"And look, Scully, they are running experiments on them!"
Scully stared at the pictures, as astonished as Mulder, but not for the same reason. "Mulder, you hate the asphalt case. You miss the X-Files. I don't blame you. But please, don't let these regrets cloud your judgment. We have got to persevere."
"That's exactly what I intend to do. Scully, these birds could be the key to understanding alien colonization, the conspiracy, everything we've wanted to know. If Xuffy wants to talk, I think we should listen with open minds."
His partner rolled her eyes and returned to the asphalt lab.
At the same moment, elsewhere
In a posh executive conference room in New York, a group of aging white males and one fading brunette sat in leather chairs around a large burnished table. A large man with a jowly face looked around at his colleagues. "The unthinkable has happened. Our alien allies have betrayed us. We have been betrayed all along." The somber tones of his voice faded from the air and his colleagues sat wordless, as if silence might annul his news.
Finally, from the far end of the table, a short man with a wrinkled face choked out a cough and asked, "What's happened? And how? I thought we were monitoring their work…"
"Ah, we were, but it's all been a front. Antarctica, everything. False experiments to lead us astray. To keep us from the truth," continued the first. The man to his left shifted in his seat. He opened his mouth, then shut it quickly with a little snapping sound. A man with graying hair and a rugged face took a drag on his cigarette. "How far back does this go?"
"Almost to the beginning, I believe," answered the first man. "You know, we all know, the progress of the hybridization plan. It has never been smooth and our 'friends'," he paused and curled the corners of his mouth, "have always been unhappy with the unfortunate tendency of half-human clones to begin thinking for themselves. They have looked for a more pliant breed, one they can control. One that can insinuate itself into human society undetected. Who will eventually take over on their behalf."
"Do we know what they look like?"
"But, surely, another intelligent breed is necessary. What would they have chosen?" asked the lone woman, toying with a button on her blouse.
"It is hard to imagine…"
"How can we combat a force we cannot identify?" a balding man asked over the rims of his reading glasses.
A young man at the back of the room slipped out the door, noticed only by one man, now stubbing out his cigarette.
Agents Mulder and Scully rode silently in the hotel elevator. Scully crossed her arms and counted off the floors, seven, eight, nine. The car came to a stop and the only other passenger got off. As the doors closed, she spoke. "Mulder, I don't see how it is feasible for you to believe this. It is biologically impossible to cross a living creature with a stuffed animal. It's against the laws of nature."
"We're talking about alien nature, Scully, and alien technologies. Why, twenty years ago, who would have believed furbys and tamagotchi pets were feasible. Now they're everywhere."
The elevator stopped again and the two agents got off, turning left. Mulder strode a little ahead leaving his companion to her thoughts. She sighed, ceding his point. Who, indeed, would have imagined the frenzy that had recently led civilized folk to import a plague of annoying "pets" into their homes. Subjecting themselves to computerized slavemasters. Readying themselves for the electronic imitation of life. It was probably too much to hope that Y2K would banish them at the stroke of midnight. Mulder had opened the door to his room and waved her inside with a slight nod of his head. Scully walked in ahead of him and shrugged off her jacket, tossing it on the bed. She disappeared into the bathroom and returned with a glass of water. "Mulder, we have no evidence for your theory. Nothing to support the idea that you can cross-breed living creatures and non-living..." she groped for the right word "…toys."
"All life is composed of living and non-living matter, Scully. Organic and inorganic substances. Cells and metals and salts. I don't need to tell you that."
"Mulder, that's a little different from implanting living cells into a…"
She was interrupted by a soft knock on the door. Mulder hastened over to the peephole, but saw no one. He unholstered his gun and opened the door a crack, seeing nothing as he looked left, then right. A flash of red drew his eye down to a small, well-dressed penguin. Xuffy. She was shorter than he had expected. Scully's voice sounded behind him, "Put away your gun, Mulder, she said she's unarmed."
"Huh," he said, turning around. "I didn't hear anything."
"She said she's unarmed."
Mulder, still a little confused, opened the door wider and Xuffy waddled in. He closed the door and followed her into the room. His partner had already focused on the visitor. "Thanks, Xuffy. Nice to meet you, too. Your photo doesn't do you justice." Scully leaned over and shook hand to wing, then laughed, "Yes, it's the same for me."
"Scully, what's going on? I can't hear a thing."
"You can't? Really? Xuffy, can't he hear you?"
Another pause. "Soooo right. Of course, I'll explain it. Xuffy says that to protect themselves from the black oil, the hybids," she pulled her head back sharply, "sorry, the birds had their lips, I mean beaks, sewn shut. So they communicate by telepathy."
"Then how come you're hearing her and I'm not?"
"You have to have an open mind to receive Xuffy's thoughts, but…"
"Just a minute, Scully. Whose mind is more open than mine?"
"But not too open. Otherwise the thoughts fly right through."
Xuffy nodded, looking at him hopefully, but Mulder was no longer focusing on the scene around him. He sank down onto the bed and lay back. "Yes, of course. It would have to be telepathy. Gibson can read minds, but this goes much farther. Think about it. Aliens have the capacity to project their thoughts. They may have bred it into their hybrids."
"Xuffy finds the word 'hybrid' offensive."
"Still, the aliens infused their minds into your bodies," he said looking down at her. His voice trailed off and Scully knew he was warming to the idea. Suddenly she felt a jolt inside her head. This mind-reading was, dare she say it, for the birds.
"Argh. Xuffy says, no way. The alien race merely tapped into the intelligence already there. What hybridization has given them is the ability to communicate what had evolved long before. Or so she says." Scully massaged her temples to soothe the throb.
"Are there many of them?" Mulder asked.
Xuffy reached into her scarf and pulled out a photo.
Scully looked it over silently and handed it to Mulder. "Her immediate family. They travel unhampered by bureaucratic formalities, without passport or ticket, meeting with their counterparts around the planet. Preparing…"
"For the takeover. Soon, Mulder. An Animal Republic."
"War." His voice was flat with the inevitability of it. Her eyes met his and they exchanged wonder and fear in a simple glance. How had it come to this? A minute passed, two, in a trance of realization. Finally, a deep sign escaped Xuffy's beak and she tugged at Scully's hand. "Oh, Mulder. Xuffy says it won't be like that at all. No one does war any more outside Earth. So primitive…"
"But she said…"
"She said they were poised to take over."
"Financial instruments. Credit card fraud. Insider trading. Manipulation of stock trading programs. Advantageous depreciation schedules…" Scully's voice trailed off as she and Mulder simultaneously grasped the import of this horrifying news. "That means," Mulder said with a gulp. His skin had taken on a green tinge. "It means we must…" she responded, her face drained of color.
"We must transfer to the SEC. Our only hope is the spread sheet, the audit, the tax code, double entry bookkeeping!"
Scully put her forehead against his shoulder, seeking the comfort of his arms, "I don't think I can do this…"
"And the Syndicate? They won't fight back?" Mulder addressed his question to Xuffy, who stood, wings crossed, before them.
Scully choked out, "The Syndicate is finished."
Back at the posh headquarters of the conspirators, ten elderly men and a lone woman waited around a conference table, looking grim. The man at the head of the table took a sip of water and scanned the faces of his colleagues, men who had banded together decades before to face a crisis they dared not whisper outside this small circle. "Gentlemen, the crisis draws near. We are ready, I believe, to withstand…"
The door burst open and a young man stumbled in. He braced his hands on the table and looked from face to face.
"Alex," the smoking man said. "Where are the pizzas? It was your turn to buy." He cast a contemptuous glance around the room. "Failure cannot be tolerated." The others nodded, assuming a stern posture against their young colleague.
Krycek looked from one elder to the next. "The pizzas were within my grasp. Plain, sausage, and pineapple." A small wave of disgust crossed his face, "but…but they told me that my credit card was maxxed out. Impossible!" He brought his fist down on the table.
"Very strange," said a man from the far end of the table. "My phone was shut off yesterday for unpaid bills. Also impossible."
"And my laundry refused to return my shirts because my check had bounced," said another man, sitting at some distance from the others.
The smoker stubbed out a newly lit cigarette. "There's no cause for panic. I'm sure these are routine errors. I'll clear them up at once. You can trust..."
A soft knock on the door interrupted his pronouncement. A small woman in a black suit and white blouse entered the room and handed the group's leader a slip of paper. He opened it and gripped his heart as he read. "Gentlemen, we are finished," he gasped.
A babble of voices around the table. The brunette rose and began moving toward the door. The smoking man looked up, "There is always something that might be done."
"No, we are finished. It's over. Our retirement accounts were invested," he gulped, choking on the next words, "in ruble bonds and Bosnian corn futures."
Back at the hotel
"Xuffy, what do you want from us? Why did you email me?"
Scully listened for a minute and responded, "Xuffy knows where Samantha is, Mulder. She's safe but she's been…"
"Penguinized?" His face struggled against anguish. "She had a hat like that once, Scully, does it mean…?
"No, no, but life with the aliens is all she knows. She…" Scully placed her hand on Mulder's shoulder before delivering the news, "She trades foreign exchange for Them. Her profits are making the take-over possible."
Xuffy nodded, reached inside her scarf and pulled out a handkerchief. Mulder took it and pressed it to his eyes. "Mulder? Xuffy says you should not feel guilty. Your father, do you remember this, Mulder? Your father once bought Samantha a Monopoly game."
He lowered the handkerchief and nodded. "He taught her the rules. In secret. They locked me out. Once, only once they let me be the little shoe. She had hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place. She was ruthless. I never played that game with her again."
"You see, Mulder. There was nothing you could do. Not with someone drilled from an early age. Xuffy says it was all decided long ago. Your father had two plans for the survival of the family…Monopoly for her, Stratego for you. There's nothing you could have done." She patted his hand.
"It's all been in vain, Scully. These past ten years…"
Xuffy reached into her scarf again, and pulled out a slip of paper. Mulder reached down and she placed it in his hand, folding his fingers over it. Suddenly her voice squawked into his head. "Save yourself. Save her." Xuffy turned and walked to the door, looking over her shoulder once before leaving.
Scully sat down at Mulder's side and leaned in to look at the note. "What is it, Mulder? What does it say?"
He spread it out against his knee. "Animal Republic goes public tomorrow, New York Stock Exchange. Opening price: 7 1/8. Buy as much as you can. Sam."
"She hasn't forgotten me, Scully. Bill Mulder's plan worked after all." He put his arm around his partner's shoulder and they sat together in silence looking at the bittersweet promise of salvation.
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