copyright (c) 2006, Don Sakers

Hunt for the Dymalon Cygnet

By Don Sakers

Part 3


Fifteen years later...

United Nations of North America
August 28, 2068 C.E.

“Then were men seen running, pushing each other, filled with despair; they wished to climb upon their houses, and the houses, tumbling down, fell to the ground; they wished to climb upon the trees, and the trees shook them off; they wished to enter into the caves, and the caves closed themselves before them…”

The Popol Vuh

Rita awakes to Bach, and squeezes her eyes shut, trying to grasp at a few more moments of peace, moments which slip away in a swirl of harpsichord strains. Her day, as so many, begins with a nameless dread.

She dreamed about the old days, about the Chesapeake Bay meteor strike and Washington and poor Carrie Ramierez. And now, in the groggy netherworld between sleeping and waking, she remembers that other morning, fifteen years ago. The world was different, back then. Before Dobson, before Reunification, before the Principles of Universal Worship became the law of the land. A world where people could live outside the cities, where some politicians spoke up for the poor and the powerless. A world without famine, without ration points, without the constant threat of exile. A world without Gardian Angels.

Rita is not anxious to face what today will bring. But dwelling on the happy, irretrivable past is worse.

She rolls over and snatches her Spex from the bedside table, dons them, and sits up. “All right, Daisy, I’m awake. Tell me the news.”

The Victorian fairy appears, smiling, in the lower left of Rita’s visual field. “Good morning, Rita. It’s Tuesday, August twenty-eighth, twenty-sixty-eight. The time is six-oh-three. You’re due at school at seven o’clock.”

Fifteen years of development have altered Daisy completely. No longer a cloisonne pin, the unit is now an adhesive patch that mounts on Rita’s skin just below her left ear. In a decade and a half, Daisy has gained the ability to track and analyze Rita’s health, manage her security both virtual and physical, and commune with any electronic devices in the vicinity.

In more ways than one, Daisy is Rita’s Guardian Angel. In concert with the Church’s Artificial Intelligences, Daisy watches and evaluates Rita’s behavior, constantly updating her Redemption Number: adding a few Grace Points here, subtracting a Sin Point or two there, occasionally emitting a barely-audible signal when Rita begins to stray into questionable territory.

And if Rita’s Redemption Number declines too far…if Daisy and the Church AIs decide that she has sinned too much…she will lose her job, her flat, her ration points….

“Go on,” Rita prompts, pulling on her robe. As she attends to her morning toilet, Daisy continues a recitation of the day’s news.

“The current temperature is eighteen Celsius. Winds are from the west at two kilometers per hour. Humidity is negligible. Today will be sunny with temperatures in the middle twenties. There is no significant chance of precipitation.”

Rita swabs her teeth, then removes her Spex and steps into the shower. Daisy continues her recitation directly into Rita’s ear. “On Mars, today is Sol Solis, the first of Cancer, year fifty-seven. Today is the birthday of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Count Leo Tolstoy, and Charles Boyer. Actor Jason Priestley turns ninety-nine today. Birthday greetings have been dispatched to your uncle Antonio, who turns sixty-three today.”

Hair full of shampoo, Rita sputters, “Thank you.”

“Today is the anniversary of Reverend Martin Luther King, Junior’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Delivered in Washington, DC during the 1963 March on Washington, Dr. King’s speech, a high-water mark of the African American civil rights movement, is one of the most well-known speeches in American history, second only to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address of a century earlier.

“On this day in 2046, the Armstrong City Lunatics played their first game in the World Soccer League, defeating the Tottenham Hotspur by a score of three to two. Today in 1996, the Prince of Wales, later King Charles III, divorced his wife, Princess Diana. A year later, Diana perished in a traffic accident in Paris. In 1922, the first radio commercial was broadcast by station WEAF in New York. And in 1833, the British Parliament banned slavery throughout the British Empire.”

“Wonderful.” Rita steps from the shower. “What’s happening today that I should care about?” She stands before the mirror, and as she dries and brushes her shoulder-length chestnut hair, Daisy’s voice remains audible and clear over the roar of the blow-dryer.

“An earthquake in Italy last night left fifteen dead and over a hundred injured. Tornadoes may have hit Kentucky during storms that killed three people yesterday. Suspect Landon Brady has confessed to strangling three women in Montreal last month. The Emperor of China has —”

“Local news, please.”

Daisy continues smoothly, “Delegates and journalists from around the world are flocking to Denver for the opening of the forty-first Terran Council on Thursday. Denver City Council member Helena Arlington was indicted on six counts of bribery yesterday for her role in the Capellas scandal. Fire in Boulder leaves three families homeless. Computer malfunction shut down three rail-transit lines during yesterday’s evening rush hour.”

Rita dithers for a moment in front of her closet, then decides on a grey and white outfit with a long-sleeved linen blouse and an ankle-length gingham skirt. “What’s on my agenda today?”

“At seventeen-thirty you have a meeting with Principal Shamari and the parents of David Boyd.”

“I know.” This meeting is what Rita dreads. “What else?”

“During third period, your class is scheduled to assemble with other fourth and fifth grade classes to hear a visiting speaker from the Terran Council. Today you need to work on next week’s civics test and your lesson plan on Honesty.”

“Right.” The shower has not helped Rita shake her groggy, apprehensive feeling. She really wants a cup of coffee before leaving the apartment, but there are only a few packets of instant left. “How many coffee ration points do I have left?”

Daisy’s answer comes instantly, “You have used all your coffee points for this month.”

“Damn.” If she wants evening coffee the next few nights, she’ll have to skip it now. Once she gets to school, everything will be okay. By pooling their ration points, the staff are able to keep a full pot in the Teacher’s Lounge through the day. It’s a luxury that Rita has come to depend upon.

Of course, everyone keeps saying that coffee rationing will stop once scientists on Colombia-in-the-Sky manage to get soil conditions right and start producing beans in quantity. After hearing such claims for years, Rita is sure she’ll believe it when she sees it.

“Your bus is due to arrive in five minutes,” Daisy says.

Rita grabs a couple of puffed-rice breakfast bars (rice, fortunately, loves the new wet climate of the half-submerged Mississippi basin—and enough convicts can always be found to work the paddies), shrugs into her jacket, and dashes out the door.

The elevator, alerted by Daisy, is waiting for her with old Mr. Nossel and Stephanie Carr from higher floors already aboard. On the way down, as usual, the elevator stops for passengers on twelve, eight, seven, and four. There is an extra half-minute delay on seven while Gary Lowney struggles to close his door without letting his new dog escape.

The bus, already half-full, is waiting when Rita and her companions reach the street. Nodding to familiar faces, she takes her accustomed seat next to the elderly, blue-haired woman whom she knows only as “Pearl.” Pearl always has a smile for her, although in the years Rita has ridden this bus, they have exchanged perhaps two dozen words.

Quietly and smoothly, the bus picks up and discharges passengers along a route that the Transit Authority’s AIs have calculated as part of the minimax solution to the city’s transportation needs for today.

Rita teaches an annual unit on transportation, so she appreciates the stunning complexity of getting half a million riders where they need to go with an average waiting time of less than fifteen minutes and an average travel time of under half a hour. Without the AIs, and their constant feedback with individual Guardian Angels, the task would be hopeless.

She arrives at school a quarter-hour before seven, long enough to visit the Teacher’s Lounge to greet some fellow teachers and snatch a cup of coffee. Gradually, her dazed feeling lifts, and by the time she drains the cup, she feels almost optimistic. Maybe David Boyd will behave in class. Maybe this evening’s meeting will turn out well after all.

“Incoming call,” Daisy tells her, “from Emmanuel Adair. The designation is urgent.”

Mannie Adair is a third-grade teacher and one of Rita’s best friends on the faculty. “Answer.” A quiet tick indicates that the call is live. “Good morning, Mannie. What’s up?”

“Rita, I’m going to be a few minutes late. It’s a long story, but basically I had to take an different ride this morning—well, never mind that. Could you do me a gigantic favor? I’m supposed to be on Socialization Period duty this morning, and I’m not going to make it. Could you…?”

She chuckles. “Of course.”

“I’ll pay you back, really I will.”

“Don’t fret. I’ll tell them to reschedule you.”

“Thank you, thank you, you’re such a sweetie. I’ll see you at lunch.”

“See you then. Goodbye.”


Daisy dutifully announces, “Call ended. Do you want to store this call?”

“No.” Rita rises, smoothing her skirt. “Please let Admin know that I’m taking Mr. Adair’s turn at Socialization Period duty this morning. If possible, trade one of my Monday mornings to him.” Through Daisy, the Church AIs will notice this tiny act of kindness, and possibly add a Grace Point or two to her Redemption Number.

“Acknowledged.” After a moment, Daisy says, “Mr. Adair will take your turn at Socialization Period duty on Monday, September tenth.”

Rita makes her way to the big multipurpose room, where about a dozen kids are already engaged at a hopscotch court. An imposing desk occupies one corner of the room; she takes a seat there and unrolls one of the flatscreens that litter its surface. “All right, Daisy, let’s try to get some work done. Show me the outline for that Civics test next week.”

While reviewing the test, Rita keeps a frequent eye on the room. Children arrive in a steady stream, shucking their jackets and gathering into knots with their friends. Unless there is clear trouble, Rita prefers to hang back and watch; if the kids need her, they’ll call for her. Some of the other teachers, she knows, are very active during Socialization Period, directing activities and giving little uplifting homilies to their charges. As far as Rita is concerned, kids can best spend this time simply being kids.

With national population control limiting each parent to one child, a majority of Rita’s students have no siblings. Socialization Period is a valuable time for kids to interact with one another without so much structured adult supervision.

As children continue arriving, the room grows louder and more crowded, until Rita can no longer concentrate on her work. She lets her attention wander.

Nearby, a group of fifth-graders is discussing what has lately become their favorite subject: the upcoming Confirmation ceremonies.

Dema Baldwin says, “I heard that if you choose Islam, you can have four boyfriends at once.”

Jery Yates shakes his head. “Yeah, but you can’t drink or toke. And you have to pray five times a day. Christians only have to pray on Sunday mornings.”

A boy Rita doesn’t know laughs. “If you pick New Age, you don’t have to pray at all, not unless you want to.”

“Oh, no,” Dema says, “Then you might get reincarnated as a cockroach or a dog or something awful like that. And who wants to keep track of all those crystals?”

“My uncle said that if you pick Catholic, you can have as many kids as you want.”

Dema shakes her head. “That’s only Orthodox Catholics, not Reform. And if you’re Orthodox, you can’t eat meat on Fridays and you have to learn Latin.”

“You could be a Tupacan, but have you heard their music?”

“One thing’s for sure,” another girl says, “I’m not picking the Jedi. They’re just weird.”

Rita turns away to hide her amusement.

As one, dozens of Guardian Angels chime, creating a chord that stops all other noise in the room. The children, like so many metal shavings drawn by a magnet, line up and file out of the room toward their classes. Rita tarries for a moment, making sure that the room is secure and no child is left behind, then moves quickly to her own classroom.

Her throat constricts and her mouth goes dry at the sight of her twenty-six little charges sitting expectantly at their desks. David Boyd is in his place, third back in the fourth row, with his eternal crewcut and eyes that seem completely dark, with no whites at all.

Standing next to her desk, Rita faces the children. Her heart thuds rapidly. This is the moment she’s been dreading all morning.

“Good morning, girls and boys.”

“Good morning, Teacher Cuervo.” They scramble to their feet.

She forces her dry lips into a smile, feeling a curious detachment, as if she is outside herself, watching events move but with no power to change them. “This morning’s prayer comes from the Wiccan tradition.”

On cue, the lights dim slightly, and the front display board comes alive with a chalky radiance, with black letters in stark relief.

Against her will, Rita looks toward David Boyd. Just this once, she thinks, don’t cause trouble. Just behave.

The boy shakes his head, as he has every school day since he entered Rita’s class a month ago. “I’m sorry, Ms. Cuervo, I can’t say any heathen prayers.”

So it goes, familiar enough by now that Rita feels as if the two of them are on a stage, reading their accustomed lines from the same script. “Are you refusing to join the prayer, David?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Then sit down and remain quiet.”

The rest of the children, having waited patiently, now follow Rita in singsong repetition of the Lady’s Prayer:

Our Mother,
Who art in all places
Blessed be Thy names.
Thy presence be known,
In all hearts thy home,
Upon the Earth which is Thy body.
Grant us this day our daily strength.
Guide us through our karma
As we embrace our shadows.
Lead us not into power-over,
But deliver us from ego.
For Thine is the Light, the Dark, and the Love
For ever and ever.
So mote it be.

“Tomorrow’s prayer will be Akhenaten’s Hymn to the Sun. Please read it over tonight and be prepared to recite it together.” The board fades, the lights brighten, and Rita sighs. Until this afternoon’s meeting with David’s parents, it is over. David and his parents have taken yet another hit of several sin points; Rita may herself have lost a point or two for lax discipline; but for now it is done.


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