Summary: It's 2021 and for the last ten years no one has seen or heard from Fox Mulder... Until now.
Disclaimer: The X-Files, The Lone Gunmen, and Millennium are all the property of Chris Carter or 1013 or Morgan&Wong or FOX or someone other than me. All I own are some rubber bands and junk. This story was inspired, in parts, by Frank Miller's book, The Dark Knight Returns.
"Memory, like fire, is radiant and immutable while history serves only those who would douse the flame of memory in order to put out the dangerous fire of truth." -- Albert Hosteen
"Sometimes I think my memories were taken by the doctors, but not all of them. I remember faces. I think I had a brother..." -- Samantha Mulder's diary
11:30 p.m., October 1, 2021 Outside of Atlanta, Georgia, North American Continent
"...and public opinion polls are rating the standard of living across the world at all time highs. Here in downtown Atlanta, businesses report soaring profits and there is virtually no unemployment. In fact, the last ten years have seen this city become a model city in every aspect," the woman on the television said as images of the Atlanta reconstruction in 2011 and 2012 flashed across the screen.
Scott Ashby zipped up his backpack after stuffing the last cd inside. He picked up the remote control and started to turn the television off, but stopped, instead turning the volume up.
"...as badly as some parts of the rest of world did. Instead, the extraterrestrial virus had a very limited area of impact here. Most of the damage the city suffered, in human terms, was as a result of the rioting inspired by rumors of alien invasion by flying saucers and whatnot."
"Yeah, right," Scott whispered and turned the television off. He paused on his way to the shed behind the house only long enough to twist the front door's deadbolt into place. He watched his hand twisting the key and guessed it was true after all that old habits die hard.
The wind picked up as he ran from the house into the shadow of the wooden monstrosity behind it. It had been falling apart, he had been told more than a few times, since before he was born and keeping it up had been a royal pain in the ass. He needed it though. He needed it because he was a very private person anyway, but he also needed it because in his life there wasn't a question of whether someone was watching. There was simply the question of when they watched.
Scott had seen it coming, as had most Americans, but it still pissed him off when the fucking government Nazis passed the motor laws five years ago. It happened the exact same day that the Environmental Protection Agency became the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The television news shows and national morning updates, generously sponsored by said fucking government Nazis, were awash in safety experts praising the "bold" and "courageous" laws and were already attributing the saving of thousands of lives to the new laws. Scientists were quoted in e-zines and on web sites forecasting monumental decreases in toxins and emissions and thanking the government for saving the world from the evils of prewar transportation.
Scott entered the shed through the mandoor on the side. He left the door open, using only the light of the moon and stars to see by. If they weren't watching him, there was no sense in drawing their attention just yet. He set his backpack down and pulled the light green tarp off the car.
It had been over three years since he had driven it on his fifteenth birthday, but now it felt like he had driven it only yesterday.
With the backpack in the floorboard on the passenger's side, Scott started the ignition of his 1974 Chevelle. It roared into life. He revved the engine a few times, listening to the perfectly tuned motor, then reached over to the glove compartment. He opened it and pulled out a small black triangular object. He set it on the seat beside him and backed out of his driveway, stopping at the end to take one last look at his house because if things went the way he had them planned, he wouldn't ever be coming back here.
His headlights split the night as he travelled, his eyes checking the sides of the road moreso than the road itself. He knew he would see them soon because the damn things were practically inescapable. Soon he was vindicated as the first one zoomed into view on the left side of the road. Then they dotted either side of the road, light green metal columns, each one foot square, silent sentinels monitoring the night and keeping the peace. They were radar stations, designed to read a signal from the hard drive of any postwar vehicle.
He grabbed the triangular device from the passenger's seat.
"Oh, yeah," he said and pressed the silver lever forward. A red light began flashing beneath the surface of the device. He held the steering wheel steady with his left hand and flicked his right from side to side quickly, rhymthically. As the Chevelle passed each radar station, the light on the device flashed green until finally he had passed them all.
"Land of the free, motherfuckers!" he shouted and put the gas pedal on the floor, flying through the night with the speedometer's needle pegged at 120.
Five minutes later, he used the device to avoid another series of radar stations and then climbed the remaining hillside, gripping the steering wheel and tapping an erratic rhythm on the brakes until he was at the top and then he pulled the Chevelle onto the side of the road and got out. In the valley below him, the night was washed white by the lights of the city of Atlanta and to a lesser degree by the lights of the small military camps outside the city.
He looked at those lights for long seconds before he broke the silence.
"Gotta talk to a man about some money. Gotta talk to a man about some money." He said it over and over as he got back in the car and pulled back onto the road.
He was five minutes down the backside of the mountain when he sped through a sharp turn and headlights appeared in his rearview mirror.
He hit the accelerator again, moving quickly back into triple-digit speed, but the headlights closed. Within seconds, they were right behind him.
"Motherfu-" he heard two gunshots and a rear tire blew out. The front of the car spun and crashed into the rock wall on the far side of the road. The Chevelle exploded, a rush of orange fire billowed into a cloud and turned to black smoke and blew away, leaving the raging flames and the burned out body of the relic hot rod and as two black vans drove slowly past the wreckage, Scott's world turned to ashes and the night was silent again.
Midnight, October 13, 2021 near Rixeyville, Virginia
If anyone had been closeby, they would only have seen a man lying still on the hood of a car. They would not have been able to divine his thoughts. They would not have not known if the smile on his face, had they been able to discern that smile through the black night, was born of pleasant reminescences of something so common yet endearing as a family picnic or perhaps he had brought his sweetheart here many years ago and had gotten down one knee and asked her to marry him. Or maybe the location meant nothing and it was the stars he seemed to be staring at which were important. Stars which shared a memory of something or someone. Maybe it was something else that brought him here. Maybe this place reminded him of another place, a place visited in youth, but now too far away for him to ever see again. Maybe it was a song that brought him here. Maybe a rumor of something he was now awaiting rather than something he had unknowingly outrun. They would not have been able to know the path the man had taken, the years he had journeyed, to come to this spot and to look at these stars and to think whatever thoughts he provided a harbor for on this lonely night.
They would only have seen what the two thugs who approached him saw, a tall man in his late fifties, alone, looking up into the night sky. They approached him with the confidence of the well-versed despite the fact that they were on officially sanctioned government property. They had done this before.
"Hey old guy, on your feet!" the first one screamed at the man as they broke from the treeline. The man was obviously startled, nearly jumping as he turned to face these intruders.
Two white males, early teens, both under six feet tall.
The one doing the talking, probably the leader, carried a Louisville Slugger like an amateur and the other one had a small caliber handgun.
"I said for you to move! Or do you want some of this, old man?" the batter asked and slapped the bat against the ground.
The man said something as he got on his feet, but neither of the thugs understood him. The batter looked at the gunner and back at the man.
"What the fuck did you say?"
"I said that it's my birthday. I guess this is my party," the man said, shrugging, and smirked at the thug with the bat.
The gunner stepped forward, but the one with the bat stopped him. "No, baby. Old man think he be tough. Old man say it's his birthday. Figure I gots a present for this old man who think he so tough."
As the gunner stepped back, lowering his weapon, the man rolled his shoulders back, brought his hands up with the backs of them facing the thug with the bat, and he started moving his fingers forward and back.
"Bring it on," he said and smiled, his eyes narrowing and his lips drawing into a tight sneer.
The batter's eyes grew comically wide. He tightened his grip on the bat. "I don't believe this. Let's do it," he said and raised the bat as he started running toward the old man. The old man was surprised at the boy's speed, but he was ready. He knew he was faster than either of the thugs could be expecting, so he waited until the boy closed into swinging radius, and then he lunged. He closed the distance between him and his assailant in a split-second, his fist crashing into the boy's face with the full weight of his body behind it. The way the boy immediately slumped to the ground, dropped the bat and threw his hands up to cover his bleeding nose, the man realized that this was perhaps the first real blow the punk had ever taken.
He turned toward the gunner.
"You gonna shoot me? You gonna fucking shoot me? Come on then!" He was screaming and waving his hands as he moved toward the boy with the gun, but his heartbeat was steady. His breathing was measured and controlled.
He felt good.
The fear that was written across the boy's face may as well have been plastered there in red neon lights. The man took mental note of the boy's shaking hands, hands which twitched to the boy's right.
It's time this kid learned what a real man is, a voice whispered behind the man's eyes. It was a dark voice, a voice he had only come to know in the last ten years of his life.
Get that gun out of his hands and then open that nose up, show him some of his own blood. The kid's a pussy like his buddy and the sight of his blood... He needs to see it.
I need to see it.
The boy's scared, and he should be. He doesn't know if he can hit me. That's what he's waiting for, evidence that I'm human and can be brought down with a single bullet. He's wondering what he'll do if he hits me once and I don't stop coming for him.
It's not a stupid thing to be thinking. Especially not tonight.
I wait until just before I would pull the trigger and then I move, planting the knuckles of my left hand into the gunner's right tricep. My right hand, balled into a fist, goes to his nose and he falls, dropping the gun. Not quite so quickly. I want to make sure you don't forget this night.
The man reached down and pulled the boy up by his collar.
"What... what are you going to do to me, man?" the boy asked as the man dragged him over to the batter, who was still crying with his hands over his face.
"I'm gonna make you the lead role in a story your friend here is sure to tell over and over," the man said, and crashed his forehead into the boy's face. The boy fell back against the car. The man then pulled him back up with his left hand and began slapping the boy's face wildly, savagely, until minutes later the boy fell unconscious.
Letting the boy fall to the ground, the man turned to settle matters with the batter, but the batter had passed out as well. He retrieved the .9mm, lit a cigarette, and waited. It took all of three more minutes before he saw the red and blue lights of a police car approaching. It came to a dramatic stop and two officers jumped out, guns pointed at the man.
"Hands where we can see 'em!" It was the driver barking the orders.
The man raised his hands over his head and grinned.
The driver stepped away from the police car and walked slowly toward the man. When he was nearly half the distance to him, fifteen feet or so, he turned on his flashlight and aimed it at the man's face.
"Wanna tell me what's going on here, sir?"
"They attacked me," the man said and pointed to the gun on the trunk of his car. "Run it. You'll see."
The second officer had walked to where the boys had fallen and examined them.
"They're alive. They need an ambulance, but they're not going to die," he reported to his partner.
The first officer glanced at the boy by the car and grimaced. He looked back at the man in the beam of his flashlight. "And you did that?" he asked, nodding toward the boy.
The man opened his mouth as though he was prepared to offer a passionate defense of his actions, but stopped, answering only, "yeah".
The policeman looked at his partner again, an unspoken message passing between them. This one was hiding something.
"Go ahead and call 'em out here," he said and turned back to the man. "What, are you some kind of badass or something?"
"No," the man said, laughing. "They were idiots. You could have taken them down," he said and pointed toward the policeman's large waistline.
"Wait a minute." The policeman turned to his partner. "Harris, come over here."
The other one, Harris, finished his call for the ambulance, muttered something under his breath and came to stand beside his partner.
"You recognize this man?" his partner asked.
Harris looked at the man's face. Nothing familiar registered for him, so he too raised his flashlight at the man's face, as though the additional light would help clarify the mystery.
"What am I looking for?" he asked.
"Fox Mulder, ain't you?" the first cop asked the man. "I saw a documentary about you! You are Fox Mulder!"
"No, that is not my name," the man answered. "My name is-"
"Oh bullshit! You are Fox Mulder!" The policeman swatted his partner's shoulder. "Look at this. Fox fuckin' Mulder as I live and breathe."
"I told you that isn't my name," the man insisted.
Just then, the ambulance, presumably from the park's medical facility, arrived. The medics loaded the boys into the back of the ambulance while Harris filled them in on how the boys arrived in their present conditions. Harris' partner was silent as he stood watching, the expression on his face changing as the light from the ambulance's interior washed over the faces of the boys on the stretchers.
After a brief and private consultation, it was apparently decided that Harris would ride with the ambulance, leaving his partner to do the paperwork, which, if Harris' partner's theory was right, meant reporting that a dead war hero, an old dead war hero, had kicked the hell out of two young healthy punks who happened to be carrying a baseball bat and a handgun.
"So, look pops," the policeman said as he walked back to the old man, his tone of voice decidedly less enthusiastic than it had been moments before. "Here's what my report's going to say: an old man was accosted by some strung out dope fiends from an outlaw encampment. The old man ran and hid in the woods from the bumbling junkies who wound up turning on each other until we arrived. End of story. That ok with you?" He started walking back to his car, not waiting or interested in the man's answer.
"And what if I am Fox Mulder?" the man asked.
The policeman opened the driver's side door of his car and looked back at the man. "Fox Mulder died in the war, right? Go home, grampa. It's late," he said and got into the driver's seat of the car and drove solo back to the station.
The man got back into his car and dialed the airport on his cell phone. He booked a flight to Massachusetts and tossed the cell phone into the passenger's seat. He had started to look forward, to start the car, to drive away, but something stopped him. A glint of light, a reflection of the moonlight in the seat beside him. He looked back at where he had just tossed the cell phone, and there beside it was a small gold cross on a gold chain. He picked up the necklace, letting the cross dangle freely, its golden glow the reflection of the moonlight fighting the darkness of the car. The reflection of the moonlight... and the starlight.
He set the necklace back on the seat and started his drive back down the mountain. The people on the radio were debating the virtues of centralized government as the man drove through the darkness down the mountainside. He lit another cigarette and smiled a distant smile as he passed the large sign which read NOW LEAVING SKYLAND MOUNTAIN. --
2:05 a.m., October 31 Chilmark, Massachussets
Mulder looked around the room, the realization of where he was and what he was doing slowly setting in like he was coming to from a deep sleep brought on by a raging drunk. He was in his house, in his basement... He was working and he hadn't been sleeping and he hadn't been drinking. He remembered coming downstairs, like he did every night. He had meant to go into the other room. He had meant to work out in there like he did every night, but instead he had stopped in here and he had come to his computer and he had been working.
He clenched his right hand into a fist and hit the desk, then stood up and walked away from the computer, but it was too late. The voice he had fought every day for the last ten years was back and it was telling him that it was all his fault.
He had been too late. He had been too late in realizing the errors he had made. He had been too late in coming to realize the alliances he should have made and to learn the lessons that had been staring him in the face since he had first discovered the X-Files. He had been too late to stop them and he had been too late to save Scully.
He opened his eyes and looked for the fish swimming around in their little world like no harm greater than themselves could ever come their way. They were there in their aquarium, just like he had known they would be. They comforted him. He watched them swim past the Buddha and through the fake leaves of the fake plants lining their fake ocean floor. He watched them swim the length of the tank until they were looking at the computer. His eyes darted to the monitor where there were digital photographs of charred bodies filling the screen.
He closed his eyes again, knowing that when he opened them, the bodies would still be charred and he would still be looking at them.
He had to turn the damn thing off and turn it off now.
Mulder opened his eyes and walked back to his desk. His hand moved toward the computer's power button, but detoured at the last minute and passed his overflowing ashtray, shaking, as it reached for his cigarettes. He fumbled with the pack until managing to pry one out then he dropped the pack on the floor. He lit the Morley with a match and took two quick deep drags on the cigarette. The smoke filled his lungs and he felt slightly more at ease. He was glad he had started smoking again after he had "died". It relaxed him. It made him feel normal.
He reached out toward the computer again and this time he did turn it off. The monitor went black and he looked around the room. His eyes roamed over his filing cabinets and his stacks of cardboard boxes, each filled with files and documents and taped interviews from cases he had worked on way back when. Way back when he was a younger man. Then his eyes stopped on the glass display cabinet.
The trophy case.
He walked over to it, took a drag on the cigarette, and blew the smoke up into the still air of his basement.
His trophies were small, simple souveniers: John Lee Roche's cloth hearts, Reggie Perdue's unfinished novel, a wedding ring he used to wear on undercover assignments, a shot glass Arthur Dales had given him when he and Scully visited him in Florida, a baseball from Home, Pennsylvania...
And Scully's cross.
He put his forehead against the glass and tried to remember the last time he had seen her wear it before...
It was beautiful with the light shining on it like this, he thought, distracting himself.
Fifteen miles outside Austin, Texas
The flat dry night was deathly silent except for the sound of the prewar Camaro's large motor and the squealing of its tires as they dug into the asphalt and kept the car from overturning or careening into the dirt as it came through the last turn before the hundred-mile straightaway into Austin.
Inside the car, three teenagers, Phil Dherliss, Buck Creed, and Amy Fitzgerald were also deathly silent, each with their eyes locked on the dark night in front of and surrounding them. Phil was driving and Buck was in the passenger's seat. Amy was in the backseat, leaning over with her head and shoulders between the two boys, one of several bags full of compact discs in the floorboard between her legs. They were on their way to meet a friend of a friend of Phil's he knew from the internet and they had been driving for hours.
Yesterday morning, Buck had hacked into what he thought was a local television station's dedicated news server, but it turned out to be a cached site (with security from the prewar Microsoft days, easily hacked by his automated bots) housing a huge electronic directory of databases. Most were anonymous, or not obviously relating to anything, but then there were those clearly belonging to the old guard - the Atomic Energy Commission, the Department Of Energy, the State Department, the C.I.A., the Treasury Department, the F.B.I., the Millennium Group, branches of the former U.S. military, and the Social Security Administration. In each of these, there were links to files, records of activities before and during the invasion. There were records of alien abductions and government operations against American citizens, secret campaigns using biochemicals or stealth weapons, records of what could only be called torture in the name of research, and it went on and on.
When he found the F.B.I. records of their operations during the invasion, he began to rip the site, downloading the code so he could reconstruct it on a standalone machine. For the next four hours, he recoded the site on his standalone, copied it and then logged back on. It took all of two minutes to replace the site, allowing him to bypass all further prewar security measures he might encounter. He began reading everything he could get his hands on, downloading file after file. Phil finally arrived in response to an e-mail Buck had sent him and a half-hour later, Amy arrived. Buck logged off and told the others about everything he had found, becoming especially excited when he told them he had found evidence of the lies about the invasion. "We're gonna fuck 'em," he told them, "because we got that and so much more. We're gonna have enough to really fuck those bastards. Phil, see about hooking us a date in Austin."
After that, Amy and Phil took turns logging on and logging off using stolen accounts, switching out every fifteen minutes to avoid being tagged by the government's goons and their Nazi software. The conventional wisdom held that it took the pigs at least twenty minutes to track stolen accounts or hacking or snooping or whatever, but both Phil and Buck claimed the pigs could do it in seventeen minutes or less. Then two minutes to notify a black ops unit, ten to twenty minutes response time and then everyone's dead meat. Of course, everyone Amy knew knew someone who knew someone this very thing had happened to and, of course, Amy didn't know anyone it had happened to. But the fact was that she had known Phil and Buck her whole life and she wanted to believe them (especially Buck). And she didn't want to die for fucking around on the net, so she logged off faithfully every fifteen minutes, giving Phil his turn at the controls.
Buck slept on his cot in the corner, resting up for the drive and while Phil did his stuff, Amy would watch Buck and wonder what he was dreaming about. She'd wonder about their future and if there would ever be time for just the two of them. She wondered what glorious surprises tomorrow held and while Phil worked, Amy dozed off.
The sound of Buck's voice woke her up and she watched while he and Phil talked. Phil had apparently been working while Amy slept, which was cool since he probably had enough stolen accounts in his book to work undetected for a week straight. Buck stood behind him, looking over his shoulder at the material he was downloading while Phil explained that he hadn't set anything up yet. It was then that Amy stood up and said she was ready to work again when they needed her to. Phil sent an e-mail and logged off, Amy logged on and Buck went back to sleep for another couple of hours.
Soon, Phil was running his mouth again and Amy read and downloaded and pretended to listen while he went on and on about how he knew a guy, a frequent poster from an anarchy message board on the web, who had connections to a resistance group in D.C.'s underground and also claimed to know "h@X0r", a legendary internet terrorist. His voice became white noise while Amy scanned F.B.I. records of the invasion.
"-this shit into the right hands. Mark my words," Phil said and walked over to the computer, ready for his turn. He logged on after she finished and checked his e-mail. His contact had agreed to collect their package and float it all upstream to h@X0r.
According to Phil, the guy was a hacking genius from back in the day. He said that the rumors had him being one of the key players when it had all gone down and Phil believed those rumors.
When Buck woke up again, Phil told him he had set up the deal and then the three of them started packing and planning. After this, they were headed to Washington state, where the resistance was rumored to be gaining strength.
Near the end of the straightaway, trees began to appear. Interspersed among the trees were radar stations.
"Here it comes," Buck announced, insisting that everyone "be cool". He picked up the blocker in his right hand and steadied it, aiming across the street for the first radar station coming up on his left. Three seconds later, he began zigzagging his hand from left to right. There were a lot of them planted in the trees, more than Buck had ever seen in one place before. As they passed by them, Buck handling the driving and blocking duties, Phil reached over the seat and grabbed for one of the bags. Amy pushed his arm away, and Phil's hand bumped Buck's shoulder.
"Fuck, man!" He threw the blocker at Phil. "You made me fuck up, you fag!"
Phil watched the last radar station go by on his right before replying, "Fuck it, man. That was the last one anyhow. They ain't interested in one blip on the screen."
Buck didn't say anything else and neither did Amy. All three were quiet as they approached Austin's city limits.
Suddenly, the car was bathed in a bright white light shining from above.
"What the fuck?" Amy shouted, twisting her body so that she could look up out of the rear window. It was a helicopter, she saw and as she twisted back around to inform the others, she saw headlights behind them.
"They got us! They got a bear in the air and rollers behind us," she said as she grabbed the bags out of the floorboard and put them in her lap. She squeezed them close to her, watching Buck and trying to picture them making it safely into the city.
And then what?
The thought exploded in her head as she involuntarily looked back at what she could tell now were two large black trucks.
"Get off the road, Buck! Get off the road now!" She screamed the warning, but it was too late. Another two black trucks blocked the road in front of them. Buck slammed on the brakes as soon as they entered the beams of his headlights and the Camaro skidded to a stop, perpendicular to the road.
No one moved and no one spoke - not in Buck's car and not outside Buck's car. Amy squeezed the bags tighter, as tightly as she could, and then the silence was broken as shadowy figures began to pour from the backs of the trucks. As they came closer, Amy could see they wore military uniforms, soldiers' uniforms, and they surrounded the Camaro and levelled their rifles at the car. The one closest to the driver's door ordered them out of the car. Buck held his hands up, moving slowly, and with his right hand he turned the car's ignition off.
Phil watched, also with his hands in the air, wondering if Buck had done that out of habit or if he had something planned.
Amy could barely breathe. She thought she might be going into shock. She kept trying to remember if they had logged off before they left and she kept being certain that she had logged off.
"Every time," she whispered, wide-eyed, eyes going back and forth between the boys who were getting slowly out of the car. "Every time. Every time. Every time..."
They had come so close. They would have made it if they had had another two minutes, one fucking minute and they could have made it into the trees, maybe caught a break and found a dirt road back up to the mountain and then...
They couldn't have gone back to their homes, but they didn't have to. They could have driven on and driven on and... and...
It made her angry that for them, the end would be here, on the side of the road outside of Austin. She then followed Phil out of the car, knowing that she was only doing the soldiers' work for them, but doing it anyway.
When all three were side by side, the apparent leader of the soldiers told them to move facedown on the ground.
Amy looked at Phil and then at Buck. Phil was staring straight ahead, but she sensed in his posture that he was about to move, to do what they wanted. Buck, though... She looked at him and she knew he was beyond being scared now. He was getting pissed off too.
"No, fuck you!", he screamed as he jumped onto the one giving orders. Buck and the soldier fell to the ground and Phil went into motion. He lowered his torso as he lunged at the nearest three soldiers to him, engaging one and challenging him for control of his rifle. He drove two extended fingers into the man's throat and then the rifle was his. He thrust the end of it into the gasping soldier's stomach and told the others closeby that he would kill the man if they didn't "cut the shit, right now."
Buck then pulled his opponent's rifle away from him and stood wild-eyed, pointing it at random soldiers.
Phil ordered his victim to his feet and with the rifle in his back, they backed toward the car and the other armed soldiers stood at bay, rifles pointed and fingers ready for the slightest fuckup.
Amy thought she was going to have a heart attack as she felt urine spread through the crotch of her blue jeans. During the melee, she had tried to run, but she was frozen. She knew that at any second, there would be a rifle blast and a smiling soldier would then turn and do it to her. When that didn't happen and she saw Phil rise with the rifle in his hand...
She thought she was going to have a heart attack.
Then she moved. She opened the car door and grabbed two of the bags of compact discs and was reaching for a third when she heard Phil screaming, "Go! Amy, get out! Go!"
And she ran. She ran through the line of soldiers, feeling their deadly gazes as she broke their barrier. As she got close to the treeline, she heard the shots, three of them. She stopped, turned around, and for a split-second thought she should wait, that those shots were fired by Buck and Phil and they would be running this way soon, rifles in hand, but when she turned, her foot found a rock she hadn't expected and she fell backward on her ass, dropping the bags.
Just as she fell, she also heard a rifle fire and the sound of the bullet splitting the air was incredibly close to her face. She screamed, knowing that the next one would find her if she didn't move and move now. She grabbed for the bags and she ran, waiting for the next bullet to hit her, but much to her surprise, she made it into the trees and she kept on running.
He picked the crumpled pack of Morleys up off the floor and lit another one. Then he poured another shot. "Here's to me, and you sonsofbitches can kiss my ass because I was right," he toasted and swallowed the vodka.
The invasion had come. Despite the demise of the collaborating syndicate and despite the opposing alien rebels, the invasion had come and it was the shitstorm of all time. The alien colonists began their overthrow of Earth in 2011. There were viral outbreaks across Canada and Asia. It hadn't come in the form of bee swarms. It was never determined how the black oil was transmitted, but it was and in response, whole villages and cities were destroyed, families and neighbors were killed side by side, their bodies placed in piles and burned, as was the policy in the event this ever happened. It spread to and throughout Europe and the United States and then Central and South America. As Canada fell to the virus, the United States took action. A state of emergency was declared on July 4th, 2011 and martial law was instituted. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was empowered to take whatever measures necessary to control and manage the outbreak. The National Security Council issued official statements of support to the growing idea that the military should be at the ready to face and stand against attacks and threats to American stability from both within and without. The Centers for Disease Control admitted early on that fighting this virus successfully was beyond their current capabilities. They needed access to highly classified research done exclusively overseas, specifically in Russia and Tunisia. By the time the President gave consideration to their position, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had persuaded most of the President's advisors to join them in urging him to authorize the military to respond to the threat by acting under the blanket authority of the United Nations, which was now managing the crisis in a growing number of nations on other continents.
In those parts of America seemingly unaffected by the virus, strangers and friends began to gather spontaneously, usually at night. They arrived in droves, not knowing why they were there only to be stolen from these places, these alien lighthouses.
The networks and cable news channels and news web sites all began carrying stories of the disappearances, but never were the mass abductions, the unexplained disappearances of the hundreds of people officially missing, attributed to aliens. Not in the "legitimate" press.
The stories, the ones linking the disappearances to extraterrestrials, did get out though. They surfaced like the truth does as it crawls upward through the sands of deception so that men may know it and all those people the world had thought were howling at the moon were suddenly given something of a credible voice.
Seemingly coincident to the rise in popularity of the "alien abduction" explanations, news stories began to run which claimed that the disappearances were not disappearances at all, but murders. Bodies had been found, they said. The conspiracy theorists called them "the bodies of the returned". No causes of death were immediately given, but the press readily pushed the idea of multiple mass murderers or mass murderer cults. Almost overnight, that story changed to one in which these healthy men and women were dying of exposure or starvation and that perhaps these people, the missing and dead, were members of cults themselves.
The abductions took place largely in the western United States - Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah primarily - and a large percentage of those victims were Navajo. The government responded by sending military squadrons a shadow government had secretly trained to fight the extraterrestrial threat, assassins whose mission it was to locate, identify, and execute shapeshifters or any new life forms gestated from human bodies or any humans under the control of the black oil. They knew to pierce the base of the neck and they knew to not breathe the air in the vicinity of a terminated target. They knew the blood was toxic and the kill squads had been armed with everything they needed to do their jobs.
The government's response, the deployment of the kill squads, prompted a backlash which gave fuel to the sweeping resistance to such defensive measures growing in India, China, remote parts of Africa, and Egypt. It was in Asia and the middle East where the movements were strongest and increasingly it was Egypt who hosted the strongest factions of the rebellion. They came from many different walks of life, different cultures and different faiths to a country whose religious faith was manifested in the landscape, both natural and manmade, and permeated the very air they breathed. Many of those who made the journey were followers of the Judeo-Christian faiths, bringing their own fundamentalists, middle of the road, and liberal sects. They lived and fought and resisted side by side, along with the zealots and lunatics and the neo-Christian doomsday cults who came claiming the Rapture had come and that the abductions had been prophecy fulfilled. The abductions were the acts of angels taking the faithful to Heaven, they said. They said the aliens had been sent by God to prepare the way for the return of Jesus Christ as prophecied by John. They, the faithful, had come to Egypt to keep the faith and to await the return of the Messiah as they had been instructed to by God.
There were others who came following similar paths of conviction. They didn't await the arrival of a Messiah. These were the followers of pagan arts, astrologists, believers in the ways of nature and the animal spirit, all too believing in, if not an end, a change.
And others were anarchists and outlaws fleeing from whatever frustrations and punishments life in their homelands held for them. A pact arranged by a Russian diplomatic delegation made sure that large numbers of criminals - murderers, rapists - flooded into Egypt from Iraq.
Within weeks, as America was inundated by a growing number of reports of the kill squads destroying homes and small communities, the infected alongside the uninfected, Americans began to leave their country in droves. They followed rumors they had heard in church or from their family or from a neighbor or had read on the internet. They came in groups and they came alone and if many were to be believed, they came following divine instruction. They left the United States and they gathered in Giza and Aswan City and the great melting pot was no longer America. It was Egpyt.
To the east of Egypt, a proclamation was issued by the Israeli Parliament, approving extreme terminal force to finally put an end to the war between Israel and the Palestinians fighting for a homeland. Their final solution prompted Palestinian refugees to flee to Egypt and all but guaranteed a final showdown between Israel and Libya.
And while Nevada and Utah were being cleansed and Palestinians were fleeing Israel, Krycek reappeared (confirming several of Mulder's suspicions about the former corpse's role in the project) with an offer. He explained to Mulder exactly what was happening, how the virus was being transmitted, and offered him a plan he called "the only chance we've got." After hearing what Krycek had to say, Mulder knew that he was right and an alliance was formed.
Using Mulder's credentials, meetings were arranged with top level government officials and in those meetings, in each one, things went exactly the same way: Mulder introduced Krycek as they entered, Krycek shook the hand of the person they were seeing while Mulder pulled his gun and pointed it at that person's head. He made sure they knew that if they screamed or resisted he would kill them and then Mulder stood guard while Krycek infected the person with nanobots. Before ending each meeting, Krycek used his Palm Pilot to illustrate the full depth of the postion he and Mulder were leaving that person in. The two of them managed to infect all their targets over the course of four days and used their newfound power to assure that a message was sent, a message forcing the President to suspend the kill squads and to ally with and import scientists from Russia.
While Krycek's plan was put into effect, Russia gladly entered into discussions with the American government and issued a promise that this show of faith and friendship would not go unrewarded. The power of the Russian bear to stand behind that promise grew every day, in the face of problems of their own. The country was falling into internal unrest caused by a perpetually failing economy. On the borders, the fighting was approaching nuclear and in the days and weeks prior to the viral outbreak, the whole country had all but fallen into anarchy. Almost coincident to the outbreak, an angry Russian diplomat named Sergie Stepanovich stepped into the international spotlight by staging a coup, killing all of the Russian cabinet, and taking over the country. He demanded an audience with the American President. He came alone, promising to have an offer which would be hugely beneficial to both parties and to the world and at that historic meeting, a deal was made. Russian scientists would be brought over to confer with American scientists. Stepanovich promised that they had what America needed and together they could end the outbreak and in exchange, he would receive full political support from America in his efforts to end Russia's border wars.
With America behind him, Stepanovich flew to Latvia and led the first in a series of attacks directed solely on high-ranking government officials. After leaving Latvia, he proclaimed would unify the Russian people.
In America, the President took the next step in Krycek's plan. He issued an Executive Order placing all jurisdiction over federal efforts to combat the virus with the Federal Bureau Of Investigation, specifically with a task force to be appointed and supervised by Walter Skinner and making Skinner answerable only to the President. The Order mandated whatever resources the Bureau needed be made available and guaranteed military assistance to the effort. The Centers For Disease Control were placed under Bureau supervision and Scully was appointed to lead the research teams.
It was during this time when Mulder and Scully had parted company. They had argued about the plan to save the world and the tactics Mulder had used. They had argued about loyalty and in the end, their difference of opinion was too great and she resigned from the F.B.I.
The plan to release the bees, spreading the vaccine, went into effect starting in those parts of America most heavily stricken by the virus. Swarms descended on small towns in the midwest and then in the south. After the intial release of the swarms, reports of the virus began to drop. The vaccine was working. Thousands died from the bee swarms, but in the end millions more were saved.
The third and final step of Krycek's plan was taken and above the planet missles were launched from three space stations at the crafts of the alien invaders, damaging each of their huge ships, but not destroying them. When the aliens began releasing smaller crafts and sending them toward Earth, first-strike laser defense system satellites destroyed most of them and the few that did penetrate our defense afterward either crashed or were shot down.
By the time what was now being called "a viral epidemic" was under control, the world had changed. The U.S. was now awaiting incorporation into what was rapidly becoming the one world government headed by a suddenly strong and vibrant Russian center, as per the terms of a U.N. Resolution. One by one, the world was joining hands, and it had begun with the revolution in Russia.
Within days of his final visit to a bordering country, he marched into Leningrad and Sergei Stepanovich wrapped his fist firmly around his claim to power by announcing to the world that the treaties establishing the peace in Russia were finalized.
When the U.S. ambassador and the Russian ambassador to the United Nations sat side by side and signed their allegiance to the embryonic and ambiguous new alliance placing the world's countries under one central authority, immediately programs were initiated to make both countries compliant.
Predictably, there was resistance to this new alliance in parts of Europe and the middle east and in America. Riots spread across the U.S., escalating to what basically amounted to a civil war, but it was over in days. The government divided the country into offically sanctioned cities and then the military closed those cities off from everything else. People on the inside were given a new census and people on the outside were told they were to come into the cities or be considered traitors.
Under Russian guidance, peace quickly came to most of Europe and Asia, but not to the middle East. Israel and Libya rattled their swords nearly every hour and Egypt, now home to a massive population of doomsday cults, ufo cults, religious sects, Coptic Christians and Sunni Muslims living in makeshift encampments around the sphinx and nearyby complex of pyramids in Giza and near the Aswan Dam in Aswan City, refused to join the new international alliance.
Their visitors posed a unique problem for the Egyptian government. If not for them, the country would already have been pledged to the alliance. The protection that would afford them, given the problems with Libya and Israel, would have decided it for the government and for many natives, but the believers had taken root in sites of immense historical value and any efforts to remove them would endanger these cities and the treasures they held. Egyptian diplomats finalized their intentions in a ceremony held at the U.N., announcing that Egypt would not be a part of the new alliance, and were arrested.
Sergei Stepanovich demanded a personal audience with Egypt's President, but he was denied. The world was assured that Egypt was trying to remove the rebels, and if successful then Egypt would concede to the rest of the world's wishes, but it had to be done carefully and it was the Egyptian people's responsibility to solve this problem on their own. The truth was that the situation was too complex for the government to solve and their failures in repeated engagements against the rebels made this clear to them and to Stepanovich. Successes were minimal, the high point coming when three rebels were captured in three separate raids. The rebels were executed, the government claimed great success, and still the resistance held. Stepanovich issued statements praising the resistance and labelling the Egyptian people as incompetent. In response, the Egyptian military was authorized to destroy the rebels in Giza and Aswan City, but Palestian, Libyan, and Iraqi squads led the rebels against them and won. It dealt Egypt a truly unpredictable humilation.
While Egypt stumbled, tensions were also mounting to either side between Libya and Israel. The United Nations was officially favoring Libya and the view that Israel acted unfairly against the Palestinians. Israel was declared an outlaw nation and Egypt was trying to conduct a bloodless war with itself and its tourist contingent and the rest of the world waited for the true dawn and the peace promised by the new alliance. When Egypt continued to fail to rid itself of rebels, the United Nations prepared to take control of the situation. The U.S. was the last nation to support the move, but the President acknowledged his agreement that this affair had to be resolved if the rest of the world were to ever move forward and so the vote was cast.
Within minutes after the U.S. voted to intercede, Egypt made it known they would stand against these measures at all costs.
The attack came at night. A night which found the faithful gathered together, true believers all, regardless of denomination. They gathered by the lights of torches and communal fires under the gaze of the sphinx and behind it in and among the pyramids. They explored and mapped the insides of the great structures. They held Bible classes and sang hymns while astrologers predicted various futures and loners contemplated their life's journey or their next meal and families slept under ragged blankets in tents or directly underneath the stars and along the Nile mothers were washing clothes or taking much needed baths they hadn't had time for until the dead of night and at other points along the great river, parties were held by people wishing for a more solid way to lighten the burden of their nightmares than what discussions of God or Cydonia may offer and all around soldiers marched with the pride of knowing they were fighting on the side of righteousness, their makeshift army protecting these disciples of God, these familes and these women and these children who had come to Giza because there was nowhere else to go and those who didn't were happy simply not to be in prison.
Aswan City's night held a much quieter version of a similar picture while over their heads and over the earth, two GPS satellites responded to commands sent from Cape Kennedy. They rotated to align with the flights of planes whose mission it was to deliver their cargoes of two 20 kT nuclear devices designed for implosion like the one dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. They were delivered in the dead of night by four F-117s out of Iraq. They flew in formation, proud and unafraid through the silent sky. As they entered into Egyptian air space, they ceased radio communications. Two members broke off five seconds into Egypt, having a different date to keep from the other two who, when flying at 7,000 feet directly over the rebel encampment at the base of the great pyramid, delivered their payload. As it fell after its release, the eyes of the sphinx kept their focus, never breaking their stare at whatever future or past the great head was witness to and soon it was all destroyed, each city gone in a flaming mile-high mushroom cloud.
The world held its breath, humbled and frightened to see these twin suns abruptly risen in the night sky. We had met our greatest challenge, defeated our greatest enemy and though we had prevented Armageddon, still the apocalypse had come. It had come with the air-burst over Giza and with the surface-burst in Aswan City, each explosion causing a high-pressure pulse and blast waves were sent across Mother Earth, eminating from her womb and poisoning her lifewater. The Nile River and Lake Nasser had their hearts ripped from them and they were turned into deathly columns of scorching gas.
On the land, the effects of each explosion were immediate. One wave destroyed buildings and the retraction wave caused a flood of wind-lifted debris to fly through the skies where it was all sucked into the mushroom cloud. An incredible wave of heat rolled over the beach, the sand was turned to trinitite, the shores now marvels of black and green glass which stretched on for miles in either direction. Every human being within three kilometers of either Ground Zero died almost instanteously from the blast pressure and the heat. Although this was the highest concentration of deaths, there were continuous reports of deaths from injuries sustained, mostly from flying debris, from distances up to twelve kilometers.
This was the song of the dual attacks, the symphonies of destruction conducted by twin nuclear demons, each designed to achieve an optimal blast radius and with their triumphant debuts, they opened for a moment the gates of Hell and while the earth cooked, a pale horse went forth.
Those nearest Ground Zero who didn't die immediately lived the final moments of their life in sheer agony. They were burned alive by the flash, their bodies charred dark brown or black or were turned to ash. Others had their limps ripped off or their bodies devastated by flying debris.
The first wave of victims all died within minutes.
Then came the radiation. Those affected by the fall-out took ill within two or three days, starting with coughing up bloody chunks of their lungs and moving on to bloody diarrhea. All told, over 200,000 people were dead within a week. The bodies were destroyed in mass cremations.
People who had been at a greater distance from Ground Zero weren't affected for up to a month after the blasts. Their slower declines were marked by loss of appetite and bleeding gums and then an uncontrollable fever which eventually took them as well.
The devastation to the environment was beyond comprehension. A half-hour after the explosions, the black rains came and the world would never be the same again.
The images which began the symphony would be the ones most vividly remembered. The sphinx, its tranquil face keeping watch over Egypt for so long, and the great pyramid surounded by its lesser brothers and the wall of Aswan Dam, replaced with mushroom clouds. The very blocks of these structures were taken by the wind or melted by the blaze and the sphinx was gone and the pyramids were gone and the Aswan Dam crumbled and the water it had held back flooded the valley beneath it and poisoned the air above it.
These were the images which stayed, the images of these things taken for granted as permanent parts of our world yesterday and now these things were gone forever. The explosions were simulcast from servers on satellites to web sites and the world watched.
This was the end of the free press as well. It led to the new government officially commandeering servers and arresting system administators around the world. Laws were passed allowing only government-licensed programmers to design software and government-licensed sysadmins to supervise servers. The government began to monitor every account for suspicious behavior which could lead to any disruption of the fragile stability the world now enjoyed. These laws, in turn, led to the explosive growth of a massive worldwide computer piracy underground. Sport, and even social status in the unsanctioned encampments outside cities were derived from one's ability to steal accounts. The more "blurbs" in your "book", the more impressive and therefore important you were.
Temporary web sites, some lasting only twenty minutes or less became the standard homes for message boards and mailing lists accessed with blurbs. The net, the one not sponsored by the government, became a swampland of conspiracy theories, giving rise to legends, rumors, myths, lies, and millions of shades of the truth.
The last hurdle the world faced in the race for peace had been the looming war between Israel and Libya, but after the attack on Egypt and a meeting between Stepanovich and the outlaw Israeli Parliament, a treaty was signed. The terms of that treaty were never made public. The agreement was sealed and in a press conference, Steponavich said that Russia stood in Israel's defense against Libya and the rest of the world would follow Russia's leadership in this matter. He said that if the world wanted true peace, they had no choice. He ended by telling the cameras that Libya's hostility toward Israel would cease immediately and it did. For the first time in history, there was finally peace in the world.
The United Nations, in preparation for the dissolution of all independent governments, began a campaign to rebuild all of the world's historical sites damaged in the invasion and the invasion's aftermath. As part of Israel's peace agreement, the U.N. also began to rebuild Israel.
Again the world was witness to meetings by its leaders. This time, they gathered to plan for the future.
"You may ask, 'What if some madman has lied to us and his deceit holds destruction for us?' and I tell you that you are wise for asking that question," Sergei Stepanovich began his televised address to the world. "This is the reason I have outlined to my staff a series of initiatives I believe will secure our future. The first of these will be to restore a sense of dignity among those traditionally less valued in our world. It is in the defense of these people we must act first, to right old wrongs and to heal wounds which have been left to fester for far too long. Hopefully, these initiatives and their fruits will foster a sense of brotherhood and community the world has been without for far too long.
"Secondly, we must remove the fear we all are left with in the wake of the events of the last year. We must take action. The time is now."
The second steps he had alluded to were the first taken and that began with enforcing a nuclear testing ban in all international waters. The worldwide network of infrasound microphones was replaced with new technology which had the potential to record and identify sounds beneath the ocean's surface with over ten thousand times the accuracy of what had come before. This was done, it was said, pre-emptively defeating the potential threat of rogue nations exercising any nuclear capability because the good guys would be watching their every move.
The world became a place of rebirth, rebuilding, settling old scores and making as big an umbrella as possible above and as big a safety net as possible below.
In the U.S., the government began the Slavery Reparations Program for descendants of slaves in the name of justice for crimes perpetrated against their ancestors by the former United States government and the Native American People's Reparations Program for crimes perpetrated against their ancestors by the former United States government. The movements met with enthusiastic and sweeping support. Surprisingly, according to the news reports, the second program moreso than the first, it empowering the new government to consolidate lands for Native American tribes.
The process of repatriating the Native Americans cost the life of nearly every male Navajo living in New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona who was old enough to speak.
Similar outreach programs were initiated for other marginalized parts of the American society, each with varying degrees of scope and intended effectiveness.
Stories of the great leaps in the progress the brotherhood of man was making spread across the world and a new relationship was formed between the media and the establishment. So too was a new relationship formed between society and schools, society and churches, society and business. And all of those changes naturally came into the homes and changed the very flow of life for every human being. Most weclomed the change, happy for the promises each new tomorrow held. With each day, more advances were announced insuring more safeties and securities and while the costs were explained in the most generous and complimentary of terms, steps which would improve the ease and quality of life for every citizen, the costs were sweeping nonetheless. With no way to keep certain aspects of the war secret, and when what our scientists already knew of the aliens' technology tripled after the war, the changes began to come in leaps instead of tiny sidesteps culminating with the Human Defense Initiative. It was justifed as a set of necessary measures to prevent the introduction of alien life forms into our world. Period. DNA would be taken at birth and mixed with the vaccine. It was then computer-coded and placed in a microchip. The identification chips would be placed in the palm of the left hand at birth and they would be read by radar stations.
The war had not destroyed the world, but it had. It had given birth to what was, in many ways, a totally new world altogether. A new world whose origins were a pantheon of anonymous dead gods - the group of men who conspired with thee invading aliens in a world where aliens were merely fantasy until 1947. For over fifty years these men conspired against their own race, while at the same time trying to save it - a contradiction born out in the deaths of these men and their familes, when in the end they could not even save themselves.
They did not live to see themselves both defeated and victorious. They died, bequeathing their survivors ignorance of the coming Armageddon and yet humankind survived. The planet was not repopulated and victory was exhilarating but it had been exhausting for Fox Mulder. He had confirmed, if only for himself, time and again the existence of the paranormal. He had found closure to his search for Samantha. He stalled an invasion, perhaps twice, and then when it happened a third time, he had led the charge and then it was finally over. The war had been won. His efforts, his work on the X-Files had been heroic, they had said. Thanks to him, and to the others, they had not only stopped the viral outbreak, but they had destroyed nearly a thousand of the shapeshifters and had shot down three of their crafts, while destroying more off the planet. If it hadn't been for him, they wouldn't have known what to expect nor how to fight it and the world owed him a huge "Thank you".
But, the world could never know how big a hero Fox Mulder really was, because the world could never know the truth about the threat they had truly faced. The world knew, and could be allowed to know, that they had been threatened with a viral plague spawned by a biological hazard, an extraterrestrial biological hazard yes, but a biological hazard nonetheless. It had been dealt with through bold and heroic scientific measures, possible only through the mutual cooperation of the nations of the world, and which resulted in a lasting federation of all humanity under one government sworn to protect, defend, serve, uplift and enlighten its people. They told him that this was the future they could insure, but it meant that he had to disappear. Fox Mulder had to be a part of history in order for it to happen, in order for the new Powers That Be to be able to insure a world where everyone would be safe, not only from any future alien threats but from all threats. A world so closely monitored and managed, that everyone could sleep safe and sound and not have to worry about their sister disappearing in front of their eyes.
The first round of negotiations had been with the United Nations. He had been the only one to resist, and he tried to hold out, but as the others went and the world continued to move and the negotiations took on increasingly darker tones it became harder to resist.
Yes, after it was said and done, he could play ball. He could and he did.
Mulder closed his eyes and he pictured Scully and tried to imagine what she would tell him, what she thought of how things had worked out. He saw himself kneeling beside her headstone as Charles' car pulled away and he heard his words all over again. He heard the explanations, the interpretations, the denials, the apologies. He heard himself say that it won't have been in vain. He heard himself promising her that but the clarity of it all soon faded and he turned the light off and slowly climbed the stairs.
The night's darkness was rudely and gaudily broken by lights which glared brightly upward from their places on the ground, and called the gods' attention to the Washington Monument. The once majestic tribute was now a scarecrow sentinel, watching over abandoned porn shops, diners, newstands and homes left behind when it was decided D.C. would be torn to the ground and rebuilt. Those trespassers here who could still look upon the Monument, or any of the District's former treasures, and feel to any degree inspired were few.
Mostly those who passed through here waited only for its inevitable destruction.
It saddened the man approaching the pay phone. It saddened him to be here, where what had been the cradle of so much that had been right and just and honorable was a ghost town.
He came to stand in front of the pay phone on the corner in front of the Museum of American history. Of course, now both it and the Holocaust Memorial Museum were abandoned buildings and from where he stood, all the buildings were dark except for one two blocks away. It had lights on inside and out because it was where the government's mechanics made repairs to and performed maintenance on military vehicles. They worked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Ants, he thought. Faceless automatons.
They meant nothing in this thing he was here to do. He was after the big guys. He didn't want the little people. He wanted the giants. It was a ridiculous thing to think, he knew, but it was what it was. He didn't make the rules. He just played by them and he was here to slay some giants and if they were Goliath, then by God he was David. He nodded and reached into his pocket for his stone and loaded his slingshot as he pushed the four quarter pieces into the pay phone. He held the receiver in his hand, hearing the obstinant buzz of the dial tone, and looked again at the Monument.
If anyone had been on the line, they might have heard the curse he whispered through his beard, but he was still alone as he reached down and rubbed his leg. He had known the three mile walk would hurt, but he hadn't been completely prepared for the pain from limping the distance.
He breathed out heavily, in a rush, and shook his shoulders. He looked again at the building where the mechanics were at work and then dialed the number, pausing when he came to the last button. He checked his watch.
The man then pressed the last button and held the phone to his ear. After two rings, a female voice answered. He was very happy to find that the rules were being observed even at this late hour.
"Giants walk the Earth," he said and held the phone toward the auto repair shop as it exploded. Then he let the phone drop and knelt on the sidewalk. His hand was steady as he reached into the pocket of his trenchcoat. He pulled a can of spray paint from his pocket and made two light green lines on the sidewalk before walking away into the night leaving only the letter "X" to mark his passing.
November 14, 2021
The light of the day had died many hours before, but still Mulder could read the inscriptions on Scully's headstone. From his place in the grass beside her grave, the words were, in fact, all too clear.
He had started the sentence a few times, but there was really nowhere for it to go after that. Each time he had tried, it was because he had wanted to tell her how lost he felt - without her by his side, without a place in the world, with his guilt. He wanted to speak to her and to feel her beside him. She would have helped him made sense of things and he had sent her away.
He had sent her away to die and he wanted to tell her again he was sorry for that, but he could never find the words no matter how many times he tried. There was so much to apologize for and to start at any one point, to trivialize the excrutiating tragedy that had been the life of Dana Scully and to minimize his own responsibility in that tragedy by even trying to put it all into words was a sin requiring a degree of skill Mulder didn't possess in his old age.
He closed his eyes and let his head hang.
If he could have found the words, he would have started with her sister, Melissa. The death of Scully's own sister because of Mulder's search for his sister. There were nights when that alone would send him into the basement, to the bottles.
And he was sorry for that son of a bitch, Duane Barry. Sometimes he could still feel Barry's throat in his hands and if he had squeezed just a little bit harder for just a little bit longer... Even now, he could see Barry's burned face looking up at him, wild-eyed, unable to breathe.
And for Donnie Pfaster. He hadn't seen what she had. He had dismissed her and for that, she had been taken and hurt by Pfaster and she had to be the one to put him down.
And none of that could ever compare to what had been done to her during her abduction.
Tears fell from his eyes as he looked again at her headstone and he suffered memories of testimonies and reports from abductees. He heard the voices of the regressed, recounting the experiences, the tests. He saw a kaleidoscope of images of things he had witnessed, beginning with Samantha and then Max who had been taken only feet in front of him and then there were the jagged flashes of his own abduction.
The chair. He can feel it against his flesh and he see the light, feel the straps, hear his screams as the hooks begin to pull on his cheeks.
He can see Scully on a table and they're opening her. They're stealing her eggs and her memory.
For years, he tried to imagine her world afterward and the otherworldly fear she must have felt in Allentown when she met the women of the MUFON group and it started coming back to her.
It never had for him, but for her it began to come back in huge pieces in the form of Betsy Hagopian and then later with William. For Scully, simple memory became the holy grail, the map which would guide her back to the road of a life's natural course.
Mulder looked up at the moon, and as he cried a soft moan escaped from his throat. He wiped his face with the back of his hand and looked around him at the grass and at the trees. It was a clear night and the moonlight hit the trees striking hard lines of darkness across the cemetery. As he scanned the trees, it was easy to imagine the smiling Cheshire shadow-face of Krycek looking back at him.
It was him. It was Krycek who had started the war against Scully. Mulder knew he had worked with Cardinal and was responsible for the hit on Melissa. She died while Mulder and Scully ran in circles around a DAT filled with the MJ documents, the Department of Defense records of the crash at Roswell and everything from then through the seventies. And while their search led them to Nazi war criminals and government files, all their work gave them nothing and Scully lost her sister. Melissa died and Scully swore, in the room her sister had died in, to never stop trying to find the truth. Later, she had been the one to believe Cassandra Spender. He could remember her telling him during his deluded moment of doubt that she had followed him on the strength of his belief in his memories of Samantha's abduction but she couldn't follow him in his doubt without her own memories. It was her search for the truth, not his, which had served the greater purpose and his... His was a joke now and she was the one in the ground and tonight wasn't the first time he had thought he deserved to be as well.
He certainly had not deserved her loyalty. She was too good for his bullshit.
She never wanted it be her life.
"I don't believe that you can hear me. But if you're in a place close to here and you are listening, I want you to understand that I never meant for any of this to happen." The words came and he didn't stop whatever force was delivering them. It felt right. "I was blind and I was a fool and I took you for granted. The answers I wanted may never have been there for me to find, but your answers were there and I always... I always imagined there would be time later."
He cocked his head and looked again at her headstone.
"Is there peace where you are, Scully? Did you find your ans-"
A sharp human sound silenced him. Quick look over his right shoulder, then over his left shoulder and he saw them.
Three of them. White. Teenagers. Two with weapons - axe handle and machetti.
"No, not here," he whispered.
He felt the adrenaline dump into his system and the raw energy flow throughout his body. It charged his senses and he was electric. In his muscles, his bones, his anger sang a song and his soul responded.
The cemetery whirled as he stood and turned to confront the punks and reality swirls before him.
He hears their demand for his money and is happy when the voice of the one issuing the demand cracks at the sight of the crazy old psycho they hadn't bargained for.
A quick grab with both arms, each toward a weapon-bearer, and he slams their foreheads together, one falling unconscious immediately, the other very soon after his partner. The third one has moved quickly though. He has moved nearly behind Mulder. Mulder ducks, but knows he was too slow. It was a knee, not an arm.
It crashes into his ribs, possibly breaking one and he knows he deserves it. He knows anyone could have seen it coming as he crouches, doubled over and the pain scorches his insides. His attacker laughs as he puts his gun to Mulder's head.
Pussy. You should die, fuck yes, but not like this.
He puts the pain away and tries to remember his training. There are seven working defenses from this position. He remembers that three of them disarm your oppponent with minimal contact. He remembers that three of them kill.
The last one, he remembered with a type of joy, hurts and he ducked, arcing his left foot into the soft underbelly of the thug's right side. The gun fell away, but the boy stayed up. He coughed as Mulder got to his feet, then he rushed the old man, slamming his own forehead into Mulder's nose. They both howled from the pain and Mulder fell back, his head missing Scully's headstone by mere inches.
C'mon. You're old and you got lucky those other kids were pansies. This guy's gonna chop you up. You have to do better than this.
He pushed himself up on his hands and rolled over onto his elbows. The boy had the machetti and Mulder felt himself reaching down, pulling his gun from his ankle and pointing it at the boy's head.
Do it! Fucking do it! Make that asshole pay. Make them all pay!
His finger wrapped around the trigger and he felt his teeth clench in what had to be a smile. Sweat was running down his forehead and his heart was beating harder than usual and he wanted to pull the trigger to see the look on the boy's face as the bullet tore it open.
"Yeah," he heard himself say and didn't know why he said it, but he didn't pull the trigger. He waited and then the punk was running away.
Mulder's trigger finger relaxed and his arm dropped back down on the grass beside him.
The other two were still unconscious so he was left alone again, staring up at the stars with his gun in his right hand and its holster strapped around his ankle, wondering when he had gotten them out of the safe.
November 15 Chilmark, Massachusetts
"...with crime at an all-time low, residents of our continent's cities feel safer with scheduling nighttime activities in their communities. All over the place, like in Montgomery, Alabama, people like Edwin Hilburne are going to movies in the park, nighttime carnivals, and in this case, a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet at, or rather, in the local community pool," the voice behind him on the television droned as Mulder pressed the barbell into the air over his chest again and that voice began to speak again.
Scully would have hated this. She would tell me I'm a fool for being out of bed, let alone trying to lift weights. She would tell me things about damage to internal organs and the body's ability to restore itself having limits and she would tell me I'm not a young man any more.
She would be right.
I add twenty more pounds to the bar.
"...re-enrichment efforts in third world countries. Well," the talking head laughed, "lets ask Edwin Hiburne." Hilburne was there again, in the ragged lawn chair he had watched the play from.
"I never figured, you know, before," he nodded at the camera, "stuff like feeding the hungry and stuff would get so dang much popularity. I think it's that crap what brung us to a place where we can sit out like this at night and all and watch us some art."
The newscaster's voice returned as Mulder leaned back on the bench and started pressing the barbell.
"Despite reports of more terrorist attacks, such as the one two nights ago in Washington D.C. which took the lives of fifteen employees of an auto repair shop, Americans all over have truly got it good. And now for your local weather..."
She would tell me to stop, but I wouldn't because despite my injuries, I'm in the best shape of my life and because this is what I have to do. It's what's kept me from going nuts.
"When we come back from commercial break, David Ellers has the story of how four fugitives were captured in an outlaw encampment outside of San Diego..."
He set the barbell back on the stand and sat up, his ribs screaming in agony. It did no good to grab at his side, so he resisted, but it was hard. Instead, he stretched, making it worse for a moment, and then he stood up. The pain died some and he turned off the television. For what must have been the ten millionth time, he reminded himself that the basement would look much better with a bed or a mattress or something and slowly climbed the stairs. At the top, he looked once more into the basement, able to see just a corner of his trophy case.
"I thought we had an understanding." Mulder recognized the voice behind him long before he turned and saw the face of Alex Krycek.
In a dark subterranean hallway, the routine silence of the night was broken by the hard and insistent echo of boots on stairs as three men marched toward a long abandoned basement. Their uniforms bore the insignia of the new government's military, the stripes of two men signifying their subordinate positions to the third man, who signalled them to stand guard while he went alone into the first room on the right at the bottom of the stairs. The third man, the leader, moved his flashlight in front of him, the beam of light making momentary celebrities of stacks of cardboard boxes and filing cabinets. Not immediately having seen what he was hunting for, he began a more hands-on search. He investigated the drawers of every filing cabinet, tore open and emptied boxes, ran his hands along every shelf in every cabinet and then did it again before giving up. He picked up his flashlight and was leaving when he saw it behind the door.
He breathed a quick and amused sigh of relief. It was a cardboard tube with a white plastic cap stuck in one end.
Both ends, he saw when he picked it up. He set the flashlight on its end on the floor so that the light pointed toward the ceiling and then pulled a thin roll of paper out of the tube. It was small and light. He unrolled it, his eyes wandering slowly down it until he came to the bottom, where it read in large white letters, I WANT TO BELIEVE.
One of the other soldiers leaned into the room and told the man that Evac wanted to know how much longer.
"Tell them we're on the way," the man said, rolling the poster back up and sticking it back in the tube as he left the room and closed the door behind him, momentarily pondering the irony of this old habit not wanting to die.
"Now exiting. Notify demolitions unit," the second soldier said into his radio as he and the third started up the stairs. He stopped at the landing and looked back down at their leader, who seemed to be staring at the door of the room he had just exited.
"General Doggett, is everything ok, sir?" he asked.
"Fine. Let's go," General Doggett answered, and began to climb the stairs.
The three men came out on the roof of the building where a helicopter was waiting. The two subordinates ran to either side of the helicopter's passenger door and stood at attention. General Doggett walked to the front of the building and looked over the edge.
"Captain," he called toward the helicopter and one of the two subordinates ran to him. "Tell the pilot to wait. The trucks haven't left yet."
"But sir, Evac-"
"We will wait because I said we will wait. I want visual confirmation of the departure of those trucks. That is all, Captain."
"Yes sir!" The Captain saluted and ran back to the helicopter.
Doggett turned back toward the edge of the building and pulled his binoculars from his belt. He looked over the trucks below him, scanning the length of each one and then scanning the surroundings. When his attention came back to the trucks themselves, he saw his soldiers loading the backs of the trucks with boxes of files and documents. They stood in a fireman's water line, passing their load from one to the next until each truck was full. Doggett watched until both trucks drove away and then he went to the helicopter.
When he climbed into the passenger's seat, the pilot saluted him. Doggett nodded silently and the pilot started the helicopter. He waited until the last soldier was belted in and gave the thumbs up before he lifted them into the air. The helicopter rose slowly and then the tail whirled around to the right until they faced East. It missed the nearest of the roof's radar stations by less than a foot.
"Must protect the Aerial Defense Network," Doggett whispered, thinking again of the irony of these old habits which die hard.
Two minutes later, on a laptop computer, General John Doggett watched the J. Edgar Hoover Building explode, his hands clutched tightly around the cardboard tube.
Fifteen miles east of Washington D.C., the two trucks were stopped by two blackclad figures who emerged from a prewar van parked on the side of the road just past a sharp turn. The two pointed M-16s at the drivers of the two trucks and fired, shattering both windshields. In under a minute, they had disarmed the soldiers and had them out of the trucks and in a line facedown on the ground. One of the gunmen collected the soldiers' rifles and loaded them into the van. Then he went to the first truck and began moving boxes to the van while the other stood watch over the soldiers on the ground. When he was finished, the mover reached into the front seat of the van, retrieved a can of spray paint and on the sides of the trucks, he painted a light green "X".
"Have a nice night," he said and the two thieves moved quickly back to their van. They got in, closed their doors and as they started to back away, the one on the passenger side fired his M-16 into the dirt beside the road.
Once their victims were out of sight, the passenger flipped the laptop computer open and typed in a password. He looked at the driver and then quickly back at the monitor. "Time, 45 seconds till evasive disengage. Home base, connect." He hit the CONNECT button and a man's face instantly appeared in a window on the screen.
"Give me a report, agents," the bearded man with the eyepatch said.
"Yes sir," the agent answered and begin his summary. "There were no casualties, friend or foe. As we expected, the building was destroyed. Your source was right, sir."
"That's sad news. Go on."
"We bagged a shitload of arms. We retrieved a cache of boxes. No idea of the value of their contents. There were no wounded and no casualties to report. Mission accomplished, sir."
"Very good. That's all," the man said with an air of expectant finality.
"The eagle is on the way home and we're out." He closed the window and turned the computer off. He and the driver exchanged high-fives and the van disappeared into the night.
Alex Krycek sat across from Fox Mulder and stared out the window into the night sky. The way he sat, the way he held his head, it felt to Mulder as though he belonged there and all was right with the world. He had stayed in good shape from the looks of it and the grey in his hair lent him a dignity Mulder knew he didn't deserve. He hadn't worn his prosthetic arm and Mulder guessed he probably hadn't worn it in years.
After locking the basement door, he had told Krycek he didn't know what he was talking about and had come into the kitchen, staring at his visitor while he walked, and got two glasses from a cabinet.
"I keep the good stuff down stairs. I break it out when my friends come over," he said, holding up the cheap whiskey before pouring the two drinks. He handed Krycek his and sat down across from him while Krycek cooly stared at him.
"What do you do with your time these days?" he asked Mulder before taking a drink. "You have any hobbies?"
Before Mulder could answer, Krycek looked back out the window, probably staring at the same star as before.
"Oh, you know. Same old shit. Saturday night I was downtown," Mulder said flatly looking into his drink. "Working for the F.B.I."
Krycek continued to stare out the window.
"You should get yourself a woman, Mulder. Maybe that would help you work off some of that excess energy you seem to be filled with as of late. You had a run-in with some punks last month at Skyland Mountain. Word gets around. Is that your idea of keeping a low profile?" he asked without turning his head.
"That could have been anyone," Mulder whispered. "And I think whores are more your speed."
"Sure it could have," Krycek said, now turning to look Mulder in the eyes. "But it wasn't just anyone who got identified and then did it again in Annapolis.
"When did you start carrying a gun again?"
"Must have been around the same time it became fashionable to break into my goddam house again. How do you know about that stuff?"
"Like I said, word gets around."
Mulder slapped the table. "You sent spies after me? You sent them to follow me to Scully's grave? You piece of shit. Get your sorry ass out of here!" He stood up too quickly, accidentally knocking his chair over behind him, and pointed to the front of the house.
"After what we've all been through, we have no choice about these matters. We have to keep an eye out, to protect our investments." Krycek laughed and pointed at Mulder's chair. "Sit back down. Listen, the people up top wanted a more permenant solution. It's like they think it's all as fragile as an egg. I don't know. Maybe they're right. Maybe things call for that type of action. I talked them into waiting.
"But can you imagine what it's like to be called in only to find out it's about you?" Krycek laughed again. "Imagine the irony."
"Oh fuck you, Krycek-"
"No, fuck you, Mulder," Krycek lashed back. "Fuck you because we won, Mulder. You and I, we beat them. Together we beat those bastards and now you just want to piss it all away."
"How is that? Not that it's any of your business, but in both of those instances I was attacked by those thugs. I was keeping to myself and I was keeping a low profile. What do you expect? There's never a cop when you need one." Mulder sat back down in his now upright chair.
"It was a cop who identified you. And if he can, anyone can. If people know you're alive, they'll put together the rest. This ridiculous witness protection program was a stupid idea anyway.
"I'm here to tell you, Mulder, that we're closing shop on this shit. What happened to you does happen in sanctioned areas, but that stuff's mostly outside the city. That's where they all are - the criminals, the anarchists, the drug addicts, whatever. We're reigning them in, but it takes time. Until then, it doesn't much matter what happens out there." He pointed out the window. "Not to you. It can't."
Krycek stood up.
"Next time you get the urge to go out," he said, winking, "stay at home."
After Krycek was gone, Mulder unlocked the basement door and went back downstairs for a cigarette. He found his pack beside the computer and lit one, breathing the smoke in deeply.
While he smoked the rest of the cigarette, he idly logged onto the internet. He checked his e-mail, not expecting anything because, as Krycek had so bluntly reminded him, he was dead, but there was one message.
Still shaken from his earlier surprise, he opened the e-mail.
"If this message has reached the former F.B.I. Agent Fox Mulder, after you read this erase it immediately. I have not shared your secret. I have something for you and I have to give it to you. Cross the waters, tell no one, and by the former wife we'll meet. There will be two ams."
He deleted the e-mail, turned the computer off, checked his watch and ran upstairs.
The drive to the mainland only took a few minutes. Finding the "former wife" took a little longer, but with five minutes to spare, Mulder found it and pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store. He parked the car next to building, beneath the large black X he suspected hadn't been there this afternoon.
The earlier events of the evening were still bouncing across the basketball court in his head, but he couldn't see the nets anywhere. He rolled his window down and let the night air fill his lungs and his car and tried to put all that away for now.
He tried to imagine what shape his new informant would take. Would he be an old man? A younger woman? Would he be white, black, oriental? Would he be a high-ranking government official and if so what dark secrets would he bring? What adventure would he offer?
Or would he be one of Krycek's people, sent to tempt Mulder into getting back out in the open as part of some twisted game ending in his death?
Or would he be just another jerkoff, the latest in a long line of jerkoffs, getting his kicks simply by fucking with Mulder?
That last thought made him reach for the radio, scanning until he found a blues station, and then he lit a cigarette. He took one drag and hung his arm out the window, watching the smoke rise from between his fingers.
There being only so much profundity that can be inspired from watching smoke, especially sitting a car, alone, at - he looked at his watch - 2:10 in the morning, Mulder thumped the half-burnt cigarette into the parking lot and rolled the window up. He stretched in his seat, trying to twist just enough to get the perfect squeeze on his lower back, when he saw through the passenger's side window a girl step forward from the shadows of the small businesses across the street. She walked to the sidewalk and motioned for him to come to her.
A rush went through him. His heart started beating faster and as he pulled his keys out of the ignition, he saw his hand was shaking. He took one final look in the rearview mirror and both side mirrors and got out of the car. The girl had moved back into the shadows and Mulder followed her lead, moving quickly across the street and into the darkness. She watched him approach with wide eyes, striking several sympathetic chords in him. She was someone's daughter, maybe someone's sister, and here she was in the dead of night initiating clandestine meetings with dead men. She should be home in bed, he thought. Not here. Not with me.
He knew she would have come from either a broken home or no home at all. He could see that she was comfortable in her ragged clothes and that she was very much afraid. Whatever had brought her here had to be connected to her fear
-he walks out of the shadows, his flat blond hair hanging over his eyes, and he looks over his shoulder as he explains he was trailed by assassins and hands Mulder a digital audio tape-
but was that because she was being chased or because she was being watched?
The thought hit him hard and even though she was someone's daughter and even though she seemed as legit as she could be, he had to ask.
"Who sent you?"
He watched her eyes and her face, searching for a reaction he could use to...
To what? We gonna rough her up too?
The girl crossed her eyebrows and tilted her head up at Mulder. She looked like he had slapped her and in that act not only hurt her but betrayed her.
"I'm sorry," he said quickly. "It's just... This is a pretty big risk we're both taking. How do I know I can trust you?"
Her shoulders slumped and she started talking. "My name is Amy Fitzgerald and they killed my friends, Phil and Buck. They killed them for what I want to give you. It's-"
"Whoa, whoa. Who killed Phil and Buck?" Mulder interrupted.
"I don't know who they were. They were military. All I know's they were soldiers. They had uniforms with that fucking one world symbol on them. Buck found a site on the web, old site, full of government shit. Phil knew a guy. We were going to see a guy in Austin. Figure he thinks we scratched him." She shrugged and Mulder could see she wasn't jerking him off. Or, if she was lying, he didn't think she knew it. "Figure they got us when we aged a blurb past ripe."
"Just so I'm clear, you're saying that since you hacked into a prewar site full of records you don't even know are legitimate, the government sent the military to kill you and that they tracked you down through your stolen internet accounts?"
"Yes! That's what I'm saying! And the military is the government! The goddam government and they won't stop there. Killing them was nothing. It's what they did it for. It's what they're trying to hide. Total control over everything. Figure that makes what we snagged legit. They want to erase the past and they want total access to every second of every day of your life so they can weed you out if you don't buy their lies. They won't stop until every road is covered in radar stations and every house is wired and there's a camera in every corner and everyone's on their knees sucking dick." She began to walk back and forth, pacing in front of Mulder as she spoke. "You know how everyone knows about the cameras on the rooftops of every building? They say it's part of the 'Aerial Defense Network'. Yeah, that sounds like a crimefighting name. So they tell us it's to help fight crime, but it's for riot control. I read about this while I was downloading stuff. It's to monitor sniper fire when the cities are cleansed. This isn't science fiction, Agent Mulder. This isn't some maniac's dream of the future I'm fighting here. They're already doing it. It's part of the anti-crime defense or whatever label they're giving it today. It's aerial surveillance. You can shut down a city and watch the rats run with cameras in the sky."
Mulder shook his head. "We already know about the cameras. They're not really a secret. I hope you've got more than that."
"How do you think I found you? It's not like I can just ride around and hope to find a big 'X' on your house or something. I read enough about you to track you, man. Here." She held up the bag. "It's all in on these cds."
Mulder took the bag. "What about you? Where will you go?"
She smiled. "You're kind of sexy for an old man," she said lightly and then she ran.
He was getting excited again. He sat in his basement, back home on the Vineyard, amazed at his pitched breathing and his thumping pulse and the flush of his face. He knew this was a sure sign that he was officially crazy and he laughed at the thought as he stuck one of the compact discs into the disc drive of his computer. The icon, a folder, appeared on his desktop and he opened the folder. His screen went black and then white and rows of small paper icons appeared. There were probably a thousand documents, he guessed as he scrolled down, making mental notes of the names of random ones and then he stopped scrolling.
"Stark raving mad," he whispered and opened a filed labelled "Skinner, W.S.".
It was an electronic copy of an original which had been scanned.
Skinner, Walter Sergei DOB: 06/03/52 EDUCATION: BA, University of Texas MILITARY: United States Marine Corps (Vietnam, 1970-71) Subject is currently employed as an Assistant Director with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, supervising over 80% of the Bureau's agents, including the Violent Crimes Unit. As of 04/30/94, Assistant Director Skinner will be assigned the division investigating cases known as X-Files. These fall outside the widely accepted scope of the Bureau and currently the division consists solely of Agent Fox Mulder. After he is installed, all agents involved with this division will report directly to Walter Skinner.
At the bottom of the brief document, there were signatures. According to this file, Skinner's appointment to supervise the X-Files had been approved by C.G.B. Spender and Section Chief Scott Blevins, and had been planned prior to Scully being assigned.
Mulder closed it, unaware that he was nodding. Then he started reading the names of all the other files in the directory. One by one they went by until he found another one he could decipher.
He lit a cigarette and stared at the screen, at the letters "DKS", and the idea that maybe it was her final report floated in the back of his mind.
She had worked apart from him, spending her days in laboratories and her nights on cots where instead of sleeping she read medical journals and test results while Mulder and Krycek worked their end of things. Once during that time, Mulder found her asleep in the office at the Hoover Building with the report Krycek had filed on Duane Barry in her hand.
During one of their last arguments, she told him that she wasn't his "little sidekick anymore" and that there were people in the Bureau who would listen to her now. She had told Mulder that he had become someone she didn't know anymore. He had become someone she was scared of and she blamed Krycek. She said that it was insane for Krycek to be the savior of the world and that if Mulder clung to his loyalty to his former enemy, she would have nothing else to say to him.
When she left, he hadn't tried to dissuade her. Instead, he started poking around and what he discovered didn't surprise him. Shortly after Krycek reappeared, Scully had filed a request for the Bureau to re-examine several cases, all of which Krycek had been a part of. She wanted him behind bars and had found an audience fairly high up the chain of command. Resources had, in fact, been allocated to monitor Krycek, but from what he had been able to learn, she was actually getting nowhere with her efforts. It was not surprising to Mulder, all things considered. What was surprising, at least somewhat, was that Krycek's protection came in the form of orders from the United Nations, specifically from a memo from the Russian delegation.
Mulder arranged a secret meeting with Scully and as they stood under the stars by the Vietnam War Memorial, he told her what he had found out. Impotently, he watched her invaded by first anger and then acceptance.
The next day, Scully told Skinner she would be working from home. She then accessed the Bureau's C.I./X-F database and signed for a memoranda number. Her request was immediately approved. She opened a file template and began to type what she intended to be her final report before she quit the Bureau. She turned it and her notice in the following afternoon. The last time Mulder had spoken with her, she told him she was going home to take a shower and then she had some errands to run. As she was hanging up, the line clicked twice.
He had found her in her doorway missing the back of her head.
He took a long slow drag on his cigarette, double-clicked the icon and opened the document. It was dated January 5, 2012.
To: Deputy Director Kersh Federal Bureau of Investigation
Pursuant to my request for the Bureau to re-examine the apparent good standing of former agent Alex Krycek, and in conjuction with the previous reports I have filed in this matter, I offer the following addendum.
Assistant Director Walter Skinner became my supervisor near the end of the first year of my assignment to the X-Files. I had been directed to file my initial reports with the office of Section Chief Blevins but in May of 1994, I was directed to file those reports to the office of Assistant Director Skinner. These reports were scientific analyses of our work on the X-Files, intended to help debunk the work itself, with the ultimate goal of closing the division. It is a matter of record that Special Agent Fox Mulder's dedication to the X-Files led to the discovery of the extraterrestrial plan to invade Earth and to the discovery of the men who secretly aided the engineers of the invasion.
It is also a matter of record that Alex Krycek was one of those men.
In the sixth year of my assignment, Agent Mulder and I were reassigned and were placed under the supervision of Deputy Director Kersh, who was unknowingly being used by the conspirators to stop Agent Mulder's efforts to expose them.
In January of the following year, 1999, A.D. Skinner received an injury to his ribs, while boxing in a local gym. He was admitted to Saint Katherine's Hospital, examined and released, but hours later the bruise had deepened and appeared to have spread. Agent Mulder was of the opinion that there was a connection between A.D. Skinner's injury, a phone call A.D. Skinner had received which warned the Assistant Director he only had twenty-four hours to live, and the X-Files. I shared the Assistant Director's opinion that the two were seemingly unrelated. The connection, however, was made. That connection began to become clear when Agent Mulder confirmed my discovery of what he called "nanobots". A.D. Skinner had become a host to these nanobots, thousands (perhaps millions) of them residing in his blood as a result of the boxing injury (his opponent's glove being tainted with the transmitting substance or solution). These nanobots are microtechnology, designed in part by physicist Kenneth Orgel and were part of a planned exporting of medical supplies to third world countries. This was to take place with the passage of Senate Resolution 819, sponsored by Senator Richard Matheson. Officially, it would license the World Health Organization to distribute advanced medical technology to third world countries, primarily the nation of Tunisia. The U.S. Senate Subcommitte on Ethics and New Technology was prepared to release the bill for a vote, but they were waiting for it to pass a security clearance check from A.D. Skinner. This technology, widely considered to be theoretical technology, microtechnology, was used on Assistant Director Walter Skinner, compromising him, rendering him vulnerable to and exploited by Alex Krycek.
Mulder's initial suspicion that the infection of A.D. Skinner was because of his association with the X-Files and with Agent Mulder and myself, proved to be correct when Alex Krycek began to employ the microtechnology in 2000 and 2001.
In closing, I will also remind the Bureau that Alex Krycek is still a suspect and is officially considered "AT LARGE" in the cases of several deaths, including a tram operator in Virginia and William Mulder (Agent Fox Mulder's father). These cases have been represented to the Bureau by this agent in my previous reports of the last four months.
In filing these reports, I realize the likelihood they will be met with a degree of skepticism in that I am familiar with these events I cite in accusation of Alex Krycek, and in that I am a personal witness to some of these events and bear either a personal relationship to the case or was of such a state of mind at the time so as to render my judgement questionable. Despite the role Alex Krycek has played in the defensive actions taken during the viral outbreak, as a law enforcement agent, I can only conclude and advise that this man should be considered a criminal by the government of this nation, in whatever form that government may take. I can only reiterate my professional opinion that Alex Krycek should be apprehended and made to pay for his crimes, and until this occurs, justice will not have been served and those seeking it will be denied the resolution of matters it is our sacred duty to provide.
It was signed, "Dana Katherine Scully". Mulder closed the file and rubbed his reddening eyes. It had been a damn long day, the longest one he had seen in quite some time, and it didn't seem to want to end. His bones complained when he stood up to get another drink. His hand wasn't particularly steady as he poured the scotch, his knuckles singing brief but bright arias of pain. He didn't try to put the cap back on the bottle and, from his side of the upturned tumbler at his lips, his basement was slightly out of focus.
Calling himself an "old man" and chuckling, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and walked across his work area to one of the filing cabinets. He kept them locked, but he also left the key to each one in the lock. In the bottom drawer of the second cabinet from the corner, he found the leather case he knew would be there. He pulled it out, unzipped it, and withdrew the eyeglasses it had held for ten years or more.
Mulder stood up, blinked his eyes a couple of times, and put his glasses on. The prescription was obviously way out of date and the basement was a warped, dizzying experience. With a momentary sadness, he put the glasses back in their case, zipped the case closed and put it back in its home in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet.
Another tumblerful of scotch in hand, he rebooted the computer and hopped online. The next hour was spent scanning the officially sanctioned news sites and internet search engines, reading one meaningless story after another until, close to giving up and burned out on the taste of the scotch and the cigarettes, he found something. It was on a temporary site, a story about the coming demolition of the Vietnam War Memorial with a sidebar about terrororists from the D.C. underground. There was a chart of thefts of government property, armed robberies of military vehicles, and the deaths of an increasing number of soldiers and military employees all attributed to a secret organized rebellion. The main story linked the destruction of places like the War Memorial to the rise in anti-government acts, and of course showed a bias favoring these rebels.
Mulder read through the story and the sidebar a couple of times, his eyes wandering from the text to the accompanying photograph of a government building recently destroyed by a bomb. Beneath the photo was the caption: TOO BAD WE DIDN'T HAVE A VIDEO FEED!!
The shot of the destruction had been taken from several blocks away, a familiar point of view for Mulder.
He read the main story one more time and then gave in to his urge to simply stare at the photograph. He gazed at the rubble of the destroyed building, the way the sun fell making the time of day around 3:00 p.m., the trees lining the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street, the payphone near the photographer. There was something about the scene, something calling to him.
There was something...
He zoomed in and panned until he was able to make it out clearly on the sidewalk in front of the pay phone.
Mulder turned the computer off and went upstairs to sleep for a couple of hours.
The next morning at sunrise, Mulder's plane arrived at Dulles International Airport. Despite the inevitable unsolicited slew of assurances and promises of efficiency (which, to be fair, were honored most of the time), his arrival was over an hour later than scheduled and he was moderately pissed off about it. Or, he would have been, he reconsidered as he stood at the carousel, waiting for his luggage to drop, if not for the extra winks the delay had afforded him.
Dulles was busy this morning, the sounds of maybe hundreds of other people filling the inside of the airport and Mulder's ears with a relentless undeniable enthusiasm. Even here, while he waited, losing his faith that his stuff would ever show up, they were all around him. They too were waiting too long for luggage they needed. They stared, alternating between near lifeless and near ecstatic states each time a bag would fall from the chute, making one of them a big winner and the rest repeat losers. They were reading paperbacks and newspapers and magazines while standing against walls or sitting in the few chairs the airport generously called a "lobby", or surfing the net at commercial web stations, or gathered in clusters by water fountains and outside the gift shops' entrances. Some were bored or at worst slightly frustated, but most were happy. As Mulder turned his head to his right, taking in the last of the panorama, he thought he might even use the word "carefree".
It was as though, for these people, life could not be better. They were on their way somewhere where they would be reunited with a loved one or taking a break to get away from it all or attending a meeting where they hoped to seal a big deal or going off to college or they were waiting for a loved one or a friend or someone otherwise a part of their life who had been away but was now coming home.
Tension began to creep across Mulder's shoulders. He felt his upper lip tightening and his eyes growing narrow. A part of him wanted to take his gun out and shoot blindly and wake them up, make these braindead jerkoffs understand what had happened, what he had saved them from, how close they had come to losing it all, to losing fucking everything.
His breath had begun to come in hard blasts and as the sight of his suitcases brought him out of his bitter reverie, he noticed that the people around him had moved a few steps further away than they had been five minutes before.
Suitcases in hand, Mulder walked through the airport toward the exits. Every twenty feet, he would pass beneath one of the many signs hanging from the ceiling, signs with messages like, "A BETTER TOMORROW BEGINS WITH YOU" and "KEEP OUR CITIES CLEAN" and "YOU ARE HERE WITH FRIENDS". He slowed down as he passed a gift shop and decided to take care of his shopping before he did any business. He needed one item from a tiny section in the back corner. At the register, he charged it to his UAC (Universal Access Card) and eased into what was now a throng of people between him and the outside world.
Five minutes later, he lit a cigarette and stepped into the revolving door.
Outside, the cold air felt good on his face and hands. He flexed his elbows a bit, enjoying the empty space around him. The sun had shown brightly through the windows of the plane on the flight here but the formerly omnipresent orb was hiding now, cowed by clouds riding in from the west and, from their looks, promising rain.
Something inside him relaxed.
After three unsuccessful efforts to hail a cab, he left the sidewalk and darted into the street, dodging cars in two lanes until he was able to jump in front of an approaching cab which, much to his relief and joy, stopped for him.
He hefted his suitcases up, ignoring the beginning of a cramp in either arm, and walked around the car. It was obviously postwar and was definitely sporting the standard-issue satellite guidance systems. He opened the rear passenger's door, remembering bits of the story he had read the night before, the story which had brought him here.
...last few months...
...rise in terrorism...
...deaths of soldiers...
He could almost hear Amy Fitzgerald's voice as he looked first at the driver and then at the dashboard, taking a brief inventory of the computerized devices he didn't understand.
"Where to, sir?" the driver asked.
"D.C.," Mulder answered as he closed the door.
"Yessir. Where in D.C.?"
"Just uh," he wavered, his faith that the appropriately snide and amibiguous response would come to him shattered. "I'll let you know when we get there."
They pulled away from the airport and the rain came. It beat softly against the roof of the cab, offering a subtle but insistent score to this leg of Mulder's journey. He wanted to lean back against his seat, to let his neck relax and to let his head tilt back just a little bit and to close his eyes if only for just a moment...
He snapped his head back up and straightened his back. He couldn't start down that road. Instead, he rubbed his eyes and fixed them on the world in motion outside his window. He watched that world pass him by and he tried to disappear into the comfort of casual and harmless memories of his destination until once again he rode the familiar streets of Washington D.C. and would have to emerge guarded and charged.
The time passed that way until he was brought back to reality by the cab driver's sudden cursing fit. Ahead of them, he saw the rapidly approaching traffic light go to red and he felt the cab come to a very quick stop.
As he looked again through the window at a vacant lot where he had expected to see the first of many missing landmarks of yesteryear, he began to understand that his trusted familiarity was now, in fact, limited.
"...sir?" The cabbie had asked Mulder something, but it hadn't all come through.
The cabbie cleared his throat and repeated loudly, his voice booming through the holes in the plastic window separating them, "I asked if you was here on business or pleasure?"
"Pleasure," Mulder answered and met his gaze in the mirror. "You don't know who I am, do you?"
The light turned green and the traffic began to move. He watched the cabbie's reflection in the rearview, the man's eyes now watching the cars and the road.
"No, should I?"
Mulder leaned forward and tried to sound ominous. "My name is General John Doggett. You'd do well to remember that name, citizen."
"Hey, now!" The driver jerked the steering wheel, cutting into the next lane to make room for the car cutting over on him and barely missing the front bumper of the previous inhabitants of the space he now occupied, then issuing a declaration of ownership to the previous inhabitants via the middle finger of his left hand. "This lucky cabbie can call an end to his cursed run o' luck because I got a friggin' celebrity to slob around today."
He looked over his shoulder, smirking.
"Yeah, whatever," he said and shrugged before turning his attention back to the task of driving his cab.
Mulder leaned back against his seat, mildly satisfied, and watched the rain fall outside the car. Large heavy drops clung to his window and beyond them he watched the landscape transform and become populated by some of the residents of his memories. They were there now, these buildings he found an unanticipated reassurance in seeing, but where others had once stood (and should still stand, his instinctive memories screamed) there now stood only the former buildings' bones surrounded by piles of ash and crap. When he saw the vacant lot where Craddock Marine Bank had stood, he turned away, shaking his head. This weakness was indulged only for a second or two though. Again, through the window. It didn't surprise him to see that he hadn't noticed that the rain had died away. Pennsylvania Avenue was only a partial road, the fact of which manifesting itself in the detour they were forced to take, a detour leading down roads once jammed with cars, the sidewalks awash in busy people having busy days and now the only human traffic the sidewalks were seeing were overly sentimental tourists and vagabonds.
The cab turned back onto Pennsylvania Avenue, this section a two-lane with the other lanes blocked off by yellow tape apparently to prevent drivers from thinking they could maybe drive through the piles of rubble which had spilled out onto the street. Through the front window moreso than the one beside him, Mulder saw the remains of the J. Edgar Hoover Building and, almost comically, his jaw dropped.
Without being told, the driver stopped the cab. Mulder looked at him in the rearview mirror, nodding his thanks, and turned to the wreckage again, this time looking over what was still standing instead of what wasn't. On this side, there were whole offices near the corner which appeared wholly intact. Overall, there were places were the explosives apparently did no damage and he thought he could almost make himself believe it could... it was going to be reconstructed. A slight shift in the angle of his gaze and the reality was all too clear again. In some of the emptiness, the exposed foundation was cracked and sections of it jutted upward like craggy cliffs. There were monstrously huge piles of rubble and debris and he followed it again into the street, staring vacantly before looking back at offices half exposed, and one place where the huge columns had been destroyed and a section of the floors it supported had simply dropped to the ground. There was a large meeting room with three walls standing proudly and a large dividing wall of decorative glass, only a portion of which had been broken off in the fall. Mulder thought that if the sun had been shining, the glare from the razor sharp edge of the glass would be blinding even at his distance. Minutes passed while he sat and quietly took it all in.
"Ok," he finally called to the driver when it had been enough. "I know where I want to go."
Afternoon in Washington D.C. was a quiet and empty time, and no place moreso than at the Vietnam War Memorial where the random few (who were either haunted or swept up in historic novelty) walked slowly past the mute reminder of lessons long since deemed irrelevant and dismissed by a world at peace. This was the scene any normal day and today was nothing if not normal, from the mostly empty streets to the sounds of heavy machinery clearing property to the trademarked sad expressions on the faces of the people shuffling through their lives down to the man setting his suitcases on the sidewalk beside the cab which had brought him here. Although the rain had stopped, the dark grey clouds still hung heavy and threatening in the sky overhead and the man knew it was only a matter of time, it was an academic ticking off of the seconds, until he would be soaking wet. He pulled the money for his fare out of his wallet and handed it to the driver.
"No way, pal. Nothing prewar," the man barked, shoving the green bills back at Mulder.
"Yeah," he said, staring distantly at the paper in his hand before pulling his wallet back out and handing the cabbie his UAC. After signing for the minimum tip and checking the sky once more, he put the card back in his wallet and hopped not quite quickly enough away from the tires of the cab splashing water onto the sidewalk and his pants and shoes as it drove away.
Suitcases in hand, he moved slowly but purposefully past empty park benches and unused trash cans and scrawny trees, their limbs naked and brittle. No children ignored the signs warning against walking on the grass and as he turned a corner, it took a long disappointing moment for him to realize that what was missing was the sight of the three soldiers looking into the distance. He soon realized he was equally unprepared for discovering that where the American flag had flown above the Wall, now the flag of the new world hung limply against the grey sky.
Taking a deep breath, he set about his business. The Wall grew larger beside him as he walked past the panels, the rows of names disrupting his reflection until finally he stopped. He didn't need to, for his memory was as clear and potent as if the events he remembered had happened only the day before, but he picked an arbitrary point on the panel before him and started reading the names. They passed, one after the other, each with a story to tell.
When he came to the name he had known he would find here, he looked quickly over his shoulder. He nodded in reverence as he looked back at the Wall and at the name of Nathaniel Teager.
"I remember," he whispered. Then he looked once more over his shoulder and pulled the new roll of masking tape from the pocket of his trenchcoat. He tore off two long strips and stuck them to the Wall, crossing them, making the letter "X" over the names in front of him. Just then it started to rain again and he picked up his suitcases and walked away. He started walking a little faster, past an old woman pushing a baby in a stroller and then an oncoming bearded man with a limp and an eyepatch. The rain didn't stop and he walked until he was able to flag another cab for a ride to Alexandria and to a motel where he signed in under a false name and went to his room to get some sleep.
It was completely dark in the motel room when Mulder was awakened by the sound of hard rapid knocking on his door. He blinked a couple of times, trying to force his eyes to adjust to the darkness, but that went nowhere.
"Yeah," he called to the person banging on his door and fumbled for the lamp on the table beside the bed. When he finally managed to get the light on, he saw that he was still in his clothes and hadn't even bothered to take his watch off.
It was five minutes after midnight.
He sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. Throughout his back and from the centers of both of his knees, pain screamed the increasingly familiar song of resistant nerves being shocked into service.
Another eruption of knocking came from the door and he stood up, trying to ignore the pain, and limped across the room. He looked through the peephole and pulled back, his eyebrows now drawn close and his lips moving silently. He unlocked and opened the door, looking once more at the man from the Wall, the one with the beard. That beard, long, full and richly grey, climbed up the man's cheeks and disappeared close to his ears, leaving only the black leather band of the eyepatch to frame the face of Walter Skinner.
"Why am I here?" he demanded and pushed past Mulder, looking awkwardly at Mulder's extended hand and bypassing the handshake.
"Well, good evening Walter. Won't you come in?" Mulder asked, the doorknob of the open door still in his hand. "I wasn't sure you'd be able to find me."
"Sergei Walters," Skinner repeated the name Mulder had checked in under. "It's not the most subtle of clues. You want to close the door now?"
Mulder thought there was something jagged, something stressed hiding in the man's voice. Maybe some kind of nerve damage. He tried to remember what he knew of Skinner's work during the invasion as he turned and closed the door. Suddenly he was flattened against the door, Skinner's body pressed against his and Skinner's gun pressed against the back of his neck.
"I will pull this goddam trigger if you even twitch. Now you are going to turn around slowly. Do it." Skinner's voice carried the appropriate amount of hostility necessary to make Mulder believe him, but beneath that Mulder could hear fear.
Fear and desperation.
I can take him from here. He knows it and he knows I know it. I can put him down and down forever.
Nothing to it.
Mulder did what he was told, turning slowly until he faced Skinner, the gun now pressing against his throat and he motioned with his eyes that he was ready for whatever Skinner wanted next. Skinner's face was red, a mix of seething messages, his one eye wild and angry and his lips quivering as though he wanted to, was ready to say ten different things at once but was aborting the effort each time. He stepped back one step, his gun still squarely pressed against Mulder's throat and slid his other hand into the pocket of his trenchcoat and then removed it, producing a large knife. He flicked the blade open and handed the knife to Mulder.
"I want to see you bleed. Now!"
Mulder was expressionless as he stared at Skinner and then looked down at the knife in his hand.
He pressed the blade against his palm and drew it slowly across, opening the skin. A thin film of blood ran from the wound, spilling down his palm and onto the motel room's floor. He grimaced both from the pain and from the apparent depth of the wound, but he also saw the relief spreading across Skinner's face. He watched him put the gun in its shoulder holster and then Skinner took the knife back.
"I... I'm sorry, Mulder. I just needed to see you bleed." He said it as though it sufficiently explained the whole incident and signalled that they could now get to business.
Mulder pulled the pillowcase off one of his flat pillows and began wrapping it around his hand.
"What the hell for? What were you looking for?" He asked it with conviction, but he knew the answer. Right now though, something inside him demanded to hear Skinner say it.
Across the room, Skinner stood with his back to Mulder, his reflection in the mirror in front of him toying with a pencil he had found on the desk beneath the mirror.
"I..." he started to answer, but hesitated. Mulder allowed him his time and when he faced Mulder again, he seemed somehow a smaller man than he had been before.
"Red blood, ok? I needed to see red blood," he answered and pulled the chair out from under the desk. When he sat down, it was a heavy move, the move of a man who had been walking for a long time. "Look, you know what it is. You were gone. We were all gone and no one's heard from you for ten years. Then, now, one day you want to pop up out of nowhere and you think I'm just going to blindly believe it's really you? So sue me if I'm suspicious."
"What's suspicious? We're just a couple of dead men talkin' 'bout old times." His hand now tightly bandaged, Mulder had taken a seat on the corner of the bed closest to Skinner.
"So how about it, Walter? How have you been?" He reached across the short distance between them and squeezed Skinner's knee with his good hand.
Skinner bristled. "You didn't go to all this trouble just so you could hear me recount my amusing permanent vacation stories and I damn well have bigger fish to fry than attending sentimental midnight reunions. Now spill, and this had better be good."
"Fair enough," Mulder said, withdrawing his hand. "I have a little story to tell you, but even though it has a couple of interesting chapters, it's woefully incomplete." He finished his setup and reached into his pocket for his pack of Morleys, pulled a cigarette out and placed it between his lips, found his lighter in another pocket, looked hesitantly at Skinner, and lit the cigarette.
"When did you start that?" Skinner couldn't have hidden his disgust even if he had wanted to, which he didn't.
Mulder blew his smoke toward the door. "Are you going to be a Nazi about it, Walter?"
The former Assistant Director shrugged. "It's really a damn shame they haven't outlawed those things yet. It's beyond me why they haven't."
"Et tu, Skinman?" Mulder asked and set the burning cigarette in the ashtray and then clapped his hands together.
"Ok, here's the deal," he began and filled Skinner in on the events of the past couple of months, going light on his confrontations and ending with his visit from Amy Fitzgerald and what he found on one of the discs. "Like I said, it's missing some chapters and so I don't have a good conclusion. Not one of my better pitches, huh?"
Skinner arched the eyebrow over his eye. "You've brought me weaker, but not much."
Mulder nodded. "I don't really have anything to fill in the blanks yet. No trademark monsterboy brainstorms, but there's something going on. Amy Fitzgerald..." He looked away, blocking off a mini-avalanche of memories. "I know they're doing something and I have the strongest feeling that I should be doing something too."
They were both silent, Skinner looking at his folded hands in his lap while Mulder contemplated the glow of the dying cigarette between his fingers. It was the last of the last of the pack and he gave it the final dignity of taking one last puff. Then, as he crushed it into the overflowing ashtray, Skinner broke the silence.
"There's always something, isn't there?" he asked, almost grinning. "Ok, you are not going to have to work very hard to make me believe this new world order is using some horrible methods to get what they want. I saw what happened in Egypt. I know about the death squads. What I'm not seeing is what greater evil you think is behind all this. The tyranny of these bastard cocksuckers is out in the open. What could be so bad that they feel the need to hide it?"
"Oh, it's all there, Walter. They're trying to make everything never have happened, not to you and not to me and not to Scully."
"So it's just that they're rewriting history? That is what you're talking about?"
"No, no," Mulder answered quickly. "Well, yes, but that's only a part of it. It's a first step or an early step in something..." He struggled for the right word, but it escaped him. "I don't know what."
"What do you want from me?" Skinner asked, pointing the pencil he had found on the motel room's desk at Mulder.
"I want to make sure the world knows. I want them to know everything and I want to make sure they never forget what really happened."
"And my role? You want me to get this information out to the people? That's it?" Skinner stood up and started for the door. "You should have looked up those three stooges. I'm not your Paul Revere."
"Walter!" Mulder was on his feet when he shouted at Skinner's back. "I don't know how we're going to do this, but we are going to do it. We have to and you know it." He waited, not knowing if Skinner would come back or if he would leave, but he was out of trump cards either way. When Skinner did turn around, Mulder felt muscles in his neck and throughout his back relax.
"If I know you're here, they know you're here," he continued. "You're already a dead man. How long do you think it'll be before they get around to wrapping up that loose end? If we can find out what they're after, and I believe you and I together can find out, then we can shut them down for good. We can stop the bastards."
It was Skinner's turn and he spoke as he walked slowly back across the room. "I'm not complaining about this feeling, but I do get the distinct impression that some of this about revenge, Mulder. Is this about revenge?"
Mulder's first instinct was to deny the accusation, to ascribe a higher nobility to his motives yet again, but the subtle enthusiasm he thought he detected in Skinner's voice stopped him.
"Obviously, given what we both know already, unless you know otherwise, it wouldn't surprise me for any of this, maybe a lot of this, to lead back to John Doggett," he said.
He would have been surprised if anything but one event could be traced back to Doggett. He didn't think Doggett smart enough to be behind very much at all. Doggett was an order taker. He was no leader.
Mulder's implication about the man did seem to have some effect though. The look on Skinner's face made Mulder believe his lie had satisfied some secret requirement and had earned him, at least in part, approval from Skinner.
"All I'm asking of you is whatever it is you've got going, let me tag along with that for now. I know that whatever it is that's happening, whatever it is I'm looking for, I will only be able to get that through you."
Skinner sat back down in the chair and put his head in his hands.
"Are you ok, sir?" Mulder asked, leaning forward.
"Yeah," Skinner answered and looked up from his hands. "I've just had a long day and, in case you hadn't noticed, I'm too old to be doing this shit," he sneered. "When it was over, the goddam alien invasion, I was ready to retire. Man, I was so out of there. You can't imagine, Mulder. You can't imagine. Even under normal circumstances an Assistant Director at the Bureau..." He laughed, looking back into his hands. "We put up with a lot of shit. And I was blessed with having you and Scully and a fucking race of aliens come here to kill us all. You're goddam right I was ready to turn in my badge and gun and live the rest of my life not doing inordinate amounts of asskissing and paperwork and running operations against terrorists and being responsible for every damn security check Uncle Sam needed done and trying to wrap my brain around reports from you two about genetic freaks and monsters and little green men. I was ready to kick back and relax, you know? Take it easy, you know? I was ready and I had every reason to expect to live out those years in relative comfort, but I never had the chance. Dammit, I fought the good fight too. Other people lost much more than I did, but I did pay my dues." He looked across at Mulder. "I cheated death and I don't mean I came close to dying. I cheated death. Twice. Once in Vietnam and once here. You saw it. I fucking cheated death, man, and I deserved to be treated better than this.
"I was a hero, goddammit!"
He was quiet for a moment, and Mulder didn't interrupt him.
"Anyway, that was my future I had planned, but they stole it. They just stole it all. After the orders were passed down ending our work in phases, it began to sink in that we weren't going back to the way things were. I started to see which way the wind was going to blow and it scared me. I wandered around in a haze. I lived in D.C. for a couple of months because, frankly, I didn't know what else to do. The invasion was over, the F.B.I. was being dissolved, and the world... I didn't know what was what. And then the U.N. called.
"I knew it was coming before it was official. They approached me early on, before the rest of you, but I resisted their offers, not sure of the right thing to do and then one day there we all were and you... You were their weapon. They used you, Spooky Mulder," he nearly spat the name, "against us. You gave them such a big target though, I knew they would. Yeah, the infamous Spooky Mulder. You played it mysterious, but it was a loud kind of mysterious. When the U.N. Subcommitte brought us in, you were the one who laughed that smartass laugh of yours. 'Sure we're criminals,' you said. 'We've always been traitors and criminals. We have to be.' That's what you said, Mulder, and they came after us.
"I got tired of walking around waiting to be shot at.
"You know what? I almost threw a party when they finally did shut you down. I thought they'd finally leave me alone and let me get my head on straight after you were out of the picture. They did. They kept up their end of things and I tried to live like a normal anonymous unremarkable man. I managed, for a while, but at night I could never forget. I'd lie in my bed somewhere between awake and dreaming and things would come to me. Names and faces. Accounts and testimonies and theories and accusations. I saw everything in every goddam one of the files you and Scully would bring to me that I never believed.
"My daylife quickly lost its appeal and I wasn't sleeping. I wasn't doing anything because there was nothing to be done.
"Later, one morning I left home and walked to the Vietnam War Memorial, sat down on a bench and tried to come up with reasons not to eat a bullet. I was out, man. I was out.
"So there I am at the Wall, sitting on this bench and thinking and watching these people go by. You know, old women with grandchildren, families, of course vets. People. I watched them and I tried to imagine their lives. I tried to imagine how happy they would be in their homes, and when I looked at the kids I tried to imagine how much safer a world their tomorrow would be but all I could see were folders and case files and photographs of crime scenes. I closed my eyes. I tried to fucking just scratch it all and go back to my own problems, but when I closed my eyes I saw a world where people were murdered in their homes by liver-eating freaks. I saw labs where scientists worked with the alien DNA obtained during the invasion, experimenting with generations of reptiles which had been exposed to the nuclear devastation in Egypt. Their work, their genetic experimentation, would require subjects which meant abductions which meant an eternity of UFO stories.
"And man, I saw a world where people were slaughtered by witches and trickster dogs or were eaten by giant underground mushrooms or simply beaten to death by humans coming from either far up or far down the evolutionary ladder and babies were ripped from mothers' wombs by demons or fucking just grabbed and swallowed by the monsters in their closets or under their beds.
"Then I saw what was behind it all. I saw the curtain fucking torn down, man, and I saw the angels and devils with their brilliant swords, their war raging beyond this life and I swear to you, beyond that I saw God.
"No matter how hard I tried that day, I couldn't shut these visions out and they always came back to you and my decision to play the middle, to sell my loyalty.
"I gave them my obedience and my invisibility. They let me live. They made me aware of certain medical opportunities only they could offer me. For three weeks, I underwent the treatments, ineffectual treatments which only left me worse off in new ways."
Mulder nodded, understanding what Skinner was telling him.
"I tried to..." His lips continued to make little movements, but no sound came out. It was nearly a minute later before he regained his direction.
"Needless to say, I still couldn't sleep at night and when I did it was for shit. I decided to quit shuffling around during the day, killing time until time could kill me, and I started lifting weights, reading books, doing anything to pass the time but whatever I did, I did knowing that you'd do it all over again because nothing mattered to you except your holy war. Knowing that despite everything, you were the one who saved us all. And knowing that somewhere, you were laughing at us.
"I could never escape that.
"I could never escape you, escape the fact that I never believed, never wanted to believe all your stupid stories of little green men. And then they took you. And then we lost Scully. I knew it was over for us all when she died, when Doggett..." Again, Skinner fell silent and it was an uncomfortably long time, for Mulder at least, before he resumed his story.
"Anyway, after that, I knew you were screwed because there was no way you would ever be able to pursue it. Not outside of a chance encounter with him out on the streets somewhere. They promoted that son of a bitch completely out of reach and it was then that I knew they had you, that they'd sucked the life out of you and without you, there was no chance I was going to be able to resist them.
"When I made the call, they told me you had just left. I've wondered about you every day since then. What you were doing, how you were. I had hoped you were doing well and I take it you know I've stayed busy. Four years ago, it was like I just snapped out of the fog I had been in. I got my shit together and now I do what I can to be as big a thorn in their side as I possibly can. I'm not talking about anything major. Just, maybe shit here or there as it comes. But, on the plus side, I am helped by the fact that with an operation the size of what they're doing, it's not like they didn't plan for shit like this. It's to be expected. No real harm done." He exhaled bitterly. "I've suspected they know of me and tolerate me because killing me would mean admitting I exist to too many people. So, I fuck them up. I'm pissed off and I rock the boat. It's not much," he said and shrugged, "but it is something.
"And now you think a storm is brewing again and you're coming to me for help. If we fuck up, if they get the smallest whiff of you, they'll have to kill us both, but I suspect you know that already." He turned his eye away from his host and focussed on his right hand, twirling the pencil between his fingers.
"Ok, but one thing. When it comes down, I want a piece of Krycek too. For old times' sake," Skinner said and tapped his eyepatch with the pencil. "For good this time."
After Skinner left, Mulder turned on his computer, logged onto the net, and began searching for something he was sure he could find.
Not very far away from where Mulder had found what he was looking for and had printed it out and then left his motel room, John Doggett sat in the darkness of his silent apartment and stared at the screen of his computer. He was watching a live feed of a military unit cleansing a non-authorized zone. They were completing the final leg of a sweep of the southeastern states, this operation taking place in Alabama between Birmingham and Huntsville. He watched as the buildings formerly occupied by squatting anarchists and drug dealers and whores were burned and the squatters made to stand in a line before being put down by an execution squad.
Silently, from the dark shadows of his dining room beyond his computer, a darker shape moved toward him.
On the screen in front of him, a small group of people (teenagers and young adults mostly, Doggett thought) huddled together on the sidewalk in front of an abandoned Wal-Mart. In the front of the group, one boy with long red hair caught Doggett's eye. He was wearing a white t-shirt bearing the image of a rebel flag on the front and then he was lost in the push and shove.
Two soldiers who had been standing several paces away from the other members of their unit stepped forward on command and levelled their flamethrowers at the people on the sidewalk. Dual streams of fire sailed toward them, cooking the skin and hair of heads and faces and exposed arms and hands and transforming the people hit into roiling columns of flame.
The shape moved slowly but steadily behind the row of potted plants - a fern flanked by an African violet and a Spanish Angel - on the dividing half-wall behind the desk. They were placed and arranged so that he could easily see them while working at the computer. If the setting was just right, which was usually as the sun was going down, he would look away from the computer and at the residents of the half-wall and he would sometimes be able to find a small measure of comfort in them, in their shades of passively despondent green and softly majestic, if sorrowful, purple.
Doggett closed his eyes and turned his head away from the feed of the cleansing where now only three of the group were dancing and flailing around and dying. He blacked the sight away from him and when he opened his eyes again, where he had expected to see only the possibly comforting sight of his plants, there also appeared the face of Alex Krycek.
"I thought you were dead," Doggett said, staring intently at the unwelcome intruder. He didn't move. He didn't reach for a gun, although one was closeby. Instead, he simply stared, partly in disbelief and partly in impotent outrage.
"You thought wrong." Krycek stepped around the half-wall and into the light of the computer's monitor and now Doggett was able to fully take in this unwelcome ghost of the man who had largely been responsible for stopping the invasion. It wasn't much of a surprise how much he hadn't changed, aside from the streaks of grey in his hair and a very slight gathering of wrinkles across his forehead. When Doggett saw the empty sleeve of the black leather jacket, it somehow sent not only the obvious message that he wasn't wearing his prosthetic arm, but also that he hadn't worn it in a long time.
He didn't need it.
Doggett would never admit it, not to himself or anyone else, but he was relieved because he knew Krycek had come to kill him.
"Well, what the hell do you want?" he asked, expecting this to be the final time he was able to look at his plants and turned his computer off. When no gun was fired and no bullet put a hole in him, he pulled the string on his desktop lamp.
Krycek was indeed in much better health than the last time Doggett had seen him.
"I'm here to remind you of your duty to your government, General Doggett. I've been watching you taking in the field reports and I wonder what you must be feeling. Does it ever bother you, these campaigns you approve and sign off on? It has to." He smiled, his eyes almost glowing with the undeniable pleasure he was getting from this meeting.
"What's your point?"
"My point is that I don't blame you if it's getting to you," he answered. "It should be. Those are American citizens you're murdering."
The accusation stung, but Doggett resisted the urge to defend himself against it.
"They used to be ordinary people, a lot of them, and of course this isn't what anyone would ever want. This business you conduct is dirty business and that's a fact. Some of our friends thought it would be in your best interest to remind you that you were aware of the potential responsibilities you were accepting when you agreed to wear a General's uniform. So any indications or outright acts of sympathy for these people on your part would be considered an intense indiscretion and would be dealt with accordingly."
"Yeah, yeah, I know all that. Is that all you came for? To stick your dick in my face? You can leave now, errand boy."
Krycek continued as though Doggett hadn't spoken. "I should also remind you that in these encampments, they live in self-imposed squalor and anarchy. Their lives are sheer chaos. They live in fear, those who aren't part of a pack. Nothing is sacred to these people. That's why they're out there. They have no gods, no sense of morality, no civil or social obligations-"
"Sounds like someone I know," Doggett sneered.
"They whore their children," Krycek spat back. He saw immediately on Doggett's face that he had hit his target. "How many times have you prayed for a storm to come and for the rain to wash that shit away or for the wind to blow it out of existence and out of memory? To change it all? They used to walk among us, but they were never us. They fear their monsters, but they are monsters. They are our monsters and to show them pity, to allow for, to tolerate their lunacy now, after all we've been through, would be to allow their contagion to re-infect our world. If that infection sets in and is allowed to fester, it will be the ruination of everything, Doggett. Everything!" His eyes were locked with Doggett's as he walked through the room toward the front door. "If we aren't able to stop it now, we'll be again facing what happened in Egypt. You do remember what happened in Egypt? It'll happen again, but this time it will happen here."
Doggett continued to listen, remaining silent while Krycek disarmed the locks on the door.
"One more thing," Krycek said as he stepped outside. "You owe me." He flashed Doggett another smile and closed the door and then he was gone.
Doggett felt his shoulders slump and the tension he carried with him like a set of keys evaporated. When he finished rubbing his eyes with his fists, he leaned back in his chair and gazed again at the African violet.
"I do remember Egypt."
The night drew in around his plants and he disappeared into a memory - one of many which he revisited on a daily basis.
It was the day after The Powers That Were had issued the official worldwide declaration of victory. The invasion had been stopped and the invaders defeated, they had said, and now he had been called to a meeting with the President.
The two men had shaken hands across the desk in the Oval Office of the White House and after they were seated and the formalities were out of the way, the last of the American Presidents looked John Doggett in the eye. Although he hadn't actually been able to see the President's eyes because of the infamous cowboy hat, he sensed them and it would be the only time during the meeting this would happen and Doggett knew then he would remember it for the rest of his life. The President briefly went over Doggett's record, stopping to make passing acknowledgements for his service in the Marines, his time in New York, and then his joining the Bureau and being placed on the X-Files. Slightly more attention was paid to his return to the Marine Corps and his recent promotion to General and then there was silence. When the last of the American Presidents spoke again, Doggett thought he could detect a slight drunken slur.
"I'm guessing you'd like to know the reason you're here, son. I can't say as I blame you. I'd be wondering too. Hell, I'd probably be pissing my pants wondering what could be next. Let me tell you now, I just brought you here to talk. I like just talking man to man sometimes. A man in my position can get lonely, son. He starts to miss the buddy talk. You know what I mean? Plus, I try to make it a point to get to know all of my high-ranking officers, especially those in or near your position. I like to think of us all as friends.
"Son, it can fuck you up what life has in store for you. See, you're still a young man, but I bet you remember the days when it was only hippie faggots talking about unity and world peace. Me, I'll never forget when President Reagan addressed the United Nations. That man changed everything. I can still see him there, behind the podium telling all them damned turbanheads and assorted cocksuckers how if we faced some real badasses like a bunch of goddam aliens coming to fry us, we wouldn't waste time for shit and we'd get together and put our gripin' aside and kick some alien ass.
"And you know what, son? By God, President Reagan was right. When the time came and our world faced that alien threat, the invasion, all those oh-so-important world leaders couldn't wait to join hands with the U.S. of A. Those bastards fucked with us, the people of Earth, and we responded by forming the greatest alliance in history. That's what we did, son. They counted on us to be passive. They counted wrong.
"I wonder what President Reagan would have thought if he could have seen all this. I wonder what he'd say today in this era that is the promise kept - the promise of peace made real throughout the whole sonofabitching world. Whatever he said, it'd be the right thing. I'm sure he'd be grateful and humble, but I'm thinking he'd also have some little warning to give us too. Smart man, that Reagan. He would have told us to keep our heads out of our asses and to not get comfortable. Yessir, it's great all this peace we have here, but the truth is that this is a never ending war and I'll tell you why. A century ago, in 1918, a German soldier named Adolf Hitler was awarded the Iron Cross for capturing four French soldiers singlehandedly. Four days later, the Allies broke through The Western Front, forcing Germany to send as many units as they could to halt the Allies. It was during this time that Communist rebellion began to spread throughout the country's people and its military. Communist spies spread rumors and caused chaos. There were riots, led by Communists, which caused problems with the country's economy and its ability to feed its soldiers.
"One soldier in Adolf Hitler's unit began spreading the Communist message. Hitler was angered by this and confronted his fellow soldier, the confrontation leading to a fistfight between the two men.
"After Hitler was blinded in October of that same year, he had visions which led him to, in his eyes, clean up Germany. Hitler believed the German effort had been undermined by the propaganda of the Communists and it was this belief which fueled his efforts to end Communism in Germany.
"Dissension is our true enemy, son, and in that regard, man doesn't evolve. He doesn't change. Treachery is the inevitable result of all affairs, but where there is faith, there is order. We must protect that faith, nurture it and defend it from those who would betray us, son. This calls for us to take control and to reign in the anarchy and the chaos. We must stomp out that which would destroy us. We've faced anarchy, son, and to put it plainly, people damn well just don't want that in their lives. They've had enough of that. They want a return to normalcy. That's what the whole last century was about. We tried to give them that, starting with the League of Nations, which our own people aborted. Then, after the Nazis were out of the picture, it was just us and the Communists, the only two giants left in the world and for a while it was very easy to identify the good guys and the bad guys, but soon any dime-store punk in any third world country could drink at the bars reserved for the bad guys. The return to normalcy was then assigned to the United Nations. So we have the beautiful face of diplomacy while behind it is a brain plotting the not-so-selective annihilation of leaders ranging from podunk mayors to high-level elected officials to princes and kings so we can slap our own people in there.
"The peace must be preserved.
"Now, of all the times man has seen, this all has never been more true. I know much of it is seeming contradictions, but that's nothing new. It's no great secret or shocking revelation that we all sleep soundly and safely because of all that and that's the trade-off we all have to agree to. Most of us have the luxury of not having to face up to that, but we, you and I, do not enjoy that luxury.
"America has always protected her citizens, and she'll continue to, but that protection sometimes comes through violence and the threat of violence and through lies and misconceptions. It always has, and it will continue to now. That's our job as soldiers and patriots, son.
"I know it's not perfect, but it's never been a perfect world. We're doing the right thing."
Doggett turned off his computer and went to bed, where he suffered strings of thoughts of fate, destiny, karma, luck, virtue, and the random and when he slept, in his dreams he came home from work after his first day on the X-Files and gave his own son the speech the President had given him while Luke wrote over and over on the walls of the house, "I WANT TO BELIEVE".
November 17 Outside of Washington D.C.
Mulder thumped his cigarette butt onto the gravel road and pulled his jacket closed against the bitter fall night's wind. As he had crossed the D.C. border, and many times before that, he had seen the signs warning against travelling at night but tonight, as always before, he hadn't given them much thought. They were just a part of the way things were until the government was able to open the rest of the country back up.
This particular "outlaw encampment" he was visiting had been a suburb of Arlington, itself a suburb of D.C. According to the small bits of information he was able to find on the net after Skinner had left, there was a very good possibility that another source, someone who was rumored to be very well connected, might be found here.
That possibility seemed very slim now because tonight, in this little corner of Arlington, there appeared to be no one home.
The area was the rough equivalent of maybe four city blocks, mostly populated by small apartment buildings but there was one strip mall on the southeastern end where Mulder now walked, slowing to peer as far as he could through the doors of the mall and into its dark and empty depths. At least, from where he stood, it looked dark and empty and he thought it best to cover some more ground before wandering around in abandoned clothing stores and arcades.
His feet had been hurting for the last twenty minutes, but now they were starting to revolt and he tripped as he tried to turn what he expected to be another dead end corner. But he didn't fall. He simply froze except for his arm which rose too slowly to shield his eyes from the unexpected glare of lights.
It appeared to be a festival of sorts, lit by blazing fires in trashcans and populated by dozens of people, but there was an eerie silence to it. He walked on, passing first one, then pairs of hookers and then various beggars. They all came on to him, but with nods and eyes that widened only for a second or two. Near the end of the first populated block, he was approached by short heavy woman wearing a small dirty white skirt and a thin white top which was mostly netting. Through the fabric he could see the dark circles of her nipples, both of which were pierced with the breasts weighted down by large gold rings. The netting became solid fabric near the shoulders, with extremely long sleeves. He suspected they hid bruises or needle tracks, or maybe both, on her arms.
"Hey honey, you want to let Sweet Prissy give you something you can't get nowhere else?"
"Yes, I think I do," he said. "I need to know if you've seen this person" He showed her the picture he had printed out in his motel room.
"Oh, you talkin' 'bout Sister Mary. You a first-timer?" She opened her eyes wide in mock surprise and laughed loudly. "You don't look like no first-timer to me."
"Yeah, well, I, uh..." Mulder smiled, honestly at a loss for words.
She leaned closer, now with a deadly serious expression on her face. "You know something? I think I done you twice last week, myself." She let her accusation hang in the air between them for two full seconds before breaking into another fit of loud laughter. "Listen, I dont work for her so it ain't really right that I be giving her referals, but I tell you now you ain't her type. Her type ain't walkin' men." She laughed loudly again. "See that third building down there? Go in there and straight down the hall. That's her. Now, if she is home, she gonna serve you so cold you'll be goin' home all soft and with your pride hurt, honey, but if she ain't home, you just come on back to see me. I'll do you real good. You can trust Sweet Prissy," she ended her pitch with a mostly toothless smile.
"Thanks. I won't forget."
He took the picture back and walked the short distance to the building the hooker had pointed out. He sat on the porch of the building across the street, consumed by the shadows, and for what seemed like hours, he watched business.
They came in cars and they came for sex and those who didn't come for sex came for drugs. Then a car different from the others approached. It was large, and soon he could tell it was a limo, definitely post-war. It stopped in front of her building, one person got out, and it pulled away. Mulder could see in the soft glow of the rear lights that it carried a government tag.
Across the street, where a former passenger stood, he saw a nun who appeared to be looking back at him. If she was, they stared at each other, his eyes straining until he saw her face and was certain of her identity.
She disappeared into the building and he bolted across the street after her, praying that he wouldn't trip again and maybe break a rib or a hip. Inside the building, he felt his way through the dark until his eyes adjusted again. It was his fingers who were tripping now as they encountered various sized holes in the wall behind him. Most were empty, but some were covered from the insides of the rooms with what felt like cardboard.
When he came to what he hoped was her door, he knocked lightly and waited but there was no answer. He twisted the knob and pushed. The door opened and he stepped into what was a surprisingly clean apartment, but it still had the air of being a total wreck. There was no furniture in the front room. Between this room and the kitchen, a sheet hung on a string which was tied to nails in the opposing walls. The sheet was gathered at one end, exposing the kitchen and there she stood at the sink, drinking water from a glass she had filled from a plastic bottle.
She didn't look at him, or even acknowledge that she had heard him until she set the glass back down on the counter. Then she said, still staring down at her glass, "I haven't heard that name in years."
Mulder smiled when she then turned and looked across the dark and empty apartment at him. In the light of the candles standing in the window behind her, she seemed almost electric with her pale skin and her shocking grey hair falling against the black and white of her robes. He could almost accept her as a new world's nun but the illusion was ruined by the crucifix, which to his surprise made him vaguely uncomfortable. It was large, maybe a foot high, made of gold and trimmed with diamonds.
Behind the robes and crucifix, she was older, certainly, but still very beautiful and still possessed of a definite cutting air of sophistication.
"Yes, it's me. How are you, Marita?"
"How did... How did you find me, Fox?" She stepped forward, the uncertainty on her face betraying more than mere confusion.
He followed her lead and closed the distance between them with one more hesitant step. "Believe it or not, I was in the F.B.I. once. I used to do this kind of stuff for a living."
Her stare was unwavering, but her tone was more confident now. "You're not with the F.B.I."
"Yeah, my retirement plan's a joke too. I think everyone's retirement plans got shaken up for a while there. It looks like that was more drastic for some than for others," he said, clearly acknowledging her clothes.
"You don't want to know," she said. "Give me just a couple of minutes."
In her dark bedroom, she pulled the chain over her head and held the crucifix in her hand, looking first at it and then into the dark mirror. Then she undressed, thinking of the man in the other room. She wondered for one slightly frightening second if anything could kill him, but reality chased the thought away.
With the belt of her robe tightly cinched around her waist, Marita returned to Mulder, still thinking of him before... When they were both younger...
He watched in silence while she poured and handed him his wine. His eyes moved steadily across her hand and back up to her face. Though she had changed out of her working clothes, she was still wearing her rings and earrings and she saw that he noticed.
"I'm going to explain everything right now to get it out of the way. My life requires that I maintain a relationship with certain people. The most effective way to do that is through the market. In exchange for certain... things," she looked away for a moment. "I provide certain services for people who can help me. There. I don't know how you spend your nights, but here were are, Fox Mulder, and who could have guessed we would end up like this?"
Mulder thought there was a small plane of hysteria in her voice.
No shit, Einstein.
"I got lucky finding you. I guess we all got the name change, huh?"
"Except mine's somewhat voluntary. Like you, I enjoy a certain degree of anonymity. I'm officially dead and it's better if things stay that way."
"But these people..."
"Fox, what did you come here for?" She interrupted tersely, setting her glass on the table just a little too hard. She closed her eyes and bowed her head. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be rude, but I'm very surprised to see you and I know you have a reason for being here," she said, raising her head and finally looking back up into his eyes.
"I understand. I thought we could just talk for a while before getting to business. After all the shit we've seen, what could it hurt?" He reached across the table and put his hand on hers. "For old times' sake."
"Old times' sake! Ha!" she nearly screamed as tears flooded her eyes. "Look at me, Fox. This is my life now. This," she moved her arms around, gesturing toward the walls and everything within, "and this is as good as it's ever been for me."
With that, she broke down and the tears came hard. Mulder went to her and held her in his arms. She cried into his shoulder, squeezing him and whispering garbled parts of thoughts. Her breathing soon began to come less labored and she had quit whispering. Still, she clung to him and he didn't resist. He looked down at her, at her long grey hair and at her hands gripping his trenchcoat. Then he saw the large dark bruise on her right wrist. Instinctively, she pulled the sleeve of her robe down to cover her wrist and then led Mulder by his hand toward the bedroom, but he stopped her before they got there.
"It's ok, Marita. I'm just here as a friend right now," he whispered. They stayed there in the hallway for a long moment and then she followed him back into the kitchen. He sat back down and she poured more wine while he lit a cigarette and set the pack of Morleys on the table between them. "I've always wondered how you came into things," he said and thanked her for the ashtray she had gotten him from beside the sink. He set it in front of him and thumped the growing clump of ashes from the end of his cigarette into it. "Of course, I wondered that same thing your predecessor as well as the man before him, but they're not here."
Marita considered his question before answering. "I'll answer your question, but you must answer mine first. Fair?"
"Fair. Go," Mulder said and settled into his chair, crossing his right leg over his left and putting his arms behind his head.
Marita sipped her wine and arched her eyebrow at Mulder. "How much of the whole story do you know?"
He laughed before answering, "I don't know. I never knew the whole story. I... I think the whole story died with the cigarette-smoking man."
"Yeah," Mulder put his hands back on the table. "I know that they came, the colonists came and my father and the smoking man and their group struck a deal with them. They agreed to help prepare the way for the invasion in exchange for letting them and their families live. I know that each member of the group had to give up a member of their family to the colonists. My father... The man I called my father, Bill Mulder, didn't want to do it that way, but it was done. The smoking man ordered it done. He had been a friend of my family and there have been times I've thought he and my mother... I've thought he might have been my father." Mulder swallowed the rest of his wine and Marita refilled his glass.
"Fox, he was your father and he spared your life. He gave them your sister. They were supposed to take you, but he stopped them."
"How do you know that? How can you know that... that's the truth?"
"I'll tell you what I do know about it. I know that your mother and her husband had been having problems for a couple of years before you were born. They had seen counsleors. C.G.B. Spender was a friend of the family and when things were at their worst, he and your mother... He had no family and he envied what Bill Mulder had. He and your mother agreed after she became pregnant to end it but when the colonists came and demanded their ransom, he was forced to act to protect what he saw as his. He convinced Bill Mulder that you could be guided to continue what he had begun, a resistance. I learned of these things during my association with those men and with Spender."
The lines of the wrinkles which now comprised the majority of the landscape of Mulder's face seemed to swirl as he processed what she had told him. "I knew that a choice had been made... It doesn't change anything. I'm not... I wasn't looking for my father. I was looking for Samantha, looking for my sister."
"Yes, your famous quest. And did you find her? Did you find Samantha?" Marita asked.
"No, I never did. I did find an answer I thought I could believe in. I think back now... I think what I was told is true, at least in effect, and that effect is that she's dead. She's been dead for a long time now. A man led me to a diary she kept while she was gone. I've read it a million times, memorized every word, every passage. She was returned sometime after the aliens were finished with her, I guess, and she spent the rest of her time in this world as C.G.B. Spender's guinea pig. This man who led me to her diary believed that she had been taken to another place by... by benevolent spirits. It's been an answer I could believe. I saw things...
"I don't have anything which confirms or refutes the explanation, but I do have her diary and I come back to it again and again.
"She kicked Anne Frank right in the ass."
Marita's expectant silence was more than message enough that his attempt at humor had failed.
"But you know," he pressed on, "whatever place my search led me to, there were always people there to help me. People willing to risk it all to help me and to provide me with information. You were one of those people and you helped me. What did you know?"
"I'm sorry. I don't understand."
"What really happened to my sister?"
"I don't have that answer. I never knew," she said, refilling both of their glasses. "I do know that she was the female protype for the hybrid slaves that would survive the invasion while the rest of humanity gestated the new race. I heard Spender say once that the colonists' plan to return the hostages was the only thing anyone could trust, but I never knew what he meant by that. There was a timetable and I know that, at times, it seemed like the timetable was Spender's sole reason in living. He was by no means the leader of that group but there was a sort of silent understanding that he was the most resourceful, the most dangerous, and the most determined of them. He made it no secret, his respect for the scientists and other brilliant men he had met and worked with at the onset of the project, and the others knew his every decision, his every vote, was based on that respect. There was a respect for him among these men and it led to great and horrible fights among them. Do you remember when you first came to me, the picture I gave you?"
"The girl was Samantha Mulder and the boy's name was Kurt Crawford."
The name transported Mulder to a room where he knelt in front of a filing cabinet and he spoke into his cell phone, then to a fertility clinic where he leaned over a young man's shoulder trying to guess the password for a locked database.
"He was the son of one of the men I worked for," Marita continued. "The son of a man I believe you were familiar with.
"Spender had brought me into his wing of the group and I was working through the U.N. for various field activites here and there, but never anything with any direct relationship to the project and never anything I was to discuss with the others. They all kept many secrets from each other, so naturally I was kept in the dark about most everything. I was allowed access only to what they deemed necessary for me to do my small job. It was sheerly by accident that I discovered you and your quest and I was fascinated. You were the cause of so many arguments between those men, arguments I had previously not understood. It drove them mad trying to decide how to deal with you. This was before you were even given permission to open case files, but high priority was given to the task of monitoring you and your work. About a year after Scully was assigned to work with you, a leak was discovered. Once they knew the scope of the betrayal and eliminated the traitor, the job of watching you was divided among several people, including the man who sent you to me. When his own deceptions came to light, I took his place.
"Despite what I was supposed to do, the way in which I was to serve the project, I really was proud of the fact that now I was one of the trusted.
"I don't know what finally happened to Samantha, but all the time I was moving into the inner circle, I was watching you there at the Bureau, taking enormous risks in the Violent Crimes Unit, investigating these useless irrelevant cases and fighting crime like a comic book superhero," she said and took another drink of her wine. He thought he could see it working in her eyes when she looked back into his over her glass. "And all it would have taken was just one bullet."
Mulder thought she had really been asking a question rather than making a statement. "Well, I-" he began but was interrupted.
"No, I mean about those men," she said. "You have to understand, there was never one simple ideal or philosophy guiding all of these men. There were always alliances being made within the alliance, projects being pursued within projects. One faction never accepted you. They wanted you dead. They always wanted you dead. One faction believed you were to be our savior, but only through exposing the conspiracy and allowing humanity to fend for itself. And still another faction, a much smaller faction than the others, listened to the superstitions of the Navajo. They claimed that you were our saviour because you were fated to be our savior. You were a messiah.
"Spender, despite whatever shortcomings the man had, was a firm believer in covering every angle. He paid attention to the claims of those sympathetic to the Navajo beliefs, believing their warnings to be a possibility, if not in every detail certainly in principle. He thought you could be the one to save us all, yet there you were at the Bureau and we all could have died from just one bullet.
"That amazes me.
"My story... Now that's not so easy." She laughed and drank more of her wine. "No, that's not true. It is easy to tell. Sadly easy because I... I never had a choice. This was all forced on me, in much the same way it was forced on you. I don't know...
"I was in college. There was a man. A very important and unfortunately very married man and after I graduated, I worked for him. I was his secretary. It wasn't what I wanted, but it was a wonderful job and I believed it was only a matter of time before he would leave his wife. It took some time before I realized that he was living his life without me and intended to keep doing so. But then there was talk of a divorce and we went to Greece for a month and the next month we got an apartment together and the next day, I got a call from his wife.
"I was caught completely by surprise when they reconciled. Fearing that I would seek revenge or retribution or... I don't know. He told me he had a friend at the United Nations and he would do everything he could to get me a job if I wanted it. I knew he was trying to get me as far away from him as he could, but I didn't mind. I was excited at the prospect of working in my field, and at such a high level.
"My interview was arranged and I met with my former lover's friend. We had a very nice dinner, went dancing, all the stuff, and I got the job. Soon afterward, I was approached by a man who said he knew of my previous relationship and was prepared to reveal the details of it to the press. He explained how it would not only ruin several lives, but it would be done in such a way that would make me seem responsible for spreading the information."
"You have to admit, that's pretty clever," Mulder said and chuckled.
"Eh, I suppose. This man died alongside his colleagues, my employers, at the hands of the rebel aliens," she said icily and refilled first Mulder's glass then her own. "He had blackmailed me into working for him. He brought me into this world where for years I was thanklessly used as a tool to further their agenda to collaborate with the engineers of mankind's demise and if I refused or if my loyalty was suspect at all, I would be killed without a second thought. I was a hired gun, so to speak, until I was promoted. Then, like I said, I was given a clear and frightening view of the larger picture, the full extent of the project. But by then, I had seen enough and been party to enough to have been actually traumatized. It changed me. I was a different person. I was a person wholly unlike the person I had been before. I didn't like it. I didn't like any of it. And here I was, now charged with aiding the monsters come to kill us all. I knew it was wrong and although my mind was open to treason, I didn't know where to start."
Mulder feigned shock and Marita did laugh this time.
"No, I knew where you could be found, of course. What I didn't know was how to leak anything to you. I wasn't the only one watching you. Defense had eyes, Intelligence had eyes, God only knows how many of the people I worked with were watching you at any given time. My hands were tied, but then I found a way to make a difference, a way I could help stop this thing, a way I could help you stop this thing and then I was infected. There was nothing I could have done. They found me and you know what happened then. It was the one time I really tried to break out for myself, to do the right thing, and I never had a choice.
"Jeffrey Spender found me at Fort Marlene after Cassandra Spender had been taken and he got me out. I learned soon afterward that only C.G.B. Spender had survived the rebel attack. The strict schedule had been destroyed and there was no way to know what waited for us out there. It was just him, ruling with his thugs until he had the surgery." A look passed between them acknowledging all that needed to be acknowledged. "Death was on its way for him. Finally. God was ready to send that one back to Hell. I continued to work for him and assisted him until Alex pushed him down a flight of stairs. So now everybody's dead and I spend my time wondering where I fit into this world.
"See, after it was over, I stayed in D.C. and New York to wrap up various loose ends I maintained an interest in, things the invasion had provided no resolution for, and ironically, no resolution was what I found. For anything. I think I told you once that not everything dies. Some things just live on into perpetuity; one evil gives way only to another until everything in opposition is whittled away and the evil is left unmolested, unchallenged in its bid to live forever.
"And now here I am, doing what I do, but isn't this the role I played all along? I lie in my bed unable to sleep because I know this isn't the life I should have had, this isn't the place in the world I should occupy, and I do this all the time, for days and nights at a time until I can't take it anymore.
"Does that ever happen to you?"
Mulder's eyes went comically wide and he answered, "Me? No. Never."
When their weak shared laughter turned into an extended silence, he knew that the small talk was over and it was time to get to business.
"Ok, you were right earlier. I didn't come here by accident. I need information."
"And what do you think I know that can help you? What are you looking for?"
"I don't really know. I think I'm looking for a schedule of pickups and deliveries. The buildings in D.C., and presumably all over the continent, are being cleaned out. I need some of idea of when that's happening and where the stuff's going. Is that something you can do?"
"We can try," she said and Mulder followed her to her computer in her bedroom where she logged on and accessed a government search engine. "From here, I should be able to find vehicle maintenance records for the military. It will take a little while, but we should be able to track down some of what you're looking for based on that."
"You don't have to worry about being traced?" Mulder asked, knowing the answer but hoping for an explanation.
"No, I don't. I have a satellite connection and I don't have to use terrestrial servers. Our scientists and engineers haven't bothered to look into any off-planet applications for the technology they acquired ten years ago. But they aren't the people writing software. I may not be the legendary Fox Mulder, but I am not without resources. Surely you know that by now."
Their hunt took slightly over an hour and ended with Marita waking Mulder up and handing him a compact disc which she said contained everything she had downloaded.
At the door, he looked back at her, into the eyes of Marita Covarrubias, and wondered if it would be the last time. He was going to go back out into a world where he played the role of a superhero, a world where just one bullet could end it all, but he wanted very badly to see her again.
"I wish you well, Fox," she said and kissed him, pressing her lips quickly and tightly against his for only a quick moment and let him go. She watched him walk away as long as she could and then she closed her door.
Back in the wreckage of a world he had left outside, Mulder stood in the cold and looked into the sky. The stars looked back at him from their nearby corners of the universe and-
Look. Do you see her up there?
Unable to block the voice out of his mind, he closed his eyes but all he could see was Samantha's face looking back at him. He swallowed hard and opened his tired and watering eyes. He needed to go to his car, to drive back to the airport, to go home but now that seemed too heavy, too thick a set of tasks. He breathed in and looked around, pleasantly surprised that the night seemed to have suddenly taken on a glow. A pale blue light surrounded everything and far to his left, he began to hear what sounded for all the world like a child's laugh.
He watched, waiting, a sense of pleasant patience and satisfaction filling him while beneath it all that dark voice began to complain. He tried to remember... where he had been, but...
"Marita," he whispered, as the laughing voice came closer and became clearer.
He had left her house... her apartment... he came outside...
The other voice was screaming but he couldn't hear it.
He wondered if this was a fugue state and if Marita had drugged him, and then he saw her. She was a young girl, early teens, running slowly toward him. The glow of the night made it easy for him to see her face. She ran until she was close to him and slowed into a fast walk until she was in front of him. Their eyes locked and he felt himself smiling and he felt his arms reaching toward the fourteen year old sister returned to him here, this night, on this street, under these stars.
She started laughing and ran again, past Mulder and down the sidewalk. Unaware of his distant smile, he followed her down the sidewalk and out of reach of the lights from the now distant fires. He followed her around the corner of the building, but she was gone. She was gone and where she should have been stood a short stocky man, naked, with long grey hair running in stringy streams past his shoulders and onto his back. Mulder stared at the man, a new and markedly different sense of calm washing over him. He reached out and pushed some of the hair away from the man's face and knew him immediately.
"Harold Piller? Is that you, Harold?"
And it was Harold Piller, the man who had come to help with the Amber Lynn LaPierre disappearance and had led Mulder to the truth about Samantha. He looked back at Mulder, but he showed no signs of recognition.
"Little..." he said, his voice getting deeper and rising sharply back up as he finished, "raindrop!" Mulder shook his head. A sound from around the corner sent an alarm through him, his immediate defensive instinct to hide himself and Harold because that noise could only be someone-
-come to kill the two of them.
He quickly looked around, but there was nowhere to run. He waited, his heart pounding in his chest, for the assassin to come, but it was only a couple of hookers passing by on their way to the next block. After they had passed, he looked back at the face of Harold Piller.
"This is not happening," he said, looking up at the stars and all around him in amazement.
There was a distant explosion of laughter, two female voices. These final sounds of the hookers passed and then they were alone.
"Harold, do you know where you are?" he asked the man, not quite knowing what to expect.
"They're all wet!" Harold shouted, smiling and clapping like an excited child.
Mulder took Harold's arm in his hand and began to lead him to his car. When they left the alley and had begun to walk along the sidewalk, Harold stopped walking. He looked up into the sky, quiet until he turned his head to look at Mulder.
"I heard you calling me. I've come to help you, old friend," he said in a sort of sing-song which further convinced Mulder that he was drunk or on some kind of high.
"Come on." Mulder led him by the shoulder to the car and they left.
Back home in Chilmark, Mulder led Harold through the house and into the basement. At the bottom of the stairs, he flicked the light switch and finally got Harold seated, which was good on several levels, not the least of which being that Mulder was beginning to get totally creeped out by the man's voice in his ears, whispering and laughing and chanting nursery rhymes. He ran back upstairs for a minute and when he returned he dressed Harold in some sweatpants and a t-shirt. After his guest launcehd into another whispering fit, Mulder gave up and went to his computer. He booted up, retrieved and started the software Skinner had e-mailed him and immediately a window opened, revealing Skinner's face.
"Wow. That was quick."
Skinner looked like he had been asleep. He didn't say anything.
"Anyway, after you left, I ran down a hunch and it paid off. It's not a hell of a lot, but it is some quality stuff. I'll e-mail that to you in the morning."
"That'll be fine," Skinner said, his tone indicating he was ready to end the call.
"Before I go, I have a surprise for you. Does the name, Harold Piller, ring a bell?"
"Yeah, I think so. He was... He was involved in the LaPierre case, right? He explained what happened to your sister, didn't he?"
"I don't know, but I'm going to find out. Later." Mulder ended the connection and turned the computer off. He leaned back in his chair, folding his arms behind his head, and staring at Harold. If anyone else had been there in the basement with them, they would have thought his gaze seemed somehow focussed, as though if he looked hard enough, he could actually see into the man. He thought about a life following in the wake of walkin-ins, the old souls in search of new homes who, according to Harold and a woman named Kathy Lee Tencate, come to children who are destined to suffer horrible painful deaths and take them into the starlight before it can happen. They leave a trail of lost children, children presumed dead, but for Harold Piller they were everywhere. He was surrounded by them every day of his life. Mulder knew he could never truly understand what a life like that would be like, especially for a father.
Over the next couple of weeks, the two men spent every waking moment together. At the start, Mulder attempted repeatedly to press questions about Harold's gift and the events leading up to his seeing Samantha for what had been the final time until the reunion outside Marita's. He asked what had prompted Harold's arrival during the investigation. He argued with himself about the extreme possibility of coincidence and demanded that Harold tell him who had sent him to Sacramento. He explained that he at least deserved to have the sleight of hand involved in how he had directed Mulder to April Air Base and to the house where she had lived with the smoking man as her father and his son as her brother explained to him.
How had he known about the diary Samantha had kept?
What did he know about the smoking man?
He begged to know more about the children. He repeated again and again his insistence of having seen her, having seen Amber Lynn LaPierre, having seen Harold's own son, but to no avail. The only lucid response Harold gave was when, in the midst of a soft crying fit, he came to Mulder and touched him on the shoulder. When Mulder looked up at him, he whispered, "I'm sorry, Agent Mulder. I don't remember."
It was then that Mulder gave up, instead merely watching and observing Harold, making notes of his impressions of Harold's power and the mystery of its psychic nature.
One night, alone in the dark of his basement with only the light from his trophy case allowing him to move, to walk the length of the room, he stopped thinking about Harold Piller. He couldn't think about the man any more.
He had to talk to someone.
"Hey Scully!" He stopped, frowning at how ridiculous that sounded, and tried again.
"So, Scully, about Harold."
She can't hear you, you dumb motherfu-
"He's got this power. I don't know exactly what it is, but it's got a strongly empathic quality. It originates in his ability to sense a person's loss. It's as if he's able to... I don't know, but he knows the tragedies in people's lives. I believe it's a gift, or a curse, even he doesn't understand.
"But I'm not dealing with a reasonable man. Maybe there was a time when he did understand.
"Given the most generous scenario, he was, as he told us, a man who only wanted to help. We know he claimed the disappearance of his son was what drove him to seek out these scenes of tragedy. It's what he claimed drove him to seek us out in the investigation after the arrest of Ed Truelove. What drove him to come to help us find or explain the disappearance of Amber Lynn LaPierre and what had driven him to the aftermath of earthquakes and train wrecks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and India and Myanmar and the Khyber Pass may also have induced his schizophrenia, or maybe it has an intensifying effect on his illness.
"He is drawn to people who lost someone, presumably someone young, and he can reach inside and find the face of that loss and he's able to give it form. He's able to create the lost one in the mind of the hurting person. The greater the tragedy, the more young people lost, the stronger the pull.
"What he does is beyond any one powerful trait. Its thrust is like a psychic push. It's a power similar to that of Bob Modell.
"As for the rest...
"What I have witnessed would normally be described as ghosts. Something akin to 'residual hauntings' or the replaying of a tragic or violent event. These ghosts, or hauntings, can be interactive, as can most psychic phenomena. Usually, these hauntings are from events which are believed to have been destined to occur.
"There's also a type of clairvoyance being manifested here in his seeing psychic patterns or energy shapes.
"This all comes to him rather easily, with no apparent way to stop it.
"What's that? 'Theres a problem', you say? You're right, Scully, and I'm glad you pointed that out. About the walk-ins. Everything I've ever read about walk-ins says that they only jump into adult bodies, bodies which have been spiritually abandoned. Like what you and I witnessed at the Church of the Red Museum in Wisconsin. I've never seen any literature asserting cases of walk-ins abducting children and turning them into starlight.
"Hmm? You're right again.
"If I'm right, and this phenomena is a product of something within Harold Piller, that may explain why the sightings are limited to children instead of a wide range of ages. It would explain the apparent bigotry of the walk-ins against adults. I think Harold is capable of producing phantasmic adults, maybe even you, Scully. I also believe that if not for the discovery of Samantha's diary, I would have seen her that night as an eight year old. I would have seen my sister the way I saw her in the field and in the commune in Canada that Jeremiah Smith showed me. But I didn't because Harold was there beside you and he heard Arbutus Ray describe Samantha's disappearance.
"I'll say it before you do. I've been down this road before. Of course I remember Samuel Hartley, but it was Harold Piller's story that led me to Samantha's diary, so I don't discount some obvious psychic ability on several levels here. The man has a gift.
"Aliens, vampires, werewolves, mutants, ghosts, we saw these things, Scully. I saw them. You saw them, but you'd never let yourself admit it. You saw them," Mulder pointed at the cross and heard his voice getting argumentative. "I have evidence here, in my hand, in my house, of... I don't know, Scully. I don't what. Evidence of the paranormal? I don't even know what that means anymore. I know that Harold's upstairs asleep and he's obviously insane and I do know what I'm talking now." A very brief and bitter laugh escaped. "I... I am a psychologist.
"Anyway, I should have seen that when I first saw him outside of Marita's. That doesn't change anything I've seen here over the last couple of weeks, but what I have seen has left me with questions. Not only what we've already discussed, but stuff like how all this power was sparked by the disappearance of Harold's son. And none of this addresses the precognitive visions of the parents or people close by. The testimonies of these people, their descriptions, never speak of phantasms or spirits. Their visions are consistently clear and vivid, bearing no similarity to the images of the children in the starlight, which, I guess, lends some credence to Harold's story.
"But Harold's story doesn't explain how I came to write 'April Base'. This is possibly yet another face to this talent of Harold's.
"We also have the account of Arbutus Ray, which we never questioned.
"And the timing of the death of my mother. How can I even believe that was suicide now? I have no reason to believe any of Harold's story. That night, in my room, he brought my mother to me to talk to me. He brought her to tell me something. He brought her... to tell me about April Base.
"Why wouldn't he bring my father, Bill Mulder?
"When this all happened, I wasn't the man I had been when I started on the X-Files. That man was a beaten down and weakened version of the man at the beginning and I so wanted to believe Harold's story because in it, whatever happened to Samantha, she never stopped fighting them. Her words tell me of her struggle, how she never let them break her spirit. If I believe Harold, she defeated them when the walk-ins took her because she was a precious soul, too precious to carry on the fight. She was taken from that hospital room to prevent C.G.B. Spender from carrying on what that old bastard had begun with her.
"She beat him and I...
"I don't know what I'm trying to do, Scully. I don't know who I'm fighting. I don't know why I'm fighting. I don't even know what I'm fighting for. Have I deluded myself into thinking there's still a reason to fight? Do I just want to believe so... so badly that the sky is still falling and the truth is still out there that I'm willing to give up my walker and oxygen mask to run around playing good guys and bad guys games with Alex Krycek and Walter Skinner? Do I think there's still a place for me in the shadows beside Marita Covarrubias? Scully, am I insane? Is this all an inescapable fate or the wild dream of a sleeping lunatic? I need your help, Scully. I need you and you're not here and... and..." Mulder closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. He kept his eyes closed and his fingers tight as he finished what he had to say. "And I have to go to bed. It's been a long day."
The next afternoon, Mulder found Harold in the backyard, surrounded by silent children holding hands in a circle around him. From the back porch, he watched, amazed, his eyes fixed on Harold and the children who were barely visible, but were visible nonetheless.
Mulder stepped hesitantly forward. It seemed like he had been walking for hours when he finally walked among them into their circle.
"Aren't they perfect and beautiful?" Harold asked Mulder and Mulder could only silently nod in agreement. "But they are not whole because only whales and dolphins know no separation from God."
"Harold, who are they?"
"I don't know. They're somebody," he answered, tears beginning to pour down his cheeks. After they were gone, Mulder led Harold back inside, where he locked down the house for the night and ordered a pizza for their dinner. For the next forty-five minutes, he sat in the living room, listening to the stereo and writing while Harold sat in the floor and stared at the ceiling and sang nursery rhymes. When the pizza came, Mulder rushed Harold into one of the bedrooms until he got rid of the delivery girl and then they ate.
After dinner, Mulder cleaned up and introduced Harold to the rocking chair.
"You sit here, Harold," he said, easing the old man down. Then he sat crosslegged on the floor.
"Show me. Let me see her again."
I can't count the years since she was taken. It happened here, in this house. In this room. I've waited a lifetime to speak with her again and finally, now, I'm ready.
It's 1973 and she's here with me. She is my sister, Samantha, and she's eight years old and I'm twelve. We're alone and I'm in charge of the house. Dad told us both that this morning and man did I watch the clock, counting the hours until I could be in charge again. Of course, things kept coming up for mom and dad all afternoon, but now they're gone and they won't be back until late. We're playing Stratego in front of the television and a news update of the Watergate hearings is on and she's bitching because she wants to watch something else, but it's my television night anyway and besides that I'm in charge of everything including the television until mom and dad get back and I think it's so funny to remind her every time she says anything about it. She starts screaming and saying that mom told her she could watch something else. We're standing in front of the television, arguing, stepping on the board and knocking a couple of the gamepieces over and the power goes out. She is scared and I try to use that to my advantage, but the impulse only lasts a second. I want to calm her down. I don't want her to be scared. Then a shock passes between us and the gameboard and the pieces are shaking and then the house starts shaking and I am frozen. I think it's an earthquake at first, but it's all happening so fast and I don't know and then lights are flashing through the windows, red and green, and they're everywhere and now the noise has stopped and the house and the gameboard and the pieces have all stopped shaking. The quiet feels like a blanket or a wet sweater over everything and I feel like I'm underwater. Time feels like it's come to a total stop.
I look around for her, for my sister. I see her floating toward and then through the front window. A ray of amber light is centered on her chest almost like they're targeting her, and then she's moving up, into the air and I know what's happening. Oh my god, I know what's happening and I know they're going to take her and I can't stop them oh god please, I can't stop them I can't do anything and I know...
They're taking my sister away and they're going to do such horrible things to her. They're going to hurt Samantha so bad.
Something inside me snaps and I run to the bookcase and step onto the chair I had the Stratego box on. As I reach for the wooden box on top of the bookcase, as my fingers make contact, I hear it. I hear the voice stopping me, telling me things and I see the box fall slowly to the floor. The lock breaks and the top swings open. Things fall out - change, folded papers, and my father's gun.
Samantha is calling me, screaming my name, over and over and then she stops. She's gone.
I am an old man and I sit in the floor of the house in front of the place where a gameboard once sat and there, across from me, she comes through the door. She is my sister, Samanatha, and she is fourteen years old. She is taller and she is becoming a woman. Her blue sweater and long skirt seem right for her as she walks toward me. I hug her close to me, feeling her arms around my ribs and her hair on my chin and throat.
We are here again, together, and I can say to her all of those things I've prayed for the chance to say. I can tell her anything I want.
I want to believe.
Mulder closed his eyes. He wanted to believe it was her, but now it felt too easy. It felt good to call this ghost his sister, but it wasn't her and he couldn't pretend it was.
Beside him, in the rocking chair, Harold began to scream.
"They, they," his eyes got very wide and he stood up and started bouncing on the balls of his feet. "They needed to see each other's faces through the night and we stole their faces. God's army won while Cydonia watched. We beat them! Oh sweet God, we beat them. Oh sweet God," he whispered it over and over as he slumped to his knees and began to cry.
Good-night, Harold, Mulder said, patting the man on the back, and went downstairs. With shaking hands, he fished a cigarette from the pack on the table. Then he started to hunt for his lighter, but stopped. He pulled the cigarette out from between his lips and stared at it for a long moment before wadding the pack up and throwing it in the trash.
"Fuck you," he whispered to another ghost and turned the computer on. His mailbox held one e-mail and it was from Skinner.
Washington D.C. December 2
The sound of squealing brakes and the blare of a horn destroyed the quiet of this sunny winter's day as the driver of the standard-issue military cargo truck brought the vehicle to a sudden stop. He stared straight ahead at what had made him hit the brakes, which was something the man next to him couldn't see at all.
"What the fuck's the problem here?" the passenger demanded.
"Them!" the driver screamed and pointed. "Them! They're what the problem is, man! Damn, they're all fucked up, like they jumped off a building. Goddammit, look! Fucking dead kids, man! What the fuck? You don't see-"
"Out of the truck! Now!" Mulder pressed the end of his rifle against the side of the driver's head. The two men, both soldiers, exited the truck. While the passenger and Mulder's partner were walking around the truck to the driver's side, the driver twitched nervously, suspiciously eyeing his surroundings, particularly toward the front of the truck. When the other two joined them, Mulder made the soldiers stand side by side in front of him and then continued issuing orders.
"Great job, men. And now I want you to lie facefirst on the ground. Now! C'mon, move it! No one here's getting any younger." The soldiers complied and while Mulder's partner kept watch over them, Mulder moved around to the back of their truck and pulled aside the curtain over the tailgate. The cargo was large cardboard boxes, maybe a dozen or so, each one marked with what appeared to be some sort of inventory tags - small sets of letters and numbers.
Mulder pulled his knife from his pocket and cut the tape binding the nearest box. Inside were dozens of old unmarked videotapes. He found the same in the next four boxes he opened. In the last one, he found bunches of folders overflowing with documents, x-rays, and photographs. After examining the contents of each box, he walked back to where the soldiers were lying in the street and knelt beside the driver.
"Where were you taking this stuff?" he asked.
There was no answer.
"C'mon guys, my boss sent me out here to score and I gotta have something to tell him. Cut a guy some slack, huh?" Neither of the men seemed ready to answer any questions, particularly the driver.
"No? Ok fine." Mulder then moved the cardboard boxes into the van while his partner kept his watch over the soldiers. When he was finished, he signalled to his partner.
"We're leaving now, gentlemen. If anyone asks you what happened, and you know they will, tell them Kilroy was here. Jerks."
As Mulder and his partner got back in their van, the phantasmic bodies of the seven dead children returned and surrounded the men lying in the road. Both soldiers saw the children this time. They were horrified and they didn't see the rear door of the van open or the face of Harold Piller laughing hysterically as the van pulled away.
Mulder watched in the side mirror until the men and their truck had disappeared and then he opened the laptop and hit CONNECT. A second later, Skinner appeared in a window.
"Mission accomplished," Mulder reported. "Now who do I talk to about getting a raise?"
"Are you going to tell me about the merchandise?"
Mulder winced. "Mostly home movies, it looks like. Some files. I didn't have time to do any reading, but I bet they're all real page-turners."
"Your source gave us reason to believe they will be. Travel safely," Skinner said.
"Will do," Mulder answered and turned off the computer.
Chilmark December 8
The light from the computer's monitor washed most of the basement's work area in a ghostly pale blue glow, diluted only by the weak light of the aquarium, which to his left sliced through the monitor's light but to his right, like the computer's light, failed in its bid to penetrate the inky blackness alive and pulsing just beyond the trophy case.
With Harold (hopefully) sound asleep upstairs, he waded through a standard series of mindless perfunctory tasks - checking his e-mail, reading some useless news, and downloading a new web browser from a temporary web site - and then he logged off and went to work. Folders were pulled from filing cabinets, X-files revisited, each case striking chords Mulder had thought dead but which were easily revived. He worked hour after hour organizing files, making notes, writing down his thoughts about each case.
This became his practice every evening after he was finished with Harold and whatever miscellaneous surprises the days may have held. This was his life until he got the next e-mail from Skinner.
Washington D.C. December 12
"Nice afternoon, isn't it gentlemen? I want you to put your hands on your head, lace your fingers together and stay right where you are."
They were in a building which was officially a processing center for Universal Access Cards, but Skinner believed otherwise. He believed the real work being done here involved transcribing medical data from genetics labs. Based on that belief, they had been sent to collect a sample of the work being done to confirm Skinner's suspicions ("they" being Mulder and his new partner, Seth). He had resisted being paired with a boy, but Skinner had reassured him, both of the ease of the job due to a total lack of security and of the boy's ability to handle himself like a man.
Right now Mulder was hoping that Skinner was right on both counts because he was getting a very bad feeling as he stood, M-16 ready, looking at the various wide-eyed people sitting at their workstations and wondering if they were about to die.
You're looking at the real traitors.
Mulder lowered the M-16 and motioned for Seth to stay by the door. With any luck, there would be absolutely no surprises. He wanted this to be over as soon as possible but with each passing second his suspicion that something was destined to go wrong grew stronger.
But so far everything was dead on the money. The key codes, the fingerprint scans, the layout, the population. There was no way he could truly see this going bad unless...
No, nothing. They were supposed to be in and out in twenty minutes and if the next thirteen went the way they were supposed to, they would get out clean.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Ladies and gentlemen," he corrected his earlier mistake and held the bag across the counter to the woman who had been blocked from his original line of sight by the huge man in the green suit next to her. She took the bag and began putting the papers stacked on her desk into it, her eyes darting back and forth between her task and Mulder's eyes. He was wearing a ski mask, but her eyes made him feel like she was looking at his bare face. She looked like maybe she knew him, although that was impossible. But she did, and she looked pissed off about it.
She moved on to the drawers of her desk, removing whatever she could find and putting it in the bag.
Mulder looked quickly back at Seth and then at the other people. There wouldn't be time for all of them, and maybe not even another of them, but they didn't know that and their fear was almost tangible. He felt it begin to crash softly into him and when he looked back at the woman in front of him, she quickly pulled her hand from underneath her desk.
You let her hit the alarm.
Their eyes locked and a dark snarling chasm yawned open before him. From somewhere far away, he heard Seth's voice telling him there was no time but Mulder didn't hear Seth saying it. He heard Scully. He saw a digital countdown flashing across the woman holding the bag out to him now. Behind her he saw a building explode and then a limousine, and he saw Scully with a tube in her throat and he heard Duane Barry's voice telling him, "They drilled holes in my damn teeth!"
She's one of them.
He felt the M-16 rise before him as a cold wave coursed through him.
He pulled the trigger, feeling the gun vibrate for seconds and hours and days and he watched the woman explode as the bullets opened her and opened her, bleeding her in eruptions spraying all the way to counter until he let go of the trigger and she fell.
Without hesitating, he turned to the others. "I'm not lying to you people. Download your hard drives and put all of your papers into this bag." He held the bag out with his right hand as he walked from desk to desk and he was calm and he was cool and he went one by one until he was finished collecting the loot. When he was finished, he stopped where Seth had stood guard and spraypainted an "X" on the wall.
As soon as the building in the van's side mirror was out of sight, Mulder pulled his mask off and turned on the computer. A window opened, but it remained black. Skinner wasn't answering.
Wildeyed, Mulder turned to Seth. "Dick isn't home. I say we wait for his lazy ass. How about it?"
Seth nodded, keeping his eyes on the road.
"Well, it's about time!" Mulder said when Skinner did appear soon afterward. "You can't imagine how long we've been waiting. I think you pissed my partner off."
Skinner's voice was tense. "Were you waiting long? Just how long were you waiting for me?"
Mulder looked at his watch, but he knew he didn't know.
"Click the triangle in the border of the window beneath me. Now!"
Mulder did it and beneath Skinner, in red, 00:00 appeared.
He closed the laptop and told Seth to stop the van. He jumped out, set the laptop beneath the rear tire and screamed "Go!"
Seth nailed the accelerator and the van lurched forward. When it stopped, Mulder got back in and his partner asked if he got it in time. Mulder didn't answer. He stayed quiet for the rest of the trip.
Their return entrance into Skinner's warehouse hideout was a far cry from what any of them had anticipated upon leaving earlier that day. After they had parked down the street and walked back and gave the coded knock on the door, they were greeted by the predictably furious Skinner. He stepped aside after staring coldly and silently at the both of them and they came in with the few boxes they had been able to carry.
They set their loads down and as Skinner relocked the door, Seth shot a now familiar look at Mulder.
"Did we make it?" Mulder asked Skinner, who still hadn't turned away from the door although it was now securely fastened. He had only seen Skinner's face as he was passing him on the way in, but he thought it was possible, based on that one look, that he had never seen him this angry. The intensity of his gaze had been magnified by the sweat on his clenched cheeks and beaded above the leather band of the eyepatch across his forehead and in the lines of his face broken together into a near-snarl.
"Easy Mulder. We're safe. Whatever you did worked."
Seth stood near Mulder, his eyes going back and forth between the other two until Skinner exploded.
"Goddammit, we have to talk! In private!"
Now Seth looked at neither Mulder nor Skinner. He simply left and Mulder thought it was very likely that he wouldn't return. Then the two men walked further into the warehouse, past a generator and a table covered with maps and blueprints. Skinner turned by the next table, on top of which a television attached to a prewar vcr showed a white male
-early thirties, blond, blue eyes-
giving muted testimony, and kept walking past a weight bench, finally stopping in front of the treadmill.
"I want to know what the fuck you were thinking out there! Are you trying to get us all killed? If you're pulling some bullshit, I swear to god I'll-"
"You'll what?" Mulder shouted back at Skinner. "Are you going to fire me, Walter? Are you going to give me a lecture about my irresponsible behavior and tell me I'm a four-bagger?"
"No," Skinner hissed. "I won't even bother trying to explain it to you. I'll put a fucking bullet in you instead. How about that? Now, I'm only going to ask one more time. What were you thinking out there?"
Mulder turned and started to walk away but couldn't. He turned back around and pointed at Skinner. "You sorry son of-"
"Look! Fuck you, Mulder! I am sorry if I'm being a major league asshole, but you could have gotten us killed today. All of us! It's not just your ass, Mulder. It's not just you and Scully putting knives in your mouths and swinging from the masts of pirate ships out there. You're damn sure not some idiot who isn't up to this. I don't know. What has you, Mulder? What is going on here?"
Mulder stood, listening to Skinner, but the sight of the dying woman was starting to replay on the computer monitor in his head.
"I don't think this raping and pillaging gig is for me after all. We're getting our hands dirty as hell and we're not getting anywhere."
"I would have thought you'd be used to that," Skinner answered, his anger still radiant.
"This is just a game to you, isn't it? You think you're doing something, but you're just jerking off here!" Mulder looked away from Skinner, needing to see anything else right now. Anything. The weight bench, the guy on the television, the treadmill, the table between them.
"I am the person running this show and you came to me. You played the cloak and dagger and you asked me to take you in. There was no confusion and no question about what you were getting into. Don't come in here-"
"Hey, fuck you, Skinner," Mulder interrupted, nearly shouting again. "You want to know? You want to know why old Spooky's a big bad liability you might have to put a bullet into? Fucking fine! Junior and me, we're in there playing Robin Hood and threatening to kill these people for their computer discs and they're looking at us... The normal people... They're just looking at us scared for their lives. They're at work, man, and we come in there with guns blazing talking about shooting them all and this one woman. There was one woman there and she reached under her desk. She could have been scratching her leg and I killed her. I just killed her. I just..." He raised his hands in the air, palms up.
Skinner stared at Mulder and Mulder found it hard to decode his expression. Even his tone was somewhat neutral when he began to respond.
"I see. All I can tell you is what you did was right. She triggered the silent alarm. I saw the call on the dispatch log online after we talked. You did what you had to do. That's all there is to that."
"Yeah," Mulder said, obviously unmoved by Skinner's reassurance.
"You had no choice and think about the people you saved! They matter too or can't you see past your self-righteous guilt? You didn't betray anyone. You were loyal.
"She was the real traitor."
She was nobody.
"What people are those, Walter? Where are these people I saved today? I think it's about time they knew who they owed for their fucking happy lives. I think it's time these assholes knew who the real heroes are and they should know about these heroic measures we're willing to take in their defense. Oh yes, there's some stuff I need to discuss with them, so please, tell me who they are." Mulder felt something inside him yield to the pressure it had been resisting and he slumped against the wall, sliding slowly to the floor where he then sat with his elbows on his bent knees and his hands covering his face until he spoke again.
"There used to be this voice inside of me that I heard all the time. I know. I'm nuts, right?" He wiped the new tears off his cheeks with both hands. "That was the voice that told me what to ask and it was the voice that made the connections. It was the voice of a man who believed and was excited and amazed by extreme possibilities.
"Do you remember me back then? Back when you first got the bullshit job of babysitting me?"
They both laughed then, Skinner quite to his own surprise.
"It died. The excitement or the charm or the wonder or, fuck, I don't even know. It's gone though, man. It's gone." He was crying harder now, the rhythm of his words becoming disjointed. "I think it died with Scully. Now I hear a voice and it's not the same. I hear these things it says and they're coming from a demon lying in wait. All he wants is to hurt people and he doesn't care who. Any people. Maybe all people. Everyone.
"I think you hear him too. We both hear him and we're listening to him now.
"I remember one time, Scully and I were investigating the death of this really young kid. Walked out onto some railroad tracks and got smacked. She thought it was open and shut accidental. I thought there was something else no one had considered. Turns out... Maybe you remember this. Turns out the kid's older brother had a dead twin, died at birth, and that twin's ghost was back here from Hell... From Hell, Walter. From Hell..." He stopped talking and laughed for a second but it was broken by an also soon broken sob. "The men who exorcised the demon, one of the men, he told me that since I had looked into its eyes it would recognize me in the future. I wonder how hard a time it would have these days.
"Walter, what did we do? What did we do to become these people? How did this happen?"
"It doesn't matter," Skinner answered, frowning again. "We are who we are and we do what we have to do. It's right... It's our duty to be doing this. This isn't the world we tried to make and we can't give up now. No matter what, we can't give up."
There was no argument offered, no real response at all except an incredulous dropping of Mulder's jaw before he shook his head and stood up.
"I'll try to keep that in mind, sir."
Skinner followed him silently through the warehouse and maintained his silence until Mulder had left and was on the next block.
"Stay in touch, Agent," Skinner said and closed the door.
With his hands firmly jammed into the pockets of his trenchcoat, Mulder began to walk heavily through the newly fallen snow back to his car but the hard crunch of his boots wasn't making it to his ears. The sounds of his own walking and the sights of D.C.'s snowy world were nothing because he was seeing a woman dying in his eyes and he was hearing the echo of the shots and it kept happening over and over while he was driving, the world going past but barely within his realm of awareness. Mostly all he could see were her eyes changing shape as the bullets plugged into her - one, one, one, bam, bam, bam - and her head, her eyes, the shock on her face.
After a while, he didn't know how long, his surroundings began to force themselves through the visions of the woman's eyes and, soon after, those surroundings became familiar. He started to recognize some of the abandoned cars and the intersections where people had set fires in large garbage cans and warmed themselves by those fires. He parked and crossed the street and began to move quickly down the sidewalk toward a place where he believed he too could find some measure of warmth.
A tall woman was coming toward him and although there was nothing in particular which set her apart from anyone else he had seen around here, he felt compelled to stop and wait for her. As she drew closer, he could see that she was carrying a Bible. Less than four feet away from him she started screaming without making eye contact and she kept right on going, walking past him without the least acknowledgement, and still screaming, "The evil one has risen! The evil one has risen!"
Mulder pulled his hands out of his pockets as he walked up the stairs and entered the dark building. This time he had his flashlight and wasted no time in turning it on. Everything was the same as he had imagined it on his first visit. Only the smell seemed different, something had burned nearby recently, and that was a subtle and temporary thing.
Halfway down the small hallway, he stopped and took another look around. Something else was different.
Something wasn't right at all.
He moved slowly the rest of the way to her door, twisted the knob and pushed and the door opened. He put one foot inside and panned his flashlight around. The place was a wreck, the glass from her broken windows twinkling atop piles of clothes and overturned furniture. He took another couple of steps and saw her across the apartment in the floor of the kitchen.
"Marita," he whispered and ran to her. She was on her side, nude, with her hands and ankles tied behind her. Several of her fingers were broken and sticking off her hands at extreme angles. He quickly untied her and stretched her legs out before examining her face. The whole left side of her face was bruised and her nose was a bloody mess. Her left eye was swollen shut, but he was afraid to turn her any further. A small white piece of paper was pinned to her left breast with the word "WHORE" written on it in blood.
He could only shake his head and breathe out deeply. He looked around the kitchen and that's when he saw her guest, someone else who had been turned into a dead body. Mulder crossed over to this one and recognized him as a former Congressman from Utah. He had been slit across the throat and again below the fat of his stomach. From what Mulder could see, he thought that if he turned the former Congressman over, the man's intestines could easily spill out of him and it was hard enough avoiding the blood that was still gathering into two pools on the floor as it poured from each wound. Besides, Mulder chided himself, there wasn't anything else to see there.
He stood up and put the table back on its legs, carefully avoiding stepping in either of the growing pools of blood, and took a deep breath before looking around the wreck of an apartment again. There would be-
It was Marita. He practically dove to her and now she had turned her head up toward him on her own. He saw that both of her eyes were nearly swollen shut and she was barely hanging on.
Do her a favor, Einstein.
And he had been certain she was dead. "Alex... Alex Krycek..." she whispered, the pain Mulder thought had to be incredible making her stop and squeeze her free hand into a mangled fist. "He's not dead. He was here."
"I know, Marita. I know. It's ok, he reassured her and brushed her hair out her face as lightly as he could, and wondered if it had ever been possible for her to have died another death.
"No... you... He's insane, Fox. I... should have let... die... Tu... Tunisia. I tried... tried to tell..."
And the already dim light in her bruised and swollen eyes began to fade.
"He wants... you... think maybe Steponavich... sent him to kill you. I... I have an address for you." She gave him the address and then Mulder sat with her and held her head up so that she could breathe and stay conscious just a little longer. He watched her fading and he tried to feel more than he did about this dying woman. He tried to look beyond her complicity in the crimes committed against him and think only of those times she did assist him - their introduction when she gave him the picture of the Samantha clones, her phone call to him when she had the infected boy from Russia, her betrayal of the syndicate to Jeffrey Spender. He tried to feel as though he was losing an old friend, but he didn't. He didn't shed a single tear as he held her head in his hands until she was gone. He stared at her lifeless face, not thinking anything more about her until he had to stand up and then he moved quickly through her apartment, a search he knew would be hopeless and he was right. Her computer was gone. After silently cursing Krycek, Mulder pulled his lighter out and set fire to the sheet on the wire and then the cardboard patches on the walls and then the curtains in the kitchen. He went back into the bedroom and when he came out the whole apartment was engulfed in flame. He walked through the blazing apartment confidently, purposefully.
Outside, he tried to concentrate on his breath turning to steam as he ran to the car because he thought if he didn't, he might start screaming and never stop. He drove the car several blocks away and then parked and opened the laptop computer. He looked at his watch because he wanted to make sure his resignation-
-letter was dated as accurately as possible.
There was one message in his mailbox and although he didn't want to open it, a voice inside him was demanding otherwise and right now that voice was the one that made the most sense.
You pussy. You fuck.
The e-mail was an address followed by the simple message, "Tomorrow night. It's over."
Mulder read it a few times, each time pondering the weight of each word, and then forwarded the letter to Skinner, turned the computer off and drove home.
Skinner turned his computer off and filled a glass tumbler with ice and whiskey. He held the tumbler under his nose, finding reassurance in the fact that he obviously was not an alcoholic because he did not, by any stretch of the imagination, drink solely to get drunk. He also drank because he liked the taste. And the smell.
And the feel of the glass in his hand, the way the ice would shift against it when he lifted it to his lips.
And he liked the way drinking was so damn good for killing the pain which, unfortunately, now seemed to be an everyday part of life for him.
He turned the tumbler up, eyeing the whiskey bottle over the rim while taking another introductory sip of the long familiar companion. He felt it burn past his throat and into his stomach as he sat down, his leg singing what he planned to be the last few lines of the opera it began every time he got out of bed. In tribute to the opera's end, he raised a toast to the leg and to the missing eye and to the shit in his blood and to everything else he had managed to hang on to.
"At least there's that," he whispered and looked apologetically at the picture of his wife, Sharon, while the tumbler hung frozen in his hand before him. She would not have been pleased to find what a drinking man he had become. After her father's death...
He emptied the toasting tumbler of its whiskey with one swallow and then he filled it again. As he twisted the cap back onto the booze, his regularly scheduled routine of getting smashed and beating himself up was interrupted by the sudden and grating sound of a car's horn blaring outside. In the same way a devoted dreamer will vainly attempt to resist the unyielding buzz of an alarm clock, or an empassioned writer will wage a worthless war against the inevitable chaos caused by noisy neighbors, Skinner tried as best he could to block out the sound of the horn. He closed his eyes and tried to be nowhere until it was over, but it didn't end and his nerves began to whisper that it might go on forever.
With his right hand gripping the empty tumbler tightly, and his left balled into a fist, he counted off five and when "one" had gone, he went to the front of the warehouse and reached into the corner beside the row of bookcases and grabbed the M-16 he kept there for special occasions.
Something was telling him that tonight was special.
He checked the weapon, making sure it was ready, and he moved. Despite his attempts at medicating himself, the leg still hurt like a bitch as he limped to the door and fell against it.
His knuckles started to ache and he was bombarded by images he carried in a mental briefcase. They were the innocents - the victims of war and terrorism and he had seen them in photographs and moving pictures when he had led the fight against the bad guys. They were the dying and the wounded who had been caught in the crossfire. Their bodies were missing limbs, their heads were either gone or split open. They were mangled and when their faces remained, those faces were the faces he saw now, lying on the sidewalks and in the streets of Belfast where they were victims of the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Irish National Liberation Army, or the Irish Republican Army or in the middle East where they suffered and died because of skirmishes between the P.L.O. and Israeli soldiers.
Or in America.
The images coalesced into one. It was a kid loaded down with hand grenades. He felt the tightening of his finger around the trigger of the rifle and the fresh beads of sweat running across his scalp. His breath started to come in short blasts as he relived the moment he had, in many ways, never escaped from. The rifle coughed and he sent one to the kid right through his head.
"Jesus, no, no, no..." he whispered and opened his eyes as he twisted his neck and surveilled the street through the window, left to right, a quick horizontal sweep. He took a one second inventory and dropped back down out of sight. There hadn't been anything there. There was just the street and the dead car across the way that had been there for over a year. The soldier knew that didn't mean the enemy wasn't there. It meant only that the enemy couldn't be seen from this location and the horn still blared.
A sharp twist and a jerk and the door was open. Skinner tucked and rolled across the floor, rising into an extremely painful kneeling position with his rifle pointed at anyone or anything that might have been waiting, but there was only an envelope. It had been propped against the door and now lay across the threshold. He rose and kicked the enveloped inside and closed the door, keeping the rifle aimed and ready.
Just before he could close the first deadbolt, he heard the sound of a motorcycle disappearing into the distance.
After he reset the rest of the locks, Skinner retrieved his drink and opened his package. A compact disc slid out of the envelope followed by a slip of paper with a message which read, "Hope it's what you wanted. X". He put the disc into a standalone hard drive. After confirming what it held, he began downloading the first of several programs into the Palm Pilot he had stolen many years before. A simple cable connection, a series of short easy commands, a twist of plastic and a tilt of a bottle and he started to get lost staring at the download completion bar.
He grinned. It happened with such ease sometimes. He had to be careful. Now was not the time to be a drunk old fool. He still had work to do, easy though it was. He checked the data transfer rate again, which was really all he could do besides stay awake while things ran along.
He considered that the whiskey was doing its job, by god, and that's all you can ask of any soldier, then he closed his eyes and almost instantly he was in the backseat of a taxi, relieved to be out of the sun for what felt like the first time in hours. There were still a dozen potential apartments and houses to look at and it was already over eighty-five degrees out. He knew he should have worn a hat, but he didn't. He gave the driver the next address and when he felt her hand on his, heard her voice lightly whispering in his ear, and when he turned and looked at Sharon for what felt like the first time that day, the animal inside him (the one Mulder knew was there; the one who heard the voice) sensed the shift in the air, a human shape, an arm in motion, but couldn't react before he felt a gun's barrel against his scalp.
"Whoever you are, you better kill me now, you stupid motherfucker," Skinner spat angrily.
"I'm here to warn you, Skinner," the intruder said and pulled his gun away from Skinner's head. Skinner turned slowly to face John Doggett.
"Well, whatever you're selling, I don't want any and you couldn't have picked a worse time to-"
"That's ok, because I'm not selling anything. I'm giving something away," Doggett said. "I'm giving away free advice. Get used to staying at home."
"Thanks, asshole. Now get out."
"Listen to me. You're fucking up-"
"I'm fucking up? You sonofabitch! Look at you! Look at yourself. Think about how you spent the last three weeks and you want to come here and point a gun at me and tell me that I'm fucking up? You have some goddam nerve, Doggett. You should have killed me just then when you had the chance. But now... Now I'm going to fucking kill you!" Skinner bit back the impulse to lunge at the bastard, to go for his gun and then for his throat.
Doggett held his gun steady and looked strangely at the man in front of it.
"Maybe you're right. Maybe this wasn't the best time to do this. You have to believe me though. I'm trying to help you. You and whoever you're working with."
"F-f-f-f-f-fuck you," Skinner seethed. "I'm not stupid. I know who you are and you killed Agent Scully and I'm going to kill you!" Again he resisted the impulse to lash out at Doggett, but his ability to resist that impulse was fading. Quickly.
"My hands are pretty much tied here," Doggett said. "I don't know what else I can do. As for what you think you know about my sins, it's not about truth with you is it? This isn't that same world we used to live in where the truth would set us free, man. This is a different world, a different ball game, right? In this great fucking world we live in now, we just grab conviction out of the air and God help any poor bastard who gets in the way of that, right?" He looked around, halfway expecting some of Skinner's helpers to be popping out of the shadows and if not them, someone else. "Well, that's fine, Skinner. Those are the rules then and Agent Scully wasn't stupid. She was smarter than any of us and she knew the rules. I think she knew them before anyone else really did."
Skinner smacked his fist against his leg, exactly in the spot he thought of as the "pain headquarters" and a very small yelp escaped from the back of his throat. "You killed her because she was going to go public with what she knew. You killed her to shut her up and I am going to love putting you down. Oh fuck yeah!"
"She died to protect what she and Mulder had been fighting for!" Doggett seemed to be more comfortable with his argument now. "If she had let the world know how close it had come to being wiped out by aliens, that would have been the end for us all. The world can not know that. Not now. Not ever. Remember, Skinner, you're not the only one who can grab easy convictions out of the air and expect the rest of the world to bow down and kiss your ass under threat of death. I'm not here because of the man you are. I'm here because of the man you were. You used to be a good man." Doggett stopped and gave a slight disapproving shake of his head.
"Doggett, you're a dead man."
"Yeah, that may be, but I won't be the only one if you keep this up. I could have tracked you down whenever I wanted. I haven't. After I leave, you think about that. But whatever you've got planned for the next little while, or if you get the urge to make plans, pass on it.
"That's it. I got nothing more to say."
He stepped away from Skinner, moving backward until he came to the table with the maps and blueprints and he scraped them all off onto the floor. Then he motioned for Skinner to get up on it.
"I'm going to kill you, Dogget." Skinner limped to the table and hefted himself onto the end nearest Doggett.
"Lie back on the table and put your legs up. In the air." Doggett was getting close to the front door.
"I'm going to shoot your brains out." Skinner called to him and raised his legs into the air which made him cry out from the pain. When he caught his breath, he said, "You might as well kiss your fucking ass good-bye." He smiled widely and looked again at his intruder but Agent-turned-General John Doggett was gone.
Within seconds, Skinner was on his feet and across the warehouse and he had the M-16 waving in his hand outside as he ran down the street firing it into the night's sky and screaming, "You're mine, Doggett! Mine! You fucking hear me, you son of a bitch? You're mine!"
He fell asleep later, sitting upright in a chair in front of the map table which was covered with bullets, clips, various tools, and two small vials he had stolen when he had been a different man.
6:35 a.m. December 17
Mulder and Harold walked side by side, two men strolling casually down the sidewalk with the full sunrise to their backs and in their immediate future perhaps a coffee shop for a hot cup and a doughnut or two. Had they been ordinary men, perhaps they would have stayed on the sidewalk and they very well could have found themselves sipping hot coffee over glazed doughnuts and enjoying each other's company. They were not ordinary men though, and because they were not oridinary men they did not stay on the sidewalk. They strayed from it into an alley, dark from the shadows of the tall buildings to either side. Soon, all that seemed to remain of the day was a small blue square of sky over a narrow break between the buildings to their right. Inside the break and back to the right, a dark green awning hung off the building and over a set of concrete stairs going down toward what had probably been a staff entrance before the invasion.
A Harley-Davidson motorcycle was parked on the other side of the stairs. It seemed out of place, but Harley-Davidson was one of the few giants to survive the changes in the world and lots of people rode them. This one looked prewar and that was very unusual.
Mulder walked past the stairs to inspect the bike. On the back, instead of a government-issued plate, there was a fake which read "h@X0R". He patted the seat and grinned. This motorcycle could only belong to one person and that person had to be inside.
He walked back to the stairs and put his hands on Harold's shoulders and tried to make eye contact with the man. "Ok, we're here on business," he said slowly. "We're here to see someone very important. He's an old friend of mine, like you. I need you to be my friend, Harold, and behave, ok? No children, Harold. Keep them outside, ok? Do you understand?"
"They don't want anyone to suffer," Harold whispered.
"Great," Mulder said and they walked down the stairs and he knocked on the door.
"Identify yourself or fuck off!" the voice came from very close behind the door.
"F.B.I." he answered. "Open up."
The sound of several padlocks being unlocked followed the sounds of several chains being unchained before the door opened to reveal a tall, skinny, old bald man with thick glasses in big black frames wearing blue jeans and an AC/DC t-shirt.
"Mulder!" Langly greeted him loudly and happily, hugging his old friend. Mulder hugged back and smiled. He pulled back slightly, ending the embrace and he rubbed his hand over his old friend's bald head.
"Easy come, easy go, huh?" Langly said, standing aside and motioning Mulder and Harold inside. The place was one room, lit only by the lights of a bank of fifteen computer monitors of varying sizes and shapes. The sound of hard rock whispered furiously from the headphones of a very old miniature cd player.
"We aren't interrupting anything important, are we?" Mulder asked as Langly walked back to where he had been working and turned the cd player off.
"No, I wasn't doing nothing. Just recoding a retro release of Dungeons and Dragons. I got tired of always beating Ravenloft with my eyes closed. Who's the old guy?"
"His name's Harold. Give him something to play with and he'll leave us alone." Langly pointed out a stool to Mulder and while he got Harold situated on top of it, Langly retrieved and placed a lava lamp on the table in front of him.
That seemed to be enough, Langly judged by Mulder's now relaxed posture, and he went to a nearby table littered with computer parts and tools and turned on a lamp, which allowed Mulder his first really good look at Langly since 2010. The man seemed to be in as good a shape as he ever was, which wasn't really saying much. But, aside from the hair loss, he had aged well.
Langly then sat down in a folding metal chair across from Mulder, crossed his legs, and started leaning the chair back until it was braced against the wall beneath an American flag. Mulder thought then that the bald head spoke more of the time passed between them than any other reminder could have.
Dismissing any further deep ponderances of sentimental symbols, he began the conversation. "Is it safe to speak openly here?" he asked Langly, already sure of the answer.
"Of course. There's no future in letting the spooks know my business. The place is lead-lined. Only ears hearing anything from this room are in this room. Can you dig it?"
"Good thinking," Mulder said, looking around. "Do you run all this from a generator?"
"Nah, I'm way to good to have to get my hands dirty with that shit. I have a direct link-up to a pirate satellite. From that server, it was a piece of cake to file the proper paperwork certifying that I live in a government storehouse for toxic biological waste which has to be refrigerated all times. I'm wired in on their dime. Fuckin' idiots."
Mulder laughed. "Right under their noses." He was truly amazed.
"You know me - I can't stay away from the action." Langly smirked.
"Are you alone?" Mulder asked. "I halfway expected the other two to be here with you."
"No, it's just me, you, and Catatonic," Langly answered, nodding toward Harold who was staring, obsessed, at the lava lamp. "It makes sense that you wouldn't know if they froze you out. That's what I thought happened. There was no way you could have known then, I guess.
"I'm all that's left and it has just been me for years. Byers disappeared during the invasion. Most likely abducted and never returned. When it all started to go down, he went after that Modeski chick. He tracked her to a Navajo encampment in Arizona and his last call to us, he talked about how the skies at night were full of lights and then they started to disappear. We'll never have a fully accurate count, but as near as I can tell America lost around 400,000 from the mass abductions, including one John Fitzgerald Byers.
"And then Frohike's heart attack."
Mulder grimaced sympathetically. "Damn," was all he could of to say in response to the news of the two lost men.
"The world went nuts. It wasn't the same without the others. I lost everyone. Yves, Jimmy... Gone."
There was quiet between them until he knew it was time to go on again. Mulder reached into his pocket and pulled out a keyring with a couple of keys hanging from it and handed it to Langly.
"I've done what I could to get all my shit together," he said and laughed a small laugh. "They're all ordered sequentially and my notes are attached. It shouldn't be that hard for you. I don't know how much I have. All of my stuff that I didn't leave at the Bureau. That's there. There's other stuff.
"I know the cities are overrun by rumors, conspiracy theories, superstitions and lies, but in the last few months I've seen some things, bad bad things, and it gets to the point where it's not hard to put other parts together, you know?"
He leaned forward toward Langly.
"It's not over. They're... There's something going on, possibly even genocide."
"Yeah, well, that's not surprising and not without modern-day precedent," Langly said, switching seats to a rolling chair in front of the bank of computer monitors. "Of course there's the big obvious Hitler in Germany and that little bastard Lladoslav Miriskovic in Bosnia. We've even had a taste of it here in the U.S. I'm sure you remember the little mess Clinton made of the Branch Davidians near Waco." He turned around to a keyboard while he talked and began to type in commands. "Most recently there was the rise of Stepanovich-"
...and to him was given the key...
"-in Russia, where during that revolution it was common for whole communites to be slaughtered. The stories were that Yaponchik,-"
...one woe is past...
"-walked the earth, but superstitions aside, it was clearly a cleansing of the populace at the hands of a military led by an angry new leader with something to prove. They always want to silence the dissidents. It's the same story throughout history."
"Maybe that's what this is. I don't know. I can't explain it all," Mulder said, looking at the ground and shaking his head. "I don't know what they hope to accomplish, what their damn goal is. The one sure thing I do know is that they want to make everyone forget. They want it never to have happened. That was the first step and I should have seen that then. Now they're... With the power they have now, I don't think it will end there. Who knows?"
"Eh, what the hell," Langly shrugged. "At least they're not waging some kind of holy war. With that shit, any hope of understanding flies right out the window. This way, at least we have reason to believe there's a comprehendable plan or something."
Mulder held up the index finger of his right hand as he stood up. "I'll be right back."
While Mulder went to the car to get the cloth bags, Langly tried to ignore Harold and put a few things away, but that wasn't to be. He gathered various small screwdrivers and ratchets together and behind him a ten year old he had seen run over by a bus when he was in fifth grade walked slowly past Mulder's chair.
Langly bent down, set the tools in a box underneath the table, stood up and turned around, and screamed as loudly as he had ever screamed. He moved quickly backward away from the boy until he ran into the wall and still he tried to keep going, to get away from this ghost-child come a-knockin'.
"I need new clothes. I need new clothes. I need new clothes," Harold's voice came softly from somewhere beyond the boy who was now reaching for Langly but disappeared as the door opened and Mulder came back in.
Langly bolted across the room to Mulder, the expression of shock and fear on his face telling Mulder everything.
"It was a kid... A kid... I knew him. Dead. Dead boy, right here! He was right here, Mulder! I saw him!" Langly looked like he was ready to run in fifteen different directions at the same time, Mulder thought.
"Yeah, he does that," Mulder said and glared at Harold, who was now leaning over with his nose pressed against the lava lamp. After briefly explaining Harold to Langly, he carried the bags on in and they sat back down in their previous seats.
"It's hard to believe anyone knows what the hell is going on in this world," Langly said, looking nervously back at Harold.
Mulder nodded in agreement. "But someone is always paying attention," he said as he pulled the bags off the floor and set them on the table. "This stuff was given to me by a girl whose friends were killed by government soldiers. The truth is out there and its in the hands of these bootleggers of government files. They're out there and they're in danger, these bootleggers, hackers, whatever. They're out there and they're fighting the fight, but they need our help."
"My turn to show you something," Langly said. He slid a compact disc of his own into a harddrive and pointed to a monitor to his left. "This is Las Vegas, former vacation paradise first for the mob, then for flat-out party animals, and in its later incarnations, families. You know the routine - get a swank room, get bombed on comp drinks and watch titties while the wife and kids are down the street watching the magicians. But this year's happy-go-lucky vacationers are being beaten and chained and herded into a single-file line.
"These people are hackers, techno-anarchists, your basic post-war geeks," Langly said. "I knew some of them. You're looking at some real geniuses. They're being led out to the street where they were forced onto a bus which took them into the desert about five minutes after this was recorded. There were over fifty people executed after being forced to dig their own communal grave. Efficient, huh?"
Mulder looked away from the monitor for a moment and shook his head. He only looked back up when Langly started speaking again.
"Here's another one that you may also find of interest. These 'feed the hungry' programs are a load of bullshit. I mean, they always have been, right?"
Mulder arched his eyebrow and nodded once.
"But this is really bullshit. All over the world, particularly in northern Africa, there are millions of people starving. This new government is letting them die off, while telling the rest of us about how many people they're saving. How stupid do they think we are?" Langly opened a new window on the monitor.
"Death certificates, filed by on-site medicos. People are dying by the truckload and it's not the same old shit. The truth is, it's worse than ever in these regions. Egypt, Libya. There is no food, diseases run rampant. There are efforts to provide medical care, real efforts, but they can't keep up. They're seeing shit theyve never seen before and more of it pops up every day. It could be extraterrestrial or some hybrid spinoff. There's just no way to tell anymore and that particular war will be lost soon enough.
"Whatever does survive, will be mutated beyond recognition. After the nukes were blown, the water and the land and the gene pools should have been written off forever as fucked. Every day, the scientist are discovering new viruses, arenaviruses, both Old World and New World strains. They're similar to the hantavirus, but they're transmitted by aerosol transmissions, rat turds, and rat blood and with the rats... It's one big pot of disease and if that's not bad enough even the newest viruses are exhibiting signs of mutations.
"Then there are others that start, for us, when naturally infected birds get bitten by mosquitoes who bite humans and there ya go. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.
"The animal life there is starting to become accepted as normal, with all the genetic mutations... What you see here," he said and pointed again at the monitor, "are everyday frogs born missing legs, trying to hop around on little stubby legs, sporting extra legs where there shouldn't be legs, legs split down the middle. Amazing shit. These kinds of things are, usually, in non-nuked settings, early warnings that the species the deformities appear in are soon to die off in that area. In other cases, these deformities are sometimes attributed to holes in the ozone layer. The ultraviolet light shines through the holes onto the little froggie embryos, cooking them.
"Of course, these theories hardly apply in light of the Night of The Twin Suns. Shit, with every day that passes there, life can hardly even be worth living, ya know?"
"Let's see what we can do to start fixing that," Mulder said and stood up, nodding toward the bags he had brought from the car. "It's up to you now. Spread the word, Ringo. Don't let those bastards win."
Langly heard the change in tone in Mulder's voice and knew the reunion was coming to its end. Part of his mind started racing for topics he could use to stretch their time together, but the part of his mind which always made the decisions had long ago come to accept the fact that all things must end.
"I have to go take care of some business now and I need a favor for something I got going on tonight," Mulder said and looked Langly in the eye, trying to fix one more pleasant and lasting memory of the man into his bank of memories.
"Anything you need, man. Anything. You name it."
Mulder offered a very vague summary of his plans and when he was finished, Langly started rambling.
"This fucking shit," he said, looking at the bags and at Harold and at Mulder. "I look back and wonder about it all, you know, man? It's just all so... I don't know." His right hand was shaking in his lap and his voice had begun to shake as well. "You guys went off with your people. Frohike went into the ground. Byers went to the stars. I don't have anyone anymore. I still sit here and wait for that door to open." He pointed limply at the front door, then his arm fell back in his lap.
"I hate this, Mulder. We never got to just hang out and be friends, man. We never..."
Mulder gave Langly time.
"I know one cat from back then is still around, but he's an asshole and I try to avoid him as much as I can. He's whacked. What about you? You see anyone from the old school?"
"I can't tell you that. You know, what if they find you?" Mulder grinned sympathetically and told Harold to get ready.
"But..." Langly's face wore his confusion, but then it also showed that confusion clear. "Oh," he said and they shook hands. They walked to the door, gathering Harold on the way, and in their final looks and words, everything, all the times over all the years that had passed between them, came down to this, their final parting.
"It was good knowing you," the Lone Gunman said, unable to look away from his old friend.
"Goodbye, Langly," Mulder finally said and turned to leave.
"Goodbye, Mulder," Langly answered and then looked at Harold. "Freak."
Langly closed the door behind them and walked back into the depths of his room. He opened one of the bags and pulled a cd out. He slid it into a drive on a standalone computer and soon he was spreading the word.
On another computer, he began to adjust the settings on the software he'd have to use later.
It will be fifty hours later when he finds the fourth bag Mulder left for him. He will at first be puzzled as he goes through the bag's contents, laying them out on a table and wondering just what he is looking at. With equal parts curiosity and sense of duty, he will read the pages of Reggie Purdue's novel, and he will not break the seal of any of the plastic bags holding the cloth hearts, and he will toast Mulder and Scully again and again with the shot glass from Florida, and when he makes deliveries on the motorcycle which will replace the Harley he will always wear a wedding ring on his finger and until the day he dies, he will wear Scully's cross around his neck.
Outside, the sun was shining brightly in the square of sky above them. They stood there in the cold while Mulder first finished his good-byes and then listened to a voice giving him instructions. They walked to the end of the alley and stopped at the street. Mulder looked at his watch. It was just after two o'clock and while Harold watched the traffic, his friend continued to listen to a voice only he could hear. When that voice had said its piece, Mulder turned to the man beside him. He had to make him understand.
"Harold," he said, and put his hands on the insane old man's shoulders. Neither his personal address nor his touch had drawn the man's attention, had not been enough to make him turn his eyes from whatever spectres they were focussed on.
"Harold, I need you to listen to me. I need a favor from you. I need you to go back to Skinner's and I need you to go there alone. I need you to look at his face and I need to you to tell him something. Can you do that for me?"
A sharp biting wind tore through them and when it died, Mulder saw that Harold not only hadn't been affected by it, but despite it he had turned to face Mulder. He seemed almost lucid and stared intently into Mulder's eyes and said, "No one shoots at Santa Claus."
Mulder felt his eyes getting wider, an involuntary rush of desperation beginning to overwhelm his senses. He didn't know how much longer he could repeatedly beat his head against this brick wall.
"You were my friend," Harold started again, his voice cracking and his head beginning to shake violently. "My touchstone. You helped me."
The true owner of the voice inside Mulder began wondering if any of this bullshit was even worth the effort, when Harold stopped talking and stood up straight. He looked at Mulder, clearly still in deep struggle with the demons running his brain, but he was in control now.
For the moment.
"I will help you," he said and Mulder felt his world start to spin. He held on though, took Harold by the shoulders again and told him what he needed him to do, where he needed to go, and hoped it was enough.
He watched Harold walk until the old man was out of sight, and looked back down the alley at the motorcycle, considering one last favor Langly could do for him.
Walter Skinner sat alone in a dark and mostly empty office with his back to the remains of a wall, and thought about life. The atmosphere of the room, considering his reasons for being here, was not compromised by the exposed metal beams where the sheet rock had been ripped away, nor was it compromised by the exposed wiring hanging from the empty places in the ceiling where overhead lights and acoustical tiles once hid these guts. He found the way things were to be a fitting contrast to the way things had been - appropriate for his state of mind tonight.
He ran his hand across the smooth soft carpet beneath him and then he picked his M-16 up from off the coil of rope beside him. He thought for a brief moment more about the various business which would have transpired in this room, would have been conducted at this very desk in the corner to his left, and he kept his eye on his weapon.
"The M-16 was introduced in 1964 during the early stages of the conflict in Vietnam. It is a superior weapon capable of firing up to eight-hundred 5.56 mm caliber rounds per minute when fired in automatic mode. The weapon's length is 99 centimeters and it weighs close to seven pounds. The M-16 suffered from a bad reputation because of initial difficulties encountered by soldiers which were attributed to the weapon but in reality were due to poor quality ammunition. In reality, the M-16 is... a superior weapon."
He looked once more through his telescope, saw nothing new, and let his thoughts wander back to a day not so long ago, when he had gotten his first taste of war and his rifle had been a constant companion, friend, and ally as important as eating - as it had been for many boys, boys who had travelled to a faraway place to kill and die for their country, boys who had left their homes and families and lives and futures behind because of their deep conviction that patriots don't turn a deaf ear to their country in its time of need, or because they believed in the cause or because they were unfortunate enough not to have been born to wealthier parents. The reasons they were there, he had quickly come to learn, didn't matter because once they landed they were warriors, each and every one. They were warriors and they fought and they fell like warriors, these boys and these men, and he too had tried, twice, to give his life for God, for country, for family...
In the end, none of that mattered. What mattered was that he had survived the danger only because God sometimes pities fools and because it became easier to pull the trigger but he had never escaped the danger because every life, every day, is in danger.
That's just life.
Aborting what would have been a routine inventorying of a lifetime of bad choices, he examined the burns on the palms of his hands and then shot a bitter glance at the rope lying coiled in the corner with one end stretching into the darkness behind him where it was secured around one of the exposed I-beams framing the fourth floor.
Of course there were no working elevators in this building any more (the thought caused him to touch his hand to his forehead without his being aware of it) and of all of the various stairwells the building had once been home to, only one was still partially functional and that had taken him only as high as the second floor. At the top of those stairs, the building's west wall gave way to open night. From the landing, he had slung the weighted end of the rope over the beam and fired the remote control opening the metal attachment's arms and by the time he had finished the climb up, he was sure that he didn't want to have to make that same climb back down.
Again, he looked through the window with his telescope, saw only empty black night, and continued to wait for the storm to come.
The Harley-Davidson cruised through the dark night, its headlight off and its rider leaning into the handlebars. In the dark of the night, he was darker still, moving against the winter wind until his destination was in sight. He switched the motor off and coasted silently through the last intersection before he had to start walking. With the barely passable skill of the thoroughly unversed, the rider eased one leg up and over until he was running and guiding the motorcycle until it slowed enough for him to let it fall to its side. Then he adjusted the packages on his back and crouched as he continued toward his meeting place on foot. Forty feet from the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue, Mulder stopped. Something in one of the piles of garbage and debris had caught his eye and he knelt to examine it.
It was a striped corner of the American flag.
Alex, I believe there is a poet inside you. You told me once that you love this country. I didn't believe you then, but as I look around at this place where what was the nation's capital now rests in shadow like a magnificent graveyard, I think maybe we just have different definitions of 'love'.
If you're here already, are you looking at my face? Can you see it? I've lain awake at night picturing it... planning it, endless nights pressing weights into the air, running until I couldn't breathe, sitting in the dark and considering every possible method, savoring each imaginary moment of a night not those nights. A night this night.
It's over, Alex. That's what you said and you were right.
It is over.
Mulder's steps were slow but confident here where he had once walked through a different world on the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue and there, across the street, in the J. Edgar Hoover Building where he had been one of the good guys.
Goddammit, you're a loser. You've always been a loser, you fucking joke.
He stopped before he came to the corner of the remains of the building beside him and ran through his mental checklist one more time, starting with his shoelaces and then the device Skinner had given him... a month ago? Two? It seemed so long ago now as his hand began to shake and he pulled the headset from his belt and pulled it over his head. Then he adjusted his M-16 on his shoulder and checked the clips in his belt.
Then the .9mm on his waist and the .38 on his ankle.
He twisted his wrist up, checking his watch and, right on schedule, the streetlights and the few lights on in the remaining buildings died.
"Welcome, Agent Mulder," Skinner's voiced crackled through the headset.
"Thanks. How's tricks? Run into any surprises yet?"
"All clear so far. Just us chickens," Skinner answered, while he tried to locate Mulder in his telescope.
"Did you bring everything?"
"Everything I knew about. Asking about anything in particular?"
"Did Harold find you?"
"That crazy son of a bitch. Yes, he found me while I was packing up. I took care of him."
Mulder laughed, imaging what that scene must have been like. A hollow and tense quiet rang softly in both headsets until Mulder pressed Skinner. He wanted him to keep talking.
"I'd love to know what you're thinking, old man," he said.
"I'm just wondering how many eyes are on us," Skinner answered, panning back up Pennsylvania Avenue.
"Funny you should mention that. Hang on." Mulder ducked low and sprinted to the corner of the building near the intersection at Pennsylvania Avenue and inside the doorway. He reached behind him, pulled a small black sphere from his pack and pressed it against the brick wall. The sphere bit into the brick with a loud crunch and Mulder let go. It remained in position and he checked to see that it was secure and then set the timer, before wishing he had chosen a better angle for the camera and wondering how much the video feed would pick up. He decided it wouldn't matter because if the video was a problem, there was still the audio and as long as that made it through to Langly, things were-
"Did you get everything else taken care of?" He shook his head, realizing again that he had no idea how much Harold had been able to remember or to pass on to Skinner.
"We're locked down. Grid's been disabled and manual response time to here should be over an hour. Anything that happens at street level should go unnoticed anyway though," Skinner answered. He felt something distinctly uncomfortable in the silence that followed, finding no more comfort in Mulder's voice when he finally spoke.
"I know, Mulder. Let's finish this up."
"Ok," Mulder answered his former boss as two men came into the light half a block or so beyond the intersection to the west. "I have two bodies approaching. One is obviously on the guest list. Any ideas about who his date is?"
"You're looking at Alex Krycek and John Doggett. I'm following your lead."
"Good. Keep your eyes... eye open. Sorry about that."
Mulder stayed in his crouch at the corner of the building. As the two men came closer, he recognized the older General Doggett The man was in full uniform and carried an AK-47, lowered and, Mulder assumed, open for business. He stared at the man, unable to see his face until they were under the comatose traffic light where Doggett and Krycek stopped.
The silence was broken by Krycek.
"Show yourself, Mulder!"
The echo of his voice rang through the streets and Mulder looked up at the stars and stepped forward. "You put this party together because of some bizarre need you feel for me to indulge your voyeuristic side, Krycek?" He walked slowly into the intersection nearest his end of the block. "Well, whatever the reason, it's good to see you again, buddy! Pal!"
"You made this happen, Mulder. It's because of you that we're here. No one wanted this," Krycek called back, his voice calm.
"Why? Because you think I won't shut up about what really happened? You think I'm going to cause the end of the world? That's your story, but it's horseshit and we both know it! I know why you want me dead!"
"We don't want you dead. You're already dead. We've come to make sure you stay dead, Agent Mulder and you know why," Doggett answered.
A voice only Mulder could hear began whispering in his ear and he started walking slowly toward Doggett and Krycek.
"Oh, and good evening to you, John. What a nice surprise. I'm flattered to be in the company of the only other living X-Files veteran. This the best gig you could scare up tonight?" He continued to walk as he talked, each step slow and sure. "Really, you can tell me the truth about why you're here, and I think you know what a poor excuse 'the devil made me do it' is."
"Who the hell are you to question me? Who are you to question my motives?" Doggett's voice had changed. He was angry now.
He was pissed off, Mulder thought, wanting to nod but resisting.
"You're right," Doggett continued. "I did work on the X-Files and it shouldn't surprise you that I've read everything in there and, since then, I've read everything about you. Everything! I've seen the reports. How much innocent blood is on your hands, Mulder? If I'm a killer in the employ of tyranny, you're no better. How many people died when the bees carrying the vaccine were released? How is that different, huh Mulder? I know who I work for and what I'm here for."
"No sale, Doggett. Your bosses are, and always have been, wrong. They've just passed the torch to a new generation. Meet the new boss," Mulder said, pointing at Krycek. He had just passed the halfway point. "Same as the old boss. These people aren't any better than the men we fought, and they were every bit our enemy too. It wasn't just aliens. But with these guys in charge, those men might as well have won. The aliens might as well have won."
"So what is the answer, Agent Mulder?" Doggett called back. "You want the world to know how close it came to dying? You want people to live in fear of when it will happen again for every minute of every day of their lives?"
"Not yet. Not yet. A little bit further," Skinner's voice whispered.
"That's politics you're talking, Doggett, and you know it," Mulder countered. "If you truly believed that, if you truly believed that was the price of the truth, you'd have brought the cavalry. Where are the tanks? Where are the snipers? It doesn't make sense! None of this makes sense, Doggett! Krycek set you up. You're cannon fodder. You're here to distract me while Krycek gets his damn revenge. He knows you'll probably die tonight, but he doesn't care. He's here to kill me. He killed my father and now he's ready to finish the job. Don't be a fool, Doggett."
Doggett looked at Krycek and then back at Mulder.
"That may be," he said, "but I think if I'm being set up by anyone, it's you! I know about you and Skinner, about how you blame me for Scully's death. This is about revenge alright, but not the man next to me's revenge. This is about Fox Mulder's and Walter Skinner's revenge. Now, I'm asking you, please don't make this any harder than it has to be. Put the gun down and let us take you in. You don't have to be put in the ground over this, Fox."
"I've already been in the ground," Mulder said, a chill crawling over his voice. "I'm not going back any time soon. Step aside now, Agent Doggett. There's no reason for you to be here. Go home. This is about me and Krycek.
"You hear me, Krycek? Me and you, Krycek! This is just about us now and you know why? Because the truth is out there now, so it's not about badges or guns or causes any more. Not for me and you. For us it's about fate, Krycek. Our fate. Right here, right now."
"Mulder, no!" Skinner's voice exploded in his ear. Mulder took the headset off and threw it away as he started to run toward Krycek.
I have no illusions about tonight, about the way this will end. This afternoon, I spent a lot of time thinking about us, you and I. Earlier, I spoke to you of fate, our fate, but that was false. A lie. We had no fate. Not together. You or I could have walked away. We could have turned our backs on each other after the invasion. Instead, I always felt you behind me, always just out of sight, lingering, lurking like a vampire hiding from the sunlight but full and whole and watching from the shadows. Even when I believed you were dead, I felt you. Still, if this date was written in stone and I had to be here tonight with someone, with anyone, it should have been with another man, a man who died years ago, but obviously that is impossible.
You can't always pick the dog you find.
So it's me and you and we're close now, like we've always been and we dance the dance one last time. Your one arm is quick, as I knew it would be and I barely dodge your swing. The wind blows my hair in the wake of your miss and then you're against me, your body forcing mine to the ground, your forehead butting into mine. Your attack is measured, expert. You've stayed in practice and getting out from under you is harder than I expected it to be.
A push and a roll, using my shoulders for leverage, and finally I'm away from you and we're on our feet again. I close the distance this time, at the last second feinting to my left, thinking you won't have expected it, but your knee is there in my nuts and the back of your hand hits hard against my face. Stings. Wakes me up a little.
Ok, you have my attention.
I let you grab the back of my neck, rolling limply with your momentum, but before you can break my nose with your knee, I drive my fist into your stomach and then quickly into your solar plexus when you let go. That should take your wind right out of you and when it does, I throw my weight into a chop to the back of your neck.
Now that the introductions are over, let's get to business, boy.
It's my turn to slap you around and I enjoy the feel of your hair in my one hand as I hold your head up and in place while I repeatedly slap the shit out you with my other hand. Yes, I do have the advantage Alex, but not because I have two arms. I have the advantage because I'm smarter than you, but I've given up on you ever accepting that.
That doesn't mean I can't beat it into you.
Stand up, Alex. Let's work on those ribs. This would have an ordinary on his knees in tears, but not you. You're not the kind to give up, are you Alex? No, not you.
I feel you getting ready to strike back. I know you've been absorbing each blow like a battery absorbing a charge and your pathetic little man's ego has nearly had enough.
Before you can do it though, before you rise back up, I look, maybe for the last time, into your eyes and I see it. I knew it was there. Your fire is so strong and you're so stupid. There's something there that saddens me though. I see the flames burning as brightly as ever and I feel your hatred radiating off your body in waves, but there's something missing.
You haven't fallen, but you seem weak.
Don't give up, Alex. Not yet. I have so much planned for you tonight, my old friend, and it has to end here. Here, where the story, the real story, has always happened. Here, the true killing field of my holy war.
That's what Skinner called it, and there's so much truth in that.
Pull you close.
Face to face.
Can feel your breath on my skin.
I feel young, like I'm thirty again. Like I'm twenty-five. What should be agony for me is rapturous. I'm born again and this man, this old man in front of me, seems to be losing interest. I tighten my hold on him and put my face less than an inch from his.
"Welcome to hell," he says and slams his forehead into mine.
Dazed, I begin to swing. I throw all of my weight into my fist once, twice, three times into his face. I'm hitting him as hard as I can, harder than I've ever hit anyone or anything before and it's beginning to take a toll on me. My breathing has become sharp and lightning is shooting through my chest and my left arm.
When I miss, he laughs and puts his fist into my armpit, making nerves explode and my heart skip a beat. He uses his knee, his elbow, he ducks and crouches and lunges and he is sharp again. Back and forth, we exchange blows, each dominating in our own turns, but always he is mocking me.
I feel puny and hollow.
Enraged now, I've lost control. Behind my next connection, I feel the crunch of bone, maybe his cheekbone and maybe something in my own hand. I don't care which. I like the way it felt.
I'm on top of him, falling, the ground stopping our fall. I feel his heart beating against my chest. He is bleeding and I imagine I must be too.
His lips are moving, but I can't hear what he's saying. I think he's begging. I smile at the thought of him begging. Whatever he's saying, I can't hear it, so it doesn't matter.
Can you hear what I'm thinking, Alex? I'm thinking about how you said you were my friend and my brother, but you sold us out. You sold us out for a world of order and safety, but this ain't it, friend. This is a world fashioned in response to the belief that survival is the answer to all of life's questions. This is your answer, Alex. Survival. This is the answer your childhood brought you, your birth under the shadow of a nation built on the slaughter of tens of millions of people.
If survival is the answer, then perhaps you are the hero. Perhaps the glory you find in this brave new world is justified because it was your reaction to the threats you faced which sealed your path, decided your destiny.
But my childhood was different and taught me different lessons. Mine was a world shaped by the looming shadow of the Communist threat, but that was distant like Mars or the Old Testament. In the little picture, my world was a world of summer afternoons, riding bikes down to the beach, games of pick-up under the sun and being so content that I could have stayed out there until the stars blinked out and fell from the sky. My daydreams were filled with throwing curve balls and the smell, the feel of a baseball glove and the crack of a bat knocking a baseball over a wooden fence, drinking root beer late in the afternoon on the Vineyard, my mom and my dad and my sister and me. Those were my daydreams, but they were real and that was my world until the aliens showed me a different world. They stole my childhood and made it into a twisted funhouse mirror.
But no matter what followed, I will not forget...
I will not be made to forget, not for you. Never.
Can you understand that, Alex? I hope you can.
What I knew then, and what I know now...
This goes past the ideologies. It goes beyond the ideologies.
It is the flame that burns solely inside each person and lives and grows and dies with the birth, life, and death of that person.
We matter, Alex. Each and every one of us. Is learning that lesson, finally, still impossible? Too extreme a possibility? Out of reach for the only man who ever had the answers?
Why didn't I ever come to you for the truth? You... You knew the truth, because you knew... You always were the one who knew what to look for. Sometimes, I used to think you were the hero.
I know you tried and in some ways I think I should be asking for your forgiveness. You brought me the truth and finally I had no choice but to believe you. Despite all the evil, all the bad shit you did to me, to Scully, to Skinner, to Diana, I believed you. And you and I... You're right. We changed the world. We changed the world and now look at that world. Look at us. I'm still a political liability and you've become a joke.
God damn you, Alex.
"Krycek..." Mulder gasped, trying to fill his lungs and empty them at the same time.
The idiot starts laughing, insane, wanting to let me know that he can take it. He could always take it. I hear the gun.
You missed, Alex. The bullet bounced by my ribs. It took some meat with it.
I'm tempted to call you a coward.
Skinner stayed in position, his telescope trained on Doggett. He was watching the man's face, picturing the various possible results of different angles' bullet wounds.
He zoomed out a click.
Doggett too had remained in position, watching Mulder and Krycek, stonefaced. Skinner tilted the telescope slightly downward, drawing Doggett's shoulders and chest into view. Skinner flinched when he saw Doggett's right shoulder move and then his right hand moving upward to the radio microphone clipped to the left shoulder of his uniform.
"Don't do that, you pussy," Skinner whispered. "Don't you dare."
Doggett's head leaned slightly to his left and his mouth started to move as the sound of Krycek's gun being fired rang loudly through the night.
"Motherfucker!" The voice was a shout this time followed by the sound of gunfire and the shattering of glass. The three men on the ground shielded their eyes from the shards raining down on them followed by the shape of a man, Walter Skinner, former Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and he flew through the night like the angel of death. He was barechested, wearing only a camouflage bandana tied around his head, and electronic headset, combat pants and boots. His face was painted - dark black stripes under his eyes and on his forehead, and with the rope in his left hand and his rifle in his right, he swung down the side of the building firing on Doggett as Doggett ran across Pennsylvania Avenue.
Mulder ducked into the shadowy wreckage of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, turning his back on Krycek to save himself from Skinner's reign of bullets. He stumbled in the dark, tripping over debris, but he didn't fall. He made it to one of the few standing columns on this side of the building and hid behind it.
Except for his slightly labored breathing, the night around him was now silent.
He felt his side, checking the depth and size of the wound Krycek's bullet had left. There was blood, but nothing too bad. He was bleeding some, but he was not dying, not yet. He slid down to a sitting position, M-16 still in hand, and continued to catch his breath.
Doggett turned into an alley half a block away, running down the alley until he came to a small break in the building, likely the empty home of a long gone dumpster, and he ducked in and put his back to the wall. His heart was pounding in his ears, brutishly blocking out any other noises he might have need to hear - Skinner's boots, Mulder's gun, Krycek's voice. He didn't think there was anything, but he couldn't tell for sure. After Skinner had appeared, they had all split in different directions, and he thought he had ditched the maniac.
He thought the maniac had followed Krycek across Pennsylvania.
Doggett thought he was alone.
Still, he wasn't sure. He didn't know if Krycek was even still alive and he couldn't risk either scuttling Krycek's plan or giving away his position by trying to use the radio.
So here he was, alone, in the dark, assigned the incredible mission to kill a couple of heroes, that mission crapped by a crazed marine, and now he was probably going to die because of some stupidshit age-old grudge held between the two men who had saved the world. Not even at the most desperate stages of the invasion, could he have imagined this. Yet here he was now. He had come here prepared to kill heroes and now he was stranded in a D.C. alley with no way to contact the assistance that waited less than half a mile away.
This was no way to run an operation, not against Mulder and damn sure not against Skinner.
A memory of Mulder telling him that he was the only credibility the X-Files had made him ashamed and Doggett, for one of the very few times in his life, thought about running, just ditching the whole thing. But if he was haunted by the ghost of the man he had been sent to kill, he was also haunted by the words of the President who had sat across from Doggett with his face hidden in the shadow of the wide brim of his cowboy hat. While they had talked, Doggett had tried repeatedly to see his face, but he was only able to see his mouth as he gave the thousand dollar speech.
He had done his part, he thought, looking up into the sky and entertaining small and vague hopes that a stray god would hear his thoughts. He had been a good soldier, a good cop, a good agent, a good father and here he was, fucked, with the future of the planet still hanging in the balance.
He closed his eyes and saw the poster he had taken from Mulder's office. He saw the words, "I WANT TO BELIEVE".
And there it was, goddammit. He did want to believe. He wanted to believe that he was doing the right thing and that the world needed him to do the things he had done. He wanted to believe he had made the world a better place.
He wanted to believe in the post-war dream.
Ultimately he wanted to believe that the cost - the loss of countless lives, the damage to the planet and the environment - had not been paid in vain and he couldn't let everything they had done be lost. Not now. Not ever.
Doggett stepped back into the alley, holding his weapon and ready to fire, and looked around, again seeing no evidence of anyone alive but himself. Then there was an echo of footfalls, running. The sound exploded all around him and then immediately faded. He couldn't tell who it had been but he knew they had gotten close.
"Fuck this," he whispered and reached for the radio on his shoulder and across the alley, something moved in the shadows.
He clenched his teeth and drew his rifle against his shoulder, taking aim and preparing to kill his enemy. Instead of Fox Mulder or Walter Skinner, kids began to come forward into the moonlight. Children, boys, ten of them, maybe more. For some reason, it was hard to tell. He squinted, trying to focus but still things were wrong. It was like he was dreaming - slow, otherworldly. The boys walked into the alley and stood facing him. At this distance, he was able to discern the similarites they all shared. They were almost identical, he saw, wearing the same clothes, wearing the same sneakers.
Doggett lowered his rifle and stepped forward, staring intently at the dark blue shirt on the nearest boy. His eyes... No...
His eyes were working, except the light made it wrong.
He tried to focus again, to shake this feeling that he wasn't even here anymore.
He looked again at the boys, and looked through them. His subconscious screamed, telling him they were ghosts but he didn't listen because he knew they weren't. He knew something else now and as they got closer, he could see they all had the face of his son.
"Daddy," they called.
They were all his son, his dead son.
They were all Luke.
"Daddy", they whispered with translucent lips as they walked toward Doggett. "Daddy".
"Nononono..." Dogget whispered as he closed his eyes and turned his head away from the children.
Before they could turn to ash.
Mulder stood and pushed himself off the column.
Skinner held still, squatting and surveying the landscape beneath him. With his rifle nestled in the artwork of the fire escape's railing, he again pressed his telescope to his eye.
After he had landed, he had tried to follow Doggett, be he quickly lost sight of the man. He had run down the sidewalk to the rear of the building where he thought Doggett had probably gone, but there had been no sign of him. Skinner then crossed the street and disappeared into that block's alley. He listened to the voice that kept telling him to stay high and he climbed the first fire escape he had come to.
Now, twenty-five feet above the alley, he watched the shadows of the night. His telescope fully extended, he searched the shadows, back and forth, waiting for something, anything, to move. Something did catch his attention, making him freeze and readjust the telescope's focus, and there, on the fire escape across the street, he spotted the package he had brought, the one he thought Mulder was asking about earlier. It sat outside the fourth floor, beside the window, crosslegged on the fire escape.
Skinner lowered the telescope and refocussed, looking as far as he could into the alley and finding John Doggett. He was standing still and Skinner thought he could make out the man's lips moving. He thought maybe Doggett was praying.
Quickly, Skinner switched back to the fire escape and saw a shadow moving behind the window until he recognized it as Krycek. He pulled away and looked down at the asphalt beneath him and then back at Krycek. The telescopic image made no sound as it approached the giggling old man in the blindfold. It carefully raised its gun and shot a bullet into Harold Piller.
Doggett stood frozen, paralyzed by the place he had withdrawn into, able only to move his lips in denial of what his eyes had shown him. This place was in a chained and locked recess of his mind and was home to only a twisted storehouse of dark memories - the memories of days and weeks and hours and seconds of an investigation long past the point of hope or reason. Memories of voices, long since silent, telling him he had to carry on, he had to move, he had to be strong, his son was counting on him.
His eyes flashed open and the kids were gone.
As Harold was falling to the floor, Skinner jumped from the fire escape and landed on both feet in the alley below. He started running as fast as he could, completely oblivious to the pain, focussed on this one opportunity.
"Don't you fucking move!" He had closed the distance quickly, arriving before Doggett had sufficiently recovered from the vision of the children. "On your knees, now!"
Doggett looked at Skinner, his face blank, and lowered himself to his knees.
"I've waited a long time for this." Skinner looked around quickly, looking for Krycek but he wasn't there yet. "Dana Scully deserved better than getting shot in the head," he said, "and history will know you only as her assassin, the one who finally stopped her with a bullet. I'm going to make damn sure of that."
He looked all around again, scanning once more for Krycek, and then back down at Doggett.
"You were a man once, Dogget. You were a good soldier, a good cop, and a good F.B.I. agent. You traded all that in to be a thug. I wonder what that must have felt like to know you were selling your soul. You would have approached her, as a friend, right? Made her an offer. Did you tell her they were after her but you could stop them? That you knew what they wanted and how far they would go? Man, she had your fucking number. She would have seen right through you because she didn't ever trust you and I know she wouldn't have bought whatever bullshit you were peddling. Say good-bye."
"You're dreaming, Skinner! It wasn't like that!" Doggett exploded. He looked wildly at Skinner, catching his breath before continuing. "She wasn't who you think she was, Skinner."
"Lies," Skinner hissed.
"Ok, look," Doggett said, easing back until he was sitting on his butt. He moved his legs slowly in front of him and sat back against a broken plate of 1/2" thick glass which was practically all that was left of what was once a corner office, the razor sharp jagged edge forking downward over his head and to Skinner it looked like lightning striking. "Yes, I stayed with the government, but not because I was a bad guy. You know that. I did it because I was a patriot and I thought you were too. No, I don't like everything that's going on, but have you got a better plan? Do you? No. Hell no, you don't. Scully didn't either. I am not lying to you. I know what Scully releasing that report would have done. We have no defense against that. I didn't kill Scully, but I know that it had to be done. We have to play it like this... We have to play it their way right now, because there is no other way."
Skinner seemed slightly distant and Doggett watched for an opportunity to move.
"I'll never buy that shit. I'll never buy the idea that killing innocent civilians is what's in the best interest of us all."
"Innocent? What has that got to do with anything? We're talking about keeping people from going nuts and killing each other. That's what we fought against with the invasion, right? Genocide? Skinner, sir, we can't go that way."
"Genocide? You're talking about genocide and you're telling me this would have been started by Scully, Doggett!"
Doggett watched, certain that Skinner was breaking and he would have to move real soon or he would die. "I have access," he said and started to push himself up slowly on his hands. "I'm inside and I know everything, Skinner. I know everything and I'm telling you, Dana Scully, Agent Dana Scully, was not loyal to you and she wasn't loyal to Mulder. It tore her apart, I admit, sure. It tore her apart when she came over. We needed her to make the vaccine work, to make it workable. She helped us save the world, Skinner, but she saw the same future we all did and she accepted that. I don't know what changed, but when she decided to bolt she made it a no-win game for us all."
"You killed her! That's what you told me!"
"I said that, yes! Yes, but I lied, Skinner. I lied and you know why. I don't know how much electronics you assholes have planted around here. How many eyes you got watching us tonight, huh? How many microphones you have hidden at your place? Huh? You don't know what I had to do to negotiate this. I had to fight for this... hard... because I believed there was a reasonable chance to bring you in. And when I saw the chance, I had to take it. So yes, I did humor you with your accusations. I thought that I could play into your delusion long enough to make you careless. To make you give this shit up and to come after me. That would have gotten them off your back for long enough for us, you and I, to come to some kind of terms. For me to show you the truth. You have to believe me."
"You can take this sitting on your ass on you can take it on your knees. Your choice." Skinner's finger tightened on the M-16's trigger.
"I told you I know everything, Skinner. I know the story and the true story is no one knows who killed Agent Scully, but it wasn't me and it wasn't our government. She was not a political liability. She was loyal to-"
"You're the political liability," Skinner interrupted, his teeth clenched now. "You're the joke, General Doggett. Whatever it was you wanted, she would have told you to go to hell and that's when you killed her. That's when you took a great woman's life. Now I want to know if there's a reason I shouldn't send you to Hell right now." He raised the rifle toward Doggetts head.
"I did what I had to do. I did the right thing," Doggett answered.
"Die, you son of a bitch!" Skinner sneered and squeezed the trigger. There was a small explosion of sound and light and then red blood splattered against the wall behind Doggett. His face had not been destroyed. The only sign of his handiwork Skinner could see was a simple hole in Doggett's forehead, a break in the skin which was only now beginning to bleed as Doggett's body fell forward onto the ground at Skinner's feet. It was that simple. He had done nothing more than aim his rifle at the man's head and then with one squeeze of the trigger, General John Doggett was dead.
Skinner smiled down at the dead body, relishing the sight of Doggett's life shattered into pieces. He wanted to live in this triumphant moment for a few more days, but behind him a shadow fell over his head and the leatherclad arm it belonged to tightened around his neck as Krycek forced them both into a dark area completely beneath a section of the remaining structure. With a snap of his neck, the back of Skinner's head crashed into Krycek's nose. He let go of Skinner, grabbing his face as the dark red blood covered his mouth and chin.
Skinner darted back for his rifle, which he had dropped when Krycek attacked him, and when Krycek's eyes opened again, he spat and ran, pushing Skinner until he was leaning backward over the small brick wall, the top of his head barely an inch over the remains of the broken plate of glass. He felt the pounding of Skinner's legs against his as they tried to wrap around him. He pushed harder, the strain against his shoulder increasing exponentially by the half-second.
Beneath Krycek, Skinner began pulling as hard as he could on the full sleeve of Krycek's leather jacket. He pulled himself up, defying Krycek's resistance, and soon his face was next to Krycek's and he twisted his neck and slung his head forward, sinking his teeth into Krycek's throat, immediately drawing blood, when Krycek's knee slammed into his crotch twice and then Skinner fell backward over the wall, landing flat with his right side against the plate of glass. He raised his head instantly, but he felt disoriented. He shook his head, blinking his eyes, trying to break the cold dizziness that was beginning to wash over him and that cold dizziness was dispelled as a hot flash seared through his nervous system. He closed his eyes against the wave crashing over him and tried to remain conscious. When it passed, he opened them again, but he didn't see Krycek.
He looked around for his rifle, found it, and thanked God as he pushed himself up into a sitting position with his back against the glass. It was slick, with his sweat he assumed, but he couldn't think about that now. Krycek. He had to locate Krycek. His life and so much more depended on it, but he just couldn't... The pain in his right arm began to shout and he looked to see if maybe had broken it or had taken an...
There was no right arm. There was only a pie of blood surrounded by stump, ragged flesh the wrapping for raw bleeding meat, and a shaft of bone coated in strings of muscle tissue. As he stared, his insides changing from fire to ice and back again, he thought the remaining flesh had begun to crawl.
He turned away, his eye stopping again when it saw his arm on the ground beside him, his fingers still gripping the M-16. The still of the winter's night in Washington D.C. was broken then by a howl of agony unlike anything anyone who could hear it had ever heard before. It erupted, furious and terrible, from the mouth and soul of Walter Sergei Skinner as he sat limply in the cold, alone and bleeding to death.
"Your enemy is my enemy," Krycek said to no one and turned to face Mulder.
From the sidewalk, Mulder ran at Krycek full on. The collision forced Krycek backward until a wall stopped their run. Krycek's breath was coming in great gasps, sweat and blood covering his face and staining the white t-shirt beneath his jacket.
Their bodies pressed together, Mulder raised his left forearm across Krycek's throat and kept his right locked on his rifle, and it was here that, despite the maelstrom which had carried them here and which now only rested in the shadows and in the blood all around them, Mulder looked into his eyes, searching not for indicators of motive or the subtle traitors any man carries while keeping a secret in times of desperation, but for a familiar fire he knew would be there because it burned inside his own soul and it knew its own kind. When he saw it, that brilliant vibrant flame, a piece of the world stopped and he was breathless, stunned by how beautiful it was, how beautiful it always had been and now how brightly it still managed to burn.
He threw Krycek to the ground while, not ten feet away, Skinner lay dying in a pool of blood.
Mulder pointed the M-16 and smiled.
"I saw what you did to Marita."
"So what? And now you want revenge for that whore too? Let me tell you something," Krycek said. "Covarrubias got what was coming to her. And which one of us is the one going around beating the hell out kids, huh? Fuck you."
"I'll tell you the truth, Krycek. She's the least of the problems I have with you. We have other business tonight. For too goddam long, you've gone unpunished for your crimes and tonight you're going to pay and I don't care if there isn't a single drop of red blood left in your sorry ass." He smirked. "Looks like that's not a problem though."
"My crimes?" Krycek laughed. "What do you think it is you're so honorable you're qualified to judge me for?"
"You tried to kill me. You tried to kill Scully. You tried to kill Skinner. You killed my father, Bill Mulder, and Scully's sister, Melissa! You shot them both! Admit it!"
"Your father," Krycek laughed. "Yeah, Mulder. I killed him, but I didn't kill Bill Mulder. I tried to save Bill Mulder."
"You lie!" Mulder's voice was breaking.
"Spender," Krycek answered, trying to sniff back the blood and snot running down his face. "He was worried because he knew you had the MJ files. He knew you would decode them and there was no way to know what Bill Mulder would tell you. Bill Mulder was a great man. I had come there to warn him. I saw him through the front windows and I saw you there with him, talking. I knew about what was being done to your water. I knew what kind of condition you were in and there was no way you would have listened to me. I went around to the side of the house and broke in through the bathroom window. I stood in the bathtub, behind the shower curtain, waiting and hearing the two of you talking. I couldn't make out most of what you were saying, but it wasn't hard to fill in. Then he came into the bathroom and was getting some pills from the medicine cabinet. I watched from behind the shower curtain, waiting to make sure you hadn't followed him, and that's when the shot came. Spender had sent a sharpshooter, as I suspected he would, and that's who killed Bill Mulder. There was nothing I could do."
He took a couple of quick deep breaths.
"You have an answer for everything, don't you?" Mulder snarled.
"You don't have to believe me, Mulder. Let's make this just like old times. I'm offering you the truth and you won't have it. You believe whatever you want. You always have. I killed them all. I killed everyone. Now, do it, Mulder! Get on with it if that's what you're here to do!"
"That is what I'm here to do." Mulder threw the rifle down. "I'm going to kill you with my bare hands."
As he lunged at Krycek, Krycek pulled and pointed his .9mm at Mulder and squeezed the trigger twice. The first bullet hit Mulder in his right shoulder. The second hit him in the chest just below his heart. He fell to his knees, eyes wide and fixed on Krycek as Krycek stood and walked to where Mulder had now fallen over onto his side.
"You lose, my friend," Krycek said and spat on Mulder's forehead.
A journey which began over half a century ago, with its roots going back nearly that much further, ends here as the light begins to fade.
I watch as Walter puts Alex down again, this time with a spray from his M-16. The nanobots have already sealed his wound just like they were programmed to do. He is weak and he has to stop to catch his breath, to stay conscious. He has dropped the rifle and now he's talking into the radio he took from Doggett, and now he's crawling away. Skinner will continue the fight. He's a good soldier. Despite the toll tonight will take on him, this was good for him.
He was worth the whole damn lot of us.
And Langly. Like a wizard sitting in his tower waving his hands over crystal balls, this genius moved the fight forward and if he never lifts his finger to help again he owes us nothing.
There will be no way to determine how many witnessed what happened here tonight on temporary websites, but they are out there and they will spread the word and they will be the ones who help prepare their world for the next thing.
I too must move to the next thing and so as my long familiar journey ends here, another journey begins here. It is an ending I have fought and run from and escaped time and time again, but now, feeling the journey begin regardless of my willingness to follow, I accept it.
I accept it and if it means that the fight will go on, if it means that I pay that price so that others may know, so that others will know the truth and will spread the word, so that what happened will not be washed away, so that the memory will live on, then yes, I accept it because I know that tomorrow the stories will begin. People will know the truth and they will rise up. People will tell others of Reggie and how he made it all possible because he was smart enough not to stand in the way. And of the undying loyalty and dedication of Agent Pendrell. People will tell others the story of Max. And when people tell the stories of Fox Mulder, they will also tell the story of Chuck Burk and Albert Hosteen and the stories of Byers and Frohike and Langly.
And people will tell stories of the life and death of Dana Scully and she will not be forgotten and people will hear the screams of the dead buried alive and they will keep the darkness at bay.
Once, when I was a child, I was playing in the woods, climbing trees, when what I thought was a leaf began moving, walking toward me. It was a praying mantis, an insect marching toward me, its huge eyes glaring at me, hating me, yet claiming me as its own. I screamed, frightened and outraged, confronted with the existence of a before unknown monster inhabiting my world. I began to see the ugliness of nature and man and everything around me in patterns that would repeat and recycle themselves and I became convinced that we each spend our lives charmed by snakes eating their own tails.
Maybe the boundaries are tighter than we have ever imagined.
At the time though, I only knew that the mysteries of the natural world had been revealed to me, but instead of being amazed, I was horrified. I was repulsed. The power, the evil I saw in this tiny creature made me see myself as hollow, puny, small...
So I screamed. I wanted to make it disappear with just the power of my voice, but my voice was too weak - my screams ineffectual. It did not go away until I shook my arm and jumped out of the tree and started running as fast as I could.
Maybe that is when I was born.
The time has come for me to give up my ties with this world that I bequeath to all those who come after me and in my final moments make peace with you, the abyss I have stared into after being born from it. When you first came to me, you were small and conquerable, but that was your first act of deception. Your face changed, and I should have seen you as a liar, but having already sensed the power of the evil in my world, I had faith that you would always be small and conquerable and I was momentarily seduced and dazzled by you, but for all your majesty you were merely a thief in the night bathed in the glow of your own confidence and arrogance and I, bathed in mine, made you nothing more. I know now I was wrong. Impossibly, you came across time and space into this reality and into the world of a little boy and is there any way I can look back now and believe it was not also part of your design that I would follow in your wake? The irony of you forcing me to witness your plundering, not of a treasure, but of my sister is not lost on me now and has not been for many years.
You became God. You moved in mysterious ways and no matter what I did, nothing could kill you. Every time I closed my eyes you were there, your lights taking her and your voice in my head asking for my trust and I do trust this voice which is not your voice, yet your voice all the same, telling me not to be afraid but how could I not live the rest of my life in the fear you taught me with this one act? Was your decision not made knowing it marked a path I would follow, determined a life I would not have chosen for myself?
When I slept, I lived in dreams of being alone on a planet left abandoned, no one but me, and I would feel so much guilt as though this were all my fault, as though I made this happen or I could have stopped it somehow but when I awoke from these dreams only to hear the sound of my father, awake and running from his own demons, the world did begin to move again.
The world kept moving and I kept living and no one disappeared any more and one day years later I woke up paralyzed and knowing that I would be walking into a little girl's empty bedroom for the rest of my life. Maybe it was in this moment, in my late teenage years, when my path was finally decided. It might have been then, but if it was, it was merely the beginning of the path I took to war, but the war itself, my war, my holy war, did not begin for some time to come because I was not ready then. No, my war began over a decade later, as a twist in the road of my investigation, a charting, turned inward on itself to reveal the dark agents of fortune hidden in my own memories, in the deepest recesses of my own soul. I was the adult-child of the child-adult and I had come to myself seeking the answers to the questions you had asked of me. And despite the intensity of the fires which fueled my determination, those fires didn't burn brightly enough to prevent the cobwebs from growing over my eyes and they didn't light my path, but they distracted me until now when I finally come to behold you, the architect, the planner, the creator and the trickster, the author of the play into which I was cast in the lead role and I come with an offering. Naively, I spent those many years of my life thinking I could withhold what was rightfully yours through wit and skill, but I failed to recognize you for what you are.
If I didn't offer you that tribute then, I offer you that tribute now, in the only gift I have left to give.
Then... Then I only knew that an enemy had begun to take shape. I believed you were something I could one day touch, one day grasp, one day force to deliver the answers I so arrogantly believed I was entitled to. I knew only that you were behind the mystery, or that you were the mystery. I knew you were out there behind everything I was seeing and everything I had witnessed in my own life, but I knew nothing more. Even in my ignorance though, I found some measure of comfort, some measure of clarity in believing that although I could not yet and had not yet grasped the truth, the truth, nonethless, was out there waiting for me to find it and to know it. My faith, my desire to believe, was my relief, not my discomfort. It was my satisfaction, not a magnification of my hunger. I stood on the doorstep of God, comfortable, not asking for salvation, but demanding answers. I was a damn schoolboy and there I was, daring to issue the challenge and believing with all my might that I had what it took see it through and to come out on top, that I had the heart.
But in the end, I didn't have the heart. I didn't have the heart and I didn't get the answers and I lost sight of it all and I lost it all. I surrended to the temptations and demands in the names of causes not my own and beyond my ability to influence and I didn't save the world or my sister or Scully or myself. Instead, my war began in the rejection of convention and science as answers to the fantastic and ended in a twisted myopic game of revenge. I let myself lose sight and I lost everything. I gave you a good fight, but I didn't ever win. I ran, I backtracked, I gave in and I lost, but in the end I don't think the fight was mine to win. In fact, I don't think we can win against you. I think all we can do is hold you at bay and hope our screams are loud enough to wake the others, but my time to sceam is over and now I'll stay quiet.
I take the first steps of a new journey tonight. I take in one last breath which seems to last the length of a lifetime and I watch as the stars blink out of the sky one by one until the sky is black and dark waves crash silently on the shore and I walk confidently forward on this beach toward a spaceship made of sand, the same sand beneath my toes, and the silent sound of the ocean is filling my ears and I can see the boy again. He is waiting for me and we are alone.
-ad -- NRMTPB- Tyrant
"Sigh, where have all the really great nutcases gone?" -- ToM