My sister, Melissa, is pouring milk into my coffee. Alex Krycek just passed me a nicely toasted English muffin, which I am now wolfing down along with a delicious Western egg-white omelet.
Mulder is quietly assessing everyone in the room, vibrating like a Jack Russell terrier on stimulants. His left arm rests possessively along the back of my chair. He really should eat something. He's still weak.
My mother is watching every glance I exchange with Mulder, clearly attempting to glean something more about our relationship than I've been willing to share, from our behavior at the table. I'm certainly not helping matters; I'm eating like a draft horse. My shirt is loose, though, so I have a little time before I have to start answering questions on that front. But it couldn't possibly have gone unnoticed that we shared a bed last night.
Samantha is sitting to Mulder's right, picking at her breakfast. I don't blame her, the poor thing. The last three days have been terribly disorienting for her. Mulder, despite his erratic energy, is gently stroking her left shoulder, trying to convince her to eat something. She's had fewer than a dozen meals since they took her twenty-seven years ago, and she doesn't appear to have aged even a year.
Melissa's husband, Eric, is doing all the cooking. And they're the only ones with the keys to this place. We're prisoners here.
"It's for your own safety," they tell us every time we bristle.
My sister is alive. I am pregnant with Mulder's child. Nine-year-old Samantha sits with us, another addition to our new family, and Krycek seems impossibly pleased with himself as he eats his own omelet with his right hand while he stirs his coffee with his left. It's also morning, and for the first time in three months, I'm not the least bit nauseated.
This is a panorama of the impossible - a living, breathing, Magritte portrait - yet all I can manage to think of right now is that I'd love to know what kind of cheese is in this omelet.
"Scully, you need to get down here right now. There's something you have to hear."
"What is it, Frohike?"
"I can't play it for you over an unsecured line. Get over here. It's important."
I sighed indulgently. "It had better be good." I hit "end" on my phone and rose from the sofa.
I slipped my jacket and shoes back on, and after smoothing the afghan over the back of the couch, I fed the fish and left, locking the deadbolt behind me.
Over the prior three months, I had experienced my share of "important" breakthroughs, courtesy of my three peculiar friends. They were as dedicated as I to uncovering any information that might lead to Mulder's recovery.
That's how I had come to think of it - as a recovery mission. The sadness had been too difficult to bear alone early on, so I distanced myself from it. It had become only a matter of finding something that had been lost. Not my partner, not a man with the potential to be afraid, lonely, harmed...
I drove at the highest speed I could without jeopardizing my life or that of my unborn child.
With every choice I made, personal or professional, I thought of my child. When I completed the PCRs from the amnio, I realized I had even more at stake: Mulder's child, without question. I owed it to him as well to keep the baby from harm.
I blinked in surprise to find a parking spot available on the street, immediately in front of The Lone Gunman office. I found the improbability of parking staggering evidence that I was in for something big. Either that or a surprise baby shower. I winced at the thought of each.
I buzzed at the door, tapping my foot impatiently. I have always hated their sense of drama.
Frohike pushed between Byers and Langly to take my hand and lead me inside. I followed, with the remaining two lagging behind. When I chanced a look back, straining against Frohike's hold on me, I saw a pair of intense gazes, clearly ushering me inside with serious intent.
A sweetly concerned Byers stepped forward and led me toward the specially designed chair they reserved for my use. I sat and waited for the revelation.
"Okay, you need to be really calm about this. Can you do that, Scully?" Frohike's concern should have been touching, but I was impatient, and found it irritating.
"Oh for crying out loud," I muttered. They could be frustrating sons of bitches when they wanted to be. "Get on with it, whatever it is."
Frohike exchanged a nervous glance with Langly and Byers, while his right hand hovered over a switch on a large recording deck. "Okay, you asked for it. Remember that...Okay, a buddy at Arecibo picked this up with a little help from one of *his* buddies at the VLA in Nevada. The frequency is really weird, but he got a recording and wired it to me. From the specs of the transmission, he thinks it was sent about six and a half hours ago - around lunchtime."
He pressed a small button on the panel, and copious amounts of static buzzed through the room.
Then I heard it through the static.
"...and it's lookin' bad. No radiation in here yet, but we can't figure out all the controls, so the whole compartment could be flooded. Nobody's sick, though, so it's hard to know. We have an engineer here, but he can't figure out the interface, so we're pretty much locked on trajectory, which means unless there's some kind of fancy landing program in place, we're lookin' at one hell of a landing. Well, more of a crash, really. Tell me somebody can hear this..."
It was Mulder's voice. Unmistakably Mulder. It was Mulder.
"If you're on Earth and you're human, please contact my partner, Special Agent Dana Scully of the FBI in the United States...she'll be able to help. And if you're listening, hey, partner. I'd play you a request, but I don't know if this panel over here is a jukebox or the planetary destructo-ray, so I'm just gonna let that go for now."
Mulder, in full smart-ass mode. It was the best music I'd heard in weeks.
"Now it would be *really* good if you guys could help us land this thing and soon, because we've been out of water for two days now, and we haven't seen anything edible for almost a week. We could do a Donner Party on the casualties, but we'd really rather not. Breathable air is low, and we're running out of canisters. Our engineer, Russell, thinks if we restrict ourselves to the main control room here - assuming we ever figure out how to seal the fucking doors - we might have enough air for another four or five days, max."
He was conscious, lucid, and - I was deliriously happy about this - in a thoroughly disagreeable mood. At the time, I was too happy to hear his voice to worry about such trivial things as air and food.
I leapt out of the seat, something I could still accomplish. "Frohike, tell me your friend has found a way to communicate with them."
"They're working on it, but he said they don't have anything right now that can create the kind of signal they're receiving."
Langly shook his head. "Besides, this isn't one of those movies where the stewardess lands the plane with the help of the tower, Scully. This is a complex alien space craft. Nobody knows how it operates."
Byers shot him a withering look from his left while Frohike smacked his arm on the right. Langly flinched. "What?"
"All right," I interrupted. It was time to get down to business. "We need to get in touch with somebody in the Air Force with good, high connections. Mulder's convinced that recovered space crafts have been stored at both Area 51 and Ellens. We need to find someone who's involved with their recovery and research. And Krycek. Maybe he knows somebody."
Byers blinked blankly. "We've had a hard enough time even proving that Area 51 exists, Scully. What are you suggesting - that we just stroll up to the front gates and say, 'I have a call for you on line one'?"
I sighed in irritation. "You're honestly telling me that your friend at Arecibo has picked up a voice signal from an alien space craft and *no one* in black helicopters have paid him a visit?"
Frohike and Byers exchanged a glance.
"Think conspiracy, boys. If the signal is genuine, and people have been doing research on the crafts, they'll be looking for signals just like this one. They'll be on top of it. If possible, they may even jam it. We have to get in touch with them before they take control of the situation and end it before it can begin. Mulder said 'we'. That means there's more than just his life at stake. Possibly the lives of hundreds, if that ship crashes in a populated area."
Frohike was the first to speak. "This is the best moment of my life," he said, one begloved hand over his heart. It took a moment - and a quick glance at each of the three - to realize that their expressions of worship expressed something I would normally resent: I was - apparently - a conspiracy theorist's wet dream come true.
"Get over it," I suggested, and bless their hearts, they listened. "I'll contact Skinner and arrange a meeting with Krycek. You three, find a way to contact that ship, I don't care how."
"We're on it," I heard Langly say, as I jotted down the frequency, took a copy of the tape, and headed out the door.
I was happy enough to hear him admit the existence of other vessels, and with his promise to get on it - in a tone that meant business - I was satisfied. Skinner was back in charge and in his element. For the first time in just over three months, he had a genuine lead and a chance to make up for his mistake in Oregon.
I ended up at my apartment, to pack a small bag, and then dashing over to Mulder's place, to pack a bag with some of his clothes and toiletries, as well. Without information, all I could do was prepare for a trip.
It wasn't until I'd tossed Mulder's shaving kit into the bag that I realized he might actually get a chance to use it. He was coming home, and he would need to shave. I culled item after item from his apartment, while I thought about how he would look, how he would smell, how wonderful he would feel in my arms again.
I had a few extra moments and I thought briefly about calling Mom, but I didn't want to have the hour-long conversation I knew we'd have. I hadn't actually told her about the pregnancy yet.
It wasn't that I was embarrassed or ashamed - - I just needed some time to ensure the child was healthy, human, and - most importantly - Mulder's. The results had come back only a few days before. I had planned on telling her over the weekend. So much for that.
We ended up, the six of us, on a military redeye to Nevada. Krycek wouldn't tell us much more except that we were going to meet a contact of his at Area 51.
The expressions on the faces of my three friends were payment enough for the months of loneliness and frustration I'd endured. At Krycek's declaration of our destination, tears fell unrestrained down Langly's cheeks. Frohike closed his eyes and sighed deeply, a faint smile tugging his scruffy cheeks upward. Byers looked at me earnestly through glassy eyes, and mouthed two words, "Thank you." Their sincerity broke my heart.
When we landed a little past midnight and I saw a familiar face, I knew we hadn't been had.
I didn't know the man's name, but I remembered his face from an odd and vaguely disconcerting incident on a Nevada road two years ago. His clothing, automotive choice, and his companions all but screamed "Men In Black", but it had never been confirmed. And really, at the time, I wouldn't have been in a particularly receptive state of mind anyway. I didn't believe then as much as I do now. What a difference two years make.
I had the strange recollection that I'd seen him since the incident,
but the memory was foggy. Maybe it was a dream.
However, our basement office does *not* have high-powered communications technology, which this one possessed in abundance. My three friends gaped in awe when we moved through a narrow corridor and passed into a huge, open electronics laboratory.
"This is the heart of the operation," Fletcher said to me dramatically, spreading his arms wide and leering openly. He'd only said a dozen words since we'd landed, and I already disliked him. He was, however, the supervisor of a project which we were assured had the best chance of contacting the ship, so I smiled. If he detected the disingenuous intent, he never let on. I recall that at the time it made me immeasurably sad that someone ruled more by hormones than common sense would be in charge of something so important.
"We spent years reverse-engineering the ships we'd captured," he told me, seemingly oblivious to our companions, "before we made contact with the shape-shifters. Brilliant little corps of rebels. They've been especially helpful." As he unraveled the story of the rebel aliens and their private war against the colonizing aliens, he flipped switches and turned dials, never once taking his eyes off me. It was horribly disconcerting.
"The rebels are an unusual bunch," Fletcher told us, as static reverberated throughout the laboratory. "Developed on the same planet as the unfriendlies, against pretty much everything we know about evolution. Two intelligent species taking up the same space and all." He turned a dial and the static cleared, only to make way for a horrible high-pitched squeal. He raised his voice casually over the din, as he continued to adjust the controls. "Some of them work for the unfriendlies, but mostly they're proponents of non-aggression, healers, that kind of thing. Sort of the Gandhis of Quadrant Two. Toxic as hell, but generally pretty nice guys once you get to know 'em."
The squealing abated, much to my pleasure, and he went on. "They've been helping with the project in some respects since the beginning."
I turned to Krycek for confirmation of this, and he shrugged. "Different project," was all he said.
Fletcher seemed put out. "Do you want to hear this or don't you?"
"Yes," my five companions and I said in unison. We waited patiently while Fletcher puffed himself up again.
"As I was saying," he postured, "they've given us a good bit of information on how the vessels operate. It's in their best interests to help us, they said. They appear to have lost favor on their homeworld and need a new place to crash."
I looked up in alarm.
"So to speak," Fletcher clarified. "Anyhow, they gave us the specs, we've been working on 'em, and here we are."
But that didn't in any way assuage my concerns about his or his organization's plans for the ship or its passengers. I had spent so many years taunted by minuscule scraps of information, that my patience had simply crumbled. I was direct.
"Mr. Fletcher, why have you granted us access to this facility?"
His smile broadened, but I saw what appeared to be resignation. "Your partner sent out a broad-frequency signal, which means more public access than we can cover up effectively. So we have a new plan: Openness."
Frohike made his sole, snide, contribution to the conversation. "A kinder, gentler, Area 51."
Fletcher turned to him. "Read some Herbert Spencer, trollface," he said, continuing to fiddle with the controls. "Everything begins with adaptation."
As he spoke those final words, Mulder's voice rang clearly through the speakers along the top of the control panel.
"...and we have some requests for cheeseburgers, even from the vegetarian here. All right, one more time, with feeling. This is Special Agent Fox Mulder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, DC office, somewhere near Europa I think, on board an alien vessel, without helm control. Repeat, no one is flying this hunk of junk. If any of you black-suited, black-helicopter-flying guys can hear me, the time to help is now. I know you have crashed vessels, which you've been tinkering with for years. Well, now it's time to apply that knowledge. And NO, we don't have a PowerBook. I seriously doubt the computer systems here are Mac-compatible."
I snorted at that. Mulder had never hidden his contempt for that awful film.
"If there's anybody out there who can hear and respond, please let us know you're getting this. And call my partner, Special Agent Dana Scully, also at the DC office, and let her know I'm okay."
I leaned forward toward Fletcher, and flashing just a little bit of my new hormone-augmented cleavage, said to him in a low voice, "Can you respond?"
He nodded dumbly for a moment, failing miserably to make eye contact. Men. He finally turned his attention back to my face and with a hideous leer, said, "No problem, sugar." Ick. One series of fluid motions later, I heard Fletcher's voice pronounce clearly, "This is Earth, Agent Mulder. ATRD Director of Operations Morris Fletcher here."
The pause seemed interminable. Finally, after twenty seconds or so, Mulder responded. "ATRD? Man, I KNEW you guys existed. Scully won't believe this when I tell her."
"Tell her yourself," Fletcher chuffed. There was another long pause.
Mulder's voice returned, sweetened with the tenderness I've come to know like my own reflection. "Scully? Are you there? Can you hear me?"
Fletcher nodded to the microphone and rolled his chair aside with a long push of his legs. I bent over and spoke, doing my best to keep my voice steady, despite my combined happiness and fear. "Mulder, it's me. I'm here. Talk to me."
After another long pause, Mulder spoke again, his voice thick and jagged. "Scully, oh God, it's you. I'm coming home, I'm trying, but we're kind of locked on course and nobody knows how to fly this thing. I'm sorry..."
A voice interrupted him. "That your Scully, man?" There was a pause. "Hey, you think you could find my wife, Sandy? She must be worried sick. They've never taken me for this long before."
I looked over at Fletcher and he shook his head and said, "We've gotta get to business. If they have any hope of landing here instead of crashing, we have to start the flying lessons now."
"I'm sorry," I told the man softly. "Maybe later. Right now we have to work on teaching one of you how to operate the vessel. Mulder," I asked him, "who's it going to be?"
There was a good deal of silence, and then just a few murmurs. Finally, Mulder returned to the line. "Well, I guess that would be me. Nobody else wants to do it. I'd have Russell try, but he keeps passing out. We're all pretty tired here."
"That's okay," I told him. "You can do it. Just listen to everything that Fletcher tells you, and you'll be just fine."
"Where are you, Scully?"
I looked at Fletcher and he shook his head again. I disregarded him. "Area 51. Skinner and Krycek are here, as well as the gunmen."
Fletcher 'tsk'ed me, and rolled back to his accustomed spot, displacing me from in front of the microphone. "Enough of that, boy and girl," he said with casual drama. "It's time to teach this Fibbie to fly."
And with that, he began to describe a series of control mechanisms that defied everything I'd ever seen or imagined.
Fletcher described the holographic interface, one that wrapped around Mulder's body, and when he directed Mulder to touch a particular panel or move his hand in a specific direction, we were all relieved to hear that the controls were behaving as expected.
I would've kissed Fletcher in gratitude -- if he hadn't been so damn ugly.
The interface, which Fletcher brought up eventually on his own workstation as a reference, was visually stunning. It was essentially a starburst of projected light, surrounding him, with his body as the central vertex of all axes. Colored lines projected outward at forty-five degree intervals. The entire virtual apparatus moved when he did, so that his reference points were always relative. It was amazing.
The beams shone in pure white, yellow, and blue, which when 'tapped' lightly with one finger, turned bright red.
"I'll take your word for it," Mulder said. "It changed color, but it looks kinda grayish to me."
"Red-green color blind," I whispered to Fletcher, who rolled his eyes.
He grumbled, "I see the Bureau's recruitment qualifications are as high as ever."
"Moving on," I suggested tersely.
Fletcher explained to Mulder how to read the display and how to "pull" the specific interface lines into position to control every operational parameter of the ship. At first, he merely ensured that the interface was functional, but later he moved on to optimizing communications so there would be no time lapse, and closing the control room doors, so they could release some additional oxygen into the very thin air. Then he moved on to confirming the ship's course and speed. Finally, he had Mulder modify the ship's course and speed to bring it into proper range at Bellefleur. The modifications were minute, but Fletcher assured us they would make the approach and entry through the atmosphere smoother. He sounded confident, so Mulder simply went along with him. Given Fletcher's obvious understanding of the ship's operation, I would have done the same.
All in all, the procedure took just over three hours, and my friends were beginning to droop. Langly was the only one who was still paying attention, sleep having already claimed Byers and Frohike. Skinner was off in a far corner, conversing quietly with Krycek.
"All right, last one," Fletcher sighed tiredly. Single-tap the yellow beam at three o'clock, the one we labeled CCY. Has it changed color?"
"Yeah," Mulder said weakly. I tried not to think about his previous statements with regard to starvation and dehydration.
"All right. Using your thumb and forefinger, grasp the beam about halfway down its length, and drag it back toward yourself until the little counter is vertical. Tell me when you're done."
"Okay, hold on...all right, the counter's vertical."
"Now release it, and single-tap the beam again to change it back to yellow."
"What does your auto-course display read now?"
"Um...one of those sideways squiggles that's longer on the bottom than on the top."
"Any vertical lines?"
"Not really. Just two little squiggles joined at the right side, like an uneven "U" tipped onto its left side."
"Okay. That's good. That should soften your landing." Fletcher deactivated his own display, and wiped his brow with a handkerchief. "You're done. Deactivate the interface and just sit back and relax. You'll be in Oregon in..." he scrawled some notes and finally arrived at "...thirty-six hours, twenty-seven minutes, fifty-three seconds." He grinned smugly at me. "Give or take an hour and a half."
I heard Mulder sigh heavily, and what sounded like him dropping into a chair.
"Are you okay, Mulder?" I asked him, taking over the position in front of the microphone.
There was a brief pause before he finally responded quietly. "Yeah, just tired. I think I need to zonk for a few minutes. Leave the line open, okay, Scully?"
I nodded, even though I knew he couldn't see it. Maybe I just needed to reassure myself. "I'll be here," I said warmly.
About forty-five minutes after that, Mulder awoke and asked for me with his first words. I smiled and perked up at the familiar sleepy sound of his voice.
"I'm here, Mulder."
"Good. Thought I'd lost you there."
"Nope," I said cheerfully. "Just reading through some highly sensitive material."
"Anything good?" he asked optimistically.
"A few things about the advent of antibiotics and Ginsu knives. And there's a fascinating document here about Bigfoot. I'd get you a copy of it, but it's on that red security paper."
"Just tell me the highlights when I get home."
I paused for a moment, before I began to chuckle. "Mulder, I'm kidding. It's mostly about viral research and alternative energy sources," I told him. "But it's still fascinating reading."
He chuckled softly in response, and asked me, "How'd you get the information out of old Morris?"
Perhaps it was the hormones that accounted for my boldness, or maybe I was simply tired of waiting. Either way, I assumed Mulder would appreciate a distraction. "I flashed him some cleavage, and he gave me everything I asked for."
He chuckled again. "Scully."
"Blame yourself. I remember when I used to be professional. Now look at me."
He voice turned wistful. "I wish I could."
I closed my eyes and composed myself. Soon, I reminded my naggingly impatient spirit. "You'll be home soon. We're going to stay here a little while longer, and then Skinner and I are going to head out to Oregon to meet you when you arrive. How many do you have onboard?"
"A dozen of us made it through the fighting," he told me.
I didn't remember his saying anything about a battle. "What fighting?"
He took a moment while I heard him breathe deeply. "The rebels staged the coup from the beginning. That's why they took those of us who'd had the brain spike last year. Apparently we'd all switched on at the same time, like some kind of telepathic power surge. When the fighting began, the grays reactivated our malfunctioning tissue, but the rebels were busy fighting, so they couldn't help us control the ability. Most of us were pretty much out of commission right from the beginning. Since my hyperfunctioning brain tissue had been removed surgically, I was pretty much unaffected. I was able to coordinate the two others who'd undergone similar surgery, and we fired a few weapons and then mostly just hid like rodents."
"My God," I whispered.
"It wasn't very dignified, but it was effective. We managed to hole up the first eight humans we could lay our hands on. Most of them were immobile, so it was hard going. We had to drag them into a back access bay with our eyes closed, holding our breath, because of the fumes from the injured rebels. By the time the fighting was over, there were only a few rebels left. They wished us luck, handed me a box containing ten vials of something blue, took all the escape capsules, and left us here to fend for ourselves. That was almost eight weeks ago. To their credit, they did pre-set our course and leave us food and water, but they underestimated pretty badly on the quantities. I guess they expected fewer of us to survive."
I could hear the hunger and thirst in his dry, brittle voice, and the weariness in his words. He'd been through absolute hell, and I was his only lifeline. I wouldn't let him down. "How is everybody holding up?"
"Better, actually, now that they know what's going on and how much time we have left. Danny and Marlene were right on the edge, but I think they'll be able to hold on now, knowing they'll be home in less than two days." He cleared his throat. "Less than two days. Jesus, Scully, I miss you."
I closed my eyes and smiled. "Me too," I told him, "but you'll forgive me if I wait to embrace you until after you've bathed. I don't even want to think about how you smell after all this time."
"Actually," he responded, "if they hadn't shown us how to use the ultrasonic showers, we'd be a pretty ripe bunch, but that really helped. It's this amazing massage thing. You'd love it after a day of trotting around on those stilts of yours."
I smiled. "It sounds wonderful."
"It is," he confirmed. "Keeps our clothes clean, too. I really want one of these once we get home. The money we could save on dry cleaning alone..."
Once they got home, he said. It struck me again that he was indeed coming home, and with all the inappropriate, inefficient thoughts occurring to me upon his words, I had to force myself to get back to business. "So who do you want me to call, Mulder?" He had this once chance, this singular opportunity to go as public as he wanted, and it was only right for him to decide who should be present to witness the event.
"I haven't really thought about it. CNN I guess. The networks." I suppose I should have expected television from him first, the ham. "The big magazines: Time, Newsweek, Life, Omni. You guys have been in touch with SETI, right?"
We hadn't thought of that. "We'll get right on that. It's possible the people at Arecibo or the VLA who first intercepted this signal contacted SETI and MUFON themselves, but we'll make sure." I was looking pointedly at Frohike, who had already awoken. He nodded his head and picked up a telephone. I felt a momentary pang of guilt for having forgotten comrades who had remained so vigilant in their search for Mulder. I scrawled a quick reminder to myself to thank them publicly for their help.
"Who else?" I asked.
"Would it be too childish to call up Kersh and say 'Neener neener'?"
I chuckled. "I would think."
Langly piped up suddenly from where he was perusing the files I'd abandoned earlier. "I'd pay cash money to see that, Mulder!" he called out.
After a few more chuckles, Byers led his friends out of the room to offer us some privacy.
"We're alone now," I told him softly.
"Yeah, you, me, and about a hundred radio telescope operators."
I hadn't thought about that.
"Hey, guys," Mulder announced solicitously, "meet Special Agent Dana Scully, M.D., fastest scalpel in the East, and one damn fine example of the ideal human female. That is, if you like 'em smart, strong, and sexy."
"Mulder," I chided him gently.
"Hey, I calls 'em like I sees 'em."
"I have some news for you," I teased in retaliation. I decided to wait until he was home and rested before I told him about the baby, but I was bursting with the news. It seemed fair to make him wait.
"Anything good?" he asked. "Peace in the Middle East? Cubs win the World Series? DAMN!" he shouted.
"What?" I was suddenly terrified something had gone wrong with the ship.
"Goddamn it. I missed the World Series again."
I sighed in relief. "I taped it for you. And I guarantee you'll be pleased with the outcome."
"Really?" He said in a little squeak.
"Of course. And I have another couple of videotapes you'll find VERY interesting, but you're going to have to wait for those."
"Scully," he taunted lightly, "you been clickin' on the higher end of the Spectravision lineup?"
"Well, the footage is certainly revealing." I'd spend months waiting and wondering how he would react to the tapes of my ultrasounds, to the growing form of our child. It was very difficult to keep from telling him.
Part of me thought that I should tell him, just in case he didn't make it. Then I thought about it, and realized I didn't want him to hear about it, half-starved, from a disembodied voice. I wanted him to be here with me when he found out he was going to be a father.
"Speaking of footage," he said, returning us to more vital matters. He must have been exhausted to depart from idle chitchat so suddenly. "Let's figure out the rest. What do we have so far?"
I read from the list I'd jotted down. "CNN, all the major magazines, and all the networks. Except Fox. They're not exactly high on my credibility scale."
"Are you kidding? After that Alien Autopsy thing and COPS? They'll be all over this." He had a point.
"Oh, all right. It's not as if they'd hold back on impugning your credibility anyway. You do understand that anybody and anything to do with you will be in the spotlight."
"You afraid of a few flashbulbs, Scully?"
"No, it's just that I realized that absurd book might make it back to the bestseller list."
"Oh God, and that piece of crap movie could end up back in the theaters. That thing has 'cult classic' written all over it."
We both groaned.
"On the other hand," I told him, "the Gunmen will finally be able to publish the 'Inside Area 51' article they've always dreamed of. You should have seen them, Mulder. It was like Christmas morning."
I could feel his smile, despite the thick emotion in his voice. "Thanks for getting them in there. They deserve it."
I reminded myself that he was still weary and asked for the last bit of information I needed so he could go back to sleep for a while. "Why don't you tell me the full names of everyone on the ship, and we'll contact their families. We'll try to get everybody there in time for your arrival."
Mulder listed off everyone there, and to my relief, both Billy Miles and the Hoeses were among the survivors. He only gave me ten names, though, and when I asked for the eleventh, he said she didn't have any family to contact. He didn't give me her name. I wanted to press the issue so we would have a complete list for the authorities, but he seemed reluctant to discuss the matter any further, and I was desperate for a bathroom break.
"I'll be right back," I told him, and left the connection open.
I made my way out of the laboratory and down a narrow hallway toward the sign that indicated the presence of restrooms. All the doors lining the hall were closed with the exception of one. Light streamed out of the crack in the nearly sealed door, and I heard voices. I approached and recognized them as Skinner and Krycek. With all my attention concentrated on Mulder, I hadn't even noticed that they'd disappeared from the room.
"So just establish the contacts and get ready for the release data. I'll contact you when it's time," Krycek said in a firm voice.
"Why didn't you just tell me all this from the beginning?" Skinner responded and sighed loudly. "We could've avoided all this conflict."
"And maintained the illusion?" Krycek snorted derisively. "He would've seen right through it, you know that. Spender might be a total waste of flesh, but he's still got twice our brains combined."
I didn't know what they were talking about, but since they both gave the impression of being opposed to Spender in every respect, and my bladder was screaming for relief, I decided to ask Skinner about it later.
I was back in the lab, talking with Mulder, by the time Fletcher returned with dinner. Skinner and Krycek followed him in. Skinner appeared vaguely pleased, and Krycek looked terribly smug. I made quick eye contact with Skinner, who shot me a grin and held up one hand to indicate he would explain later.
Mulder went back to sleep for a while, and the Gunmen returned, ready to get to work. Byers occupied himself immediately giving directions to the families of the survivors, and I ate a little something.
Skinner, meanwhile, contacted the local authorities in Oregon, and advised them to prepare for our arrival. Concerned that Fletcher and his Men In Black would work themselves into a froth over the idea of cameras committing their secret vessel to global reality, Skinner and I agreed not to contact the media until we were out of the facility.
With the Gunmen on the SETI/MUFON and family contacts, and Krycek stating that he had his own business to attend to, whatever that meant, Skinner and I made to depart.
"Mulder?" I asked into the microphone.
After a muffled cough, I heard his voice. "Yeah?"
"We're going now. Everything is in the works." I looked over at Fletcher and engaged him in intense eye contact. I wanted to shame him into remembering his promise to get Mulder and the others home safely. "You just listen to Director Fletcher and he'll bring you down safe." Of course the flattery didn't hurt. Fletcher nodded at me. "We'll be there when you land."
"Okay. See you soon, partner."
When Skinner and I were alone on a military jet to the Air Force base at Kingsley Field, Oregon, I asked him what had transpired with Krycek during their absence from the control room.
"He had a little present for me." If he'd said it with less relief, I would have thought he was being sarcastic. Instead, he pulled a Palm Pilot out of his pocket and showed it to me. "Control mechanism. Those little buggers have just gone to meet their maker." To punctuate his point, he put the unit down on the floor of the plane and raised his foot, clearly intending to smash it with the heel of his shoe.
"Don't!" I shouted, and reached forward to grab it. I was less than graceful, considering my slightly altered center of gravity, but he did stop his leg before he made contact with the unit. "We need to research this. I believe I've had enough of destroyed evidence for the remainder of my natural life."
Skinner smiled slightly and huffed a breath out his nose, and returning his raised foot to the floor, he began to dial on his cell phone. When he reached his assistant, he instructed her to contact my entire media list, and to identify herself as "Assistant Director Jana Cassidy, Bureau Director of Media Relations". Before he ended the call, he also instructed her to recruit Cassidy's assistant to cover her, which, gauging by his smile and nod, meant that she indicated it would be little trouble to accomplish.
I looked at Skinner long and hard until he must have felt compelled to speak. "Assistant Director Cassidy is on vacation this week," he said, and I swear I saw just a hint of a grin.
I liked him enormously at that moment. It was a sneaky tactic, utterly false in almost every regard, and it made me irrationally happy. It was certainly the only way to assure that the networks would pull out all the stops and get their top correspondents out to Bellefleur with live satellite feeds. Any other A.D. would have garnered a pre-taped interview with a two-week lead time.
But his behavior had me concerned. "Are you all right, Sir?"
He didn't answer for a long time. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, and when he finally turned his gaze to meet mine, I understood.
"I'm free," he told me.
Yeah, you and Mulder, I thought. When was it going to be my turn? We went through the remainder of the flight in silence. There was a lot to think about.
When we arrived at Kingsley, we were escorted quietly to a sheriff's department car by a tall, handsome blond in uniform. "Welcome to Klamath Falls," he said. "I'm Eric Lindgren, Bellefleur Sheriff."
Skinner extended his hand. "Walter Skinner, Dana Scully, FBI. Thank you
for meeting us."
"The motel," Skinner and I said in unison. Sixty-eight miles later, they remained the only words we'd spoken.
When I returned outside, Skinner had completed his conversation with the agents, and returned with me to obtain our luggage.
I was making for my bags when Skinner intercepted. "I'll get that," he said, taking Mulder's bag along with his own. His step was noticeably lighter, I realized, walking behind him toward our rooms.
I opened my door, and Skinner slid Mulder's bag just inside, and I put mine beside it, before closing the door. He didn't comment as he put his own bag inside his room, and I suppose I was a little surprised. In all the time since Mulder's disappearance, Skinner had never brought up the subject of my relationship with Mulder or the possible paternity of the baby.
Well, that's almost true. When the test results arrived last week, I did share them with Skinner.
"Is everything okay?" he'd asked cautiously.
"Yes," I'd told him, still relieved beyond measure. "Healthy and human. It appears to be a normal, natural pregnancy, if a little high-risk."
He'd nodded, told me to take care of myself, and that was that. I had wished I'd known what he was thinking, but I had been loathe to bring up the subject. It had seemed like a don't-ask/don't-tell situation.
So as we followed the footpath back to the parking lot, I was surprised to hear him ask me, "Do you trust Morris Fletcher?"
It was a simple question to answer. "With regard to the operation of that craft, yes. With regard to the disposition of the ship after it lands, no."
"What do you think the chances are for a smooth landing?"
And then I understood. Two of his greatest burdens were lifting from his shoulders in the space of just one day, and it must have seemed too good to be true. He had just been freed from the ravaging invaders in his blood, and he was soon to be vindicated publicly for his supportive supervision of the X-Files, and for losing track of Mulder three months ago.
I spoke softly. "I think our chances are good. The controls operated as expected, and Fletcher seemed to know what he was talking about. Taking that into consideration as well as the apparently benevolent intentions of the rebels aboard the ship, I'm optimistic."
We returned to Sheriff Lindgren's cruiser and drove out toward the forest site in silence until I realized I had no idea how we planned to protect the site from military intervention. Perhaps his brief, hushed conversation with the two agents had been a measure in that direction.
"Sir?" I asked. "Do the local field agents have something afoot to keep the landing site open to the media?"
"Yes," he responded simply. "In addition to a sizeable contingent provided by a friend in the Marines."
I smiled. "Semper Fi."
He smiled as we sped along the tree-lined road. "Indeed."
Skinner explained to me that although the Air Force or Army might have been able to claim official jurisdiction in the woods, should they have attempted to take over in front of the cameras, it would have been what was traditionally described by the United States Armed Forces as "A Bad Thing". Skinner's pal in the Marines had set him up with three platoons of fully armed men ready to kill or die to protect public access to the site.
"Your job..." I muttered. "If the Air Force or Army, or even officially sanctioned Marine units are called in, the conflict would be publicized, Sir. You could lose your job."
"I'll lose it anyway," he said simply. "What we're doing is so far beyond protocol, I'll be surprised if they don't bring me up on charges of Endangering Public Safety. This isn't pencil-theft, Agent. It's full-on misappropriation. If I'm lucky, I'll stay out of federal prison."
I looked at him in horror.
"It'll be worth it," he said with relief, "believe me. Maybe I'll try my hand at producing. That movie made a chunk of change."
I smiled in return. "A bigger flashlight, sir?"
"It was funny."
It was. God help me, it was. Poor Mulder.
Skinner and I arrived at the promised landing site early in the afternoon, and we were, to our surprise, the only people there. The solitude didn't last long. Just as Skinner, Lindgren and I had combed through every available inch of woods, personnel carriers arrived and troops poured out of them. The Commanding Officer approached Skinner and saluted, which I took as a good sign.
Skinner was in his element. He returned the salute and immediately huddled in conference with the C.O., pointing to potential landing areas, and indicating which paths should be cleared for media access. The C.O. nodded and shouted orders to his junior officers, and the operation began. Within minutes, a solid wall of fully armed soldiers surrounded the landing site, lined the newly cut pathway from the road, and dotted the road itself. When Skinner took me past the troops, describing which responsibilities had been assigned to which platoons, soldiers nodded to me firmly, and said, simply, "Ma'am." It was an astonishing feeling to be able to trust government employees unconditionally for once.
When we walked down the path toward the road, I saw two things that set my heart at ease. The first was the sheer quantity of soldiers, placed strategically down the road in both directions. No one was getting through without media credentials. The second detail was something that I myself had overlooked. Skinner had ensured that blocks were placed around the faded orange "X" painted on the pavement at the side of the road. He thought it might make a promising location for a background piece on our work, and the depth and extent of our dedication to uncovering the truth.
I smiled and thanked him.
When media trucks began to arrive, Skinner recommended that we conduct a few interviews by the "X", before returning to the motel for a few hours' rest. I really was exhausted, and a good meal followed by a hot bath were my only other plans for the evening.
CNN arrived first, of course, and correspondent Christiane Amanpour appeared at our site almost immediately. I tried not to think about the television coverage, or of anyone's reaction to it. I focused instead on the importance of speaking the truth and preparing the world for the ship's arrival.
By the time Ms. Amanpour was able to get her crew set up and ready, other news crews had descended upon Skinner and me in one large cluster. The flailing microphones and bright lights were intimidating, but I followed Skinner's lead. He spoke authoritatively.
"My name is Walter Skinner, and I'm the Assistant Director of the Missing Persons and X-Files divisions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This is Special Agent Dana Scully, a forensic pathologist in the X-Files, or unsolved crimes, division." I nodded curtly as Skinner turned his head and looked into the woods behind us and turned back.
"Twelve weeks ago, Agent Scully's partner, the SAC - or Special Agent in Charge - of the X-Files division, Special Agent Fox Mulder, disappeared in these woods, under my direct supervision. Agent Mulder and I were investigating reports of local disappearances in the vicinity of a concealed, unidentified craft when Agent Mulder literally vanished from sight. Moments later the sky was filled with bright lights, and I saw a large craft, hovering over the site, travel away from here, upward and toward the southwest, at an incredible rate of speed."
He paused for a moment, as flashes went off, accompanied by the sounds of camera shutters.
"Agents Mulder and Scully had been involved in the investigation of possible alien infiltration of U.S. government organizations, with the intent to colonize this planet. In just a few hours, we will have all the proof any of us require."
When the reporters began to roll their eyes and murmur to themselves in disbelief and disgust, I broke in.
"I know it sounds ridiculous, and frankly I don't blame you for your skepticism. When I worked on my very first case with Agent Mulder seven years ago, I found the notion of alien abduction positively ludicrous. Then we came here, to this very spot." I stepped aside, so the cameras would be able to pick up the large strokes of orange paint. "Our watches and the clock on our car behaved oddly, and Agent Mulder painted these marks to indicate the location of the anomaly. Seven years later, only twelve weeks ago, we were called back to this very spot to investigate further disappearances."
I paused for a moment to lend as much gravity as possible to my words. "I have been trained as a medical doctor and physicist, and I began as skeptical as all of you. But what I have seen and experienced since 1993 has changed my outlook utterly. I cannot explain all that I have seen, and I look forward to the upcoming events with great enthusiasm. Although what the events portend is frightening, public understanding and acceptance of the possibility of alien colonization will lend itself to a more complete and expedited series of protective measures. In short, we have a species to safeguard: Our own."
"What are the events you're alluding to?" Amanpour asked first.
Skinner took over. "Approximately twenty-four hours ago, a distress call was picked up by crews at large radio telescopes all over the globe. After confirmation of the signal's origin - somewhere in the vicinity of Jupiter's moon Europa - we succeeded in communicating with the individual sending the message. It was Agent Mulder, who had been left behind in the craft by its owners, after what appears to have been a savage battle between warring alien factions. There were human survivors, and they appear to be en route to this very location on autopilot. Our best estimate, courtesy of the ATRD Director of Operations' office, is that the craft should arrive here at 5:28 p.m. tomorrow, Pacific Standard Time."
"What is the ATRD?" one of the reporters asked.
"Alien Technology Recovery Division," Skinner responded, "operating out of Groom Lake Air Force Base, Nevada."
"So the U.S. Government is officially stating that this craft is approaching and is of alien origin?" a Fox reporter asked.
"Yes," Skinner replied, and I bit back a chuckle. "Although there are factions within our own government that have plotted to cover up the existence of extraterrestrial life, and have engaged in a private war against all those intent on bringing these facts to light, it is nevertheless fact that multiple United States government entities stand behind our report of this ship's existence and origins. Agent Scully can fill you in on the details of this private war and the major players in the conspiracy to conceal the truth."
Thanks, Walter, I thought. Where the hell would I start?
"Thank you, A.D. Skinner," I began. "A chronological explanation of all the forces at work and the machinations of the plots would be too detailed and laborious to go through here, so I will provide a very quick summary of the activities with which I am familiar. Agent Mulder, when he arrives, will be able to provide you with a more detailed report of his own experiences and discoveries," I told them. "Additionally, under the Freedom of Information Act, many of our case file reports can be made available to the public. Agent Mulder and I will be pleased to provide case numbers when and if that becomes necessary. In all, there are twelve human survivors on the ship, and many more who did not survive the trip, and we speculate they represent only a fraction of those abducted over the years. The families of the survivors are en route and should be here by the time the craft arrives tomorrow.
"Please understand that many of my accounts are based on personal experience, and that everything I have seen and experienced was real, and that although my scientific analysis has not always provided us with conclusive answers, many years' worth of experience and many series of similar questions have created a very strong sense of probability. With craft's arrival and the then-uncontestable proof it will provide, I believe our experiences will give you a strong background on what you are going to witness tomorrow."
I took a deep breath, gathered myself, and began to tell the reporters excerpts of the past seven years of my life.
They took the story of our first trip to Bellefleur with a grain of salt, and rolled their eyes again when I described the inferno at the motel. But when I compared the location of the implant we'd discovered to the location of my own nasopharyngeal tumor, they quieted down and began to pay attention.
It was horribly difficult to spin out one of the most painful and harrowing experiences of my life to strangers, especially knowing that millions would be listening in. Describing my condition just prior to the implantation of the chip was difficult enough, but having to recount the horrible deaths of Penny Northern and Betsy Hagopian became nearly impossible. I found myself unexpectedly overcome, and had to take a few moments to breathe deeply and recover my composure.
I described what I saw in Dallas and at the farms in Texas and Canada. I described my experience in Antarctica, in detail I had never provided to even my own family. I wondered as I spoke if my mother and brothers would even believe the story I recounted, since it differed so greatly from the watered-down version I had related to them.
I told the media of my limited memories of my own abduction, and again I began to tremble. I described C.G.B. Spender in excruciating detail, and explained - attempting to eliminate any trace of anger from my voice - every instance of his interference with my life. I told of Mulder's near-fatal illness and the unauthorized surgery performed on him at the Department of Defense. I told of his sister's abduction and eventual cloning, of the vial of my own ova he found at the fertility clinic and the chip with my name on it at DARPA. I described those I'd seen with chip implants and their remarkable recovery from devastating illness, as well as my own sudden and inexplicable remission. I explained what we'd found in the vast file vaults at Strughold Mining, of the ostensibly alien body we had found in the ice, and I described every instance I could remember of vital evidence being stolen or destroyed. From my bag, I produced rubbings from the ship I had studied in Africa.
I carefully avoided any tales describing events too easily ascribed to the supernatural. Instead, I stuck to the facts as I saw them about events directly related to the matter at hand.
When I was done, there was silence, which I didn't expect. I honestly thought the reporters would latch onto one sound bite or another, and attempt to discredit some vital evidence. Instead, there was a full five seconds before anything happened.
First there was the click of a single camera shutter. Then a few eyes blinked. Finally, Amanpour dove back into the breach and asked the question I'd been dreading.
"Agent Scully, from these fantastic tales, we are led to believe that you consider hostile alien colonization of Earth an undeniable fact. Is this characterization accurate?"
I chose my preferred method of confrontation, and picked her question apart.
"First of all, I would like to state that based on the evidence I have procured - most specifically DNA information, as well as post-mortem examination of an infected individual, I do believe that intelligent extraterrestrial life has stepped foot on this planet." I thought to myself at the time that Mulder would have wet his pants upon hearing those words.
I continued. "Second, based on the physiological manifestation of infection by the mutagenic strain of the black oil virus, it is clear that an infected human body will be used as an incubator and eventually nourishment for the growing alien fetus. There is no question in my mind that such a genetic arrangement was designed intentionally to facilitate colonization through the simultaneous eradication of humankind."
There was a tremendous outcry at that, followed almost immediately by a question from a local newswoman. "You mentioned a vaccine that Agent Mulder administered to you in Antarctica. Is this vaccine effective, and if so, is it widely available?"
The question was difficult to answer, but I was delighted merely in its having been asked. They were beginning to go with us.
"Judging from my current state of good health, yes, I would have to consider the existing vaccine effective up to a certain point. Agent Mulder had been warned that it would only remain effective during the first ninety-six hours after infection, however, so it remains only a partial answer to the problem. As for availability, we will have to see if we can uncover the individuals responsible for its creation. We have yet to locate or name effectively those who developed it, although we are aware of two separate vaccines: One held by the Americans, and another by the Russians, which Agent Mulder himself received during his captivity in a Tunguska gulag a few years go. We remain hopeful, however, that a global outcry for the vaccine will step up efforts to uncover, produce and distribute it."
Skinner then stepped in and took control of the scene. "One last question."
I was glad. The whole process was exhausting.
An attractive man in his forties, wielding an ABC microphone, asked, "It seems unusual for so much nefarious activity to have been directed at just one person. Have there been any other theories advanced concerning the cause of Agent Mulder's disappearance?"
Skinner answered before I could. "No, there have been no other convincing theories advanced. I was present when Agent Mulder disappeared, and it was perfectly clear that he had been taken away in the craft I witnessed."
"Satellite tracking data compiled by the United States Air Force as well as SETI and MUFON," I added, "confirmed the course and speed of the vessel." I remembered the one debt I needed to pay, and appended, "The latter two organizations - The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and the Mutual UFO Network - have been especially helpful in their ongoing scrutiny of satellite and radio telescope data."
"Agent Scully, are you worried about Agent Mulder?" one reporter wedged in on the heels of our responses to the prior question.
My eyes began to well up, and I felt my control begin to slip away. It would have been easy to blame hormones, but I was exhausted and utterly wrung out emotionally. Missing him had become a physical, tangible ache. I would not even consider the possibility that we were mistaken. Skinner put one hand on my shoulder, and I cleared my throat.
"Agent Mulder is my partner. Of course I'm worried." Unbidden, my hands came to rest on my lower abdomen. Skinner must have noticed, because he quickly took my arm and led me away from the cameras. "That's it for tonight. We'll be back in the morning."
A half hour later, I was crying in a very large, very hot tub full of jasmine-scented water. I hadn't slept in at least a day, I hadn't eaten in nearly as long, and I had finally tottered off the fine edge of control. One good cry and I would be fine.
Just as I was enfolding myself in a big fluffy robe, there was a knock at my door. I wrapped my hair in a towel and went to see who it was. There were no peepholes in those stupid cabins, so I had to actually open the door a crack. It was Skinner, and he bore food. And surprisingly, no tagalong journalists.
While I went into the bathroom to dress, Skinner spread the food out on the bed. When I returned, there was a magnificent feast awaiting me. I smiled and dove in.
With a mouth full of sliced turkey breast, Skinner asked me if I was feeling all right. Munching on a pickle, I assured him that I was.
"Hell of an experience," he commented through a slurp of soup.
"That it was," I replied, tearing into a small loaf of crusty bread.
"You handled yourself very well out there," he praised, reaching for a can of Pepsi.
"Thanks. I appreciate the tone you set. It helped," I replied, chewing happily on some of the delicious Italian bread.
I was famished. So was the baby, apparently, because I ate more than I ever remember consuming in a single sitting. I knew I'd sleep well.
When we were done with our meal and had tidied up, I suggested to Skinner that he return to his room. With the press hovering around like flies, it might have been seen as unseemly for him to be visiting my room too late into the evening. I thanked him for dinner, and rose from the bed.
As he was walking toward the door, he asked over his shoulder, "What will you do if the ship doesn't get here tomorrow?"
I didn't even want to consider the possibility.
"Vamp until it does, I suppose." Fletcher did warn us there would be a margin of error. "Even if it lands elsewhere, there will still be a ship and we may still have time to scramble forces wherever it does land."
He sighed. "And Mulder will still be home."
"Amen," I said.
By morning the press became more intrusive, following us from the motel out to the landing site, shouting questions. The guard soldiers appeared fresh and alert as well, so I assumed they were the relief for the night shift.
Sheriff Lindgren, who ended up acting less as local law enforcement and more as chauffeur and errand boy, was surprisingly helpful and solicitous. For the sake of my own composure, I made a significant effort to not think about the circumstances that led to his appointment as Sheriff a number of weeks ago.
By morning, as well, all the big guns had arrived from all the major networks, and the area was simply buzzing with big-name journalists and anchormen. A few foreign factions were there as well. I saw crews from Great Britain, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Ecuador, as well as a few latecomers from Australia, Japan, Russia and China. It was very exciting. Skinner introduced me to Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, and the CNN Washington Bureau Chief, Frank Sesno. I thought it odd at the time that he would be there in addition to another correspondent, but I didn't ask any questions myself. The aura of authority was vital to maintain our credibility throughout the many hours of waiting for the ship's arrival.
More questions ensued, these more detailed and in-depth, and I was glad to address them. They were concrete and specific, even if I couldn't give complete answers to all of them. "There's only so much one can remember before and after unconsciousness sets in," was a phrase I had to repeat more than once. Without Mulder there to expand on many of my tales, there were many unanswered questions.
One by one, Skinner and I gave private interviews to each of the big network representatives. We must have spent six solid hours moving from truck to truck, being fussed over and primped for our moments on camera in the impressively lush, climate-controlled, portable studios. For the most part, the big name journalists were intelligent and thoughtful, asking insightful questions, and tempering the invasiveness of some of them with humor.
Tom Brokaw, especially, earned my appreciation. So many of the journalists seemed intent upon classifying my relationship with Mulder as professional, platonic, or romantic, that I began to spout the same tired company line, "Agent Mulder is my partner, and what matters right now is getting him home safe." Some of the other senior anchors pressed the issue farther, to no avail, with many of them actually having the nerve to show their disappointment and asking point blank if I was "involved" with him. "Agent Mulder is my partner," began to cloy, even to me.
Brokaw, on the other hand, was clearly interested in the truth about my relationship with Mulder, and seeing through the prefabricated nature of my statement, made one very telling comment.
"All these tales of, well, horror, Agent Scully, they're truly terrifying. It's been said that traumatic events tend to reinforce the strength of existing relationships and create others where none existed before. How would you classify the effect of these traumatic experiences on your relationship with Agent Mulder?"
He was sneaky. My response of, "Naturally, going through so many dangerous situations together has strengthened an already strong partnership," didn't seem to satisfy him, but he was gracious and let it go, adding an amusing comment about how I should expect my expense reports to be automatically approved for life now. That was class.
Skinner seemed calm but tired after all the interviews, and despite the meals and beverages they offered us, I found my energy flagging. Skinner must have noticed it, because he insisted that I get some rest.
"How do I do that without enticing the press further?" I murmured to him.
"Hold on," he told me. He went and had a brief discussion with the shift commander of his Marine platoons, and returned with him. "Agent Scully, Captain Mark Pacey will escort you to one of the troop carriers, and he will post two guards outside. There are blankets and benches inside. You can tell the press you're making phone calls."
I nodded in agreement, and followed Captain Pacey to the vehicle. I pulled out my phone and began to mime making phone calls, so my intention would be clear. By the time the fabric flaps had been lowered and I was safely inside, the press had calmed down. While I had the privacy, I thought it would be a good idea to call my mother.
"Hi, Mom," I said, scrunching my eyes closed against the impending verbal assault by my mother.
"Who is this?" she asked in just the wrong tone.
"I'm sorry, okay? Things happened very quickly. I'm sorry it took you by surprise. You have no idea how surprised I was by all of this."
She sighed loudly, and after a pause just long enough to be dramatic but not long enough to constitute melodrama, she spoke quietly. "Are you all right, honey?"
"Yeah, Mom, I'm okay. Just tired."
"So you really believe in all of this?" she asked.
"You know I do, Mom. I know we don't talk about it very much, but I wouldn't dedicate my life to it if I didn't ultimately believe in it."
"And you're sure that there's a ship coming, and that Fox is on it?"
"I spoke with him. It was amazing. I watched as a secret military officer trained Mulder to fly the ship. I've never seen technology like it, it's so far beyond anything we're capable of."
"You must be so relieved to know he's coming home, honey."
"You have no idea. I used to feel guilty every time I did something I enjoyed. It's been so hard to take, Mom. I don't know how he did it."
"For the most part, Dana," she confided, "he didn't. He was a mess. You seem to be handling this better than he did."
The baby had a lot to do with that of course, but I wasn't ready to go there with her yet. But I still felt I owed her an explanation regarding my ability to survive the anxiety of his loss, so I settled on, "I'm in a different place now than he was then. And we hadn't developed such a deep investment in the work, or such a full trust of our friends. Things are easier now because we've had the time to make them easier."
"And you've obviously had the time to become a 'we'," she finished.
"That's complicated," I told her.
She laughed tightly and shot me down, the way mothers always can. "I'm sure it is." She was silent for a moment before she took action to end the call. "Don't forget to eat. And get some rest. You look puffy."
"That's the cameras," I told her, hoping to diffuse concerns for my health or suspicion of my pregnancy. "They add ten pounds."
"Apiece?" she teased.
I smiled. "I love you, Mom. I'll call you later on, when things calm down a little. Switch to NBC if you can. I've become a fan of Tom Brokaw."
"Introduce me?" she asked playfully, and I grumbled in response. "I love you, Dana. Call me later."
I signed off and settled in to a pile of blankets on the floor of the truck. I must have been exhausted, because the next thing I remember was Skinner waking me up with news of a new transmission.
"Your friends have rigged up a relay signal, and are broadcasting the ship's transmission over short-wave. You might be able to communicate with Mulder for a while, if you want."
If I wanted? Please. I was dying of thirst, and Mulder's voice was ice-cold Evian.
We tested the Marine unit's bulky transmission equipment first, to make sure we had a good relay signal, and indeed we did. Then it was time to take it public.
Surrounded by cameras and lights, nearly suffocated by microphones, we began the transmission in front of the media.
"Mulder? You can go ahead. You're on the air."
Silence met us. I was afraid we'd lost the signal, or that the ATRD had finally clued in and was taking over, but then I heard him breathing.
"Mulder, can you hear me?"
Then I heard him chuckle. "Yeah, Scully, I can hear you. I'm just trying to think up something pithy to say. First statements from outer space are supposed to be profound."
A few chuckles rippled through the crowd of reporters and crew people.
"Too late, then," I told him indulgently. "You already blew it."
More laughs. Then everyone quieted and just listened to him.
"I know this must seem like the ultimate practical joke, but believe me, it's not. You're not just pointing cameras at a radio. You're reaching your voices out beyond anywhere humans have ever been. This is an exceptionally important moment in our evolution as a species, and I am evidence of that, surrounded by a handful of weak survivors, and almost a hundred casualties. There are anterooms filled with human remains here, all people just like me - taken against our will - who didn't survive the fighting on this ship. Those of us who are still alive are thirsty and starving, we're running out of air, and we're scared to death. But mostly, we're homesick. We just want to be home already. I know we'll be there soon, but we've been trapped like this, out of touch, for three long months, and these last few hours have been the worst of it."
There was piercing silence amongst the reporters.
I spoke to keep the momentum going. "Mulder, I've tried to explain what I can about my experiences with the Consortium and their colonist friends, but there are pieces missing from my accounts - events only you remember. I thought maybe you could tell everyone here about what you've found. Maybe you could start with the Arctic, Canada, Dallas, and Antarctica, and then tell a little about what you've seen at the Department of Defense, the Pentagon, and some of the private facilities."
It was a daunting task, and he was no doubt tired, but we needed to keep the media interested and involved.
Mulder undertook the job with relish. He spun out dizzying tales, some of which I'd never heard. I suppose a penchant for avoidance is less than helpful when one tries to relate stories to others. I'd never really asked about what he'd found in the Antarctic, because I was afraid to hear the truth. I'd known I'd been harmed, and that I'd been left for dead, and all that mattered to me was that Mulder had crossed the earth to find me.
"Agent Mulder," Christiane Amanpour asked brusquely when he was done, "how can you substantiate these claims without corroborating physical evidence? And isn't that why the Bureau has shut down your division more than once?" She'd done her homework.
"Normally," he responded tersely, "we've been unable to maintain possession of key physical evidence. The allegiances and loyalties of the Consortium have reached into nearly every organization we've encountered. But I think if you could be patient for a couple more hours, you'll have all the corroborating physical evidence you need." I was proud of him for holding it together.
An older man holding a BBC microphone was next to speak. "Agent Mulder, did the rebels you described offer you any explanation as to why you personally were so important to their cause?"
"Not really," Mulder responded. "They said something very briefly about genetics, so we'll all probably end up poked and prodded nine ways to Sunday once we get home." Then he put on his playful voice. "Protect me against the big, bad doctors, Scully?"
I smiled faintly, a few reporters chuckled again, and the questions continued.
Skinner was looking at me from a distance and tapping his watch, so I turned the conversation away from the Q&A. "Mulder, have you had any word on an amended ETA?"
"Hold on," he said, and mumbled something unintelligible. I head a faint response. Although I couldn't make out the words, the cadence was definitely Fletcher's. They spoke back and forth for a few minutes before Mulder returned.
"Fletcher thinks we're going to be on schedule. We're close to the Moon's perigee, he says, which is good news. We just turned off the scanning jammers, so we should be visible now. Any decent telescope should be able to pick us up."
The reporters fell into a sea of murmurs, mostly asking their crew people if the networks were on it. Most confirmed that they indeed were.
"How soon until you breach the atmosphere?" I asked.
"Fletcher says about 5:05. I'm taking us in nice and slow." I was relieved at their obvious caution. "We should be visible to the naked eye about twenty minutes after that. I'm guessing we'll be on the ground around 5:30." And again the playful voice returned. "We suggest you return your seat backs and tray tables to their upright positions."
The smartass. I decided to end the interviews on that note. "Why don't we all take a short break and allow Agent Mulder to rest up a bit?
A few reporters nodded, and Captain Pacey picked up the radio. He followed me back to the truck and placed the radio inside it along with me. He was exceedingly genteel, offering me a hand up, and asking if I needed anything. There has always been something I've adored about servicemen.
"I'm fine, thanks," I told him.
"I heard that," a creaky voice accused.
I changed the subject. "None of the media people have left, Mulder. They're all staying in droves."
"Any word from SETI or MUFON?"
"Yes," I told him. "Frohike called me this morning to let me know that they've been informed and that SETI is doing all the satellite tracking they can. Although that will probably be a foregone conclusion once the ship arrives."
"You sound tired. How is everyone else holding out?" I suddenly felt terribly guilty for the fine meal and comforting bath I'd had the night before.
"We'll be okay. We have three who'll need ambulances right away."
"It's covered," I told him. "The local Sheriff's office has arranged for everything on Skinner's orders. He's been so helpful, Mulder. You'd be proud of him."
I left the radio on, but kept quiet after admonishing him to get some rest. He submitted readily, which worried me. He wasn't usually that compliant.
I lay down again and tried to sleep, but couldn't. I wasn't hungry, I wasn't angry, I wasn't even afraid. I simply couldn't keep still. I was antsy.
"I'm gonna turn the volume down if you don't Zen out, Scully," he scolded.
"Okay, okay." I gave in and lay still, imagining the light and the wind and the cries of the media. It was going to be wonderful.
An hour later, I heard a warm, mellifluous tone emanate from the radio. "Mulder?"
"Hold on," he said sleepily and muttered something unintelligible.
When I heard again the distant sound of Fletcher's voice, I knew he was being looked after.
"Proximity alert," he told me.
"Pretty," I remarked.
"Yeah. You'd better rejoin your photogenic buddies out there. We'll be down in under a half-hour."
I felt giddy.
When Captain Pacey and Sheriff Lindgren helped me back to the main media area with the radio, the reporters were all abuzz with excitement. Some of them had fled to their trucks to watch the descent of the ship through the atmosphere on the live Air Force feed to CNN. A few clutched hand-held telescopes, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ship as it approached. It was still light out, so it wasn't likely at that point.
Mulder spoke more loudly as he conversed with Fletcher about the final details of their landing procedure. "Oh, hell. The radiation detector is lit up again." Concern rippled through the crowd.
"Recalibrate it the way I showed you," we heard Fletcher say. He sounded exhausted as well.
After a few moments, Mulder sighed. "Okay, it's all right. Within tolerances."
"Good," Fletcher replied, and the local assemblage heaved a combined sigh. "It's probably a pressure thing. Don't worry about it. Now keep an eye on the attitude controls. Keep her level all the way in."
"We're level. No change."
"All right, I think that's it, Agent Mulder. Just watch the readouts and enjoy the ride. You'll be home soon."
There was a significant pause before Mulder spoke again. "You're going to take the ship, aren't you?"
Fletcher's response was a little snort. "Yeah, we're gonna steal it right out from under you on national television. Get real."
"Great," he said. "I gotta find out how to get personalized plates for this thing. 'Cause with a good meal and some pillows, this would beat the living snot out of coach class."
"Mulder, all our power is still on. Doesn't that contradict prior behavior of this type of craft?"
"No," he replied. "We turned off all the jammers. No effect on power now. All the cameras are working, right?"
I turned to the media, and many of the crewmen nodded their heads. "Yes, they appear to be."
At 5:27, the ship itself stopped, hovering quietly just sixteen feet above ground level. The Marines immediately moved in to establish a perimeter around the potential landing area.
At 5:36, the ship still hadn't moved.
At 5:41, I got back on the radio to find out what was going on.
"Stuck," Mulder said, irritated. "No landing gear. There's supposed to be some kind of matter transference thing to get us to ground level, but I told Fletcher to stick it up his ass. No way I'm gonna scramble my molecules when I'm this close to home."
Damn straight. "So what are you going to do?" I motioned to Skinner, who came over and listened.
"Open the hatch. There's one down below in the access bay."
"Good," I told him. "We'll get a cherrypicker or a ladder truck out here to get all of you out."
Skinner nodded, called Sheriff Lindgren over, and went to it.
At 5:52, the hatch opened, and light spilled out of the ship toward the ground. There was a collective gasp as it did.
At 6:24, the cherrypicker's bucket ascended to the opening on the underside of the ship. From the murmurs rippling through the crowd, it was clear that the sight was less than inspiring. I suppose most of them were looking forward to a special effects extravaganza. Me, I just wanted Mulder back on terra firma.
At 6:38, the first bucketful of survivors came down in the cherrypicker. They were the three most in need of medical attention, and they were placed carefully on gurneys and taken to the waiting ambulances immediately. Their families wept, climbing in behind them, and three of the five available ambulances departed. Journalists crowded around the site, hoping for a good shot of the three as they were taken away to the hospital.
At 6:47, the first of the able-bodied survivors came down in the bucket. It was Mulder's idea that they come down one at a time, so they could each take advantage of their own fifteen minutes in the spotlight.
It was all very dramatic, with the sun going down behind the ship, brilliant and gleaming orange behind the slowly lowering cherrypicker. If I hadn't been so invested in the final outcome, I might have found the scene as tacky and overly theatrical as that hydraulic-lift death scene in Cats.
The media mobbed each survivor as he or she exited the bucket, aided by rescue workers.
Throughout the entire process, the Marines kept to their posts, although by the time the seventh survivor touched down, it was clear there would be no interference at the site. Everything had been so easy, it felt too good to be true. As it turned out, I was right.
I camped out at the base of the apparatus, looking up into the ship, trying to learn as much as I could from the ground, but I couldn't see anything. It wasn't until the bucket lowered again that I saw the top of Mulder's head peek out from one edge of the circular opening. As soon as his eyes met mine, he leaned all the way forward, and flashed the most beautiful smile I'd ever seen. I forgot completely about the press, or the slight hollowing of his cheeks, or the dark circles under his eyes. All I saw was pure joy.
I must have smiled in return. I don't remember exactly what I did or how I did it, but I remember that later on, Mulder told me about all the shutters and flashes that went off as I looked up at him in happiness.
"I'm coming down last," he called down.
My next smile I do remember. I made it just before I stretched my mouth around the silent words, "YOU HAM."
He laughed, and then his expression turned serious. "I'm sending somebody down to you," he called out. "I told her all about you, so I think she'll be okay. Just hold her hand and keep her calm."
I nodded. Then I saw him help a young girl into the lift, and I understood. I guessed that she was under ten years of age, and she held Mulder's hand very tightly until he had to tell her to let go as she was lowered to the ground.
"No!" she cried, looking back up into the ship. "Fox!" she exclaimed in distress.
"It's okay, sweetie. Dana's right there. Remember what I told you about her? Just hold on to her hand and don't let go until I get there. See? Look over the edge of the bucket and you'll see her. She's the pretty lady with the red hair and the big smile."
She looked down at me, and my blood froze. I'd seen that face before, on a farm in Canada. But her eyes gave nothing like the vacant stare of the clones. There was fear and trepidation there, layered with a kind of anticipation that can't be counterfeited. She was the genuine article, I was certain of it, and the depth of Mulder's smile suddenly made sense in context. He wasn't just home, and he wasn't just returning to me; he was coming home with his sister.
I continued to make eye contact with her, going out of my way to smile, and holding out my arms to her, until the bucket touched the ground. When the reporters began to swarm around her, I stepped in protectively and took her hands in mine.
"It's okay, Samantha. I'm Dana. Step down, that's right."
She looked around for a moment, wincing at the bright lights, and moved to my side. I wrapped one arm around her shoulders, and she clung to me.
I spoke quietly. "Let's get out of these lights and wait for your brother to come down, okay?"
She looked up at me and nodded. "Fox said you were pretty."
I stood between her and the cameras and looked over toward Skinner, hoping he'd understand the meaning implicit in my expression.
He didn't fail me. Within seconds, three burly Marines had moved to keep the media at bay, so I could take her aside and sit with her quietly. When we'd moved farther into the woods, well protected by the circle of Marines dotting the periphery of the ship's space, I found a large fallen tree, and sat with her quietly.
"Your brother has been looking for you for such a long time, Samantha. Do you know how happy he is?"
"Yeah," she replied quietly. "He smiles a lot, even when he's hungry."
Her words stung, because I knew Mulder well enough to visualize the horrible scene: a dozen people, crowded together, waiting patiently to die of starvation. And Mulder at the edges, smiling tenderly at his sister, the joy of reunion bittersweet with the fear of imminent death.
The thought was painful, and I worked quickly to change the subject, for her sake and mine. It occurred to me that questions might bring her out more. "Is he like you remember?"
She settled back against the rough bark, and pulled away from me just a hair. She wasn't shaking quite so much, and she seemed to relax slightly. "No, he's nice now."
I smiled at that. "I know what you mean. I have a big brother, too. They can be a real pain sometimes."
"Yeah," she agreed.
"He loves you so much, Sam." She looked up at me. "Is it okay to call you Sam?"
"You've been the most important part of his life for a very long time. Longer than I've known him, and that's been years already. Nothing in the world mattered to him as much as getting you back. You're very lucky to have a big brother who loves you so much."
"He told me about that," she said, "but then he started crying, and said he was sorry he gave up."
"Oh, Sam," I sighed. "He'd been looking for so long, and he found some information earlier this year. It said that you'd been taken by humans, and that they'd hurt you very badly. He thought you'd died when you were fourteen."
"Yup. I think maybe he felt so bad about what he found that he imagined you at peace, so he could keep working on other important things. Now that he's found you," I said, nudging her shoulder gently with my arm, "he probably feels a little guilty about moving on." I looked firmly into her eyes. "Does that make sense?"
She nodded. "He said he'd tell me the rest when we got home. Isn't Mom here?"
I closed my eyes for a moment in grief. She didn't know. I opened my eyes and changed the subject. "Let's go see how close he is to coming down. I bet all the television people will be really excited to see him."
"Okay," she said dejectedly.
I rose and took her hand again. Side by side, we returned to the arrival area. The third of three more survivors had just finished taking his turn riding down, and I could see from the side that it was Billy Miles. I met him as he touched down, and we smiled at each other. He looked a little thin, but he was mostly unharmed.
"Welcome home, Billy," I said and I hugged him, one-armed. "I'm so glad you're safe."
"Thanks, Agent Scully," he said, smiling awkwardly at the cameras as we spoke. "I'm really sorry about calling you in on this. They never would have taken him if..."
"It's okay, Billy. It's not your fault. We're just relieved you're all home." According to Mulder's count, only twelve of one hundred eight abductees survived, but we were at least granted the privilege of burying our own dead.
He nodded, a little unsure, and went along with his father. As I watched him go, I noticed Theresa Hoese and her husband, Ray, speaking passionately with Skinner. I took a few steps toward them, Samantha in tow, in time to hear Skinner respond, "We'll take care of it immediately. I'll get a court order if necessary."
Of course, their baby. I'd seen her taken away by Family Services, and the distress I'd felt at the sight had threatened to shatter my professional composure during the investigation. And I'd thought it had been bad the night before, when Mulder had attempted - once again - to compel me to leave the Bureau, and by extension, him.
We'd fallen asleep in his bed, fully dressed, clothing and pillows damp with tears. I hadn't dreamed at all that night, and when I'd awoken early in the morning, I'd opened my eyes to see Mulder looking back at me, his expression tender. I'd felt the unity and purpose between us then.
"Do you really want to wake up without this?" I'd asked him gently, reaching up to caress his cheek.
He'd given me an affectionate little smile, put one arm over my waist, and drawn me close. With his short, warm puffs of breath tickling my ear, he'd fallen asleep again.
So standing in that forest, with the Hoeses well on the way to getting their baby back and Mulder's young sister holding fast to my hand, I was filled with hope. Mulder was alive and missed me, and the human race had allies. I hadn't felt so optimistic in years.
I saw his feet step onto the platform of the cherrypicker, and finally it began to descend. I know the thing had only one speed, but I felt as if it was moving in slow motion. Frankly, with Mulder away so long, the thing couldn't have come down fast enough for my taste. When the bucket finally cleared the hatchway of the ship, I saw his face, and he looked a little nervous. In his hands was a small rack of test tubes containing something translucent blue.
Then he looked down, ignoring the cameras - which was a surprise - and found me and Samantha. He gave a gentle little smile, and when I looked down at Sam, I saw that she was returning it. When all was settled, and the three of us had made our silent confirmations of relief and satisfaction, only then did he return his attention to the press. They would have it for nearly every minute of the next two hours.
"Agent Mulder!" they called out en masse. "Agent Mulder! Tell us about...!" He snorted out a little laugh and stepped off the platform.
Skinner moved in immediately and said, simply, "Welcome home." He then relieved Mulder of the objects he was holding, and stood off to the side, surrounded by guards. At the sight, Mulder relaxed and stepped into my arms. We only held each other, with Samantha pressed tightly to both of us in a quiet little huddle, but the press lost their minds over it. "Agent Mulder! Agent Scully! Who is the little girl? Are you glad to be home? What is the nature of your relationship?"
In response, Mulder merely held me to his distressingly thin frame, and muttered into my hair, "My family."
The months of waiting and fear broke out of me, and tears began to fall, big fat tears over the end of distress, and the beginning of a new chapter of our lives: a chapter in which our work is legitimate, our families are restored, and we are unified without embarrassment. I was happy and afraid at the same time, but all I could do was recite "You're home" over and over.
Finally, he pulled away just enough to look into my eyes and I saw,
close-up, how thin and frail he was, and immediately ordered a chair for
him. I knew he'd want to speak to the media before going to the hospital,
and I decided not to fight it. He thanked me silently with a little grin
and a light trail of his fingertips down my cheek.
I accepted two bottles of water proffered by Sheriff Lindgren, and gave one to Mulder immediately. He opened it and gave it to his sister, who drank deeply from it. He took the second, which I'd already opened, and drained it in one long pull. His relief was palpable. If any of the journalists had had any reservations about the sincerity of his claims, Mulder's unbridled thirst dispelled them. I took the empty bottle and motioned for another for each of them.
Brokaw approached in the interim. He was composed but clearly excited to have been asked to go first, and took his own seat with remarkable composure. Although all cameras were picking up the interview, only he had the privilege of speaking to Mulder first.
"Agent Mulder, it's an honor to speak to you so soon after your arrival."
Mulder just nodded and took a swig from his second bottle.
"Everyone has so many questions, and I'm sure we won't be able to ask them all today. What you have been through is truly historic, and we all look to you and your fellow survivors to tell us of what you experienced on this ship." Brokaw tipped his head backward and to the left, to indicate the ship behind them, clearly in the shot. "I suppose we should all ask first, were you all treated well by your captors?"
Mulder sighed. "For the most part we weren't hurt, as I expected we would be. Most of us were unconscious when the fighting began between the abductors and the rebels, and it was only when our telepathic abilities were activated that most of us woke up. I and a couple of others actually had to be roused by another human, in that our own telepathic brain tissue had been removed surgically last year."
Brokaw appeared confused, and rightly so. I'm fairly sure no one had ever spoken with such open confidence about something normally considered as flaky as mental telepathy. Regardless, he forged on. "Do you know why the one hundred eight of you were selected to be taken?"
"It's hard to know with any certainty," Mulder replied, stroking his cheek against Sam's forehead in a comforting gesture. "Our original hypothesis was that the bulk of us constituted proof of their presence and plans, and they determined to round us up and eliminate us. I honestly expected to be executed at some point." He suddenly seemed visibly agitated, so I placed my hand on his elbow as he continued. "Almost all of us had experienced the same neurological anomaly last year - the one described to you by Agent Scully - so it's likely we all have something in common, genetically, that they wanted to eliminate." He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and exhaled slowly. It was a self-calming gesture, and an effective one at that. His posture relaxed a little, and he appeared ready to continue.
I didn't move from that point onward. I held on to him, and reminded him from time to time, with a gentle squeeze, that he was safe.
I hadn't had the opportunity to ask Mulder how it was possible for Samantha to appear so young after nearly thirty years, so I was relieved when Brokaw's last question addressed that very issue.
"We found a whole bank of cryogenic chambers in one of the back rooms," he replied. "We didn't know how to open them without harming the occupants, though. I remember seeing Samantha through the glass," he continued, nudging her forehead with his chin, "and the anticipation was excruciating. I'd met so many clones over the years that I really needed to know if she was the real deal. We were all pretty surprised when the chambers sort of defrosted themselves automatically when we passed the outer edge of our own solar system. They must have been on some kind of automated system."
His expression fell a bit as he finished. "Sam was the only one to survive the process. We had two others who came out of it alive but very weak, but we couldn't keep them alive, no matter what we tried. They both passed away only a few minutes after their chambers deactivated themselves. That was almost a week ago." He held Samantha close, clearly conflicted about his own gain in the face of so many others' losses.
When Brokaw had finally finished asking his questions, a few more journalists came forward and asked their own questions. They were highly detailed and some were exceptionally difficult to answer, especially those from Amanpour, who demanded to know what was in the test tubes, and what procedures we planned to go through to determine the origin and authenticity of the craft.
At last, Amanpour was very politely dismissed by her network's other journalist, who took over, clearly aware of Mulder's waning energy. Despite the "hard news" angle taken by Amanpour, CNN Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno finally got to the point and asked the superficial question everybody had been silently asking themselves. "So, Agent Mulder, how did the spacecraft handle?"
Assorted chuckles rippled through the crowd, and Mulder's spirits brightened somewhat.
"The controls were terrific, and the ship itself must have had one hell of an inertia dampening field in place, because we never felt any of the course or speed changes." He looked down at Sam, who nodded in confirmation, and looked back up at Sesno with a little smile. "It was definitely a sweet ride."
Sesno continued to go for the sound bites. "With water being so dangerously scarce on the ship, bathing must have been difficult or impossible. But none of you appear to be suffering from any hygiene problems. How did you manage?"
Mulder then proceeded to describe the sonic shower, and its side benefits for their hair, teeth, and clothing. "We may be a little malnourished," he said lightly, "but my gums have never been healthier."
And so it went, for over two hours. Finally, I had to step in. Mulder's eyelids were drooping, and Samantha was asleep against his shoulder.
"Last question, please," I told Mr. Stewart of Comedy Central. I agreed to the interview only because Mulder had insisted on it. He thought it would show a kind of journalistic diversity necessary to prove the veracity of his claims. I rolled my eyes and conceded only because it was easier than arguing with him. It was his moment in the spotlight, after all, and we needed to present as united a front as possible.
The questions had been irreverent and amusing, and not as disrespectful as I had expected. It was actually Mulder's responses that frightened me more.
Stewart asked with facetious solemnity, "So, zero-gravity sex: pro or con?"
The crowd chuckled, and Mulder smiled, turning to me shamelessly. "I'll get back to you on that," he said directly to me. I could have killed him.
On that incredibly personal and inappropriate note, the interviews ended, and I ushered Mulder and Samantha toward Sheriff Lindgren's waiting cruiser for a trip to the local hospital. Skinner remained behind for only a moment, and announced a 6 p.m. press conference for the following day, and promised the attendance of the President Clinton, Attorney General Janet Reno, and our big boss, FBI Director Louis Freeh, as well as Colonel Ron Rand of the United States Air Force, ATRD Director Morris Fletcher, and both Mulder and me. That was news to me, but it did sound exciting. I had always wanted to meet Attorney General Reno.
Just as we reached the car, however, we were intercepted by a man wearing a bright red polo shirt emblazoned with an unmistakable corporate logo, followed by a huge entourage including a camera crew. He thrust a microphone into Mulder's face, and asked cheerfully, "Agent Mulder, you've just flown an alien spacecraft and landed it safe on planet Earth. What are you going to do next?"
Mulder turned to look at me and Sam, an expression of surprise and delight on his face. "Please," he was begging me silently. As an armchair athlete, he'd probably always wanted to say those hallowed words. I looked at Samantha, and thought about how much she would enjoy the benefits of his selling out to The Mouse. I pursed my lips, and nodded my reluctant approval.
Mulder smiled broadly, and turned back to the camera. Hugging Sam with enthusiasm, he proclaimed, "We're goin' to Disney World."
Celebrities or not, I still wanted to get them to a hospital, but Mulder refused, asking to be taken to the motel to get some rest. He assured us that they hadn't been harmed and that they were just tired and hungry. Reluctantly I agreed, after extracting a promise that they would both submit to full medical examinations in the morning.
I pulled out my cell phone en route and made a quick call to my mother, to let her know I was fine and that I would try to call her the next day. Samantha looked on, fascinated.
Once I'd ended the call, she asked me, wide-eyed, "Is that a telephone?"
I smiled and nodded, offering the little unit for her inspection. She'd missed out on so much during her absence: cellular phones, personal computers, the Internet...she had, and still has, a lot of catching up to do.
"It's so little," she whispered in awe to Mulder, turning the phone over and over in her hands. "Where's the cord?"
Mulder smiled. "It's like a walkie-talkie. No cords."
Her voice was reverent. "Neato."
"Good night," Lindgren said in a kind voice, handing me a card with his contact information. "Call me if you need anything."
I nodded and thanked him for his help.
For a moment he just stood there, looking at me, almost as if he wanted to ask me something. But before the atmosphere had a chance to become tense, he turned and left.
A few minutes later, Skinner and I asked Mulder, between spoonfuls of soup, if he felt up to a very quick debriefing, or if he wanted to wait until the morning. He shrugged and said, "Whenever," as he leaned over Sam and patted at the corner of her mouth with a napkin. She was half-asleep over her soup, and had only managed to get a few spoonfuls into her mouth before the spoon slipped out of her weary hand.
My own tears began to fall again, and Skinner - bless his soul - simply left the room without another word. I sidled up beside Sam and picked up the spoon, as Mulder gently shook her fully awake.
"Sam, honey, come on, wake up and have a little more soup," he implored.
Her eyes snapped open, and she looked up into my face and panicked, crying "Fox!" before recognizing me and realizing that she was safe.
"I'm right here," he said to her, and she turned to look at him.
Immediately her body relaxed, and her breathing evened out. "Sorry," she said suddenly and looked down, clearly embarrassed.
"It's okay," Mulder and I said in unison.
Samantha looked up at our words and chuckled. She took the spoon from my hand, and dug into her soup again, and didn't stop until the bowl was empty. When she was done and asked if there was any more, Mulder put his hand on hers, and suggested that they'd both had enough for the night - that too much food might make them feel sick.
I took both of our bags out of the closet, and dropped them on the bed. I opened mine, looking for something for Sam to change into, and found at once the light blue silk nightgown I'd brought on a whim. It would fit better than the pajamas, I realized. Without hips, she'd find the bottoms sliding right off her.
I pulled out Mulder's overnight kit out of his bag, so he could get ready for bed, but before I could hand it to him, there was a knock on the door. It was Skinner, who had very thoughtfully located a big t-shirt and a small toiletry kit for Samantha. As Skinner stood there in the doorway, I stood mirroring him, and Mulder stood behind me, his arm around Samantha. At that moment, we all four shared the same expression; one of relief and gratitude.
Mulder took the items from both me and Skinner and gave them to Sam, instructing her to get ready for bed. She went into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. And still Skinner stood in the doorway of the motel room, and only then did I notice the presence of the lights and cameras behind him. Fortunately the door to my room was fully open, and the two queen-size beds were clearly visible. I was certain my mother was watching still, and the last thing I needed was to explain things *before* I'd had a chance to explain things.
But there stood Skinner, quiet, imploring one of us to pull the words from him before he burst.
Mulder, of course, got right to the meat of it. Stepping forward to stand immediately behind me, he assured, "It wasn't your fault, Walter," he said with profound kindness. "When they want you, they take you, and there's nothing you can do about it."
Skinner only nodded, unsurprised by Mulder's use of his first name.
Mulder made certain Skinner understood. "Thank you for trying so hard to find me, and thank you for what you did today." He placed his hands on my upper arms and continued. "And if you're in any way responsible for Scully's obvious good health, well, thank you for that, too."
I hadn't thought about that, but his words made the point clear. He must have been remembering the vertigo and nausea I suffered during my first trimester, and had been worried about my health. The notion that he held such a fear made the anticipation over telling him about the baby that much sweeter.
Again, Skinner did nothing but nod, so I jumped in to end the awkward exchange.
"We should get some rest. We all have a big day tomorrow."
He must have understood, because he wished us a good night, and left for his own room. To their credit, the paparazzi didn't inundate us with questions. There were more camera flashes than I could safely count, but no intrusive questions. I was grateful, as I closed the door and locked it.
By the time I turned around, Mulder was standing before his open suitcase, snickering. "Obsess much?" he asked teasingly.
Okay, I was a little preoccupied when I'd packed for him, I'll admit that. I ended up folding and refolding each cherished item of his until the case was stuffed to bursting with my favorite articles of his clothing. No fewer than three of those crisp blue dress shirts capped the stack. Beneath them, mocking me silently, was Mulder's softest flannel shirt, his Knicks T-shirt, those plaid cotton pajama bottoms that ride so gorgeously low on his hips when he wears them without a shirt, three pairs of silk boxers, two pairs of knitted cotton boxer briefs - which I insisted on, despite his protests - his black and white turtlenecks, three pairs of jeans, two pairs of sweatpants, a sweatshirt, his sneakers, some socks, a couple of plain white t-shirts, and - to his apparent amusement - the case containing his reading glasses. So sue me. I was pregnant and hopeful, and the notion of seeing him in that flannel with those glasses set my heart thumping noisily away. I was, obviously, thoroughly busted.
He turned to me, his smile full of mischief, and pulled me to his chest. His voice was nothing more than warm breath against the top of my head. "I missed you too."
Obviously, thoroughly, and irreversibly busted. It was wonderful.
We broke off the embrace when Sam returned from the bathroom, and Mulder took his turn. Meanwhile, I settled Sam into one of the beds and then set about packing up the leftovers and putting them in the small refrigerator near the door. When I was done, Samantha was lying alone at the far edge of the bed, her little hands holding tight to the edge of the blanket.
"Is this okay?" I asked her as I approached the bed and made to sit down.
I sat in silence with her for only a few moments before she blindsided me. "Is Mom dead, Dana?"
I looked down at her, and saw the misery in her expression. Mulder hadn't told her, the bastard, and her question was so direct that anything other than a real answer would be unfair. I couldn't hedge. I made the decision that since Mulder trusted me with her, I would tell her the truth.
I reached over and began to stroke her tense little hands with my fingertips. "I'm so sorry, Sam. She died a few months ago."
She appeared to be dangerously close to tears, but she held them at bay, biting her lip and looking away for a moment. Her show of strength broke my heart. "Did they hurt her?"
I shook my head. "No, it was nothing like that. Your mom had a very serious illness that couldn't be treated. She went to sleep and just didn't wake up. It was very peaceful." I hated telling her only part of the truth, but it seemed the only kind thing to do. "We're not going to let anything bad happen to you. Okay?"
"Okay," she said simply.
"This must be very hard to get used to," I murmured, "but I promise we'll do everything we can to make coming home easier."
Her mouth crinkled up and she looked at me.
"Now I need a promise from you in return. I need you to tell us if there's something you need. Don't be afraid to ask. We might not be able to do everything you ask, but we'll do all we can. And we can only do that if you talk to us. Will you promise that?"
She nodded and her mouth relaxed, the corners turning up just a touch.
I smiled in return. "Good. Now if you get hungry in the middle of the night, the leftover food is in the refrigerator, so just help yourself, and don't worry about waking us up." I continued to stroke her hand with mine. "For now, a lot of little meals will be better for you than a few big ones, okay?"
"Okay," she responded. "You have soft hands."
I smiled, my cheek muscles protesting from their overuse in the past day. "Your brother and I are proud of you. You're very brave."
"I don't feel brave," she replied, sinking further into her pillow.
I understood. "Are you still a little scared?"
I most definitely understood. "Being brave doesn't mean not being scared, Sam," I told her. "It means going ahead and doing things *even though* you're scared." I tapped the tip of her nose with one finger. "Looks to me like you're doing great."
I chuckled and gathered my own things to prepare for bed.
When I returned to the room, I found Mulder snuggled up next to Samantha, her little hand in his, her head nestled in to the crook of his arm. They were already asleep.
I was disappointed to end up sleeping on my own in the other big bed, but the comfort of having him so near was enough to prevent melancholy from taking over the moment. He was home, he was safe, his sister was alive and remembered him, and she seemed to like me. And, of course, we were absolutely and unquestionably vindicated, professionally. It had been - without question - the best day of my life.
Still, the thought wouldn't abandon me as I tossed and turned under the covers of my own bed - that a good-night kiss would have been good. Regardless, they both needed their sleep. I turned off the light and tried to relax enough to rest, despite the sharp shafts of light pouring into the room from between the gappy curtains.
I don't recall precisely what I did to wake Mulder, and if anyone here asks me about it, I will deny any attempt to rouse him that night. But Mulder insists now that I sighed loudly and turned so much that the rustling of my sheets drove him to distraction. All I know about this is that he turned to me, opened his eyes, and pulled up the corner of his blankets, imploring me with his eyes to just join them in their bed already and shut the hell up.
He didn't have to ask twice.
I rose, and executing a tremendously tricky maneuver involving the tacky lined curtains and my notebook computer, managed to seal off the room from prying eyes. Then I slid in beside him, and mirrored Sam's acquisition of half of his body. Of course, my thoughts were by necessity different from hers, comprising the comfort she must have been feeling as well my own desire for him. I couldn't have made love with him if we'd had an entire honeymoon suite to ourselves, but I enjoyed the notion of simply being with him again and feeling free enough to adore him without reservation. He deserved it, and so much more, for all he'd been through.
He wrapped his free arm around me, and pressed his lips to my forehead. I felt him squeeze both Samantha and me tightly as he muttered, "My girls." That was when I tensed up.
"What is it?" he whispered, continuing to hold me against his chest. "Startin' to crash?"
I'm sure a sudden lack of adrenaline in my bloodstream could have explained part of what was happening to me, but really it was mostly fear. I was afraid he'd just placed me squarely into the "sister" category of his life, as I had feared he'd been doing for years: creating in me a surrogate for Sam. When our relationship took a turn toward couplehood, I felt confident those old reservations had been unfounded. So with his simple utterance, I found all those fears crashing back in. With the kind of surprise I still had in store for him, the thought was frightening.
I still hadn't answered him, and I didn't even know how to begin. Any protest I could have offered at the time would have been selfish and ungrateful. So I said nothing.
Finally, he shook his head and sighed. "I haven't forgotten, Scully. Have you?"
Of course I hadn't. The conversation and activities that occurred that last night before he left for Oregon have been etched on my brain ever since.
"I don't like the idea of your being out there without me," I'd told him as he'd packed.
"Me neither, but I'll have Skinner there. I'll be fine. If I go, it's just an investigation. If you go, it could be the end of the world." He'd looked up and whacked me in the forehead with a rolled-up pair of socks. "My world, anyway."
"I hope these are clean," I'd sniffed in disgust as I approached and handed them back to him.
He'd taken both my hand and the proffered socks, and held me there with both his hands and eyes. "You get that now, right?"
I'd nodded, biting the inside of my cheek.
He'd released my hand and gone back to his overstuffed closet to retrieve another shirt. "We have to do something about this closet," he'd told me, and it was then I'd understood that he'd finally meant it.
In prior weeks, he would make a big show of how crowded his closet had become, overloaded as it was with my own clothes. I'd had a similar problem at my own apartment. "We have to do something about this closet," had been our unapproachable code phrase implying, "Are we ready to discuss moving this relationship of ours forward?" Avoidance and glib responses had been our usual fare. I hadn't been so willing to let go of the idea that last night together, however.
"Yes, we do," I'd confirmed to him, pleased that he was in no way surprised.
"Okay," he'd said simply, folding up the shirt and placing it gently into his bag. "We can talk about arrangements when I get back."
"Right," I'd said, trying to overcome the surrealism of the conversation we were having. "My place is a little bigger, but I think maybe we should just start looking for a new place."
"Neutral territory," he'd said, smirking.
"You wanna set a date?" Just like that. He'd managed to propose without proposing. So like us, I'd thought at the time.
"We can talk about it when you get back," I'd said.
And that had been it. No vows of unending love -- no vows of love at all, in fact. He'd simply finished packing and taken me to bed.
I hadn't forgotten that decision, the pledge we'd made without words like "I promise," or "I vow."
"I remember," I answered him. "Is it still what you want?"
"Yeah, it's still what I want, Scully." He was silent for a few moments. Finally, when he spoke again, his voice was low, quelling my concerns with his disarmingly pre-emptive assurance. "You are not now, nor have you ever been, a sister by proxy."
I relaxed at once and leaned in to him, and just as I looked up, he tipped his head up off the pillow to meet mine. We kissed; a sweet, soft, gentle kiss that spoke more of promises than any oaths could have. I have no memory of when the kiss ended. I think I must have dropped off to sleep in the midst of it.
Sheriff Lindgren arrived bright and early with a small bundle of clothing for Samantha - a pretty dress which she disdained at once, and a pair of jeans she put on eagerly. I gave her one of my t-shirts and we rolled up the sleeves. He'd also brought three pairs of inexpensive sneakers, unsure of her shoe size. We were all immensely grateful for his help. Sam was thrilled to dress like a boy after so long wearing that little girl's nightgown.
I'd expected Sam to be afraid of the doctors, considering what must have been done to her early on in her abduction, but she handled the entire experience with remarkable composure. Sam accepted Mulder's suggestion that I remain with her throughout the examination, and it turned out to be an excellent idea. My presence seemed to help her remain calm.
Since Mulder hadn't been harmed in any appreciable way, his examinations were only difficult in that he himself is a dreadful patient. I wouldn't wish him on any respectable physician. Between his whining about being "harpooned" with various needles and his annoying habit of chattering endlessly through an examination, he kept the medical staff more than occupied.
Finally, with samples drawn and countless tests performed, it was time for lunch, and I elected to keep them sequestered for the time being, so we returned to the motel in another flurry of clicking camera shutters and blinding, flashing light.
Again, Sheriff Lindgren proved to be a wonderful host, supplying us with lunch - this time an array of local freshwater fish - simply steamed for the benefit of our guests of honor - served with boiled potatoes and accompanied by milk for both Mulder and Sam. Mulder put up a fight over the milk, but I reminded him that it was a complete food and would help him regain his strength faster. When I applied an arched eyebrow to the explanation, he began to drink without reservation.
It's strange, I discovered then, how little things can shift one's
perceptions utterly. I was enjoying the sight of the two of them eating
enthusiastically, and I thought about how happy Mulder must have been to
have his life back. I was also pondering how much better off Sam was,
having two people who would love and protect her without fail this time. I
floated along on happy untethered thoughts of our instant family, complete
with visions of Christmas mornings and birthday parties, and thus failed
to consider the very real, practical implications of the situation at the
I had been looking forward to our first foray into adult responsibility for a minor child, but I had expected it to be that first wonderful day after our baby was born, not his first day back on earth, his nine-year-old sister in tow. The thoughts were selfish, and I did my best to banish them. We were all lucky, all three of us, and I would do everything possible to remind myself and them of our good fortune.
During the meal, Mulder told me more of what he'd experienced on the ship and what he'd been told by the rebels before they'd left. It wasn't anything earth-shaking, but we had such a vital responsibility in those test tubes - which Skinner assured me were under constant guard by an entire platoon of Marines - that I felt a little on edge at the thought of the future of the human race all in one place, so vulnerable. Skinner agreed, apparently, because he left the room, and when he returned forty-five minutes later, he informed us that the CDC was to take possession of all but four of the vials within two hours. One of the remaining four was going to the ATRD archives for safekeeping, and the last three were going back to Washington with us.
After lunch, I insisted that Mulder and Sam get some more rest, and they resisted. Sam was taking her first look at a personal computer, and in characteristic Mulder fashion, she was thoroughly focused on the task.
At first I'd thought she was impressed and in awe of the minute size of my notebook computer, so when I caught her snickering, I was confused.
"Mulder, what are you showing her?" I was concerned he'd found something inappropriate on the Internet.
He chuckled in response. "Nothing. It's just that it's, uh...a little..." he searched for the right word, "well...kind of *primitive* compared to the systems on the ship. I think Sam's a little disappointed."
Her stifled chuckle turned into patronizing laughter. Pointing to the keyboard, she exclaimed, "You have to spell things out!"
After her initial interest wore off, she finally gave in a slept a bit. I was encouraged that their energy was increasing so quickly.
By the time we were ready for the press conference Skinner had arranged, Lindgren had stopped by with more of the boyish clothing Sam seemed to like.
I followed Lindgren out of the room to thank him, when I noticed he'd already pulled out his cell phone and begun a brief but heated conversation. I only overheard one disturbing piece of it.
"Well find out!" he whispered harshly. "Nobody's taking my calls, and nobody's calling back...This is really, really bad...Yeah, I know...Just keep working on the projections and release maps. I'll get you the real thing."
His tone was stronger, more forceful than I had ever heard it, and the sudden switch in demeanor put me on edge. We'd met too many people who weren't who they'd claimed to be. I slipped away before he had a chance to discover my presence.
"I'll look into it," Skinner told me when I asked him to find out everything he could about Sheriff Lindgren.
In all, however, the thrill abated quickly, as the high-profile members of the panel took their positions in front of the cameras, and annexed our work as their own. Mulder and I both made efforts to keep from embarrassing ourselves, so we had to be very careful not to make too much eye contact. We'd made the mistake once, just as Director Freeh described the "open-minded approach of the FBI in its pursuit of the truth," and Mulder and I had to choke back facetious snickers. I don't know what was going through Mulder's mind at the time, but all I could think about was the obvious open-mindedness of Alvin Kersh, Tom Colton, and their ilk.
When it was over, and we'd all had a chance to listen to the leaders pontificate, we made our respectful good nights, and headed back to Sheriff Lindgren's cruiser. The sheriff mentioned to Skinner that he would take us back to the hotel and that he would return for the A.D., explaining that the press had become very invasive at the motel, and he didn't want to split his attention between parties going to two different rooms. Skinner agreed, seemingly pleased to return to his prior conversation with Director Freeh and Attorney General Reno. His apparent comfort with the arrangement was enough to assuage my concern about Lindgren's loyalties.
It was just after eight p.m., and Mulder and I had bundled up Sam and were sitting quietly in the back seat of Sheriff Lindgren's cruiser, on the trip back to the motel. Yet again, a cellular phone call in the car served as a catalyst for the flurry of activity that followed.
At first, Lindgren ignored the ringing. The phone was an unusual built-in dashboard unit that I'd never seen before. It looked like a cross between a stereo and a palmtop computer. Over the prior two days, I'd thought idly that it was awfully advanced for a rural sheriff. As it rang, Lindgren glanced quickly away from the road toward the Caller ID display, read the gibberish on the screen, and disregarded the call.
A few moments later the ringing stopped. Then it started again. Again, he let it go.
"Really, Sheriff," Mulder told him, "go ahead and take the call if it's important."
"It's okay," he assured him, "it's personal. I'll return the call later."
The phone continued in its pattern of ringing, stopping, and ringing again, until, with an exasperated sigh, he hit the "phone" button. There didn't appear to be a headpiece. Before the caller could speak, Sheriff Lindgren blurted out, "Hi. Sorry, I can't talk right now. I have a couple of FBI agents in the car with me. I'll call you later."
The male caller, undeterred, replied, "Don't hang up. It's important. Encrypt." The voice sounded familiar.
"Really," he stressed, "can we talk about this later? I have Agents *Mulder* and *Scully* here with me," he replied, emphasizing our names.
"No, it can't wait. Encrypt."
That single word, "Encrypt," made it clear that Lindgren was anything but what he claimed to be. I cursed Skinner inwardly for failing to discover the Sheriff's duplicity, and looked over at Mulder. He returned my glance with a concerned expression.
Lindgren meanwhile huffed out an annoyed breath, and punched a few buttons on the control panel. A disarmingly calm female voice prompted and confirmed each step of the encryption process, while Sheriff Lindgren split his attention between tapping entries on the keypad and watching the road as he drove. "B-Level encryption in process. Enter Code Key. Stand by. Enter PIN. Stand by. Rerouting. Stand by. Encrypting. Stand by. Line Secure." It was sophisticated.
Finally, after a brief pause and a long, high beep, the line crackled back to life.
Lindgren spoke first. "We're clear. What's going on?"
The caller's voice was a little rough, and his breathing was rapid. He sounded upset. "Strughold just found out about the serum and put a contract out on Mulder and Scully. I've got the mothers and Michael. Your wife's en route. Get them to the northwestern safe house. I'm locking up tomorrow at six. You have ID and cash?"
It really was too much to absorb. It had all come out on one breath, and I honestly couldn't keep track of everything he said. Strughold wanted us dead? The mothers? Who the hell was Michael? Who the hell was the caller?
"Plenty of each," the Sheriff replied. "What the hell is this about a contract? Strughold hasn't returned my calls today. I prepared for the worst, but...shit, who got the contract?"
He was in communication with the Consortium? I began to feel queasy.
"*I* got the contract," the voice said. "Must be trying to out me. Get them to the safe house, Eric. I'll meet you there and we'll wait it out. I had Brin take out the last of the installations last week. The last set of clones are history. We're ready to prep the airborne and the preliminary projections are good. In a few weeks it'll all be moot, and we can do some clean-up. Right now I need to get the three of you - and those vials - somewhere safe."
"Four. Mulder's sister is here."
There was a brief pause. "His sister is alive?" Just as I had given up on identifying the voice, it hit me. Krycek.
"Yeah, looks like we've got a big reunion weekend planned. I take it you haven't been watching television. You fixed on supplies?"
"Yeah," the caller said. "I wasn't exactly planning on ten people, but we have the space. Holmes and Watson there are gonna have to share a room." Sarcastic son of a bitch. "Our supplies and power factor out for ten people at…just under seven months. We're set. Just get your asses there, and fast."
"All right, we'll see you there."
"Good. And Eric, be gentle with the civvies, okay?"
"I'm a little short on bedside manner right now. You're the one with all the PR skills."
He laughed. "Tomorrow. Six o'clock lockup. Be careful."
"We will. Take good care of the sprog."
He pressed a button on the control panel, and the line went silent. When he spoke again, his voice was low and deadly serious. "I'd really like to discuss this in depth, but I'm afraid that if I pull over, you'll bolt. So just listen up while I drive, okay?" He was addressing us both, but his eyes were fixed solely on mine.
"With all the publicity, I was afraid something like this was going to happen. I was only going to take those vials off your hands, but when my 'bosses' stopped returning my calls I decided to take action. To that end, I've packed up your things; they're in the trunk. Now if I don't get you somewhere safe, one of Strughold's men will take you out before you'll even know there's a weapon sight on you.
"That was Alex Krycek." I wasn't losing my touch entirely. "I'll explain all that later. Yes, he's with us, and no, we're not THEM. Neither is he. Not really, anyway. But you'll get all the background when we get to the safe house.
"We have your mother, Dana, so she's safe as well. It's very likely Strughold would have gone after her in the wake of your disappearance, as a way of compelling you to resurface, despite the publicity it would create. That's simply not an option. We'll lie low for a few weeks until our work is complete, and then we'll be able to go back to our lives. But for now, you'll need to do exactly as I say, and question nothing. Do you understand?"
Refusing of course to question nothing, Mulder asked, "Who are
And out of all that, all I focused on was that he'd called Mulder 'Fox'. As it turned out, it was my most astute observation of the day. That and the fact that we had just under twenty-four hours to make it to our destination.
The rest of the night was a blur. After a few disturbingly relaxed phone calls, we changed from the Sheriff's car to a bland, American mid-size sedan, to a panel van, to another anonymous sedan, to another van, and finally to a nice, comfortable full-size luxury car. At each stop, the drivers merely traded vehicles, and with the exchange of passengers, a few thick file folders, and coolers filled with food and water, we were on our way again.
We'd changed direction a half-dozen times in only a few hours, and I was thoroughly lost by midnight. To her credit, Samantha held herself together surprisingly well. She cried a little here and there, but Mulder told her stories for much of the night, and answered her questions about their family as well as he could.
It must have been a horrific task, deciding how much to tell her and how to say it - how much to withhold and why. But Mulder handled the task with gentleness and understanding, offering her hugs and smiles between kid-sized answers to her very big questions. I simply sat there, holding either her hand or his, offering tacit support. I fell in love with him all over again as I watched him comfort his sister.
When she asked him, "Was Dad one of the bad guys?" his expression fell, and I thought he'd run out of diplomacy. He surprised me with the depth of his compassion.
"No, Sam, I think he was just confused about what was right and what was wrong. That happens to everybody sometimes. What makes a person a real grownup is their willingness to learn from their mistakes. I'm not sure Dad ever really learned from his."
"But what he did hurt us, so he's bad. He let them take me, you said so," she insisted crossly.
Mulder responded with more words in a soothing tone. "I don't think you should be angry with him, Sam. I think it's probably better to feel sad for him because he never really grew up. You and I have the chance to make sure we don't make the same mistakes. We can learn from him and Mom."
She thought about his answer for a long time, and finally responded, "I'm glad he's dead."
"Honey," Mulder implored.
She remained resolute. "He didn't do anything good. He let them take me, then he left Mom and you all alone."
"Sweetie," Mulder insisted, "he was still our Dad. He did plenty of Dad things before it started to go wrong. Don't forget that."
"Like what?" she asked petulantly. "He never taught me to fish - it was Uncle Chet who did that. He never played baseball with us - that was Uncle Chet too. Uncle Chet was the one who took us sailing, and took us out for ice cream with Mom when Dad was away. Dad was *always* away."
I attempted to control my shock when I looked at Mulder. He was stunned.
"You remember him, Sam?"
"Yeah. He was way nicer to us than Dad ever was. He was nicer to Mom, too. He never yelled at Mom the way Dad did."
Once she'd finally fallen asleep, I asked Mulder a little about what had happened to her on the ship.
"I'm not really sure," he told me. "The tests showed no evidence of surgical damage, which is good, but it's clear they managed to remove her ova somehow. There's no chip in her, and the doctors say she's healthy, so I guess maybe they just kept her in the freezer most of the time."
I shook my head sadly. She might never be able to have children. Of course, that's what they said about me, too.
"She said she remembered little bits and pieces over the time she was there, so maybe they thawed her out every now and then." He breathed out a nasty little chuckle through his nose. "But they kept her in that nightgown - -" he yawned, "Hell, I don't know."
I tipped my head up just a little and pressed my nose into his neck. "We should get some sleep," I murmured.
"Sheriff Lindgren?" I called to him quietly. I considered it amazing he could still drive after all those hours. "Are we far from a public bathroom?" Although I wasn't showing all that much, the internal pressure on my bladder had begun to increase noticeably.
He spoke quietly. "Looks like there's a place up on the left. Your partner awake yet?"
I sat up and looked back at Mulder's face, so lovely and tranquil. "Not yet."
"Wakey, wakey," Lindgren called out loudly. "Time for all Federal Agents to go potty!"
Mulder awoke with a start, and sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Where are we?" Samantha rose as well, yawning and stretching.
"Somewhere north of where we were before," Lindgren replied unhelpfully. He pulled the car into a modern service station and after killing the engine, turned to face us, his expression grave. "Listen up, both of you. I'm doing this to save your lives. If you try to run, you'll only end up hurting yourselves. By now they've long figured out that Alex has no intention of carrying out his orders. In fact, it's likely Strughold gave him the contract in the first place as a means of flushing him out. So Alex has been outed, as have I, and we're mortgaging our own lives for yours. So be grateful and get back into the car when you're done. We'll be at our destination before sunset."
I surprised myself by nodding. Mulder did the same. "All right," Mulder told him, opening the door and maneuvering himself stiffly out of the car. He held out his hand to assist Samantha and then me.
That's how you define a gentleman, I thought to myself: the ability to be genteel when everything is uncertain.
It was a brief but efficient stop. The bathrooms weren't too horrible, and by the time we returned to the car, Lindgren had already filled the tank with gas, and purchased some additional provisions and food for us at the little mini-mart. Mulder insisted on driving for a while, and I gratefully moved into the passenger seat. Ah, lumbar support. Sam sat on the large bench seat between us, watching the road intently.
Sheriff Lindgren had given us written directions but no map, so I was grateful for the large cup of coffee he'd provided. It was decaf, of course, but the taste and smell of it acted as an effective placebo. I'd needed to stay awake to follow the convoluted instructions.
After our brief meal of hot dogs and soft pretzels, Lindgren had dropped off to sleep in the back seat. Mulder asked Sam if she was tired, and she nodded.
"Come on and get comfy," I offered, raising my arm, and inviting her to rest her cheek on my shoulder. She did without a second thought. I found that exceptionally comforting, and draped my arm around her as she too succumbed to sleep. Quietly, so as not to disturb his sister, Mulder and I began to discuss our situation.
"Mulder, what do you think is really going on here?"
He shrugged. "Actually," he paused, "I think he's telling us the truth. I haven't figured out all the machinations of it yet, but I think he's being essentially honest with us."
"And Krycek's involvement?"
"I'm having a hard time accepting that he's Captain Wonderful."
"Me too," I told him. "He's proven himself helpful recently, but that doesn't do much to improve my estimation of his trustworthiness. The very idea that he has my mother in his clutches is chilling. I wish I could talk to her."
He turned to look at me for a quick moment, before turning his attention back to the road. "What did you make of all the mission jargon?"
Honestly, I'd focussed so much on names that I hadn't really heard anything else. I had vague recollections about taking out an installation, dead clones, and something airborne. Good thing I had the Human Tape Recorder in the car with me. "Refresh my memory?"
He gave a little smile and began to recite the caller's words verbatim: "Brin took out the last of the installations last week. The last set of clones are history. We're ready to prep the airborne and the preliminary projections are good. In a few weeks, it'll all be moot, and we can do some clean-up."
"Okay," I began, "he's destroyed some kind of base or installation. Good thing or bad thing?"
"Hard to know," Mulder replied. "They keep claiming to want to protect us from the Consortium. So let's assume it's a Consortium installation. In that case, good."
"Generous assumption. All right," I continue, "the last set of clones are history. I think we're safe to assume they were killed."
"I'll put that on the 'good thing' side of the equation," I agreed. "Okay. The 'airborne' being prepped and the projections looking good?"
"Well, what travels airborne?"
"Pathogens. Humidity. Fighter jets. Overnight packages."
"Spaceships," Mulder quipped.
I raised one eyebrow and continued. "Let's pass on that one and get back to it later. Not enough information to go on right now."
"Agreed," he said.
"Everything being moot in a few weeks, and performing 'clean-up'?" I glanced back at Lindgren, to ensure he was still asleep. He appeared to be.
"Well, something is airborne that's going to change the Consortium's power base permanently, evidenced by the sudden need for our elimination. Lindgren and we assume Krycek want us alive. They're protecting us until whatever it is blows over." He continued, thinking aloud.
I sat back and listened to the strings of logic stream from him, nearly effortlessly, as I usually did when he would shift into Pontification Mode. "Why does the Consortium exist?" he asked rhetorically before answering himself. "It exists to facilitate colonization, preserve their own existence, and usurp power from the legitimate authorities. Working in reverse, it seems unlikely that two lone individuals could undermine the virtual tapestry of loyalties and professional relationships Spender and his men have woven over decades. So the power grab is out. They live to preserve themselves, but since I have no more information on them today than I had three months ago, it seems unlikely they wanted us eliminated to cover their own asses. That leaves colonization."
"Go on," I encouraged.
"I still don't know very much, regardless of what I learned on that ship. The call for the hit didn't happen until I got home and we met Sheriff Lindgren. Maybe he knows something. Or someone."
"Maybe he *is* someone," Lindgren mumbled from the back seat. I turned in surprise. Mulder merely angled the rear-view mirror to allow him to see him better. "I'm somebody you were never supposed to meet. Strughold obviously didn't trust me to keep my silence. The contract on your lives was likely a direct result of that. Pity, too. You never would have known if he hadn't outed me. What a schmuck." He rolled over and went back to sleep.
"Well, that cleared *that* up," Mulder deadpanned.
We spent the next half hour in silence, comfortable but anxious in our purloined luxury sedan.
I'd been holding back from Mulder, listening to the news and updates from others for so long, that I'd nearly forgotten about reporting my own news. I'd spent an anxious half hour then, wondering if I should tell him in the relative calm of the car, or if I should wait until we had a moment alone. I was still nervous about our arrangements, and concluded that with Lindgren and Samantha asleep again, I might not have another opportunity to bring up the subject.
The problem was, although I'd rehearsed a dozen different ways of telling him, when it came right down to it, I had no idea how to approach the subject. So for the time being I said nothing.
Finally, Mulder angled the rear-view mirror down and to the right.
I caught the reflection of his eyes with my own, and then looked away. I would do it in my own time. "It's a safety device, Mulder, not a surveillance system."
A voiceless chuckle hissed out through his nose. "You've been quiet. I didn't want to take my eyes off the road."
"Don't you dare say that, Scully."
I nodded. He had a point. "You're right. I'm sorry. It's just...I don't know how to say this."
"Well if you string words together, they create what we call sentences." He glanced in the left side mirror before changing lanes. The burgundy hatchback we'd been following for the last ten minutes had slowed again. "Then you string some sentences together, and..."
I grimaced at his glibness. I had something incredibly important to tell him, and he was being lighthearted about it. I looked back up and chided him. "Mulder."
He shook his head. "You have a choice here: you can either tell me what's on your mind or we can pretend that nothing's going on. One of them is a hell of a lot healthier than the other. And I don't mean to influence you unduly, but I'm sick and tired of being unhealthy." He slowed down in frustration when a white SUV attempted to cut us off as we passed the hatchback. "I didn't go through all of this, neither of us has, so we can skip right on back to silence and self-denial." He glanced up to my reflection again. "Now out with it."
"All right. There *is* something on my mind, Mulder, something I need to tell you. It's just that...I was so happy when we reconfirmed our decision your first night back, especially in light of the fact that you didn't know everything, that..." I paused and cleared my throat.
His eyes flicked up again. "I don't know everything about what?"
I pursed my lips and exhaled. Which approach to take?
When he spoke next, his voice was small and shaky. "Are you sick?"
I shot a quick glance back to his in the mirror, and he must have seen the surprise in my expression. "No, nothing like that. I'm perfectly healthy. It's just that what I have to tell you might have affected our discussion, and..." I shook my head. "I'm not saying this at all the way I'd planned."
He chuffed out a quick, impatient breath. "Just say it, please. You're killing me here. What's going on?"
"Mulder," I began, "you're an honorable man. You have such a well-developed sense of decency and charity, that I'm sure we would have made the same decision if I had told you first. I just needed to know that we were going to do it for the right reasons."
"Okay, I think I get that," he prompted. "So...?"
I took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and released it. "I'm approaching this all wrong."
Mulder slammed his left hand on the steering wheel in frustration. "Why does it have to be like pulling teeth? Just fucking say it."
"Mulder," I whispered harshly, "Sam." I looked down at her sleeping form to remind him to lower his voice and to watch his language.
"Sorry," he husked back at me in irritation. "Just tell me what the hell is going on, Scully. You're scaring the living *shit* out of me," he whispered severely.
My sheepish murmur was so soft and so quick on the heels of his exclamation that if he hadn't been listening for it, he might have missed it entirely. "I'm pregnant."
His brows furrowed, his eyes blinked, and his head shook briefly from side to side. I took all of it as a sign of disbelief. Then he did what I didn't expect: he cut the car across two empty lanes and pulled to a smooth stop on the shoulder of the road. Breathing heavily, he leaned his weight on both hands, perfectly positioned at ten and two. "What did you say?"
"You have no idea how many ways I'd rehearsed it. I was thinking of settling on a speech about my mother's 'birds and bees' talk when I was twelve. It was excellent. You really would have liked it."
"Promise to tell me another time."
I smiled faintly. "I will."
He turned only his head to face me. "So it's true. It's real."
"Yes." I couldn't meet his eyes.
Turning completely, he reached over and drew my chin to the side so he could look into my eyes. "You're going to have a baby."
I nodded dumbly. Samantha stirred, probably aware that the car had stopped, but I stroked her back gently, and she went back to sleep, settling her head down on my thigh.
Mulder watched warily as I comforted his sister. "How long?" he asked me.
I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut. "I found out about three hours before I was told you'd been taken."
My words deflated him. He expelled his held breath, and as I opened my eyes to look at him, I saw his spine collapse in on itself. "Oh my God, Scully."
"Believe me, they were three wonderful hours," I told him softly, looking back up at him. "I tried to imagine how you would react, what you would say. I already knew you'd be happy. I just couldn't figure out what kind of happy to expect."
"Then I was gone. Jesus."
"It was hard, I won't lie to you. But this baby saved me. There were days when I wouldn't have eaten or slept. I might have lost hope, but I had this tiny life to consider with everything I did. It was so important to me that I...that I preserve the little piece of you that you left behind. So you see," I said, forcing a cheerful tone into my voice, "I wasn't really sick. Well, not permanently anyway."
"So there we were, agonizing over your inability to conceive..."
"When we'd already accomplished the job three weeks prior. We always have been overachievers."
That drew a smile across his lips, and when he raised his head, his body followed. "We accomplished it. It's ours."
I heard the implicit question. "Yes."
"What tests have you run?"
"Everything the doctors will let me run. I had an amniocentesis nine days ago, and I had them draw a small fetal blood sample at the same time. The obstetrician ran standard amnio screens and I ran the PCRs. "
"And?" he asked, chewing the inside of his cheek.
"Healthy, human, and ours."
He nodded in relief.
"Well, mostly human. Considering our individual genetic anomalies, the baby is as human as can be expected."
He nodded again.
I finally turned to face him fully. My expression was gentle. "Are you okay with this?"
He was quiet for a while, maybe trying to find the right words. But what he ended up sputtering out was, "Three weeks prior?"
I smiled and nodded, my eyebrows raised in near-condescension.
He didn't seem pleased by the implication. "Caddyshack and beer. Great. Well, you can't say I don't know how to romance a lady," he muttered.
I smiled at him indulgently. "Remind me not to let you plan the reception."
A muffled voice from the back seat made us both jump. "Why did we stop?"
"It's okay," I told Sheriff Lindgren, "we're just discussing something important, and we didn't want to be distracted."
Lindgren rose, blinking, and shook his head. "We don't have any time to waste. Let's get back on the road. We have to be there by six." When Mulder and I nodded in agreement, Lindgren lay back down.
"What's going on?" Samantha asked sleepily as she stretched her arms across my lap.
"Come on back here, Samantha," Lindgren muttered from behind us. "There's room to stretch out if you want."
Sam turned to her brother to ask if it was okay. Mulder smoothed down her hair and smiled. "Sure." Before he was done with the single word, Samantha had unbuckled her seat belt and climbed into the back.
Mulder caressed my cheek with the back of his knuckles and smiled warmly. "I could get used to this normal stuff."
"Normal," I choked out on a breathy half-laugh. "We're on the run to a mysterious safe house operated by persons unknown after having rescued you and your still-pre-adolescent sister from an alien spacecraft."
"Just another day at the office," he chuckled. He was being entirely too flippant about the matter for my taste, and had been since his return the night before.
"When the shock wears off, Mulder, you'll feel differently." I hoped his euphoria and good humor would remain, but I was genuinely worried about his inevitable crash. "Mulder...are you really okay with this?"
"Okay?" He looked at me in disbelief. "Scully, it's like I had a second chance with that genie," he said warmly. "And this time I made better wishes."
"Good. Now get out of the driver's seat; you're still tired. I'm driving from here on out. You nearly got us killed back there by that SUV."
Mulder was suddenly indignant. "HE cut ME off."
I reached over and lightly poked the dip in his chin. "That traffic hot-button never ceases to amuse me. You're cute when you're Pavlovian." I slid out of my seat and circled around back toward the driver's side.
"But HE was the one..." he whimpered, exiting the car, before I kissed his cheek and swatted his behind lightly, cutting off the remainder of his complaint. "Yes, Boss," he muttered in a mock pout and moved around to the passenger side of the car.
He exited the car and ushered us toward the side of the hill. He cleared some dead leaves away from the grassy slope, and instead of revealing the grassy slope itself under the watchful gaze of the car's headlights, we were presented with a large pair of metal doors. He inserted a key card into an unmarked slot, tapped a few buttons in succession, and waited.
A few moments later a loudspeaker crackled into activity. "Password?"
Lindgren replied immediately, "Never trust a salamander." Cloak and dagger. How quaint.
The doors opened with a loud metallic hum and we entered, as a short, unremarkable man passed us by on the way out, deftly catching the set of car keys Sheriff Lindgren tossed to him. The doors sealed behind the four of us, and we descended a long staircase.
At the bottom of the stairs, we moved through a series of elaborate metal doorways, all sealing soundly behind us as we moved forward. This was no mere safe house. It was a bomb shelter as well, clearly a secure facility for surviving the fallout of nuclear war. Or alien invasion.
When the final door closed behind us, we found ourselves in a warm, wood-finished room, reminiscent of a large country cabin. Exposed beams and thickly padded, comfortable furniture abounded. It was actually very cozy. It was easy to forget that we were completely buried in a hillside, trapped underground.
The coziness faded, however, when the first face to appear belonged to Alex Krycek. Inexplicably, he was smiling.
"Glad you guys made it in early. I'll lock up now. Last call for fresh air," he called cheerfully over his shoulder, as he passed us, and exited the room through the door we had just closed. I shook my head in disbelief, and looking up, discovered that Mulder was doing the same.
Another face appeared, and that time I was grateful. It was my mother, beaming a broad smile, as she hurried to my side and enfolded me in a fierce embrace.
Her smile broadened. "Isn't it wonderful, honey?"
"Isn't *what* wonderful, Mom?"
Her smile fell, and she appeared confused. She looked over at Sheriff Lindgren and asked, "Are you Eric?"
Sheriff Lindgren nodded.
"Haven't you told her?" my mother asked.
One more layer of subterfuge and I would have suffocated. I couldn't stand it anymore. "All right, that's it. I've had it. I want to know what the hell this is all about, and I want to know now. No more half-truths, no more 'it's all for your own good'. Just the truth." I had directed my comments toward Lindgren, but for a moment my mother seemed to think she had earned my anger. I took her hand as assurance that I bore her no ill will.
Lindgren returned my mother's gaze, and told her softly, "Go ahead, Margaret. I thought you'd want to tell her. It's okay."
My mother sighed, and still holding my hand, led me to another room, through a large open archway.
We ended up in a sizeable, well-equipped kitchen. At the large pine table sat two middle-aged women I didn't recognize, a toddler rummaging intently through a half-empty bowl of dry Cheerios, and - I still can't believe what I saw there - nursing a cup of tea, my sister, Melissa.
She looked up at me, and a slow, bright smile appeared across her face. "Dana," she muttered, and rose.
I was stunned, transfixed. I couldn't move, I could barely breathe. I would have believed she was a clone if I hadn't seen the obvious scar on her forehead where the bullet had entered. It was really Melissa. My sister was alive.
"Missy?" I hardly recognized my own voice, so small and shaky-sounding in my ears. "Missy, is that you?" I couldn't move, I was so stunned by the sight of her and the flood of feelings which the sight awoke in me.
A large, gentle hand pressed lightly on my back, moving me ever so slightly forward into the room. I turned to see Mulder's face, brightened by a smile of overwhelming surprise. He turned his eyes to mine and nodded toward Melissa. Go to her, he told me silently.
I don't recall the steps I took to take me to her side. All I remember is being in her arms, stunned and silent. My sister was alive.
"How?" I managed to choke out.
Between her own choking laughs, she told me, "Alex got me transferred to a special facility in Seattle. Once I was up and about, he got me a new identity, and hid me there."
"Because they would have killed her, Dana," Krycek said from the entry to the kitchen. "They would have used her against you, as leverage. It was better for both of you for Missy to be dead. But now that I'm out, it's only a matter of time before they trace me to the operation. I needed to get all of you somewhere safe." He gestured grandly with his left...arm...? "Welcome to your new home. At least for the next couple of weeks."
It was still too much to process. "But Mom saw you die, Missy. She watched you die." I turned to my mother, who shrugged cheerfully in response.
"What you saw," Krycek answered for her, "was a chemically induced state of hypocoma. Sort of a non-thermal suspended animation. It was intentional. We had to create the impression that life signs had ceased."
"Did you know about this?" I asked my sister.
"No," she told me simply, "I didn't know until afterward. But I'm grateful. You know they would have just let me die. I don't know everything they did for me in Seattle, but I know they saved my life." She began to smile again. "That's all that matters to me." She embraced me again.
Finally, she looked across the room and smiled at Mulder. "I'm so glad you're here, Fox, and that you're still looking after my baby sister."
I snorted indignantly at the comment, and Missy laughed. "Or is she looking after you?"
Mulder puffed out a short laugh, and told her, "A little of both, I think. Though more of the latter these days." He turned to my mother and smiled. "It's good to see you, Mrs. Scully."
Mom moved to his side and hugged him. "I'm so glad you're home, safe," she whispered to him. When she pulled away, she was of course the one who reminded me about my manners. "Dana, would you like to make the introductions?"
I stepped back from Missy, gathered my wits, and began. "Mom, Missy," I said, moving toward Sam, "this is Samantha, Mulder's sister. Sam," I said to her, "this is my sister Melissa, also back from the dead," at which Sam smiled. "And this is my Mom, Margaret." I had a fairly good idea about the baby and the two women, but I left it up to the others to perform those introductions.
Sam sidled over to Mulder's side, leaned against his leg, and offered up a meek little "Hi."
"Hello, Samantha," my mother said in the most bizarre June Cleaver voice I've ever heard.
After a few moments of quiet reunion, Missy spoke up. "By the way, Dana, Fox," she said, gesturing toward Sheriff Lindgren, "this is my husband, Eric. He's our resident gourmet, so be nice to him," she snickered, "and he won't spit in your food."
Eric elbowed her in the side and smiled. "Glad to have it all out in the open." He picked up the toddler and introduced him as well, holding one chubby little arm and waving it at us. "This is Michael." He turned to kiss the boy's forehead and muttered sweetly to him, "Mikey, this is your Auntie Dana."
So there it was. Eric Lindgren was my brother-in-law, their baby was smiling, and Missy was a mother. I smiled and went to meet my new nephew. "Hello, Mikey," I said to him in an uncharacteristically singsong voice. "I'm your Aunt Dana." No silly "auntie" crap for me. I took his soft little hand and shook it until he giggled. He was precious. Missy's eyes, Missy's hair, Missy's laugh. Unfortunately, he also had Eric's long nose. It made me wonder about my own impending bundle and if it would bear its father's nasal inheritance. I hoped so.
"Missy, he's darling."
She didn't say anything. She just stepped to my side, stroked the baby's head, and kissed me on the cheek. "I've missed you."
I sighed. "Me too."
Fortunately, before we could mangle the moment with unnecessary tears, Eric jumped in with practicality. Leave it to law enforcement. He gestured toward a gray-haired woman at the table. "This is my mother, Annette, and this," he said, nodding toward a handsome brunette woman by the stove, "is Helena, Alex's mother. Why don't I show you three to your rooms?"
I blinked dumbly at the second woman, thoroughly stumped. Really, what does one say to the mother of a man who has caused so much misery? "Gee, Mrs. Krycek, that's one heck of an assassin you raised there," wouldn't have been entirely tactful. So I settled for a quiet nod at both women, and turned to see that Mulder was just as dumbfounded as I.
Eric led on, bless him, and with Mulder and Samantha, I left the kitchen and climbed a series of seemingly hand-carved wooden steps. At the top of the landing, Eric motioned to a door on each side of the hallway. "Here are the two bathrooms; 'fraid we'll all have to double up. This is your room," he said to Sam, opening the second door on the left. "You and Margaret can share."
Sam turned to Mulder with a terrified expression, clearly afraid to be separated from him. He responded with a kind voice. "It's okay, honey. We'll be just down the hall." He crouched to see eye-to-eye with her and whispered conspiratorially, "Margaret's been like a Mom to me. You're gonna love her, sweetie, and I bet she'll feel the same way about you."
I had to smile. I knew that Mulder and Mom haven't spent a lot of time together, and those few shared moments have always been under the worst of circumstances, but he's found a way to create a trusting relationship with her. That's normally no easy task; Margaret Scully is hard to impress. I think it was probably his trip to the Antarctic that marked his place in her heart. I didn't tell her all of the details, of course - I never do - but she got the gist of it, and understood immediately how dedicated Mulder has always been to my protection and safe return.
Conversely, however, my good mood was spoiled slightly by Mulder's repetitions of "honey" and "sweetie". I decided to mention that when we had a moment alone.
Samantha nodded, and Eric led her into the room. "There are plenty of towels in the bathroom closet," he told her, his limited experience as a father already showing in the gentle tone of his voice. "Go ahead and fix your bed up the way you like it. I'm going to show Dana and Fox to their room, and then I'll be right back."
Sam smiled weakly and said "Okay." My heart broke for her, the poor thing.
At the end of the hall, on the right, we entered and found a beautifully appointed room, equipped with every possible luxury. A huge pine armoire housed a television, VCR, and stereo system. The closet was spacious, and our overnight bags were somehow already there. I didn't have the strength to ask how. The centerpiece of the room was a rough-hewn, wooden king-sized bed, generously layered with quilts and pillows.
"Are you two hungry?" Eric asked us cheerfully.
I shook my head, and so did Mulder. "Actually," I told him, "I'm a little overloaded. I think I need to get some rest."
Eric smiled. "I'll bet." He nodded and let himself out of the room. "Sleep well, you two. I'll keep some dinner warm for you. Come down in a few hours and have something to eat, okay? "
My stomach suddenly sank as I realized I'd forgotten something of immense importance. "Eric," I asked with dread, "what's going to happen to my brothers' families?"
He turned and smiled. "We have more than one safe house, Dana. Bill and Charlie are at sea, but we have their families in our Southern California facility, along with Brin's wife and kids. They'll be fine. Now get some rest. There's a lot to do."
I smiled and nodded, and pretended I didn't really care what the future would bring. Of course, being both captive and hormonal, I was utterly full of shit. When Eric closed the door behind him, Mulder came up behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist.
"Alone at last," he whispered into my ear. The little zinging shivers his breathy words created felt indescribably good.
It was time for a change of subject before we forgot what we had to do. I pulled away regretfully. "I'm going to have a quick word with Missy," I told him. "I'll be right back."
"Okay," he said, pretending to be distracted by a loose thread on the cuff of his shirt. "Take your time." I sighed and left the room. What a sweet, sweet man.
I dropped by Sam's room, but she was busy talking to Eric, who was handing her a pillowcase, so I let them do their thing. Mulder would be in soon enough to settle her down for a few hours.
When I returned to the main floor, Missy was on the sofa, bouncing the baby on her lap. They were cooing happily at each other. I'll admit I'd never really thought of Missy as anything other than one of those flaky hippie-chick mothers, putting the baby in tie-dye and buying little baby Birkenstocks, but I'd been wrong. There was a warmth, a glow about her, and the quiet confidence took me by surprise. I had never seen her so mature and lovely.
I moved quietly around the sofa and sat beside her, looking silently into the fire.
I felt, rather than saw, her turn to me, and when I turned to look at her, there was the warmth and maturity again.
"I've missed you so much, Dana," she said softly.
I nodded and leaned my head against her shoulder. "I'm numb."
I heard her chuckle as she responded, simply, "Well, you've been busy."
I laughed with her, and reached over to stroke Mikey's cheek. "He's beautiful. He has Dad's smile."
I felt Missy nod. "I'm glad you see it too."
We sat together, quietly enjoying each other's company for some time, as I felt my muscles relax and loosen, preparing to usher in welcome sleep.
Missy patted her lap, and I shifted to rest my head there, lying on my back on the sofa, dangling my legs over the arm. She placed Mikey flat on my chest, and he snuggled his sweet little head under my chin. As I wrapped my arms around his surprisingly heavy body, Missy asked very quietly, "Does Fox know?"
I closed my eyes and shook my head with a self-deprecating chuckle. "You're good."
"Intelligence runs in the family," she replied. "So does he know?"
"Yes," I sighed. "I told him on the way here. How did *you* know?"
I looked up into her face, looming sideways over mine, and saw her smile. "Woman mystique. Didn't you get any?"
"I must have been absent the day they handed it out."
She laughed. I remembered that laugh, so simple and unfettered. I remember how free she'd always seemed to me, and how much I'd resented that freedom. But yesterday, that laugh was music to me. "So how long have you two been together?"
"Seven years." I smiled, blindly poking the dimple in Mikey's chin until he giggled. "Although admittedly sometimes it feels longer."
"No, I mean how long have you been a couple?"
"Oh, that." I pursed my lips and tried to find a way to explain it to her. "It's knotty."
"Well, classify it then. Break it down. I do speak Dana-ese."
I chuckled softly, and counted off my points with little finger taps on Mikey's back. "All right, let's see. We've been friends for years. We've loved each other almost as long. We began sleeping together in the spring. We fell in love - I don't know - somewhere in there. I think we might have been on different schedules for that. But we only really committed to being a couple the night before he left."
"Before he knew about the baby?" She sounded surprised.
I nodded, tracing the little curves of Mikey's ear. "Mm-hm. I don't know how much Mom has told you about my medical history, but the whole thing is heading dangerously close to the miraculous."
Her face crumpled a bit and she nodded in response. "Mom told me all about the effects of your abduction; the cancer, your depression, the trouble between you and Billy, your daughter..."
"...Emily." I sighed. "I thought she was yours at first. She looked like you."
"Mom said I came to you in a dream. Do you believe that?"
"I did. Now I understand it was some sort of instinctive reaction."
Her eyebrows shot up. "You believe in visions and instincts now?"
I nodded awkwardly against her leg and rubbed soft circles on Mikey's back. "I'm becoming a believer in a lot of things."
I felt happy and calm, and utterly safe lying there with my sister and nephew, but I had unfinished business. "I should go to bed. I haven't had any time alone with Mulder yet. We have a few things to discuss."
"I'll bet," Missy whispered, obviously as awestruck as I about the recent developments.
I held Mikey up over me, and Missy took him back as I rose. I placed a soft kiss on his cheek and another on hers, and remained there for a moment, relearning her scent and recalling the comfort of my sister's presence. "I'll see you at dinner."
"Sleep well," she whispered back as I pulled away.
"Don't tell Mom," I told her, ascending the stairs. "I want to tell her myself."
"Secrets between sisters," she commented wryly. "I *am* home."
I smiled all the way up the stairs, despite the growing fatigue that
made each step more of an effort than the
When I arrived at the doorway to Samantha's room, I poked my head in to see Mulder sitting on the bed beside her, talking in a low voice. Just as I decided to give them their privacy and move on, Mulder turned to me and smiled.
"Come on in," he said, turning back to his sister. "I was just telling Sam a little more about you and me."
"Secrets," Samantha uttered in a playful whisper as I approached the bed, and when she smirked, I saw the stunning resemblance between them.
"Margaret will be back any minute, so ixnay on the eddingway," he whispered back to her. "Dana and I want to tell her ourselves."
Samantha nodded in assent. Then she surprised me by getting up on her knees and coming over to me to whisper into my ear, "I'm glad you're going to be my sister." She kissed me on the cheek and lingered there for a moment.
Surprised and relieved to find Samantha receptive and open to the idea, I drew my arms around her and whispered back, "Me too, Sam. Welcome to the family."
I was afraid I'd said something wrong when she pulled away from me, but then she smiled again and confided, "Fox says that we'll be more Scullys now than Mulders."
I was stunned. When I didn't respond at once, she elaborated, "He said your family's really nice."
I didn't know what to say. Her words cut through me, reminding me of the awesome responsibility we had just begun to undertake, as well as underscoring Mulder's low-level envy of my family's unity. But both he and his sister had made it clear: They were thrilled to become part of my family. We weren't just making a new little unit of the three - soon to be four - of us, but rather Mulder and Sam were content to simply slip into my own existing clan. I was so delighted I couldn't speak. My jaw trembled, and tears tumbled down my face.
Mulder's hand stroked across my cheek, and I leaned against him as I looked into the faces of my new immediate family. "Let's all get some rest and go down for dinner in a couple of hours," he suggested in a soft voice as my mother entered the room.
"Why don't Dana and I take the other room?" my mother suggested.
I approached her and said, simply, "Mulder and I haven't had a chance to talk since he got back. We'll be fine in the other room."
When I looked over to Samantha's bed, I saw Mulder rise, having tucked her in, and approach as well. "Let's let Sam get some uninterrupted sleep," he said, and ushered me out of the room by the elbow, past my silent mother.
"Mm-hm," he said into my hair, wrapping his arms around me and sighing.
He tightened his grip on my shoulders. "She's going to know soon anyway. We'll be able to handle it with clear heads once we get some sleep." He yawned. "I'm wiped."
He was right, of course, but I wasn't about to allow him to control the events without a token protest, even about something as trifling as bedding.
"Move," I grunted, trying to loosen the comforter from under his hips. "I'm cold."
"Bitch, bitch, bitch," he mumbled playfully as he lifted his hips in assistance.
We lay there for a while, quietly warming the air beneath the thick layer of down. "Thank you for what you said about my family, Mulder."
He stroked my arm with his large, warm palm. "You're good people," he said in a drowsy voice. "I just hope Bill won't develop an overwhelming urge to clock me when he finds out I knocked up his baby sister."
There has always been something comforting about his use of deadpan humor to utterly fail to conceal his fear. I settled in and found myself drifting away almost as soon as I closed my eyes, but I still needed to reassure him that we were finally on stable ground, despite the death threats over our heads. "We're vindicated," I told him. "Nobody can argue now that our work wasn't worth the sacrifices, not even Bill."
"In the abstract," he replied.
"Don't sweat reality," I told him, and he hugged me even tighter. I felt safe and happy, and the next words spilled out of me before I was aware I'd even thought them. "I love you," I murmured.
His breathing hitched, and for a moment he was still. Almost at once I felt warm, wet tears trickling along my scalp. Despite all the plans we had made, I had never spoken those particular words to him before, and I assumed he was weeping in relief. He'd been through so much, and between the stress of his captivity and his relief at coming home, I was under the impression he was experiencing the inevitable crash I'd predicted. He didn't say anything for a very long time. I lay with him, and stroked his back gently with my palm.
Finally, sniffly but recovering, he explained his reaction. He'd only been gone a dozen weeks, but how quickly I'd forgotten the speed of his mind. He surprised me by leaping well past the obvious - that he loved me in return, that he was still committed to our personal plans, that he was looking forward to fatherhood - and asked if it was okay that Sam was going to live with us. Silly man.
"She's family," I encouraged. "Yours and mine."
"Thank you," he breathed. "We'll be good parents to her. Better than mine, anyway."
"No," I said, pulling away. Although I understood the sentiment, I couldn't permit him to spend one more minute convinced that Samantha's return was his chance to correct their parents' mistakes. I raised myself on my hands so I could look at him. "We're not her parents, Mulder. She had parents, and they're gone now."
He looked at me wild-eyed, clearly struck by the blow of my words. I regretted having to upset him, but he had already spent too much time thinking of himself as Samantha's father figure.
"You're her brother and guardian. You are not her father. You're going to be a father soon enough, and it's important that we delineate the difference to Samantha from the very beginning." And to ourselves, I added internally.
His expression softened, but he didn't say anything.
"We have to be careful how we talk to her, Mulder. Words like 'honey' and 'sweetie' might be too endearing for a sibling relationship, and you've been using those words a good deal."
I saw comprehension of the situation begin to dawn on him, and I softened my tone. "We can love and support her without thinking of ourselves as her parents."
"I'm gonna have to work on a new nickname," he said darkly. "The old ones won't do."
I thought of myself at Samantha's age and remembered what my own siblings had called me. I couldn't imagine that his nicknames for his baby sister had been any less hurtful.
"'Buttmunch' isn't loving *or* supportive," he added.
I smiled. "We'll figure out something," I said softly, and he nodded in reply.
I felt my eyelids begin to droop, and rested my weight against his chest again. I was asleep almost at once.
We arose a few hours later and after washing up, went down for dinner.
The rest of the group had already assembled, but hadn't quite finished eating when the three of us arrived at the table. We were still fairly groggy from the events of the past two days, but even through the nap-induced fog we all noticed how quiet it was at the table. Krycek and Eric mumbled calmly throughout dinner about "the numbers" and other incomprehensible things and my mother chatted in a soft voice with Annette and Missy about the news coverage they'd been watching. They all seemed impressed with the reporting, and I was favored with warm smile from Annette when she spoke about my on-camera appearances. Krycek's mother, Helena - like Samantha - sat silently and pushed the food around her plate.
"It's usually more effective if you get the food somewhere in the vicinity of your mouth," Mulder teased his sister in a soft voice, but Sam only sighed in response. He put his fork down and wrapped his arm around her. With a light peck on the top of her head, he whispered, "It's okay, kiddo. You don't have to eat now if you're not hungry." She nodded a little against his chest.
Conversely, I dug into dinner with delight. Eric had made a stew out of vegetables and very lean beef, and the rich aroma made me ravenous. I actually stopped myself for a moment when I saw the bottle of fine red wine on the counter, but common sense won out. The alcohol would have cooked off in minutes. I was in greater danger of choking on a chunk of potato. Considering the speed at which I ate my portion, I'm a little surprised I didn't. Mulder must have been watching me devour the remainder of my meal, because when I finally pushed the bowl away, I caught him looking over at me with unconcealed amusement. I wondered if there was a copy of "What To Expect When You're Expecting" somewhere in the safe house for him to read, so he would know that "eating for two" thing was legitimate.
Later, while I nursed a cup of mediocre decaf, I asked if anyone had a sewing kit. We needed more clothes for Sam.
Melissa smiled and said, "It's covered."
Sam perked up a bit when Melissa told her she would measure her before bed and alter a few of her own garments in the morning. I offered up a few pieces of clothing as well. But when Eric got up from the table and commented that he would haul the sewing machine out of the downstairs closet before going to bed, I choked on my coffee. It seemed like such an innocent comment, but the underlying meaning was terrifying: The safe house had a sewing machine, and that implied nothing less than the expectation of a very long stay.
After Sam's measuring session, Mulder announced that he was going to tuck her in, and the two rose to head upstairs.
I also rose and caught Krycek's eye. "Could I have a word with you?"
He nodded and led me out of the kitchen and into a book-lined library farther back in the structure. It was, like the living room, cozy and inviting. Overstuffed chairs sat scattered around the room, almost randomly, each complemented by a small side table and reading lamp. Again I was struck by the planning involved, and the obvious anticipation of a long period of hiding.
Krycek moved to the far end of the room, near another fireplace, and sat on the sofa. I took the chair opposite. For a moment, neither of us said anything. Between my fatigue and his unerring projection of ease, we might have been mistaken for old friends, comfortable in silence.
Finally he turned to me and with a slow grin he confided, "It's been a hell of a week."
I grunted out a little chuckle.
"Good dinner," he continued. Then he prodded, "Did you get enough to eat?" Smug son of a bitch. Of course he knew.
"Yes, thank you," I replied casually, determined not to be out-cooled. I settled back into the chair. "Nice arm."
I saw absolutely no guile in his responding smile. "There are friends," he said, "and there are *friends*."
"I assume yours aren't natives."
He didn't say anything in response; he simply relaxed into the soft cushions of the couch and let his head tip back, eyes closed.
"What kind of thanks are you looking for, Krycek?" I asked him.
I lowered my head just a little and looked up at him under stern eyebrows. "You've got to be kidding."
He rolled his head to the side and opened one eye. "Friends call each other by their first names. And I'm definitely your friend right now, Dana." He closed the eye again and returned to his former position. "And no, don't try to explain to me about 'Mulder'. I don't want to go to bed with a headache."
I shook my head. Someday - and this is truly my fondest wish - someone will simply tell me something without obfuscation or theatrics.
"Back to my question," I said, "*Alex*."
"Not now," he said simply. "I have work to do, you have work to do, we all have work to do. We can socialize when it's all over." Then he sat straight up and looked at me with purpose. "We're *this* close to winning the goddamned war. I can fucking *taste* the victory, and I won't get complacent now with idle chitchat."
"Fine," I agreed, "then inform me. What's really going on here?"
He stretched his arms above his head, weaving the fingers of both hands together, and rotated his back from side to side until a few vertebrae popped. "In the morning. We'll go down to the lab, all four of us, and we'll go through every last speck of data." He lowered his arms and appeared to be evaluating something about me. "Don't flatter yourself into believing you're here for any other reason."
His attempted use of reverse-psychology was almost touching. Knowing I'd doubt any stated motive, he attempted to convince me that his use for me was strictly professional, assuming I'd believe the opposite, and use his preservation of Melissa as proof. For a moment I'd thought of letting it pass unnoticed, but I was feeling bold.
"Neither goblet is poisoned," I informed him, cutting through the crap. "I won't be Vizzini for you. There is no such thing as iocaine powder."
Krycek rose, chuckling, and strolled over to a tall wall of books adjacent to the fireplace. He paused for a moment, looking for something, and made a little "Mm," when he found it. Crossing back to me, he dropped the book into my lap, and moved to leave the room. When he arrived at the door, he turned around and confided, "I'll choose a more effective role model the next time I attempt to manipulate you. Goldman's fucked in the head."
I looked down at the paperback novel in my lap and laughed.
By the time I'd made it upstairs, Mulder was already in bed. He looked up when I entered the room, lifted the corner of the comforter, and patted the mattress suggestively.
I tossed the well-worn copy of "The Princess Bride" onto the vacant space on the bed and began to open bureau drawers until I located my pajamas. When I finally found them, folded neatly beneath two pairs of Mulder's silk boxers, I smiled and withdrew them. They looked good together. "I'm going to take a quick shower."
Mulder picked up the book with a bemused expression, but didn't look up. As he flipped through the pages he asked me, "Have a nice tete-a-tete with The Man in Black?"
"Nice, no. Enlightening, maybe," I said and left the room.
"You look better," she said.
"I feel better," I replied. "Cleaner, anyway."
It was Mom's turn to pat the mattress beside her, and I sat with her for a few minutes.
"I know this must be overwhelming, Mom," I told her. "How are you holding up?"
She looked at me as if I'd spoken in ancient Sumerian. "That's quite a selective memory you have, Dana."
I wasn't as surprised by her composure as I was by her accusation. "What do you mean?"
She shook her head in that Mom way all mothers do. "After all I've witnessed in your life, these are hardly the most difficult events to accept. Except for the death threats against you and Fox, I've received nothing but good news over the past couple of days." She adjusted the crease of the sheet folded down over her lap. "I watched Fox step out of a space ship on national television, honey. There isn't much left that has the power to surprise me."
"Then you're doing better than I am," I admitted. "Seeing Melissa really shook me."
Mom didn't say anything. She merely sat there, waiting for me to continue.
"I'm so relieved that she's alive and okay, that she has a wonderful family and that we can be together again...but - -"
"But you're worried that they're going to take her away again, or that she won't really be who she appears to be."
I lowered my head a little. "Something like that."
"If you're so busy protecting your heart from being broken again, you're going to miss out on the joy of this miracle." She lowered her face just enough to bring her gaze in line with mine. "And I doubt that kind of self-denial is how you and Fox managed to come to an understanding."
It was not the time for explanations. I was still exhausted and emotionally drained, so I settled for a repetition of what I'd told her two days before. "It's complicated."
She smiled just a little. "If it was easy, it wouldn't be worth having."
"Platitudes?" It was unlike her.
"Well," she confessed, "I might be a little overwhelmed. Let's all get some sleep."
I looked over at Sam's bed.
"She's in Fox's room," Mom told me. "Why don't you stay here and let them get some rest?"
I shook my head. "It's not a good time to set any precedents. She was fine in here earlier. I'll go get her."
"Dana," Mom called after me as I rose to leave, "she's not your responsibility."
I turned to her, taken aback by her accusation of meddling.
She continued, "Samantha is Fox's responsibility, and you should let him handle the situation as he sees fit."
"She's *our* responsibility, Mom," I insisted. "All of ours."
She smiled dryly. "It takes a village?"
She shook her head. "Now who's guilty of platitudes?"
"We'll call it even," I suggested tersely as I left the room.
He looked up and took in my appearance as well - from my feet to my abdomen, and then to my face - and when he smiled, I understood what he found so amusing: I was standing before him, barefoot and pregnant. He looked down at the limp, sleeping form of his sister and shook his head. With one word, he summed up the entirety of his awe. Without making a sound, he mouthed, "Surreal."
I nodded. There wasn't anything else to say.
Very gently he gathered Sam up in his arms and took her back to her own room.
When he returned, he was wearing a sly smile. We still didn't have the energy to make love properly last night, so we decided to wait, and settled instead for some slow, deep kisses. He dotted little pecks up one side of my slightly rounded abdomen and down the other, whispering, "Baby" after each press of his lips. In retrospect, I suppose the walls were too thin to disguise the sounds of the giggles induced by each tickling kiss. At the time, I didn't care. Now, I think I should have known better.
So now it's morning and here we are, all ten of us, gathered around the breakfast table, still a little uncomfortable, still mostly uninformed, still evaluating one another.
I'm busy eating, Mulder is busy tending to his sister, my mother is busy assessing my every interaction with Mulder, and Krycek is looking on with unrestrained glee.
I'm really enjoying my breakfast, but I can feel my mother's eyes on me and it rankles. She has been pushing it, demanding just a little too much information at the most inopportune times, and I'm about to lose my patience.
"Dana," she prods, and I know I'm about to lose my cool. I determine to say something before I do.
"Fine," I concede aloud, mostly to my mother, but partly to everyone else as well. Missy looks on with that knowing big-sister smile, and Mulder turns to me, entertained, as I place my fork down and look my mother directly in the eye.
"Scully," Mulder warns. "Like this?"
I don't turn to him. "Any objections?"
He pauses for a half-beat, and says, simply, "Guess not."
My mother looks concerned, and I'm glad. She's been demanding to know what's going on, and she's about to find out. So much for composure.
I keep my voice level. "Yes, Mother, there are big things afoot. I would have preferred to tell you when we were ready, but since you're determined to force the issue, here it is: Mulder and I are getting married, I'm nearly four months pregnant, and we're about to subvert an alien plot to eradicate humankind through a viral apocalypse. Not necessarily in that order." I don't even blink. "Any questions?"
She scowls. "Thank you," she whispers harshly, and leaves the table.
"Shit," I mutter under my breath. I call after her, "Mom!" and follow her out into the sitting room.
"Four months, Dana? You might have told me before," she snaps as I enter the room, "or in some way other than this. That wasn't a joyful announcement, Dana, that was a reprimand."
I should find it amusing rather than irritating that she's chosen to focus on my pregnancy rather than on the possibility of human extinction. I release a harsh breath and backpedal. She is my mother after all. "I'm sorry. I wasn't ready to tell you yet, but you kept pushing."
She folds her arms over her chest and looks at me. "We sat there last night, Dana, just you and me, and you didn't say a word."
"I'd just told Mulder a few hours before about the baby, Mom. Didn't we deserve even a day to get used to the idea before we told everyone else?"
"I'm not everyone else, Dana. I'm your mother."
I sighed. "I know. I'm sorry. I was angry." I shake my head and flop down onto the sofa. "But be fair; you really were pushing."
She remained standing. "I just wanted to know."
"How does that not constitute pushing?"
She pursed her lips and gave in, sitting delicately on a side chair. "All right. You held back and I went too far. But you really shouldn't have done it that way. Now everyone knows."
I tip my head back against the soft cushions. "There are ten of us in this little place, Mom. We're not likely to have any secrets here."
"I know," she sighs, "but I would have liked to know before that murderer did."
I smile. "He already knew. Don't ask me how."
"Well, perhaps he heard something through a wall, the way the rest of us did last night." I cringe as she completes the thought. "Neither you nor Fox have been subtle in your possession of each other's time and space. You nearly ran me over on your way out of the room yesterday."
I shook my head. "It's been a long time," is my only excuse. She doesn't need a roadmap for the rest.
She nods. "So how did it happen?"
With a shrug, I confess, "The usual way."
"Dana," she chides.
This is obviously going to take a while, so I fold my legs underneath me and get comfortable. "We'd only been together for a couple of months before he was taken. We decided to make things official the night before he left." I shook my head. "We didn't even have time to work out the how or when of it. We agreed to talk about it when he got back from Oregon."
Her voice softens. "He's back."
"Victorious," I add.
"And the baby?"
I shrug again. "I really don't know, Mom. It could be as simple as a well-timed, albeit unexpected, ovulation. But I've run every test imaginable, and everything is okay. It's just a baby, nothing more."
"Of course it's more than that, Dana," she says, and she sounds like my mother again - warm but firm. "Don't you dare treat this baby as something commonplace. All your doctors said it was impossible. This is a gift; it's a miracle."
"If it's okay with you," I tell her, "I'd prefer to consider it ordinary. This baby deserves better than the burden of being monumentally important." I pause. "At the moment, there are bigger issues to deal with."
Whether or not she agrees, she must understand my position, because she rises and returns to the kitchen. "Come on," she says, holding out her hand, "your breakfast is getting cold."
An hour later, Krycek and Eric cull Mulder and me from the group and lead us down into an enormous laboratory, easily half again as large as the main floor. It is clearly a multipurpose room, filled to its rafters with biological and medical informatic equipment. There are hotboxes, banks of computers and computer-aided measuring devices, an impressively new electron microscope, and vast lab benches teeming with sample trays and stacks of computer printouts.
In the center of a large empty space on one bench is one of the three vials of blue liquid we were permitted to keep. Contrasted against the clutter in the remainder of the room, the single test tube appears conspicuous, the center of all activity surrounding it.
"It's an antiviral serum," Krycek says, moving toward the nearest hotbox. "At least that's what we were told it is." He turns to me. "We have samples of the black oil - both strains - and our contacts have insisted that this stuff will wipe them out."
"Care to be a little more forthcoming about the identity of your contacts?" Mulder asks. "Or do I already know?"
"You've already met them, Einstein," he replies. "Or did you think those rebels on the ship just made the impulsive decision to save your sorry ass?"
Before Mulder can take umbrage against Krycek's remark - something he almost always communicates with a show of physical aggression - I step in.
"I take it this is what you meant by 'airborne'."
Eric nods and raises a tiny syringe with a very long needle from the surface of the bench. "It's supposed to be ultra-dense -- toxic to the alien spores, but harmless to humans. The computer modeling we've done projected a success rate very close to the rebels' claim of potential damage."
"What information did you use for your computer modeling?" I ask.
"They provided genetic sequences." Eric grins and continues. "We ran the PCRs against the serum overnight and they're a match. We weren't misled." His smile is that of success, and it's familiar.
Mulder is less enthralled than I. "What's your role in all this?" he demands, his posture still stiff.
"For lack of a better term, I'm a double agent."
Mulder rolls his eyes. "Oh, please."
I concur. "You're telling us that they permitted one of their own to marry my allegedly hidden sister?"
Krycek interrupts with an irritated slap of one hand on the countertop. "Mingle on your own time. We have unwelcome visitors to kill."
And for the first time, there is just a hint of discord in the ranks. "Alex, go upstairs and have some decaf," Eric suggests with utter condescension. "You're no use to me right now."
He resists. "No fucking way. This is it."
"And," Eric continues in the same patronizing tone, "you're no scientist. If you want to watch and fill them in on the political background, fine, but if you're going to pace and snipe, you can go elsewhere."
I see the corners of Mulder's mouth turn up just slightly in vicarious triumph, but before he can say anything inflammatory, Krycek stalks off, his shoulders held high.
"Call me when you're ready to test."
Eric sighs and we get to work.
Mulder thinks aloud. "So this last set of abductions was the rebels' idea, ostensibly to eradicate evidence of their tampering, but really to facilitate the delivery of the serum to earth without the grays' interference." Mulder is usually more colloquial in his day to day communications, which doesn't bother me normally, but there is something irresistible about him when he hauls out and dusts off his polysyllabic vocabulary. I smile in appreciation.
Eric nods. "That's the extent of it. And the big boys don't want you to have it because of the precious power base they've established."
A question is still nagging at me. "If they're so concerned about protecting their usurped authority, why did they risk exposure by permitting you to marry my sister?"
He shrugs. "Hubris."
Mulder shakes his head to indicate he needs more than that. So do I.
"They figured that nothing would happen if they put on their Big Scary Men voices and threatened to kill you if she told a soul."
He shakes his head. "I think something must happen to you when you have unimpeachable authority for such a long time."
"Yeah," Mulder smirks, "you get sloppy." He doesn't look pleased. "This is too easy."
Eric bites the inside of his lower lip and nods in assent, but before he has a chance to respond, Mulder appears to have an epiphany.
"An EMP could wipe out the micro-machines in the serum." He begins to pace. "In earth terms, a nuclear warhead detonated in the upper atmosphere. In alien terms, maybe just a death ray. If these things are computerized," he says, flailing his hand in the general vicinity of the vial, "then an electromagnetic pulse could disable them in one shot."
Eric smiles. "EMP isn't an issue. They're resistant." When I squint, he explains further. "Which is why their serum is better than ours. The circuits are powered by something called SRE, or subatomic radiant energy, and all the data processing occurs at light speed across a microluminescent silicon grid. They don't rely on electromagnetic energy for either form or operation, so an EMP would have no effect."
Mulder and I look at each other, stunned into silence.
Eric only grins. "I was a bit of a student before I took on the role of rural sheriff." He approaches, syringe in hand, and moves toward the hotbox. "Let's give this a go now, shall we? I've been hopped up on the anticipation since the day before yesterday."
I move one step closer to Mulder, and we wait.
"Alex!" Eric cries out as he rotates his neck until it pops a few times. "Let's find out if it's soup yet!"
Before he can take another step toward the hotbox, Krycek is already barreling down the stairs, approaching at nearly a run. He doesn't say a word - in fact, he doesn't even acknowledge our presence there, so focused is he on the fate of humankind behind the thick, well-sealed glass. I find the lack of his customary bravado uncomfortable.
Eric slips the syringe through the vapor lock, and squeezes out a single drop of the serum into the waiting petri dish. When he removes the syringe, he and Krycek both take a couple of steps backward, and Mulder and I do the same.
The hotbox is constructed like a fortified aquarium: Thick glass walls comprise its structure, unmarred by joins. It was clearly molded in one piece, to reduce the chance of leaks. The vapor lock is siliconized around the seam, and when the thick glass partition slides back into place over the opening, it appears safe. That's not to say that I feel safe in any way. I'm terrified about what the black oil could do to me and the baby, but this is too important a development to miss. I take another step back, however, and Mulder moves with me. He squeezes my hand in acknowledgement. I will run if I must, but for now, I wait and watch.
After a few deep breaths, Eric approaches a computer panel and lets his right hand hover over a small white touchpad. "If you have a god," he suggests in an unsettling voice, "you might want to pray to him right about now." He closes his eyes for just a few seconds, and I take the opportunity to ask an otherwise ambivalent creator to reconsider his commitment to us. Six seconds later, Eric opens his eyes and presses lightly on the touchpad.
Immediately small drops of black oil drip down into the enclosure from recessed tubes. On the left side, the flow coalesces into a single puddle. On the right, the droplets remain individual, and appear to move across the floor of the hotbox of their own volition.
Eric moves his hand to hover over the red "abort" panel, that will instantly trigger the incineration of the contents of the box should they pose a danger.
My internal voice doesn't even make it to three. The large puddle dessicates into powder, and the individual drops simply evaporate. By the time my mind has counted to four, it is over.
The room is deathly still.
"The pool on the left," Eric whispers, "was the parasitic strain." No one responds. "The mind-control strain was on the right."
"How much do we need?" Krycek asks in a responding whisper.
Eric pauses. "Please, gimme a minute."
Mulder releases a shuddering breath and lowers his head.
I am unable to move or utter a sound.
For a little while, there is only the deep silence of the room, punctuated by our deep, irregular breaths, but eventually, Eric composes himself and answers Krycek's question.
"Seven vials. Use some of the batch that went to the CDC."
Krycek just barely nods. "Get me the release point maps and I'll send them to Brin. Mulder, call Skinner and tell him we're ready to roll."
"He knows," Mulder says, more confirming the assumption than asking for an explanation.
Krycek nods. That must have been what they were discussing on their own at Area 51.
"There a phone in here?" Mulder asks.
Eric finally lowers his hand and steps away from the control panel. He turns toward the stairs and simply begins to walk. "Follow me," he intones.
In the wake of the test, there was precious little to do after all. I had thought I had been brought here in order to work, but it became clear by the end of the third day that all I was doing was reading computer readouts on ambient density levels at various checkpoints around the globe. Eventually, in the middle of a set of very promising results from the northwest coast of England, I rose from my stool at a workbench to go upstairs.
"On track?" Eric asked me.
"You don't have to pretend you need me for this," I responded, smiling. "Thank you for protecting us."
He looked at me for a moment, clearly unsure how to reply.
"I won't say a word to Krycek if you won't," I assured him.
He closed his eyes and laughed. "You've discovered his inner pussycat, have you?"
I went upstairs and I've spent all my time with my family ever since.
Seven weeks have passed in this little place, and those of us who are not family or friends already have developed a kind of courteous camaraderie.
Annette and my mother appear to have adopted Helena, who, although still very quiet, has begun to contribute to conversation. They conscripted her and Missy to play endless games of kitchen-table euchre, which have become lively in recent days with the advent of Chore Wagering. It was Helena's suggestion, and once it was accepted, she revealed herself to be quite the cardsharp.
Samantha has spent most of her time either in the library or in the
sitting room, attempting to catch up on nearly thirty years of
technological and social advancement. Mulder has been exceptionally
thorough in her remedial education; so thorough chronologically that
Samantha has had the opportunity to reject the Disco trend not once but
twice. She is fascinated by how "Star Trekky" so many everyday devices
have become, and is especially attracted to computer technology. I wonder
from time to time how we are going to be able to afford to indulge her
obvious taste for gadgets, especially in light of all the inherent
expenses that accompany a new baby. Maybe we'll let her play with the
Gunmen once a week and cajole some of their gadgetry from
Once a week I review the summary of the density readings, but they've progressed as expected
Three weeks ago, Mulder got his first blurry look at our son, courtesy of the ultrasound equipment in the downstairs laboratory. He made no effort to conceal his tears.
"We're ready to prep the airborne and the projections are good," Mulder whispered to me that night as we lay in bed. "Brin took out the last of the installations last week. In a few weeks it'll all be moot, and we can do some cleanup."
"Cleanup," I confirmed.
He nodded his head.
"You think we'll be able to get enough evidence to support some indictments?" I asked him quietly.
He shrugged. "I guess that's our part of the operation. I'll ask Alex in the morning."
I hoisted myself up on one elbow and looked him straight in the eye. "Alex?"
"We've already agreed to recommend that the murder charges be dropped," he answered. "Maybe we should drop the grudges, too."
I was confused by his sudden turn toward reconciliation, particularly where Krycek was concerned. "Mulder?"
He pulled me back down against his chest. "What am I gonna do, Scully - - go out and seek hot-blooded revenge during the day and come home to my family at night?"
"A fresh start," I said, trying out the feel of the words.
"Mm-hm," he mumbled sleepily. "This is the payoff. A normal life."
"I have no idea how to do that," I confessed.
"Me either," he replied with a faint chuckle.
So now, for the second time in nearly two months, Mulder emerges from a small place to the intrusive clicking of camera shutters and the blinding lights of portable video cameras. This time, however, he steps aside and directs the journalists to badger Eric and me for details.
Last time, I protected my fear and joy behind a mask of professionalism. This time, I withhold nothing.
Last time, I concealed my pregnancy out of the fear that it would be used against me. This time, I waddle out of the subterranean structure, six months pregnant and already huge, unconcerned about the intrusive assumptions of the press.
Last time, I believed the world was in incomprehensible danger, and that I was essentially powerless to help. This time, I understand how we were able to fight back, and why our efforts were effective.
Last time, we had only questions. This time, we have answers.
Special Agent Dana Scully retreated from public life after The Sunday Mirror published forged photographs of her participation in a drug-induced orgy supposedly taken during her second year in pre-med at the University of Maryland. She resigned as a field agent from the FBI at 38, and resumed her career in education, teaching Forensic Pathology at the FBI Academy at Quantico. Despite her intensely private lifestyle, she did maintain important relationships in both law enforcement and politics, so it was no surprise when, only twelve hours after the results of the 2008 federal election were announced, she appeared at a press conference with President-Elect Rodham to announce her acceptance of a Cabinet post as Secretary of Health. She lives with her husband, sister-in-law, and two children in Stafford, Virginia.
Assistant Director Walter Skinner was dismissed from the FBI for "Misappropriation of Bureau Resources" and "Misrepresentation of Bureau Personnel", along with two assistants; Kimberly Cameron and Marla Daniels. He acquired his P.I. license and began a private investigation firm in Washington, D.C. three months later, with Cameron and Daniels on his staff, as well as a stable of investigators and researchers whose names could not be determined. He is married and has twin sons. There are unconfirmed reports that he has been working for Interpol.
Alex Krycek disappeared from sight shortly after the murder charges against him were dropped. He has been glimpsed on occasion in the Metro D.C. area, but these sightings cannot be confirmed.
Morris Fletcher reconciled with his wife of twelve years and relocated to the Washington, D.C. area. Upon early retirement from the ATRD, he accepted the position of Curator of Extraterrestrial Artifacts at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and currently oversees security and programming for the daily tours of the alien craft housed there. Twenty-five percent of the daily grosses from ticket sales are donated to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, and earmarked for research at its Xenovirology unit.
Samantha Mulder graduated with honors in the advanced Focus program from Stafford, Virginia's Colonial Forge High School. She plans to attend Oxford University in the fall, to study Xenotechnology at the school's newly established Mulder Hall for Extraterrestrial Studies.
Eric Lindgren toured the lecture circuit for two years before accepting
a position in the Surgeon General's office, as Special Envoy to the Armed
Services. He resides in Ellicott City, Maryland with his wife, Melissa,
and their son, Michael.
Melissa Lindgren currently operates a holistic book store in Baltimore.
She resides in Ellicott City, Maryland with her husband, Eric, and their
William Miles is currently the Sheriff of Bellefleur, Oregon, and has reconciled with his estranged wife, Patti. He sold his story to the National Enquirer for $1 Million, and has appeared on talk shows nationally.
Baby Hoese was returned to her parents, Theresa and Ray Hoese, within eighteen hours of their return to Earth. Although both were hospitalized following their return, a specially drafted court order granted them a return to full parental privileges. For 8 days, during which the Hoeses and all the other surviving abductees (with the exception of the two Mulders) remained under observation at the base hospital at Kingsley Air Force Base in Oregon, Baby Hoese slept in a crib between her parents' hospital beds.
"The Lone Gunman" has become the single most popular conspiracy-oriented publication in U.S. history, with a current circulation of just over 1 million copies monthly. The founders still refuse to accept advertising or to grant public interviews. Richard "Ringo" Langly, Co-Founder and Technology Editor, recently self-published "The Hacker's Treatise: How To Protect Yourself", and sales are reported to be brisk. Melvin Frohike, Surveillance and Security Editor, was honored by the 225th Marine Corps, and was awarded a Medal of Honor by Marine Commandant General J.L. Jones, for his participation in 'work uncovering the gravest of threats to mankind'. John Fitzgerald Byers, Intelligence Editor and CEO of The Lone Gunman L.L.C., currently lives in the Washington area with his wife, Suzanne, and three retired greyhounds.
The terminally ill Chesterton Gabriel Bloodworth Spender and three of his high-ranking lieutenants died in federal prison under suspicious circumstances only days after their indictments. All four were eventually convicted posthumously by the World Court of three hundred ninety-four counts of war crimes, including espionage, obstruction of justice, and treason.
"The Lazarus Bowl" recently entered its third printing on DVD, and now includes rare never-before-seen interviews with former Special Agent Mulder and Associate Producer Walter Skinner. It has netted close to $500 million worldwide, and has spawned a new crossgenre of science-fiction/religion films, including the commercial hits "Icon" and "NanoProphets", and the critically acclaimed "God Rode the MagLev".
Jose Chung's previously published book, "From Outer Space", has entered its fifth printing, and was on the New York Times bestseller list for two hundred sixty-four consecutive weeks.
"Jose Chung is From Outer Space", a parody work written by 'Alan Smithee', has entered its second printing, and has been on the New York Times bestseller list for thirty-seven consecutive weeks. The profits are being paid to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the American Cancer Foundation. Simon and Schuster, parent company of Pocket Books, the publisher, is contractually obligated to protect the identity of the anonymous author. No firm identification has been made, despite the potentially helpful dedication, "To my one in six billion, with love. And all right, I admit it: L.H. didn't have buck teeth. There, I said it in public. Happy?"
Edward van Blundht Jr., an inmate at a West Virginia penitentiary, was sentenced to an additional fifteen years for escaping and impersonation of a Federal Officer in conjunction with his brief but ultimately unsuccessful kidnapping of Fox Mulder. It was his second such offense.
The issue of Life magazine in which former Special Agent Dana Scully was depicted on the cover sold out in its original printing, and called for an unprecedented three additional printings, each of which sold out within days. The shot of Scully, smiling broadly, looking up into the alien spacecraft, framed by a brilliant orange sunset, was subsequently sold to Design Media, Inc. for an undisclosed sum, and has sold extremely well in all forms: Posters, coffee mugs, mouse pads, and refrigerator magnets. A second shot, nearly as popular, was taken by a staff photographer for USA Today: That of Fox Mulder peering down out of the access port of the craft. The shot can currently be seen in the above forms, as well as on stickers and keychains, and was purchased by Berkeley Systems for use as part of a new line of computer screen savers.
Life magazine published a special issue dedicated to the Ten Most Significant Photographs of the Century. In addition to the now-legendary shots of JFK Jr. saluting his father's casket and the sailor/nurse V.E. Day kiss, the Scully cover shot was included as number nine.
A monument was erected on the mall in Washington, D.C., honoring the 96 abductee casualties. Artist Leonardo Nierman, in a rare display of representative style, sculpted it in bronze. It depicts a man, woman and young girl, standing firm on an enormous globe. The woman holds a test tube aloft in defiance, while the man wraps protective arms around the woman and girl. The names of the deceased are engraved on the surface of the sphere, near the locations where they lived prior to their abduction. A plaque at the bottom reads, "This is our truth: We stand together, as one race."
Although information is sketchy, the decomposed body of one Alger Strughold, former proprietor of the now-defunct Strughold Mining Corporation, was found in an oil drum in New Jersey. It has been suggested that Strughold was involved in the global conspiracy to conceal the truth from the public about the planned alien invasion.
The American Centers for Disease Control currently maintain samples of both strains of the alien virus, as well as an inventory of the nanoserum. All are kept under the strictest security of any substance on the planet.