Thursday, May 27, 1999
Carrie Phillips groped for the ringing phone, blinking in the dark to
coax some moisture into her eyes. The glowing numbers on the clock read
"Carrie Phillips." She sounded every bit as groggy as she felt.
"This is Alex. Just wanted you to know that we're leaving here now. Everything looks like a go. Woman I'm riding with says she's got a couple of nephews in North Platte, so at least one of them should be able to take me to Sterling. But I'll call you if things change or fall through."
"How are you doing compared to last night, Alex?"
"About the same. As far as I can tell."
"No worse? Tell me the truth. I know guys like to downplay the bad stuff."
"No. No worse."
"Okay, good. You just get yourself here and I'll take over from there."
"Where should we meet you?"
"There's a place called Overland Trail Park. It's right off the interstate. Exit 125."
"Overland Trail. Got it."
"Call me from North Platte when you're ready to leave."
"Okay, I"ll wait to hear from you. Have a safe trip."
A click came from the other end of the line. Carrie set the phone back on the receiver and sank back against the pillow. She'd managed to resist the urge to say Thank God you're not worse. Or Don't you dare go septic on me.
Because she was afraid of losing someone again, her therapist would point out. Even though in this case it wasn't family, but simply a patient she'd worked with for a period of weeks three years earlier.
Though it had hardly been an ordinary case. She'd been approached by the British and very gentlemanly Mr. Davies, wondering if she "might be willing to take on a rather unique and urgent case".
"You've come very highly recommended," he'd added, as if to enhance the allure of his offer. She wondered now just who had recommended her, or whether he'd profiled her somehow and seen someone looking for an opportunity, a change. Maybe a lone wolf.
Or a lost wolf.
She well remembered Alex's warning when he'd contacted her after he left her care: that she should cut ties with Davies and have no more contact with him for her own safety. And the case itself: In spite of her frantic work to find a cause for the chemical burns her patient had sustained, the internal effects had eventually vanished almost on their own, as if the substance that had caused them wanted to leave no trace of itself to be examined.
Carrie rolled to the edge of the bed and got up. From the west window she could see the full moon slipping behind the mountain peaks in the distance, a glowing white disk against the deep blue of waning night.
What would have brought her former patient back to see her now? And would his story this time be less strange than the one he'd told her three years earlier as she tried to ease him through the flashbacks his experience had induced?
Mulder's rented room
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
Mulder eased the packing tape and scissors from the desk drawer and took them into the bathroom, padding quietly around the bed so as not to wake Scully. There was a freestanding cabinet just big enough to use as a workspace, and he stood in front of it adding layers of old newspaper to the shipping box to cushion its bubble-wrapped contents.
He paused momentarily and glared at his bandaged right hand. At the time, grabbing the broken glass had seemed the only way to gain plausible access to Dr. Vanek's office. Or maybe he'd just been too eager. It was Scully, in the end, who'd ended up with the evidence of Vanek's experiments on the Connors kids. And having to live with the aftermath of his decision while his hand healed was getting old.
Mulder turned and glanced through the doorway at Scully asleep in his bed. She was scheduled to fly to Owensburg with Will's partner, Manny Acosta, later in the morning. He'd be going, too, but he'd had to arrange for his own flight, which would arrive two hours later. Luckily frequent flyer miles would pay for the ticket, but his backlog of them wouldn't last forever.
It made perfect sense, Scully filling in for Wilkins until he was on his feet again. She'd been involved in the case for weeks, so her name on the reports wasn't likely to raise a red flag for anyone from Smoky's group. And as Will had pointed out, the fact that their official task would be to find Dr. Vanek would only be to the group's advantage. No risk to Scully there.
Potentially not the same for Angie Connors' three kids, though. Hopefully Scully and Acosta could bury any references to Angie's kids that Vanek might have left behind; otherwise Smoky's consortium pals might easily decide that child abduction was their next order of business. Meeting with Angie was at the top of his list. After that, he'd check in with Sandy Miller and Rita Johnston and try to explain why the investigation they were so personally invested in was being shelved yet again.
"Mulder?" Scully stood in the doorway, hair mussed. "What are you doing? And at this hour?"
He shrugged. "Couldn't sleep. I figured I'd get Mom's laptop packed up and back to her ASAP so we can keep in touch."
"I hope she doesn't get any more visits--or threats--from those men from Spender's group."
"If she does, at least she can let us know right away."
"Oh, you got an e-mail from Krycek's friend."
One of her eyebrows rose.
"He said Krycek is on his way to meet up with some doctor he knows who'll be treating the wound he got in Reston."
"Good. At least we won't lose our source of information then." She paused. "Or yours, if he follows through on his promise to help you find out about your sister."
He bit his lip and nodded. "Krycek said the same thing Wilkins said--that I should fade into the background and not make myself a target for Smoky's group, put out that I've gone in some other direction so they'll leave me alone."
"The relentless Spooky Mulder." Her eyebrows rose. "That could be a tough impression to turn around. Have you come up with a plausible cover story yet?"
He shook his head. "But I'm thinking about it."
The brown-haired woman paused in the doorway to the little room. D-Four sat in a chair beside the bed. He smoothed a hand slowly over the shaved head on the pillow, then held it slightly away and repeated the motion in reverse. The eyes in the pale face opened, glassy and uncomprehending, and struggled to focus. Four took hold of one limp wrist and held up a photograph with the other.
Their patient stared awkwardly at the print, as if trying to swim forward into it and gain some measure of comprehension. After a moment there was a grunt, followed by a moan. Immediately the photograph was withdrawn. Four's hand returned to its position above the smooth head and traced an arc slowly across the top, from ear to ear.
He turned to look at his companion in the doorway. "Obviously it's not enough yet, Eighteen," he said.
Grand Island, Nebraska
Krycek eased himself into the back seat, pushed aside a sweatshirt and lay down. In the front passenger seat, Bobby was bouncy.
"We're along the river now. Look, Jeff!"
Krycek pulled up and glanced out the window. A broad, shallow body of water had appeared just beyond the edge of the road.
"You know what it means, right?" Mona said.
"It means only two hours to go!" Bobby said enthusiastically.
Krycek managed a smile.
Bobby turned around to face him. "And Nana's going to take me to Bailey Yard."
Krycek frowned."What's that?"
"Biggest rail yard in the world," came Mona's answer from the front.
"So you like trains?" he said.
The boy nodded eagerly.
"Hey, Bobby," Mona said, tugging on the side of his shirt. "Time to let Jeff have a rest back there. We'll be coming up on the sandhill cranes anytime now. It's not really their season, but there's always a few strays around. You want to count 'em?"
"Yeah," he said. "I bet I can find more than you, Nana."
"Maybe that's because I'd best be keeping my eyes on the road," Mona said, a smile in her voice.
Krycek lay down again and shifted, searching for a comfortable position. He'd managed to sit up in front for the first couple of hours, but now he was more than ready for a rest. He'd taken one of the pain pills when they made a pit stop a few miles back. A little over two more hours with Mona and the kid, then a couple more with whichever nephew would end up taking him to Sterling. And a final two to Longmont with Carrie. Which was just about six hours too many, but he'd just have to tough it out.
He glanced out the window above his head. Somehow the sky felt huge here, the vastness of it spread with a thick layer of jostling clouds, lighter on top, gray-tinged underneath, with pale blue sky peeking through between them.
It was Thursday. It had been exactly a week since he and Tracy had taken their trip to Pennsylvania. A week and the world had turned itself inside out.
He closed his eyes, saw himself lying upstairs in her bed, bundled in blankets, rain pinging against the window. Tracy sat crosslegged beside him, singing softly, her face almost with a glow to it, fingers knit tightly between his.
He swallowed against the sudden ache, rode it as it gradually peaked and eventually began to subside. Curled his hand tight, even though there were no fingers to press back against his own.
Focused on his breathing.
Gradually the hum of the car's motor filled in around him.
"Three--" It was Bobby. "Four, five... seven of them, Nana!"
"I saw four," she said. "Keep it down, kiddo. Jeff's trying to rest."
Curtains. Twice last night he'd woken up with an image of Ché's living room curtains at the edge of his mind, which made no sense. Granted, he'd stayed with Ché for a few days when he'd first come from having the prosthesis made in Brussels, before he'd gone off in search of Mulder's source, who'd turned out to be Marita. He'd slept on a mattress behind Ché's couch. The lace curtains had been right in his line of sight, hanging in the window.
They were there when he got the place, Ché'd protested when he'd ribbed him about them. Whatever. But they reminded him of his mother's place, and the guy deserved a nice reminder of home.
The cell door clanked open.
"You're free to go," the deputy said. "Someone's waiting for you out in the lobby." He gestured with a thumb.
Diana worked to compose herself. Who had showed up to bail her out? She straightened her sweater and brushed her hands over the wrinkles in her pants.
Two figures in trench coats approached as she came to the end of the hallway, one broad and spreading, the other short and thin-faced with short silver hair.
"We heard you'd been apprehended," the larger man said. "We assumed that under the circumstances, you'd need assistance."
"Thank you," Diana said. "I did. I definitely appreciate this."
"We have information for you," the slim man said. "And questions."
"I have questions as well."
The large man led the way to the door. Outside, they stepped into a waiting limousine. Diana took the rear-facing seat opposite the other two.
"Go," the broad man called to the driver in his dry voice once all three were settled. He turned his focus to her. "We don't know whether you've heard the news about Spender."
"I was informed, yes. Very briefly." Her jaw set. "But what happened?"
"Apparently he was involved in a personal vendetta against Fox Mulder. Seems less than judicious; Mulder has been out of the game for a number of weeks now--"
"Fox Mulder was here. He's the one who told me."
The two men exchanged frowns. "What was he doing here?"
"I don't know. He mentioned the name of a female I was supposed to retrieve--"
"For your father?"
"Who was she? What did he want with her?"
"I have no idea. I only had a first name for her. She was young, about eighteen. I discovered she'd taken ill suddenly and was in the hospital, but when I went looking for her there, they stopped me. It appears that they knew I was coming."
"So Mulder knew about the girl. What else did he say?"
"Something about a doctor from the beryllium plant. That she'd been experimenting on three children. He was livid."
"Dr. Vanek? Dr. Maria Vanek."
"What kind of experiments?"
"He didn't say." There was no use laying out every last card she had at this point. Besides, she only had Fox's word for what the purpose of the experiments was, and he was known to jump to conclusions.
"I don't like this," the broad man said, frowning. "Evidently Mulder's spirit has not been crushed as Spender led us to believe."
"He was fond of overstatement," the thin man said.
Diana leaned forward. "What happened to my father?"
"He was found in a house he owns in Reston. Vacant house. Shot through the heart. Evidently Mulder was there, and his partner. His mother, as well." The broad man paused. "From what we hear, he was killed by Alex Krycek."
"Krycek?" She'd heard of him, had heard her father complain about him from time to time. Sometimes tactically useful, but untrustworthy, an opportunist. A man Fox hated; her father had gotten a gleam in his eye when he noted that, as if there were something triumphant in the fact.
"We don't know the circumstances beyond that."
The thin man cleared his throat. "Was that your only reason for being here? To retrieve the girl?"
"I came to talk to Mr. Beeson. Someone sent him a threatening letter last week about the beryllium deaths. I assured him we'd take care of it. We didn't want Beeson to have any reason to halt our shipments."
"Well, Beeson is out of the picture now," the thin man said. "He took an overdose of pills the other day. He's in a coma."
They had reached the edge of the town. The car turned onto a country road, heading east. Overgrown fields of grasses, lush and swollen from rain and spring warmth, spread out on both sides, bordered by rusty wire fences. Instinctively, Diana reached for the armrest.
"You know my record," she said, tension beginning to stir in her stomach. "The extent of the information I kept on the abductees, the years I've dedicated--"
"You know nothing more about Dr. Vanek or her work?" the broad man said.
"I'd never heard of her until I came here."
"Are you sure?" the thin man asked. "If you have any information of value--"
Diana shook her head. "Truly. I'd never heard of her until Fox Mulder--"
The thin man leaned toward his companion. "She's of no use to us."
Time thickened. Diana watched the larger man's index finger press a button on the armrest as if in slow motion. Abruptly, the car stopped.
"Step out, please."
She saw the big man shift, felt herself sliding toward the door. She squinted against sudden brightness as the door was pushed open. Her feet touched the ground, but two steps later she stumbled into a low spot camouflaged by grasses at the edge of the road and fell to her knees. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the fat man's hand, the length of the gun barrel elongated by the silencer. A brief sound, like air being sucked quickly out of a vial, and she was on her back, wide-eyed, staring blankly at the clouds passing in the intense blue overhead.
"There." Krycek nodded toward the sign for Exit 125. He didn't dare point; there was no way to disguise the smear of blood on his hand.
The driver glanced in the rear view mirror and changed lanes without signaling.
Krycek closed his eyes momentarily. He was ready to be out of this truck. He was tired of traveling. He felt like shit, the new wound was doing a steady smolder in his side, rubbing against the waistband of his pants, and to top it off, the damn thing had started to bleed at some point before they hit North Platte. Mona had noticed it when they got out of the car and went to say their goodbyes. She hadn't made a big deal of out of it; he was glad of that. She'd just said, "I think you've got a problem there" and then smoothly switched topics.
There was a red stain on the right side of his shirt now, which he'd been careful to hide with his arm, but the smear on his hand, where he'd touched it without thinking, was another story. Hopefully Travis wouldn't be the type who wanted to shake hands at the end. Probably not; the kid was a talker and he deliberately hadn't played along. He wasn't going to miss the kid's choice of radio stations, either.
The exit appeared and Travis took it. At the stop light they turned left into the entrance to the park and museum. Krycek scanned the parking area, looking for Carrie's white Volvo, wondering suddenly whether she'd still be driving the same car.
There. She was standing between two cars. She waved when she saw him.
"Pull in here," he said.
He remembered her short hair, blonde mixed with gray, but it was salt-and-pepper now; she definitely looked older. Her smile when she saw him, though, was as welcoming ever.
"Hey, stranger," she said when he'd rolled down the window.
"Hi." He turned to Travis. "Thanks for the ride. I appreciate it." He turned back to Carrie. "I've got a bag in the back there," he said, nodding toward the truck's bed.
Now for the inevitable.
He reached across and managed to undo the seatbelt without too much fumbling around. Luckily, Travis's focus was on a girl in short shorts walking across the grass. He opened the door, eased himself out and waited for Carrie to turn around. He wasn't shaking visibly and he had--hopefully--about enough energy left to get himself from where he was to the passenger side of her car. He'd had to sit up straight for the last two hours--not his choice, but the truck's seats had allowed no comfortable position. He set his jaw.
Carrie was putting his bag in the trunk. She closed it now and looked up. Predictable surprise--the open mouth and the hesitation before an attempt to smooth it over. It was bad enough having lost the arm, but having to put up with the predictable reactions was its own special kind of hell.
"Probably should have warned you," he said. "No way it doesn't come as a shock."
"Wow, you're right. 'Surprise' doesn't exactly cover it." A momentary shift of her gaze and she frowned. "You've got blood on your shirt, you know," she said quietly, coming closer.
"Yeah, I... Happened a while before we got to North Platte. Nothing I could do about it."
"Look, Alex, you may want to walk around for a few minutes or get something to eat, but get in the car first. Let me take a look at this."
He had no desire to argue. He made his way to the passenger door, opened it and got in. On the left, he could see Travis's brown truck pulling away. Almost immediately Carrie was there, reclining the seat, fingering the hem of his shirt.
"It's stuck to the wound," she said. "Can you hand me that water bottle on the console?"
He rolled to reach it.
"Oh, gosh. Sorry. I'll learn, just give me a little time."
He handed her the bottle. "No problem."
She dribbled water on the T-shirt until it finally came away from the wound, then inspected the scene underneath. "Wow, this is messy. And yes, it's infected. How badly is the question." A hand smoothed across his forehead and paused there. "You're running a fever."
Another hand took his wrist. Krycek let his eyes close and waited while she took his pulse. Whatever strength he'd used to keep himself upright for the last two hours seemed to have vanished. All he wanted now was to lie here and not have to move, preferrably for hours.
"At least your heart rate's still normal," she said, letting go of his wrist. "Which is a good sign." She let out a sigh. "Look, I'm going to clean this up as much as I can before we go."
"Yeah?" He opened his eyes.
"Just making sure you're still with me."
"Yeah, I'm just..." He looked away. "Just feel like I've hit the wall."
Home of Dr. Maria Vanek
"Find anything yet?"
Scully looked up to find Manny Acosta leaning through the doorway. He was as Will had described him, a boxer in Armani, eager to get on with the main event. It was quite the adjustment after Mulder's more casual pace.
"No," she said. "I've gone through the other four drawers"--she indicated the file cabinet beside her--"and this is the last. She was very careful. There's nothing in here dealing with her work. It's likely she hasn't left anything behind."
"Agreed." She paused. "What about you?"
He shrugged. "Nothing yet. I'm going through the stuff in the basement now."
"Well, I hope you have better luck than I'm having."
Manny raised an eyebrow and then disappeared from the doorway. Scully listened as his footsteps receded toward the back of the house. After a moment she glanced at her watch. No wonder she was feeling hungry.
She stood and stretched. Most of the drawers had been no more than a quarter full, leaving room for the possibility that large numbers of files had been removed and taken when Vanek ran. What was left was a compendium of the usual records any householder would keep: insurance documents, utility bills, home repairs and improvements, warranties. A journal of plants--when they'd been planted, how often they'd been fertilized, measurements of growth from year to year. Surprising for the average gardener, perhaps, but not for a researcher used to charting the progress of her work.
A knock came on the window. Scully peered over the desk to find a small woman in a broad sun hat leaning through the hydrangea bushes to reach the glass. Scully suppressed a smile. This could be the woman she'd heard about from Mulder and Sandy Miller, the town gossip and, from what she understood, Dr. Vanek's neighbor from hell, Mrs. Peltier. Perhaps she'd have some useful information to share.
Interstate 76, Colorado
Krycek woke with a start from a dream where he was falling. He twitched, glanced up--car ceiling--then over at Carrie, whose eyes were still wide from the abrupt snort he'd let out.
"Sorry," he said, and wiped a hand across his face. He closed his eyes briefly and opened them again. A now-familiar sick feeling filtered in around him. Above the dashboard, all he could see were white clouds strewn across the blue overhead.
"Where are we?"
"You mean, are we there yet?" Carrie asked, a smile pulling at one corner of her mouth. "No, we're still over an hour out. Still out here where everything looks the same."
Krycek reached for the seat knob--electric, thank goodness--and pulled on it. Gradually the seat back rose behind him and the landscape came into view. She was right. For as far as you could see it was flat, with low still-green vegetation, a ribbon of road running down the middle and a shadowed hint of mountains toward the southwest.
"How are you doing?" she said.
He glanced over at her. "Better than I was in the truck with that kid."
"You've done a lot of traveling. Where did you come from?"
"Kentucky. Okay, D.C. the day before that."
"And the injury? Where did you get it?"
Carrie opened her mouth and then closed it again. She bit her lip.
"What?" he said.
He watched as her mouth opened, paused and closed before she finally spoke.
"All this time I've remembered what you said in that letter you sent. About cutting any ties I had with Davies. It made me realize that, for all his charm, I knew nothing about him, or the circumstances behind the two of you showing up. Every once in a while I think about that and speculate about his circumstances"--she glanced at him--"you know, some sort of spy, or mob dealings, or being the minion of a rogue scientist." She shrugged. "It made me realize I don't know anything about you, either. In a conventional sense. Except that you cared enough to send me that warning. And that you and I worked through some pretty intense stuff together for a couple of weeks there."
He pushed out a breath and looked up at the ceiling. "It was crazy."
"But I thought about that after you called, how it's possible not to really know much about someone in the conventional sense, but how intense experience over a short period brings a different kind of concentrated knowledge, as if... I guess as if all you'd seen of a person was his hand, but you'd worked with that hand and knew every whorl and scar there, every line, and how the hand responds to all sorts of stimuli." She paused. "Does that make any sense?"
"Yeah." He nodded.
He thought of Andrei after he'd lost the arm, working so hard to keep him headed forward. Showing up on Marita's doorstep in Mallorca the Christmas before last because who else would understand the things he was going through, the pressures on him? Everything about his collaboration with Marita had been intense and concentrated. Hell, it had even been like that with Mulder for a few hours there, riding the truck to the Tunguska camp together, digging under the razor wire, hitting the dirt once they'd seen the men, taking off together...
And Tracy. Three weeks of hell and paradise.
"Sandwich for your thoughts," Carrie said.
He looked over at her.
"You fell asleep almost as soon as we left Sterling. You should eat something. When was the last time you ate?"
"Bought a coffee and danish at a stop we made about seven this morning."
"I brought sandwiches. If you recline the seat you should be able to reach them. Hope tuna's okay."
"Anything as long as it's not peanut butter. Had enough of that the last few days."
He let the seat back down and managed to reach the cooler and its contents.
"You want anything?" he asked.
"Maybe the carrot sticks."
He grabbed the bag of carrot sticks and a sandwich and raised the seat halfway. It was a nice sandwich, carefully made with soft whole grain bread. Carrot curls and alfalfa sprouts showed on the sides. He worked the plastic bag down off the top half of the sandwich and took a bite. It was good. Maybe he'd actually feel a little better if he got something into his stomach.
"I've thought about you and Tyler every once in a while," he said when his sandwich was half-gone. "Not much good stuff in my background growing up, so it really stood out, the way you two work like a team. It's pretty amazing." He paused. "Or maybe that's shifted now that he's a teenager."
"He'll be starting high school in the fall. I can hardly believe it."
"So how's he doing?"
"Great. He's doing great. He played soccer for his school this year..."
Her voice trailed off. Krycek glanced over at her. Her jaw was set and her eyes were starting to look watery. She blinked.
He waited, watching her throat work.
"He wants to be an architect," she said finally. "You remember the little town he built?"
"Yeah. It was pretty impressive."
"His dad's an architect. They'd been talking for a while, Ron and Tyler, and Ron came up with this plan for Tyler to live with him for a few years, introduce him to the field, see if it's what he really wants." She sucked in a breath, held it briefly and let it out in a long sigh.
"So where is he?"
He winced. "How long has he been gone?"
"Since September." Her voice went dry. "And I can't tell you how much I miss him."
Krycek stared out at the double yellow line in front of them. No matter how much of it the car seemed to swallow, it still stretched out in front of them forever.
Mulder's fingers tapped impatiently against the armrest as the plane taxied toward the terminal. With layovers and delays--not to mention an intermediate stop in Detroit--Detroit--what could have been an hour-and-a-half trip had taken the better part of four hours. And now he'd have to rent a car or find a taxi to get himself from here to Owensburg. If today's luck held, he'd spend the whole time with this morning's image in his head: of Scully walking toward the boarding gate with her new temporary partner, a short guy and snappy dresser who made liberal use of hair cream and cologne.
Mulder set his jaw, then closed his eyes, hoping to lose some of the tension. He could feel the plane's wheels rolling along, then the brakes slowly being applied. Finally they came to a halt. His seatmate got up and Mulder was jostled by various body parts as passengers crowded in to access the overhead compartments. Probably better that Scully wasn't here; at this point, he wouldn't make a very pleasant traveling companion.
He waited to open his eyes until most of the plane had emptied, then pulled his small bag from under the seat, made his way to the front of the cabin and down the corridor into the terminal, his mind still tangled in the day's negatives.
He looked up, startled to see Sandy Miller standing beside the walkway.
A smile spread across his face. "My favorite agent-in-training. What are you doing here?"
Sandy rolled her eyes. "Annie called. She said it might make things easier for you if somebody picked you up. Rita and Bethy are up at Barkers' watching Adrie for me." She gestured toward his hand. "How's the injury?"
"Getting tired of this," he said. "It feels like wearing a mitt. I want my hand back."
"I hear ya." She paused. "You know, I'm really glad you guys are back. There's been some weird things going on around here."
"What do you mean?"
Her voice lowered. "Well, I know about Tracy disappearing, for one thing. I mean, I asked Dr. Tim about what kind of"--she shrugged--"you know, arrangements they were making for her, and he told me her body was gone."
Mulder's mouth opened.
"Don't worry; it's not all over town or anything. He just told me because I'd been there in the hospital with her. I promised I wouldn't mention it to anyone. Except you and Annie, 'cause you two already know about it." She paused. "Who would do that, Ben? Take a girl's body and leave another in its place?"
"That's the mystery," he said. "Scully and I have seen things like this before. Not body snatching, but people who have been used by mystery groups for"--he searched for a suitable word, one that wouldn't sound crazy--"genetic experiments."
"They did that to Tracy?"
He nodded. "We're pretty sure they did something to her, but we've lost our evidence now. And her baby--there's a good chance they implanted it in her. Scully--Annie--was going to examine the fetus, but it's gone, too. Speaking of which, when you left the hospital the other day, did you notice anyone in the hallway, a man sitting on the bench outside the room next to Tracy's?"
Sandy shook her head. "Truly, I don't think I was noticing anything at that point. I was on overload." She jabbed the toe of her shoe against the carpet, then looked up. "By the way, have you found out anything about him? You know--Alex?"
"There's no record of anything we can trace. Bolting the way he did, he would have had to hitch a ride, or maybe hide in a truck. Have there been any stolen vehicles reported?"
Sandy shook her head.
"He didn't have a weapon, so he couldn't have hijacked a vehicle. He might have started out hitchhiking and switched to a bus later; they don't have passenger manifests. He's going to want to keep a low profile." He shrugged. "In any event, he was winging it. He was completely unprepared. He even took off without the pain pills he'd been taking, and the laptop my mother gave him, he left in--"
Sandy was frowning now. Mulder could feel his cheeks heating.
"In Scully's van," he finished, his tongue careful around the words, as if they were rigged to explode. He looked up, closed his eyes momentarily, then refocused on her. "Look, Sandy, there's something I need to explain here. It's not what I'd like to have to tell you; hell, I'd love it if it weren't true. But I wouldn't want you to find out later that I lied to you just to get around this."
Sandy sighed. "Well, it can't be much weirder than what he did before he took off."
Now it was Mulder's turn to look puzzled.
"He left a letter in my mailbox. And something else you'll have to see for yourself."
Barr Lake State Park
Interstate 76, Colorado
Krycek clenched his teeth against the pain.
They were in a dusty parking lot beside a lake, but Carrie'd said it was the last easy place to stop before they hit the populated area. "Easy" meaning places they weren't likely to draw unwanted attention, and conveniently, except for their car, the parking lot was vacant.
Carrie'd wanted to stop and change the bandage again. Every bit of bacteria she could take away on the bandaging was something that wasn't going to end up in his blood stream, she said. He glanced toward her now. A deep line creased her forehead.
"Alex, I'd planned to drop you at home first, but we're running a little late, and frankly I don't want to wait on this. I'm going to drop you off with a colleague of mine. He can take some blood and run a few tests. We want to make sure we're not racing the clock on this."
"It's that bad?"
"The wound itself isn't that problematic. It's the infection I'm worried about, especially given the amount of time you weren't able to bathe or treat this."
He frowned. "I can wait until you finish giving your final."
"I'm not sure you can. I really can't take that chance."
"Look, someone's out there looking for me. I don't think they've had any way to trace me so far, but, you know, some guy with one arm and a gunshot wound's going to be hard to forget."
"We could be talking about your life here, Alex. Now, it's not common for sepsis to develop from gunshot wounds, but it's possible, and the conditions you've been in..." She let out a sigh. Her hand came to rest against his arm. "I lost a patient once from sepsis. It seemed to come out of nowhere and within a few hours he was beyond anything we could do to help him." She set her jaw and paused. "And I'm not in the mood to lose anyone else." She paused, shrugged and attempted a smile. "Make sense?"
"Yeah, I just--"
"Nelson's reliable. We're holding a few secrets for each other as it is. If I ask him to keep this quiet, I know he will."
She squeezed gently against his arm. "Deal? You know I'm going to do the very best I can for you."
He nodded and stared at the ceiling.
Gravel crunched on the access road beyond the parking lot.
"Looks like it's time for us to leave," Carrie said, taping a new bandage into place and quickly gathering up her supplies.
Krycek waited to hear the slam of the car's trunk. A couple of beats later Carrie's head appeared in the driver's window. "I'm going to make a quick pit stop. Be back in a minute."
Krycek lay where he was, unable to form a response.
So that's where this could be headed. He'd expected the end so many times, either looking ahead realistically at his life and prospects or suddenly, when something had happened. But this--it just seemed pathetic. After everything, after getting rid of the old man, after connecting with his mother--no, working with her; Carrie was right about those concentrated experiences. Now, with Mulder finally knowing about the two of them, after carrying the knowledge for a lifetime by himself; after losing Tracy...
After her having given them a new lead on the invasion preparations... To come to this, to just sicken and die, not even having looked into the possibility this group held...
Carrie's head appeared above the window ledge, approaching. Then she was opening the door, getting in, fastening her seat belt. She settled herself and looked into the rear view mirror.
He turned away. The car ignition cranked and the engine roared to life. There was the 'thunk' of the parking brake being released and the sound of gravel crunching under the tires as they made their way to the road.
Krycek closed his eyes. "You end up with a dead body on your hands, you're going to have some explaining to do."
"I could say I found you on the side of the road, " she said. "Who's going to prove I didn't?" A pause. "Besides, I'm not giving up on you. If that's what you think, you've got another thing coming."
In flight over Pennslyvania
"They're going to find the body, you know," the thin man said over the low roar of the plane's engines. He glanced out at a bank of gray clouds on the horizon.
"There's nothing that can tie her to us," his broad companion replied, his voice dry and monotone. "Even if they trace the rented vehicle to the airport, the plane is our own. The driver was ours. Details of the flight plan have been altered." He reached forward to spear a piece of fruit from the gold-rimmed bowl on the table between them. "We're better off without anyone associated with Spender. We know now that he volunteered to oversee the shipments of beryllium because he had a side project going there. There's no telling whether anyone associated with him can truly be trusted, either." He paused and set his fork down. "Perhaps discovering the body will also act as a deterrent."
"To Fox Mulder, for one. We don't know how invested he may be in the matter of Dr. Vanek at this point. Every man has his limits. Perhaps the thought of Agent Scully ending up like Ms. Fowley will be enough to make him step back."
Mulder paced the garden path of the Owensburg hospital, hands clenched. Sandy's final "strange thing" mention on the way here had been the discovery of a body on the side of the road outside town a few hours earlier--the body of the FBI agent who'd been arrested for attempting to abduct Tracy. There was no way Sandy could have known what this particular piece of information might mean to him, aside from the fact that his "What?" in response to her announcement had been so loud she'd immediately slammed on the brakes and pulled to the side of the road.
He'd covered for himself with a vague excuse-cum-explanation and had her bring him directly here, a place beginning to embed itself in his mind as an emblem of Very Bad Things. Evidently there was no morgue in town; all bodies were stored here until claimed, shipped or otherwise disposed of.
Scully and Acosta had been here to investigate and identify the body when he arrived. Scully'd caught his arm gently and said simply, "Mulder, you don't want to see this." Which meant things were bad--messy--and now his imagination, active as always, had been left to conjure up just what that messiness might look like. Acosta, for his part, obviously didn't have Will Wilkins' sense of adventure when it came to corpses, because he'd quickly excused himself to go examine Vanek's office at the plant.
Mulder made one last circuit of the garden pathway, past blooming roses and some tall spiky things in purples and yellows, and returned to the hallway inside, dropping into a chair, his head coming to rest in his hands.
Diana had been a spy, duplicitous far beyond anything Krycek had ever been, luring him in, pretending she loved him, that she was invested in his goals. That his insecurities and his aspirations were safe with her. And yet to come to an end like this, having Smoky's buddies spring her from the local jail only to drive her ten minutes down the road and put a bullet in her head... For as much as part of him insisted she deserved it, another part of him refused to believe it was the end anyone deserved.
Mulder looked up to see Dr. Wykoff approaching. It was better, actually, if people kept calling him Ben here. That way if Smoky's shadow-group sent anyone else around looking for information, his name wasn't as likely to come up.
"How's the hand coming along?" Wykoff asked when he'd reached Mulder's position.
Mulder shrugged. "Okay, I guess. Though I'll be glad to get this stuff off and be able to use it again."
"You had questions for me?"
"Yeah." Mulder stood. "The cameras in the hallways here--do they keep the tapes? There was a guy sitting on the bench the other day, after the fire alarm went off; he seemed strange. Or familiar. Maybe both. I'd like to see Tuesday's tapes if I can."
"Sure, I'll fix you up." Dr. Wykoff gestured toward the office, and the two began to walk. "Too bad we don't have a video feed where the refrigerators are. Then we'd know something about how Tracy's body disappeared." He paused by the office door. "But I do have one bit of good news for you. They just recently installed cameras in the lab where we sent your samples, and there's a woman on their tape that we can't place. Could be your thief."
R-Eighteen spooned another mouthful of baby food into the patient's mouth. They'd had to let her come around enough that she could swallow; to have gone to all this trouble and then lose her through carelessness would be counterproductive at the very least. And D-Four was invested in this one for reasons beyond the scope of her own ability to comprehend.
One final bite. She scraped the last of the food out of the corners of the little jar and held it out. Instinctively, the patient reached toward the spoon and took it in. Eighteen wiped the corners of the female's mouth with a washcloth and stood up.
"Four? She's ready for you."
There was no answer. Setting the empty jar on the dresser, Eighteen left the room in search of her partner.
In the bed, the patient lay glassy-eyed. She waited, as if listening. Then a hand inched from under the quilt and reached unsteadily toward the curtain in the window. Her fingers searched out the warmth coming through the glass. Two fingers pressed against the pane, then skimmed the soft lower edge of the curtain.
"... the best we could," came Four's voice.
"I only hope Ninteen's sacrifice proves to be justified," the woman said as she paused in the doorway to the small room. "She was the last R."
"Except for you," his voice came quietly. "Now you remain as their legacy."
He moved past her into the room and sat on the chair beside the bed. The patient was exactly as they had left her, nothing more than a head protruding from the broad, patterned expanse of quilt. He reached out his hand, holding it above the smooth head, and kept it there until the patient's eyes fell shut.
"Thank you so much. Nelson. You're a gem."
Carrie hung up the phone and let her shoulders loosen. Nelson Matapang's voice had never seemed so welcome.
She was investing in this patient, the analytical voice in her head noted now. Ever since she'd begun seeing a therapist, less than a month after her son had left for San Francisco, the voice had followed her around like a disembodied researcher with a clipboard. Sometimes it was unnerving. In this case, the message was true; she was investing. But regardless, the news was good. It was an overwhelming relief to know that her fears about Alex's condition had gone unconfirmed. Now, the right doses of antibiotics should do the rest of the work.
The physical work, at least. Perhaps there was more in play here than just the need for physical rebuilding. The fact that he'd been shot--and shot twice, a detail he'd revealed only at the last minute, before she'd handed him over to Nelson--pointed to a mysterious, risky sort of life. To say nothing of the loss of his arm, or the circumstances under which he'd come to her, obviously on the run from someone.
Possibly running from inner burdens as well. She knew the territory well enough, the surprising weight of them.
Carrie set the phone on its base and wandered to the window. They'd arrived here around six, she'd fixed him something to eat and let him get settled in the guest bedroom, but eventually he'd come out again, saying he'd spent far too much time in enclosed spaces recently, not moving. He'd gone into Tyler's room and spent a few minutes examining Ty's model town, which was still laid out on its display table.
Then he'd wanted to go outside. In spite of the nausea he was starting to feel from the meds, he wanted to walk, to stretch his legs. Through his window, he'd noticed the vegetable garden in back and asked about it. She'd put in the two raised beds years ago, in the hopes of cementing Tyler's love for good, healthy food, and it had worked. They'd grown the garden every year since, a few beans and tomatoes and peas and squash. Potatoes and carrots. But after Ty left in the fall, she'd been unable to bring herself even to take out the dead plants.
Carrie gave a mental push to her shadow-therapist and started down the stairs to the rec room. At the sliding glass door to the yard, she paused. Alex was standing by the garden beds, fingering a leaf on the trellis, still hung with the tan, papery skeletons of last year's English pea crop. After a moment he let the leaf go and sat down on the edge of the bed. He leaned forward, head in hand. In the dusky light, she could see the muscles in his back tremble.
R-Eighteen stood by the window in the small room. The sun was beginning to melt into the neighboring rooftops to the west. From the other side of the tiny house, she'd been able to stand on the porch and make out the nearly-full moon, camouflaged by the blue of the sky. On this side, the evening light had tinted the lace curtains a warm yellow-gold. Pushing them aside, she tugged on the lower half of the old window until it finally began to give. Lifting, she pushed it up all the way. Fresh air spilled in. In the overgrown yard beyond, tall weeds threw shadows against the glass in the window beside the bed. She watched them sway slightly in the slow-moving air, then pulled the curtains together. It was critical to keep out prying eyes.
The last of her kind. Until Four had said it, it had almost been possible not to face the fact.
The instinct to move always forward--to establish, to build, to prepare--had been bred into her kind long ago, but being the last... It was almost incomprehensible. When your life's motivation had centered around the purpose of the group--to make their future better, to reach toward the common goal--what did you do when there were no more of you, when the reason that had fueled your vision was gone?
True, most of the other Rs had been gone four years now. But there had been R-Six, until she'd been caught. And up until two days ago, she'd had Nineteen, a comfort in her familiarity. She could have made the sacrifice herself, but Nineteen had insisted. As the one of lower rank, it was her duty.
Though sacrificing herself would have spared her this hollow feeling, this strange emptiness.
A sudden groan came from the bed, the female trying to speak, yet unable, turning her head, reaching--
But Four wasn't here. He'd taken the car and gone for supplies.
Carefully she approached the bed and sat on the edge. She lacked the higher skills Four had.
"You're not alone," she said, addressing the female.
The moaning had stopped now, but the restlessness under the quilt continued. Eighteen reached out a hand and smoothed it tentatively over the female's shoulder and down her arm.
"You're not alone," she repeated. The words seemed to echo back at her, laughing.
"Gotta talk to Angie Connors tomorrow," Mulder said. He could hear Scully's heartbeat under his ear. He smiled momentarily.
"Have you called her?" Thin fingers smoothed through his hair.
"Yeah. From the hospital this afternoon. Told her the basics--that someone could be out looking for the kids, so to keep a good eye on them."
"What a nightmare message for any mother to receive."
"I know. I told her it wasn't certain, just a precaution, that there was no reason for anyone to suspect that the three test subjects were even related. Just a heads-up." He paused and shifted against her. "Maybe she can take the super-vigilance she's been focusing on their diet and switch it to their surroundings." He looked up at her. "They've been after her for donuts now."
"Kids," she said, and smiled. "Seriously, though, Mulder, Manny hasn't been able to find any references so far to the Connors children. Or anything at all having to do with her research. Dr. Vanek was extremely secretive. I'm guessing she took every last bit of documentation with her."
"Which should work to everyone's advantage now... except for anyone wanting to know what exactly that research entailed." A pause. "You've got those records the Gunmen copied from Smoky's drop at the airport in Baltimore, though."
"True," she said. "He could have more of them somewhere. Possibly in that house in Reston."
"Mm, probably not. At least, not now. Smoky's pals will have turned the place upside down looking for whatever they can find."
"Maybe he kept them somewhere else. I wonder where he lived. Who would know?"
"True." She turned toward him. His head slipped onto the mattress. "I wonder whether he made it to wherever he was going. I've been thinking about that--what could happen to a wound that was never properly treated."
"He didn't have to take off."
She gave him a look. "If you were Krycek, what would you have done?"
He shrugged. "Gotten the hell out of there."
"He may be our only way to find out about this Pasadena group, Mulder. Or your sister."
"You know, I keep thinking about that--whether he actually meant it when he said he'd help me find out what happened to Samantha. It makes a good line."
"How did he say it? Was it the cocky way he is sometimes?" She lowered her voice and attempted an imitation. "I can get you the men behind this, Mulder."
He shook his head. "Maybe wondering about Krycek's just a way for me not to think about Diana."
For a moment the room was silent.
"I can understand how it would be hard for you to sort out those feelings," she said finally. "I can't imagine--"
"Mainly I just keep picturing all sorts of ways she could have ended up." He forced a smile. "The curse of having an active imagination, I guess."
"Are you asking for details?"
"I guess just the basics."
"She was shot through the right temple, Mulder. It blew off a small section of her skull."
"I think that's enough right there."
"She also had a sprained ankle. I think she must have tripped getting out of the car."
Scully glanced at the window, where twilight had colored the sky in streaks of orange and pink. Mulder rolled away from her. She traced the contours of his back with her gaze, wondering whether to offer space or comfort. His head came up and he pushed the pillow farther under his head.
"It was nice of Dale to let us stay here," she ventured.
"Like he said, we've only been gone a couple of days. He hasn't even had time to change the sheets." He paused. "Do you think your"--he turned toward her now and made air quotes--" 'partner' will notice you're not in your room at the motel?"
"Not as long as I'm there in the morning at 7:30 sharp."
"How's it working out with him?"
"I hadn't noticed what a non-skeptic I've become," she said, setting a hand tentatively on his hip. He took it and pulled it around his middle. She scooted closer, until they were spooned together."There were so many things I was tempted to mention that I know he wouldn't have any comprehension of."
"Welcome to the world of the fringe," he said. "I've spent my whole life here."
Scully looked up at the shadows on the ceiling. "What are you doing tomorrow, Mulder?"
"Going over the hospital security tapes. Then I need to talk with Rita and Sandy. She's got something she wants to show me." He paused. "Most of all, I'm going to try to figure out something about this--"
He reached for the bedside lamp and turned it on, then took a photograph from the top of the nightstand. He turned to her.
"You know, when Wykoff said it was a brown-haired woman the camera caught in the lab, my immediate thought was that it was Diana. I kept wondering what the hell Diana could have wanted with Tracy's samples." He shook his head and passed the picture to her. "I never could have imagined this."
Scully held the image toward the light. In it, a woman with brown, curly hair was passing the camera, caught just as she glanced toward it with worried eyes. She'd seen this woman--or one just like her--in a moment of hellish tension that she preferred not to remember, four years earlier in the middle of a Maryland bridge.
It was one of the clones of Mulder's sister.
(End Chapter 2)
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