Saturday, 29 May 1999
Carrie wrapped her fingers around her coffee cup and closed her eyes against the glare of the morning sunshine coming from the east. The air was still chilly, but the sunlight against her skin, elemental as it was, felt absolutely wonderful.
Footfalls sounded on the stairs inside the house and came closer. There was a click of the latch on the sliding patio door, and her guest appeared in the opening.
"Mind if I have some of that coffee in the kitchen?" he said.
"If you keep it to a small cup." She turned to fully face him. "Sorry, it interacts with your meds. Do you want me to go up and get you some?"
"I can do it, as long as I take my time. Anyway, it's not like I'm going to be running any marathons the rest of the day." He paused. "Uh, is it okay if I check my e-mail after that? I'm expecting something."
"Sure. I'll go up and sign in in a minute. By the way, thanks for giving me the nudge to come out here again. I'd forgotten how pleasant it can be."
Her guest--mysterious guest--grunted half a reply and disappeared inside. Carrie turned back to consider her neighbor's huge oak tree, which would cast an umbrella of welcome shade over the yard by mid-afternoon. It might not be worth asking Alex whether he'd slept well given his remarks the evening before. For her own part, she'd found herself awake several times contemplating an organism intelligent enough to direct--or appear to direct--a human on an extended journey to a specific destination. She was known by her colleagues as someone able to think outside the box, but this claim seemed to be more a case of tossing the box out the nearest window. Perhaps using a catapult.
On the other hand, aside from the very real psychological trauma that the mysterious substance had brought on in Alex the last time (a point obviously in favor of an expanded set of hypotheses), her experience with him had been that he was serious and determined, not a man you'd suspect of adhering to wild, unsubstantiated theories. Or easily influenced by anything he couldn't prove or verify for himself.
Carrie took a final sip from her cup. Were the black wormy things--a shape that had traumatized Alex so much the first time she worked with him that she'd had to check all his food for anything vaguely resembling it--a vector for something that had dispersed from the meteor hit? And what was the story behind a father who would traumatize a son by exposing him to anything even vaguely like this?
The way I initially found Emily is something I can't explain logically. Suffice it to say that I did encounter her. Mulder discovered later that children like her were being produced in a nursing home where elderly women were given hormones to enable them to carry and deliver the embryos they'd been implanted with. Evidently the children were then adopted out, or at least, that was the case with Emily. We were told that she had a rare form of autoimmune hemolytic anemia, and as a result was enrolled as a subject in a double-blind medical trial run by a pharmaceutical firm named Prangen, located in Chula Vista, just south of San Diego proper. But the company may have been a front, as Mulder discovered that the doctor who was treating her was working with the people producing these children. At a certain point we noticed that Emily had a greenish cyst at the base of her neck, and once it had been punctured during a biopsy procedure, not only did she excrete the green fluid we've observed in what Mulder believes to be clones or hybrids, but she began to rapidly develop an autoplastic mass, a tumor that was determined to have its origin in the cyst and that spread quickly along the nervous system to the brain, killing her.
Having now seen what happened to Tracy, I admit I can't help but consider the disturbing similarities of the two cases, not in the physical particulars but in some rather startling general terms. 1) Though Tracy had normal human blood, and the physiology of the two cases are distinct, in both instances there was a rapid, almost deliberate-seeming attack on vital biological systems, quickly resulting in death. 2) In both cases, the patient's body disappeared (the coffin I received turned out to be filled with sand.) And 3) one more thing I wouldn't have realized prior to a discussion Mulder and I had yesterday: at one point, Emily's doctor came to the hospital surreptitiously and injected her with something. I noticed him in the hallway and went after him, but he took off running. When a security guard and I caught up with the person we'd been chasing and turned him around, it was someone else, although dressed in the type of clothing I was convinced I'd seen on the doctor. So if Mulder's asumption is correct, we may be dealing with shapeshifters in both cases.
I hope this account will prove helpful to you in some way. Let us know if you have questions about any particular detail. I will have Mulder send you his own recollection of what he discovered there.
I hope, too, that you've found good care for your wounds, and that you're making progress on the road to healing. I don't say this lightly, however, as I know how deeply someone can imprint upon you even when you only have the privilege of knowing them for a very short time.
Four sat beside the bed. The period for viability was ending, and any action taken would have to happen now. He closed his eyes for a moment. Reaching out with his mind, he became aware of the sunlight on the roof, the gravel driveway leading to the little house, and Eighteen washing dishes in the kitchen. Her hands were busy, but she was pondering this decision he faced.
Or this precipice, as she saw it. She believed that to do this was to go too far. That it was one thing to equip a species to defend itself against an invasion of the homeworld they'd built, but quite another to step past the clear line of what concerned their survival and reach into individual lives, to do what they couldn't do for themselves, and in the process create a consequence that would affect their lives for years to come.
Of course, he'd crossed this barrier into the personal before. Perhaps those instances were the easy first steps on the journey that had led him here: a healing here, an exposure of information there. They were not so different, nor arguably any more influential, than the thousand random occurrences that could influence any individual life's path at a given point.
He looked at the female, eyelids thin in sleep and, reaching forward, spread his hand above the lower half of her torso. He closed his eyes again and focused.
It was the small gestures that had stayed with him: the smoothing of hair from the face, the gentle rocking, the welcoming of the child who had intruded on the scene. All were elements that defined this species at its best, and that deserved to be rewarded.
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Re San Diego: Scully was busy on the front lines with her daughter, so I went searching for background information. Paid a visit to her doctor, who claimed he couldn't transfer his records on her to the hospital where we had her because it might end up costing the corporation in legal fees. Nice guy. In the end I figure it was only a line anyway. Given that he was part of whatever group was behind this, they wouldn't have allowed their work to be exposed under any conditions. I tracked the doctor, ended up at a rest home where he was on staff, prepping elderly women to be used as gestational chambers. Did a little poking around and saw a live fetus in a jar of green liquid, and some small vials of the green stuff. Took a handful of them but in the end only got away with one. Not sure if it was actually the same substance as in the jar with the fetus. I took it to the lab, but they said whatever it was, it was temperature-sensitive and the composition had probably changed. They said their best guess was that it was some sort of nutrient medium.
Someone must have spotted me, because at the end of my visit to the rest home, SDPD showed up and then the doctor, a guy named Calderon. I guess I put two and two together in the moment--Emily's green blood and something about Calderon's walk and facial expression. When I saw the SDPD cop was going to fire at Calderon in spite of my warning not to, I got the hell out of there. (What is it with people? When you warn them about potentially lethal aliens or clones, they never pay any attention.) But outside, the cop showed up unharmed, said he had Calderon cuffed in the hallway. It was all split-second... and then the 'cop' gets into Calderon's SUV and drives off. So yeah, it appears we've got some sort of shape-shifter involved.
Scully may have told you Emily's body disappeared. I followed up on Prangen and they gave me a line about Calderon as a one-off rogue and that the trial had been shut down. That was the only information I could get. Company seems to have a solid history beyond that, as far as I could tell. Checked with the SDPD guy a few months later and he hadn't been able to find out anything more. Calderon--or whoever he actually was--appeared to have left the area. Local hospitals were alerted, in case there were any more kids like Emily around, but none of them reported having seen a case like hers.
That's all I have. Ask if you have questions.
One more thing: Friends of mine intercepted a printout last week destined for Smoky, with some kind of update data (we assume) from Vanek's work. I'm thinking he may have more of these stored somewhere. Might be useful to see whether they tell a story. Was he still living in the dingy little place on I St. in Foggy Bottom?
"So you understand?" Mulder said, speaking quietly, leaning close.
Angie Connors nodded. "Any inquiry about the kids' health from anyone not known around town. Or inquiries about them and Dr. Vanek."
"Mulder, you know," Scully said, resting a hand on his sleeve, "these men may not be above trying to co-opt someone local, someone who needs money, for example."
He sighed. "Yeah. You're right."
"So anyone, no matter who, asking about the kids' health or doctor." Angie shook her head, resigned.
"What has Dr. Wykoff told them?" Mulder asked. "Do they know about any of this?"
"Not any of the details, thank god. Just that Dr. Vanek left suddenly, and they switched to Dr. Wykoff... and that she'd inadvertently misdiagnosed them and they're not diabetic after all."
"It might be a good idea to keep to their old dietary restrictions for the most part, except in private," Scully said. "Maybe make the occasional treat a private celebration for keeping up appearances."
"Kids eat too much junk these days already. I've tried to keep things pretty much as they were. The problem will come when one of them spouts off to a friend, not thinking, and then it gets around." Angie looked at Mulder. "You know how fast word travels in this town."
"I do. We both do."
"I'd hate to make them fearful, or traumatize them," Scully said. "But on the other hand, these men aren't known for being stopped by obstacles in their way. In this case, it would make sense for your children to be alerted to anyone asking about their health. And I know that often they'll pay more attention to a stranger than to something their parents tell them."
Angie gave an exhausted half-smile. "Tell me about it."
"Do you think it would be okay if I talked with them briefly?"
Angie nodded. "That would probably be a darn good idea. I'll round them up."
Angie got up and disappeared down the hallway. Scully and Mulder both stood. Mulder stared out the window. His lower lip pushed forward.
"What do you think, Mulder?" Her hand grazed his sleeve.
He turned back to her. "I think Angie's got one of the most thankless jobs around, raising these kids, worrying about them, trying to protect them all by herself. Probably beating herself up inside for taking Vanek up on her offer in the first place."
"But it wasn't her fault, Mulder. Vanek was slick. And if you believe what Ché says... Did you know he and Krycek call her 'the piranha'?"
Mulder's eyebrows rose. "Still, it's not likely to make her feel any better. She's their mother."
"They're in here," Angie's voice came from an adjacent room.
Scully led the way into what turned out to be a playroom. Mulder leaned against the door frame.
"Robin. Jared. Leah." Scully knelt down beside the three, who were playing a board game on the carpet. "I have something very important to talk to you about."
Mulder watched the pain in Angie's expression. He tapped her on the shoulder and motioned her out into the hallway.
"No matter what you may be thinking--and I have a pretty good idea, because I'd be thinking the same thing myself--there was nothing you did that brought this on," he said. "We have eyes and ears around town--Rita and Dale, Sandy Miller and others who know what's going on and who'll be staying on alert for anyone asking questions. The blind couple--what are their names?"
"Ray and Debbie."
"Yeah. Nothing much gets past those two. There will be people all over town helping you keep an eye out. And if you need help, Rita knows how to contact us."
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
The old man had a place in Woodley Park just for show, for when the Project men were in town, but he liked that little hole on I Street better, so yeah, it's probably your best target. The group doesn't know about it as far as I know, but don't go there yourself; get someone else to do it. You don't want to give them any indications that you're still involved and working against them.
If you find what you're looking for, maybe you could send a few sample pages this way. Also any of Tracy's medical records from the hospital, if they haven't disappeared. I'm with someone in the medical field at a university, and they might have some input that would be useful. At this point, any workable information is better than nothing.
Know what you mean about people. What part of "aliens" and "shapeshifters" don't they get?
Thanks for the SD info. I'll get my guy on it, start checking out the company and the doctor, but I'll need Emily's full name, address, parents' names--anything that might end up in records they'd keep.
The I Street place has no security; I think there was a part of him that wanted to tempt fate, or maybe he was just so damned smug he figured he could handle anything that came up. It's easier to spring the lock on the back door than the front. There's an alley right where 26th turns into I. Take it around to the rear.
Conejo Hills, California
Maria drove along the coast road with the window down. The air was cool and damp and a curtain of fog hung just beyond the beach, but the scent of salt air was fresh and bracing.
She would have assumed, having finally arrived at her destination yesterday, that today she'd want nothing more than to lie in bed and relax, finally free from the prospect of having to face another eight or ten hours in the truck. But no, she's wakened promptly at 8 a.m. feeling that almost anything would be preferable to staying within the four cramped walls of a motel room. So she'd taken the map from the packet of information on the desk and charted an exploratory loop through part of the town, then via a winding, wooded road to the coast, and now north, where she'd soon pick up a country road headed back in the general direction of where she'd started.
She'd made one stop, at a huge rock in the shape of a gum drop, where there was a pullout for parking. She'd drifted to an observation point, then to a fence where waves could be seen crashing on the rocks far below. The scene had reinforced her belief in the deplorable level of intelligence humanity generally displayed, because despite the clear warning sign on the fence about the danger of sudden rogue waves, a hole had been cut in the chain link long ago and she'd watched three people go through it on their way down to the rocks and potential disaster. There were times when she questioned her efforts to develop a vaccine that would save such people, though in the end, the vaccine was as much directed at Purity as anything--a stop sign. This far and not a step farther.
The mountains opposite the shoreline ended abruptly and Maria's turn-off came into view. Exiting, she followed a curve onto a two-lane road that cut a path between the mountains' shadow on the right and miles of broad, flat agricultural lands on the left. Crops were planted in some of the fields: endless rows of broccoli, cabbage and onions whose scents drifted toward her on the crisp breeze. A mile down the road, she came to an intersection with a stop light. The road ahead promised only more of the same, but the one to the right might offer something a bit different and, craning to see, she could make out a field of flowers, thin horizontal strata of whites, pinks, purples and blues, beyond the rows of potted palms on the corner. Maria signalled and turned right.
Beyond the flower field, where short, brown-skinned men were gathering cut flowers, there was a bridge, and yet another intersection. On an impulse, Maria turned right again, though after a few snaking curves, she decided that this time perhaps she'd made a mistake, as the road seemed to be leading toward a narrow canyon up ahead. Then, unexpectedly, a complex of buildings came into view on the left, whitewashed and of the style that seemed so in vogue in this southern part of California--terra cotta tile roofs, wrought iron balconies jutting from second-story windows. And bars--albeit decorative bars--on all the windows at ground level.
Maria pulled to the side of the deserted road, beside a windowless shack. Obviously the complex was old, and from the look of it, deserted, because there were parking lots of cracked asphalt that she could see from her vantage point, but no vehicles filled them. She started up again and drove a little farther, where she found a gate with a sign that said "Ventura State Hospital". The gate stood open.
Why not? She was in the mood for an adventure, and this place definitely piqued her curiosity. Maria eased onto the gas pedal and started up the entry road.
Carrie paused in the doorway to her patient's room. After a moment Alex stirred and turned toward her. He seemed to have radar for anyone within a certain radius of him, something that three years ago she'd attributed--possibly mistakenly, she realized now--to the mental trauma he'd been experiencing at the time.
"How are you doing?" she said. "I expected I was going to see you downstairs again."
"Tired," he said. He cleared his throat. "Weak, maybe."
"Anything worse than usual?" She approached the bed.
"Don't think so."
She sat down in the chair beside the bed. "More bad news in your e-mail?"
There was the briefest glimmer of a smile. "No. The opposite. Looks like I've got some help with... this nut I'm trying to crack." He paused. After a moment his eyes closed.
"Well, I'm glad for you. Nobody should have to work alone." She stood. "You call me if you need anything."
At the door she turned. "Maybe it's a letdown reaction."
"What's that?" One eye opened.
"A very non-scientific theory of mine, but it seems to hold, from what I've observed. When you have to be strong, you are; you tighten up and carry whatever load it is you have to carry, do whatever you need to do, even the seemingly impossible. But when you find the pressure's off--the danger's past, or you've got someone to share your burden--you let up mentally without realizing it, and that's when it hits you, the weight of whatever it is you've been doing." She smiled briefly. "It passes, though. It's just a stage and then you're on your way again."
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
I've been informed that the house in Reston where Monday's events took place has video feeds in many of the rooms. Does the Bureau have these recordings? If so, can I access them? Smoky's group is supposedly watching me, and if I view the tapes, I'll know how much and what they may have learned from Smoky's minion about me and what I'm looking for. Will be back in D.C. by 1 p.m. Please contact me as soon as you get this.
Her fingers searched for the edge of the quilt but found only the smoothness of the sheet. She stretched her mind to listen. Eighteen was folding laundry in the kitchen, and Four...
Four was walking down the gravel driveway, past another house, to the mailbox.
There was a faint, warm feeling in her belly, almost a vibration. She slipped a hand from the sheet, reached up carefully and pressed her index finger against the window glass, feeling the warmth of the smooth surface.
She knew something now, a piece to her puzzle. The past two days she'd practiced loosening her eyelids, keeping them stretched perfectly thin to feign sleep. When Four came in, the image had been in his mind again--the bright hallway and the interior window on the far side.
Only this time he'd stepped closer to the scene across the hall. Inside the room she'd seen before, a man in jeans and a blue T-shirt stood beside a bed while the man and woman who had been standing outside in Four's earlier image removed tubes and wires from a pale girl lying there. When they were done, the man came closer. Carefully he smoothed the hair away from the girl's face. Then he reached into his pocket and brought out something small, which he set on top of the blanket. Working one-handed, he managed to put the earring into the hole in the girl's ear and then coaxed the tiny back piece on.
She had no idea who the man was; he seemed completely unfamiliar. But the identity of the girl had been clear from the start.
Carefully her fingers traveled up her neck, then along the ridge of her jaw until they reached the small, warm bump of the turquoise and silver earring.
Near I St and 26th NW
Frohike glanced up at the back of the old brick building and adjusted his microphone and earpiece. "Is it a go?" he asked.
"Clear where I am," came Byers' voice. He was stationed farther back in the parking lot.
"Ditto for the street," came Langly through slight static.
Frohike pulled out a lockpick, tapped the door tentatively with a gloved finger--no juice, thank goodness--then inserted the pick and worked it carefully. This could be like going into the grottoes of hell... in real world terms. Who knew what they'd find?
He felt the lock give and carefully turned the handle, then eased the door open. A darkened hallway opened in front of him. He switched on his headlamp and glanced up to make sure there wasn't any sort of booby trap above the door, but the area seemed clear. Grabbing a small plastic canister from his pocket, he sprinkled powder across the opening, but no laser beam appeared. True, Alex Krycek had told Mulder the place had no security, but in spite of Mulder's seeming new openness to trusting the guy, Frohike wasn't about to take any chances when it was his own ass on the line.
Frohike stepped through the doorway. "I'm in. No swinging blade over the doorway. At least, nothing yet."
He started down the hallway. Laundry on the left, kitchen on the right, with the crusty remains of a frozen dinner sitting in the sink beside several cigarette butts. Then a half-bath on the left, and the front of the place, a living room distinctly smaller than Mulder's. Small TV on a stand, a couch and chair, side table with ashtray, a half-empty bottle of St. Pauli Girl, and several newspapers: Washington Post, New York Times, Le Monde. The old bastard hadn't been much of a housekeeper--there was dust on tables, ledges and armrests--but he probably hadn't wanted to let anyone in to snoop around.
A set of stairs led to a second story with two bedrooms and another bath.
"What's going on in there?" Langly's voice crackled in his ear.
"Nothing yet. Just checking out the place first. I'm upstairs. Everything still clear out there?"
"Yeah, but don't get carried away."
"Aw, I wanted to check out the sex toys."
"You're kidding? He's got sex toys?"
"Moron." Frohike chuckled. "Gotcha!"
The back bedroom seemed to be the one Smoky used. There was a single bed, a dresser, a faded rug on the floor. Frohike went through one drawer after another--nothing but the old geezer's clothes--and moved to the closet. Hanging suits, shirts, ties. On the floor, shoes and two file boxes. Frohike set them out on the rug and felt along the walls for anything interesting, like the outline of a safe, but there was nothing.
He backed out of the closet. Neither file box had a lock. He opened the first one, filled with newspaper clippings and old photographs, and quickly set it aside. The second one seemed to contain the usual household expense receipts. He remembered the feel and look of the paper Vanek's results had been printed on, but he wasn't finding it here.
"Frohike? How's it going?"
Byers' voice made Frohike jump.
"Fine, until you just scared the bejezus out of me."
"Any sign of the documents?"
"Unfortunately, I've got nada. I'm going to check the other bedroom and then go downstairs."
"Fine. Use your time economically. I'll check back in a few minutes if I don't hear from you before then."
"Ten-four," Frohike replied, and set the one file box back inside the closet. He went to the bed and felt along the opening between the mattress and box spring, but all he found there was a crumpled copy of a magazine called Roman a Clef. After a quick glance he tossed it back where he'd found it.
The front bedroom wasn't any more revealing. Unless, Frohike thought, you wanted evidence that the old buzzard had no life. There wasn't even a bed in it. After checking the usual places, he went downstairs, the file box of clippings and pictures in hand.
Hall closet, drawer in the side table, a check under the sofa cushions and down the sides of the leather wing chair. Nothing but bits of the usual litter, 17 cents and a parking receipt from the Watergate. Two hats, an overcoat and an umbrella comprised the entire inventory of the closet. Frohike made an obscene gesture at the shadowed interior.
"Hey, Frohike..." It was Langly again.
"Unless somebody's coming, save it, because I'm not in a good mood. This place is a total bust."
"Okay, I'll wait."
Frohike started down the hallway and paused at the intersecting doorways. Bathroom or kitchen? Not eager to see what the old buzzard kept in the bathroom vanity, or whether he left a bathtub ring, he opted for the kitchen. He went through the lower cabinets, sparsely populated with a handful of pots and pans and a few thin plastic plates and bowls left over from convenience meals, and half a dozen silverfish that scurried away from his headlamp. He growled, sighed, then pulled a chair from the table and set it next to the counter so he could check the upper cabinets. Which turned out not to have anything more valuable than the ones below them. Inside the fridge, a piece of cake covered in plastic wrap was starting to mold nicely. He closed the door, then pulled the bulky appliance out far enough to verify that no valuables had been stashed behind it.
"Okay, you bastard, where'd you keep the stuff?"
His comment brought immediate replies from the other two. Frohike frowned. "Disregard," he sighed.
Under the sink sat two paper grocery bags. He could see crumpled packaging and the shriveled peelings from an apple sticking up above the one on the right. The left one--he pulled it out--seemed to be a recepticle for old newspapers. He picked up the top few. They'd been placed very neatly; in fact, it wasn't whole newspapers but just a few crisply folded sections. He took out another handful.
"Eureka, boys! We're in business!"
Below the seven or eight folded newspaper sections was at least half a grocery bag of neatly-stacked lab printouts. Quickly he stood, ignoring the excited questions from his two companions, picked up the file box and the paper bag, nudged the undersink door closed with a foot and headed for the back door.
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Yes, we have the recordings, which means those with influence also know about them, and who they might be signed out to. However, I had a second copy made before they were logged into evidence, figuring you might have some interest in viewing them. Let me know how you want to connect on this.
Ventura State Hospital
Maria walked through a deeply shadowed archway and found herself at the entrance to a huge, grassy courtyard. Small roads--undoubtedly designed for service vehicles--passed through the north and south ends, and the entire thing was ringed with buildings, some with arcades and arched doorways, all with tile roofs, looking as if they were relics of another era, and probably another culture. She glanced up as two swallows kited by overhead and finally swept up into a nest wedged against the shadowed roof of a passageway.
She'd come across only one person so far in her ramblings here, a woman working for the satellite campus of a Los Angeles area university headquartered in a small building within the complex, who informed her that the place had for many years been a mental hospital, as the sign indicated, but that the hospital had closed several years earlier. Now, while the state bureaucrats in charge debated the future of the facility, it remained virtually empty.
And, as Maria herself had discovered, more often than not unlocked. She had tried various doors in a number of different small courtyards and had discovered that the majority of them yielded to her inquiring touch. She'd found what must have been dormitories, classrooms, even a small hospital with an operating room. The electricity was still hooked up, and several sinks had yielded running water. Which meant, if it came to that and the need to hide became paramount, that this might prove a convenient place to stay.
Besides, the campus was scenic and some of the plant life she'd encountered was quite exotic. In several courtyards she'd seen hibiscus bushes the size of trees, one of them with a trunk braided like challah, huge reddish-pink flowers accenting its obviously aged branches. There had been stands of white, yellow-throated iris in several locations, spreading trees covered in purple blossoms and a number of tall, spindly poinsettias accenting the white walls with their dramatic blood-red bracts.
Maria took a few steps into the courtyard. Silence hung over the lawns and the empty buildings in the sun. Turning, she looked up to see tiny plants--succulents and cactus--struggling to grow between the roof tiles, one of them shaped almost like a rose, thick-petaled in soft, mossy greens.
Stripped of its history, it was a supremely peaceful place. It might also prove a very useful place, were the need to arise.
Yes, she would definitely have to come here again.
"Thanks, guys," Mulder said. "Smoky'd be rolling around in his grave if he knew about this. Or maybe that's wishful thinking." Something sharp flashed in his eyes. "But a guy can hope."
"He deserves it," Frohike said. "The place was a pit, by the way. I mean, for someone with the kind of influence--and we can only presume, money--he must have had."
"We figure he put the data sheets where he did so if he encountered some emergency, he could just pick them up and walk away as if he were taking out the trash," Byers said.
"Which means he obviously considered them valuable," Langly added. "By the way"--he held out a package--"here are the tapes Skinner wanted you to have."
Mulder took them. "Great. Like I said, Smoky's old group is supposedly watching me, and I didn't want to put Skinner under suspicion by meeting with him directly."
"If they're watching you, aren't they going to know you're here with Scully?" Langly asked.
"I took a cab to my place first, then came here through the alleys."
Scully appeared from the bedroom at the sound of her name.
"We should be going," Byers said. "Keep us posted."
"Will do, boys."
Mulder ushered them out, then closed the door and locked it. He turned around and raised an eyebrow. "You look sharp, Agent Scully. I like the yellow blouse."
She shrugged. "I thought maybe it was time to break out of the mold. Besides, it's almost summer."
"You look"--he approached her, leaned down and covered her mouth with his own--"good enough to eat." A tentative brush of his tongue and her lips yielded, giving him entry. Current surged through him; her arms reached around his neck and held on. Lifting her up against him, he moved a few steps, pinning her against the kitchen doorway. Her legs locked around his waist.
"Mm?" A breath and then a return to her mouth.
"Mulder, I told my mother I'd be there at 2:45. And I need to stop at Ché's on the way and talk to him about this bank card of Sandy's. I promised her."
He buried his head against the side of her neck and smiled into the dark hollow. "I know."
"Rain check?" she said, brushing a kiss against his ear.
"I hope the forecast is for rain tonight."
"It is." He could hear the mischief in her voice. "Lots of rain, if I remember correctly."
He grinned, let her down and planted a kiss on top of her head. "Knock 'em dead, Scully."
She blushed and brushed her hands over her clothes, smoothing out the wrinkles. "I'm sorry I won't be here to check out those tapes with you." She paused. "I mean, in terms of solidarity; I'm not sure I could stand to re-watch our encounter with the Smoking Man. Being there in the flesh was more than enough."
"It's okay." After a pause, he bit his lip. "I was thinking that maybe it'd be better if I watched them alone, anyway. At least the first time."
She flashed him a look of concern. "I imagine the whole thing could be difficult." Her hand closed around his arm. "Don't take what you see too seriously, Mulder. Remember that the Smoking Man is dead now. He can't touch any of us anymore."
He nodded and wandered to the couch. When she'd gone, he picked up the box the Gunmen had brought, opened it and went through the tapes, looking at the labels. He slipped out the one labeled "A" and turned it over, then held it up, considering it. He tapped the edge against his upper lip. Finally, letting out a sigh, he got up and slipped it into the player.
"This is the information on the card," Scully said, handing Ché a piece of paper.
"Yes, I remember this card. Aleksei had me set up this account."
Scully's brow creased. "But how could you apply for an account you're not a signer on?"
Ché held up his fingers and wiggled them. "Remote influence."
"Mind you," he added, noting her look of disapproval, "the funding and everything was completely above-board. It was just that she had no ID to offer if she'd gone in directly." He shrugged. "Also, the last name I chose myself. Aleksei wanted to be assured that the card couldn't be used to trace her."
"Because he knew if she was able to get away, the Smoking Man would be looking for her."
"He was a despicable old vulture. I'm glad, for Aleksei's sake, that he's finally gone."
"They seemed to be working together at one point, at least from what we could gather. Krycek did things"--she pursed her lips and paused. Her mouth tightened. "He did things only someone like the Smoking Man would have ordered."
"I am sure Aleksei has done many things I would not want to know about. And yet people evolve, do they not? And one thing I know, gentle lady: that if Aleksei is on your side, you can count on him absolutely. He will not let you down."
"Yes, well, I'm not sure we've reached that point of trust yet. But I have to admit he's been very helpful to Mulder and me over the past several weeks." She paused. "So about this bank card. It's perfectly legitimate to use it?"
"Yes. Twelve hundred--the original amount--was received in cash; I believe it's what the old vulture paid her for assisting Krycek. And the remaining $900 was transferred from one of Aleksei's accounts."
Scully's eyebrows rose. "One of? You make it sound like he's wealthy."
"He has remaining, in actuality, still a fair amount." He shrugged. "It was how he was able to fund the vaccine research in Kraznoyarsk."
Scully eyes widened. "He was funding the Russian research?"
Ché's complexion quickly reddened. His mouth tightened. "I have definitely said too much."
Georgetown, Washington D.C.
Mulder clicked fast-forward on the remote. The tape was in a split-screen format that showed the living room, kitchen, a bedroom that appeared to be the one Krycek had ended up in, and the study where they'd had the encounter with Smoky. But there was no audio. It had been a frustrating discovery, but maybe this was all Skinner had been able to manage. And maybe it would force him to look more closely at clues he wouldn't have noticed otherwise.
From the date stamp, it appeared that Smoky, his goons, Krycek and his mother had arrived together at a little after 1:30 in the morning, which explained why Krycek had never called him back at the hospital several hours earlier as he'd agreed to.
His mother had been put immediately into the study, while Krycek had apparently been called in to confer with Smoky in the kitchen. Krycek definitely didn't look happy about being there. Smoky had a smug look, which was par for the course, as if he had everything--and everyone--under control. He seemed to be asking Krycek to do something that Krycek had no interest in. Beyond that, Krycek seemed to be in bad shape, exhausted or maybe in pain. He was leaning pretty heavily against the counter.
Finally he left the kitchen and almost immediately appeared on the study's feed, taking his mother's laptop, apparently searching it for information. Then there was a long space with nothing happening except for Smoky puffing on the occasional Morley in the kitchen, and one or the other of his guards stopping in briefly to report.
Fast-forwarding, Mulder scanned for movement. There. Krycek was getting up from his chair, approaching his mother with the laptop. He seemed to want her to take it, but she wasn't cooperating, probably unsure of where this was headed, and Krycek was getting impatient. The laptop was wobbling in his hand and he was about to--
Good save. At the last minute his mother caught it, but now both of them were down on the floor reaching for something. They came up again. Apparently it had been the mouse.
Mulder stopped the tape and rewound. He watched the wobbling laptop, the near-fall, and Krycek go down to the floor beside his mother a second after she did.
He switched to slow-motion. Her hand reached for the mouse, Krycek's hand went out...
He'd handed her something. Mulder rewound, watched the exchange again and clicked back to normal speed. His mother sat back on the couch and opened the laptop, but Krycek stepped in and took it. His mother looked scared, or at least uncertain. But as Krycek typed, her hand inched toward the split between two couch cushions, slipped between them and then returned to her lap. She was looking at something cupped in her hand. Whatever it was, it must have been meant as a sign; he could see her face relax momentarily.
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Sorry for not getting a message off to you sooner. It's been a long, unbelievable week, and we had to go right back to where we'd been staying to tie up some loose ends. My other excuse is that I'm still typing one-handed. But it just occurred to me that you were left up in the air about a lot of what's happened since we saw you Monday.
Scully took Krycek to be with Tracy at the hospital. She never showed any further brain activity after the report we received in Reston. Once they took her off the machines, she lasted about twenty minutes, but he held her the whole time. Afterward, there was some confusion when a fire alarm went off, and he managed to slip away from us. We have no idea where he is, but I've connected with him the last couple of days through e-mail. He says he's managed to get himself to a doctor he knows who's treating his gunshot wound. Anyway, that's why I sent your laptop back; he left it behind when he took off. When I hear more, I'll let you know.
I've been watching the security tapes from the Reston house and have a question for you. Did he hand you something when the laptop almost dropped? It looks like it, and it's made me curious. I'd appreciate your input. He was holding the laptop out to you, and you seemed reluctant to take it, and then as soon as you caught it, both of you were down on the floor reaching for something, looked like maybe the mouse.
I haven't been reinstated. With Leland's group on my tail and the moles they have in place inside the Bureau, any reports I'd file would make it far too easy for them to track my activity. So I'm still on the outside. Though I guess I always have been in a way; no real surprise there, I guess. My old AD suggested that I find a way to make them think I've distanced myself from the search for anything they're interested in, but I still haven't figured out what kind of scenario I could float. Though not for lack of trying.
I hope you haven't had any more visits or communications from Smoky's 'friends'. If you do, let me know right away and we'll find a safe place for you. I don't want to lose you, especially now when, in a way, we've finally found each other again.
There was more she'd seen in Four's mind, but it seemed the only way to process it was to take one small piece at a time, a single puzzle piece, and move it carefully, trying to fit it to the handful she'd already connected.
Four knew the man who had brought her the earring. Some time before, they'd met in a place with tan, dry hills. In a shadowed room, Four had encountered the man and healed the pain in his arm... or what was left of it. She saw the man sweating, tormented almost past speaking, and then later at peace.
But there was more--more to the scene in the room. The man hadn't just brought her an earring. He'd brushed a kiss against her hair. He'd held her, steady and careful, until the emptiness had come.
In Four's mind, she belonged to him.
To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
I was so relieved to get your e-mail. I was out the better part of the afternoon yesterday, and when I got back, there was a notice for a package delivery on the door. I called, but it was too late and they'd closed. They brought it by this morning, and when I saw it was the laptop, I have to say my heart leapt into my throat, not knowing what it would mean about Alex. Thank you so much for returning it, and for letting me know that you're both safe.
The answer to your question is yes, Alex did hand me something. He had, of course, to act as if he didn't know me, that we were antagonists, and frankly, I wasn't at all sure up to that point where he did stand. When he tried to hand me the laptop, he was very gruff and I had no idea what would happen. Then we were both on the carpet, reaching for the mouse, and he grabbed my fingers and pressed something into my hand. I realized at that point it must be a signal--a sign that we were on the same side, though I wasn't able to look at the object until a few minutes later, as I was aware of the video camera in the corner of the room. It turned out to be a tiny earring on a card, just one. It had a small piece of turquoise on it, set in silver. I never did get to ask him about it, what it was or how he'd come to have it.
I'm so glad to hear that Alex was with Tracy when she passed. When he brought her to me in Baltimore, it was obvious that they were very close, not at all in an infatuated way, but as if there was something solid but tender between them.
I know it is likely to take quite some time before it doesn't sting you to hear me speak positively of him. Please know that I don't wish to minimize in any way the painful history you've had with Alex, but I can only go on my own experience, and I appreciate more and more your own steadfastness over so many years.
I do understand the difficulty of the position you've been placed in professionally. The only thing that comes to mind when I think about it is your father's counsel not to throw in when everyone around you is doing so, compromising yourself and what you believe in. I know that holding your ground can lead to traveling a very hard, lonely road, but please know you have my mental support, for whatever it may be worth. If there is anything I can do to help you as you move forward, please let me know.
Give my best to Dana.
Georgetown, Washington D.C.
Mulder clicked the 'off' button on the remote and stood. He glanced at his watch and went to the window that looked out over the street, but the scene beyond the glass quickly faded to an abstract. He'd watched all the way to the tense climax--himself and Scully braced against the horror to come, Smoky angry, his mother trying not to show anything as Krycek's eyes went from Smoky to Darryl Silver, then the briefest pause, like swallowing air before a dive, and his gun turning, firing, his aim dead-on. Smoky dropping, open-mouthed.
At least Smoky'd lasted long enough to hear their various "betrayals" as he saw them in his warped mind: that he and Scully, Krycek and his mother had all been working together, that they'd connected in spite of the animosity he'd tried to seed between them. That Krycek himself had spearheaded Tracy's escape, the ultimate slap in the face to Smoky's bullshit about raising and grooming him, or whatever it was he'd said.
In a way they'd all won that morning... as much of a victory as anyone could claim against a son of a bitch with a history of destruction like Spender's. Whatever shred of a heart the man had possessed, he'd been knifed in it that morning. Direct hit.
Mulder went to the kitchen, poured himself a glass of water and drank it down, foot tapping against the flooring. Went back to the window. Bit his lip. Looked around, hoping for a stray basketball to bounce, which brought images of his old apartment: the low light, the fish tank, the blanket lying in welcome across the back of the couch.
Letting out a sigh, he went to the phone table and scrawled a note.
Spent a couple of hours on the tapes; now I need to stretch my legs and air my head out. Going looking for a pickup game. Call me when you get in.
Krycek's hand skimmed the surface of the raised bed, picking out the small, still-fragile weed seedlings that had sprouted between the dried vegetable plants he'd already pulled out. The sun was warm, penetrating in a way that felt really good... as surface things went.
Inside, he was a mess. There was a headful of strategic stuff to figure out: whether Smith was tied up in this, as Mulder suspected, or whether there was a whole new class of shapeshifting aliens none of them had even known about who might be running everything, or who might at least be higher on the totem pole than the Colonists the old men had been dealing with. Whether Mulder trusted him enough now to share Vanek's research printouts if he found them, and what they'd show, if anything. How long it would take Mulder or Scully to send the details about the little girl Emily that would allow Ché to work his way into Prangen's computers and search out any useful leads. What the hell Smith's story was, if he was, in fact, working for this group.
But overlaying it all--pushing everything else into the background--was a steady heartbeat of the impossible: He wanted her back. The impossibility of it hadn't quieted the need.
It had been easier with Marita, things suddenly soured by betrayal so that he'd been more than eager to push her away. But this... This was a raw wound that just kept throbbing, one there was no defense against, no convenient cure or treatment. She'd probably say it was like the dog she'd lost, that you just had to carry the pain, and keep carrying it, until finally it faded and all that was left were the good memories. Still, all that left you was memories.
"Well, you're certainly putting my efforts to shame."
Carrie's delivery was soft, but her voice made him jump. He looked up to see her sitting on the edge of the adjoining raised bed.
"Sun feels good," he said.
He continued to pull, thin little things you could pinch between two fingers and lift out, fragile root and all.
"There are seeds in the pea pods," he said. "Would've taken them out for you but--" He shrugged and held out his only hand in explanation.
Carrie moved to the pile of pea vines, took a handful and sat back down. She tried to pop one open, but they'd turned tough and leathery. She disappeared into the house for a moment and reappeared carrying a pair of garden shears and a plastic drink cup. Snipping the end off a pod, she forced it open down the middle and stripped out the hardened, pale green seeds.
"If you don't mind my asking," she said, "do you ever use a prosthesis?"
"Yeah. Usually." He slipped his fingers under a fat, spreading weed that was determined not to yield. "The night I left... not planned. Heat'd been a bitch all afternoon and the stump was getting rashy, and that leads to nowhere good, believe me. So I left it off." He dug his fingers further beneath the resistant weed and pulled, coming up with a network of lacy roots. "Bad decision, looks like now."
"I noticed you leaning."
"I know. I'm going to need to get something--sooner rather than later--but these guys looking for me, they're going to have every possible source monitored. If I show up anywhere, make any inquiries..." He shook his head.
"I can't imagine what it would be like to live that way."
"Guess it's"--he shrugged--"the way it's always been." He shook the dirt from the roots and tossed the weed into the pile in the corner of the bed. He flashed on climbing the stairs to the roof patio, Tracy's hip against his, her arm around his waist, finger hooked into his belt loop.
"I have to admit, I woke up a couple of times last night trying to puzzle out the mystery of your black substance. I'm assuming they think it came from the meteor explosion?"
Krycek wrapped his fingers around another large weed and pulled. The top snapped off. He dug into the soft soil to get under the roots. He wasn't letting the little sucker get away from him.
"Which of course would make it some sort of"--she hesitated--"extraterrestrial life form. For as 'out there' as that sounds."
A smile pulled briefly at one corner of his mouth. "Now you know what I feel like. You can't talk to people about stuff like this."
Carrie stripped another podful of peas into the plastic cup.
There was no way to explain most of this--grays, screamers, colonization, the push for hybrids, warring factions--without sounding like a raving lunatic. But as a doctor, she might start to grasp some of the basics through examining data. And he was going to need her help with that anyway.
He cleared his throat. "There's going to be some data coming"--he yanked the roots his fingers had found--"that has to do with this stuff. I'd appreciate it if I could get your opinion."
"Sure, I'd be glad to. What kind of data?"
"Results of some vaccine development tests; I'm not sure how much information there'll be there. Data on"--he didn't even know yet whether Tracy's hospital records were actually available, though Scully'd been there the whole time, helping direct her treatment; she'd be able to put together some sort of recollection about what had gone on--"someone who was... I guess you could say taken over, directed by this stuff, or something pretty damn similar to it..."
He tossed the weed root toward the pile. This was going downhill fast; his voice was going and he was starting to sweat, but the words just kept pouring out.
"This person, uh, died four days ago, just kind of shut down in spite of whatever the docs tried." Pressure in his chest and throat, a stinging in his eyes. "They said it was like someone flipped a switch inside her and shut her down."
The seconds seemed to expand. He focused on his breathing, trying to keep it light and even. He could feel Carrie's focus on him, almost a physical weight, but he didn't dare look up. He pictured himself getting up, going inside, but leaving now would speak for itself, and loudly, too.
From where she sat, he could hear the sound of dry peas plinking into the plastic cup. The pressure was a swollen knot now, sitting at the top of his throat. He could feel her, that first night, coming to him in the darkened room, her hand on his shoulder, saying "Lean, Alex. Just lean."
Georgetown, Washington DC
Mulder's eyes traced the hills and valleys of his partner's prone, unclothed form, a landscape he couldn't imagine ever tiring of.
"Mulder, you never did say why you ended up going down to the Mall instead of finding a basketball game."
"It was hot as hell out there." He rolled toward her. "I figured if I went out and got heat stroke, it would mess with your plan for this"--he waggled his eyebrows--"rainy evening."
He reached out a finger and used the back of it to brush away a bead of sweat rolling from her temple toward her ear. She took his hand and worked her fingers between his.
"And that took you all the way to Constitution Park?"
"I just"--he shrugged--"went outside, saw the bus sign on the corner, and ..." He focused on her now. "Maybe I felt like I had to return to the scene of the crime, that sitting there next to the pond, I'd come to some sort of revelation."
"And did you?"
"Just that the only two people I met up with in all the time I spent there are both dead now." A pause. "And that this whole thing would be a lot less complicated if I hadn't blurted out the fact that Vanek was experimenting on kids in front of Spooky's henchman. And a security camera."
"You had no way of knowing you were being recorded. Or even that we'd survive and that it would end up being an issue."
"I know. Doesn't make it any easier, though. Especially for Angie Connors." He glanced up at the ceiling. "I guess I was thinking about Krycek, too."
"What about him?"
"Trying to reconcile the Reston tape to... reality. You know, the last five years. I guess everything he's done lately, and the way he protected my mother there. When he realized we were outside the house, right away he had her close the vents in the room. He was talking to her, off in a corner; you could see the intensity, warning her about what was coming, it looked like." He glanced at Scully. "No audio, remember? And then when the canisters went through the windows, they were on opposite ends of the couch, and his hand shot out and he pulled her down to protect her."
He set his jaw. He could feel Scully watching him. "Then trying to reconcile that with the last five years, and... There was something Smoky said, about having raised and groomed Krycek--"
"Yes, I remember."
"But I was thinking, what if all this has been some kind of a front, if Smoky's trained him well enough that he can play us in a helpful-looking way, but underneath he's got some other agenda, that he just wants to use us the way he always has."
"I don't know, Mulder. I admit he's always been a schemer, but some of what he's done recently... I'm not sure you could chalk it up to any sort of carefully-laid planning. What about his helping Tracy escape? Or how could he have planned what happened in Reston? The odds certainly weren't in his favor there. And there's Ché." She let go of his hand and propped herself up on one elbow. "Ché does have his own rather unique set of ethics, but it's obvious he's a very good man at the core. I can't see him having the relationship he does with Krycek if he really believed that Krycek was anything like Spender."
She paused. Her brow creased.
"He slipped today, Mulder. Ché, I mean. He mentioned that Krycek had been helping to fund the Russian vaccine research."
"Evidently Krycek made quite a bit of money selling secrets off your DAT tape three years ago, and he put it in the bank. So when the Russian research was floundering for lack of funding, he stepped in. He presented himself as the representative of some anonymous benefactor."
"That's quite a "slip"."
"Well, what he said originally was that Krycek still had a reasonable amount of money left--we were talking about $900 of his own money Krycek had deposited to Tracy's account--and that it was how he'd been able to help fund the Russian research. The rest... I think he just wanted it to make sense, to give it some context. He seems to think Krycek is very dedicated to fighting this invasion they're predicting." She paused. "But he did swear me to secrecy. If Krycek finds out he's let this out, the trust between them could be seriously damaged."
She turned to look at the clock. "Are you hungry, Mulder?"
He grinned. "Looking at you this way, always."
She gave him the mildly disapproving look a librarian might over a pair of reading glasses. "Food, Mulder. We never ate dinner. I don't know about you, but I'm hungry." She paused. "I can scramble some eggs. And there's fruit in the fridge."
"And for dessert?" he said, reaching out and wrapping an arm around her, pulling her up on top of him. One of her legs ended up between his, the pressure of it hitting just the right places. He offered what he was sure must be a dopey grin.
"Dessert is good." She pressed a kiss against his forehead and tugged against him until he let her go.
"We could have dessert first," he said as she disappeared into the bathroom.
The door closed. He reached down to rearrange things and pictured Scully the way she'd been when they'd finished, loose and beautiful, flushed from exertion.
And then another, much less pleasant thought. Krycek involved in the Russian project explained why he'd been so chummy with the camp commander. It was the deception that stung, maybe even more now than before: Krycek guiding them, acting like he'd never been in the area before, like he was a novice caught up in the adventure. The same way he'd presented himself as a new green agent eager to learn. Worthy of trust.
Apparently Krycek was never a novice. At anything. But what did that mean now?
"Wake up, please."
There was a shaking against the girl's shoulder.
She stirred. It was Four's voice.
"Please. Wake up."
She blinked and opened her eyes. It was dark in the room. The only light was from the small lamp on the bedside table, which filled the room with shadows.
"This is important," he said, "and it cannot wait any longer." He sat down on the wooden chair beside the bed.
She blinked again. Her head was thick with sleep... or possibly with the fuzz Four had sent into it.
"I'm sorry this is difficult," Four said, his voice calm and smooth but very earnest, "but you must understand. There is no way to explain all of it, but your body has been"--he searched for the right word--"modified by a group that does not have your best interest at heart. When I retrieved you, I sealed that portion of your mind that you'd been using in order to keep them from knowing you're alive. If they can hear your mind, they'll be able trace you, and if they do, we will not be able to help you, or your kind. None of us will survive.
"I didn't realize at first," he went on, "that you had this ability to read the minds of others, and that you would begin to gather information again as you have. Until I can find a way to disable their link to you, I must seal you completely. This is something I've never attempted before, and it's quite possible that when you are unsealed, you will have no memory even of this short period. I'm sorry."
He stopped. The girl noticed that her heart was racing.
Four stretched his hand out above her. She flinched.
He hesitated. After a moment his hand came down.
"Do you have questions I can answer?"
"The man," she said, her voice dry and strange, almost unrecognizable. "Who is the man?" When was the last time she'd used it?
"He is one who has taken a difficult road to learn much. You helped him when he was in need. He cares a great deal about you."
"Is he alive?"
"How will I find him if I don't remember anything?"
"I'm sorry," he said.
His hand stretched out above her and the now-familiar fog invaded her mind, vaporous at first, then thicker and thicker until she was encased in solid whiteness.
(End Chapter 4)
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