White Rabbit

by Domenika Marzione

19/September 2009- March 2010

"Dominguez! What is this?" Lily called out without looking up from the report on her desk. "And why is it on my desk?"

Six weeks into her new job and Lily felt like she had been there for years. In a good way.

"Yesterday's logs after they've been run though the news feeder," Amy Dominguez replied as she wheeled herself over to Lily's desk. A statistician by training, she was also a sniper-qualified marksman and had been a division commander at Akkaba, where she had been nearly sliced in half by a plasma ray. The wheelchair executed a nifty parallel park and Amy leaned forward to get a better look. "There was a higher-than-usual hit rate, so it got flagged. As for why it's on your desk, I figured that the possible importance outweighed the risk that it would get lost in this morass."

Lily made a face, but didn't comment. "This was checked for false positives?"

The Chronography group was unequally split into three subgroups. The first, the data sorters, was the smallest. They were the ones who filtered the reports coming in from the hundreds of field operatives and, by virtue of the fact that most of them had been performing this task for Cable since well before Akkaba, they were brutally efficient. Lily was happy that she had the least direct dealings with them - she had known some of them in the set-up to Akkaba and her antipathy hadn't abated with time. More than four years after the fighting and they were still largely suspicious of the applicability of pure science to what they considered an art.

Amy rolled her eyes. "No, we figured we'd just drop unverified raw data in your lap in case you got bored or something," she replied. "Double checked. Sagerstein flagged this puppy himself."

After the data was collected, it was run against the results of the computer models. There were one hundred models being run at any given moment, a number that still staggered Lily every time she saw the bank of monitors or flipped through the generated Master Results. Every aspect of this operation was well-funded in terms of technology and both human and material resources, although the true extent of the support was kept quiet outside of the lab.

"Not that I doubt your reading comprehension skills," Amy went on, "But I'll cut to the chase and tell you that forty-eight of the models were within a standard deviation of actuality. Thirty-seven when we amped up the requirements."

Lily's own research had pinpointed four key areas where current fluid dynamics theory could not explain what was happening to the time flow. Fifteen models were dedicated to each of the four areas and that meant sixty different possibilities (the other forty were tracking more established patterns) and a daily report that was bigger than a Manhattan phone book before it was boiled down to its relevant parts.

"That's still pretty high," Lily observed with a smile, allowing herself a moment of self-satisfaction. "Five days in a row. I'm willing to call the latest refinement an early success."

"I'll bow to your genius later," Amy said dryly.

Even before Lily had started work here, she and Nathan had put the bulk of the research in motion despite Lily being unhappy with the sample of data with which they had to work. The only real material available was from May 2005 on, although Lily didn't like to use anything from before July 2005, right before Akkaba. May had been when the initial time flow models had been set up and July was the earliest version of the mapping that Lily was comfortable considering as more fact than fantasy. It was still only four years' worth of data points from which to extrapolate the entire course of time itself.

The work itself was not unusual apart from the scale - Lily had been involved in the project long enough that the idea that she was studying time instead of some more 'normal' fluid had stopped being so remarkable. Hypotheses were posited, tested by increasingly more rigorous and precise standards, and either discarded or advanced. Tests could be run against both real-time and historical data and functions were introduced and mapped up to five years in the future all within the normal course of business.

"Hey, what's that on your computer screen?" Amy asked, gesturing with her pencil. The lab was set up like a newspaper bullpen with desks separated by low cubicle walls (low enough that Amy could see clearly over them seated in her chair) and the group leaders had no separate offices. Each cubicle was set up with desk space, state of the art computers, and a file cabinet. As lab head, Lily's perk was a double-sized work area with a small table for small conferences.

Lily looked up. "Baby," she replied, mystified. Why was there a picture of a newborn on her screen? Her nephews had been born almost a month ago... Dana. "Junior Guthrie, I bet."

Lily pulled her chair over to computer, where an instant message was on the screen. She recognized the screen name as Jean's. "'On behalf of Mom Dana, Dad Sam, and Big Brother Nate'," Lily read. "'I proudly introduce Alison Guthrie, born at four-fifteen this morning and weighing in at a robust eight pounds, five ounces. Mom and baby are doing well and Nate seems to have gotten over the fact that he got a sister instead of a puppy.'"

"That's disgustingly cute," Amy commented cheerfully. She was one of the three people at the lab who knew the full scope of Lily's relations. "Why do you look so contemplative?"

"Jean didn't say anything about a mutation," Lily answered, still thinking to herself. It couldn't be...

"Maybe the baby didn't manifest," Amy suggested. "Not everything shows up at birth."

"Oh, I know that," Lily replied, shaking her head to clear her thoughts. "But even last month, when Colin and Ray were born, Colin manifested right away but Ray only tested x-positive and that's what they said."

"Contrary to your own little world, not every baby born post-Merge is a mutant," Amy snorted, reaching for the fat binder that had the current week's results in it.

"What are the odds of two alpha-mutants producing a baseline-human baby?" Lily asked rhetorically. Privately, she wondered, if it was true, whether it would be blessing or curse. If being born without psionic skills was enough of a difference among the X-children, what about someone entirely without any sort of powers... Her eyes fell on the clipboard she had propped up on the other end of her desk. It was where she kept Dane's latest artistic masterpieces. Dane had taken to daycare well - exceedingly well once he realized that everything and everyone was 'safe' to touch.

"Like I said, Summers," Amy repeated, not looking up from where she was flipping through the binder, "Your little microcosm doesn't exactly match the macrocosm anymore."

"Occasionally, I'm reminded of that," Lily replied ironically, pushing her chair back to where Amy was. "And every time, I ask why I don't notice it more. When did all of this stop being wondrous and frightening?"

"It was either when you married the superhero, correctly posited the foundations of chronography, or gave birth to the electrokinetic kid," Amy said, finally looking up. Lily frowned - Amy was making a subtle, humorous dig at the biography of that had circulated around Midnight Sun right after she was hired and before she joined. "Don't look at it as a loss of innocence. At each and every one of those points, you made a conscious choice to accept the fact that things weren't as you had always thought they were. It's a natural process. Like evolution."

"I suppose," Lily agreed reluctantly, then slapped the desk determinedly. "But this isn't the time or the place to get philosophical. Let's get back to reveling in our brilliance. You said thirty-seven of the models worked out at the narrower restrictions?"


"You're nervous?"

Lily looked at Nathan and frowned. "Yes."

They were sitting in the first row of the auditorium dedicated to the afternoon section of the Seventh Annual AIAA Conference on Flow Control, making pretend that they were listening to the end of the question-and-answer session that had followed Robert Liu's presentation. Lily was the next speaker, the topic of her talk a mystery to all but the conference organizers.

"Why?"

A year of careful research, six months of intensive effort at the lab, and Nathan was ready to go public. Lily wasn't. It had nothing to do with keeping all of this magic and mystery to herself - she wasn't arrogant enough to think that she would come up with everything on her own. But... chronography. Real life, actual study of time itself. This was, as Ray Dagley, her doctoral advisor and current denizen of the fifth row of the auditorium's left side, would be sure to tell her later, 'crazy talk.' And Lily was terrified. But Nathan was the boss and Lily was the mouthpiece.

She exhaled loudly. "Do you know where I was ten years ago? Taking midterms. Do you know where everyone on that dais was ten years ago? In tenured chairs at major research universities." Nathan was giving her his 'what does this have to do with anything' look and she frowned again. "I'm about to get up and announce the creation of a new branch of study. I'm about to tell a room full of people who were bucking up against the rules of fluid dynamics before I was a glimmer in my parents' eyes that they've been put behind the curve and that they are officially not at the forefront of the field. If this doesn't go perfectly, I'm finished. I won't even be able to get a job loading up specs into someone else's Cray. I'll be working at Radio Shack and you'll be fighting an uphill battle that will make a nest of Prime Sentinels look like Clare's toybox."

"But you're right."

"And you know that has nothing to do with it," Lily whispered back. "I'm about to go up to that podium and make like I am not reading from a science fiction novel. Half of the people here have never knowingly had dealings with a mutant and I'm going to tell them that there is a segment of the mutant population that can exist outside of time. You can stand up and tell them that you're a chrono-variant mutant, I can show them the pretty graphs that show a direct correspondence between natural disasters and the timeline on one side and transient multidimensional fluid flow on the other and there's still a halfway decent chance that I'll get shouted off the podium before I can finish talking."

Lily smiled apologetically at Bob Liu, who had turned towards them as he stood at the podium.

Lily understood why Nathan wanted to go public now. This wasn't garden variety R&D for a product - there was no advantage to secrecy. A disadvantage, perhaps. The sooner chronography became an 'open source' field, the sooner it could be improved upon and the sooner time itself could be harnessed. Or at least understood. And Nathan and the precogs had been almost vibrating with the increased stress of whatever was coming down the pike. The ripples were no longer isolated incidents; they were coming harder and faster and you didn't need to have been studying these things for years to know that something bad was going to happen.

In a box at Nathan's feet were enough copies of a brief introduction to the chronography studies the lab had been working for the past year. Lily had stayed up all night for a week writing the damned thing. Everyone at the lab had been asked to read and comment on it. She had driven both Amy Dominguez and Roger Marlowe crazy by sending them countless revisions, not to mention asking Xiao, her lab partner and one-time roommate at Princeton, to read it as well as asking Orly, who had no experience in advanced fluid mechanics. Within the X-Men, Hank and Kate had given it a semi-amateur's once-over and Betsy had sent it to her brother, Lord Braddock. And, of course, Nathan had gone over it closely. Hell, she had even read it to Dane. And none of that made her feel any less like she was tap-dancing on the precipice of a very high cliff.

She had been presenting papers at conferences for a decade now, ever since Dagley had thrown her in front of two hundred gruff-looking fluid dynamicists and applied mathematicians at a hotel in Hong Kong and told her to talk. She wasn't worried about losing her train of thought or burping into the microphone. She was worried about her future; she had been a good junior academic and had proven it by grinding out papers at an impressive rate and indulging in two different public debates and that only added to the reputation that had been granted to her simply by being Ray Dagley's protégée. But if this didn't go well, it was more than her name that got dragged through the mud. It was Dagley's, too, and Joe Perotelli's, and everyone else who had helped her to get to where she was.

When the applause petered out for Bob Liu, Lily's stomach flipped over like it hadn't since she had been pregnant and she was glad that she hadn't eaten lunch yet. Josephine Rapanato got up to introduce her and Lily closed her eyes before standing up. She felt a wave of... comfort? Confidence? From Nathan and grimaced tightly in gratitude.

"You were making me nauseous," he told her.

If anyone in the room had recognized Nathan as the head of the XSE, nobody had said anything during the pre-conference coffee buffet. The XSE was still a largely nebulous organization outside the mutant community - it was mostly considered the X-Men with less revealing uniforms - and very few people were that interested in the specifics to wonder why they'd be present at a conference on fluid dynamics. Even fewer would have a curiosity that was more than idle. Besides, Lily and her lab were based in the New Lands and the only surprise would have been if there hadn't been mutant involvement. But at the same time, she more than half expected that Nathan was pulling a collective Jedi mind trick on the room to keep attention away from him. He did that in public sometimes, Scott said.

It was fifteen minutes into her presentation before Lily dared to look at Joe Perotelli, sitting in the back with Arnaud Maldouf. She didn't want to see any sort of disappointment in her onetime mentor's eyes. She had been speaking without seeing, appearing to make eye contact like all good speakers are supposed to, but in fact not looking at anyone. Finally, she focused on where he was sitting and was surprised to see him hunched over, taking copious notes. Somewhat encouraged, she turned her head casually to find Dagley. Ray Dagley was a man not prone to demonstrating emotion. When Lily had been a grad student, it had driven her crazy - she was never sure whether or not he was disappointed with her or not. So it was here as he sat with the pencil in his hand, poised to write - Lily had never seen the man without pencil and paper and she had never seen him actually use either.

When she had been practicing, Lily had timed her talk at thirty-four minutes. But she was nervous and had run through the highlighter-ed neon stop signs she had put in her notes and the clock showed twenty-nine minutes and forty-three seconds when she finally stopped. There was a pause that seemed to extend on forever, an interminable moment when Lily was sure her future and the future of chronography hung in the balance, until the applause. It was mostly polite applause and that was really all Lily had been hoping for.

Josephine Rapanato, a pleasantly efficient woman in her fifties, got up and went over to her podium, thanking Lily for the presentation. Josephine wasn't a scientist - she was the administrative assistant to the head of whatever part of the AIAA was in charge of fluid dynamics conferences. She had been doing her job for almost twenty years, however, so Lily expected that she was aware of the nature of the substance of her talk.

And now came the time for running the gauntlet. Josephine had opened the floor to questions. This was the make-or-break point. In the part of Lily's mind that hadn't been quaking with fear, she had known that the presentation in and of itself wasn't going to be the hard part. She had a pleasantly informal writing and speaking style for a scientist and it was because of that that Joe Perotelli had suggested years ago that she supplement her income writing technical manuals. But the questions... this was where everyone could strike back, pretty much without fear of reprisal.

The first person Josephine chose was an unfamiliar face to Lily. He was in his mid-thirties, Lily estimated, and didn't look quite as rumpled as most of the others in the room. He introduced himself as David Robitaille of some Institute that Lily had never heard of and asked a well-laid-out question that basically required Lily to verify that he had heard her correctly. It was a softball question, a fat hanging pitch down the center of the plate - a chance for Lily to reiterate her main points concerning the study of time with respect to the rest of fluid dynamics. Lily had played softball as a child and smacked this pitch over the center-field wall. After she finished answering the question, a good five minutes later, she noticed that quite a few of the hands that had been belligerently raised - anyone who had stood in front of a classroom for any length of time could tell what sort of question was going to be asked by how the hand went up - did not return to the air.

The next question came from a grad student who had not been able to follow one of the examples Lily had used. From her apparently satisfactory explanation came a follow-up question concerning the range of Reynolds numbers she had so far tested coupled with a request to elaborate on the methods used to derive one of the constants Lily had come up with. The answer to the former was harder than the latter - she was still fiddling with the parameters for how high a number she could use and still be happy with her margin of error. The room laughed in appreciation as Lily explained that the constant had been derived when, in utter frustration, she had followed a certain professor's advice and asked 'What would Fourier do?' and tried to bastardize the seemingly unrelated concepts behind heat flow through a rod. Arnaud Maldouf was beaming when Lily looked over to him.

There were three more questions, one technically related, one asking about the origins of her study (Lily and Nathan having had already manufactured a story, the answer wasn't so hard), and the last regarding what Lily thought the philosophy of technology might have to say about her new area.

Josephine announced that the next question would be the last and then chose Gita Purniman-Grantham, distinguished professor at the University of New Delhi. Lily knew her from a brilliant paper she had introduced at a conference back when Lily was just deciding to go into fluid dynamics. It had questioned the results of a then-recently-established theory concerning subsonic flow and had sparked a debate that had ended with a schism in the field that had not quite mended itself fifteen years later. Professor Purniman-Grantham had emerged from the debate with a reputation as fearless and skeptical and Lily, who had idolized her earlier on in her studies, was not sure that she wanted to run up against her right now.

"Doctor Summers," Professor Purniman-Grantham said in her Oxford Standard English as she stood up. She was a petite woman who dressed in traditional Indian costume, although the brighter colored saris of her youth had been exchanged for more muted and elegant patterns. "You have come to us bearing a most unusual gift. What you are presenting to us is, in the truest sense, fantastical. You have used not only new methods, but also new instruments. And yet it comes cloaked in the terms and ideals that we all take as our bedrock and our foundations. Your conclusions are unquestionable rather than unimpeachable because we are all so unfamiliar with your data. You are not asking us to verify, Doctor Summers. My question is what it is you are asking us to do?"

"The short answer, Professor, is that I am asking you all to have faith. Have faith that what I have shown you today is fantastic, but not fantasy. The long answer? Open your minds. This sounds crazy now, I know it does. But twenty years ago, so did a lot of what we teach our undergrads. The last five years have been nothing if not endless supplies of evidence that the world we grew up in doesn't exist anymore. We live in a world where people can fly. Things are different now and it only makes sense that our science is as well."

Lily hoped she looked more confident and less hopeful that people would buy her rhetoric. Professor Purniman-Grantham grimaced lightly, but sat down with a slight nod to Josephine, who began her closing comments and invited the audience to applaud. Lily was too relieved to notice whether it was enthusiastic or polite. She smiled tightly and made sure she didn't stumble as she returned to her seat. She was the only speaker who didn't have a place on the dais - it had been an intentional move, Lily suspected.

"Well?" She asked Nathan, sitting down carefully and putting her notes into the plastic folder she had brought.

"Within the range of acceptable results," he replied, not looking at her. The conference moderator was making his end-of-session remarks before the group broke for lunch.

"Don't drown me in any warm fuzzies," Lily retorted, a little put out that he was being so... Nathan-like. As soon as the session formally, ended, Lily got up, grabbed her things, and headed towards the door. Nathan would wait until the crush was past because of his physical infirmity and the difficulty of jostling crowds. Lily herself didn't mind getting caught up in the bottleneck by the door. It allowed her to get a good look at people's reaction to her - who murmured 'nice presentation' and who refused to make eye contact. To Lily's relief, it was more the former than the latter, although a few of the compliments were obviously empty in their sentiments.

This being a scientific conference, the queue for the ladies' room was minimal and Lily managed to keep her amusement to herself as she found herself washing her hands in the sink next to Professor Purniman-Grantham. They smiled politely at each other and reached for separate paper towel dispensers.

"That was a very interesting talk you gave," Professor Purniman-Grantham said as Lily held the door open for the both of them. "You are very brave for taking such new research public so early on."

"Were the decision solely up to me," Lily replied with a smile, relieved at the non-confrontational tone. "I'd have waited another year, or at least another six months. But I'm... I'd like to call it being cautious."

"This from a woman who chased Pete Yiannakis across the pages of the JFD for the better part of a year," Professor Purniman-Grantham snorted delicately as they made their way down the hall to the foyer where people were congregating. "If this is what you consider cautious, then I would love to see what you would call reckless."

Lily smiled and tucked a loose lock of hair behind her ear.

"If it is possible, I would like to see a fuller treatment of your Poisson-Stokes derivations," the elder woman went on, smiling and waving at someone Lily didn't dare look up to see. "Amusing as the anecdote was, I suspect there was more than pure frustration that led you to co-opt ideas from Fourier's equations."

"I'll try to put something together as soon as I get back to the New Lands," Lily promised, her smile broadening from shy to exultant. To have Purniman-Grantham on her side...

"I look forward to it," the professor replied, nodding farewell as they parted at the entrance to the reception room. A buffet lunch was spread out and Lily could see Nathan standing by the table with the chafing dishes. She didn't head over there right away - it wasn't like she didn't know where he was going to be later on - and instead went to go look for Dagley.

"And here's my little heretic," Ray Dagley said with a beaming smile as Lily approached. He had been talking to a small group of people, but he held out an arm in greeting and gave Lily a warm embrace. Dagley wasn't a man for showing his cards, but Lily hadn't spent all that time at his beck and call during her apprenticeship to not be able to pick up on the cues. Unless she had completely horrified him, Dagley would have greeted her cheerfully. But the warmth of his smile and the quick hug were unspoken proofs of his approval and they heartened Lily greatly, even more so than the interest of Gita Purniman-Grantham. Dagley was perhaps less of a mentor to her than Joe Perotelli, whom she still had to find before the next session began, but that was as much her fault as anything else. Dagley wasn't unfriendly, far from it, but he could be intimidating. Just looking at the crowd surrounding him was evidence why: there wasn't a single person anyone in the room couldn't identify by sight. It had been a mighty shadow to poke out from behind back when Lily had been a graduate student and it would be years before Lily even considered herself worthy to make a comparison.

At Dagley's encouragement, Lily stayed and chatted with the quintet. They were as curious about her work as they were about the New Lands in general and the lab group she headed up in particular. None of the five had been candidates for the position ("A young person's job," Roy Eberstein had commented wryly, "Innovation is for the under-forty. Verification and amelioration is never out of fashion. You dig it up, we polish it off.") But that didn't stop their interest. Lily got a big laugh from the group by explaining the latest Climate Referendum - Biosphere Five wanted to adopt a more Mediterranean climate.

Checking her watch and seeing that there were fifteen minutes until the next session began, Lily made her apologies to Dagley and the group, promised to see her former advisor before the end of the conference, and went off to the sandwich table. With the aplomb of a graduate student, she loaded down her plate with food and was prepared to retire to a corner where she could scarf the messiest of the salads before she had to carry her plate into the auditorium to sit in the back and eat quietly.

"Doctor Summers?"

Lily swallowed the macaroni salad she had shoveled into her mouth and dabbed at her lips, hoping she didn't look too graceless. While it had once been a mildly irrational pet peeve that Alex would tease her mercilessly about, she had gotten remarkably unembarrassed at being caught eating ever since Dane. She had gotten a lot less embarrassed about a lot of things done in public once she had become the proud owner of a two-year-old.  "Yes?"

"Hi, I'm David Robitaille," the man introduced himself, holding his hand out and then pulling it back and waving instead after realizing that Lily had no free hands. She recognized him as the man who had asked the first question after her presentation. "A fascinating talk back there. Nathan said you'd be good, but I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised at how good."

Lily put her fork on her plate and frowned. "Nathan said?" She asked, looking around for the nephew in question. Perhaps there was more set-up to her success at this conference than a couple of Jedi mind tricks and a well-timed lunch break. She really didn't want to think about that just yet. At least not without Nathan in range to be throttled.

"I think he's gone to the Little Askani'Son's room," David said, smiling as she looked at him sharply. "I should tell you before he gets back, by the way, that I've been a fan of your work since Akkaba."

Lily wondered whether she could attribute her hesitance to reply to the paranoia she must have surely picked up by becoming part of the Summers family. Either way, she smiled politely and put out a mental call for Nathan and picked up her fork.

"Ah, I see you two have met," Nathan rumbled as he appeared a moment later. Lily managed not to tip over her plate in surprise; if he had been in the bathroom, he must have teleported back. "Lily, this is David Robitaille. He was my section chief for Australia until a few years ago."

"How do you do," Lily said to him and smiled unapologetically, nodding a greeting. "And thank you. You're not XSE, then, I take it?"

"Oh, no," David replied, holding up his hands in a gesture of warding off danger, "I've put in my time with the army and now I'm out. I've got a civil engineering firm in Sydney now."

Lily, mouth full, nodded. There hadn't been any reason for her to know the details of the merging of Nathan's former network and the X-Men into what had become the XSE, but considering the size of the new organization and the number of personnel that had been around even after Akkaba and it stood to reason that there had been just as much attrition on the network side as there had been among the X-types.

"I've gotten a bit interested in... I guess you'd say chronography in general... since Akkaba," David went on. "I saw some of your reports in the matter of course for the post-battle cleanup and got intrigued."

"It wasn't all me," Lily demurred, eyeing the clock and realizing that she'd have to wrap up her sandwich and sneak it into the auditorium.

"No, " David agreed. "But you were the one who kept stepping on the toes of that witch Fakliatore."

He wasn't Australian, Lily could tell. Probably Canadian with that name and the slight accent. But he had obviously picked up some of the openness of Australians in his time there. He gestured grandly with his hands and did not school his features to stillness. It was all very charming.

Josephine Rapanato clapped her hands loudly by the auditorium door and announced that there were five minutes left. Lily headed back toward the buffet table, took one last bite of potato salad, and put her sandwich section into a napkin before dumping the plate in the trash. She picked up a can of Diet Pepsi, put it in her bag, and headed back to David and Nathan and the three of them entered the auditorium. With a telekinetically-aided lightness of step, Nathan followed her and David up to the rear of the seating section. Lily fully expected Nathan to meditate for the balance of the session, or accomplish some telepathic paperwork or something or other that didn't involve paying attention to Gong Xiu Li attempt to explain something about Prandtl numbers in his extremely fractured English.

Settled between David and Nathan, Lily at her sandwich discreetly. She was rewarded with a put-upon glare when she held out the soda can to Nathan, who nonetheless opened it up silently. She pulled a blue plastic crazy-straw out of her bag (Dane wouldn't mind her borrowing it) and sat back, finally opening up her notebook. Looking up, she noticed David watching her with bemusement. He gestured at the straw, made an approving face and gave her a thumbs-up.

"I have a toddler," she whispered, leaning back to get closer. "I'm just happy I remembered to take out the stuff that makes noise."

The second session ended at four-thirty and Lily was aching to get up and stretch her legs when it was over. She had gotten a couple of new ideas for work, but mostly it had been a weird sort of confirmation that she wasn't running in the same circles as most of her Mechanical Engineering brethren anymore. Lily was surprised at the utter lack of... regret. She honestly didn't mind striking out on her own in this regard. There was something remarkably peaceful about not having to look over her shoulder every moment to see who could be co-opting her research.

Nathan was planning on teleporting home - he'd be back to collect Lily tomorrow and bring her to Westchester for a visit with family - and she said goodbye to him after the session, all with the understanding that they'd discuss the events of today in detail then. She strongly suspected David wanted to continue their conversation, but Lily allowed herself to get dragged off to drinks with Joe Perotelli and Arnaud Maldouf and bid him a hasty farewell also.

Before heading off, however, she ducked into a quiet hallway and called home. Dane was staying with Kyung and Ji-Won (neither of them wanted to say it aloud, but they had been married for almost a year and Lily suspected that they were 'test driving' a baby) and was happy to announce that he hadn't blown anything up. Lily had initially been concerned about leaving Dane behind for three days, but so far it was going well. He had gotten over the worst of his separation anxiety after the first few weeks of daycare and, besides, Kyung and Ji-Won were going to treat him like a visiting dignitary and he knew it.

At the bar, Lily ran into Pete Acolacio, who had been in the ME department with her at Princeton (he did high energy studies) and invited her to dinner with his cohort. The octet who sat down to dinner at the Italian restaurant around the corner from the hotel that evening wasn't as prestigious as the group surrounding Ray Dagley earlier that afternoon. But, as it had gone during lunch, Lily did much of the talking, explaining her work, explaining the New Lands and her lab, and dancing lightly over the rumors that her employers were a holding company for the XSE. This group was younger and had a greater appreciation, Lily thought, for what was possible and she wanted to encourage them without allowing any space for irrational fears.

She finally retired to her hotel room around midnight, having spent way too much time with Pete and Avi Strauss, another Princeton acquaintance, reminiscing about the old days and gossiping. She hadn't known either of the two of them very well when they had been graduate students - well enough to sit down next to them at the coffee bar, and to have had crazy conversations at the same parties they were all invited to through school, but not well enough that she had kept track of them since. Even back in school, her social circle had started to tilt towards Alex's, mostly because he seemed to have more friends at Princeton than she did. But the conversation - and the bourbon - had flowed easily tonight.

Lily only had planned to attend the morning session of the conference the next day and took the time during the luncheon to say her goodbyes. Dagley made her promise to make a better effort to keep up correspondence with him and Perotelli waggled his finger at her and swore that he would be bombarding her with questions shortly. David was nowhere to be found and Lily was a little surprised to realize that she was disappointed.

"So," Lily began conversationally as she finished packing her things into her duffel bag. Nathan was sitting in the chair by the window, watching traffic. "How much of the warm reception from the paper was due to you monkeying around with people's heads?"

"I didn't 'monkey'," Nathan denied calmly, not looking up at her.

"Well, you didn't not do anything at all," Lily replied, folding up the dress she had been wearing yesterday. Wash-and-wear. Another concession to motherhood. "So what did you do to whom? I mean, David Robitaille being here wasn't just a happy coincidence. And Josephine Rapanato calling on him first wasn't a coincidence. And the fact that nobody got up to tell me that I might as well have been reading from a Star Trek novel wasn't a coincidence, either."

Nathan finally turned and Lily paused. His back was straight even as he was leaning on his cane, an elegant bleached wood model, and the afternoon sunlight was streaming in over his shoulder and his eye was gleaming and right then Lily understood why generations of soldiers had followed this man into battle. And then he sneezed.

"The first two were not coincidence," Nathan admitted as he wiped his nose with a handkerchief. "Although David was fairly jumping at the chance. The last... You did a good job, Lily. You did what you set out to do. What we set out to do. And a little dulling of the impulses of your most virulent opponents isn't going to change that."

Lily laughed in defeat as she zipped up her bag. "You give with one hand and take with the other. Do you know that?"

"I've been told," Nathan replied, standing up a little heavily. "Do you have to go downstairs to check out?"

"Yeah. I'll meet you back up here in five minutes."





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