Chapter 17: Us and Them
March 12, 1998
1:11 a.m. 30,000 feet above sea level, somewhere over the Midwest.
Walter Skinner was trying to sleep. Failing, miserably, but trying, nonetheless. The narrow seats, combined with a hyper four-year-old in the seat next to him felt like a conspiracy. *The boys are rubbing off on me. I mean, aside from the part where it turns out they were not quite paranoid enough.*
The airport had had a little kiosk where an earnest young salesman had been more than willing to charge his regular cell phone’s battery, for a small fee. Which mean that in the 10 hours before he finally managed to get on an airplane, he’d had the joy of dealing with 30 messages and four new phone calls. Kimberly, who had found the little tracking device in her suitcase and managed to leave the device on a train headed south before dropping the luggage off at its destination, reporting from the office that the paperwork had all gone through, but that the deputy director was riding her ass to know where he and half his department had vanished to.
Jeffrey *Jeff?* Spender, a terse message. “Arrived. Staying longer than expected. Back next week.” A curious tone to his voice, not the whine he’d heard the last few times he’d talked to the man.
deputy director. Not quite yelling. Concerned? The man wasn’t dumb.
And he’d seen enough summaries from X-files to know that having
Skinner, Mulder, Scully and Kimberly all take extended
personal leave at
the same time was tantamount to proclaiming the apocalypse. *If
Mulder is war, and Scully is famine, does that make me pestilence or
death? Probably death. Spender’s got to be pestilence. Does that make
the boys the four minor annoyances of the apocalypse?*
Several from agents. One from his ex-wife.
The farther he flew from San Diego, the tenser he felt. *Giant rubberband is going to snap back at some point. Does it snap to DC? Or yank me back to the other coast?*
Change of planes in Chicago. Which meant waiting for a 6 a.m. commuter. He actually snoozed for a few minutes, propped in a chair at his departure gate.
March 11, 1998
11:00 a.m. Elizabeth “Teena” Mulder’s home, Greenwich, Connecticut.
Jeffrey Spender had found the tracking device on the first day, but left it in place until he near Greenwich on Tuesday the tenth. Wednesday morning, he walked out of his hotel room, sunglasses on, got into his rental car, duct taped the tracking device to the inside of the glove box, drove to the rental car agency, and asked them for a ride to the greyhound station.
From there, he called a cab, and for the first time in a week, paid in cash rather than with Fox Mulder’s credit card. He might have begrudged the cash, except for the wad of bills the toady little man had pressed into his hand before he left the office of the Singular Plurals.
The cab dropped him off in front of her house, Mulder’s mother. He wasn’t quite sure why he was there, but whatever he was expecting, it was not the reaction he got when she answered the doorbell.
She stared in disbelief for a moment, then whispered, “It’s not possible.. he’s...”
He cocked his head. “Who, ma’am?”
She pulled herself together. “I’m sorry, you just look very much like someone I knew... a long time ago.”
He cocked his head to one side, looked down. Then met her eyes, and said, “You mean, my father?”
Her gaze darted up and down the street, then she pulled him inside.
March 11, 1998
9:30 a.m. The home of Mandy and Joel Cavendish
“So, what did Assistant Director Skinner want?” He sat in a rocking chair, pencil in hand, oxygen tubes snaking from ear to ear, canulas up his nose. In a t-shirt and boxers. There hadn’t been reason for a long time to wear anything else. Well, a bathrobe when the temperature got below 65. But that hardly counted. He held the pencil between his thumb and two fingers, stared at it, resisted the temptation to put it in his mouth.
Mandy looked at her father. “He said something about my brother.”
He looked interested. “Oh? Which one?”
She frowned. “I think you know.”
He smiled, tapped the pencil against his lips. “Oh, but tell me anyway. You know I love to hear about my boys.”
“Why didn’t you tell me the truth about him? You must have known.” She sat down.
He shrugged. “I needed him looking for answers. If he’d found you, he’d have had no quest.”
She bit her lips, frowned at him. “I need to decide whether to see him again or not.”
He shrugged. “Talk to Mr. Skinner. I’m sure he has something urgent to tell you. It’s always urgent.”
“You never stop playing games, do you? What about Jeff? Are you spinning a web of crazy around him, too?”
He sighed. “I haven’t seen him in years. Since he went back to his mother, in fact. Have you?”
“He visits every couple of years.” She looked at him, hair graying rapidly, the edge of a nicotine patch barely visible under the sleeve of his v-neck t-shirt. “Why didn’t you tell me about Mom?”
He shook his head. “If I’d told her, she would have told him, and as I said, I needed him looking.”
She stood up, turned away from him, then spun back. “Damn it, I had a right to know! So did they! Is Jeff even my brother? Are you really my father? How many lies have you told me? Told them? What about Joel? Is his family alive? His sister? What kind of games are you playing with our lives?”
He reached over, dialed the oxygen pressure up a notch. Closed his eyes. “There are larger forces at work.”
“And you’re the only one with the fucking answers? Answer me, Dad. Or whoever the hell you are.”
He opened his eyes. “What if you had to trade one of your children for the fate of humanity? Would you?”
She faltered, then squared her shoulders. “Did you ever think that if we knew what was going on, we might be able to help? That you might have our cooperation, and not this endless game of hide and seek?”
He put the pencil down on the little table next to him. Tented his fingers together. Looked at them a good long while, then looked her in the eye. “Yes, I am your father. Fox is my son. So is Jeffrey. Joel’s family... they disappeared not long after you both were taken. Even I haven’t been able to find them. I suspect they are dead. In any event, if I can’t find them, no one can. Frank Thorne’s death was due to his own stupidity and short-sightedness. I’ve not found a trace of Angelica and Genny in almost 25 years. Apparently when Noel Thorne disappeared and Frank died, they decided that they were safer elsewhere.”
“Did you have something to do with Joel’s father’s death?” She spoke quietly.
He laughed, eyes burning, shook his head. “Do you really want to know? This is not who I want to be for you, for my grandchildren.”
She bit her upper lip, fighting tears. “I need to know the truth.”
He closed his eyes. “You have no idea how many men have died for this cause. You have no idea how important the work we did will be.”
She swallowed hard, then managed to say, “Because you don’t tell me. I’m not nine anymore. You don’t have to treat me like a child. Let me decide if it’s something worth throwing away my history for.”
He shook his head. “Go talk to the good Assistant Director. Listen to what he has to say. Then you and I can talk about what is really going on.”
When she returned, he was in the kitchen, oxygen canister propped against a cupboard while he reached for a can of tuna in a high cupboard. He turned as he heard her come in. “So, Mandy dear, how was your coffee?”
She walked past him, sat down at the oak table beyond the counter.
“It was fine. He wanted proof of my identity, even though he sought me out and clearly recognized me. Why?”
He pressed the handle on the electric can opener, watched the can spin, then pulled the lid off before answering. “Probably because of the clone your brother met a few years ago.”
She laughed, disbelieving. “Clone?”
He shrugged. “You asked. What did Skinner want?”
“He said Jeff had sent him. Wanted to talk to me about my brothers.” She hesitated. “He warned me not to tell you anything. Apparently they all thought you were dead.”
He spooned mayonnaise into the mixing bowl. Added a spoon of dill relish. As he stirred, he said, “Did you correct him on that assumption?”
She shrugged. “He figured it out. Why are they so afraid of you? He accused you of being careless with Fox’s life.”
He turned, took slices of bread out of the toaster oven. “I would not call it careless. I did try to kill him once, but he turned out to be rather hard to kill, and more useful alive. Or maybe the Lord came to Abraham and gave him a ram instead.”
She recoiled. “If he’s your son... how could you?”
He shrugged. “He was threatening the project. Then he lost his leverage, and was no longer a threat.”
“What is this Project, that is so important you would kill your own son for it?”
“Would you believe me, if I told you that aliens were responsible for your abduction?” He spooned the tuna salad onto the toast.
She laughed. “You mean, the aliens in white coats with human faces who tortured me for six months?”
He gave a slight nod. “Those were merely tools.”
“But you gave me to them. You took Joel. You killed his father. Why?”
He reached over to the windowsill, picked up a tomato. Weighed it in his hand. Set it down on a small cutting board. Reached up to a magnetic strip and pulled down a knife. Tested the blade with his finger, and opened a drawer. He pulled out a stiletto-shaped sharpening steel, and began to sharpen the knife. “We’ve had a knife over our heads for fifty years. In another fourteen years, nine months and eleven days, the knife will drop. If I hadn’t done what I did back in 1973, the world would already be a wasteland. Frank Thorne’s life. Your childhood. Fox Mulder’s sanity. They bought us time.”
She watched him slice the tomato into precise, thin sheets, oozing. “And what have you done with that time?”
He looked at her. “I’ve done what I had to do. No more.”
“What would you do to him, if you found him?”
He lifted four slices of tomato onto the tuna salad. Reached down, turned up the oxygen pressure again. “What can I do? I’m an old man. My plans, for the most part, have not borne the fruit I’d hoped the would have borne by now. Perhaps I would tell him the truth. Maybe I would tell him about his son.”
She stood up, put both hands on the counter. “His SON? What the hell have you done?”
He put the last piece of toast on the tuna, pressed down, and then cut the sandwich diagonally into two triangles. “What I had to do. I needed leverage, the project needed subjects. We had the material.”
She turned away from him. Asked in the direction of the ceiling. “Is that how...”
He put one half of the sandwich on a plate, then asked, “Tuna sandwich? I made too much.”
Her shoulders started to shake, her head thrown back, finally she turned around. “Is my doctor in on it too? Is that why it worked, even though I never could see the follicles they were talking about, on the ultrasounds? Are you the reason I couldn’t get pregnant?”
He pushed the half sandwich toward her, took out another plate for himself, and put the second half on it.
She flung an arm out, sending the plate he’d offered flying, shattering. It left a creamy mark on the wall, little bits of pink seeds showing, and the fragments of sandwich slid down to the floor. The pottery fell in three chunks. “I don’t want a fucking sandwich. I want you to tell me all of it.”
He sighed, picked up his plate, took the handle of his O2 canister, and walked slowly to the kitchen table. He propped the tall metal canister against the yellow flowered wallpaper, sat down, and took a bite.
She pushed a chair over. “Dammit, TELL ME.” Tears were running down her face.
He put the sandwich down. “Clean up your mess. Sit down. Stop swearing at me. You’re too much like your brother sometimes, but I love you. So sit down, and we’ll continue our discussion.”
She frowned at him. Then got a damp rag and the trash can, and crouched down to clean the sandwich off the wall.
11:30 a.m. Connecticut
Mrs. Mulder waved Spender into the living room, and then disappeared into the kitchen. A minute or two later, she came out with a small tray of cookies and a small teapot. Chessmen cookies. Delicate bone china teapot. Cups and saucers on the table.. He looked at them, but did not take one.
She bit her lip, and then said, “You must be Jeffrey. I haven’t seen you in years.”
He picked up a cookie, turned it over in his hands. “Since your daughter was taken? And my mother?”
She nodded. “Why have you come here?”
He put the cookie down. “Your son... would have come if he’d known what I know. But he’s doing something... he’s unreachable. Anyway. You deserve to know.”
The knot of wrinkles that had started in her forehead deepened. She looked at him warily. “Know what?” She poured a cup of tea, spooned sugar into it, picked it up, but did not drink.
He took a deep breath. “She’s alive.”
Eyes widening, Teena said, “She....”
He picked the cookie back up. “My sister. My half sister. Your daughter.”
The teacup shattered in her hands, splashing both of them with hot tea. He started off the couch, pulling a napkin off the tray, dabbing at her hands. Blood welled up, and he found a small cut, pressed on it with the napkin. She was ignoring the heat, staring at him. “Where...When... How do you know?”
He sat down next to her, holding pressure on the cut on her hand. “I didn’t know it was her. He didn’t tell me who she’d been, and I didn’t remember her from before. I didn’t know until about 10 days ago. I came as soon as I could.”
“We thought she came back... once, but Fox said that it wasn’t her. I didn’t know what to think. How do you know it’s really her?” Her look was accusatory.
“I...” He let go with his right hand, reached into his coat pocket. “I saw this. And I recognized her.” He held out a picture of Samantha Mulder. “She was always Mandy to me. He told me she was my sister. We were raised together for years... until I left. I left him. I haven’t seen him in years, they tell me he’s dead.”
Her laugh was almost a bark. “You can’t kill the devil, young man. I will believe that man is dead when I see him dismembered and the pieces burned.”
He recoiled a little. “We didn’t part on the best of terms, but he is my father.”
“Yes, and he was father to both my son and my daughter. More folly that. Bill Mulder was a better father...” She sighed, stood up, went into the kitchen. When she returned, she wore a small bandage, and brought a small hand broom and dustpan. She cleaned up the shards, and left to throw them away. When she came back, she said, “Tell me about my daughter.”
He smiled. “She has three kids. I haven’t seen little Carl since he was a baby.”
She frowned. “Carl. She named her son after him...”
He nodded. “I never knew what the C stood for until she did that. What did you call him?”
*Sweetie, and there was never a less apt pet name.* “Gary.” She took a cookie, and absently bit the chocolate square off the top.
He nodded. “Carleton Garrett. Do you know what the B stood for?”
She nodded. “Bingham. Which he told me once and made me swear never to tell another soul. Given what he’s done, I no longer feel bound by the promises I made 30 years ago.”
He nodded. “I can understand that. Anyway, little Carl was born late in ‘95. She also has two daughters. Lisa and Kit. Lisa must be 14 right now, and Kit was born around Easter in 1992, so she must be just about six.”
Teena put her unbandaged hand up to her mouth. “She named her oldest for me...and her middle for her brother. She remembered.”
He nodded. “But he told her you were all dead. If he’s come clean about that, and I suspect he will have to soon, she’ll hit the roof. Losing you... It was only Joel that kept her from walking down a really dark path in her mid teens. She was thinking about running away, but she didn’t want to lose him.”
“Joel?” she asked.
“Lived down the block. Showed up around the same time she did, come to think of it. He was my age. And had lost as much as she had, from what I gather. He was being raised by a friend of my father’s. Later, he moved in with us. When she was 18, they got married. Been together ever since. We didn’t talk for a while, when she got pregnant with Lisa. I was seriously pissed at him. They told me later that it had not only been planned, but that since she hadn’t gotten pregnant after a couple years of the kind of thing that usually causes that, they’d actually had to do fertility treatments to make it happen. My father apparently was willing to foot the bill, but by that time, we really weren’t speaking at all. Anyway, Joel and I declared a truce around the time that Kit was born. He’s a good man.”
Teena had a strange look on her face. She ate the rest of the cookie, finally said, “I have grandchildren. And he didn’t even have the decency to tell me.”
Spender shrugged. “He’s like that. Anyway. I know where she is. You can contact her, if you want.”
He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, handed it to her.
She took it, hand shaking. “Thank you... I... you have been very kind to come and tell me. Especially after... I never meant to hurt your mother. When he sent her to them...”
He shook his head. “I don’t think he ever loved her. He never treated her well, and if he was the one who sent her away so many times... there are not words for how little I think of him. I suspect you were not blameless, but you being in the picture didn’t make him treat my mother worse. And no one... I went through what you went through so many times, only my mother came back. Well, she hasn’t yet from the last one, but it’s only been three weeks.” He poured a cup of tea. “I would have been here sooner, but Skinner wanted me to pretend to be Mulder for a week, something important. I wasn’t going to let my father keep hanging another person out to dry.”
She put her hand over his. “Thank you. Will you stay here tonight? I don’t want to be alone in the house. I have a guest bedroom.”
He nodded. “If you want. I was planning on heading back today, but I think Skinner will understand.”
March 12, 1998
10 a.m. Washington, DC
Skinner walked into his office, and Kimberly was sitting there, at her desk, as if nothing unusual had happened. “Welcome back, Sir,” she said, and smiled.
He stopped, looked at her, started to say something, remembered his office was probably the second-most bugged place in the FBI, and then just settled on, “Thank you. Vacation go well?”
She nodded. “It was nice. I met the nicest lady.”
He smiled. “You’ll have to tell me about that some time. Could you hold my calls for an hour?”
She started to say something, but he’d already moved past her into his office.
Then he put his head back out. “You were going to tell me that a gentleman was here to see me?”
She nodded, a slightly pained expression on her face.
He sighed. “Thank you.”
He put his head back in. “Can I help you?”
The man he thought of as The Well Manicured Man shook his head. “No, but I suspect I can help you.” He stood up, walked over, and shook Skinner’s hand, palming something over to him.
Skinner looked down. Sighed. “Anything else?”
The man nodded. “Nice work. I assume you’ll be heading back?”
Skinner looked slightly alarmed. “My personal time is not your business.”
The man shrugged. “Be that as it may. I received an astonishing phone call this morning.”
Skinner raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Someone that we assumed was dead... I have strong reason to suspect that he is not. I... advised him of the change of circumstances. I believe he may be inclined to help in the matter at hand.”
Skinner’s gaze flew to the lamp he knew for a fact was bugged.
The gentleman laughed. “Do not concern yourself. I took care of it while waiting for you to arrive.”
“And the other six?” Skinner asked.
Skinner sat down wearily at his desk. “I have not slept in over 24 hours. If you have anything else to share?”
“Just a question... Married? Really?” Skinner wasn’t sure if the man was amused or pleased.
“That’s their business, don’t you think?” Skinner snapped.
The man chuckled. “I’m just a romantic at heart, Assistant Director. In these dark days, good news is hard to come by.”
Skinner stood up, crossed the distance between them in two long strides, seized the man by his jacket. “And did you have anything to do with what we learned there? How many died?”
The man’s demeanor changed profoundly. “No. I was opposed. But that may end up providing us with an even better weapon, and God knows we need it. You have no idea.”
Skinner narrowed his eyes and nodded. “I think I have a pretty good idea. That is, if your man is to be believed.” He let go.
“About that? Most certainly. In fact, he probably understated the danger. Will you continue to help?” The man smoothed his jacket, and looked pointedly at the small box Skinner had left on his desk. “You might want to open that elsewhere.”
Skinner walked back to his desk, picked up the package, and followed the English gentleman out of his office. He said, as he walked by Kimberly, “Tell the deputy director that I will talk with him later.”
She frowned, then nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Skinner walked out the door, down the street, and found himself stepping onto a bus almost out of habit. He got off a few stops down, walked into a restaurant and went directly to the restroom.
The box contained a dozen vials of amber liquid, each holding at least an ounce of liquid, and a note. He sat on the john, staring at the contents for a while. Then he sighed, pulled out his cell, looked at it, pressed his speed dial, hung up the minute it rang, and sat for another ten minutes staring into the box. *What the fuck am I supposed to do with this?* was the only thought that really made sense.
He pulled the other phone out of his pocket, and called the airport to ask about flights back to San Diego. Then he reconsidered, and called Frohike, who gave him a local address and a bird name.
10:00 a.m. USCD Sociology Department
Mulder dropped Scully at the hospital, and then drove to work. He’d toyed with the idea of jogging, but ultimately settled on a combined regimen of hot sex and jogging in the neighborhood for his morning exercise, thus allowing himself to arrive at work showered and dressed like a professor. Fortunately, Scully had been more than willing to be a workout partner, even jogging with him, much to his delight.
When he arrived at Carol’s office, she smiled, put an envelope in his hands, and patted him on the shoulder as she hobbled out of the room, closing the door behind her.
He used his finger to pop the seal, and pulled out a single sheet of paper, covered both sides with eight-point courier, single spaced, with scant quarter inch margins. He blinked, and started reading.
When he got to the name, Tyler Smith, he stopped. Pondered. Tyler? He continued reading. He found himself smiling, in spite of himself. Then he got to Langly’s section, and the smile disappeared. At the bottom, was a postscript.
-Got a job, start next week. Watch your yard. Tell Scully to watch for John-boy at work.
He looked at both sides again.
The door opened, and Carol walked back in.
He looked up at her, and said, “Do you have another envelope? I think my wife needs this.”
Carol smiled. “Good news then?”
He shrugged. “Some good, some presenting challenges. But thank you very much for relaying it.”
She shrugged. “If you can get the Nightingale to relax, more the better.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You and your birds.”
She chuckled. “This bird is different.”
Mulder drove, and Carol navigated him south of downtown to a long, low anonymous building that looked more like a strip mall than a government office. The sign in the window simply said, “Child Welfare.”
Carol saw it as they pulled in, and said, “Oh, I see they changed the name again. They do that every six months. Theoretically so that children don’t associate the name with trauma and parents don’t run when they knock on the door, but according to Flo, it doesn’t seem to actually have that effect.”
“Flo is Nightingale?” Mulder asked.
“Of course. Just like I’m the partridge in the pear tree, and Sharon is Heron. And our darling Guenevere is the white owl. One more layer, although at the moment that layer feels a little thin.” She hung a placard from the rearview mirror. “Park in handicapped. I’m going to be singing a sad tune by the end of the day if you don’t.”
A few minutes later, he was following her slow hobble through the lobby, where she smiled at the clerk, who scribbled something on her clipboard and buzzed them back without question.
Beyond the door was a cube farm, but Carol took the first right into a conference room. A few minutes later, a woman with long, wavy black hair peppered with gray and medium brown skin, about five foot five, walked in. She gave Carol a kiss, and sat down, offering Mulder a handshake with a smile.
Carol said, “Martin Harrod, meet Floria Hernandez.”
The woman smiled. “I’m so happy to meet you. You come highly recommended. Call me Flo.”
“All right, Flo. Nice to meet you. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.” He smiled. “Is this a good place to discuss the research?”
Flo answered, “Actually, I’d like to take the two of you to lunch, if you don’t mind. Pad Thai okay?”
He shrugged. “I’m easy.”
She smiled. “Excellent. Let me go get my files, I think they’ll be helpful.”
She left, and Carole leaned over. “She’s good people.”
He nodded. “You two...”
She shrugged. “Have been an item for almost as long as you’ve been alive.”
He smiled. “I hope my wife and I can be together at least that long.”
She chuckled. “Just remember that you fell in love with her brains first.”
He laughed outright. “That is not going to be a problem. The day I forget how smart Sally is, is the day they put me in my grave. She’d shoot me.”
Flo opened the door, and they walked back out into the San Diego sunshine.
10:15 a.m. UCSD Thornton Hospital
Scully started immediately on the PCR, but spent all morning alternating between the various cycles and the microscope, where she was examining a minuscule portion of the protein sample Dr. Calderon had provided. Unsatisfied, she switched to reading one of the growing number of memory cards. After a while, she resorted to just staring at the centrifuge.
After the third cycle, she put the samples back into their various storage locations, and decided to go find an organic chemistry textbook.
She picked up a
sandwich from a cart on her way across campus, eating it as she
walked. She was so preoccupied, that she walked into a palm tree
where the path turned. A ridiculously young
student stopped to offer her a hand, and started talking to her as
she continued on the way to the library. She answered in
monosyllables until she realized that he’d just asked her out. She
suddenly laughed, said, “I’m sorry, I’m a doctor, and married.
And rather preoccupied.”
He cocked his head at her, and said, “You can’t possibly be old enough to be a doctor.”
She gave him her best smile for that, and resisted telling him that he was too young to be a graduate student. Instead, she just said, “Thank you,” and turned to the directory.
He said, “Can I help you find something? I’m Joe, by the way.”
She shook her head. “I need to go bury myself in an O-chem text.”
He looked interested. “Really? Because I took that. You must have had it already...”
She laughed. “It’s been, oh, 14 years or so since I took it, and I’ve got a peculiar case I need to figure out. The science has made some significant advances...”
He bowed. “I’m all about interesting cases. And I have a relentless need to be useful. You’re at the teaching hospital, yes?”
She nodded slowly, and said, “But I do have to consider patient confidentiality.”
He clapped his hands over his ears. “Say no more. Well, actually, say more, because you have a nice voice and I’m insanely curious. And I’m a student, and you’re supposed to teach. Right?”
She laughed. “Tell you what. You can help me. But if I hear that you’ve breathed a word about it, I’ll have to tell my tall, athletic husband that you’ve been flirting with me.”
He put on an expression of mock fear. “Yes, ma’am.”
Then she asked, “So, tell me, Joe. If you knew that a mammal was being poisoned by a very specific chemical, and you wanted to find every single example of that chemical in their body and tag it, how would you do it?”
He looked surprised. “Depends on the chemical.”
She said, “Ah, there’s the rub. You know in the abstract what the chemical is, that is, it’s a protein. But you don’t know exactly what protein it is.”
He smiled. “Well, then you first need to identify it. Then, you figure out what it wants to bond to. Then you make that radioactive. Yes?”
She smiled. “How about a theoretical problem? You have this protein. And you have tiny machines that can go find that protein and remove it, but you have to figure out how to shape the machines so that they will find it properly.”
He smiled. “That’s easier. Because it means you don’t need to make it radioactive at all, you just have to find a shape that fits that protein and only that protein. Please tell me your theoretical protein is unique?”
She nodded. “Unique and distinctive. Which lab would you want to use to identify your unique protein?”
He smiled. “That’s easy too. I’m taking a relevant course right now. Chemistry of Biological Macromolecules. If I take you to the lab, can I watch?”
She smiled. It wasn’t until she’d been in the chemistry lab for a solid hour that she realized that Joe reminded her Pendrell.
11:30 a.m. A park in National City
Flo laid the problem out neatly once they’d collected their Pad Thai and found a picnic table. “We’ve had a ridiculously high number of abandoned babies in the past five years. A threefold jump, and these are different. Most babies that are abandoned, we have some idea of who the mother is, and they tend to present with simple or no medical issues. Meth heads don’t abandon their babies in hospitals, they’re too busy going up and down to remember to even go. So it tends to be teenagers, or moms with too many mouths to feed, that kind of thing. The kids show up at fire stations, or the moms bring them to us directly. Sometimes a baby will be abandoned at the hospital, but even then, the hospital usually knows who the mother was. These kids keep showing up in the NICU at UCSD, and we have no idea who they belong to, who put them there. It’s like they show up out of nowhere, and no one knows how or why. They end up needing special care, and it’s straining our medically needy foster parenting resources. And most of the kids die. Now I have a detective breathing down my neck, because he’s discovered that not only are these kids dying in our foster homes, but they’re dying after they’re adopted out. And I want to know why.”
He listened. Considered. Then asked, “Do you have a little boy named Tyler Smith that falls in that category?”
She frowned. “Tyler Smith would fall in that category, except that although he has a diagnosis that requires regular treatments on a schedule, he’s never been ill like the others. His first foster mother was fighting to stop the treatments, but his doctor got a court order. She committed suicide the day the order came through. She really loved that boy, I thought she would end up adopting him, she was so gone over him the moment she came to get him. That’s another issue. Because we have no idea who the parents are, for a long time we couldn’t put the kids up for adoption until a couple years had gone by. Now it’s 15 months, because of the new legislation, but still, that’s a long time for a little kid. How did you know his name?”
He smiled tightly. “I’ve been doing some research of my own. I need to look at the files and meet the children, and their foster parents. I can tell you more, then.”
She nodded. “I was hoping you might do that. I brought copies of the files along.”
He nodded. “By the way, if my suspicions are correct, you have someone working inside SDCSS who is complicit. And given that at least three caregivers that I know about have committed ‘suicide’ under suspicious circumstances, it strikes me that using the utmost caution in discussing this with your colleagues would be prudent. Please believe that no one wants to figure this out more than I do.”
She cocked her head, looked at him. Then smiled. “You’re the nicest narc I’ve ever met.”
Carol coughed on her noodles. “Flo!”
Mulder shook his head. “I’m sorry ma’am. I’m just a researcher. Just want to tag along and meet your families.”
She laughed, then leaned forward and whispered, “Sorry, it’s just... If you know anything about the two of us, and our friends... You’re just not the first of your particular organization I’ve met working in an undercover capacity. But I like you better than the last one, and it’s been a lotta years. But I think that most of my colleagues are substantially younger and straighter in every sense of the word, and if they figure it out, I’ll eat my stapler. But I’m glad you’re here, and I’ll help however I can, Mister Martin Harrod.”
She offered him the files. He looked at the folders, then said, “If you don’t mind, I’d prefer to look at them now, then give them back to you. I don’t want to call attention to my... focus.”
She nodded. “How ‘bout I take Carol here back to her cubbyhole at the university, and I’ll meet you back here in about an hour.”
He was already looking at the top file, and he just nodded, not really noticing when they went away.
4:00 p.m. USCD
Scully stared at the result and frowned. “That’s...”
“Probably really poisonous?” Joe supplied.
She nodded, cringing. “I was hoping it would end up being simpler than that.”
They’d worked out a startling chemical formula for the protein itself, and Joe had sketched a picture of the molecule. He frowned. “Could that even occur in nature? I mean, those are some pretty funky amino acids.”
She shook her head, absently. “I think I need to do some reading. You’ve been very helpful.”
He smiled. “Do I ever get to know what you’re working on?”
She sighed. “Joe, right now, I don’t even know what I’m working on.”
He tried to peek at the screen of her handheld. She frowned, put the little computer in her pack. “You need to learn to take no for an answer.”
He looked away. “Sorry. I’m just all smitten.”
She laughed out loud. “Maybe I will introduce you to my husband. But right now, until I know exactly what the hell this thing is, and does, I couldn’t tell you if I wanted to. And it’s REALLY important that you not share with the class.”
He studied her. “You’re really serious about that. What, is it some new industrial secret that’s going to poison us all in our sleep?” He stopped. “You’re not kidding.”
The worry on her face was evident. He sighed. “Let me guess. If the bad boys find out you’re working to discover the biological effects of this new supertoxin, they’ll send the men in black to wipe your memory.”
She put her materials away. He stared at her. “No shit. You really should have laughed at that.”
She shrugged. “Wasn’t funny.”
He sighed. “Doctor Harrod, if I promise to behave, can I keep helping?”
Scully looked at him. Remembered Pendrell stepping in front of a bullet meant for her. Finally said, “This isn’t kid stuff.”
He shrugged. “I’m twenty four years old, and I’m a screwoff. But I’m no kid, and if this is as weird as you say, you need an extra brain on it. And brains, I’ve got.”
She said, “Okay. How about this. Give me your name and number. I’ll get back to you.”
“Seriously?” He grinned. “Cool.”
She shook her head. “And please try to remember that I am happily married?”
He shrugged. “A guy can dream, right?”
She just shook her head, smiled, and walked back to the hospital.
4:00 p.m. National City
Mulder was still studying the files when Flo came back. She apologized for how long she’d been gone. He pointed at the files. “I didn’t notice. Tell me about Tifiny Jamison.”
She shrugged. “She’s not on my caseload right now, but she took care of one of my charges a year ago. She’s competent. Not the brightest bulb in the bunch, but her heart is in the right place.”
He nodded. “She doesn’t keep kids very long?”
She shook her head. “She’s interim care. When we lose a provider, she’s almost always able to take another kiddo.”
He nodded. “So Tyler Smith is with her temporarily?”
She nodded. “I’m not happy about it. He’s not even a year old and she’s his third caregiver and we know for a fact he will have at least one more. Why are you so interested in him?”
He was silent for a moment. “Well, he fits the profile in almost every way, except that he’s not sick. That makes him a clue. Is there any way I could have some extended contact with her, and with him? And maybe with one or two other families?”
She raised her eyebrows.”That’s a hard one. Tifiny will probably cooperate, if we couch it right. How about we call you home support. I know she’s been pretty stressed. She’s got four kiddos right now. Why don’t we have you do interviews in the mornings, and afternoons I’ll see if she’ll be okay with having you there to give her a hand? How many days a week do you want?”
*All of them.* He smiled. “Why don’t we see if I can go tomorrow, and if we get along, we’ll ask her how much she wants. I’d like to be able to go to some of his doctor appointments, and evaluate the other kids in the house.”
She have a half smile. “I hope you’re good with kids. She’s got some high intensity toddlers right now.”
He grinned. “Kids love me. And I have fun getting down on their level.”
She nodded. “That could work well then. Do you have kids of your own?”
He let sadness creep into his voice. “We lost a baby early this year. We’re thinking about adopting. But that’s not really why I’m here right now.” *Yes it is.*
She nodded. “You know, if you want, you and your wife could take our training course. Then if the opportunity presented itself, you’d be able to take advantage of it. Assuming you’d pass a criminal records check, of course.”
He looked thoughtful. “I’ll talk to the wife about it. I’m not sure she’s ready. What would we have to do?”
She smiled. “27 hours worth of training. CPR class. Criminal records check. Home visit, with interview. If you wanted to be active as foster parents, there’s a list. If you decide you want to move straight to adoption, that’s another list. We rarely place children with families we know are eager to adopt, unless they are legally free, but there are occasional exceptions, especially for family.”
He smiled. “She’s working part time right now, and my evenings are pretty open. So let me talk to her. Sounds like you really need some extra families, no?”
She nodded. “Always.”
He looked at his watch. “I’m going to have to head back. We have a dinner visit with our neighbors, the Daldsens.”
She looked at him speculatively. “The Daldsens adopted little Amanda about the time the ink dried on ASFA. But you knew that.”
He shrugged. “I did my homework.”
She patted his arm. “I like you. You’re devious. And thorough. And on my side.”
He smiled. “Likewise.”
5:30 p.m. The Condo
Scully was already there, sitting on the couch, staring at her MessagePad. She looked up when he came in, smiled, and then tapped the screen a few times. He looked. “Nice.”
“I had help.” She smiled.
“Oh?” he asked.
“Cute grad student helped me up when I walked into a tree.” She started to put the handheld away, but he stopped her.
“Cute?” he asked, amused.
“Babyfaced. Must have been all of six. Studying graduate level chemistry. Very helpful for my research, but damn, that boy did not want to hear, ‘I’m married.’”
He started scribbling on the pad. “Should I be worried?”
She laughed. “He’s cute, but he’s no you. I had to keep threatening to introduce you to him to keep him from asking me out repeatedly.”
“He asked you out?” He put a period on the end of his sentence, then handed the pad back to her.
She looked, her eyes got wide, and she looked up at him. “Seriously?”
He laughed. “You didn’t answer.”
Her look said it all. *Mulder, you ask me if you can sign us up for adoption classes, that our boy is available, and that you’re going to be seeing him multiple times per week, and you expect me to pet your ego when you know for a fact that he asked me out and I shot him down, and what the fuck?*
But she just said, “It was before I told him that I’m married, and ten years older than he is.”
He took the pad back, wiped what he’d written, and scribbled some more. She watched, and then took it back. Her answer was simple. -Yes. Of course. And I got the letter.-
He took it back, and wrote, -I get to see him tomorrow-
She smiled, but there was something else... He wrote -I’ll bring him to see you as soon as I can make it look good.-
She nodded, then said, “You jealous?”
He laughed. “Should I be?”
She chuckled, then said, “Oh dear lord, no.” Then she looked at her watch. “We need to go over to the Daldsens’ now.”
He stood up. “How do I look?”
She raised her eyebrow. “Should I be jealous?”
He looked completely baffled. She laughed. “You look fine.”
Joanie greeted them at the door, and introduced her husband, Rich. Amanda saw Mulder, and smiled, then hid behind her dad’s knees.
They filed in and sat on a chintz love seat together. Rich sat down in a chair across from them, and Joanie went into the kitchen.
“So, how do you like the neighborhood so far?” Rich asked.
Mulder smiled. “Nice to have a pool, to be able to use it in March. It’s too rainy back home.”
Rich nodded. “You’re from where?”
Mulder smiled. “Victoria.”
“Oh yeah? Joanie keeps bugging me to take her there. I’d rather go to Hawaii. Not that we’ve been doing much traveling lately.” Rich looked at Amanda, who was trying to climb up on the love seat.
Mulder put out a hand, and Amanda grabbed it and used it to pull herself all the way up. She balanced next to him, then stuck her tongue out at him. Rich said, slightly appalled, “Amanda!”
Mulder laughed. “We met yesterday, and I stuck my tongue out at her. So it’s only fair.” He turned, grabbed the corners of his mouth, pulled them apart, and stuck out his tongue. He felt the little lump of plastic under his lip start to shift and dropped his hands quickly. He almost never thought about it unless it actually moved. But Amanda giggled at his silly face anyway, She reached up and tried to pinch the corners of his mouth again. Rich came over and scooped her off the couch.
Scully laughed. “It’s okay Rich, I don’t think he minds.”
Rich sighed. “I know, but it’s ever so much worse when your own children act like heathens.”
Scully smiled. “I think I’ll go see if I can give Joanie a hand.”
In the kitchen, Joanie was slicing bread. When she saw Scully come in, she asked, “How’s it going out there?”
Scully smiled. “Amanda and Martin are egging each other on, and Rich kept looking at me like he was terrified I was going to judge him for his child acting like a heathen.”
Joanie laughed. “Yeah, your husband really hit it off with Amanda yesterday. She doesn’t usually do strangers. Too many doctors.”
Scully frowned. “It’s really hard when the little ones are sick. May I ask what’s wrong?”
Joanie sighed. “Well, they say she’s got some rare anemia. We go in, and they give her injections. They won’t let me come back to be with her, and it’s the one time she really pitches a fit. She was really sick last year, but she’s better now. We thought we were going to lose her...”
Scully found she was gripping the counter so hard that her knuckles were white. “Can I ask who’s treating her?”
Joanie nodded. “We used to be with Dr. Calderon, but now we’re up at the university. There’s a young doctor, Dr. Crawford, who is now in charge of the research they’re doing into her case. It’s hard, because they don’t talk to me much, and if I ask them questions, they act like they don’t even hear me. They won’t even give me enough information to look things up myself... and if I suggested something, I’m afraid they’d bring social services in if I tried to push it.”
Scully schooled her expression. “Really? Why?”
“Well, there was some trouble. A couple of parents didn’t want to continue treatments, and it got really bad.”
“You know other parents whose children have the same problem?” Scully asked.
“Yeah. The county set up a support group for us. But I’m telling you too much. I know you must get tired of people cornering you about medical stuff all the time.” Joanie put the bread in a basket, and moved over to the stove, where she gave a sauce a stir.
Scully shook her head. “No, I’m interested. She’s a sweet kid. Do you want me to take a look at her case?”
Joanie leaned forward, whispering. “I signed something back when we were just doing foster care, when we started the study, saying we’d go to them for all her health care. One of the foster moms who refused to sign, her little boy was taken and placed with someone who would. I can’t lose her...”
Scully nodded, then said, softly, “If you want me to look... I can do it quietly. No one would have to know.”
Joanie looked like she was about to cry, and just nodded. She pulled the oven open, and pulled out a couple of roast chickens. She set them on the counter, and opened a steamer on the stove.
“Dinner in five,” she called out to the living room. She looked at Scully, “Have your first days here been good?”
Scully laughed weakly. “Overwhelming. But I think we’re in the right place.”
After dinner, Rich disappeared to give Amanda a bath, and Joanie walked to the front door with the Harrods. “We’ll have to do this again some time, it was really lovely.” She smiled.
Mulder nodded. “I think it’s safe to say we’d love to have you guys over when we’re settled. Right, sweetie?”
Scully nodded. “If you want, I can stop by on Saturday and hang out with Amanda for a little while.”
Joanie smiled. “That would be great.”
Mulder put his arm around Scully, and they walked slowly back to their condo. He said, “That went well.”
She nodded. “It really did.”
He stopped, and stretched his arms up high over his head. “Let’s go for a walk.”
She smiled. “Let me go change into my running shoes.”
He frowned. “Walk?”
She laughed. “Probably.”
They ended up jogging to the edge of campus in the cooling darkness, and then walked the long paths through the lawns and gardens. She stopped, looked up at the sky. “I wish I could go with you, tomorrow. I want to see him so bad it hurts.”
He turned, cupped her face in his hands, and then kissed her, briefly. Then he said, “I know. I wish you could.”
As they started to walk back to the condo, she said, “I wonder what the guys did today.”
8:00 p.m. (ab)Normal Heights
The day had been surprisingly low-key for the Gunmen. All the things they’d set in motion were moving. None of the “next stage” was ready to start.
After dinner, Frohike frowned. “You know what?”
Langly said, “What?” reflexively.
“I miss Skinner. Which is weird.” Frohike started to stack up the dishes on the table. “Oh, and by the way, I got a job at the condo complex doing the yard work. And I think we can get Langly in at Scully’s hospital as a janitor, easy.”
Krycek shook his head. “I want Langly at the teen home. Put Byers in the hospital.”
Frohike frowned. “You want Langly in there? In there? Doing what?”
Krycek shrugged. “Being my henchman Auditing their files, nominally. Being there to holler if guys with no faces show up.”
“And what are you going to be doing?” asked Langly.
“Getting myself assigned to surveillance detail.” Krycek said.
Frohike’s jaw dropped. “No fair!”
Krycek looked at him. “Did you actually just say, “No fair?”
Frohike frowned. “You get all the fun jobs.”
Krycek shrugged. “You want to be the gun-toting asshole? Be my guest. I’ll be out pulling up the daisies one-handed.”
Byers said, thoughtfully, “You know, if someone is going to be surveilling them, it really is better if it’s one of us. I think Krycek’s right.”
Krycek blinked at Byers, cocked his head. “Did you just call me one of you? And agree with me? I’m not sure whether to be insulted or touched.”
Frohike rolled his eyes, and pushed his computer chair from the folding table over to the computer stations in one move. “Don’t let it go to your head big guy. You’re still the gun-toting asshole, right?”
Krycek’s primary cell phone interrupted. He answered, and listened for a long time. His face didn’t start out happy, but by the end, he was glowering.
He hung up. “The Smoking Man is alive.”
The guys looked at each other. Byers said, “Thank you for telling us.”
Krycek looked from face to face. “You already knew.”
Langly sighed. “We haven’t even told Mulder yet. Although Skinner did tell Scully. We weren’t sure. Who told you?”
Krycek sighed. “My contact. A certain British gentleman. My erstwhile father-in-law.”
to Chapter 18