White Rabbit

by Domenika Marzione

10/August 2006

"Wow."

"Umm... yeah, that about covers it," Alex agreed as he came up behind Lily, putting his arms around her.

She leaned back against him as they looked up at the skyline. Or at least the area where the repulsor-supported infrastructure ended and the anti-grav began. It was a little like being the diver-toy in a household fish tank - the ground below you seemed a little less than firm, the air itself seemed to sway slightly, and the buildings around you sort of floated in place. It was unnerving and wonderful and crazy all at once and Lily rued every moment she had ever had any doubts about coming here.

"How are you feeling?" he added, squeezing her tense-from-immobility-and-luggage shoulders. She squeaked in pain and he loosed his grip.

"Less nauseous," she told him. To get a visa to enter the New Lands, an individual had to submit to a medical exam, including several vaccinations. The New Lands were basically a network of biospheres - infection of any major sort could wreak havoc on a level not seen since the Colonial period. Lily had reacted poorly to the last series of shots and had spent the long plane ride sleeping off the antihistamines Cecilia had suggested she take. "Although the floating architecture is going to give me seasickness if we don't get moving quickly."

"You sort of get used to it," Ji-Won told them cheerfully as she joined the pair carrying a small box and some papers, half of which she handed to Alex. "And it's worse here in Aliyah than it is out in the provs."

"Provs?"

"Provinces," Ji-Won explained with a shrug that meant that she was admitting that she had forgotten she was talking to non-locals. "What we call the farthest of the outlying districts. The distant bubbles. We're all one big city-state family now, but if the population keeps growing like it is, the Council is going to have to split all of the districts into cities in their own right. And then they really will be provinces. So we're just getting ahead of ourselves a little."

The name 'Aliyah' had been chosen by founder Magneto, then as now ignorant of the name of Nathan Summers' deceased wife, from the Hebrew. There were a lot of symbolic references to Israel in the New Lands' founding and evolution, Lily had realized. It made sense, she supposed.

Behind her, Alex cackled. "Geez. You've been here two months and you're already sounding like you've been here two years," he said with bemused sarcasm.

"There aren't that many people here still," Ji-Won explained as she gestured for them to follow her. "And after coming from a lifetime in New York City, it's really easy to get the lay of the land down. Even this Land."

Lily smiled. Every communication that they had gotten from Ji-Won since she had moved up here in June had seemed unbelievably happy. She was working, she was exploring, she was dating this really great Korean guy who had purple hair without dying it. There was no mention of any anti-BH ('baseline human', the current politically correct term for 'non mutant') sentiment and, if anything, she had said that the greatest of the not-very-great resentment came between alpha-class and gamma-class mutants and not the non-mutants.

They turned the corner and Lily could see the sign for the car rental place. Yes, Hertz had made it to Antarctica. The clerk at the counter seemed to recognize Alex when gave his name and while Lily could tell that Alex was getting a little irritated at the constant attention, she doubted the clerk could.

It had started at Customs and Immigration, when the officer processing them had looked positively drop-jawed. After recovering, she had explained that while the list of names of everyone who had fought at Akkaba was on the Wall of Heroes in Harmony Square, because of the rigorous processes involved in simply visiting the country it was pretty much well known when any of them were on their way. And Alex, as one of the X-Men (Alex had raised an eyebrow at that), was accorded a special place of honor. That, and Vice President Lebeau had authorized the visa himself. ("I'm going to kill Remy and 'Ro," Alex had muttered, much to the amused horror of the customs agent.)

"You have a choice, sir," the clerk said upon returning to his station. "You can either get a standard vehicle or you can try out one of our new hybrid cars. Normally we offer a discount on the hybrid cars, but, well, you're here for the Anniversary and we're running that promotion..."

Lily smiled as Alex groaned. They were going to be in the New Lands for the first anniversary of the Merge (Lily really didn't think that Alex had fully contemplated when they made their plans just how much attention he'd be getting) and lots of places were having Anniversary Sales and promotional events. Hertz was offering free one-week rentals to any veteran of Akkaba.

"What's the hybrid car?" Alex asked, sounding slightly pained.

"The Council's got a working agreement with a few automakers to produce cars that can be powered by certain kinds of alpha-class mutants," Ji-Won explained from where she was sitting next to Lily on the bench. "So far it's just energy producers and telekinetics and people who can manipulate natural forces like wind and water and magnetism - which is like, what, a couple of dozen people in the whole world? - but they're working on both extending it to gamma-class mutants with those abilities as well as trying to come up with new powers they can harness. Kyung says that they're trying to figure out how to tap people with force fields."

"Interesting," Alex mused, clearly impressed. "But I don't want to have to do all of the driving this week and I don't want Lily to have to be tied to me in case she wants to go somewhere on her own."

"Oh, that's why they're hybrids," the clerk chirped happily. "They can be run on standard batteries. They'd never get rented often enough to make them worthwhile otherwise."

Lily watched Alex, sure that he was going to opt for the hybrid car. If he didn't, she would. She vaguely remembered reading an article in a magazine while up at the mansion about energy resources in the New Lands. Because of the enclosed nature of the place, the New Lands had the strictest pollution laws on the planet and fossil fuels were all but prohibited - cars, lawnmowers, and everything else had to be powered by electricity or magnetism or some other source. Well before Akkaba or their attempts to win a place on the world stage, the New Lands had attracted many of the world's best engineers because of its needs and the results had been spectacular - the fields of windmills that harnessed the fierce arctic air, the solar panels, the day-to-day maintenance, protection, and expansion of immense, habitable biospheres...

"Well, I guess I'm somewhat obligated to try it out," Alex agreed with a wry smile. "These things aren't going to blow up on me if I can't gauge the power requirements, right?"

"The ones we have are Hondas," the clerk told him with happy assurance. "They're very reliable. And after the beta testing that these puppies go through... I heard that Councilwoman Munro powers her with lightning."

"Oh, the mental images one gets with that," Lily muttered with a sigh. Alex laughed.

When the car was brought around, Lily was amused to note that it really didn't look like it was any different from normal. Well, at least a normal weird car. The roof was a solar panel (Lily was thankful - the magnet-driven cars looked like they had beanies on their roofs) and the clerk explained where the plug was so that they could re-charge the battery at night. He then showed Alex how the steering wheel was covered with conductive patches so that all he'd have to do to power the car himself was simply hold on.

Watching Alex try to drive literally on his own power was enough to reduce both Ji-Won and Lily to helpless tears. The car started and stopped jerkily, first because Alex wasn't giving it enough energy and then because he gave it too much and left skid marks before he shot across the lot and slammed on the brakes.

"Not a word out of either of you two," Alex told them sternly after he had gotten out, wagging his finger. He then looked over at the somehow-straightfaced clerk. "I hope this cures you of any lingering idol worship."

"If it makes you feel better, President Lehnsherr himself got three speeding tickets before he learned how to drive these models," the clerk offered helpfully. "And those were just the ones he insisted the officers write him up on and not the countless ones he got away with."

"It doesn't make me feel better," Alex told him cheerfully. "Magnus has always liked fast cars. The novelty of the hybrids was just a cover."

Lily was utterly unsurprised when Alex told Ji-Won that she should drive the car to her place - Ji-Won had been dropped off at Ilyana Airfield by her boyfriend Kyung on his way to work and had left her car at home. The drive took about twenty minutes - Ji-Won lived on the other side of the Big Bubble that was the de facto capital of the New Lands.

While Alex and Ji-Won caught up, Lily was grateful that she got the chance to just stare out the window. They were driving along Route 1, which all three agreed looked very much like the similarly named road back in New Jersey ("This Route 1 has about the same traffic as Route 1 does to the bridge. Especially for the afternoon rush," Ji-Won groused). It was a four-lane, two-way highway at grade with the street, passing through what looked to be the government district and the financial center before breaking out into residential-looking blocks filled with hydroponics and homes that looked one part Jetsons and one part Swiss Family Robinson. There was a lot of thirty-eighth century technology in use here (although most people just thought it another brilliant success of the early engineering boom) and probably quite a bit of its architecture. The buildings were all aerodynamic and rocket-like even as they had sky-walks and connected balconies and some of them were accented to look almost Victorian.

Ji-Won lived on the second floor of a four-story building, a zigzag shaped structure that only had two apartments per floor at each of the three entryways. The entire building was supported about a foot off the ground by massive repulsors (the magnetic force used to manipulate the earth's own polarity was easy enough to play with, Lily knew, but the real challenge was in amplifying it without knocking people's fillings out when they walked in front of the generators) and some sort of ground ivy grew around and underneath the building. There were hydroponic flowers and trees, but no grass.

"We can't really grow grass here," Ji-Won explained as she watched them look around. "The soil won't support it. Which is really weird in its own way - grass is one of the heartiest plants on earth, you know? - but, well... The Botanics people have apparently tried a few different varieties and they've had success in some of the other bubbles, but Aliyah has almost no grass."

Inside, the apartment looked very similar to the one Ji-Won had had in Hoboken before she had moved. Korean artwork - including the scroll Lily and Alex had gotten her from the Metropolitan Museum of Art after she had graduated - mixed with simple, functional furnishings. Despite the simple beauty of the rooms - Ji-Won had good taste - the place looked almost mundane after the exotic weirdness of the outdoors.

Lunch was low-key and both Alex and Lily spent much of the afternoon sleeping off their jet lag. Even without the stopover in Sydney, it had been a ridiculously long flight. Lily had thought that she'd have been wired from the antihistamines, but she wasn't and the next thing she knew, Alex was shaking her shoulder gently.

"It's time to get up," he said gently, letting his hand linger on her arm. "We have to get ready to go to the Presidential Residence soon."

Lily mumbled and rolled away from Alex and on to her stomach. She wanted to go back to sleep, but knew that she couldn't. Dinner with the Cabinet and all.


"You hear that?"

Lily looked at her husband like he was losing it. And, considering the giddy way Alex had been acting since they'd started hiking that morning, she wasn't half convinced might actually be the case.

 "We're in the middle of nowhere," she told him tartly as she tried not to stumble over an exposed tree root. "With heavy packs on our backs and rocks in our shoes. Apart from the whispers of what soon will be the screaming voices telling me to push you over the nearest ledge if we don't stop soon, I don't hear a thing."

"Exactly," Alex told her with a relieved-and-aggrieved sigh that was too heartfelt to even consider her complaints. "The only mammals making noise are us and the happy little woodland creatures."

Lily shook her head to keep from envisioning a cartoon Alex standing next to Bambi and Thumper. All right. Maybe she was the one losing it.

They had been in the New Lands eight days. The first six had been dedicated to social activities in Aliyah and the surrounding areas ("dog and pony shows mixed in with meeting old friends," Alex had groused) and the last two had been spent exploring. Lily had been right - Alex had very much underestimated the attention he was going to be subject to in the New Lands and he had grown more and more tense with each situation. He hadn't ever snapped or even pouted, but Lily could tell that his smiles before the crowds were more and more forced. And they were both weirded out by the autograph requests. Magnus (and boy, did it feel weird to be on a first name basis with Magneto) had completely understood when they had begged off from spending the days after the Anniversary partaking in official merry-making and Ororo, with the perceptive subtlety that Lily expected had been honed as the occasional leader of the X-Men, had quietly suggested the least-traveled paths in the wilderness districts.

"We can stop for lunch at that clearing over there," Alex said and pointed down the mountain that they had been skirting the edge of. Lily followed his finger towards a small space in the middle of the trees that was next to a very tiny lake. "'Ro said that all of the lakes in this district are natural ones with melted polar ice, so it'll have nice cold water to drink."

Lily grunted, but Alex was too chipper to notice and, with a jaunty hop, he started off again.

The Anniversary celebrations had been rather awesome and, once the overwhelming immediacy of them had faded a bit, Lily was sure that she and Alex would treasure having been present for them. It had been a year since Akkaba and the Merge and the world's first mutant nation spared no expense in celebrating the demise of mankind's great foe as well as the dawn of a new age of acceptance. Magnus and Remy had privately admitted that the festivities were structured with a heavy public relations angle in mind - the freedom of everyone from the great foe of Apocalypse was given slightly higher building than the (still very much theoretical) new openness about mutants.

As part of the large entourage that was traveling to and from events with Magnus and Amelia, Lily and Alex had been present for the school play (thankfully it was slightly less epic than the adult version that had been presented to Magnus - leather-bound - by the Spanish Poet Laureate; Magnus had muttered privately after reading a few scenes that it had all the makings of a mutant restaging of the Iliad) as well as the speeches and visiting dignitaries and the solemn procession at the Wall of Heroes. Lily and Alex had recognized many of the names on the list of those who had perished at Akkaba and Alex in particular had been greatly moved by the respect the deceased had been accorded. All of which was taken no less seriously for being surrounded by state-sanctioned partying.

The Two Days of Akkaba were national holidays in the New Lands and had culminated in an awesome fireworks display. The launchers had been set up outside of the bubbles - mostly for environmental reasons - and there had been viewing stations built in each of the largest districts. Lily and Alex had gotten to watch from the Presidential viewing stand. Alex...

Realizing that Alex was already a good fifty yards ahead of her, Lily groaned and sped up so that she could catch up.

Camping was an Alex thing to do and Lily went along with it because it made him happy. Personally, she liked things like indoor plumbing and not having to stink of bug repellant. Her idea of a vacation was to travel to a place she hadn't been before - see someone else's history and culture. All of her traveling as a child had been between her parents and not to any exotic foreign lands, so she tended not to have the 'been there, done that' attitude that affected many Navy brats. The New Lands were creating their own history and culture and that was intriguing in a different way and that appealed almost more to the engineer in her than the explorer.

Along that line of thought, despite her general underwhelming enthusiasm for camping out, Lily would readily admit to anyone who asked just how impressive the New Lands were as a whole and how spectacular the 'natural environments' were in particular. During one of her visits to Montreal, Lily had been to the Biodome, but this was the Biodome writ large. And lived in by more than penguins and capybaras.

It had been far less expensive for the New Lands to build as many of the bubbles as they could at once rather than to do it on an ad hoc basis. The result was that out of the dozen biospheres initially constructed, five were heavily populated and had the beginnings of the New Lands' commercial and industrial concerns and the rest were either sparsely inhabited or, as was the case with two, uninhabited. The uninhabited bubbles were natural conserves (not preserves, as Magnus had taken great pains to point out), although once the population of the New Lands had grown sufficiently the decision would have to be made whether to build new bubbles or convert them to more urban environments. Lily thought that they'd just build new ones - the New Lands didn't even have its own university yet, but she and Alex well knew the eager buzz among the rest of the world's academics to start researching the new country's unique ecology. It would be a boon to the New Lands' economy that was more than worth the expense of building new biospheres.

The central bubble, which was mostly taken up by the capital district of Aliyah and to which the airport was annexed, was temperate as were two of the four other main bubbles and had had its climatology settings modeled on the New York-Madrid latitude. When they had toured Aliyah's Climatology Control Facility, Alex had made a comment about the humidity being too low to be accurate for such a claim and had been snarled at by the CCF head who had groused about the expense of raising the humidity level even one percent. Lily had nearly died of laughter as Alex had borrowed a pen and paper from Magnus on the ride home and started doing the calculations himself. Amelia had suggested Alex come work for the Ministry of Environment and Alex hadn't immediately demurred. Lily wasn't sure what to make of that, but Alex hadn't said anything since.

The climate of the other two heavily populated bubbles had been decided by popular referendum, an idea that at first seemed surreal to Lily ("Okay folks, what should our weather be?") but then seemed eminently practical - in a place where it was so expensive to build at all, why have a climate where nobody wanted to live? The results had been surprising, at least to Lily. The first wasn't really a shocker - tropical warmth (it was "the party bubble," Remy had joked) - but the other was set up to best recreate near-Arctic conditions ("Think Helsinki," Ji-Won, who worked there, had said.) Alex and Lily had been promised a site tour of Biosphere Five - where Ji-Won was chief site geologist at the New Lands' biggest mining operation - the day before they were due to leave.

They were currently tramping around in Biosphere Nine, a.k.a. Noah Two, one of the bubbles that still had more animals than people per square kilometer. The mountains, valleys, and forests had been artificially created but now sustained themselves naturally (and certainly felt natural as Lily had tripped and cut her forearm against a fallen branch earlier) and it was hoped that the mass importation of natural resources would be slowed within a generation. In honor of the New Lands' recognition by the UN, many nations had gifted the new country with samples of native flora and mating-aged fauna. (Personally, Lily didn't think the New Lands really needed to import squirrels.)

All in all, Lily thought the city planning maps looked like giant SimCity screen captures - Kyung had in fact made a joke to that effect. Lily liked Kyung, who worked for the Commerce Ministry and spent his days wooing businesses to open stores and factories in the New Lands, and she thought he was a good match for Ji-Won. Purple hair notwithstanding - the purple nails and very slightly lavender-tinted skin had at first been odd, but quickly stopped being even noticeable - he worked well with Ji-Won. Alex had known her for six years and he said that this was the first time he had seen her take an active interest in her own personal life and on the possibility of there being something beyond a career. Alex had stopped just short of implying that he had had the same task with Lily, which was why Lily hadn't hit him.

Of course, now she was having trouble just finding him...

By the time she caught up with Alex, Lily was more than ready to take a break. It was two in the afternoon and they had been walking since nine. Privately, Lily suspected that Alex had plans to exhaust her each day that they were out here - she never slept well in the 'great outdoors' and had been known to take out her displeasure on her husband.

What had looked like a lake from above turned out to be merely a swell in a brook; the burbling water was audible even before they could see it for themselves. Tucked into their packs was a fishing net and Alex was able to nab a decent-sized trout without too much effort. Lily didn't like store-bought trout, but fresh wasn't nearly as overwhelmingly fishy-tasting and it went well with the most salty of their dried rations.

Leaning back on his pack and sucking thoughtfully on the straw of his water bottle Alex looked relaxed, far more so than he had in the last week, Lily realized. The forced smile of appreciation for the attention he had been receiving was gone, replaced by one of genuine enjoyment. Gone also was the furrow between his brows. Leaving her own pack where it was, Lily grunted as she got up and dropped down next Alex, elbowing him gently in the ribs to make room on his pack for her. He did so obligingly and held out his arm so that she could rest her head in the crook of his shoulder.

"I like it here," Alex said well after Lily had gotten settled.

"Here as in the Ninth Biosphere or here as in the New Lands?"

"Both," Alex replied. "I'd like the latter a bit more if it wasn't so...small-townish. I don't like everyone knowing who I am. There's so much interesting stuff here - the geomorphology studies alone would keep me occupied for years. But the constant attention makes me feel uncomfortable, like I'm being watched all the time."

"I think you might be," Lily said with a chuckle as Alex made a rueful face. "There are a lot of former residents of Genosha here. Havok is very much a hero to them."

"That's all well and good and I'm glad I was able to help them," Alex allowed with a sigh, using his free hand to rub at his nose. "But Havok's not the one on vacation here."

"It's going to take time for everyone not previously involved with the X-Men and their network to understand that you're a superhero some of the time and a person all of the time instead of the other way around," Lily pointed out dryly. "It certainly took me a while to get that clear and I married you."

"For which I am very grateful," he said, leaning over and kissing her. "It's just... 'Be careful of what you wish for because you just might get it', you know? From the start, all of us wanted a chance to lead a normal life - even people like Scott and Rogue, who were sure that they'd never be able to have a normal life. And that idea was such a fantasy that none of us ever really thought about the steps that went along with it. Like we all thought that one day we'd be internationally wanted terrorists and the next day we'd be going to PTA meetings."

Lily snorted. "Well, you're only still wanted in about eight countries, so things are improving." Magnus and Charles had been working on getting pardons for the X-Men ever since Akkaba, hoping to have everything in place before the SHIELD press conference in February. While many countries were agreeing (with various degrees of reluctance), many were not and the newly public status of the superheroes had added a new complication to the old game of hide-and-seek.

"Mmm," Alex murmured and Lily wondered whether he was lost in thought. And then she realized that his right hand had found the bottom zipper of her sweatshirt and knew exactly where his mind had wandered off to. There was a joke in here somewhere about Alex's amorous pursuits and the proximity to nature, but Lily was less than inclined to consider it just now.




on to the next chapter
back to the index