Title: Journey 4/WIP
Category: MSR, angst, mytharc
Spoilers: The story happens early in season 7
Date: May 2000
Archive: Yes, but keep my name and let me know where it is, please.
Synopsis: The relationship has heated up, but Scully is troubled by something she hasn't told Mulder.
Disclaimer: Dana Scully, Fox Mulder, and the X-Files are the property of Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and Fox. But look, they've gotten themselves into a fix and I'm trying to be helpful.
Thanks to my science consultant, Beth (who bears no blame for alien science), and my betas Lone Gunwoman and Littljoe.
This is a WIP.
Click here for Journey, part 1
Click here for Journey, part 2
Click here for Journey, part 3
Journey - chapter 4
Little of the late afternoon light filtered into the isolated basement office. Skinner's assignments sat on the desk underneath two books on quantum mechanics and a copy of The Physics of Star Trek. That dog-eared volume had turned up on the used book table outside a shop three blocks from Scully's apartment where he used to hang out when he wanted to be near her but didn't have the guts to knock on her door. He brought it up once over dinner in Indiana, but she'd pinned him with her please-Mulder look and when he pointed out that Stephen Hawking had written the introduction, she merely sighed. Yeah, well, Scully, maybe Captain Kirk can bring you back.
His jacket went over the back of the chair. Mulder loosened his tie and rolled his shirt sleeves three times. Sitting down, he pulled two sharpened pencils from the drawer and lined them up at the base of the lamp, point to eraser. When he was satisfied with their alignment, he rested his elbows against the desk, covered his mouth in a prayerful gesture, closed his eyes, and breathed out heavily. Something would be in the files, something unexpected, something that Skinner had noticed but could not say. Mulder moved the books onto the floor and and pulled the first folder in front of him. Background checks. He flipped the pages quickly, glancing at the photos: humiliating driver's-licence shots. A flash of red hair stopped him and he turned the pages back one by one looking for it. A man. Parker could have these.
The next file contained the preliminary report of a security breach. A laptop full of classified codes had been stolen from a locked safe in the anti-terrorism office three weeks before. Well, they'd better have someone else on the case by now. He opened the third. A report of haunting in a defense plant that had suffered thefts of strategic materials. He and Scully had looked into that earlier in the year and discounted the ghosts right off the bat. Whoever set up the story hadn't even bothered to do minimal homework about poltergeists. The photos of energy fields were so pathetic that Chuck had laughed out loud when he held them to the light. They'd passed that case on to the security boys. Mulder turned the pages quickly. Witness reports, security logs, itemization of evidence but it was all from their original investigation, except for one new thing. A main witness had recanted his ghost story. The case had still died.
Top Secret stamps labeled the next file in three places. Reports from Naval officers of "shadow people" - glimmering figures at the edge of vision hovering just beyond reach, fading in and out, paralyzing the victims so long as the illusion persisted. Sounded more like ghosts than the ghost case. The interviews were dated over a period of weeks, but some men reported that it had been happening for years. Maybe somebody got drunk and spilled the story and pretty soon the brass got word of it. Nobody in a high security job is going to admit to hallucinations if they're sober.
He and Scully had seen a case like this once, a chemical engineer. Mulder suggested apparitions or pre-abduction sensing, she thought some sort of drug reaction was more likely. He ventured his old theory about a succubus, the old woman who visits men in the night. She called it a hypnopomic hallucination, which sounded like she might actually be admitting he was right. Neither of them had a word to explain why the hauntings took place when the victim was wide-awake. Then their engineer turned up dead. Under Scully's knife, the brain had looked normal, and the tox scan turned up nothing. The Navy had slapped the tag of stress on the men. No medical records, and the dates on the investigative reports suggested that the whole thing had been wrapped up pronto. This should have been his case. How did Skinner get it and why only now?
His cell phone rang twice and he frisked the pockets of his jacket to retrieve it. A whisper on the other end of the line asked, "All clear?"
Mulder imagined his caller cupping a hand over the mouthpiece. "Hello. Yes?"
"The eagle has landed." Frohike had been watching B films again.
"Yeah. Thanks. I've got to wrap something up first."
He measured the height of the remaining files with his thumb. Skinner'd hinted that there something here would give him a line on Smoky. Take him down. Mulder tipped back in his chair, hands joined over the top of his head, balancing with a slight wobble. The pull of Scully's boxes, now safely retrieved, was almost overpowering. He needed to see what she had seen, read the words she'd recounted to him, put his mind where hers had been. He glanced at his watch. Another hour at most.
The next folder held old surveillance reports on their office. A couple of video captures, a transcript of a conversation he and Scully had had about the African biologist. Someone had been bored enough to doodle faces on the edge of the page. Not his face or hers, but whose? He turned over a piece of photographic paper to find a grainy print of himself, feet up, mouth open in mid-speech and eyes closed in a momentary blink. It made him look like a pompous ass. The security staff preferred Scully. There she was, eyes cast down, hair tucked behind her ear, thinking Scully thoughts. If he'd been lucky that day, maybe she was hiding the slightest smile. He slipped it into his pocket.
Five missing person cases were stuffed into the next envelope, the pages mixed up. He kneeled on the floor to sort them into piles. He'd heard about one of disappearances, a scientist. Also missing were a congressional aide, a senior engineer at the Jet Propulsion lab working on the Mars shots, a chemist who'd had a breakthrough in creating artificial materials to repair human nerves, and a doctor whose name seemed familiar. From the look of the scribbled notes, it appeared one agent had handled all five cases. Five dead-ends. Batting average .000 for Marcia Wilson. On reassembling the papers from the floor noticed that one Louise Spencer had investigated the congressional aide. He checked the others. Five agents. One handwriting.
He looked under the last file, just to confirm that his task was almost done. A file of scientific papers on using human DNA in computer chips. He started reading but quickly got lost. If Scully were here, she'd know. The authors' names weren't on the list of missing persons. At least not yet.
His watch read 9:30. He'd eaten nothing but a burger in the Hoover cafeteria since the Gunmen's that morning. A quick check of his desk yielded a crushed package of saltines and a half dozen sunflower seeds that had fallen into a drawer during some moment of idle contemplation. He stood and stretched, then emptied his pockets onto the desk. Pushing the quarters, dimes and nickels into a pile, he counted quickly, and locked the office behind him.
Mulder wove through the deserted snack room toward the vending machine, shoving a couple of the orange plastic chairs underneath the tables. The day's litter had still not been tidied; a crumpled brown bag sat on one table, along with a pile of crumbs, neatly pushed into a little mound. Mulder sorted his change for a can of soda, chips and a plastic wrapped sandwich of chilled white bread, soggy by now but with nothing growing on the outside, at least not visible from where he squinted. He put his coins in the soda machine and punched a button. The money clanked down into the change window. He dropped them in a second time and tried another button. The money came back again. He switched quarters and this time the coins stuck, but released nothing. He pressed the buttons in random order, pounded on the change box, and finally kicked the scuffed bottom panel twice. The machine hummed, then produced a whoosh of vapor and flickering lights that danced against the rear wall before it went dark. Hell. Might be a ghost in there. Can dying machines give off ghosts? Scully wouldn't buy it.
~Ghosts are remnants of living spirits, Mulder.~
Her voice would carry a little sigh on his name. He wouldn't let her get away with that: ~So now you believe in ghosts?~
~Most certainly not. But I especially don't believe machines emanate anything when you dent them and they certainly have no spirits to persist when the big fuse has blown.~
~Well why not? Machines and living organisms: it's all electricity in one form or another, and what if… what if you connected the living and nonliving? The flexible human brain and high speed computer. Put human DNA in processors and put control chips in humans. Wire them together in some kind of outsize organo-machine.~
Scully would try to hide a smile at that one.
~But think about it, Scully. A network like that might just transcend consciousness and… then you'd have something no one would recognize.~ His mind raced ahead. Mechanical ghosts would create their own energy fields. Of course the aura would look odd in the photos.
He looked down at the sandwich that had appeared up in his hand.
~Mulder, there must be a simpler solution.~ She'd roll her eyes or raise that perfect eyebrow. ~Put the robotmen on hold let's look for the simplest, logical, actually *possible* solution. And don't trust anyone, Mulder. Don't trust anyone but me.~
How could he possibly be both halves of their partnership all by himself?
A knock at the door pulled Mulder's head up off the desk. His watch read 8:30. He drank down the last swallow of cold coffee in the styrofoam cup, pushed his hair back with his fingers and unlocked the door.
"I'm sorry if I disturbed you, Agent Mulder." Arms crossed, Agent Parker stood in the hallway, a single sheet of paper dangling from her hand. Her eyes scanned him from the tousled hair down to his unshod feet. She leaned forward and he watched, bewildered, as her slender fingers approached his chest and plucked a small post-it note from his shirt. "Nelson Stockman," she read aloud.
"Sorry. Been up all night." He returned to his desk, sat down and rubbed the heels of his hands in his eyes. "Christ," he said, looking at his watch again, "I promised to meet someone last night. I gotta run. We'll talk later, ok?" He ducked under the desk to find his shoes, and slipped them on, quickly knotting the laces. His feet felt trapped, tight. If only there were a couch in here... He began straightening Skinner's files into a stack, tucking in loose papers and twisting the little string closures around the office envelopes. "I should be back this afternoon. Maybe late."
She had followed him in, swaying slightly on three-inch heels. She lifted a slide projector off a chair, brushed the dust off the seat, and settled back. Her movements caught the corner of his vision as he pulled a black gym bag from under the table, set it on his chair, and pitched a pair of running shoes into the corner of the room. He began tucking the files in the bag. The top secret labels blared out in red and he wondered if she would report that to her bosses.
"It's not ok, Agent Mulder. I expected you to call me yesterday. I assumed you'd be eager to have your report." She toyed with a single pearl on a chain around her neck.
"Yeah, well, sorry. I've been pretty busy…"
"With important things, I see. So you regard this Mars case as ridiculous as I do?"
"No, no. It's not ridiculous, it's just… Sorry, I've been up all night." He breathed out once and twitched an apologetic smile at her.
"You said that already." She handed a single sheet of paper across the desk. "It's pretty straightforward. The Mars Explorer fell off a cliff on landing and was destroyed. Case closed."
"That's all you found?" He glanced down the page and handed it back.
"That's all there is to know."
"You found pictures of the debris?"
"No body, huh?" He rubbed his hand over his eyes then back through his hair once again. "Then can we assume 'death' of the victim? Let's suppose -- *suppose* -- you're right. What pulled it to a cliff? With all our mapping capability, we knew where to put it down. The terrain was gently sloping, two percent incline, five at the max."
"Then they were off in their calculations. The terrain becomes more rugged. A small computational error and…"
"Why would there be an error? The math's not hard."
"Even with the best computers, a small discrepancy can…"
"And, Parker, the craft lost contact before it reached the surface."
"That's not unusual."
"Did you happen to notice that few months before, another craft was lost approaching Mars?"
"That was an engineering error. Someone forgot to convert English measurements to metric."
He leaned over to pick a couple sheets of paper off the floor. "Do you really buy that? Scientists don't even *use* English measurements any more."
"Some do, obviously, or there would have been no error. Not everything results from a conspiracy, Agent Mulder."
"Not every lie deserves to be believed, Agent Parker." He shrugged on his jacket and fished a striped tie out of the pocket.
"Look, I've been assigned to help you. Now you can take advantage of what I have to offer or not."
"Ah. What exactly are you offering?" His eyes assessed her pointedly, her short dark hair sculpted into a wave that morning, the heavy black eyelashes, the thin nose pushed slightly downward at the tip like a comma, tight beige sweater and skirt, crossed knees, and high heeled foot swinging impatiently. She rolled the pearl in her fingers.
"Are you planning to deliver on that look or should I consider myself dismissed?"
He picked up the final folder from the desk and inspected its contents. "I'll let you know when an easier case comes up."
Parker spun the seat of the chair as she got up and walked out the door. Was that a test, Agent Parker? Is partial credit given for wrong answers? He still held the last folder, the ghostly thefts. The answers in Skinner's files were all wrong, wrong for a reason, wrong in some damning way. Skinner knew that. A twist, a lie, a slide from truth to falsehood, from known to hidden, from knowing to hiding. The point being, the point…, the point of Parker? To be wrong.
"Parker," he shouted and took off after her. They met at the stairway door. "Yeah," he said. "There is a case I need your help with. National security" He held out the file. "Theft of strategic materials. There was a story of ghosts that, uh, some of the witnesses recounted to us." She was looking away from him, down the hall. "But, uh, it never made sense. I mean Agent Scully and I never believed in… and the main witness recanted that story. Would you find out what happened?" She took the folder as if it were a dead animal. "Really," he continued. "I think there's something here."
The wooden date box sat upended on the floor, looped Arabic writing on the label unreadable to them, pictures of smiling brown fruit carrying the message. An anemic leather camel stitched in red yarn stood amidst the papers on the table. Its large eyes were fringed with seductive lashes.
"And there were no letters when you went to the Post Office?" Byers thumbed through a sheaf of handwritten pages, also in Arabic.
Mulder shook his head. He ran his hand down the bottle of beer sitting in front of him, and wiped the moisture on the side of his pants. His other elbow rested on a black leather journal with the name Captain William Scully embossed on the front.
"Well, Mulder, honestly, I think it's a good thing."
"What do you mean, Byers?" Langley tipped his beer bottle at his housemate, then at Mulder. "Geez man. It's bad enough that she shipped herself back to 1996. Now the trail's ended…"
"Shuddup, Langley," Frohike hissed.
Byers put the papers down and jumped back in to defend himself. "No, it is a positive sign. She told her mother she was coming back and the fact that there are no more letters means that she was able to do it."
"So where is she now, smart guy?" Langley snapped at the implicit rebuke.
"Well, it's hard to say. She's been gone what, Mulder, about two weeks?"
Mulder nodded, looking not at them but at the gold-edged label his fingers were slowly prying loose from the brown bottle.
"So," Byers continued, "she's either still there or she's on her way here. I suppose she could be hiding in the present somewhere… the logic of her passage just a little unclear…"
"What, what logic?" Langley wasn't giving up.
"Well, I mean, is there an exact day-to-day correspondence? If she leaves on November 12 can she travel only to other November 12ths, you know, because of earth's orbit? Or can she move from any date to any other? "
"Yeah, well, that's not even the hard part. It's a lot easier to go back in time when all you have to do is hit a certain date. What about trying to hit the right moment returning to the present?" The others stared at him. "I mean, what if you were off by a couple of minutes?"
"What's your point, man?" Frohike's chair scraped against the floor as he stood up to get more beer.
"You'd, like, be behind everybody else, like you'd arrive late at conversations and keep saying things everybody else already said and you'd miss the bus and stuff, never get to the phone before it stopped ringing..."
"You missed your calling, Einstein. That's really stupid." Frohike shook his head.
"Yeah, well, what would be stupid is if you overshot the present and ended up a couple minutes ahead. It'd be like flying through a windshield. Nobody'd be there yet, you'd just be in a kinda big void cause time hadn't filled it yet. And then how'd you get back?"
"You're saying the future doesn't exist yet?"
He shrugged. "We sure can't trust that slimeball Mercer to send her to the right time, and maybe he …" Langley met Mulder's eyes.
"She's coming back." Mulder responded. "She said it, she meant it, she'll figure it out. I went over this in my head already. For all I know someone got to the Post Office first and took her letters. There may have been a hundred of them." It hadn't been crowded when he went to check the box, the key gripped tightly in his hand. The other patrons - a blond young woman in leggings, a man whose stooped shoulders thrust his head forward parallel to the ground, a gray-haired woman in a fur coat - moved through the lobby toward the service windows and minutes later, back out the door. C475 was in a corner, in the bottom row, a large box, a box that could hold three years worth of letters, one a day from solitary confinement. He waited until a woman with two shopping bags peeled the stamps from her booklet and mailed her bills before he stooped to try the key. Scully had bent over just like this, wearing something loose. She'd had sunglasses perched in her hair, he was sure, and she'd been breathing quickly as she opened the embossed metal door and ran her hand along the bottom of the box. He put his own shaking hand therewhen he found it empty.
"Mulder? Are you with us?" Frohike was inches from his face. "Who would know about the Post Office?"
"Who? They way things are going, I'm beginning to think just about everyone."
Byers cleared his throat. "You'll need to get a translator for some of those papers she sent us. In the meantime, we found some stuff on Mercer."
Mulder nodded and followed his friends to one of their workstations. Langley ran the mouse across a Doom II pad as the screen slowly restored itself.
"Looks like time travel has been at the back of his mind since the start. We downloaded his resume from the Net and Byers here went over the publications."
"I can't speak as an expert," there was a soft click from his throat, "but I'd say that even at the start of his career he had time travel in the back of his mind. Here, you see some of the things he published in the early 1970s about relativity, it's always that angle…'
"There's Scully's name." Mulder brushed his finger across the screen
"Yes, well, that's much later. Her article came out in 1987. High quality journal, too. They must have coauthored that based on her senior thesis. But that's still background stuff. Look, it's here, 1993 when he suddenly starts to get serious about time travel, though he's not calling it that."
"Let's look at the funding."
Langley scrolled down to the list of grant support. Mulder eyed the names of the agencies. "Military."
"Well, nothing unusual about that…"
"Except for who might be interested. When did it start?"
"Can't tell," Byers said. "He only lists current grants. We'll have to hack in to the agencies. Might take a couple days."
Langley hit print and an old dot matrix clacked into action beside them.
"How you gonna bring her back, man. You ought to go there yourself. Take Mercer with you. A gun positioned right there." Langley held his index finger against his ear.
"Why'd she do it in the first place, Mulder?"
"Yeah, it seems so unScully."
"Yeah. There's something big going on, isn't there?"
The room grew silent except for the hum of the electronics, different pitches for the computers and printers and the faint sound of Pearl Jam playing in one of the bedrooms. Mulder's neck knotted as he swallowed. "I'd like to get some of those papers translated."
"You trusted us with…"
Frohike put his hand on Langley's arm. "It's personal man. Let it be."
His apartment felt cold and empty as he stretched back along the couch, one foot settled atop the gym bag containing some of Scully's father's papers along with the files from Skinner. A comfortable bed stood in the other room, tidily made up with clean sheets and a wool blanket and new pillows he bought just a month ago in a fit of domesticity that had surprised Scully when she settled in next to him that night. "Goose down," she'd said with an appreciative smile. He couldn't sleep there now, wouldn't, not until she returned and held up the sheet in welcome. Couldn't sleep on the couch either, or anywhere. But while he was telling himself this, she appeared, suddenly, in a white void, a place not so much lit as light. Her back was to him. He stood at his doorway, looking out to where there was no up-down or back-forth, no symmetrical dimensions or reversibility. He let go of the doorjamb and raised his foot to join her but he was paralyzed, held back by the air itself pressing against his chest. He called her name, forced it from his lungs and she half-turned. She was naked and he saw the swell of her stomach. As she looked away, he shouted, "Scully, are you cold?"
He awoke in a sweat. The heat must've come on but the thermostat registered just 62 degrees under his tapping finger.
The next day
The door to his office was ajar when he returned from a fruitless attempt to track down one Captain Nelson Stockman, retired, one of the men who had admitted to the hallucinations. Fucking train station, he thought, gun in hand, as he pushed door with his foot. CGB Spender stood with his back turned reading the clippings on the bulletin board. Mulder holstered his weapon.
"No one invited you in here."
"I wasn't aware that law enforcement was by invitation only."
Mulder walked around to his desk and touched the things on top lightly.
"I assure you, I have tampered with nothing. I doubt there's anything here worth tampering with." The Smoking Man moved away from Mulder and thumbed the latch of one of the drawers of the filing cabinets. "What has your obsessional pigheadedness achieved? Now your partner has disappeared. Of her own volition, if I am to understand correctly. Not a vote of confidence in you."
"Agent Scully's whereabouts are none of your business."
"Oh, but they are. You see, I was responsible for assigning her to the X-Files in the first place. I'm concerned about her."
"Who says you know who your allies are, Agent Mulder? You assume I'm the enemy, whereas I think we want the same thing. Peace, prosperity, the well-being of our loved ones. Like Dana."
Mulder rose from his chair, opened the door, and stood to the side, but Spender didn't move.
"I can help Miss Scully. I'd like to, actually. Guarantee her safety."
"Go to hell."
Spender shrugged. "You're no different from anyone else. There's always something that a person can't say no to." He looked down at his hand and rubbed his thumb along the top of his nail. From the hallway came the sound of the elevator whirring open and shut. "You help me, and I promise a pleasant life for Agent Scully and her child - your child, is it fair to say? Much as I admire your partner, I doubt this was an immaculate conception." His mouth twisted as he reached inside his jacket, then let his hand fall. "You won't be together, alas. But they'll be well cared for. The child will thrive and grow, he'll probably be the spitting image of his father -- isn't that what every man wants, Mr. Mulder? He will be the joy of Agent Scully's life."
"Get out of my office."
"In return, I need your promise of cooperation. And the things your partner has entrusted to you."
"Anything you propose would be a betrayal of her."
"Depends on how you define betrayal. I've restored her before. Proof of my good intentions. Some people might find your present course a betrayal - refusing to grab a chance for her safety. Her child's. After all the grief you've brought her, it's the least you can do."
"I intend to bring her back myself."
"Maybe you're missing the big picture here. You see, your partner has quite unexpectedly discovered a way to disrupt fate. That can't be allowed to happen. No one is bringing her back here."
Spender walked slowly to the door and looked around the office before stepping into the hall. He took out his package of Morleys and put one in his mouth. " I thought…at one point I thought you had the stamina for the truth. So few people do, you know. Able to look it in the face and make the necessary personal sacrifices without worrying about their own little lives. You think I haven't had to make choices myself? You may doubt it, but people have loved me. They believe in my strength."
"Some fine love you've shown them."
"I never put myself above the common good, Mulder. You think I'm unscrupulous. I'm not. I'm merely unsentimental. Don't confuse the two."
Spender hadn't lit up, but the sour smell of old smoke now hung in the air like a curse. Mulder dropped into his chair, withdrew three photos from his pocket and laid them on the desk : the video capture of Scully, Maggie's picture of her, and the ultrasound. Spender had smirked when he talked about Scully. He had paused for a second before saying "immaculate conception," and his eyes flashed confidence, triumph, glee. What did the world look like through those eyes? Was it insect vision, reality prismed into a thousand isolated points, or a predator's eyes calculating distance and motion rather than color and beauty, or did his dark soul cast a shadow over the retina itself?
Mulder spun his chair and faced the bulletin board. Spender had been standing right there, his calm unruffled by the sound of the door being kicked open. Mulder rose and positioned his feet in the same spot, relaxing his body and imagining the slight weight of cigarettes in the pocket of his shirt. He looked coldly at the collection, straightening one clipping about a werewolf, lifting the corner of item about alien autopsies, and inspecting the back of a hazy shot of a UFO.
~So-called leads. Momentos from silly cases that no one else wanted. Scattershot. Once in a while hitting something important by sheer, blessed random chance. Or design.~ His face curved up on one side. ~Let Fox glimpse the truth now and then, who would listen to his rantings after all? Just like Bill. Vulnerable. Easy to mislead, confuse, control. Blinded by loyalties to people and ideas. Vulnerable.~
He kneaded the aching muscles in his neck. Something had made Spender vulnerable all at once. Something Scully had seen or found or thought. Her father's journal, maybe, or the photos of camouflaged trucks at the salt flats or the documents the Tunisian officer had sent to the ship. Something that would upset the balance, nullify Spender's carefully constructed game plan. Some flaw in his own certainty. No wonder he called it disrupting fate.
Mulder turned back to his desk and sighed. What if turning over the things from those boxes would protect Scully forever? A sure thing, no treachery. Could he let her go, deal away part of himself, his truth? The only person who believed his soul was whole, when it was only her presence that made him so? Would it be enough to know he'd done the right thing? She asked him to make life safe for them and took the chance of never seeing him again. She'd accepted that risk. He slipped the photos of her into his pocket, grabbed his coat, and headed outside.
Now that the cool weather had settled in, the mall would be quiet again, visitors alone or in small somber groups at the Vietnam memorial tracing the names or shyly looking for a place to put a single rose or lily. The schoolchildren would cluster in unruly lines up at the Washington Monument, elbowing each other whenever the teacher's back was turned. But here, near the museums, there would be a quiet bench where he could run over everything once again: papers, photos, ghosts, machines, magnetic fields, and one seriously missing woman. He walked past the old Gothic post office and Justice Department, glancing up for anyone who might be tracking his movements. As he crossed Constitution Avenue, his phone rang.
"Yeah, Mulder. You free? We've been checking on your friend."
"What's that sound?"
"Squealing brakes. I'm outside."
"Yeah, well take it easy. You're my ticket to getting Agent Scully back."
Mulder paused on the sidewalk and closed his eyes. "Sure, Frohike, but remember, the pleasure will be all mine."
"I was afraid of that. I'd ask for Parker instead if she was a real person."
"So it appears. No Amandas in the right age range on the active lists at the Bureau, MI, or the CIA. "
"You hacked the spooks?"
"Yeah, piece of cake. You have anything else you can give us? Photo? Prints?"
"Not… no. I'll work on it. Skinner might have a file..."
"Yeah, well, whenever."
Two days later
Autumn's brilliance had dwindled to clumps of damp brown under the skeletal trees. Gusts off the river stirred the few leaves that still clung to the exposed branches, occasionally sending one flying across the still green lawns. The traffic over nearby bridges hummed low underneath the sound of feet beating an automatic rhythm along the asphalt path. Mulder concentrated on breathing, the feel of chilly air in his lungs and the rise and fall of his diaphragm and the way his arms arced out slightly to the side if he expanded his chest. Head steady, hips tracking a line parallel to the ground, the body holding itself in balance and in motion at the same time. If you visualized your muscles, you could feel them, feel them work together and resist, feel the smooth machine moves and forget about anything else as your feet beat an automatic rhythm.
His attention flickered to a slower runner ahead and as he approached, he noticed that the man was pushing a jogging stroller. He cut to the left and pulled ahead, glancing back over his shoulder. The baby was tiny - asleep as far as he could see - wrapped in a red plaid blanket with a pink hat pulled low over her forehead. The father tipped the bill of his Knicks cap toward Mulder's shirt. Mulder slowed and let the other man catch up.
"That's a clever idea," he said, nodding at the stroller. "Where'd you get that thing?"
"Any good running shop has 'em these days. Puts the kid to sleep like that. You never seen one?"
"Never really paid attention."
They jogged in silence for another twenty yards, the man swerving the stroller around a hole in the asphalt. "Your first on the way?"
"You can tell?"
"Yeah, you can always tell first timers. There's so much you never notice before and suddenly you're expected to grasp all this stuff that's not on your Y chromosome. You won't believe what your wife knows by instinct." Mulder veered onto the damp grass so the man could guide his daughter around a puddle. "When are you due?" the stranger asked.
"Me? Ah, a couple months, I don't know the date exactly, maybe March, April. It's a little up in the air right now."
"You don't know?" The man stopped. "Look, it's none of my business. But get it straightened out with your girlfriend. You don't want to miss this."
Mulder looked down at the sleeping child again and nodded. "Thanks," he said. "Thanks for the advice." He resumed his earlier pace, imagining his hand on the grip, the hum of wheels against pavement, and the weight of a baby lifted warm from sleep. All he needed to do was get it straightened out.
A few minutes later the slap of feet behind him pushed him into higher gear and the steps behind him sped up, too. He glanced over his shoulder.
"Agent Mulder." She smiled, open-mouthed, and he wondered idly how long she could match his pace.
"Afternoon Agent Parker. I didn't know you ran."
"Yeah, yeah, I do. You live near here?" she asked. She was blowing out, her mouth a neat O on exhale.
"Not really. I just like this park."
"You look like you're about at the end. So am I. Stop by and have a drink?"
"I have work to do." He sped up, but so did she.
"There's no reason to be unfriendly," she said.
"There's no reason to be friendly either."
"Water, then. And I'll tell you about your ghosts."
He stopped, bent over to slow his breathing and took his pulse. Her feet kept moving in front of him, small feet in new running shoes. "Ok. Water. And ghosts."
"Fine. This way." She headed out toward the street at a slow trot, crossed at the green and led him three blocks into the old warehouse neighborhood, now converted to condominium lofts.
They stepped into the old freight elevator, freshly carpeted but making no concessions to modern elevator speed. He wiped the corner of his mouth against his sleeve.
"I tried to find you yesterday, Parker."
"I'm flattered. I was working on your case."
"Yes, as a matter of fact."
He kept his eyes on the numbers. At the third floor, they got off and she opened the locks. He followed her into a large open space with ceilings fifteen feet high, wood floors, and brick walls hung with art. To the left, lower walls curved around to make a kitchen and other rooms out of sight. To the right were an overstuffed white sofa with red cushions and a glass coffee table six feet across and a vase of gold and orange leaves. Behind the sofa, the bed sat on a raised platform with four deconstructed posts twisted with gauze. Several large photos of nudes dominated the wall behind the bed: body parts, curves and hollows.
She came back with the glass of water and a coaster.
"I think I'm going to ask for a bigger raise this year," he said.
"Oh, this? Belonged to my ex. Made it big as an investment banker. Cashed out of his job to pursue his first love, photography, then checked out of here to pursue his second, Cecelia. I got the apartment, the car, and the pictures he considered 'meat.' He got the money, all tucked away where my lawyer was never going to find it."
"I didn't care by that point. It was over."
"About the case…"
"If you don't mind, I'm going to take a quick shower." She walked away from him, pulling her sports bra over her head. "Make yourself at home."
Mulder downed the water and set the glass on the table. The television and VCR sat across from the couch. He found the remote attached to the side of the tv and hit "play." A grainy video came up, a naked man and woman circled each other on the bed laughing. The woman wore a mask over her eyes, the man was blindfolded. Mulder looked up at the track lights and calculated the camera angle. Squatting down next to the set, he opened the doors of the cabinet. Several of his favorites stood on the shelf alongside other cassettes initialed and dated on the white spines. He wondered if he'd find himself and Scully in there someplace, and pulled one out, shaking the cassette from its box. Written on the label were names unknown to him in the handwriting he had seen earlier in the missing persons files. He closed the doors as he heard her emerge from the bathroom. The thin white robe stuck to the damp spots on her body.
"Ready for a beer?"
"I think I'll be going." He was leafing through a magazine from the table.
"I'm not chasing you out. If you're feeling sweaty, shower here. There are plenty of towels back there."
"The FBI has rules about fraternization, Agent Parker."
"Who said anything about fraternization, Agent Mulder? Don't you want to hear about your ghosts?"
"Okay. Shoot." He walked over to the unadorned windows and looked down at the street lights flickering on.
"The thefts were stopped."
"And the thieves?"
"Ah. Administratively. The truth wins again." He turned around and perched himself on the windowsill. She had sunk back against the cushions on the couch, bare feet tucked underneath.
"More harm would have been done to national security by exposure than by the actual theft."
"The right people have a gift for making themselves too embarrassing to prosecute. How did they do it? I mean, carry the stuff off."
"That's really the heart of it. If that secret got out, it would be a disaster. Hackers can get into anything, as you well know."
"So, case closed?"
"You're not going to tell me what happened?"
"I can't. You don't have clearance. You'd find some interesting things if you did."
He nodded. "This isn't the way Agent Scully and I usually solve cases."
"Agent Scully." She tugged at her robe, pulling at it to cover her leg. "You know, there's a way out of her fix."
He rubbed his finger along the window sill and inspected it for dust. His stomach tightened and the spot just below his lungs felt hollow and cold. Outside, the parking spaces were rapidly disappearing; a well-dressed woman stepped out of her car and brushed something off her coat. She held her hand out and headlights blinked once before she hurried down the sidewalk. He pressed his face against the window until she disappeared from view. "What makes you think she's in a fix? Or that you could help?"
"Sure you don't want a beer?"
"Is it necessary?"
"Actually, yes," she laughed as she walked slowly to the kitchen. "I can sympathize with her, you know. There are certain problems, maybe of a personal nature..."
"The kind of thing that can happen when a man and woman … what should I say, Agent Mulder? Fail to take precautions?"
"You're making a lot of assumptions."
She returned to the couch, leaning forward to pour the beer into two tall glasses. "You don't have to stand, you know." She held a glass out to him; he took it, walked back to the window, and waited. "Well," she continued, leaning back sideways and stretching her legs out along the couch, "You should accept the deal you've been offered."
"What do you know about a deal?"
"I know it's fair. More than fair. She'll have everything she needs, including safety. That's something she hasn't had in a long time. Seven years?"
"I get it now. I'd been flattering myself that your mission was a little more personal."
Parker tilted her head to the side and smiled, then drank. "Don't you think she deserves better than she has now? I'm surprised you won't take some responsibility."
"She'd never submit to Spender's control."
"She's carrying a child now. She's seen it, heard its heartbeat, probably felt it move. Speaking as a woman, I'd say that changes everything. She might be willing to risk her life for you, but the baby's life is another matter."
"If your concern for her is genuine, help me bring her back."
"Physically impossible or just no or do you have a price, too?" He walked across the room and put the glass on the table. "Tell me your price, Parker."
"What's he's proposed to you is best for everyone. Everyone, not just you. She chose a route to safety, now she's depending on you to guarantee it."
"Fuck that. His deal's not going to protect her."
"He keeps his promises. I've seen it."
"If you believe that, then you've been thoroughly duped, bought, sold, and screwed." He walked toward the door.
"Agent Mulder, do you have a choice? Need I add that the flip side of that particular coin can be pretty brutal? Would you expose the child to that? Would you choose the sorts of… things… that might happen to both of them?"
His hands ached from the palms out and his heart was racing. "Well, you can tell him you delivered the message. I assume that our 'partnership' is now over?"
"No, it's not." She picked up the remote from where he had left it on the table and turned on the set. "You know, our working together doesn't have to be unpleasant."
"The hell it doesn't."
End of part 4. Click here for the concluding chapter Journey, part 5