A science fiction story told in a series of interrelated fragments.
“How can you be so sure?”
The question hung in the air like a noxious gas, something you wanted to ignore but couldn’t. In Tycho Deep’s recycled and renewed atmosphere, odors were nearly eliminated except in the public parks where the scents of flowers and growing things predominated. In private apartments like Silver Eagle’s, there was a greater variety depending on whether the occupants liked to cook, or had hobbies which could generate fumes either pleasant or annoying. Raising flowers at home was a popular pastime, so a wide range of scents could be found going from one place to another. A number of artists’ homes held the odor of paints and solvents, though the occupants barely noticed them after long years of familiarity.
In the boys’ apartment, the usual odor of fresh cooking and plants had a faint undercurrent of nervous sweat and just a hint of sexual arousal. Two-Sapphire’s unexpected arrival had prevented any sort of clean-up beyond a quick brush with a damp cloth. When the Director of the Luna offices of the Hallbach-Sommers Combine asked—or demanded in this case—entry, no one denied him. In a purely social situation, time would have been made for such amenities, but the ‘thal’s visit was far from social. In fact, the boys had been surprised to see no Security people at all despite the urgent tone of the older ‘thal’s first words over the commlink.
The modern re-creation of homo neanderthalensis were for the most part a co-operative species, so to see one in such a state of agitation as Two-Sapphire had been on his arrival was nearly unheard-of. He’d almost sounded angry, but Silver Eagle saw that that had largely passed when he began to explain his sudden and dramatic appearance on their doorstep. Although Harman had been on Luna for only two years, he too had become familiar with the ‘thals’ temperaments and social mores, so though he had at first been alarmed by the elder’s tone, his actions had quickly reassured the boy’s own nerves…until he heard the news from the Triad’s med-lab computers. “How could a simple genome sample cause them to shut down?”
Two-Sapphire combined the head-pat gesture of surprise with the jaw-drop that indicated amusement. The earliest proto-types of ‘thals had adopted some of the signs from human deaf communities to better express their own emotions when dealing with their creators. With the extra musculature and slightly differing bone structures, most humans had had trouble deciphering more subtle Neanderthal emotions, so a cue had been taken from the Twentieth’s first forays into teaching the lower primates to communicate. Without the ability to speak, these species had need of an entire system of gestures to let humans ‘speak’ with them, while the ‘thals needed only a few to add depth to their readily understandable speech. Now, some four hundred years after their birth as a species, the gestures had become ingrained and went almost unnoticed by their users.
“What do you know of your family, Harman Halveg?”
The question surprised the young man so much that he couldn’t answer at first, but he could tell that this was no idle inquiry. The silence lengthened as he took a few moments to ponder his reply. His first thought had been to show annoyance or flippancy, but he’d bit back that to actually think about what he knew. Most people didn’t know much beyond their own generation and that of their parents, and a few could go back fairly easily to grandparents…but beyond that point it was easier to look up the records via computer.
“After the Genetic Authority took out the compound in Finland and then the hunt for other isolated members, I have very few relatives left—none of whom I can recall ever meeting. My parents died in a car crash several years ago, then my Uncle and two cousins died in a plane crash a few years later. My other close relatives all died in Finland…” He closed his eyes briefly as memories of his parents filled his thoughts, then of his other now-gone clan. When he spoke again, his voice was softer. “I’m told that my great-great-uncle lives on Mars, but we’ve only spoken once that I can recall, and emailed only a few times since I came here.”
The golden-red-haired ‘thal nodded…he knew all this from reviewing the records that accompanied all new residents of Luna on their arrival, and those who’d come at the start of The Hunt in particular. Two-Sapphire had followed those more closely due to the tragic circumstances surrounding them, but until an hour ago he’d had no reason to delve further into this boy’s genealogy. Now that he was seated across from the unwitting cause of the current dilemma, he began to notice details that only fueled his speculations. He could access the public records on anyone via his implant if he had sufficient cause, so his questions were mainly to see if the boy’s own knowledge matched that on file.
“Your great-grandfather was Hartmann Hallbach, is that right? The creator of the Star Seeker that would have carried the first men out to the stars…. Do you know who was his female mate?”
I got the idea that I shouldn’t check that using my implant, so I shook my head. “All I can remember was that he had a husband when the ship blew up, but nothing about a wife….” I thought it over some more, and vaguely recalled my parents refer to someone name Nina, but I had no idea if that was what Two-Sapphire meant. It could have been a family friend, or a remote relative from before my birth. “I think I may have heard the name ‘Nena’ or ‘Nina’, but I don’t have any idea who she was or even when she lived—could be anybody at all, or just a name they liked.”
The ‘thal gave a slow nod, satisfied that the young man was unaware of the problems his ‘simple’ genetic sample had caused, and certainly ignorant of the why of it. Only a reference to a very old and very well-hidden file had yielded him the little bits he was beginning to fit together.
…Nine Onno Fortuinleiven…
That file was fragmentary and sealed to nearly all in-depth search, with priority authorization given only to senior Hallbach family members…and the only one left that two-Sapphire knew of was currently living on Mars. He had sent an Orange Flash request to Ernst-Karl, but it would be several hours yet before he could expect a response with the current time-lag due to orbital positions of the Three Worlds. His best hope was that Father would have a complete copy of the file since it involved family records—he was certain that the original files in Finland were now gone, and it looked like the Lunar ones were mostly summaries until he could access them fully.
Harman and Silver Eagle stared at their guest in consternation; neither could understand how the medlab’s computers could malfunction with all the safeguards and redundancies built into the Mage Core. The sophistication of modern software made any attempts at what the ancients called ‘hacking’ impossible, and even more importantly, every department kept their records on independent systems, especially the genetic records of the Triad Board.
“…isolated the sample and all its related files and removed them from the Board system…that at least got the Triad’s system working again.” Two-Sapphire went on more slowly after letting the two boys absorb this information. “That still leaves us with the specifics of your genomic profile, Harman…and that is being done on an entirely discrete computer analyzer, which means it will take longer.”
“Why the question about Harm’s great-grandmother?” Silver Eagle asked. “Surely that’s far too old to be relevant? It’s almost two and a half centuries ago….”
The puzzlement on the elder ‘thal’s face was clear to both boys. “The records pulled up related files as we’d expect, and one of them was mentioned that dated back to Hartmann Hallbach’s life-time. For some reason, it’s sealed and the only information listed several names, one apparently a Dutch woman judging by the name…another was Pavel Svoboda…”
“That was the name of Hartmann’s husband who died with him,” Harman blurted. “I just couldn’t remember the surname!” Silver Eagle patted his friend’s shoulder and the red-haired boy relaxed a bit in response. “I still don’t see what that has to do with my particular genome—beyond the fact that every person’s contains traces of each ancestor to some degree or other….As my great-grandfather’s husband, he shouldn’t figure in my profile at all, just Hartmann and his wife.”
Two-Sapphire nodded his head in agreement; the boy was perfectly correct—normal human or ‘thal matings were clear-cut and traceable back for generations as long as computer records and genomes had been recorded, going back to the simpler days of DNA identification once used in the ancient fields of genealogy and law enforcement…which made the circumstances that this boy’s sample had caused even more confusing. It simply shouldn’t be this complicated.
“Until we have completed the analysis of your sample, or gained access to that ancient file, I can’t give you any answers. When we hear from Father on Mars or the technicians handling your test, then I will be able to tell you more—are you certain that there are no more relatives we could check for comparison?”
Harman Halveg thought that over for a long few minutes, even calling up the Family Tree he’d had to submit one year for a Socio-History course at the Academy which was accessible through his private implant files. His father had had only one brother, Karel, and he and his two sons had died in that plane crash…as for his own family, he was an only child due to some complications his mother had had in trying to conceive when young. For no reason he could understand, his parents had never supplied sperm or ova to cryo-centers to try artificial insemination or surrogacy.
“No, now that the Compound is gone, there are no relatives in my direct line except for Ernst-Karl on Mars….”
In Riverview set into the cliff of the Valles Marineris, two men sat looking at the message from their ‘son’ Two-Sapphire. Jakob’s work was done for the day, so long as there were no emergencies to deal with, and Ernst’s job of overseeing the Hallbach-Sommers Combine office took up little time. He had looked into taking up duties in his old field of Engineering, at least in an advisory role, and been told he could serve as a liaison with the Terraforming Project as a trouble-shooter. That suited him and Jakob just fine.
As they pored over files from the Asgard Forestry Project together, they’d received the Orange Flash and then the query from Tycho Deep concerning a problem with their youngest relative’s ancestry. To say they were shocked was an understatement as the boy had seemed well-educated and adjusted when they’d spoken to him after he first arrived on Luna. They had seen his files then, and the family resemblance was unmistakable, so why should there be a problem? To learn that the Triad Board could find no genome for him was more than shocking…and what had happened as a result of a simple test had made no sense at all.
“What’s that attached file?” Jakob asked with a frown. “I haven’t seen a configuration like that for over a century.” They listened to the video clip again, and then called up a text version of the dialogue, which is when they saw the strangeness of the partial file Two-Sapphire had sent.
“Let’s open it and see,” Ernst said with a grim. “We won’t learn a thing just staring at it….” As their ‘thal son had stated, the thing looked like a summary rather than a full document, and would until proper identification could unseal it. Like Two-Sapphire they had seen the trio of names as the file header, but nothing else. From the outside, the file was dated to several decades before Hartmann’s death in 2366, but had last been accessed officially just less than twenty years ago. “Strange….”
Ernst-Karl used their optical scanner to identify himself to the computer, and a subtle shift occurred on the screen built into the office desktop. There was a swirl of colors almost like a pinwheel, then the face of Hartmann Hallbach appeared just as his brother remembered seeing him before he’d gone off to test the Star-Seeker. It took a moment for Ernst to regain his composure, so he missed the first words his late brother spoke:
“…viewing this, then I am no longer among the living. My dream has always been to go to the stars, and I hope that was done, but if not, then I want my descendants to have that chance instead. Through long years in space and exposure to radiation, I can no longer father children, but I had the fore-sight to take steps when I was younger…”
Jakob placed a finger over the little icon that would pause the playback, and turned to his husband. “Did you know any of this?” At Ernst’s obvious bafflement he squeezed his mate’s hand and let the recording continue.
“Pavel and I have placed appropriate samples with several cryo-labs on Luna and Mars, knowing that what we wanted to do would be resisted by the Genetic Authority and its’ ever-more stringent laws. Thus we began the search for a suitable method to continue my direct Line….”
On-screen, the man was joined by a tall blond figure who the two watchers recognized as Pavel from their university days. The two joined hands and pulled up an image behind them. It was of Ernst and…a younger Two-Sapphire from when he was about ten or eleven years old. “What the hell,” Ernst blurted out in shock.
Jakob waved him into silence rather than pause the video again.
“My brother Ernst has taken his own dream of giving Humanity a companion species to offset our fear of being alone in the Universe by resurrecting the Neanderthals from extinction. It is my wish that we should both go out to the stars together, to show anyone out there that we are worth their consideration.
“What does this have to do with continuing my family, you ask? The Genetic Authority would not sanction my plans for a family, so with Ernst leading the way, I have begun research that will combine both my dreams—one for a family, and the other to go to the stars….”
Ernst and Jakob exchanged glances, and worry was clear on both their faces. Ernst also felt a faint queasiness beginning to churn in the pit of his stomach. “Why do I get the feeling that I’m not going to like what comes next…and that it’s related to young Harman’s problems?”
As Hartmann Hallbach went on describing what his plans were, assisted by his husband Pavel and more than one set of images and text screens, Jakob and Ernst-Karl found their agitation not only confirmed, but growing…yet the direct link to Harman Halveg still eluded them.
Until a different face appeared on-screen against a back-drop of Baltic forests outside what had been the Compound in Finland. A fairly young couple were seated on the verandah of what seemed to be an old Russian dacha, or country house of thick timber and peaked roofs. The woman was holding a red-headed baby in her arms, but behind her stood a female ‘thal…one that had obviously given birth recently….
“Are those…Harman’s parents?” Jakob asked. The baby was clearly only a few days old, and the woman holding him had no signs of having been pregnant.
Tales of Three Worlds will be posted periodically
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