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Volume 2 of The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 2002 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
Hardcover: Tor, February 2003, ISBN 0-312-87691-2
Paperback: Tor, September 2003, ISBN 0-765-34675-3
Spoiler Alert! Don't read this until after you've finished
Hominids, the first volume in the trilogy.
"I've done a terrible thing," said Ponter Boddit, straddling the
saddle-seat in Jurard Selgan's office.
Selgan was a member of generation 144, ten years older than
Ponter. His hair was a wise gray, and his part had widened into
a deep river of scalp, emptying onto the low forehead above his
browridge. "Go on."
"I felt I had no choice," said Ponter, looking down, his own
browridge shielding him from having to meet Selgan's emerald
eyes. "I felt I had to do it, but ..."
"But you regret it now?"
Ponter was silent, staring at the room's moss-covered floor.
"Do you regret it?"
"I I'm not sure."
"Would you do it again, if you had the moment to live over?"
Ponter snorted a laugh.
"What's so funny?" asked Selgan, curiosity, rather than
irritation, in his voice.
Ponter looked up. "I thought it was only physicists like me who
engaged in thought experiments."
Selgan smiled. "We're not so different, you and I. We each seek
to find the truth, to solve mysteries."
"I suppose," said Ponter. He looked at the smooth, gently
curving wooden wall of the cylindrical room.
"You haven't answered my question," said Selgan. "Would you do
it again, if you could?"
Ponter was silent for a time, and Selgan let him be silent, let
him consider his answer. "I don't know," Ponter said at last.
"Don't you? Or is it that you simply do not wish to say?"
Again, Ponter was silent.
"I want to help you," said Selgan, shifting on his own
saddle-seat. "That's my only goal. I won't judge you."
Ponter laughed again, but this time it was a rueful laugh.
"That's the whole point, isn't it? Nobody judges us."
Selgan frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, in that other world that other Earth they
believe there is a ... well, we have no word for it, but they
call it God. A supreme, incorporeal being who created the
Selgan shook his head. "How can the universe have a creator?
For something to be created, it has to have a beginning. And the
universe didn't. It has always existed."
"You know that," said Ponter. "I know that. But they
don't know that. They think the universe is only
well, they'd say twelve billion years old; a hundred and fifty
billion months or so."
"Then what existed before that time?"
Ponter frowned, remembering back to his conversations with the
female Gliksin physicist Lou Benoît how he wished he could
pronounce their names properly! "They say there was no
time before then, that time began when the universe was
"What an astonishing notion," said Selgan.
"That it is," agreed Ponter. "But if they accepted that the
universe had always existed, there would be no role for this God
"Your man-mate is a physicist, isn't he?" asked Selgan.
"Adikor Huld," said Ponter, naming him. "Yes."
"Well, I'm sure you often get to talk about physics with Adikor.
Me, I'm more interested in other things. You brought up this
this `God' in connection with the concept of
judging. Tell me more about that."
Ponter was quiet for a few moments, trying to figure out how to
present the concept. "It seems most of them, these other humans,
believe in what they call an `afterlife' an existence that
"But that's ridiculous," said Selgan. "It's a contradiction in
"Oh, yes," said Ponter, smiling. "But such things are common in
their thinking so common that they give them a special
name, as if by naming them it resolves the paradox. I can't
quite say it the way they do; it's something like
Selgan smiled "I would love to treat one of them
learn how such a mind functions." He paused. "This existence
that follows death: what do they believe it is like?"
"That's the most interesting thing," said Ponter. "It can take
one of two forms, depending on how you comported yourself while
living. If you have lived a virtuous life, then you are rewarded
with an exceedingly pleasant existence afterward. But if your
life or even a single major action you did during it
has been evil, then the subsequent existence is one of
"And who decides?" said Selgan. "Oh, wait. I get it. This God
"Yes. That's what they believe."
"But why? Why would they believe something so outlandish?"
Ponter lifted his shoulders slightly. "Supposed historical
accounts of those who have communicated with God."
"Historical accounts?" said Selgan. "Does anyone currently
communicate with God?"
"Some claim to. But I gather it has not been substantiated."
"And this God, he serves as judge of every individual?"
"But there are 185 million people in the world, with many
thousands dying every day."
"That's in this world. In the other world, there are over
six billion people."
"Six billion!" Selgan shook his head. "And each one is
assigned, somehow, at death, to one of the two possible further
existences you mentioned?"
"Yes. They are judged."
Ponter saw Selgan make a face. The personality sculptor was
clearly intrigued by the details of Gliksin belief, but his real
interest was in Ponter's thoughts. "`Judged,'" he repeated, as
if the word were a choice piece of meat worth savoring.
"Yes, judged," said Ponter. "Don't you see? They don't have
Companion implants. They don't have alibi archives. They don't
keep perfect records of every action they take in their lives.
They don't have any of that, because they don't believe they need
it. They think this God is watching over all, seeing all
even looking out for them, protecting them. And they think that
it's impossible to get away to really, ultimately
get away with an evil act."
"But you did something terrible, you said?"
Ponter looked out the window, out at his world. "Yes."
"Over there? In the other world?"
"And you do not accept the existence of this God of theirs?"
Ponter made a derisive sound. "Of course not."
"And so you believe that you will not ever be judged for this bad
thing you feel you did?"
"Exactly. I won't say it's the perfect crime. But there is no
reason why suspicion will ever fall on me in that world, and no
reason why anyone here would ever have cause to demand to see
that portion of my alibi archive."
"You called it a crime. Was it a crime by the standards of this
other world you were in?"
"And would we have considered it a crime, had you done it
"What did you do?"
"I I am ashamed to say," said Ponter.
"I told you, I will not judge you."
Ponter found himself surging to his feet. "That's the whole
point!" he shouted. "No one will judge me not
here, not there. I have committed a crime. I enjoyed
committing the crime. And, yes, to indulge in your thought
experiment, I would do it again if I had the opportunity to
relive the event."
Selgan said nothing for a time, apparently waiting for Ponter to
calm down. "I can help you, Ponter, if you'll let me. But you
have to talk to me. You have to tell me what happened. Why did
you commit this crime? What led up to it?"
Ponter sat back down, swinging his legs over the saddle-seat.
"It began on my first trip to the other Earth," said Ponter. I
met a woman there, named Mare Vaughan ..."
It was Mary Vaughan's final evening in Sudbury, and she was
experiencing decidedly mixed feelings.
She had no doubt that getting out of Toronto had done her good.
After what had happened down there My God, she
thought, had it really only been two weeks ago?
leaving town, getting away from all the things that would have
reminded her of that horrible night, was surely the right course.
And although it had ended on a melancholy note, she wouldn't have
traded her time here with Ponter Boddit for anything.
There was an unreal quality to her recollections; it all seemed
so fantastic. And yet there were countless photographs and
videos and even some x-rays to prove that it had really happened.
A modern Neanderthal from a parallel version of Earth had somehow
slipped into this universe. Now that he was gone, Mary hardly
believed it herself.
But it had happened. Ponter had really been here, and she
had indeed ...
Was she overstating it? Magnifying it in her mind?
No. No, it was indeed what had occurred.
She had come to love Ponter, maybe even to be in love with
If only she'd been whole, complete, unviolated, untraumatized,
perhaps things would have been different. Oh, she'd still have
fallen for the big guy of that she was sure but
when he'd reached out and touched her hand that night while they
were looking up at the stars, she wouldn't have frozen.
It had been too soon, she'd told him the next day. Too soon
She hated the word; hated to think it, to say it.
Too soon after the rape.
And tomorrow she had to go back home, back to where that rape had
occurred, back to the campus of Toronto's York University, and
her old life of teaching genetics.
Her old life of being alone.
She'd miss many things about Sudbury. She'd miss the lack of
traffic congestion. She'd miss the friends she'd made here,
including Reuben Montego and, yes, even Louise Benoît. She'd
miss the relaxed atmosphere of tiny Laurentian University, where
she'd done her mitochondrial DNA studies that had proven Ponter
Boddit was indeed a Neanderthal.
But, most of all, she realized, as she stood at the side of the
country road looking up at the clear night sky, she'd miss
this. She'd miss seeing stars in a profusion beyond
counting. She'd miss seeing the Andromeda galaxy, which Ponter
had identified for her. She'd miss seeing the Milky Way, arching
She'd especially miss this: the aurora borealis, flickering and
weaving across the northern sky, pale green sheets of light,
Mary had indeed hoped to catch another glimpse of the aurora
tonight. She'd been on her way back from Reuben Montego's place
out in Lively (hah!), where she'd had a final barbecue dinner
with him and Louise, and she'd pulled over at the side of the
road specifically to look up at the night sky.
The heavens were cooperating. The aurora was breathtaking.
She'd forever associate the northern lights with Ponter. The
only other time she'd seen them had been with him. She felt an
odd sensation in her chest, the expanding feeling that went with
awe battling the contracting sensation that accompanied sadness.
The lights were beautiful.
He was gone.
A cool green glow bathed the landscape as the aurora continued to
flicker and dance, aspens and birches silhouetted in front of the
spectacle, their branches waving slightly in the gentle August
Ponter had said he often saw the aurora. Partly that was because
his cold-adapted people preferred more northerly latitudes than
did the humans of this world.
Partly, too, it was because the phenomenal Neanderthal sense of
smell and their ever-vigilant Companion implants made it safe to
be out even in the dark; Ponter's home town of Saldak, located at
the same place in his world as Sudbury was in this world, didn't
illuminate its streets at night.
And partly it was because the Neanderthals used clean solar power
for most of their energy needs, rendering their skies far less
polluted than the ones here.
Mary had made it to her current age of thirty-eight before seeing
the aurora, and she didn't anticipate any reason to come back to
Northern Ontario, so tonight, she knew, might well be the last
time she'd ever see the undulating northern lights.
She drank in the view.
Some things were the same on both versions of Earth, Ponter had
said: the gross details of geography, most of the animal and
plant species (although the Neanderthals, never having indulged
in overkilling, still had mammoths and moas in their world), the
broad strokes of the climate. But Mary was a scientist: she
understood all about chaos theory, about how the beating of a
butterfly's wing was enough to affect weather systems half a
world away. Surely just because there was a clear sky here on
this Earth didn't mean the same was true on Ponter's world.
But if the weather did happen to coincide, perhaps Ponter was
also looking up at the night sky now.
And perhaps he was thinking of Mary.
Ponter would, of course, be seeing precisely the same
constellations, even if he gave them different names
nothing terrestrial could possibly have disturbed the distant
stars. But would the auroras be the same? Did butterflies or
people have any effect on the choreography of the northern
lights? Perhaps she and Ponter were looking at the exact same
spectacle a curtain of illumination waving back and forth,
the seven bright stars of the Big Dipper (or, as he would call
it, the Head of the Mammoth) stretching out above.
Why, he might even right now be seeing the same shimmying to the
right, the same shimmying to the left, the same
Mary felt her jaw drop.
The auroral curtain was splitting down the middle, like
aquamarine tissue paper being torn by an invisible hand. The
fissure grew longer, wider, starting at the top and moving toward
the horizon. Mary had seen nothing like that on the first night
she'd looked up at the northern lights.
The sheet finally separated into two halves, parting like the Red
Sea before Moses. A few they looked like sparks, but
could they really be that? arced between the halves,
briefly bridging the gap. And then the half on the right seemed
to roll up from the bottom, like a window blind being wound onto
its dowel, and, as it did so, it changed colors, now green, now
blue, now violet, now orange, now turquoise.
And then in a flash a spectral burst of light that
part of the aurora disappeared.
The remaining sheet of light was swirling now, as if it were
being sucked down a drain in the firmament. As it spun more and
more rapidly, it flung off gouts of cool green fire, a pinwheel
against the night.
Mary watched, transfixed. Even if this was only her second night
actually observing an aurora, she'd seen countless pictures of
the northern lights over the years in books and magazines. She'd
known those still images hadn't done justice to the spectacle;
she'd read how the aurora rippled and fluttered.
But nothing had prepared her for this.
The vortex continued to contract, growing brighter as it did so,
until finally, with did she really hear it? with
what sounded like a pop, it vanished.
Mary staggered backward, bumping up against the cold metal of her
rented Dodge Neon. She was suddenly aware that the forest sounds
around her insects and frogs, owls and bats had
fallen silent, as if every living thing was looking up in wonder.
Mary's heart was pounding, and one thought kept echoing through
her head as she climbed into the safety of her car.
I wonder if it's supposed to do that ...
More Good Reading
An excerpt from Humans by Robert J.
Sawyer. Copyright © 2003 by Robert J. Sawyer. All rights
More about Humans
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Other novels by Robert J. Sawyer
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