Title - Aftermath2
Author - Zuffy
E-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
Rating – PG -13
Category – Mulder/Scully relationship, X-Files mytharc
Spoilers - 2 Fathers/1 Son
Keywords - MSR, conspiracy
Summary - Mulder and Scully attempt to revive their partnership (Part 1) and find the keys to the conspiracy (part 2).
Written 3/99 and 4/99
Part 1 posted 3/99 and revised 4/99. Part 2 posted 4/99.
DISCLAIMER: Yes, I am aware that the characters of Agent Fox Mulder, Agent Dana Scully, Diana Fowley, the Lone Gunmen, Walter Skinner and such other references of the copyrighted X-Files are the sole property of its creator, Chris Carter, and its owners, 1013 Productions, and FOX television, a unit of 20th Century Fox, Inc. But how could you do this to them? No wonder the fanfic writers are rushing in to help. No copyright infringement is intended; this is a rescue mission.
THANKS to lucyskull (aka Dr. Ana) and Littljoe for their scientific advice. They helped me avoid some pretty horrible blunders; any science bloops remaining are all mine. Let me know about them and I will hang my head in shame.
Mulder excused himself a little while later, leaving Scully to her very confused thoughts. Could she, should she have see what was going on in his mind? No, there was too much strange stuff in there. And why hadn't he simply told her about Diana when she first arrived? Was it true, what he said as they sat on the bed, that she wouldn't have listened?
She reached over to turn off the bedside lamp. The switch was sticky. Resigned, she pulled off the warm blanket and headed into the bathroom. The cold tile woke her feet and she looked into the mirror to see exhaustion staring back at her. Were those new lines around her mouth? Damp towel in hand, she returned to bed, tried to clean the lamp and settled back in, pitching the towel in the direction of the bathroom. The pillowcase was just slightly nubby, a cheap fabric that had pilled from use. She flipped the pillow over and found it just as rough on the other side. She pulled the sheets back and switched pillows. Comfort. Her feet were cold, but her socks were clear across the room in her suitcase and she closed her eyes willing herself to sleep.
Was Mulder sleeping? she wondered. And Diana? Where was she and when was she going to have to meet her and pretend they were friends? Not friends. Allies. Never friends. Not with what Scully knew about her. What she suspected Mulder still did not truly believe. Despite his trust. Despite his love. There was still Diana.
Scully turned onto her other side. Thinking of her meant no sleep. Cut it out. Think of charts, graphs, numbers, reports. No. No work. Think of one bug-free night. But then, why…? Trust him, trust him, trust her, not trust, terrorism, MUFON, trust him, trust no one…
In the middle of the night, she felt a glance of air across her face and a rustle so faint she couldn't be sure it wasn't inside her ears. She flipped on the light. Nothing. Moaning to herself, she crawled out of the warmth to explore the room. Door still chained. Windows secure. Nothing.
Morning broke in with a knock on the door. "Scully, are you awake? We have to get moving."
The clock said 7, late by his standards. Not late for her body. She sat up, ran her fingers through her hair, and got up to open the door.
"Sorry," said her freshly shaved partner, looking down at her state of dishabille. "Did I wake you?"
"It's ok. I was tired from the drive. Must have overslept. Sit down."
She waved her arm in the direction of a Danish modern chair and turned her back to him. She had fished her keys out of her purse and was fiddling with the locks on her suitcase. Her right hand encountered something sticky, and she stood still, touching thumb to fingers teasing out the tacky sensation.
"Scully, did you hear what I said? Look, I'll get some coffee and be back in 15 minutes."
"OK, Mulder," she said, still looking at her fingers as they touched and pulled. He walked over and stood behind her, close enough that her tousled hairs tickled his chin. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah," she said with a question in her tone. "It's just this sticky stuff. I found some on the lamp last night and now here."
"Maybe someone who carried your bag…"
"That was you, Mulder. Besides, it wasn't sticky last night. This isn't even normal sticky. It's like those roach motels. Once you get it on your fingers, it's impossible to get off."
"You surprise me, Scully. I never figured you for the type to check into a roach motel."
She opened her suitcase and ran her hands over the clothes on top before reaching down and pulling out a small evidence kit. Taking out a small knife, she scraped off a little of the odd substance and dropped knife and sample into a small plastic bag.
"It's just that…"
"Nothing. A fleeting thought, now gone." She picked up the room key from the table and handed it to him. "Here, in case I'm in the shower."
When she finished showering and had put on a black pantsuit, he was already back, feet up on the bed, dropping bagel crumbs on the file he was reading.
"What do we do today, Mulder?" she asked, toweling off her hair. Mulder looked up from his file and watched her.
"We need to find out what happened here, Scully. I think it's possible that Cassandra was not burned."
"They found her body, Mulder."
"They *said* they found it. We don't know whether that's true or not."
"Why lie?" Scully called from the bathroom where she was now combing out her hair.
"Someone has her, needs what she represents. I don't know. She could have been taken by the others."
"The others? The fire people?"
"Aliens. They saved her in the first place. They may still want her. We have to find out."
"How do we do that?"
"Skinner finally came through…We can get in to see Diana."
Scully walked back into the room, still combing her hair. "She's here? She knows you're here?"
"I think so. I've tried to reach her, but they wouldn't acknowledge that she was here until I got Skinner to intervene."
The uniformed guard led them down one corridor then another, heading toward the back of the sprawling administration building. Scully tried to catch some of the officers' names on the doors, but mostly the rooms were marked only by numbers. The guard stopped in front of G-126 and leaned into the office as he opened the door. Diana Fowley looked up from the chair where she was reading the morning papers. She greeted Mulder with a smile, tempered when she saw Scully following behind him. Mulder gave her a little hug. "So you are safe after all. What happened? I've been looking for you."
Her eyes were sad as she pulled back from him. "It was terrible. After you sent me ahead, I kept thinking about the whole dreadful situation. As I drove, I kept worrying that any information from Spender's father might be a trap. He's been out to get you for a long time, Fox. So I hung back and when I saw the fire…" She shivered and rubbed her hands over her bare arms. "They think I may be in danger. That's why they're keeping me here."
"Because of what you saw?"
"Because of what I saw and who I have been with."
Mulder looked at her quizzically and Scully could tell that he was being drawn into the story.
"Who have you been with?" he asked.
She folded up the newspapers and walked across the room to drop them in the trash. "I've been in counter-terrorism for six years, Fox. It's taken me in a lot of strange paths." She ran one hand through her hair and pushed it back behind her ear. "Not long after I arrived in Berlin, we began tallying up reports of women who'd been abducted. The vice squads had checked out the white slavers but found nothing. Then they sent the files to us." She walked back toward Mulder, pulled two chairs close together, and sat down. She patted the other seat for him. Without glancing at Scully, he slid into the second seat.
"We worried that one terrorist group or another might have been raising funds by ransoming women, but the facts didn't add up. We couldn't prove that any money had changed hands for one thing and the victims' stories all had distressingly similar themes: bright lights, experiments, non-human captors, well, I'm sure you know the drill." Scully waited for her to cast a glance her way, but Diana kept her eyes fixed on Mulder. "I began to wonder if there was something to the alien abduction stories after all, if somehow this might lead to Samantha." She reached out and touched Mulder on the hand. Scully could see his shoulders jerk slightly in unconscious reaction to mention of his sister. "It was an all-too-human group behind the abductions. I was able, slowly, to infiltrate the fringe of the group, to come to know some of them, gain their confidence. I've been able to learn a lot about Spender's father and the group he was with. Most of them were burned in the attack."
"You think Spender's father knew it was a trap?"
"That, that I can't say. He's capable of terrible things, Fox."
"How well do you know him?"
"Not well, I think he trusted me to some degree. I was able to figure out that he ran his own operation separate from the larger group. He took Gibson from them, for one thing. Now with their demise… I think he has delusions."
"The Consortium wasn’t finished with the fire?" Scully spoke up for the first time.
Diana looked up at her, "No, no there's more than that group. People in the wings. And the threat is still very much alive."
"You said he took Gibson? The last we saw Gibson…"
Diana interrupted, "Yes, he was at that reactor. Spender's father got him out and has hidden him away." She turned back to Mulder and her voice softened. "Gibson is the key, Fox. I experimented with him. His telepathy is inconceivable. I wish you had been there with me. He reads the minds of aliens as well, and can project thoughts to them. Spender thinks he will be our secret weapon in negotiations with the aliens."
Mulder leaned forward focusing his attention on Diana. "Then we need to get him back. You know where he is." It was more a statement than a question.
"At the Roush facilities. In Arizona. The security there…"
"They know you."
"You can take us there."
"I don't see how I could get you in."
"Don't worry about that. You get in, size it up, we'll find a way to get him out. Are you willing?"
"Willing, of course."
"You understand that it means burning your bridges with them. It could be dangerous."
She laughed, and to Scully's ears it was not forced. "Dangerous. It's all been dangerous. Fox, all these years of work have been toward this goal…"
Scully put her hand on his arm. He looked up at her. She said simply, "Then we should get ready."
Mulder nodded and rose. "Can you walk out of here with us?" Diana shook her head. "Then I'll make arrangements." He put his hand on Scully's back and guided her out of the room.
Mulder dropped Scully off at the motel, announcing that he had some things to take care of before they left. She reluctantly got out of the car, worrying what his plans might be and why he had refused to share them. "I haven't got it worked out yet, Scully," was all he had said and he simply shook his head when she volunteered to think out loud with him. She wished his struggle to get inside things didn't always exclude her. Her instinct was to point out that Diana was putting on a nice little performance, but she held her tongue. Mulder had made it clear what their stance had to be and she worried about his reaction if she continued to voice her dissent. She couldn't remember when she had taken more on trust. Not even trust, she thought, something more elemental than that. As he drove off, she watched, apprehensive about their next move.
Two hours later, there was a soft knock at the door, then again, louder. Scully saved the file she was working on and shut the laptop.
"Who is it?"
"Dana, it’s Diana. Do you have a moment?" Scully looked quickly around the room to make sure that everything was put away neatly.
"Of course." She forced herself to smile, then relaxed, and opened the door. Before her stood the woman whose return to Washington had disturbed the intense personal tie Scully felt with her partner. The woman who had shattered her sense of value and confidence. The woman who had come to reclaim him, Scully was sure. A woman who had once, and maybe still, held her partner in her thrall.
Diana was wearing a dark blue suit with a cream shell, not unlike what Scully herself would choose. Her shoulder-length brown hair was pushed back away from her face showing small pearl earrings, and she wore little makeup besides red lipstick. Her face was tanned. Scully realized that Diana's presence had frozen her. "Come in. I'm surprised to see you. I thought they were still holding you on the base."
"Fox talked them into letting me out. He sure has his ways."
Scully had turned away from Diana and did not react. She walked back across the room, turned the chair away from the desk, and invited Diana to sit. Scully backed up, sat down on the edge of the bed, crossed her legs, and waited.
"You don't know why I'm here." Diana smiled gently at Scully and waited for a reaction. When none came, she continued. "First I want to apologize for the decontamination. In retrospect, it seems not to have been necessary, but at the time…" She shrugged and shook her head slightly. "Well, at the time I knew what an inconvenience it was for you both, but all evidence pointed to the possibility that Cassandra was carrying some terrible contagion. I couldn't allow the risk of it getting into the general population."
Scully resisted arguing with her. What was 'all the evidence'? The evidence was quite to the contrary. Instead she nodded, "Of course, safety has to come before," she searched for a neutral word, "other niceties."
"Yes, that's precisely it. So many people would just see the personal inconvenience. A little embarrassment."
Scully nodded slightly, but kept her thoughts to herself. What's a little calculated humiliation among friends? She couldn't possibly have come to talk about the decontamination. Eencountering only silence, Diana continued. "The other thing is, I thought you should know something about me. I realize that you've had no particular reason to trust me and maybe that's my fault."
"You don't have to explain yourself."
"No, I think it is important that you know. We ought to start out understanding each other. Should have done this when we first met. Fox and I, well, you know that we were once lovers. A long time ago." She paused and Scully couldn't help thinking it was a little theatrical. Like the perfume. Scully breathed in deeply through her nose. Musky. Surprisingly so for daytime.
Diana spoke up again. "It was good while it lasted. I even thought of marriage and children at one point." She looked down and shook her head. "For a while I thought it would never end, but it did. All too soon."
Scully raised an eyebrow, hoping that she wasn't going to have to make conversational noises to keep Diana talking about her affair with Mulder. She knew all the details she needed from her conversation the previous night and wasn't about to start trading female gossip about him. Diana sighed and started again. "We did discover the X-Files together. It was such a moment of revelation to Fox. It seemed to open his soul to things he always needed to find out, just had never realized it."
"How did you find them?" Keep it straight. Stay away from his soul.
"Well, everyone knew the rumors about strange cases that disappeared unsolved and we all assumed there was some secret archive. Turned out that it was nothing that fancy, just some locked file drawers and a few people's memories." She leaned back in the chair and rested one arm along the desk. "A friend of mine worked in the office where the file cabinets were. She had a terminal case of curiosity, and one evening opened the some of the old cabinets. She knew I was fascinated by the paranormal. When she showed me what there was, I knew Fox had to see them. It was unauthorized at first. Evenings, weekends we would sneak files home and pour over them together, but, well eventually he talked Blevins into letting him investigate. That's it. That's how it happened. Small beginnings, huh?"
Scully nodded. Home. Her brain struggled with the word. Shift gears, she told herself. "And then you left."
Diana gave a closed lip smile that never reached her eyes. "Does that seem strange to you? You must know first-hand how easy it is to get so completely wrapped up in him that you forget you're an independent person. Other people forget, too. I began to wonder whether I had a life any more. And when that happened, I knew I had to get away." Scully held perfectly still under Diana's intense stare, unwilling to allow the slightest movement to betray an emotion.
"The worst part was the last night. After, well, at the end he said, 'I guess trust is never enough to rule out betrayal.' It was like a knife. It hurt forever." She sighed and looked around the room. "I missed his passion and drive, of course, after I left. But then I was starting to lose that anyway. He was so absorbed by the secrets and the mysteries. And me his little helper. His amanuensis," she said rubbing her hand over the laptop, then turning back to Scully.
Scully felt a surge of pressure behind her eyes, but resisted putting her hand to her face. "So you left?"
"Yes, I did think I could assist in other ways. I believe I have. And I'm so glad you could step in to help him. He has great…" she paused as if searching for a word, "great admiration for you. But you know that, of course."
"So you've been living in Germany?"
"Yes. Anti-terrorism. But, as I said earlier, I never fully shook the X-Files." Scully rose from her position on the bed and headed to the bathroom. "Can I get you some water, Diana?"
"Why yes, thanks."
Scully shut the door behind her. Standing at the sink, she ran cold water as an excuse to stare at herself in the mirror. She is manipulating me, she thought, feeding me her image of him, her, them, me. She looked at her face, pale and drawn in the cheap fluorescent light. She willed herself to relax, to remember that this was a game now. The most important game she had played in a long time, perhaps ever. She filled two glasses with cold water and returned to Diana. They each sipped for a moment, taking stock of the other.
"I came back because I do believe that what I've learned about the abductions might help Fox. It might even lead him to his sister and end this nightmare that has substituted for a life for so long."
Scully leaned over to put her glass on the nightstand, keeping her eyes averted from Diana's. "You found Samantha?"
"I wish it were that simple."
Diana stood to leave. Scully watched her look around the room carefully, pausing on the few personal items: her suitcase, a copy of A Night Without Armor, a small gold travel alarm. Her gaze swept down the bed to the black suit jacket lying where Scully had tossed it and back up to the two pillows side by side. There she stopped and Scully guessed Diana was considering the same thought about Scully that Scully had wondered when she first arrived at Mulder's room. She broke into Diana's speculations.
"Well, as I told Fox," --so he went back to talk to her, thought Scully-- "I am still assigned to the X-Files. It must seem redundant to you to have three people on the project, but there is so much to be done. I'm just grateful that I was here to step in when you two were removed. Had anyone else… but when I saw that I could save the only thing that matters to Fox, well, frankly, I asked to be allowed to take over."
"Yes, I spoke to A.D. Skinner. He saw the logic."
Scully nodded, recalling Skinner's professed mystification. Skinner wouldn't lie to her. Not now. Not about this.
"And so, you'll join with us."
"Well, technically, you and Fox join me."
Diana smiled again, the look Scully labeled 'apologetic.' "I expect I'll want to get another assignment soon, but right now I can't think of anything more important. Anti-terrorism can come later if there is anything left to terrorize." She extended her hand to Scully. "No hard feelings about the decontamination, I hope. Fox and I talked about it; we want you on our team."
Scully swallowed down the taste of her breakfast bagel. "I have no intention of walking away," she replied. "Mulder and I have too much together in the X-Files. There are answers I need, too."
"Well, then it's settled."
Diana opened the door and walked out to Mulder's car. Scully watched her climb in and back out of the space. Where was he? When would she be able to talk to him again? To touch base with something real. She closed the door and felt a slight tackiness on the doorknob that had not been there previously.
Word from Mulder came not in person but by phone. Scully was packing her bag, preparing for the trip to Arizona when her cell phone rang. She answered with her name.
"It's me," came the response.
"Where are you, Mulder? When do we leave?"
"I want you and Diana to go get Gibson."
"What about you?" She stopped folding her clothes and sat down next to her suitcase. "Where are you going?"
"Diana knows where Cassandra is being held. I need to find her. She's an important part of the puzzle."
"You talked to Diana some more?"
"I needed to find out what else she knows. The Berlin office and the one in Rome managed to get pretty good information about who's in the group and some stuff about their plans."
"Specifics about CSM and his double-crosses. She doesn't think the others trusted him, but they couldn't risk having him on the outside."
"You told me nothing I could learn about him would be credible."
"This is a little different. From inside sources."
Scully walked over to the window and looked out at the parking lot. A memory of Diana's scent hung there, so Scully returned to the bed.
"What did she say about Cassandra? Who has her?"
"Mulder, how can you possibly…"
"They have allies. Human allies. In the military. I can get in through them. At least Diana thinks I can."
"The risk is too great alone. Come with me to get Gibson and we'll find Cassandra later, together."
"That's what Diana said, too. But if something goes wrong in Arizona, it may be too late to find Cassandra. Diana doesn't know what her condition is."
"Then let's go get Cassandra first."
"Do you want to risk leaving Gibson with old CGB or whatever he calls himself? They'll take him to Tunisia as soon as they can. Put him out of our reach."
"It's a trap, Mulder. They're dividing us. You can't go alone. We don't know what we're dealing with. You saw what they did at the hangar."
"I'm aware of that. I won't get close unless I'm sure it's safe. There's…" She waited for his next words. "There's a chance that Samantha might be there, too."
"Scully, I know, but if there is even a chance…"
She paused, not knowing what or how to respond to this deep-seated need that so often led him down irrational and risky paths. He jumped back in, "I want you to go with Diana to Arizona. She can get you in. Diana didn't want to split up either, but I convinced her it's the only way. Look, without me, it might actually be easier to smuggle him out."
"Mulder, I want to talk about this in person…"
"There's not time. You and Diana need to leave right away. Take precautions. You can do it. She'll fly both of you under their radar. You believed what she said about knowing them, didn't you?"
"Yes, but… One thing. Honestly, Mulder. I have to know. Are you sure that she isn't misleading us?" She hoped he was alone and could speak freely.
"Honestly? Honestly, this is our only choice. I trust *you."
She closed her eyes, picturing his face as it would be at the other end of the line. Passionate intensity squeezed into his eyes, the rest of his features grim determination. His hair would be pushed back. No smile. She imagined she could feel his concentration through time and space.
"Be on your guard then."
"Call me when you get there."
Mulder dialed Scully's cell number again and again received the message "The cellular customer you are trying to reach is not available." He snapped his phone shut and turned his eyes back to the road. It had been almost 24 hours since she and Diana had left for Arizona and for the past 18 he had been unable to raise her on her phone. If it were simply lost or broken, she would have found another way to call. He wrestled with uneasiness. Scully can take care of herself. And she's alert to Diana. Almost too alert.
There was not much traffic along the stretch of highway. The verges had once been neatly trimmed, but now the weeds had come back, waving in the afternoon breeze. The green and brown grasses were interspersed with Queen Anne's lace and other wildflowers whose names he'd never known. Here and there a bit of paper trash had blown across the road and stuck along the roots. Scrub evergreens and taller trees grew back from the road. The occasional dead specimen, its branches poking through the foliage, had not been removed. Behind the trees, he caught glimpses of the tall fence, topped by racks of barbed wire.
The road through the pine scrub forest widened ahead of him where it entered the McReynolds military base. Mulder slowed and pulled to the right when he sighted the gates, opening his cell phone to try to reach Scully one last time before his own uncertain adventure began. This time, the phone picked up on the third ring. Mulder breathed a sigh, but there was no voice on the other end.
The sound of a throat clearing, then an unhurried male voice, husky from years of smoking. "No, Agent Mulder. I regret to say that Agent Scully is not available. Thank you for sending her to us."
The certainty of disaster gripped him. His plan, his plea to her, instantly gone awry. "You son of a bitch. If you hurt her, I will kill you faster than…"
"Oh, I'm not worried about that. You didn't seem able to carry out your threats before. I'm afraid you've lost credibility."
"I don't think you understand, Agent Mulder. There's nothing you can do. I have been able to speak to Agent Scully, explain things to her without interference. It's fair to say that she now understands the logic of the situation. You might even say that she sees what you saw not so long ago. The important decisions were made long ago. My way is the only hope."
"She would never buy into your lies and deceptions."
"How can you be so certain? Agent Scully forms her own opinions based on the evidence and we have some very persuasive evidence. Things that have engaged her scientific curiosity in a most gratifying way. She has now seen what she needs to distinguish the facts of the situation from your very particular view of reality. I'm afraid she's lost the ability to follow you."
"You can hardly think I'd believe that coming from you."
"Oh, I'm telling the truth. I don't really care if you choose to believe me or not. It's still the truth."
"Let me hear it from her directly."
At the other end, Mulder heard muffled voices as though the other man had covered the phone with his hand.
"I'm sorry, Agent Mulder, would you mind repeating that?"
"Let me speak to Scully. I want her to tell me."
"Oh that will be arranged. Not just now, though."
"You bastard. Where is Diana, then?"
"Agent Fowley understood long ago. She has never let me down."
"Don't expect me to believe that either."
"Believe what you will. It hasn't gotten you very far." A click ended the conversation.
When Mulder looked up from the phone, he saw that guards had surrounded his car with their weapons drawn.
Inside the Roush facility, Scully came to on an examining table. Her clothes had been exchanged for a hospital gown, she thought, though all she could see was the white sheet reaching from her feet to her neck. A belt held her to the table across her waist and each of her wrists had been secured to the bars along the sides of the bed. She lifted her head for a better look. The clasp securing each of the straps was a kind of double latch that she doubted she could work loose with her teeth if she could even get her mouth close to her hands. She was alone in the room. A large light, now turned off, hung directly over her body. The softer lights on the ceiling reflected obliquely off the stainless steel cabinets lining the room. Machines to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and oxygenation stood off to the left and a tray of sharp instruments had been set out on a cart to her right. She squirmed under the restraints seeking some give but finding none. She gave up only when she heard voices in the hall.
Three figures in green surgical gowns, feet covered in cloth booties, entered the room. She could see only the eyes and thought she recognized one of them. Behind them stood the Smoking Man. He was dressed in ordinary clothes, a brown sports jacket, slacks, and shoes, and unlike the others, covered neither his head nor his mouth. He hesitated at the swinging door, turned, ground his Morley into the hallway floor, and followed his companions into the room.
"Well, Miss Scully. So kind of you to visit."
"Let me out of here."
"Not so simple. It seems we need your help, and I hope you will give it voluntarily."
She looked at him fiercely and pulled at her restraints. She didn't actually remember the moment of capture. She and Diana had entered the facility quite easily. Diana had two photo ids in her bag, one with her name, one with an alias for Scully. They had stepped into an elevator to take them down to the hospital ward and, and there was nothing after that. The Smoker's voice brought her back to the present.
"We both know that's not going to do any good. You've undoubtedly strapped people down yourself."
She closed her eyes refusing to acknowledge that he was right.
"I apologize for our unorthodox welcome, but the situation is grave. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. Do you recall who said that first?"
She stared at him, ignoring the others as mere retainers.
"You saw what happened at El Rico. There's a very real war going on and our only hope of survival is to make sure that we humans are prepared to resist the biological weaponry of our allies and foes alike. Weaponry that your medicine cannot begin to explain."
"Where is Agent Fowley?" Was there a chance, she wondered, that Fowley had not known about this trap?
"Oh, she's being well cared for. You needn't worry. But Agent Fowley hasn't the power to help us as you do."
"I will never help you."
"Nicely and predictably said, Miss Scully. But you are a reasonable person and I trust you will listen to reason. First we are going to remove your implant. We all know the risks of doing that, but don't worry. I don't want anything to happen to you. You are a most valuable ally. As long as you stay here and cooperate, you have my assurance that we will reinsert it should any unfortunate problems develop."
He reached into his jacket, pulled out a pack of Morleys and flipped it over to shake one out. His companion with the clear plastic goggles touched him on the arm and pointed to them. Spender shrugged and put the cigarettes back into the inside pocket of his suit.
"With Cassandra missing we still need to pursue the creation of a human hybrid. We have your ova…"
He paused for effect. Scully felt a surge of nausea and a wave of pain that had nothing to do with the restraints or fears of what they might do to her.
"Ah, I see you didn't realize that. Yes, we have them, but we have had unfortunate difficulties in producing little ones free of serious defects. Our staff here, highly trained professionals I promise you, hope that the insertion of some of your genetic material might bring us closer to success. Do you understand what I am saying?"
She continued to lie in silence. One of the surgeons or helpers, the one whose eyes seemed familiar, watched at her with intense concentration. She turned away from him and looked up at the lamp focused down on her body. Focused, she thought, on the part of her that had been torn away.
"Well, if you will sit up, my friends here will remove that implant. I'm told it's quite a painless process." He headed for the door and stood with one hand on the handle. "By the way, Agent Mulder called. I explained to him that you had decided to cooperate. Please don't make me a liar ." With that, he disappeared.
Mulder opened the door of his car and stepped out, hands in the air. The guards turned him around and frisked him, removing the guns from his waist and ankle. He pointed to his inside pocket and a young guard with stubble for hair reached in and pulled out his FBI identification. The guard showed it to his superior who took it and motioned to Mulder to march ahead toward the gates. Another of the guards slipped into the car and drove it behind them.
Once inside, Mulder was escorted to a peeling two story structure that seemed to be the center of activity. The buildings farther ahead lining the entrance road were boarded up and weeds grew in the paths. In the distance, a hangar and other larger buildings stood at quiet alert.
Still without explanation, the sergeant led Mulder through the deserted hallway to a room not far from the entrance. The small office was furnished with an old wooden desk, two chairs, a black rotary phone, and bookcase with glass front. The only books were a dictionary with faded binding and an outdated phone directory. Bleached spots on the walls indicated where pictures and certificates had once hung. The room was clean, freshly swept and dusted, and the windows had been washed recently. Mulder sat back in the hard wooden chair and waited for the next step.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, an officer walked in and motioned the soldier to leave. He sat down opposite Mulder and opened the file he had carried in with him. He skimmed several pages of report, then lifted a photo, held it up and compared it to Mulder's face. He then handed Mulder his FBI badge.
"We've been expecting you, Agent Mulder. I trust you will excuse the rude welcome. This is a top secret facility and visitors are not usually welcome."
Mulder nodded. "Understood. I was told that you could help me."
"I'm not sure that we can. But I have instructions to make certain inquiries if you arrive. We are waiting for a phone call."
He sat back in his chair and looked at Mulder, quite obviously comfortable with the silence. Mulder stared back at the man, a handsome 40 or 45 with short blond hair going dingy in places as the gray started to come in. He seemed to betray no uneasiness about what he was doing. Mulder returned the silence, not willing to venture any information until he knew whether Diana would be able to get him in. After ten minutes, the phone rang. Without lowering his eyes from Mulder's face, the officer picked it up on the second ring.
"Yes. Yes, he is. We have confirmed by sight. Of course. If those are orders. Everything is prepared. Yes."
He handed the phone to Mulder. "She wants to speak to you."
Mulder took the phone, surprised that it was Diana herself who was calling.
"Diana, where are you?"
"I'm on the road to the airport. I'll join you in a few hours. I've given them orders to show you in to see Cassandra. Wait for me there."
"Wait. Listen to me, Fox. Be careful when you're dealing with Cassandra. Everything, everything that's happened has affected her mind. I'm told she's become delusional."
"Ok, I'll be on my guard. Is Scully with you?"
"She's with Gibson. She's taking him to a safe house."
"I tried to reach her. Her cell phone was disconnected."
"She had to turn it off, Fox. A phone call in the middle of our little play would have been disastrous. Then we had to get out in a hurry."
"But you got him. Scully wasn't hurt?"
"No, everything's fine."
"Where is she going? I need to talk to her."
"I don't know how secure this line is. If I tell you, I might be putting her life in danger."
"I tried to reach her earlier, Diana. The Smoking Man answered."
"Spender? Well, then she must have lost the phone."
"He said she was there, cooperating with him."
"Fox, does that sound like her?" He didn't answer.
Diana continued. "She left with Gibson. She's safe. Don't let Spender play with your head."
"How did you…?"
"Time for that later. Look, I'll try to reach her for you once she's reached the safe house. It'll be a few more hours."
Mulder didn't respond, trying to think of some question that would tell him one way or the other. Diana spoke again. "You trust me, don't you, Fox? We want the same thing."
"Yes, of course." He hung the phone up leaving a sweaty film where he had gripped the handset.
Hours later, she lay in the dark, a dim light shining in from the corridor. There were no outside windows and she sensed it was night only because of the drowsiness that kept tugging at her eyes. The sound of muffled footsteps stopped at her door and she braced herself to confront her captors. The door opened and a tall, lean figure in surgical scrubs slipped into the room. Her heart leapt at the sight of him, her senses suddenly turned on, but when he advanced toward her, she saw that he did not move like her partner.
The man leaned over her bed, pulled his face mask down, and shushed her. His voice confirmed her first impression in the operating room: Krycek. "You bastard," she whispered.
He put his hand over her mouth lightly. "Cut it out. I'm your only hope now."
"No, Mulder knows where I am," she whispered.
"Don't count on it. You can figure he's been led into his own trap." She didn't want confirmation of her suspicions. "Why would *you* help me?"
"Because you're the only one who can help me. I've got Gibson, but I need you. He talks about you, he trusts you. We've got to move him to safety."
"What's your game, Krycek?"
"Look, I have the implant. You are just going to have to trust me. Just this once. We're on the same side." He released the straps holding her arms and began unbuckling the belt around her waist.
"I want evidence, Krycek."
"Evidence of what?"
The things going on here. I want tissue samples, vaccine. If I'm going to die for this, I want something to show."
"It's too risky."
"I'm not going without it."
He muttered something under his breath. She couldn't make it out but was sure it was an obscenity. "Put these on." He handed her a set of scrubs, identical to his.
"Where are my clothes?"
"How the hell would I know? I'm not the one who undressed you."
Her face colored. "Turn around." She hastily tore off her gown and slipped the scrubs on, feeling cold underneath the thin fabric. He handed her a pair of clogs and booties. She slipped her small feet inside and estimated them to be about two sizes too large. She shook them off and stuffed tissues along the sides of her feet to make them tighter. Krycek pulled his mask up and looked out the door. Scully tied on the hat and mask, picked up her chart and followed him out into the hallway. They walked close together as if conferring, out through the locked doors, past the guards and around a corner.
"Where are the samples, Krycek?"
"I said it wasn't worth the risk."
"Then what are we doing here at all? I want to know what is going on with the experiments. I want the vaccine, Krycek."
"The vaccine is no good. I mean it works but it creates odd side effects."
"After a while you start to dissolve."
A group of men approached from the other direction and Krycek stepped slightly forward to block their view of Scully. He half-turned to her and said in a normal voice, "The tissue samples proved inconclusive. We'll have to try again."
She acted as if she were making a note on the chart and nodded her head in response to Krycek. The men passed them and disappeared around a corner. Krycek watched them go, and then led her in the opposite direction. "That's why they wanted you," he said. "If they build a better hybrid, they can use the tissue to help develop a new vaccine."
They stopped in front of a heavy steel door and Krycek keyed a number into the lock. He pushed her in ahead of him. The room was refrigerated and Scully shivered involuntarily. Krycek moved from one cabinet to another. "I don't know what's what here. It's futile." Still, he began pulling open the drawers. Scully started from the other end. Some with tissue samples on slides. Some vials. Larger tubes. A drawer full of implants. On a steel table off to one side stood a rack with several vials of blood. Scully looked closely at the tubes, then at Krycek. "We take these, too."
He raised his eyebrows. "Where am I going to put all this stuff?"
"What are you wearing under there?" She saw jeans below the scrubs. "Stick them in your waistband and just don't breathe hard." Swearing a little, he did as she said. "Let's get out of here."
Leaving the room, he led her quickly down the hall to a small dressing room. It was empty. He locked the door behind them, then opened a locker and pulled out a long gray gown. He handed it to her. "Put this on over the scrubs. Take off those shoes." He shed his own scrubs and stuffed the discarded clothing into the locker. He lifted a leather jacket off the hook and removed another gray item and a pair of handcuffs from the shelf above. He transferred the various vials and slides into the pockets. Turning back to Scully, he moved to pull a gray hood over her head. "No," she said, blocking his action with an upraised arm.
"Shut up if you want to get out of here."
"Why should I trust you, Krycek?"
"What's your choice? Diana? Now that was a smart decision."
She stood her ground, refusing to accept the new danger without some reason. "Okay," he said. "I warned Mulder about what was going on. He didn't listen to me, but that doesn't change things. He can stop it. No. Make that, I can't stop it without him. And he can't without you. So let's go."
"I still don't understand."
He walked over to the door and leaned his ear against it.
"Let's go before we both get killed. I'll explain later." He reached into the pocket of his jeans, pulled out a very small vial with a small bit of metal inside, placed it in her hand and folded her fingers over it. "This is yours. Okay? Now can we go?"
She turned it over in her hand, considering her fate imprinted on a tiny chip of metal. "I haven't got anyplace to put it." She looked back at him and said, "Keep it for me for now."
He nodded, then pulled the hood over her head, tying it around her neck. She put her hands behind her for the handcuffs. "My feet."
"Sorry, the prisoners here are always barefoot."
He grabbed her arm from behind and marched her out the room. The floor was cold on her feet and there was a fine grit as though it had not been washed lately. She stepped on a patch of stickiness and the sensation made her stumble. "Good," he hissed. "Keep it up."
The cloth of the hood was thick and rough. It kept her breath in; the air around her face was heating up and tasted stale already. The tie around her neck rubbed uncomfortably. She had never liked even wearing scarves and the way it pressed invisibly against her skin heightened Scully's thoughts of suffocation. She concentrated on breathing calmly. She had no idea where they were headed and prayed that she had made the right decision.
A blast of cool air hit her legs when they stopped. Through the heavy cloth she heard him address the guard. "The old man wants this prisoner transferred." She thought she heard papers being unfolded and felt a tug at the bottom of the hood. Kycek said, "The old man gave me orders." The hand removed itself from the hood, but reached around and tested the handcuffs in back. She felt another cuff go on her ankle, then Krycek spoke again. "You don't need to do that. This one's not running anywhere."
"Infected?" came the gruff response.
"Yeah. I have to get her out of here or there'll be hell to pay."
Krycek let go of her arm and she held her breath until he grabbed her again, a little more roughly this time, and pushed her ahead of him. She hoped it was for show.
The asphalt parking lot was coated with sand and stone, though it felt more like little slivers of glass had been sprinkled over her path. Scully winced with each step, and the sharp bits accumulated on the sensitive parts of her foot. She tried to remember what Mulder had once told her about acupuncture when she was only half listening, and figured that if he was right this little walk was doing her whole body either a lot of good or a lot of harm. She started counting each step to keep her mind focused. At number 52, Krycek stopped her and she heard the locks of the car pop up. Another click and she knew the trunk was open. He helped her climb in. "Keep your head down."
"Is this really necessary?"
"It'll be over soon enough."
"Take the hood off."
"The surveillance cameras are on."
The trunk slammed shut, then she heard it unlock again.
"Here," he said, leaning close to her head. "Just in case." He pushed the vial back into her hand. Scully lay quietly, trying to digest what had happened to her and what was likely to happen now.
The guard led Mulder out of the small administration building down the main road separating the barracks. Two hundred meters along they turned left and headed to a single-story windowless concrete bunker. Mulder hesitated before entering, wishing the officer had returned his weapons. Just inside the metal door, steps headed down. He looked around him. The airfield was off to the left another several hundred meters. Off to the right was another, larger concrete building, but he couldn't tell whether it was still in use or not. The guard took his arm and indicted that he was to descend.
At the bottom of the stairs, the guard unlocked a second steel door, ushered Mulder through and locked it behind them. The corridor itself was dimly lit. Linoleum tile on the floor, concrete block walls. Several more steel doors on each side. They walked along, still in silence. The guard stopped at the third door on the left, knocked, and announced them.
"Mrs. Spender. A visitor." He listened with his ear against the door, then pushed it open for Mulder. It was not locked.
Mulder entered the room and found Cassandra sitting on a metal cot. She rose to meet him with a smile. "Agent Mulder. Well, I never thought we'd meet again."
Mulder turned to the guard and nodded at him. The man withdrew, closing the door behind them.
"How did you end up here?"
"Oh, Agent Mulder. Deceptions within deceptions. I think we'd all be better off if I weren't here at all. Did you come to finish the job?"
"No, Cassandra, I want to get you to safety."
"What good will that do? I'm a pawn in this game of my husband's. That's all I've been all along. Just leave and save yourself."
Mulder ignored her request. "What is this place?"
"It's a kind of lab. I've been here before. Only I thought I was in their space ship."
He looked around at the concrete walls.
"Oh, not in here. There are other rooms. Metal of some sort. Very scifi. I was sure I was in the great beyond." She waved her hand in the air.
"Is Samantha here, too, Cassandra?"
"Your sister. Who knows? I haven't seen anyone but the guards since I arrived. What's going to happen to me?"
For someone who wanted to be dead, she seemed awfully anxious, thought Mulder.
"Where's Jeffrey? He wasn't at the fire, was he?"
"He's disappeared." Mulder hated to lie. "He gave up the X-Files and hasn't been seen since."
"Well, he wasn't really suited to it. Give Jeffrey a desk job anytime."
"He tried, Cassandra. He did try to do what was right."
Mulder walked around the room. The furniture was sparse. The metal bed, a single a small table, an old locker. There was a second door. He opened it and saw that it led to a bathroom – basin, toilet, shower in the ceiling that sprayed everything when it was on. Cassandra watched him make his inspection with a little smile on her face. "I'm not sure what I can do for you, Agent Mulder. I wish I had some secrets to tell, but I'm not even sure what is true anymore."
"We're going to leave, Cassandra, get you out of here."
"How? You'll just manage to get yourself killed in the process."
"When Agent Fowley gets here…"
"Diana Fowley? Doc-tor Fowley?"
"Yes," Mulder said, a little surprised at her tone. "She arranged for me to see you."
"Well, then I can't imagine she's arranging for either of us to leave."
"My husband's little friend? With her mind experiments. She's been having too much fun."
Mulder looked at her with puzzlement.
"She's been testing me for years. Helping me to communicate with my alien pals." He still remained silent. "Look, if you don't believe me, go dig around in the stuff they brought with me on the truck. Boxes of stuff. Maybe you'll find what you want."
"I don't know."
Mulder opened the door to the room. The guard was standing across the hall and looked at Mulder with curiosity.
"Mrs. Spender would like some aspirin."
"I can't leave my post, sir."
"Well, give me the keys and I'll go."
"I can't do that either, sir. My orders are that you stay here." He pointed to another door. "That's your room, sir." Mulder looked at the door across the hall, but made no move.
"Well, Mrs. Spender is feeling ill. Lock the hall door when you leave, if you have to. We're not going anywhere." Cassandra groaned obligingly from within the room.
The guard looked momentarily confused, then nodded and left. Mulder heard the key turn in the lock. As soon as the solider's footsteps died out, Mulder left Cassandra's room and began trying the other doors. Two led to deserted rooms, without even minimal furniture. The air was stale and the floors dusty, flakes of peeling paint mixing with the dust. The third door opened to another stairway leading to a deeper basement. Mulder got out his small flashlight and started down.
At the foot were two more doors. He opened the one on the right first. It was a small room with forty or fifty boxes piled up, much as Cassandra had predicted. He flipped on the light—a 40 watt bulb at best—and opened the top box in one of the piles. Files. Last names. Ba through Bl. He began to open the others, quickly. The fourth box he opened was Mi through Na. Holding his flashlight in his teeth, he thumbed through the names quickly. Mulder, Samantha. He pulled the file with shaking hands. A photo fell to the ground, and he bent to pick it up. It was a school picture, one he recognized, probably just before she was abducted. He put the folder atop the box and opened it. Other black and white photos. Several 8" x 10" glossies of her lying apparently asleep, her body covered by a sheet, a numbered plate documenting her identity. Probably the experiments, he thought with a sinking heart. He had never really allowed himself to think what they had done to her. Was it like Scully? Had they harvested the ova of an eight-year old girl? Did they wait until puberty? Smaller glossies documented incisions and scars. Then the same places again without marks. Were these before and after? After and before? Which were which? And then a photo of her—he was sure of it—maybe five years later with two other girls about the same age. They were all smiling. There was a man in the background. Mulder tilted the photo this way and that to try to make out the slightly blurry face. It looked remarkably like his father, he realized with a chill. If his father knew where she was and visited her… But kept him and his mother believing his sister was gone? How could he have done that? Mulder turned the picture over; there was nothing on the back. He slipped it into his suit jacket. Other group shots. It was hard to tell where they had been taken. Indoors, it appeared, the light seemed artificial. Next, another group of teenaged girls. There were five, Samantha on the right. Beside her an older girl with dark brown hair who looked like Diana Fowley, like she had looked when he first met her. He caught his breath. It wasn't possible. She couldn't have been there. His mind was playing tricks. He slipped the other photos, too, into his pocket and stuffed the folder back into the box. Mulder hurriedly searched the other boxes, looking for the Sc's. He had just found them when the sound of boots echoed in the hallway outside. There was another door at the far end of the room. He quickly turned off the lights and felt his way to safety.
Walter Skinner met Scully at the entrance to the FBI headquarters. Neither of them had been sure that her temporary id would get her into the high security area and so arranged the slightly awkward meeting below. She was wearing the dress Krycek had bought for her in Phoenix, a navy blue sheath that was surprisingly flattering. Where had Krycek learned to shop for women's clothes, she'd wondered as she had dressed in the dingy restroom of a truck stop. That was probably the least of the mysteries surrounding him right now. She revisited the events of the past twelve hours as she followed Skinner through the hallways to his office.
Krycek had released her from the trunk after a very long half hour, and she moved to the front seat. Even the bruises and bumps she had accumulated couldn't stop her from dozing off as he drove, and before dawn she awakened to find them parked at a gas station in Phoenix. When Krycek woke, he went out to get donuts and coffee and they ate in the car, neither speaking of the events of the previous night. Finally, Scully had asked him where Gibson was. Without looking at her, he announced simply that there had been a change of plans. She was to return to Washington. He refused to tell her why or who was giving him orders. He shrugged when she had insisted that they find him, not that she had any recourse, barefoot and dressed in an odd sack. She recalled looking down at her robe and feeling not a little like Cinderella the day before the ball. He must have read her mind, because he'd added, "Don't worry. When the shops open, I'll get you something decent. Just write down your size."
As he dropped her off at the airport, he handed her a small purse into which he had placed all the samples and the vial with her implant. An agent from the local field office had met her at the gate with a ticket, cash, and temporary id. On the long flight back, she had written up her notes of the previous 24 hours – longhand, when was the last time she had done that? – and tried to make sense of her capture and rescue. Of the two, the former was more vexing, the latter more mysterious.
She suddenly realized that Skinner was holding the door of his office open for her.
"Agent Scully, are you well?"
She walked past him and took her usual seat across from his desk. Her partner usually sat in the chair nearer the door, and in his absence she was careful not to take his place. "I'm fine. I've just been running over the events of the last few days, trying to make some sense."
"Agent Mulder isn't with you?"
"We, we took separate paths two days ago. There were two pressing matters and we had to split up."
"You went to Arizona by yourself?"
"No, with Agent Fowley."
"But she didn't come back with you? Is she also being held captive?"
"No, I don't know what happened to her." She sat looking down, rubbing the fingers of her left hand. "Sir, I am still struggling to understand how it was that Agent Fowley returned to take over the X-Files."
"As I told you before, those were my instructions. I was given no explanation. Nor, under the circumstances, did I ask for one."
"Under what circumstances?"
"The instructions were communicated to me from a very high level. The alternative was to close the project entirely. I had hoped that Agent Mulder's acquaintance with Agent Fowley might work to your advantage."
She nodded. So Skinner had known of their previous connection. "I don't like voicing suspicions without firm evidence, sir, but I am not certain of Agent Fowley's loyalties."
"Does Agent Mulder share these suspicions?"
"He, uh, he tends to be more trusting than I do. In any case, he believes that Agent Fowley has information that is vitally important to us."
"And may therefore be in danger herself?"
"That is one possibility." Scully was beginning to wish she had not voiced her worries. She opened her purse and took some of the vials out. "I brought some materials back from the facility. I would like to get Agent Cabrini to test these."
"Yes, I have been able to count on him previously. These are likely to be very sensitive materials, I'd rather not trust anyone else on the analysis."
Skinner nodded and made a phone call to clear the way for Scully's request.
"Where is Agent Mulder now?" Skinner asked.
"He was going to an airforce base. One that I am unfamiliar with. McReynolds."
Skinner looked surprised. "If I'm not mistaken, that base was closed some time ago. Part of the general post-Cold War regrouping. In fact, it was likely sold off."
"After I drop these materials off at the lab, sir, I feel I must follow Agent Mulder to McReynolds. If my experience is any indication, he may be in grave danger."
She rose and turned to leave. Skinner spoke up again, "One last thing. You haven't explained how you got away from the facility in Arizona."
"Krycek, sir. Quite unbelievably, Krycek rescued me." If any emotion passed over Skinner's face, Scully did not detect it.
She crawled down the dark tunnel. The floor was cold to her touch and the flashlight in her hand made a clanging sound if she let it touch. She reached a portal and paused to let her eyes adjust. The ceiling of room receded in gray dimness. Some distance below it, girders crossed from wall to wall and cold white lights hung down, illuminating the space without diminishing the feeling of dark pressing in. Scully shivered. The air was neither cool nor warm, but it had an odd, harsh feel as though it were more metallic than the air she normally breathed. The walls, too, appeared to be metal, banks of machines along the wall and a gateway in the middle, looking like the metal scanner at the entrance to the Bureau. Under the gateway lay a single figure, motionless. She could see his feet and legs from her angle. She began crawling across the floor, uncertain of danger if she stood.. "Mulder? Mulder is that you?" she whispered. She checked around but the room seemed otherwise deserted, at least deserted of visible life. She crawled closer. "Mulder?"
The crumpled figure stirred as she approached. "Mulder?" She put her hand out to him and hit a sheet of glass. Air glass. An invisible wall with substance, but no form. She ran her hand over it, then rose to her knees and swept her hands back and forth. No dent, unevenness, or ripple. No tear, crack or break. She scanned the doorway beneath which he was held. It seemed to lead nowhere, just a trap in the middle of this room, a way to localize an enemy, hold and destroy. The hightech version of what hunters have rigged in the woods for millennia. Could he get out the other side and if he did, where would he be? Had he come from that direction seeking to escape or was he planted there as bait for her?
Just beyond her touch, the man shifted around and looked at her. "Scully. How? What are you doing here?" The rasp in his voice was sharper than the last time she had seen him. "How did you find me?"
"The Lone Gunmen. They helped me break in."
"Outside. The base is closed. Deserted."
"No soldiers. We've searched everywhere. Were about to give up when we located an electromagentic disturbance. It led me down here."
"No Cassandra. I've come to get you. "
He turned himself around to face her directly. From where she sat, she could see no controls, no cords for the device imprisoning him. It didn't matter, she had no way of knowing whether flicking a switch would free or kill him. Her gun rubbed up against her waist but offered no hope of defense or attack.
"You can't. Go back while you can. There is nothing here."
"No, I can't. How did you get here?"
"I don't know." He pulled his lips together to try to moisten them, but when he spoke again, they still appeared dry and cracked to Scully. "It suddenly appeared around me. Scully, you have to leave before they lock you in, too."
"There's no one around."
"You can't be sure."
"How long have you been here?"
"I don't know."
"Are you in pain?"
"No. No, I feel suspended."
He pushed himself to a sitting position and leaned against the barrier, appearing to touch her hands, but instead encountering the smooth plane separating them. Scully traced his outline. She felt not the contours of his body but a flawless flat surface. "Scully, leave. There's not much time. There's no escape for me. There is for you. Please go."
"No, Mulder. What is this thing?" She raised herself on her knees and started tapping on it. "If we both pound on this surface, will it crack?" She hit it a couple times with the butt of her flashlight.
He shook his head.
"Can you get out the other side?"
He stretched his leg far enough to kick against the invisible back wall. She looked around the room and noticed that the opening to the tunnel seemed to have shifted location and a door had appeared on the opposite wall. Mulder was pressing his lips together again.
"Virtual reality." The scratch in his voice alarmed her. "Electronic scene."
"Virtual reality? This is in our heads?"
"No," he tried to clear his throat. "We're inside a game."
She looked around. Somehow the scene did appear to be shifting around them and she searched for the tunnel, now definitely in a different spot than it had been.
"Mulder, you're badly dehydrated. I have to get you out now. I don't see any switches."
She got out the walkie-talkie the Gunmen had given her. "I'm going to have them shut down the power." Static boomed from the headset. "The equipment in here seems to be interfering with the radio." She changed frequencies but the static persisted. "I can't get through."
Mulder was shaking his head. "No! Don't crash the game."
Scully turned the useless walkie-talkie over in her hand. "If this is all electronic, some kind of force field…"
She smashed the headset against the floor, and spread out the contents. Straightening the wires, she began wrapping them around a metal piece and reattached them to the battery.
"What…?" Mulder watched her rapid movements.
"If I can generate a small electromagnetic field, it might disrupt…" She finished connecting the batteries. "Watch out." She rubbed the device lightly against the barrier and Mulder's hands fell through where he was leaning. "That stung."
She rubbed a larger area. "C'mon Mulder. Don't stop now. Can you move out of there?" He crawled forward, got stuck, and she rubbed the barrier again. "Hurry, I don't know how much power this has." Mulder dragged himself clear, started to stand, and faltered. She took his hand and pulled him back down.
"My muscles aren't working," he said.
She gripped him tight, rubbing his arms and back and neck, smoothing his hair and pushing it back from his face. "You're stiff. Nothing more than that. Come on. Movement will help."
"We'll get you a new jacket."
"No, I found pictures. Samantha."
"Mulder there's nothing here."
"Mulder, let's go."
He staggered along behind her and they found the dark tunnel through which she had entered. She looked behind her and the machine that had trapped Mulder had disappeared.
He followed her gaze back.
"How?" she said.
"I'm thinking that the whole thing may be computer generated."
"No, a different kind of real. Just that the machine was a computer generated projection. A rearrangement of the atoms. When it was no longer needed, it disappeared."
"What about this? Where are we now? It feels solid."
"But is it dusty?"
"Then it's too clean to be normal. We're in fantasy space."
"Which can easily shift from under us, if it is. Let's go, Mulder."
Scully sat beside her partner's hospital bed, waiting for him to awaken. The iv tube carried a saline solution with nutrients. With another day's rest, she knew her partner would be back on his feet. He was lucky; the dehydration had been severe. How many times had they been here before? One attending the other, hoping to feel whole again with the sight of fluttering eyelids and the feel of a steady pulse. Perhaps this was the last time. Perhaps they couldn't go on like this any more. Perhaps they couldn't live on the constant edge of the void. She rubbed his arm and rose from her seat.
The window offered her a chance for vicarious enjoyment of a sunny day. She leaned against the ledge, watching the clouds, then looking down at the parking lot. Two cars, one red, one white were lined up for entrance tickets. In the out lane, the driver of a black pickup seemed to have trouble coming up with the right change. Finally, the gate rose and the driver headed out to the street. Scully heard her partner's voice.
"What's that on your neck?"
She put her hand behind her head and felt the bandage. "It's nothing."
"What do you mean, nothing? That's where your implant is."
She turned around to face him, leaned back on the window ledge, and made an effort to smile. "There's no problem, that's why nothing."
"Then why the bandage?"
She knew that he wasn't going to let her off the hook where the implant was concerned. "I just had it reinserted. It's fine. The bandage will come off in a day or two."
"Reinserted? How did it come out? Who *took* it out?"
She paused to consider what to tell him. Once he knew what had happened, she was sure his reaction would be swift and angry. Yet, all his righteous anger would do nothing to help her. Or him. Or get to the underlying problems that seemed so elusive. And he might not even acknowledge who the immediate problem was.
"Cancerman was behind it. When I was at Roush. He had the implant taken out to ensure my cooperation." She looked down at her feet, keeping her eyes off his face.
"Cooperation?" His voice was already louder, firmer.
"They didn't really need my free will. Only my body."
Mulder opened his mouth to speak and she wondered if he would make the smart remark she half-expected. Instead, he kept to her story. "What did they want from you?"
"Genetic material. They are going to incorporate it into the hybrids." She stared at him steadily, willing herself not to reveal the emotions that pulled so painfully at her. "The hybrids they are creating from my ova."
Mulder made no effort to mask his dismay. He struggled to sit up and motioned her over. She hesitated, then walked back to his side and sat in the chair. His voice was soft and wounded when he continued. "Cancerman has them? What did they take from you this time, Scully."
"I'm not altogether sure. Mostly blood. I think I got everything back. We grabbed some things on the way out. There were five or six vials of blood. The lab says they're mine. I don't know if there were others."
"We? You and Diana?"
"Me and Krycek."
"He's working for them?"
"He seemed to be in their confidence. But I bet he's mostly working for himself."
"So, you trusted Krycek?" He almost sounded offended.
"No, but what choice did I have?"
He leaned back and closed his eyes. She watched him try to make sense of this latest news. "I won't let them do this," he finally said.
"Mulder. There's nothing you can do."
"I was a fool to send you there. I was a fool to ignore the trap. It was obvious, wasn't it? Sitting right there staring at me and I refused to see it."
She ran her finger along his cheek to get him to open his eyes again. "It was for something we both wanted, both believed in. I went of my own free will."
"But you warned me. Why did you go along with it?"
Because you asked me to, she thought. Because otherwise you would have been swept away. Because I had to show I trusted you. "I thought I could elude them. I thought that if I knew it was a trap, they wouldn't be able to spring it. I wanted to see Gibson, even if I couldn't free him. I thought maybe he could tell me something that would help us. He reads all their minds."
"We arrived and showed our credentials. Diana explained that we needed to run some tests on Gibson. We were separated. Next thing I know I'm lying on an operating table."
"Diana told me you'd gotten away."
"Well, it appears she was mistaken."
"It appears she lied."
"And led me into a trap, too," he said.
"Look, she's counter-terrorism. She's good at getting inside people's heads, Mulder, and using their own thoughts and wishes against them. She's good at making you think she really understands you. Well, she does. I'm not letting her inside again." She smoothed out some of the wrinkles on the edge of the sheet. More softly, she continued, "What you do is up to you."
"How did she get to you?"
"It doesn't matter." She stood and went to the window, lowering the blinds a little and fiddling with the rod that changes the angle. She was conscious of Mulder's eyes on her back, but she didn't want to talk about Diana. This time she wasn't going to go along with any pretenses, any strategies to cooperate or pretend to cooperate or appear to cooperate or anything that put Diana in charge.
Mulder began speaking, so softly that she had to turn to hear. "Scully, listen. She promised me Samantha, or seemed to. And, and she said that if I could discover the answers to your questions you might find the happiness you deserved." He pushed himself up straighter and watched her face. His voice dropped in pitch. "She said she'd forgotten what it was like to love me." He let that fall between them. As panic receded, Scully considered what he said and then the remarkable fact that he had told her. That was the key, wasn't it? If he said it…something so personal…about his needs...hoping her reaction would… She was still tracing the shape of this thought when he interrupted, "What did she say to you, Scully?"
"Mulder, it doesn't matter."
"Yes, it does. You're standing way over there at the window. Whatever she said, it hit a nerve."
"I knew she was manipulating me. I was just angry at the game."
"Then come over here."
She found she couldn't move, couldn't push her body away from the window, couldn't take a step. "Mulder, when you're better, we'll talk about this."
"I'm better right now."
She turned back to peer out the blinds, separating the slats with her fingers. She spotted a red sports car at the entrance gate. A hand reached out and swiped a parking card through the machine. She felt his hand on her arm and started. "You're not supposed to be up."
"I'm ok. Please just tell me this. How did she get to you?"
"I've dismissed it…"
"How can you trust me with your life, but not with your needs?" The sound of his voice was like pressure on her chest. She turned and looked him in the eyes.
"Don't stop now, Scully."
She hesitated, uncertain that she really had resolved what Diana had insinuated How could she invite him to look at her vulnerabilities? Not just ordinary fears. Fears about herself, her life, him, the gulf she had seen open up between them. How she might fall apart. If she said it, would they hear the same words? Know the same truth? Or would he be hurt again? Angry?
"Scully, you have to trust me. You have to trust in your own strength."
My strength, she thought. My only strength is knowing how to hide my weakness. That wasn't great endorsement... But if she hid it, he would turn away. Diana's victory. She looked at him and said in one tight sentence without breathing, "She said how easy it was to get lost in your cause, how hard it would be to have a real life, and…"
She finished the sentence in her mind: And how trust was never enough to rule out betrayal. "And …?" Mulder persisted.
"And easy to lose focus."
He put his arm around her shoulder and leaned in to her ear. "Have I made you lose your way? Is that how you feel?"
His touch was light but she could feel tension in the way his fingers pressed the top of her arm. She was grateful that his posture gave privacy to their eyes. "Sometimes I used to wonder at night when I couldn't sleep. Whether I was still myself. And who that was. But not so much now."
He softened his hold. Relieved at his calmness, she allowed herself to relax. Mulder spoke again, barely a whisper. "What was the other thing? What else did she say?"
There was no longer any point in avoiding it. He knew something was there. He would not stop until he heard it from her. Or until she cut herself off from him. "It was about trust." Scully hesitated at the weight of it. "She said trust was never enough to rule out betrayal."
He sighed heavily and rested his chin on her head, pulling her closer. He mumbled something. She thought she heard "knife," but couldn't be sure. In the silence she watched the clock move ahead one minute, then two. She closed her eyes and visualized the movement reversing itself, ahead one minute, back two. She wanted Mulder to speak the next words.
"Did you ever see Gibson or was that a lie, too?"
"Not at Roush. Krycek claimed to have moved him somewhere else. But we never got there. He dropped me in Phoenix the next morning, got me some clothes, and sent me home."
"Was he lying? Part of the same elaborately staged play?"
"No, he was up to something else. I'm almost sure of it. Then I think something made him change his plans."
"I've been thinking about it. I just don't know."
"We don't seem to get any closer, Scully. I sometimes wonder whether the truth is still out there or whether it has somehow slipped away."
"Stolen and dissolved in acid." He squeezed his eyes together in pain or in dismay, and Scully led him back to the bed.
Walter Skinner rapped on the door before turning the knob and entering. Mulder and Scully were huddled in front of a monitor alongside a man in a slightly wilted lab coat. The man lifted his head to greet the visitor and removed his dark rimmed reading glasses. "Director Skinner," he said.
Skinner nodded a greeting and focused on his two subordinates, "Agents, I thought I might find you here."
Scully looked up and said, "We're just going over the lab reports."
"Yes, from the materials I found there."
"And what have you determined?"
"Cabrini has been unable to specify the precise composition of the specimens. With all the talk of vaccines, I hoped one sample might be the vaccine itself. Look at this. We're seeing an unusual organo-metallic compound, apparently synthesized, possibly assembled by a nanofabrication process." She typed something on the keyboard and a graphic came up on the screen. "If it is the vaccine then it's highly unusual. Normally we would expect to see a protein structure and that is not what this appears to be. However, given the alien material…" She shook her head. "Or it could be something entirely different."
"An antidote for the oil?" Mulder asked.
"It's not possible to tell with what we have. But look, the structure of it is rather unusual, unique even." She pulled up a second screen with a schematic representation of a chemical compound. The four of them stood looking at diagram, geometrics that added up to life or its destruction.
Skinner spoke first. "Have you seen this before?"
"Not exactly, but the dominance of carbon in these compounds…" Scully moved her finger along the transparency. "We encountered a sample of nanoparticles on one occasion that were similar in some respects…"
"But not the same?"
"No. Enough similarities that they might have come from the same laboratory, or, uh, other source."
"And where did you encounter the other sample?" Skinner asked. His face revealed no tension. The two agents looked at each other, and Mulder spoke up. "In a human subject, sir, the victim of an involuntary experiment."
"A test of the vaccine?"
"We're not sure. We don't know whether it was an experiment, really, or attempted murder."
"If it's poison, why would you consider it to be a vaccine, even hypothetically?"
Scully pulled two diagrams up side by side and ran her finger along some of the lines and symbols. "You'll see some differences in the bonds, for example look at this: single here, double there, and some hydrogen here where…"
"Which is to say what, Agent Scully?"
"The differences between the two compounds would account for the different action."
Skinner looked at the images on the screen. "I'm afraid these don't tell me much. I expect you'll let me know when you manage to analyze this material?"
"If we do." Cabrini spoke up again. "My previous work with materials Agent Scully has brought in leads me to be a little pessimistic."
Scully broke back in, "There is one other thing." Skinner widened his eyes in anticipation of her response and cocked his head slightly. "Krycek told me that the vaccine seemed to cause some dissolving of the individual's tissue. We are finding evidence of that in some of the tissue samples."
"A breakdown of some tissue into proteins, water, minerals. Some element of it, possibly denatured DNA, seems to form a tacky residue that can be exuded from the skin."
"And this would mean?"
Mulder replied, "We're not sure, sir." He looked at his partner, to whom he had himself administered the vaccine in the hopes of saving her life.
"I found some suspicious residues in my motel room before going to Arizona." Scully added. "The substances match those on the slides I brought back."
"Do you have an explanation?"
"No. Not in any way I can prove." Her voice trailed off.
"I'd like to be kept informed of developments." Mulder nodded in response and Skinner walked back to the door. His hand on the knob, he turned to them. "Actually, I stopped by to tell you that the rental car in Arizona turned up. Your suitcase has been recovered, Agent Scully, but your phone, badge, and gun were not located."
She nodded. "The phone was taken from me at the facility."
"Agent Fowley's things were also in the trunk, again absent weapon and badge."
"And Agent Fowley herself?" Mulder asked.
"No sign of her. The car was recovered at the Phoenix Airport, but there is no record of her having flown out. The local office has conducted a photo inquiry of the ticket agents there, but they have not turned up anyone who recognized her."
"Is not cooperating in any form. I'm afraid, Agents, you will need to proceed without the information that Diana Fowley might bring to bear."
Skinner left the room. Cabrini packed up the samples and said, "I'll get back to you later about those other tests, Agent Scully. In the meantime, we will keep these in secure storage."
Scully printed out the images on the screen and slid them into a brown envelope, securing the red string tie. Mulder leaned against the lab bench, his head back, eyes closed. Scully watched him.
"Once again the evidence is lost, Scully. Gibson, Cassandra, Diana. She knows."
"Those photos, the ones I found at the base. There was one, a group of girls. Samantha was about 15. The others were roughly the same age or a little older." He turned his head to face her. "One was Diana, I swear. Much younger, but her."
"That's not possible. It would mean…"
"She knew all along. She was part of it."
"But why wouldn't she tell you? Why the big charade?"
"What was it she said to you? About trust?"
"That trust was never enough to rule out betrayal."
"I guess she spoke from experience." He turned and left the room.
Scully listened to his footsteps disappear down the hall. She put the envelope into her briefcase, closed the latches, and looked around the laboratory at the tools of her trade. Once they had seemed so potent to her, promising answers and solutions. Progress. Certainty. Now they seemed so meager compared to the mysteries of the quest. Flipping off the lights, she left the room and followed Mulder's path down the hall to the elevator.
Continued in Aftermath3, which takes up the story after the events of *Biogenesis!