Artwork: Truthwebothknow1 & Starfleetofficer1
Summary: Mulder and Scully enter a war zone to investigate a weapon of possible extraterrestrial origins.
Disclaimer: Two weeks exclusive with VS16. No copyright infringement intended.
Original web date:04/07/2010
3 MILES OUTSIDE VILLAGE
VILLAGE OF HANDARI, PAKISTAN
FRIDAY, JULY 2nd, 2010
“Alam! Get the ball!” Eight-year-old Alam Taymur turned at the sound of his name. He wore an old t-shirt that had once belonged to his brother, Sabir, and a pair of pants that were much too short for him. He had brand new shoes, however. The lime green Crocs had come in with a shipment of relief supplies for their tiny village of Handari, which was roughly around ten miles from Hangu and fifty miles from Peshawar, but surrounded by mountainous terrain.
At their current high altitude, they could see Handari three miles away, and could see the tiny dot that was Peshawar, just over the horizon.
Alam was with five other boys playing football while two of the boys’ fathers had a meeting of some sort. An old, rusty Jeep Cherokee sat about a quarter mile away from the boys, where the two men were discussing something important. Their expressions looked intense, and Alam had been staring in their direction, concerned.
“Alam!” an older boy yelled, and walked over. Alam turned to face him. “Get the ball,” Hafid said forcefully.
“What do you think they’re talking about?” Alam asked, and watched as one of the fathers looked at his watch, and glanced in their direction.
“Nothing that concerns you,” the older boy told him, getting annoyed that Alam wouldn’t go get the ball.
“The last time they took us out here, there was a bomb,” Alam stated, undercurrents of worry in his tone.
“Alam, just get the ball,” Hafid implored him, and Alam faced his older friend. He saw the same worry on his Hafid’s face as he imagined was on his own. Hafid had lost his mother in that bombing, Alam had lost his brother. They shared something of a bond. For now, though, there was nothing they could do. And it was the youngest boy’s job to retrieve the ball. Alam resigned to his duty with a nod, and ran after the wayward football. As he kicked it back, he felt a rumble deep within in the earth. He stopped, placing one foot on the ball. He nearly lost his balance as the rumbling grew, and he spotted a cloud of dust in the distance. It was moving right toward him and the others. He looked back at his friends’ fathers, who were now shouting for the boys to get back in the Jeep. But Barr, one of the other boys, was standing stock-still, apparently frozen. Hafid had started running back with the others but when Barr didn’t move, the thirteen-year-old turned back and ran back to grab him.
“Hafid! No!” Alam yelled, and started running toward his friends. “Come on, Barr!” he shouted, the wind from the cloud starting to whirl the sand around. He coughed and squinted, pulling his shirt up to block his nose and mouth. He could barely see now, but he could make out Hafid’s larger form plucking Barr’s smaller one from the sand and starting to run back toward them. Suddenly, he was lifted off his feet and hauled backward in the arms of someone much larger than himself. It was one of the fathers. “Hafid!” he yelled, and saw the shadow of Hafid and Barr lose their footing and suddenly become airborne. He heard a tremendous scream, and then lost sight of his older friend. “Hafid!” he cried.
The wind whipped around them, and he was thrown into the crowded Jeep. They huddled together, pulling the shirts over their faces to filter the dust and sand.
Only moments later, the gale-force winds stopped. There was dust everywhere. It stung Alam’s eyes as he cried, staring into the manila-colored cloud where his friend had been. They couldn’t see anything. “You children stay in the car,” one of the fathers said, and he got out of the Jeep. Alam didn’t listen. He followed the man, keeping him in sight so he wouldn’t get lost. He stared into the area where his friend was, but still could see nothing. The man looked down, and saw Alam. Alam backed away, momentarily frightened, until his friend’s father said, “I have an idea—come with me.”
Alam followed the man back to the Jeep, where they both climbed on top of the roof. “Climb on my shoulders,” his friend’s father ordered him, and the boy complied. When the man stood, Alam gasped, and promptly coughed from inhaling the dust.
“What, what do you see?”
Alam squinted. “Nothing. There’s nothing but a cloud. As far as you can see.” A tear rolled down his cheek. “Just a cloud…” No Barr. No Hafid. No Handari.
SATURDAY, JULY 3rd, 2010
“You’re not done yet?”
“They haven’t even gotten to my car.” Mulder sat in the drab waiting area of a local Pep Boys, glancing out the window casually at the parking lot filled with cars of customers in similar predicaments to his own. The waiting area was packed, and many of the drivers’ cars sat untouched. The shop was full, and the Pep Boys was backed up. Scully had called a few moments ago to check on his ETA. They were due at Maggie’s house in two hours for dinner.
Scully sighed. “It’s a holiday weekend,” she said, offering some explanation.
His expression dissatisfied, he nodded. “But we just want the snow tires taken off.”
“Well, you’re the one who put it off till July, Mulder. If it takes too long, you’ll just have to wait for another weekend.”
“Yeah, we don’t want to miss dinner,” he said absently, distracted by the ‘Breaking News’ segment interrupting the game on the waiting area’s TV.
“We interrupt this program to bring you breaking news from India, where four major terrorist attacks have been launched and are now in progress. Ted Kusak is in Mumbai, where one of the largest attacks took place. Ted?”
“Thank you, Kelly. Three hours ago, approximately ten heavily armed, self-proclaimed ‘Pakistani defenders’ entered the Central Bank of India just as twenty other armed men with the same self-identification entered the Mumbai Airport. They immediately began shooting, and it is estimated that four hundred people may have been killed from those attacks alone. At the same time, a total of eight suicide bombers successfully set off bombs in hotels, popular shopping malls, and apartment buildings. A thousand people may have been killed in this city alone, and similar attacks are occurring in three other cities. The most gruesome of the attacks is undoubtedly the Indian Military Hospital massacre. It is reported that thirty armed terrorists entered the hospital and began shooting, slaughtering every patient and worker on two floors before an elite tactical team was finally able to enter the building. At this time, they set off a suicide bomb and demolished half of the hospital.”
“Scully, are you watching this?”
“No, I’m in the car headed to Target to get candy for Matt and Claire. What? What’s going on?”
“There was a terrorist attack—there were several terrorist attacks in India. They’re estimating a thousand people were killed in Mumbai alone, and there are three similar attacks in India as we speak.”
“That’s horrible,” Scully said, her tone concerned. “This can’t be unrelated to the attack in Pakistan yesterday.”
“That’s what I’m thinking, too. I know Pakistan isn’t all that fond of India but I didn’t realize they thought India was responsible.”
“It was on the news last night. Some commentator was saying that the Pakistani government had traced the hit to a military complex in India, but that the Indian government had responded that they had no idea where the attack had come from and that they were willing to offer aid if Pakistan was willing to accept.”
Mulder snorted. “Right. I think they’d rather have us in there than India, and that’s really saying something.”
“Well, is there any indication that the government is responsible for these attacks?”
“The Pakistani government? Not that I can see. The news seems to be referring to them as ‘terrorists’. They’ve got feed from a Pakistani news channel and an Indian one, and they’re both condemning the attacks.”
“I don’t think anyone wants an all-out war,” Scully said. “Especially not with India. There’d be no contest against them.”
“But that doesn’t mean the Pakistani government isn’t responsible. Hiring terrorists to do your fighting for you can’t be hard when they’re a rupee a dozen.”
They had been following the conflict since it started the previous day, with an enormously powerful weapon strike hitting a small village in Pakistan and flattening three square miles of land. There was less left of the village than there was of Hiroshima after the bomb, and the weapon had been powerful enough to cave in a small portion of a mountain, causing a rockslide that buried any microbe that had managed to survive the initial blast.
The reason why this catastrophe was interesting to them was because the weapon left no apparent energy signature and seemed to simply vaporize everything in its path. The only thing it left behind was a detectable ‘tunnel’ of wind, similar to a tornado, traveling from the apparent source. It was nearly identical to the Bari Trasadi, an ancient Indian weapon Mulder had given a lecture on two months ago for Georgetown University’s archaeology department. Mulder believed the archaic weapon’s calamitous results were due to alien technology.
Evidence of the existence of such a weapon were only mentioned in a few Indian texts, but Mulder had reason to believe the Indian government had recently discovered the device in an archaeological dig around a year ago. He also had sources that told him there had since been questionable communications between the Indian government and possible extraterrestrials.
“Anyway, let me know when you’re done at Pep Boys. And call me if anything else happens in India.”
“Will do. Love you,” Mulder said just as his phone beeped.
“Love you, bye.”
He switched the call and spotted Skinner’s name on the CID. “Hello, Sir,” he greeted his boss.
“Mulder, I’m sorry to bother you on a weekend. I need you and Scully in my office as soon as possible.”
Mulder frowned. “Sir, it’s the day before July 4th. Can’t this wait till Monday?”
“No, Mulder, it can’t,” he said forcefully. “I’ve got a representative from the Indian military on video chat and he doesn’t have all day. We need both of you here, within the hour if you can. Where are you?”
“Pep Boys,” Mulder said, and stood up as he saw a man walk toward his car. Now they decide to change the tires.
He started out the door, as Skinner said, “It’s about the attacks in India. I take it you’ve been following the news?”
“Hey! Hey, don’t take the car yet! Sorry, Sir, hold on a minute.” Mulder waved his arm and tried to get the single-minded mechanic’s attention. “Hey, don’t take the car yet—I need my keys back. I need to leave.”
“I’ll see you soon, then, Mulder,” Skinner said.
Mulder shook his head, and said into the phone, “No, wait, Sir, I want to know what this is abou—” Skinner hung up, and Mulder sighed. He turned back to the mechanic. “I need my keys back. Is there any way I can take a raincheck for the tires?”
“You already paid?” the man asked.
“Yeah, when would be a good day to come in? When aren’t you this crowded?”
The mechanic snorted. “When we’re closed.”
J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING
SATURDAY, JULY 3rd, 2010
“So let me get this straight. You think the weapon design from the legend was copied by the terrorists, used against one of their own villages from a location close to the military base in India, and then the attack was used as an excuse to launch this complicated series of attacks they’ve been planning for months?” Mulder leaned back in his seat and folded his hands against Skinner’s desk. “Forgive me for asking, but are you familiar with Occam’s Razor, General?”
The Indian Army General looked relatively insulted, and US Army General Bill Hager gave Mulder a sharp look over the video chat screen. Mulder looked to Scully, who was now leaning to one side of her chair, rubbing her eyes with her thumb and forefinger. Mulder looked back at the Indian General and shrugged. “It just seems overly complicated,” he said. “A much simpler explanation is that someone in India has found the real Bari Trasadi, didn’t understand how to control it, accidentally hit Pakistan, and instantly created about two thousand terrorists who were told where to go and what to do.”
“We have no evidence either way, Agent Mulder. That’s why we’re talking to you,” General Himmat said with a slight Indian accent. His English was impeccable. “You were recommended to us by American intelligence as someone who may be able to track this weapon down and stop it before it causes any more terrorist attacks. Whether someone has built the weapon to align perfectly with our legend of the Bari Trasadi, or whether the 4,000-year-old weapon somehow exists and is now in use, it doesn’t matter. Although, admittedly,” he said with a small smirk that Hager matched, “we are leaning toward the former explanation.”
“We would be happy to help in any way we can, General,” Scully answered for Mulder, hoping to smooth over the public relations. Mulder was notorious for pissing off people in high places and Scully didn’t want to spar with two generals on a holiday weekend. With luck, she thought, they’d be out of there by midnight and still get to spend Sunday with her mom, Tara, and the kids.
“Good,” Himmat said with a nod, and glanced at Skinner. “How soon can they be in Pakistan?”
Mulder and Scully’s eyebrows shot up. Simultaneously, they said, “Whoa, what?” and “Wait a minute—”
Skinner ignored them. “They can be on a plane by this afternoon. They’ll arrive tomorrow. I’ll brief them on the specifics. Do you want to send any material for them to read on the way over?”
“We’d rather not,” General Hager stated. “This is sensitive information and we have concerns that releasing specifics over the phone or Internet might result in a breach in national security, for both our countries.” General Himmat nodded his agreement.
“Very well. Is there anything else, gentlemen? My agents deserve an explanation and I’d like to be able to give one to them.” He didn’t seem entirely happy with this plan, but he was acting like grudging acceptance of it was the only appropriate course of action.
“That will be all for now, Assistant Director. Thank you for your time,” Himmat said gratefully. He turned to Mulder and Scully. “I will see both of you in Pakistan.”
Himmat cut off his video, and Hager turned to the AD. “Assistant Director, I want to make myself perfectly clear,” the general explained. “The Army does not want this to turn into an investigation into alien technology, a hunt to find ET in Pakistan, or some kind of twisted Stargate episode.” He glanced at Mulder. “You’re not looking for the Bari Trasadi. You’re looking for a weapon that was built to terrorize the people in this region, that manages to copy the supposed characteristics of the weapon from the legend.”
“Your point was well-understood, General,” Skinner said, and then added, “Before, after, and during our conversations with General Himmat.”
“Thank you, AD Skinner. I trust you’ll relay that point to your agents,” Hager said, and cut his video off. Himmat shortly followed, and Skinner deactivated the line altogether.
The AD turned to Mulder and Scully who looked ready to throw in about a hundred protests. He held up his hand. “I know it’s a holiday, and I know you had plans.”
“It’s not even that,” Mulder started, and glanced at Scully. “Sir, we can’t go to Pakistan. It’s a warzone. We’re two Federal agents, not—”
“You’ve received the proper training, Mulder, and this is important to national security. Who do you think the terrorists are going to attack next? They tend to lash out at their enemies and any allies their enemies collect. When they learn we’re giving India humanitarian aid, they’re going to take it as a military presence. Look at Haiti.”
Scully shook her head. “Isn’t there any way we can analyze this without going to Pakistan?”
“No, not if we want to keep the weapon classified. The last thing we need is the world knowing that someone has a weapon of mass destruction on their hands. Half the population in the US will be calling for a military operation in India to find out who it is, and everyone else will be panicking that the Apocalypse is coming. Many people in India would think it’s the actual Bari Trasadi. It would add vulnerability to the infrastructure of the Western world that could lead directly to a terrorist attack.”
Mulder looked dissatisfied with this explanation.
“You’ll be protected by a contingent of US military officers permitted to enter the country for the express purpose of examining ground zero. It shouldn’t take more than a day or two, and then you’ll head to India in protective custody, where you’ll visit the archaeological dig site where it’s suspected that an object of similar appearance to the Bari Trasadi was unearthed.”
“Suspected, huh?” Mulder said wryly.
Skinner went on as if Mulder hadn’t spoken. “And I expect you to be on your best behavior, Mulder. I don’t have to tell you international relations are at stake here, and it isn’t time to be accusing the Indian government of conspiring with extraterrestrials.”
“My sources indicate that the Indian government has been contacted by extraterrestrials, but there’s no evidence here that extraterrestrials are playing any role in the use of the weapon. The Bari Trasadi was never intended to destroy three square miles of land, Sir,” Mulder said, ignoring the tired expression on Skinner’s face. “It was intended to target multiple locations at once with precision ‘beams’. Though the ‘beams’ are more like massive, concentrated gusts of wind that utilize the elements already in the atmosphere, destabilizing any structure, including living beings, in the area targeted.”
Skinner was getting impatient, and Mulder quickly concluded with, “So it’s fairly obvious that whoever is using the Bari Trasadi was not trained how to properly fire it.”
“Your job,” Skinner continued, “is to get in there, give the Indian and Pakistani governments any information they need on the Bari Trasadi in order to track the people who have built this weapon, and then you are to leave. You are not to attempt to expose any conspiracies overseas. It’s doubtful Secretary Clinton wants another Beijing on her hands.”
“I’ll make sure that’s all we do, Sir,” Scully jumped in. “Trust me, I want to get home as fast as possible.”
“Good.” Skinner stood. “Then I wish you good luck.” His features softened somewhat, and he glanced at his two agents. “You two watch yourselves over there.”
With that, Mulder gave his boss a definitive nod and led Scully out of the room.
C-17 CARGO AIRCRAFT
SOMEWHERE OVER EASTERN EUROPE
SUNDAY, JULY 4th, 2010
“We shouldn’t have told them,” Scully said with a sigh. She thumped back into her seat, a printout of Mulder’s lecture on the Bari Trasadi half-read in her lap. They were sitting in two of the only open seats on the cargo plane, the rest of the space taken up by bulky cargo going to Pakistan and then India for the relief effort.
They were the only passengers on the massive utilitarian plane, and their seats were padded but not intended to make the ride comfortable. Tired of looking at the side of an enormous package of hygiene supplies, Mulder and Scully had long ago turned to the materials they brought with them.
Mulder looked up from his file and glanced at Scully. “Hm?”
“My mother and Tara. We shouldn’t have told them.”
“Well, what were we supposed to do?” Mulder asked rhetorically. “Not show up for dinner and then not show up for the 4th? If you were missing from mass this morning,” he glanced at his watch, “or ‘tomorrow’, their time, your mom would’ve had her neighborhood watch group marching through the city with guns and dogs.”
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have told them we weren’t going to be there. I’m saying we shouldn’t have told them we’re going to Pakistan. My mother had that look on her face like she did after Bill’s funeral.” She shifted her glance to Mulder, her expression painful. “I don’t want to put her through anything else, especially not during a holiday.”
Mulder slipped his hand into hers. “I know. I’m sorry, Scully. She was going to find out, though. This isn’t a three hour tour.”
Scully smiled slightly, and shook her head. “I just wish we could’ve lied and told her it was some mission in Hawaii.”
Mulder chuckled. “Then she’d expect us to call.”
Scully was about to reply when the plane veered sharply off-course and began a steep climb. Mulder and Scully were nearly thrown into the cargo containers, and as they scrambled back into their seats and reached for their seatbelts, they saw Air Force Colonel Brown making his way back from the cockpit.
“What’s going on?” Scully asked as she fastened her seatbelt.
“There was just another attack, this time in Afghanistan. It’s a big one. And it took out a US Army base. We’ve been ordered to get out of the strike zone and wait until we receive the OK to land. It’s gonna be another five, maybe even ten hours, folks.”
Scully gave Mulder a worried expression, and Mulder asked Brown, “Any trace on where this one originated?”
“Not yet, but as soon as I know anything, I’ll let you know.” Suddenly, he tapped the radio in his ear and listened intently. Then he nodded. Turning back to the FBI agents, he said, “We’ve got the source. It was India again. And the Indian government has just launched an offensive to figure out who’s doing this. They’ve closed off their borders—no one in or out. Looks like we’re gonna be stuck in Pakistan for a while.”
Scully looked down, and shook her head. “That’s just wonderful,” she muttered.
“Try to get some sleep. You’re gonna need it,” Brown said as he turned and made his way back toward the cockpit.
TEMPORARY UN CAMP
SUNDAY, JULY 4th, 2010
They rode in an Army Humvee along a dirt road in the middle of the desert. They had been in the vehicle for what felt like hours. They had gotten little sleep on the C-17, the hot sun in the cloudless sky made the temperature at least 20 degrees hotter, and they were wearing full battle fatigues and armor. They had landed in Peshawar and met a large contingent of UN, Air Force, Army, and Pakistani forces who ushered them into the Humvee where they now sat. They were tired, hot, and hungry.
The political significance of the American presence was huge, and the only way the Pakistani government would allow an American military ground operation to take place in their country was if the UN supervised. Of course, Americans had been sending drones into Pakistani villages for months, conducting surgical strikes to eliminate insurgents. However, that was assisting Pakistan with their counterterrorist agenda. This was an investigation into an attack that occurred on Pakistani soil. Most, if not all, of the Pakistani people would find it an inexcusable intrusion. Mulder, of course, believed that the only reason why the Pakistani government had allowed them in at all was because they truly thought the Bari Trasadi was in use.
Mulder and Scully caught about an hour of sleep in the Humvee before their Army and UN escorts woke them up and told them they needed to be briefed on the situation. Neither of them had ever interacted with the tribal areas of Pakistan. There were many cultural nuances that they were told to observe, most of which they would no doubt unintentionally break.
“Agent Scully, you’ll need to keep your head covered while questioning any witnesses or while walking outside.”
“That won’t be a problem with this sun,” Scully answered.
“We’ve got clothing for both of you to help you blend in a little, but for security purposes you’ll be expected to wear vests underneath the clothing and wear your helmets at all times. It will be highly uncomfortable in this heat, but that’s the way it has to be,” UN representative Schaeffer told them with a German accent.
“One thing you should be aware of when talking to these people is that you’re probably going to get ‘The Answering Machine,’” Army Colonel Young explained.
Mulder and Scully glanced at each other, and then inquisitively looked back at the blonde-haired man. It seemed that the Air Force colonel and UN representative both knew what he was talking about, as they nodded in agreement with Young.
“’The Answering Machine,’” the colonel continued, “is when they give you their ‘schpiel.’ They’ll start off with something like, ‘you are Americans,’ and then they’ll get into it. ‘America has no reverence for Allah, it is an inherently sinful country, if it wasn’t for America, there would be no war, the West is an evil influence, corrupting the minds of the pure, Allah instructs us to combat anyone who threatens His rule, I refuse to talk to you, for you are corrupting my mind as we speak.’ Yaddah yaddah yaddah.” He adjusted his position in his seat. “When they start that, which you can guarantee that they will, just be quiet and listen, and don’t respond directly to what they say. Do not try to argue with these people. If you need to convince them to talk to you, explain that the reason why you’re asking these questions is that you want to find out who attacked them. And then ask your question again. Hope they don’t start ‘The Answering Machine’ all over again.”
Mulder frowned. “If you think they’re going to be uncooperative, why don’t you send someone to question them who’s a little more familiar with them? They may be more comfortable with a journalist.”
“Or a missionary,” Scully suggested.
“If they’ve never seen us before and they’re as hesitant to talk to American strangers as you say they are, then we’re probably not going to get valuable information from them, anyway,” Mulder stated. This was just basic interrogation technique, and he thought an Army colonel should know this.
“It doesn’t matter who we send, Agent Mulder,” the colonel stated. “These people live in the middle of nowhere. They’re probably uneducated and they’ve probably been indoctrinated from early youth. Trust me—I’ve dealt with tribal areas before.”
“Well, Colonel, begging your pardon,” the Schaeffer started, “You haven’t dealt with this particular area before. And my reports indicate that the few witnesses we will be questioning are surprisingly educated for the area where they live.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” the colonel said, and turned around in his seat once more.
Mulder was still frowning, and Scully could tell he didn’t like the direction this was taking. It was something they had encountered before—preconceptions getting in the way of the facts, especially when dealing with hard-headed people. The colonel seemed to be one of those.
“Also,” Schaeffer continued, “it’s not always because they believe what they’re saying, when they give you ‘The Answering Machine.’” He held up his hand. “I’m not saying you won’t get it—you probably will, at least once. But especially in such a rural area, the people have often not had exposure to outsiders and their tribal leaders will tell them what to say if they encounter someone. It is a way of protecting them from harm.”
“Or keeping them brainwashed,” the colonel muttered.
The UN representative rolled his eyes, and the Air Force colonel shrugged, and turned around.
They finally pulled into the small, temporary UN camp. It was fenced off and guarded by US military, and it was largely just sand and dirt surrounding a few tents and one barrack. It wasn’t a typical military base. There were no young men playing basketball or football outside, there were no drills being run, and there was no one underneath a Humvee giving it repairs. There was practically no one outside at all. There was no exterior show of force besides the guards at the entrance, and the base housed two Humvees, two UN vehicles, and no tanks.
“There are only officers here,” the Air Force colonel stated. “We’ve got four translators, one archaeologist, a blast site forensic team, eight diplomats, the Pakistanis, and then there’s us. We don’t plan to be here more than another week.”
Mulder and Scully nodded. “When do we get out to the site?” Mulder asked.
“We plan on splitting you up. Agent Scully will go to with the forensics team to the blast site to conduct a scientific analysis, and Agent Mulder will come with us to question the survivors. They’re staying in another tribal area about thirty minutes from here.”
Mulder and Scully looked uncomfortable with the Army colonel’s plan.
“Unless we were misinformed about your respective specialties?” the man asked.
“No, that’ll be acceptable,” Scully said. She took a drink of water from her canteen.
The Humvee stopped, and they exited. “You can head on in with us. We’ll get you something to eat and introduce you to the translator. I’m sure General Himmat will want to have a few words over the video chat before we take off,” the Army colonel said. “He planned to be here but was called back to India early this morning.”
Mulder nodded. “When will we leave here?”
“1700 hours, sharp,” the colonel said, and led the way into one of the tents. Schaeffer fell in step beside Mulder and Scully, and said, “We’ll all meet back here no later than 1930 for dinner, and then if we need to go out again, we’ll do so only if it’s deemed safe. There were reports of Pakistani insurgent activity in the tribal area where we’re going to question the witnesses.”
Scully suddenly looked worried. “Would it be safer to wait until morning? Don’t more attacks happen at night?”
“Honestly, Agent Scully,” the Air Force colonel said from behind them, “your biggest worry out there is an IED or an RPG. Neither of which depend on whether it’s dark or not.”
Mulder wanted to take her hand, but didn’t want to give Schaeffer and the colonel the wrong idea. Instead, he placed his hand on her shoulder and said quietly, “It’ll be okay.”
They entered the tent, and Mulder and Scully were led toward a table with bottles of Gatorade and granola bars laid out for them. Mulder immediately ripped his granola bar open and began eating. Although Scully hadn’t eaten anything substantial in hours, she had suddenly lost her appetite. “Mulder…” she started to say, once the others had walked away.
Mulder interrupted her. With a full mouth, he said, “I know, Scully. I want to have dinner with you too.”
She smiled slightly, and he smiled back. “Just watch yourself out there, okay?” She ordered quietly.
Mulder gave her a brief salute, and finished off his granola bar.
GHANIM FAMILY FARM
15 MILES OUTSIDE HANGU
SUNDAY, JULY 4th, 2010
Three little boys played soccer in the dusty parking area, using a broken down, wheel-less, door-less, ’92 Chevy Pickup as their goal. They were barefoot, and although they seemed to play vigorously and competitively, Mulder didn’t hear the cheerful shouts and petty arguments that usually came with such play. Of course, a bit of depression wasn’t out of the ordinary when one’s village had just been wiped off the map, along with everyone they had ever known.
Four men sat on the porch of a small cottage, and a small boy with lime green Crocs on his feet sat in the dirt not far away, digging a hole with a rock.
The men rose when the Humvee pulled into the area. There was another Humvee not far behind, but it stayed back. It was armed with a gun turret and loaded to capacity with Young’s men, ready to jump in if insurgents happened to stop by.
Mulder’s Humvee came to a halt near the house. Schaeffer got out first, his blue UN ribbon hopefully identifying him. They were in a different tribal area than Handari was in, but apparently one of the men with the rest of the witnesses knew this family and trusted that they would be safe with them. The Pakistani government hadn’t taken them to Peshawar for questioning because it would have upset what was left of their small tribe. Handari’s destruction, along with the leveling of three square miles around the small village, had knocked out 70% of the tribe’s population.
Schaeffer bowed to the man who had stepped to the front of the crowd, and the translator approached after the bow was complete.
“This is UN Representative Daniel Schaeffer,” the translator explained in his native language. “He brings with him US Army Colonel Hal Young, and Agent Fox Mulder,” the man indicated Young and Mulder. “I am Humd, their translator.” Humd, Mulder thought. This guy must’ve gotten it worse than me in elementary school.
“I am Jabir. I spoke to UN Representative Howard, and he said you would be coming. The witnesses are here and ready to speak with you,” the man said, continuously shifting his gaze to Young.
The translator did his job, and Young nodded. “Great, let’s get ‘em out here.”
After the translation, Jabir frowned. “These are them,” he said to the translator. “These two men, and these four boys. They are all that is left of Handari.”
After hearing that, Mulder felt his stomach twist. This weapon had erased so many people in just moments. He knew there were few survivors, but the realization of what he was seeing really hit home. Three little boys playing soccer, one digging in the dirt, and two men standing together, their arms folded defensively.
“They won’t need you to translate, though. They all speak English,” Jabir explained to the translator. “They’re extraordinary people, Mr. Humd. They, like us, believe in peace. It’s because of this belief that they were saved from the destruction.” With that, Jabir bowed slightly, and turned and walked away. The other man who had been on the porch entered the house before Jabir, and shouted an order to those inside. Women in black head covers immediately started closing the wooden shutters on the house. Mulder counted four of them.
Jabir’s body language, the fact that they were harboring the only survivors from Handari, the complete lack of “The Answering Machine” Mulder had been warned of…it wasn’t adding up to a typical encounter at a typical farm in a tribal area of Pakistan. “What is this place?” Mulder asked Young.
“A farm, I’m pretty sure,” Young stated as the adult witnesses walked toward them.
“This is no average farm,” he countered, and looked to Schaeffer for answers. Schaeffer simply gave him a ‘look’ that was the German equivalent of ‘be less American for two minutes and sit still.’ Mulder frowned, dissatisfied.
One of the men called the children over, and all but the boy with the rock obeyed.
“My name is Jabir, and I am their translator,” Jabir stated in English, and bowed slightly. Then he introduced everyone, and concluded by saying, “I am apparently not needed here, so I will go.”
Mulder caught his arm. “Stick around, Jabir. There could be something cultural you can help us interpret. I don’t want any misunderstandings here.” He turned to the survivors in front of him. “I wanted to begin by saying how sorry I am for your loss.”
They both nodded solemnly.
“I don’t want to intrude any more into your private lives,” Mulder continued, respectfully. “So my questions will be as brief as possible, and then we’ll be on our way.”
“We understand, Agent Mulder,” one of the men spoke in accented but fluent English. “I am Quadir, and this is my cousin Mutazz. My son, Nafi,” he finished, placing his hand on one of the boy’s heads.
“And this is my son, Jarir,” Mutazz told them. He indicated the other, slightly taller boy. “This is Kashif, one of the boys with our group when the weapon detonated. And that boy over there, that is Alam. Alam may not give you what you need—he hasn’t spoken since the destruction.”
Mulder nodded. He intended to speak to Alam, but he first needed to ask his questions of those willing to answer. “Should we step inside?”
“It is better that we speak out here, in case they are listening,” Quadir said. He glanced at Young before he looked back to Mulder. “You are no doubt wondering why we are here, and who might be listening. You probably know nothing of the conflict that is happening in our tribal area. Or was…it may not even matter now.”
Mutazz glanced at his cousin, and then looked to Mulder. “We are the Jeser. It means ‘Bridge’ in English. My cousin and I went to university in America. We returned to Handari to bring change. Our mission was to bring our people out of poverty, help them reach their potential. Understandably, this means fighting the insurgents who want to gain control of the Pakistani government.”
“We do not fight them with weapons, though,” Quadir stated. “We fight them with words. We fight them with publicity, what little of it we have. We fight them by sabotaging their own terrorist plans. We try to stop them from getting elected into public office.”
“And we pay dearly for it,” Mutazz said. He pursed his lips. “Our wives have been slaughtered. We have both lost children. The children you see here have lost parents and siblings before this heinous attack. Alam and Kashif have no one left.”
“The Ghanim family farm is one place where we are welcome outside Handari. It is a haven for those like us, who wish to bring education and hope to this land, not war and coups. So you understand, Agent Mulder, that we want to help you find whoever did this. We will answer your questions, but you must be efficient. We don’t know how much time we have before we must leave here.”
Mulder nodded. How wrong Colonel Young had been about these people. And what about Pakistani intelligence? Mulder thought. Surely the country knew of the Jeser’s existence? Why wouldn’t they offer their assistance? Set up an official program to protect the Jeser from the terrorists? He knew the answer, but it still bothered him. “You’re very admirable for what you do,” Mulder told them honestly. “I’ll be quick. The first question is easy. What did you see?”
“We felt it at first,” Quadir said. “It started with the ground shaking, and we saw in the distance a large cloud. It soon enveloped us. It was worse than a sandstorm. We could not see, and we felt a force pulling us toward it.”
“It was like a tornado,” Kashif spoke. Mulder was surprised the boy knew what that was. But, with the educated mentors that he had, he was certainly going to be more knowledgeable than a typical tribal boy.
“It was terrible,” young Jarir said quietly. “We lost Hafid and Barr.”
“Hafid, my older son,” Mutazz nearly whispered. “And Barr, a young boy who came along.”
“I’m sorry,” Mulder said sincerely. So far, their description was almost identical to other eye witnesses of the Bari Trasadi, who witnessed its destruction thousands of years ago. “I know this may seem insensitive. But who was the last person to see either of the two boys?”
“That would be Alam,” Quadir told him, and glanced at the little boy behind him. “I’m sorry. He really has been traumatized. He probably won’t speak.”
“If it’s all right with you, I’d like to try,” Mulder said. Neither Quadir nor Mutazz protested, so Mulder turned to Schaeffer. “Can you keep talking to them? Make sure your recorder’s on.”
Schaeffer nodded, and Mulder walked towards Alam. “Alam, let this man speak to you,” he heard Quadir call, and Alam looked up. His eyes grew wide as he saw Mulder coming toward him, and he dropped his rock.
“Hey, Alam, it’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you,” Mulder said in a soft voice. He approached Alam slowly, and then eased himself down in the dirt next to the eight-year-old. He took off his helmet, despite the fact that he was told not to. He wanted to appear as non-threatening as possible. His clothing was loose and sand-colored, and his weapon wasn’t visible. He was dressed in traditional tribal robes, though now they were getting fairly dirty.
Alam, seeing that Mulder was yet another adult who wanted to ‘talk,’ picked up his rock and continued his quest of digging a hole.
Mulder, ever the psychologist, couldn’t help but profile the child. His skin was extremely dark, indicating that he spent a lot of time outside. His clothing was worn and old, his pants too small and his shirt too big. The only new item on the boy’s body were his shoes, the lime green Crocs that would identify him a mile away. “My name’s Mulder,” he said, and picked up a nearby rock. He began digging in the dirt as well.
Alam glanced at him, and then went back to his task.
Mulder continued digging. “The dirt’s pretty firm here. Not a good spot for digging. Makes it harder, you know.”
“I like a challenge, though,” Mulder said. He continued digging. He didn’t notice the annoyed, impatient look he was getting from Colonel Young, and he didn’t much care. He needed to know what this boy had seen. And he had to admit, his heart went out to this kid. He understood what he was going through. He too was a boy who had lost everything.
“You live in America,” Alam said suddenly with a very slight accent.
Bingo. Mulder nodded casually.
“Why do you come here? I’m told it’s because you want to find out what happened. What concern of it is yours?”
Sounds angry. “Well, it’s actually my job,” Mulder told the boy. “My job is to go around to places where unusual things happen and figure out why.”
Alam continued digging. “Why do you do that?” He asked, his tone still angry.
“Because I want to figure out the truth,” Mulder told him simply, hoping his calm tone would diffuse some of Alam’s rage. “I want to know why things happen.”
The boy didn’t answer, but kept on digging with even more fervor. “Will you figure out what happened to Hafid? Will you figure out why he died, too? And figure out where Handari went?”
Mulder put his own rock down. “That’s why I’m here, Alam. I’m trying to figure out why those things happened, and stop them from happening again.”
Alam slowed his digging. He stared at the dirt, and then closed his eyes.
Mulder was silent for a moment before he shifted positions, and rolled the rock from one hand to the other. Then he put it down again. “Alam, can I ask you a few questions? If you don’t want to answer, you don’t have to. But it could help me figure out what happened.”
“When I get older,” Alam said quietly, “I’m going to move to America. I’m going to move and I’m going to live there where it’s better.” He looked up. “Is it better there, like my father used to say? Is it really better, like all the Jeser say, or is it just another lie to make me feel better?”
He’s a smart kid, Mulder thought. “There are nicer things there than here. Bigger buildings, fancy cars, you know,” he answered honestly. “It’s safer than here. People make more money than here. It’s also very different. And it’s only ‘better’ as long as the people work to make it better,” he told the boy. He let Alam have another moment, and then he repeated, “Can I ask my questions now?”
Alam nodded, but said nothing.
“Can you tell me what you saw?”
“The whole story?”
“It’ll be better for my investigation if you start from the beginning,” Mulder explained, and gave him a sympathetic look. “You can keep digging your hole if it’s easier that way.”
Alam picked up his rock, and continued digging. After a moment, he started talking. “We were playing football. Mr. Khayr and Mr. Radi took us out to the spot on the mountain. Last time they did that, there was a bomb…I was afraid.”
Mulder nodded, and simply listened. His recorder was getting the entire conversation.
“There was a big cloud. You could see it coming toward us. Bigger than any sandstorm cloud I’ve ever seen. And so thick! You couldn’t even see under it.” He continued, recounting the entire event detail for detail. Finally, he said, in a near whisper, “When I looked up, on Mr. Radi’s shoulders, on top of the Jeep, I couldn’t see anything. And even when the dust cleared…there was nothing. Just sand.”
Mulder placed his hand comfortingly on the boy’s shoulder, and he saw a tear slide down Alam’s cheek. “Thank you, Alam,” he said. “I’m going to figure out who did this.”
Alam looked up, his eyes red and his expression angry. “Will you? Will you really, or will you just say that like the missionaries do? When it gets too hard and they come after your family, will you just leave and send us back money?”
This little boy has been through so much, Mulder thought. He looked Alam in the eyes. “I promise, Alam. I’m going to do whatever I can to figure this out. And if I can’t, I’ll find someone who can.”
Alam stared at Mulder and then unexpectedly threw his arms around him, clinging to the agent desperately as his body shook with sobs. Mulder heard his unintelligible cries about his mother, father, brother, and Hafid. The rest was all in his native language.
A moment later, Colonel Young approached them and placed his hand gently on Mulder’s shoulder. Mulder looked up, and received an indication that they had to get out. Apparently, it wasn’t safe anymore. He pulled away from Alam, and held the boy by his shoulders. “Listen to me, Alam. I need to go. But I’ll find a way to get in touch with you. I’ll let you know when we’ve finished our investigation. And…you know what? I’m going to find a way to get you to America.”
Alam’s expression was one of shock. He sniffed. “Thank you, Mulder,” he said quietly.
“You stay with the Jeser, okay? Don’t run off.” Alam nodded, and Mulder stood.
“Allah be with you,” the eight-year-old said, and Mulder smiled back at him as he walked away.
SUNDAY, JULY 4th, 2010
“Found another patch, Agent Scully,” Major Calhoun said over the radio.
Scully looked up and squinted to spot Calhoun directly east of her. She pushed the collar of her baggy robe over to expose her radio, and clicked it as she asked, “Distance?”
“Fourteen feet from the crater’s edge.”
She nodded. That was just about standard. She looked down at her Toughbook Tablet PC, which showed a dot that labeled the detonation point in the center of Handari, and then showed a blue ring around Ground Zero that was almost exactly fourteen feet from the crater edge. Zooming out, she saw two other rings forming as their team inputted more data. One was approximately a mile away, and the other was about two miles away. They had managed to get the Pakistani military to help them out with manpower, scanning and inputting information about the sand. The entire area where the town once stood was now a slightly sloped plane of sand.
She clicked her radio again. “And it’s all pure SiO2? No other elements?”
“Affirmative, Agent Scully.”
She sighed. This didn’t make much sense. Even if everything had been obliterated by force, the particles needed to go somewhere. They couldn’t have just turned into sand as Mulder had suggested. She was hoping that ‘somewhere’ was to these rings of glass, but they appeared to be pure SiO2 as well. “What about you, Faraj? Any impurities to the glass rings?”
The Pakistani officer about a mile away radioed in. “No, Agent Scully,” he said in a thick accent. “There are no impurities registering on my scanner.”
She nodded. “Thanks, Faraj.” Abu Faraj had volunteered his help, and seemed to be as eager as Mulder to get to the bottom of this. He was friendly toward Scully and seemed exceptionally professional and knowledgeable. She was thinking of making him her lab assistant when they got back to base.
She looked at her watch, and looked at their sample list. They seemed to have gotten everything Mulder explained that they needed to point to the Bari Trasadi or, as Scully thought was more likely, a weapon made to do what the Bari Trasadi was supposed to do. The pure SiO2, the rings of glass, the planing effect on the once rocky and mountainous terrain…it all matched perfectly with what little historical evidence there was of the Bari Trasadi. She saw on their closed military network that Mulder had just finished up his interviewing, and that there were three new recordings uploaded from the recorders his team carried. It was about time to wrap it up and head back.
As if on cue, Major Calhoun said into his radio, “Okay, everyone pull back into the blast site, we’re moving out.”
A slew of ‘Copy’s and ‘Yes, Sir’s followed, and Scully began the trek back to the Humvee. She climbed into the passenger seat next to Calhoun, and took her helmet off to wipe the sweat from her brow.
“Keep that helmet on, Agent Scully,” Calhoun said in the sharp, trained tone he usually reserved for his subordinates. “RPG’s don’t care how hot it is.”
She nearly rolled her eyes. She was dying of thirst, dressed in body armor under two layers of desert robes, and had just finished carrying soil sampling equipment for three-miles around a blast site in a sandy wasteland with no shade. It didn’t matter that it was late in the day—the sun was as brutal as it was in DC at high noon on a cloudless, summer day. She decided she hated the desert.
Just as Calhoun spotted one of their other Humvees in the distance and prepared to put theirs into gear, their radio crackled once, and then fell silent. Calhoun looked troubled. “All teams, report in,” he said, just to be safe.
Multiple teams reported in immediately, and Scully looked to the major. “What’s wrong?”
“That crackle…it sounded to me like an SOS.”
Scully frowned. “I didn’t hear that.”
“You have to be listening for it,” he explained. Scully knew this man had served three tours in Iraq and four in Afghanistan. She didn’t have to ask him to elaborate as to why his ear was always listening for a distress call.
“Who would be sending an SOS?”
“Only thing I can think of is Colonel Young’s group.” He switched radio frequencies and clicked his radio. “Colonel Young, this is Major Calhoun. Do you copy?”
They waited, and Scully saw one of their Pakistani group members approaching their Humvee from the south. He got in, and asked, “Are we going to head North back to Hangu?”
Calhoun held up his hand, silencing the man. They waited, and only a moment later the radio crackled again. Three short crackles, three elongated ones, and three short ones again. A standard SOS in Morse Code.
“It’s definitely Young’s group,” Calhoun said, starting up the Humvee and heading out in one quick motion. He switched his frequency again to a general one and announced, “All teams, we are Oscar-mike to Colonel Young’s group location. Acknowledge.” Calhoun had now switched to military lingo in case their lines weren’t secure. ‘Oscar-mike’ meant ‘on the move.’
Another barrage of ‘Yes, Sir’s followed, but Scully barely heard them. Her stomach had plummeted when the second SOS came in, and now she could hear her heartbeat in her ears. Oh please, God, let Mulder be okay.
“—this is Major Calhoun, do you have any reports of insurgent activity directly southwest of Handari, Over?”
A moment later, Calhoun got his answer. “This is Tollert, Sir. We’ve got multiple reports coming in from area witnesses and Pakistani military patrol. There have been multiple IED blasts reported and one ambush of an American Humvee. No ID yet, Sir, but considering we’re the only friendlies in the area—”
“Thank you, Tollert. Update me regularly. Out.”
Calhoun fixed his eyes on the dirt path and sped up the Humvee, a cloud of dust forming around them as they drove. It was spooky, being in this blast zone where a cloud of dust and sand engulfed the area and took the lives of so many. It was as if they were recreating a microcosm of the destruction.
Scully gripped the ‘oh shit’ handle with her right hand, her knuckles turning white. But the ride wasn’t the source of her anxiety. Calhoun wasn’t driving recklessly—if anything, Scully wanted him to drive faster.
He glanced at her momentarily, and said, “There’ll be four patrols moving in on his location in no more than fifteen minutes, Agent Scully. And they already have two Humvees with them, one equipped with a gunner.”
She nodded. That didn’t make her feel better, though.
Ten minutes later, the first patrol arrived five minutes ahead of Scully, Calhoun, and the Pakistani soldier. Calhoun’s radio crackled to life after the morbid silence Scully had just endured. “Major Calhoun, this is Pierson.”
“Pierson, report,” Calhoun said, and as they cleared the next hill of the terrain, they were able to see a large amount of black smoke and a still-raging fire.
“Area clear, Sir, but we’ve got two Humvee’s, both FUBAR.” ‘FUBAR’ meant ‘Fucked Up Beyond All Repair.’
Scully held her breath, knowing what Calhoun would ask next. And when the question, “Signs of life?” was asked, she could hear nothing but the silence that followed.
Until finally, Pierson stated, “Still looking, Sir.”
Calhoun pursed his lips. “Copy that. Out.”
7 MILES OUTSIDE HANDARI
SUNDAY, JULY 4th, 2010
“The cloud, the flat plane, the people who seemed to disappear into the sand before their eyes…the sheer amount of dust involved, the fact that a six-foot-tall man had to climb onto a Jeep and put an eight-year-old on his shoulders just to see over the cloud, when they were already 250 feet above Handari’s level…it all points right to the Bari Trasadi,” Mulder told Young, who was looking rather displeased with the results.
“You realize this is gonna make a shit-ton of paperwork,” he said, and Schaeffer looked positively insulted by the profanity. “I’m sorry,” Young shrugged. “The man’s telling me his official explanation is that a 4,000-year-old weapon leveled three square miles of land. You try writing that in a report.”
“The problem now isn’t going to be determining if it’s the Bari Trasadi or a perfectly copied weapon,” Mulder continued. “When we meet up with Scully, I’m sure she’ll have more than enough scientific evidence that will correlate with the historical evidence, and whether or not the weapon is authentic is irrelevant to tracking its source. That should be our main goal. Now I happen to believe it’s the authentic weapon, and whoever excavated it is using it incorrectly. As a consequence—”
“Incoming!” The driver yelled suddenly, and Young instinctively grabbed the back of Mulder’s helmet and shoved it down to the agent’s knees. Before Mulder even knew what was happening, a horrendous boom nearly shattered his eardrums and the Humvee shook from impact. The passenger side front tire blew, and the vehicle tipped as it skidded to the side. Mulder held himself in the brace position they had gone over in the safety training, his heart pounding and his mind racing. Were they being attacked by insurgents? Had they hit an IED? What was going on?
The Humvee righted itself and came to a halt, but seconds later was slammed by an unbelievably powerful force. Shrapnel flew everywhere, and smoke filled the vehicle. Another explosion forced Mulder to break from his brace position as he was hurled upward, his seatbelt catching him before he collided with the roof as the vehicle rolled.
He squinted through the smoke, trying to see what was happening, but didn’t even have the time to unbuckle himself before another hit pierced the windshield and sent shrapnel flying in his direction. He covered his face with his arms as a large piece of glass embedded itself in his bicep, and his ears were assaulted with a hideous, gurgling shriek from beside him.
Daring to look, he turned his head in the direction of the noise and saw Young’s body suspended from his seatbelt, but his head almost completely detached. Mulder felt sick.
He reached down for his seatbelt release but yet again another explosion rocked the Humvee, this time tipping it 90 degrees and nearly toppling Mulder onto Young’s body.
“Agent Mulder! Agent Mulder!” When his ears stopped ringing long enough for him to hear the voice, he realized it was Schaeffer.
He turned his head in the representative’s direction, and found the man pinned by a warped piece of the dashboard and his still-secure seatbelt.
“Cut your seatbelt and get out! Get out of the vehicle!” Schaeffer yelled.
Mulder reacted almost in a daze, not thinking about anything he was doing. He pulled the knife from his ankle holster and cut his seatbelt. He scrambled toward the front windshield, took one look at Schaeffer, and made the decision that he couldn’t help. He needed someone else to pitch in. The translator was nowhere to be found, probably buried under what was left of the tactical gear and electronic equipment in the back of the Humvee. He saw the other Humvee up ahead, though, and jumped out of the windshield. He rolled onto the sand, got to his knees and then his feet, and took one step at a time toward the other Humvee. It was upright, but it was almost completely blackened by a fire inside and smoke was pouring out of the hood. An alarm went off in Mulder’s head. You’ve got seconds.
Breaking into a run, or rather a stumble, Mulder made it to the other Humvee and scanned the inside quickly. The driver and the front seat passenger were dead. The gunner had been ripped away from his station in the back and left somewhere behind in the sand. The three back passengers were all unconscious, maybe dead. They were being consumed by the flames that were steadily growing inside the vehicle. “Hey!” Mulder heard himself yell hoarsely. “Hey! Is anyone alive in there?”
He heard a popping sound. Run, he commanded, and found himself turning away and stumbling through the sand again, only to trip about thirty feet from the vehicle and fall on his face. One more explosion ripped through the air, and when the shrapnel had stopped raining down and Mulder looked up, he couldn’t help but notice the complete decimation of the lead Humvee compared to his, which was relatively intact.
He looked around at his surroundings, trying to determine if there were any threats. His mind was starting to clear, and he was less on survival-automatic-pilot and more his usual vigilant self. There was a pickup truck driving towards the site, and that alarm bell in his head began clanging. Get to shelter, he commanded himself, and dragged himself to his feet. But there was no shade, nowhere to hide. There were no trees, no shrubs, and certainly no signs of civilization anywhere near them. He couldn’t fight them off. He had a .40 cal and that was it—there was no guarantee any of the weapons the Humvees were carrying would work.
As the truck got closer, its occupants got clearer, and Mulder knew what he had to do. He ran back toward the Humvee and climbed in the front windshield, accessed the still-intact radio, and set it to a general frequency. Three short bursts, three long bursts, three short bursts. He repeated the SOS again and again, his heartbeat increasing with every inch that truck got closer.
He could see the men sticking their heads out the windows, aiming their guns at him. They were shouting in victory. There were eight of them. Eight able-bodied men against one injured one.
He was cornered. There was nowhere to go. Schaeffer managed to grab his arm at the moment the truck stopped, and he said, his voice shaking heavily, “We’ll come for you…just stay alive till then.”
Mulder had no chance to reply. A well-aimed bullet hit Schaeffer in the head and killed him instantly. The men were screaming at him. He couldn’t understand what they were saying, but he knew what to do. Mulder put his arms in the air, his breath catching at the motion of his right arm.
He was grabbed by strong arms and pulled out of the vehicle. They threw him to the ground. Men with AK-47’s surrounded him. Five were dressed in traditional desert robes, but three were in normal civilian clothing. Mulder felt one of them place his foot on his shoulder and kick, turning him onto his back. He did nothing to fight back, not wanting to be shot on sight.
Suddenly, a man from behind him threw a black, dirty sack over his face. It stunk of urine and rotten food. He was hauled to his feet, his wrists bound and tied to his waist, and ropes extending to his ankles. He was then nearly dragged to the truck and tossed in the bed. Someone yanked the piece of glass out of his arm, and he screamed. He was kicked in the face for his vocalization, and he forced himself to calm his breathing and try to think about the situation. I’ve been captured. I don’t know by who. I’ve been through this before. I can get through it again. Stay calm. Scully will figure out where I am. Like Schaeffer said… But the thoughts of Schaeffer’s eyes going out like a light right in front of Mulder, thoughts of Young’s head hanging by a flap of skin…he didn’t want to close his eyes and calm his breathing, because each time he tried, his mind went straight to those thoughts.
Stay calm. Think, Mulder, think. Who are they? How did they know where we were? Why did they kill Schaeffer and not you? They must know who you are. They probably won’t kill you, then.
The men were speaking in Arabic, and Mulder couldn’t understand a word. Suddenly, out of nowhere, something hard connected with the back of his head, and he was out.
7 MILES OUTSIDE HANDARI
SUNDAY, JULY 4th, 2010
“—only have preliminary analysis at this point, Sir, but it’s pretty clear that the RPG impacted the rear Humvee first. By the blast pattern it was a perfect hit between the tires. It blew out the front passenger-side tire, nearly tipped the vehicle on its side, but from the tire treads we can see that it stopped after that. The lead Humvee was then hit with a direct RPG to the engine, which blew through the windshield and killed the driver and passenger instantly.”
It has to be terrorists. Only terrorists would do this…
“After the lead Humvee came to a halt, it must have caught fire. Then the gas tank exploded, and destroyed the entire vehicle. The rear Humvee endured several tactical strikes. The first flipped it onto its back, which is a feat unto itself. We’re dealing with heavy-duty explosives here, Sir. Perhaps improvised—we’re not sure yet.”
Why would they take Mulder? Was he the only survivor?
“The second blast flipped the Humvee again, this time only onto its side. That’s where it stayed, despite the fact that several more explosives were discharged around it. We’re examining the bodies, but it’s clear that three occupants were killed by the crash, but one was killed by a rifle round to the skull. And, of course, Agent Mulder is the only one unaccounted for. But the slit seatbelt and the SOS indicates that he was alive and that the terrorists captured him. Also, this entire thing took place while six recently-placed IEDs destroyed Pakistani patrols, eliminating the possibility of a patrol response at this location.”
What will they do to him? They’re going to torture him. Oh, Mulder, why does this keep happening to you?
“Agent Scully, are you okay?” Calhoun’s voice penetrated Scully’s thought process as she stared blankly at the ruined Humvees and listened to the major speak to Pierson, the first responder.
“I’m okay,” she stated, but she couldn’t even convince herself with that answer. She took a deep breath. “When will forensics be done?”
“Probably another two or three hours, Agent Scully,” Pierson stated. “If you’ll excuse me, Sir, Ma’am.”
Calhoun nodded to his subordinate and watched him walk away. “Okay, the first step is to inform AD Skinner, the UN, the Pakistanis, the Indian government, and the Air Force. And, of course, Agent Mulder’s emergency contact. Do you know who that is?”
Scully couldn’t peel her eyes away from the twisted metal. “It’s me,” she said quietly.
“Oh. Well, in that case…the next step after that is to list him as officially MIA with a high potential of being a POW. That’ll get him on everyone’s radar, make sure if a patrol happens to find him, they know who he is. And it’ll get patrols looking. In this case, we’re going to get as much press as we possibly can. It’ll give us a way of uniting the governments involved and making sure that everyone does his share.”
She nodded numbly.
“I’m thinking we’ll probably get Special Forces involved, too, especially when we get a location. And that’s where you come in.”
She turned to face him, and found his expression sympathetic but his eyes determined.
“You’re a professional investigator, Agent Scully. Normally you’d be taken off a case like this but if you haven’t noticed, we’re not in America and I refuse to let red tape get in the way of this investigation. A US Army base was destroyed and we just took ten casualties, including our commander and our Bari Trasadi expert, your partner. These people have got to be stopped before they detonate this device again, and we still need your expertise on how they’ve managed to build this thing. So I’m asking you, Agent Scully, to help out here. Are you in?”
The agent gave Calhoun a look like he had just asked her whether she was breathing or not. “Of course I’m in,” she stated, shaking her head at the question.
He gave her a definitive nod. “Good,” he said, and started walking toward the wreckage. “Then let’s get going.”
Maybe it was the major’s can-do attitude, or maybe it was the image of Mulder enduring unfathomable amounts of pain because he happened to cross a terrorist’s path. Maybe it was the chaotic scene in front of her, or it could have been the thought of her mother’s reaction when she learned that Mulder was now considered a POW. But whatever it was, the numbness was leaving Scully’s body and she felt the energy surge through her. She hadn’t eaten a meal in hours but she felt like she could climb a mountain. She jogged after Calhoun, the familiar feeling of urgent determination overtaking her. This was what they did—they investigated, they found answers. Scully would find Mulder. She wouldn’t settle for less.
SUNDAY, JULY 4th, 2010
Mulder awoke to find himself in a dark, sweltering-hot room with concrete walls, floor, and ceiling. It smelled putrid, and had no ventilation. The only light came from a single, dim light bulb screwed into a ceiling socket.
A rope tied his wrists and ran through a pulley attached to the ceiling, then to a winch bolted to the far wall. His ankles were tied to the legs of a metal chair that was then bolted to the floor. At the moment, Mulder was sitting with his arms up in the air. They had allowed him to keep only his pants.
He looked around the room. A small electrical generator sat on the far wall with jumper cables strewn carelessly on the floor. Behind him, he was disturbed to see a nearly decomposed body. He spotted the ropes on the body’s wrists and ankles, and felt his stomach churn.
You’re okay, he reminded himself. You’re alive, your arm stopped bleeding, you’re relatively unharmed from the crash. You just need to stay alive, and someone will find you. They will be looking.
He tried to see more detail in the room, but he couldn’t spot any video cameras or other torture instruments. Low-tech. You’re dealing with the basic, run-of-the-mill terrorist here. But something about that idea didn’t make sense to him. Could a “run-of-the-mill” terrorist organization pull off the destruction of two armored Humvees? Ask the 9/11 survivors that, and they’ll probably give you an emphatic ‘yes.’
So what did they want? Was he just the unlucky bastard who was going to become a talking point on America’s evening news? A tool for the terrorists to gain leverage in the US? Or was this more about the politics of America conducting an investigation in Pakistan? A protest against the Pakistani government? Perhaps it even had to do with the Bari Trasadi attacks themselves.
Suddenly, the door opened and three men walked in. One carried two coat racks and a flag, one carried a camera on a tripod, and the other carried an AK-47. They were dressed in traditional Muslim religious clothing and had draped black masks over their faces, exposing only their eyes. Mulder knew what was about to happen, and realized that it was a good thing. The terrorists were going to make a video that would help the FBI and the Army find him. The standard execution method on these videos seemed to be beheading. But they weren’t carrying any large knives or daggers, which meant that he probably wasn’t going to die.
The man with the tripod set up the camera and then walked over to the winch. He turned the crank, and Mulder was pulled to a standing position. He found it was very hard to keep his balance with his legs tied to the chair, and he had to use his wrists to keep himself upright at times.
He had been through this deal before, and he had learned by now that he would survive longer if he didn’t speak until spoken to. Smart remarks were for the inexperienced. He wanted to live.
The man with the coat racks and flag finished setting up the background behind Mulder and took a dirty rag out of his pocket. He stuffed the disgusting thing inside the agent’s mouth and then blindfolded him with a black strip of cloth. Mulder could now only see shadows, and was trying very hard to keep his gag reflex down.
He heard movements, brief words spoken in Arabic, and a scraping sound of some kind. Then he heard a motor starting up. Someone grabbed a handful of skin on his stomach, and he jumped at the contact. Then Mulder felt the cold, painful teeth of the jumper cable sinking in. Aww, shit. They’re gonna do this on Youtube, aren’t they?
The other jumper cable was attached to his Achilles tendon and, not expecting it, he wasn’t able to stifle a grunt. Someone chuckled and patted his cheek.
Then he saw the light of the camera through his blindfold, and felt the business-end of the AK-47 placed against his temple. As his heartbeat increased, he tried to slow his breathing. There was no knife. They’re not going to kill you. They’re just going to embarrass you on the Internet.
He tried to turn his mind to other thoughts. But when he thought of Maggie, Tara, Matt and Claire, all he could imagine was them randomly clicking around and happening upon this video. The only person he wanted to see this was Scully, and that was just so she could find him and get him out of this mess.
They began speaking in Arabic, and it was complete gibberish to Mulder. He caught one word, ‘Allah’, but that was completely unhelpful. Then the AK-47’s stock was removed from his temple and he knew what was coming. His muscles tensed and he clenched his fists and bit down on the rag. The first jolt came, and he felt like his body was on fire. He couldn’t stifle the scream that came naturally, the tears that formed in his eyes. His body jerked violently with the second jolt, and he could hear his heartbeat in his ears. Don’t pass out, come on, don’t pass out…
One more shock, this one making him completely lose his balance. Legs bent, he hung by his wrists and cried in agony until it was finally over. Someone unclamped the jumper cables and his skin throbbed at the contact points but was relatively numb from the electricity. His head felt fuzzy, he couldn’t get his bearings, and his heart was pounding like he had just run a marathon. He opened his eyes and saw that the light from the camera was gone. The terrorists were collecting their items and leaving.
One touched a metal rod to his skin and discharged the residual electric charge. Then the blindfold was removed, along with the gag. He saw one of the terrorists walk over to the winch and turn the crank. He was lowered, but not enough to actually sit down. This is gonna suck.
Then they all left. They didn’t speak a word to him. They closed the door, and Mulder heard three locks engaged. As he hung there by his wrists, he tried to stand up to relieve the pressure but found that the electrical shock had sapped his strength. Scully…please get here soon…
TEMPORARY UN CAMP
SUNDAY, JULY 4th, 2010
“What about satellite footage? Were you able to get a trace on the vehicle?” Skinner asked over the video chat. His face was displayed on Scully’s Toughbook, which sat on a plastic tablecloth on a folding table in the Command-And-Control tent. She was surrounded by Army officers coming and going, Pakistani officials in heated arguments with UN representatives, and the occasional announcement on the latest insurgent activity. It was hard to hear Skinner at all, even with the iPod headphones she had plugged into the Toughbook.
“We’re negotiating with the Pakistani government right now,” Scully told him. “Or at least, we’re trying to,” she added tiredly.
“We need that satellite footage if we’re going to find Mulder,” the Assistant Director said, clearly irritated.
“Well, no one understands that better than I do, Sir. Colonel Young and Daniel Schaeffer’s deaths have made things complicated, and Major Calhoun and the UN are trying to work out an agreement with the Pakistanis but as you can see,” she turned around and glanced at the controlled chaos behind her, “it’s more than frustrating.”
Skinner sighed. “Have there been any tips from civilians? Any patrols that weren’t hit by an IED out looking for him? What’s the backup plan?”
“There have been about five hundred tips from civilians, most of them false tips from poor people looking for a handout from the UN for their trouble. But their equivalent of an APB is playing on all Pakistani news channels. There are patrols out looking, but they’ve got their hands full with the insurgents who are taking advantage of the earlier IED blasts.” She clenched her fist. “It just makes me so mad,” she said, disgusted, “These idiots are playing political games and the damn insurgents are running around Peshawar like it’s a friggin’ field day, and Mulder is out there, Walter.” She swallowed, trying to control the tears that were forming in her eyes. “…they’re probably already…torturing him.” She interrupted the Assistant Director before he could even reply. “And we could’ve found him by now if we had the damn satellite footage!”
The room quieted around her, and she realized she had been yelling. The UN representatives stared at her, some of them looking sympathetic. The Pakistani government officials pursed their lips and folded their arms, and Major Calhoun gave her a dissatisfied expression. She picked up her Toughbook, stood up, and exited the tent.
“Scully, I realize what you’re going through. You need to take a step back. Everything you mentioned that you were doing—that’s all going to help you find Mulder. It’s all good. Have you spoken to General Himmat lately?”
“About fifteen minutes ago,” she said, and walked into the galley tent. She sat down three tables away from an Air Force officer briefing a Pakistani patrolman. They were the only other occupants of the tent.
“How did he say this was affecting the plan for finding the weapon?”
“He said he went over our findings, both the samples we took at the site and the interviews of the witnesses, and he said there’s no question—someone has manufactured a copy of the device from the legend. Mulder, of course, would say it’s the real Bari Trasadi.” She sighed, and rubbed her eyes. “Himmat said he was going to take this to President Patil and she’ll decide whether to mobilize the military to look for this thing. It’ll take India into Martial Law, and he said she probably wouldn’t be willing to do that. They would have to conduct a standard military and law enforcement joint investigation. But until they find it, they’ve decided they’re staying on lockdown. That means only authorized personnel in or out. Whoever built it is still in country, and will probably strike again.”
“What’s the plan for tracking it?” Skinner asked, pleased that Scully was able to change the subject from Mulder.
“With the samples I was able to collect from the air and the ground, we should be able to see its next strike as it happens if we calibrate the defense satellites to look for that compound. It’s pure SiO2, Sir,” she said, switching back into professional mode for the moment. It was, after all, more comfortable. “That’s almost unheard of, especially at the site of a blast that took out an entire city. You would expect there to be something residual from what was destroyed, but there’s not. There aren’t even normal impurities you would see in sand coming from similar regions.”
“How do you think this thing works?” The AD inquired.
“I think it works in one of two ways. It could somehow capture the energy in the air as it creates its own miniature cyclone, and then touches down and dissipates the particles into the atmosphere, creating the cloud you see that later settles into the new, flat-planed sand we witnessed. Or it has electrical energy of its own that sends an actual blast through the air into the ground at the blast site, causing a collapse and dissipating the particles in the target through another electrical pulse.” She shook her head. “I started out thinking this thing was just made to look like the Bari Trasadi. Because according to the legend, this weapon does things that aren’t possible with current technology. Regardless of whether it uses wind or electrical energy. But as I look at the data…Sir, this isn’t technology we’ve seen in the past. The only way it could transform matter in the way it does is to fundamentally manipulate the quarks of the atoms. I hate to say it,” she started, looking down. “But whether the Bari Trasadi was manufactured to fit the legend, or whether it really is the same device that first entered Indian texts 4,000 years ago…we have to consider the possibility that the technology could be extraterrestrial in nature.”
She said the last part extremely quietly, so that the two other occupants couldn’t hear her. There were other explanations, of course, but for some reason, she felt they had to consider this one.
Skinner nodded, not surprisingly unfazed by the suggestion. “That’s what Mulder would say,” he couldn’t help but mention.
Scully knew if Mulder had heard her say it, though, he would have crapped a cow.
“Will you be sending your results back here?” Skinner asked.
“No, Sir. We have them on a secure Intranet server right now, and we can’t risk sending them electronically to the FBI. There’s a good chance that whoever manufactured the weapon has access to technology that would make hacking the FBI look like hacking Walmart’s website.”
Skinner nodded. “Then keep me apprised as to—”
“Agent Scully!” Skinner was cut off by Major Calhoun’s voice calling his agent’s name urgently. Scully looked up. “We’ve got a video, Agent. It’s Agent Mulder.”
Scully grabbed the Toughbook and ran. She followed Calhoun back into his tent and looked up at the large TV screen which had switched from a news feed to a Youtube video. She nearly dropped the Toughbook at the sight of Mulder.
Suspended from the ceiling by his wrists and tied to a chair by his ankles, Mulder was blindfolded, gagged, and in front of a Pakistani flag. Calhoun took the Toughbook from Scully and spun it to show Skinner the video. Then subtitles appeared as a masked man began speaking in Arabic.
“The man you see here is FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder, illegally in our nation of Pakistan because of the United States of America’s plans to occupy our country. It took only one attack,” the words read, “for them to arrive, and they are now working with the United Nations and our corrupt, illegitimate government to add Pakistan to their list of imperialist colonies.”
A man behind him held an AK-47 against Mulder’s temple, and Scully gasped when the man moved and exposed what was attached to her partner’s stomach. A jumper cable. And there was, no doubt, another to complete the circuit. A pained expression shadowed her face as she realized what was going to come next.
“For these crimes of the United States of America, this man will pay dearly as we, the Pakistani people, have paid dearly for the crimes of our government. Both Pakistan and the United States have soiled Allah’s sacred ground. This is to communicate to the United States—you will withdraw from our country, or we will kill this man.” The man stepped out of view of the camera, and they started the motor of the generator. One of the masked men pressed the button, and Mulder’s body lurched as the electricity flowed through.
Scully covered her face with her hand. Calhoun stared with an angry expression. Skinner looked away in disgust. The UN representatives looked at each other, and the Pakistani officials stared at the floor.
Scully heard Mulder’s stifled scream, and couldn’t help but look. She couldn’t see his face but she knew he was in intense pain. She felt tears stinging her eyes yet again. Then the video went blank.
“Major, is this still on Youtube?” Skinner’s voice pierced the silence in the room.
“No, Sir. We contacted Youtube as soon as we found it and they’ve taken it down since then. But we have a secure copy on our Intranet.”
“Have you asked Youtube to trace the source?”
“One of our techs just did,” Calhoun answered the stern assistant director. “And we’ve also contacted a few news agencies, asked them not to run this video, just to run Mulder’s name. We want this to be respectful.”
Skinner nodded gratefully. “Is there any way you can send me a copy of the video?”
“I don’t see any harm in it. I’ll check with my CO and see if I can, Sir. You’ll hear from me in the next ten minutes.”
“Excellent,” Skinner answered. “Let me talk to Scully.” When Calhoun handed the Toughbook back to her, his expression softened and he said, “Now that we have a video, we’ll be able to find him whether or not the Pakistanis give us the satellite footage.”
She shook her head. “That’s not necessarily true, Sir. They could have moved him to another location to film, or they could have moved their computer to another location to upload. There’s no guarantee we’ll find him at all. And they didn’t give us a timeline. That probably means that they’re ready to—”
“Scully, listen to yourself. That’s not what that means at all—it probably means that it’s an empty threat. They want him for some reason, most likely for information. And yes, I realize that means they’re going to keep torturing him.” He closed his eyes briefly, and then looked straight at Scully. “But they’ll keep him alive. Do you understand?”
She took a deep breath. Then she nodded.
“Good. Call me with any updates you have. Hang in there.”
He signed off, and Scully looked at the display of Mulder’s slumped body, suspended by his wrists and frozen on the screen for all to see. She was about to order it down when she realized the Pakistani officials were looking at it. Well, they’re probably used to seeing stuff like this but maybe it’ll speed the process up a bit and get us that satellite footage. She decided to let it be. Unable to concentrate without something to do, she found the computer technicians and decided to help analyze the video.
You can make it, Mulder. God…please watch over him.
SUNDAY, JULY 4th, 2010
He didn’t know how long they had let him hang there, but he knew his arms were starting to go numb. That was, of course, after they got their feeling back after being shocked senseless. He had to pee, and he was currently in a furious debate with himself as to whether he should let it go and soil his pants, or hold it in and risk a bladder infection. His sense of time was completely off, not being able to see the sun and in constant pain.
The smell was driving him crazy. One didn’t realize just how bad a dead body smelled until one had to spend several hours with one in a room with no ventilation. They probably think they’re going to loosen me up with this. Get me to talk. Little do they know, he thought, nearly giddy for a moment, that I concentrate better with these distractions. Now absolute sensory deprivation, that would be torture.
He immediately chided himself. Don’t jinx it. Next thing you know they’ll be doing just that.
Humor, concentration on certain surroundings, thoughts about the past or the future, they all worked to keep his mind occupied. Even the annoyance of not being able to get his balance to stand up and take pressure off his wrists—it was all helping him stay focused.
And when he closed his eyes, he used old trauma prevention techniques to visualize not the masked men with the electric generator, not the sight of Colonel Young’s head hanging by a thread, not the fear of being blown up by the next hit to the Humvee, but rather the simple image of Scully. Scully in jeans and a sweater, baking cookies with Matt for the school bake sale. Scully with him in the garage, tuning up their bikes before a ride. Scully with him on the road, complaining about his lack of evidence for one case or another. Scully with him in the office, betting on whether Special Agent Gilbert wore a toupee.
He couldn’t run out of images of Scully. But just to keep it fresh, he also threw in Maggie, Tara, Matt, and Claire. He imagined them all together for a delayed 4th of July cookout. Maggie would make hotdogs and hamburgers, Tara would bring a casserole. He would take Matt and Claire to the park to play catch and Scully and Tara would have the afternoon to relax. This was what he would do when he got out of this mess.
Suddenly, the door opened. No one walked through at first, and Mulder watched in anticipation as the same three Arab-looking men came into the room, only this time they were wheeling a cot. He could see restraints.
Oh, shit. You just jinxed yourself, Mulder.
They lowered him by his aching arms using the winch, and Mulder’s back was lit afire with pain at the movement. He was finally able to sit, but he felt like he couldn’t move. One of the men approached him wordlessly and placed a plastic-formed but padded blindfold over his eyes. He couldn’t see a thing, no light got through. Then came the noise-cancelling earmuffs. He could still hear, but not much. I can’t believe this is happening…he thought at first, but then his survival training kicked in, and he forced himself to accept it and adapt.
I need a game. I need a game now. I can still feel touch. Count the number of times I’m moved.
One, they moved his wrists to untie him, but then two, tied them to his waist again. Three, they untied his ankles, and four, they lifted him by his shoulders and legs. He was carried onto the cot, and then unceremoniously dumped there. Five, ankle restraints. Six, wrists untied but seven, re-tied to the cot. Eight, neck restraint. Shit, I hate those…Nine, chest. Ten, left shoulder. He cried out in pain as the eleventh movement was completed and they tightened the restraint around his right shoulder, right where the shard of glass had implanted itself.
Unlike the original dirty rag, the gag they placed in his mouth this time seemed clean and almost like a mouth guard, holding his jaw in an open position. The large plastic object was strapped to the neck restraint, making it impossible for Mulder to move his jaw at all. He could still move his fingers, though. He was counting on that. As they rolled him out of the room, he alternated putting pressure on the leather padded cot with his index and ring, then middle and pinky fingers. He changed the pattern frequently, and it helped him concentrate on the direction they were turning.
Left, then right, then…an elevator? Then a rougher ride, straight out to a car. He couldn’t hear the car engine very well, but he could feel its vibrations as he was loaded into the back. The bumpy ride gave him one more thing to concentrate on. They made a relatively straight shot from wherever they were, but they gradually turned left and then right. All of this means nothing if you don’t know where you started from.
The ride lasted for what seemed like hours. When they finally got wherever they were going, though, Mulder was unloaded and rolled up a large ramp. Then he heard the muffled, yet unmistakable noise of a propeller airplane. We’re taking off? Shit…they’re taking me out of the country. Oh, God, Scully will never find me…
NO! Stop this! You CANNOT think like this or you won’t survive. Come on, Mulder. She WILL find you. You’re going to get home. Even if this delays it a little…
He felt his ears pop at the change in altitude. They were in the air. They were about to be out of Pakistan.
TEMPORARY UN CAMP
SUNDAY, JULY 4th, 2010
Scully frowned, and turned away from the computer screen to face Major Calhoun. “So you’re saying every group is accounted for?”
“That’s right. Almost all of them came out and started fighting Pakistani patrols as soon as they saw the patrols’ hands were full with the IEDs. And those who didn’t start fighting were planting new IEDs while there were distractions elsewhere. We’ve got civilian witnesses in multiple cities around the area calling in tips. This time they’re actually credible—no one wants an IED in front of their house.”
“But how can you be sure that every group is accounted for?” Scully asked. This went back to the basic scientific argument that one cannot prove a negative. One could not prove that there wasn’t a teapot orbiting Earth, especially when the parameters of that teapot were not defined. Likewise, one could not prove that there weren’t terrorist groups out there still.
“Agent Scully, you’re going to have to trust my experience on this one. I’ve dealt with these groups before, and I’ve got extensive information on the tribal situation in the area. Colonel Young also left particularly detailed notes about these civilians that he collected from the Pakistani government. These people are organized into sects, and the sects have no more than two or three actual terrorist groups each. And almost all of those were accounted for simply by the fact that they were allocating so many resources into taking advantage of the Pakistani patrol’s distraction. And the others were accounted for by a bidding process.”
Scully frowned. “What do you mean?”
“We send a covert agent who’s working with tribal groups into the field to communicate to these guys. They may suspect him as an agent, they may not. Either way, they receive the communication that we know that they have our man, and that if they release him they could name their price. Those who name a price are obviously not our group.”
Scully nodded. “Of course. Because if they’re politicized in nature and not serving a larger group, then they wouldn’t want to take a bribe. But the lower groups would gladly take the funding in exchange for one prisoner. Especially if they didn’t know his value.”
“Exactly.” He smiled slightly. “I see you’ve done this before.”
“It’s very similar to prison hostages. If a hostage is taken but we don’t know his location, many prisoners will step up if a reward is offered and give false information. It’s also similar to kidnappings and grand theft—people call in false tips all the time, hoping to get money. That effect disappears if the people have a personal interest invested in this person’s disappearance.”
“So we’re either dealing with an extremely powerful group, something on the scale of al Qaeda, or we’re dealing with another group entirely.”
Scully’s heart sank at those words. Al Qaeda…Mulder didn’t have a chance.
“Sir, I’ve got something,” the technician beside Scully stated, and they looked at his screen. “I thought something was a little off about these guys so I ran the entire thing through voice recognition software. Nothing came up as a match, but these guys are definitely not native Arabic-speakers.”
“Do they have a known dialect?” Scully asked.
“No, Agent Scully, that would’ve showed up on the computer. What kind of accent do they have, Hobbs? Anything on the database?”
“It’s very well-concealed, Sir,” the technician Hobbs said. “But here it is. The inflection on this word here,” he moved his cursor, “and here. It’s the same as this one on the database, but it’s less pronounced.” He played a new file, and this one displayed a Hindi accent in the Arabic language.
“This doesn’t mean they aren’t terrorists. Like the Jeser speak with accents from their native language when they speak English, they also speak English with an American accent, not a British one,” Scully pointed out. “This could just mean they were taught to speak Arabic in a Hindi-speaking area.”
“Well, I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but India’s right over the border, and they speak Hindi,” Calhoun stated the obvious.
“Another thing I noticed that was extremely odd, Sir,” Hobbs continued. “Take a look at this screencap of the video here. Look at this man’s pants,” he pointed to the man speaking into the camera. He was relatively close and the zoom and digital enhancement of the video showed his pants in high definition. “The dirt that’s smeared on them doesn’t seem to have been accidental. You can almost see a handprint. There are the fingers, and there’s the palm…it’s the same over here. Finally, this tear in his pants here, it’s much too clean for human hands and it has no bloodstains on it. I believe it was done deliberately, Sir, as was the dirt on the pants.”
“For what reason?” Calhoun asked, frowning in thought. This didn’t seem to be relevant in the least.
“Well, Sir, he could have been dressing for the part of an outlaw—he could have stolen clothes and then altered them to look like he hadn’t changed in a while. There are also signs that he got dressed in a hurry. That this isn’t how he normally dresses. His head covering is showing his hair partially, and his traditional robe seems to have been put over a dark-colored t-shirt. That isn’t standard practice in the religion, Sir.”
“So you’re saying this man is pretending to be a Muslim? Do you think he’s an undercover agent?”
Scully squinted at Calhoun and shook her head. “No, Major. Think of Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation. These are not Islamic terrorists. They’re not Pakistani nationalists. They’re something else.”
They stared at the screen. “That would make sense,” Calhoun said. “It would explain the level of orchestration that went into the attack, the level of sophistication and planning that was displayed. It would shed light on the accents and explain the subtleties they overlooked when it came to the Muslim religion.”
“And if that’s the case,” Scully stated, and her voice dropped. “Then we have no idea who has Mulder.”
MAGGIE SCULLY’S HOUSE
SUNDAY, JULY 4th, 2010
They had finished their early Fourth of July dinner and were cleaning up the dishes. Claire and Matt were both pitching in without complaint, putting the plates in the dishwasher and putting the condiments away in the fridge. Tara turned on the evening news, trying to get the weather for that night. The early July weather was ever unpredictable. It could be sunny one day and they would have torrential downpours the next.
“Mom, after we get home, can I go over to Trevor’s house?”
“On the 4th of July? Absolutely not,” Tara answered. “Trevor’s parents probably want some time to themselves. They’re going to start to wonder if they somehow adopted a kid when they weren’t looking.”
Claire giggled at that, and Matt rolled his eyes.
“You can see Trevor tomorrow when you go see The Last Airbender,” Tara reasoned with the twelve-year-old.
“I can’t believe the prices for movies these days,” Maggie said, exasperated. “When I was your age, Matty, we paid 50 cents to see a movie, and that was a week’s allowance.”
“But you have to account for inflation, Grandma,” Matt stated. “And things were a lot cheaper during the Great Depression.”
Tara smirked. “Grandma was a baby at the very end of the Great Depression, Matt. Not old enough to see a movie.”
Maggie smiled affectionately at the boy, taking no offense. “But that’s very good that you’re paying attention in history class,” Maggie told him with a smile. She stuck a glass in the dishwasher. “We still had some financial difficulties in my family. We had to save all our pennies—that’s why I still keep that penny jar over there,” she pointed. “So I’ll have some extra cash at the end of the year when I empty it.”
“I learned about the Depression from this documentary I was watching on Youtube,” Matt said. “We’re stuck on this boring unit on globalization in history class. I already know all that stuff.”
“Shh!” Claire said suddenly. She pointed to the TV screen, her eyes wide with fear. “Listen!”
“—earlier posted on Youtube, but since taken down. It is suspected that the agent was captured by a terrorist organization, though their identity has not yet become apparent. He has officially been listed as a POW.” A picture of Mulder flashed on the screen next to the anchorwoman’s head. He was smiling and in a suit and tie in front of an American flag. Maggie and Tara looked like they had both been punched in the gut, and Matt and Claire simply stared in shock and fearful awe.
“Again, for those of you just tuning in, this is Breaking News. Special Agent Fox Mulder of the FBI, who was in Pakistan for the special investigation into the recent terrorist attacks there and in India, has been captured by an as-yet-unnamed terrorist organization. They appear to be Pakistani Nationalist extremists, but that is not confirmed. And as our anchor Jeff Harding was just saying, this terrorist organization had posted a video on Youtube to broadcast the capture and torture of Agent Mulder, but the site took it down only five minutes after its posting.”
The screen switched to a new anchorman, this time in front of buildings that looked to be in Pakistan. “Yes, that’s right, Cheryl. The US Army tipped Youtube to the fact that it could be receiving a video, and they had their people ready to block and track any terrorist posting. Luckily they got the video down before it gathered too many views.”
The screen switched back to the anchorwoman, who said, “The following is a screengrab from that video. The video is too graphic for us to show on television, but we advise you that this screengrab might upset small children.”
Maggie instantly went into ‘mother’ mode. “Okay, both of you, Matt, Claire, out. You don’t need to see this.” She physically pushed them out of the room, even though their heads were turned, trying to catch the sight of Mulder in the hands of the terrorists. “You don’t need to look at this,” Maggie said forcefully, and steered them for the stairs. “Go upstairs—do not turn on the television, do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Grandma,” they said in semi-unison, and walked up the stairs slowly.
“Matt, Claire, honey…” she started, and they turned. “Uncle Mulder is very strong,” she said softly. “He’ll make it through—you just need to pray.”
Claire looked a little relieved, but Matt seemed just as distraught as before. They turned without responding, and walked the rest of the way up the stairs.
Maggie sighed, and walked back to the kitchen where Tara was leaning against the counter, fist to her mouth, watching the anchorwoman go on talking about Mulder’s capture while the picture of him half-naked and suspended from the ceiling by his wrists was displayed for all the world to see.
Maggie felt tears forming in her eyes, and she didn’t have to say anything to Tara. She simply wrapped her arms around her, and the two women hugged.
TEMPORARY UN CAMP
MONDAY, JULY 5th, 2010
“We got it, we got the footage,” Calhoun’s voice pierced Scully’s near-sleep daze as she sat in a chair in the galley tent and held an un-opened granola bar. Having gotten only two hours of sleep since she left Washington DC, she was completely exhausted and the adrenaline was starting to wear off. With the UN contacting the Indian government and explaining the situation, to try to find out if they had any gangs or terrorist groups that might try to impersonate Pakistani terrorists, and with the US Army looking into their intelligence and contacting the CIA for advice, Scully was really out of her playing field.
She had thought, for about two minutes, about contacting Spender. It was a long shot but he might know something. The price of putting themselves in his debt, though, was far too high. Especially when they didn’t know if the CIA or Indian intelligence knew anything.
She had come into the galley about a half hour ago to grab something to eat and watch the news, but somewhere between picking up the granola bar and turning on the TV, she had entered a near-sleep state. When she heard Calhoun’s voice she nearly jumped out of her seat. Fully awake, she asked, “The satellite footage?”
Calhoun nodded. “They finally agreed to it. They’re sending it to us now. We should have a location soon.”
Relief washed over her. She visibly relaxed for a moment, and even smiled at Calhoun. But then she caught herself. With the news covering Mulder’s capture, and considering they already posted the video to Youtube, they may have moved Mulder by now.
She rose and followed the major out to the Command and Control tent, where the utter chaos had died down somewhat. The UN representatives had left and gone to hotels to sleep. The Pakistani officials were no longer needed for negotiations. It made Scully mad. Mulder was still out there and these jokers were in some hotel bed somewhere instead of offering their help. She didn’t expect much from the suits in the Pakistani government, and she supposed she shouldn’t have expected much from the UN, but it still irked her that the only ones willing to stay past their shift was the US military and the dedicated Pakistani patrolmen still willing to help. Or ordered to ‘supervise’.
“We’ve been tracking this truck, Sir,” Hobbs said from his seat in front of the computer. Scully jogged over to the screen and looked at the truck it displayed. In the far left-hand corner she could see the burning hood of one of the Humvees at the attack site. In the bed of the truck, surrounded by armed men, Mulder was bound and had a hood over his head. She saw the arm of one of the men pull back, getting ready to cold-cock Mulder.
In the next satellite image her partner laid on the bed of the truck, knocked out. She pursed her lips and asked, “Can we speed this up, please?”
“It’s going as fast as it can, Agent Scully,” Hobbs answered. “The tracker has identified the truck’s parameters as I entered them in and it’s now following satellite images in close proximity to this one, from three different Pakistani satellites. It takes a few minutes to—”
“Get the images downloaded, I know, I know,” she said, irritated. Hobbs glanced at her, but didn’t say anything. He understood she was on edge.
Ten excruciating minutes later, the truck stopped outside of a school. They practically dragged Mulder inside, and subsequent satellite footage didn’t show any movement.
“That’s it, we got it,” Calhoun said in victory. “Okay, let’s put a team together, get moving. Can I have everyone’s attention!” People stopped what they were doing and listened to the major. “We’ve got a location—it’s a school southwest of Kohat. I want the closest available Pakistani patrol to surround that building, but do not move in until US troops arrive. Harris, get the medical team together and tell them to prep a helicopter if we need an airlift. Pierson, I want you and your men in on this one. Everyone get suited up now, we leave no later than 0215. Move!”
A chorus of ‘yes, Sir’s rang out, and the tent was chaos once again. Scully already had her jacket on, her Toughbook in her bag, and her helmet secured on her head. She waited by the entrance of the tent, expectantly looking at Calhoun.
“I can’t leave until my people are ready, Agent Scully. It’s going to be at least another two minutes,” he said.
He sounded so level-headed, she wanted to hit him. Mulder was out there, he could be moved at any moment! She took a deep breath. Calhoun knows, she forced herself to realize. Two minutes…two minutes…
Finally, it was time to leave. The ride there took much longer than Scully thought it should have. They ended up taking a N-S road and then heading directly west to Kohat, instead of going straight there, mainly because of the insurgent activity in the area.
She practically leapt out of the Humvee when they arrived. The school wasn’t what she expected. From the satellite view, it looked a little run-down, but what she was seeing in front of her was a building worthy of being condemned.
“Run the infrared,” Calhoun ordered Pierson. “Did anyone spot anything so far?” he asked one of the Pakistani patrolmen.
“Nothing, Sir,” one answered.
“Pierson?” Calhoun asked, and Scully turned to the man, desperate for an infrared signature to show up on the screen.
“No live ones here, Sir. Two very small heat signatures in the basement, not warm enough to be alive. One’s the size of a man, Sir. The other is a machine, most likely.”
Scully’s stomach dropped. “What’s the body temperature?” she demanded.
“It’s barely warmer than the surroundings, Agent Scully. This body’s been there awhile.”
Then it can’t be Mulder, she reassured herself. It was this fact that she kept repeating as she moved in with the rest of the team. They strategically surrounded the building and then scoured each area. There were no signs of life. This school hadn’t been used in a decade, most likely. There were signs that someone was recently here, though. Disturbances in the dust, footprints that the sand should have erased had they been formed earlier.
They entered the basement, and immediately upon mounting the stairs, Scully covered her nose and mouth with her shirt. The unmistakable smell of rotting flesh grew as they descended the stairs and opened the basement door. They all involuntarily made noises of protest at the disgusting and almost overwhelming scent.
Scully looked at the maggot-infested body, glad to have something to do to distract her from the fact that Mulder was obviously moved to a new location. She tried to tell herself that they would just look at the satellite footage from the past hours since the video was made, and get another trace on him. She tried to tell herself that her job right now was to figure out who this dead man was, and how he was connected to the case. She tried to occupy herself, but she couldn’t fool anyone into thinking she was operating at peak efficiency.
Even Calhoun was keeping an eye on her, not stepping out of eyesight for more than a few minutes. “What’ve you got there, Agent Scully?”
“A male,” Scully answered, and looked up. “Between thirty and fifty, judging from the skeletal structure and the remnants of clothes he’s got. His skull and build tell us that he was probably Western or that he grew up in a wealthy area. His clothes point to that as well—looks like Dockers, an Oxford shirt, and a fairly expensive watch.” In such a rural area, it was rare seeing a grown man dressed in Western clothing.
“How was he killed?” Calhoun asked.
“Single gunshot wound to the head, I’m guessing,” Scully said, and shifted her squatting position to get a better look at the skull fragmentation. “It entered in his temple and exited out his frontal lobe.”
“Not execution style,” the major pointed out.
“No, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t intentional.”
“Could’ve also been a suicide,” the major stated.
“Not likely. The skull fragmentation is too small for that kind of close-range hit,” Scully countered. “Major Calhoun, I’m a trained medical examiner. Would you mind if I conduct the autopsy on this body? Or what’s left of it?”
“By all means, Agent Scully. We’ll get the body shipped back to the base. Meanwhile, I’ll contact Hobbs and see if he can pull that satellite footage back up, see where the truck headed after it left here.”
She nodded, somewhat relieved. The major really seemed to be on top of things. But she still felt the nagging, distracting, disturbing feeling that if she didn’t do something drastic soon, Mulder was going to die. She tried to concentrate on the body. You knew this was a possibility. The damn Pakistani government took so long to get the footage to us, it’s now useless. Mulder is still out there, though. Remember that. He’s still out there, and he’s probably thinking about you just as you’re thinking about him.
MONDAY, JULY 5th, 2010
Mulder had fallen asleep. The realization of what he had done hit him only when he awoke and found himself being wheeled somewhere. A flutter of panic flew through his chest. He didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know when they had landed. He had no idea what was going on. Deprived of sight, sound, the ability to speak, the ability to move, he was completely vulnerable. They could do whatever they wanted to him, and he wouldn’t even see it coming.
His breathing accelerated as his heart pounded. He had broken the first rule of survival: stay alert. If he had any chance of escape, it was gone now. He wouldn’t know where to go. He didn’t know how long he had been gone, and he didn’t even know what country he was in. If he managed to get away from these people, he might run right into another terrorist group’s hands. For all he knew, he was now in North Korea.
Calm down, a voice in his head commanded him sharply. It sounded like Skinner’s voice to him. You can reason your way out of this, Mulder. You don’t know what country you’re in, but you know that India’s border is still closed, so you can’t be there. You’re probably not in Afghanistan after that last attack, and if they loaded you on a plane in the first place, you’re definitely not in Pakistan anymore. The American presence is too large in Iraq for it to be safe. No one wants to screw with Iran. You were in a prop plane so it’s nowhere far—maybe Egypt, maybe Syria, but that might be too close to Israel for their comfort. At least you know where you aren’t.
He calmed his breathing and listened as hard as he could. The sound-cancelling earmuffs made it nearly impossible to make anything out, but he thought he could hear two men talking. It was very faint—it could have been his imagination.
He had been covered by something. He wasn’t sure what, but he had just noticed it. If they had covered him, he was probably around other people. People the terrorists didn’t want to know about him. Scream, Mulder, a voice that sounded like Scully’s ordered him. Scream now!
He screamed. Against the gag it was muffled, and because he hadn’t had water for hours, it was short-lived. He gagged, his throat begging for water. He was unable to produce any saliva. The gag had dried out his mouth almost completely. He struggled against the restraints unsuccessfully as he summoned up another scream. This one left him coughing, and it wasn’t until he was having trouble breathing that he realized his struggling had tightened the gag and neck restraint. They must have tied it so it did just that. Bastards!
Mulder was starting to get mad. His trained acceptance of his captivity was leaving him as his breathing became more and more labored and panic set in. He screamed again, and realized that they had accelerated the movement of the cot—they were now running with him. He closed his eyes against the blindfold and tried to breathe through his nose until he was suddenly slammed into something, hard.
They were moving down. An elevator? This is a hospital, the thought occurred to him. The cover must have made him look like a dead body. What am I doing here? Why would terrorists take the risk of entering a hospital?
The vertical movement stopped, and the horizontal movement resumed. This time, they weren’t moving quickly. He felt the cover removed from the cot, and figured they were now out of others’ sight. They turned, kept moving for a short time, and then came to a halt. Mulder felt himself being tipped forward, and the restraints dug into his body as he was now suspended by them. His breathing was incredibly labored, as the neck restraint dug into his chin and cut off his windpipe.
Moments later, someone removed the earmuffs and blindfold. Mulder squinted and blinked, trying to adjust his eyes to the incredibly bright light. He felt the heat of the lamp on his face, and realized they had put a light right in front of him. They left the gag in, and he was still unable to speak, but he followed his captors with his eyes, memorizing their features.
He could see they were in some kind of cement-block basement. It was cool, unlike his previous scorching-hot surroundings. There was a folding table nearby with a large paper map on it, and a laptop plugged into a wall outlet that was hanging by its electrical cords, not screwed into the wall. Three men who Mulder didn’t remember were down in this area, wearing white labcoats and talking amongst themselves. They didn’t seem to care that Mulder was there.
One of the men Mulder remembered from Pakistan carried something small in his hand over to where Mulder was restrained, and then stood to the side. The man who had done the talking in the video walked over next, followed by the third man from Pakistan. The first man unwrapped the object in his hand, and Mulder saw that they were two needles, approximately six inches long with increasing diameter. At their thickest, they were about an eighth of an inch. The man handed one to the third man, and he placed the point on the tip of Mulder’s right ring finger. The first man mirrored the action.
“Agent Mulder,” the leader said in a strange Middle-Eastern accent, and Mulder attempted to control his breathing. He had an idea as to what was going to happen next. “We have a few questions for you.”
Here we go…
“This is how it will work. You give us an answer, we undo your neck restraint. You give us another answer, we let you sit on the floor. Another answer, and you get a drink of water. You see where this is going. You fail to give us an answer, and…well…you understand how this works. My colleagues are skilled in the most advanced forms of interrogation techniques. The first question I believe you can answer without me removing the gag.”
Mulder looked at him, confused. He walked away beyond the agent’s peripheral vision, and then walked back with a small stone object in his hands. It was shaped oddly, with curves and grooves and two hand-sized holes. But Mulder knew where that shape had come from, and was confident Scully could even calculate the equation that would result in that shape. He knew the object well. He had given an entire lecture on it in what seemed at this point like a lifetime ago. It was the Bari Trasadi.
“Yes, I thought you’d recognize it,” the man answered, and placed the weapon on a small cart nearby. He walked back, and removed Mulder’s gag.
“Who are you?” Mulder spat out, his mind reeling. If these people had the Bari Trasadi, they clearly weren’t Pakistani nationalists. Why would they attack their own country, and then attack Afghanistan? Why wouldn’t they just attack India with the weapon, instead of mobilizing dozens of young men to terrorize the nation? They also had money. He could see that from the facility they had in this basement.
As soon as he had asked the question, though, the leader nodded to his cronies and the two men pushed the needle points an inch into Mulder’s fingers. He cried out as his pain sensors flew. Sweat poured down his forehead, and he gave the leader a hardened glare. The ring fingers held some of the most sensitive nerve endings in the human body. But this was lightweight torture, Mulder knew. And he knew if this was what he got for asking a question, he was bound to get far worse in very little time.
“We’re asking the questions, Agent Mulder,” the leader chided lightly, and smiled. “Now, I would first like to ask you to explain what you know about this device. More specifically, what it is called, what the legend says, and what the current science says about the legend. Basically, restate your lecture.”
“You can get my lecture online,” Mulder said, and was instantly sorry for it. The needles were driven up his fingers another inch, and he gritted his teeth and tried to breathe.
“We have reason to believe you’ll have special insight into the device,” the leader stated as if Mulder hadn’t even spoken.
The agent examined his options. Restating what was online wouldn’t hurt anything. They certainly had internet access, and they might extract the needles if he complied. Maybe.
Talking was difficult because of the neck strap, but he took as deep a breath as he could and began speaking. “The Bari Trasadi is a 4,000-year-old weapon from India that originated on the West side of the country. Though it’s not clear exactly where, Indian texts attribute the destruction of forty cities to the Bari Trasadi’s work, nearly 4,000 years ago. The only reason why this isn’t pure myth is because of the perfect Silicone Dioxide still found deposited in some regions of India, which is the main product of the Bari Trasadi’s destruction. It was written that an individual ‘pure of heart’ could destroy a city by placing his hands in the Bari Trasadi and thinking about their destruction. Current scientists believe that the weapon might have actually existed, and either been an obscure product of nature or the result of extraterrestrial influence.”
When he was done, his throat was parched dry and he felt like he couldn’t breathe. His heart pounded faster when the leader approached him, but to his relief, the man simply undid the neck strap. Mulder felt his entire body sag and he took in a deep, labored breath of air.
“A good start, no?” the leader said with a smile. Mulder knew what he was doing. This was classic captor-victim psychology. He was trying to make Mulder expect a reward or a punishment, depending on his actions. He was trying to prove to the agent that he could be trusted.
The leader nodded to his men, and they removed the needles from Mulder’s fingers. He gritted his teeth and tried not to cry at the pain. Flexing his fingers carefully, he was grateful that no bones had been broken. But they felt like they were on fire, and were now dripping blood onto the floor.
“We brought you here because we believe you may have the ‘pure of heart’ technique,” the man said with a small smile, and walked over to the laptop on the table nearby. He pulled up a picture of Mulder in a hospital gown, from years ago when he had first experienced ‘psychic’ abilities. “We have intelligence that suggests your ‘heart’ may be the ‘purest’. We understand each other, Agent Mulder?”
“I’m not going to help you kill innocent people,” Mulder promised him. His voice came out strong and defiant, despite the fact that he thought the needles would come back. But instead, the leader simply shook his head, and closed the laptop screen. Then he said something in Arabic to his cronies, and Mulder was unstrapped. First the chest, then the ankles, shoulders, and wrists. Not expecting it, Mulder flopped onto the floor. He immediately tried to get up, but one of the men kicked him on the back of the head and sent stars into his vision.
His arms and legs were grabbed, and forced into restraints that Mulder didn’t even see before. Rope was pulled through the restraints and his limbs were forced together behind his back. He gritted his teeth and forced himself not to vocally protest as they wrapped the rope around his neck and inserted the gag once more. Then they threw the rope over what Mulder hoped was a strong pipe, and the two cronies pulled. Mulder was raised about three feet in the air, and the leader leaned in close to his face. “I’ll give you some incentive to help us out, Agent Mulder. Some time to think it over, and some additional stimulation. Just so you don’t get bored.”
He knew what was coming next. The two grunts couldn’t wait to get their chance to pummel him, and as soon as the leader walked away, the beating began. He was like a punching bag, swinging with each blow as they kneed him in the ribs, punched him in the face, kicked his right arm so hard Mulder was sure it was now dislocated. His vision began to gray with each blow. His body screamed with pain, and he could do nothing but yell against the gag as natural tears streamed down his face.
Finally they left him, and he could only swing from the pipe in agony. Every movement he tried to make just made something else hurt worse, and any movement of his head made the rope nearly cut off his windpipe. He wasn’t in danger of choking, as the rope tied to his ankle and wrist restraints was holding his weight. But he was intensely uncomfortable.
It was in this agonizing predicament that he realized they had placed him right next to the folding table with the map. As a welcome distraction, Mulder began to study it. There were blue circles around various areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and then red X’s in certain spots as well. There was a list of names with numbers next to them, and numbers all over the map. In his foggy state, Mulder couldn’t really come to any conclusions. But he guessed that this was a map for suicide bombers. This was a highly orchestrated terrorist organization, whoever they were.
Before he passed out, though, another thought came to him. What if they weren’t terrorists at all? What if they had purposely placed him here, so he would know of these targets? What did that mean?
He didn’t get to elaborate on that thought process, though, because the dehydration, hunger and pain brought him to a point where higher brain functions were impossible. He succumbed to unconsciousness.
TEMPORARY UN CAMP
MONDAY, JULY 5th, 2010
“So he was a terrorist?” Scully asked, staring at the smiling face of a middle-aged doctor of Mediterranean descent. His name was Aiman Iftikaar, and he had died an extremely horrible death.
Calhoun nodded and rubbed his eyes tiredly. “He was. He was involved in a Pakistani nationalist, Islamic extremist group that operated in a neighboring tribal area. He moved back there after obtaining a medical degree at a prominent Pakistani university. The Pakistani government found him easily after you scanned that skull into the computer. Now they’re asking for our skull reconstruction software to help them combat terrorism…but that’s another headache for General Hager to handle.” He took a sip of his coffee. “How’d he die?”
“Painfully,” Scully said, and pulled up his autopsy report. “These lesions on the bones show that he was hung by his wrists and ankles for days. Eventually he died of a single gunshot wound to the head, but he would’ve died of dehydration in a matter of days had they not shot him. He was badly beaten and tortured with a variety of techniques.” It wasn’t lost on her that if these people did this to Iftikaar, they could certainly do it to Mulder, too.
Calhoun scanned the report on the Toughbook screen and his eyes stopped when he reached a certain point. He went back and re-read the entry. “Agent Scully, are these results finalized?”
“Yes, I had Dr. Till look over what I’d done and sign off on it. It’s got the Army’s seal of approval.”
“Then we’re dealing with someone extremely knowledgeable with a lot of resources. These torture techniques, they’re a combination of Western, Eastern, Middle-Eastern, and African torture. It looks like whoever administered them knew what he was doing, too. The needle-point torture can kill the victim if they accidentally pierce a vital organ or artery. And the rope around the neck, if not tied properly, can choke the victim when he falls asleep or is knocked unconscious.”
“I was able to identify 150 different needle puncture wounds, all hitting packages of nerves that would’ve sent the victim into orbit,” Scully said quietly. She looked at the report, trying to remember that this was not Mulder and she had no evidence to suggest that they would treat him the same way. She took a deep breath. “The ligature marks around the neck were tight but not anywhere near fatal. They would have made it difficult to breathe…that’s it.”
Calhoun shook his head. “These aren’t your typical terrorists…even your typical well-funded terrorists. Al Qaeda could’ve pulled this off ten years ago but not now, when they’re stretched so thin. This is not a terrorist group. At least not any group we know about.”
“Then who has Mulder?” She asked, her tone almost angry. She expected answers from Calhoun, for some reason, even though she understood that the major was in the same position she was.
Calhoun frowned. “They’re not native Arabic-speakers. They’ve got a lot of money, a lot of resources. They get around—they have experiences with many different cultures. And they clearly stand to gain from throwing us off track. It’s not money they’re after. But other than that…we don’t have anything. We’ll know more when we catch something on satellite. We still can’t clear up that jam.” There had been a jam after Mulder’s captors had left the school, and they had been unable to get any footage of the truck or another vehicle after that. It wasn’t clear that Scully’s partner was even in the country anymore.
“Major!” a lieutenant called, as if on cue. “Need to speak to you regarding the satellite footage, Sir.”
Calhoun walked over to his subordinate, and Scully dutifully followed. When they approached, the lieutenant’s haggard face looked discouraged. “We tried everything, Sir. I’m sorry—the data is just too corrupted. Whatever jammed this satellite left a trail, though, and we’ll get right on trying to trace it.”
Calhoun nodded, and turned to Scully. His expression was sympathetic. “I’m sorry, Agent Scully. This is going to take a while. A trace on the jamming signal’s origin could take over twenty-four hours.”
Scully was suddenly furious. “Mulder doesn’t have twenty-four hours!”
Calhoun could only say, “We don’t know how long they’ll allow him to live.”
She turned angrily, and stormed away. Calhoun sighed. “Hobbs,” he called, and his technician turned. “I want an update on the Bari Trasadi energy signal trace by the end of the hour.” As Hobbs answered ‘yes, Sir,’ Calhoun said quietly, more to himself, “Maybe if we can find that damn thing, we can find Agent Mulder.”
MONDAY, JULY 7th, 2010
The man walked down the basement corridor, his expression irritated. He played with the satellite phone in his hand, folding the antenna up and down as he approached his destination. The FBI agent was either unbreakable or an idiot. They had hung him in front of the map for nearly a day and he still hadn’t tried to get their attention and say he would try using the Bari Trasadi.
It had seemed the perfect plan, to give him a reason to try to take out the terrorist targets. But it was failing, for some reason.
He finally stopped stalling and entered his boss’s office. The older man was sitting at his desk, the room almost pitch black except for the white glow of a single, keychain-sized, lithium-powered light. “Did he crack?” the man asked in a German accent.
He placed the satellite phone in his pocket. “Not yet,” he admitted in English. Despite his previous manufactured accent, he spoke in his true Indian accent now.
The German man made a noise of disapproval and sat back, casting his figure further into the shadows. “Give him another day. Give him a sip of water to keep him alive and alert a little longer. Then move to Plan B before they manage to track us down. I want the base ready to move out if we must.”
“I understand, Sir,” he said, and then pulled out his radio and stuck it in his ear. “Sabir,” he ordered in Hindi as he left the office, “get the prisoner a sip of water. Just a sip.” The answer came back in the affirmative, and he shook his head in frustration as he headed back the way he came.
TARA SCULLY’S HOUSE
TUESDAY, JULY 7th, 2010
“The UN mourns the loss of German representative Daniel Schaeffer at the same time the US Army holds their own memorial service for Colonel Hal Young and others killed in the attack in Pakistan that resulted in the capture of an FBI agent. Reports are still inconclusive on the search for Special Agent Fox Mulder. According to the US Army, Agent Mulder’s partner is on the team in charge of looking for him, but they are simultaneously conducting a search for the origin of the terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That sounds like too much work for one team. What do you think, Steve?”
Tara turned off the television in disgust. Maggie had gotten the opportunity to talk to Dana earlier in the day, and according to her mother-in-law, the agent had looked exhausted and heartbroken. It had been almost two full days, and Mulder was still missing. Dana was at the end of her rope and Maggie managed to convince her to hold on and still have hope. But Mulder’s prospects weren’t looking good.
Little Claire was upstairs at the moment playing a video game. The kids had taken Mulder’s capture hard, and hadn’t said much in the last two days. Matthew was at the movies with his friend Trevor. Tara was willing to let the boys ride their bikes to the theatre by themselves because she understood his need to get out and blow off steam. He was like his father in that respect. And he now had a cell phone, so safety was less of a factor.
She looked at her watch. It was past time for him to be home. He was, in fact, twenty minutes late. She had told him 4:40 so that they could go over his summer reading list before dinner. She sighed, and picked up the house phone. She dialed his newly-acquired cell phone, and waited for him to pick up.
“Hi, you’ve reached Matt Scully,” his boyish voice said after only one ring. “If you’d like to leave a message, wait for the tone. Bye!”
“Matt, this is Mom. You’re late. Please call me back when you get this.” She hung up, and frowned. She started to dial Maggie, but then stopped. Her mother-in-law didn’t need anything else to worry about with Dana in Pakistan and Mulder listed as a POW.
“Why would his phone be off, though?” Tara asked out loud. She thought, perhaps, he had left it in his room. She climbed the stairs and started going through his things.
Pretty soon, her six-year-old daughter was standing outside the door. “Are you looking for drugs, Mom?”
Tara turned and gave Claire an exasperated expression. “No, why would you think that?”
Claire shifted from one foot to the other, swinging her hips and squirming as normal six-year-olds do. “Because Matt’s almost a teenager and when moms go through teenagers’ rooms, they’re looking for drugs.”
“Where did you hear that, Claire?” Tara asked, sounding quite exhausted.
“TV,” the little girl said innocently.
“Matt isn’t doing drugs,” she said definitively, and then glanced at her daughter. “Did you happen to talk to Matt before he left for Trevor’s house?”
“No, why?” Claire asked, now curious.
Tara shook her head. “No reason.” She feigned a smile. “Why don’t you go back to playing your game?”
“I beat the last level. Can I have another game? Please?”
“I’m not in the mood right now, Claire. We’ll talk about it later,” Tara told her simply, and watched as her little girl pouted and walked away. She sighed. Seconds later, the front door opened. Matt trudged in, backpack on his back. He took his helmet off and tossed it next to the pile of shoes near the door, and then let his backpack drop to the floor as well. Tara came down the stairs as he slipped his tennis shoes off.
“Matt, why weren’t you answering your phone?!” She asked angrily.
Matt looked surprised. “Huh?”
“I called you twice, once at 4 to make sure you remembered to come home, and once just now because you’re twenty minutes late. Have you looked at the clock?!”
Matt pulled his phone out of his pocket and attempted to turn the screen on. “Oh, crap. I forgot to charge it.”
Tara rolled her eyes, and then rested her gaze back on her son. “I got you that phone because I thought you could be responsible with it, Matthew.”
Once his full name was used, he realized he was in trouble. A guilty expression fell on his face. “I’m sorry, Mom,” he said sincerely. “I didn’t know it would make you this upset.” He looked at her eyes. “Really.”
Tara sighed. “It’s okay…just…charge it tonight, okay?”
“Okay. I will.”
“Why were you late, anyway? Did the movie run long?”
Matt picked up his backpack and unzipped it. “No, the movie ended on time. Trevor and I rode our bikes to the Army-Navy store. We bought this. I thought we could hang it up, just until Uncle Mulder comes home.”
In his hand was a neatly folded, nicely wrapped POW-MIA flag. He looked innocently up at his mother, hoping for approval. Tara tried not to cry as she gave her son a hug.
“What’s wrong? Did I get the wrong kind of flag? I thought—”
“No, Matt, you did just fine. We’ll put it on the flag pole until Uncle Mulder comes home.” She pulled away, and gave him a small smile. “You’re just…you’re growing up and becoming a man,” she said with a small chuckle, holding his shoulders. “Your dad would be proud of you. You did just fine.”
TUESDAY, JULY 6th, 2010
Mulder screamed again as the hot iron bar was applied to his back, searing his skin. He had been sweating more before…he felt so dry he didn’t know if he had any sweat left. They had taken the gag out of his mouth and his initial attempts at conversation had resulted in this latest session of torture.
He didn’t know how long he had been hanging there but he had lost the feeling in his arms and legs.
When the iron was removed, he coughed and tried to catch his breath, but his lack of saliva just made him gag. “I need water,” he croaked, and the iron was applied again.
“All right, enough,” he heard an unfamiliar voice, and looked up when the iron was removed. It was the same man who had interrogated him before, but he now had an Indian accent.
Mulder knew that was significant. His normally lightning-fast thinking was slowed considerably by the dehydration, hunger, and pain. He knew he had a concussion and he knew he was delirious, because only a short while ago he had heard Scully’s voice down the hall, followed soon after by little Claire’s. His vision was blurry and somewhere in the back of his mind he was worried about regaining the use of his limbs after what seemed like weeks of hanging. He had lost all sense of time.
But he had done several things during the torture to keep his mind occupied. One was memorize the map they had put in front of him—it was important to them for some reason that he knew it, and he figured it couldn’t hurt. Another activity was the analysis of his situation. He knew these men weren’t terrorists. He realized that several of the torture techniques they were using could be deadly if incorrectly applied, and that they were methods used by the elite forces of a half a dozen different areas of the world. These guys were knowledgeable, well-funded, and most likely manipulating him. Why would they want him and the rest of the world to think they were Pakistani terrorists? It had to do with the map, Mulder knew.
“Cut him down,” the man demanded. The grunts seemed disappointed, but obeyed orders. Mulder was lowered fairly quickly but not as painfully as he thought he would have been. They untied his limbs and they lifelessly fell onto the floor. Mulder didn’t have the strength to roll over, so he lay there on his stomach on the cold cement floor.
The leader caught his dislocated shoulder with his heel and flipped the agent onto his back, and Mulder cried out in pain. Tears were now forming in his eyes, and he found himself unable to move. I feel tingling…that’s good. You’re not going to lose your limbs, Mulder. Pull yourself together.
“Have you decided to help us?” the man asked him, looking down at Mulder mercilessly.
Mulder took a deep breath before he answered. “I’m not going…to help you…because you’re…” he stopped, tried to get more saliva in his mouth, and tried again. “You’re not terrorists.”
The man seemed surprised by this conclusion. He seemed to think over his answer, and he simply nodded for the moment. “Okay,” he said, and grabbed a chair. “Okay, fine. Agent Mulder, we’ve got to move to Plan B.” He looked up before he sat down in the chair and said to his two cronies, “Go and prepare the locations.”
When Mulder was alone with his captor, the man stood up and walked away for a moment, returning with a canteen. Mulder looked at it expectantly, trying not to get his hopes up. If this was just another ruse, he didn’t want to make himself thirstier by wishing for water. Somehow, his survival training was still intact.
To his surprise, though, the man unscrewed the cap and held it to Mulder’s lips. He drank the water with difficulty at first, his parched throat finding it hard to swallow. The water burned his esophagus, and he choked slightly when it leaked into his larynx. But it felt so good…
“I’m going to tell you the truth, Agent Mulder,” the man told him, and pulled the water away. He put the cap back on and set it beside his chair. “We are not Pakistani terrorists. We thought, as an FBI agent, you wouldn’t hesitate to take the opportunity to use the Bari Trasadi once you knew the location of the terrorist operating bases.”
“You aren’t very good actors,” Mulder quipped, and then flinched, expecting to be struck.
But the man chuckled instead. “That’s all right,” he said. “Because once I explain, you won’t hesitate to use the Bari Trasadi.” He shifted positions in his chair. “We are the good guys, Agent Mulder. We have information on terrorist strongholds. As you’ve no doubt figured out, we are well-funded and elite. We knew your capabilities to operate alien technology, and we took advantage of the fact that Mr. Skinner sent you here. It meant we didn’t have to cross the ocean.”
Mulder stared at him, hoping that he would give him more information than that. He was trying to figure out who these guys were. They must have some connections in the Indian government, he thought.
“We are trying to stop the terrorists, just the same as you,” the man told him. “They are a plague in this part of the world. You lost thousands on 9/11…we lose thousands every year to these lunatics. They invade our homes, they ravage our country, they are dragging down my country’s progress,” he said. He was passionate. Mulder realized this wasn’t an act.
“We know where their strongholds are. We know where they organize. All you have to do, now that you know where they are as well…is use the device.”
Mulder frowned, his expression troubled. “So you thought by torturing me…you’d make me use the device without…confirmation that I was going to hit a real terrorist target? I still don’t have…confirmation.” He closed his eyes against the pain, and said, “I won’t risk hitting innocent people.”
“We figured, after your initial reluctance, that we would need a secondary plan. That’s why as we speak, our people are placing explosive packages in strategic locations. One is near the temporary UN camp, where your partner is. One is near us, close enough to bring down this entire building on your head. And four others are located in known Jeser safehouses. One of which you’ve already been to—I believe you met a little boy there who was quite fond of you. If you refuse to take out the terrorists, we will detonate these bombs. They will look like terrorist strikes and the UN camp’s destruction may even cause a war. We’ll get you to destroy those terrorist locations, Mulder, one way or another.” He stood. “I’ll give you some time to think about it. Meanwhile, I’ll encourage you to watch Sabir demonstrate the use of the device.”
Mulder looked at the man in horror as he walked away, and then turned his attention to Sabir, who was nearby with his hands in the device. The man closed his eyes, and a few minutes later, stumbled backwards unexpectedly. It must take energy to destroy something. I wonder how many innocents died this time?
Sabir opened his eyes and looked at Mulder. “We can’t seem to control the device,” he admitted. “We can’t localize the different locations. Though this time it wasn’t such a tragedy. We just took out a good chunk of Peshawar.”
TEMPORARY UN CAMP
TUESDAY, JULY 6th, 2010
“A thousand dead, in seconds,” Calhoun said, and sat down across from Scully. He rubbed his eyes. “The Pakistani government’s not going to take much more of this.”
“If they used the weapon again, what does that mean for Mulder?” Scully asked, a hint of fear in her voice.
“It could mean anything,” the major stated, and ripped open a granola bar. “Hobbs is working on the trace. We think this latest hit could’ve given us what we need to actually get a lock on their position.”
Scully nodded, barely reacting. She had been given false hope so many times in the last two days that she felt like it was useless, even counterproductive, to count on success. She glanced at Calhoun. He looked completely exhausted. The poor man had inherited a disaster from Young, a diplomatic nightmare and a military catastrophe. He hadn’t complained about it once. He hadn’t spoken an ill word about Young’s handling of relations between the US and Pakistan. He hadn’t even mentioned how the cultural differences were making it hard to coordinate simple military missions.
For the first time in over forty-eight hours, Scully asked, “Major, how are you doing?”
Calhoun looked up from his granola bar. “How do you mean, Agent Scully?”
“Are you doing okay?”
“I’m fine. Aside from being a little tired, I’m at 100%.”
Scully nodded. He was putting on the same brave face that she knew Mulder would in his situation. That she knew she was at least trying to display.
“Major Calhoun, Sir?” A voice said over Calhoun’s radio.
Calhoun held down the button. “Go ahead.”
“This is Hobbs. We don’t have the trace complete, Sir, but Pierson and I have discovered something you should see.”
“I’m on my way,” Calhoun said, and exhaled as he got up. He grabbed his granola bar off the table. Scully, predictably, followed.
They entered the Command and Control tent for what felt like the hundredth time. Scully was so tired of entering with the expectation of results, and only getting more delays, that she almost didn’t want to come. She was instantly glad that she did when Hobbs revealed what they had found.
“Sir, this is Lieutenant Faraj with the Pakistani military—he’s a skilled forensic anthropologist and he’s also former Pakistani Intel. He’s got something to share.”
Scully remembered Faraj from the original site visit. He was a hard-working, dedicated individual. The man stood at semi-attention in front of Calhoun. “Sir,” he spoke with an accent, “Your officers have uncovered a code that I recognize from my time in Pakistani Intelligence. I have not received official authorization to reveal this to you, but it was never classified and I wanted to tell you in the interest of time.”
“Yes, then proceed, Lieutenant,” Calhoun spoke to him with firmness, but respect.
“You have created an arc equation to describe the airflow path of the weapon. It has resulted in a geographic location several kilometers in radius, which we are now trying to narrow down. But this spot in India, Sir,” he said, and pointed to the area near the Indian military hospital, “it is an underground Indian Intelligence outpost. It could not possibly be a coincidence that these ‘terrorists’ have such extensive knowledge of torture techniques from different cultures, have the resources to successfully launch the terror attacks they have completed, and additionally launch the weapon from inside a known Indian Intelligence area.”
The reality of the situation sunk in. “That military hospital,” Scully began, “it’s closed to the public, is it not?”
“It’s half-destroyed after the suicide bomber. Only military and rescue in and out,” Hobbs stated. “And we did spot a prop plane entering Pakistan, but we couldn’t get a fix on its origin and we know it was authorized by the Indian government.”
“My God…” Calhoun whispered. If India really was an aggressor, the political ramifications were enormous. A country backed by the United States engaging in mass destruction as they had, including the destruction of a US Army base? A country allied with the US kidnapping an FBI agent and torturing him, then posting it on the Internet? Calhoun shook his head. They would need to figure out if the Indian government knew what their operatives were doing before jumps like that could be made. For now, they needed to mobilize search and recover forces, and they needed to do it soon. “I’ll call Special Forces in. We’ll leave in an hour, tops. Agent Scully, get your stuff together and get ready to move out. If we find your partner, you won’t be returning with him to this warzone.”
It was unreal. They were going in. They had a location. She could really find him, and everything was going to be okay. She didn’t want to get her hopes up, but she couldn’t help it. She could almost feel it. This was it. Mulder was coming home.
BASEMENT OF MILITARY HOSPITAL
TUESDAY, JULY 6th, 2010
“We’ll know what you decide, Agent Mulder. You’ve got an hour to figure out how the device works and hit the intended targets.” The man placed a kitchen timer on the folding table with the map, next to the Bari Trasadi. “We’re confident we’ll be able to excavate the area and find your remains and the Bari Trasadi should you make a mistake.” He began to walk away, but then turned at the last moment. “We’re not animals, I assure you. Should you fail, we’ll find Agent Scully’s remains and bury them with yours.”
Mulder sat on the floor. His right ankle was cuffed to a chain, which was in turn padlocked to a bolt on the floor. His limbs were still extremely weak, and he hadn’t regained full feeling in them. He could barely comprehend what the man was telling him, but he knew they were all leaving. Scientists had been packing up their instruments and disappearing into the elevator for a while now. Those in charge were overseeing the mass exodus, but most of them were gone now. There were only two left, and when his interrogator took off, so did the last man. Mulder thought he was alone.
He tried to stand up. First he attempted to use his knees, knowing that his arms were wrenched nearly from their sockets and wouldn’t support his weight. But as it turned out, neither would his knees. He flopped onto the cement floor ungracefully, and cringed at the pain.
Everything was blurry. The drink of water his interrogator had given him had probably kept him alive, but he still had no saliva in his mouth, and kept hearing strange echoes of voices in his head. He was delirious and half-starved. He couldn’t stand up. How was he supposed to do anything if he couldn’t stand up?
You have to, he thought. You have to stand up, because if you don’t, Scully, Alam, soldiers, and a shitload of innocent civilians are going to die. And that includes you—you’re going to die with them.
“Contemplating your choices, Agent Mulder?”
Mulder turned, and saw something he couldn’t let his mind believe. This was the Middle-East. This was some kind of renegade military operation. Yes, it had to do with extraterrestrials but…he was delirious. He couldn’t trust his eyes. Could he really be there? He squinted.
Strughold smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m not really here. I’m a figment of your imagination,” the old German said cryptically, and Mulder thought he saw the man’s face shift, revealing the alien he really was. “Quite a decision you have to make. Innocent lives, or your life and Scully’s. Either way, the legend-following imbeciles get their way. The terrorists are blamed or the terrorists are destroyed. Well…I’ll be going now. It was quite nice talking to you. If this works out well, I’m sure we’ll see each other again.”
Then he walked away. Did hallucinations get into elevators?
Mulder blinked. That didn’t really just happen. Or did it? How could he be sure? The last time he was tortured to this extent was when Strughold captured him. When he put the alien oil into his bloodstream and allowed him to access an intelligence so far beyond anything he had imagined.
Concentrate, Mulder. You have an hour. What does that timer say?
He strained his neck, trying to see the timer. He caught a 5 in the far left slot, meaning that he had most of an hour. He had to try to stand again.
He maneuvered himself with one ‘good’ arm against the table and the dislocated one safely out of the way, and brought his knees around so he could push off and kneel. Then he threw his ‘good’ arm on top of the table and hung on for dear life. He cried out at the pain and tried to ignore the feeling of his cracked, perhaps broken ribs rubbing up against the table. He leaned into the table and felt around for the Bari Trasadi. He managed to knock the heavy rock onto the cement floor. Then he fell back down himself.
Good, Mulder. Destroy the 4,000-year-old artifact.
He realized he was going to have to crawl to it. It wasn’t going to be easy, with his ankle chained to the floor. “Summon the strength,” he heard an echo say in his head, and this time, instead of tuning out the hallucinations, he listened to it. With an incredible leap that surprised him, he landed with his head next to the Bari Trasadi.
His body was on fire. His mind was now throwing images in front of his vision, and he couldn’t decide if they were hallucinations or an effect of the alien artifact being so close.
“Your hands have to go inside,” he heard little Claire’s voice tell him, and he tried to clear her image from his mind. The last thing he wanted was for her to accidentally disappear into a pillar of sand. “Your hands have to go inside,” the little voice repeated.
“Shit, I know, I know!” he yelled with what little voice he had left. The thought of moving his dislocated arm sent chills up his spine. So much pain…how could he do it and not pass out? He couldn’t afford to pass out.
He was laying next to the damn artifact with his cheek on the cement, not even having the strength to lift his head up. He could barely move his non-dislocated shoulder, let alone the other arm, and the chain was fully extended. He then had a brilliant idea amidst the fog of strange voices, pangs of pain, and visions of hamburgers with gallon pitchers of water.
He reached his ‘good’ arm up as close as he could to the Bari Trasadi, and then with all his might knocked the device down to where his other hand rested. He then grabbed the device and squirmed painfully until his other hand was inside. Then, in this incredibly awkward position he had put himself in, he reached around with his ‘good’ hand and stuck it inside.
Instantly, he was transported to another cognitive world.
TEMPORARY CMD & CTRL CENTER
TUESDAY, JULY 6th, 2010
“Agent Scully, I just received yours and Major Calhoun’s message,” the President of India said over the video chat. She was dressed in traditional Indian clothing, clearly ready to go to some event. She had taken her personal time to call before they moved in on the hospital.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Scully said. “I take it you agree with General Himmat on our course of action?”
“Of course I do. And I want you to know how deeply sorry I am for this…those responsible will be brought to justice. This I promise you, Agent.”
Scully nodded. That all sounded great, but what she really cared about at the moment was getting into that hospital and getting Mulder out. Infrared sensors had already identified one signature in the basement. She didn’t expect the renegade Indian military intelligence officers to stick around, but she also figured that they wouldn’t go out without a fight. They needed to figure out what these legend-obsessed men had up their sleeve before they barged a building potentially rigged to explode.
“I also wanted to offer you my country’s services in any assistance we may provide you. I’ll let you return to your rescue mission.” She seemed to spot Scully’s cross necklace. “May your God be with you,” she finished, and when Scully thanked her, the powerful woman cut the video.
“You ready to do this?” Major Calhoun asked her from a few meters away. She nodded, and he called in a louder voice, “Okay, everyone, listen up! This is the game plan!”
Scully stared at the empty screen for a moment, and then got up. God…watch over Mulder.
BASEMENT OF MILITARY HOSPITAL
TUESDAY, JULY 6th, 2010
Mulder was surrounded by a Technicolor world of extremely detailed and extremely vague objects. At first, he nearly panicked, trying to get his bearings. He was starting to get the hang of it. And once he did, he found himself navigating the objects through touch, through sound, through sight…he was floating in zero g and all the pain was gone. It was more spectacular than anything he had ever seen.
“Can I speak here?” he wondered out loud, and instantly received his answer. “How does this thing work? How do you work?” he asked the device, looking around the rainbow extravaganza for some answers.
Suddenly, a small world appeared before him. And he didn’t have to ask again. He simply knew what to do. He found he knew a great deal now. It was as if an entire other life’s worth of knowledge was instantly poured into his head. He put his smooth and unblemished hands on the small globe, and could see forty places at once.
Surprised and nearly overloaded, he jumped back initially and the vision went away. He placed his hands back on the device slowly, and the vision came back. Forty places at once. In great detail, right down to the grains of sand. The original forty expanded to infinity. He could see where ancient beings were buried under the Earth. He could see Earth’s history—the beginning with the first humans, the hunter-gatherers becoming permanent settlers, the conquerors and the conquered, the scientists and the philosophers, the first chemists and the last of now-extinct species. The plants and animals maturing and evolving throughout time. Modern-day Cairo, with young people on cell phones in front of the Great Pyramids that he simultaneously witnessed being built. Aliens coming and going like the planet was an airport, millennia’s worth of oil being burned in the giant processing plants that looked like grains of sand when compared to what the aliens had.
He knew where the terrorist targets were that he was supposed to destroy. But he also knew that his captors were irrational, desperate, and angry. They might not have the right information, despite their high position in Indian intelligence. There were two schools within the target range of the Bari Trasadi, and every Jeser stronghold known to the Intelligence community appeared instantly. He saw little Alam in his lime green Crocs, sitting in the dirt outside the little farm house. The child looked sad. He saw Scully nearby. Nearby? No! This was in the blast zone of the bombs!
Overwhelming despair threatened to pull him out of the machine, but he forced himself to stay in. He had to do something. If he destroyed the targets his captors wanted him to, innocents would die. And if he didn’t, they would detonate bombs that would kill just as many people. He couldn’t just lay on the floor and allow people to die. “What should I do?” he asked the weapon. But it had no answer.
TUESDAY, JULY 6th, 2010
“We’re getting indications of a buildup of energy, Sir,” Hobbs called from in front. Special Forces was already inside, scouring the building and determining what was and what wasn’t safe to access. So far, they hadn’t found Mulder. But no one had made it to the basement yet. It seemed that the elevator had been destroyed by a small explosive charge and no stairs existed.
“Enough to warrant us pulling out?” Calhoun demanded of his technician.
“No, Sir. We’re still ‘go.’ No egress necessary. Yet.”
“Keep an eye on it, Hobbs,” Calhoun ordered. Then he stepped forward and entered the building with Scully right behind him.
“Major Calhoun, this is Thompson with Special Forces. We have a line down to the basement, Sir, but no response when we call Agent Mulder’s name.”
“There’s no guarantee it’s him down there, Thompson,” Calhoun answered. “We’re on our way to the elevator shaft. Out.” Scully followed him, her heart ready to pound out of her chest. They had an infrared signature, and it was strong enough to be alive. Now it was just a matter of getting down that elevator.
Suddenly, the floor shifted. “Earthquake!” an officer called, but Scully knew that wasn’t what was going on at all. She looked to her right, and saw a cloud of sand inside the hospital.
BASEMENT OF MILITARY HOSPITAL
TUESDAY, JULY 6th, 2010
He had no choice. He had to fire. “Forgive me,” he heard himself vocally say, and he pressed his thumbs into the globe. He saw a cave, a small house, an SUV, and dozens of other locations there one moment, and turn to sand the next. As he did this, his mind threatened to destroy the other locations he knew his captors had also marked. They were so close to annihilation, and he knew they were hanging by a thread.
But he clung to that thread. He was determined not to let them die—they, he knew because of the Bari Trasadi’s stream of knowledge, were not true terrorists. But this energy he had needed to go somewhere. It couldn’t just dissipate. And then, as if the Bari Trasadi itself had given him the answer, he knew what he needed to do, to keep them safe. He knew it in his heart, but he also realized how painful it was going to be.
With his back arched and his thumbs still securely pressed against the globe, he imagined Scully, Alam, the innocent schoolkids in Pakistan who were about to be flattened into the Earth, and then threw his head back. He screamed, and in his screaming something exited from his mouth. Technicolor sand streamed out from his very soul and dissipated into the air. He had taken his own energy, and instead of streaming it towards those known targets, had directed it back at himself and the rock in his hands. At that moment, he knew he didn’t save them all. Some of the innocents, along with the terrorists, had perished.
Even in this world where he should have felt no pain, he felt a sharp, jabbing sensation at his heart. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t think. The technicolors were fading into gray. The beautiful world, the endless knowledge, it was dissolving before his eyes. “No,” he begged. He pleaded with the Bari Trasadi, “Please, no! Please!” But it was too late. He was back on the cement floor, and the building was coming down on top of him.
TUESDAY, JULY 6th, 2010
The walls dissolved. Dust was everywhere, and Scully’s instincts took over. She dove to the ground and clung to the side of a receptionist’s desk. The floor caved beneath her, and she was nearly swallowed up by the great plunge the cement was taking. The rebar groaned and bent with the cracking cement, and the screams of several officers nearly shattered her eardrums.
A tremendous roar overtook the building and it shook violently. After what seemed like an hour of dust assaulting her nostrils, debris flying all over her body, and the floor deciding whether or not it would collapse into the basement, it was finally over.
Scully never really realized what ‘the silence was deafening’ meant until that moment. After so much noise, so much commotion, everything was just…still. A thick cloud of dust blocked her view, and she squinted. She could see light coming from beside her. It was a huge light source, large enough that Scully realized what it was. Daylight. Another part of what was left of the hospital had just been demolished. “Major Calhoun!” She called, and coughed.
“Here, I’m okay,” Calhoun called. “Thompson, check in,” she heard him order, and a moment later, Thompson broadcast his injury report for his team. “We need reinforcements in the basement,” she heard the man admit.
“We’re on our way. All teams, check in. Calhoun out. Agent Scully! Where are you?”
“Over here—follow my voice.” They managed to find each other, and then moved in the direction of the elevator shaft almost instinctively. Scully’s heart was beating a million beats per second. She could only envision Mulder trapped beneath the rubble…or worse, simply disintegrated into pure SiO2.
“Our line is still secure, miraculously,” Thompson said when they arrived. “Agent Scully, you’re a medical doctor. You go down first.”
Scully nodded her immediate agreement, and slipped on the harness Thompson handed to her. She jumped, and the secure rafter held her weight. She was lowered down to the basement level.
When she got there, it was worse than the first level. If she thought the cloud there was bad, this was literally impossible to see through or breathe. She coughed violently, and pulled her shirt over her face. Only seconds later, Thompson dropped two masks down the elevator shaft. That’s Special Forces for you…always prepared.
She donned the mask and could at least breathe now. Carrying the other mask for when she found Mulder, she trudged through the rubble and spotted several things that disturbed her. She saw a half-demolished cot with multiple restraints as she accidentally bumped into a restraint system still secured from the rafters above. This was where he was tortured.
She could feel his presence, and though it made no sense to her, feel his pain. It wasn’t an emotional connection, it was a palpable, physical presence. “Mulder!” she called as loud as she could. “Mulder! Answer me!”
She tripped over a pile of broken cement rocks, walked past a still-working Toughbook on the ground, and then she heard it. A barely-audible, extremely weak groan. She ran to its location, stumbling over rubble and ripping up her shins on damaged rebar. She saw his hand emerging from another pile of cement, and she began digging. “Call for medics!” She screamed. “Get them in here NOW! Mulder, stay with me, okay?”
The more she uncovered, the more she felt like throwing up. He was in horrible shape, his skin almost the same shade as the cement rubble. He was bone-dry, no sweat anywhere on his body. Her hands contacted several spongy areas where the bones and muscles should have been firm. And God only knew what other injuries she couldn’t see in this dust.
As soon as his face was fully uncovered, she put the mask on him and stroked his hair, waiting for the medics to arrive. He was breathing, which was a good sign. The only good sign she could see. “Stay with me, Mulder. Come on, can you open your eyes for me?” Tears brimmed her own eyes when she got no response. “Come on,” she continued to plead, but he was out cold.
The medics finally arrived, and secured Mulder on a stretcher after stabilizing him and inserting an IV. They had to call one of the Special Forces soldiers over to cut the chain link away from the bolt on the floor. Once that was done, they began carrying him out, and Scully stayed by his side and held his hand. She heard Calhoun get a report from one of his people about a Toughbook with ‘alien text’ on it, but for now, she didn’t even care. She had gotten what she had come for.
BASEMENT OF MILITARY HOSPITAL
TUESDAY, JULY 6th, 2010
Mulder was barely aware of his surroundings. Unable to open his eyes, barely able to breathe, he felt his chest compressed by the cement and knew it wouldn’t be long before his life slipped away from him. Like the walls had dissolved. Like the world of knowledge had been ripped from him. Like the lives of those innocents he couldn’t save.
He couldn’t stop their faces from flashing before his eyes. He didn’t much mind the twenty-eight terrorists he had eliminated from the planet, although he saw their faces too. Instead, he minded the four schoolchildren playing outside, disintegrated before he could re-direct the energy. A husband and wife in their kitchen, making food. Two teenagers rummaging through a trash heap for spare auto parts. All mistaken for being terrorists by his captors. All marked on that damned map he had memorized. All seared into his memory despite being erased from the Earth.
Had he been at least partially successful? Had the Bari Trasadi been destroyed? If not, Strughold would return to salvage it. It would only be a matter of time before the evil man managed to adapt the device so that he could use it, and after that it was all over. Anyone who could successfully operate that device could have control of all of the world’s governments in a matter of minutes. A few brief conversations with the world leaders and a convincing demonstration of its power, billions of people’s deaths and several new deserts where US cities used to stand…Strughold would quickly become the most powerful man in the world.
But Mulder was dying. His lungs were filling with dust, his chest was barely able to expand and contract under the weight of the cement, and every inch of his body screaming with pain or had gone completely numb. There was nothing he could do at this point except hope his earlier efforts had been successful.
Then he heard voices. Great, more voices. Honestly, I just want to die in peace. Can I please die in peace?
But the voices persisted. They got closer. One voice in particular pierced his hearing. “Mulder!” he heard Scully call him. On the off chance it was actually her, he managed to grunt, but nothing more.
The next thing he knew, the weight was being lifted off of him. Still unable to open his eyes, he had no way of knowing it was her. But he somehow could sense her. He wanted to hold her hand. He wanted her to be real. An oxygen mask was slipped over his head. He could breathe, finally. She stroked his hair. Someone cut the chain that held him down. He was lifted up, and carried out. He was set free. He was going home.
Continued in Post Trasadi