SFWRITER.COM > Novels > Hybrids > Opening Chapters
Volume 3 of The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 2003 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
Hardcover: Tor, September 2003, ISBN 0-312-87690-4
Paperback: Tor, November 2004, ISBN 0-765-34906-X
Spoiler Alert! Don't read this until after you've finished
Hominids and Humans, the first two volumes in the trilogy.
"My fellow Americans and all other human beings on this
version of Earth it gives me great pleasure to address you
this evening, my first major speech as your new president. I
wish to talk about the future of our kind of hominid, of the
species known as Homo sapiens: people of
"Mare," said Ponter Boddit, "it is my honor to introduce you to
Mary was used to thinking of Neanderthals as robust "Squat
Schwarzeneggers" was the phrase The Toronto Star had
coined, referring to their short stature and massive musculature.
So it was quite a shock to behold Lonwis Trob, especially since
he was now standing next to Ponter Boddit.
Ponter was a member of what the Neanderthals called "generation
145," meaning he was 38 years old. He stood about five-eight,
making him on the tall side for a male of his kind, and he had
muscles most bodybuilders would envy.
But Lonwis Trob was one of the very few surviving members of
generation 138, and that made him a staggering one hundred and
eight years old. He was scrawny, although still broad
shouldered. All Neanderthals had light skin they were a
northern-adapted people but Lonwis's was virtually
transparent, as was what little body hair he had. And although
his head showed all the standard Neanderthal traits low
forehead; doubly arched browridge; massive nose; square, chinless
jaw it was completely devoid of hair. Ponter, by
comparison, had lots of blond hair (parted in the center, like
most Neanderthals), and a full blond beard.
Still, the eyes were the most arresting features of the two
Neanderthals now facing Mary Vaughan. Ponter's irises were
golden; Mary had found she could stare into them endlessly. And
Lonwis's irises were segmented, mechanical: his eyeballs
were polished spheres of blue metal, with a blue-green glow
emanating from behind the central lenses.
"Healthy day, Scholar Trob," said Mary. She didn't take his
hand; that wasn't a Neanderthal custom. "It's an honor to meet
"No doubt it is," said Lonwis. Of course, he was speaking in the
Neanderthal tongue there was only one, so the language had
no name but his Companion implant was translating what he
said, pumping synthesized English words out of its external
And what a Companion it was! Mary knew that Lonwis Trob had
invented this technology when he was a young man, back in the
year Mary's people had known as 1923. In honor of all that the
Companions had done for the Neanderthals, Lonwis had been
presented with one that had a solid-gold faceplate. It was
installed on the inside of his left forearm; there were few
Neanderthal southpaws. In contrast, Ponter's Companion, named
Hak, had a plain steel faceplate; it looked positively chintzy in
"Mare is a geneticist," said Ponter. "She is the one who proved
during my first visit to this version of Earth that I was
genetically what they call a Neanderthal." He reached over and
took Mary's small hand in his own, massive, short-fingered one.
"More than that, though, she is the woman I love. We intend to
Lonwis's mechanical eyes fell on Mary, their expression
impossible to read. Mary found herself turning to look out the
window of her office, here on the second floor of the old mansion
that housed Synergy Group headquarters in Rochester, New York.
The gray bulk of Lake Ontario spread to the horizon. "Well,"
said Lonwis, or at least that was how his gold Companion
translated the sharp syllable he uttered. But then his tone
lightened and his gaze shifted to Ponter. "And I thought I was
doing a lot for cross-cultural contact."
Lonwis was one of ten highly distinguished Neanderthals
great scientists, gifted artists who had marched through
the portal from their world to this one, preventing the
Neanderthal government from severing the link between the two
"I want to thank you for that," said Mary. "We all do all
of us here at Synergy. To come to an alien world "
"Was the last thing I thought I would be doing at my age," said
Lonwis. "But those short-headed fools on the High Gray Council!"
He shook his ancient head in disgust.
"Scholar Trob is going to work with Lou," said Ponter, "on seeing
if a quantum-computer, like the one Adikor and I built, can be
made using equipment that exists how do you phrase it?
`off the shelf' here."
"Lou" was Dr. Louise Benoît, by training a particle physicist;
Neanderthals couldn't pronounce the long "ee" phoneme, although
their Companions supplied it as necessary when translating
Neanderthal words into English.
Louise had saved Ponter's life when he'd first arrived here,
months ago, accidentally transferred from his own subterranean
quantum-computing chamber into the corresponding location on this
version of Earth which happened to be smack-dab in the
middle of the heavy-water containment sphere at the Sudbury
Neutrino Observatory, where Louise had then been working.
Because she'd been quarantined with Ponter and Mary, as well as
physician Reuben Montego, when Ponter had fallen sick during his
initial visit, Louise had had a chance to learn all about
Neanderthal quantum computing from Ponter, making her the natural
choice to head the replication effort here. And that effort was
a high priority, since sufficiently large quantum computers were
the key to bridging between universes.
"And when will I get to meet Scholar Benoît?" asked Lonwis.
"Right now," said an accented female voice. Mary turned. Louise
Benoît beautiful, brunette, 28, all legs and white teeth
and perfect curves was standing in the doorway. "Sorry to
be late. Traffic was murder."
Lonwis tipped his ancient head, obviously listening to his
Companion's translation of those last three words, but, just as
obviously, completely baffled by them.
Louise came into the room, and she did extend her pale hand.
"Hello, Scholar Trob!" she said. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
Ponter leaned close to Lonwis, and whispered something to him.
Lonwis's brow undulated it was a weird sight when a
Neanderthal who still had eyebrow hair did it; it was downright
surreal, Mary though, when this centenarian did it. But he
reached out and took Louise's hand, grasping it as though he were
picking up a distasteful object.
Louise smiled that radiant smile of hers, although it seemed to
have no effect on Lonwis. "This is a real honor," she said. She
looked at Mary. "I haven't been this excited since I met
Hawking!" Stephen Hawking had taken a tour of the Sudbury
Neutrino Observatory quite the logistics exercise, given
that the detector chamber was located two kilometers underground,
and 1.2 kilometers horizontally along a mining drift from the
"My time is extremely valuable," said Lonwis. "Can we get to
"Of course," said Louise, still smiling. "Our lab is down the
Louise started walking, and Lonwis followed. Ponter moved close
to Mary and gave her face an affection lick, but Lonwis spoke up
without looking back. "Come along, Boddit."
Ponter smiled ruefully at Mary, gave a what-can-you-do shrug of
his massive shoulders, and followed Louise and the great
inventor, closing the heavy, dark wooden door behind himself.
Mary walked over to her desk and started sorting the mess of
papers on it. She used to be what? Nervous? Jealous?
She wasn't sure, but certainly it had originally made her uneasy
when Ponter spent time with Louise Benoît. After all, as Mary
had discovered, the male Homo sapiens here at Synergy
often referred to Louise behind her back as "LL." Mary had
finally asked Frank, one of the imaging guys, what that meant.
He'd been embarrassed, but had ultimately revealed it stood for
"Luscious Louise." And Mary had to admit Louise was just that.
But it no longer bothered Mary when Ponter was with Louise.
After all, it was Mary, not the French-Canadian, that the
Neanderthal loved, and big boobs and full lips didn't seem to be
high on the Barast list of favored traits.
A moment later, there was a knock on her door. Mary looked up.
"Come in," she called.
The door swung open, revealing Jock Krieger, tall, thin, with a
gray pompadour that always made Mary think of Ronald Reagan. She
wasn't alone in that; Jock's secret nickname amongst the same
people who called Louise "LL" was "the Gipper." Mary supposed
they had a name for her, too, but she'd yet to overhear it.
"Hi, Mary," said Jock, in his deep, rough voice. "Do you have a
Mary blew out air. "I've got lots of them," she said.
Jock nodded. "That's what I've been meaning to talk to you
about." He came in and helped himself to a chair. "You've
finished the work I hired you to do here: find an infallible
method for distinguishing a Neanderthal from one of us." Indeed
she had and it had turned out to be pig-simple: Homo
sapiens had 23 pairs of chromosomes, while Homo
neanderthalensis had 24.
Mary felt her pulse accelerating. She'd known this dream job,
with its hefty consulting fee, was too good to last. "A victim
of my own genius," she said, trying to make a joke of it. "But,
you know, I can't go back to York University not this
academic year. A couple of sessional instructors" one
of whom is an absolute bloody monster "have taken over
my course work."
Jock raised a hand. "Oh, I don't want you to go back to York.
But I do want you to leave here. Ponter's heading back
home soon, isn't he?"
Mary nodded. "He only came over to attend some meetings at the
UN, and, of course, to bring Lonwis up here to Rochester."
"Well, why don't you accompany him when he goes back? The
Neanderthals are being very generous about sharing what they know
about genetics and biotechnology, but there's always more to
learn. I'd like you to make an extended trip to the Neanderthal
world maybe a month and learn as much as you can
about their biotechnology."
Mary felt her heart pounding with excitement. "I'd love
to do that."
"Good. I'm not sure what you'll do about living arrangements
over there, but ..."
"I've been staying with Ponter's man-mate's woman-mate."
"Ponter's man-mate's woman-mate ..." repeated Jock.
"That's right. Ponter is bonded to a man named Adikor you
know, the guy who co-created their quantum computer with him.
Adikor, meanwhile, is simultaneously bonded to a woman, a chemist
named Lurt. And, when Two aren't One when the male and
female Neanderthals are living separate lives it's Lurt
that I stay with."
"Ah," said Jock, shaking his head. "And I thought the Y&R
had confusing family relationships."
"Oh, those are easy," said Mary, with a smile. "Jack
Abbott used to be married to Nikki, who was born Nikki Reed.
That was after she was married to Victor Newman for the
first two times, that is, but before the third time. But now
Jack is married to ..."
Jock held up a hand. "Okay, okay!"
"Anyway, like I said, Ponter's man-mate's woman-mate is a chemist
named Lurt and the Neanderthals consider genetics to be a
branch of chemistry, which, of course, it really is, if you think
about it. So she'll be able to introduce me to all the right
"Excellent. If you're willing to head over to the other side, we
could certainly use this information."
"Willing?" said Mary, trying to contain her excitement. "Is the
"Last time I checked," said Jock with a small smile.
"And, as you will see, it is only our future the
future of Homo sapiens that I will be addressing
tonight. And not just because I can only speak as the American
president. No, there is more to it than that. For, in this
matter, our future and that of the Neanderthals are not
Cornelius Ruskin was afraid the nightmares would never end: that
Goddamned caveman coming at him, throwing him down, mutilating
Cornelius had spent most of the day after the horrid discovery
lying in bed, hugging himself. The phone had rung on several
occasions, at least one of which was doubtless somebody calling
from York University to find out where the hell he was. But he
couldn't bring himself to speak to anyone then.
Late that night, he'd called the genetics department and left a
message on Qaiser Remtulla's voice-mail. He'd always hated that
woman, and hated her even more now that this had been done
to him. But he managed to keep his tone calm, saying that he was
ill and wouldn't be back in for several days.
Cornelius watched carefully for blood in his urine. Every
morning, he felt around the wound for seepage, and took his own
temperature repeatedly, to assure himself that he didn't have a
He still had trouble believing it, was still overwhelmed by the
very idea. There was some pain, but it diminished day by day,
and codeine tablets helped thank God they were available
over the counter here in Canada; he always had some 222s on hand,
and had initially been taking five at a time, but now had himself
down to the normal dose of two.
Beyond taking painkillers, though, Cornelius had no idea what to
do. He certainly couldn't go see his doctor or any
doctor, for that matter. There was no way his injury could be
kept secret if he did that; someone would be bound to talk. And
Ponter Boddit had been right: Cornelius couldn't risk that.
Finally, when he was feeling up to it, Cornelius went to his
computer. It was an old no-name 90 MHz Pentium that he'd had
since his grad-student days. The machine was adequate for word
processing and E-mail, but he usually saved web surfing for when
he was at work: York had high-speed lines, while all he could
afford for home was a dial-up account with a local ISP. But he
needed answers now, and so he suffered through the maddeningly
It took twenty minutes, but he finally found what he was looking
for. Ponter had returned to this Earth wearing a medical belt
that included among its tools a cauterizing laser scalpel. That
device had been used to save the Neanderthal's life when he'd
been shot outside the United Nations. Surely that was how he
Cornelius felt all his muscles contracting as he thought yet
again of what had been done to him.
His scrotum had been slit open, presumably by the laser,
Cornelius closed his eyes and swallowed hard, trying to keep
stomach acid from climbing his esophagus again.
Somehow possibly even with his bare hands Ponter
had then wrenched Cornelius's testicles from his body. And then
the laser must have been used again, searing his flesh shut.
Cornelius had frantically searched his entire apartment for his
balls, in hopes that they could be reimplanted. But after a
couple of hours, tears of anger and frustration streaming down
his face, he'd had to face reality. Ponter had either flushed
them down the toilet, or had disappeared into the night with
them. Either way, they were gone for good.
Cornelius was furious. What he'd done had been so wonderfully
appropriate: those women Mary Vaughan and Qaiser Remtulla
had stood in his way. They'd gotten their positions, and
their tenure, simply because they were female. He was the
one with a Ph.D. from Oxford, for God's sake, but he'd been
passed over for promotion as York "corrected historical gender
imbalances" among its various faculties. He'd been shafted by
that, so he'd shown them the department head, that Paki
bitch; and Vaughan, who had the job he should have had
what it was really like to get the shaft.
Damn it, thought Cornelius, feeling once more between his
God damn it.
Jock Krieger went back to his office, which was on the ground
floor of the Synergy Group mansion. His large window faced south
toward the marina, instead of north toward Lake Ontario; the
mansion was on an east-west spit of land in the Rochester
community of Seabreeze.
Jock's Ph.D. was in game theory; he'd studied under John Nash at
Princeton, and had spent three decades at the RAND Corporation.
RAND had been the perfect place for Jock. Funded by the Air
Force, it had been the principal U.S.-government think tank in
the Cold War, carrying out studies of nuclear conflict. To this
day, when Jock heard the initials MD, he thought of a
megadeath one million civilian casualties
rather than a medical doctor.
The Pentagon had been furious about the way the initial encounter
with Neanderthal Prime the first Neanderthal to slip into
this reality from that one had gone. The
story of a modern caveman appearing in a nickel mine in Northern
Ontario had seemed pure tabloid stuff, akin to alien encounters,
Bigfoot sightings, and so on. By the time the U.S. government
or the Canadian one, for that matter were taking
things seriously, Neanderthal Prime was out and about among the
general public, making it impossible to contain and control the
And so money had suddenly appeared some from the INS, but
most from the DoD to create the Synergy Group. That had
been some politician's name for it; Jock would have called it
"Barast Encounter-Repetition Emergency Taskforce," or
BERET. But the name and that silly two-worlds-uniting
logo had been set before he was tapped to lead the
Still, it had been no accident that a game theorist had been
selected. It was clear that if contact ever did reopen, the
Neanderthals and the humans Jock still reserved that word,
at least privately, for real people would have
different interests, and figuring out the most advantageous
outcome that could be reasonably expected in such situations was
what game theory was all about.
Jock usually kept his door open that was good management,
wasn't it? An open-door policy? Still, he was startled to see a
Neanderthal face broad, browridged, bearded peeking
around the jamb. "Yes, Ponter?"
"Lonwis Trob brought along some communiques from New York City."
Lonwis and the nine other famous Neanderthals, plus the
Neanderthal ambassador, Tukana Prat, had been spending most of
their time at the United Nations. "Are you aware of the
Jock shook his head.
"Well," said Ponter, "you know there are plans to open a bigger,
permanent, ground-level portal between our worlds. Apparently
your United Nations has taken the decision that the portal should
be between United Nations headquarters and the corresponding
point on my world."
Jock frowned. Why the hell was he getting intelligence reports
from a bloody Neanderthal? Then again, he hadn't yet checked his
own e-mail today; maybe it was there. Of course, he'd known that
the New York City option was being considered. It was a
no-brainer, as far as Jock was concerned: obviously the new
portal should be on U.S. soil, and putting it at United Nations
Plaza technically international territory would
appease the rest of the world.
"Lonwis says," continued Ponter, "that they are planning to take
a group of United Nations officials over to the other side
my side. Adikor and I are going to go down to Donakat
Island our version of Manhattan with them, to
survey the site; there are considerable issues related to
shielding any large-size quantum computer from solar, cosmic, and
terrestrial radiation, lest decoherence occur."
"Well, so, I thought perhaps you might like to come along? You
run this institute devoted to establishing good relations with my
world, but you have not yet seen it."
Jock was taken aback. He found having two Neanderthals here at
Synergy just now rather creepy; they looked so much like trolls.
He wasn't sure he wanted to go somewhere where he'd be surrounded
by them. "When's this trip happening?"
"After the next Two becoming One."
"Ah, yes," said Jock, trying to keep up a pleasant facade. "I
believe our Louise's phrase for that is, `Par-tay!'"
"There is much more to it than that," said Ponter, "although you
will not get to see it on this proposed trip. Anyway, will you
"I've got a lot of work to do," said Jock.
Ponter smiled that sickening foot-wide smile of his. "It is my
kind that is supposed to lack the desire to see beyond the next
hill, not yours. You should visit the world you are dealing
Ponter came up to Mary's office and closed the door behind him.
He took Mary in his massive arms, and they hugged tightly. Then
he licked her face, and she kissed his. But at last they let
each other go, and Ponter's voice was heavy. "You know I have to
return to my world soon."
Mary tried to nod solemnly, but she apparently was unable to
completely suppress her grin. "Why are you smiling?" asked
"Jock has asked me to go with you!"
"Really?" said Ponter. "That is wonderful!" He paused. "But of
Mary nodded and raised a hand. "I know, I know. We will only
see each other four days a month." Males and females lived
largely separate lives on Ponter's world, with females inhabiting
the city centers, and males making their homes out at the rims.
"But at least we'll be in the same world and I'll have
something useful to do. Jock wants me to study Neanderthal
biotechnology for a month, learn all that I can."
"Excellent," said Ponter. "The more cultural exchange, the
better." He looked briefly out the window at Lake Ontario,
perhaps envisioning the trip he would soon have to take. "We
must head up to Sudbury, then."
"It's still ten days until Two become One, isn't it?"
Ponter didn't have to check his Companion; of course he knew the
figure. His own woman-mate, Klast, had succumbed to leukemia two
years ago, but it was only when Two were One that he got to see
his daughters. He nodded. "And after that, I am to head down
south again, but in my world to the site that corresponds
to United Nations Headquarters." Ponter never said "UN;" the
Neanderthals had never developed a phonetic alphabet, and so the
notion of referring to something by initials was completely
foreign to them. "The new portal is to be built there."
"Ah," said Mary.
Ponter raised a hand. "I won't leave for Donakat until this next
Two becoming One is over, of course, and I'll be back long before
Two become One once again."
Mary felt some of her enthusiasm draining from her. She'd known
intellectually that even if she was in the Neanderthal world,
twenty-five days would normally pass between times when she could
be in Ponter's arms, but it was a hard concept to get used to.
She wished there was a solution, somewhere, in some world, that
would see her and Ponter always together.
"If you are going back," said Ponter, "then we can travel to the
portal together. I was going to get a lift with Lou, but ..."
"Louise? Is she going over, too?"
"No, no. But she is going to Sudbury the day after tomorrow to
visit Reuben." Louise Benoît and Reuben Montego had become
lovers while they were quarantined together, and their
relationship had continued afterward. "Say," said Ponter, "if
all four of us are going to be in Sudbury at the same time,
perhaps we can have a meal together. I have been craving
Reuben's barbecues ..."
Mary Vaughan currently had two homes on her version of Earth:
she had been renting a unit at Bristol Harbour Village
here in upstate New York, and she owned a condominium apartment
in Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto. It was to that latter
home that she and Ponter were now heading a
three-and-a-half-hour drive from Synergy Group headquarters.
Along the way, once they'd gotten off the New York State Thruway
in Buffalo, they'd stopped for Kentucky Fried Chicken, which
Ponter thought was the greatest food ever a sentiment Mary
didn't disagree with, much to her waistline's detriment. Spices
were a product of warm climates, designed to mask the taste of
meat that was off; Ponter's people, who lived in high latitudes,
didn't use much in the way of seasonings, and the combination of
eleven different herbs and spices was unlike anything he'd ever
Mary played CDs on the long drive; it beat constantly hunting for
different stations as they moved along. They'd started with
Martina McBride's Greatest Hits, and were now listening to
Shania Twain's Come On Over. Mary liked most of Shania's
songs, but couldn't stand "The Woman In Me," which seemed to lack
the signature Twain oomph. She supposed she could get ambitious
someday and burn her own CD of the album, leaving that song out.
As they drove along, the music playing, the sun setting as
it did so early at this time of year Mary's thoughts
wandered. Editing CDs was easy. Editing a life was hard.
Granted, there were only a few things in her past that she wished
she could edit out. The rape, certainly had it really
only been three months ago? Some financial blunders, to be sure.
Plus a handful of misspoken remarks.
But what about her marriage to Colm O'Casey?
She knew what Colm wanted: for her to declare, in front of her
Church and God, that their marriage had never really existed.
That's what an annulment was, after all: a refutation of the
marriage, a denying that it had even happened.
Surely someday the Roman Catholic Church would end its ban on
divorce. Until Mary had met Ponter, there'd been no particular
reason to wrap up her relationship with Colm, but now she
did want to get it over with. And her choices were either
hypocrisy seeking an annulment or excommunication,
the penalty for getting a divorce.
Ironic, that: Catholics could get off the hook for any venial
sin just by confessing it. But if you'd by chance married the
wrong person, there was no easy recourse. The Church wanted it
to be until death do you part unless you were willing to
lie about the very fact of the marriage.
And, damn it all, her marriage to Colm didn't deserve to be wiped
out, to be expunged, to be eradicated from the records.
Oh, she hadn't been 100-percent sure when she'd accepted his
proposal, and she hadn't been completely confident when she'd
walked down the aisle on her father's arm. But the marriage
had been a good one for its first few years, and when it
had gone bad it had only done so through changing interests and
There had been much talk of late about the Great Leap Forward,
when true consciousness had first emerged on this world, 40,000
years ago. Well, Mary had had her own Great Leap Forward,
realizing that her desires and career ambitions didn't have to
take a back seat to those of her lawfully wedded husband. And,
from that moment on, their lives had diverged and now they
were worlds apart.
No, she would not deny the marriage.
And that meant ...
That meant getting a divorce, not an annulment. Yes, there was
no law that said a Gliksin the Neanderthals' term for a
Homo sapiens who was still legally married to
another Gliksin couldn't undergo the bonding ceremony with a
Barast of the opposite sex, but someday, doubtless, there would
be such laws. Mary wanted to commit wholeheartedly to Ponter as
his woman-mate, and doing that meant bringing a final resolution
to her relationship with Colm.
Mary passed a car, then looked over at Ponter. "Honey?" she
Ponter frowned ever so slightly. It was an endearment that Mary
used naturally, but he didn't like it because it contained
the ee phoneme that his mouth was incapable of making.
"Yes?" he said.
"You know we're going to spend the night at my place in Richmond
"And, well, you also know that I'm still legally bonded to my ...
my man-mate here, in this world."
Ponter nodded again.
"I I would like to see him, if I can, before we head off
from Richmond Hill to Sudbury. Maybe have breakfast with him, or
an early lunch."
"I am curious to meet him," said Ponter. "To know what sort of
Gliksin you chose ..."
The CD changed to a new track: "Is There Life After Love?"
"No," said Mary. "I mean, I need to see him alone."
She looked over and saw Ponter's one continuous eyebrow rolling
up his browridge. "Oh," he said, using the English word
Mary returned her gaze to the road ahead. "It's time I settled
things with him."
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