copyright (c) 2007, Don Sakers
Hunt for the Dymalon Cygnet
By Don Sakers
The passageway is lit by a single yellow safety
strip about shoulder high on the wall to their right, and it
takes Ritas eyes a few minutes to adjust. Jannet takes
her hand and silently pulls her forwardof course, with
clairvoyance, Jannet doesnt need to see. Theres water
on the floor, less than half a centimeter deep, and the oily
smell is replaced by a dank mustiness.
Once her eyes adjust, Rita lets go of Jannets
hand. When we get to the subway, what then?
We have a conference channel going;
Ill cut you in.
At once, another multi-threaded conversation
weaves into existence around Rita in various pastel hues, accompanied
by three-dimensional images of the Junior Delegates. At the moment,
Thea is speaking:
Contacted an undercover Nexus operative
who handles refugees. Standard procedure would call for getting
Rita to a safe househi, Ritain preparation for smuggling
you out on a train. But the train they normally use is scheduled
for a departure just before midnight tonight, so she thinks its
best for you two to make your way to Union Station by your most
secure route. Shell have further instructions once you
get near the Station.
We can take the subway
Giralds voice cuts her off. As
soon as you pass the turnstile, your location is known. And the
cops are waiting for you at the next stop.
Jannet nods. Hes right. Well
have to walk. And shut down all interaction between your databand
and the city infrastructure.
How do I do that?
Rays face swims before her. Its
okay, Rita. Theres a simple utility that will take you
completely off the grid. Just tell your databand to go into stealth
Rita flicks her eyes, revealing a menu of
utilities; sure enough, Stealth Mode is one of them. With a quick
subvocalization, she selects it. A tiny black swept-wing icon
appears in the bottom left of her visual field.
Ray continues, If you have it set right,
youll see a reminder icon. Focus on it, and itll
tell you youre in Stealth.
Despite herself, Rita smiles. That wasnt
an option on my old Guardian Angel.
Girald snorts. Of course not. How can
you have an effective prison, if the inmates can disappear at
By now they have reached the end of the tunnel,
another steel door. Jannet leans against the door while Theas
calm voice says, Out of the tunnel, youll be in a
service area at the north end of the platform. Turn right, and
in three meters youll find a ladder that leads upward to
Jannet glances back at Rita. No ones
on the other side, but we should move quickly. Ready.
Rita follows Jannet through the door into
a dim space lit only by the orange radiance of emergency fluoro
strips, up a grime-encrusted ladder. There is a sudden explosion
of light as Jannet throws open a steel hatch, and then they are
on the sidewalk. Jannet helps Rita up and closes the hatch. The
street is deserted, the streetlights harsh after the darkness
Okay, Jannet says, Which
way to Union Station?
Rita takes a moment to orient herself, then
points. Around that corner, then maybe ten, twelve blocks.
Right. Lets go.
Union Station is a grand old marble mausoleum, a temple to
transportation from an age in which the railroad, not the fusion
drive, was the latest technological wonder. The building is protected
and maintained as an historical site, but all the action is hundreds
of meters underground, the modern transport hub that links subway,
local and long-distance shuttles to the spaceport and nearby
cities, and long-distance passenger and freight lines.
The cavernous station is quiet and cool; almost as soon as
Rita and Jannet enter, Ray and Girald spring up from a bench
to meet them.
What are you two doing here? Jannet asks.
Ray grins. You dont think were going to
let you keep all the fun to yourselves?
Besides, Girald says, Ive had enough
of Gods Country. Im not giving up a chance to get
back to civilization sooner.
Jannet gives a mock sigh. All right, I guess were
stuck with you. She looks around. Where do we go?
Follow me. Girald leads them across the vast floor
toward a bank of elevators. Were on the midnight
train to Sakatchewan. Our Nexus contact sent me all the access
codes we need.
Rita automatically checks the time. They have somewhat more
than twenty minutes.
Ray nods. Once were in Canada, our portion of
the train diverts to Winnipeg. By the time we get there, the
local Nexus operatives will have the next stages arranged.
Girald says, Although I dont know why Jaison cant
Jannet frowns. Jaison went off with the Fodon twins
and three liters of Lunar vodka. Trust me, in the state hes
in right now, you dont want to try it. If youre lucky,
youd wind up somewhere in the Solar System.
You know, Girald says, sometimes your brother
isnt exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer.
Jannet answers, And sometimes, Girald, youve not
exactly the most diplomatic voice in the choir. She pats
his cheek. But thats not why we keep you around.
Ray raises an eyebrow. Why do we keep him around?
Girald answers, The real question is, why do I
keep the rest of you around?As if on cue, one of the elevators
opens. After you, my friends. With a flourish, Girald
waves them in.
They are the only passengers. The elevator, presumably responding
to Giralds security codes, descends rapidly. Ray fingers
the wall and frowns. Why have transparent walls, if were
Jannet smiles. Just wait.
In a few more moments, light bursts upon them as the elevator
descends into the vast vaulted cavern, nearly half a kilometer
across, that houses the Denver Transport Hub.
A hundred meters below, trains come and go through a sprawling
maze of tracks, switches, turntables, catwalks, and bridges that
resembles nothing more than a giant clockwork machine with gears
and springs and levers all in constant motion.
At speeds downright frightening to the merely human eye, thousands
of individual train cars move through this great machine, each
on its own trajectory. Back and forth, over and under, round
and round, the cars move independent of one another yet so well
co-ordinated that hardly a meter of empty space remains between
any two of them.
Jannet gives a low whistle. You know that this sort
of thing goes on, but you dont visualize it until its
before your eyes.
Ray smiles. You know those puzzles made of little squares,
where you have to slide one after another to get the numbers
in sequence? This is like that, only a thousand times bigger.
Rita, happy for the chance to play native guide, says, Three
AIs spend almost all their time overseeing this facility. Its
one of the busiest hubs in North America.
As they descend, an incoming train rockets into the pattern,
breaks apart into component cars, and in heartbeats is lost in
the shuffle. Seconds later, a long string of cars assembles and
shoots forth like the ultra-fast tongue of an enormous frog,
vanished in the space of a breath into an outgoing tunnel.
Rita continues, We bring the kids here every April,
during the unit on transportation. If you watch long enough,
it starts to make your head hurt.
The elevator slows, and the panoramic view breaks down into
rushing chaos. They come to rest on a still island at the edge
of the pandemonium. The doors open, and they step out onto a
concrete platform between two sidings. All around, other elevators
rise and descend on other similar islands. Above, a series of
stairs and catwalks links all the platforms.
I didnt expect it to be so quiet, Jannet
Except for distant clicks and clangs, and the constant susurrus
of winds, the cavern is strangely quietfor the trains,
moving on invisible magnetic fields a few centimeters above their
tracks, make minimal noise.
Girald cocks his head, like a terrier catching a scent, then
leads them between rows of motionless cars, all virtually identical:
sleek metal boxes, streamlined against wind resistance. When
Rita glances at each new car, a series of identification numbers
springs up in her sight, then fades away.
This one, Girald says, indicating a car outwardly
no different from all the others. Our home for the next
few hours. He is silent for a moment, then a portion of
the cars skin peels back, revealing a doorway.
From the platform to the car is a giant step; Jannet hops
up and gives Rita her hand. Ray follows, with Girald bringing
up the rear.
As they enter, lights brighten. Past a narrow vestibule with
storage spaces and restroom access, the interior widens to reveal
a comfortably-appointed passenger car, complete with a lounge
area and a larger chamber with a dozen sleeping berths. In between
is a compact basic kitchen stocked with sandwiches, snacks, and
a selection of bottled beverages.
Jannet surveys the arrangements. Well, isnt this
nice? I thought wed be sharing space with cargo.
Apparently, Girald answers, railway employees
use cars like this to deadhead all the time. Tonight were
the only passengers. He opens the small refrigerator, pops
open a bottle of beer, and settles into a well-padded chair.
For once we get to travel in luxury. Lets enjoy it
while we can.
Jannet shrugs. Nothing else to do, I guess. She
chooses a couch-like seat large enough for three, and pats the
seat next to her. Rita?
Rita settles into the cushions, and Ray takes a single seat
opposite them. He glances away for a moment, then fastens his
safety harness. Ten minutes to departure; wed better
all buckle up.
As the others arrange their own harnesses, Rita says, Do
you suppose theres any way we can see outside?
Girald nods. Sure. After a moment, long rectangular
windows open on the walls, showing the surrounding cars, platforms,
and catwalks. Numbers and arrows danced across the displays,
indicating distance, speed, and identity.
As Jannet takes her hand, Rita stifles a giggle.
Jannet raises an eyebrow. What?
This is just like an episode of Miracle Worker.
Except usually when Penelope helps someone escape, its
from the outside into the U.S.
Jannet grins. Oh, Mothers going to love
A moment later, a computer voice warns, Prepare for
acceleration. Passengers present, maximum 1.5 gees.
The carriage lurches, and for a moment Ritas eyes are
confused; is the train moving, or the surroundings? Then the
car accelerates, and all doubt vanishes.
The next few minutes are exciting, chaotic, and more than
a bit unnerving, as the constantly-accelerating train car weaves
its way through the maze of tracks, swerving and spinning in
a precise split-second ballet with hundreds of other speeding
until at last, as part of a fully-formed train, it
rockets away from the station and into a gaping tunnel mouth.
After that, darkness is relieved by a stroboscopic series of
bright green pinpoints, one every few seconds.
Girald takes a swig of beer. Well, thats that,
were on our way. In a little more than two hours, well
be in Winnipeg.
As the others chat, Rita stares at the window display, losing
herself in the steady, hypnotic progression of one green light
after another. Her head droops, comes to rest on Jannets
shoulder. Soon, Rita is asleep.
She awakens slowly. The cabin lights are dim, and outside
a black sky is ablaze with stars, while a dark and featureless
landscape stretches in all directions. Rita remains still, half
in sleep, and becomes aware of whispered conversation around
Sooner or later someones going to have to send
a crewed expedition out there. Thats Ray, the gentle
earnestness of his voice apparent even in a whisper.
Do you think Khria was disappointed that the Council
didnt vote to sponsor a crewed mission? Jannet asks.
I think it surprised him that they said no, Girald
I dont suppose it matters much what the Council
voted, Ray says. Now that the news is out, someones
sure to send a ship to investigate.
Who? Girald says. That things out
beyond Pluto. It would take the better part of two tendays at
one gee to get there
and theyd have to drag along
reaction mass for the return trip, which means a whopping huge
ship. Who could finance an effort like that?
After a moment, Jannet answers, Any of the larger Idara,
especially if they work together on it. Girald, lets say
your grandfather and Ogano Carroll, maybe in alliance with Ujana
dHerelle. When you put ChenFusion reactors together with
dHerelles Rockwell Interplanetary, and throw in some
Carroll money, it looks like the basis of an expedition to me.
I suppose it doesnt matter who does it,
Girald says. The thing is out there, and sooner or later
somebody will go out to visit it. He sighs. To me,
the intriguing question is here on Earth: why does this spaceship
look so much like a three-thousand-year-old archaeological artifact?
Ray snorts. I still dont think
Jannet shifts in her seat. You cant dismiss the
mystery that easily. Look at the detailed analysis in Dr. Khrias
report. The resemblence between the two is too exact for coincidence.
She pauses. Id love to get my hands on the real Dymalon
Cygnet. The artifact, I mean.
Well you cant, Girald says. It vanished
ninety years ago, stolen from the museum and replaced by a forgery.
Youve seen the virtie, havent you?
Jannet gives a tiny laugh. Girald, dont be more
offensively stupid than usual. The guys who made that virtie
were part of the New Athens community even before the move to
Mars. Phil Meade told me bedtime stories. George is still around;
hes over a hundred, but still pretty active for an old
guy. So yes, Ive seen the virtie. I grew up watching it.
And I know that the original artifact is lost.
Ray speaks up, If you had the artifact, what would you
want to look for?
Im not sure, Jannet says. Markings,
chemical composition, isotopic ratios, microscopic surface anomalies,
deepscan the thing, put every bit
of it under a microscope, see if theres anything inside.
There ought to be a way to tell if its truly some sort
of alien construct.
Yawning, Girald says, I repeat, you cant
examine it. So the whole question is academic.
Rita stirs. Not really. You might not need the orignal
Dymalon Cygnet. She opens her eyes and struggles to sit
Ah, the sleeper awakens, Girald says.
What do you mean? Jannet prompts her.
Rita smooths her hair. I know something about the Dymalon
Cygnet. My great-grandmother worked at the museum where the original
was housed before
well, before the forgery showed up. They
examined the original with many of the techniques you suggest.
Girald wrinkles his nose. That was last century; the
1980s, in fact. They didnt have modern instruments back
They had microscopes and they had x-rays, and a whole
lot else besides. I know because when I was a kid, my Bisabuela
took me to the museum and showed me the virtual display of the
Cygnet. It was constructed from all the data they had on the
original artifact. I know for a fact that you could zoom in to
submicroscopic view, or peel back layers and look inside.
Rita feels her jaw set in the stubbornness and frustration that
she always sensed when Bisabuela told about the Dymalon Cygent.
It might not be as good as having the real thing in front
of you, but it would sure have a lot of information.
Girald opens his mouth, then closes it. For several seconds,
all three of the others stares in Ritas direction, and
she knows that they are using their databands.
Ray is the first to speak. The Museum of Pacific Culture
was destroyed when Los Angeles fell after the Porterville strike.
Theres nothing left but rubble.
Rita sighs. I know that. My Bisabuela didnt live
to see the strike, thank the Goddess. But dont you think
there are copies of the data? Im sure all the Museums
exhibits were online. If I were looking for that virtual Cygnet,
Id start with archives of the Nets from before Porterville.
Jannet narrows her eyes. Rita, how many people know
about your great-grandmothers connection to the Dymalon
Ray frowns. Everybody. Its in Ritas public
profile. He turns his eyes in Ritas direction, and
she has the uneasy feeling that hes looking right through
her. Rita, you were one of the few who escaped the Washington,
DC strike. You were interviewed a lot in the months following.
You mentioned your Bisabuela several times.
Rita shrugs. So?
Shaking her head, Jannet says, I thought the Army of
God was after you because you turned off your Guardian Angel
and snuck into the Terran Council meeting. Now I think theres
another reason they want you.
Dont be silly, Rita says. Everything
I just told you is a matter of public record. They dont
need me to find it out.
Still, you have a personal, family connection to the
the Dymalon Cygent. And just when Dr. Khria has good reason to
be searching for that artifact, the Army of God is on your trail.
Could be coincidence, but I think not. Jannets eyes
narrow. Have you checked your mail lately? Anything unusual
Rita frowns. I havent checked. I didnt think
it would be smart, with them after me. If I access my mail, cant
they track my location?
Ray stifles a quick laugh. Maybe with your old hardware,
tied into the US net. Now youre under Schmidt Foundation
security. Seeing her look of doubt, he smiles. Look,
Rita, our company handles crypto and financial services for the
worlds biggest corporations, diplomatic traffic for governments,
Nexus datacommour security has to be good. Believe me,
you can access your mail and all your services, and they arent
able to track you. A faraway look enters his eyes. If
they do a sophisticated enough packet-distribution analysis,
they might be able to narrow it down to a fair probability that
youre somewhere in North America. Thats all.
Okay. Rita gives a silent command, and her mail
opens before her eyes. Line after line of fine color-coded print,
each line bearing a small avatar of the sender. The first half-dozen
lines were the blood-red of extremely urgent, and
they were headed by the Seal of the State.
The first message jumped open unbidden; Rita reads as far
as You are ordered to present yourself in person at the
nearest police station or Army facility before slamming
her mail routine shut.
She turns helpless eyes on Ray. Theyve found me!
Ray smiles. Show me.
Cautiously, she again opens her mail. Ray chuckles. You
might as well delete all those messages, they dont mean
anything. Believe me, if they found you, they wouldnt be
telling you to turn yourself in.
Still, Jannet says, Im worried. We
have a scheduled layover in Winnipeg coming up. Well have
to watch Rita carefully.
Ray shakes his head. Surely you dont think they
have any idea where to find her?
We evacuated under standard Nexus protocols, Girald
says. If we know all of their security secrets, then its
a fair bet that they know ours. There are only a certain number
of ways out of Denver.
Jannet nods. Well be cautious in Winnipeg.
Ray gestures to the window display. Were coming
up on Regina. This ought to be fun to watch.
Hold on, Girald says. Im going to
overlay an orbital shot and schematic.
If Denver Transport Hub is the intricate workings of an enormous
pocket watch, then Regina Hub is the works of a great clocktower
two hundred kilometers across, a colossal ring surrounding the
center city. The orbital view is alive with thousands of tiny
colored pinpoints, each one an independent train car with its
own destination. Although Rita knows they are travelling at hundreds
of kilometers per hour, the dots seem to move through the elaborate
labyrinth at a crawl.
Can we see our own progress? Rita asks.
Giralds brow furrows. I can ask the car to show
itself on the display. After a moment, he says, Im
going to have to zoom in.
The display expands and the dots move more quickly. One particular
pinpoint shines out bright red; Girald points to it and says,
The red dot is in the middle of a long string of white ones;
they flow like marbles through a succession of chutes. Suddenly,
a segment breaks off the front and dashes off in a different
direction; a moment later, a string of two dozen blue dots approaches,
runs parallel for a few heartbeats, then attaches itself to the
tail end of their own train. A few more jugglings of this sort,
and the white string becomes increasingly rainbow-colored. At
one point several dots pull away from the main train, accelerate,
and join the front of the train.
The action lasts several minutes, and when it is done the
new multicolor train of dots races off to the right, eastward
Girald lets the display fade, and leans back in his seat.
Thats it. Forty minutes until Winnipeg. I dont
know about the rest of you, but Im going to take a nap.
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