Chapter 12: Where Even the Darkness is Something to See

March 3, 1998

11:45 a.m

Jungle dreams of running and hiding twisted into fear and a relentless drumbeat. As Skinner woke, the drums seemed to turn into a heartbeat. Then the noise stopped and the doorknob started to jiggle. He rolled off the bed and onto his feet to pull back the curtain. He sighed with relief as he pulled the door open. Frohike’s hands followed the doorknob, holding a set of lock picks.

Skinner checked his watch. “You’re late. Thank you. Any difficulties?”

Frohike shrugged. “Aside from Ringo’s horrible taste in furniture? Nah. Come check it out.”

Langly glared at Frohike. “You think MY taste is bad, Mister Plaid Orange Curtains with Paisley Tablecloths?”

Skinner ignored their bickering, slipped the shoes Langly had loaned him on and followed them out to the truck. When the rear door slid up, he frowned. “Where do we fit?” All he could see were moving boxes and some chair legs sticking up over the top behind them.

Langly laughed. “That’s the beauty of it.” He put a foot on the bumper, grabbed a handhold, and swung himself up into the cargo area of the box truck. He slipped in next to the boxes, and disappeared.

Skinner followed.

When he saw what lay behind a screen of boxes and stacked dining room chairs, he smiled. “Nice.”

Langly flopped down on a large piece of a leather sectional, and put his feet up on a large box that listed specs for an entertainment center on it. At the far end of the sofa, butted up solidly against the arm, was the foot of a king-sized mattress, wrapped in plastic. “You guys really know how to buy housewarming gifts.”

Frohike, standing behind him, laughed. “Yeah, and when we pick up the mirror sections at the other end, that house is going to be downright smokin’.”

Skinner looked back at the man. “You don’t mean...”

Frohike shrugged. “It was actually Byers’ idea, believe it or not. If they have mirrors over the bed, they’ll be better able to evaluate their, um, role playing.”

Skinner looked a little alarmed. “Anything else here I should know about?” He moved in, sat down on the other piece of sectional, knees apart, and Byers and Frohike followed.

Langly reached behind, pulled own a harness. “We mounted this here so that people can ride back here without going flying every time Melvin over there takes a speed bump too fast. And we’re thinking about driving straight through, so we’re going to pick up some bedding a little later, let people sleep in shifts. Oh, and we’ve got a plug-in cooler up front, so we’ll be able to keep some things cold on the road.”

“When do we need to be in Oz?” Skinner asked.

“Well, it’s Tuesday. She’d like us there on Thursday, so we can evaluate the situation and decide if we’re continuing.”


“Well, Auntie Em is really the last word on that. Since she’s footing the bill, and has people on the ground there already.”

Skinner looked around the space. About 24 feet by foot long, 8 feet wide, 8 feet tall, a long rectangular box, with the special compartment open, 18 feet long with it shut. Just enough room for the wall of boxes, wall of chairs, a dining room table up on edge, then couch sections and bed. He realized, suddenly, that the couch space had a lower ceiling than the rest of the truck, and standing up, he found they’d created space above that area where boxes could be stored, about 18 inches deep. A stack of plastic totes lay empty on their sides, and... Yes, the three boxes he’d seen them load the night before. Light came from a series of glue-on press lights tacked wherever wall was available.

He looked at the guys, sitting on the couch, scruffier than usual, even Byers looking rumpled and out of place in a coverall rather than his normal suit. “You guys must be wiped. Have you slept at all?”

Langly laughed weakly. “We’ve been chugging back Jolt all morning. I’m good for another couple hours. You guys?”

Byers held up a hand. 5 hours.

Frohike shrugged. “Sleep? What’s that? Never heard of it, don’t need it.”

Langly elbowed him.

“All right, how about this. I’ll drive for now, and when I get too tired, one of you fine gentlemen can take over.” Frohike suddenly yawned.

Byers said, “Right. I’m driving. Langly, would you ride shotgun please? The rest of you should get as much rest as you can on those couches.”

Skinner nodded. “So what does that thing you installed do... it’s noon...”

Byers answered. “Well, it’s a kind of GPS. Sort of crossed with a cell phone. We call it, it tells us where it is, we go there. Ringo?”

Langly pulled out the little MessagePad. Tapped on it a few times. Frowned, tapped again. Stood up, climbed out of the truck, and said, “He’s here, guys.”


Krycek approached the hotel warily on his motorcycle. The truck was open, the door to the hotel open, no sign of movement.... He relaxed as he heard voices coming from inside the truck, once his bike was off..

The morning for him had been... actually rather dull. He’d found a public library. Used a public terminal to drop a line to the one man he thought might be wiling to help. Cryptic, always cryptic, but not, apparently, too cryptic, because one of his many electronic drop boxes suddenly had a present in it. Turn it inside out, upside down, and backwards, and the crude joke became an address. Cute, but not particularly entertaining. He figured he’d been up for at least 26 hours. He could stay awake longer, much longer, but his sense of humor had disappeared the moment he’d gotten back on the motorcycle.

He’d done the math. In the two weeks since the alien rebels had made themselves known, he had not been impressed with the reaction to the double blow to the conspiracy. Mister Wooster Jeeves was not on his top list of favorite people, but the man at least was not laboring under the delusion that appeasement was anything but a way of buying time. Which made him, at the moment, an ally. If Mulder and Scully actually succeeded in what they were trying to do, it would seriously fuck with a lot of plans. Not a bad thing, but there was a significant danger that they would not go far enough. How many times had they dropped a lead? How many times had they walked away because they thought they were at a dead end? It was laughable, really. If someone could get them pointed in the right direction, give them a reason to bulldog through regardless of consequences, well, that might be another story. That might actually accomplish something. They might just actually get something done.

He didn’t really care, all that much, about the human race as a whole. But the slime... it wasn’t a bit player. The black oil was playing for keeps, and if those bastards in their webs couldn’t see that every damn one of them was going to end up dead or controlled, well, he could. And whatever else, he was not going to have that poison in him ever again. Vaccine. Hah. Antidote, maybe, but no lasting effect. Too many men had died proving that enough black oil would overwhelm it. That enough injections would kill a man. It was no permanent solution, and if anyone thought the Russians were going to succeed in actually making it long-acting, well, they hadn’t looked well enough at the Russian bread lines. The men in the gulag had been hungry, even the soldiers, and there was only so long that they’d work with no pay and cabbage soup.

The right lab in the US might be able to take it farther, but the reaction of the spiders had been to crawl back up their webs and hide in the corner, fearful that their “allies” might find out their resistance was bearing fruit. Calderon’s project was bound to be a target, sooner or later, of the rebels. It needed to stop, needed to have the appearance of being put down by outside forces, keep the ruse up, right hand, left hand, and sneak up the middle.

The address had turned out to be a busy coffee shop. With an old woman sitting down at a table nearby, dropping her purse. *Ever the gentleman.* Krycek helped her pick her papers up, she said, “You look hungry. Order a steak sandwich, young man, I highly recommend it.”

Bemused, he’d gone to the counter, asked for a steak sandwich. It wasn’t on the menu. The guy behind the counter didn’t argue, just asked for $4.26, and sent the order back.

When a young woman came out with his sandwich on a tray, she gave him a smile and a wink and handed him a napkin.

He looked down, opened the napkin. A compact flash card was wrapped inside. He pocketed the napkin as he dug for a tip, tossed fifty cents on the table, grabbed the sandwich, and walked out.

Downright routine. And if the nerds couldn’t read what was on that disk, he’d eat his arm.

He parked the bike. Looked at it fondly, probably wouldn’t see it again. Stolen anyway, but still, it was a nice ride. He looked up at the truck, at the faces appearing around the edge. Time to start the caper.


Skinner was actually surprised to see Krycek. He was even more surprised when Krycek handed a memory card to Byers. When it turned out to have a number of plain text document with a series of addresses on it, most of which were in San Diego, he found himself giving Krycek a long look. *Why is he doing this?*

When the truck was closed, Frohike started anchoring nets around the interior, then threw a packing blanket on the bed, put a strap over that, crawled on top of the blanket and worked his way under the strap. He was snoring before the truck started moving.

Krycek kicked back on the sectional.

Skinner, still sitting on the couch, looked over at Krycek. “I don’t get it.”

“Don’t get what?” Krycek looked almost amused.

“Why you’re doing this. Why you let Spender see you. Why you’re suddenly such a fountain of information and goodwill. I don’t buy it.”

Krycek shrugged. “Better than the alternative. For me, at least.”

“How’s that? The way I figure, if you’d taken this information to the Syndicate, it would have made you look pretty damn good in their eyes.”

Krycek snorted. “You really don’t get it, do you? How bad it is right now? How dangerous things are becoming? The Syndicate... if I put my eggs in that basket, I won’t live out the year. Frankly, if they manage to do what they have been trying to do, and they are very close, it won’t be long for the rest of you all either.”

“So what basket are you trying to put your eggs in?”

“As many of them as I can get away with, of course.” Krycek actually looked... sincere.

Skinner considered that, then asked, “Do you know what the addresses are?”

Krycek shook his head. “I know that they’re the answer to a question I asked someone who would have reason to want Mulder and Scully to succeed.”

“I need to know how far you’re willing to go to help.”

“As far as I can go without revealing myself to Them. Assuming, of course, that you manage to keep Mulder from pounding me. Because if he does that, I’ll take my chances elsewhere. Frankly, I’d just as soon Mulder not know I’m involved.”

“Why, because he wouldn’t trust a single thing you said?”

Krycek rolled his eyes. “Oh, please. Mulder has followed every damn lead I’ve ever given him. No, see, my therapist says I have boundary issues, and I need to set some with Mulder, like, ‘Don’t point guns at me and shove me into walls.’”

Skinner snorted. “With the number of times you’ve betrayed him? I think you’re barking up the wrong tree if you expect Mulder to ever be happy to see you. And I think Scully will shoot him again if he listens to what you say.”

“It was a job. And if I had not done it, someone else would have, and I would have ended up with the special Syndicate early retirement package shoved into my mouth, and they’d have made it look like I was the one who pulled the trigger. If you don’t mind, I’d like to shut my eyes now for a little while.” Krycek rolled over on his side.

Skinner leaned back. The sectional was one of those overstuffed monstrosities. He pulled a harness down, anchored it, and fell asleep.

3:16 p.m.

A few hours later, the truck lurched, sending Krycek tumbling, swearing, onto the floor, and waking Skinner up. He felt the truck slow, stop, and took the harness off.

“You hurt?” he asked Krycek.

Krycek climbed to his feet. “Not much. Where are we?”

Skinner moved around the bed, where Frohike was still out cold, and reached up to open the window just as Byers slid it open. “I just hit my limit. We’re at a truck stop just outside DC. Want anything?”

Skinner’s stomach growled, he looked down ruefully. “Uh, yeah.”

A minute later the back of the truck slid open. Frohike was still asleep. Langly wrote a note and slipped it and a cell phone onto the bed, then they locked the truck and went inside.

They got the greasy hamburgers and fries to go, plus a pie. Langly gassed up the truck, and then it was Skinner’s turn to sit up front, while Byers conked out in the back. As Skinner came around the back of the truck, he caught a glimpse of Krycek pulling down webbing straps.

Langly handed Skinner the laptop and a map. “I managed to plot the San Diego addresses. One of them we actually had already--it’s across the street from a property owned by one of our contacts, and one of the reasons she bought that property. I’ve got a window up with a high-def satellite shot of that area, we had it already, and you can take a look at how it all corresponds to the places on the list.

Skinner looked at the map. A cluster of addresses near UCSD. Another cluster downtown. Two near each other out in what looked, when he compared it to the sat image, like an industrial district. He minimized a few windows until he found the list. “You know who these places are connected to?”

Langly nodded. “When we started setting this thing up, a few months ago, we took some precautions. Used a secure connection to download the San Diego phone directory so we’d have it on the road with or without web access. Going after specific addresses online, you run the risk of hitting tripwires. Hacking the whole damn thing from the phone company? Not so much. Once you have that in a spreadsheet, it’s just a matter of plugging in phone numbers, waiting while the little hamsters do their job, and then boom, you have everything in that phone book connected to that number. Or address.”

Skinner started examining each address, the names above them. “Looks like another nursing home. University hospital. Are those residences?”

“Nearest we can figure. We know for a fact that the Daldsens are in a condo in La Jolla. They have a little girl who was on the list. We assume several of those others are also adoptive families. The interesting one to me is the warehouse district over there.” Langly looked over, pointed, then snapped his attention back to the road as a nearby car honked at him.

“You don’t have that listed as connected to anyone in particular.”

“There’s no record in the phone book. We may actually have to go ask at the county for the property records to find out who owns it, unless I can find out online without tripping any alarms. But everything else on that list in the San Diego area, we know approximately what’s at the address. One of these things is not like the others...” Langly shrugged. “Anyway, if you’ll take a look at that, we’re going to need to decide at some point what our plan of attack is. And if it includes our guest back there.”

“Can he hear us?” Skinner glanced back, despite the fact that the window was closed.

“Could you hear us when you were back there?” Langly threw back.

“Right. How long have you been planning this, anyway?” Skinner asked.

Langly shrugged. “Define ‘you’. And ‘this’ for that matter. One of our contacts has been building the resources for this since 1973. I met her in 1990, I think. She’s been planning an escape hatch for the three of us, and then later Mulder and Scully, for years now. As for San Diego? When we learned of Agent Scully’s daughter, of the sheer number of hinky adoptions going on that might be tied to it? Well that’s when we started looking at ways of getting people in to San Diego. If Mulder and Scully hadn’t done it, we were thinking we might have to do it ourselves. But they’re more plausible as infiltrators. We didn’t quite have enough to go on to do a real poaching operation.”

Skinner leaned back. “You’re telling me that there’s someone out there who is more paranoid that Mulder? Wait... 1973. That’s when Samantha disappeared.”

Langly nodded. “I’ll let her tell you her story. She’s meeting us in Tucson.”


“It’s far enough from San Diego to allow us time to deal with Krycek if he’s screwy, but far enough from DC that we’d have some time to figure out what his game is.”

“Oz?” Skinner asked.

“A-Z. Arizona. We have meeting places pre-arranged in a number of cities. I’d tell you the other ones, but I’d have to kill you.” Langly grinned.

“Right.” *Like he could.* Skinner chuckled. “So is that why we went back through DC rather than going around? “

Langly shook his head. “Nope. Byers hates the turnpike with a passion, and wanted to get out of Pennsylvania as fast as possible. It’s about six one way and half a dozen the other. Hey, you want to drive this thing in a couple hours? I’m thinking about pulling over in Harrisonburg.”

“Sure.” Skinner look at the list. Fifteen places in San Diego. Five elsewhere. *I wonder how long I can get away with this jaunt.* He finally closed the laptop, and spent the next couple hours watching the early spring green of the Virginia countryside.

5:08 p.m.

Byers made them stop at a thrift store in Harrisonburg, where they picked up well-worn work clothes, overalls, baseball hats. Skinner looked at the things dubiously, but when they’d all changed, he had to admit the effect was...convincing. He’d not had a chance to shave in 36 hours, none of them had, and the stubble just added to the shabbiness of the used clothing. He found a pair of shoes that fit him a little better than Langly’s hand-me-downs. Next door, they found a military surplus outfit, which the boys went over with surprising thoroughness, coming away with several totes full of gear and clothing before the store closed at 6. Skinner cringed when he realized that one of the totes was now half-full of MRE’s, and crossed the street to a small grocery store, where he bought staples.

Back in the truck, Skinner drove for the next 6 hours, while Frohike dozed in the passenger seat. It was nearly midnight when he pulled over near Knoxville to let Frohike take over, while he returned to the back. He found Byers and Krycek playing Gin Rummy, of all things, looked at them strangely, and climbed onto the bed, where he was asleep almost immediately.

March 4, 1998
6 a.m.

Frohike drove, Langly kept him company, and they made it through to Memphis by dawn, where Frohike insisted on stopping for a full, sit-down breakfast. A little 24-hour waffle house provided one of the first solid meals they’d had in days, not counting the hamburger. By this point, they were looking downright disheveled.

Another 7 hours, and they were in Dallas. It started to feel like a strange kind of musical chairs. Drive. Sleep. Play cards. Ride Shotgun. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. The boys had originally intended to take their time crossing the country, but Gwynne had asked to meet them in Tucson on Thursday, and that meant pushing it.

Over lunch, Krycek looked at Langly and Byers. He pointed at Langly. “You need to cut the hair. And you,” he said, pointing at Byers, “need to shave at least part of your beard.”

Both of them blanched. Skinner looked at them, considered. “You know boys, he’s right.”

Frohike nodded. “Do I need to...”

Skinner laughed. “You’re going to have a full beard by the weekend at this rate. A close cut would be a better disguise..”

The Gunmen looked at each other. Then one by one, nodded. Sighed. They stopped at a drugstore and bought clippers about an hour later, ran an extension cord plugged into the lighter through the window between the cab and the cargo area, and while Krycek took a turn at the wheel, with Skinner up front, the boys took turns with the clippers. When they were done, a freshly shorn Frohike told Krycek to pull over so he could drive.

It was 9 pm when they arrived in El Paso. Frohike pulled in at a Motel 6 and booked two rooms. “I’m not seeing Aunt Em without a shower.”

They all stared at him strangely, but no one argued with the idea of a non-moving bed and hot and cold running water.

Byers slept in the truck, Langly and Frohike each staked out a bed in one room, which was just fine by Skinner, who preferred to be able to keep an eye on Krycek.

“You going to ever tell me the rest of the story?” asked Skinner, before he reached over to turn out the light.

Krycek nodded. “But let me do it tomorrow. If I like the contact, I’ll tell all of you at once. If I don’t, then maybe after.”

“You coming with us all the way?” Skinner asked.

Krycek actually sighed. “To be honest, I really don’t have anything better to do. And I’d be stupid to just leave this up to Mr. and Mrs. Drop-the-ball.”

Skinner responded slowly. “Just which ball do you think they dropped?”

“Which ball haven’t they?” Krycek threw that back too fast, then said, “I’m going to sleep. I don’t want to talk about Mulder.”

Skinner turned off the light.

March 5, 1998
6:21 a.m.

*It is amazing how much we forget to value the little things,* Skinner thought, finally clean, *like toothbrushes.*

He pulled out the one clean outfit he had left, a pair of worn black twill trousers and a slightly pilly black turtleneck from the thrift shop so many miles ago. He ran his hand over his bristly face. He hadn’t grown more than three days worth of facial hair in 20 years, and it was disheartening to see how damn grey it was.

When he emerged from the bathroom, Krycek pushed his way in without comment, looking surlier than usual, leaving his arm on the bed. *I need to talk to Mulder. Because I think I’m starting to actually trust Krycek.*

By 7, they were all clean, if not clean-shaven, and Frohike was sitting in the driver’s seat, looking grim.

Skinner climbed in the cab to sit shotgun, and Byers went to check out and pay the bill.

By 7:30 they were on the road. Skinner asked, finally, “Who is this contact to you?”

Frohike looked at him, and said nothing for a long time. Finally he answered. “She’s... family by choice. Closest I can come is ‘Aunt.’ She is good. Just plain good, down to her bones.”

“She has resources, I take it?” Skinner asked. *Walking on eggshells.*

Frohike nodded. “She’s already put about two million into this, over the past ten years. Her resources are not unlimited, but I don’t think she’s close to the limit right now. She managed to invest in IBM back in the 70’s, and Microsoft in the IPO, and has been managing most of her money to make more money for the past 30 years, and she has a knack for it. I think the current activities are coming out of investment income, she hasn’t spend much of her principal in the past two years. Hasn’t had to. We couldn’t do the majority of what we’ve been doing if she hadn’t been helping. The paper is a labor of love, really.”

Skinner stared back at the road. “Where are we meeting her?”

Frohike just shrugged. “You’ll know when we get there.”


Just after noon, they pulled into a dusty parking lot in Tucson. Skinner felt under dressed when he realized that they’d arrived at a Unitarian Universalist church, but there were only two other cars in the parking lot.

A stocky, middle-aged woman, with straight black hair and oriental features, wearing black, met them at the door. “I’m Reverend Oha, and you are welcome to come on in.” She held out her hands to each of them in turn for a very ministerial two-handed handshake, and then walked outside, closing the doors behind her.

They walked through the double doors, and into the sanctuary. Natural wood showed everywhere, reaching up to the high roof, and a large stained glass mosaic filtered a small pool of sunlight near the wall.

A white-haired woman stood up, turned, saw Frohike, and grinned, holding her arms out. He crossed the room in surprisingly long strides, and gave her a tight squeeze. Langly and Byers followed, and she reached out to each of them, smiling. “So, boys,” Gwynne said, “what kind of trouble are we looking at?”

Krycek and Skinner were still standing near the door. Skinner walked forward slowly. “Is this place secure enough?”

Gwynne nodded. “Melina is one of us,” she said, nodding at the door the minister had just gone through.

“Us?” asked Skinner.

“Later,” said Gwynne. “I know who you are. Is the gentleman lingering in the doorway the complication Muggy mentioned? Oh, I’m sorry. Melvin.”

Skinner blinked, then beckoned Krycek over. “This is Alex Krycek.”

Gwynne frowned, looked at Byers. “John, is that...”

Byers nodded. “Exactly.”

“And you needed to bring him here....”

“Because he managed to break through our countermeasures while our friends were in the office. And meeting you was the price he asked for helping us, rather than ratting us out.” Frohike spoke quietly.

Gwynne stepped over, looked Krycek up and down. She asked, quietly, “Have you come to do your master’s bidding?”

Krycek looked at her for a long moment. “And if I did?”

She shrugged. “Whatever happens to me is irrelevant.”

He smiled. “I have no master.”

She considered that. “What is your cause?”

He pulled the vial from his pocket. He held it up. “My cause is to find a way to make a lot of this. Soon. And to find a way to make it work better, for longer.”

She took the vial. “And this is?” She turned the vial, watched the bubble float up through the amber liquid.

Krycek looked at Skinner. “That, is an antidote. Some call it a vaccine.”

He stopped. “You should all sit down. Please.”

He took a deep breath, and began. “You all know that many people have been taken. You know that many people blame these abductions on extraterrestrials. That others blame them on the government. You know that people describe tests. You know that Mulder has seen women tested on, old women made to give birth to children not their own, children then subjected to painful experiments. You know that Mulder has had experiments done on him, while he was in Russia. You believe that there is a government conspiracy. A military conspiracy. And you are right. What you don’t realize is that the universe is not so homogeneous that it will fit only one theory, only one explanation. There are... several different alien life forms. And a government that conspires with three of them. A fourth faction, alien, fights both government conspiracy and the dominant life form.

“What you don’t know is that there are conspiracies within conspiracies, that there are factions in the military doing everything they can to gain enough technology to fight the alien incursion, and factions of the military which are working for the aliens. The Syndicate has been colluding with the aliens for decades, but simultaneously has been pursuing other options.”

He pointed at the vial. “That is one of the best tools we currently have. It is not perfect, nowhere near effective enough to really fight the war that is coming. But the fact that there are aliens fighting the dominant species...that is new information. And the Syndicate is not reacting to it well. Most of them, anyway. They have some of what you hold in your hand. But they are doing little with it, too afraid that their allies will punish them. They’re not scared enough of the alternative. I’ve seen what the rebels will do to stop the invasion. I don’t want to end my life blackened by oil or fire.”

Gwynne looked at him, looked at his artificial hand, looked at the beard on his face, then asked, “What about the babies? The ova? Our children who were taken from us...” She trailed off.

“Scully’s daughter, I believe, was part of a project to create human/alien hybrids. The Syndicate believes that their purpose is to allow the aliens a presence among us, to facilitate colonization. They believe they can, by cooperating, be allowed to live their lives. I’ve had the black oil in me. I’ve felt the control, the ruthlessness. Even I’m not that amoral. I don’t believe for a second that the dominant form will allow anything human to remain. Which children are you talking about?”

Gwynne whispered. “My son, taken with Samantha Mulder, with Cassandra, with so many others.”

Krycek nodded. “That makes sense then. Did they pay you off?”

“After they killed my husband, and stole my son. They gave me money and told me to shut up or lose my daughter. We disappeared instead. I had to protect her.” Gwynne looked at her hands. “What happened to him?”

Krycek shrugged. “Most were returned to their families after about 6 months. But if you weren’t findable, and your husband was dead... I don’t know. I do know that there were several children, Samantha Mulder included, who lived at a base in California during their childhoods, after being returned.”

Gwynne looked at Frohike. “If I’d stayed...”

“Was your husband an objector?”

Gwynne nodded. “He refused... he and Bill were adamantly against sending our families...”

Skinner was shocked when Krycek took a step closer, crouched down, looked Gwynne in the eye and said, “I doubt he would have been returned to you then. I think Samantha Mulder was returned to the Cancer Man. He told me as much, once, said she was living in California still. Staying merely would have left you vulnerable. Your daughter vulnerable. You cannot underestimate the ruthlessness. What they’ve learned to do.” He paused. “What I’ve learned to do.”

Gwynne looked at him. “And what would it take for you to betray us?”

Krycek stood up. Set his jaw. “It is not my intention to betray you. I walk the path I’m on, the path that keeps me alive. I don’t make promises. But right now, you are the only person I know who is actually building resources outside the loop. I could have had someone meet you at the airport in Victoria. I didn’t. I could have avoided capture completely. I chose to come forward. You might have the resources, the opportunity to actually do something about the information they find. So right now, I’m helping. And I will help, as long as you and your people are doing what needs to be done.”

Gwynne looked down at the vial in her hands. “I do not have the money or the heart to do the kinds of testing Mulder has described. I do have access to lab facilities. And I have contacts... There are few places in the world where I do not have allies. I will not promise you ruthlessness. I can only promise you that if you walk this path and stay true to it, and what you say is true, we will everything we can to fight this war.”

Skinner looked from one to the other. Finally, he said to Gwynne, “May I ask your name?”

She looked down. “You may call me Gwynne. I have another name, but no one has called me by it in twenty five years.” She looked at Krycek.

“So, Alex. Tell me, where do you fit into this? I know what you do. I know what you’ve done. I do not know who you are.”

Krycek shrugged. “My parents were immigrants. From Russia. They came here very young, in their teens, with their parents, fleeing the famines, the pograms. My parents died young, as did their parents. I met the Smoking Man when I was in college. He took me under his wing, in a way. Recruited me. Pointed me at Fox Mulder. He used the truth as a lure, then caught me in lies. He led me to believe I was like the son he never had. Then treated me with the same callous disregard he had for the sons he did have. If the Syndicate are spiders, he’s the one in the center of the web.”

Gwynne said, “I think I knew his name, or a name he used. You all call him the Cigarette Man. I knew him as Garrett Spender.”She laughed dryly. “My husband even called him Gary. We were all close, our families all summering up in Quonochontaug. There was a Project compound on Martha’s Vineyard. We all had babies, stair step. In the sixties, you could always hear children laughing there. It all went to hell in the seventies.”

Krycek looked down at his feet. “I was told to put a bullet in Bill Mulder’s head to stop him from telling his son about that time.”

Frohike shook his head. “That almost broke Mulder, you know.”

“It was to protect the Project. That is no longer my goal. I can’t bring Bill Mulder or Melissa Scully back. I was merely the gun, not the finger on the trigger. Without me, there would have been another gun. Now I’m helping. I’m not asking for forgiveness. This isn’t about me. It’s not even about Mulder. It’s way, way bigger than that.”

“So what now?” Skinner stood up.

Gwynne looked at the men around her. “Tell me about what Mulder and Scully are going into.”

Krycek nodded, and sat down. “You’ve sent them to figure out Dr. Calderon’s project, correct?”

Gwynne nodded. “Calderon is the doctor who was treating Emily Sims. Scully wants to find out what has happened to the rest of her ova, and they are going under to see if they can make contact with other adoptive families, with the people who provided them with children, posing as an adoptive couple.”

Krycek laughed outright. “Well, that’s one way of doing it. However, posing as an adoptive couple is going to make it awfully hard for them to go sneaking around, scoping out all those addresses. The minute they make contact with one of those families, the minute they say they are wanting to adopt, that is when they will be under surveillance. And then they won’t be able to move without eyes on them.”

“You have a better way?” Gwynne asked.

“Well, for one, if these guys stay somewhere in town, we might be able to do some of the groundwork.”

Langly stared at Krycek. “We?”

Krycek shrugged. “You lot are great on computers. Your military training is nonexistent.”

Skinner frowned. “I don’t like it.”

“Take it or fucking leave it, Cueball. I’m going to San Diego and investigating. I can do it with these guys, or without, but I suspect we all stand a better chance of not getting people killed if we work together.”

Byers, Langly, and Frohike looked at each other, scruffy and shorn. Then Langly stepped forward. “We’ll do it.”

The other two nodded.

The expression on Krycek’s face was unreadable. He finally nodded.

Gwynne went over to them, a tender look on her face, put a hand on Byers’ bare cheek, his chin. She ran her head over the top of Langly’s head, then gave Frohike a hug. “You boys be careful. Talk to Short Heron. She’ll find you a squat.”

Frohike looked up at her, nodded.

She took Skinner’s hand, and said, “Walter, I appreciate what you’ve done, the lengths you are going to. Please know it is worth it.”

And then to Krycek, she simply said, “Is it enough?”

He cocked his head. Considered her. Then nodded.

She smiled. “Then walk in the light, friend.”

She turned and walked out of the church. By the time they followed, her car was gone.


Continue to Chapter 13


Title from Coil