Topaz: X-Files fanfic by bardsmaid


by bardsmaid

Chapter 5

Sunday, 30 May 1999
Longmont, Colorado
2:10 a.m.


The living room was dark but Carrie could see the outline of her guest in the armchair, leaning forward, head in hand. She took a step toward him and paused.

"I don't mean to crowd you, Alex. I just want to make sure everything's okay."

He looked up but didn't turn toward her. "Just... got a headful of stuff to figure out. Nothing that's likely to have an easy answer."

She waited, but he said nothing more.

"Well, I'll go unless you'd rather have someone to sort things out with." She turned and started back toward the door to the hallway.

"No, stick around."

She paused, then turned back and went to the sofa where she curled up, feet tucked beside her.

"Some of that data we should be getting," he started, "it's... You know how I said someone saved my life, when I had that reaction to a change in my pain meds?"

"I remember, yes."

"It was her. She died Tuesday." His voice was dry, husky. "It was--"

Silence. Carrie scanned the darkened room. A sliver of moonlight lit the carpet near the east window, beyond the piano.

She waited, mouth slightly open. There was an art to dealing with men and emotion, a need not to push, but at the same time to be able to offer help.

"She took care of me for three weeks after... after I got this other wound. It was no picnic--you know, the pain and... trying to work your way back to normal. But she was a big help." He paused. "Okay, understatement."

"Sounds like one of those intense experiences."

"Yeah." He sniffed in a breath. "By the end it'd gotten pretty damn personal."

"I'm so sorry, Alex. Is this the person that you said seemed to just shut down?"


She waited.

"There's more. A lot more," he said. "But it's not likely to make much sense now. Maybe whatever data they send us will help." He glanced up, at a random streak of light on the ceiling. "Figured I ought to tell you this much. You probably already knew something was up."

She nodded. "I suspected there was something. Mom radar, I guess. Not that I want to pry, but it doesn't seem to have an 'off' switch. Once you've activated it, it never goes off."

"No, it's... it's a good thing, mom radar."

The room fell silent. He seemed to have finished what he needed to say. After a moment she got up. She rested a hand on his shoulder briefly as she passed his chair, then moved away.

"Maybe it's none of my business," his voice came as she neared the doorway, "but this thing with Tyler... I've seen the way you two connect. He needs to have that time to come see you. Camp--sure, that can be a good thing. But it's not a substitute for somebody you can really count on."


Longmont, Colorado
2:25 a.m.

Krycek leaned back in the chair and brought the footrest up.

At least the basic fact of Tracy was one little weight he didn't have to carry now, though it had already been replaced by what had happened a few hours earlier.

If it was real. if it wasn't just a product of his need for there still to be some evidence of her. Which in itself was crazy. Dead was dead.

But around 10:45 he'd felt something--a cry, a reaching out. It had felt the way it had when she'd been in the hospital--not when she'd first collapsed, when she was still coherent and able to communicate, but later, when it felt like she was beyond thought but leaning, needing his support.

Though maybe the impressions that had come to him then had been his imagination, too. After all, last Christmas Eve he thought he saw the ghost of Andrei in his room, toasting him with a glass of orange Stoli.


Scully's apartment
Georgetown, Washington D.C.
2:34 a.m.

Moving carefully, Mulder slipped out of the bed and made his way to the living room in the dark. The annoying enigma of Alex Krycek wasn't letting him sleep. Granted, he and Scully had gone to bed early, which probably had something to do with his being awake enough now for Krycek's inconsistencies--or possibly just the gaps in his own knowledge of the guy--to nudge open the door to his conscious mind. And now the profiler in him wanted to work out--to pump facts, run the obstacle course between what he knew and what might be true, sprint to the finish line where the prize--the actual truth about the man--sat waiting to be claimed.

Not that what he had--the e-mails Krycek had sent recently and the file box of clippings and pictures Frohike had picked up in Smoky's apartment--were going to do the whole trick. But they were what he had in hand, and a place to start.

He reached out in the shadows for the lamp beside the couch, felt his way up the base to the switch and turned it on. Soft light illuminated the area. Going to the closet, he retrieved the file box and returned to sit down. The box itself was the older metal kind, and not a particularly high-quality piece. He pushed the latch and opened the top. A musty smell came from it.

Inside, there were no dividers. Mulder took a handful of papers from the front and set them on his lap. They appeared to be a series of news clippings: one about D-Day, the Nixon Watergate operation, the 1976 Israeli hostage raid at Entebbe, another about the Russian war in Afghanistan...

Mulder paused. Something in the accompanying photo, of a group of Russian soldiers on a truck, caught his eye. He held it closer to the light. Unless he was mistaken, the third man from the left was Krycek.


6:03 a.m.

Four withdrew his hand from where it had hovered above the female's head.

"Wake up, please," he said.

The eyelids fluttered, and finally the female's eyes opened. There was no reaction, either positive or negative, that he could detect. If she still had any recall of the events of last night, no doubt she'd be looking at him with some measure of trepidation now, but he saw nothing akin to that... or to any other expression or emotion.

He took her wrist carefully and held up the test photograph with the other hand. There was no reaction, no tensing or pulling away. No interior turmoil. All indications were that the sealing had worked.

He set the girl's arm back on the bed, rose from the chair and slipped the photograph into the small drawer in the bedside table. Pausing, he looked back at his patient.

"You may rest now. Close your eyes."

The girl's eyes closed.

Four went out. He found Eighteen in the living room, hanging damp laundry on wooden drying racks. Early morning light poured in through the east windows, flooding the nearly-bare room with brightness. They'd felt it best not to use the clotheslines outside, where neighbors might see and remember them.

"It should be warmer today than yesterday," Four said by way of greeting. "The heat will help your clothes dry quickly." He waited for her to look up. "As far as I can tell, the sealing has worked. We should start packing today. Six's message could come as early as tomorrow, if our efforts have been successful."

"Your efforts," she said.

"Yes. And then we can begin our journey, move closer incrementally and test at each stopping point to make sure no sign of her is being picked up."

"And our ultimate destination?"

"Close to the area. Approximately 50 miles away. I have the use of a small cottage in a town called Carmena. The location is secluded. From there, we'll work carefully, step by step, to return her to a functional state."

"And if you don't succeed?"

"This is new territory. There are no guarantees. But much could depend on the outcome. I'll do my utmost."


Scully's apartment
Georgetown, Washington D.C.
7:12 a.m.

"Take a look at this, Scully," Mulder said, holding up a newspaper clipping on the top of a stack on the coffee table.

She'd appeared, drowsy-eyed, in the doorway twenty minutes earlier, wondering where he was. Now she stood beside him wrapped in a soft blue robe, nursing a cup of coffee. She squinted at the yellowed newsprint he held out and sat down beside him.

"What is it?"

"Russian soldiers in Afghanistan. Notice anything?"

She stared at the image. "That isn't... Is that... Krycek?"

"Sure looks like it to me.  I wanted to see whether you thought so, too, or if I was just imagining things. Look here, at what he's carrying."

"A rifle."

"Not an standard infantry rifle. It's a Dragunov, a sniper rifle. See the open area in the stock?"

She nodded. The middle of the wooden stock was open, as if it were one large handle. "So Krycek was a sniper with the Russian military?"

"The other day he said something about Vanek in one of his e-mails, about how the attitudes of the society she grew up in had shaped her, but he was using some pretty personal terms to describe it."

"Like what?"

"Saying that you learn pretty quickly not to trust anyone, because everyone is willing and ready to inform on you."

Scully frowned and set the clipping aside. "If Cancer Man actually sent him to Russia, if he grew up there, that in itself would lead to an understandable lack of trust. But do we know whether that's actually the case?"

Mulder handed her a photo from a smaller pile. The crease-lined picture showed three small boys of about five years old dressed in mismatched clothing. The two in the background were blond with distinctly Slavic faces. In front of them was a dark-haired boy with a rough-and-tumble look, familiar features and the hint of something above one eyebrow that might have been a bruise. Scully turned the picture over. There was a notation in Cyrillic and a year, 1972.

"If this is him," she said, "that would mean he was born around... 1967. Which fits the timeline."

"Two years after Samantha," he said.

"Mulder, I..." Her mouth sat half open. "If this is true... Can you imagine what it would be like to grow up in a place like that, away from any family, and then find out you didn't even belong there, that you'd been sent there deliberately?"

"I know," he said, and caught his lower lip between his teeth. He let out a sigh. "I've been thinking about that for hours now. Makes you wonder why he didn't shoot Smoky years ago."

Scully glanced up at him and frowned. "How long have you been out here?"

"About the last five hours."

"Looking through the box?"

"And going through his e-mails."

"What else did you find in here?"

"A picture of Diana as a little girl, with a woman I assume is probably her mother."

"Anyone we'd recognize?"

He shook his head. "There were a couple more pictures of Krycek, one of Diana when she graduated from college, it looks like. Just one of Jeffrey Spender, when he was a little kid, maybe seven or eight." He reached for a picture on the table. "And this."

She took it, a picture of the Mulder family on the lawn outside the Quonochontaug house, with Cancer Man. Water skis were lined up on the grass. Everyone was wearing swim suits.

"He has an awfully big smile on his face," she said.

"Maybe he's thinking about how badly he's screwing my dad over. Or maybe the whole family. Which reminds me," he said. "I wonder whether anyone has claimed the son of a bitch's body."

"I don't know," she said, taking a sip from her coffee cup. "I can ask Skinner tomorrow."

"What are you doing this week, by the way?"

"I believe tomorrow we'll be writing up our report from the Owensburg trip. After that"--she shrugged--"I'm not sure. Why? Did you have something in mind?"

"I was just thinking about the people Tracy was living with--her aunt and uncle. I'd like to talk to them." He stood. "As far as that goes, we owe them a visit to let them know their niece has died."

"Do we know where they are, how to contact them?"

"No. But Krycek may. He went there with her last week."

"Have you written to him about it?"

"Not yet," he said. "I was going to do that now."


To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
We're thinking it could be useful to pay Tracy's aunt and uncle a visit, but don't know how to contact them. You mentioned going there with her, so I assume you know how we can connect with them?

Had a friend go through Smoky's place on I Street. We came away with Vanek's printouts and a file box with an odd collection of pictures and news clippings. There was a newspaper article--1985--with a picture of a group of Russian soldiers in Afghanistan. One of them looked like you. Were you there? Also a photo of three small boys, one of whom looked like it could possibly be you, with Cyrillic writing on the back and the date 1972. Can you enlighten me?



Longmont, Colorado
8:10 a.m.

Krycek stared at the computer screen. His hand clenched, unclenched and then clenched again.

"Sure, Mulder," he said under his breath. "I can enlighten you. The question is why should I?"

In his last mail he'd asked for data--Vanek's and whatever they might have on Tracy--but Mulder didn't seem to be offering. Sure, maybe it was just a glitch--extenuating circumstances or whatever. But it was hard to beat back the creeping suspicion that maybe his efforts at the Reston house had only bought him a cheap honeymoon with Mulder, and that the magic was already starting to wear off.

How much was he going to have to put out before Mulder got it through his thick skull that they were both on the same side, both gunning for exactly the same goal, and that it was going to take both of them working together to have any chance at all against Purity? He'd lost an arm to get Mulder vaccinated against the Oil; he'd taken a bullet saving Mulder's and Scully's lives six days ago. What else was it going to take?

Krycek stood up, went to the window and pushed out a sharp breath that clouded the glass in front of him. He'd rather be somewhere he could kick something, but he was in Carrie's bedroom. He really needed to pick up a laptop of his own so he didn't have to be getting in her way and asking to use her computer several times a day.

Loosen up, Aleksei.

Reluctantly he closed his eyes, waited, opened them again and refocused on the scene outside the window. The landscape was bright, the sky a deep blue with a scattering of white clouds strewn above the flatness toward the east. Maybe he was overreacting. The part about Tracy, anyway, was something he should give them. Somebody definitely needed to find out what the aunt and uncle knew, but it sounded as if Mulder didn't have a clue about the kind of relationship she'd had with them. Then there was the matter of their visit to the little house in the valley. For her sake, he needed to warn Mulder not to mention it. It was private, between the two of them, something she never would have wanted Nathan to know about.

To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
I don't have an address for her relatives. We took a back road to the house she used to live in, a second house on the property; they never knew we were there, and I know she'd like to keep it that way. She didn't really get along with the uncle and aunt. Partly they didn't understand her, but the other part had to do with her mother's death and the fact that the uncle hauled her away within an hour or so and never let her come back, or go through any of her mom's things. Even nailed the windows shut to keep her out. So--makes sense--the whole thing ate a hole in her and she felt like she had to come to terms with what happened that day, which is why we went there. All I know is their names are Nathan and Jean, and that they've got a farm. Elleryville sounds small enough that even that much should get you the info you need.

So the old man kept pictures. Well, well.

Yeah, those are probably me, so I guess now you get Chapter 1 of the sordid little story of my life. He took me to Russia as an infant and stashed me in an institution for the inconvenient bastard spawn of high officials. Figured if I survived growing up, I might be useful to him. The stint in Afghanistan was four months; he wanted me to have field experience but not get killed in the process. You know, it sucks to be the dirty little secret your mother's husband doesn't want living under his nice, comfortable roof.

What about Vanek's printouts and whatever hospital data you've got on Tracy? I've got someone here willing and eager to help figure things out.


Scully's apartment
Georgetown, Washington D.C.
10:03 a.m.

"Yes. Thank you, sir." Scully switched off the phone and continued writing on the pad of paper. Finally she looked up.

"You get what we need?" Mulder asked.

"Yes. Their names are Nathan and Jean Meyer. 211 Franklin Mill Road in Elleryville."

"How long will it take us to get there?"

"Probably a little over three hours." She paused. "I'll drive and you can sleep on the way. It looks like you're ready to doze off already."

He shrugged. "I thought about going back to bed, but it's hard to stop thinking after you see all this." He gestured at the papers and photos scattered across the coffee table.

"I have some laundry to run, but I should be ready to go in about an hour."

"Sounds good."

Mulder flipped open his laptop, waited for the screen to come to life and clicked on Krycek's mail again. He hadn't told Scully about the second part, he wasn't quite sure why. Maybe because reading it had been like a grenade going off and he was still tangled in the shock of it. Krycek... Alex--someday he was going to have to learn to say it... had been taken to Russia and raised in an institution, even sent to war to gain experience. If he didn't know where he'd come from, it wouldn't have been as bad, but his comment about Mulder's dad made it sound otherwise.

He tapped on the mail program.

To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
I've got a question. I found some pictures of someone who looked like Alex among the papers in a file box we took from Leland's place, pictures indicating he might have been raised in Russia. So I wrote and asked him and he said he was taken there as an infant and raised in an institution. Eventually Leland even had him placed in the Russian army in Afghanistan during the war there. But he said something at the end about Dad not wanting him to live with us, as if that was the reason he was taken away. Was this ever a point of discussion?

We're heading for Pennsylvania this afternoon to see what we can find out about Tracy and her background from the relatives she'd been living with. I hope it turns up something we can use going forward.



To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Dear Fox--
I have to say that your message shook me almost as much as receiving the laptop the other day and not knowing the circumstances. There was no discussion of the pregnancy whatsoever with your father. At that point, we managed to somehow coexist in the same house, but that was the extent of our contact. Granted, he would not have approved keeping the child, but even that subject was never discussed, as Leland had already assured me he would take care of placing the infant. I know customs have changed, but at the time this is the way things were done. Unexpected pregnancies happened just as they do now, and inconvenient offspring were routinely placed for adoption just like the children of unwed mothers, who were usually shuffled off to some distant relative until the shameful event had occurred. It was all very hush-hush.

When Alex came here to see me, he mentioned only that he'd been raised to do his father's bidding, but he said nothing about the details of his life. And the fact that he was given the impression that he wasn't welcome here because of your father seems like the most vile sort of propaganda to press upon a young boy. Such manipulation of a child is nothing short of despicable, and no doubt affected Alex's views as he grew up. I can only say that I'm left fuming, and if Leland weren't already dead, I'd be tempted to despatch him myself.

I hope your trip is successful. I realize I was only with Tracy for a short time, but she was a lovely girl, wise for her age and quite obviously a much-appreciated light in Alex's life.



To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
We've got Tracy's uncle's information and will be going there this afternoon. Thanks for the heads-up about their strained relationship. I'll ask to see her house and just say we're looking for whatever evidence we can find about her and her mother. Won't mention that you two were there.

Scully was out yesterday afternoon visiting her mother and hasn't had a chance to go through Vanek's printouts yet, but I'll see about making copies for you once she does, assuming they actually tell us anything. I've left a message for the doctor in Owensburg to have him send me whatever he's got on Tracy, after which we can scan and send them to you. If everything has disappeared, I'll have Scully write up whatever she can remember about Tracy's condition and treatment.

Still trying to wrap my mind around the reality of those pictures and what you said about growing up in Russia. For what it's worth, Mom said there were never any discussions with my dad about you, so if it was a case of Smoky telling you my dad was the reason you ended up where you did, it was another one of his lies meant to push your buttons, and to shift responsibility off himself while he was at it. Convenient--for him.



Longmont, Colorado
10:42 a.m.

Carrie paused and looked up. The two garden beds were nearly half weeded now. She'd come out ten minutes earlier to find Alex sitting on the edge of one bed, hard at work. Correction: It wasn't hard work but steady activity, which was exactly the kind of thing he needed.

"What are you going to plant here?" he said, looking up suddenly, breaking the silence they'd been working in.

She shrugged. "I don't know yet. But I guess I'd better decide, right? I think they still have those little vegetable starts at the nurseries. Squash, I guess. Tomatoes. Lettuce." She paused and smiled. "Green beans. Those were always Ty's favorites."

"Better get some in then. He'd like that, if you can get him to come."

Carrie set down the trowel she'd been using. "What did you mean last night? What you said about Ty?"

He looked up from his work. "Guess it really stood out to me last time, the way you guys were a team." He flashed a bitter smile. "Maybe because it was like nothing I'd ever seen. Hell, I grew up in an institution. No parents, just people paid--barely--to put up with you." His expression tightened. "Didn't meet my mother until about five weeks ago."

"Wow." She waited. "How did that go?"

His jaw set. "Pretty rough. Felt like freefalling." His words were clipped, short. "Then we connected again about a week ago. Another one of those intense things. We worked together--" There was a momentary smile. "Came out alive. Which is what counts."

Carrie had a sudden vision of mafia families, a scenario her patient somehow didn't seem to fit, though bits and pieces of things he'd mentioned certainly seemed to lean in that direction.

"Your ex," he said. "Is he a manipulator?" He tugged out a deep-rooted weed and tossed it into the pile of wilted greens from the day before.

She frowned. "Why do you ask?"

"Seen my share of it. Gets easy to recognize after a while."

"And you think you're seeing a red flag here?"

"Camp's going to be better for Tyler than you are, is that what he's telling you... in so many words?" He raised his eyebrows. "So if you want Tyler to come home, you're doing something to hurt him?"

"I hadn't thought about it that way."

He shrugged. "I could be out in left field; I don't know the guy. But take a look back. Think about it."


Elleryville, Pennsylvania
3:04 p.m.

"This looks like it," Scully said, pulling into a gravel driveway leading up a gentle incline to an old-fashioned two-story green farmhouse. Behind the house, the property steepened into a hill.

"And not a minute too soon," Mulder said, grimacing. "My ass is tired of sitting."

"At least we know they're home," she said. "Nathan seemed disturbed once I mentioned Tracy, but at least he's only had a few minutes to speculate."

"Aaaand, the show's on." Mulder nodded toward the house. "I see them at the front window."

"This type of call is never easy." She paused and pursed her lips. Reluctantly her hands left the steering wheel and she opened the driver's door.

"No. But we need whatever information we can get. Right now everything we've got on Tracy adds up to a big goose egg." He got out, closed the car door and followed Scully up the walkway to the house where a tanned, silver-haired man in overalls and a brown-haired woman waited at the open front door.

"Mr. and Mrs. Meyer, I'm Special Agent Dana Scully and this is my associate, Fox Mulder."

Mulder winced at his lack of title, but he forced a smile, shook the hands offered to him and exchanged greetings.

"Come in," Nathan Meyer said. "You said this is about Tracy. Do you know where she is? She hasn't gotten into some sort of trouble, has she?"

"Why would you ask that, sir?" Scully asked, stepping over the threshold.

"Well, I guess just that she has a mind of her own," he said, leading the way to a couch and chairs in the high-ceilinged living room. He motioned them to the couch. "And one I admit I've never had much understanding of." He shook his head. "She just took off and ran, about a month ago. Now her high school class has graduated and she doesn't have that diploma, and who knows where she is or what she's doing." He sat down in one of the armchairs. "But I imagine you do, and that's why you're here."

"Yes, sir." Scully drew in a long breath. "We're very sorry to have to tell you this, but your niece passed away on Tuesday."

Mulder watched a muscle in her jaw twitch, waiting for the inevitable reaction.

"What? What do you mean?" Nathan's mouth sat open. "That's not pos--" From somewhere beyond the room, a clock ticked loudly into the silence. Eventually he swallowed. "What on earth happened?" He swiped a hand across his forehead. "And why is the FBI mixed up in this?"

Beside him, his wife reached for his hand.

"She had gotten herself mixed up in something," Scully said, "in a manner of speaking. But I can assure you it's not because of anything she did. She was sent to us by an acquaintance, to ensure her safety. She'd been with us since the Thursday before last. She seemed fine until last Sunday, when she experienced some type of seizure. She was taken to the hospital and we worked as hard as we could, the local doctor and myself, but she never regained consciousness. Her condition deteriorated extremely rapidly."

"Are you a doctor?"

"Yes sir." Scully paused. "We weren't able to determine what was causing her condition and"--she pressed her lips together and looked down briefly--"she slipped away Tuesday morning just before noon."

Silence took over the room. Mulder glanced through a doorway that led into the kitchen. Sunlight brightened a patch of tile on the counter below a window.

"Why weren't we notified sooner?" Nathan's wife asked after a moment. Her eyes were vacant, her voice dry.

"It was only afterward, Mrs. Meyer, that we found out she had family. She'd mentioned Elleryville and your first names to a mutual acquaintance. It wasn't difficult to locate you once we contacted local authorities." She paused. "We're very sorry for your loss."

Mulder nodded agreement.

"She just took off," Nathan said to nobody in particular. He looked down, let out a heavy sigh, then shook his head slowly. "What was I supposed to do?"

"So I suppose... Dear God." Jean Meyer blinked back the water pooling in her eyes. "Her body. I guess we'll have to make arrangements for--"

Scully cleared her throat. "One of the reasons we're here, Mr. and Mrs. Meyer, is that there is no body. When the doctor went back to check the next morning, it was gone. We believe"--she formed the words carefully--"that Tracy may have been involved, against her will or foreknowledge, in a larger matter we've been investigating. More lives may be at stake. That's why we're here. It's important that you tell us all you can about Tracy's background."

Nathan Meyer looked up at the crown molding. The muscles in his neck tightened. He sighed and looked back at Scully. "Does this have anything to do with her father?"

Mulder leaned forward in his chair. "What would make you say that, sir?"


Longmont, Colorado
3:07 p.m.

The traffic light turned green and Carrie pressed the accelerator. "Walking might do you good," she said, glancing over at her passenger, who was reclined in the seat beside her. "We have a number of great trails here in town."

"Sounds nice," he said, "but too public. Nobody should see us together. Don't want to leave here knowing someone could go after you to try to get to me."

Carrie signaled and turned right. "When my dad died, all I wanted to do was jog. I don't know how many miles I went that first month or so. It was the only thing that made sense at the time."

Alex was looking out the passenger window. She watched his Adam's apple dip.

"If you'd like to walk someplace more secluded, there are trails up in the mountains not all that far away. One place I know of has a good half-mile of fairly flat trail along a stream, with trees around it. Pretty nice for the dry side of the Rockies." She paused. "This time of year, there are probably wildflowers up there, too."

After a moment he turned toward her. "How far?"

"Less than twenty miles. Probably forty-five minutes." She signaled again and turned onto her own street. "We could drop off your laptop"--she nodded toward the package between his knees--"and grab some trail mix and water."

He nodded. "Okay."

Carrie eased onto the brake and turned into her driveway. The chance to move might not keep him afloat the way it had her, but it was worth a try. His case, it had become very clear, was far from just a matter of infection and damaged flesh, and more than antibiotics and rest would be needed to heal him.


Elleryville, Pennsylvania
3:15 p.m.

"I admit I was never a big fan of the man. Well, I didn't dislike Keith. I guess we just moved in different directions. He'd just gotten his Ph.D. when Shirley met him and I guess I wondered if she weren't in love with that just as much as him."

Nathan paused. "I don't mean she was gold-digging or anything; she was never that kind of person. I guess she was just... you know, impressed by him knowing so much. I think he loved her. He did love her..." He stared at the coffee table in front of him. "That was one of the things that made it so strange when she came back. She seemed to be so vague about the details of what happened. If you asked her about it she'd just shrug it off, and she'd never been one to shrug off anything. She was the one, when we were little, to come home with birds fallen out of trees and try to nurse them back to health. I know what happened to Keith was sudden, and I know... It hurt her. It did. And Tracy, she was kind of a little echo of her mother, quiet and clingy at first. I figured they were just trying to get past it the best they could, so I finished off the building in the back valley and left 'em pretty much to themselves."

"Did your sister have some kind of employment in the area?" Mulder asked.

"There's not much work in a place like this--town this size, pretty much out in the middle of nowhere." Nathan shrugged. "She had some kind of settlement that had to do with Keith's accident. It wouldn't have been enough to support her anywhere else, but it wasn't costing me anything, the two of them being out there, so I didn't charge her any rent. So she had enough to get by on. Tracy was getting a little from Social Security because her papa was gone."

"And your sister's illness?" Scully said.

Nathan stiffened slightly. Finally he sagged back against the sofa cushions.

"Bad as it was for Shirley, it pretty near turned into a fiasco afterward for Jean and me." He glanced at his wife, whose mouth tightened, and took a deep breath. "She wanted to be left alone. I took her to the doctor once but she didn't really want to go and she came out all spooked." He shook his head. "This is our local guy; I've known him all my life. Everybody in this town does. I can't think of anyone more trustworthy. He wanted to do some tests but she wouldn't have any of it. Just went back home, and later when things started going downhill she had Tracy taking care of her. I tried to say something, but Tracy, she wanted to be there with her mom. They were like... carrots." He looked up. "Ever grow carrots?"

Scully shook her head.

"Sometimes when they seed real close to each other, they twine together as they grow--end up like a braid. They were like that, the two of them. Anyway, Shirley wrote me this letter..."

"Letter?" Scully leaned forward.

"About how she wanted to be left alone, begging me not to step in and interfere." He swallowed. "When she died, we had a pretty bit of explaining to do to law enforcement--you know, about why we hadn't taken her to the hospital. Luckily these are all people we know, who know us, and Tracy was sixteen going on seventeen; nobody was going to try to make any kind of point by charging her with anything." He leaned forward, elbows on knees, and studied the carpet, then looked up. "I still have the letter--Shirley's letter--if you want to see it."


To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Dear Alex--
I hope this reaches you. Fox says you two have been in communication. I received a package the other day and when I opened it and found it was my laptop, immediately I was afraid that something had happened to you. So I was extremely relieved to hear that you've reached a doctor who can help you.

Having heard from Fox a little about your upbringing in Russia, I can only say that I feel more ashamed than I ever imagined possible to have been a party to what happened to you, and I can see now, even more than before, how very difficult it must have been for you to come to my house that day, and how it must have hurt you every day of your life to know that someone had been thoughtless enough to relinquish you to such an existence. Although there is no possible way to make up for what you have gone through, please know that I am so very sorry for my part in it.

I can't think of any way I might be useful to you at this point, but please know that I am ready and willing to help you in any way possible if the need or opportunity arises. And though what we all went through last week was terrifying, I so appreciate the support you gave me while events were unfolding, and the chance we had to act together, albeit briefly.

You continue in my thoughts, as does Tracy.



Elleryville, Pennsylvania
3:22 p.m.

"There were two letters, actually," Nathan Meyer said, returning from the shadowed hallway into the bright afternoon light coming through the surrounding tall windows. He went up to Scully and handed her a piece of green stationery. Mulder leaned in closer to read.

To whom it may concern,
I am aware that my health is failing but I want to make clear that it is my conscious choice after much thought not to seek medical treatment for this condition. I have requested of my brother Nathan that he please respect my wishes, including that of not notifying anyone outside the immediate family of my status. I wish to handle this in the way that seems most appropriate to me, whether or not others may understand my position or the reasoning behind it. Few lives are as discouraging to live as the one directed from somewhere outside yourself. I make this statement at my own initiative and of my own free will.
                                                                                 -Shirley B. Acres

"The date on this?" Mulder asked, pointing to the paper.

"It was about... about eight months before she passed away, so likely August of '97." He paused, fingering the other piece of paper he held. "That"--he nodded toward the letter in Scully's hand--"was intended for me to show to whoever might have legitimate questions. This other one she asked me not to show anybody. But I think now, with what's happened to Tracy... Jesus." He sighed and looked away. After a moment he turned back to his visitors. "Maybe this will mean something to you. I didn't understand what she was talking about." He offered the paper to Scully.

Dear Nathan,
I want to say that I appreciate what you've done for me, and your concern. I can't explain what it is that scared me so badly yesterday in that office. It's just a feeling, but it's so strong I can't ignore it. There are things I don't remember about California, as I'm sure has been apparent to you, but I know I went through several surgeries out there and I can't do that again. You have to trust me when I say this. It isn't only for myself, but for Tracy's sake that I do this. I can't explain it, but I know somehow that if my condition is looked into, it could lead to a chain of events that would expose her to harm. I realize all this sounds crazy, and I have no way to back it up with concrete evidence. It's just a sense I have and you know I've had these intuitions about things all my life.

Please take me seriously when I say this. I don't mean to make any trouble for you, as I don't for my dear, faithful daughter. We've talked about what's happening to me and she assured me she wants to be here. But if there should come a point where I become a burden to her, we'll defer to your judgment about placement for myself and for her. I know we haven't seen eye to eye on some things for a long while, but I appreciate the concern you've always had for me. Please assist me again at this crucial time. I appreciate it more than I can say.


Foothills of the Front Range, Colorado
3:50 p.m.

Krycek made his way toward the bend in the trail where he'd left Carrie. She'd been right. Walking had been good--motion was good--and the scenery had offered his mind a focus away from the constant low-grade nausea the meds produced. Just to move and not think seemed better than anything else he'd done in the last few days.

He looked up: scattered trees on the otherwise-barren slopes of the narrow canyon, a slash of sun and shadow running diagonally across them. The roar of rushing water to the right, where a wandering stand of pines and the occasional cluster of fir trees sheltered the length of a boulder-lined creek. The sweet scent of warm tree needles filled the air.

"How was it?" Carrie asked when he'd returned to the spot beside the creek where she was waiting out of sight. She had a handful of pebbles and was skipping them across the water.

"Good." He eased himself onto a rock and sat. "Gets you out of your head for a while."

"Sorry about that remark I made about wearing a hat and a mustache." To disguise herself, so they wouldn't be seen together. "I didn't mean to make light of the situation."

He gave a shrug. "Figured as much."

"Just how much danger am I actually in? I was just thinking that if Tyler comes home--" She looked up, a question in her expression.

"Best case scenario, you're fine. The old man... okay, my father--" The words tasted bitter, wrong in every possible way. "Anyway, he's out of the picture. He would've been the worst. The group he was with..." He sighed. "Depends on what information they think I have and how desperate they are to get it."

"And do you have this kind of information they'd be looking for?"

"Not yet. I think they figure I've got more sources than I do." He picked up a pebble from the sandy ground in front of him and tossed it into the rushing water. "When I go, I'll keep in touch. You notice anything suspicious, you let me know right away. I'll give you my brother's contact info, too. He's FBI... Well, he's out at the moment, but his partner's still in. They'll help you."

She tried for a smile.

"Don't want to mess things up for you here. That's why I'm being as careful as I can."

She turned toward the creek. The relentless flow--the rush and bubble and leaping of water--was almost hypnotizing. Krycek glanced up to where shafts of sunlight sliced between tree branches. Even if he took every precaution and the old men never caught wind of where he was, Carrie was going to be left worrying. Especially if Tyler came home.

"I've been thinking about what you said last night," she said, turning to face him now. "About Ron. I guess I've always tried to be fair and even-tempered, so I've looked at what I've done sometimes as just my 'giving' in the give-and-take of a relationship." She rolled a pebble from one hand to the other, back and forth, and finally tossed it into the bubbling water. "But he did do that with Tyler, kept impressing me with how much of an advantage Ty would have by living out there with him." She looked up at him. "How much I'd be holding him back by keeping him here."

"Not how much Tyler'd lose out on, but how much you'd be making him lose."

She nodded. "It's subtle, the way he framed it."

"The experienced ones are. They're slick. They've got it all worked out ahead of time. They hook you right at the start and then they just reel you in." He pushed at the sandy dirt in front of him with the toe of one shoe. "You know, Tyler hesitating about making a decision on what to do--it could be that he's afraid to tell his dad he wants to come here. He's just a kid; by himself he doesn't have much leverage, especially when he's on Dad's turf. Hard to tell Dad what he doesn't want to hear and have to live with the consequences."

"It would be. But what do I do then?"

"Have to think of something." He shrugged. "Just don't give up. You two have something solid. Don't let it go."


Elleryville, Pennsylvania
3:57 p.m.

"Keith's 'accident', Scully," Mulder said as they followed Nathan's truck over the hill on their way to the little house in the valley. Occasional bits of gravel crunched under their tires.

"Yes, I noticed that right away. And Shirley's letter. It certainly seems to imply that she'd been experimented on by this group." She frowned.

"Do you think her husband had something to do with it, that he was complicit?"

Scully steered left to avoid a pothole. "I don't know, Mulder. It would be the ultimate horror, to find that the one you should be able to trust the most--" She broke off abruptly.

"Tell me about it."

They crested the hill and started a slow descent into a small valley ringed by woods.

"I don't think he helped them intentionally," Mulder said. "When Tracy... just before she collapsed, she was remembering that night--the night her father disappeared. She said he came home and begged her mother to leave. He was warning them."

"And they killed him for it."

"She said there was someone outside the window--" He paused, mouth half open. "You know, Scully, I think Nathan Meyer thinks Keith had something to do with it, though. Maybe he blames Keith for what happened to his sister. I think he may blame Tracy a little for what happened to her. If Shirley hadn't been trying to protect Tracy--"

"Or hadn't believed she was protecting Tracy--"

"...she might have let him get help for her. She might have survived. At least, he'd think she might have."

"Though if she was indeed a victim like Tracy," Scully said, "there was probably nothing anyone could have done for her."

"Yeah, but he doesn't know that."

Scully turned left as the road curved down to a small parking area beside a fenced vegetable garden and a small pump house. Beyond the garden to the left, not far from the back side of the hill, was what looked like a weathered brown barn. She pulled up beside Nathan's truck and glanced over at Mulder. His lower lip was pushed forward as he looked toward the house.

"What is it, Mulder?"

"Just thinking about something Krycek said."


E. 46th Street, New York City
4 p.m.

"Sorry to have brought you gentlemen here on a Sunday afternoon," a dry, monotone voice said, "but we may have a problem."

A murmur made its way around the shadowed room.

"What is it?" asked one man.

"The tapes of our colleague's demise in the house in Reston," the broad man said. "We've obtained an unedited copy and reviewed them all. They point out a complication we'd been unaware of."

"And that is?" asked a bearded man.

"Evidently Alex Krycek is the son of Spender and Teena Mulder. Spender took Krycek with him to have him interrogate Mrs. Mulder. And subsequently to kill him with the rest of the family."

Another murmur arose from around the table.

"From watching the progression of the incident," the thin man said, "it became apparent that Krycek had alerted Mulder to Spender's plot. As soon as the Bureau's decoy with the stray dog wanders through the property, Krycek is at the window. Then he immediately consults with Mrs. Mulder, and the two of them proceed to close the ventilation ducts in the room they're in. They knew what was coming. When two canisters of gas are fired into the living room, Krycek pushes Teena Mulder down in an apparent act of protection."

"After the shooting," the broad man continued in his monotone, "Mulder's behavior toward Krycek is uncharacteristically neutral. Krycek himself reaches for Teena Mulder's hand, and she holds it while Scully tends to the wound he's sustained."

"There's mention between them of a woman named Tracy," the thin man continued. "We have no idea who she is, but she seems to have been a point of contact between all of them."

The broad man attempted to clear his throat. "Given the indications on the tape, and the fact that Krycek saved their lives, we feel it's highly likely they're still in contact, exchanging information."

"So you believe they've forged an alliance?" a bearded man said.

"It's very possible. We'd be remiss to ignore the possibility."

"And if they are working together?" a dark-haired man asked. "What sort of alliance would this be? What kind of a threat would they pose to us?"

"Mulder has always wanted to expose us," the broad man said.

"Do you think Krycek would help him to do that? What would be the point? He'd risk bringing colonization down on our heads early."

"Revenge?" offered the silver-haired man. "He's already outside the group of those who will be protected."

"He wiped out our vaccine research once," said the bearded man.

"But not without having an alternative," replied the silver-haired man. "He wanted to be our only source of a working vaccine."

"Perhaps," said the thin man, "Mulder and Krycek hope to form their own resistance to the plan for colonization, using Vanek's vaccine."

The broad man frowned. "Then we must find and crush them both."

The thin man leaned forward in his chair. "But we have no idea where Krycek is. So far our search has turned up nothing."

"If they're in contact," said the silver-haired man, lines creasing his forehead, "what poisons one can poison the other. If we can find a way to drive a wedge between them, it may not matter whether we locate Krycek."


Elleryville, Pennsylvania
4:38 p.m.

"Anything particular you're looking for?"

Scully looked up at Nathan Meyer from where she sat on the floor beside a bookcase in the living room. "Anything that will give us a hint about her past, Mr. Meyer. Before she came here, mostly." She pulled a second photo album from the shelf.

Mulder appeared from Shirley's room. "Mr. Meyer, are you aware that Tracy had psychic abilities?"

Nathan's eyes widened. One corner of his mouth tightened and he glanced down, studying the geometry of the tiles on the kitchen floor. "I... I knew there was something there. She'd kind of answer questions before you'd asked them." He paused before returning his gaze to Mulder. "Or when she was in school, living with us afterward. There were always rumors around... about her knowing things. But I figured it was just something kids'd made up, that they were teasing her. They did tease her. I guess on top of missing her mother, that would've been rough for her."

"What kind of teasing?" Scully said, looking up.

"Mostly just... I don't know, hazing the new kid." He went to the couch and sat down. "Saying things behind her back when she'd walk into a store or something, so she'd know they were talking about her. There was one girl she was friends with. But a lot of them..." He shook his head. "That's kids, though. You've got to learn to deal with it. If you keep backing down, they keep pushing."

"Did it get worse, then?" Mulder said.

"Bad enough that she left, I guess. I guess that's why she took off." Nathan looked across the room to the window over the kitchen sink and squinted into the light of mid-afternoon.

"Mr. Meyer," Scully turned and cleared her throat. "Were you and your wife aware that Tracy was pregnant?"

Nathan reddened and sighed heavily. "We kind of figured. She used to wear pants a lot, and then she took to getting clothes from the thrift store--dresses, loose things. And she was feeling sick some mornings."

"You never talked to her about it?" Mulder asked.

"Not exactly." He shrugged. "But I don't know who she would've been messing around with. She never did seem interested in boys. She kind of shied away, to tell you the truth. She always took the early bus home after school and she wasn't one to go out nights, wasn't one to ask to go to football games or anything like that."

"We believe"--Scully nodded toward Mulder--"that Tracy wasn't 'messing around' with anyone, sir, but that she was... that she was being used by the people her mother seems to have been so afraid of."

Nathan's brow creased. "What?"

"We don't really have a lot of specifics yet, sir," Mulder said, coming closer. "That's why we're here looking for information. But we believe your sister's fears were justified. Was there any significant period of time about four and a half months ago when you didn't know where she was?"

"You mean"--Nathan counted backward--"the middle of January?"

"Yes," Scully said.

Nathan glanced at Mulder and Scully in turn. "No, she was accounted for, but... there was something strange that happened about then. There was a Thursday I think it was...

"Anyway, I found her wandering out on the ridge. I'd always figured she might try to come back here, and I knew it would only make it harder to adjust to reality in the end. So I'd forbidden her to come here. I went up to her that day... I accused her really, I'm ashamed to say. And I thought at the time she was just bluffing me to get me off her back, but she acted like she didn't know what I was talking about. It didn't made any sense. If she was on her way home, I'd think she just would've gone--taken off the way she did. She runs--" He paused. "Ran. She ran like a deer, all long legs and speed. She could've just taken off. Wouldn't have been the first time. Why wait for me to catch up with her? Why she was just wandering up there, I never could figure out."

"And that was it, sir?" Scully said, settling herself on the couch's end cushion. "That was the only thing that drew your attention?"

Nathan shook his head. "No, that wasn't the end of the oddity. She just seemed real... distant during that weekend and then on Tuesday, we got a call from the school to come pick her up, she was sick. So we did. Jean went, actually, and brought her home and got her settled. Seemed like just the flu or something; I don't think her temperature ever got that high, but when she woke up the next morning she said she didn't have any memory of Jean going to get her the day before. Didn't remember what they'd been working on in her classes for the few days prior. I remember her saying later that she'd gotten bad marks on a couple of quizzes. She spent about a week, then, with her nose in the books, trying to catch herself up." He paused and looked at Mulder. "Does that mean anything to you? What could any of those people from California have wanted with Tracy anyhow?"

"As far as we can tell, this appears to be a rogue group doing genetic experiments. It's possible," Scully said, pausing to press her lips together, "that your niece had already been drawn into their work before she and her mother came here."

"We don't believe," Mulder added, "that it was because of any willful action on her father's part, though. Just before she collapsed, she was telling me about leaving Pasadena. She said she remembered her father coming home worried for their safety, asking her mother take Tracy and go into hiding. Tracy said she remembered noticing someone outside the window, watching. We're concerned that her father's death may not have been an accident."

For a moment Nathan didn't move. Finally he stood and shook his head. "I don't know what to make of all this. It all seems so... crazy." After a moment he nodded toward the door. "I'm going to wait outside if you two don't mind. If you have any more questions, I'll be in the garden."

Scully stood, watched Nathan go out the door and glanced at Mulder, whose jaw was set.

"What?" she said.

He shook his head. "I guess I'm just seeing a lot of something I was on the receiving end of all too often as a kid. He just didn't want to deal with it. With her."

"Mulder, I think he didn't--doesn't--know what to think. What's happened here doesn't fit his sense of reality. Unfortunately, what he's told us doesn't seem to add anything useful to our knowledge. They knew where she was the whole time, even during those few days he describes as 'strange'." She noted her partner's frown. "What, you don't think so?"

"It's the 'strange' part that interests me, Scully."

"Surely you aren't going to suggest that the town experienced a loss of time while she was taken and impregnated."

"A Sleeping Beauty rationale? No, something easier to pull off than that. With the right ingredient."

"And that ingredient would be?"

"A clone."

"You think Tracy was cloned? That she was... replaced here by another for a few days and then returned?"

"It would account for the strange behavior, and her lack of memory of those few days." He bit his lip and glanced up at the ceiling. "Or maybe there's another explanation, maybe even less complicated than a clone."

Scully raised one eyebrow. "A shapeshifter?"

"They already seem to be mixed up in this. It would be convenient, someone who could look like her and then change form and leave with no one the wiser." He came closer and squatted down beside her. "You finding anything in these albums?"

"Not yet, but I'll keep looking. All the pictures seem to be from when they lived here--Shirley and Tracy in the house or garden, someone who must have been a friend of Tracy's, a little girl. Nathan and his wife are in a few of these pictures." She looked up.

Mulder stood. "I think I'm going to take a look upstairs. Let me know if you come across anything."

Scully nodded and watched until he'd disappeared up the stairs. Around her the room fell silent, and she was aware once again of the heat and the close stuffiness of the dusty room. She glanced at the front door and pictured Tracy sanding there in her yellow cotton dress, peering in. What would it have taken to return here after more than a year away to face the memories of such a terrible day? Certainly she didn't appear to have Nathan's tendency to avoid the hard questions.

Or possibly she'd had help in that respect. Krycek had come with her, after all. Which in itself was puzzling. He had nothing obvious to gain from making the trip, especially given the condition he'd been in. And yet he'd made the journey with her, just as he had later, determined to be by her side in Owensburg. The man was a mystery.

Scully let out a sigh. Pushing an errant lock of hair behind her ear, she reached for the next album.


To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
Just a heads-up that I'm going to have work for you. I need you to dig up whatever you can on a pharmaceutical outfit in Chula Vista, California named Prangen. Specifically looking for info on a clinical trial that included a 3-year-old girl named Emily. Specifics to follow tomorrow. Supposedly the trial was called off at the end of 1997. Place sounds shady, may be a front for hybrid experiments. Also any connection between Prangen and research groups in the Pasadena/L.A. area, especially any having to do with genetics or associated with CalTech.

Thanks for the info on which laptop to buy. Picked one up today, so I'm connected again.



Elleryville, Pennsylvania
5:17 p.m.

Nathan Meyer stood inside the fenced garden plot, hands on hips. He turned when he saw Mulder and Scully approaching.

"You two find what you were looking for?"

"We didn't find very much, sir," Scully said, "but we very much appreciate you letting us look."

Mulder held out a small book with a blue and white striped cover. "This diary was in her desk. I was wondering if we could take it. Something in it might give us a lead."

Nathan swiped a hand across his brow and frowned. "Sure. If it'll help you."

"Is there something wrong, sir?" Scully asked, taking a step toward him.

Nathan sighed, though there was something sharp in his eyes. "Just trying to wrap my mind around all this."

Scully glanced around at the overgrown, weedy garden beds. "Sir, did you and your wife use the produce you grew here?"

"No, this was just for Shirley and Tracy. They took care of the whole thing, from planting the seeds right on through harvest. Why?"

"I just thought of something," Scully said. "May we take a few samples of the plants and soil?"

"Yes, but what for?"

"Just being cautious, sir. Often it helps to investigate even avenues that don't seem very likely. I'd like to test their chemical content."

"Seeds are the same ones Jean and I use." Nathan shrugged. "Water's the same."

"Did your sister have any fertilizers she used here?"

"I took them to the house right after she died. Used them in our garden. No sense wasting what can be used."

Scully turned to Mulder. "Could you get me some of those sample bags from the car, Mulder?"

"Yeah, sure." He turned and headed for the parking area.

"If you two don't mind, I'd like to go back to my house. This has been quite the afternoon and I guess my wife and I are going to need a little time to process it."

"I understand, sir."

"If you'll just close that gate when you're done," he said.

"We'll be sure to do that."

Scully bent down over the bed in front of her and pushed through the weeds to get to the soil.

"What was that all about?" Mulder asked, coming up behind her.

"I think Nathan's had about as much bad news as he can process for one afternoon," she said. "Which is understandable. He going back home. He looks drained."

"I think it's more than just shock, Scully. Look at this." He pointed to a weedless spot at the end of the bed. In the dried mud was a distinct human footprint. "What do you think, Scully? About Tracy's size?"

She frowned and looked closer. "Probably, yes."

"There are a few more near the porch. And the bed in her mother's room had been moved and pushed back into place recently. You can see a faint trail in the dust," he said. "It was brushed over, likely Krycek's work; he wouldn't be one to want to leave any traces of their visit. But at one point she must have gone out barefoot--"

"Which seems like something she might do."

"I think Nathan noticed the prints, Scully. I think he knows exactly whose they are."


Longmont, Colorado
8:17 p.m.

Krycek sat facing the last of the day's sunlight, which had deepened until now it tinted the patio furniture in shades of peach and raspberry. There was only a small corner of the bed left to weed. His fingers reached back into the warm, loose soil.

At first he thought he'd done nothing more than walk without thinking, a few hours earlier in the mountains, but he could see now that it wasn't true. Some part of him had been narrating to her the whole time, a kind of wordless note-taking. Not focused, conscious talking, as if she were actually somewhere to be able to hear him. Maybe like a diary you'd keep, pretending you were writing to someone who in the end was never going to read what you'd written. And for some reason, doing it hadn't sent up red flags warning him that he must be losing it, that it was crazy to be narrating anything to a dead girl. Instead, there'd been a kind of peace to it, like the momentary cocoon he'd woken to in her room that morning over a week ago, sunlight spilling through the window onto the two of them on the sheets, Tracy wrapped around him from behind in the warm silence. Of all of them, she said that had been her favorite memory.

Krycek's fingers searched the soil like blind man's fingers, pulling the weeds they found. He thought of climbing the stairs to the roof patio, all rhythm and process but no thought, her finger tight around his belt loop, her hip snug against his. The stairs went on and on, higher than he'd remembered.

"I assume you've done some sort of gardening before?"

Carrie's voice made him jump.

He looked up, working to pull himself back to the present, and grunted an affirmative reply. "Summers where I grew up we had to grow what food we could. Short season, so it was always a race."

"What kind of crops?"

"Cabbage--lots of that. Beets, onions, cucumbers. Turnips and radishes."

"So weeding's second nature."

"Yeah." He paused. The sunset colors had overlaid Carrie with a rosy golden tint. "Thanks for taking me up there today. It helped."

"You're welcome." She smiled. "Thanks yourself, by the way."

"For?" He pulled the final weed and tossed it into the pile.

"I got a call from Tyler a few minutes ago. Guess I've always tried to keep the focus on him before, but I told him how much I miss him, and"--her smile broadened--"he said he wants to come home. So now I'll just have to negotiate something with Ron."

"Good for you. Just stick up for yourself. Don't let him push you around."

She nodded. "I'm going to stop at a nursery tomorrow and pick up some veggie starts."

Krycek glanced up at the shadow-abstract the oak tree had thrown against the wall. He took in a breath, held it several seconds and let it out again. "Mind if I add something to your list?"


To: [email protected]
From: [email protected]
More details tomorrow when I'm coherent again, but here's the Cliff Notes version. We just got back from Elleryville. Be glad you weren't there. She was right about them not getting along. Well-meaning people, maybe, but the type who don't want to think about anything that doesn't fit into their ordered little universe, and unfortunately that included their niece. I guess the mindset hit pretty close to home. A chapter from the not-exactly-ideal story of my own childhood: When Samantha was taken, my parents both refused to talk about it, as if her disappearing was something I'd hallucinated. Didn't let me search for her or do anything at all to help find her. Drove me crazy, as you can probably guess.

Came away with a little bit of background about Shirley, and a bunch of letters she'd written to her brother from Pasadena, with a return address on them. Should at least be a place to start.

We went to their house in the valley and looked around, hoping to find some record of their time in Pasadena, but no dice. Not a single picture in an album, or anything else pre-Elleryville. Nice setting for a kid who's psychic, though--nature and quiet and nobody to make fun of her, or the static of a bunch of minds to drive her crazy. Had to be rough watching her mother go downhill that way, though. Hard to fathom having to be in a position like that. Looking back at it, she was pretty damn strong. I know I was a mess at that age.

Nathan let me take her diary. I'm going to go through it in case there's anything in it that could help us.

More tomorrow. Stay tuned.


P.S. It must have rained the day you were there, because I spotted a handful of barefoot prints dried into the mud outside. I'm pretty sure Nathan saw them, too, but he didn't say anything and I wasn't about to offer to enlighten him.

(End Chapter 5)

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