Title: Journey 5/Conclusion
Category: MSR, angst, mytharc
Spoilers: The story happens early in season 7
Date: June 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.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This concludes my WIP. Hope you enjoy reading it and thanks for your patience!
Click here for Journey, part 1
Click here for Journey, part 2
Click here for Journey, part 3
Click here for Journey, part 4
Journey, Part 5
The door behind Mulder opened and closed, briefly allowing the sound of laughter to penetrate the laboratory. Melody Franklin blushed as she walked quickly past him to the other side of the counter carrying a white mug with a big red heart. "Agent Mulder, I didn't realize you'd get here quite so quickly."
"Eager to find my culprit." He was playing with a snow globe that had been sitting on the counter, a tiny model of the Capitol in a swirl of iridescent flakes.
"Well, you've given us a good bit of business lately." She put her mug on a small hotpad, glancing across at her officemate. "Not that we mind." Lisa smiled at Melody over the edges of her glasses and quickly looked away. Neither woman was meeting his eyes. What was the latest rumor tagging him, he wondered, and did it include the news of a hot visit to Parker's apartment?
Melody wiped her hands on a white towel and picked up a sheet of notes. "That slide projector has been touched by a good number of people. You want everyone?"
He nodded. The projector sat in a clear plastic bag on a table against the wall alongside the fax and the printer. An evidence tag hung over the edge of the table.
"Well, you, but that's obvious. Agent Scully, too. One Charles Burks. Two regular members of the cleaning staff, Bettina Wilson and Marvin Morena. This Mr. Burks…"
"I know Chuck. He's not the one who broke into my office."
"You're sure this… this individual moved the projector?"
"The prints should be there."
"Well. There are a number of smudged and indistinct prints I couldn't get a reading on and one impeccable set I couldn't identify from the current listings. I was going to do a little extra checking before you got here…" The corners of her mouth turned up again, then she began typing, glancing up and down between her fingers and the screen. Mulder continued to shake the snow globe absently. He had a clear picture of Parker lifting the projector from the chair and putting it down on the desk. Bend, lift, pivot, put. The picture ran over and over in his mind, stripping itself down to a mechanical figure, like a robot in a cartoon or the pared down human frame in a graphic design program. A fair deal, she'd said, he keeps his promises. Seen it herself. What promise kept and when? Keeps his promises, the robot figure now stretched across the couch, head turning and mouth moving. Keeps his promises. I've seen it. I've seen it.
"Did you want to wait or…"
Melody sipped from her mug. The phone rang and she picked it without moving her eyes from the screen. "It'll be done this afternoon," she said holding the receiver between her ear and shoulder. "Umm-hmmm. Sure." Her fingers kept tapping the keyboard and then she hit one key over and over, scrolling. She put the phone down.
"Well, this is odd. I have to go 'way back, but the unidentified prints are a match with a former agent, Camilla Turner. "
"Former? When did she leave the Bureau?"
"I'll have to look that up for you."
He turned the globe upside down and let all the flakes settle, then unleashed a furious storm on the Capitol. His mother had given him a globe with a tiny house inside when he was a child and he'd liked to think there were tiny people inside staring in wonder at their own private blizzards. He hadn't seen his globe after Sam disappeared, when good magic had ceased…
"…I can't seem to pick up anything on her. Her records have been blocked."
"A physical description at least?"
"Nope. Nothing official. I could… you won't tell anyone this, will you Agent? There are some informal routes…"
"Whatever you've got." He walked around the counter and stood behind her chair. A row of asterisks appeared on screen, then the slow load for Financial Records. She entered another password.
"Accounts," said Mulder.
"We can trace her last charges. No secrets from the money boys."
"I'm sure that's true." No secrets. That's what Scully always said when he showed up with tickets for some unlikely lead, but it never stopped her from packing her bag. Well, almost never. And she still insisted on separate rooms, even that night in Missouri when they'd had to keep driving at midnight to find a place with two vacancies. Some nights she even agreed to mess up both beds the way he preferred.
"Well, that's interesting."
"Her account was closed as deceased in 1992 and then reopened shortly after that. Then she disappears altogether."
"Clerical error, you know. They're just dealing with strings of numbers when it comes to you guys. I bet she was pissed," she chewed her lip. "Angry, I mean. Obviously the prints are in good shape and they're on top, so draw your own conclusion."
"That's your girl. Dead or alive," she giggled and hastily put her hand over her mouth.
"You're terrific, Melody."
The rain had let up but the wind continued, rattling the window where the putty had come loose. Below, the streetlight flickered behind the swaying maple across the street, bare now, branches sweeping back and forth on a tight hinge. A small instability, he thought, captive arcs of motion, meaningless and hypnotic, going nowhere, no take-off speed or launch velocity. At the edge, the window glass reflected quick movement and a glint of light moving behind Mulder. Then it disappeared and reappeared at his other side.
"There's no doubt that she's in this deep, but it has nothing to do with being dead." Byers sank down in the armchair and drummed his fingers on the leather. Mulder lowered the blinds.
"Did you reach all five field stations?" Byers continued.
"Four. I talked to four." Mulder searched the ceiling with his eyes and breathed out. "In every case, a special agent was dispatched to the field before the local boys were even aware that anyone had disappeared. She took charge of the investigation, conducted all the interviews, commandeered evidence, closed out the local police on national security grounds. Left the field office with next to nothing. The descriptions were more or less the same, identifiably Parker."
"And back at the ranch?" Frohike lifted the pillow from his eyes. His hiking boots did not reach the far end of the couch.
"Washington has only what Skinner gave me. He came across the files when he was following up for an old friend in San Francisco who was stewing about the way he'd been shut out of the case."
"Have you confronted her?"
Mulder shook his head and pushed off from his perch on the edge of the desk. "Beer?"
He walked across the room, stooping to pick up his basketball and pass it to Frohike. "Heads up, Michael." He returned a minute later with three bottles.
Frohike inspected the label before drinking. "It's unlikely she's going to confess her own death."
"Didn't they say it was a clerical error?" Byers asked.
"Yeah, but that's exactly the cover they'd give."
"Let's look for the simplest solution here, Mulder. She cleared her trail by assuming someone else's identity. Flipped the fingerprint file around. Smoky's guys could do it. Right?"
"Too obvious. This death thing is tied in with the disappearances. For all we know, the missing people have been time-traveled to some secret base. She's probably time-traveled herself." Mulder scratched the outside of his thigh.
"So, what are you suggesting? Time travel makes you a ghost?" Byers frowned as he spoke, his brows pulled down.
"Yeah, kinda that. What if the magnetic field reorders your… your life force and you can never really return except as an apparition? "
"Your life force?"
"Okay, your molecules, cells. Alters the chemicals controlling synapses. I don't know."
"Does Parker look like a ghost? Have you put your hand through her?" Frohike swung his legs to the floor and put his beer on the coffee table.
Mulder snorted. "No, but I think I was invited to. If not my hand, then something else."
"Hey, you could get lucky."
"With Parker the trick would be not getting lucky."
Frohike shook his head. "Line of duty, man."
The nervous laughter in the room vanished as Mulder pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose, circles of imaginary light drifting across the back of his eyes. Cold electricity shot to every point in his body followed by a surge of warmth to his face. When he opened his eyes, Frohike's lips were still moving and Byers was raising his foot to rest it on his other knee. Both faces turned toward him and Byers seemed to mouth his name. Mulder focused on the ceiling and the words came out in a whisper. "Scully's pregnant."
"Oh Jesus," Byers murmured on the exhale, catching Frohike's eye.
"I thought you said…" Frohike swallowed and slapped his hand against the leather seat. "Look. Come on. Parker left prints. Whether they link to her records or someone else's, in my book that says she's alive. Forget the ghost stuff."
"There's some knot here and I can't see what it is." Mulder dropped onto the far end of the couch and held the beer bottle to his forehead. "Skinner gave me some other cases having to do with hallucinations, bodily displacement, night terrors. I talked to one of the men who'd been spooked. I thought, maybe some kind of brain experiments or machine-simulated consciousness."
"Just a minute…"
"But, now I think maybe those cases tie into the time travel, too. What if the supposed hallucinations are just people who got stuck at the edges of the present, maybe just a few nanoseconds away…like Langley said. See, they connect only with some prior self we've already shed, so we see them as a dim, unrealized memory."
"So the time travel screwed up?" Frohike was more willing to follow Mulder's logic than was Byers.
"Or they're doing it on purpose." Mulder replied.
"But Parker's not like that?"
"No. Still, if they can suspend people just out of reach…" He bit down on his lip and put his bottle down on the table. The window still rattled like marbles in a jar.
"Scully'll come back, Mulder."
"The way I figure it, if I can reach her while she's still safe…."
"There's no point in my staying here beating my head against the wall."
Mulder glanced at his watch as he opened the door to Skinner's outer office. At quarter to eight, the A.D.'s assistant had not yet arrived. Her desk shined from its nightly polish; only the phone, a pad of paper, and a silver-framed photo of her son sat on top. In the instant Mulder paused to admire the little boy in his soccer uniform, the inner door opened and he heard his superior's voice. "Yes, of course, I'll requisition a key today." Parker was shaking his hand.
"Thank you. You appreciate the obstacles…," Skinner's eyebrows flicked up and she glanced over her shoulder before quickly turning back to her boss. "Until then I'll be at my temporary desk in the bullpen."
Smiling triumphantly at Mulder, she continued, "I was just coming down to see you."
"I thought we settled things the other day, so you may as well stop wasting your time."
"As your partner, I have co-responsibility for the X-Files. Director Skinner will obtain a key to the office for me if you refuse to bring me cases."
"Then I'll change the locks."
"That's against Bureau policy, Agent Mulder." Skinner wiped his glasses on a handkerchief and resettled them on his face.
"Director Skinner would be glad to transfer you," Mulder continued.
"I don't fail in my assignments."
"No one is talking about failure. You could simply offer your skills where they'd be more welcome."
"Maybe there's too much at stake." She started to walk past and he reached out for her wrist.
"Tell me, Parker, does the future exist?"
"Not in the sense you think. Time is running out, Agent. But you can change that." She twisted her hand and pulled it back.
"Mulder, I have only a few minutes." Skinner motioned toward the inner office.
On the A.D.'s desk, a 3" television was tuned into CNN and the announcer was somberly describing the Russian bombing of Grozny.
"Co-responsibility? What is this shit?"
"She's your partner, Mulder. You have to live with it until Scully comes back." Mulder stiffened under the A.D.'s scrutiny, supposing that his boss was inspecting clothing and skin tone for signs of an imminent breakdown. Skinner continued, "Parker was talking about filing a harassment complaint, I figured a key would… "
"Have you been following this story, Agent?" Skinner walked to his desk and turned up the volume on the television. Captured Chechen rebels marched in front of the camera, looking defiantly at their unseen audience, their shouts muted in favor of the announcer's voice. Mulder approached to watch the unfolding news. Skinner continued in a whisper barely audible over the correspondent from Moscow. "The requisition'll give you a few days. It's the best I could do. They want those papers."
"What's in them?"
"I haven't been told. Only that you can make it hard or easy on yourself and Agent Scully. Do they have her?"
"No, not yet. She still has a little more time."
"One other thing. Actually, the reason I called you in here." The tv suddenly went silent and Skinner seemed to stop in mid-breath. A commercial came on and he continued, "One of those men who disappeared is back, claiming he was on extended holiday."
"Who's talked to him?"
"Jennings and Rosello. He's got receipts, tickets, photos, bug bites."
"So, what are you suggesting?"
"I'm no longer sure. Here's his number." Skinner put his hand on Mulder's sleeve. "I know this is hard for you. The choice they've asked you to make."
"The choice would be harder if I could trust them to protect her."
His pocket calendar contained notes each day about the activities she reported in her letters. Time was out of synch for them. He lived ahead of the present, his only focus the day her letters stopped, November 12, everything leading up to it like one compressed moment he relived, dreaded. Her days vivid with life from now until the wall of silence - the empty mailbox, a film of dust all along the edges and the clean spot in the middle. That one suspended moment in his apartment when they had dissolved into each other, neither intact any longer, and then her voice disappeared. Time was a wall with no door. No, it was the spot where the flat earth met the sky and sheared off into nothing.
He sat in his car beneath the Bureau, key hanging from the ignition, and read what he had copied into that day. She was working on her father's papers, still congratulating herself on her hiding place, past the boredom now, sliding unstoppably toward unseen danger. For today, all was well, another 24 hours of safety, the pleasure of her mother's company, and the cozy warmth of the baby inside her. What had Smoky said? The joy of Agent Scully's life. Never had his words been truer and more grotesque at the same instant, and Mulder had wanted to seize him by the throat for the obscene presumption of mentioning the child.
He slipped the calendar back into his pocket. On his timeline, the chase had begun. He had a few more days, but only that, a small chance to rescue, to change that history.
Mercer picked up on the first ring as though he'd been waiting for a call.
"Yes." His voice was sharp, angry, ready to continue an argument
"Professor Mercer, this is Special Agent Mulder, with the Bureau. I'd like to talk to you again. I'm on my way to your lab now."
"I'd say we already covered everything, Mr. Mulder."
"No, look. I've been thinking about what happened. You didn't bring her back to the present, that's what I'm figuring. Tell me. Did she make it to your lab in 1996? Did she beg for your help?" Voices sounded in the background at the other end, muffled.
"I am ready to lodge a complaint with the Director, sir."
"Wait. Wait. Just send me back. You know, plug me into the equation, the way you did her. Even better, you come with me. That way we can all make the trip safely and after that…"
"I'm hanging up now."
"Did she tell you she was pregnant?"
"No. No, she didn't. Well, frankly I think she is better off away from you Mr. Mulder. I hope the child inherits from her side."
"You don't seem to understand what you've joined. The man, Spender, whatever he calls himself to you. Think of what he's doing to Dana. She never intended to stay behind. She told you that, didn't she? You assured her that she could come back. You promised her."
The other voice sounded in the background again; it could have been a foreign language or just a low rumble of annoyance.
"I'm telling you, you're not safe either. It's all power to him and when he no longer needs you, what do you think will happen?"
The dial tone returned. Mulder headed north toward College Park.
A sharp rap on his window brought him out of a deep dark hole. He looked up, but no one stood alongside the car and no one was dashing out of sight. Traffic sped by outside his left-hand window. For a second in the rearview mirror was a face, a patch of fog the size of a man's head and the flash of eyeglasses. And then it was gone. Mulder's knuckles were white where he gripped the steering wheel. He slowly stretched his fingers, the muscles stiff and numb. His other hand held the cell phone, blinking with an incoming call. A buzzing came from far away, gradually increasingly, the vibration touching his fingers and registering in a slow climb up the nerves of his wrist, arm, shoulder, brain. He glanced at his watch, but had no sense of how much time had passed.
The dark blue Saab sat between a Wrangler and a Honda, a small red light blinking on the dashboard. Mulder double-checked the plates. Byers had said that Mercer usually left around seven and went straight home to a golf course condo in Silver Spring where he lived alone. Fifteen more minutes if he was going to be true to form. Mulder tried the door and shined his flashlight inside. On the front seat lay the morning’s Post and a pair of leather gloves and in back a gym bag held a tennis racket zipped into the side pocket.
The voice pulled Mulder up from the window.
"Dr. Mercer, I…"
"Your superior will hear about this…"
"…need to talk about Dana."
"…and I've made my position clear."
"Someone is pursuing her. I think you know who. I think they stopped you from bringing her back."
Mercer put his key in the lock and disarmed the security system.
"Wait, professor, tell me one thing first. Tell me something scientific. What if you were off a few seconds. I mean would she and I be in separate worlds or would we just be a little out of synch? How do you get the person exactly to where you need them to be?"
"Do you read scifi on company time or is this a private obsession?" The lights from the parking lot cast a long shadow from the bill of Mercer's Orioles cap down past his chin.
"That's what you've been doing, isn't it? Creating spies by…"
"There's really no point…"
"Or are they failed experiments? Can you bring them back to the right moment? Do you care?"
"Mr. Mulder, none of your personal problems has anything to do with me. Have you tried counseling?" He pulled open the door and slid into the driver's seat. Mulder grabbed the top edge and held it open.
"I have a binder from the military. It's got equations that will prove just where your research comes from." Mercer put his hands in his lap and looked down. "So here's what I'm thinking. Maybe you need to start telling me the truth."
There was still no answer.
"Do you realize how ruthless the men you're dealing with are? I can tell you stories, name names, Spender's own wife. His son for Christ's sake. His lover, his daughter. They're all dead because of him. What makes you think he'll pause for half a second if you're no longer of use. I am your only chance." And you are mine, he thought, aching at the words. "My boss is ready to provide round-the-clock…"
"If your enemies are so strong, Mr. Mulder, what good do you think this protection is going to be?"
Mercer slammed the door and started the car.
Mulder was shuffling his keys in his right hand as the elevator opened onto a darkened hallway. Faint illumination entered through the window at the end, a few steps beyond his apartment. He reached instinctively for his weapon, missing from his jogging sweats. His breath came shallowly as he slid along the wall toward the stairwell. He wiped his hand over his shirt, gripped the knob and swung the door open quickly. The stairs were empty up and down, and no movement echoed off the dingy concrete block walls. Returning to the hallway, he could just make out the rhythm of an argument, quickly followed by a burst of electronic laughter. Passing his neighbor's flat, he heard another voice from his end of the hall.
"Check again. Maybe he hasn't gone yet." He leaned close to his door. "Can't you reverse it?" the voice continued, rising. "Dammit I have the equations. I have them right here."
Mulder twisted his key in the lock and pushed the door slowly. She stood with her back to him, one hand on her hip, dressed in leggings and an oversize jacket, her feet in running shoes rather than heels.
"I'll be right there. I want the exact date." She waved a piece of paper in the air. "You set up for me."
Mulder's gym bag sat on the coffee table, its contents strewn about the room. The maroon binder lay empty on the floor. She turned around suddenly, her face pale, and snatched for her tote bag, but he had already reached her in a few quick steps and grabbed her wrist. "What the hell is going on, Parker?"
"Damn them, damn you," she tried to twist away. She swung at his face, pushing up and back against his chin with the heel of her hand. From the shift of her body, he sensed the movement of her knee, the slight pull back before the swing forward and up. His left hand deflected the kick and he took advantage of her momentary unsteadiness to push her onto the couch. He kneeled on either side of her legs and pressed her upper arms against the back. She was sobbing now and squirming underneath him.
"They'll kill him. I need to stop it."
"Who? What's in these papers?"
"I have to go back before it's too late." She twisted over to one side, but he again pinned her fast. Her eyes were reddened and he could see that her makeup was streaked into the half-moons below her eyes. He pulled her back into a sitting position.
"It's the time travel, isn't it? D'you help disappear people or just cover it up for your friend Spender?"
"He's not my friend, he…"
"Keeps his promises. I remember. Did he tell you to make Scully disappear? Did he pay you to trap her?"
"No, that's not it, I…" She licked her upper lip in a quick motion, "I…he told me to keep a watch, that's all."
"Just an innocent little employee. Doing God's work."
"Would you just listen. He lied to me. He knew all along what was going to happen. I can stop them but I need to go right now." They sat for a moment, each breathing hard.
"Bravo. Converted to the side of good. *You,* Ms. Parker-Turner-whoever, are my ticket. You're going to take me back to Scully."
"It doesn't happen that way. If I show up with you they'll…."
"It doesn't? So tell me how it does happen?"
"I…I bring her back…it's all written…in her letters…"
He looked at the papers on the floor and coffee table. "Don't bullshit me. I know what's in her letters."
"Agent Mulder!" Skinner stood at the door. "What the hell is going on?"
"Sir, Parker has…"
"Release her at once." He pushed his jacket back to show his weapon, a threat not yet an ultimatum. "That is an order, Agent."
Mulder eased back and stood. Parker kneaded the muscles in her arms for a moment, ignoring Mulder, then nodded at Skinner as she swept up her bag. "Thank you, sir."
"For Christ's sake, Mulder. What do I have to do to keep you out of a hearing?" Parker paused in the doorway behind Skinner, pulled her keys from her jacket pocket and worked one off the ring. "Your partner's letters are in my apartment."
Mulder stepped toward her against Skinner's restraining hands. She tossed the key to Mulder.
"You trust her, don't you?" said Parker
"How did you get them?"
"They're in a box. By the bed." She paused for a second at the doorway, rubbing her arm again. "Do you believe in fate, Agent?" She disappeared into the darkness, her feet sounding softly down the hall.
Skinner grabbed Mulder before he could pursue and pushed him against the wall.
"I need to follow her. She can get to Scully. Let me go."
"What? Follow her into some trap? She's one of Spender's. What the hell do you think she was doing here?" Skinner closed the door. "It's not going help anything if you disappear, too. I've got a man on her."
"Your man didn't do much to stop her here. Was that him behind you?"
"There was no one with me."
"Tall, close-cropped hair, round face. There was something shiny about here." Mulder touched the top of his own chest.
"No. No one. Have you been sleeping lately?"
Mulder closed his eyes, conjuring the face. The man had been calm, inquisitive-looking, and he had seen him for just a second. "Yeah, yeah I'm fine except for the small fact that Scully is missing and you just freed my best chance of finding out how to get to her."
"Mulder, you're operating on pure adrenaline. Think about it. Why would you trust Parker? What would lead you to give her the slightest credence?"
"Well, how the hell else do I get Scully back?"
"Not that way. You have to trust that your partner will…" He stood at the door to the living room looking over the disarray. "I don't know, Mulder. If I had one answer in the world to give you, that would be it."
Mulder had moved to the window. A man was tugging a large dog away from the tree in front of the building. Otherwise, no one moved. "She said that Cancerman had betrayed her. He's going to kill someone. I was hoping to leverage…"
"Spender lies. So do his minions. Look, Parker hasn't gone anywhere where we've been able to find a trace of Scully."
"University of Maryland. Physics Department." Mulder turned and picked up a handful of papers, then flung them around the room.
"No, look. We searched the building."
"So you saw Parker there."
"That's where they do time travel."
"Put it out of your mind."
"I'm sure it's in these papers. I have to try to go back."
"Wait." Skinner scooped up a handful of papers and put them on the coffee table. "I actually stopped by to tell you about the man who reappeared yesterday. The one who claimed he was on vacation. Did you see him?"
"Talked on the phone, he wouldn't meet me."
"He's dead. Found him in Baltimore harbor. Very sloppy for an execution. Something's making them nervous and I don't want you to get in the way." Skinner picked a photo off the floor, the faded image of a turbaned man holding the reins of a camel. An officer in an old-fashioned military uniform stood off to the right. "These the papers?"
"Yeah, some of them."
"What do they say?"
Mulder tore off the corner of a magazine cover and scribbled a number. "If I don't come back, a friend of a friend is working on the translation."
At first he thought an ambulance was parked under the street lamp in front of the Physics Building, but as he drew closer he saw that it was a large, unmarked white van. He scanned the other cars as he drove through the mostly empty lot and pulled in next to a blue Saab. The little red light on the dashboard was flashing and a glance in the backseat revealed that the gym bag and tennis racket were still there. A few cars closer to the building was a red Miata. "Parker," he whispered to himself. As he approached the van, he kept a hand on his weapon, testing the doors to the back, then circling around to check the driver's compartment. It was deserted.
A young man with thick black hair and glasses stood just inside the main entrance to the building, adjusting the zipper on his jacket. As he pushed out, Mulder grabbed the door and went in. A few graduate students stood by a classroom door comparing notes, but otherwise the hallway was deserted. He took the stairs two at a time. Skinner had delayed him long enough to give Parker time to get away and Mercer had surely taken off earlier. How exactly he was going to force the assistants to send him to the right place was not yet clear; only the possibility of kidnapping one of them seemed even remotely realistic. Realistic. The word least likely to describe his life, so why expect realistic now? At the top of the stairs, he pressed his face to the window in the steel fire door. The hall was empty in the twenty foot radius visible. He touched his weapon again and opened the door slowly. The smell of overheated wiring was familiar now, mixed in with the scents of unidentifiable solvents. Voices drifted from one of the labs down the hall. He walked along the wall until he reached the cross-corridor. The voices were louder, all male, one man cutting off the others, terse and sharp. Mulder stepped around the corner.
A gray-haired man in a suit stood in the doorway to Mercer's lab. He turned with half a smile and put his hands in his pockets. "Well, Mr. Mulder, it looks like we are both a little late." The smug self-confidence returned to his voice.
"What do you mean?"
"Dr. Mercer has chosen to send himself on a little trip."
Mulder looked over Spender's shoulder. A man in blue coveralls was unplugging the computers and winding the wires neatly into loops. He had looked up only briefly at the sound of Mulder's voice. "Where is everyone?"
"We're shutting this facility down. It's become something of a liability, sorry to say." He pulled a pack of Morleys out of his jacket pocket. "Would you mind if we continued this conversation outside where I can…" He lifted the cigarettes in a mock toast. Mulder walked past him and grabbed the wires from the workman's hand.
"Come now, you don't think you can set up the equipment yourself, do you?" Spender said.
"When is Mercer coming back?"
"Panic is a toxin. It must be contained, stopped before it destroys the larger body. Please." He gestured toward the corridor. "I'm sure you understand. Work like Dr. Mercer's requires a cool head and selfless devotion… His departure is a setback, but that's what happens when a man puts himself above the Project."
Emerging into the chilly evening air, Spender paused on the steps to light up, sheltering the flame with his hand. He walked down the stairs ahead of Mulder and turned left, away from the parking lot, continuing at unhurried speed past the Physics Building and its neighbor. Campus was relatively quiet, an occasional cluster of two or three students in jeans and dark jackets hurrying down the lighted sidewalks, a bicyclist with a flickering strobe swerving around the walkers. Spender stepped off the cement pavement and cut through a dark grove of trees. He exhaled with a small cough.
"You probably fault me as a creature of habit. Or worse, an addict. I'm sure the thought has crossed your mind." He held the cigarette up in the deep shadows and twirled it slightly between his fingers. "We are all slaves to the chemicals our bodies produce, or in my case, demand." He flicked the cigarette onto the ground, where it glowed orange for an instant then died. "I know why you've come, Fox. But I told you no one was bringing her back. Not you. Not anyone else."
"Then you can't reach Scully either."
"Well, my agent has already gone back to handle matters. She left a half hour ago at most."
It felt like a physical blow to his abdomen, a pain radiated from Mulder's gut to his back, the muscles in a spasm that shot upward and squeezed his breath from his lungs. His gun, so familiar on his body as to be weightless most of the time, now pressed heavily against his side. Spender was leaving the shelter of the trees, walking out into a grassy field. "You bastard," Mulder called after him.
"Come now. You were given a chance. A clear and simple exchange. Yourself and those documents -- the safety of the Project -- in return for the safety of your loved ones. Men have always had to make these choices. Don't imagine yourself singled out for some special punishment."
"No. You're bluffing. She's still safe. I've kept…"
Spender shrugged and looked up at the few stars bright enough to shine in the urban sky. "How little we actually know of the universe. A few planets detected outside our solar system. Not actually seen with the eye -- the primitive human brain is attached to its habits, after all -- but a string of numbers indicating that a star is wobbling under an unseen force. What lies out there is beyond our imaginations. And when it comes to call, it's too late for us to engage our puny minds. For fifty years, we've tried to master their technology so that we might fight back as equals, but at each turn we find ourselves outwitted. I had hoped that this experiment might change that…"
"You're not shutting down, there's something in those papers about another site, another facility…" Mulder hesitated as he spoke. "That's how they're coming, isn't it. Through time, not space. That's why you said they're already here on earth. The invasion site's in those papers…"
"Exposure would trigger it. You see the danger, surely."
"You keep the technology to yourself. Use their power against the rest of us for as long as you can." He backed away from the Smoking Man toward the path through the trees
"You might not find what you're looking for at your apartment." Spender raised his voice, then started coughing again. Mulder stopped and walked back toward his enemy. "I made copies, Spender. I made copies and copies and copies."
Spender shook the last cigarette from the pack and crumpled the wrapper. He patted his pockets for a lighter, and as he withdrew it from his jacket, the cigarette fell from his fingers. He bent over and patted the grass, then, standing slowly, brushed off the small white addiction. "Perhaps you did. Perhaps you did just that." He flicked the lighter and inhaled slowly; the short-lived flame illuminating the deep lines on his face. "Now that I think about it, perhaps something could still be arranged. You'll have access, perks. Other… women. A chance to change fate."
"Including my own?"
"Our fate, Fox. Ours."
The taste of smoke crept down Mulder's throat and he turned away.
He sat on the edge of the bed and picked at the tiny clasp of a box inlaid with mother-of-pearl and ebony. It had been sitting on the floor, atop a pile of magazines - Vogue and Nature and the Economist, the combination surprised him - and two French novels in creamy white paper covers. Inside the box were three letters, envelopes slit open. Had she read them just once, he wondered? Stealing Scully's words and cutting him off from hope. Blast Parker. Had she been laughing at him the whole time, flaunting her gauzy robe and knowing that Scully's letters sat by the side of the bed? He slowed his breathing and extracted the first:
Mulder, I never doubted that I would be able to return. I believed, odd as it may sound, that I would be able to sense your call, your "All clear." I hear your call. It does not say that all is well, but that nothing can be well when we are apart. I've been staying at a back road motel for the past two days while I try to figure out what to do. It feels so familiar here. I remember long nights of lying in the dark listening to the sound of your pacing or channel surfing or, I swear, throwing a tennis ball against our common wall, and wishing that I could walk through that door and somehow bring you peace. We had too few nights of peace, didn't we?
I went to Jeremy this morning. His assistant said he has gone out of town and he refused to help me. It's so clear to me now that his loyalties are to your enemy, Mulder. Our enemy. How could I fail to anticipate that such revolutionary science would attract the best and worst in our government. That it would be used for private gain and to enhance the power of those who already hold far too much sway.
I refused to imagine us apart forever and have now caused it by my own actions. I have never contemplated such bleakness.
The second was on a small square of motel notepaper.
Someone called 5 min. ago. If they can find me here, won't they follow me anyplace else? I need to reach the old you. Did I ever show up and beg for help in those days? I'm afraid that it didn't and therefore that therefore it cannot happen now. Then what will I do? I'm leaving now to pick up my medical records and then will try to find you. Pray for me.
How like her to remember her records even as the world was falling apart. November 1996. At some point he took off for Russia with Krycek. He'd been there that one night when she surprised him -- he swallowed at the memory -- but then that rock sample had turned up and... He looked at the window across the room. There'd been a chance, a chance to protect her, save her from her pursuers, expose the whole damn enterprise, change history... She'd have opened his apartment, seen the signs of his hasty packing... Not there. Not there for her. He closed his eyes and let his thoughts drift. What would the old Scully have said if confronted with her pregnant self? He smiled for a moment trying to conjure her open-mouthed stare.
There was a small spot of blood on the third envelope, postmarked Dulles, and he stroked his thumb over it before pulling out the final letter.
Mulder. Our flight is being called. The nurse -- I mentioned her before - said she can take me to the present. There's a convoluted story, but the important part is that she says she's been betrayed by Smoky and wants to set things right. She's taking me to a place called Dougga not far from the salt flats. I feel terrified and intoxicated. Will you be there?
Mulder pulled up at the gate, a single gray metal pole pulled down to block the narrow road. The sign said, in French, "Ouvert de 8h30 a 17h30" and presumably the Arabic said the same. His watch read 7:30. Stone outcroppings dotted the steep hill to his right, the ruined Temple of Saturn at the top out of sight. To his left and ahead, only a blue truck from the Antiquities Service sat in the small gravel parking lot. Mulder climbed out of his car and stretched.
Driving down the access road, he had passed the guardian of the site sitting in front of his flat-roofed cement house. His maroon wool cap covered most of his gray and black hair; his abundant mustache had already turned while. The man waved a greeting now, beckoning with his hand. Mulder slammed the driver's door and jogged back up the road. "Hello. S'bahal… S'bah…" He shook his head, "Sorry, Si Hamid, I thought I had it."
"S'bah al khair, it mean good morning," said a girl of 11 or 12 standing in the bright blue doorframe of the house. She parted the curtain to lean inside and shout something that he couldn't understand. "You learn it," she said, turning back to him. "I learn English." She pronounced it 'Angleesh.'
"At-tay?" Hamid offered a glass of tea and motioned to one of the squared-off limestone blocks moved from across the road sometime in the last 2000 years.
"Thanks. Merci." Mulder stretched his legs out, brushing the dust off his jeans. He'd thrown just a few things in a bag after he'd read Scully's summons, too dazed by the prospect of finding her to think about how long he might be gone. Three shirts, underwear, a spare pair of jeans, his shaving kit, a navy blue sweater she had bought him on a whim, and his running clothes. The woman at the one-star hotel down in Teboursouk took pity on him and washed his tees.
"You will live in Dougga now?" the girl said, giggling. She swung her dark brown braids forward to put on her backpack. Despite the cool weather, she was wearing sandals with her blue fleece jacket and calf-length skirt. Each time he'd seen her in the past three days, those braids recalled Samantha - Samantha as a schoolgirl safe in a white house out beyond nowhere, drinking syrupy mint tea for breakfast, and speaking English with an accent.
"No," he said smiling back. "I'm waiting for my friend. My friend comes soon." He spoke slowly and carefully.
She looked at her father and shrugged. Voices rose from inside the house and suddenly two younger boys dashed out, one tucking his shirt in his trousers as he ran, and the children set off laughing, the boys leaping and chasing in circles, their sister tugging them back onto the shoulder of the road.
The guard sipped his tea with a hissing sound and watched until they were out of sight. "La femme, woman." He jerked his head upwards slightly to point his nose toward the gate.
"La femme? She's here?"
The guard repeated the gesture and Mulder rose.
"Deux. Deux femmes ce matin." He held up two fingers, then placed his hand lightly on Mulder's sleeve. "B'shweeya. Votre the," he said pointing to the glass. Mulder sat down and drank the steaming liquid through his teeth. It burned the roof of his mouth, but he sipped again quickly with a smile at his companion. Two women. His stomach churned, empty. It had been dark when he woke that morning. He had unfolded the map of Tunisia under the room's bare bulb and traced what he knew of the country for the tenth or twentieth time. Sfax where Scully's father had docked and the salt flats where the UFO had crashed and Dougga a hundred miles north of the Chott. He hoped that there was only one Dougga in the world.
The guard picked up a pewter teapot, swilled the contents and gestured to pour a second glass. Mulder looked again at the Fiat parked in front of the gate. In the distance, a heavy truck downshifted for the long hill, and the motor dopplered loudly as it approached the turn-off then faded toward the west. The wind carried a faint smell of diesel just before the horn sounded once and the low rumble disappeared. From inside the house came another voice; the guard responded and a woman dressed in a heavy black dress and shawl, her hair hidden under a red and yellow scarf, pulled back the curtain shielding the doorway and came out to pick up the teapot. She smiled at Mulder and disappeared into the house.
The guard rose and swept his hand across the sky. "Fait beau aujourd'hui." The rains had stopped and the low gray clouds that had misted the valley had now blown to the east. He tugged a brown scarf tighter around his neck and tucked the ends into his slightly frayed tweed sports jacket. "Allons. Go."
Hamid stood to the side as Mulder drove the car past the barrier, then he lowered the bar into place. "Where is she? Ou?" Mulder said a minute later, locking the car door.
"La-bas." The man gestured toward the old limestone street leading into the site. "Votre femme est la-bas." He patted Mulder on the shoulder and turned back toward his house.
Mulder headed down the route he'd memorized over the previous three days, winding down the main street rutted by centuries of carts rumbling to market, where men and women in tunics had once hurried to the Forum or the public baths or stopped at a corner shop for olives and wine. The theatre where they had sat in their provincial finery was to his right, a semi-circle of stone seats banked into the hillside. He dipped through the doorway and climbed onto the stage, still lined with columns. The morning sun cast long shadows down the deserted tiers. He leapt down to ground level where the back wall of the stage had long ago crumbled. Ahead, he knew, was town center dominated by the temple of Jupiter. Six fluted columns still supported a triangular gable - there was a fancy word for the top piece but it escaped him at the moment - the mythological scene still visible despite the wind and rain of twenty centuries.
He never doubted that was where he'd find her. Each day the six strong columns drew him back as he circled through the streets of the ancient city inspecting tumbled houses and fountains, the old fortifications with their pre-Roman foundations and the triumphal arch, cisterns and amphitheater. He timed himself, decreeing an hour's walk before returning. He followed the local boys who guided small groups of tourists hurriedly up and down the streets, and tried to figure out the snatches of their monologue: Haus, hus, dar, maison, home. The boy with the bright yellow shirt and a cocksure command of English called every tumbled building a home. Home for rich man, home for gods, home for bad women, the latter said with a wink. Mulder had been enchanted to tag along until his hour of exile ended and he made his way to the temple.
He knew exactly how she would look. Sitting halfway up the broad steps, she'd hunch over for protection, arms crossed, unwilling to smile until she could read his face. Her hair would shine in the sun; the breeze rising from the valley would sweep it across her face. When mist had changed to drizzle the previous afternoon, he refused to move from the damp steps where she would get chilled waiting for him to finish his wandering. Si Hamid had brought him a sandwich and a glass of hot tea, shaking his head and returning to the gatehouse under an old black umbrella. At dusk, the guard took him home for dinner where his teenaged son translated Mulder's semi-lucid explanation for his vigil. The younger boys had begged for stories about time travel, but Mulder went back to Teboursouk to lie on the old metal bed and stare at the ceiling.
He broke into a jog now, crossing the Place of the Twelve Winds and cutting around the wall near the base of the temple. The staircase - still pale gold in the early light - was deserted. He stared at the empty place, the wind brushing over his neck and down inside his jacket. He shivered and for a moment the breeze stopped, his body froze, and the scene flattened from three dimensions into two, a glossy brochure photo with an anonymous tourist in jeans captured mid-stride. After a minute, his eyes began moving again. He took the stairs two at a time.
At the top, half out of sight, her shoulder rested against one of the limestone pillars as she looked away into the distance. She had pulled her sweater tight around her with a scarf tied at her neck, and she did not turn at the sound of his approach.
"Are you cold, Scully?" He took off his leather jacket, draped it over her shoulders and wrapped his arms around her.
She leaned her head against him. "Is this then or now or someplace in between?"
"It's now. Permanently now."
The valley spread before them, green with winter rains, great swaths of sun and shadow cutting across the land under slow white clouds. Odd blocks of stone poked from the earth where no one had yet dug and in the distance a funeral tower commemorated a long dead chief. Her hair smelled of rain and salt and diesel fuel. It was a long time before Scully spoke again.
"She told me that time created these ruins. It settled its account with this place and does not need to move further." She ran her fingers over the fluting on the columns and he covered her hand lightly with his. "Once upon a time sweaty workmen carved each one of these lines by hand."
"Advanced technology of its day…"
"Maybe more beautiful for all that. Will ours last two thousand years?"
"Will anyone be here to notice?"
The renewed silence was broken by slamming doors and a shout.
"It was an act of faith for you to come here," she said, finally.
"What was my choice? Yours was the act of faith. To follow Parker."
"Parker? Stephanie. She was with them, until the end."
"So why did you trust?"
"She said… she said something about you."
"I don't think she liked me." It suddenly seemed funny.
"She said you shouted the truth at her. The first person in a long time who had not lied, deceived, or manipulated."
"I didn't shout, Scully." She pulled away and looked at him for the first time, smiling. He continued, "So on the strength of my alleged shouting…"
"I threw myself into the void."
"A hole in time…"
"Just so, at the salt flat, a facility. Theirs, Mulder." She started laughing. "Everything looked the same coming out as it had going in and I was beginning to think it was all a horrendous joke. Maybe I never really went anywhere."
"Oh, no, don't talk yourself into that. You were gone, you were over the edge and out of sight, a thousand Earth revolutions away from me."
"Spender betrayed her, you know."
"Jeremy was her father. She served them because of him. Idolized his genius, thought he could change the world. In your apartment she found the truth."
"Yes. Her father had been killed in Tunisia. He'd gone back, you see, to get the extra copy of the equations, the evidence of his own plagiarized science, and he was killed there. Trabelsi had the police report. When she realized that, she brought me here. "
Scully nodded. "She left for the Chott a little while ago to follow her father. She felt she had to try to get to him first."
"I wonder if she saw her own end in those papers. Imagine, Scully, imagine living past your own death, knowing that it happened, yet compelled to return to it."
"I felt I had lived past my own death. Can you forgive me, Mulder?"
"For not trusting?"
"How did you not trust?"
"I looked for safety and chose foolishly."
"You've never looked for safety before, you wouldn't know how to recognize it."
"No, I think the truth is that there is no safety."
He closed his eyes and when he opened them, they were in his white-washed hotel room down the road in Teboursouk. A plain wooden armoire took up the wall next to the window, his running shoes half-tucked underneath. A sink with two faucets sat opposite, on her side, with a hot water tank above. The gas flames had flared in the little window when he turned the hot water on to shave that morning, the mirror reflecting his hope that a clean jaw still mattered. A woven rug with fanciful geometric camels lay beside the bed on a stone floor polished by years of daily washing. Over the bed hung a black and white photo of the temple. Moisture had seeped inside the frame and one edge of the picture curled. She lay on her back, eyes open, picking at a burr caught in the homespun wool blanket.
"Come to bed, Mulder." She tugged the covers down on his side.
. The sole wooden chair wobbled on an uneven leg at the slightest shift of his weight. He sat perfectly still, elbows on knees, chin propped on his joined fist. "Are you a ghost, Scully?"
"A ghost? Mulder, you're exhausted."
"I don't think we have it right. Not yet. There's a piece missing."
"You know, I had a plan. I was going to force Jeremy to send me back to 1996 and I would pick you up and we'd keep going to a time before all this started."
"1890. Holmes and Watson."
"You're an unlikely-looking Watson."
"I'm putting on weight."
"That's not what I meant." The chair rattled as he stood and stretched. Outside, lights still burned behind the shutters of the houses across the street. "Maybe come all the way back to this place in its heyday. There's one spot by the baths where the walls are higher than my head and if you stand perfectly still you can smell bread baking and wood burning and hear a dog in someone's courtyard barking at a peddler..."
"…and what they wanted then is about the same as what we want…" He tugged the sheer curtain across the window. "You said there is no safety. Are you satisfied with that?"
"Then what's the consolation?"
"What's it ever been? Shelter in a storm that never seems to end."
"I'd say it's the moment when time stops and in awe we find wholeness and fearlessness and a sudden lighthearted sense of freedom."
"Mulder, can you forgive me?"
"There's nothing to forgive."
She looked at him steadily as he pulled his tee over his head.
"Okay. I forgave already. I just want to get it right."
He closed his eyes and when he opened them he lay on his side in the old metal bed. Her skin was pale in the moonlight. She blinked at him slowly.
"Are you a ghost?" he whispered.
She took his hand and ran it under her shirt, across her swelling stomach.
He closed his eyes and when he opened them, the dawn filtered through soft rain beading on the window. Her body was pressed against his back and her hand came around his waist. "What will it take, Mulder, to get it right?"
"You needed to run. It was… a fair choice, for the child. I wouldn't have let you go."
"It was dishonest, secretive and I thought it made eminent sense at the time."
"The you who planned that flight is still the woman I love. It's who you are and who I am and why we are something different together."
"You didn't mind?"
"Oh, sure I minded. I hated it like hell."
He turned over to face her. "I feel like I'm sitting on the edge of a deep pool. It's fathomless, dark…"
"No, not cold, just deep. Maybe there's no bottom. I can't tell. It's frightening."
"Above all, for me. So I think I could lower myself very slowly, inch by inch. I want the minutes to stretch. To bend around us and entwine. But I also want to push back against time, resist, as it tightens us in its web. I want to sink slowly into the pool, so I'm aware of every tiny change, every instant of losing myself."
"How are you lost?"
"What we had before… as lovers…that was…great. It was great."
She placed her hand along the side of his face. "Was?"
"Is." He smiled. "We have always been - both of us -- lonely souls."
"I thought I knew what loneliness was, but I didn't because you were there and I could imagine myself alone and independent because I had the strength of you behind me. Your friendship and your acceptance well before there was a glimmer of anything else between us."
"There was always a glimmer of something else, Scully."
She blushed. "I thought of it as your nature, a need to bring things together and to make them right. Not just right with yourself, right with the world. Your healing always seemed to need a cosmic healing, something no person could do for you,"
"You indulge me. You need to fix the universe, Mulder, and you need to do it yourself."
"Ah, but my sense of self now depends on the part of me that is also you."
"Let's go home."
He closed his eyes and when he opened them, they were in his apartment. The afternoon sun filtered through the blinds, heading for an early dusk. Stretched out, she took two-thirds of the couch, light striping across her legs. Her hair was damp from the shower and his Georgetown sweatshirt engulfed her. He sat on the floor, knees pulled up, his back against the couch. "What was it like, time travel?"
"I'm surprised it took you so long to ask…"
"Come on. If I'm going to be a father, you're not going to let me try it on my own."
She laughed. "It's hard to describe. It was like everything and nothing."
"Everything and nothing. Could you restate that in scientific terms?"
"Scientific terms? Like how they generated the magnetic field and the frequency of the vibration and how matter and energy create gravity and …"
"I'll tell you what I imagine." He reached over his shoulder and put his hand on her leg. "I imagine it's like love, when you close your eyes and leave your body but at the same moment you feel more intensely physical than ever before. And as time rushes it also suspends itself, hanging in the air like something tangible but meaningless, no longer a shot fired from here to there, but a vapor dissipating slowly. Then come tremors from the outside in and the inside out that meet just below your skin and when you open your eyes nothing looks different but you are not the same and the mind has no way to wrap around what has happened so only the body understands and remembers."
She ran her fingers through his hair and held one shock straight up. "The precise words I was about to speak."
He lifted his face and smiled.
Hope you enjoyed this little tale. E-me if you did. I'd love to hear from you.