13: They Call It Democracy
AD 2227, January 19
Benjamin Aiken decided that Genosha had a color.
Red united the Triune.
Magneto's colors were crimson and imperial purple. Gambit's were crimson and black. Phoenix wore crimson and gold and green. The X sigil that symbolized the country: black over red. The heavy draperies and upholstery of the Citadel, the armor and cloaks and masks of the guards, all red.
Driving from the UN compound to the Citadel to attend the formal banquet welcoming him to Genosha, he saw a vast field of scarlet poppies and green grass in the distance. A cemetery, his driver told him, one of the oldest.
The dark-haired woman who had greeted and accompanied the delegation on their arrival met him at the door.
Aiken wracked his brain trying to remember how she'd introduced herself then and realized she hadn't. She had merely identified herself as a Deputy of the Triune. He did remember Magneto referring to her as Transit and her spectacular (to him) exit once he had been delivered.
"Ambassador Aiken," she greeted him.
"Miss … Transit?" he said. "It's delightful to meet you again."
She smiled and placed her hand on the arm he gallantly offered as they walked up the steps into the Citadel entrance hall.
"Transit is my work name, chosen to reflect my mutant ability and my own personality," she said. "We don't use honorifics with work names." She gave him a mischievous look. "It's not 'Lord' Magneto. Just Magneto. But if that makes you uncomfortable, feel free to refer to me as Claire or Miss Moonstar."
She led him forward to where the Triune stood with several other formally dressed individuals.
The Triune wore ornate robes of silks and velvets quilted and intricately embellished by threads of gold and silver and platinum. Gemstones glittered amongst the embroidery of metal. The cloth cascaded from their shoulders and pooled on the mirrored black marble floors of the Citadel's Great Hall. Beneath the robes, glimpsed when they shifted, liquid shining body armor molded to their forms like second skins.
"Ambassador Aiken," Magneto greeted him. "I hope you will enjoy this evening. Oralux has agreed to grace us with a performance after the dinner."
"I'm afraid I'm unfamiliar with the artist, but I'm confident I will enjoy it," Aiken replied.
Phoenix stood between Magneto and a squat, black-haired man wearing a deep blue silk suit. Black sideburns flared down his face to his jaw, framing a hard visage. The man's head barely reached Phoenix' shoulders, but his heavily muscled frame and feral blue eyes negated any humorous comparison. Beside him stood a sleek beauty in solid black that made her unnaturally milky skin almost glow. A black diamond tattoo covered one eye. Platinum and amethyst armlets and bracelets glittered on her arms.
"Allow me to introduce you to Wolverine and Domino," Magneto said. "Respectively, Securidat Prime and Defense Prime."
Wolverine grunted at him, while Domino bestowed a seductive smile on him and offered her hand. Aiken kissed it.
"You'll be amazed by what Oralux does with light and sound," Domino told him.
"I look forward to it."
On Magneto's other side, Gambit had his head bent, speaking quietly with the young appearing man beside him.
He caught Aiken's gaze and returned it. The young man turned. He wore ice-blue and gray decorated with platinum. His blue eyes echoed the cold look of dislike on his face when he saw Aiken.
"Ambassador," Gambit drawled, "this is my partner, Prime Ice."
"A pleasure to meet you," Aiken lied. He held out his hand. "Benjamin Aiken."
Frost was literally forming on Ice's hair and hands. Aiken felt grateful the man didn't accept his hand. After a long moment of staring at it, Ice touched Gambit's arm then strode away
Gambit shrugged at Aiken.
"I take it Prime Ice was not in favor of contact between your people and humans?" Aiken asked.
Gambit chuckled. "He holds a grudge." Inhuman eyes caught Aiken's and held them.
"Not many diplomats would ask that direct a question."
"Prevarication becomes useless when faced with telepaths, I suspect."
One auburn brow rose and a spark of interest and respect lit Gambit's expression. "I notice you don't have the psi-blocker with you."
"Aside from provoking you into frying its circuits again, I realize it would be rather insulting."
That seemed to please Gambit. Phoenix joined them and insisted they mingle, a much friendlier Phoenix than he'd been introduced to originally, introducing Aiken to a litany of mutants.
He met the lovely Shadowcat again, wearing deep blue and in the company of a tall Asian woman with startling blue eyes dressed in a scarlet ao dai. She had the hardest expression he'd seen since meeting Wolverine, which seemed incongruous with her name: Jubilee. She headed the Homicide Division of the Hammer Bay Police Department.
Shadowcat led him to the head of the McCoy Foundation, Nathan McCoy, a geneticist with indigo skin, long canines, and tufts of fur at the tips of his mobile, pointed ears.
"I'll give you a tour of Big Blue if you give me a gene sample," McCoy offered quite seriously.
Next came several Primes, who Aiken realized were either elected members of the Genoshan Congress or members of the Alphanate, the assembly of alpha mutants. The Alphas seemed to care little for using titles, he noticed, instead preferring their public or war names, while the betas and gammas used birth names more often. Indeed, he was learning that in Genosha that use of a single name almost always denoted an alpha.
As the evening progressed, Aiken noticed how many variations the Genoshans exhibited while retaining a mostly hominid structure.
Prime Compass had mustard green skin. At first, Aiken thought the man had darker green dreadlocks, but they moved. Compass' head was covered with tentacles the diameter of a thumb and his 'hands' were heavier tentacles clumped together. The rubbery, boneless feel of them sent a shudder through Aiken after he shook hands.
At some point, he was left in the company of a tall, brown haired man introduced as Prime Sharps, who had brown eyes and red pupils, and a lovely blonde called Scanner. Scanner, he gathered, was a telepath, but it was Sharps' deference to her that intrigued Aiken. He eventually realized that she must be one of the Gene War survivors that were referred to as the Twenty Constants.
Dinner consisted of modified French-Indian-Asian cuisine so superior Aiken revised his opinion and decided contact between Genosha and the world would be worth it just for their food. Conversation ranged from classic literature and philosophy to a local soccer league and the difficulties of transporting heavy equipment into orbit. Magneto expressed interest in the orbital elevator, while a blond man called Slipstream explained that teleporters tended to have problems with inorganics and though the artificial teleport technology didn't, it required a nearly prohibitive exchange of energy for high volume transports, though mass didn't make much difference. Strictly a matter of transport area circumference according to Genosha's best scientists.
That discussion confirmed Aiken's suspicion that Genosha's technology and science outstripped the rest of the world.
A whirl of faces, many surreally beautiful, amid the glitter and light and music that followed, like a conclave of the Sidhe, were introduced: Phantazia, Prime Fugue, a historian named Westfall Scribe, Raindance, Surcease, Milan, Northstar, Prime Scope, Riptide, and finally, Mystique. Dancing with her, Aiken sensed a spirit more predatory than the girl with tiger stripes and fangs he'd met earlier.
"Confused?" she asked.
"Overwhelmed," Aiken said lightly. "What is it you do again?"
The pretty brunette in his arms melted into blue skin and yellow eyes, long blood-red hair, though the body remained svelte and female. He almost stumbled but maintained. She smiled at him.
"Interesting, but I meant what do you do?"
She laughed and melted back into the brunette.
"Why bother?" he asked.
"It matches my outfit better."
They spun around the dance floor. He saw his attaché Heinz waltzing with Rebecca Pryde and Northstar dancing with Phoenix while Gambit glided with his arms around a delicate beauty Aiken hadn't met.
"You never answered my question."
"Persistent. A good quality in a foreign services officer."
She curled one hand against the nape of Aiken's neck.
"That's how I got this post."
"Internal Intelligence, Ministry of Defense," she said. "I report to Domino."
"So you would be in a position to tell me what people really think about ending the Interdict."
Her fingers stroked the bare skin between his hairline and his collar.
"Will you tell me what the average human Out There thinks in exchange?"
She ran her tongue over her full upper lip in an undeniably erotic display.
"Which side are you on?"
Mystique smiled brilliantly.
"How do you know I won't lie?"
"A problem we share."
They danced silently for another measure.
"I want the Interdict undone and the Barrier lowered," Mystique said. "I want to be free again."
Aiken felt a little puzzled. Mystique was as free as anyone in Genoshan society, which seemed on the surface very free and affluent.
Mystique's eyes gleamed yellow again.
"I've been very good for a very long time, you see, Ambassador. We all have."
"And without the Interdict you wouldn't have to be good?" He smiled, but inside he shivered.
"It was never meant as a permanent solution," she said. "They — " her gesture encompassed Magneto, Gambit and Phoenix, " — thought that separation was better than annihilation."
"Well, if those were the choices …"
"Believe me, the Scourge could have been much worse."
Worse than Boulder wiped out by nuclear fire, he might have asked. Worse than the dirty fallout from the warheads that detonated in the upper atmosphere and poisoned the world for generations? Worse than hundreds of thousands of people who died on the last day of the wars?
The Scourge had wiped out the United States as an entity. Everyone in the government and the military had been reduced to mind-wiped idiots requiring constant care. Electromagnetic pulses had hammered the continent, while even the deepest shielded installations were hit with kinetic charges. The devastation had stretched from the east to the west coast, deep into Mexico and into the cities of Canada. Secret bases scattered over the globe had suffered the same destruction in the next few hours. Within a day, nothing had been left of the nation at war with mutant kind. North America had never really recovered; even hundreds of years later they were struggling to return to technological parity with the rest of the world. The population numbers were beginning to rise again, but it remained a land of empty cities and desolate wastes where battles had been fought on titanic scales.
"Of course, mutants wouldn't have survived it either."
"Mutual assured destruction is a long outmoded attitude."
"No, it isn't."
"Was that a warning?"
"I get the feeling you really don't care much about humans."
"You're not a stupid man."
Mystique tipped her head back, always moving exactly with the music.
Soft light played through the dance floor. On a podium in the center, a slim woman sang for lack of a better word that encompassed one being generating the sound of several orchestras, a chorus, and a light show that seemed to play on mood and emotion along with everyone's senses.
Oralux, the promised performer.
"Why then? Why let us in?"
"To let us out," Mystique said. "To give all of our people choices again."
"I don't understand."
"No, how could you? Genosha … is a democracy on sufferance. As long as we need the Triune to maintain the Barrier, they are our real rulers. As long as Genosha is closed, its people will never grow beyond the vision of the Constant. They are too powerful."
"I can see that, but aren't you one of the Constant?"
Mystique looked briefly melancholy.
"It works both ways. We're trapped too."
The music ended to a round of applause. Aiken joined. Mystique gave him a sultry look. "We'll have to get together again, Ambassador."
"I'll look forward to it."
He looked around the ballroom, easily picking out the Constants from the rest of the attendees. They were the grave faced ones, the still points all others orbited around, drawn to each other by the weight of their experience.
They were as alien, he thought, to their own people as mutants were to humans. All that they saw now, would fall away and what would come after would pass too, while they alone stood witness with only each other to endure it.