SFWRITER.COM > Novels > Frameshift > Outline
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1993 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
Spoiler Warning! This document discloses many of the
details of the plot of the novel it discusses. It's strongly
recommended that you not look at this document until after
finishing the novel in question.
Robert J. Sawyer wrote the novel Frameshift without a
contract. However, this is the outline he prepared for himself
before writing the book. At 11,800 words, it's by far the
longest outline for a single novel he's ever written (the one for
FlashForward, at just 2,600 words,
was the shortest). Note that this outline differs in many ways
from the finished book.
Frameshift will be a near-future thriller set against the
backdrop of the Human Genome Project, which is the real attempt
to map every bit of DNA that makes up a human being. The novel
will combine scientific speculation and an exploration of some of
the great ethical issues of today with a murder mystery, a
heinous conspiracy, and no small amount of tragedy. Intended as
a page-turner with complex and intriguing characters, the
author's intention is that Frameshift should appeal to
both mainstream and genre readers.
California, March 2005: KEVIN TARDIVEL, 32, and MOLLY BOND, 30,
a couple very much in love, are walking home late at night from
the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, where
both of them are employed. Kevin is a geneticist; his department
is heavily involved with the Human Genome Project. Molly is a
psychologist, doing studies of human cognition but she's
also more than just an academic. We soon realize that she has a
very special gift: she can read minds.
As Kevin and Molly walk along, they pass a man sitting on a park
bench. Molly immediately tenses. Kevin asks her what's wrong.
"That man back there knows you," says Molly. Kevin glances to
the rear, but doesn't recognize the man who has now risen from
the bench and is ambling slowly along behind them. Molly insists
the man knows Kevin's name. He knows Kevin's name ... and
he wants to kill Kevin.
The man approaches them stealthfully from the rear, but as he
does so, Molly, reading his mind, whispers a running commentary
about his movements and feelings ("he's closing the distance ...
he's feeling apprehensive ... he wishes you were alone ... he's
oh, God, he's taking out a knife "). Just as the
man is about to attack, Kevin swings around and jumps the guy.
"Why do you want to kill me?" Kevin demands. The man refuses to
respond, but Molly reads from his mind two facts: first, that
he's been ordered by someone named IVAN to kill Kevin, and,
second, that he's already killed several other people.
Kevin is a large, vigorous man. He struggles with his assailant,
who eventually falls to the ground on his own knife. Kevin tries
to save the man, while Molly runs to find a phone and call for
the police and an ambulance. But soon the man is dead.
One of the police officers who shows up recognizes the dead man
as DOYLE ERSKINE, a fellow who has a lengthy record of minor
offenses and is also thought to be associated with The Fourth
Reich, a neo-Nazi group based across the bay in San Francisco.
Molly has kept her telepathic ability hidden from everyone except
Kevin her entire adult life. She doesn't reveal to the police
what she read in Doyle Erskine's mind. The police assume, given
Erskine's record, that he was simply trying to mug Kevin and
Molly. The cops take their statements, then let them go.
Kevin is staggered by all this. He can think of no one who would
want to see him dead. And besides, even though he's only 32,
he'll be dead anyway within a few years ...
We flash back ten years to 1995 and the beginning of the story:
Kevin Tardivel is now just 22. He's a brilliant but unmotivated
general-sciences student lackadaisically working toward a
Bachelor's degree at McGill University, the largest
English-language university in his native Montreal, Quebec.
Kevin was born in a French-speaking family, but, like many
Francophones, is pursuing his higher education in English, since
better job opportunities exist in English Canada.
During an introductory lecture on inheritance, a teaching
assistant asks Kevin, who has brown eyes, to stand up. The T.A.
explains that since the gene for brown eyes is dominant, one of
Kevin's parents must also have brown eyes. Kevin protests that
the T.A. is wrong Kevin's mother and his late father both
had blue eyes. The two argue the point in front of the class,
but another student finds the relevant citation in the textbook,
proving the T.A.'s contention.
"Then how do you explain the fact that I've got brown eyes?"
demands Kevin. Simple, says the teaching assistant. Either you
are adopted, or your legal father wasn't your biological father.
Kevin, shaken by this, staggers out of the classroom.
Molly Bond, 20, lives in Minneapolis. She's talking to her
little sister, JESSICA, 15. Can you ever tell in advance what
people are going to say before they speak, asks Molly? Do you
ever get a feeling that someone is lying, even though they look
like they're telling the truth? When being asked a question in
Trivial Pursuit, can you see in your mind the answer on
the card from which the other player is reading? Jessica thinks
Molly is crazy for asking such things, but Molly is very earnest.
Finally, Jessica goes out to play with her friends, leaving Molly
alone. Molly realizes that her little sister doesn't have the
same gift she has Molly's ability to read minds first
appeared when she was 13. Indeed, as far as she can tell, no one
in her family has the same gift. Molly is very lonely.
Kevin confronts his mother about the evidence of his eye color.
She tearfully admits to an affair early in her marriage,
twenty-three years ago. Kevin's brother is the child of the man
Kevin knew as his father, but Kevin himself is indeed the product
of that long-ago illicit union. His mother says she hasn't seen
Kevin's real father, HENRY SPADE "the kindest man I ever
knew" since before Kevin was born. Spade had been single
then, but she'd heard years later through an acquaintance that
he'd since gotten married. The affair ended without Spade
knowing that he'd fathered a child, and, rather than destroy her
own marriage, Kevin's mother had let her husband think he was
Kevin's biological father.
Molly saves her money, and uses it to gain a private audience
with RAMON, a world-famous psychic whom she's read about since
childhood. She hopes at last to have someone to talk to about
her unusual talent. But during her session with Ramon, she
discovers by reading his mind that he's a fake. Molly is crushed
by this revelation there's no one she can share her talent
Over the protests of his mother, Kevin decides that he wants to
meet his biological father. Starting from what little
information his mother is able to provide, Kevin manages to track
down a phone number for Spade, who now lives in Toronto. Kevin
calls the house and asks for Henry Spade. The woman who answers
the phone promptly hangs up on Kevin before he can identify
himself. Kevin calls back and makes clear that he's an
acquaintance of Spade from long ago. Spade's wife apologizes
Spade has been unable to use the phone for over a year
now; all their friends and relatives know that. She'd assumed
Kevin was trying to sell something. Kevin presses for further
details. Spade, it turns out, is suffering from Huntington's
disease, a condition Kevin has heard of but doesn't know anything
Kevin makes up a pretext about being in Toronto next week (his
university reading week); would it be all right if he stopped by
to see Spade? Spade's wife says he rarely sees visitors anymore.
Kevin presses the point: ask him, he says, if he'd like to see
Kevin Tardivel he stresses the last name an old
friend of the family. The woman relents and asks her husband,
who, to her surprise, is highly agitated and says he would indeed
very much like to see Kevin. Arrangements are made for Kevin to
Molly has always wanted a normal life; she knows that if she were
to go public with her power, she would spend her years as an
object of study. But, perhaps because of her power, she has
become fascinated by what it means to be human and is now
studying psychology at the University of Minnesota. She's a
bright student anyway, but during her first round of examinations
she can't help reading the minds of the other students around
her, and when quizzed by her professors she knows exactly what
they're looking for. Academic life is going to be a breeze, it
seems but, then, much to her surprise, one of her
professors, BRUCE LAZZARO, asks to see her after class ...
It turns out that Professor Lazzaro is looking for more than just
correct answers from Molly. He offers her a chance to help him
with some research, but there's a distasteful undercurrent to his
thoughts: Lazzaro keeps imagining Molly undressed or performing
sexual acts. The research project is a great opportunity, but
she knows she couldn't stand working in the presence of his
leering thoughts. Molly is infuriated and frustrated, since
there's nothing she can do about this psychic sexual harassment:
Lazzaro's overt behavior is completely above board.
Kevin takes the train to Toronto and, without revealing to Mrs.
Spade his true relationship with her husband, has a reunion with
his father (who, of course, turns out to have brown eyes). Kevin
is shocked to see what Huntington's has done to the man his
mother had described as quick-witted and vigorous. Huntington's
is a condition that first manifests itself in middle age, and
results in deterioration of the brain, slurred speech, and loss
of voluntary movement, followed by death. Spade's mental
processes are severely impaired and his face and extremities
dance constantly in a chorus of jerky, involuntary movements
the principal symptom of Huntington's.
Molly, who still lives with her parents, is also having trouble
at home. She reads from her stepfather's mind that he is bored
in his new marriage to Molly's mother, and failing at work. It's
nothing traumatic no hidden affair, no secret
embezzlement. Just an ennui that hurts Molly: her stepfather
would rather be anywhere than with his family. Molly comes to
realize that she can't stay in Minnesota she has to get
away from her family before her growing contempt for its members
causes her to lash out, revealing herself and hurting them. And
she also has to get away from Professor Lazzaro. Everybody, it
seems, has thoughts best kept secret things they'd rather
not have known. Molly decides to start over somewhere else, with
people she can keep some emotional distance from.
Back in Montreal, Kevin researches Huntington's disease (also
called Huntington's chorea). It is a hereditary disease
and children of those who have it have precisely a 50-50 chance
of developing it themselves. Since symptoms don't show up until
middle age, Kevin could have it without knowing. Although there
is no cure, in the spring of 1993 the gene for Huntington's was
finally identified, and so an infallible test is now available to
show whether one actually has the disease.
Kevin wrestles with whether he wants to take the test. After
all, being able to retain the possibility that he might live a
normal life might be better than knowing for sure that his life
will be cut short by dementia ...
Molly visits the university guidance department. She wants to
transfer from the University of Minnesota to some other school.
Her marks are excellent (thanks in part to her telepathy)
surely some school somewhere will offer her a scholarship. The
guidance counselor asks her where she'd most like to go. Molly
says wherever they'll offer her the most scholarship money
she just wants to get out, fast.
After much soul-searching, Kevin decides to take the test for
Huntington's disease. He visits a doctor and learns the terrible
news that he does indeed have Huntington's.
There's more: IT15, the gene that causes Huntington's disease,
normally contains between eleven and thirty-four repeats of the
nucleotide triplet C-A-G. In those who have Huntington's, there
are between 42 and 100 C-A-G repeats and new research
indicates that the more repeats, the earlier in life Huntington's
symptoms will begin to appear. Kevin learns that he has 79
repeats, meaning that he will likely come down with symptoms when
he is just 35 or 36 years old. Now 23, he has only a dozen good
years of life yet.
Molly transfers to Boston University to continue her undergrad
psychology studies. Although a beautiful woman, she takes to
dressing very conservatively and to not wearing make-up
she's decided most men are pigs, and wants nothing to do with
them. She vows to keep emotional distance from everyone in
Boston so that their thoughts can't hurt her.
Kevin is devastated by the news of his disease. Those who have
Huntington's, even if symptoms haven't started to appear, have
seven times the normal suicide rate, and Kevin does indeed
contemplate ending his own life, rather than end up like his
father. But after much reflection, he decides to go on. Because
of his inherited disease, he adopts genetics as his major. He
may only have until he's 35 before his disease starts to impair
his mental processes, but James D. Watson co-discovered the
helical nature of DNA by the time he was just 25, and had won the
Nobel prize by the time he turned 34. If Watson could do it,
Kevin vows, so can he. He changes from being an unmotivated
underachiever into a driven man, pursuing his studies with a
vengeance. But he also vows never to live a life of dependency
on others: when his disease reaches the advanced stages, he
promises himself that he will take his own life.
In Boston, Molly has a bad encounter with a student Lothario, who
hits on her relentlessly. She finally gets rid of him by reading
from his mind that he has two girlfriends who both think he's in
monogamous relationships with them. "Buzz off, creep," says
Molly, "or I'll tell Karen about Patty, and Patty about Karen."
Molly laments that she'll never find a guy she can be happy with.
Kevin completes his Ph.D. studies in the year 2000, graduating
summa cum laude. He spends three years working for the
National Research Council of Canada, but, like many bright
Canadians before him, in 2004 he becomes part of the "brain
drain," moving to the United States where there's more money for
science. He takes a research position in genetics at the
University of California at Berkeley. There, he's befriended by
the departmental secretary, a kind, elderly diabetic woman named
JOAN LATIMER. Kevin also meets his new boss, the imposing
ancient head of Berkeley's efforts on the Human Genome Project,
IAN DAMROSCH, an 82-year-old Nobel laureate.
Molly, having just finished her Ph.D. in psychology at Boston
University, comes to Berkeley on a post-doctoral fellowship. She
has a particularly disastrous date, and ends up retreating to the
campus library late at night it's all but deserted that
late. There she meets Kevin Tardivel for the first time. The
librarian jokingly refers to Kevin as "the night watchman:" he's
only been at the university for a couple of weeks, but is in the
library late every night doing research.
Molly is impressed that, Kevin, although aware that she's
physically attractive, is clearly more interested in her mind
than her body. They go out for coffee, and have a great time.
And Molly realizes something very interesting Kevin, who
is bilingual, usually thinks in French, a language Molly doesn't
understand. Although she can always read his emotional state,
his specific articulated thoughts are hidden from her. She finds
that quite refreshing. Molly agrees to spend the next day with
Kevin, who, having just moved to California, plans to go shopping
for a used car.
Molly watches while Kevin tries to negotiate with a used-car
dealer. But Kevin is failing miserably, which just serves to
endear him more to Molly. Molly steps in, taking over the
negotiations. The car the dealer was pushing on Kevin was no
good; without revealing to Kevin what she's doing, Molly reads
from the salesman's mind which are the decent cars on the lot.
She negotiates fiercely, and after the deal is completed, Kevin
asks her how she knew the salesman would go that low. Molly
quips, "It's a gift."
They're really getting along well together, and end the day with
a lingering kiss. But beneath Kevin's surface thoughts, Molly
can tell there's something serious bothering him ... something
he's not yet ready to share.
Kevin is approached by a group of geneticists who oppose Ian
Damrosch. They want Kevin to join with them in petitioning
Congress to have funding diverted away from the full Human Genome
Project, which they call the biosciences equivalent of a
make-work project. Ninety percent of human DNA is junk, they
say: repetitive, nonsense sequences that don't code for protein
synthesis (that's why they're assumed to be junk the key
job of DNA is to produce specific proteins). All the junk is
presumably just deactivated leftovers from earlier stages in our
evolution. Sequencing and interpreting it is of no particular
scientific value, says the group. Much more appropriate would be
to concentrate the funds on those parts of the genome already
known to be associated with cancer, heart disease, and other
serious disorders. Although the other researchers don't know of
Kevin's condition, Huntington's is one of the disease that they
mention might be cured much more quickly if so much money wasn't
being tied up in sequencing "junk DNA."
Molly is shocked to discover that Kevin has no health insurance.
Having grown up with Canada's comprehensive and free health-care
system, he hadn't even stopped to think about the American health
plan. But now that he's permanently in the U.S., he'll need
coverage. Molly urges him to get some right away.
Kevin learns that Professor Damrosch's team has just made a
breakthrough, although it's peripheral to the central thrust of
the Human Genome Project: they've isolated complete, intact DNA
from Neanderthal bone some 60,000 years old. (Damrosch is
cross-appointed to the Institute of Human Origins, headed by
"Lucy" discoverer Donald Johanson, which is also located in
Berkeley.) Damrosch says that someday, no doubt, there will be a
Neanderthal Genome Project,
to sequence all the DNA of modern
man's closest relative. Even so, he laments that many questions
about what Neanderthals were really like will be left unanswered.
Being unfamiliar with U.S. insurance practices, Kevin asks
Damrosch what to expect when he goes to see an insurance agent.
Although Damrosch knows nothing of Kevin's condition, Kevin has
apparently pushed one of the old professor's buttons: Damrosch
explains that a law enacted in 1998 makes it illegal for U.S.
insurance companies to demand genetic testing of those applying
for policies. Damrosch is smug about this, saying that such
safeguards are arising naturally, and that the fear-mongers
accusing the Human Genome Project of creating a "Brave New World"
Despite the contentions of the group of geneticists who
approached him earlier, Kevin is reluctant to write off 90% of
the human genome on the assumption that it's junk. After all,
the repetitious strings of C-A-G nucleotides that cause
Huntington's were originally dismissed as junk, too. But they in
fact have a profound effect, and even seem to encode a kind of
biological clock (for, as noted earlier, the more C-A-G triplets
there are, the sooner Huntington's disease manifests itself).
Kevin decides to concentrate his research specifically on the
so-called "junk DNA." He's assigned a graduate student, SHARI
EPSTEIN, to assist him. Shari is on the top of the world: she's
just become engaged to her boyfriend, Howard Roden.
Kevin has a meeting with GILLIAN FENG, an insurance agent for
Danielson Health Insurance, Inc. Under the health plan enacted
by past-President Clinton, Kevin, as a U.S. resident, is entitled
to a basic package of services that cannot be denied him. But
Kevin knows that Huntington's patients usually end their lives
with years of declining health, and the basic insurance package
will be inadequate, since it doesn't cover a private hospital
room, any at-home nursing services, many of the drugs that help
ameliorate Huntington's symptoms, or any experimental
Huntington's treatments. Kevin therefore tells Gillian that he'd
like to purchase additional coverage.
It turns out that Professor Damrosch was technically correct
no insurance company can demand genetic tests. But
Gillian says that the policies offered by Danielson and its
competitors offer premiums 75% lower for those who
voluntarily disclose that they have a favorable genetic
profile. In other words, those who don't volunteer for genetic
tests are classed as if they had genetic disorders anyway. Kevin
is shocked by this flagrant violation of the spirit of the 1998
law, but Gillian claims it's just like offering cheaper
life-insurance policies to non-smokers: no one forces people to
disclose their smoking status, but, for those who choose to
declare themselves non-smokers, lower rates are routinely
offered. Kevin, confident that he has no currently active
genetic disorder, agrees to provide a blood sample for genetic
testing. Kevin also asks about life and household insurance, but
Gillian explains that Danielson is strictly a health-insurance
Kevin's assistant, Shari Epstein, is deeply upset. Kevin tries
to find out why. It turns out that she's broken up with her
fiancé, Howard Roden. Kevin expresses condolences and
asks whether they'd had a fight. She says no, she still dearly
loves Howard and he loves her. But, as is routine for Jews from
certain parts of the world, they went for testing and discovered
that they both carry the gene for Tay-Sachs disease
meaning any child of theirs would have a 50-50 chance of having
that devastating condition (a degenerative brain disorder that
causes death in childhood). Shari also suffers from fertility
problems. She and Howard decided not to get married, since it
will be a struggle anyway for her to become pregnant and half her
pregnancies would have to be aborted because the fetuses would
have Tay-Sachs. Genetic screening, Kevin is fast realizing, is a
mixed blessing; had such techniques existed thirty-odd years ago
for Huntington's, he might not have been born himself.
Molly and Kevin's relationship is going very well indeed
so well, in fact, that Molly does something she's never done
before: she tells Kevin about her telepathic ability. Kevin is
at first skeptical, then amazed. But he's also apprehensive: he
can't imagine not having the privacy of his own mind. Molly says
that so long as he thinks in French, all she can read is basic
emotional content and imagery, not specific thoughts.
The evening grows more intimate. Like most people who speak
multiple languages, Kevin can think in whichever one seems
expedient. Although he normally thinks in French, he pushes an
English-language thought to the surface of his mind. Molly
smiles. "I know," she says. "I love you, too." But then Kevin
grows sad, and says that their relationship has no future
because he has no future.
Kevin tells Molly about his latent Huntington's disease. Molly
is shocked, but sympathetic. Kevin explains that in a few years,
his disease will begin to rob him of his mind and his body.
Molly says her own parents divorced when she was five, and these
days, five or ten good years is better than most people get.
Besides, Kevin is the only man she's ever met who sees beyond her
outer beauty to what's inside. Kevin says maybe it's because of
his own genetic disorder that he tries to judge people on "the
content of their character rather than the color of their skin"
[to quote Martin Luther King] or any other mere genetic
attribute, including beauty. Kevin and Molly become engaged to
Kevin hears back from Gillian Feng, his insurance agent, who is
quite concerned. She gently tries to break to Kevin the news
that he has the gene for Huntington's. Kevin tells her not to
worry he already knew that.
Gillian is shocked: if Kevin knew he had Huntington's, why did
he agree to the blood tests? Kevin says he's perfectly healthy
now; any physical exam or test would show that. But Gillian says
now that it's known that Kevin has the gene for Huntington's,
he's ineligible for any additional insurance benefits. The mere
presence of the Huntington's gene, even if it's not manifesting
itself yet, constitutes a pre-existing condition. Kevin scoffs
at this and reiterates that he's perfectly healthy. Gillian is
adamant, though, and since Danielson has reciprocal database
arrangements with its competitors, Kevin will now likely be
unable to get extended insurance from anyone. He should have
simply paid the high premiums while he had the chance, she says.
Kevin is shocked by all this, and asks whether genes for such
things as adult-onset diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's
disease, and so on also preclude currently healthy people from
buying additional benefits. Gillian says yes. Try to see it
from the insurance company's point of view, she says: by law, we
have to give such people basic coverage, even though they can
cost us millions of dollars in benefits payments. You can't
blame us for limiting our liability, and denying additional
coverage. After all, she says, less than one-half of one percent
of insured individuals account for over 50% of the dollar value
of all insurance claims.
Kevin continues his research on "junk" DNA, confirming the
long-held suspicion that it contains discarded instructions from
earlier stages in our evolutionary history. But he discovers
that far from being inactive, as had long been assumed, the
"junk" plays an important role in ontogeny recapitulating
phylogeny (the phenomenon by which human embryos briefly grow
gills, a tail, and other reminders of our evolutionary past).
Like many young couples, Kevin and Molly are trying to get to
know every facet of each other. One night, they discuss
religion. Kevin, like many academics, is an atheist he'd
been raised Roman Catholic, like most French Canadians, but had
lost what faith he had when he was diagnosed with Huntington's.
Molly, without being argumentative, points out that she's always
found that kind of religious reasoning rather shallow: people
who look on all the suffering in the world, but don't start to
question God's existence until they're hit with a personal
tragedy. Molly, it turns out is a Unitarian she believes
Christ had a lot of good teachings, but rejects his divinity,
although she does hold that there is some form of God. But that
God is clearly unknowable she cannot read, or even detect,
the presence of his mind. Molly describes herself as a "theistic
evolutionist," supposing ("believing" is too strong a word for
her) that God planned all the broad strokes out in advance, but
after setting everything in motion billions of years ago is
content to watch it all unfold.
One of Molly's co-workers, Professor INGRID LAGERKVIST, gives
birth to a child that has Down syndrome, a genetic disorder
caused by the presence of an extra chromosome 21, resulting in
mental retardation and weak muscle tone. Ingrid is furious, and
engages a member of the Law School faculty to sue her doctor for
not warning her that the unborn child was genetically defective
in time to abort it. Kevin, amazed by the American appetite for
litigation, is also shocked by this concept of "wrongful-life"
suits but does sympathize with Ingrid, who will incur
enormous expenses raising a child with such exceptional needs.
Kevin discovers that Danielson, and other insurance companies,
offer no-cost abortions to parents with defective fetuses.
Kevin, although pro-choice, realizes that having the abortion of
defective fetuses as a standard health insurance benefit, and
having doctors liable for damages when they fail to provide
genetic counseling, is creating a kind of economically-forced
eugenics ... and that it will become more intense as the Human
Genome Project makes complete genetic profiling possible.
Disturbed by the birth of the Down-syndrome baby, Kevin and Molly
agonize over having children of their own. It's something they
both very much want, but any child of Kevin's has a 50-50 chance
of also having Huntington's. Molly argues that since
Huntington's usually doesn't manifest itself until middle age,
there will be decades of additional research on finding a cure
before any child of theirs would have to face the prospect of
Huntington's. But Kevin, having seen what his father had gone
through, can't bring himself to risk fathering a child. Molly is
Kevin, still incensed over being denied extended health
insurance, and realizing that corporations pay more attention to
complaints from stockholders than from customers, phones a
stockbroker and buys a hundred shares of Danielson Heath
Insurance, Inc. The broker congratulates him on his choice:
Danielson has been doing significantly better than its
competition this past year.
Kevin and Molly get married at the chapel on the university
campus. Kevin still has few friends in the States; Ian Damrosch
serves as his best man.
Kevin is making more progress in his increasingly intriguing
study of the "junk" DNA in the human genome. He seems to be on
the verge of identifying a second layer of information on top of
the traditional C,G,A,T base-pair DNA coding: the additional
layer of information is related to the presence or absence of a
methyl group, CH[sub-3], attached to the base cytosine (the "C"
Although a well-known phenomenon, "cytosine methylation" is
traditionally ignored in mapping DNA. But there is good evidence
that the methylation state is preserved in DNA reproduction,
meaning it is faithfully copied from generation to generation
and therefore could code significant additional
information into the DNA. As Kevin investigates further, the
sequence of attached methyl groups inside the long strings of
supposedly junk DNA seem to form meaningful patterns ...
We're now caught up with the scene used as the novel's opening,
in which Doyle Erskine tries to kill Kevin. Knowing from what
Molly read in Erskine's mind that Erskine killed several other
people before trying to kill him, Kevin starts looking into all
the unsolved murders in Berkeley in the past year. No pattern
emerges: some victims were old, some young, some married, some
single. They didn't have an employer in common, or anything else
that Kevin can find. He's still baffled about why someone
especially a neo-Nazi would want to kill him.
Kevin, wanting to make Molly happy, decides to broach the topic
of artificial insemination as a way for them to have a baby.
Molly is intrigued by the notion.
Still concerned about the attempt on his life, Kevin visits the
police department. The regular cops won't give him the time of
day, but he manages to befriend a police pathologist named HELEN
KAWABATA. She does a lot of work for the police in DNA
fingerprinting, so she and Kevin have professional interests in
common. Kevin learns from her that in Doyle's apartment, in
addition to a lot of neo-Nazi paraphernalia, the police had found
the wallet of one BRYAN PROCTOR, who had been shot dead by an
unknown intruder ten days before the attempt on Kevin's life.
Molly is spending the day in San Francisco. While out for a
walk, she comes across an incredible sight: an old man
tormenting a cat that's dying at the side of the road after being
hit by a car. She's never seen such cruelty before the
man is poking and beating the dying beast with his cane. Molly
accosts him. He calls her a harsh-sounding name she doesn't
recognize, then goes away. Molly phones the SPCA to take care of
the dying cat.
Ingrid Lagerkvist approaches Kevin. In her wrongful-life suit
against her doctor, she'll need an expert witness on genetics to
explain the simple pre-natal tests available for Down syndrome.
Would Kevin be willing to testify? Kevin is uncomfortable with
all this, and suggests Ian Damrosch instead after all,
he's a Nobel Prize winner; his testimony would carry great
weight. But Ingrid says it also carries a great price: Damrosch
is often called upon to be an expert witness, and charges $20,000
per day to do so. She hoped Kevin might do it for free, as a
favor. Kevin says what about FELIX SOUSA, another professor.
Ingrid says although she dearly hopes to see that monster on the
witness stand someday, it should be as a defendant in a
hate-mongering trail. Having Sousa as her expert witness would
do more harm than good. Kevin reluctantly agrees to provide the
Kevin receives confirmation in the mail of his Danielson Health
Insurance stock purchase, along with a copy of the company's
annual report. Kevin thinks the report is fairly cheesy compared
to others he's seen: it doesn't even have photos of the
principal officers. Too bad he'd like to see what these
people he's growing to hate look like. He notes that Danielson
serves mostly Northern California, and currently provides health
insurance for 1.7 million individuals.
Molly and Kevin make their decision: they're going to go ahead
with artificial insemination. They turn to Kevin's boss, Ian
Damrosch, for advice on this topic. Damrosch, much to their
surprise, volunteers out of the blue to be the sperm donor.
After all, says Damrosch, he's a Nobel laureate can't get
better sperm. And this way, there'll be no waiting: Damrosch,
as a geneticist, can do the in vitro fertilization for
them right here at the university.
As a prelude to the fertilization procedure, Kevin does some
studies of Molly's own DNA and discovers some very unusual
sequences in it presumably the genetic cause of her
Meanwhile, as both a geneticist himself and a person with a
genetic disease, Kevin is still making quite a stink about
Danielson Health Insurance's refusal to offer him extended
benefits. Kevin's letters of complaint find their way to the
desk of MARTIN DANIELSON, president of the insurance company.
Although Martin and his octogenarian father, STEVEN, who founded
the company in 1950, are the principal stockholders, the company
is publicly held. As he prepares for the company's Annual
General Meeting, Martin and his father decry the state of the
company and of the country. In this post-Clinton era,
profit margins in the health-insurance industry are essentially
set by the government. Premium amounts are based on anticipated
claims as determined by government-conducted demographic surveys
plus a mandated profit margin. Danielson Health Insurance's
profits had risen all through the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties,
and Nineties, but now have stagnated and seem likely to be
stagnant forever, especially since every American now has health
insurance, meaning there's no longer a pool of uninsured to make
inroads into. Both Danielsons decry the government interference
as un-American, and Martin regrets that there's nothing they can
do about it.
An abrasive old man named DAVID ROSENBERG has been poking around
the genetics lab, asking questions about three of the oldest
members of the Human Genome Project, including Ian Damrosch, the
crusty old Nobel laureate. Kevin shrugs this off: a lot of
classified work is undertaken at Berkeley, and security checks
are done frequently.
Kevin and Molly proceed with the in vitro fertilization,
with Damrosch performing the procedure. They're very excited
about the prospect of having a baby.
Kevin visits MELINDA PROCTOR, the widow of Bryan Proctor, the man
in whose death Doyle Erskine has been implicated. Kevin seeks
any connection between himself and Bryan, but Melinda can provide
none. Kevin was born in Montreal and works at the University of
California; Bryan, a building superintendent, has never been to
Canada, and never attended any university. As near as Kevin can
determine, he and Bryan have nothing in common not age,
not employer, not political affiliation, not religion. The only
thing they apparently share is that Doyle Erskine tried to kill
Kevin discovers that David Rosenberg is with the Justice
Department, which normally has nothing to do with security
clearances. Why, he wonders, would the Justice Department be
interested in old geneticists?
Kevin finally cracks the code based on cytosine methylation
patterns within the long, seemingly pointless strands of human
DNA that aren't involved in protein synthesis. The binary
pattern of presence or absence of methyl groups forms a complex
algorithm for invoking what geneticists call frameshift
Frameshifts occur when a nucleotide (say, one containing the base
T) is unexpectedly added to or deleted from a DNA string. When
that happens, the rest of the string is shifted along, causing
the nucleotide triplets (which are the "words" of the genetic
language) to be shuffled. So, if you take out the first "T" from
a DNA string reading C-T-A-G-T-C-G, then instead of having the
first two nucleotide triplets being C-T-A and G-T-C, they become
C-A-G and T-C-G a completely different genetic message.
Although such frameshift mutations were previously thought to be
random (and almost always detrimental), Kevin shows that they can
be invoked by natural processes, when RNA transcribes the
"junk" DNA [RNA transcription is a key part of the procedure used
to replicate DNA].
While cleaning up his equipment, Kevin drops two beakers, and
knocks a retort stand onto the floor. He tries to shrug it off
as fatigue, but at the back of his mind is the thought that
clumsiness is often the first symptom of the onset of
Kevin learns that David Rosenberg is with the Office of Special
Investigations, the Justice Department division created in 1978
to hunt down Nazi war criminals the same agency that had
wrongly charged John Demjanjuk with being Ivan the Terrible, the
sadistic operator of the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp
during World War II, a man who had tortured hundreds of prisoners
and was directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands
In a shocking episode of what appears to be random violence, Joan
Latimer, the kindly secretary in Kevin's department, is brutally
murdered. Kevin, having been assaulted himself and having seen a
friend killed, finds himself missing the safer streets of
Kevin confronts David Rosenberg: what are you doing here?
Rosenberg says there's always been the whiff of controversy about
the Human Genome Project: concerns about the dark side of
genetic screening. The Office of Special Investigations, which
has several hundred Americans under investigation for being
possible war criminals, has long kept special tabs on researchers
in the field of genetics a natural place for Nazis to
gravitate to, in Rosenberg's perhaps skewed opinion.
Kevin takes the opportunity to ask Rosenberg about the Fourth
Reich, the neo-Nazi group to which Doyle Erskine was rumored to
have belonged. Rosenberg is surprised that Kevin knows about
them. The OSI agent admits he's come to the university at this
time because the attempt on Kevin's life provides the first
direct, albeit still unclear, connection between the neo-Nazi
group in San Francisco and the Berkeley genetics department. The
Fourth Reich is rumored to have 250 members, and is said to be
headed by a Nazi war criminal and new evidence suggests
that it is Ivan Marshenko (the real name of Ivan the Terrible).
Kevin shudders as he recalls what Molly had read from Erskine's
mind: he'd been ordered to kill Kevin by a man named Ivan. Of
course, there's no way Kevin can convey this information to
There are three European-immigrant professors emeriti at Berkeley
in their eighties or nineties who were old enough to have been
Nazis in World War II including Damrosch. Rosenberg
apparently suspects Damrosch of being Ivan the Terrible. But
Kevin says if anyone's a Nazi on campus, it's Felix Sousa. Sousa
has been a thorn in the university's side for years a
professor who has been pushing a theory that Asians are more
intelligent than whites, who are, in turn, more intelligent than
blacks. Although the university would love to shut him up, Sousa
has been hiding behind claims of academic freedom and First
Amendment protection. Rosenberg agrees Sousa is a reprehensible
character, but points out that, at 44, he's much too young to
have been an actual World War II Nazi.
Kevin and David are getting along better now: David's initial
abrasiveness was in fact defensiveness over the widely held
belief that French people from Quebec, like Kevin, are generally
anti-Semitic. David is relieved to find that this isn't the case
Molly gives birth to a baby girl with a full head of brown hair.
Molly and Kevin bond immediately with the child, whom they name
Amanda (which means "worthy of being loved"). She seems happy
and healthy, and the new parents are proud and delighted. They
thank Damrosch profusely for all he's done for them.
Kevin, worrying about his own deteriorating condition, attends a
meeting of the local Huntington's Disease Association, a
self-help group. He's shocked to find that five people in the
group have died recently. The group leader explains that, of
course, they're always losing people in the advanced stages of
the disease Huntington's is, after all, terminal. But
what's unusual is that four of the five who died had yet to
manifest any symptoms. Kevin presses for more information: Of
the four, one was a suicide (as observed before, not unusual
amongst those with Huntington's), but the other three all died
Kevin makes a further refinement to his discovery about
frameshift mutations: the kind that are caused by RNA
transcription of "junk" DNA can only happen in females (they are
negated by the presence of a Y chromosome), and only early on,
when the female's lifetime supply of egg cells is being produced.
Molly has managed to build a much closer relationship with her
mother and her younger sister, Jessica, now that she can only
write to them or talk to them on the phone (and therefore can't
read their minds). Molly's mother and sister fly out to
California to see Molly and her baby. Although everything they
say is perfectly correct, oohing and aahing over
little Amanda, Molly is shocked to read from their minds that
they find her baby surpassingly ugly.
David Rosenberg is still poking around the genetics lab. The
government is under ongoing pressure to close down the OSI, he
says, which many see as a rogue office: in July 1993, during the
aftermath of the Demjanjuk case, US Federal Judge Thomas Wiseman
found that the OSI had failed to meet even minimal standards of
professional conduct. And, with each passing year, more and more
people call the OSI a waste of money: after all, World War II
ended over sixty years ago (it is now 2006), so very few Nazis
war criminals could possibly still be alive. But Rosenberg, who
lost much of his family during the war, is determined not to give
up the fight, even if he has to cut legal corners to do so.
Kevin stands up for Damrosch, defending him against Rosenberg's
The tabloid TV news program A Current Affair comes to the
campus to do a piece on Professor Felix Sousa and his distasteful
theories of racial superiority. Many faculty members, including
Kevin and Molly, grumble that with all the legitimate and
beneficial research going on at the university, it's a shame this
crap gets all the attention.
Baby Amanda continues to grow. Kevin loves to hold her in his
arms while sitting in a chair, but is afraid to carry her when
walking, lest his increasing lack of coordination lead to him
dropping her. But something is wrong with Amanda, too: although
she can make several sounds low in her throat, she passes her
first birthday without having said a single coherent word. Kevin
and Molly are concerned.
Ingrid Lagerkvist's little boy with Down syndrome is named ERIK.
Although over a year older than Amanda, the two children become
playmates. Erik's retardation keeps him from speaking much
anyway, so he gets along well with the mute girl.
On a hunch, Kevin entreats another favor from his friend, police
pathologist Helen Kawabata: he wants tissue samples from the
morgue of victims of unsolved murders. She agrees to provide
them. No tissue sample is available for Bryan Proctor, though
a witness had heard the gunshot that killed him, so few
forensic tests were done in his case.
Kevin and Molly watch the broadcast of A Current Affair.
The piece on Felix Sousa begins with a long shot of him walking
toward the camera. He's wearing a bulky brown leather jacket
with its collar turned up, and aviator sunglasses with mirrored
lenses. Kevin remarks that the guy looks like a bloody storm
trooper. Both he and Molly are disgusted by Sousa's noxious
By chance, Molly overhears a couple of students arguing on the
university campus. One of them calls the other the same name the
man who had been torturing the cat called Molly almost two years
ago. Molly confronts the student, who turns out to be from
Winnipeg which has a large Ukrainian population. The
word, he admits, embarrassed, is Ukrainian for "bitch."
Helen Kawabata comes through with the genetic samples Kevin
wanted, and Kevin performs standard tests. Besides the three
members of the Huntington's support group, in about a third of
the unsolved murder cases routine tests turn up major genetic
disorders in the victims. Since only one out of every two
hundred or so people in the general population has such genetic
disorders, this is surprising indeed. Kevin is starting to feel
quite paranoid but he also realizes that mental
deterioration is part of his disease process. Is what he's
beginning to suspect true? Or has his Huntington's progressed
farther than he'd thought is he starting to lose his mind?
Kevin appears in court as an expert witness on genetics in Ingrid
Lagerkvist's wrongful-life suit. He finds the entire trial
distasteful, but especially the attitude of Ingrid's lawyer that
Erik, the baby with Down syndrome, is nothing but a hideous
burden, incapable of real human feeling.
Kevin goes back to see Melinda Proctor, the widow of Bryan
Proctor. Did Bryan have any medical problems, he asks? Yes, she
says: he had bad kidneys, and was on the waiting list for a
Amanda is rather hairy for a child. Old Ian Damrosch has been
making a pest of himself, constantly asking after the girl, and
insisting on periodic tests of her blood, hearing, and so on.
Kevin and Molly, who just want to be left alone with their
daughter, come to resent Damrosch's intrusions, even though they
suppose he does have some claim, being the girl's biological
Kevin makes another breakthrough in his frameshift research: the
DNA in mitochondria (which is not part of chromosomes, and is
inherited solely from the mother) provides a checksum for random
frameshift mutations. [Mitochondria are small organelles within
cells that contain their own DNA DNA that is unrelated to
normal heredity. A checksum is a simple mathematical procedure
for verifying the integrity of a lengthy string of data
such as the genetic information coded in chromosomes.]
If a frameshift occurs by accident (due to a random addition or
loss of a base pair), the checksum sees to it that the DNA in the
female's egg cells is corrected, so that the error in coding
won't be passed on to the next generation. Only if the
frameshift is invoked during RNA transcription of "junk" DNA does
it get passed on to the egg cells.
Kevin is shocked by the implications of all this. Cells, he's
discovered, have a built-in mechanism to correct for random
frameshifts, but still allow certain special frameshifts to be
passed on. It's almost as if those mutations had been waiting to
be activated as if the characteristics they coded for had
been pre-programmed into the DNA.
The jury makes its decision in the Lagerkvist wrongful-life suit:
Ingrid is awarded 3.4 million dollars because her doctor failed
to advise her that she was carrying a defective fetus. Kevin is
deeply ambivalent over the outcome, but Ingrid is overjoyed
and there is no doubt that the money will make young
Erik's life a lot easier.
Amanda continues to grow up, but she still can't speak, even
though she seems to be a bright child. Indeed, Molly, who can
read Amanda's mind, is sure she's not retarded. Molly and Kevin
are very concerned about this and arrange for special testing.
X-rays reveal the cause of Amanda's muteness: her hyoid bone
(the anchor for the speech-related muscles of the jaw, larynx,
and tongue) is located too far up in her throat.
Amanda seems to love both her parents very much, but Kevin
surprises himself by discovering that he's jealous of the
closeness between telepathic Molly and mute Amanda. Still,
Amanda is being taught sign-language, so she can communicate with
people other than her telepathic mother. Kevin is also learning
sign language to better communicate with his daughter she
can clearly hear spoken words, but doesn't respond to them well.
Damrosch is making more and more demands from Kevin and Molly
about Amanda. In the guise of concern over her inability to
speak, he keeps insisting on additional tests and tissue samples.
Molly, in doing a computer search of literature related to hyoid
bone disorders, comes across a reference to "Moshe," a
Neanderthal fossil from Mount Carmel in Israel, found in 1986
the only specimen in which the hyoid bone was intact. But
key to resolving the long-running controversy over whether
Neanderthals could speak is the location of the hyoid within the
throat, something impossible to determine from the fossil.
In a flash, Molly realizes that the unthinkable may have been
done: rather than fertilizing one of her eggs with his own
sperm, Damrosch may have instead implanted some of the recovered
Neanderthal DNA into Molly's egg.
Molly shares this suspicion with Kevin. He's appalled at first,
but soon realizes that, even if it's true, it doesn't diminish
his love for Amanda. Still, he finally begins to agree that
Damrosch might indeed be Ivan, leader of The Fourth Reich. After
all, performing bizarre experiments on living human beings was
standard procedure for Nazi scientists. Given that, getting the
Neanderthal DNA may have been a blessing in disguise: better
that than DNA from a Nazi war criminal.
Kevin uses his staff keys to sneak into Damrosch's lab late at
night. He steals a tiny sample of the precious Neanderthal DNA
to do genetic tests. There's no doubt: Damrosch completely
replaced the genetic material in Molly's egg. Amanda is a clone
of a Neanderthal woman who lived 60,000 years ago.
Molly and Kevin confront Damrosch. Arrogant to the end, Damrosch
admits using Neanderthal DNA, but contends he has done nothing
wrong the Tardivels wanted a baby, and Damrosch helped
them get one. Damrosch says Neanderthal DNA differs from modern
human DNA by much less than one percent. He'd been able to
determine in advance of the cloning that the baby would look
passably like a child that might have been produced through a
union of Molly's and Damrosch's DNA, at least in the gross
details of skin color, hair color, and eye color and shape (and
here, echoing the novel's opening, Damrosch points out that
fortunately he himself has brown eyes, since Molly's are blue,
but he knew in advance that Amanda's would be brown).
Kevin, convinced now that Damrosch must be Ivan, wants to turn
him over to Rosenberg but he can't without revealing the
truth about his beloved daughter Amanda, which, for Amanda's
sake, he wants to keep secret. Still, he and Molly vow that they
will find a way to get Damrosch to leave their daughter alone.
They'll be damned if she's used as an object of study.
Even so, Kevin finds himself fascinated by what Damrosch has done
and now he can get unlimited Neanderthal DNA samples
painlessly from Amanda herself. He checks to see how the
cytosine methylation states within her "junk DNA" compare with
those of modern humans. They're similar, but not the same.
Kevin, intrigued, heads out to the zoo in San Francisco to get
DNA samples from a variety of primates.
That night, as usual, Kevin tries to chat with his daughter using
sign language. But, heart-wrenchingly, his Huntington's disease
is worsening, and he's losing the fine motor control needed to
Kevin discovers a distinct pattern in the drifting of cytosine
methylation in primates: by comparing the DNA of species that
emerged successively earlier in evolutionary time, it appears
that the cytosine methylation encodes a kind of counter that
increments very slowly on the order of tens of thousands
of years. It's almost as if the frameshift mutations and
the evolutionary changes they cause were timed to occur
throughout the ages.
Kevin comes home early. Molly has been in Amanda's room doing
something with the child Kevin can't tell what but
she seems surprised by his arrival, and acts as though nothing
had been going on. Although there's no ominous overtone to this,
Kevin quips that he doesn't have to be able to read minds to know
that Molly and Amanda are up to something ...
Kevin reflects on the impact his frameshift model will have on
evolutionary theory. Standard evolution is periodically assailed
because of the lack of fossil evidence for missing links
intermediate stages halfway between one species and the next. To
explain this away, Harvard's Stephen Jay Gould has pushed a model
of "punctuated equilibrium," in which environmental upheavals
destabilize populations, and allow the offspring of only a
handful of individuals with a mutant characteristic to rapidly
become the new dominant form. But Gould's theory has a big hole
in it: it requires all members of the new species to be
descended from a very few members of the previous species
meaning the entire new species arises from a very tiny gene pool.
But tiny gene pools are recipes for disaster, as the inbreeding
of royal families proves. However, with timed frameshifts
occurring almost simultaneously in millions of members of a
species, new species could arise safely without the dangerous
narrowing of the gene pool.
The timed-frameshift proposal also lends new support to the
"multi-regional" model of human evolution [a real model for which
their is considerable evidence], which contends that Homo
sapiens emerged simultaneously in Africa and Asia, and
Europe. (The debate over whether the multi-regional model or the
competing single-origin "Out of Africa" model is correct is one
of the hottest current issues in paleoanthropology.)
At a meeting of his Huntington's support group, Kevin stumbles
across the fact that all three of the people who died violent
deaths in the group had their health insurance through Danielson,
just as Kevin himself does. On a whim, he checks with the
husband of Joan Latimer, the murdered departmental secretary, who
had had diabetes, and with the widow of Bryan Proctor. Both of
them were also insured by Danielson.
Kevin pieces together all the lines of evidence he's been
gathering about the attempt on his own life, and the unsolved
murders in Berkeley: what appeared to be random violence and
accidents drive-by shootings, muggings resulting in death,
dubious household mishaps were in fact, in many cases,
pre-meditated murders aimed at specific individuals, all of whom
either had medical conditions that would result in high insurance
claims (such as the Huntington's patients; or Joan Latimer, the
diabetic secretary; or Bryan Proctor, the man about to have an
expensive transplant operation) or were at risk for same. And
almost all of them had their health insurance through Danielson.
In a climate of government-controlled insurance premiums, it
appears Danielson has found a way to increase its profitability
by eliminating clients before it ever has to pay major
benefits to them.
Kevin recalls various figures he's heard. Insurance agent
Gillian Feng had told him that one-half of one percent of those
insured account for 50% of the claims paid out. And the
Danielson annual report had said the company insures 1.7 million
people. The enormity of the conspiracy is staggering: Danielson
is apparently trying to eliminate that costly half a percent
8,500 people before they make major insurance
Kevin uses his clout as a member of the Human Genome Project
the results of which insurance companies are very much
interested in, since they can be used to fine-tune actuarial
tables to wrangle an appointment for himself and Molly
with Martin Danielson, president of Danielson Health Insurance.
Although Kevin is careful not to let out his suspicions that
Danielson is behind the murders, he steers the conversation in
such a way that if Danielson were involved, guilty thoughts would
come to the surface of his mind, where Molly could read them.
But after the meeting, Molly says Martin Danielson is innocent.
Kevin is frustrated he thought for sure he'd solved the
By comparing Neanderthal DNA, modern human DNA, and DNA from
other primates, Kevin tracks down a key frameshift mutation that
occurred perhaps 40,000 years ago: a mutation responsible for
the descending of the hyoid bone down into the throat the
frameshift that took us from the mute Neanderthals to speaking
Still looking for evidence to support their conspiracy theory,
Molly and Kevin attend a shareholders' meeting at Danielson
Plaza, a 30-story tower set on a couple of acres of parkland just
outside of San Francisco. As they drive up to the building,
Kevin notices a helicopter landing on the tower's roof.
Kevin takes the opportunity to make a brief, impromptu speech
during the meeting about the rights of those with genetic
disorders, but he finds the audience unreceptive: Danielson's
profits are well above industry average this year, so the other
shareholders are delighted with the way things are.
After Kevin's talk, Molly is shocked to catch sight of the same
man she saw years ago tormenting a dying cat ... and he's being
introduced to the shareholders' meeting to a giant round of
applause: he is Steven Danielson, founder of the corporation.
The cruelty Molly had seen before suddenly makes sense, and
everything clicks in her mind: Ian Damrosch isn't Ivan the
Terrible. Steven Danielson is and he's using his neo-Nazi
followers to eliminate people, boosting his company's profits.
Kevin observes bitterly that being an actuary is the ideal job
for an out-of-work Nazi the whole profession is based on
categorizing people into "good" and "bad" groups, just like
Hitler with his racism. David Rosenberg had said The Fourth
Reich has about 250 members. To eliminate the 8,500 high-risk
Danielson clients would only require 34 murders a piece
chump change for Nazis, especially if the murders were spaced out
over five years or so.
The University of California at Berkeley does a lot of classified
defense work. Kevin approaches one of his colleagues about
borrowing some special equipment ...
The next day, Kevin and Molly manage to get in to see Steven
Danielson (Molly disguises her appearance by wearing a wig and
make-up, lest Steven recognize her from their encounter on the
street over the dying cat). Kevin, it turns out, is wearing a
miniature video camera on his lapel, courtesy of his colleague in
the Remote Imaging department at Berkeley. Kevin is determined
to get pictures of Steven, despite his having taken the
precaution of never publishing photos of himself (hence the lack
of photos in the Danielson annual report). Molly is sure they've
got the right man this time: although Steven thinks in
Ukrainian, the imagery in his mind is so horrifying that she
becomes physically ill and has to excuse herself from the meeting
after probing it.
Kevin gets blow-ups made of still images from his secret video.
He and Molly go to see David Rosenberg, presenting him with
photos of the man they claim is Ivan. Rosenberg is very excited:
Steven does indeed match eye-witness descriptions of Ivan he has
on file from the fact-finding done before the Demjanjuk trial.
He gets on the phone to Washington to check on Steven's
immigration records. He also sends the photos of Steven to the
OSI lab, to have a computerized retrogression done, producing an
image of what the same man might have looked like sixty years
before. Rosenberg lost his older brother in the Treblinka death
camp. He promises that this time Ivan won't get away.
Meanwhile, Molly is determined to put an end to Damrosch's
demands on her daughter. She knows from long experience that
everyone has something they'd rather keep hidden; she's going to
find Damrosch's secret, whatever it might be. During her
digging, she starts talking to people in the genetics department,
including several who worked with Damrosch when he was doing his
Nobel-prize-winning research decades ago. Some of them seem
quite nervous about her questioning ...
Word comes back from Washington: Steven Danielson had supposedly
immigrated to the United States from Austria after the war; his
name at the time had been Semen Danylchuk, but he Anglicized it
upon moving to America. But further checking reveals major
inconsistencies: there is no record of Semen Danylchuk prior to
1945 and, historically, the last clear record of Ivan
Marshenko was in Yugoslavia in 1944. In other words, the records
on Ivan end almost exactly when the life of Semen Danylchuk
According to Rosenberg, at this late date only seven Treblinka
survivors are still alive. Of those, three had wrongfully
identified John Demjanjuk as having been Ivan the Terrible during
the 1987-88 trial. But four others had said Demjanjuk was
not Ivan and, because of that, they're still
credible witnesses. Rosenberg tracks these four people down,
three in Israel and one in the United States. The first one they
find now has Alzheimer's disease and is unable to testify
reliably. The second to be found has since gone blind due to
complications of diabetes. Kevin reflects on the irony that
Steven may yet escape justice because of the ravages on potential
witnesses caused by genetic disorders.
But the last two, both in Israel, are still healthy. Kevin's
photos of Steven Danielson, along with the computer-generated
retrogression, are faxed to the Israel authorities and shown to
the two remaining witnesses. Both separately identify Steven as
David Rosenberg is delighted, but still cautious: the OSI
thought it had a solid case against Demjanjuk, but ended up with
egg on its face. He wants more this time: he wants a
confession. Kevin agrees to arrange a meeting with Steven while
wired for sound.
The meeting between Steven and Kevin takes place in Steven's
office on the 27th floor of the 30-story Danielson Tower.
Justice Department agents are waiting in a van outside Danielson
Plaza, monitoring the signal. Kevin confronts Steven with his
allegations. Steven says that Kevin could never prove such wild
assertions, and threatens him with libel suits if he breathes a
word of them. Kevin says he's got more than enough proof, and
Suddenly, the door to Steven's office bursts open. It's a burly
corporate security guard, saying their security systems have
detected a transmitter in this room. The guard shakes down
Kevin, finding the transmitter. Kevin says it doesn't matter:
there are a dozen Justice Department agents waiting outside the
building to take Steven in for questioning.
But Steven is a multi-millionaire fugitive who has been preparing
for sixty years. He pushes a button on his desk and an emergency
wall drops down from the ceiling, separating Kevin and the guard
from Steven. No doubt there's a secret exit in the part of the
room Steven is in. Kevin knows the building is surrounded, so he
figures Steven can't escape. The guard roughly escorts Kevin
back to the elevator lobby but the elevators are out of
order. Of course: Steven has shut them off to prevent the
Justice Department agents from getting up to where he is. It'll
take them a while to climb up twenty-seven floors, even if they
can get into the building past Danielson's security people.
The guard humiliates Kevin by calling him a worthless cripple to
his face, and says he guesses there's no problem leaving him in
the 27th-floor lobby until the elevators are turned back on. He
heads down the stairwell to join the battle between Justice
Department agents and Danielson security guards on the ground
Kevin suddenly remembers the helicopter he saw landing on the
roof weeks ago, and realizes that Steven probably isn't planning
to escape by going down instead, he's probably going up to
the roof, three floors above. Kevin enters the stairwell, and
heads up to the roof, cursing his Huntington's every awkward step
of the way. Steven is indeed up there, but the corporate
helicopter is gone. Still, Kevin sees that Steven has a
hand-held cellular phone no doubt he's called for a
chopper to come get him.
Kevin has limited muscular control, and Steven is in his eighties
they're evenly matched for a physical battle. They fight
it out on the roof. Steven, as brutal today as he was sixty
years ago, gains the upper hand. There's a tool shed on the
building's roof, holding equipment used in maintaining the
corporate helicopter. Steven gets a crowbar from there, and
tries to break Kevin's skull open with it.
Soon, a helicopter is approaching but it's not a Danielson
corporate chopper; rather, it's a civilian one. Steven must have
called for his Fourth Reich cronies to come and rescue him. As
the chopper draws nearer, Kevin recognizes the man piloting it
he's wearing the same brown leather flying jacket and
mirrored shades as on A Current Affair. It's Professor
Felix Sousa. The guy isn't just a Nazi in his thinking; he's an
actual card-carrying Nazi, a member of Steven's Fourth Reich.
In the background, Kevin can see another helicopter approaching.
This one is clearly marked SFPD San Francisco Police
Department. It's obviously been summoned by the OSI. Steven
scrambles into the Fourth Reich copter.
The police copter tries to force Steven's copter to land, but
succeeds only in getting it to fly below the roof level. Kevin,
badly injured, looks down over the edge of the roof and sees
Steven's chopper hovering twenty feet below. He finds the
crowbar Steven had struck him with and throws it over the edge of
the building. The crowbar falls into the whirling blades of the
helicopter's propellers, causing the chopper to careen into the
side of the Danielson building, smashing windows as it does so.
It then tumbles out of control to the ground, far below, where it
goes up in flames. Ivan the Terrible is dead at long last.
David Rosenberg, panting from having climbed thirty floors, makes
it to the rooftop and finds Kevin. A second OSI officer arrives,
and reports that a crowbar dropped from above had brought down
Steven's chopper. Rosenberg confronts Kevin: was he
responsible? As much as Rosenberg likes to cut corners,
Steven/Ivan had only been wanted for questioning at that point.
Kevin says to blame the crowbar falling on his Huntington's
disease: it was an involuntary muscle movement. Rosenberg
realizes the truth, but notes Kevin's statement in his official
The California government seizes control of Danielson Health
Insurance, dissolving the company. Kevin is elated. A
Presidential Commission is created to investigate discriminatory
health-insurance practices. Kevin is asked to be an advisor to
that commission, and, at his suggestion, Professor Ingrid
Lagerkvist, mother of the Down-syndrome child, is named an
Ian Damrosch, although no longer suspected of being a Nazi, still
wants to turn Amanda into an object of study. But through her
interviews with people in the genetics department, Molly has now
uncovered fudged data in the research that led to Damrosch's
winning the Nobel prize all those years ago. Molly and Kevin
agree to keep silent about Damrosch's cheating so long as he
leaves Amanda alone. He reluctantly agrees.
Kevin makes a final, mindboggling breakthrough in his research.
The frameshift coding doesn't just preserve a record of all that
we have been. It also contains a blueprint for all that we are
yet to become all of humanity's future.
And what exactly does that future hold? Kevin finds that the
genetic material scheduled to be activated by the next frameshift
is the same unusual sequence he had earlier identified in Molly's
DNA the genetic cause of her special gift. Humanity's
next great leap forward will be to become a race of telepaths.
As Kevin had discovered earlier, frameshifting can occur
accidentally through random mutations, but the checksum within
the mitochondrial DNA ensures that when a premature frameshift
occurs, such as the one that gave Molly her power, the mutation
is eliminated in the next generation. That explains why none of
Molly's relatives have telepathic abilities. There are no
psychic dynasties, but, occasionally, for a single generation, a
true psychic such as Molly will appear (amidst all the
charlatans), giving us a sneak peek at the next pre-programmed
evolutionary step for humanity.
Just as he vowed to himself that he would, Kevin has made his
great breakthrough he will indeed be remembered and will
probably win the Nobel prize. Although his condition is still
worsening, his public exposure of Danielson Health Insurance has
brought renewed attention to Huntington's research, and so he
makes a new vow: instead of killing himself as his condition
worsens, he will hold on as long as he can, hoping that a cure
may be found in time to help him. Molly, reaching into his mind,
assists him to go on with his own research, even as his body
continues to deteriorate. He understands, at last, that being
part of a family means that it's all right to be dependent.
Kevin and Molly, echoing their earlier discussion of religion,
briefly mull over the philosophic implications of Kevin's
discovery that humanity is only part way through its
In the penultimate moment of the novel, the Tardivel family
gathers together in a family portrait of where humanity came from
(Amanda), where it is (Kevin), and where it is going (Molly).
And little Amanda, who has been practicing in secret with her
mother (and whose practice had been interrupted weeks ago by
Kevin coming home early), manages, in a hoarse and raw voice, to
say aloud an approximation of the words "Love you" to her father.
In the novel's final scene, we see Kevin Tardivel, still ravaged
by his disease, working as much as he's able to on genetic
research for, although such research is fraught with
potentials for abuse, it's also the only way in which a cure for
genetic disorders will ever be found ...
A brief epilogue, twelve years later: the United States
government passes a law prohibiting insurance companies from
classifying latent genetic disorders as pre-existing conditions.
The new law is called "The Tardivel Statute," in honor of the
Nobel-Prize-winning geneticist who fought until his dying day for
More Good Reading
More about Frameshift
The lost chapters of Frameshift, including
some scenes from this outline that didn't make it into the final version of the novel
Other novel outlines and synopses
Other novels by Robert J. Sawyer
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