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

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Novel 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 with.

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 about.

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 visit.

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" are wrong.

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 company.

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 be married.

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 deeply depressed.

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" in C,G,A,T).

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 testimony.

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 telepathy.

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 them both.

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 mutations.

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 Huntington's.

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 of people.

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 Montreal.

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 Rosenberg.

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 with Kevin.

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 violent deaths.

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 suspicions.

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 theories.

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 transplant.

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 father.

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 sign properly.

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 claims.

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 puzzle.

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 modern humans.

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 begins.

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 Ivan Marshenko.

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 floor.

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 report.

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 advisor, too.

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 preprogrammed development.

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 its passage.

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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