copyright (c) 2006, Don Sakers

Hunt for the Dymalon Cygnet

By Don Sakers

Part 10

At first Rita is nervous, being out in public with her Guardian Angel shut off—but Ray assures her that her databand can give all expected responses, effectively counterfeiting the other unit.

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 forbidden—and 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 can’t thank you enough for today, but….”

Jannet’s face falls. “You can’t 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.” “Tomorrow’s session will be even better.”

“Folks, I can’t.” As she speaks, Rita knows that she can… she has enough leave time saved up, the school would not miss her. But she’s afraid that if she doesn’t return to ordinary life now, she may never go back.

“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 don’t know.” She looks from face to face. She’s known them only a few hours, little more than a day, really…yet she feels closer to them than to people she’s worked with for years. “In any case, I have to go home to change clothes.” She fixes her eyes on Jannet. “And don’t tell me you’ll buy me new clothes.”

Jannet shrugs. “All right, if that’s what you want. But you ought to know that my mother’s on the Board of Cetairé-Maris. I can get you great discounts.”

Rita laughs. “Okay, I’m going to go home, change, and pick up a few things. I’ll meet you all back at the hotel room.”

Jannet takes her hand. “Okay if I come with?”

“You don’t trust me to come back?”

“I want to see your place. And you’re better company than these yahoos.”

Rita feels herself blush. “Sure. I’d like the company.” She turns to Jaison. “It’s quite a walk…I don’t suppose you could…?”

“Sorry,” he says. “I’ve never been there. Before I can zap somewhere, I need to perceive the place.”

“Never mind,” Jannet says, linking her arm with Rita’s. “It’s a pleasant night for a stroll. Lead on, Rita.”

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 Boyd’s home address. His family lives only a few blocks away.

“Nada problem,” Jannet answers.

The Boyds’ apartment house is much like Jannet’s, 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 they’re not home?” Jannet suggests.

“Something’s wrong. No nameplate. And I’m 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 the Boyds?”

Rita nods.

“They’re 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. “Can’t say for sure, but I’d guess they’re working in the rice paddies now.”

“Wh-when did they leave?”

“Yesterday, in the wee hours of the morning. I’m a busybody, or nobody’d even know they left.”

Rita shakes her head. “This doesn’t 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 doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on.” The woman glances at the closed, anonymous door. “We won’t be hearing from them again. And come the first of the month, there’ll 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 mother’s 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; I’d 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 shore.

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 giant’s 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 e’er I’d 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 we’d 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 who’d 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.




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 world’s 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 America’s squabbling nations joined together, the great Atlantic coast megalopolis—stretching from Boston to Baltimore and knit into a single economic entity by high-speed transit and comminucations—closed 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 Earth’s people lived in or near cities.


Demographics and Destiny

M. Barrett-Tribull

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.”


Johsua 10:11



Rita swallows, hard. “They’re gone,” she whispers. “It’s my fault.”

The woman stares hard at Rita. “Did you turn them in?”


“Then it’s not your fault, hon.” She looks from Rita to Jannet and back again. “You two aren’t on the grid. I’m not either.” For the first time, Rita realizes that her databand has supplied no information about this woman. “We’d 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 windows—almost 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. “I’m Mae Tilghman.” She offers her hand, and nods when Rita and Jannet give their names in turn.

“You’re wondering about my Guardian Angel,” Mae says. “It’s over there.” She points, and Rita’s 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, it’s attached to me twenty-four hours a day.” She smiles. “It must think I lead a very boring life.”

Jannet peers at the box. “Brilliant design. Your own work?”

“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 he’s a big software engineer in Harare. We chat from time to time. He updates the box when it’s necessary.”

Jannet frowns. “I don’t understand. If you have a son in Africa, then why…?”

“Why do I stay?” Mae smiles. “Come with me, I’ll 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 doorway.

The space beyond, a room larger than Mae’s apartment, is a dense warren of racks and shelves. Every rack, every shelf, every spare cubic centimeter is crammed with…books. There 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 room—but 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. “This is…amazing. Wonderful.”

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. “They’ll be here when they’re needed. When the world comes to its senses.”

“But,” Rita says, “If the Army of God finds out about this, you’ll be in deep trouble.”

Mae grins. “I have some friends in high places. And I have dirt on some equally high non-friends.”

“Still, you’re 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 don’t know.” She looks toward Jannet. “But you’re with her, and I trust her implicitly.” To the question in Rita’s eyes, Mae answers, “Because she’s Nexus.”

Rita chuckles. “Because she’s wearing that pin? That could be faked.”

Mae holds up a hand. “Ah, but the authentication codes it sends can’t. Believe me, if I had any doubts, I would have left you standing out there in the hall, and you’d be none the wiser.”

Jannet nods. “Thanks for showing us. It’s good to be reminded that there are still people fighting the good fight.”

“You can’t write Americans off.” Mae’s 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, let’s talk about the Arm of God and six escorts who’s headed this way in elevator three.”

“What?!” Jannet can’t help herself.

“An Arm of God, with six retainers, is on her way.That is, I assume they’re headed this way; I’m not aware of anything else in this building that might be attracting their attention.”

Jannet looks into the distance for a moment. “I’m going to get Ray to run a search of the local police database against our names—”

Mae shakes her head. “Don’t bother, I’m getting that right now.” She looks at Rita. “Rita Cuervo? Citizen ID 21997045W21146?”

Rita, feeling her throat tighten, can only nod.

“Yep. They’re coming for you.” Mae glances at Jannet. “No mention of any associates, though.”

Finding her voice, Rita squeaks, “How do they know I’m here?”

Jannet frowns. “My guess is that it’s your Guardian Angel. You’re carrying it, aren’t you?”

“I put it in my pocket this morning. But it’s turned off.”

Mae shakes her head. “That doesn’t matter. They can still track it. I suggest that you ditch the thing on your way out.”

“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?”

Jannet’s steadying arm is on Rita’s shoulder. “It’s 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 isn’t too unpleasant this time of year.”

“Leave the country?” Rita wonders, briefly, if this is all a dream—if 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 hasn’t felt so awake in years. “Where will I go?”

Jannet answers at once, “I’ve 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. We’ll 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. “There’s 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 won’t know you’ve left this floor.” She looks away, then back. “Come on, we’ll have to move quickly. They’re 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 Mae’s instructions, Rita tosses her Guardian Angel behind a great huge transformer protected by metal grating. “It’ll 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 one’s there, I’ll 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 you’ll come to another door just like this. It opens under the stairs at the subway station.”

Rita takes Mae’s hand. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Once you get outside, don’t forget about us. That’s 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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