copyright (c) 2006, Don Sakers
Hunt for the Dymalon Cygnet
By Don Sakers
On the way to the hotel, Rita worries that she wont
find the right roombut as soon as she enters the lobby,
Daisy announces, The Junior Delegates reception is in the
South ballroom. Go up the escalator, turn left, and follow the
corridor to the end. The ballroom is on the right.
The broad, carpeted corridor is empty, lonesome in the peculiar
manner of public spaces accustomed to lively crowds, when the
people are elsewhere. As she reaches the ballroom doors, though,
Rita hears the deep, throbbing beat of music; standing for a
moment outside those doors, she feels dark wood and brass fixtures
pulsating to that same beat. She takes a breath, then pulls a
door open and steps through.
The ballroom is cavernous and dim after the well-lit hallway.
It is warm, and the air is alive with a dozen heady smells: clove
and cinnamon, pungent perfumes, human sweat. The music, hard-driving
and roaring, fills the air as palpably as steam in a sauna.
A dance floor area is crowded with bodies; around it, scattered
tables and chairs are more sparsely populated. Beyond the dance
floor, a dark figure sits hunched over a complex of sound machinery.
Hello? A bearish man appears at Ritas side,
towering over her.
H-hello. Im looking for Jannet Hoister.
He nods, and gestures to the right. She went that way.
Thanks. Rita moves in the indicated direction.
After a few steps, she stops as Daisy sounds a quiet alarm in
Attention. This unit is no longer connected to the infogrid.
Only offline services are available.
Rita turns back to the bearish man, who regards her with a
quizzical look. She gestures vaguely. My Angel
He nods. We have blocks up. Tonight, this room is international
territory. The corners of his mouth twitch. Youre
not in Kansas any more.
If you want, I can set you up a bypass.
No, thats fine. Thank you. She moves off,
swaying with the musics beat. Daisys offline status
gives Rita an unusual opportunity; she clears her throat and
says, Daisy, unit power off.
Confirm unit power off.
Power off confirmed.
Unit powering off. To power up, touch the unit with
a forefinger steadily for five seconds. With a final beep,
Daisy goes inactive. And Rita smiles.
For the first time in years, Daisy is no longer watching,
recording, reporting to distant AIs. To be sure, once Daisy is
back in contact, the unit will tattle on Ritaand a deliberate,
unexplained blackout will cost Rita many redemption points.
Butperhapsnot as many as a true record of what
Rita says and does tonight.
With an unaccustomed feeling of liberation, Rita moves deeper
into the room, past the dancers and toward groups congregated
around scattered tables and chairs. Nostalgia stirs; she remembers
this scene from her college days, from nights when she was an
Intern for poor Carrie Ramierez, from that part of her life that
she usually thought of as the vague before.
Ahead, she recognizes Jannet Hoister standing in a casual
group of half a dozen or so, and Ritas heart leapsthen
a moment later it plummets as Jannet throws an arm around a young
man next to her and gives him a quick kiss.
For an instant, between one heartbeat and the next, Rita considers
turning around, leaving, passing through the doorway back to
Kansas. Then the moment is over, and she pushes forward.
Jannet looks at her, their eyes meet, and with a smile Jannet
waves Rita over.
As she steps within a meter of the group, the pounding music
fades until barely audible.
Jannet laughs at Ritas expression. Noisy for dancing,
quiet for talking. She gives the young man at her side
a mock slap. Not that anything can keep him quiet
Hello, Rita mutters.
Jannet takes her arm from the mans shoulders and holds
out her hands to Rita. Im glad you were able to come.
Here, let me introduce you. Grasping Ritas hand,
she turns to the group. This is Rita Cuervo. Shes
the teacher I was telling you about. Rita, this is Girald Chen,
Junior Delegate in the Central America seat; Ray Schmidt, in
the Schmidt Foundation seat; Elaine Stockard, here courtesy of
Wal-Mart; Tadj Kimmitt kwa Ellenndan, Cairo; and Thea Leonov,
who should be in the Coca-Cola seat, but whose Dad has too much
of a rod up his butt to let her.
Rita desperately tries to match faces to names. She is out
of the habit. For far too long, shes relied on Daisys
impeccable memory and unobtrusive visual and aural prompts. The
Junior Delegates are a mix of ethnic types and outré costumes.
They all seem to be of the same early-twenties age as Jannet,
and Rita isnt even sure that she can tell the boys from
the girls. Pleased to meet you all, she croaks. Then,
with a quick count, she realizes that Jannet has not introduced
the young man next to her. And youre
Jannet smiles, not releasing Ritas hand. Hes
my older brother, Jaison. And Jais, I saw her first, so hands
Brother. In spite of herself, Rita smiles. Jaison is taller
than Jannet, but his skin is the same caramel color and his features
clearly akin to hers. His hair, dyed a bright yellow, is cropped
very short, and his broad smile is infectious. He shoves Jannet
gently. Nada prob, Sis. I was just being polite.
Turning his head to Rita, he stage-whispers, If it doesnt
work out with Sis, give me a call.
Rita, along with the others, laughs.
Jannet shoves Jaison in return, then says to Rita, Did
you have a chance to eat? Are you hungry?
Well, I did come right from school. There was
a meeting that ran late, and I didnt think to stop for
anything on the way. Didnt have the ration points,
was more like it, but Rita wasnt going to say that.
Come on, theres plenty of food. Jannet pulls
her off into the gloom.
In a corner of the ballroom are tables laden with food, everything
from the ubiquitous fruit-and-vegetable trays to tiny sandwiches,
stacked platters of hors doeurves and various finger
foods, an intriguing selection of mini-desserts, andmiracle
of miracles!two enormous urns of coffee surrounded by large
porcelain mugs. Rita pours a mug and swallows gratefully. Oh,
Its Colombian. The Council gets some perks.
Here, try some of these. Tell you what, lets take some
of everything back to the table. I know those gluttons, theyll
eat it all.
In no time, Jannet has three large plates piled impossibly
high; juggling two more modestly-laden plates, Rita follows her
to the table.
As they re-enter the quiet zone, one of the young menTadj?is
holding forth, I am given to understand that the potato
is a noble creature, which will often sacrifice itself if the
herd is in danger.
A dark-haired fellow with elfin features laughs. Ive
never seen a potato do that.
Tadj waves dismissal. Ah, but youve only had experience
with domesticated potatoes. In the wild, theyre completely
Jannet takes a chair, pats the empty seat beside her. Sit
down, Rita. We have a simple rule about Tadj: dont pay
attention to anything he says. Follow that, and youll get
along fine in this group.
Actually, says another, Thats a good
rule to follow with just about all of them.
Jannet sticks out her tongue. Especially with you, Girald.
Girald, who seems at once younger and older than the others,
spreads his hands. You see? Getting this group to talk
about anything of substance is like chasing the last digit of
pi. It isnt going to happen in this lifetime.
Now that she has a chance to look more closely at Jannets
friends, Rita sees that they are all young, younger than herself,
late teens to mid-twenties. Many of them wear fantastical makeup:
tattoos that glow, or that move slowly across the skin, unusual
hair and eye colors. Headbands of various types seem to be in
fashion. And everywhere, Rita sees the same ragged starburst
design. On Jannet, it is a gold lapel pin; others wear it as
earrings, decorative hair combs, tattoos, and even drawn across
one lads cheek in silver spidersilk. The design tugs at
Ritas memory. She senses that it ought to be familiar,
but she cant place itand without Daisys reference
banks, she has no hope of recalling its significance.
A chubby woman with rainbow-striped long hair leans forward.
All right, you want talk with substance? Weve all
had most of the day to observewhat do you all think of
There is an uncomfortable rustle around the table, and several
eyes dart to Rita, then away. Rita feels herself freeze in mid-bite.
The elfin young man clears his throat. One
to speak, for fear of possibly giving offense.
Rita deliberately finishes her bite, chews, swallows. Please
dont feel awkward on my account, she says. Im
interested to hear what everyone has to say. I
I can only
imagine what the rest of the world thinks of us. She grins
weakly. We dont get a lot of foreign commentary,
as you can imagine.
not encouraged. Rita lowers her
eyes and feels her grin fade. Look, I feel as if I should
be apologizing to all of you for the way my country behaves.
Believe me, were not all like
Like what? Jannet prompts.
the way we must seem to you, Rita finishes
The chubby woman nods, and takes Ritas hand across the
table. We all understand how you feel. My father represents
Coca-Cola on the Council. Coke pays for his seat. They pay his
salary, and mine too. That doesnt mean that I approve of
everything the company does, or that sometimes I dont feel
like apologizing to the world. She looks around the table.
Were in similar situations, all of us.
Im sorry, I dont remember
Thea. She squeezes Ritas hand, then releases
it. On with it, then. Were here to share what information
and impressions weve gathered today. Rita, wed appreciate
it if you would be our reality-check. Let us know if were
off on the wrong trail or something?
Who wants to start?
Jannet leans forward. I saw a gradeschool full of children
who seemed well-disciplined and quite polite. Those at the assembly
asked fairly intelligent questions. She chuckles. They
did have a little trouble when I told them I was a non-theist.
Outside their realm of experience.
Girald frowns. How in the world did that come
One little boy asked me what my religion was. Its
a matter of great importance to them, apparently.
Rita jumps in. At the end of the year theyll be
choosing their religious affiliations. So naturally, theyre
interested in all the alternatives.
I got the same question, repeatedly. Tadj frowns.
From adults as well as children.
Around the table, others agree. Thea sums up, So we
all pretty much found a pervasive concern with religion. Interesting.
Rita, feeling like shes defending her home, says, Whats
so interesting? Surely its a topic of conversation where
you come from, as well?
Thea frowns. Im afraid not. Todays the first
time in years Ive been asked about my religious beliefs.
I almost didnt know how to answer.
Jaison, with a grin, asks, What did you tell
them, Thea? Twelfth-Level Priestess of Astarte? Handmaiden of
Kali? Reformed Druid?
I said that I was baptized in Chrislam. Thats
As far as it goes. Did you tell them that youre
excom-municated on three continents?
Jannet sighs heavily. Be quiet, you two. She turns
to Rita. Its true. The whole religion thing is just
not that big a deal. Organized religion has always been something
of a joke in the Nexus, and
Nexus? Rita echoes. With dawning comprehension,
she looks again around the circle of faces. Youre
all Nexus. Of course. Thats what that starburst
design is. A chill runs up Ritas spinewhether
of dread or excitement, she cannot telland her mouth falls
open. Y-youre all spies. Nexus spies.
Girald rolls his eyes. Oh, please. See what youve
done now, Jannet?
Just bide a mo, Girald, will you? Jannet meets
Ritas eyes. Rita, were not
try this a different way. First, you tell me what you think you
know about the Nexus.
All eyes are upon Rita as she answers. Its a shadowy
international organizationno, make that interplanetary.
Their goals and methods, if not strictly illegal, are certainly
questionable. The Nexus secretly controls much of the worlds
economy, and has fingers deep into politics just about everywhere.
For a few heartbeats, there is silence, as they all continue
to stare at Rita. Then, as one, they burst into laughter.
Jannet wipes her eyes. Im sorry, Rita. Its
rude to laugh at you. Its just
. She shakes
her head. Honey, if the Nexus was as secretive as all that,
why would it openly control the majority on the Council? Why
would we all go around wearing the Starburst like this? Believe
me, the Nexus is as aboveground as your Conservative Party.
She touches her pin, and its radiating lines sparkle at the ends.
Do you know what this symbol is?
Just that it stands for the Nexus.
Its a map to the Solar System. The lines represent
the distance from Earth to each of fourteen specific pulsars.
On this scale, there arent any nations or continents or
even planetsjust the human race as a whole, all in one
little speck. Thats what the Nexus means. Were
all one race, one tribe, one family. When we believe anything
else, were just kidding ourselves.
Such talk sounds familiar, and Rita struggles to remember
when and where shes heard it before. The answer comes to
her slowly: shed heard people talk that way with Carrie
Ramierez in Congress, in those golden summer days of the time
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