Frameshift

Frameshift

Жанры: Научная Фантастика

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Pierre Tardivel, a French Canadian geneticist, works on identifying junk DNA for the Human Genome Project. There is a 50 percent chance that Pierre is carrying the gene for Huntington’s disease, a fatal disorder. That knowledge drives Pierre to succeed in a race against time to complete his research. But a strange set of circumstances — including a knife attack, the in vitro fertilization of his wife, and an insurance company plot to use DNA samples to weed out clients predisposed to early deaths — draw Tardivel into a story that will ultimately involve the hunt for a Nazi death camp doctor.

Frameshift
by Robert J. Sawyer

Prologue

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

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

Berkeley, California

The Present Day

It seemed an unlikely place to die.

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

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

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

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

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

Pierre’s voice was richly accented. “Burian Klimus was being a pain,” he said.

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

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

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

Pierre laughed.

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

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

About fucking time that frog showed up.

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

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

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

She scanned the landscape ahead. A hundred feet in front of them was the campus’s north gate, with the deserted cafes of Euclid Avenue beyond.

To the left was a fence separating the university from Hearst Avenue. To the right, more redwoods and Haviland Hall, home of the School of Social Welfare. Most of its windows were dark. A bus rumbled by outside the fence — the last bus for a long time, this late. Pierre chewed his lower lip.

Footfalls were approaching softly behind them. He reached into his pocket, and Molly could hear the soft tinkle of him maneuvering his keys between his fingers.

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

The sound split the night.

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

— and that was Pierre’s mistake. The man had been lagging behind — Pierre had longer legs and had started running sooner — but Pierre’s slowing down to look gave the man a chance to close the distance.

From thirty feet away, Molly, who had also stopped running, screamed Pierre’s name.

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

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

He smashed his assailant in the face. The man yowled in pain as the key jabbed into his cheek.

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

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

Pierre grabbed Molly’s hand. He started to back away, but suddenly realized just how severe the attacker’s wound was. The man would bleed to death without immediate treatment. “Find a phone,” Pierre said to Molly.

“Call nine-one-one.” She ran off toward Haviland Hall.

Pierre rolled the man onto his back, the knife sliding out as he did so.

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