copyright (c) 2006, Don Sakers
Hunt for the Dymalon Cygnet
By Don Sakers
From Encyclopedia Umoja, 2068.08 edition
IDARA (pl., Idara):
The word translates as tribe, division,
or even team.
The Idara were originally a mix of geographical and administrative
divisions in the <Nexus> hierarchy. The names of the Idara
were derived from the <codenames> of first-generation <Nexus
administrators>. For example, the Idara name <LaVerne>
derives from <Nexus codename> <LA.Verne>, <Tattersall>
from <Tatters.All>, and <Ellenndan> from <Ellen-n-Dan>.
By the third generation, <Nexus> members were usually
closely affiliated with, or sponsored by, existing Idara. In
some cases, this affiliation was familial; otherwise the affiliation,
similar to <adoption>, was signified by adding the Idara
name with the honorific kwa, as in the example <Kian
Pace kwa Lütke>.
Originally, the individual Idara had geographical or administrative
specialties. For example, <Idara Schmidt> had an expertise
in finance, <Chlad> focused on geopolitics, and <deVigny>
was based in <Osaka>. In time, these specialties faded
and various Idara began to broaden their focuses. By the 2060s,
particular Idara sought out promising cadets, and there was considerable
competition among candidates.
United Nations of North America
August 29, 2068 C.E.
the pillars supporting the sky crumbled and
the chains from which the earth was suspended shivered to pieces.
Sun, moon, and stars poured down into the northwest, where the
sky became low; rivers, seas, and oceans rushed down to the southeast,
where the earth sank. A great conflagration burst out. Floods
raged. Wild beasts and terrible birds made men their prey
As Ray promised, Rita wakes up feeling rested and refreshed.
In dim light, she sees a few other sleeping forms here and there;
voices from the main room, however, tell her that most folks
are awake. She scoots cautiously off a mattress and stands. Daisys
tiny simulacrum appears and gently greets her.
Good morning, Rita. Its Wednesday, August twenty-ninth,
twenty-sixty-eight. The time is eleven-fourteen. There are bathrobes
in the closet to your right. There is one free bathroom.
Thanks. She slips into a robe and dashes for the
A few minutes later she emerges and finds the others lounging
about the main room, all in various states of undress: white
hotel-issue bathrobes, wrapped towels, stray bits of underwear.
Newschannels play on several small datascreens, but the central
focus seems to be a large wallscreen that displays a classic
cartoon in flat low-res.
Jannet slips an arm around Ritas waist and gives her
a peck on the cheek. Good morning. Did you sleep well?
A lot better than I expected. She seeks out Ray,
smiles at him, and touches the databand carefully-arranged in
her hair. Thanks. That delta-wave induction is great.
From across the room, Girald leans forward with a leering
grin. So Rita, what did you think of Jannets special
moves? He wiggles his eyebrows.
Thea snaps, Girald!
Blushing despite herself, Rita says, I dont know
what youre talking about.
At the same time, Jannet launches herself over a couch toward
him. Thats it, Girald. I told you the last time
Girald scampers out of her way, ducking behind a chair and
glancing around as if to scope out a quick exit.
Jannet lowers her face and glares at him. Girald lurches,
starts to falland then rises half a meter into the air.
As if pulled by unseen hands, his undershorts leave his body,
and he lands in a heap on the floor.
Hands on her hips, Jannet stands above him. Let me make
it as clear as I can, Girald. Im the one who decides
when to tell somebody about me. Not you. Do you understand?
Girald squirms, rubbing his right hip. All right, I
understand. Im sorry. I just wasnt thinking. It wont
happen again. I promise.
It better not. All right, you can get up.
Jannet turns to Rita. Hon, I guess we better have a talk.
Come sit down with me. The others busied themselves in
the kitchenette, leaving Jannet and Rita in temporary solitude
on a couch in the corner of the room.
Jannet takes a deep breath. Rita, I never know what
to say about this. She exhales. Let me just jump
right in. Have you ever heard of something called psionics?
Rita nods. Of course. Who hasnt?
Jannet opens her mouth, then closes it, staring at Rita. Youre
the first person I know whos heard of psionics.
Really? Maybe I know it in a different context. Are
you talking about psychic abilities? Clairvoyance, psychokinesis,
that sort of thing?
Again Jannets jaw drops. Im amazed. Yes,
thats exactly what I mean. Where did you learn about them?
Rita cant help but chuckle. Same place as a everyone
else: Miracle Worker.
Jannets look of confusion is priceless. I thought
I was going to be answering questions, not asking them.
Rita, who or what is Miracle Worker?
Its only one of the most popular virtie programs
in the country. New episodes come out every Thursday at eight.
Youve never viewed it?
Never. Didnt even know it existed. Whats
The main character is Penelope Connor. She was born
with psionic powers, and when she was old enough she became an
Arm of God. She goes around the country, and in every episode
she meets someone with a problem. Penelope helps them solve their
problems. It might be a fellow with a bad temper that might make
him lose his job, or a teenager whos fallen in with the
wrong crowd at school, orwell, its really a soap
opera, I guess, but the stories all have a moral and they make
you feel good.
Jannet, wearing an overwhelmed expression, nods. Penelope
Connor. And she has psionic powers?
Clairvoyance and psychokinesis, mostly. Both have limitations.
And every once in a while she has a flash of precognition, which
is the ability to see into the future a little bit. But every
few weeks she runs into other people who have different powers:
psychometry or telepathy or personality projection. One little
girl Penelope helped was a pyrokinetic.
Rita, I dont know what to say. Have you ever considered
that psionics might actually exist, outside of virties?
It does. Miracle Worker is based on a real person,
a girl. She was exposed to mutagenic drugs when she was still
in the womb, and she was born with psionic powers like Penelopes.
Rita lowers her eyebrows. Youre trying to tell me
that youre psionic?
Jannet raises an eyebrow. I think Im related to
that real-life girl. She grins. One of the most popular
virties in the country, you say? Sweet Deimos, Mother is absolutely
going to plotz. She takes Jannets hand. I
dont know how my own abilities correspond to Penelope Connors.
With clairvoyance, I can behold things that are hidden, like
on the other side of a wall; or invisible, like datastreams and
microscopic organisms. Mother can observe individual molecules;
Im nowhere near that good. Yet.
Rita gestures in the direction of the others. And I
guess you have some form of psychokinesis. You pulled Giralds
pants off, didnt you?
Yes. Then I scrambled his databand output and knocked
him down. I can handle one or two people, although its
a strain. Mostly I use it for smaller things. Youve noticed
I dont wear a databand.
I thought it was really fine, or maybe implanted like
Rays. I figured you would tell me if you wanted me to know.
A standard databand doesnt like my brain. I keep
a small unit in my pocket. I read it clairvoyantly, and input
Anything else I should know?
Mother swears that sometimes she can see into the future,
but it hasnt happened to me yet.
What about your brother? Does he have the same abilities?
Basically the same. Jaison hasnt practiced as
much as I have, so sometimes Ive got a little more control
and such. But the biggest thing is that Jaison can teleport.
Teleport. Rita blinks. As in, now hes
here and, snap!, now hes not?
Its not all that easy, and its a lot less
useful than youd think. Teleporting takes a lot out of
him, so he doesnt do it very often. Plus, he has to be
pretty familiar with the destination, or hes liable to
Still, thats a pretty amazing talent.
Jannet glances toward the bedroom, then leans closer. Jais
is still asleep, so I can tell you this. Just between you and
me, it might have been better if Id been the teleport.
Jais is my borther, and I love him all over the place, but sometimes
well, he isnt as serious as he could be. About Nexus business
and all that stuff. She looks away. Not that my mother
sees it that way. As far as shes concerned, Jaison is the
only one who counts.
That cant be true. Rita puts her hand on
Jannets shoulder. She named you to take her
Council seat, not Jaison.
Thats only because Jaison wouldnt put up
with it. Thats one thing Ill say for him, hes
always supported me. He told Mum that shed be crazy to
give him the responsibility. Said that I was the only logical
choice. Jannet smiles. In a lot of ways, being a
good brother is what Jais does best. He admits it himself: hes
a clown and a dilettante. But he always sticks by me.
Then youre lucky you have him.
A knock comes at the main door, and Tadj jumps across the
room to answer it. At last. Breakfast is here.
A hotel bellhop enters, followed by a parade of well-laden
food carts. All is temporary chaos, with carts and people scrambling
to avoid each other while the bellhop serenely and unhurriedly
arranges platters and dishes on every horizontal surface in the
kitchenette. Then, with a flourish and a bow, he is gone, taking
his carts with him.
Jannet pats Ritas shoulder. Thanks for listening.
Im starving; lets eat.
With Jaison and a couple other laggards awake, Rita counts
twelve people, besides herself. Breakfast consists of enough
food and drink for a crowd thrice the size. The Junior Delegates
eat like they dance: constantly in motion, with a dozen conversations,
verbal and virtual, going on at once. Screens play a variety
of channels, both news and entertainment. Rita stays close to
Jannet, her stillpoint in the happy, churning confusion.
As they eat and chat, the young people dress, with much mutual
criticism and support. It is easy for Rita; she wears the same
clothes she wore yestereday, her usual drab teachers attire.
She slips her Guardian Angel into a pocket; sooner or later she
knows she must go back to using it, but for now the databand
is much more exciting.
The others take forever to dress, mixing and matching clothing
and jewelry and body art, trading tops and earrings and animated
tattoos, altering hair and eye and skin colors on the fly.
Gradually, somehow, order emerges; outfits and ensembles coordinate
(or clash, depending on the effect desired), data screens are
switched off, coffee cups are drained, and people gravitate to
chairs and couches, waiting for the stragglers to finish. Girald,
standing by the kitchenette counter, reaches for a pastry; a
passing Thea smacks his hand. Gods, Girald, leave some
for the staff. You know theyre on tight rations
Finally they leave the suite, in a phalanx with Jannet and
Thea at the head and Kian, the large man who welcomed Jannet
to the dance last night, bringing up the rear. They fill two
elevators and make rendezvous on the street level.
The lobby is busy and crowded, with constant streams of people
moving in both directions while others stand in conversational
knots impeding the flow of traffic. The Junior Delegates again
fall into formation, this time with Kian looming at the front,
parting the sea of bodies by sheer physical intimidation. Rita
sticks close to Jannet as they pass through a subway station
and into a waiting car. Along the way, the others keep up constant
nonverbal commentary via databands: move left; dodge the corporate
types; find somewhere else to chat, grandpa; cute one at five
oclock, and so on. After a few moments, the doors close
and the car surges forward. It seems only a minute before it
stops at the huge station beneath the Convention Center. Rita
and the others pour forth into the vaulted space of concrete
A solid mass of humanity blocks the entrance to the Center.
As Rita glances at the elegant inscription above the doorway,
her databand shows Terran Council Assembly Hall,
and below that, someones scribble: Abandon all hope,
ye who enter here.
Jannet skids to a halt, grabbing Rita by the arm. Whoops.
I forgot about that.
Past the crowd, a pair of Holy Guards stand next to a large
sign: North American Citizens Not Permitted Beyond This
Point. In smaller letters, it directs: North American
Delegates, please enter through checkpoint around the corner.
Both guards wear opague dataspex; one rests her hand on her holster.
Jannet shifts the group to the far wall, where they circle
around her and Rita. Rita sighs. Well, it was a good idea,
but I guess Id better let you all get inside.
Jannet shakes her head. Hardly. Youre coming
to this meeting.
I cant. Theyll never let me through.
All the other entrances will
Elaine Stockard folds her arms across her chest. This
is so typical of North America. No news allowed out, except sanitized
reports by official channels. Who cares what the World Charter
of Rights says?
Ray smiles. Dont worry, Rita, well get you
Jannet glances at her brother. What about it, Jaison?
Jaison looks at the Holy Guards, then up at the distant ceiling.
What do you think, he says as if musing aloud, Thirty,
forty meters? Maybe a little bit more? Fifty at the most, wouldnt
Jannet frowns. Like it really matters. I wasnt
asking the distance, I was just asking if you thought you could
Jaison shrugs. Why not? I had a good nights sleep
and an really yummy breakfast. Sure, Im game. He
holds out a hand to Rita. Come on, youll enjoy this.
Rita blinks. What?
Were going to get into the meeting hall the easy
way. The rest of these bozos have to go the hard way.
Jannet grins at her. Its okay, Rita. Well
meet the two of you inside.
As the others move into the crush around the entrance, Jaison
leads Rita past shops and public comm kiosks to a less-busy area
of the station. Between a newstand and a flower shop there is
a narrow niche, barely wide enough to stand in. Jaison stops
and takes up a position with his back to the wall.
Were going to have to be pretty close, he
says. I hope you dont mind.
Wait. Youre going to teleport me?
Im going to teleport both of us. Stand in front
of me. No, with your back to me. Right. Now Im going to
put my arms around you.
This wont hurt, will it?
Which, the teleporting or the hug?
Jaisons body presses against hers, and his arms close
about her. The sudden intimacy is at once comforting and awkward,
and she cant stop herself from giggling. Jaison chuckles.
Okay, just a few seconds more. Pretend Im Sis.
Lean back against me.
Rita is suddenly aware that shes shaking. Sorry,
Nothing to be nervous about. Were just breaking
the physical laws of space and time, thats all. Take a
deep breath. It might help to close your eyes.
Rita closes her eyes and inhales deeply. With his head pressed
against hers, Jaison whispers a countdown. Five
Rita opens her eyes, and the subway station is gone. She and
Jaison stand in the shadows of great black curtains, looking
out on a immense, brightly-lit space, the floor of the Convention
Centers main hall.
She tears away and turns on Jaison. You did it before
I was ready!
He laughs. Its usually better that way. You have
no idea how people react. Giralds first time, he threw
up all over me.
Thats why you had me stand with my back to you?
Jaison shrugs. Here, Ill take you to our usual
The cavernous hall is bustling with people, hundreds of them,
all different. There is a profusion of skin tones, body shapes,
hair colors. Costumes and fashions are a kaleidoscope, and in
fifty steps Rita hears more different languages than shes
known for years. Her databand struggles to display fragments
of conversations, translated in realtime.
The layout of the room reminds Rita of the old Senate chamber
in DC. Except here, desks and chairs are arranged in a series
of concentric rectangles, with a large raised empty stage in
the center. There is room for far more than the 101 Delegates,
not even counting the already-crowded press gallery in the back.
Rita gathers that each Delegate is accompanied by numerous staff,
advisors, guests, and assorted hangers-on.
Jaison waves, indicating a vast sweep of seats. These
sides are Nexus. We like to stick together. Oh, Administrators
are in the inner range. Everything else goes roughly by geography:
North and South America, Europe and Asia, Africa, Australia and
assorted fiddly bits, and off-Earth over there. He takes
her to a double-row of desks in the outermost rank. We
Juniors generally hang out back here. A lot of these oldsters
are pretty status-conscious. We find it best to hang back and
let them pretend to be in charge.
He plops down in a seat and puts his feet up on the desk.
Park yourself. The others will be along in a little bit.
Usually theres only one layer of security to go through,
but your government insisted on having their own folks as well.
He cocks his head at her. They keep a tight rein on what
you get to see, dont they?
Rita nods. I think Im just beginning to realize
how tight. In all the time that shes taught
about the Terran Council, shes never seen a realtime meeting.
Only video, edited and sanitized.
Jaison looks around. You know, the reason they go to
all the trouble of taking this show on the road is so that every
citizen can have a chance to see the Council in person.
Rita nods. I know. I teach that every year.
He smiles. Waste of time, huh? Without giving
her time to answer, he shrugs. Dont worry. Most of
what these people do is a waste of time. I just stick around
for the parties.
It isnt long before Jannet and the others show up. Jannet
stands over Jaison and gestures with her thumb. Up. Out
of my seat, Bro.
With exaggerated effort, Jaison lumbers to his feet. Just
keeping it warm for you, Sis. He looks across the room
and grins. I think the delegate from Rangoon brought those
cute twins along. Maybe Ill saunter over and say hello.
Girald snorts. I wish you beter luck with them than
Yeah, well, not all of us are like you, Gir. Jaison
Jannet takes her seat and pats the empty chair next to her.
Sit here, Rita.
Is that okay? I thought these seats were only for Delegates.
Jannet nods. And our entrouages. Today, youre
an official member of the Mars Delegation. To our left is Central
America, she gestures to Girald, three meters away, And
on our right is the honorable Delegation from the Schmidt Foundation.
With the last, she waves at Ray.
Rita perches on the edge of her chair while Jannet rearranges
flatscreens and datapads on the table before her. She hands Rita
a pad. Heres todays agenda. Theres nothing
very momentous, Im afraid.
To you, maybe not. Remember that this is all new to
me. Rita skims the agenda; most of the names and terms
are unfamiliar. Then she stops at a name she knows. Oh,
Dr. Khria is addressing the Council today.
Jannet glances at the screen. So he is. She looks
quizically at Rita. Im surprised that you know him.
Well, I dont know him, but of course I know of
Jannet raises an eyebrow. Dr. Darineb Khria,
I dont think theres another one.
Rita, you know a lot more than you let on. How do you
know about Dr. Khria?
Hes the Presidents Science Advisor. Hes
always in the news. How do you know him?
Jannet chuckles. That son of a bitch. She smiles
at Rita. On the outside, hes a big-name scientist.
Has his fingers in every pie. But hes also on the faculty
at my school, which is where I, personally, know him from.
She leans toward Ray. Hey, Schmidt! Guess whose Ethics
professor is also the American Presidents Science Advisor?
Ray cocks his head. Not Creepy Khria?
Look at your agenda. Fifth item down.
This is too good. I have to tell the others. Theas
going to birth a bovine.
Rita furrows her brow. I take it Dr. Khria isnt
exactly popular with you folks.
Jannet sighs. No offense, really. A few meters
away, Thea suddenly sputters and starts choking on her drink.
At school, hes considered something of a kook. Hes
got his own movement, with disciples and all. She wrinkles
her nose. The idea of Doctor Khria being a Science
well, Im afraid it doesnt reflect well
on your country.
Rita sighs. I was taught I teachthat
Doctor Khria is a great man. Very intelligent, very spiritual.
He helped save the country after the Impacts. Without Doctor
Khria, things could have
been a lot
Under Jannets tolerant gaze, Rita
runs down. I guess youre thinking that things could
be a lot better, eh?
Jannet shakes her head. I was at home on Mars when this
all happened. It would be presumptuous of me to try to make judgements
about how people on Earth reacted. She looks around the
hall. You need to make your own judgements. But while you
do, remember that not every nation on Earth reacted the same
way as yours.
Rita nods. So Im learning.
Very soon, the meeting starts. A slender, white-haired Oriental
woman walks onto the central stage and bows to the four compass
directions in turn, then stands up straight. Above her, an enormous
cold-light hologram displays her tranquil face at ten times life
size. Ritas databand identifies the woman as Ogano
Carroll, Secretary-General. Age: 74. Affiliation: Nexus.
Councillors, Guests, People of the World, welcome. I
am pleased to call this session of the Terran Council to order.
It gives me particular satisfaction to welcome Delegates and
observers from North America, whose government is generously
hosting this meeting. Her eyes narrow slightly. I
only wish that more guests from this great nation were able to
witness these proceedings.
Several routine reports follow: Finance, Health, Trade, Justice,
and the like, a series of giant talking heads succeeding one
another. The speakers use English, Spanish, and Kiswahili almost
indiscriminately, often blending the three into the hip international
patois that the news services have dubbed Anglich.
Ritas databand whispers a running translation, but despite
her best efforts, she doesnt have the background to follow
the reports fully.
When the reports are finished, the Secretary-General takes
the podium once more. For the next item, I recognize the
Delegate from the Clarke Belt.
There is scattered applause. Jannet leans toward Rita and
whispers, This ought to be good. Kyle isnt Nexus,
but he frequently votes with us. Hes good people.
The pale, baby-faced man who takes the stage is in a wheelchair,
the bottom half of his body swathed in blankets. His arms are
supported by powered braces. Ritas databand reports: Kyle
Fischer, Delegate, Clarke Belt Settlements. Age: 48. Unaffiliated.
Physiologically adjusted to one-tenth standard gravity. Powered
assists necessary for mobility on Earth.
Fischer smiles. Councillors, thank you. His thick
accent, unfamiliar to Rita, makes his words difficult to understand;
but the databands translation is both clear and unobtrusive.
Two tendays ago, I came before you to report on deplorable
working conditions on various orbital settlements owned and operated
by ADM Corporation in the Clarke Belt and certain High Earth
Orbit and Lagrange Point settlements, as well as the rice fields
of the lower Mississippi and soy agriproduction areas in Saskatchewan.
At that time, the Council authorized an Interdict against ADM
until conditions improved.
An icon flashes at the lower right of Ritas visual field,
offering more informationprobably a recording or transcript
of the original debate and motion. Rita dismisses it with a quick
movement of her eyes.
Fischer continues, As is customary, the Interdict took
effect immediately upon Council approval, and was supported by
a majority of governments. Thirty-six percent of ADMs cargoes
and infrastructure were immobilized, sixty-two percent of their
locations were severed from world Networks, and fully ninety-four
percent of the AI community ceased dealing with the corporation.
ADMs international and interplanetary operations were brought
to a virtual standstill. Exact figures are available, but on
average the company lost in excess of twelve billion rands for
every day of the Interdict.
Figures flash across datapads before Rita. She glances at
them, then turns her attention back to Fischer.
I am happy to report that ADM, after some initial hesitation
there are chuckles througout the hall decided to
cooperate fully with the Council in bringing working conditions
up to international standards. Council observers have verified
compliance in all off-Earth facilities. His smile wavers.
All the information is included in the summary reports
you received yesterday. The government of North America has been
less than cooperative in allowing observers access to the facilities
in question. ADM continues to work with the Council to find a
The Secretary-General stands. Delegate, what is your
My team recommends that the Concil lift the Interdict
on all of ADMs operations outside North America. We recommend
that a provisional Interdict remain on the companys North
American operations, and that our team be given the authority
to lift that provisional Interdict as soon as circumstances allow.
Subject to later approval by the Council, of course.
The Secretary-General does a slow turn, addressing the entire
Council. Delegates, you have the teams reports. I
will now open the floor to discussion.
The Terran Councils method of discussion is vastly different
from what Ritas accustomed to. As speakers take the podium
and address the Council, one after another in orderly fashion,
the air around them fills with glowing print: their own words,
instantly transcribed, surrounded by color-coded comments from
other Delegates. With a mere flick of her eyes in the right direction,
Rita follows one chain of comments as if down a rabbit hole and
through caverns measureless. The chain branches, intersects other
chains, leads back to the current speaker before skidding off
on a tangent.
Rita looks out over one hundred one Delegates, and it seems
that nearly all are enraptured, eyes rapidly flicking this way
and that, lips moving silently, fingers twitching on phantom
keyboards as constellations of words pivot about them, stately
epicycles of thought made visible by the agency of their databands.
Rita is not a Delegate, so she cannot contribute to the discussion;
yet she is amazed at the sense of coherence that underlies the
seemingly-chaotic debate. In far less time than one Senator would
have taken to give a single speech in the old Congress, the group
seems to come to a sort of consensus. The Secretary-General stands.
The motion is made and seconded, to accept the teams
recommendation, with the stipulation that the provisional Interdict
on ADMs North American operations will be revisited by
the full Council in eight days, if the team has not lifted it
by that time. Signal assent or dissent now.
Jannet leans toward Rita. The Nexus holds a majority,
57 to 44. Well pick up four from the off-Earth Delegates
and six or seven Mercantiles, plus Space, Trade, Health, and
Logistics. Probably a few more here and there. She pauses.
Elaine says were sure to get 82, maybe 83. Shes
a lot better than I am at estimating this kind of thing.
In just a few minutes the Secretary-General announces, The
vote being 83 to 16, with two abstensions, the motion carries.
The full Interdict on ADM Corporation is immediately lifted.
An eerie sound briefly fills the hall, as the Delegates repeatedly
rap their knuckles against their tables in applause.
Our next speaker is no stranger to this Council. He
is Professor of Ethics at the Marrel Academy and Advisor to the
North American President. Delegates, I welcome Dr. Darineb Khria.
As the Secretary-General returns to her seat, a hush falls.
The stage darkens, and Dr. Khrias image takes form as a
large cold light hologram.
Khria is a wrinkled, brown-skinned man of indeterminate ethnicity
with a black bushy beard and a close-trimmed moustache. A short
white turban clings to his head. His wide-open eyes are clouded
In lightly-accented English, Dr. Krhia says, Delegates,
I apologize that the press of business keeps me from appearing
before you in person, and I thank you in advance for your forbearance.
His voice, as always, has a reedy, otherworldly quality about
it. I come to you with a mystery, an enigma; I hope that
together we can take steps to begin discovering its meaning.
Khrias hologram shrinks, and another image takes form.
It is a museum artifact, a primitive statuette roughly the shape
of a flying swan, its narrow neck extended and its outstretched
wings bent slightly downward. It gleams with a red-gold fire,
and as the image rotates various embedded gemstones flash in
Rita gasps, for she knows this artifact.
Khria continues, This object is undoubtedly familiar
to most of you. It is a prehistoric relic, discovered near the
Philippine village of Dymalinao nearly a hundred years ago. Archaeologists
named it The Dymalon Cygnet. Various forgeries of
the statue featured in the classic detective virtie of the same
The original Dymalon Cygnet disappeared in the 1980s,
before reliable dating technology was available. However, the
strata in which it was found date to about 1250 BCE. I ask you
to keep that date in your memory.
The Cygnets image shrinks and Khrias grows. He
frowns. The next bit is somewhat technical; I implore you
to bear with me. In 2042, astronomers detected a source of periodic
gravitational waves on the outskirts of our solar system. The
astonishing thing about these waves is that, when analyzed, they
were clearly repeating, in sequence over and over again, the
first 256 prime numbers.
Khria turns his head. The significance may not be im-mediately
apparent. It certainly took me a while to catch on. The fact
is, we know of no natural phenomenon that would produce such
a sequence. As far as we can tell, this signal must be the product
of some sort of intelligence.
He pauses, as if to let his news sink in. The source
is at a distance of approximately 50 astronomical units or 7.5
well beyond the reach of the planet Pluto
even at its furthest remove. An unmanned probe was launched in
the mid-2050s, but it was lost a year later during its swing
around Jupiter. After the Impacts started, the governments of
Earth were too busy to follow up. It was not until two years
ago, in May of 2066, that a fusion-powered probe was launched
by the Northern Hemisphere Economic Co-operative. He pauses
for a moment. That probe has reached its destination.
Khrias image shrinks again, and a bright starfield fills
the area above the stage. As Khria continues, a single point
at the center of the image grows brighter. An object was
found at the source of the gravity waves. Here are the probes
images of that object.
Under magnification, the object swells from a bright dot to
a distinct shape, fully lit and sharp-edged against the blackness
of space. It is a virtaul duplicate of the Dymalon Cygnet.
This is Object 2068-11387. It is roughly seventy-five
meters in length, about the size of a large airliner. As far
as we can tell, it is exactly what it seems to be: a derelict
spacecraft. For obvious reasons, our team has christened it The
Dymalon Cygnet. He is quiet for a few moments, letting
the implications sink in.
This Dymalon Cygnet is in an orbit with a period
of several thousand years, extending to the limits of the Solar
System. Currently, the Cygnet is on its inbound leg, approach-ing
the inner system. Khria takes a breath. Plotting
that orbit backwards in time, we discover that the Cygnet
was last in the vicinity of Earth about the year 1250 BCE.
At this, the hall erupts in bedlam. The Secretary-General
stands and bangs her gavel to restore order. Please continue,
Khria bows his head. Thank you. He raises his
face, his eyes as boundless as the starwhite nebulae of deep
space. I think you will agree that we have a conundrum
here. A derelict spacecraft, last in our vicinity in prehistory,
at about the same time that a small replica of that ship was
buried. A mystery that demands investigation.
The musuem artifacts image expands, hanging above Khrias
head as if in flight. The artifact went missing in the
20th century; we have only copies. If we are to find an answer,
we must send a crewed expedition to the vessel.
Khria leans forward. This is why I come before you,
Delegates. The cost of such an expedition is tremendous. No single
nation could afford it. Yet the Terran Council could put together
a consortium of nations to sponsor an exploration ship and crew.
I urge you to provide your support.
Images, both ship and artifact, disappear. Khria continues,
I am transmitting full details to the Council. Please take
your time considering this matter. I know that the Council will
make the best decision. Thank you for your time. He closes
his eyes, and his own image fades to nothing.
Secretary-General Carroll takes the podium once again. I
propose an hour recess for informal discussion, after which I
will entertain a motion regarding Dr. Khrias request.
She cocks her head slightly. Seeing consent, I declare
All at once a hubbub of conversation fills the hall, while
the Delgates stand and move into clusters. Some head directly
for coffee and other stimulants, others disperse to join queues
at the various restrooms. The Junior Delegates, unsurprisingly,
surround one of the many refreshments tables.
Grabbing a pastry, Thea says, So what did yall
think? Creepy Khria seemed a few steps above his usual lunacy.
Tadj nods. I was surprised. He actually made sense.
Very persuasive, Jannet says, gesturing with a
bit of celery. He sure gave usgave everyone in the
worlda lot to think about.
Rita smiles. I told you all hes a very spiritual
Even Girald, standing back as if to distance himself from
the feeding frenzy, gives a rueful smile. I have to admit,
that was a dramatic presentation. Id love to get out there
and see exactly whats going on with that spaceship.
Ray frowns. Are you all awake? Did you hear the same
speech I did? He wants us to finance a manned expedition
out beyond Pluto, costing what?
fifty billion rands at a
minimum? Because this extraterrestrial spaceship has a fleeting
resemblence to some prop from an old virtie? He shakes
his head. Let him send an expedition, if hes
so hot about it.
Thea puts a hand on his shoulder. Ray, hon, you have
to admit that its a mystery.
One thats been around for more than three thousand
years. It can probably wait a little while longer.
Elaine looks up from a tray of dainties. I dont
think youre being entirely fair, Ray. She snatches
her choice from the tray and with one fluid motion pops it in
her mouth. That ship might have advanced technology that
we could learn from.
And the connection with the Dymalon Cygnet artifact
is intriguing, Thea says.
If there even is any connection, Ray counters.
Oh, come on, Ray, Girald says. The ship
and the artifacttheyre identical.
Ray looks exasperated. They look the same, in
one set of holos that Khria probably chose for the maximum effect.
From another angle, they might look completely different.
Well, says Tadj, Were not going to
solve it right now. Khria sent a lot of data, and we should look
that over before discussions start in earnest.
Ray spreads his hands. Fine. Thats all I want
reasoned analysis before everyone falls over themselves doing
what Khria wants.
Frail, pale Noura DiClementi purses her lips. You know,
Im much more interested in the personality dynamics here.
When have you ever known all of us to be in such agreement like
this, except for Ray? Usually its Girald or Elaine who
dont agree, and half the time Girald does it just to play
Thea turns to Ray. Is that what youre doing, Ray?
No. Im being the sole voice of reason while the
rest of you act like lemmings, is what Im doing.
Jannet raises an eyebrow. Do you think youve hit
on something significant, Noura?
Now its Nouras turn to frown. Maybe.
She looks from Ray to the others. I just dont know.
And I wish I did.
Tadj piles food on a plate. Come on, lets get
back and look at what Khria sent. Like Ray says, reasoned analysis.
The others troop back to their tables, but Jannet stays behind
for just a few moments, watching her retreating friends.
Rita meets Jannets eyes. Youre worried.
Jannet shakes her head. Not worried, really.
Concerned. Nouras right: Ray and I dont often disagree,
especially about things like this. And it does seem odd to take
Crazy Khria so seriously. She smiles. Forget it.
Lets get back and start in.
The recess passes quickly, and the rest of the afternoon is
taken up with debate on Khrias request. Chains of discussion
fill the hall with color-coded streams of argument. After trying
to follow one narrow topic after another, Rita founders until
Ray shows her how to take a figurative step back and view the
debate as a whole, watching opinions ebb and flow across the
At first, opinion is solidly Doctor Khrias side. Gradually,
though, opposing voices arise. One of the first belongs to Søül
ø å Thøúsåñ Tëårs,
the Delegate from the AI Community. Its comment is registered
in the typically-obscure form of all Artificial Intelligences:
Wørls cüpbøår îs bårë
Çrümbs ¥îël ñø
Pürsüë å prîvåtë
A glossary quotes figures. Sixty billion rands for a well-equipped
expedition to the Dymalon Cygnet. Less than ten billion
available to the Terran Council in discretionary funds. The world
economic impact of extracting an additional fifty billion rands
from member governments, including a significant chance of triggering
a global recession. Further analysis details how various private
consortia could accomplish the same mission for substantially
Then, the Junior Delegates begin to receive calls from their
seniors. Ray Schmidt is first; he excuses himself from the group,
then returns with a puzzled look on his face.
Whats up, Ray? Jannet asks.
That was Mama. She wanted to make sure that Im
voiting against Khrias motion. He shrugs. I
told her not to worry.
Girald chuckles. So she didnt think she could
trust you to vote in the best interests of the Schmidt Foundation?
Im shocked, shocked. That Erin would doubt her little boys
loyalty He stops suddenly. Priority call.
Hold on. Girald turns his back, and the others politely
After quite a few minutes, Girald turns back, looking sheepish.
Apparently the oldsters have been talking to each other.
Gramps just instructed me not to vote for Khrias expedition.
I suppose well be hearing from the rest of them shortly.
Girald is right: one by one, the other Juniors take calls
from their elders. They are unanimous in opposing Khrias
expedition. The last call comes from Jannets mother on
Mars; Jannet receives the message stoically, then turns to the
others and sighs. I wish she wouldnt talk to me like
Im a six-year-old.
Thea puts a hand on Jannets shoulder. We
appreciate you, hon.
What did she say about the motion?
Same as the others. Vote against it. Do whatever Erin
tells Ray to doand under no c ircumstances am I to use
my own judgement. In fact, if the responsibility is making me
too uncomfortable, I can turn things over to my brother.
She glances toward Jaison, who is flirting with Rostya Kasmanski,
the tall, willowy Delegate from settlements in Jupiter Space.
Never mind, Thea says. You know Jaison wouldnt
hear of it. Elaine, whats the vote look like?
Elaine closes her eyes and strokes her forehead. If
wed voted right after Khrias speech, he would have
won by a landslide. But hes losing votes as time goes on.
The AIs are dead set against the idea, and I think our oldsters
have been talking to others besides us. She opens her eyes.
Girald, I suspect that your grandfather wants to put together
a private expedition, probably with Nexus support.
Girald shrugs. Could be. Gramps always has some kind
of deals going on in the background.
Elaine nods. Theres also suspicion that Boeing
and Mitsu-bishi are lining up non-Nexus partners for an expedition
of their own. And theres no telling what China has in mind.
Tadj chuckles. People are starting to realize that theres
possible profit to be had here.
Girald snorts. Gee, do you think so? A genuine alien
spaceship, probably packed with advanced technology way beyond
our wildest dreams? You can bet that everybody and their sixth
cousins are going to want
Elaine interrupts him with an upheld hand. Thats
it. The Bank of China has just switched sides. The votes
sure to go against Khria. Theyll be calling the question
in a matter of minutes.
Sure enough, within ten minutes all the Delegates return to
their seats and the Council votes. As Elaine predicted, the vote
goes against Doctor Khrias proposal. Jannet leans over
to Rita and says, Now watch, somebody will call to adjourn
so they can all get on with the business of setting up private
expeditions. Thats all anybodys going to talk about
for the next few days.
A nagging memory tugs at the fringes of Ritas mind,
but it isnt until the session is formally adjourned that
she recalls it. Jannet, what about the millions of North
Americans who disappeared last year? I thought someone would
bring that up before the Council.
Not while were meeting in North America,
Jannet says. That wouldnt just be tacky
be dangerous. She takes Ritas hand. Look, were
all going out for dinner. Tadj found out about this place where
they have thousands of kitschy paintings on the walls and little
knick-knacks in display cases, so its like youre
eating in a museum, and the food all looks like classic works
Rita recognizes the restaurant; its one of the highest-priced
in Denver. Oh, I
Youll be my guest. Or rather, a guest of the Mars
Delegation, on my expense account. Come on, Rita, it wont
be the same without you.
Jaison steps up. You know you want to. When are you
going to have another chance to see the Sistine Chapel ceiling
in fajita form? He opens his arms. Come with me,
and well meet the others outside.
Jannet puts her arm around Ritas waist. Youre
taking both of us this time, big brother.
He rolls his eyes. Fine. He takes Jannet and Rita
in his arms, waves at the others, and then they are in the subway
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