance over her shoulder. "He's up off the bench now," she said softly. "He's walking toward us."

       She scanned the landscape ahead. A hundred feet in front of them was the campus's north gate, with the deserted cafés of Euclid Avenue beyond. To the left was a fence separating the university from Hearst Avenue. To the right, more redwoods and Haviland Hall, home of the School of Social Welfare. Most of its windows were dark. A bus rumbled by outside the fence — the last bus for a long time, this late. Pierre chewed his lower lip. Footfalls were approaching softly behind them. He reached into his pocket, and Molly could hear the soft tinkle of him maneuvering his keys between his fingers.

       Molly opened the zipper on her white leather purse and extracted her rape whistle. She chanced another glance back, and — Christ, a knife! "Run!" she shouted, and veered to the right, bringing the whistle to her lips. The sound split the night.

       Pierre surged forward, heading straight for the north gate, but after eating up a few yards of path, he looked back. Perhaps now that the man knew the element of surprise was gone, he'd just hightail it in the opposite direction, but Pierre had to be sure that the guy hadn't taken off after Molly —

       — and that was Pierre's mistake. The man had been lagging behind — Pierre had longer legs and had started running sooner — but Pierre's slowing down to look gave the man a chance to close the distance. From thirty feet away, Molly, who had also stopped running, screamed Pierre's name.

       The punk had a bowie knife in his right hand. It was difficult to make out in the darkness except for the reflection of streetlamps off the fifteen-inch blade. He was holding it underhand, as if he'd intended to thrust it up into Pierre's back.

       The man lunged. Pierre did what any good Montreal boy who had grown up wanting to play on the Canadiens would do: he deked left, and when the guy moved in that direction, Pierre danced to the right and bodychecked him. The attacker was thrown off balance. Pierre surged forward, his apartment key wedged between his index and middle fingers. He smashed his assailant in the face. The man yowled in pain as the key jabbed into his cheek.

       Molly ran toward the man from the rear. She jumped onto his back and began pummeling him with clenched fists. He tried to spin around, as if somehow he could catch the woman on top of him, and, as he did so, Pierre employed another hockey maneuver, tripping him. But instead of dropping the knife, as Pierre apparently thought he would, the man gripped it even tighter. As he fell, his arm twisted and his leather jacket billowed open. The weight of Molly on his back drove the blade's single sharpened edge sideways into his belly.

       Suddenly blood was everywhere. Molly got off the man, wincing. He wasn't moving, and his breathing had taken on a liquid, bubbling sound.

       Pierre grabbed Molly's hand. He started to back away, but suddenly realized just how severe the attacker's wound was. The man would bleed to death without immediate treatment. "Find a phone," Pierre said to Molly. "Call 9-1-1." She ran off toward Haviland Hall.

       Pierre rolled the man onto his back, the knife sliding out as he did so. He picked it up and tossed it as far away as he could, in case he was underestimating the injury. He then tore open the buttons on the attacker's light cotton shirt, which was now sodden with blood, exposing the laceration. The man was in shock: his complexion, hard to make out in the wan light, had turned grayish white. Pierre took off his own shirt — a beige McGill University pullover — and wadded it up to use as a pressure bandage.

       Molly returned several minutes later, panting from running. "An ambulance is coming, and so are the police," she said. "How is he?"

       Pierre kept pressure on the wadded shirt, but the fabric was squishing as he leaned on it. "He's dying," he said, looking up at her, his voice anguished.

       Molly moved closer, looming over the assailant. "You don't recognize him?"

       Pierre shook his head. "I'd remember that chin."

       She kneeled next to the man, then closed her eyes, listening to the voice only she could hear.

       Not fair, thought the man. I only killed people Grozny said deserved it. But I don't deserve to die. I'm not a fucking —

       The unspoken voice stopped abruptly. Molly opened her eyes and then gently took Pierre's blood-covered hands off the drenched shirt. "He's gone," she said.

       Pierre, who was still on bended knee, rocked slowly backward. His face was bone white and his mouth hung open slightly. Molly recognized the signs: just as the attacker had been moments ago, Pierre himself was now in shock. She helped him move away from the body and got him to sit down on the grass at the base of a redwood tree.

       After what seemed an eternity, they at last heard approaching sirens. The city police arrived first, coming through the north gate, followed a few moments later by a campus police car that arrived from the direction of the Moffit Library. The two vehicles pulled up side by side, near where the stand of redwoods began.

       The city cops were a salt-and-pepper team: a wide black man and a taller, skinnier white woman. The black man seemed to be the senior officer. He got a sealed package of latex gloves out of his glove compartment and snapped them onto his beefy hands, then moved in to examine the body. He checked the body's wrist for a pulse, then shifted its head and tried again at the base of the neck. "Christ," he said. "Karen?"

       His partner came closer and played a flashlight beam onto the face. "He got a good punch in, that's for sure," the woman said, indicating the wound Pierre's keys had made. Then she blinked. "Say, didn't we bust him a few weeks ago?"

       The black man nodded. "Chuck Hanratty. Scum." He shook his head, but it seemed more in wonder than out of sadness. He rose to his feet, snapped off his gloves, and looked briefly at the campus cop, a chubby white-haired Caucasian who was averting his eyes from the body. He then turned to Pierre and Molly. "Either of you hurt?"

       "No," said Molly, her voice quavering slightly. "Just shaken up."

       The female cop was scanning the area with her flashlight. "That the knife?" she said, looking at Pierre and pointing at the bowie, which had landed at the base of another redwood.

       Pierre looked up, but didn't seem to hear.

       "The knife," she said again. "The knife that killed him."

       Pierre nodded.

       "He was trying to kill us," said Molly.

       The black man looked at her. "Are you a student here?"

       "No, I'm faculty," she said. "Psychology department."


       "Molly Bond."

       He jerked his head at Pierre, who was still staring into space. "And him?"

       "He's Pierre Tardivel. He's with the Human Genome Center, up at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab."

       The officer turned to the campus cop. "You know these two?"

       The old guy was slowly recovering his composure; this sort of thing was a far cry from getting cars towed from handicapped parking spots. He shook his head.

       The male cop turned back to Molly and Pierre. "Let me see your driver's licenses and university IDs," he said.

       Molly opened her purse and showed the requested cards to the officer. Pierre, chilled without a shirt on, still shaken by the death of the man, arms covered to the elbows with caking blood, managed to get out his brown wallet, but just stared at it as if he didn't know how to open it. Molly gently took it from him and showed his identification to the policeman.

       "Canadian," said the cop, as though that were a very suspicious thing to be. "You got papers to be in this country?"

       "Papers . . ." repeated Pierre, still dazed.

       "He's got a green card," said Molly. She leafed through the wallet, found it, and showed it to the officer. The male cop nodded. The female cop had retrieved a Polaroid camera from the cruiser and was taking photos of the scene.

       Finally the ambulance arrived. It came through the north gate, but couldn't get down the path to where they were. All the vehicles had turned off their sirens once parked, but the ambulance left its rotating roof light on, making orange shadows dance around the scene. The air was filled with staticky calls over the police and ambulance radios. Two attendants, both male, hurried to the downed man. A few spectators had arrived as well.

       "No pulse," said the male cop. "No signs of respiration."

       The attendants did a few checks, then nodded at each other. "He's gone all right," said one. "Still, we gotta take him in."

       "Karen?" said the male officer.

       The female cop nodded. "I've got enough shots."

       "Go ahead," said the man. He turned to Pierre and Molly. "We'll need statements from both of you."

       "It was self-defense," said Molly.

       For the first time, the cop showed a little warmth. "Of course. Don't worry; it's just routine. That guy who attacked you had quite a record: robbery, assault, cross burning."

       "Cross burning?" said Molly, shocked.

       The cop nodded. "Nasty fellow, that Chuck Hanratty. He was involved with a neo-Nazi group called the Millennial Reich. They're mostly across the Bay in San Francisco, but they've been recruiting here in Berkeley, too." He looked around at the various buildings. "Is your car here?"

       "We were walking," said Molly.

       "Well, look, it's after midnight and, frankly, your friend seems a bit out of it. Why don't you let officer Granatstein and me give you a lift? You can come by headquarters tomorrow to make a report." He handed her a card.

       "Why," said Pierre, finally rallying a bit, "would a neo-Nazi want to attack me?"

       The black man shrugged. "No big mystery. He was after your wallet and her purse."

       But Molly knew that wasn't true. She took Pierre's blood-encrusted hand and led him over to the police car.

       Pierre stepped into the shower, cleaning the blood from his arms and chest. The water running down the drain was tinged with red. Pierre scrubbed until his skin was raw. After toweling off, he crawled into bed next to Molly, and they held each other.

       "Why would a neo-Nazi be after me?" said Pierre, into the darkness. He exhaled noisily. "Hell, why would anyone go to the trouble of trying to kill me? After all . . ." He trailed off, the English sentence already formed in his mind, but deciding not to give it voice.

       But Molly could tell what he had been about to say, and she drew him closer to her, holding him tightly.

       After all, Pierre Tardivel had thought, I'll probably be dead soon anyway.


Let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.

— Theodore Roosevelt, winner of the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize

Chapter 1

August 1943

       The screams came like popcorn popping: at first there were only one or two, then there were hundreds overlapping, then, finally, the quantity diminished, and at last there were none left and you knew it was done.

       Jubas Meyer tried not to think about it. Even most of the bastards in charge tried not to think about it. Only forty meters away, a band of Jewish musicians played at gunpoint, their songs meant to drown out the cries of the dying, the rumble of the diesel engine in the Maschinehaus insufficient to fully mask the sound.

       Finally, while Jubas and the others stood ready, the two Ukrainian operators heaved the massive doors aside. Blue smoke rose from the opening.

       As was often the case, the naked corpses were still standing. The people had been packed in so tightly — up to five hundred in the tiny chamber — that there was no room for them to fall down. But now that the doors were open, those closest to the exit toppled over, spilling out into the hot summer sun, their faces mottled and bloated by the carbon-monoxide poisoning. The stench of human sweat and urine and vomit filled the air.

       Jubas and his partner, Shlomo Malamud, moved forward, carrying their wooden stretcher. With it, they could remove a single adult or two children in each load; they didn't have the strength to carry more. Jubas could count his own ribs easily through his thin skin, and his scalp itched constantly from the lice.

       Jubas and Shlomo started with a woman of about forty. Her left breast had a long gash in it. They carried her body off to the dental station. The man there, an emaciated fellow in his early thirties named Yehiel Reichman, tipped her head back and opened her mouth. He spotted a gold filling, reached in with blood-encrusted pliers, and extracted the tooth.

       Shlomo and Jubas took the body off to the pit and dumped it in on top of the other corpses, trying to ignore the buzz of flies and the reek of diseased flesh and postmortem bowel discharges. They returned to the chamber, and —

       No —


       God, no.

       Not Rachel —

       But it was. Jubas's own sister, lying there naked among the dead, her green eyes staring up at him, lifeless as emeralds.

       He'd prayed that she'd gotten away, prayed that she was safe, prayed —

       Jubas staggered back, tripped, fell to the ground, tears welling up and out of his eyes, the drops clearing channels in the filth that covered his face.

       Shlomo moved to help his friend. "Quickly," he whispered. "Quickly, before they come . . ."

       But Jubas was wailing now, unable to control himself.

       "It gets to us all," said Shlomo, soothingly.

       Jubas shook his head. Shlomo didn't understand. He gulped air, finally forced out the words. "It's Rachel," he said, between shuddering sobs, gesturing at the corpse. Flies were crawling across her face now.

       Shlomo placed a hand on Jubas's shoulder. Shlomo had been separated from his own brother Saul, and the one thing that had kept him going all this time was the thought that somewhere Saul might be safe.

       "Get up!" shouted a familiar voice. A tall, stocky Ukrainian wearing jackboots came closer. He was carrying a rifle with a bayonet attached — the same bayonet Jubas had often seen him honing with a whetstone to scalpel sharpness.

       Jubas looked up. Even through his tears, he could make out the man's features: a round face in its thirties, balding head, protruding ears, thin lips.

       Shlomo moved over to the Ukrainian, risking everything. He could smell the cheap liquor on the man's breath. "A moment, Ivan — for pity's sake. It's Jubas's sister."

       Ivan's wide mouth split in a terrible grin. He leaned in and used the bayonet to slice off Rachel's right nipple. Then, with a flick of his index finger, he sent it flying off the blade into the air. It spun end over end before landing bloody side down in Jubas Meyer's lap.

       "Something to remember her by," said Ivan.

       He was a monster.

       A devil.

       Evil incarnate.

       His first name was Ivan. His last name was unknown, and so the Jews dubbed him Ivan the Terrible. He had arrived at the camp a year before, in July 1942. There were some who said he'd been an educated man before the war; he used fancier words than the other guards did. A few even contended he must have been a doctor, since he sliced human flesh with such precision. But whatever he'd been in civilian life had been set aside.

       Jubas Meyer had done the math, calculating how many corpses he and Shlomo had removed from the chambers each day, how many other pairs of Jews were being forced to do the same thing, how many trainloads had arrived to date.

       The figures were staggering. Here, in this tiny camp, between ten and twelve thousand people were executed every day; on some days, the tally reached as high as fifteen thousand. So far, over half a million people had been exterminated. And there were rumors of other camps: one at Belzac, another at Sobibor, perhaps others still.

       There could be no doubt: the Nazis intended to kill every single Jew, to wipe them all off the face of the earth.

       And here, at Treblinka, eighty kilometers northeast of Warsaw, Ivan the Terrible was the principal agent of that destruction. True, he had a partner named Nikolai who helped him operate the chambers, but it was Ivan who was sadistic beyond belief, raping women before gassing them, slicing their flesh — especially breasts — as they marched naked into the chambers, forcing Jews to copulate with corpses while he laughed a cold, throaty laugh and beat them with a lead pipe.

       Ivan reveled in it all, his naturally nasty disposition only worsened by frequent drinking binges. As a Ukrainian, he'd likely started off a prisoner of war himself, but had volunteered for service as a Wachmann, and had demonstrated a remarkable technical facility, leading to him being put in charge of the gas chambers. He was now so trusted that the Germans often let him leave the camp. Jubas had once overheard Ivan bragging to Nikolai about the whore he frequented in the nearby town of Wolga Okralnik. "If you think the Jews scream loudly," Ivan had said, "you should hear my Maria."

       A miracle happened.

       Ivan and Nikolai pulled back the chamber doors, and —

       — God, it was incredible —

       — a little blond girl, perhaps twelve years old, barely pubescent, staggered naked out of the chamber, still alive.

       Behind her, corpses began falling like dominoes.

       But she was alive. The Jewish men and women had been packed in so tightly this time that their very bodies had formed a pocket of air for her, separated from the circulating carbon monoxide.

       The girl, her eyes wide in terror, stood under the hot sun, gulping in oxygen. And when she at last had the breath to do so, she screamed, "Ma-me! Ma-me!"

       But her mother was among the dead.

       Jubas Meyer and Shlomo Malamud set about removing the corpses, batting their arms to dispel the flies, breathing shallowly to avoid the smell. Ivan swaggered over to the girl, a whip in his hand. Jubas shot a reproachful glance at him. The Ukrainian must have seen that. He forgot the girl for a moment and came over to Jubas, lashing him repeatedly. Jubas bit his own tongue until he tasted salty blood; he knew that screams would just prolong the torture.

       When Ivan had had his fill, he stepped back, and looked at Jubas, hunched over in pain. "Davay yebatsa!" he shouted.

       Even the little girl knew those obscene words. She started to back away, but Ivan moved toward her, grabbing her naked shoulder roughly and pushing her to the ground.

       "Davay yebatsa!" shouted Ivan at Jubas. He dragged the girl across the ground to where he'd left his rifle, leaning against the Maschinehaus wall. He aimed the weapon at Jubas. "Davay yebatsa!"

       Jubas closed his eyes.

       It was horrible news, devastating news.

       The pace of the executions was slacking off.

       It didn't mean the Germans were changing their minds.

       It didn't mean they were giving up their insane plot.

       It meant they were running out of Jews to kill.

       Soon the camp would be of no further use. When they'd started, the Germans had ordered the dead buried. But recently they'd been using earthmoving equipment to exhume the bodies and cremate them. Human ash whirled constantly through the air now; the acrid smell of burning flesh stung the nostrils. The Nazis wanted no proof to exist of what had happened here.

       And they'd also want no witnesses. Soon the corpse bearers themselves would be ordered into the gas chambers.

       "We've got to escape," said Jubas Meyer. "We've got to get out of here."

       Shlomo looked at his friend. "They'll kill us if we try."

       "They'll kill us anyway."

       The revolt was planned in whispers, one man passing word to the next. Monday, August 2, 1943, would be the day. Not everyone would escape; they knew that. But some would . . . surely some would. They would carry word of what had happened here to the world.

       The sun burned down fiercely, as if God Himself were helping the Nazis incinerate bodies. But of course God would not do such a thing: the heat turned to an advantage as the deputy camp commander took a group of Ukrainian guards for a cooling swim in the river Bug.

       The Jews in the lower camp — the part where prisoners were unloaded and prepared — had gathered some makeshift weapons. One had filled large cans with gasoline. Another had stolen some wire cutters. A third had managed to hide an ax among garbage he'd been ordered to remove. Even some guns had been captured.

       A few had long ago hidden gold or money in holes in trees, or buried it in secret spots. Just as the bodies had been exhumed, so now were these treasures.

       Everything was set to begin at 4:30 in the afternoon. Tensions were high; everyone was on edge. And then, at just before 4:00 —

       "Boy!" shouted Kuttner, a fat SS man.

       The child, perhaps eleven years old, stopped dead in his tracks. He was shaking from head to toe. The SS officer moved closer, a riding crop in his hand. "Boy!" he said again. "What have you got in your pockets?"

       Jubas Meyer and Shlomo Malamud were five meters away, carrying an exhumed corpse to the cremation site. They stopped to watch the scene unfold. The pockets on the youngster's filthy and tattered overalls were bulging slightly.

       The boy said nothing. His eyes were wide and his lips peeled back in fear, showing decaying teeth. Despite the pounding heat, he was shaking as if it were below zero. The guard stepped up to him and slapped the boy's thigh with the riding crop. The unmistakable jangle of coins was heard. The German narrowed his eyes. "Empty your pockets, Jew."

       The boy half turned to face the man. His teeth were chattering. He tried to reach into his pocket, but his hand was shaking so badly he couldn't get it into the pocket's mouth. Kuttner whipped the boy's shoulder with his crop, the sound startling birds into flight, their calls counterpointing the child's scream. Kuttner then reached his own fat hand into the pocket and pulled out several German coins. He reached in a second time. The pocket was apparently empty now, but Jubas could see the German fondling the boy's genitals through the fabric. "Where did you get the money?"

       The boy shook his head, but pointed past the camouflage of trees and fencing to the upper camp, where the gas chambers and ovens were hidden from view.

       The guard grabbed the youngster's shoulder roughly. "Come with me, boy. Stangl will deal with you."

       The child wasn't the only one with something concealed on his person. Jubas Meyer had been entrusted with one of the six stolen pistols. If the boy were taken to commander Franz Stangl, he'd doubtless reveal the plans for the revolt, now only thirty minutes from its planned start.

       Meyer couldn't allow that to happen. He pulled the gun from the folds of his own overalls, took a bead on the fat German, and —

       — it was like ejaculation, the release, the moment, the payback —

       — squeezed the trigger, and saw the German's eyes go wide, saw his mouth go round, saw his fat, ugly, hateful form slump to the ground.

       The signal for the beginning of the revolt was to have been a grenade detonation, but Meyer's gunshot startled everyone into action. Cries of "Now!" went up across the lower camp. The canisters of gas were set ablaze. There were 850 Jews in the camp that day; they all ran for the barbed-wire fences. Some brought blankets, throwing them over the cruel knots of metal; others had wire cutters and furiously snipped through the lines. Those with guns shot as many guards as they could. Fire and smoke were everywhere. The guards who had gone swimming quickly returned and mounted horses or clambered aboard armored cars. Three hundred and fifty Jews made it over the fences and into the surrounding forest. Most were rounded up easily and shot dead, the echoes of overlapping gun reports and the cries of birds and wildlife the last sounds they ever heard.

       Still, some did make good their escape. They ran out into the woods, and kept running for their lives. Jubas Meyer was among them. Shlomo Malamud got out, too, and began a lifelong search for his brother Saul. And others Jubas had known or heard of made it to safety as well: Eliahu Rosenberg and Pinhas Epstein; Casimir Landowski and Zalmon Chudzik. And David Solomon, too.

       But they, and perhaps forty-five others, were all that survived Treblinka.

Chapter 2

       The early 1980s. Ronald Reagan had recently been sworn in as president, and, moments later, Iran had released the American hostages it had been holding prisoner for 444 days. Here in Canada, Pierre Trudeau was in the middle of his comeback term as prime minister, struggling to bring the Canadian constitution home from Great Britain.

       Eighteen-year-old Pierre Tardivel stood in front of the strange house in suburban Toronto, the collar of his red McGill University jacket turned up against the cold, dry wind whipping down the salt-stained street.

       Now that he was here, this didn't seem like such a good idea. Maybe he should just turn around, head back to the bus station, back to Montreal. His mother would be delighted if he gave up now, and, well, if what Henry Spade's wife had told Pierre about her husband were true, Pierre wasn't sure that he could face the man. He should just —

       No. No, he had come this far. He had to see for himself.

       Pierre took a deep breath, inhaling the crisp air, trying to calm the butterflies in his stomach. He walked up the driveway to the front door of the side-split suburban home, pressed the doorbell, and heard the muffled sound of the chimes from within. A few moments later, the door opened, and a handsome, middle-aged woman stood before him.

       "Hello, Mrs. Spade. I'm Pierre Tardivel." He was conscious of how out of place his Québecois accent must have sounded here — another reminder that he was intruding.

       There was a moment while Mrs. Spade looked Pierre up and down during which Pierre thought he saw a flicker of recognition on her face. Pierre had merely told her on the phone that his parents had been friends of her husband, back when Henry Spade had lived in Montreal in the early sixties. And yet she had to have realized there must be a special reason for Pierre to want to visit. What was it Pierre's mother had said when he'd confronted her with the evidence? "I knew you were Henry's — you're the spitting image of him."

       "Hello, Pierre," said Mrs. Spade. The voice was richer than it had sounded over the phone, but there was still a trace of wariness to it. "You can call me Dorothy. Please come in." She stepped aside, and Pierre entered the vestibule. Physically, Dorothy bore a passing resemblance to his mother — dark hair, cool blue-gray eyes, full lips. Perhaps Henry Spade had been attracted to a specific type of woman. Pierre unzipped his jacket, but made no move to take it off.

       "Henry is upstairs in his room," said Dorothy. His room. Separate bedrooms? How cold. "It's easier for him to be lying down. Do you mind seeing him up there?"

       Pierre shook his head.

       "Very well," she said. "Come with me."

       They walked into the brightly lit living room. Two full walls were covered with bookcases made of dark wood. A staircase led to the second floor. Along one side of it were tracks for a small motorized chair. The chair itself was positioned at the top. Dorothy led Pierre upstairs and into the first door on the left.

       Pierre fought to keep his expression neutral.

       Lying on the bed was a man who appeared to be dancing on his back. His arms and legs moved constantly, rotating at shoulder and hip, elbow and knee, wrist and ankle. His head lolled left and right across the pillow. His hair was steel gray and, of course, his eyes were brown.

       "Bonjour," said Pierre, so startled that he'd begun speaking in French. He began again. "Hello. I'm Pierre Tardivel."

       The man's voice was weak and slurred. Speaking was clearly an effort. "Hello, P-Pierre," he said. He paused, but whether composing his thoughts or just waiting for his body to yield a little control, Pierre couldn't say. "How is — is your mother?"

       Pierre blinked repeatedly. He would not insult the man by crying in front of him. "She's fine."

       Henry's head rolled from side to side, but he kept his eyes on Pierre. He wanted more, Pierre knew, than a platitude.

       "She's in good health," he said. "She's a loans officer for a large branch of Banque de Montréal."

       "She's happy?" asked Henry, with effort.

       "She enjoys her work, and money is no problem. There was a lot of insurance when Dad died."

       Henry swallowed with what appeared to be considerable difficulty. "I, ah, didn't know that Alain had passed on. Tell her . . . tell her I'm sorry."

       The words seemed sincere. No sarcasm, no double edge. Alain Tardivel had been his rival, but Henry seemed genuinely saddened by his death. Pierre squeezed his jaw tightly shut for a moment, then nodded. "I'll tell her."

       "She's a wonderful woman," said Henry.

       "I have a picture of her," said Pierre. He pulled out his wallet and flipped to the small portrait of his mother wearing a white silk blouse. He held the wallet where Henry could see it.

       Henry stared at it for a long time, then said, "I guess I changed more than she did."

       Pierre forced a weak smile.

       "Are . . . only child?" A few words had gotten lost in the convulsion that had passed over Henry's body like a wave.

       "Yes. There —" No, no point in mentioning his younger sister, Marie-Claire, who had died when she was two. "Yes, I'm the only one."

       "You're a fine-looking young man," said Henry.

       Pierre smiled — genuinely this time — and Henry seemed to smile back.

       Dorothy, perhaps detecting the undercurrent, or perhaps just bored with conversation about people she didn't know, said, "Well, I can see you two have things to talk about. I'll go downstairs. Pierre, can I bring you a drink? Coffee?"

       "No, thank you," said Pierre.

       "Well, then," she said, and left.

       Pierre stood beside Henry's bed. Having his own room made perfect sense now. How could it be any other way? No one could sleep next to him, given the constant jerking of his limbs.

       The man on the bed lifted his right arm toward Pierre. It moved slowly from side to side, like the bough of a tree swaying in the wind. Pierre reached out and took the hand, holding it firmly. Henry smiled.

       "You look . . . just like I did . . . when I was your age," said Henry.

       A tear did slip down Pierre's cheek. "You know who I am?"

       Henry nodded. "I — when your mother got pregnant, I'd thought there was a chance. But she ended our relationship. I'd assumed if I'd . . . if I'd been right, I'd have heard something before now." His head was moving, but he managed to keep his eyes mostly on Pierre. "I — I wish I'd known."

       Pierre squeezed the hand. "Me, too." A pause. "Do you — do you have any other children?"

       "Daughters," said Henry. "Two daughters. Adopted. Dorothy — Dorothy couldn't . . ."

       Pierre nodded.

       "Best, in a way," said Henry, and here, at last, he let his gaze wander away from Pierre. "Huntington's disease is . . . is . . ."

       Pierre swallowed. "Hereditary. I know."

       Henry's head moved back and forth more rapidly than normal — a deliberate signal all but lost in the muscular noise. "If I'd known I had it, I . . . never would have allowed myself to father a child. I'm sorry. V-very sorry."

       Pierre nodded.

       "You might have it, too."

       Pierre said nothing.

       "There's no test," said Henry. "I'm sorry."

       Pierre watched Henry move about on the bed, knees jerking, free arm waving. And yet in the middle of it all was a face not unlike his own, round and broad, with deep brown eyes. He realized then that he didn't know how old Henry was. Forty-five? Perhaps as old as fifty. Certainly no more than that. Henry's right arm started jerking rapidly. Pierre, not sure what to do, let go of his hand.

       "It's . . . it's good to finally meet you," said Pierre; and then, realizing that he would never have another chance, he added a single word: "Dad."

       Henry's eyes were wet. "You need anything?" he said. "Money?"

       Pierre shook his head. "I'm fine. Really, I am. I just wanted to meet you."

       Henry's lower lip was trembling. Pierre couldn't tell at first if it was just part of the chorea or had deeper meaning. But when Henry next spoke, his voice was full of pain. "I — I've forgotten your name," he said.

       "Pierre," he said. "Pierre Jacques Tardivel."

       "Pierre," repeated Henry. "A good name." He paused for several seconds, then said, "How is your mother? Did you bring a picture?"

       Pierre went down to the living room. Dorothy was sitting in a chair, reading a Jackie Collins novel. She looked up and gave him a wan smile.

       "Thank you," said Pierre. "Thank you for everything."

       She nodded. "He very much wanted to see you."

       "I was very glad to see him." He paused. "But I should be going now."

       "Wait," said Dorothy. She took an envelope from the coffee table and rose to her feet. "I have something for you."

       Pierre looked at it. "I told him I didn't need any money."

       Dorothy shook her head. "It's not that. It's photographs — of Henry, from a dozen years ago. From when you would have been a little boy. Photographs of what he was like then — the way I'm sure he'd like you to remember him."

       Pierre took the envelope. His eyes were stinging. "Thank you," he said.

       She nodded, her face not quite masking her pain.

Chapter 3

       Pierre returned to Montreal. His family doctor referred him to a specialist in genetic disorders. Pierre went to see the specialist, whose office wasn't far from Olympic Stadium.

       "Huntington's is carried on a dominant gene," said Dr. Laviolette to Pierre, in French. "You have precisely a fifty-fifty chance of getting it." He paused, and smoothed out his steel gray hair. "Your case is very unusual — discovering as an adult that you're at risk; most at-risks have known for years. How did you find out?"

       Pierre was quiet for a moment, thinking. Was there any need to go into the details? That he'd discovered in a first-year genetics class that it was impossible for two blue-eyed parents to have a brown-eyed child? That he'd confronted his mother, Élisabeth, with this fact? That she'd confessed to having had an affair with one Henry Spade during the early years of her marriage to Alain Tardivel, the man Pierre had known as his father, a man who had been dead now for two years? That Élisabeth, a Catholic, had been unable to divorce Alain? That Élisabeth had successfully hidden from Alain the fact that their brown-eyed son was not his biological child? And that Henry Spade had moved to Toronto, never knowing he'd fathered a child?

       It was too much, too personal. "I only recently met my real father for the first time," said Pierre simply.

       Laviolette nodded. "How old are you, Pierre?"

       "I turn nineteen next month."

       The doctor frowned. "There isn't any predictive test for Huntington's, I'm afraid. You might not have the disease, but the only way you'll discover that is when you finish middle age without it showing up. On the other hand, you might develop symptoms in as few as ten or fifteen years."

       Laviolette looked at him quietly. They'd already gone over the worst of it. Huntington's disease (also known as Huntington's chorea) affects about half a million people worldwide. It selectively destroys two parts of the brain that help control movement. Symptoms, which normally first manifest themselves between the ages of thirty and fifty, include abnormal posture, progressive dementia, and involuntary muscular action — the name "chorea" refers to the dancing movements typical of the disease. The disease itself, or complications arising from it, eventually kills the victim; Huntington's sufferers often choke to death on food because they've lost the muscular control to swallow.

       "Have you ever thought about killing yourself, Pierre?" asked Laviolette.

       Pierre's eyebrows rose at the unexpected question. "No."

       "I don't mean just now over concern about possibly having Huntington's disease. I mean ever. Have you ever thought about killing yourself?"

       "No. Not seriously."

       "Are you prone to depression?"

       "No more than the next guy, I imagine."

       "Boredom? Lack of direction?"

       Pierre thought about lying, but didn't. "Umm, yes. I have to admit to some of that." He shrugged. "People say I'm unmotivated, that I coast through life."

       Laviolette nodded. "Do you know who Woody Guthrie is?"


       The doctor made a "kids today" face. "He wrote `This Land is Your Land.'"

       "Oh, yeah. Sure."

       "He died of Huntington's in 1967. His son Arlo — you have heard of him, no?"

       Pierre shook his head.

       Laviolette sighed. "You're making me feel old. Arlo wrote `Alice's Restaurant.'"

       Pierre looked blank.

       "Folk music," said Laviolette.

       "In English, no doubt," said Pierre dismissively.

       "Even worse," said Laviolette, with a twinkle in his eye, "American English. Anyway, Arlo is probably the most famous person in your position. He's got a fifty-fifty chance of having inherited the gene, just like you. He talked about it once in an interview in People magazine; I'll give you a photocopy before you go."

       Pierre, unsure what to say, simply nodded.

       Laviolette reached for his pen and prescription pad. "I'm going to write out the number for the local Huntington's support group; I want you to call them." He copied a phone number from a small Cerlox-bound Montreal health-services directory, tore the sheet off the pad, and handed it to Pierre. He paused for a moment, as if thinking, then picked a business card from the brass holder on his desk and wrote another phone number beneath the one preprinted on the card. "And I'm also doing something I never do, Pierre. This is my personal number at home. If you can't get me here, try me there — day or night. Sometimes . . . sometimes people take news like this very poorly. Please, if you're ever thinking of doing something rash, call me. Promise you'll do that, Pierre." He proffered the card.

       "You mean if I'm thinking about killing myself, don't you?"

       The doctor nodded.

       Pierre took the card. To his astonishment, his hand was shaking.

       Late at night, alone in his room. Pierre hadn't even managed to finish undressing for bed. He just stared into space, not focusing, not thinking.

       It was unfair, dammit. Totally unfair.

       What had he done to deserve this?

       There was a small crucifix above the door to his room; it had been there since he'd been a little boy. He stared up at the tiny Jesus — but there was no point in praying. The die was cast; what was done was done. Whether or not he had the gene had been determined almost twenty years ago, at the very moment of his conception.

       Pierre had bought an Arlo Guthrie LP and listened to it. He'd been unable to find any Woody Guthrie at A&A's, but the Montreal library had an old album by a group called the Almanac Singers that Woody had once been part of. He listened to that, too.

       The Almanac Singers' music seemed full of hope; Arlo's music seemed sad. It could go either way.

       Pierre had read that most Huntington's patients ended their lives in hospital. The average stay before death was seven years.

       Outside, the wind was whistling. A branch of the tree next to the house swept back and forth across the window, like a crooked, bony hand beckoning him to follow.

       He didn't want to die. But he didn't want to live through years of suffering.

       He thought about his father — his real father, Henry Spade. Thrashing about in bed, his faculties slipping away.

       His eyes lit on his desk, a white particleboard thing from Consumers Distributing. On it was his copy of Les Misérables, which he'd just finished reading for his French-literature course. Jean Valjean had stolen a loaf of bread and no matter what he did, he could not undo that fact; until his dying day, his record was marked. Pierre's record was marked, too, one way or the other, but there was no way to read it. If he were like Valjean — if he were a convict — then he had a Javert, too, endlessly pursuing him, eventually fated to catch up.

       In the book, the tables had turned, with Inspector Javert ending up being the one incapable of escaping his birthright. Unable to alter what he was, he took the only way out, plunging from a parapet into the icy waters of the Seine below.

       The only way out . . .

       Pierre got up, shuffled over to the desk, turned on a hooded lamp on an articulated bone-white arm, and found Laviolette's card with the doctor's home number written on it. He stared at the card, reading it over and over again.

       The only way out . . .

       He walked back to his bed, sat on the edge of it, and listened to the wind some more. Without ever looking down to see what he was doing, he began drawing the edge of the card back and forth across the inside of his left wrist, again and again, as though it were a blade.

Chapter 4

       When she was eighteen, Molly Bond had been an undergraduate psychology student at the University of Minnesota. She lived in residence even though her family was right here in Minneapolis. Even back then, she couldn't take staying in the same house with them — not with her disapproving mother, not with her vacuous sister Jessica, and not with her mother's new husband, Paul, whose thoughts about her were often anything but paternal.

       Still, there were certain family events that forced her to return home. Today was one of those. "Happy birthday, Paul," she said, leaning in to give her stepfather a kiss on the cheek. "I love you."

       Should say the same thing back. "Love you, too, hon."

       Molly stepped away, trying to keep her sigh from escaping audibly. It wasn't much of a party, but maybe they'd do better next year. This was Paul's forty-ninth birthday; they'd try to commemorate the big five-oh in a more stylish fashion.

       If Paul was still around at that point, that is. What Molly had wanted to detect when she leaned in to kiss Paul was I love you, too, spontaneous, unplanned, unrehearsed. But no. She'd heard should say the same thing back, and then, a moment later, the spoken words, false, manufactured, flat.

       Molly's mother came out of the kitchen carrying a cake — a carrot cake, Paul's favorite, crowned with the requisite number of candles, including one for good luck, arranged just like the stars on an American flag. Jessica helped Paul get his presents out of the way.

       Molly couldn't resist. While her mother fumbled to get her camera set up, she moved in to stand right beside her stepfather, bringing him into her zone again. Molly's mother said, "Now make a wish and blow out the candles."

       Paul closed his eyes. I wish, he thought, that I hadn't gotten married. He exhaled on the tiny flames, and smoke rose toward the ceiling.

       Molly wasn't really surprised. At first she'd thought Paul was having an affair: he often worked late on weeknights, or disappeared all day on Saturdays, saying he was going to the office. But the truth, in some ways, was just as bad. He wasn't going off to be with someone else; rather, he just didn't want to be with them.

       They sang "Happy Birthday," and then Paul cut the cake.

       The thoughts of Molly's mother were no better. She suspected Molly might be a lesbian, so rarely was she seen with men. She hated her job, but pretended to enjoy it, and although she smiled when she handed over money to help Molly with university expenses, she resented every dollar of it. It reminded her of how hard she'd worked to put her first husband, Molly's dad, through business school.

       Molly looked again at Paul and found she couldn't really blame him. She wanted to get away from this family, too — far, far away, so that even birthdays and Christmases could be skipped. Paul handed her a piece of cake. Molly took it and moved down to the far end of the table, sitting alone.

       Wrapped up in his personal problems, Pierre failed all of his first-year courses. He went to see the dean of undergraduate studies and explained his situation. The dean gave him a second chance: McGill offered a reduced curriculum over the summer session. Pierre would only manage a couple of credits, but it would get him back on the right track for next September.

       And so Pierre found himself back in an introductory genetics course. By coincidence, the same pencil-necked Anglais teaching assistant who had originally pointed out the heritability of eye color was teaching this one. Pierre had never been one for paying attention in class; his old notebooks contained mostly doodled hockey-team crests. But today he really was trying to listen . . . at least with one ear.

       "It was the biggest puzzle in science during the early 1950s," said the TA. "What form did the DNA molecule take? It was a race against time, with many luminaries, including Linus Pauling, working on the problem. They all knew that whoever discovered the answer would be remembered forever . . ."

       Or perhaps with both ears . . .

       "A young biologist — no older than any of you — named James Watson got involved with Francis Crick, and the two of them started looking for the answer. Building on the work of Maurice Wilkins and x-ray crystallography studies done by Rosalind Franklin . . ."

       Pierre sat rapt.

       "... Watson and Crick knew that the four bases used in DNA — adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine — were each of a different size. But by using cardboard cutouts of the bases, they were able to show that when adenine and thymine bind together, they form a combined shape that's the same length as the one formed when guanine and cytosine bind together. And they showed that those combined shapes could form rungs on a spiral ladder . . ."


       "It was an amazing breakthrough — and what was even more amazing was that James Watson was just twenty-five years old when he and Crick proved that the DNA molecule took the form of a double helix . . ."

       Morning, after a night spent more awake than asleep. Pierre sat on the edge of his bed.

       He had turned nineteen in April.

       Many of those at risk for Huntington's had full-blown symptoms by the time they were — to select a figure — thirty-eight. Just double his current age.

       So little time.

       And yet —

       And yet, so much had happened in the last nineteen years.

       Vague, early memories, of baby-sitters and tricycles and marbles and endless summers and Batman in first run on TV.

       Kindergarten. God, that seemed so long ago. Mademoiselle Renault's class. Dimly recalled celebrations of Canada's centennial.

       Being a Louveteau — a Cub Scout, but never managing to finish a merit badge.

       Two years of summer camp.

       His family moving from Clearpoint to Outrement, and he having to adjust to a new school.

       Breaking his arm playing street hockey.

       And the FLQ October Crisis in 1970, and his parents trying to explain to a very frightened boy what all the TV news stories meant, and why there were troops in the streets.

       Robert Apollinaire, his best friend when he was ten, who had moved all of twenty blocks away, and had never been seen again.

       And puberty, and all that that entailed.

       The hubbub when the 1976 Olympics were held in Montreal.

       His first kiss, at a party, playing spin the bottle.

       And seeing Star Wars for the first time and thinking it was the best movie that ever was.

       His first girlfriend, Marie — he wondered where she was now.

       Getting his driver's license, and smashing up Dad's car two months later.

       Discovering the magic words Je t'aime, and how effective they were at getting his hand under a sweater or skirt. Then learning what those words really meant, in the summer of his seventeenth year, with Danielle. And crying alone on a street corner after she had broken up with him.

       Learning to drink beer, and then learning to like the taste.

       Parties. Summer jobs. A school play for which he did lighting. Winning season's tickets to the Canadiens home games in a CFCF radio giveaway — what a year that had been! Walking, unmotivated, through high school. Doing sports reporting for L'Informateur, the school newspaper. That big fight with Roch Laval — fifteen years of friendship, gone in one evening, never to be recovered.

       Dad's heart attack. Pierre had thought the pain of losing him would never go away, but it had. Time heals all wounds.

       Almost all.

       All that, in nineteen years. It was a long time, was a substantial period, was . . . was, perhaps, all the good time he had left.

       The pencil-necked teaching assistant had been talking last class about James D. Watson. Just twenty-five when he'd codiscovered the helical nature of DNA. And by the time he was thirty-four, Watson had won the Nobel Prize.

       Pierre knew that he was bright. He walked through school because he could walk through school. Whatever the subject, he had no trouble. Study? You must be joking. Carry home a stack of books? Surely you jest.

       A life that might be cut short.

       A Nobel Prize by age thirty-four.

       Pierre began to get dressed, putting on underwear and a shirt.

       He felt an emptiness in his heart, a vast feeling of loss. But he came to realize, after a few moments, that it wasn't the potential, future loss that he was mourning. It was the wasted past, the misspent time, the hours frittered away, the days without accomplishment, the coasting through life.

       Pierre pulled up his socks.

       He would make the most of it — make the most of every minute.

       Pierre Jacques Tardivel would be remembered.

       He looked at his watch.

       No time to waste.


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