7: The Gods Themselves
AD 2227, January 5
The guards wore red uniforms and blank-faced masks, standing at the great double doors that opened into the receiving hall of the Citadel. The slim, black haired woman who had greeted the UN delegation at the airport stopped at the doors. She looked perfectly human, as had everyone the delegation had glimpsed since arriving on the Mutant nation island. Ambassador Aiken wondered if that hadn't been deliberate, and suspected it was. The Genoshans were making an effort not to disturb their visitors too soon.
"The Triune are within," the woman, who hadn't introduced herself said. She smiled slightly. "Just proceed inside."
"Thank you for your company," Aiken said politely.
She nodded. "It was nothing." Then her body seemed to dissolve into a cloud of smoke and she disappeared. Aiken took in a hard breath, but managed to hide his startlement. His assistants and the other UN representatives were chattering in low tones, shocked by the sudden display. It had been so long since humans had interacted with mutants, but they had all been briefed, all studied the histories of the Gene Wars; they shouldn't have been surprised. They were though, and Aiken was.
He gathered himself though and gestured the rest of his group to follow. "Come along, we don't want to keep the Premier waiting."
The hall was vast, the roof arching several stories above them, the polished black stone floor reflecting like a mirror. Massive columns reached toward the domed roof along each side. At the end of the hall, the floor fell away in steps that curved around to form an amphitheatre of benches that faced the raised dais at the apex of the hall. On the dais, three massive, equal thrones dominated.
Aiken stopped, staring up at the thrones and their occupants, for the first time grasping that phrase their guide had used.
Genosha was ruled by not one mutant, but by three.
The power seemed to pulse from the three figures looking down at the UN delegation. In the center, a regal white-haired man dressed in red and imperial purple robes watched them with cold blue eyes. This was the Premier, the man they had been briefed to expect, and Aiken had read history texts and psychological work-ups on him. None of them captured the sheer presence of the omega mutant known as Magneto. The white hair hinted at his age, but the imposing physique and features were those of a man in his prime. Only crows'-feet and a deep frown line between his white brows showed anything like age.
Aiken thought he might recognize the other two as well. His briefings hadn't addressed them in particular, but there had been some group photos and they, like Magneto, had not aged since the Gene Wars.
On Magneto's right, sat a woman crowned with a mane of flame-red hair that stirred with a seeming life of its own. Her eyes were electric green, no white, no pupil, and a molten glow shimmered around her green clad form. She was strikingly beautiful and the cold expression on her features frightened Aiken. This wasn't a person who wanted them here. That she had once been a member of a group that believed in co-existence between human and mutant was irrelevant. Phoenix no longer held such beliefs.
To the left of Magneto sat a lithe figure clad in black. His lean, chiseled features were as handsome as Phoenix' were beautiful. He slouched on his throne, head tipped slightly to the side as he watched the delegation's approach. A waist-length braid of russet hair hung over one shoulder, but didn't bind all his hair. Long bangs slipped free, brushing over his eyes, cheekbones, and jaw in copper-shot layers. His eyes were crimson on black, energy flaring from them and from the fingertips of his long hands.
The eyes were what identified him as a mutant recorded in the histories as Gambit. Little else was known about him, beyond that he had been a member of the terrorist group the X-Men before the Gene Wars, had led an even more ruthless group called the Marauders and had once been held in the former United States' most infamous Mutant Relocation Center — The Mojave — and escaped or been rescued.
That last made Aiken doubt the red-eyed mutant would be any friendlier than Magneto or Phoenix.
The three of them were still and silent and inhuman. They were survivors of a war that was long ago history to Benjamin Aiken and the rest of the world. They seethed with power; the air around them shivering like a heat mirage.
Magneto inclined his head and acknowledged them at last.
Aiken swallowed and addressed him. "Premier Magneto. I want to acknowledge how grateful the UN is that your government has afforded us this opportunity to visit your beautiful nation."
A sardonic chuckle came from the black-clad man.
Magneto lifted his hand and Gambit stilled, but the mocking look remained on his handsome face.
"We hope that the humans of the world have progressed enough that you may accept that opportunity," Magneto said in a deep, ringing voice. "There are those among us — " he nodded to the man and woman on each side of him, " — who once believed our two species could exist together peacefully."
"That is the hope we all share, Mr. Premier," Aiken said carefully.
"We were wrong then," Phoenix spoke up. She narrowed those empty green eyes. "Misguided."
"Surely, not wrong, but only . . . ahead of your time?" Aiken offered cautiously.
Gambit waved a long-fingered hand in dismissal. "Maybe things've changed, maybe not."
"We wish only to open a genuine dialogue between Genosha and the rest of the world," Aiken said.
"If you say so, mon ami." He gestured to the neat metal circlets adorning each member of the delegation's heads. "Interesting jewelry, non?"
"Psi-blockers. They buzz, you know?"
Aiken just hoped they worked. Phoenix, according to the briefings, had been an immensely powerful telepath.
Gambit looked past Magneto to her and smiled. "Irritating, isn't it?"
"Like a gnat."
"I'll make it go away, chere." Those crimson eyes rested on Aiken briefly and he heard a small, dry crack somewhere within the psi-block. Then Gambit's gaze shifted to each of the rest of the delegation. There was nothing else, no sense of an alien mind sifting into Aiken's, but he knew that the mutant had disabled the psi-blocks they wore.
Phoenix smiled. "Much better." She looked at Aiken. "You can replace them before meeting with us again, but do get them tuned next time." She waved at Gambit. "He has a much more delicate touch than I do. I'd just smash them . . . and your minds."
"Jean," Magneto said.
She patted his arm.
"They're so afraid one of us will mess with their minds. But those little toys could never protect them against a combat trained 'path." She sighed. "I won't bother them, of course. It would be so . . . rude."
"We will see," Magneto said.
Phoenix and Gambit dipped their heads, assenting without necessarily agreeing.
Aiken shivered. Reading about the bizarre abilities of the genetic off-shoots of humanity had been fascinating. That had been theory. He'd begun to think re-opening contact between Genosha and humanity might be a terrible mistake. The Triune were terrifying. They were frightening in their age and their casual, absolute power.
Magneto gestured and another person joined them, a slim young woman with brown eyes, brown hair in a neat ponytail. She looked about twenty and was dressed in blue-black leathers, an X patch on the shoulders of her jacket, and low-heeled boots. It looked like a casual uniform. She could have been a college girl from anywhere in the world.
Aiken was surprised to note a Star of David pendant around her neck. He had never contemplated whether mutants were religious. That was something the UN might utilize. Theology had been the basis of more internal conflict in countries than anything else but pure power. But then, underneath it all religious conflicts were all about power too, the power to control what people believed and therefore did.
"This is Shadowcat," Magneto introduced the young woman.
She smiled at Aiken in a friendly fashion.
"If you will accompany her, she will arrange you and your delegation's transfer to the UN compound."
"Ambassador?" she inquired in light, pleasant voice. Her accent seemed North American, subtly archaic.
Aiken had already noted that isolation had led to the Genoshans speaking a language that seemed based on twenty-first century English but liberally added to from numerous other languages. Not surprising in a country made up originally from refugees and émigrés from all over the planet. Time had done the rest.
"Yes, of course," Aiken agreed. He let the young lady lead him away from the Triune and down a marble-floored corridor.
"The compound was specifically built to house your delegation," Shadowcat told him as she guided Aiken out of the Citadel. His aides and other members of the delegation trailed behind them. "It's psi-shielded and located in one of the very best gamma neighborhoods. For your transportation needs, we've arranged a small fleet of hovermobiles very much like the ones you're used to. There are drivers available if want them, too."
Aiken looked at her. "I don't understand. Gamma neighborhoods?"
"Oh, gammas are mutants with non-active mutations. There are very strict laws about challenging gammas if you're higher ranked," Shadowcat explained.
A group of slate blue hovermobiles waited for them in an airborne stack over the Citadel's landing pad, each painted with a white, stylized version of the UN seal. The first one settled to the ground and the driver exited to open the passenger doors.
Aiken raised his eyebrows as he noticed the driver sported two curling horns in the thatch of black hair on his head and a sheen of scales along his cheekbones.
Shadowcat stepped into the hovermobile with a nod to the driver and settled herself. The driver gave her a very respectful nod then waited for Aiken before closing the door. Aiken settled himself in one of the very comfortable seats.
Shadowcat touched her finger to a holographic control panel. "Jing, take us to the UN compound and don't lose the other cars, please."
"Please explain about the … gammas?" Aiken asked her.
"A gamma mutant is quite helpless against an arena-trained alpha or even a clever beta. Of course, sometimes accidents happen, but that is what the 'paths and truth readers are for, as well as the crèches and training houses. All of our citizens learn an honor code when they are taught to use and control their powers. It's very effective. However, when it fails, there is the law itself. The penalties for breaking the law are quite … harsh."
Something in Shadowcat's brown eyes gave Aiken pause. He wondered what 'harsh' meant in this strange society of super-powered beings. She must have noticed as she reached over and patted his arm. "You have nothing to worry about. Diplomatic immunity means no one would dream of challenging any of your people. Besides, even in the other neighborhoods where alphas are more common, none of them would touch a null in any case. It just isn't done."
She smiled. "Our terminology for the unfortunate few still born without a mutation or who have suffered a devastating loss of their mutation."
Aiken considered that. Genosha had its ways of dealing with the non-powered and non-mutated. Interesting. No one had factored in the possibility of a non-mutant population within the borders of Genosha. Someone should have, of course, but they had been blinded by the image of the 'mutant nation'. There had been non-mutants who fled to Genosha during and at the end of the Gene Wars, though.
Families had accompanied the genetically different beings who left for a new homeland; parents, spouses, children, sometimes more extended groups and members of the notorious Mutant Underground who feared reprisals and criminal penalties for so-called terrorist activities before and during the war. Some people had been unwilling to accept the draconian laws passed to separate human and mutant, including embryonic testing and mandatory abortions, whether on religious or ethical grounds. Genosha had accepted more than mutants and mutates and aliens during the Exodus.
He wondered what life was like for them and their descendents.
The UN wanted a report of civil rights within Genosha. The status of normal humans, both legal and socially, would be a major interest when he reported.
Aiken leaned forward.
"Tell me all about it, Miss … Shadowcat?"
"Call me Kitty."
"Kitty. Please call me Benjamin. May I inquire as to your status beyond your charming company?"
She kept smiling and he acknowledged to himself that there was a very sharp intelligence behind her sweet looking face. It wouldn't do to underestimate this young woman. If she was young, he corrected himself. Mutants had demonstrated enhanced life spans before the Interdict. The Triune were proof some mutants were very long-lived.
"I'm with the DET. Directorate of Economy and Treasury," she explained.
Aiken was impressed. "What position do you hold?"
Kitty gave him a shark's grin.
"I'm the Minister."
Aiken sat back in his seat and blinked.
The grin got wider, but wasn't unkind.
"Check your history, Mr. Ambassador. Shadowcat may not have been as famous as Magneto, but I was there during the Gene Wars and before."
She tapped his arm with her forefinger, then it literally slid into Aiken's arm. He stared in horror. She withdrew her hand.
"Just thought you might like to know. The Triune aren't the only ones who were around for the Gene Wars. In fact, the government is littered with us. When you send your reports to the UN and whoever else you answer to, don't forget to mention this: Genosha has a very long memory. We take our Santayana seriously."