copyright (c) 2006, Don Sakers
Hunt for the Dymalon Cygnet
By Don Sakers
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
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, Im awake.
Tell me the news.
The Victorian fairy appears, smiling, in the lower left of
Ritas visual field. Good morning, Rita. Its
Tuesday, August twenty-eighth, twenty-sixty-eight. The time is
six-oh-three. Youre due at school at seven oclock.
Fifteen years of development have altered Daisy completely.
No longer a cloisonne pin, the unit is now an adhesive patch
that mounts on Ritas skin just below her left ear. In a
decade and a half, Daisy has gained the ability to track and
analyze Ritas health, manage her security both virtual
and physical, and commune with any electronic devices in the
In more ways than one, Daisy is Ritas Guardian Angel.
In concert with the Churchs Artificial Intelligences, Daisy
watches and evaluates Ritas 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 Ritas Redemption Number declines too far
Daisy and the Church AIs decide that she has sinned too much
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 days 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 Ritas
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,
Juniors I Have a Dream speech. Delivered in
Washington, DC during the 1963 March on Washington, Dr. Kings
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 Lincolns 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. Whats
happening today that I should care about? She stands before
the mirror, and as she dries and brushes her shoulder-length
chestnut hair, Daisys 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 yesterdays evening rush
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. Whats on my agenda
At seventeen-thirty you have a meeting with Principal
Shamari and the parents of David Boyd.
I know. This meeting is what Rita dreads.
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
weeks 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
Daisys answer comes instantly, You have used all
your coffee points for this month.
Damn. If she wants evening coffee the next few
nights, shell 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 Teachers Lounge
through the day. Its a luxury that Rita has come to depend
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 shell believe
it when she sees it.
Your bus is due to arrive in five minutes, Daisy
Rita grabs a couple of puffed-rice breakfast bars (rice, fortunately,
loves the new wet climate of the half-submerged Mississippi basinand
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 Authoritys AIs have calculated
as part of the minimax solution to the citys 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 Teachers 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 evenings
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 Ritas
best friends on the faculty. Answer. A quiet tick
indicates that the call is live. Good morning, Mannie.
Rita, Im going to be a few minutes late. Its
a long story, but basically I had to take an different ride this
morningwell, never mind that. Could you do me a gigantic
favor? Im supposed to be on Socialization Period duty this
morning, and Im not going to make it. Could you
She chuckles. Of course.
Ill pay you back, really I will.
Dont fret. Ill tell them to reschedule you.
Thank you, thank you, youre such a sweetie. Ill
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 Im taking Mr. Adairs 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,
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, lets 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, theyll 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
With national population control limiting each parent to one
child, a majority of Ritas 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 cant
drink or toke. And you have to pray five times a day. Christians
only have to pray on Sunday mornings.
A boy Rita doesnt know laughs. If you pick New
Age, you dont have to pray at all, not unless you want
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. Thats only Orthodox Catholics,
not Reform. And if youre Orthodox, you cant eat meat
on Fridays and you have to learn Latin.
You could be a Tupacan, but have you heard their
One things for sure, another girl says,
Im not picking the Jedi. Theyre 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 shes been dreading all
Good morning, girls and boys.
Good morning, Teacher Cuervo. They scramble to
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 mornings 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
Against her will, Rita looks toward David Boyd. Just this
once, she thinks, dont cause trouble. Just behave.
The boy shakes his head, as he has every school day since
he entered Ritas class a month ago. Im sorry,
Ms. Cuervo, I cant 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?
Then sit down and remain quiet.
The rest of the children, having waited patiently, now follow
Rita in singsong repetition of the Ladys Prayer:
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.
Tomorrows prayer will be Akhenatens 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 afternoons meeting with Davids
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.