Topaz: X-Files fanfic by bardsmaid

Topaz

by bardsmaid

Chapter 3

Friday, 28 May 1999
Longmont, Colorado
3:15 a.m.

"Alex, would you like a drink of water?"

She'd woken to the sound of him throwing up in the bathroom, but waited until she heard him return to bed before approaching the door.

"Yeah." The voice that replied was clipped and dry. "Thanks."

Carrie went to the kitchen to retrieve a bottle of water and returned to the shadowed room, navigating by the night light on the wall.

"How bad is it?" she asked, transferring the bottle to the hot hand in the shadows. "It's worse at first, but it should lessen after a while. Anyway, I want to keep a close eye on your meds and how they're interacting."

"Appreciate it."

A pause.

"Couple of weeks ago," he went on, "they switched pain meds on me and I ended up in intensive care. Said I would have died if someone hadn't been there with me and done some fast thinking."

Carrie winced. "Well, thank goodness for that person. Wow, you know the more you tell me, the more it seems that part of what you need is a really good rest, a chance to fully recover."

No answer came from the bed.

"Sweaty?" she asked.

"Yeah."

"Here, just a minute."

She went to the bathroom and returned with a warm, damp cloth and a towel, which she handed to him.

"How long you think this will take?" he said.

"Recovery?"

"Yeah."

"I don't know. Given everything you've gone through, three or four weeks. If you take it easy, and don't push yourself. Let your body repair itself."

A sharp breath was pushed out in the darkness. "Got stuff I need to do."

"You won't get very far if you go before you've actually healed. Look what happened this time."

"Yeah, I guess." There was a long pause. "Look, I didn't mean to come here and dump myself on your doorstep. Don't want to mess up your life, or your routine, or whatever."

"Full confession? This is a welcome break from what my... routine... has become."

"Living here by yourself?"

"Uh-huh. Partly. I think I invested myself a lot more than I realized in being a mom."

"Can't be a bad thing."

"Well, I'm beginning to wonder."

Silence.

"How are you dealing?" he said finally.

She shook her head and let the night light on the far wall go out of focus. "Not well, I'm afraid." Which was an understatement, but this wasn't the time to get into the dreary story of her own life. "Here, I should check your vitals before you start getting drowsy."

"What, you don't want to be like those people in the hospital who wake you up right after you've finally gotten to sleep?" Surprisingly, there was humor in his voice--a good sign.

"No," she said, smiling. "I get my jollies from prescribing therapy patients don't like. Arm?"

He held it out. She found his pulse and watched the clock.

"Sova," he said absently when she'd finished and let his arm go.

"What?"

"Uh, owl. There's this type of owl where I grew up. The females--up in the trees they look like old babushkas wearing shawls, but they'll swoop right down and whack you on the head if you get anywhere near their young. They actually punch with their talons. Pretty impressive."

"And this was where?"

No reply.

Perhaps she'd overstepped.

"Russia," he said finally. "In the Urals, outside Sverdlovsk."

*~*~*~*~*

Owensburg, Kentucky
4:48 a.m.

To: topaz@rift.net
From: spooky@quick.net
Don't know if you've got an internet connection, but in case you do, a question: Do you know anything about groups of clones whose objective was to create hybrids to breed out their sameness so they could blend in with the human population and just live their lives? Four years ago I encountered two groups, one of middle-aged men and another group supposedly cloned from Samantha, but adults. At the time, they were being hunted down by an enforcer--an alien bounty hunter--and I thought all of them were killed. They seemed to be separate from the project and any goals it may have had. Maybe breakaway groups.

The reason I'm asking: The hospital test samples taken from Tracy have disappeared from the lab they were delivered to. Security footage shows one unidentified individual, a woman who looks exactly like the clones I saw of Samantha. I'm at a loss to figure out how these pieces could fit together, what her stake in this could possibly be. If you have input, I'd appreciate hearing it.

Mulder paused and took his fingers from the keyboard. Should he tell Krycek that Tracy's body had disappeared, too? Or would that be too much to dump on him? How would it hit him if Scully died and he found out her body had disappeared?

On the other hand, if her body disappeared and no one bothered to let him know, he'd be ready to tear someone limb from limb once he found out. Besides, pissing Krycek off could mean the end of a critical source of information.

Probably not what you want or need to hear at this point, but Tracy's body was also discovered missing Wednesday morning. All I can figure is that whoever tampered with her is trying to clean up any evidence of whatever it is they've done. I do remember one man who caught my eye while we were all there the other day--older guy sitting in the hallway next to the adjoining room--and I'm supposed to be reviewing the hospital tapes later today. Will let you know if I find anything.

P.S. I packed up...

Mulder's fingers hesitated, poised above the keyboard. But he was going to have to face the fact, whether he wanted it to be true or not. And no doubt the nuance of his wording would speak loudly to Krycek. He took a deep breath and continued.

 ... Mom's laptop and sent it back to her. In case you need to contact her, she should have that capability in a couple of days.

*~*~*~*~*

Cave Creek Lodge Motel
Owensburg, Kentucky
7:27 a.m.

A crisp knock came on Scully's door.

"Just a minute." She hopped on one foot, slipping on the second shoe.

She was right to have come here a few minutes early. Manny was a stickler for promptness. Shoe on, she composed herself and reached for the door.

"Hi."

"Ready to head out? There's a place Will and I like to grab coffee about a block away. Then we can head over to the plant."

"Coffee sounds good," she said.

Scully gathered her things, locked the door to her room and went out to the car.

"I don't get this hush-hush game we're playing," Manny said as they pulled out onto the street. "Skinner wants two reports, one of them sanitized with any references to details of Vanek's project or the Connors kids removed, and the other one with the full scoop handed directly to him."

Scully pursed her lips. "There are people--criminals--looking for this information. They've got extensive contacts within the Bureau."

"So these 'contacts', whoever they are, are sitting around reading through all the reports we file?" He rolled his eyes. "Sounds like paranoia."

"I thought so, too, once," Scully said. "But over the years Mulder and I have had reports disappear, evidence... There's been undue influence exerted. There's the possibility there could be less of it now, after the death of a man who was certainly central to their organization--"

"You mean that guy Will was talking about? Spender?"

"Yes."

Manny pulled into the parking lot of a strip mall. 

Inside, Daily's was crowded. Either it was popular by reputation or it was simply one of the few options available in this small town. Scully glanced around as they stood in line. Suddenly her eye caught on a brown-haired woman sitting at a table against the wall: Raylene Belfontaine, Sandy Miller's mother. Raylene saw her at the same moment. Her eyes widened in recognition and she started to wave, but quickly--thankfully--slipped her hand down to her lap. After a brief guilty look, she turned away.

Scully breathed a sigh of relief. At least, having spent her previous time in Owensburg hidden away at the Barkers', these people wouldn't know her as anything other than an investigator.

*~*~*~*~*

Longmont, Colorado
7:54 a.m.

"Thanks," Krycek said as he handed Carrie his empty plate.

"I'll pick up some yogurt when I'm out. It'll help replenish your good bacteria that the meds are killing off. Should help you feel better, too."

He looked up at her. "I could use that."

"Well, in the meantime, the recliner is at your disposal." She turned and went in the direction of the kitchen.

Krycek looked out at the trees beyond the window. Luckily, the room faced the side of the property, and there were enough trees and bushes between here and the next house to make it unlikely that anyone would spot a new, if temporary, addition to Carrie's household.

Three or four weeks, she'd said.

If he laid off completely and just rested.

How that could possibly play out, given the things he needed to get done, and the oversize load of chaos in his head, there was no telling. But she had a point about trying to go on in this condition. Tracy would have told him to take advantage of the offer, to take the time to regain his strength.

It was going to be a bitch, though. He had someone to help him when he needed it, true. But there was a difference this time, a gaping hole somewhere in his defenses, like the jagged opening left after you'd blown a hole in a wall.

Footsteps approached from the next room. He turned. Carrie had her jacket on.

"Anything you can think of that you need, Alex?"

"I'm going to need to pick up a laptop as soon as I can get myself to a store," he said.

"You can use my computer."

He closed his eyes briefly. "Maybe for now. I don't want to send anything through it that could be traced back here. To you," he added, looking up at her. "But this guy I need to contact, I can connect with him through a message board online. Should be safe enough... for a day or two, anyway."

"I'll turn it on for you and sign in. Then I'm going to take off. I'll be back around 11:30." She gave him a knowing smile. "It should give you some time to yourself, without anybody hovering over you."

"Appreciate it, thanks."

He listened to her footsteps retreat. A minute later the door to the garage stairwell opened and then shut again. He closed his eyes. Hopefully the silence wouldn't bring images of the hospital. Or of Andrei swinging from that damned cord. Or of the curly-haired kid.

A strength, Tracy'd said. She'd seemed indignant, or strong, or something, when she said it, when they were together in the dream: that the strength you gained from knowing someone didn't just melt away when they weren't around. You still had it. Why wouldn't you?

It had made sense at the time.

*~*~*~*~*

8:15 a.m.

Four looked out the many-paned window at the end of the kitchen counter. Eighteen was sitting outside on the tiny porch, her form and color a contrast to the weathered gray of the wood. A shawl was wrapped around her against the morning's chill. He went to the door and opened it.

"What is it, Eighteen?"

"I'm trying to enjoy the morning. It's one of the things we came here for, after all."

"It's supposed to get warm later. 80 degrees," he said, and hesitated. She hadn't looked up at him. "What is it?" he asked again.

She turned now. "It's curious--hard--to exchange one purpose for another."

"There's no question." He sat down on the cane-seated chair in the corner. There was barely enough room for the two of them in the small space. "You know, it was no easier for me to watch Eight perform the sacrifice than for you to lose R-Nineteen."

"But there are still more of your kind. More Ds."

"Yes, but only two others who have taken this new path, and they're each a thousand miles or more away, busy in the work." He shrugged. "Forging a new path makes us, essentially, a new and separate kind."

"I'd never felt alone until now," she said. "Foreign, yes, but not alone, in spite of being light years from the origin point." She turned to him again. "Has the story been floated?"

"Yes. The site contains the residue of Eight and Nineteen, and hair from the female. Also, the marks of an enforcer. They'll assume he killed them and took the female's body."

"And when they find these things, we should be safe?"

"There are no guarantees. We'll always have to be cautious. But we'll be free to move on."

*~*~*~*~*

Owensburg General Hospital
owensburg, Kentucky
8:45 a.m.

The door to the small room opened and Sandy slipped inside.

Mulder looked up from the monitor and brightened. "Hey, thanks for coming. You're off the hook with the Barkers?"

"Well, for as long as this takes, anyway. Rita and Bethy are up there again, watching Adrie. Bethy's good with him."

"I think Bethy would be good with anyone," Mulder said. "One night last week when I couldn't sleep, she came out and found me in the living room in the dark. Didn't say a word, just sat down next to me on the couch and spread her blanket across both of us. It was"--he searched for the right word--"peaceful, as if we both had exactly what we needed even though neither of us said a thing."

"She's been carrying that book around the last couple of days--that one of Tracy's. I saw what he wrote in it." She sighed. "Man, I just do not get this guy."

"You're not the only one. He's fed me absolutely critical intel over the past week, and four days ago he saved Scully, my mom and me. But he also killed my father. He pretended to be my partner for a while, the whole time reporting to Smoky... One time he lured me off to Russia; I ended up in a prison camp. Who knows how long I would have rotted there if I hadn't managed to escape." He paused, then winced, remembering. "Nearly lost an arm to one of the locals."

"Is that what happened to him?"

Mulder shrugged. "I don't know. Never really thought about it. But yeah, that would make sense."

Sandy pulled something from her pocket and laid it on the table--a bank card. "He said it was Tracy's, that he figured she'd want me to have it. And that there's a couple thousand dollars in the account."

Mulder's forehead creased. He picked up the card, looked at it and turned it over.  Tracy's signature was on the back. "Hanson," he said. "I didn't know that was her name."

"I'm not sure I even want to use it," she said. "But do you think it's on the level?"

Mulder looked up at her. "No telling with Krycek." He bit his lip and paused. "But you know, Scully knows somebody who might be able to find something out for you. I'll ask her when I see her." He turned to the computer screen in front of him and pointed. "Now, this is what I wanted you to see. This guy. Does he ring any bells?"

Sandy pulled up a chair and looked carefully at the black-and-white freeze-frame of the hallway outside the room Tracy had been in. An older gentleman in a suit and tie sat on the bench. "I don't think so. Never seen him before." She shook her head. "Can you run it?"

Mulder pushed play. "He's there for at least 45 minutes after this point."

"There I go," she said, watching her image enter the screen, skip-frame across it and exit on the left. She sighed. "Takes you right back to Tuesday, don't it?"

"Yeah, it does." He sighed, then refocused on the man on the bench.

"Guy likes his stripes. The tie, I mean."

"Yeah, kind of loud." Mulder paused abruptly and pushed out a breath. "You know, that might be something."

"What?"

"The tie. I keep having this feeling I've seen this guy before. I mean, he doesn't look particularly familiar, and yet there's something about him that keeps sticking in my mind, like if I think hard enough, I'll be able to make the connection."

"You said you thought maybe he--or somebody--came here purposely to take Tracy's body, right?"

He shrugged.  "Somebody did take it."

"Well, if he did... or okay, anybody who might have done it... then that means they knew she was dying. That they were tracking her somehow."

"Watching her?"

Sandy shook her head. "No. You said maybe they actually were able to, you know, shut her down. So I was thinking more sci-fi, like... Like the way they track animals, by putting those radio tag thingies on 'em. Only something inside we wouldn't know how to detect."

"An implant."

"Yeah, I guess."

"We've seen those--people with implants. Even S--" He stopped himself before he could mention the one Scully carried at the base of her neck. Even for Sandy, that would be a lot to swallow. "So your point here is--"

"That if they knew what was happening, then maybe they were here earlier, waiting for it to happen. Have you looked at the video from the day before?"

One of Mulder's eyebrows rose. He shook a teasing finger at her. "You really should think about joining the Bureau." He got up before she could protest. "Back in a minute. I've got to see about Monday's tapes."

*~*~*~*~*

Longmont, Colorado
10:05 a.m.

Krycek switched off the computer screen and eased himself up from the chair. He'd caught Ché online--no big surprise there--and they'd been able to message in a private chat room, so he'd been able to reassure him that he'd managed to get here, that he was in good hands.

Slowly he made his way to the bathroom. The nausea wasn't as bad as last night, but the meds were still charging through his system like an army out to loot and pillage. He looked at himself in the mirror after he flushed the toilet, as he was washing his hands. No wonder Carrie'd told him three or four weeks.

What had he looked like traveling with Mona? He was probably damn lucky he'd ended up with her instead of somebody who might have gotten suspicious and called the cops on him at a rest stop, or insisted on taking him to the nearest hospital. Hopefully her mission to clear out the abusive boyfriend was working out. And Bobby'd gotten to see his trains.

In the doorway, he paused. Bed, or back to the recliner? He closed his eyes, listening to his body. Bed it was. For a while, anyway. Two doors down he turned in to his room and drifted to the window. Below, past a simple slab patio, were the two raised beds. He thought of the trip to Pennsylvania, of finding a tiny blooming sweet pea in the deep weeds and working it into the hair above Tracy's ear. He sucked in a breath and leaned against the window ledge. A subtle trembling ran through his arm and hand.

Finally he turned and went to the bed. He eased himself in and pulled up the covers. Closed his eyes.

Mulder'd written. Which was something. At least he hadn't gone right back to his old posturing. The fact that Tracy's body was gone only underlined the fact that this group, whoever they were, had been messing with her. Not only that, but they'd had some sort of homing device planted in her, and if they could know where she was, what else could they have known? Who she was with? What she was thinking? The prospects could be damn creepy, nothing like the simple homing beacons the consortium's abductees carried, that only served to call them to a gathering site. All the more reason to find out who these people--human or otherwise--were, and what they were up to.

Krycek curled onto his left side and pushed the pillow farther under his head. The hardest part of replying to Mulder had been trying to decide whether to suggest that he look at the Reston house tapes. There might be something there Mulder and Scully could use. At least they'd know whatever Darryl Silver did, and that in itself could help them stay one step ahead of the old men. But the tapes had been rolling the whole time they'd been there, recording every minute he'd spent with his mother, everything that had passed between them. Maybe it would just make Mulder mad at him again, for cutting in on his own territory. Beyond that, he wasn't sure he was ready to expose himself to Mulder like that, let him review the tension and the heart-drop moments like some movie critic working up a review. It was none of his damn business. None of anybody's damn business.

From the nightstand, the clock sent its sharp rhythm into the silence. The house was nice enough--comfortable enough--but still, there was this hollow feeling, the kind of emptiness he'd felt in Antarctica seven months earlier, waiting around for the old man to finish his business setting up the new craft and crew there, when he'd walk down to the shoreline and look out over the overwhelming, jagged landscape of rock, snow and blue-tinted floating ice, the eerie silence broken only by the occasional crash of falling ice.

As if he were the last man on earth.

*~*~*~*~*

10:15 a.m.

Under the quilt, fingers stirred, slipped to the edge of the covers and inched tentatively upward. Warm air met them.

These small movements, when the man and woman weren't present, seemed to be the only safe ones. Any noticeable signs of consciousness brought the kindly man, but with him came the thick fog, sticky like cobwebs, that suspended all deliberate thought.

Not that consciousness itself was particularly welcoming. She didn't know this room, or the two people. She didn't know how she'd come here, or why. Or where and what she'd come from. She knew only what she could glimpse in the man's mind: travel through the countryside on a long highway, a blue car, the woman with brown, curly hair and large, sad eyes. And an image that repeated itself: a white hallway in a brightly-lit building, a bench, and on the other side, two people looking through a broad window into a room--a tall man and a short, red-haired woman.

*~*~*~*~*

Owensburg General Hospital
Owensburg, Kentucky
12:15 p.m.

"See, Scully?" Mulder pointed at the monitor with his lunch fork.

Scully leaned in closer. "He's wearing the same clothes as the man in the hallway outside Tracy's room." She frowned. "You know, Mulder, I noticed this man. It was late--very late. Dr. Wykoff asked me to come look at a slide he had, and as we passed the man, he seemed somehow familiar. But when I looked back, I realized I'd made a mistake."

"Maybe you didn't."

"But Mulder, I don't know him. Have you asked Mrs. Carter if anyone can identify this man? This town being as small as it is, someone must know who he is."

"Sandy didn't recognize him, so she asked Mrs. Carter. She said she noticed him the same evening you did. He didn't look familiar, so she introduced herself and asked if she could help him, and who he was there to see. He said his name was James Defore, and he'd come to see a man named Whitman who'd had a heart attack." He looked up at her. "So Sandy followed up with the Whitmans. They said they don't know anyone by that name."

Scully's brow furrowed. Her lips pressed together. "I... I don't know, Mulder. Do you have a theory? They're two different men."

"Are you ready for 'out there'?"

"I don't know. How 'out there' are you talking about?"

"Remember three years ago when we were looking into the shooting at that fast food restaurant?"

"Yes."

"When we were trying to figure out who the guy was who was supposed to have healed all those people, remember the TV station's footage?"

"Yes. We saw Jeremiah Smith. And then, just a frame later, it was someone else... dressed identically."

"Or maybe not somebody else. What happened when we picked Smith up at the Social Security Administration and tried to take him to the Bureau?"

"We got outside into the hallway, and he ran."

"Not quite. He piled into a group of people, and when I went to grab him--"

"He wasn't there."

"I grabbed for the suit--the clothes."

"What's your point?"

"The lab footage of the woman who looks like Samantha got me to thinking. She told me the enforcer--the bounty hunter who was after her--could disguise himself to look like anyone." He raised an eyebrow. "What if Smith has that ability, too? What if the man I grabbed was Smith, and crashing into those other people gave him just enough time to shift his appearance?"

"So you think this is Smith?"

"Or somebody like him. Scully, I know it's possible. I watched the bounty hunter's face morph on that submarine."

"Mulder, you were--" She stopped abruptly. Her lips came together. "Then what makes you think this man isn't one of these bounty hunters?"

"I guess it's possible. Except that the clone told me the bounty hunters want to eliminate all clones because they believe they're a dilution of their race. And if this clone--the woman--is working with our body thief, then it's not likely he's a bounty hunter."

One reddish eyebrow rose. "So if it was Smith who was here--or someone like him--then what would he want with Tracy's body? Wouldn't taking it imply that he's working for this group Krycek was talking about? I thought Jeremiah Smith wanted to help you." She paused. "He seemed like he did."

"I don't know. I haven't figured that out yet."

*~*~*~*~*

To: spooky@quick.net
From: topaz@rift.net
Sorry, don't know anything useful about your clones. I've heard rumors that a few have escaped here and there over the years, but I wasn't in a position to know the details. The higher-ups seemed to discount them, if anything, but it sounds like the one you spotted has something serious in mind. I'll give it some thought, in case it rings any more bells.

No laptop here yet; doctor's got me on lockdown until I stop looking like the walking dead. In the meantime I'll be routing my mail through a trusted source for security.

We need to find this group, and not just because it's personal. Whatever they've done is more organic, and potentially a lot more serious, than anything I've seen before. At some point I'll need to connect with Scully about the details of this child of hers she discovered in San Diego. Could be the same group behind it. I know it wasn't the old men. Could use your input on San Diego, too, if you were there.

                                                                                          -A 

P.S. The Reston house has video feeds in most rooms. If the Bureau's taken the tapes and they haven't disappeared from evidence, checking them out will let you know anything Darryl Silver would have told the group about you, so at least you'll know what they know, and if/why/how they might try to go after you.

*~*~*~*~*

To: topaz@rift.net
From: spooky@quick.net
More news, and possibly stranger. Going over the hospital security tapes, I spotted the man I mentioned seeing in the hallway, and then found another guy on the previous night's tapes: different guy, exactly the same clothing, right down to the tie. Also found out Version #2 lied to the hospital administrator about what he was doing there. I'm thinking this might be a shapeshifter, but I've only seen one once, an enforcer/bounty hunter. Any experience with this?

#2: Do you know anything about a man named Jeremiah Smith? I ran across him two years ago. He did a couple of disappearing tricks that have me wondering whether this guy on the tape might be him, or somebody like him. One of the Samantha clones told me she'd never seen anyone but a bounty hunter able to shapeshift, but you never know.

Will pass your message on to Scully. They've been going through Vanek's records at the plant but haven't found a single word about this vaccine project she had going. No help to us, but good for the kids she was using as guinea pigs. Without knowing who they are, Smoky's friends can't abduct them and take them apart to find out what she was doing.

Mulder's fingers paused and finally retreated from the keyboard. How ironic was it that he was writing this stuff about abducting children to the man who'd helped keep him off Skyland Mountain so they could capture Scully? Maybe he should be more cautious. Still, it was hard to get around what Krycek had done in Reston, and so far he seemed to be on the level and willing to keep offering information.

Mulder got up, went to Dale's picture window and looked out into the broad, sunny yard. Along the fence were the kinds of flowers Tracy had picked for the table.

After a moment he turned away and went to the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of water, drank it and set the glass in the sink. His eyes were drawn to the chair at the end of the table. It was where she'd been sitting when she collapsed. And Krycek had called, obviously shaken, wondering what had happened to her because somehow, in her own psychic way, she'd managed to get through to him in that moment of crisis.

He looked up, closed his eyes briefly, then opened them again and went back to the computer. Pulling the keyboard out, he started to type again.

FYI, Diana Fowley is dead. While we were in Reston, Smoky sent her looking for Tracy but the locals were alerted and Diana was detained by law enforcement. Yesterday before we arrived here, somebody bailed her out, took her ten miles down the road and dumped her in a ditch with a bullet to the head. From the description we got (limo, two guys in trench coats, expensive-looking suits) it sounds like maybe it was your old associates.

*~*~*~*~*

Longmont, Colorado
3:25 p.m.

Slowly, Krycek opened his eyes. The room was warm; sunlight was pouring onto the carpet through the south window. He glanced at the clock and blinked to make sure he was seeing it right. Middle of the afternoon. Everything was quiet.

Gradually the sensations of his body filled in: a mild nausea and achiness, the subtle gnawing of pain from the new wound. The need to get up and move in spite of it. Overall, things seemed a little better than the last time he was awake.

So far, anyway.

He rolled carefully to the edge of the bed and sat up. He wondered whether Mulder had gotten his e-mail. He was supposed to be checking the hospital video for the guy who'd stuck in his mind. Maybe he'd even written back by now. The thought made him want to check, but it was too soon to clutter his head with whatever was going on in Owensburg. He should give some time to the here-and-now.

He stood and reached for the robe Carrie had lent him. Mulder hadn't had a chance yet to ask him why he'd put the video feed in his old apartment. Maybe he hadn't stopped to think about it. And what would he answer if Mulder did ask?

On the way to the bathroom, he noticed Carrie in the living room, reading. On his way back, he stopped in the doorway.

She smiled when she saw him. "Welcome to the land of the living. You slept a long time, which is a good thing."

"Didn't even have any dreams." He shrugged. "At least, not any I can remember."

"That's good. It means you were sleeping deeply." She set aside her magazine. "If you're hungry, feel free to rummage around in the fridge. Or if you want something particular, just ask. I'd be glad to fix something for you."

"I'll take some of that yogurt, if you got it," he said. "I'm overdue on the pain meds."

"I did. Picked up five flavors. Take your pick."

"Thanks."

He went to the kitchen. The broad window above the sink and counter faced east. In the distance he could see the vast flatness they'd traveled the day before. He stood there for a moment, gazing out at it. It was like he'd wakened to an entirely different world, one devoid of the twists and shadows and weights of his own.

*~*~*~*~*

3:27 p.m.

The room was very warm, but the window was open and a soft breeze lifted the lace curtains, making them float gently inward, as if they were riding waves.

The girl moved a foot carefully. Her legs were heavy, leaden, though it was possible to flex her fingers and toes, and to move her arms to some degree. She'd heard Four say that it would take weeks, maybe even longer, for her body to regenerate. From what, she wasn't sure yet. And the trick was to learn more, to put together the puzzle pieces of her situation without rousing Four's awareness, because as soon as he sensed her thinking, his hand would reach out above her head and the sticky fog would return.

He meant well. At least, he believed he did. But she had her own needs beyond the scope of Four's intentions. She was cared for; she was fed here. She wasn't in pain or in danger... as far as she could tell. But she was a question mark, a generic being with no history suspended in the strange, confining reality of this room. Somewhere, as if from beyond a wall, she could feel the small but steady insistence of an identity, like a heartbeat, wanting to be known.

*~*~*~*~*

Longmont, Colorado
3:45 p.m.

Krycek paused in the doorway to the living room.

"Any chance I could sit out on the patio downstairs? Seems pretty nice out there."

"Sure." Carrie set her magazine aside. "I have some chairs, and a chaise lounge. I just haven't bothered to get them out yet. You going to be able to make it down the stairs okay?"

After a pause, he cleared his throat. "Yeah, I've been doing stairs. Just have to take my time."

Carrie went first, hesitating below the first few steps until she was satisfied that her patient was managing. Then she went ahead, down into the rec room, unlocked the sliding door and started to take out the chairs.

Krycek paused at the bottom of the stairs to look around. Foosball table, a couple of beanbag chairs. Basketball hoop. It had to be killing Carrie to look at those things. Or maybe she made it a point not to; maybe she didn't come down here. Maybe that's why she hadn't set out the patio furniture yet.

"Would you rather the chaise?" she asked when he stepped outside.

He nodded. "Yeah, I think so. I'll last longer in it. Soaking up some sun sounds good right now."

"Gives you vitamin D, too. They've done studies, you know."

He squinted against the brightness and went to the edge of the patio, looking toward one corner of the house and then the other. No neighboring windows in view--a good thing.

"Saw the foosball table in there," he said when she'd brought out the last of the chaise cushions. "Is Tyler coming home for the summer?"

"He was supposed to." She forced a dubious smile. "But there's some camp Ron wants him to go to. It won't leave much time afterward, before school starts again."

His mouth opened slightly. Finally he closed it. "What's Tyler want to do?"

She shrugged. "I'm not sure. He tells me wants to see me, but he sounds really interested in the camp, too. I'm not sure whether he's just trying to make me feel better by saying he wants to come here, or..." Another shrug. "No clue. I never thought it would get to the point where I couldn't read my own kid."

Krycek settled himself on the chaise lounge and put his feet up. Carrie went to one of the raised beds, sat on the edge and started to pull up the dried plants from last year.

He watched the set of her mouth, the way she worked, tighter at first, then gradually loosening. Still, there was another possibility behind the plans for summer camp. Not that it was his place to bring it up. But it was hard not to see the potential for it, given the kind of experience he'd had with a so-called father.

Or maybe he was just reading into the situation.

He closed his eyes and focused on the sun heating his skin, and let himself loosen in the welcome warmth.

*~*~*~*~*

Owensburg, Kentucky
5:14 p.m.

"You told Krycek about Emily?"

Scully frowned. "It came up in conversation, Mulder. While we were driving here."

Apparently, from his expression, the condensed version wasn't going to do.

"We were talking about what the Syndicate was doing with the beryllium they're getting from Beeson-Lymon, how the sale of it is used to finance their hybrid research, and I said something about how despicable it was to create helpless children... And he looked shocked. Mulder, he had no idea what I was talking about. He said he was certain the Project wasn't creating children." She paused. "But of course that led to why I would have assumed they had."

"And you told him what exactly?"

"That I discovered her a year and a half ago"--she pursed her lips--"through circumstances that I didn't go into. And that you investigated, but eventually your leads dried up."

"What did he say?"

"He wondered whether what was going on in San Diego might have been part of the work of this Pasadena group. He said the Project has no operations on the west coast."

"Sounds like while we're waiting for Krycek to track down this group in Pasadena, it might not hurt to go back to San Diego and see what we can find."

"Depending on what kind of assignment Manny and I get after we're finished here. If they keep us working together."

He sighed. "Yeah."

He got up, drifted to the window and looked out, jaw set. Finally he returned and sat down again. "Sounds like your trip with Krycek was enlightening."

She shrugged. "It was difficult, Mulder. But every once in a while something unexpected would come out."

"Like?"

"He asked me to call the hospital and request that they not feed Tracy, to make it easier for her to slip away at the end. He said that where he grew up, that's what they did to people who were dying. And at some point later, it occurred to me to ask him whether these dying people he was referring to were children. I don't know what suggested that connection to me."

"And what did he say?"

"He said yes. It was obvious he didn't want to talk about it."

"Almost sounds like he was living in some sort of group situation. But where would they just let children go like that? I wonder where he grew up."

Scully shrugged. "I have no idea."

*~*~*~*~*

To: spooky@quick.net
From: topaz@rift.net
Re Jeremiah Smith: Yeah, I know him. I visited the first agricultural colony three years ago. Nothing official, just checking it out because a source had told me about it. Smith likes to be cryptic, which was getting on my nerves, but the operation was an eye-opener. He has the ability to heal.

Saw him again a year later. They'd moved the operation to a place about 50 miles away. He was talking about having some sort of critical information to share "with the right person", and he mentioned that he'd taken you to the first location, so I'm guessing he was thinking about you as a candidate. His take was that you basically ignored whatever larger picture he wanted to show you once you'd seen the girl clones; he seemed irked about that. But he didn't tell me his secret, either, so I guess neither of us rates. Aside from that, I've always gotten the feeling that he's definitely not committed to the colonization agenda and was looking for a way to trip it up... or for someone (human) who could do it for him because he can't or won't do the deed himself. No idea what to make of the possibility of him working with this other clone, though.

Re Vanek: You're not likely to find anything. Remember this woman grew up in a place where neighbors turned in neighbors to the authorities and kids were trained to inform on their parents. You learn quickly enough that you can't trust anybody with anything. You figure out how to protect yourself and your work because nobody else is going to do it. It's not like here. She probably doesn't even have her data on a computer. Maybe on some sort of portable drive. Could even be on paper, possibly encrypted.

Re Fowley: Never actually met her, but was informed by a third party a few years back that we shared some DNA. Nice surprise, right? Sounds like the group's cleaning house, getting rid of anyone associated with the old man.

And for what it's worth, I didn't choose the old fuckers as "associates". They're pathetic cowards who try to convince themselves they're doing something noble while they screw the race over to save their own asses. But they were where the game was being played, and if you don't play, you have no chance at all to affect the outcome.

*~*~*~*~*

Owensburg, Kentucky
7:36 p.m.

"He seems a bit touchy about the syndicate men," Scully said, peering over Mulder's shoulder at the computer screen. "What exactly did you say to him?"

He shrugged. "I just said it looked like Diana's murder was their work. I guess I said "your old associates". It wasn't an accusation." His lower lip pushed forward and he went back to reading.

"And evidently Cancer Man never bothered to tell him he had a sister. Or half-sister. Mulder, I can't imagine what that would be like, to have some outsider tell you you had another sibling your parent never bothered to tell you about." She straightened. "I'm going to go get a quick shower. Then I should write up what I remember about Emily's situation and send it to Krycek."

He nodded absently and scrolled to the top of Krycek's e-mail. So Krycek knew Jeremiah Smith. He didn't just say "I've met him" or "I ran across him once". And Smith had been frustrated with him.

Looking up, he closed his eyes and tried to think back to his visit to the ginseng installation. It was true; he'd pretty much gotten tunnel vision once he saw the clones. Even though they weren't Samantha, just to have her there, to be able to touch her and look into her eyes, everything about her so familiar, even after all the intervening years... It had been overwhelming.

Mulder opened his eyes and returned to the message. Krycek certainly wasn't holding out hope of anyone finding Vanek's research. Though his comment about her work possibly being on paper reminded him of the printout the Gunmen had found at the drop site at the Baltimore airport. Spooky could easily have months or years worth of them stored somewhere. They might yield some information, if you could trace trends across time. And he knew where Smoky lived. Or at least, he knew where the old bastard had lived a couple of years ago. He'd have to check the place out...

Or maybe not, in case the Syndicate might have the place under surveillance, just waiting for him to show up. Maybe he could get Byers and Frohike to go, and Langly could provide eyes and ears outside. Or if Smoky had moved, maybe Krycek would know where he'd gone. Though he'd probably have to be a little more careful with the wording he was using if he expected Krycek to feel generous enough to offer that kind of information.

Mulder scrolled down. Krycek's points about the influence of Vanek's cultural background were well taken, but one sentence made him stop. Krycek was talking about the attitude the Soviet system engendered in its subjects, but the language he was using was distinctly personal: "You learn quickly enough", and "You figure out". Krycek was obviously fluent in Russian, and while he hadn't for a minute bought Krycek's story about his parents being Cold War immigrants--a good thing now, knowing just how far off the mark it had been--he'd never considered the possibility that Krycek might actually have grown up there.

Except that it made no sense. How would Krycek have ended up outside the country. And why?

*~*~*~*~*

Longmont, Colorado
8:47 p.m.

Carrie slipped the thermometer from her patient's mouth. She glanced at the reading and then at him.

"You know, up until about an hour ago I'd have said you'd made a lot of progress today, but my guess is that if I were to test your blood pressure right now, I'd find it fairly elevated." She paused. "Am I right?"

He pushed out a breath and finally glanced over at her. "That obvious, huh?"

She gave a small smile. "Well, if I were to rate what I'm seeing, I'd say it's somewhere along about, oh... caged tiger."

She set the thermometer aside. "Look, I know it's not like last time; the physical symptoms aren't nearly so aggressive..." She shrugged. "I guess you just need to know it's difficult on this end. Someone shows up in bad shape, with two gunshot wounds and a need for secrecy, but no story, and I have to hide it from Tyler. I realize you have no desire to spill your guts here; I know it's hard for any guy, and believe me, I don't mean to pry. But I do want to help you--you know I do, Alex--and I'm feeling a little helpless, frankly. I guess I need some reassurance. And a place to start." She gave what she hoped was a positive but non-intrusive look.

He turned away. She watched his chest rise and fall.

"Hell, I wouldn't know where to start," he said finally. "Not much in my life's likely to make any sense to"--he turned to her--"anyone who lives a normal life. Guess it would sound a lot like... science fiction."

Carrie leaned forward in her chair, resting her elbows on her knees.

"You know the stuff that was giving me the flashbacks before?"

"The black wormy things?"

"Yeah." He sniffed in a breath. "Everything revolves around that. The first time I saw the stuff, I was eleven years old. You know anything about the Tunguska event?"

"Wasn't it... some kind of giant meteor impact over part of Siberia?"

"Yeah." He glanced up at the ceiling. "Some years after that, the black stuff started showing up in the area. It would take over people, animals. Like it did me."

"What do you mean, take over?"

"When it gets in you, it takes over your thought processes, your nervous system--"

"Some kind of virus?"

"Worse than that. It's sentient. Took me from D.C. to North Dakota, put me on a plane, then in a rental car until I got it to where it wanted to go." He glanced over at her. "Sounds insane, right?"

Carrie inhaled and held the breath a moment. "Well, yes... but I saw the kind of crazy results my tests were giving me." She shrugged. "Go ahead."

"Anyway, the Russian scientists who were called in figured whatever it was, if they could find out how it worked, maybe they could turn it into a weapon. So they started studying it, and experimenting on political prisoners."

"Why?"

"To find a vaccine. So they'd be able to protect their own troops."

"And you say you saw this as a boy?"

"Someone took me there, someone who was working to control it."

"But why? Why would anyone expose a child to that kind of thing?" The idea was worse than appalling. "Where were your parents, to allow this?"

Alex let out a sharp sound that wasn't quite a laugh. "It was my"--he seemed to swallow around the word--"father who took me. He wanted me to know what I was going to be up against. What my life was going to be about."

A moment of stunned silence and Carrie realized her mouth was open. She worked to close it.

"Wow. Just wow. I can't believe what kind of father it would take to... to hold that kind of attitude, to expose a child to something like that."

"Tip of the iceberg," he said. "Believe me, you don't want to know." He let out a  sigh. "But that's water under the bridge now." His voice had gotten gritty. "Anyway, today--"

"It was a message you got, right? It was obvious you were frustrated after that."

He nodded. "This whole thing's ended up being more complicated than probably anybody imagined.  There's a lot of jockeying for influence, power plays, spy vs. spy kind of thing involved." He looked past her. "It all adds up to there being hardly anyone you can trust. That mail--turns out a guy I figured I was going to be able to count on, kind of my ace in the hole, may be working against us..."

He shook his head and paused. There was a glint of something in his eye. Moisture.

"Trust shattered?"

"Yeah." His Adam's apple dipped. "If it's what it looks like. It's kind of like... drowning in the ocean, way the hell away from land, or any help, and every once in a while a piece of wood drifts by and you get to hang on for a while." Silence, except for the distant ticking of the hall clock. "And then it's gone again, ripped away one way or the other."

*~*~*~*~*

9:14 p.m.

Eighteen paused in the doorway. The bed was draped in shadow, the quilt pushed to one side against the lingering warmth of the day. The smooth head showed above the top of the sheet. Four sat in the chair, his hand outstretched above the female's torso.

"You're checking again?" she said.

"Yes."

"Then you've not yet made a decision."

He turned to look at her. The gray in his hair seemed more muted, less silver than usual. Lines of concern ridged his brow. "No."

"This goes beyond, you know," she said quietly. "Here, there's such a thing as meddling, which is beyond mere saving."

"The personal," he said, "which goes beyond the interest of the group."

"The group is what we know." She rubbed a thumb against the door jamb.

"Humans operate in the personal, Eighteen. It could provide a motivation." He turned back to the figure on the bed.

"It could add a burden."

"Yes, possible. Which is why I've not yet decided."

"But the possibility is there?"

"Yes. Still viable."

*~*~*~*~*

Owensburg, Kentucky
10:36 p.m.

Scully turned off Dale's computer and went quietly to the picture window. Dull, silver light from a nearly-full moon illuminated the still-life outside.

It had always been hard to think of Emily, to bring the searing pain back center-stage while trying to catch some glimpses of the little girl who, for as strange as her biology or the circumstances of her creation, had still been a real child, her own flesh and blood. Re-opening that chapter was an exercise in reaching through thorns in the hope of grasping a flower.

Krycek had said there could be others. The idea had occurred to her, too, more than once, but she'd managed to brush it aside as silly speculation. Perhaps she just hadn't wanted to face the possibility.

And there had been disturbing parallels, thinking back on Emily now. Though the causes were different, both Emily and Tracy had developed conditions that appeared to deliberately shut them down. Both their bodies had disappeared. And something that had passed her by completely at the time--Dr. Calderon running from her in the hospital hallway--now seemed to have a chilling twist: She'd reached for the man and found it to be someone else. It was exactly what Mulder described seeing when Jeremiah Smith had escaped them in the Social Security building.

But she could tell him all this in the morning. Both of them could use a clear night's sleep, and if she mentioned it now, he'd likely be up all night, endless possibilities clicking together in tentative combinations in his head, a Rubik's cube of speculation.

Scully breathed in deeply and exhaled, attempting to let the subject go, then turned and went into Mulder's room. Going around to the far side of the bed, she pulled back the covers and slipped between the sheets. A warm arm came out and pulled her close. She settled against Mulder's side, her head on his chest.

"Finish writing your e-mail to Krycek?"

"Mm-hm." She closed her eyes. She could feel his head dip toward her;  lips brushed against her hair. A big, warm hand smoothed the hair back from her face and settled beside her temple.

"I'm surprised you're not asleep already, Mulder," she said.

"Been thinking."

She waited, but he said nothing more. Deliberately, she replaced each image of the hospital, Dr. Calderon or the white, sand-filled coffin with pictures of her mother, the room she was staying in, and the colorful four-year-old New Rose. She would have to visit her mom. It had been nearly week, and she was making good progress against the disease that could have proved fatal without the alertness of Will Wilkins, and the information Krycek had provided.

Eventually she shifted, turning away from Mulder, then settling back against him. After a moment his chin came to rest against her shoulder. His breathing was deep and steady, not the shallow breathing of someone falling sleep. She opened one eye and glanced at the clock. Nearly twenty minutes had passed.

She turned her head and glanced up at him. Open eyes met her in the dark.

"Still awake?" she said, puzzled.

"Still thinking."

*~*~*~*~*

To: topaz@rift.net
From: spooky@quick.net
Got to thinking tonight about that trip we made to Russia, and something that happened in the parking lot at JFK before we left. Besides the fact that I was acting like an ass. I remember you saying that your parents were Cold War immigrants, but more than that, it was the way you said it that stuck with me, the look in your eyes and how you almost spit the words at me. Knowing the facts now, I can't imagine how hard it must have been to get them out.
                                                                                                           -M

(End Chapter 3)

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