VS 12 Summer Movie Blockbuster: Remnant
Author: VS12 Producers
FEEDBACK: Yes, please.
DISTRIBUTION: This story belongs to Virtual Season 12 for two weeks. After that, it will be OK for archival at Gossamer, Ephemeral, and the like.
CATEGORY: XF, Mytharc
KEYWORDS: xf, mytharc
DISCLAIMER: Mulder and Scully belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and the FOX network.
The Courtyard Shoppes
Marilys Robyns swiped a bead of sweat from her recently waxed brow as she crossed the threshold from retail refrigeration into the searing California afternoon, cursing the marketing geniuses who had dictated the move from climate-controlled browsing to the boutique-littered baking stone that was the Courtyard Shoppes. She hefted the bag bearing her new Prada heels and slipped into an opening in the mid-afternoon salmon-stream of retirees, soccer moms, label-festooned teens, and leisurely ladies — Marilys’ own particularly sorority. Dr. Robyns was away at a Seattle rhinoplasty conference for the week, and Marilys was killing an hour in anticipation of cosmos and caipirinhas with the girls at the martini bar down the street. A trail of perspiration rolled down her cheek. The enticing scent of garlic and cilantro gusted past Marilys’ exquisite Aryan nose (a souvenir of the Robyns’ courtship), and her silver-blonde head tipped toward the food court. She was contemplating the impact of a California roll, a few cheese sticks on her delicate carb equilibrium when her teal eyes locked on the diminutive man. Marilys halted, and a sea of affluent humanity oozed around her. She frowned at the strange little man, draped in raw leather, beads, feathers, and, what, bones? His swarthy features were thick, wind-worn — Indian, or more likely Latino. As a native Californian, Marilys was completely simpatico with the culture: she’d reamed her domestic Rosita only this morning for buying non-Fair Trade coffee, attempting to educate the girl about the plight of the Central American grower. Rosita had seemed unappreciative. Marilys snorted disgustedly (and silently, of course). Cheap theatricality, dressing some pathetic illegal in buckskins on a scorcher like today, hawking burritos and chimichangas. And in that ridiculous parody of “Injun” dress — that alone was enough to raise her botoxed hackles. Marilys felt the rising inclination to seek out the mall management, or, better yet, perhaps e-mail a vehement protest to the Sacramento Bee editorial page. Fueled by a PBS documentary on migrant labor reform she’d seen last night, Marilys grasped her Pradas and set her Tuscan Gold Manolo Blahniks on a direct course toward the exploited man.
A pair of security guards in more sensible shoes intercepted him before she could traverse the hot pavers. The guards, feet spread in goose-stepping authority, began to grill the small man, who blinked, wide-eyed and clearly terrified, at the buff sentries. Marilys hesitated as the teaming masses moved obliviously past the terse trio, then made up her mind. She felt like Jane Fonda — post-Barbarella, pre-Ted Turner — as she stalked toward the men. “Excuse me,” Marilys rasped, forcing a tone of cool outrage into her words. The private cops glanced briefly aside, then returned to the Small Man. “I said, excuse me.”
One of the guards stopped, puffed his cheeks at his partner, and turned. “Yes, ma’am?”
The look in his eyes made Marilys blink. She stepped forward. “Might I ask why you’re interrogating this man? You appear to have singled him out.”
“Ma’am,” the guard sighed. “Could you just please move on?”
“I don’t think so,” she said loudly, exhilarated by her newfound radicalism. “You’re…you’re profiling this man. I have considerable clout with the Northern California ACLU…”
The partner snorted.
“Go ahead, chortle,” Marilys growled, ears growing hot. “But I wonder what the media would think of you two harassing this Latino gentleman while he’s trying to do his job. It’s bad enough his being forced to sell his ethnic pride for minimum wages.”
“Hey, lady,” the cheek-puffer breathed, tapping the nameplate on his chest, which read R. Garcia. “We already checked — this guy don’t work for the mall — the Shoppes. But we do, OK? Just let us do our job, OK? Hey, what are you…?” The guard’s left hand twitched toward his holster as Marilys’ right plunged into her bag. Fright, and then indignation, flashed through her contact-tinted irises, and she held up her cell phone.
“I’m calling my attorney,” she huffed. “He does a lot of pro bono immigration law, and he knows how to deal with jack-booted thugs.”
“Knock yourselves out, lady.” R. Garcia reached for the small man’s arm. “C‘mon, dude, let‘s– Hey!!”
The arm, along with the rest of the man, was roughly 15 yards out of R. Garcia’s reach and gaining, sprinting at a blur through the crowd of late-afternoon shoppers.
Marilys gawped, speechless, as the guards gave chase. “Larry!” R. Garcia bellowed. In front of Ralph Lauren’s, a thickset custodian paused before jabbing a fast-food wrapper with a spiked stick. “Grab him, Larry!!”
Larry’s eyes widened, then darted toward the fleeing “Indian.” He grabbed the stick with both hands and swung it like an overset ninja as he lunged into the man’s path. The small man skidded to a halt, turned wildly around as a crowd of gawkers converged, and leapt at the custodian.
As the guards wove through the shoppers, the pair grappled over the litter stick. The custodian suddenly appeared to appraise the immediate risks of his situation, factoring in his sub-par weekly wages, and he released the “weapon.” Marilys gasped as the small man whipped an odd-looking, double-looped device from his belt, slid his rough fingers into the twin loops, and fit the stick into what was now obviously a sling. The guards froze as the Courtyard Shoppes’ patrons scattered, and the man planted his feet, eyes wild with fear and menace.
“Yo, dude,” R. Garcia called. “Let’s just chill, que paso? Put that shit down, dude — we get a Pepsi and some nachos and we’ll call it a day.”
“Fuck that,” the partner growled, yanking his pistol free. The Indian’s arm blurred, and the guard fired.
“Jesus, Chuck,” R. Garcia yelped as the small man spun and fell to the concrete and the custodian’s stick lodged loudly in the trunk of a palm outside the J. Crew. “You shot the dude.”
“Yeah,” the partner breathed, seemingly shocked by his own action. He gathered himself defensively and shoved his gun back into its holster as he caught sight of the white-faced Marilys, cell phone dangling limply in her hand. “What, you gonna call the ACLU?”
“The wound itself wasn’t that serious,” Paul Liang informed the Sacramento P.D. detective assigned to the fashion mall altercation as the pair stepped into a deserted exam room. “Hit the fleshy portion of the upper arm, near the shoulder — missed all the major vessels, thank God. Patient’s in a lot of shock, though — nearly catatonic. Very extreme reaction, given the relatively minor nature of the injury. Heartbeat, blood pressure were spiking nearly off the charts — guy was scared shitless. And there’s some kind of weird shadow on the shoulder x-ray that doesn’t look like any natural anomaly.”
The cop, a thin, tired-looking man, nodded disinterestedly. “How soon ‘til I can talk to him?”
“Jeez, I’d prefer you held off a couple more hours, at least,” Dr. Liang murmured. “‘Sides, I don’t know what you’d accomplish. We haven’t gotten a coherent comment from him so far. Nurse Contrera out there gave it a try, but he don’t habla, you know? I can tell what he’s babbling isn’t French or Italian, and he doesn’t look German or Chinese.”
“Shit,” the detective sighed. “Probably have to call the university, see if we can get somebody from Linguistics over.”
“And, oh yeah,” Liang snapped his fingers. “I got something you might want. The EMTs accidentally grabbed it when they brought our friend in. A moment, detective?”
The cop sighed, nodded, and the physician disappeared into the hall. Some poor crazy, likely, the detective theorized, given the Tonto garb and the schmuck’s willingness to take on two armed men with a wooden stick with a spike in it. At the same time, he’d seen the damage the perp had inflicted on that date palm out at the Shoppes. He was no amateur with hand weapons. Vet, martial arts kook, gang- banger cooked his brains on meth? Probably not homeless – the guy’s rawhide ensemb, cut from him by the E.R. docs, was clean, maybe freshly tanned. Stray survivalist? Nah, too ethnic.
The cop had worked his way halfway down the chart of the alimentary system next to the sharps disposal unit when Dr. Liang returned bearing a large baggie. Inside was a contraption of leather and wood – two loops attached to a tube like shaft or cradle.
“Shit,” he said. “He harpooned that tree with this, this slingshot? Like David and Goliath? Forget COPS, man. I feel like I’m in a freaking Natural Geographic’s special. You got any idea what this thing is, Doc?”
“All I took was elective anthropology, Detective.” Liang frowned as he studied the artifact. “Maybe he stole it from some exhibition or something. Look, isn’t there some sort of weapons database you guys can use?”
“Yeah, FBI,” the detective brightened.
“We can save you the trouble,” a deep voice rumbled calmly as a tall, athletic man in a black suit entered the room. A stocky but equally buff man trailed the voice’s owner. “Special Agents Roosevelt and Truman, NSA,” the taller man smiled, flashing his ID and gently relieving the detective of the “slingshot.”
“Hey,” the cop protested.
“Yes, I know,” the tall agent murmured. “But we have a warrant, and whether you believe it or not, you don’t want a piece of this case. And, Doctor, we’ll be taking your patient along, as well – we have a fully equipped ambulance with a full medical staff aboard. We’ll need his records, of course, and I’m going to ask you not to divulge any information about the patient, either one of you.”
Liang scowled. “I don’t—”
“That’s right, Doctor. You don’t.” The agent and his silent shadow vanished. The doctor and the detective exchanged looks and moved quickly into the corridor, just in time to watch a bio-suited crew wheel a gurney bearing the small, swarthy man out the sliding E.R. doors. A similarly dressed trio followed, carrying what Liang assumed to be the patient’s clothing and personal effects.
The E.R. staff and the scattering of emergency patients, distracted momentarily from their aches and pains, remained in a tableau of confusion and shock, until the detective marched to the open E.R. doors and stared at the small caravan of anonymous black vans rolling out.
“What…just happened?” Liang sputtered.
The cop shrugged, glumly eyeing the procession. “I had to guess, I’d say David just met up with Goliath. God help the poor schmuck.”
Mulder & Scully’s Residence
They’d spent most of the day at Rock Creek Park, picnicking, horsing around and just enjoying the summer sunshine. Maggie, Tara and the kids had joined them and Mulder had spent a good part of the afternoon in what he considered to be a constructive game of catch with Matthew. The kid had a good arm and Mulder had taken it upon himself as a somewhat surrogate father to teach him the love of the game. It had been a welcome relief to step away from the madness for even a few hours; to occasionally step into the lives of the blissfully ignorant and just relax. Mulder had enjoyed it so much he now found himself back there in his dreams; the sounds of the city forgotten in the laughter of children and the music of nature. He remembered that wicked game of Frisbee Scully had engaged him in and once again found himself chasing after the high flying disc. She seemed to revel in making it as difficult as possible for him to catch the damn thing but so far he hadn’t let her down. She let loose a NSAty curve. It sailed behind him, down a small rise and as the disc faded away from him Mulder chased after it, running down the hill and leaping to his left to catch it behind his back. Turning around to find the hillside empty he was a little chagrined that she hadn’t seen his latest feat of male agility and jogged up the hill with his prize
“Hey, Scully, nice try…” When he reached the top he froze. Scully lay on the ground several yards beyond him, unmoving. Dropping the Frisbee Mulder ran and knelt by her side. His hands flitted across her lifeless body, a moment ago she’d been laughing at him. The shock knocked the breath from his lungs; his distress increasing when looking around him, he realized that the park, too, had grown deathly quiet; it was littered with the grotesque shapes of Scully’s family and other bodies. Sitting there beside Scully he listened intently for the sounds of anything. Silence, save for the sound of his own breathing, was all he could hear. Something was terribly wrong here. He moved from body to body checking for any sign of life and found nothing.
Scooping Scully into his arms he struggled to his feet and began to make his way to the entrance of the park; breaking into a trot, his breath coming in short pants as he passed more and more bodies. His trot increased to a run, his lungs ached, the fear robbing him of breath. He made it to the entrance to the park and stopped abruptly, the streets had also grown empty and silent. Looking down at Scully’s ashen face he screamed to the heavens. “Scully! Damn it…Scully—NO !”
Suddenly someone was shaking him. “Mulder…Mulder! Wake up! You’re dreaming!”
He shot up from the bed, sweaty and shaky. Scully sat up with him and reached over to touch his arm but he yanked it away. Swinging his legs over the side and dropping his head into his hands he tried to calm his breathing. He raked his face with his hands, “Shit.” What the hell had that been about?
“Mulder put your head down before you pass out.” Scully scooted across the bed and attempted to wrap the sheet across his shoulders. The drying sweat left him chilly and trembling. He shook his head to clear it and got up from the bed leaving her sitting there wrapping the sheet around nothing.
“Go back to sleep Scully, it was just a dream,” his voice sounded shaky even to his own ears. He yanked his pajama bottoms up on his hips and made it to the bedroom door before Scully spoke again.
“Mulder? Are you okay?”
Realizing he’d finally been caught at this charade he’d been carrying on for months he turned to her, swiping a hand through his damp hair and sighed. He couldn’t meet her eyes, “Yeah, I’m just going to go get some juice or something. I’m okay.”
Scully found him sometime later leaning against the kitchen door. Silhouetted by the moonlight he stood with his arms outstretched on either side of the door frame, his forehead against the glass. “Mulder?” When he didn’t answer, she made her way across the floor. “Please come back to bed.” He ignored her. As she got closer she could see gooseflesh dotting his arms, he was still shaking from the shock A quick trip to the living room for an afghan brought her back to the kitchen where he still stood looking out at the moonlight now with his palms against the glass.
Wrapping the blanket across his shoulders she hugged him lightly. “I thought you weren’t having these dreams anymore?”
He turned to look at her and smiled ruefully, pulling the afghan more tightly around himself. “I’m—they’re,” oh hell, he thought to himself. “They’re not like before.”
“No?” she tried to get him to look at her but he still wouldn’t meet her eyes. Why could they never get past this avoidance game? “Now they just leave you shocky,” it came out a little more harshly than she intended. She reached out to touch his arm.
“Come on, come sit down,” she amended, steering him into the living room and onto the couch where he practically collapsed into the cushions, his elbows on his knees and once again dropping his head into his hands. Scully pulled the afghan over his shoulders and started to rub his back. “Are you going to tell me about it?”
He didn’t say anything for several minutes. Something in his subconscious had the warning bells ringing. Something about the dream made it not what it seemed. It wasn’t just about him finding himself alone in the world, it was something more general something more all encompassing and until he understood it himself he wasn’t about to include anyone else in the frustration. “No, Scully, I’m not,” he said, dropping his hands and settling back against the back of the couch. Scully wrapped her hand around his right wrist; his pulse was still a little too rapid.
“I know you don’t want to hear this Mulder, but you’re not exactly a young man anymore. These episodes are very stressful.”
He got her subtle hint and pulled his hand away. “Don’t go into doctor mode on me Scully,” his voice cold even to her.
She didn’t know whether to be hurt or angry. “Damn it Mulder, why won’t you talk to me about this? You tell me this is not like before and yet it’s clearly upset you.”
She watched as he tilted his head back against the cushion and let out a deep sigh of frustration. “Fine, if you won’t talk to me then please just come back to bed. I’m tired too and in three hours we have to get up,” she snapped at him, making an attempt to pull him to his feet. Now he was angry, yanking himself from her grip he settled back against the cushion. “They’re just nightmares Scully, I’ve always had them. You know that as much as anyone else,” he couldn’t get the edge from his voice. “This one was just a little more intense—I’m okay,” he insisted, softening his voice to reassure himself as much as her. “I’m just wanna sit here for a while.”
She searched his eyes in the darkness of the living room. He looked exhausted. She turned then, settling against his shoulder. “Then I’ll sit here with you—for a while.”
Mulder pulled her closer, wrapping the edge of the afghan around her shoulders and rubbing her arm. She leaned into him, looking up. “Thank you for spending time with Matthew today, Mulder…”
God, Matthew, the image for his lifeless body from the dream flickered across his memory. He couldn’t tell her that. He continued to caress her shoulder, lost in thought. She looked up to let him know she would wait. When he spoke his voice was almost weary. “I haven’t lied to you Scully. I really haven’t had any more visions of past civilizations,” his voice now turning sarcastic. She waited him out. “Actually I was dreaming about the park today—but then something happened—I don’t know, maybe something’s about to happen.”
Surprised that he had opened up to her she snuggled closer, “What do you mean?”
She could feel him move, like he was shaking his head. “I don’t know. I can’t help but feel that this is all happening for a reason. That I’m supposed to learn something or that someone is trying to tell me something through all this. Something like that collective consciousness of the dead you once spoke of trying to get me to understand what this is all about but I just can’t get it”
She wrapped her arm around his middle. “Maybe you’re trying to look too hard Mulder. Maybe the answer is a much simpler one.”
“Ockham’s Razor? Scully…”
She chuckled a little, “Could be. All those episodes you had earlier this year. They all centered on some catastrophe in the past. What about tonight?”
He grew silent. Tonight had been a catastrophe of a much more personal kind.
“No, tonight was nothing like that.”
The National Thermoelectric Energy Laboratory
17 hours later
“Atlatl,” Ronnie Skorzeny announced proudly.
Col. Wilson Grey looked up from the blotter-full of paperwork that seemed to accumulate even in the darkest corners of the Black Ops community, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. The Station — the popular label for the NSA research lab which masqueraded as a Department of Energy R&D facility — normally was embroiled in far less esoteric, if no less exotic work focused on national security, global “stabilization,” and development of “contingency” weapons to be used in the event neither of the first two objectives worked.
“Ronnie,” Grey replied evenly. “I thought I told you just last week I would personally drive you out to the desert and put two in your temporal lobe, you didn’t start talking American.”
The scientist grinned, too immune to geek-baiting or simply too stupid to be afraid of this steel-eyed soldier who’d reportedly taken out around three dozen men and women in four wars and three peacetime ops. “Actually, the term is far more ‘American’ than the mongrelized amalgam we call English.”
“Ronnie.” But Col. Grey was intrigued — the bespectacled civilian was shaking like a poodle on a fresh patch of Berber.
“The weapon we took from our friend. It was an atlatl. A Native American spear thrower. You fit the spear or a stone dart into a grooved shaft, slip your fingers into the twin loops, and, with a flick of the wrist, you take down a bear or that pesky in- law.”
Grey blinked, his eyes registering menacingly bored impatience. “Fella couldn’t afford a bow-and-arrow?”
Ronnie dropped into the colonel’s chair unbidden — the man’s sheer cojones was one of the few reasons the officer tolerated him. “That’s the point. The atlatl was the intermediate step between manual spear handling and the bow. Like many simple technological advances, it was common worldwide: The Eskimos used them, the Australian bushmen, ancient Europeans used the atlatl nearly 30,000 years ago. In America, spear throwers have been dated to 10,000 years ago. Southwestern tribes replaced the atlatl with the bow-and-arrow somewhere between 500 and 750 A.D.”
“So what? You said the guy appeared to be Native American. Maybe this atla-, atla-, weapon was a hand-me-down from his tribal forefathers, or maybe he lifted it from some museum, reclaimed his heritage. Bury my heart at Wounded Knee and all that crap.”
Ronnie’s head shook vigorously, and a sprinkle of dandruff snowed onto his garish Hawaiian shirt. “No, this atlatl is the genuine article — design’s identical to one on display at the University of New Mexico. The materials are authentic, too. But this atlatl is nowhere near as old.”
“How old is it?” Grey’s words were filled with exasperation.
“Try no more than three or four months.”
The colonel’s chair squeaked back. “So, basically, you’re telling me all this time and federal manpower has been expended on some burnt-out Indian activist who chose to make his last stand at a fashion mall? Well, guess that’s where I might start. But we’re not the FBI or the Bureau of Indian Affairs, so I fail to see the relev—”
“There’s a bacterial anomaly,” Ronnie blurted. Grey crooked a brow, and the scientist sighed. “We found something that didn’t square. Riggs – in Biologics – thought we might be able to trace the subject’s geographical origin through any entomological or microbial traces on his clothing or skin. Well, he just about shit a bri–, ah, he got a little shock when he analyzed some bacteria that was feeding on the rawhide he was wearing. It didn’t match anything in our database.”
Now, Col. Grey straightened, a look of anxiety on his face. “Ronnie, you might have spilled that little tidbit a little earlier. What are we talking about here? Some kind of modified organism? A biological weapon?”
Ronnie hooked an arm over the back of his chair, seemingly pleased he’d managed to ruffle the normally unflappable military man. “Relax. It’s a harmless, fairly primitive bacillus with a very low level of resistance. We had to use a clean room to culture the damn thing, it was so delicate. That’s what got Riggs thinking. He’s got this modeling program, lets him extrapolate mutation, development, and resistance in bacteria, viruses, the whole shmear. Guys in Bioterrorism use it to track potential agents. Anyway, you know we’re growing some of the most powerful super bacteria in the world, what with all the antibacterial soaps and food pathogen controls and crap we’ve developed.”
“Yeah. Anyway, Riggs gets to thinking about the low resistance in this strain, and he runs his modeling program backwards.”
“Instead of extrapolating where this strain might’ve come from, he factored in major environmental and health factors, normal bacterial mutation and adaptation patterns, and extrapolated what it might be today.”
“Whoa. What it might be today? What the hell are you trying to tell me, Ronnie?”
Ronnie considered a little more drama, but the look on Grey’s face forced him to reconsider. “Riggs wants to bring in a paleobacteriologist – a guy who studies prehistoric bacter—”
“Do not fucking patronize me, mister,” Grey said quietly, and in that moment, Ronnie finally comprehended the colonel’s homicidal potential. “This is some kind of prehistoric organism?”
“We don’t know for sure,” Ronnie stammered. “Bacteria reproduce and adapt so quickly, you know. But Riggs thinks we could be looking at least thousand years old.”
“This thing has lived for more than a millennium?”
“No. It’s not old. It’s just ancient.”
Grey frowned. “You’re talking in fucking riddles.”
Ronnie glanced at the ceiling tiles in an effort to carefully formulate his reply. “The bacteria we found on your subject likely would have lived centuries ago. And then we factor in the rawhide it was feeding on. On the basis of the bacterial anomaly, we analyzed the clothes – environmental toxins, air pollution, trace metals we eat and drink, they all routinely accumulate in human and animal tissues. But the subject’s hides were alarmingly clean of manmade pollutants or contaminants.”
Grey was too busy absorbing this new data to register the irony of Ronnie’s statement. “All right. Let’s cut out all the bullshit, and you just tell me what you think we’re dealing with here.”
Ronnie stared at his superior warily, then sighed. “I believe – and we have to do a ton more analysis before we can even begin to confirm this – I believe the clothing, the atlatl, perhaps even the man himself has somehow been miraculously preserved for several centuries. Cryogenically, maybe, I don’t know. The other possibility…”
“The other possibility is, your man was transported.”
“Transported,” Grey whispered. He blinked. “Wait a second. You better not mean what I think you mean. You fucking suggest that possibility outside this office, and you’ll find yourself transported from this dimension into a black hole. You grasp my meaning, Ronnie?”
“Y-yeah. Yeah, I do. We’ll go back to the lab.”
Grey’s eyes drilled into Ronnie’s and then turned back to the paperwork on his desk. “You do that. Keep me apprised.”
The colonel listened to Ronnie scramble to the door and the door click shut, then leaned back, heart pounding, breathing deeply through his nose. After he composed himself, Grey picked up his phone and, finger trembling slightly, punched in a pre- programmed number.
“Yeah,” the soldier greeted wearily but resolutely. “Ronnie Skorzeny. Yeah, down in the lab. When he leaves for the weekend, make sure he gets the desert tour.”
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR WALTER SKINNER’S OFFICE
9:00 A.M. SHARP
By 9:00 A. M. there were seated in their superior’s office. Skinner looked at the two agents in front of him. While they appeared smartly dressed and attentive there was something haggard about them both. He was certain they had taken the weekend off. Second thoughts briefly passed through his head as he fingered the file in front of him.
He’d found it on his desk this morning. That alone should have been a warning to tread carefully. Mysterious files were nothing new to his office but he’d opened it anyway. He knew enough about what the agents in front of him had dealt with over the years and after reading the contents of the file he knew in an instant where Mulder would run with this. An ancient man popping up in the food court of a shopping mall; the absurdity of it made it almost believable. But what IF this was the real deal? What IF through some unknown force, some time warp or wormhole in space this man had really come forward from the past. What exactly did it mean for his agents? More importantly, he was trying to figure out how to keep Mulder out of those 5 point restraints. Without saying a word he slid the file across the desk to Mulder.
He watched silently as his agent’s eyes scanned the pages. He watched him hand the photos to Scully who only looked mildly surprised until she too scanned the files contents. Their eyes met and then he finally looked up to meet Skinner’s gaze. “We weren’t supposed to know about this were we sir?”
Mulder had never known Skinner to be nervous but that’s exactly how he appeared to be. “I don’t know where the file came from,” he said, fidgeting in his seat as if his hemorrhoids were bothering him. “I found it on my desk this morning.” Skinner could see the wheels turning, knew Mulder was already putting pieces together. “He’s in military custody Mulder, not a Bureau matter.”
“Like that’s ever stopped me,” he glanced at his partner, “Us before.”
Bait or not, Skinner knew Mulder would take it…hook, line and sinker. Worried that his agents would be caught doing extra curricular activities on the company dime he had already planned the cover-up. “I’ve had Kim make flight arrangements,” he said passing another file to Mulder who picked it up slipping the previous one inside its cover.
As they got up Mulder turned to his boss. “You’re starting to scare me, sir.”
Puzzled, Skinner replied, “Why’s that?”
“You’re beginning to think like me.”
“So—where ARE we going, Mulder?” Scully hadn’t waited long to inquire about the bogus file Skinner had slipped him.
He leaned against the back of the elevator and flipped open the file. “We’re going to,” she watched as his eyes scanned the file, “Alamogordo, New Mexico, to investigate a report by local law enforcement of some mysterious deaths in the desert.” He looked up, handing her the file. “Don’t forget the sunscreen,” he smirked at her.
When the elevator hit the basement he made a quick exit forcing Scully to almost jog to keep up with him. “Mulder, this can’t be what it seems…the man is not an Anasazi.”
“Why, because time travel is not possible Scully?” he asked without turning around.
“Someone thinks he’s the real deal or our friends at NSA wouldn’t be so quick to snatch him up.” The door flew open in front of him and he was across the office in two strides.
“Okay—okay, before we go any further here Mulder, how do you think this man from the past suddenly turned up in a shopping mall?” She dropped the files on the desk with a little more force than she intended and crossed her arms over her chest. “And please don’t tell me he’s a returned abductee.”
Mulder had already moved to the files, opening the top drawer and ransacking through it obviously in search of something. “I don’t have to, you already know.”
State Route 54, SOUTHEAST OF ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., 7:19 P.M.
Mulder let his head lull against the headrest. Being the ass that he sometimes was he’d insisted on driving. Scully had dozed off despite the frigid temperature he’d cranked the AC up too; the scenery being as dull as his apparent company. He’d wakened her out of a sound sleep the previous night with his freakish nightmare and neither of them had gotten much sleep thereafter, maybe he owed her these few hours. He left the radio off.
The waning daylight cast shadows across the desert around him somehow making its harshness less obvious. There was beauty here if you looked hard enough for it and messages scrawled across the rocks in hidden places; left decades ago by people with a unique knowledge of earths’ past.
The history of the Anasazi remained cloaked in mystery. Ranging from Mexico to Arizona and Utah the land was still dotted with ruins of their pueblos and language; evidence of a once productive society that for some unknown reason just suddenly disappeared. But as Albert had stated—nothing disappears without a trace and while many anthropologists believed that the Anasazi people assimilated into the other cultures of the southwest, Mulder had his own ideas. He admired these people who had managed to make this land their home for decades; the Hopi, Zuni and the Navajo, native people of the earth who had learned to understand her far better than any of today’s scientists. He understood these people knew, through stories handed down through the ages, her future far better also.
The road crested a small rise, curving to the right and bringing a small valley into view on his left. Smoke caught his eye and he took his eyes off the road.
Something was there in the valley, there but not there. He glanced back to the road and then back again to the valley, scrubbing at his eyes with one hand as he slowed the car.
Just beyond the edge of the road lay an encampment. Tents of buckskin, teepees he realized, cook fires, natives in 19th century dress. “What the hell?” he mumbled to himself, glancing back at the road and then unable to prevent his gaze from drifting back to the scene. An American flag caught his eye, proudly displayed on a wooden pole. Then just as suddenly as the scene had appeared, it changed; to utter chaos.
Soldiers on horses, cavalry soldiers, thundering into the camp with their rifles ablaze aiming at anything and everything that moved and sending the terrified natives running for their lives. He watched in horror as women and children dropped from gunfire or were trampled to death under the horses. There was screaming and crying and the haunting chants of tribal elders. And then again, just as suddenly it was over and he found himself faced with that same scene he’d witnessed in the park. Bodies grotesquely displayed everywhere, and a deadly silence surrounding the burned out shells of their homes still smoldering in the pre-dusk light. He didn’t realize the car was still moving until a horn blasted and the car was filled with bright light. The grill of the big rig gapped at him like a huge mouth about to swallow them both up. He was on the wrong side of the road. “Shit!” He yanked hard on the wheel and hit the gas sending the car back onto the right side of the road and beyond, over steering it off into the desert. Scully woke with the jolt. “Mulder!” He watched from the corner of his eye as her arms flailed out to brace herself against the dash. He fought the car to a stop in a cloud of dust. “Mulder! What the hell?” she said, turning to him with an incredulous look. He didn’t wait to hear the rest, snapping the car into park, yanking off the seatbelt and climbing out faster then he thought possible. Scully however, was not far behind him. “Did you fall asleep? If you were so tired, why didn’t you wake me?” She realized how stupid that question was when she watched him plant his palms on the trunk, lean over at the waist and yack up whatever the hell he’d had to eat today.
“Jesus, Mulder, not again. What…”
He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his mouth wishing for all the world he had a bottle of water. He looked up to meet her gaze. “Don’t Scully, just— don’t.”
“Fine,” she said turning away from him to circle the car to the driver’s side. “Get back in the car, Mulder. Alamogordo can’t be too far from here.”
They drove the rest of the way in silence. He sat with his elbow on the armrest, his hand covering his mouth fighting the occasional rise of bile. He didn’t know what had upset him more, what he’d seen or that he’d almost gotten them both killed because of what he’d seen. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what that had been about.
Back at the birth of the western frontier many Native tribes had put their faith in the white man; accepting his offerings as a peaceful existence for them both. What they soon learned was that the white man didn’t want to co-exist in this new land; they wanted it all and set about a strategy to wipe the Natives off their land for good. The metaphor made Mulder shiver. He hoped they got to that damn hotel soon. All he wanted was some mouthwash, a shower and to wrap himself around Scully for the rest of the night.
Alamogordo, N.M., 11:04 p.m.
The klaxon of a passing Frito-Lay truck brought Ronnie Skorzeny abruptly back from limbo. The anthropologist jerked his powder-blue, sandblasted ’69 Bug back to the right side of the perforated yellow paint, and he cursed as he wiped a thread of nap drool with the shoulder of his rumpled chambray shirt. Ronnie took a slug of Dew, grabbed a handful of Corn Nuts (ranch) from the ripped bag on the passenger seat, and cranked the AC to maximum capacity. A tepid blast of air revived him slightly — the Germans may have known their gases back in the dark days, but the Volkswagen people didn’t know shit about freon. Normally, Ronnie remained fairly alert during the 45 minute ride from The Station back to his ranch rental, despite the monotonous desert scenery. An IQ in the nosebleed section, a fairly agile left brain, and a complete lack of sexual or romantic prospects had given him the ability to fully entertain himself in any setting or environment. But he’d been clocking the hours on this whacked-out Anasazi shit, and Col. Grey — who Ronnie had always viewed as an anal retentive but essentially harmless nazi — was even chillier, even more furtive than usual. Ronnie hadn’t questioned why the NSA had offered what had seemed like a small fortune to leave his undergrad purgatory. He hadn’t questioned why Big Brother had wanted an anthro-geek out in the desert. He’d spent most of his time over the last year analyzing petroglyphs, cliff drawings for some kind of meaning. When they brought the Anasazi in, Ronnie’d suddenly become some kind of celebrity. But now… Ronnie still didn’t know what his findings quite meant, or why Grey was so badly rattled by the self-admittedly ludicrous idea that the Anasazi had dropped through a temporal wormhole to terrorize suburban boutique rats. He’d tried to brainstorm it with Riggs, who’d run the bacterium taken from the Anasazi, and Pasmore in Medical, who’d hinted that he’d found some anomaly while examining the strange man. Ever since the meeting with Grey, the guys had avoided him, even in the cafeteria. As if they’d been instructed to.
The scientist blinked drowsily as he negotiated a hairpin in the road, and he cranked up the stereo. Sheryl Crow, wanting to have some fun. Yeah, I wish, thought Ronnie, whose big date for the weekend was Princess Leia, with Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and the pizza delivery guy for chaperones. A momentary flash in the rearview mirror roused Ronnie, and he glanced up to see headlights coming around the curve behind. He tapped the brake, in case it was a trooper, and scanned the berm ahead in case it was a couple of drunk kids from the area college. As he braked, the lamps loomed larger in the mirror, and a red bubble erupted above them. “Fucking marvelous,” Ronnie moaned, crunching into the gravel at the side of the moonlit road. Maybe he was after somebody else. C’mon, c’mon… The car slowed and slanted in behind Ronnie‘s. He slumped back in his seat, cutting the engine. At least he’d taken the car in for its semi-annual cleaning, or he’d have probably had to answer for the cannabis crumbs his moron brother had spilled under the passenger seat. Chill, dude, chill. Ronnie felt the bells go off when two men emerged from the car behind him, peeling off to approach from both sides. Neither was wearing his Smokey the Bear hat — weren’t those things screwed onto their heads? As the cops stepped into the red glow of Ronnie’s brake lights, he bolted up in his seat. Plainclothes troopers? “Aw, Jesus,” he breathed, heart pounding. Ronnie brushed panic momentarily aside and grabbed his cell phone from the door pocket. The scientist punched in a pre- programmed number and, lacking religious faith, silently recited the stages of Man’s technological development. The Suits appeared simultaneously at the front windows, the tall one on the driver’s side rapping on the tempered glass. Ronnie dropped the phone back into the door pocket, and cranked the window down.
“Dr. Skorzeny?” the man said, politely. “We’ll need you to step out of the car, sir.”
“It’s Grey, isn’t it?” Ronnie squeaked. “Shit, man, I signed the goddamned security waiver. I don‘t even know what the fuck‘s going on.”
“Sir?” the man repeated. Ronnie looked wildly between the two men, and reluctantly climbed from the cab. “This way, sir,” Suit No. 1 invited, gesturing toward the black desert and nodding toward Suit No. 2 before No. 2’s head disappeared in a wet spray. No. 2’s headless body dropped forward into the dirt.
“Oh, shit!” Ronnie screamed.
Suit No. 1 went for his gun, but his fingers spasmed as a meaty hole appeared in his white shirt. No. 1 mouthed something and went down.
“OH SHIT! OH SHIT!” Ronnie sobbed, dropping to his knees and then his stomach. “OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT!!”
The anthropologist finally fell silent as a pair of cross-trainers crunched to a halt before his face. He looked slowly up to see a handsome — if somewhat rat-faced — thirtysomething man smirking down at him. An absurdly large pistol was in his right hand.
“Up,” the stranger barked. “Let’s hit it.”
Ronnie remained on his belly. “Make it quick, OK, man. Please.”
“No, you make it quick, asshole. Get up fast, or I’ll make it slow.”
Ronnie scrambled to his feet, then nearly lost his footing as he glanced at the two corpses. “Shit, man, you just fucking murdered those guys.”
“You’re welcome,” the man said, shoving the pistol in the back of his jeans and crunching away toward a car some 40 feet behind Ronnie’s would-be assassins. “Haul ass.”
“Where we going? I mean, who are you?”
Ronnie’s savior stopped and turned with a sardonic grin. “You like Paul Simon, Ronald?”
Ronnie blinked, and he gulped momentarily like a neon tetra. “Uh, yeah. Yeah. I guess.”
“Well, you can call me Al. And Ronald, when I call you, you’d better jump like a trained shitzu. C’mon.”
The Lone Gunmen editorial offices, Washington, D.C., 11:24 p.m.
As John Fitzgerald Kennedy righted himself in the back seat of the sedan, the blood vanished from Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s smart pink suit, and her contorted expression of terror was replaced by a smile of infinite beauty and joy.
“There,” Byers hissed. The studious-looking former bureaucrat leaned in toward Langly’s monitor. “The third spectator from the right.”
Langly wheeled slightly away. “Dude. You need to get it on with the Tic Tac babe, seriously. Maybe she could hook you up.”
“Sorry,” Byers said. “Frohike put something unauthorized in the chili tonight.” He started away. “I’ll Listermint and be right back…”
Langly’s bespectacled eyes rolled skyward, and he tapped the frozen Zapruder frame. “Just avert your head and tell me what’s up with this dude. The guy with the scar?”
“Hey, Langly!” Byers and Langly reluctantly tugged their eyes from the monitor. Frohike waved Langly’s cell phone. “I think one of your dweeb buddies is punking you. You know an R. Skorzeny?”
Langly wheeled around, accepted the phone, listened intently with a growing frown, and studied the display. “Skorzeny…Oh, yeah, Ronnie — we met at some Roswell con, and he helped out with that special Ancient Astronauts issue. He’s an anthropologist with some college out there. Or used to be. I haven’t heard from him for about a year now. I always figured he got laid.”
Frohike smiled momentarily at the memory, then nodded toward the phone. “When I picked up, it was like that. Dead air. Or not precisely dead. I heard two shots.”
“Shit, Frohike, bury the lead!” Langly gasped. The lead Gunman held up a hand. “Relax. I heard somebody talking to your guy. At least he called him Ronald.”
“Did you–?” Byers asked.
“What do you think I am?” Frohike huffed. “Window dressing. Certainement — soon as I heard the shots.”
Langly had tricked out his off-market, untraceable, unbranded cell phone with a few extras, including a cross-platform interface, a GPS locator, and a digital recorder. The cadaverous chiphead grabbed a homemade USB cord, jammed one end into the phone and the other into his CPU. He clicked up two programs, minimizing one and maximizing the audio player. He launched the .mp3 stored in the phone.
“OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT!” a tinny voice shrieked.
Langly nodded. “That’s Ronnie.”
The trio fell silent as they listened to the muffled conversation between Ronnie Skorzeny and the unknown man, presumably the shooter; and the sound of footfalls on gravel. Then, four last lines of dialogue.
“Where we going? I mean, who are you?”
“You like Paul Simon?”
“Well, you can call me Al. And Ronald, when I call you, you’d better jump like a trained shitzu. C’mon.”
“Al, Al…” Byers murmured. “That voice — it’s familiar.”
“What I was thinking,” Frohike nodded.
“Al…Albert…Alan…Alex…” Langly froze, forming a third of a momentarily lifeless tableau. “James Earl Ray on a freaking pogo stick.”
Byers and Frohike looked at each other. “Call Mulder,” they ordered in unison.
Jimbo’s Saguaro Siesta Motel, 45 miles east of Alamogordo, N.M., 12:34 a.m.
Alex Krycek kicked off his boots and placed his gun carefully on the wobbly motel dresser, disregarding Ronnie in the doorway. The anthropologist had been silent for the duration of their ride, too shocked by the suddenly homicidal events of his Friday night, too baffled by this casually violent, matter-of-factly menacing “hero.” That had been fine with Alex. Ronald Skorzeny was a package — albeit a crucial one — but he was a sniveling mass that lived life based on theory and risk assessment. It was the type of life for which Alex held little tolerance, but which, on occasion, he envied.
“You know,” Ronnie drawled as Alex dropped onto the first bed. “Those guys you blew away were probably NSA.”
Alex looked up with disinterest, then closed his eyes. “Dress shitty, don’t they?”
“Are you…like, CIA, or something?”
“Or something. Look, we’ve got a long ride ahead of us. Why don’t we can the chatter and grab a few. OK, Ronald?”
Ronnie drew himself up — a minor adjustment, at most. “Look, I’m not going anywhere unless you give me some clue what’s going on.”
Alex’s eyes opened, and his head turned ominously toward the anthropologist.
“I mean, I’d like to know. After all, you saved my ass back there. I’d just like to know, you know?”
Alex sighed and pivoted into a seated position on the mattress.
“OK,” he said. “You asked for it.”
Motel Seven West, Alamogordo, N.M., 12:43 a.m.
“Mulder, at last,” Frohike breathed, exasperated. “You need to get rid of that piece of crap federal-issue cell phone. I’ve been trying to get you for the last hour.”
Mulder perched on the edge of the mattress, talking low as Scully purred beside him.
“I turned it off.”
“Why in the hell would you do that?”
“For reasons I increasingly suspect you could never understand.”
Silence. “Oh. Sorry. Hey!”
Mulder snagged his jeans from the floor and wrestled into them one-handed. “What do you want, Frohike?”
“I think an old friend of ours may have resurfaced.”
The agent crept to the door, slid the deadbolt back, and stepped out into the warm New Mexico evening. “My mind is kind of fuzzy from — never mind what it’s fuzzy from. Tell me slowly what the hell you’re talking about.”
Mulder stopped breathing, and leaned against the sill of his motel window. “Alex Krycek? Where’d you come up with this?”
“Buddy of Langly’s called a while ago. We think he’s in trouble, or maybe offed a few people.”
“Ah. So how’s the wife and kids.”
“Hey, I don’t know if he offed anybody or not. We heard two shots, then Langly’s friend talking with some guy who might’ve been kidnapping him or maybe saving him. I don’t know. But the guy sounds like Krycek, and he called himself Al. But I figured you’d know his voice instinctively. Want me to shoot you an .mp3?”
“Uh, sure,” Mulder said, shaking the webs from his half-unconscious, post-coital mind. “What’s this guy’s name? Langly’s friend.”
“Skorzeny? Ronald Skorzeny the anthropologist?”
“I’ve read some stuff by him — ancient astronauts, cliff drawings, crop circles. You got any idea where he was calling from?”
“GPSed it. Somewhere right outside Alamogordo, New Mexico.”
Mulder came off the sill. “What?”
“Alamogordo. Where they tested the A-bomb.”
Mulder looked off toward the desert. “And where I suspect something big may be about to blow.”
The National Thermoelectric Energy Laboratory, Alamagordo, N.M.
Dr. Behrens smiled down at the frightened man, and he appeared to relax despite the restraints Grey had mandated and what to this primitive visitor must have seemed an utterly alien environment. Weaponless, locked in the lower bowels of a maximum-security federal installation that was unknown to many of the physicists and engineers above them, no doubt terrified out of his mind — she doubted this dislocated remnant of the previous millennium could pose a threat. But it was crucial to play the good soldier, for now, anyway.
Though the cruel circumstances and brutality and the literal weight of a world had toughened Behrens well beyond her relatively tender age, she felt a pang of sympathy for this man, removed from his world, poked and prodded and scanned. She knew the feeling of violation and objectification.
A spark of excitement ignited within her chest. Riggs’ erstwhile verification of the cliff dweller’s authenticity initially had puzzled her, but on a hunch, Behrens had latched onto the geneticist Lakins and, while he was eagerly fetching the stunning blonde scientist a cup of wretched cafeteria coffee, she ran a DNA sample she herself had collected. She had not yet pinpointed the source of her hypothesis, but some after- hours analysis of Native American lore and southwest geological surveys strengthened her conviction that this man had appeared out of time, out of place, for a reason of cosmic significance. Behrens stroked the Anasazi’s temple gently, once. This time, he did not cringe. Her gesture was not a mere act of compassion or sentiment. It was essential this man trust her when hell began to break lose.
Or, she considered with a grim smile, when, with any luck, they broke out of Hell.
Jimbo’s Saguaro Siesta Motel
“The day before your little friend shows up at the shopping mall, SETI gets an e-mail from deep space,” Krycek began, easing back against his pillow. “You know SETI, right? The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute?” Ronnie nodded numbly.
“Anyway, the SETI radio dish down in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, pulls in a numerical message. Three sets of digits. Of course, NSA’s been listening in — they have been since the SETI array first went in. Soviets, too, ‘til about three years before the Wall came down. You keeping up, Ronald?”
Ronnie smiled weakly from his seat on the air conditioning unit. Alex shifted on the bed and continued. “NSA decrypted the first series of numbers pretty quickly — that’s how your coworkers knew where to retrieve our friend.”
Ronnie’s eyes narrowed, then popped. “Coordinates? That’s the scientific mind at work. The precise latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates for The Courtyard Shoppes in Sacramento. No, no, wait a minute. That makes absolutely no possible sense — latitude and longitude are manmade constructs. How could an extraterrestrial intelligence–?”
“Ronald,” Alex said simply, investing the name with a chiding threat. “Think about the answer to your question, and I think it’ll come to you. Now, unfortunately, your coworkers were just a little too slow figuring out where to pick up our friend.”
“Where to pick up…?” Ronald clamped his lips shut.
“Thus the little show at the shopping mall and the siege at the Sacramento E.R. Sloppy. So, who is he, anyway?”
“He’s an Anasazi — a cliff-dwelling civilization that lived from about 1200 B.C. to A.D. 1300 in the Southwestern U.S. They were known as ‘the Ancient Ones’ or ‘the Old Ones.’ What?”
Alex had perked at the word “Anasazi.” He was now intent on every word. “Go on.”
“Well, a lot of archaeologists originally thought the Anasazi had mysteriously vanished centuries ago — they seemingly abandoned their cliff dwellings, along with a half-million-gallon reservoir in Colorado. Several Native American clans now claim they were descended from the Anasazi, who supposedly blended in with Hopi, Zuni, and Pueblo communities. But even those ‘descendants’ haven’t come up with a very solid explanation of why those villages were deserted. There’re reports of a severe drought that could have driven them out — you know, to look for food. But there’s also some pretty compelling evidence that a marauding enemy might have driven them out. Who that would be, I dunno…”
Ronnie couldn’t tell for sure what Alex muttered at that point, but it sounded like “I might.”
SACRAMENTO REGIONAL AIRPORT, 8:37 A.M.
“Mulder, I don’t remember the Bureau recruiting posters promising to show me the world,” Scully blinked as they stepped outside the terminal. “What are we doing here? If this, this urban legend is true, I’m sure the NSA has covered its tracks thoroughly.”
Her partner pointed down a bright red minibus in the far lane. “There’s the rental shuttle – c’mon. Legend or not, Scully, the Alamogordo police found two dead feds and a missing scientist two nights ago…”
“On someone’s “anonymous” tip. Bet the DOE — the NSA people were irked the locals were called in first.”
Mulder dodged a departing cab, Scully nervously in tow. “The whole thing would have evaporated into the Southwest sunset otherwise. And I wanted to see what kind of cover the NSA would come up with. And in true ham-handed intelligence fashion, it was a doozie. Though what the terrorists want with an arrowhead- collecting geek, I can’t imagine. The point is, it all started here. Evidence wants to be found. Secrets want to be uncovered.”
“Good,” Scully puffed as Mulder hopped aboard the shuttle. “We’ll just wait for the Laws of Inevitability to catch up with us.”
“Not inevitability, Scully. Human nature. When I called the ER doctor on duty the day the ‘Native American protestor’ was brought in, he was pretty tight-lipped, but he said the security guard who winged our alleged Anasazi was extremely paranoid about the possibility of a lawsuit. Seems some woman at the fashion mall raised a fuss, threatened to call the ACLU, Amnesty International, and Al Sharpton. This Mr. Halloran probably figured he was in the clear after the NSA detained our tribal friend as a ‘person of interest.’ But you and I know all too well that Big Brother is omnipresent, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he took out some kind of insurance. You up for some cage-rattling, Scully?”
Scully collapsed into a seat next to Mulder. “Whatever.”
The Courtyard Shoppes, Sacramento, Ca, 11:12 a.m.
“Like, I’m not in some deep shit for shooting that guy, right?” Chuck Halloran asked defensively, a wet and anxious grin twitching under his brushy moustache. “I mean, I oughtta be a freakin’ hero, right, I disarm this crazy homeless guy. Right? But instead, management tells me to shut my freakin’ mouth about the whole business, and I don’t even hear shit on the 6 O’clock News, you know?”
Mulder and Scully were silent as Halloran shifted his sweaty Coke from one uniformed knee to the other, leaving a dark ring on his huge thigh. The lunch crowd was beginning to build at the plaza — business types on break, women who’d never known any business but courtship, conquest, and marital merger.
“Which is OK, don’t get me wrong, ‘cause no news means I don’t get sued by some freakin’ ACLU group or something, right? Aw, shit, you guys are here cause the guy was an Indian — a Native American, I mean. He’s federally protected, right? Aw, shit. Guys, I had no idea he was a real Indian. I thought he was hawking tacos or something. All I know, he coulda been some kinda Al Quaeda terrorist or Saddam Hussein’s cousin or some such shit. Guys, am I in some deep shit?”
Mulder was enjoying Chuck’s increasingly shrill monologue, but Scully had begun to develop a throbbing headache. “Mr. Halloran, your colleagues said you’ve been especially concerned about the possibility of legal action as a result of the shooting. But you told your partner, Mr. Garcia, you had ‘some insurance’ in the event anyone tried to sue. Could I ask what that insurance might be?”
“Goddamned Roberto,” Chuck growled, searching the concrete storefronts and palms for his comrade.
“I was told the agents erased the mall security video the morning after the shooting,” Mulder said. “Every inch of video documenting that man’s actions and your apprehension of him. So how are you going to defend yourself in court with only your and Mr. Garcia’s say-so?” Mulder glanced around until his eyes spotted one of the mall’s security cameras. When Chuck followed his line of sight, he nodded. “Bet I know how.”
Chuck’s narrow eyes narrowed more. “I didn’t do nothing wrong.”
“Your boss tells me you have a digital security system here — covers the public areas and the loading docks out back. You were scared the entire Cherokee Nation and their lawyers might come looking for your scalp. You didn’t by any chance have a copy of the video burnt off for your protection, did you?”
Chuck caught his soda before it hit the pavement. He glanced fearfully between the two feds.
“Chucky,” Mulder grinned disarmingly. “Come on. I can talk to your bowling buddy in Surveillance; maybe put the fear of George Dubya in him.”
The guard exhaled, and a button disengaged near his navel. “I just didn’t want nobody sayin’ I shot that guy cause he was a minority or somethin’. I don’t profile nobody — you ask Garcia. Look, you gonna take me in? Cause that agent guy who came around the day after the shooting, he looked like the type could make a guy like me a wet spot on the sidewalk, I crossed him.”
“We’re nice agents,” Mulder assured him. “Scully here’s not even the Bad Cop of our duo. Right, podner?”
“I’m a kitten,” she said dryly.
Capitol Gardens Apartments, Sacramento, Ca
“You can see, right?” Chuck demanded. “He was a threat to the customers. Crazy Indian — uh, Native American — coulda iced somebody with that spear thing.”
Scully turned from the screen of the guard’s PC, where the Anasazi was frozen, atlatl poised. “You got anything from the private areas, the loading docks, from just before this?”
“It’s all time-coded. I ain’t looked at it, but I figured maybe I oughtta keep it, case the guy was prowling around, making trouble. Collaborative evidence, you know?”
“Corroborative, Chuck,” Mulder corrected. “Scully, check those files marked ‘DOCK.'”
Twelve minutes and 8 video files later, she caught it. “What the hell?” Scully murmured.
Mulder leaned in to see the backside of a major bookstore and a frozen Anasazi, terror clear on his primitive face even through the grayscale digital grain. But the other man, beside the Anasazi drew Mulder’s immediate attention. Far taller than the cliff-dweller, and older, he seemed vaguely familiar. “Looks like somebody brought him to the Shoppes,” the agent suggested.
Scully looked up, eyes wide. “Possibly. But not via the expressway.” She turned and clicked the rewind button on the Media Player. The Anasazi and his host vanished, and Scully hit pause.
“They just…materialized?” Mulder asked.
“That’s the least of it, believe it or not. Look at the clock in the corner.” Scully hit play. The men appeared abruptly, and Mulder breathed sharply as he watched the digital time display.
“Again,” he mumbled. “See if we can fix the second they appear.”
Scully carefully worked the player second by second. At the precise second the pair flashed into view, the time code jumped ahead.
“No,” Scully stated as she caught the mathematical significance of the jump.
“Nine minutes,” Mulder said. Then, as if a circuit had been completed, he straightened. “Scully, can you take that up full screen?”
His partner clicked the player to full screen mode.
“His head’s turned. See if you can catch our friend’s friend head-on.”
Scully advanced the video frame-by-frame, pausing, as the man accompanying the Anasazi turned full-face to the camera. Even in pixilated black-and-white relief, the face made Mulder reel back.
“Jeremiah,” he whispered.
SACRAMENTO AIRPORT, 4:30 p.m.
“He’s a gift,” Mulder concluded as he and Scully located two seats in the crowded Southwest gate.
He’d been buried deep in thought, and she’d left him there throughout the cab ride from Chuck Halloran’s apartment. The episodes back home and on the road in New Mexico had disturbed her both as a physician and as Mulder’s partner in a myriad of senses — Scully was terrified that someday the malady periodically consuming Mulder wouldn’t subside. But no matter what safe harbor their life together provided him, he remained — and likely would remain — an island.
The revelation of Jeremiah’s involvement in this affair left her more ambivalent: The alien engendered an apocalyptic anxiety in Scully despite his apparent goodwill, but the healing abilities he’d exhibited sparked a hope within her, as well. If he could somehow take away Mulder‘s disease, his condition…
“Who’s a gift?” Sculy asked quietly, glancing at a father bouncing his daughter in his arms agitatedly as he interrogated a bored gate attendant.
“Our aboriginal friend. Jeremiah‘s working against — well, you know — and if he delivered this Anasazi…”
“Presumed Anasazi,” Scully amended. “You only have that Atlantis thing on the mall video to go on.”
“Atlatl. The precursor to the bow and arrow. If that Anasazi was the real thing, then there are two possibilities. He’s an abductee, which seems unlikely given that kooky wardrobe and spear-slinger, or E.T.’s come from a home far, far away, temporally speaking.”
“C’mon, Mulder,” Scully murmured, leaning in and lowering the volume for both of them.
“No, Scully. When Jeremiah and I broke into that hangar in South Dakota, he said the aliens’ space technology would tax Stephen Hawking’s comprehension level. If our friends can travel light years in minutes, then why couldn’t they — or Jeremiah — have adapted their technology to crossing dimensional boundaries? Maybe even the timeline.”
Scully sighed. “Let’s for a second stipulate such a thing could happen. Why this particular Indian — Native American? It’s obvious this guy wouldn’t be a real asset in a tussle with a shape-shifting extraterrestrial.”
“What do you know about the Anasazi, Scully?”
“Well, they lived in the Southwest, in cliff villages, I believe.”
“Lived is right. The Anasazi people appeared to have vanished several hundred years ago — the top archaeologists and anthropologists can’t provide a satisfactory explanation why. Jeremiah brought us something that no longer exists, just dropped it off at the mall like an eighth grader looking for a prom dress. Why, unless this displaced Anasazi represents something of supreme value. If Jeremiah is as he seems, something of value to humanity.”
“If,” Scully breathed as Mulder’s cell phone warbled.
“Mulder?” It was Frohike. “Think we might have a line on Ronnie and Krycek.”
“Had we confirmed ‘Al” is Alex, my little conspiracy gnome?” Mulder chided.
“Langly ran a voiceprint from those wiretaps you had us run on your chain-smoking amigo a few years back. It’s Krycek, all right. The guys and I got to thinking, what if Krycek and Ronnie holed up in the area, rather than taking to the road, where the law might catch up to them.”
“Funny thing is, Frohike, the local law’s been waved off. Homeland Security’s suggesting the two suits were wasted by terrorists after they’d been tipped off Skorzeny was a target.”
“Al Qaeda short on anthro majors these days? From the sound of Ronnie’s cell call, Krycek was the white knight, and the feds were the ones out to punch his ticket. Question remains, why Ronnie?”
Mulder mulled silently for a moment. “You said you might have a fix on them?”
“Langly hacked into the Amex, MasterCard, Visa, and Discover databases and traced hotel charges over the last week. Few days ago Rick Fermi checked into Jimbo’s Saguaro Siesta Motel, about 40 or so miles east of Alamogordo.”
“Fermi?” Mulder puzzled. Then he barked, and the old man seated across from him scowled briefly up from his Newsweek. “Rick Fermi? As in Enrico Fermi?”
“Our boy does have a sense of humor. I guess Oppenheimer or Einstein would have been a little too obvious for the locals.” Frohike turned somber. “Hey, Mulder, if that rat bastard’s involved, you better watch Agent Scully’s luscious backside, as well as your own. Aw, shit, you know what I mean.”
“I’ll tell her you said hi,” Mulder grinned as he rang off.
Jimbo’s Saguaro Siesta Motel
“You after one a’them meth fellas?” the septuagenarian clerk inquired, finally silencing the Cubs game that had kept him rapt even as the agent flashed his Bureau ID. “Why we quit takin’ long-term boarders after Number 14 blew up. Idiot-shit blew hisself to pieces — sister tried to sue us, you believe that?”
Mulder smiled, pocketing his wallet. “Nothing like that, sir.”
“Still findin’ glass in the telephone pole across the parkin’ lot.” The old man rose creakily from his scuffed armchair and planted his leathery palms on the registration desk. “Ain’t terrorists, is it? Them Al Qaedas? I know the feds cranked up the security after them boys flew into them towers out east. Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, that‘s all I need, have some A-rab plottin’ to steel a’ A-bomb.” The hotelier worked his jaws and blinked. “You need some backup, son? I was at Normandy — got the same side-iron I wore fightin’ them huns.”
“Thanks, sir, not necessary. I’m just running down a federal witness who flew the coop a few weeks ago. He probably checked in two, maybe three days ago. His brother might be with him — they made contact, and we think he may be helping Mr. Krycek get across the border. Can I see your guest register.”
The old man appeared disappointed. He glanced longingly at the muted black-and- white ballgame. “Yeah, sure,” he grunted, shoving the log in front of Mulder.
Mulder flipped through the coffee-stained book — at least through the two pages that had been filled over the previous week. He smiled slightly as he read the third name from the bottom.
“Which unit is Fermi in?”
The crooked fingers halted two inches from the remote. The clerk sighed. “Number 6.” He peered out the side window at the long row of dust-covered windows. “Yup, car’s there — that blue Jap car. Wondered ‘bout the name — sounded like a Mafia fella. You need that backup I was–”
Mulder shook his head. “Just a key to the unit. I’d like to surprise him.”
The old man yanked a plastic-tabbed key from the wall behind the desk and tossed it to Mulder.
“You shoot it, you pay for it,” he shouted after the agent.
On three, Scully knocked. “Housekeeping,” she called with a tinge of an accent. Mulder contemplated the intelligence of his nemesis when, shortly thereafter, the door creaked open.
Ronnie had been standing near the doorway, examining the motel’s cable selections, and Krycek’s bellowed “NO!” was lost in the flurry as two figures barreled into the room. Mulder took Ronnie out with his shoulder, sending him flying across the room to land on his ass in the flimsy chair in front of the vanity. Ronnie heard someone yell “Freeze!” It sounded like a woman.
“OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT!” the scientist again wailed.
Krycek had sprung from the bed the moment the door had opened and at the moment was planting the butt end of his gun into the head of the guy who’d just decked him. The guy went down like a rock. He could now see that this guy’s partner was indeed a woman who at the moment was doing her best to block their exit, gun drawn.
“Aw, Christ, not you two!” Krycek hollered.
As Scully glanced down at Mulder’s sprawled form, Krycek took the opportunity to kick the gun from her and knocked her to the floor as she leaped to grab for it. She scrambled across the filthy carpet but Krycek was behind her instantly, leaning on her and trying to pull her arms back with his good arm. “Hey, hey come on—I didn’t know you liked it so rough.” He cooed into her ear from behind and then grabbed her right arm and flipped her over so he straddled her.
Scully planted her palms on his chest, “Krycek, get off me you piece of shit!” She was strong but he was bigger and he laughed at her feeble attempt to push him away. Grabbing her wrists he pulled them back over her head and leaned into her face supporting himself on his right arm. “Dana, you don’t know how long I’ve wanted to get you in a position like this.”
SNICK, the unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked in his ear sent a tingle down his spine. “Get off her now or you’ll be missing more than an arm.” Mulder’s voice, cold and determined, made him turn around. The agent stood above him, his gun steadied in both hands blinking to clear his vision or his head, Krycek wasn’t sure.
As he started to rise Scully scrambled from underneath him to retrieve her gun, pinning it on Krycek as he flopped onto the saggy mattress. “You could have called first…”
Mulder and Scully exchanged glances, she tried to catch his eyes, determine his lucidity. She watched as he rubbed the back of his head. “Mulder, bend over so I can see the back of your head.”
“If I bend over, I’ll fall over, I’m okay. See if you can find his weapons,” he said as he stepped back and sat down in the chair by the window. He felt like he was going to throw up. He sighed and looked over at Alex sitting on the bed. “Who’s the guy?” motioning towards Ronnie, who still sat frozen in the chair in front of the vanity, thankfully speechless.
Sao Paolo, Brazil
The Scarred Man watched with amusement as Charles Scully tore into the latest chunk of seared beef the sword-bearing waiter had deposited on his plate. The young man had selected the churrascaria as a “sophisticated” setting for their meeting, having once foraged at a similar Brazilian grill in Chicago.
The Scarred Man had dined at the city’s finest restaurants and clubs during his frequent visits to the continent following the war, frequently as the guest of the crude little Teutonic expatriot who’d laid waste to many of his country’s greatest treasures. He’d humored the obsequious young American in large part to annoy the third man in their party, a German who possessed all of the arrogance and cunning of the long-deceased madman and one hundred times the intelligence.
Strughold had been barely able to contain his impatience with and contempt for the young man or the proletarian trough he‘d chosen. The procession of meat-laden servers and the recently departed lunch crowd had provided the trio little privacy; even though they’d selected English as the language du jour in deference to “Charlie” (Strughold earlier had commented in guttural French on the ethnocentrism of the Americans, to which the scarred Frenchman had offered his assent in practiced German).
The old German now cast a glacial look of warning at the latest waiter, although the young Latin was armed with a saber full of sausages. The swordsman retreated. “And you believe our Mr. Krycek is behind this?”
“C’mon, two federal agents whacked on a public highway, an NSA analyst missing?”
Charlie laughed harshly, falling silent with an inorganic stare from Strughold.
“I understand,” the Scarred Man said, sipping his thick demitasse of sweet black coffee, “That this ‘analyst’ is some sort of glorified academician? An anthropologist? Why would Alex abduct this man?”
“Skorzeny – the anthropologist – specialized in Southwest Indian lore, especially the Anasazi. The Anasazi was a tribe that mysteriously disappeared.”
Strughold and his Gallic colleague exchanged fleeting looks. “I know the Anasazi,” the German grunted. “Like the lost world of Atlantis, these Anasazi.” The Scarred Man regarded him neutrally. “Why would this man – an academic who collects spear points — be important to such a dangerous organization?”
“I Googled Skorzeny,” Charles ventured. “He left a university post nearly a year ago to join the Department of Energy’s Division of Research, which operates out of Alamagordo. He was one of several university scientists recruited by the Division of Research within about a three-month window. There were also a Middle Eastern archaeologist, a linguist, a microbiologist, a quantum physicist, and two geneticists. Maybe more – that’s what I found.”
Strughold’s eyes narrowed. “An odd assortment for the Energy Department. An even more inexplicable crew for the National Security Agency.” He regarded Charlie’s open jaw with amusement. “Of course I knew the Division of Research operated under the NSA. One of the more ill concealed subterfuges of your federal government. Still. Why hire these…these…?”
“Dweebs?” Charlie offered.
He nearly fell from his chair as Strughold erupted in laughter. “Yes, yes. Dweebs. Wonderful, the contemptuous resonance of the word. So American. Yes.” The laughter faded. “Please, proceed, Charles.”
Charlie was so flushed with pleasure at Strughold’s approval he nearly lost his conversational thread. “Ah, I took the liberty of scanning police and media databases and Internet blogs for the past two or three weeks in search of anything Skorzeny might have been into.” The vellum envelope had been burning a hole in his Armani jacket; now he placed it on the table. “This appeared on a website run by some college kid in Sacramento, Calif.”
The Scarred Man unfolded the contents of the envelope. It was a garishly colored website – Brittani’s Blog – that provided insight into popular music, childishly strident views on White House policy, and a daily litany of curiosities and photos of self- indulgent, rattily dressed teens capering and scowling for the photographer. The highlight of the day’s blog was a poor digital photo – taken no doubt with a cellular phone camera – of a primitively dressed, swarthy man, eyes wide with fear and menace, some sort of neopaleolithic sling poised in his hand.
“Anasazi,” Strughold murmured as he took the printout. The headline over the photo read, “Going Native at the Mall.”
“Yup,” Charlie beamed. “This was taken at a fashion mall in Sacramento, or so the site owner says. Supposedly, there was some kind of altercation, but no news reports or police reports on the incident. And get this: The same afternoon this happened, a group of official-looking goons commandeer an E.R. at a local hospital and load one of the patients into a van. This is according to a few of the patients, once again on the Internet – the staff denies it. I bet it’s our Anasazi, and he’s what Skorzeny was working on.”
Strughold leaned back in his chair, folding his surgeon’s hands across his stomach.
He nodded. “Occasionally, my boy, you astonish me.”
Charlie nearly wet himself.
“Excellent work, Charles,” the Scarred Man purred. “Now, if you could allow our friend and I to ruminate over these new developments…”
Charles Scully blinked, opened his mouth, then clamped it shut in a tight smile, and rose.
“Do you suppose it is possible?” Strughold asked as the young man disappeared into the heat of the Brazilian afternoon.
The Scarred Man sipped his coffee. “At this point, I must suppose it is far more than possible.”
Jimbo’s Saguaro Siesta Motel
Once subdued, Krycek was surprisingly talkative. “OK, Mulder. You and the Girl Wonder want to take me in for those two spooks on the highway, fine. But if you ever want to find out why they died or why they were trying to erase Dr. Skorzeny, you better put on three or four layers of Kevlar. ”
“Spooks?” Scully inquired.
Krycek smirked. “NSA. You think the Department of Energy hires a couple of Special Ops ghosts to keep tabs on the Geek Squad?”
“Present company accepted,” Mulder offered Ron before the anthropologist could defend his image. “So why’s the NSA so interested in the affairs of one little Anasazi?”
“Head of the class,” Krycek nodded appreciatively. “I assume that if you’ve come this far, you’re up on the latest developments at Arecibo?”
Mulder regarded his nemesis silently, glancing away momentarily.
“Well, son-of-a-bitch,” Krycek chuckled. He looked to Scully, perched on the dresser.
“Your boyfriend must be getting a life.”
“Shut up,” Mulder sighed. “Why don’t you just fill me in?”
“The first set of numbers was the coordinates for the Courtyard Shoppes,” Scully drawled as Krycek concluded his report of the SETI communication. “Do you have the others?”
Krycek slipped two fingers into his jeans, then froze in mock fear. “OK, Buck Rogers?” Mulder rolled his eyes. Krycek grinned and handed Scully a slip of paper. She unfolded it and began to scrutinize the cryptic figures. “Hey, Ronald, tell them about the bacteria.”
Ronnie, watching the proceedings in a sort of comatose awe, blinked. “The bact– Oh, yeah. The guys at the lab found this funky prehistoric bacteria on the Anasazi’s clothes. And the Ice Queen — uh, Dr. Behrens, the department physician — noted the guy’s lungs, blood, organs all were clean and healthy — too healthy. We’ve had, oh, about 150 or so years to adapt to our environment, respiratorily and immunologically. Behrens said it was probably a good thing we — they — brought him to The Station, ‘cause otherwise, the L.A. smog would’ve finished him off.
“And that atlatl the guy had– it was the real thing, or the best archaeological fraud I’ve ever seen. I know it’s gonna sound whacked, guys, but if I didn’t know it was impossible, I’d have to say our Anasazi was at least 700 years from the reservation.”
Ronnie scanned the faces around him for any sign of disbelief or contempt. Mulder and Krycek responded as if the scientist had discussed the Cubs’ odds in the playoffs.
Scully was absorbed in the SETI note.
“OK,” Mulder finally spoke up. “Our alien friend — or friends — instant message where they’re dropping off our Anasazi, unescorted and unequipped to handle the modern world. Kind of a major risk, don’t you think? Trigger-happy Chuck could’ve aimed a little to the left. Anasazi Boy could’ve met up with a Greyhound bus or contracted any number of minor allergies or viruses that we take for granted but that would’ve caused him to have an immunological meltdown. Plus, there was the lack of English skills — or any contemporary language skills, for that matter. He was worth as much dead as alive. So why did Jeremiah bring him here?”
“DNA,” Scully intoned.
Mulder, Krycek, and Ronnie turned as one toward Scully, who was still staring at the slip of paper.
“What?” Krycek ventured.
“Anasazi DNA,” she murmured. “I can’t be sure, but this second set of numbers could correspond to the human genome. Possibly, the location of a specific gene on a chromosomal chain. You said it, Mulder — Jeremiah brought us something that no longer exists. A gift for all of us. For all of humanity.”
“Scully, English, please,” Mulder advised.
His partner glanced at Ronnie for a moment, then appeared to reach a decision.
“Well, say the Anasazi had a unique genetic trait, perhaps a tolerance to certain organisms.”
“The oil,” Krycek whispered.
Mulder straightened. “God. Hey, Ronnie, share a little Anasazi lore with us.
Specifically, what kind of enemies did they have? Any particular demons or god- legends? Anything associated with visitors from space, maybe.”
Ronnie smiled unconsciously, relieved finally to be in familiar territory. “Many Anasazi groups were expert observers of the sky — in some cases, they even built sort of solar observatories. Probably to predict seasonal indicators such as solstices or equinoxes.”
“Or to watch for invaders,” Krycek suggested.
Mulder waved him off. “Any other signs of technological advancement?”
“Well, like a lot of Meso-American cultures, they experimented a lot with agriculture. Even some basic genetic work with plants and crops.”
Mulder and Krycek exchanged looks. “Maybe they tried to buy their way in first,” Mulder theorized. “Win the Anasazi’s trust with a little genetic razzle-dazzle. Then, when they move in for the kill, they find out the locals are immune to their black magic. So they go on the offensive. What would you do, if you were the Anasazi?”
“Fortify. Build into the cliffs, make aerial assault or a flank attack tougher.”
“Dudes, wait a second,” Ronnie pled. “What the hell are you two talking about? Ancient astronauts or something?”
“Ronnie,” Mulder said, seriously. “What do you think happened to the Anasazi in the end? When they disappeared?”
The anthropologist shrugged. “Some say some enemy, a rival tribe or something, conquered them, wiped them out. Personally, my guess is this enemy put enough pressure on them, they finally scattered to the wind, intermarried into other tribes.”
“Intermarried,” Scully echoed. “Mulder, what if they did? You say the Anasazi had some rudimentary expertise in genetics. What if they realized they held the key to resisting the Black Oil — that it was in their blood? What if they left their villages and interbred with other tribes, as Dr. Skorzeny suggests? Except it was in an effort to genetically immunize their neighbors.”
“Except their biotech expertise was a little off,” Mulder continued, “and instead of immunizing the other tribes, they diluted their Black Oil resistance. Jeremiah brought us the pure, undistilled version. The original genetic stock.”
Scully frowned. “Except it’s probably locked in the basement of a classified federal facility by a highly dangerous covert agency. Got a way to prove your theory, Mulder?”
Krycek grinned crookedly. “Guess I gotta do everything.”
NATIONAL THERMOELECTRIC ENERGY LAB
“Gonna grab a sandwich, Okay?” Toblowski muttered, tugging his latex gloves off with a snap. The lab technician had ceased a week ago to inquire if the Ice Queen wanted anything on his frequent treks to the cafeteria — she was total permafrost under the hottie exterior. “I’ll process those epidermal samples when I get back.”
“Dr. Behrens” nodded silently, and listened for the security lock to click into place.
Her heart was beating with an intensity Marita Covarrubias hadn’t felt for years, since the last ultimately disappointing brush with salvation. Covarrubias’ tenure with the World Health Organization had given her the medical expertise and her subsequent life of subterfuge and obfuscation the wiles to land the clearance and eventually the position with the NSA’s “research lab.” Little did these spooks and scientists realize that she probably knew more than all but a handful of humans about the threat that loomed over the specie’s continued existence. The genetic research conducted here had been birthed in darkness by frightened men decades ago and was destined for a chosen few. Marita had given over her life, and was prepared to give her life, for the World. She was uncertain whom or what had delivered the man in the bay beyond, but she was increasingly certain this displaced man — this human remnant — held the solution. Extensive Internet research (on her secure home PC) had revealed the truth that appeared to lie behind the Anasazis’ lore, their gods and demons, the secret that had plagued them into extinction. The significance of the rich magnetite deposits surrounding the tribe’s cliffside communities had staggered Marita.
She dropped in front of her monitor and clicked up the chromosomal data that to her was the Holy Grail. Only a few short years ago, scientists had completed their map of the human genome — the roadmap to Homo sapiens’ every genetic trait, weakness, and strength. Forty-six chromosomes, each with anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand genes. Genes for sexual identity, genes for skin color, genes for hemophilia, and genes for potential obesity. Genes that fire the engine of human intelligence or the flames of homicidal psychopathy. Genes that lie dormant on their chromosomal chain, their functions atrophied with adaptation and dominance or, perhaps, awaiting the spark of expression.
Telepathy, telekinesis, communication with imponderable worlds beyond — Marita had come to believe these were expressions of humanity’s dormant potential. Whether by adaptation, mutation, divine intervention, she believed the Anasazi had possessed a potential beyond the rest of the species. The potential to resist dominance and extinction at the hands of the species she’d come to know as the Black Oil. That genetic potential had enabled the Anasazi to fight the future, and now, it had been placed in man’s hands. Marita nonetheless couldn’t shake the feeling that she was missing something here — some piece of the equation was missing. And then there was Alex, who hadn’t contacted her since the night he’d obviously taken out Grey’s assassins. Her lover
and co-conspirator was cocky and frequently reckless, and she was concerned he someday would underestimate Strughold, the Frenchman, even Spender, who’d professed disillusionment with the futile self-interest of the Consortium’s impotently powerful/powerfully impotent members but whose actual agenda had always been unclear.
Alex’ role was crucial, as was hers. Everything else was in place: Spender had pulled in nearly all the favors he’d accumulated in a lifetime of manipulation and murder to pull together the necessary capital and resources. The technology now existed — had existed for decades, unbeknownst to the world at large — to distill the essence of the Anasazi’s resistance and inoculate humanity with a new potential to survive.
Unfortunately, Marita recognized, that technology was in the hands of a frail and planet bound species, and its blood again would be on her hands before the night was done.
“The whole world’s changed irrevocably since 9/11, Agent,” Garrett Monson sighed, crossing his hands over his significant stomach, under President Bush‘s portrait. The lab’s chief administrator smiled deprecatingly at Mulder and Scully. “I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘dual use technology.’ Much of what we do here has great potential to reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum, generate clean sources of energy.
We’re also working to harness forces that, in the wrong hands, could destroy cities, make the Twin Towers look like a minor conflagration.
“It was quite an adjustment for our scientists when Homeland Security initiated new security measures. Personnel checks, invasive random security checks. The price of security, you might say. But Agents Cress and Ostrander became part of our extended family here at the lab, and they will be missed.”
Krycek had suggested re-engineering Skorzeny’s ID to gain after-hours access, but Mulder opted first to size up the lab’s security.
“Ah huh,” Mulder nodded as he crossed his leg. “And this Ronald Skorzeny. He was what, an anthropologist?”
Monson glanced out over the arid New Mexico landscape beyond his office window.
“Yes. Dr. Skorzeny headed up our analysis of biomass crops cultivated by Native American populations. We hope to identify species from which we can produce cellulosic ethanol. We, er, think outside the box here.”
“And you think this research may have been behind Dr. Skorzeny’s abduction?”
Scully inquired calmly. “We understand Agents Cress and Ostrander were notified of, what, a terrorist threat?”
Monson’s smile flickered slightly.
“I’m afraid that’s classified, Agent.” Mulder and Scully turned toward the cool voice behind them. The uniformed man in the doorway was lean, graying, with mineral eyes. The inimitable Col. Grey, Mulder surmised. “Sorry I’m running late, Dr. Monson. Col. Wilson Grey.”
The soldier’s grip was gloved iron, firm but respectful. Scully’s eyes narrowed as Mulder winced slightly.
“I apologize, Agents, but we’re not at liberty to discuss the nature of the message Cress received the day of the…incident.”
“National security?” Scully offered, glancing anxiously at her partner. Mulder had grow pale, his eyes bleary. She watched as his hand came up to caress his forehead, he stepped away from the conversation.
By the time he reached the window in Monson’s office he could hardly put one foot in front of the other. The pain arching across his head so intense it made his eyes water. The conversation and just about everything in the office had faded from his vision and he found himself looking through a black tunnel out into the desert beyond. As he stood there the blackness began to fade away and he found himself looking a yet another Native village. A proud Native man in conversation with a cavalry officer, what appeared to be a difference of opinion between Native elders, a scuffle and a shot and then the village was under siege. Cavalry and artillery cutting down men, women and children as they ran for their lives; and once again it was over and all that was left were the bodies.
Col. Grey’s lips formed a thin smile, he glanced at Mulder. “Precisely. I’ve already apprised your assistant director, Skinner, that we have this investigation firmly in hand. Dr. Monson, why don’t you offer the agents a tour of the lab, so their trip won’t have been in vain? I think you two will find it quite fascinating. Good morning.”
Monson nodded farewell at Grey’s retreating back, then shrugged cheerfully at his two visitors. Scully didn’t notice — her attention was on her haggard partner.
“Mulder?” When she touched his arm he flinched and suddenly found himself back in Mondon’s office. The nausea hit him immediately. “Excuse me,” he mumbled without looking at her and fled the room.
Through the delirium, Mulder spotted a familiar face in the atrium beyond the administrative suite. An ethereal blonde in a white lab coat, consulting with Col. Grey. The officer listened patiently for a moment, then nodded curtly and continued down a corridor to the right. The woman watched him depart, a thoughtful expression on her striking features, then turned and locked eyes with Mulder.
Marita Covarrubias froze, eyes widening. His former U.N. informant’s fingers tightened around the folder she was holding, and she wheeled abruptly and disappeared into the stairwell.
Mulder struggled to comprehend the significance of his discovery, but his throbbing head could wrap only around the realization that Krycek did indeed appear to have matters in hand.
After waiting for Mulder to emerge from the Men’s Room still pale and sweaty, Monson had led them down several flights and through a security check point to the research labs themselves. Scully had tried not to make it too obvious but Mulder could tell she was watching him like a hawk. This is where her expertise would come in handy. As they passed through the door into the lab itself his hand came to rest on the small of her back. I’m okay, Scully he was trying to say to her silently. “Dr. Behrens,” Monson announced. “Perhaps you could inform our guests here about some of the research you’re involved in. Assure them that we’re only interested in providing the world with a new energy source.” Marita looked up, her eyes meeting Mulder’s instantly, willing him to play along. “If you’ll excuse me, Dr. Behrens will see you out.” The three of them stood and watched as Monson left the room.
“You two shouldn’t be in here. If we’re discovered, the whole thing will go to hell,” Marita hissed at both of them. Before her on the counter were several high tech microscopes and monitors. He and Scully both recognized the black substance frozen on the monitor to her left.
“This isn’t a new form of petroleum you’re working on here is it?”
She looked up from the slide she was viewing. “You obviously know what it is, why are you asking?”
“Is it safe?” Scully asked with concern as Mulder moved in for a closer look.
“It’s inert,” the blonde replied.
“What do you mean?” Mulder asked.
“It’s dead, no longer active.”
Mulder and Scully exchanged glances. “You’ve found a cure.” Scully stated.
“Follow me.” Marita led them into another room and closed the door. Inside the room were several sealed examination chambers. Stepping up to one she slid her hands into the gloves inside the chamber and motioned for Scully to use the other set. From a small container she released some of the black oil substance. Mulder froze as he watched it form into rivules looking for a host organism. “Take the ampule and drop some of the blood sample onto the oil,” Marita instructed Scully. When the blood hit the oil the rivules stopped moving and began to shrivel. “Whose blood is this?” Scully demanded as she pulled her hands from the gloves. “I got it from the Anasazi man When they returned to the lab Marita pulled several vials of blood from a container in the refrigerator. “Lucky there are a lot of us here doing “private” research. No one questions a little extracurricular activity.” Mulder looked around, sure they were being watched. “Believe it or not, there are no cameras in the labs Agent Mulder. We’ve got something very important here but as usually it’s fallen into the wrong hands,” Marita continued as she began setting up the blood samples for Scully. “I don’t know about you, but I hardly trust that the government would use this for the good of all its citizens.”
Mulder recognized the pain again immediately. Like fingers crushing his brain inside his skull. He grazed his hand across his brow and couldn’t stop the wince. Scully looked up with concern, but Mulder just motioned for her to continue, pasting a forced grin on his face. When she looked away he closed his eyes and gripped the counter behind him until his fingertips turned white. Sharp little pains arched across his head. The last time he had experienced anything like this he’d been in that fucking hangar in North Dakota admist a sea of alien technology. What the hell? He had to get out of there.
“What’s wrong with him?” Marita asked as they both watched Mulder bolt from the lab.
Scully looked back at Marita. “I don’t know. I should go after him.”
“No, wait, you have to see this.”
By the time he stumbled out into the daylight he was totally disoriented. He wondered how many people had watched him stumble through the halls as if he were drunk and had ignored him as such. He was going to have to cook up a good excuse for Scully when she finally finished up and came looking for him.
The pain had begun to subside and he found himself walking across the blistering parking lot. His jacket long since abandoned he loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top two buttons on his shirt. God it was hot here. At the edge of the parking lot the land dropped away into a canyon that was where he now found himself squinting out over the barren land below him. Memories of that night in the hanger came back to him; Jermiah explaining about biological modifications and genetic manipulations used to insure immortality; about the concept of interstellar travel and his insistence that Mulder was some sort of key to mending the universe. He remembered the pain…. Suddenly the icy cold of that black oil working its way thought his system seized him, took his breath away as it worked its way though his mind to chill the pain. He shook with the sickening chill. Fuck, what the hell was he?
“You are troubled by these visions.”
The voice was unmistakable, speaking the wisdom of the ages. He hadn’t asked a question, simply made the statement. Mulder turned to look at the gray-haired man standing next to him on the bluff. “Great, now I see dead people.” He turned away from Hosteen and looked back out over the canyon. No sense in having the world know he was talking to himself.
“Do you want me to leave?”
Truth was at this point Mulder didn’t know what he wanted. “No, I don’t. What I want are answers.”
Hosteen followed Mulder’s gaze. “I have no answers for you, F.B.I. man. These are answers you must find for yourself.”
Anger or maybe frustration was starting to build within him. Sooner or later Scully was going to take the brunt of that—or maybe she already had. “Look, these visions, or hallucinations, or whatever you want to call them almost got me and my partner killed the other day. I don’t understand what’s happening to me!”
“You understand it. You just don’t believe it.”
Mulder snorted. “Well, that’s a first. Most of my acquaintances think there’s no limit to what I’ll believe.”
“History, Mr. Mulder, is only written by those who have lived to tell it.”
“So only the dead know the truth?”
“And they think I’ll listen?”
“You have been listening, haven’t you?”
Mulder sighed, looked down at his dusty shoes, “I can’t do anything about it. I can’t change history, Albert, even you know that.”
“Our brothers in the north have a practice called the Medicine Wheel, a circle of life. It is a physical manifestation of Spiritual energy, an outward expression of your inner self. It helps us to see exactly who we are, what we need to develop in order to realize our potentials. We are all connected to each other; all a part of the “Bigger Picture” but each of us must determine what our part in it all is.”
Hosteen took the cane he had been holding and drew a circle in the dust at their feet. “The universe is the circle, with no beginning and no end.” He then drew a cross through the circle, “The cross touches the circle at four points, four directions, four virtues.” He looked up at Mulder, “Courage, strength, wisdom and generosity. It is said that each of us is born with one of these. We must endeavor to find the other 3 within ourselves. You, I suspect have been born with all of them. Perhaps this is why you have been chosen.”
Mulder remained silent, shaking his head ever so slightly at this revelation from Hosteen.
“You must learn to accept this within yourself; to dance within your own circle of life. It will help to clear your foggy view and help you to see more clearly to understand what is for the betterment of mankind and to promote the healing that must be done. Only when you believe what you see will you be able to do anything about it.” When Mulder looked up from the circle Hosteen was gone but the circle remained.
NATIONAL THERMOELECTRIC ENERGY LAB
Krycek had secured the sarin derivative from one of his underground sources — a merchant only too happy to deal with dictators, revolutionaries, and terrorists alike. The compound Marita had carried casually into the lab that morning was a variation on the nerve gas the Aum Shinrikyo sect had released on a Japanese subway in 1995.
Sarin had been classified as a weapon of mass destruction under U.N. Resolution 687, and its production and stockpiling was outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. In a previous life, Marita had viewed it and the other nightmares Man had manufactured to subdue and eradicate Man, abominations. Marita had seen the destruction, fought alongside men of humanity who had fought to stem the science of Death, and now was ready to wield that science in the interest of humanity’s survival.
Beyond her qualms about the mass poisoning she was prepared to commit, Marita held deep reservations about her new “partners.” The sight of Mulder in the atrium earlier that day had rattled her, and the encoded update Krycek had left on her home PC had done little to settle her anxiety. Marita had no doubt Mulder understood the stakes, and that Scully would follow his lead. But the agents still possessed an absolutist vein of personal humanity she had been forced to sacrifice in the interest of the race. Krycek had told Mulder and Scully the substance she’d smuggled into the federal facility was debilitating but temporary in its effects — she had not asked him whether that was merely a lie designed to assure their commitment. Marita’s devotion to Krycek and his mission was laced with the certain knowledge that life to him was a relative commodity.
Marita tried to console herself that the “legitimate” researchers and staffers and the night cleaning crew had left the building hours ago.
The second-tier “staff” came and went at all hours, and her own return to the lab at 1 a.m. had merited only a nod from the lobby security guards — regrettably, two of her few innocent would-be casualties. She had self-administered the antidote before arriving at the lab, and had inoculated her patient. Krycek, Mulder, and Scully also would be immunized against the sarin distillate. Marita walked briskly to the lab table where her Thermos full of full- strength Kona sat next to a centrifuge. Steeling herself, she upended the container and unscrewed the slotted cover in the bottom. Marita gently withdrew the ampoule from its insulated compartment — only a minute amount of the airborne poison was necessary to infuse the entire building. The lab’s blueprints, supplied by Spender, had shown the ventilation ductwork to be an effective conduit to every niche of the building. Newer covert facilities would have provided safe areas, but today, even the budget for inveiglement and obfuscation was tight.
“Hey, you got a cold, stay away from those chips,” Kjellen barked at Washington.
The beefy guard tugged the Doritos away from his lanky partner for punctuation.
Washington scowled and wiped his nose with his cuff. “Shit, man, you’re the worst hypochondriac little Girl Scout I ever met. I’m fine, man — must be an allergy or something.”
“Allergy?” Kjellen snorted, jerking his bull head toward the inky night beyond the lobby windows. “To what? We’re in the middle of the fucking desert. Though you mention it, my eyes are kinda bleary. Hell, you probably gave me the flu or the freakin’ ebola.”
Sniffing, Washington formulated a comeback, but stopped dead. “Shit, Arnie, you’re drooling, man. Thought that only happened when the new S.I. Swimsuit issue came in.”
“Ha, haargghhh,” Kjellen sneered before his face drained of all blood and spewed a stream of half-digested burger, Krispy Kreme, Doritos, and Coke across the marble floor. “Jesus, shi—” The brawny sentry fell to his knees and began to vomit with alarming intensity and volume.
“Shit, man. Hold on — lemme call Brookings.” Washington went for his radio. “Hey, Cap? It’s Washington. I think something’s up with Kjellin or something.” The guard was greeted by silence. “Hey, Cap? Cap?”
The radio dropped from his fingers and cracked on the marble as a hand gripped his muscular forearm. Washington’s free hand started toward his sidearm, but then he caught the bulging eyes embedded in the swollen, purple face of one of the technicians in the lab football pool. Blood streamed from the man’s nostrils, and he silently mouthed a plea for assistance. His finger’s slipped down Washington’s uniform as he collapsed, twitching and jerking on the cold, polished stone. “What the fu–.” Washington whispered, terror gripping his chest. Then he realized it wasn’t terror, and the lobby went dark.
“What did you do, Krycek?” Scully asked ominously as she glanced at the bodies littering the first floor hallway. The pathologist fell to a knee beside a small man in lab scrubs and began to check for a pulse.
“Jesus, c’mon!” Krycek yelled. “We’ve got 10 minutes, tops! Less, if somebody called out!”
Scully glared up. “This man is dead, Krycek. These people…”
“Goddammit, Scully,” he roared. “I don’t know what happened to him — heart condition, I don’t know, but we’ve got more important shit to worry about. Haul ass! Now!”
Scully moved on to a woman five feet away. “Mulder, help me — her Breathing’s shallow, but..”
“Mulder,” Krycek said, menacingly, gripping his Uzi pistol. The agent stared at his unlikely new partner as realization hit, then at the agent/pathologist on the floor. “C’mon, Scully.”
Scully’s face was pallid, her eyes afire. “Mulder! This is…”
“I know what it is, Scully,” Mulder sighed. “But it is what it is. We have to get that man out of here, or it may all be over.” He looked at the expression of disbelief on her face. “C’mon, Scully. Please.”
Scully rose, studying the two men. Krycek was still, knuckles tight on his weapon. Finally, Scully turned and stalked silently toward the elevators.
“My God,” Mulder whispered as the trio reached the sub-basement. Covarrubias was waiting in the corridor, a small, rough-hewn man beside her. The Anasazi stared from face to face, afraid to move until his eyes met Mulder’s. Mulder approached slowly. “This is really…?”
Covarrubias nodded somberly. “Really.”
“C’mon,” Krycek prodded. “Indulge your boyish sense of wonder on your own time, Mulder! MOVE!”
The Anasazi started at Krycek’s sharp commands. Covarrubias took his arm as Mulder turned to look into the tiny man’s eyes. They said nothing to each other but Mulder could feel a sense of understanding pass between them. They all began to move out.
ONE HOUR LATER
“Two days,” Marita reminded Krycek as she slid the key into the van’s ignition. No one around town would have registered the deeply tinted windows — it was standard UV protection throughout the Southwest, and Krycek had secured a suitably sandblasted model. The quartet standing at the edge of the mini-mart lot could have been a double date concluding at the end of the evening. The fifth wheel was securely sedated in the back, and the station was in a busy neighborhood Grey’s security forces would have been reluctant to invade even at this hour.
“Watch your ass,” Krycek nonetheless told his partner. “By now, Hell’s gotta be quietly busting loose. I just hope Spender covered his tracks.”
Marita glanced at Mulder and Scully by their rental, and then into Krycek’s eyes. He nodded, then slapped the side of the van. Marita breathed deeply and turned the key. A cloud of hydrocarbons belched from the tailpipe, and she moved out. Krycek watched the vehicle disappear into the night, then strode back across the still warm tarmac. Mulder stepped around the car and blocked the passenger door.
“What?” Krycek smirked. “We’re covered — even if they work it out, too many people know you’re out here for you to just disappear, and Grey would have a lot more to explain if he had you two busted. I wasn’t shitting about that gas — dead guy just had a bad reaction. Grey’ll explain it away as one two many burritos or job stress. The others are probably sleeping it off now. So take a pill, Mulder.” He shouldered the agent aside and climbed in.
Mulder looked over the roof at Scully, who frowned worriedly, and grinned crookedly. “I lose Fonzie here, you up for a whattaburger?”
Motel Seven West
The constantly annoying little clicking sounds brought her awake. Finding the other half of the bed empty she rolled over. The clicking hesitated until she’d settled and then began again. Mulder, in nothing more than his boxers, was slumped at the small table by the window with their laptop. The room was shrouded in darkness save for the eerie blue glow from the screen as it bounced off his glasses. He hardly ever wore them anymore and she’d forgotten just how good he looked in them.
Feeling somewhat voyeuristic, she lay there feigning sleep, watching him. His relentlessness still amazed her. There were theories brewing in that mind of his and even after all these years she still couldn’t keep up with them. While he was playing connect the dots she still stumbled along trying to draw a straight line. Lately she’d been a little concerned at what he’d find when he finished the picture but while others might question his sanity she knew from experience that you never took anything he said for granted, even now.
She knew he’d been in pain that afternoon in the lab. It was the same look she’d seen on him in Col. Grey’s office and it was beginning to worry her. He hadn’t said a word when he’d fled from the lab and it had been sometime later when she found him leaning against their car in the sweltering parking lot. When she confronted him about it he’d blown it off as a headache and begged her for some Excedrin as a cover. Maybe that whack Krycek gave him on the head was more serious than she thought or maybe she just wanted to believe it was just the sun and the heat and the dust. Maybe his eyes were bothering him too.
She continued to watch him through hooded eyes. He appeared to be jumping from website to website from the constant flashes on his lenses, obviously looking for something. He reached for the glass of water perched on the edge of the table and chugged its contents placing it back on the table. His gaze then fell on her and she knew then that she’d been had. “You know Scully; it’s somewhat unnerving to have you lying there in the dark watching me sit here in my underwear.”
She could ignore him, pretend she was asleep but she knew he would only get irritated with her and she really wanted to know what had driven him from their bed in these early hours of the morning. She rolled onto her back and pulled herself into a seated position against the headboard tucking the covers around her. Geez, it was freezing in here, men and their air conditioning. “Why ARE you sitting there in your underwear, Mulder?”
He leaned back in the chair then, resting his elbows on the arms of the chair and began to pick at his nails. “Couldn’t sleep?” It wasn’t really a question, he was just buying time. “Because I just can’t shake the feeling that something is off here. That this man, this Anasazi or whatever he is—is not what we believe him to be. I think we’re being misled.”
“Mulder,” throwing the covers back; she grabbed her robe from the foot of the bed, wrapping it around herself. “This man could be the answer to protecting the human race from infection by the black oil; for all intents and purposes, the key to saving the human race.”
There was that phrase again, ‘the key’. Scully had come to stand behind him, “What are you looking at?” On the screen was a site on Indian Wars, she looked at him puzzled when he glanced up. That hesitant grin of his began to spread across his face. He knew that she wouldn’t put the pieces together until he explained. After this she’d either believe him or have him committed. He pulled the other chair over so they could both see the laptop screen and motioned for her to sit in it. He scrubbed his face with both hands and looked at her from between his splayed fingers and sighed.
“Scully, regardless of what you believe caused my seizures last spring, something has happened to me. I—I don’t know when, I don’t even know how. I just know I’ve gotten access to something; some nexus of consciousness or some connection to a higher plane of thought.” Scully’s lips parted as if she were about to comment. He glanced up at her and put his hand up. “No, don’t, just hear me out. I’ve finally worked up the courage to tell you this. I didn’t believe it myself, or maybe I did and I just kept denying it but I don’t anymore.”
Scully looked at him now with a mixture of fear and concern and pulled her robe around herself tighter. “This has been going on since the spring?” He could hear the worry building in her voice. “You told me you were fine, Mulder. I haven’t seen evidence of seizures. You’ve been hiding this from me? Lying to me?”
He could tell she was hurt by his admission. “No, I have not been lying to you. This is not like before. I’m not a part of these events.” He reached for her hand as it clutched at her robe. He didn’t like the way she was looking at him now with something like pity. “Don’t look at me like that,” he pleaded. “I’m not sick Scully, at least not in the way you think. Please, just hear me out.” She nodded and let him take her hand in his as he rested them both on the edge of the table. “I’ve seen things, I see things, Scully and at first they didn’t make any sense but now I’m beginning to understand the connections.” He let go of her hand and scrolled through the site he had been reading, coming to a stop on an article about a massacre at Sand Creek in November of 1864. “I saw this.”
“You saw what?”
“The massacre—as it happened,” he hesitated a moment, turning the screen so she could see what he was looking at, “On the highway coming down from Albuquerque the other day.”
“When you ran our car off the road?”
He didn’t answer her. “Black Kettle and his people had been told they would be safe on reservation land. They were given an American flag and told to display it as a sign of protection. I thought it looked out of place when I saw it. But now I understand.” Some fucking protection,” he said with disgust. “Cavalry troops rode in and slaughtered over 200 men, women and children.”
“Mulder, what do you mean, you saw this?”
She was prodding him and if she kept it up he was going to get angry. “I saw this, everything, just as it states here. Calvary troops charging into a perfectly peaceful native camp; shooting at anything that moved. Then, there were just bodies, everywhere.” She watched him swallow hard at the memory.”Earlier in Monson’s office, when Col. Grey came in it happened again. You know I zoned out on you.”
“You looked like you were in pain Mulder.”
He looked her right in the eye. “I was, but that’s another story.”
What she wanted most was to get to the bottom of what was causing this. But she went along with him anyway. “You saw the same thing?”
Mulder shook his head and scrolled to another article, this one on Wounded Knee. “I think it was this,” he said pointing at the screen. “Soldiers were trying to get the Natives to surrender their weapons. There was a man, a medicine man, trying to convince them otherwise. And then there was this scuffle and a shot and the next thing I knew I was watching it all over again; soldiers, cannon, gunfire, bodies, everywhere.” He scrolled down the article until he came to the photos of bodies frozen in the snow. “That’s when I headed for the john.” Scully reached over, resting her hand on Mulder’s arm as he scrolled back up to the top of the article and let Scully read it.
The Wounded Knee Massacre
White officials became alarmed at the religious fervor and activism and in December 1890 banned the Ghost Dance on Lakota reservations. When the rites continued, officials called in troops to Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota. The military, led by veteran General Nelson Miles, geared itself for another campaign. The presence of the troops exacerbated the situation. Short Bull and Kicking Bear led their followers to the northwest corner of the Pine Ridge reservation, to a sheltered escarpment known as the Stronghold. The dancers sent word to Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapas to join them. Before he could set out from the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, however, he was arrested by Indian police. A scuffle ensued in which Sitting Bull and seven of his warriors were slain. Six of the policemen were killed.
General Miles had also ordered the arrest of Big Foot, who had been known to live along the Cheyenne River in South Dakota. But, Big Foot and his followers had already departed south to Pine Ridge, asked there by Red Cloud and other supporters of the whites, in an effort to bring tranquility. Miles sent out the infamous Seventh Calvary led by Major Whitside to locate the renegades. They scoured the Badlands and finally found the Miniconjou dancers on Porcupine Creek, 30 miles east of Pine Ridge. The Indians offered no resistance. Big Foot, ill with pneumonia, rode in a wagon. The soldiers ordered the Indians to set up camp five miles westward, at Wounded Knee Creek. Colonel James Forsyth arrived to take command and ordered his guards to place four Hotchkiss cannons in position around the camp. The soldiers now numbered around 500; the Indians 350, all but 120 of these women and children. The following morning, December 29, 1890, the soldiers entered the camp demanding the all Indian firearms be relinquished. A medicine man named Yellow Bird advocated resistance, claiming the Ghost Shirts would protect them. One of the soldiers tried to disarm a deaf Indian named Black Coyote. A scuffle ensued and the firearm discharged. The silence of the morning was broken and soon other guns echoed in the river bed. At first, the struggle was fought at close quarters, but when the Indians ran to take cover, the Hotchkiss artillery opened up on them, cutting down men, women, children alike, the sick Big Foot among them. By the end of this brutal, unnecessary violence, which lasted less than an hour, at least 150 Indians had been killed and 50 wounded. In comparison, army casualties were 25 killed and 39 wounded. Forsyth was later charged with killing the innocents, but exonerated.
“Do you know about this Ghost Dance?” Scully asked.
“Yeah, The Ghost Dance was a phenomena that swept through the American west in the late 1800’s. It was started by a Paiute holy man from Nevada named Wovoka, son of a mystic Tavibo. He drew on his father’s teachings and began to spread his gospel among the natives. It became known as the Ghost Dance Religion. His claim was that the earth would soon perish and then come back to life in a purified state and would be inherited by the Natives, including their dead for an eternally peaceful existence. It was a pretty non-violent practice. That was until Kicking Bear, a Lakota who had made a pilgrimage to Nevada to learn this new religion decided to change the teachings and advocated instead the possible elimination of the whites; claiming the Ghost Dance Shirts would protect the warriors against the white man’s bullets. All you have to do is look at these pictures and the truth of that claim is brutally evident.”
Scully knew she had to tread very carefully here. She really didn’t believe Mulder to be delusional but she still couldn’t follow his reasoning. “I still don’t understand what this has to do with our Anasazi man. What connection are you trying to make here?”
“What do you mean you don’t see it?” It came out harsher than he’d intended and he saw her flinch at the vehemence. “You don’t think it’s relevant that basically the same thing is happening here?” He got up from the table and started to pace as he spoke. “We’ve got government agencies advocating the production of massive gene therapy by claiming it will protect the public from infection but what if it’s not protection at all Scully, what if its just the opposite?”
“We’ve done the tests. This man is immune to infection by the black oil. What more proof do you need?”
He turned to her, rolled his eyes in frustration. “I know that, but what if this genetic immunity is being presented to us just like these Ghost Shirts were. Don’t you get it? We keep thinking we’re going to be protected by this but maybe it’s just another opportunity to wipe us off the planet? That’s why I’m seeing these things, there’s something terribly wrong here.”
God, it was the middle of the night, why did he start these discussions in the middle of the night? She walked over to stand in front of him. “Mulder, I think you’re being irrational?”
“I’m being irrational!” She’s known it was coming, the inflection told her he’d had enough. She watched as he began to search the room for his clothes and began to wiggle himself into them.
“Mulder, where are you going?”
She tried to grab him as he scooted by her intending to head him off before he reached the door but he slipped by her, stomping into his shoes his hand already on the doorknob. She stopped, “Out where?”
“I don’t know, I just have to get out of here.”
“Damn it, Mulder, talk to me. This gene Marita has identified, it could be the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for. I thought you trusted Jeremiah? You believe him to be some sort of healer. If he somehow brought this man back for us to find it’s because he felt if would benefit the human race. What in God’s name makes you think it’s something else?”
“I have been talking to you Scully, you’re not fucking listening! And God has nothing to do with this.”
“What about Jeremiah?”
She watched as the anger faded from his face. “Jeremiah—Jeremiah is Wovoka, come back to make sure the planet is returned to its rightful owners.” She stood and watched his back disappear through the door.
It never ceased to amaze him how the desert could be hotter than hell in the day and become so cool at night. Speaking of Hell, what was he doing out here anyway? He hadn’t even warmed up before he’d taken off from the motel and now his muscles were protesting in earnest, his chest aching from the cold night air. A vehicle was approaching from the distance and he watched the headlights growing larger as it grew nearer. The driver laid on the horn, veering the truck off the road in his direction. Caught in it’s headlights, Mulder panicked momentarily diving out of the way just as the vehicle veered back onto the road kicking up gravel and sending it stinging at him though the dust. Loud music blared from the vehicle. “Asshole!”,Mulder yelled if only for his own gratification as he got up and brushed the dust from his own ass, watching as the trucks tail lights disappeared down the road back towards their motel. He didn’t know if Scully noticed it or not, but his runs weren’t as long as they used to be—but then his knees weren’t as good as they used to be either; time to turn around.
Used to be these runs would clear his head, put things in perspective and a case would become clear to him. Things were starting to become clear but in truth they had nothing to do with the case. This time those things had to do with trust and a truth he wasn’t sure he wanted to believe himself.
They were so close, so close to an answer here and yet his instincts kept telling him something wasn’t right. He’d seen the visions, visions of trust gone awry. Scully believed in her science, trusted what it told her. But what if this truth was beyond the realm of what earth science was able to prove. How could he convince her that what it was telling her was wrong? Would she choose to believe him or her science? The choice made his head ache turning his thoughts to the pain that had gripped him in the lab. He hadn’t experienced anything like that since Crofts dragged him out to
Strunghold Mine. It was then that things started to click into place. It hadn’t been a mine at all he thought as he recalled the images of the huge seamless hangar and the craft as it had hovered above the floor before him. The pain had been there then, driving him almost to insanity with its intensity. He remembered Jeremiah’s tales of interdimensional travel, unholy alliances and the mergence of two worlds. The same pain he’d felt in Col. Grey’s office, the same pain he’d felt in the lab; a pain he now associated with a proximity to alien technology. The connection made him sick.
The faint glow of morning was beginning to touch the eastern sky as he jogged back into the motel’s parking lot. Aside from lack of sleep he couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten and the hollowness of his stomach made him feel slightly nauseous.
He’d passed a bank of vending machines in the alley between the buildings on his way out and headed back there for something to settle his stomach. Now standing before the soda machine he picked though his pockets looking for change. A hand and a beer suddenly materialized in front of him. “Here, sorry I left you in the dust back there.”
He contemplated turning around a decking the son of a bitch but a beer for breakfast? What the hell. He took the beer and turned around, popping off the tab as he did so. “This is the first time you’ve ever had anything good to offer me, Krycek.”
“You may not think so when you hear what else I have to tell you.”
“Oh, so we’re just a couple of guys having a chat over a beer?” Mulder took a long swig of the beer.
“One guy, you I’m not so sure of.”
Krycek smirked. “Sorry, I’m not here on a social call.”
Mulder stepped away from Krycek to lean against the wall. He took another swig of the beer. “Why are you here?”
“To bring you some news,” he said, popping the top on his own can and taking a couple of long swallows. “I think you’re already starting to put the pieces together but you don’t know the why do you?”
Mulder was tired, hell, he was exhausted. “You know what I’ve always hated about you Krycek? You never could just get to the point.”
“OK, Mulder, I’ll get to the point.”
“There is a God.”
“You’re partner, if you still call her that is beginning to think seriously about your state of mind. You’re starting to scare her with these trips off the deep end.”
Annoyed that Krycek seemed to know anything about his mental state, Mulder hissed back. “What do you know?”
“Apparently a lot more than you do my friend. You know that little unauthorized brain surgery you had a few years ago? There was some severe neurological damage going on in that head of yours. Without treatment you probably would have died or at least spent the rest of your life in that padded room.”
Mulder found he couldn’t hide the shudder that ran through him with those memories. It didn’t go unnoticed by Krycek, he smiled and continued.
“Along comes a former aquaintence of yours who convinces your father to have some of his doctors fix you up.”
“My father’s dead Krycek.”
“Yeah, well, believe what you want.” He watched as Krycek swallowed the rest of his beer and tossed the can aside. “These doctors have been working with some remarkable technology, undetectable micro-nanotechnology developed by the aliens.
They used it to repair the damage to your brain. You probably have a whole network of these little buggers running around in there.” Krycek reached over and scrubbed his hand across Mulder’s scalp like you would a little boy.
Angry that Krycek would know this information and the condescending way he’d ended his conversation Mulder reached up and caught Krycek’s arm, turning him around and pulling his arm behind him as he slammed him against the wall.
“I’m supposed to believe this Michael Crichton shit?”
Krycek was pressed so tightly to the wall his teeth scraped it as he tried to speak.
“You better believe it Mulder, the whole world might depend on it.”
Mulder spun Krycek around to face him, shoved him back against the wall again and rammed his arm under his chin.
“I know what happened in South Dakota,” Krycek blurted out. “Its happened again hasn’t it? These headaches? Your proximity to anything of alien origin triggers them doesn’t it?
Mulder let Krycek go, stepped back as the realization hit him again. “In Col. Grey’s office, when I was with Scully in the lab yesterday.” The wheels were turning now in his head. “Grey’s an alien? This gene Scully’s identified—is alien?”
“You’ve got some kind of connection, Mulder. Those damn things in your head have made you a conduit between them and us.”
Mulder didn’t like the sound of that stepping further away from Krycek. In fact just the idea scared him. The memory of the pain in his head, of the feeling of a thousand tiny fingers clawing about his brain. “I don’t—I can’t, I have no connection to them!”
“Then you have to find a way that you can.” Krycek bent over and picked up the rest of the beer, handed it to Mulder who just stood there staring at him incredulously.
“Here, you might need the rest of these.”
Mulder watched him walk from the alley and disappear around the corner. He was trembling now, with anger or fear, he wasn’t sure. He pulled another beer off and dropped the rest of the cans at his feet. Chugging the whole can until he thought he’d throw up he turned around and drove the empty can into he wall with his fist.
She’d lain awake after Mulder had left. Thoughts running through her head about what he had said. No, she’d seen the proof. Genetic proof in what Mulder had told her months ago; that the answer to their future would be found in the past. Why didn’t he believe it now? The morning sunlight had begun to filter through the heavy drapes, rippling across her face as she lay there. She opened her eyes and watched the dust particles dance in its ray. Thousands of tiny particles you normally didn’t see suddenly made her think about what else one might not see. As her eyes surveyed the room they came to rest on the figure once again seated in the chair by the window.
From her viewpoint Mulder looked defeated. His elbows resting on the arms of the chair, legs splayed with feet firmly planted on the ground he stared at nothing. He never moved as she got up from the bed but she could see his eyes follow her intently as she moved about. It was sort of creepy in a way and when he finally spoke it made her jump.
“I need to speak with you about something.”
She turned to look in the dresser mirror, examining her haggard condition. “I thought we tried that earlier.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I didn’t start with the right story.”
“Do you mind if I make some coffee? Maybe it will help if I’m awake.”
It took several minutes for the tiny coffee maker to purge forth the heavenly brew.
She could feel Mulder’s eyes on her the whole time she stood and waited for it.
Pouring two cups she walked back to where he slumped in the chair. “You smell like beer, Mulder. You find an all-night bar?” She backed away and sat down on the bed across from him, sipped at the steaming cup. “Actually a mutual acquaintance of ours tried to run me over, then he bought me a beer to make up.” Scully took in his appearance. His clothes were dusty and there was a hole in his right pant leg, just below the knee. As he sat there the sunlight glanced off his left shoulder and highlighted the left side of his face. His forty-four years were beginning to show in the silver that dotted his morning stubble. They had both crossed that middle-age barrier and she hadn’t even noticed it. “Krycek?”
“See,” he said setting the mug down on the table and finally looking at her. “We still don’t need any help with our communication skills.”
She smiled gently at the memory. “What happened?”
“I’ll get to that later. I need to start from the beginning or you’ll probably have me committed before I’m finished.”
“Actually,” she said, looking him straight in the eye. “I’m thinking about it before you even start. Mulder, what’s going on?”
He leaned on his right elbow, scratching at his beard and broke their eye contact. “I wasn’t exactly honest with you about why I wanted to come back to the Bureau. Scully.”
“Go on.” If this was true confessions, she wanted it all.
“It wasn’t just about owing it to ourselves and our families Scully; it was more about finding the truth behind it all.”
“It’s always been about that Mulder, surely you know that.”
“No, this was something more personal.” When she looked somewhat confused he continued. “Something happened in the mines. Hell, they weren’t even mines, Scully. There was no blast from trapped gases or whatever the hell story they covered it up with. I would have been blasted to kingdom come with everyone else if it hadn’t have been for Jeremiah.”
“On a recon mission as it turned out I believe. It was some kind of underground hanger, Scully, filled with military personnel, like the one in Antarctica, the one you insist you didn’t see. He was there to steal the technology.”
She got the dig he had implied. “An alien stealing technology from our military? Even you should find that unlikely, Mulder.”
“Not from us, from other aliens working with the military or posing as military, I’m not sure. Just before everything went to hell I saw something, a ship, a massive ship hovering above me and then there was just chaos. Jeremiah was there, he got me out of there but not before he’d taken what he’d come for and destroyed everything in his wake.”
“But you don’t know what this technology was?”
“No, but I keep thinking it was something that would allow him to bring this Anasazi man forward in time. Scully, something happened to me in there. A terrible pain, lancing through my skull, everything went black. I was so disoriented I could hardly walk. The pain got so intense, it brought me to my knees. I had these horrible visions of something—something catastrophic only it was—unearthly. Scully was looking at him now with tears beginning to well in her eyes. He was loosing her. It dawned on him then that she thought she was listening to the tale of a mad man.
He slid off the chair and kneeled before her. “I’m not crazy Scully,” he pleaded.
Scully put her hand on top of his where it rested on her knee. She stroked the side of his face with her other, “This pain Mulder…”
“It’s the same as what hit me in Monson’s office, in the lab. Like a thousand tiny electrical charges going off in my head. I know how this is going to sound, but I think it happens when I’m in the proximity to something alien.”
She remembered standing in a hallway with him several years ago when he’d told her almost the same thing and she’d ignored him. What had happened next had been one of her worst nightmares. “What makes you think that?”
“Because of what my beer buddy had to tell me this morning. He’s not our enemy, Scully I think even you would attest to that now.”
Both her hands now came to rest on top of his. In another life she could imagine him proposing to her like this. Maybe that’s what he was doing only it wasn’t a vow of love he was after here. It was something more.
“According to our friend, it seems Diana had a lot more to do with saving my life than just giving you the key to find me. Evidently my return to sanity can be attributed to the installation of a little alien technology in care of CBG Spender.”
Up until then, he’d almost had her believing him. She’d seen the test results from the hospital. He was clean, outside of a little scar tissue. There’d been no hemorrhaging, no nerve damage and certainly no implants. He’d been fine, she had thought, up until this year and the discovery of more of those artifacts. Could there be something in his brain that had triggered all of this?
Looking at him now, still kneeling on the floor before her she was taken back to another motel room and a young man confessing his life to her, asking her to believe. Truth was, she’d never stopped believing in him. “Mulder, there was nothing in your tests then or recently…’
“I know, I know, but what if there’s something your science couldn’t see…micro-nano technology?” She looked beyond him, to the dust still dancing in the sunlight that now streamed through the gap in the drapery, something you normally couldn’t see.
Her hand came up to cover her mouth as the possibility began to dawn on her.
“I had as much doubt as you do, Scully but I don’t anymore. I’m asking you to forget what your science is telling you and trust me. This Anasazi is not what they believe him to be,” he reached up and pulled her hand gently back into his.
“What makes you so sure, Mulder?”
“A feeling,” he said it with such certainty now she couldn’t deny him. “And because someone I trust told me to trust my feelings.”
He watched as her brows creased across her forehead. “Albert Hosteen. We had a little conversation in the parking lot outside the NTE lab.”
She’d seen the circle with the cross drawn through it in the dust at his feet, could it be? “Oh, Mulder.”
He gripped both her hands tightly, stared through her with glassy eyes. “Trust me.”
She squeezed back, and then fell into his embrace. He hugged her tightly, as if holding onto her was the only thing that kept him tethered to this life. “A feeling’s not much to go on.”
She felt him chuckle softly against her. “Sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on.”
Mulder, she realized as she relished his warmth against her, was VERY human.
MEHALOMART DISTRIBUTION CENTER, PROMINENCE, N.M., TWO DAYS LATER
For the fifth time that day, Spender touched the pack of Morley’s in his coveralls.
When she’d brought the Anasazi in, Covarrubias had stressed the need for a sterile lab environment, and although he suspected her loathing for him was behind the no smoking directive, he had silently complied, taking occasional nicotine breaks out back. The old retail distribution center had died a decade ago with the rest of what was left of the now-ironically named Prominence, and the sole residents were a few burnt-out hippies and diehard naturists. He glanced at the woman at the electron microscope some 20 feet away.
Covarrubias was a true believer — a species that had always amused the hardened Spender. Now, more complex emotions swirled through the bitter, aging assassin. He remained uncertain about the abrupt direction he had taken, and possibly was even unaware of the epiphany that had grown inside him after a life of duplicity and manipulation. But Spender had come to realize Strughold and the Frenchman and the rest of the Consortium were embarking on a cataclysmic path, and Charlie Scully’s role in his own brother’s death had reawakened his own recriminations about the sins he had visited on Jeffrey and Cassandra and Fox. “Are you positive this is going to work?” Spender asked, as if to exorcise his increasingly mordant musings.
“Nothing is positive,” Covarrubias murmured, “but we have little option but to follow every lead.”
“Mm,” Spender grunted, wanting a cigarette more than ever.
“American researchers are scouring the interior of China for ancient soybean germplasm to refresh rapidly stagnating crop genetics and fight plant diseases we’re woefully unequipped to address,” she continued. “We’ve anti-bacterialized and irradiated and pasteurized ourselves into a state of dangerously low physiological resistance. Man has shed his biological defenses one by one as civilization has lulled him into complacency. If the expression mechanism I’ve come up with works, this new infusion of DNA could provide a booster shot for the entire species.”
Spender laughed harshly. “I hope we have better luck persuading the world to line up for this shot than President Ford had with the swine flu.” He fell silent for a second — the swine flu scare had been one of his more dismal failures, though a few subjects had been “recruited.” With the recollection of the young soldier at Fort Dix who’d been sacrificed to spur public panic about the “epidemic,” Spender again reached for his smokes.
“I’ll be out back,” he informed Covarrubias. She did not respond, and he headed for the small, steel-reinforced door at the end of the huge warehouse. Spender tensed as a buzzer echoed through the rafters, and he pulled his Glock from the deep pocket of his coveralls. Covarrubias glanced anxiously at the front of the warehouse as he passed, pistol poised.
As soon as Spender identified his guests via a skillfully hidden eyehole in the rust- scabbed door and disengaged the triple locks, Krycek breezed by. Mulder paused in the doorway, staring at Spender as if Idi Amin himself had materialized before him.
“Fox,” he smiled, feeling a constriction in his chest. Mulder brushed past; Scully skirted Spender.
“How’s he doing?” Krycek asked Covarrubias, glancing around the warehouse.
“Light sedation,” she told him, gazing into his eyes. “Though it scarcely seemed necessary. The sheer physical exhaustion and the fading shock over his new environment have sapped most of his energy. He’s been out for hours.
“Good,” Krycek nodded. “That’ll make him easier to transport. We have to get him to a secure location; Grey and his goons are onto us.”
“Are you sure, Alexander?” Marita asked quietly, eyes on the trio near the entrance. One of the three looked up sharply. “I’ve finished synthesizing the vaccine, but I was hoping to do a few more tests.”
“Later. C’mon, let’s pack up what we need.”
“I’d like to look at him, check his vitals,” Scully suggested.
Covarrubias reached for a rack of vials. “Certainly. Alexander, you want to help her?
He’s in the old manager’s office, over there.”
“Marita, dear, do you need any help with the equipment?” Spender asked with feigned concern.
“Perhaps that.” She nodded toward a steel surgical table where a leather gym bag rested. “Agent Mulder, I’ll need your help here, please.”
The agent stepped forward. “Sure.” When he was at her side, Marita leaned over.
“Do you trust Alexander?” she asked, looking at Krycek and Scully deep in conversation 10 yards away.
“What–?” Mulder stammered before he was interrupted by the sound of metal crashing against metal. He turned abruptly as Spender’s arm froze in mid-arc. The agent backhanded the older man, and Spender’s weapon; a long, matte-finish metal cylinder from which a wickedly sharp point projected; clattered across the concrete. Mulder’s attention turned to the trio framed in the blazing afternoon sun pouring through the doorway. The figure leading the group charged toward him, and Mulder yanked his sidearm from his waistband, firing instinctively. The intruder spun and dropped to the floor as his companions dove for cover.
“Stop,” ‘Krycek’ called to Mulder. “Agent Mulder, you must realize any resistance here is futile. Surrender now, or Dr. Behrens will die slowly and in prolonged agony.” Mulder could already feel the throbbing beginning inside his skull. He knew instinctively who they were dealing with here. He only hoped he could hold on and somehow get them out. “If we’d known there was gonna be a party, we’d have baked a cake,” the second Mulder said, emerging from the shadows. “With a rocket launcher inside.”
Krycek’s cocky face morphed into the grave military soldier’s face of Col. Wilson Grey. He regarded the real Krycek, writhing on the concrete, the right leg of his jeans reddening in a widening circle, and smiled with neither amusement nor vindication. “Agent Scully, as well, please.”
As Mulder’s partner came out into the light, the Mulder with the gun and the Scully at Grey’s side morphed. Grey turned to Covarrubias. “Doctor? You know what we came for. You’re of no consequence in this matter.”
Marita’s eyes narrowed. “This way.”
“No!” Mulder began, stumbling forward. Scully reached out to support him as the huge, chiseled man with the gun raised his arm, and the agent stopped.
“All of you, come along,” Grey ordered, moving toward the glassed-in office in the corner. Mulder, Scully, and Spender, still rubbing his jaw, complied silently. Grey glanced at the pallid Krycek, bleeding on the floor. “Leave him, I’ll attend to him shortly.”
The Anasazi stirred as the group appeared in the doorway. The small, dark man curled into a ball on the cot, terror filling his eyes. He began to speak rapidly in a language few had heard spoken in centuries.
The gunman reeled suddenly against the doorjamb. Grey turned toward him warily. “You never did come down to the lab to view your acquisition, did you, “Colonel”?”
Marita inquired calmly. “If you had, you might have realized that I left some crucial data out of my reports.”
“What?” Grey asked shakily. The third alien already was breathing raggedly.
“The emergency room doctor who examined our friend noted an odd subcutaneous implant. It appeared to be a solid mass with no apparent components or function. Have you ever heard of Superman?”
Grey glared malevolently at Marita, even as his eyes grew unfocused.
“Kryptonite,” she said, simply. “When your race pursued the Anasazi, to eradicate them, they discovered you had one major weakness. That’s why it was so difficult for you to slaughter them, even with your advanced weaponry. They built their villages in a place where they knew they would be safe, at least temporarily. Our benefactor knew this, and that’s why he implanted a chip of the same magnetite found in those cliffs surrounding the Anasazi villages into this man.”
The gunman screamed, a terrible, inhuman thing, and began to convulse.
Through watery eyes Mulder saw something equally inhuman flash through its human facade just before the room was sprayed with its tissue. The second alien already was on the floor, vibrating violently. Mulder shoved Scully into the hall as it, too, shattered.
Grey glared once more into Marita’s eyes, and she saw the Arctic hatred behind them. She shielded the Anasazi as he disintegrated into shreds of alien organic matter.
A few dazed minutes later, they found Spender out in the warehouse with a Morley tucked into the corner of his mouth and a rag tied in a tourniquet around Krycek’s leg. Marita knelt beside her lover, stroking his sweat-beaded forehead. He threw an arm around her shoulder.
“It’s OK,” he insisted. The smartass grin returned momentarily to his lips. “Flesh wound.”
“How did you know?” Mulder, Scully, and Marita turned back to Spender as he drew blissfully on his cigarette. Covarrubias’ brow rose.
“You might be amused by this,” she said coolly. “Would you believe woman’s intuition? When I looked into his—its eyes, I didn’t see Alex. I’m sure you could never understand what it was I was looking for, Mr. Spender.”
The smoking man’s face went slack with pain, then recovered into a sardonic smile.
“I’m just happy you tipped me or Fox, Dana and Alexei might not be here right now.”
“And I,” Marita murmured, “Am happy you abandoned a lifetime of paranoia and failed to lock the door after inviting Col. Grey in.”
Spender stopped in mid-puff, nodded, and turned away, reluctant to reveal that seeing his son again, even under these circumstances and given Fox’s contempt for him, had rattled him.
“You might want to reserve judgment about the old guy’s sloppy work habits.” An icy finger ran down Scully’s spine as the cheerful voice echoed off the walls. Spender’s cigarette sparked as it dropped to the floor and smoldered on the concrete.
“Forget the back door on your last smoke break, Grandpa?” Charlie asked, stepping into the light, machine pistol in his well-manicured fingers.
The three of them turned to find Charles Scully flanked by a rather large party of military personnel standing in the hallway. “Charlie?” Scully stammered.
“I’m sorry, the door was open so we just came right in. I hope we’re not interrupting anything…” Charlie said sarcastically as he motioned for his colleagues to divest the party of their weapons. Two burly men pulled Alex to his feet at the protest of Marita who was ushered back into the room with Scully. Mulder was wrestled into the room after them flanked by more of Charlie’s men. The door slammed behind him leaving Alex, Spender and the rest of the party in the hallway.
“We know what you’ve discovered and we’re here to see that it falls into the right hands.” Charlie addressed them as he continued to survey the room. He eyes soon fell on the small glass enclosed room beyond. He motioned for several of his men to check it out. “There’s a Native man in here, Sir,” one of them reported.
“Excuse me,” he said all too politely. Moments later a single shot echoed around the room. Scully flinched. “Oh God”.
“Ms. Covarrubias, if you’ll continue to pack things up we’ll be on our way.” Charlie said, emerging from the glass enclosed room with his men. .
“Why don’t you get your own hands dirty for once you arrogant prick?” Mulder seethed at him. A slight nod from Charlie and Mulder felt the ass of an automatic rifle pound into his ribcage. The impact doubled him over but the two goons holding him would not let him drop, his knees buckled.
“Charlie stop this!” Scully yelled, pushing her way past Marita until one of the soldiers grabbed her. “Charlie, what’s happened to you? Think about mom, what would dad think of you? How can you do this?” she uttered in disbelief.
“Don’t you get it sis, mom doesn’t know me and I don’t give a damn what dad thinks.” Mulder watched as Scully’s face fell with Charlie’s admission.
“You can’t take the vaccine, it hasn’t been tested properly, she continued to plead with him. “Don’t you understand it might not be safe?”
“She’s right,” Marita added. “We only know it kills the black oil virus, not what it would do in human testing.”
Charlie eyed Marita momentarily; when he evidently surmised she was only being truthful he scanned the room, his eyes falling on Mulder. “Well, then, maybe we should find out,” Charlie’s eyes held only contempt as he looked across at Mulder.
“Why don’t you fill up a syringe, Marita? We’ll test it now.”
Scully realized all too soon what her brother was preparing to do. “No! I won’t let you do this Charlie.”
“He won’t have to,” came Marita’s voice from across the room. “I’ll do it.”
“Marita, no!” came Mulder’s plea as they all turned to see her placing the syringe against her arm, preparing to inject it. His attempt to wrench himself from the guards earning him another punch to the abdomen that knocked the wind from his lungs; he stood panting as Marita pressed the needle into her arm., her eyes meeting his.
“Damn it!” Charlie yelled as he crossed the room to where Marita stood. He grabbed her and shook her, the partially empty syringe flew arm across the room. “Tell me there’s more. Tell me you didn’t use it all.”
Marita staggered in his grip. “There is—there’s more in the vial.” She motioned to the vial still lying on the counter. “There’s more in the case.”
“Fill another syringe,” he ordered. When she didn’t comply he shook her again. “Do it now!”
With shaky hands Marita filled another syringe and handed it to Charlie. He took it and walked over to his sister. He grabbed her left wrist and pushed her sleeve up to expose her forearm while one of his men held her shoulders.
“What are you doing?” Mulder yelled, his faced etched with pain from the blow to his gut as he tried to pry himself from the grip of his guards. “Christ, she’s your sister!”
“Not since she took up with you,” he snarled back. “You going to let me do this Mulder or are you gonna sacrifice yourself for the good of your country?” Charlie turned to look at him, the threat clear in his eyes.
“Give me the damn syringe!” Mulder demanded.
“Mulder, no!” Scully pleaded as Charlie dropped her arm and took a step in Mulder’s direction. The guard pulled Scully’s arms behind her back as she tried to struggle from his grip. “Charlie please! If I mean anything to you, don’t do this! Take the vaccine and test it properly!”
“It’s you or her, Mulder, your choice.” Charlie purred standing only inches from Mulder’s face..
Mulder looked over at Scully, met her tear filled eyes. “Trust me,” he mouthed silently.
“Tell these goons to let me go, I’ll do it myself.”
Charlie met his eyes. He must have trusted what he saw there, “Let him go,” he said to his men as he handed the syringe to Mulder. Mulder wasted no time it grabbing it from him and jamming it into his left bicep and pushing the plunger home.
“Oh God, Mulder, no…” Scully sighed.
He yanked the needle from his arm and threw it at Charlie’s feet. “Let her go,” he demanded.
When neither Marita nor Mulder showed any signs of distress after several minutes Charlie instructed his guards to let Scully go. Mulder held her closely as they watched Charlie and his party to gather the remaining vials of vaccine and make their exit taking the body of the Anasazi man with them. Charlie stopped in the doorway, turning back to address Mulder. “You know what I was hoping for, don’t you Mulder? Watch your back.”
It took them several minutes after Charlie had left to realize they were alone in the room. “You okay?” Mulder asked, looking down at her.
“I can’t believe it,” she sighed. “I can’t believe he’s my brother.”
“He’s not your brother anymore, Scully,” Mulder murmured, tilting her chin up to make her look at him. “At least not the brother you knew.”
Scully took his left wrist and twisted his arm so she could look at the spot where he had injected himself. There was a small bruise forming but nothing more. She touched it gently. “You feel okay?” she asked with concern.
“Yeah, I think so,” he winced, touching his tender abdomen. Truth was, he felt a little lightheaded. Scully met his eyes. “You took a terrible chance, Mulder.”
“It was the only way I could think of to get them out of here. I was hoping they’d just take what they came for and leave.”
“Including the Anasazi?”
“Jesus, what was he thinking?” Mulder looked around. “Where’s Marita?”
Outside, they found the hallway empty as they headed out to search the building.
Scully’s quietly uttered “Mulder in here,” from the open doorway of an empty office made him freeze. Inside he found Scully stooped over Marita as she lay on the bare floor. Her skin was gray and mottled, cold to the touch; her breathing shallow and labored. At the tip of her outstretched hand lay an empty syringe. Mulder reached over and picked it up.
“She injected herself Mulder.”
“I don’t understand, it didn’t affect me this way,” Mulder commented somewhat confused.
Suddenly he felt a cold hand touch his and he looked down. Marita’s eyes were open, looking intently at him. He held up the syringe, “Why? “Why did you have to do this.?”
“I had to know for certain who you were,” she whispered. “Scully has to know.”
“I don’t understand,” Mulder whispered back, caressing Marita’s hair. “What are you trying to tell me?” He looked up as Scully stepped away. “I’m going to see if I can get a signal, call the EMT’s,” she said leaving the room.
Mulder scooped her head into his lap as she looked up at him. “One man can change the future, Agent Mulder. Be that one man,” she sighed. Mulder held her as her eyes glazed over, her last breath coming in a final gasp.
When Mulder emerged from the building he found the place already crawling with local law enforcement. Scully was standing next to one of the officers. “What happened here, Agent Scully?” the officer asked her. She surveyed the scene around them. “You’re looking at your future, detective.”
“I don’t understand” he replied
“Just hope you never have to,” she looked away when she saw Mulder walking towards her. “Excuse me.”
He was already shaking his head before she asked the question. “She’s dead, Scully. The vaccine was lethal.” He kept on walking. “Any sign of Spender or Krycek?”
Scully turned to follow him, worried. “No one was here but the local law and the EMT’s when I came out.”
“You didn’t call them?”
“No, to both those questions,” she answered when he finally came to a stop.
“Mulder, what about you? Why did it kill her and not you?”
“I think that’s for you to figure out,” he said turning to face her.
“Damn you, Mulder,” she hissed, her eyes filling with tears again. “You knew?”
Mulder put his hands on her shoulders. “Not at the time. I couldn’t let him use it on you Scully. You know me, this overprotective streak I have. You’re gonna be the one who saves this planet someday Scully, not me.”
“You are so wrong Mulder, you are so wrong,” she said pulling her eyes from his honest gaze to watch as EMT’s brought Marita’s body out of the building. “Don’t you ever do that to me again,” she said, meeting his eyes again. “Promise me you will never do that again.”
Mulder looked up and sighed. “I can’t make a promise I can’t keep,” he said, reaching out to pull her close. “You’re going to have to decide if you can live with that.”
THE DISTRICT CLUB, WASHINGTON DC, THREE DAYS LATER
While Charlie was in awe of the imperious Strughold and amused by the furtive, meditative Spender, the Scarred Man had always elicited a deeply subcutaneous fear in the young man.
He’d long ago become accustomed to the European’s prominent disfigurement, and the Frenchman’s past sins certainly were no darker than Strughold’s. It was the Scarred Man’s inscrutability, his relative affability in the face of cataclysm and atrocity. As if there were no horror abysmal enough to touch the man. To Charlie, at his core a creature driven solely by ill-concealed fear, he was a more alien entity than the beings The Consortium alternately conspired with and against. Even now, as his fellows laughed and drank inebriated by their sense of pending liberation; he quietly sipped his brandy, a Gioconda smile traversing the long white scar that ran from his throat to his non-existent hairline. Charlie tore his eyes away, inspecting the table at the center of the clubroom set with expensive linen and a dozen hypodermic needles with pride.
Certainly, failing to terminate Mulder and Scully or that turncoat Krycek was no feather in his cap among these ruthless men. But he had delivered salvation to their doorstep, and the rest had soon been forgotten.
“Gentlemen,” Strughold called, raising his glass. “Today, we become pioneers, the first organism on this planet to cheat its own extinction. And as a great man once told me, with survival comes the opportunity for ascension. Thanks to our unknown benefactor, we and our descendants will rise from the ashes of humanity and stand toe to toe,” the German chuckled; “so to speak; with the highest race in our universe. May our grandchildren and their grandchildren talk of this day, and may our enemies one day fear them as their masters.”
An approving rumble rolled through the loosely gathered assembly, punctuated by the tinkle of antique Waterford. The Scarred Man was the first to lower his glass, and he gestured toward the table. “Gentlemen, se vous plez?”
Predictably, Charlie started toward the center of the room. “Charles!” Strughold snapped imperiously, face suddenly dark. “We have matters to discuss, privately. Gentlemen, continue.”
Charlie, chastened, followed the old man into an anteroom off the main clubroom. He’d forgotten his place, and in his misery, he failed to hear the snick of a lock engaging.
“Ah, the impetuosity of youth,” Strughold chuckled. “Please, please, have a seat.”
Charlie looked up to see a countenance as cheerful as St. Nick’s; if Santa Claus’ eyes were as sharp and carnivorous as Satan’s. Strughold nodded toward a plush wing chair, and his protégé slowly lowered himself onto the cushion. Strughold poured two amber Sherries from a huge decanter on a sideboard, handed Charlie one, and sat across from him to savor the liqueur.
“You know, Charles,” he began, “when I was a boy, far younger than yourself, I found myself with the opportunity of working under the tutelage of one of the pre- eminent scientists of my homeland. I’m sure you would recognize his name, or any of the names by which he came to be known. I’ll call him Josef, though had I ever addressed him so familiarly in my impetuous youth, my, my, the consequences.” Strughold smiled nostalgically. Charlie felt a chill that had no relation to the club’s antiquarian architecture.
“I had been a good student, particularly in the sciences, when the call to serve Mother Country went out to the youth. When I was told I would assist this man, ach, you might have told me I would be sitting at the right hand of the Archangel Gabriel. Of course,” Strughold sighed, “he was a monster, an abomination of humanity with vile tastes and perversities. All cloaked in the veil of Science. Josef was, of course, a delusionary monster, but his delusion was shared by an entire nation.” Strughold’s expression darkened. “There are those who might argue that we are equally delusional and, perhaps, equally monstrous. The Reich was willing to slaughter millions to establish itself as a global empire. We are willing to sacrifice billions on the chance that we might survive the onslaught of our enemy.”
He leaned toward Charlie, who inhaled sharply as the German seized his wrist. Strughold’s mineral eyes bore into his. “You have proven your loyalty, Charles, and so I will share with you a secret countless men have given their lives to protect. Josef, those monsters with whom I once swore allegiance, they were the fathers of our struggle today.”
Charlie swallowed, confused and somehow certain he did not want to know what he was about to learn. Strughold smiled darkly, but did not release his wrist. “In the summer of 1939, Hitler’s Intelligence was called to investigate a report of an unusual air crash a hundred or so miles outside of Dresden. They suspected a reconnaissance mission by the British or the Russians, but instead discovered a craft so advanced in technology they knew it could not be of terrestrial origin. Two bodies were found in the wreckage; they were taken to a laboratory in Dresden, where the doctors examining them became first comatose, then managed to kill five soldiers before they were burned alive with gasoline. As no doubt you have guessed, this was the modern world’s first documented encounter with the Black Virus, the Black Oil. Their secret discovered, our “friends” from beyond contacted us with the lies they have spread, for all we know, for centuries. We were told this Black Virus had spread through their race, and now mankind faced extinction through infection with it. Der Fuhrer, as mad as any of the monsters with whom he had thrown in, believed their tale and, further, embraced their grand plan. He was to mount what today we would call a massive genetic screening program encompassing first all of Europe, then, when he was successful, the rest of the world. He would round up representatives of every culture and race, take blood and tissue samples, and turn these over to his new extraterrestrial allies. His “allies” would screen this diverse DNA for genetic resistance to the Black Virus. Hitler at this time was formulating his own horrible Final Solution for the Reich’s dominance, and this new plan no doubt appealed to his delusions of social and genetic superiority. You have seen the fruits of this conspiracy — the trainloads of human cattle, the camps, the experiments, the abattoirs of a people gripped by madness and desperation. No one but Der Fuhrer’s inner circle knew of the otherworldly dimensions of this holocaust, and Hitler himself had no idea that his extraterrestrial allies’ plan was, of course, to eradicate any trace of resistance from the planet they and their far more powerful allies planned one day to dominate. Under the guise of Josef’s insane experiments with women, children, we participated in this grand inventory of the human race. Charles, are you well? I am sorry, my son — I realize this is so much to absorb.”
Charlie nodded as a trail of sweat rolled down his temple.
“Of course, our alien friends had no concept of the bloody slaughter they had initiated, though I suspect that was of no moral or ethical consequence to them. Hitler’s genocidal campaign ultimately was the downfall of the entire plan — the world joined together to end the slaughter, and the Reich was obliterated. My knowledge of the threat to mankind’s continued existence spared me a lifetime behind prison walls — your government provided me a safe harbor and anonymity, just as it had many of my countrymen. In return, for nearly 30 years, I worked with some of your nation’s greatest scientific minds. William Mulder, our good friend Spender, many others often of questionable provenance. The American people have no idea how they have been catalogued, experimented upon, and deceived about nearly every major postwar event of their lives. Despite the incredible revelations and incomprehensible inhumanity to which I have been a party, nothing has astonished me quite so much as the blissful complacency of the masses. As long as they have their reality TV and their sleek cars and their all- you-can-eat specials, they are willing to suspend their disbelief. Soon, the fantastic has no meaning, and the people, they will do, say, believe extraordinary things to preserve the illusions that have been created for them. The Herculean leaps in science once were made by courageous men of selfless imagination and vision. They were willing to give their lives to advance a cure, isolate a virus, find an answer that had evaded their fellows…”
Charlie cocked an ear at what sounded like a strangling sound from the next room.
“Today, we are driven by illusion: We swallow pills by the handful to eclipse the dark truths with which we live daily and starve ourselves in vain hope of societal acceptance. Those who survive are those who maintain clarity of vision and a memory of history.”
The first shriek pierced Charlie’s chest. His fingers gripped the leather chair arms as he heard the muffled cries of agony from the room beyond. Strughold’s eyes closed, then opened.
“I have been at hand for many such disappointing moments, Charles,” Dr. Mengele’s former assistant sighed. “I am certain there will be many more before we find the answer.”
Charlie leapt from his chair and wrenched open the door. Strughold smiled slightly as the young man gagged. He waited patiently for Charlie to wobble white-faced back to his seat.
“Mr.–?” Charlie asked hoarsely, eyes filled with horror.
Strughold chuckled. “He is a curious man, my Gallic friend. He wanted to see firsthand the results of our experiment. Do not fear, my young friend — I imagine he’s seeing to the cleanup.”
MULDER & SCULLY’S RESIDENCE, ONE WEEK LATER
She was later getting home than she expected. Armed with her laptop case and several bags of Chinese take-out she had picked up on the way as a peace offering she fumbled her way into the kitchen. The house was quiet except for the unmistakable hum of the TV set in the front room. The sudden sound of a crowd roaring tipped her off that Mulder was probably watching a game.
He obviously hadn’t heard her come in, sprawled in the big overstuffed chair he had labeled his ‘throne’ his “Fuck, Jeeters, I coulda caught that!” let her know that his beloved Yankees weren’t having a good night. When she finally caught his eye he looked up from the set.
“Yankees this time?” she asked with a smirk.
“Is there another team?”
“Well I don’t know, you seemed to find a game at just about any time of day. I take it they’re not having a good night?”
“They suck tonight,” he sounded disappointed as he dragged his bare feet off the ottoman and motioned for her to sit on it. He evidently didn’t care that she would be blocking his view of the game.
“How do you feel?”
Why did she keep asking him that? The way he had it figured, any reaction to the vaccine he was given would have surfaced by now. Last time he looked in the mirror he looked pretty much like his old self. On orders from his ‘Doctor’ he’d been on medical leave all week while she had divided her time between the office and secretly keeping an eye on him. Right now he just wanted to go back to work. Curiosity was also beginning to get the better of him. She’d been evasive all week about what was taking up all her time. When his only avenue of communication had turned out to be her cell phone he’d come to the conclusion that she really wasn’t spending that much time in the office at all. The unmistakable smell of Chinese food had already floated in from the kitchen. Maybe she was about to come clean.
“I think we’ve established that I’ve done nothing but sit on my ass in front of the TV for days. I’m okay, Scully. What about you?”
She looked a little surprised by his question. “What do you mean?” He looked her right in the eye. “C’mon, I know you’ve been up to something.”
Frankly surprised it had taken him this long to question her; she slipped out of her jacket and laid it on the other chair, turning to face him. “Quantico labs.”
That had honestly surprised him. “Doing what?”
“Following a hunch.”
Scully watched as his eyes brightened. “Dear Diary, today my heart leapt when Agent Scully followed a hunch.”
She couldn’t stop the smile that brought to her face. “You better be careful who reads your diary, Mulder,” she chuckled softly when his eyebrows did that little Grocho Marx thing. “I’ve been at Georgetown, working with a geneticist. Doing some tests on the Anasazi blood and tissue samples we were able to bring back from New Mexico,” she bent over and began to pull her shoes off, tossing them on the floor in front of the same chair where she’d tossed her jacket. “Mulder, how much do you know about your family history?”
At first he thought she was joking and was about to come back with some wise-ass comment, but the seriousness of her expression changed his mind immediately.
“About as much as you do. My mother’s family left Europe before the Holocaust. I don’t know much about my dad’s,” the wheels had begun to turn. She’d probably been trying to trace the Anasazi gene code. “I doubt I have any Anasazi relatives though, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
She reached over and patted his arm as she got up from her spot on the ottoman and headed back into the kitchen. “I wouldn’t be so sure.”
Intrigued, he got up to follow her. Trailing her into kitchen, he found her digging through her laptop case. “This genetic trait we found in the Anasazi man, the one used to produce the vaccine,” finding what she was looking for, she handed the scans to Mulder. “It’s in your DNA, Mulder. It matches what I believed was a genetic remnant that we found in your scans back in January. It might explain why you didn’t have the reaction to the vaccine that we expected.”
“You mean why I didn’t croak,” he commented sarcastically as he grabbed the scans from her. She watched his brow furrow as he looked at the scans, deliberately avoiding looking at her. She wondered if he even knew what he was looking at.
Finally he thrust them back at her. “How would that get there?”
She took the scans from him and laid them on the table, crossing her arms. “Either inherited or introduced through some form of gene therapy. Your father had some powerful—associates, Mulder. Among other things, Victor Klemper worked in genetics, as did Dr. Openshaw, one of the doctors burned in that train car. Kurtzweil was an OBGYN…”
She watched as a sick look crossed Mulder’s face, “I don’t think I like what you’re getting at.” He backed up to lean against the kitchen counter.
“Mulder,” she smiled. “This could be an amazing discovery. The Anasazi’ immunity was something inherent in their genetic code. Something that as their civilization dispersed was lost. The vaccine that Marita developed came from an original source, I believe that’s why it killed her. It would kill anyone who didn’t have the genetic resistance. We’ve identified another source for this gene, you. a white male. There could be others, Mulder. Perhaps all those medical files we found in West Virginia had something to do with that. But right now, all I have is you. You could be the key to creating another vaccine that wouldn’t produce those horrific side effects.”
He made a face like he wasn’t too please with that information either, reached up to scratch the back of his head. “Isn’t there some other way this would show up in my DNA? I’d like to at least think that my parents knowingly had nothing to do with this.”
So would she. “Viruses can leave genetic markers—Mulder I know this all sounds cruel in a sense but this is definitely something we should pursue.”
“So, what, I get to become your personal lab rat? Trying to administer a vaccine to six billion people seems a little over the top doesn’t it?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
He decided he didn’t want to know what she meant and made to change the subject.
“Please tell me that’s Chinese I smell,” he smiled a gentle acceptance and motioned towards the table with his head. “Maybe we could experiment on that first.”
“Mulder,” she stepped closer to him, reaching out to caress his bicep and trying to catch his eyes. “You know me, you know I’m not going to turn you into some science experiment.” He still wouldn’t look at her, but let a bitter laugh escape.
“I’m not sure I trust my science anymore, not after this.” Realizing how much that admission had cost her, he finally met her eyes. “There was so much I was wrong about here Mulder, so much that was beyond our science. If I hadn’t trusted your judgment…” Mulder pulled her hand from his arm and clutched it to his chest.
“Don’t berate yourself, Scully. I’m the master of self-depreciation, remember?” his eyebrows went up a little to see if she was with him on this but all he got from her was a curve of her lips. “I want to tell you a story, something Albert explained to me,” he turned around and took the spoon from the sugar bowl on the counter, sprinkled a little pile of it on the counter and proceeded to draw a circle with a cross through it. Scully watched him. “I’ve seen this before, when I found you outside the NTE lab; it was drawn in the dust.”
“Albert drew it there.”
“When he spoke to you?”
He didn’t answer but went on with his explanation of the story as Albert had related it to him. “In some ways I think he was wrong.”
“What do you mean?” Scully asked somewhat puzzled by his admission. “You believed in these visions enough to find the truth, Mulder.”
“Yeah, but I think you have also been born with these four virtues Scully, it’s why we’re together on this.” He turned around so his ass was against the counter and wrapped his arms around her middle, leaning back so he could see her face. “Scully, I know this body of mine holds a lot of secrets. Some your science can understand and some that for lack of another word are just plain unexplainable.” He watched as her lips curved again into a soft hesitant smile. “But I’ve come to accept the secrets as a good thing. That maybe I am the key to something greater than us. But it hasn’t changed who I am, Scully. I’m still me and I’ve come to trust what my body is telling me. Can you understand that?”
She nodded and then touched his cheek. “I worry about you, you know.” And this time she watched his lips curve into that smile of his she cherished, the one that went all the way to his eyes.
“You’re a doctor, Scully and that’s why I want you to hear this. Whatever happens next, I trust you. I trust your judgment Listen to yourself. Believe what your science is telling you. Only then can you do something about it.” He pulled her close then. “This is a war Scully, but the victory won’t go to those who possess the largest army or the most horrific bomb. Your science is going to find it the humblest of things that God has put upon this planet.”
She wrapped her arms around his back, completing his embrace. “Together,” he said, resting his forehead against hers, “you and me, we have the key to unlocking the future.”