copyright (c) 2006, Don Sakers
Hunt for the Dymalon Cygnet
By Don Sakers
At first Rita is nervous, being out in public with her Guardian
Angel shut offbut Ray assures her that her databand can
give all expected responses, effectively counterfeiting the other
Dinner is everything Rita expected, and more. Being in the
company of the Junior Delegates is part of the excitement. To
ordinary citizens of Denver, they are something exotic, curious,
refreshingly forbiddenand in those citizens eyes,
Rita can see that she shares in the same aura.
Dinner goes far too late, and as they all make their way back
to the hotel Rita realizes it is time to extract herself from
this dream and return to the real world.
Jannet, I cant thank you enough for today, but
Jannets face falls. You cant go.
Suddenly the group stops, in the middle of the sidewalk, and
they huddle around Rita. Come on back to the hotel with
us. Stay. Tomorrows session will
be even better.
Folks, I cant. As she speaks, Rita
knows that she can
she has enough leave time saved
up, the school would not miss her. But shes afraid that
if she doesnt return to ordinary life now, she may never
Tell you what, Thea says, Surely you can
spare two more days from work. Take tomorrow and Friday off and
stay with us through the weekend.
I dont know. She looks from face to face.
Shes known them only a few hours, little more than a day,
yet she feels closer to them than to people shes
worked with for years. In any case, I have to go home to
change clothes. She fixes her eyes on Jannet. And
dont tell me youll buy me new clothes.
Jannet shrugs. All right, if thats what you want.
But you ought to know that my mothers on the Board of Cetairé-Maris.
I can get you great discounts.
Rita laughs. Okay, Im going to go home, change,
and pick up a few things. Ill meet you all back at the
Jannet takes her hand. Okay if I come with?
You dont trust me to come back?
I want to see your place. And youre better company
than these yahoos.
Rita feels herself blush. Sure. Id like the company.
She turns to Jaison. Its quite a walk
suppose you could
Sorry, he says. Ive never been there.
Before I can zap somewhere, I need to perceive the place.
Never mind, Jannet says, linking her arm with
Ritas. Its a pleasant night for a stroll. Lead
As they walk, Rita plays tourguide, pointing out local sites
or interest and making wry comments on city politics. Halfway
to her building, she remembers something and says, Do you
mind if we make a detour? I want to check on one of my students.
Using her databand, she retrieves David Boyds home address.
His family lives only a few blocks away.
Nada problem, Jannet answers.
The Boyds apartment house is much like Jannets,
office space converted to house the hundreds of thousands who
fled to the city in the wake of impact-provoked climate change.
A silent elevator whisks them to the eighteenth floor. Rita works
her way down a line of doors, each with a number and nameplate,
until she comes to one that bears a number, but no name.
This is supposed to be their place. She rings
the bell, waits half a minute, then rings again.
Maybe theyre not home? Jannet suggests.
Somethings wrong. No nameplate. And Im not
getting any response from my databand. Usually, an automatic
voice would at least offer to take a message. Rita knocks on
the door, a hollow sound.
There is no answer.
Rita knocks again, harder.
Behind them, another door opens. A face peers out, a woman
with high cheekbones and wispy blond hair. A pair of dataspex
are perched on her forehead. She lowers the spex and peers at
Rita and Jannet, then raises them again. You looking for
Theyre not here anymore.
Rita blinks. Not here?
Not anymore. Nice family, if a bit odd. Little boy was
smart as a whip. Sorry to see em go.
Where did they go?
The woman looks from side to side, then drops her voice to
a whisper. Cant say for sure, but Id guess
theyre working in the rice paddies now.
Wh-when did they leave?
Yesterday, in the wee hours of the morning. Im
a busybody, or nobodyd even know they left.
Rita shakes her head. This doesnt make any sense.
How do you know what happened to them?
Child, when the Army of God comes in the middle of the
night and takes a family out one by one, with cuffs on their
hands and tape over their mouths
well, it doesnt take
a genius to figure out whats going on. The woman
glances at the closed, anonymous door. We wont be
hearing from them again. And come the first of the month, therell
be a new family moving in. She sighs. I hope they
have a boy as smart as that David was.
Year 6977 of the Water-Mountain Kingdom (1265 BCE)
My fifteenth summer was just over when the Goddess laid Her
hand upon my life.
I had become a woman strong and brave, my mothers well-trained
junior Priestess now. I traveled often about the lands we served,
answering needs of the simple folk. To consecrate a union, bless
a child, or say a prayer for some departed soul; to settle arguments
or sit as judge between two townsfolk in a rare dispute.
And now the Fire Season came again, night sky alight with
endless shooting stars and fireballs that showered sparkling
trails. A dozen days the fire ruled the sky, then came again
a few months further on.
This day I travelled in the western lands, on craggy beaches
strewn with fine dark sand. Here hardy fisherfolk did make their
homes, a rough and rugged people short and dark, a people made
to match this landscape harsh.
At dawn I left one town and struck out north, keeping to the
bare and level beach. On my left hand the water foamed and curled,
and to my right the land rose swiftly up and higher still, a
dozen lengths or more. A handful of the silver dragonflies accompanied
me, sparkling in the sun. A cool and calming breeze from off
the sea brought comfort to a head that throbbed a bit; Id
stayed too long awake the night before in celebration of a couple
wed. I dozed and trusted that my horse would find a safe and
gentle way to travel north.
Midmorning I awoke to a startling sight: a firey comet dove
across the sky, and left a trail of smoke from east to west.
It plunged into the western sea and then the sky lit up as with
a second dawn, a flash that faded quickly as it came.
I puzzled at this apparition but could fathom not how it had
come to fall, and sea breeze soon did lull me back to sleep.
My steed continued on his steady way.
When next I woke I saw a world transformed. As with the ebb
of mighty tides the sea had drawn back to expose its muddy bed.
A new shoreline lay several lengths away, and fishes flopped
in dwindling ocean foam. The sea retreated further as I watched,
with the sound of rushing brine and crashing waves.
I bade my steed to halt and off I leapt. I thought to move
toward the dwindling sea, this mystery to witness close at hand.
Yet as I took a step a dragonfly did hover in my path with beating
wings; a second later it was joined by two, then more arrived
until they formed a cloud that stood between me and the erstwhile
This silent company advanced on me, three dozen moving as
if all were one. They drove me backward, step by gentle step,
and forced my horse to follow on as well. I tried to dodge but
met with no success.
Up steep and rocky hill they pushed me on, sweating as I struggled
with the climb, until we reached the summit far above. Now finally
the dragonflies withdrew, though one remained between me and
the sea, a solitary guard to bar my way.
I sat and panted, gazing to the west, and gradually about
me rose a sound: a deep and distant thunder that roared on, as
if it issued from a giants throat. With every passing heartbeat
swelled the sound, like great stampedes of beasts upon the plain.
Then in the west I saw the waters rise, a wave ten times as
tall as eer Id seen. It spanned the whole horizon
north to south, and scarce had I the time to take three breaths,
before this watery mountain crashed to shore.
The sound was strong enough to knock me down, and tightly
clung I to my panicked steed. Yet far enough above the wave wed
climbed, and we were spared while all else fell to sea. The beach
below us simply ceased to be, both rock and tree swept off in
that great wave. Between one heartbeat and the next the land
had changed its shape and contours for all time. The fishing
village to the south was gone, no trace remained of all its happy
folk. The wave left devastation in its wake, that only years
of heartless toil could heal.
And yet I stood atop that hill and raised my voice in praise
and gratitude to She whod sent the dragonflies to spare
my life. For in that dreadful moment I did know, that the Goddess
touched my life and from now on that I was Hers to serve forevermore.
FLIGHT TO THE CITIES
The historic trend toward greater urbanization was briefly
interrupted in the early 21st century. In developed countries,
increasing wealth and flat or declining populations, coupled
with the ever-present risk of terrorist attacks, made living
in exurban and rural areas both economically feasible and socially
appealing. In developed and developing countries alike, multiple
outbreaks of virulent diseases decimated urban populations, and
made city life much less attractive. At the turn of the century,
about 47 percent of the worlds population lived in urban
areas; by 2040 that figure bottomed out at 38 percent, and then
began to rise gradually until 2053.
In the wake of the first Impacts, rural areas suffered the
most. Weather disruptions reduced agricultural yields, leading
to widespread food shortages and severe economic disruption.
Developed areas such as Europe and sub-Canadian North America
were hit hardest. Climate change and widespread flooding in the
Mississippi basin left millions destitute and homeless; the newly-reformed
United States struggled with an enormous wave of internal refugees.
Cities, with the infrastructure and the experience to deal with
starving masses, became the destination of choice.
While the rest of North Americas squabbling nations
joined together, the great Atlantic coast megalopolisstretching
from Boston to Baltimore and knit into a single economic entity
by high-speed transit and comminucationsclosed its borders
and turned it eyes and its trade toward Europe and the grain
fields of a suddenly wet and bountiful Siberia. The remainder
of the United Nations of North America withdrew into isolationism
and religion, sending malcontents and dissidents to labor in
the rice paddies and marginal soy fields of the Midwest.
All across the world, urban population swelled, and by 2065
fully three-quarters of Earths people lived in or near
Demographics and Destiny
University of Harare Press, 2078
United Nations of North America
August 29, 2068 C.E.
The Lord cast down great stones from heaven
upon them unto Azekah, and they died; they were more who died
with the hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew
with the sword.
Rita swallows, hard. Theyre gone, she whispers.
Its my fault.
The woman stares hard at Rita. Did you turn them in?
Then its not your fault, hon. She looks
from Rita to Jannet and back again. You two arent
on the grid. Im not either. For the first time, Rita
realizes that her databand has supplied no information about
this woman. Wed better not stand out here in the
hall. Come inside and we can talk.
Moving with a trace of a limp, she leads them into her apartment.
A main room, about five meters square, is lit by several flickering
screens, each tuned to a different program; a panorama of cityscape
shows through high windowsalmost certianly simulated, given
the orientation of the room and the building. There is minimal
furniture: a wide sofa, piled with pillows and several multicolor
afghans, a small table, some shevles bearing assorted bric-a-brac.
The air smells vaguely of incense and something mouth-watering,
perhaps from the frozen-pizza family. All in all, it seems a
cozy little nest.
The door eases shut behind Rita and Jannet, and their host
turns back to them. The gentle light subdues the lines on her
face, but still Rita can see that she is not a young woman. Im
Mae Tilghman. She offers her hand, and nods when Rita and
Jannet give their names in turn.
Youre wondering about my Guardian Angel,
Mae says. Its over there. She points, and Ritas
eyes follow to a shelf where a standard skin-patch Guardian Angel
clings to an obviously-homemade electronics box. The box
feeds it a simulation of me going through a normal day, all the
inputs from spex and physio, even brainwaves. As near as the
Angel can tell, its attached to me twenty-four hours a
day. She smiles. It must think I lead a very boring
Jannet peers at the box. Brilliant design. Your own
Hell, no. My son made it for me, ten or twelve years
ago, just before he left.
Rita echoes, Left?
Mae nods. He got out. Went to Africa. Now hes
a big software engineer in Harare. We chat from time to time.
He updates the box when its necessary.
Jannet frowns. I dont understand. If you have
a son in Africa, then why
Why do I stay? Mae smiles. Come with me,
Ill show you. She leads them down a short hallway
and opens a closet door, where linens and various household products
are stacked neatly on shelves. She reaches behind a stack of
towels and the shelves pivot, revealing a much larger space behind.
Watch your heads, Mae says, stepping through.
Rita looks at Jannet, shrugs, and moves through the hidden
The space beyond, a room larger than Maes apartment,
is a dense warren of racks and shelves. Every rack, every shelf,
every spare cubic centimeter is crammed with
are modern books, self-contained units each containing gigabytes;
discs and chips and cubes; old-fashioned cassette tapes; and
by the thousands, really ancient paper books with garish spines.
A single pack of data sponges could probably hold all the
information in this roombut the myriad books are so much
more impressive. And certainly more browsable. Just glancing
at the titles, Rita easily sees a dozen that look interesting.
Mae stands back, arms crossed and a faint smile on her lips,
while Rita and Jannet wander enchanted, fingering the books,
now and again removing one to look at the cover or flip through
electronic or physical pages. At last Rita looks back at their
hostess and spreads her hands, indicating the whole hidden stash.
Mae nods. I was a librarian. Retired, now, thank the
deity or deities of your choice. Even before the Impacts started,
Denver was on the edge of the Christian States. I fought for
a lifetime against the censors, the politically correctors, all
the ignorant people who want to burn and bury ideas. She
takes a breath. I never could stand to let a book go. It
felt like surrender. So I started to save them, here. She
runs her fingers lightly over a shelf of red-and-white bookdiscs,
a gesture halfway between an inspection and a caress. Theyll
be here when theyre needed. When the world comes to its
But, Rita says, If the Army of God finds
out about this, youll be in deep trouble.
Mae grins. I have some friends in high places. And I
have dirt on some equally high non-friends.
Still, youre taking an awful chance, showing strangers
like us your secrets. How do you know you can trust us?
Mae peers over her dataspex at Rita. You, I dont
know. She looks toward Jannet. But youre with
her, and I trust her implicitly. To the question
in Ritas eyes, Mae answers, Because shes Nexus.
Rita chuckles. Because shes wearing that pin?
That could be faked.
Mae holds up a hand. Ah, but the authentication codes
it sends cant. Believe me, if I had any doubts, I would
have left you standing out there in the hall, and youd
be none the wiser.
Jannet nods. Thanks for showing us. Its good to
be reminded that there are still people fighting the good fight.
You cant write Americans off. Maes
eyes twinkle. Every so often we collectively go crazy for
a few years, or a decade or so
but we always come back to
our senses. You can count on that. She peers ahead with
the distracted look of one reading a display on her dataspex.
Now, lets talk about the Arm of God and six escorts
whos headed this way in elevator three.
What?! Jannet cant help herself.
An Arm of God, with six retainers, is on her way.That
is, I assume theyre headed this way; Im not aware
of anything else in this building that might be attracting their
Jannet looks into the distance for a moment. Im
going to get Ray to run a search of the local police database
against our names
Mae shakes her head. Dont bother, Im getting
that right now. She looks at Rita. Rita Cuervo? Citizen
Rita, feeling her throat tighten, can only nod.
Yep. Theyre coming for you. Mae glances
at Jannet. No mention of any associates, though.
Finding her voice, Rita squeaks, How do they know Im
Jannet frowns. My guess is that its your Guardian
Angel. Youre carrying it, arent you?
I put it in my pocket this morning. But its turned
Mae shakes her head. That doesnt matter. They
can still track it. I suggest that you ditch the thing on your
Out? Rita echoes, dumbly.
Mae says, Out of the building, out of the city
She gives Jannet an inquisitory look. Out of the country,
I would imagine, no?
Jannets steadying arm is on Ritas shoulder. Its
up to you, hon. If you want to leave the country, the Nexus will
get you out safely.
If you want to stay, Mae adds, You can surrender
to the Arm. I hear Arkansas isnt too unpleasant this time
Leave the country? Rita wonders, briefly, if this
is all a dreamif she is asleep in her own apartment, and
any moment the alarm will go off, waking her to another ordinary
day. But no, even though her heart is pounding and her mouth
is dry, she hasnt felt so awake in years. Where will
Jannet answers at once, Ive half a mind to take
you back to the Council, and claim diplomatic immunity. But Elaine
reminds me that standard Nexus protocol for refugees is to get
you out of the country as quickly as possible. Well go
to New York, you can stay with me at school until you figure
out what you want to do next. She turns her eyes to Mae.
As for the immediate question of getting out of this building,
do you have any advice?
Mae nods. Theres a service elevator that I use
sometimes. Takes you to a sub-basement where you can enter a
service tunnel that lets out into the subway station in the next
block. Drop your Angel before you get on the elevator, and they
wont know youve left this floor. She looks
away, then back. Come on, well have to move quickly.
Theyre almost here.
Rather than leading them back through her apartment, Mae takes
them deeper into the maze of bookshelves, to a squat and narrow
opening that leads into a dirty serviceway lined with pipes,
electrical conduits, and cobwebs. At Maes instructions,
Rita tosses her Guardian Angel behind a great huge transformer
protected by metal grating. Itll take them half an
hour to find their way in here, she says.
The service elevator is an open metal cage without even rudimentary
robotic intelligence; at the press of a button, it rises from
the depths below, and Mae stuffs Rita and Jannet aboard, then
joins them. She holds down another button, and the cage descends
with ominous clanking noises.
When we get to the sub-basement, let me take a look.
If no ones there, Ill wave you out. Minutes
later, they reach a darkened level with the same look as the
service corridor. The smell of dust and industrial oil is heavy
in the air. Mae peers out, then beckons Rita and Jannet.
Through here. She throws a rusty bolt and opens
a heavy metal door, revealing a dark passageway. Keep going
forward, and in about fify meters youll come to another
door just like this. It opens under the stairs at the subway
Rita takes Maes hand. I dont know how to
Once you get outside, dont forget about us. Thats
all I ask.
Then they are in the passageway, and Mae shuts the door behind
them. The bolt closes with a clang.
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