3: Pacing The Cage
AD 2227, October 18
He stood in the doorway to a carved stone balcony, high above the glitter of the capitol and stared out into the night. The vast, dark room behind him echoed with emptiness. Heavy, ornate crimson robes of office still hung from his broad shoulders, but he had left his helm behind in one of the three seats that dominated the room.
The wind from the water brought the scent of salt and marine life with it. It teased at short hair that glinted silver by starlight. It whispered with the hum of the city and the crash of waves.
Beyond the city, beyond the land, far on the horizon where the waters were dark as the night sky, sheets of almost intangible energy towered upward.
Veils of color fell across it, chased side to side in oily, iridescent flares of light. By night, the entire expanse was shot with veins of green lightning, flame gold and rose red. It rose from the ocean floor beyond the edge of the horizon to the limits of the atmosphere.
The Great Barrier.
Seen by a human eye, it was beautiful. Beheld through his mutant senses it was more so.
By day it was an added sparkle against the blue of the sky, a hazy, wavering glow far out on the water. By night, against the velvet darkness, it could be spectacular, an eerie extension of the Triune's will. Electromagnetic, quantum kinetic and psionic forces were merged into each other to form and create the Barrier.
Anything sentient, anything mechanical or technological passing through it was destroyed. A psionic warning spared cetaceans from crossing it. The Great Barrier sustained itself with minimal maintenance, but remained inextricably linked to their psyches, responding to the Triune's moods. Tonight color exploded across it.
It pulsed. It sang to the man on the balcony. It was part of him, part of them, of three minds synched into one force, one intent.
It symbolized the Interdict that kept all humans and their works out of Genosha. It kept his people safe. He was afraid, though, that in time it would only keep them in. He would not let Genosha become a mutant cage.
It wasn't time yet to bring the Barrier down. In time, though, in time … Genosha would not be enough.
He was not the absolute ruler of Genosha. He was one of three and his companions tempered his beliefs with their own. He had intended to slowly sway them to his own vision. They were unaging and undying, he had time to convince them.
Until the Ares Explorer IV breached Avalon Station's defensive perimeter.
He was quite tempted to rage at Northstar. It would have been satisfying.
With his consorts' agreement, he had authorized the Avalon Prime to spare the crippled spaceship. One telepathic scan had revealed its crew were unconscious and in several cases wounded. Another swept unnoticed through the minds of the mission control at the top of the humans' orbital elevator. The incident wasn't a trick or the prelude to an attack.
Northstar wanted to do more than ignore the ship. He wanted to rescue it. He considered the people on it to be innocents.
So did the Triune. They acceded while urging caution.
Northstar had authorized retrieval and rescue, bringing the ship into Avalon. Crews of repair people swarmed over it, thrilled and fascinated to deal with the very different and in many ways backward technology of the human world outside Genosha. A medical team had boarded the ship to deal with the traumatized crew. A surveillance satellite's feed had been overridden to send a message to mission control aboard the orbital elevator.
Human and mutant had officially met again.
The Interdict had been breached.
Perhaps it was time to resume diplomatic contact with the outside world. The Gene Wars and the time before were only history to mutant and human alike. Only the Twenty Constants remained and remembered. Of course, the Triune were among the Constant and the body of the Triune were not best pleased. They remembered and their memories were not pleasant. He anticipated bitter opposition to any suggestion of contact.
"A small delegation," he argued. "In exchange for a seat on the UN Security council. A chance for our people to travel outside Genosha."
"They'll send nothing but spies and fools," the third member of the Triune replied. "They'll never give us a seat on the Security Council."
"Is traveling outside worth the risk?" their second asked. "Should we allow any of them within our borders? How could we protect our own people if they left here?"
His old friend had dreamed of a world where mutant and human lived in peace side by side. He had dreamed of creating a sanctuary where mutants could live in safety from hatred and fear.
The Triune had made Genosha into that haven and erected the Great Barrier to protect it.
Was it time to try to make that other dream real?
"I would hope we wouldn't need to protect them."
"Now you're living in a dream world, mon ami." Words accompanied with a snort of derision.
"You are the ones who used to believe -"
Their second narrowed her green eyes. "Once."
The irony didn't escape him. He, of all men, urging them forward to meet the humans, to perhaps even allow some within Genosha's borders, while the gentler, kinder members of the Triune counseled suspicion and paranoia.
"Why're you asking this of us?" their third asked.
"How long before our haven becomes a stagnant ghetto? How long before the Dissenters become more than an annoyance? How long must we go on as gods?"
That had startled them both.
"What if we could give up the Interdict, dismantle the Barrier?" he asked. "We could be free."
They looked at him and something stirred through the psi-bond.
Maybe it was time. He'd felt their interest and reluctant hope kindle. Despite their doubts, they would agree.
Restless, he reached through the psi-link and touched them. One was alone in her quarters at the Residence. Her husband, one of the architects of their nation and a hero of the Gene Wars, had died in his sleep more than a century past. Her loneliness fed through the link, mitigated only by their third's empathic warmth. The other lay in his lover's arms, drowsy and content in the afterglow. His pleasure and affection weaved through the Triune, soothing them even as he dropped toward sleep.
Wordless, their third communicated:
The link carried their second's agreement and quiet, ~Go to sleep,~ back between the three of them.
With a sigh, he decided to return to his own quarters.
Her mental voice whispered an invitation.
~Come here. Keep me company. I'm just reading a book. Thinking about them disturbs me.~
~Very well, my dear.~
Tomorrow would be soon enough to decide the great issues.