copyright (c) 2006, Don Sakers
Hunt for the Dymalon Cygnet
By Don Sakers
All right, girls and boys, everyone sit down and put
on your dataspex. This morning were going to continue factoring
simple equations. Rita walks up and down the rows, handing
each child an individually-tailored pill. Trish Clyborn raises
Ms. Cuervo, Ive been getting an awful headache
Okay, Trish. Rita scribbles on a datapad and hands
it to the girl. Ill excuse you from todays
lesson. Take this to the pharm office and tell them about your
trouble. Then you can come back and read quietly for the remainder
of the math period.
The rest of you, take your pills and make sure your
spex are tuned to channel six. She sits behind her desk
and punches up the lesson. Everybody ready? Good, here
While the kids are lost in the instruction trance, Rita finishes
her notes on the upcoming Civics test. By the time the computer
signals the end of math period, Rita is ready to spend Social
Studies period talking about the upcoming assembly.
Next period were going to hear from a delegate
to the Terran Council. Now, who can tell me why the Council is
meeting here in Denver?
The children, still tranquil from the pills, blink uselessly
for a few momentsthen Danny Motlow tentatively raises a
hand. Every six months, the Terran Council meets for a
week in a different city in the world. At the end of the week,
they go back to New York.
She picks out a girl in the back of the room. Jenna,
why does the Council move around like that?
Jenna Geekson, with a deer-in-the-headlights look, glances
down at her desk and taps her datapad. Uh
I mean, I think that
Triumphantly, she looks up. They want to give every citizen
of the world the opportunity to see the Council in person.
Rita cocks her head but gives the girl a tolerant smile. I
guess Ill let that pass, Jenna. But next time, do your
reading before you come to class, okay? Jennas expression
of relief is so obvious that the rest of the class cant
Jon Graham in the front row raises his hand. Teacher,
if the Terran Council didnt move around like they do, then
little kids like us wouldnt ever have the chance to talk
Rita nods. Very good, Jon.
Teacher, says red-haired Pru Barnard, I
did all of my readings. Pru Barnard always does
all of her readings. I dont understand something.
When we did our government charts last month, the Terran Council
wasnt anywhere on them.
Thats right, Pru.
Then what do they do?
With Daisy transmitting every word to the Church AIs, Rita
has no choice but to spout the party line. Children, the
Terran Council provides a place for delegates from all over the
world to discuss and debate, but it doesnt have any real
power to enforce its decisions.
She taps on her keypad, and the wallscreen displays a teaching
tool familiar to all the students: a timeline of world events.
She zooms in on the Cold War period. Remember what we learned
about the ineffectiveness of the old United Nations in the second
half of the Twentieth century?
The children nod in the certain agreement of induced memory,
and Rita continues, Well, the Terran Council grew out of
the United Nations, and inherited some of the UNs limitations.
She moves the timeline forward to 2042. Here, lets
review the transition period
It seems only a few minutes before Daisy reminds Rita of the
upcoming assembly. Rita gathers the children into the semblance
of a line, then leads them to the multipurpose room. Rita seats
her charges on the floor facing the small stage, which is set
with a podium and little else. Soon after, the other classes
Bringing several classes together is like mixing vinegar and
baking soda; it takes more than a few minutes to get the kids
settled. Thus, Rita misses Principal Shamaris arrival on
stage and the first part of his introduction.
very pleased to welcome Jannet Hoister, Council
Delegate from New Athens, Mars.
The children give polite applause; Rita nods and steps back
to stand with the other teachers.
The woman who takes the podium is tall, slender, and to Ritas
eyes, altogether exotic. Her smooth skin is the color of coffee
with too little creamer; her long, straight black hair glistens
with irridescent highlights. She seems to be in her early twenties,
although her almond eyes look much older. She wears shades of
black and grey, loose many-pocketed trousers and a baggy shirt,
a flowing overcoat that reaches to mid-calf, heavily-padded shoes
with multiple buckles. Her one ornament, worn on her left breast,
is a gold pin in the shape of an uneven starburst.
Daisy sounds an alert in Ritas ear. This individual
has no trustworthiness level. This individual has no Guardian
Angel. This individual should be considered potentially dangerous.
Glancing at the other teachers, Rita sees that they have all
heard the same warnings from their Angels.
Of course Jannet Hoister has neither Guardian Angel
nor trustworthiness level. She is a citizen of Mars, not subject
the the laws of the United Nations of North America, nor the
Rules of Universal Worship.
The realization hits Rita almost like a physical blow. This
unusual-looking young woman from Mars is a sudden, unexpected
reminder of a time Rita throught forever gonea time when
youth and exuberance were everywhere, when difference was accepted
and nonconformity celebrated, when people made up their own minds
about whom to trust. A time before the map was pocked with impact
events, before the weather turned bad. Before rationing, before
before the Church.
Jannet Hoister steps back, spreads her arms slightly, and
gives a shallow bow. Habari za asubuhi, visichana na
wachanga, she says, then adds with a grin, Thats
how we say Good morning, girls and boys, in Kiswahili.
She frowns, then moves from behind the podium and sits crosslegged
on the edge of the stage. There, thats better. I
hate having that enormous thing between us. She
gestures to the podium, and the children all titter.
Now, girls and boys, Im here to talk to you about
the Terran Council meeting. What would you like to know?
The students are silent, until Principal Shamari says, You
may ask Delegate Hoister questions.
A boy in the front hesitantly raises his hand. Jannet Hoister
nods, then says, Yes?
The boy looks down. Are you really a Martian?
Hoister smiles. I was born on Mars, and I grew up there,
so I guess you could call me a Martian. But some people want
to use that word only for creatures that can live unprotected
on Mars. Especially if we ever find evidence that there were
intelligent nonhuman Martians. She shrugs. Most of
us just prefer People from Mars. She picks
out another hand in the audience. Yes?
Whats it like on Mars?
Whoa, thats a big question. It would take a long
time to tell you all about Mars. Ill just tell you two
things to whet your appetites. First, gravity on Mars is only
one-third of what it is here. So if you weigh thirty kilos here,
youd only weigh ten on Mars.
Whispers fill the room, as the kids each calculate their own
weight on Mars.
Second, Hoister continues, Our year is twice
as long as yours. So even though Im twenty years old on
Earth, at home Im only ten. She surveys the class.
How many of you are ten? Raise your hands.
A smattering of fifth-graders raise their hands. Some
of you might be older than me. There are widespread giggles.
Of course, if you come to Mars, youll only be fiveso
I guess Im still older.
A fourth-grade girls stands up. How did you get to be
You mean, since Im only ten? Laughter. Thats
a good question. The Terran Council seat is actually my mothers.
Most of the time, its filled by her deputy, but hes
back home right now. So Im taking his place for this session.
David Boyd, Ritas problem child, raises his hand. What
religion are you?
Jannet Hoister cocks her head. You know, thats
one that I didnt expect. She leans forward, hands
on her knees, and continues in a conspiratorial tone, Since
were all friends here, Ill be glad to tell you. But
you should know that where I come from, and in a lot of other
parts of the world, thats a fairly personal question. So
when you travel outside your country, dont go asking just
anyone that question. With a smile, she straightens up.
I guess the most popular religion on Mars is Chrislam.
Me, personally, Im a non-theist.
The children stare, not comprehending.
Oh, I guess you dont know that term. Do you know
Trish Clyborne says, Isnt that like Humanist?
Hoister nods. Okay, I guess thats close enough.
Can you live with that? Good. Whos next?
Now the questions come one on top of anotherDo you like
being a delegate? What do you do when youre not sitting
on the Council? Why is someone from Mars on the Terran
Council?and Jannet Hoister skips from one answer to the
next adroitly and gleefully. Her casual manner and blithe irreverance
charms the children
and Rita as well.
In spite of herself, Rita cannot keep her eyes off this Jannet
Hoister. Ritas romantic interests run to both women and
men; one reason she chose Wicca as her official religion. With
the life of a schoolteacher providing scant free time and little
disposable income, she hasnt dated much during the last
few yearsbut when she has, more often than not its
been with a female companion.
The other teachers watch Jannet Hoister with carefully-cultivated
looks of boredom and slight disdain. All things being equal,
its the safest expression to wear. Hoister is potentially
dangerous, a little too free in thought and speech, a little
too much the loose cannon. Oh, the children must be allowed to
hear a variety of points-of-view, in the name of educationbut
for adults, it is better to appear uninterested, unconcerned,
untouched by anything possibly subversive.
Except that this time, Rita cant bear to put on that
indifferent mask. Jannet Hoister reminds her of herself, fifteen
years ago, reminds her of that Congressional intern who really
believed it possible to change the world, believed that she
could do it. And she cant keep her face from reflecting
that belief, that passion.
And Jannet Hoister notices her, notices Ritas look of
interest. Their eyes meet, and Jannet Hoister smiles, gives Rita
a little nod as if to say, Sister, I see you, and I know that
we share something. Rita turns her eyes away, and feels herself
blushing. Too soon, the period is over, and the students rush
to the cafeteria for lunch. Jannet Hoister stands by herself;
Rita approaches the stage and offers her hand. Thank you,
I know the children really enjoyed your presentation.
Thank you for saying so. I have to confess that
Im not used to speaking before schoolkids.
If you dont tell, no one will ever know. Im
Rita Cuervo. I teach fourth grade.
Jannet nods toward the Principal and two other teachers, who
are herding the last of the students out the door. I take
it that Im not exactly religiously correct?
Dont mind them. Theyre conditioned to avoid
anything unusual or new.
And youre not? Jannet raises an eyebrow.
Rita grins. Im Wiccan. Were allowed to be
weird. Besides, its refreshing to speak to someone who
doesnt echo the same old party line.
Well, listen. A bunch of us junior delgates are having
a get-together downtown tonight. Youre welcome, if you
want. We have a ballroom at the Time-Warner-Sheraton-Hilton.
If you come, dress for dancing.
I have an important meeting after school. Maybe I can
come by after that.
Well be there most of the night. No obligation,
but I think youd enjoy it. Jannet nods in the direction
of the Principal, who is frowning. I think grumpy-face
isnt very happy with you. Sorry.
Oh, its not your fault. I imagine he wants to
go to this meeting even less than I do. But Id better go
take care of my charges.
And Grumpy probably wants me out of his school. Cant
be telling the little darlings too much about the world
outside, I guess. Jannet presses Ritas shoulder.
It was great meeting you.
Nice meeting you, too. Thanks. Rita follows her
class toward the cafeteria. She pauses at the door to look back,
but Jannet Hoister is already gone.