Chapter 22: Child, Be Still in the Storm
March 20, 1998
7:00 a.m. The Condo
When Mulder woke, Scully was already up, sitting in a bathrobe on the foot of the bed, staring at the bedspread.
He blinked, and sat up, and she put out a hand to keep the bedding from moving. He looked, then cocked his head. “Tarot?”
She shrugged. “I was processing. Decided to throw the cards for the heck of it.”
He smiled. “What do you see?”
She looked. “Seer. Um, sage of wands. That’s the first one. The present.”
He picked up the little book out of the card box. “Unafraid of death, you become the eternal flame, the fire-light that guides others in their evolution to higher consciousness.” He laughed. “That’s woo-woo even for me. Hey baby, want to evolve my consciousness?”
“I’m not giving you a blow job. I’m busy,” she said, picking up the next card. “Crossed by... Anger. Four of cups.”
He flipped pages. “In your inner conflict, you see red and become enraged like the stormy, muddy river.... You are as defensive as the prickly cactus.” He smirked.
She rolled her eyes. “I’m just going to let that one go.” She picked up the bottom card. “In the root. Passion. Ten of cups.”
He smiled. “I don’t have to look that one up. Just loosen up your bathrobe a little more.”
She looked at him, eyebrow raised.
He flipped a page. “You are excited, turned on, and alive with energy.” He looked at her and narrowed his eyes. “Really?”
She just shook her head, and pulled up the next card. “Man of worlds. The Achiever. That’s the recent past.”
“‘With Saturnian discipline, Jupiterean expansiveness, worker bee industry, teamwork synergy and the will and competitiveness of the runner, you achieve your goals and standards.’ Yeah, that fits.” He waited for the next card.
“In the sky, the Tower. I remember that one... Cataclysmic change.” She set the card back down and started to pick up another card.
“Oh, but this is good... it’s all about destroying mental patterns, burning up negative emotions, expurgating physical toxins, and changing worldly circumstances.” He smiled, waiting.
“Near future: Sensor. The Woman of wands.” She set it down.
“Oh, hey, it says you possess psychic powers. Can you read my mind?” He waggled his eyebrows.
“I’m still not giving you a blow job,” she said.
“That wasn’t what I was thinking.”
“Not doing that either.” She picked up the next card. “Strength and weakness: Purity, the two of wands.”
“Ah,” he said. “No drugs for you.”
She rolled her eyes. “Outside influences: Ten of wands. Growth.”
He grinned. “Through growth, you flower like the rose, shine like the star, and tower like the redwood. Sally, I find it hard to imagine you towering over anyone.”
She stared at him, did not comment, and looked at the last card. “Outcome: Child of wands.”
He put the book down. “Well, we know who that is.”
“Subtleties. Harvest. That’s clear enough. Master. We had that before. Surfer?”
He flipped pages. “Man of cups. Oooo. Thrill seeker. You negotiate the roller coaster of life, not drowning.”
She muttered something, and then said, “Brilliance, Ace of crystals.”
“The Aha! moment. Cutting through darkness. That sounds good.” He waited.
“Moon. Empress. Aspiration.. that’s the four of wands. And balance.”
He said, not flipping the pages at all, “Moon is change, cycles. Traditionally associated with women’s cycles, specifically.”
She laughed. “I haven’t had a real period in years.”
He raised an eyebrow, and continued, this time checking the book. “Empress, that implies fecundity. Motherhood. Regeneration, ‘She represents your responsibility to maintain and guard the seed-essence of life so that it can eternally flower.’” He stopped.
She blinked. “Okay.”
“Next, Aspiration... reaching for goals with focus. Then, Balance. Fairness, equilibrium. Well, you’re due for that, for sure. Y’know, that’s interesting. Can I try?”
“Hang on a second.” She turned a card up from the bottom of the deck. “Within the within the within, as she put it, is Love.”
He laughed. “It’s all you need.” He held out his hand.
She cocked her head, then gathered the cards up and handed them to him.
He shuffled, and cut, and then turned up a card. She looked, and laughed. “You are the Achiever.”
He put out another. “Hanged man. That’s waiting. Blocking the achieving. Fair enough.”
He frowned as the next card came up. “In the root. Setback.” Another card. “Recent past. Ecstasy. I’d say.”
He turned up a card and lay it above the others. “In the sky, Regenerator. In the immediate future, The tower.”
That was the cross. He put a card down to the right, low. “Strengths and weaknesses. Reward.”
“Outside influences. Disappointment. I don’t like this reading, Sally.” He put down the next card.
“Hopes and fears. The moon. Change. Cycles. Does that mean I want you to get your periods back? I hadn’t really thought about it, although seeing you on the rag... yeah, that one’s accurate... hopes and fears. Heavier on the fear, maybe.”
She shot him a look. He laughed. “Oh, hey, this is better,” he said, laying down a card at the top of the line. “Fulfillment. I can live with that.”
She smiled. “Do the next four.”
He put down cards, and said, “Holy shit. Universe, star, and time-space. Martin Harrod gets it all. And purity. I’m not sure I want purity.”
He put down the next four. “Success. Hey, that’s good. Hermit. Wait a minute. I’m not sure about that one... oh, but the Empress. I can deal with the Hermit if I get the Empress. And Master. I rule. Okay. That was good.”
She laughed. “One more.”
“Seer. The sage of wands. The within is a psychic? Is that within me? Or within the question?”
She shrugged. “Beats me. I’ve got to take a shower.”
He watched her go, and reshuffled the cards. This time he focused on a question. “Will my child be okay?”
He laid out the reading. Commencement. Beginning? Crossed by the sage of crystals, the knower. Why would knowing keep one from starting? Root, change. Recent past, courage. Sky, art? He moved on, not worrying about the ones that were not immediately obvious. Near future. Fear. No shit. Strengths and weaknesses. Creativity. Outside influence. Magician. He looked that one up. Talent. Masks. Waving a magic wand. He shrugged and continued. Hopes and fears. The child of cups. The feeler... abstractly, emotion. Concretely, the unborn babies. Feeling emotion about a child or children? The outcome? The Child of wands. Again. He suddenly had a feeling that the deck was saying, “Duh. Told you already.”
He turned out the next four cards, and wished he hadn’t. Death. Supposed to be change, but that interpretation didn’t feel right, and when he saw the pregnant woman on the next card over, he shuddered. Woman of worlds. The preserver, next to death. Next? Time-space. He read the description and shuddered. Aztec god of spring wearing the skin of a human sacrifice. New life coming out of the death of old patterns. Then the man of crystals. The achiever again.
He flipped out the next four cards, but they didn’t feel like they were important, and he flipped the deck over to look at the bottom card, the within. He laughed. “Trust.”
Yeah, that was always the clincher. He’d tell himself to trust no one, but when it came down to it, trust was easier, and he tended to trust too easily. He looked at the card, and smiled at the picture of a small child leaning on a large shoulder, smiling. *I see my son today. And I need to trust that he will be okay. Fulfillment.*
He stacked the cards back up, flipped through, pulled one out, and then put the rest away. He left the card on top of the box, and went in to join her in the shower.
When she came out, she saw the card, and smiled at him. “Love you too.”
9:00 a.m. The chemistry lab
Joe-remiah was already there. Students were moving around, he was at a computer. She moved through the clusters of people over to him, and smiled. “Anything good?”
He nodded. “Come walk with me. The noise level in here is a little much.”
When they got over to the library, he picked a different screening room. When the door closed, he smiled. “I’ve been looking at the compound in the spinal sac. I think you can synthesize it. If I’m right, you might be able to encapsulate it for rapid propulsive delivery.”
She blinked, then parsed it out. *A bullet. We could have rounds that could kill them, rather than having every shot backfire.*
She smiled. “Thank you. Do you have instructions for how to synthesize?”
Another nod, and he handed her a zip disk. “The separation involved in your problem is quite different. But for simple infection, I think we can increase the effectiveness of the antidote. We’ll never get it up to vaccine status, but we might be able to make it so it could be aerosolized.”
She took a slightly ragged breath. “That’s...”
“Something that could make a lot of change quickly. It’s all on the disk,” he said.
She sighed. “We could actually have an effect on a group of people.”
He nodded. “The other problem. I think that we may be able to combine the molecule I derived with the manipulators, and get some good results, but I’m still a little worried about toxicity.”
Scully asked, “What if you added the antidote to the mix?”
He tipped his head. “The easy thing would be for me to stand there and take care of it as it happened. But that might help the body flush out the toxin. It’s worth a shot, but the testing is going to be a bitch.”
She sighed. “That’s a problem. The only people we have to test are children and babies. And no way to test without tipping our hats to the boys in black.”
“If they’re currently working on a cure themselves, you might be able to substitute yours in one of the testing rounds,” he suggested.
She frowned. “If we have to. By the way, I have a long shift today.”
Joe smiled. “As far as anyone knows, I’m working on my thesis. I’m taking breaks now and then for classes, but only because they help refresh my memory of what you people are capable of. So go, do what you need to do. Are you feeling okay?”
She blinked. “I think so. I’m tired...”
He put a hand on her arm, and she felt a little flush, and the tiredness disappeared.
“Thank you!” She smiled.
He gave a little shrug, more Jeremiah than Joe. “You have old damage... I cannot heal it all, not with that chip in there, and not without some cost to myself. But I sense that it is not hindering your current efforts. Perhaps some day, if you wish...”
“You mean...” She frowned. “You could fix that?”
“Perhaps. If we have time at some point, when we are not being occupied by so many other things...” He smiled.
“How do you do that, anyway?” she asked.
He shrugged. “It is simply something I can do. A manipulation of energy on an atomic level. I ‘see’, for lack of a better word, what is supposed to be, and what is not. Then I ‘explain’ to the atoms and molecules what is supposed to be, and they obey. Giving you energy, or healing a fresh wound, those are relatively simple, low risk. Merely a hastening of what could happen anyway, if it had an opportunity. Old scars, pervasive cancer, mutations, those are less simple. It might take me days, and I might make a mistake, have an unintended consequence. Healing humans on a large scale, I’ve found, I may heal the disease, only to have a cancer strike, then heal the cancer, only to create a chemical imbalance. Sometimes when something is broken, it wants to stay broken. I cannot fix it all, not without a ship. And with a ship, it hardly involves me at all.”
She chuckled. “It is oddly refreshing to know that you do have limitations.”
“Too many, my dear. Too many. But you have a shift to prepare for, and I have my chemical puttering to do. Will I see you this weekend?” A shift, and he was all Joe again, flirting a little.
She laughed. “Foster class, then church on Sunday. I’ll be back on Monday.”
Another shift, and his tone was back to Jeremiah. “I’m glad we connected. These things you have given me... they give me more hope for your people than I’ve had in a very long time.”
She smiled. “Me too.”
When she walked out of the library, she spotted Langly sitting forlornly on a bench. She sat down a little way away from him, and reached down into her shoe, as if to pull something out of it. She said, quietly, “Take it to Frohike, bring me a copy,” and stood up.
Langly looked at the bench, and saw the zip disk she’d left there. When he looked back, she was gone.
Stuck to the disk was a small post-it note. “Shift from 11 to 11. Getting a bite to eat. You have time.”
He chuckled, and went to the car to go pay his friends a visit.
11:00 a.m. (ab)Normal Heights
No one was at the office when Langly arrived, and he almost cried. Then he sighed, sat down at a computer, realized that there wasn’t a zip drive, and went out to buy one.
He was sliding the bracketed drive into the drive cage of one of the computers when the door opened. He looked over his shoulder, to find Frohike staring at him, jaw open.
“What, dude?” he asked, turning a thumbscrew.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” said Frohike. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not unhappy to see you. But what happened to the whole Man In Black gig?”
Langly shrugged. “Got some important data. Thought I’d share with the class. Apparently Mrs. Harrod has something to tell us. But it’s on a fragging zip disk, and you didn’t have a drive. So I bought one. She’s starting her shift. And I can’t hang out in Urgent care, someone will try to stick a tube up my dick or something.”
He turned the last screw, and left the case open as he plugged the cables back in. “What’s the deal, anyway, with all the closed boxes?”
Frohike laughed. “They set us up right, for the most part. We just haven’t had to open them yet.”
“Well, let’s see what Miss Sally has for us,” Langly said, popping the switch on the surge protector and thumbing on the power supply at the back.
A few minutes later, they both whistled. “Is it just me,” Frohike said, “Or did our pretty lady just hand us the keys to the temple?”
Langly nodded. “Dude. So should I take this back to bossman?”
Frohike frowned. “I don’t know. Can you wait on it?”
“Give me a real disk, and I’ll wait for the okay.” Langly found the disk burning software, and started to set up a folder.
Frohike slid his chair across the room, grabbed a spool and rolled back. “Have two. It’s Windows.”
The first disk crashed and burned with a buffer overrun. Langly snarled, closed everything running in the background, swore at Bill Gates, squinted inside the machine, shut the whole thing down, opened another machine and swiped a couple sticks of RAM out of it, installed them, and then turned the thing back on, edited the registry to kill every extraneous program booting on start, and finally was able to burn the fucking disk without making a damned coaster.
Frohike shrugged. “Someday they’ll figure out how to prevent that. In fact, I think I might tackle that, in lieu of playing another goddamned round of Go Fish with Dilbert.”
“Hand me the card reader, I want to make a memory card for Scully. Where’s Byers, anyway?” Langly asked.
“Working. Network admin. He comes home and looks like SkekUng has sucked a pint of his essence with the crystal. I swear his soul is shriveling day by day. How long do you think we can keep this up?” Frohike looked ruefully at the blisters on his hands.
Langly shrugged. “As long as it takes. But if this is as much as I think it is, it could be sooner, than later.”
Frohike said, “When it comes time for her to make a move on the cryo, we’re going to need the band back together.”
Langly frowned. “I’ll see what I can do. By the way, I can stay for a while. Krycek’s trading with me again at 6, and Dana is not off again until 11.”
“How’s that going?” asked Frohike.
“Actually? It’s mind numbingly boring, and yet terrifying at the same time. I’m really, really bad at the whole invisible tail thing. She keeps snickering.” Langly started reading the file. “This is interesting. I am trying to figure out how the hell she got so much so quickly, since I know she’s been doing the whole work and foster class thing all week, and from Krycek’s log, it looks like she’s not spending anywhere near this much time in the lab. The computers they have there just aren’t that fast. I mean, they’re good, but this? Someone would have to be sitting in front of the monitor for what, a week straight to process this kind of 3-D modeling.”
“Wonder if she got a lab assistant?” Frohike mused. “Damn, I’d do that.”
“Dude, your experience with chemistry extends to mixing drinks and making pot brownies. Whoever did this is the real deal.” Langly pointed at something. “They say they think the protein is a DNA analog, and that it might have processing capability, more effective in parallel.”
Frohike peered at the screen. “Not a big one, but damn, if you had enough, you’re talking a human brain level of parallel processing power... and if those don’t require all the support structure... it would be pretty damn compact.”
Langly nodded. “Crazy shit.”
Skinner walked from the bus stop with a garment folded, slung across his body by the long strap, and a rolling pilot bag following him like a well-trained dog. His step was brisk, and he felt more relaxed than he’d been in a long time. He resisted an urge to kick up his heels.
He waved his badge and showed the gun and they passed him through. When he got onboard, he handed the garment bag to a stewardess, who hung it up for him, and smiled when he realized that Kim had booked him business class. He even let himself order a drink.
Nonstop. 12:24 p.m. to 3:03 p.m., plus a couple time zones. Five hours. Long enough to get buzzed and then unbuzzed. And somehow, Kimberly had managed to plant a seed with the Director, who had looked at him two days ago and said, “Walt, time to take some time off. Kersh can handle your agents. Take a few weeks.”
The director never said that sort of thing. But he did this time. Skinner decided to send Kimberly flowers when he returned. *They’ve been under for more than two and a half weeks, no one is dead, and we’ve gotten lots of information. This could actually be fun.*
He leaned back in his seat, stretched, and smiled.
1:30 p.m. Chula Vista
Mulder arrived at Tif’s to find that she was strapping the boys, one after another, into carseats in a minivan that had seen better days. Mulder waved, and she hollered, “Go get Tyler, please. It’s Doctor Day.”
Mulder nodded and took the steps two at a time, while Tif clipped Oscar’s infant seat into an already-installed base.
He timed himself on the diaper change. Twenty seconds faster than Wednesday. He picked Tyler up and put him on his shoulder, a would-be fireman’s carry except that the boy arched his back and waved his arms. *More like a teeter totter.*
He brought the boy down the steps, and Tif pointed at the rear-facing carseat closest to the car door. “Put him in there. You need help?”
He stared at the straps, then shifted them to the side. He set Tyler down, and tried to get his arm in, but the boy was already starting to flip. “Um, yeah. I’ll watch. Next time I’ll do.”
She moved in, gave Tyler a look, and he immediately sat still and fed his arms through the straps. She clicked a latch between his legs, and then fastened a little clip across his chest. Then she stuck two fingers in, and tightened the straps. “Gotta be snug, or there’s no point. I swear the little ones are like ponies, puffing up so the thing won’t be tight.” She pushed a little on the carseat, and it didn’t go anywhere at all. “Gotta get them in there solid. I kneel on the empty seat while I tighten the straps. If you don’t feel like you just wrestled a moose installing the thing, you did it wrong.”
He nodded, then said, “Which doctor?”
She shrugged. “He’s been going to this doctor since he was born. I go in for part of the visit, then they take him off and bring him back a few minutes later, pissed off but, you know, not harmed. He’d be fine in a minute. I asked about going back with him, but they said they didn’t want him to associate his shots with me. But what the boy needs shots every two weeks for? I don’t know. Most kids his age get them at 9 months and at 15 months or even 18 but that’s it.”
Mulder nodded. “Maybe I can go back with him, as a researcher.”
She frowned. “Maybe so. But you be careful, Martin.”
“Careful? About a doctor visit?” He feigned disbelief.
She sighed, and leaned close to say, “We have to be careful. They don’t like people who rock the boat. He was moved from his last mom because she asked too many questions.”
The drive took half an hour, and Mulder blinked when he realized that the doctor’s office was across the street from a gated area with a sign that said, “Teen Mothers’ Home.” The doctor’s office looked very ordinary, except that there was no one in the waiting room and only one person behind the reception desk. They did not wait at all. Tif had Oscar on her front, and the older boys in the front two sections of a massive triple stroller. Mulder carried Tyler.
The receptionist smiled brightly at Tif, and said, “Just let the older boys play there. I’ll watch them. Who do you have with you today?”
Mulder put out his hand. “I’m Martin Harrod, with UCSD. I’m doing a sociological research project with foster families in the area, and have been spending a lot of time with Ms. Jamison and her boys as part of that project.”
The woman shook his hand hesitantly. “I’ll have to talk to Doctor about whether you can go back...”
He put on his most charming smile. “Oh, I hope so. I want to get a complete picture of the life of a foster child, and I’d hate to miss such an important symbolic interaction.”
She blinked, nodded slowly, still looking concerned, and pressed a button on a phone on her desk. “Dr. Calderon, I’ve got Tyler here for his visit.”
*Another clone. Of course. Wonder why Tyler’s here rather than UCSD with Crawford?* Mulder steeled himself.
A nurse poked her head out, smiled cheerfully, and said, “Tif? Come on back.”
Mulder, carrying Tyler, followed the two of them, and the nurse turned to say, “We can only have one back, I’m sorry.”
Tif winked at him, and said, “Oh, you go, Mr. Harrod. That way the boy won’t have to associate the doctor with me.”
He suppressed a smile, and followed the nurse, who frowned but did not argue.
First, the nurse had him sit Tyler on a scale. “Twenty one pounds, six ounces.”
Then she told him to lie the boy down, and she grabbed one foot, dragged the boy down to the end of the pad, and then shifted a ruler to the top of his head. “Thirty one inches. Not bad.”
Tyler was glaring at the nurse, but not crying.
“Go ahead and pick him up,” the nurse said.
Mulder scooped the boy up, and was rewarded with a head on his shoulder and a little arm snaking around his neck in a death grip. “Easy, kiddo,” Mulder said. *I could just walk out now, get on a bus, head somewhere random and never come back, and he wouldn’t have to...* It occurred to him that if he did, there would be MIB on his ass instantly. *Baby boy, I don’t want this, but we have to.*
The nurse beckoned, then pointed at a door. “Take him in there, please. Doctor will be in shortly.”
Byers came home at two looking beaten. “The third time someone sent me an intra-network message about the network being down, when it wasn’t, I decided to cut and run for the day. If I’m really, really lucky, they’ll fire me for it. What are you doing here, Ringo?”
Langly explained. Byers nodded, and then asked, “When are the girls coming?”
Frohike looked at his watch. “We get to leave for the airport in an hour. You coming, Langly?”
Langly looked torn. “I shouldn’t...”
Frohike laughed. “You know you want to. Bring your car, then you can go back and fetch Mr. Bad Guy whenever you need to.”
“Sounds like a plan. You know, you guys are way more fun to be around than the bad guys.” Langly reached over and gave Frohike a noogie.
Frohike ducked and said, “Yeah, well, it’s been dull around here without you.”
2:15 p.m. Dr. Calderon’s office
The doctor came in, and said, “I understand you are a researcher?”
Mulder nodded. “I’m a sociologist, and I’m studying the effect of the children’s environments on their sociological development.”
“Uh huh.” The doctor looked at him. “I assume you have permission from the county?”
Mulder nodded. “They were very happy to work with me. And little Tyler here has been very interesting. How is he doing?”
The doctor smiled. “He’s doing very well. He’s responded to treatments better than we could have hoped, and I expect he will live a normal life.”
“What exactly is wrong with him?” Mulder asked.
“He has a few genetic abnormalities, nothing serious, but in other children it has caused severe anemia, poor immune function and a host of other issues. Many children have died. But Tyler has responded well from day one.” The doctor shrugged. “You never know. Sometimes one child will have a problem and be deathly ill. Another child might have no problem at all. We’re working to keep him in the ‘no problem at all’ category.”
*I bet you are, you sonofabitch.* Mulder thought.
Tyler’s chin started to quiver as the doctor reached for him. Mulder felt a rising sense of wrong, and the boy hid his face in Mulder’s neck. *No. Push the doctor away. Stab a needle in the back of his neck and run. This can’t happen.*
The doctor smiled, or rather, he pulled his lips wider. Then he said, “Oh, it’s okay Tyler. This will just take a second. Lift him up onto the table, Mr. Harrod, if you will.”
Mulder complied, and the doctor unsnapped the little t-shirt, then slid a stethoscope up under the boy’s shirt.
Mulder watched Tyler’s face, and was surprised to see an oddly adult look of anger. The doctor said, “Sit him up please,” and Mulder helped Tyler up. *Don’t help him. Tell him no. My son is healthy, he doesn’t need it, you’re going to make him cry.*
Then the doctor used an otoscope to peer in the child’s ears. *Just for show?* Mulder wondered.
“He’s looking good. I’ll send the nurse in in a moment to carry him to the other room for his treatment,” the doctor said.
Tyler gave Mulder an alarmed look, and Mulder said, “You know, this is exactly the kind of thing I’m studying. May I carry him back? The nature of my work is transitory, so I’m sure the boy will not form any lasting dislike of me due to the procedure.” *Because if he’s going to be in pain, he’s damn well not going to be alone in pain.*
The doctor frowned. “We don’t allow parents back with the children.”
“I’m not his parent, I’m a sociologist. This is purely a scientific inquiry.” Mulder said. *Not a parent legally, yet, until I get this boy safe and out of here. Soon, child.*
The doctor narrowed his eyes. “As long as you do not interfere. Some people find it challenging to see a child in pain.”
*I watched his mother creep within inches of death too many times, you bastard. I won’t like it, but I’ll be damned if you’ll hurt him without me there.*
Mulder nodded. “Certainly. Professional detachment.” *Bloody fucking hell.*
Calderon gestured at the boy. “Pick him up then. And remember, we’re saving his life.”
Mulder picked Tyler up, wishing he could talk gently to the boy. *This is going to hurt, and I don’t like it, but if I have my way, this will be the last time. And I’m staying with you, baby mine. Daddy’s here.*
He felt Tyler relax a little into his shoulder, and thought he heard the faintest whisper of “Da”.
It was both easier and harder than he thought it would be. Easier, because it was fast... The nurse looked at him, said, “If you’re here, hold him tight.” *No. Can’t. Oh, I”m doing it.*
Harder because it took everything in him not to bolt.
Then she grabbed Tyler’s arm firmly, and slid a tiny butterfly needle into his vein. Mulder clenched his jaw and winced as he watched the needle go in. Tyler pressed back into him but didn’t cry. *Easy baby. Last time, if I have anything to do with it.* She pulled the needle out, leaving a tiny catheter in the vein, which she taped in place. Then she clipped the tube with a half-twist onto a small bag of clear fluid.
She wrapped his arm in a self-adhering bandage, and said, “That should take about ten minutes. Keep him from pulling it out.” She unclipped the tube, and as the liquid flowed into his vein, Tyler got tenser and tenser. Mulder reached a hand up, and turned the bag. Cold... ice cold. *Bastards.*
He looked at the label, but it bore a study protocol code, nothing more. He looked around the room... *Need a sample. A container.*
Tyler tried to pull at the bandage. Mulder held his arm, and Tyler arched his back, kicked out his feet, and started to cry. Mulder whispered, “I’m so sorry baby. I know that’s uncomfortable. It will be over soon.”
Gently, he turned the boy around in his lap, and then, being careful of the IV, brought the child back up to his shoulder.
Tyler made a sad, quiet little wail. It sounded very deliberate, like the boy was saying, “I don’t like this, and I want it to stop.”
Mulder felt his throat tighten, and leaned his head against Tyler’s shoulder. “Shhhhh.” *Daddy’s here.*
He stood up, and looked in a cabinet. The nurse came into the room, saying, “What are you doing?”
He frowned. “I was looking for some sort of cup for water.”
She pointed at a dispenser next to the sink. “Try a Dixie cup.”
He nodded. *Room is on monitors. Why, if they don’t allow parents back here?* He found the camera pointing at the exam table, and then studied the room layout.
Tyler squirmed on his shoulder as he pulled two Dixie cups from the bottom of the dispenser, then filled the top one with water, pocketing the second small cup. He drank the water, then let Tyler mash the cup and chew on the edge.
A few minutes later, the nurse came back in and pulled out the IV. Mulder asked, “Can you hold him for a moment?” and she took the boy and set him on an exam table, applying pressure to a cotton ball on the IV site. While her back was turned, keeping his body between the camera and the tray the tubing lay on, he pulled the cup out, and drained a little remaining liquid out the end of the IV. Then he slid the cup carefully back into his pocket, and said, “Thank you, I think I can take him now.”
She taped a little band-aid on Tyler’s arm, and handed the boy back to him.
He kept expecting wide mouthed brawny guys to jump out at him, but they left without incident.
As they were getting into the car, he asked, “Do you have a ziplock?”
She looked at him as if he were crazy. “Of course I have a ziplock. Jumbo box just under the back of the front passenger seat.”
He smiled, and slipped the cup and its few precious drops into a plastic bag, sealing it. As he put Tyler in the seat, the boy held out the bandage he’d ripped off his arm. Mulder looked at it, at the spot of blood on the pad, and thought, *Mama’s going to need that...*
Tyler smiled, and said, matter-of-factly, “Mama.”
3:15 p.m. San Diego International Airport.
Skinner was walking down the concourse, passing gate after gate, when he stopped cold. Someone ran into him from behind, and he apologized absently as he walked over to the gate. “Frohike?”
Frohike blinked, and said, “You’re in Washington.”
Skinner looked down. “Evidently not.”
Frohike cocked his head. “You here for business? Or pleasure?”
“More like ‘I couldn’t stand another minute behind the desk, and they booted me out and told me to come back when I wasn’t distracted.’ What are you doing here?”
“Getting the girls,” Frohike said, pointing at the airplane taxiing up to the window in front of him. A Jet bridge extended as the plane came to a stop. “Plane’s late.”
“I was going to get a cab, but have you got room for one more?”
Frohike laughed. “You can ride in the guv’mint car with Langly. Want to play a corrupt official?”
“Ha. Just point me at the bad guys, and I’ll schmooze them until they cry uncle,” said Skinner.
A small trickle of passengers emerged from the jet bridge, and they stepped back a few feet to let the people pass.
Suddenly Frohike was almost buried by three people hugging him at once. Skinner watched this, bemused, as he recognized Gwynne. When they broke apart, Gwynne smiled at Skinner and said, “Meet my girls, Sarah and Jessie.”
Skinner smiled, and asked, “Can I carry something for you?” He held out his free hand.
They laughed. Sarah hoisted a messenger bag across her body, and said, “Nope, I’m good.” Jessie cocked her head at her rolling pilot case, which looked exactly like his rolling pilot case, and Gwynne just said, “I checked everything.”
They all went down to baggage claim, and waited for the bags to come around. A battered khaki duffel, an old fashioned carpet bag, and a huge box covered with duct tape were put on a cart, which Gwynne and Frohike eye-wrestled for. Frohike finally just said, “Try to stop me,” and pushed the cart out to the curb.
Langly was sitting on the hood of his black sedan, while Byers sat on the bumper of the van. Sarah squealed when she saw Langly, and gave him a huge hug which left him looking completely nonplussed. Jessie smiled at Byers, said hi to Langly, and hoisted her bag into the back of the van.
Sarah said, “Can I ride with Ringo?”
Gwynne glanced at Langly and shook her head. “Ride up with us. He’s got an image to uphold.”
Sarah looked at Langly. “What’s with the hair, anyway? You look like a drone.”
He gave her a pained look. “I’m not a drone. I just play one on TV.”
Sarah tossed her bag in the back, and then said. “Muggy, looks better short. More edgy.”
“Edgy. That’s just was I was going for, kid.” Frohike rolled his eyes and walked around to the front of the car.
“John-boy, is that you? Where’s the chinstrap and caterpillar?” Sarah grinned.
He gave her a pained look. “I don’t want to talk about it. And it was a short box, not a chinstrap.”
She laughed. “Sis, you going to kiss him now that the fuzz is gone?”
Jessie ignored her, and climbed into the van.
Langly filled Skinner in on the drive over. Skinner eventually asked, “By the way, where are we going?”
Langly laughed. “We’re meeting the Cavendish family. I’ll be heading out around five. You should probably stay with the guys.”
“What about him?” Skinner asked.
“Well, since our intrepid agents have decided to come down on the side of, you know, saving the planet and all, he’s been not an issue. Mulder’s mom has been there all week. So’s Spender.”
“Welcome to the big, happy family, is it?” Skinner said.
“Something like that. Anyway, Gwynne has promised not to stab him, and he seems to be rather cowed by the whole ‘I’m dying and the conspiracy hates me’ thing.” Langly said. “My understanding is that in all her spare time, Scully is thinking about treatments for him that can be managed outside a hospital. They’re coming over on Sunday again, if we can get them out of the church without the boys in black, you know, the other boys in black joining us.”
“You’re still a MIB then?” Skinner asked. “That seems... unlikely.”
Langly chuckled. “It is not only unlikely, it’s dull as paint. And yet, strangely frightening.”
In the other car, Gwynne actually snapped at Sarah five minutes into the trip. Frohike shot a look back at Byers. Gwynne didn’t snap at Sarah. It was just one of those things one took for granted, like the government was out to get you, pizza was better cold the next day, and Gwynne kept her temper at all times. Sarah fell silent.
Frohike reached across the van with his right hand, and patted Gwynne on the shoulder. “We’ll be there soon.”
“He’s grown. His voice... it will be different, since he’s a man. His voice hadn’t changed when he left. He’s probably taller than I was.” Gwynne stared out the window. “When I envisioned seeing my boy again, he was always a boy. Someone whose head would rest right here...” She spread her right hand out just under her left shoulder, over her breast. “with a boy’s voice. But he’s a man, and grown, and I have grandchildren. How is it possible that I have grandchildren? And one of them just five years younger than Sarah? It’s insane.”
“Apparently Teena Mulder had a similar reaction. She’d given up on Mulder giving her grandkids, oh, years ago, when he crawled down the crazy hole with us. And now... she not only has three grandchildren from her daughter, but Mulder’s kids, however many of them we manage to save.” Frohike smiled wryly. “I’m told that Mulder is rather moony over that boy. And Scully saw him too yesterday.”
“How are you keeping the lines of communication open?” Gwynne asked.
“We get a window every 36 hours or so when the boys have a change of location, Krycek and Langly swapping places. They pause in the middle and call us. Other than that, it’s all pretty damn dull.” Frohike frowned. “I don’t like it. Langly shouldn’t be there. But we need to know if the faceless boys with torches show up, and we need someone on the spot. He’s managed to mine quite a bit out of the computer system, mostly names, places, treatment protocols, but it’s all... Do you know how strange it is to suddenly be vindicated about everything we ever believed? I mean, hell, I half expect Spender the Elder to explain JFK, and then my life’s work will be over.”
Gwynne laughed. “From what you’ve been telling me, the life’s work has just begun. All that other crap? This is what we’ve been preparing for.”
“How do you want to play it?” Frohike asked.
Gwynne sighed. “I want to scoop them all up and take them back to Victoria, where they can be safe. But I’m not sure that’s the right answer. I don’t really relish having that man in my house, in my network... in the bat cave. It seems like a fundamentally bad idea.”
Frohike nodded. “I hear that. But it seems like holding your enemy close might actually be the safest thing... especially since he’s had his teeth pulled.”
“He killed my husband. I don’t relish seeing his face.” She frowned. “I should have bought a hotel. But what I have are four houses and the clinic. Couldn’t we just shoot him?”
“Mandy apparently thinks the kids would be upset by that. He fixes them French toast.” Frohike looked disturbed at the notion.
Gwynne shook her head. “I can make French toast. If that’s all...”
Frohike laughed, and then glanced in the rearview mirror. He raised an eyebrow. “That’s new,” he said quietly.
Gwynne looked back, to see Byers turned toward Jessie, hand brushing a tear from her cheek. They were speaking, but the car noise of the highway made it impossible to hear them in the back seat.
“She’s been pretty rattled about this whole thing," Gwynne said. “Have you guys thought about your exit strategy?”
Frohike sighed. “Right now we’re all trying to get through the day without the bad guys twigging to us. I’m assuming the ladies can help with the exit for the minor players.”
She nodded. “I’m thinking, however, that we might maybe get your mom down here. See if she can’t do something a little more significant in terms of changing appearance this time.”
“Do we have to? I think the guys are afraid of her,” Frohike said.
Gwynne asked, “Do you know anyone else who is as adept at what she does? Besides. She’s one of our founding members. It’s not like I wasn’t going to invite her.”
He didn’t say anything.
“What happened with you two, anyway? You used to be thicker than thieves,” Gwynne said.
He sighed. “She’s overwhelming. And she’s especially overwhelming when she’s around the three of us. The guys... we’re in sync. And it doesn’t work when she’s in the middle of it. Especially not when she starts griping at me for not finding some nice girl and making babies. Like that’s going to happen, at my age. I just outgrew her.”
She gave a rueful smile. “I suppose she should be grateful it took 40 years rather than the normal 20.”
He chuckled. “It was easier, before she turned herself into Marge Simpson meets Mimi Bobeck. God, I remember when she was younger... she was still pretty at forty. And I know, because I was what, 24 then? You remember. You were there.”
Gwynne nodded. “How much longer?”
Frohike laughed. “You mean, ‘Are we there yet, Muggy?’”
“I’m sorry,” Gwynne said. “It’s just... you know.”
He nodded. “I do... when you told me, I had goosebumps. I can’t imagine. I think we’re about ten minutes away.”
3:30 p.m. Teen Mothers’ Home
Krycek looked up from the monitoring station that covered the Teen Mothers’ Home to do a double take. Two Calderon clones side by side, dress identical. Tiny details he couldn’t pinpoint told him the one on the left was ‘Ernie’, but the larger sense of dread at seeing two of them side by side was more pressing. “What? This can’t be good.”
Dr. Calderon, on the right, said, “Actually, it is. We’re ready to test our first treatment. Would you like to watch?”
Krycek pointed at the monitors. “I assume I’ll see it here.”
Ernie nodded. “Of course. We simply wanted to give you the option to see in person.”
“I’d like a copy of whatever research you’ve done, ASAP,” Krycek said. “My people are working on it too.”
Calderon pulled a disk out of his lab coat. “Done.”
The doctors turned and left, without further comment. A few minutes later, they were leading a girl into the operating theater, dressed in a gaping hospital gown.
Krycek watched as the girl, looking apprehensive, pulled a sheet off a wire shelf, and spread it out on the vinyl chair before scooting into the chair. A nurse clone reclined the chair, started an IV and brought out an ultrasound machine. The girl spoke rapid Spanish to the nurse, who shrugged and shook her head. The girl looked terrified.
The Calderon clones walked in together, wearing full gowns, clear plastic covering their faces from cap to chest. One of them handed a vial to one of the nurses, who drew off the contents into a syringe with a short needle. The other squirted conductive jelly onto the ultrasound probe, threw up the girl’s gown without bothering to cover her lap, grasped the top of her belly and gave it a little shake, then applied the probe high along the left side of the girl’s round abdomen. Static on another screen resolved into a shadowy form, which shifted and moved until suddenly the picture made sense, and Krycek realized he was looking at a baby’s leg.
The other clone came over, and put out a hand without looking off to his side. The nurse set an empty syringe with a tremendously long needle in his hand, he glanced at it and then, watching the monitor, slid the needle into the darkness next to the brightness of the limb. The girl watched, eyes wide, wincing as the needle went in. Then he drew off a quantity of amniotic fluid. Holding the needle in place, he removed the syringe, then attached the vial of silvery liquid, and depressed the plunger slowly.
He withdrew the needle. Nothing happened for a moment... then the limb jerked, and the image lost cohesion.
A moment later the girl screamed, thrashed, and her legs fell open, revealing a growing stain on the sheet underneath her.
Krycek was up and moving, running down the hall, through the double doors, across the breezeway, and down the hall. He pushed open the operating room doors, where a nurse stepped in front of him, but not before he could see the girl’s eyes rolled back in her head, her body still, a horrific puddle forming under the chair as her belly slumped. Krycek gagged.
“What the hell happened?” he gasped. “What the hell did you do?”
One of the clones had already put longer, thick gloves on, and was dabbing material from the puddle onto slides and scooping a little sample into a plastic jar, keeping his body well clear of the spill. The other came over, stripping off his gloves, and said, “It didn’t work. It broke down the protein, but it was apparently not discriminating enough, and it had more than the desired effect. It was one of the possibilities.”
Krycek shuddered. “Will she survive?”
The clone looked at him. “She is already dead. The treatment is consuming her body. We will be decontaminating the room shortly, so I would ask that you step back into the hall. Standard procedure.”
*Standard.* Krycek scowled. “I take it that this is not, then, an acceptable treatment?”
The doctor gave a short, sharp laugh. “Evidently not. I shall continue.” He reached over, and pulled the door shut in Krycek’s face.
4:00 p.m. Rancho Bernardo
Frohike shot a glance at Gwynne as he pulled off the main road and onto one of the residential side streets leading to the Cavendish home. She had a death grip on the armrest, and was biting her lip.
When he pulled to a stop, she was opening the door before the vehicle was off, fumbling with the seatbelt.
He pointed up the driveway. “That’s the address.”
She was moving forward across the lawn with long strides when the door opened. She froze at the bottom of the steps, staring at the man in the doorway.
She whispered, “You... you’re tall.”
Joel smiled, and said, “You’re smaller than I remembered.”
She walked up the steps, slowly, and said, “Can I hug you?”
He nodded, and stepped forward, and wrapped his arms around her. Then he looked out over her head, and said, “Are those my sisters?”
She nodded into his chest. “And those are our friends. Good friends.”
He smiled, and stepped back into the house. “Come on in, Mom.”
Frohike, Langly, Byers, and Skinner stood at the van. Langly started to move toward the house, and Skinner gave a little shake of his head. “Give them a little time first.”
Byers watched Jessica hug her brother, and said, “She’s been missing him for so long.”
Langly said, “Yep. You still mooning after Suzanne, or are you going to let that girl in?”
Byers blushed. “That is a question, isn’t it?”
Frohike leaned over. “You hurt her, I’ll kill you.”
Langly laughed outright. “Like he would hurt someone.”
Frohike said, “I’m just sayin’.”
About twenty minutes later, Mandy said, puzzled, “Are your friends going to just stand there or are they going to come in?”
Gwynne blinked. “What? Oh... I suspect Mr. Skinner decided to give us a few minutes. But yes, if you don’t mind, do invite them in.”
As the Gunmen filed in, Frohike looked Mandy up and down. “So you’re her?” he asked.
She chuckled, “If you mean, am I Samantha Mulder, the answer is, I was. Most people call me Mandy now.”
He nodded. “I can do that. Did I hear you have kids?”
She smiled. “Three of them. they’re back in the back yard.”
He nodded. “Can I go meet them?”
Gwynne asked, “Can we all?”
Mandy laughed. “Sure. Follow me.”
They walked through the eating area in the kitchen and out onto the back patio. Mandy said, “Mom’s out there with the kids. I understand you know each other?”
Gwynne nodded, and stepped out onto the back porch. A slim teenager was sitting on the side of a small above-the-ground pool, watching her brother and sister paddle around wearing water-wings. On the patio, under an umbrella, a small silver-haired woman sat, watching them. When the door closed, Teena Mulder turned , and said, “Genny, is that you?”
“Hi, Teena. How are you?” Gwynne asked.
Teena gave a short laugh. “Probably about the same as you will be in a couple of days. Settling in, getting to know my daughter, getting to know my grandchildren.”
Gwynne smiled. “Your son and daughter-in-law have done us quite the favor.”
Teena sighed. “I just wish that he could spend more time here. It seems so unfair, with as long and hard as he looked...”
Gwynne pulled up a chair. “We’ve all been looking, in our own way.” She turned, “It’s okay boys. You can come on out.”
Teena looked up. “Hello, Mr. Skinner. I’m not even going to ask. And you three... are you Fox’s friends?”
Skinner pointed, and said, “Larry, Moe, and Curly.”
Frohike rolled his eyes, and said, “The girls call me Muggy. Everyone else calls me Frohike. The blonde one is Ringo, and one who looks like Dilbert is John Byers. I call him Byers, and the girls call him John-boy, which he hates.”
Teena pointed out at the pool. “The tall, bored one is Lisa. The enthusiastic sprite in in the pink suit is Kit, and the vortex is Carl.”
Joel came out and said, “I’m going to bring out the rest of the chairs, there’s more room out here. Honey?” he said, looking at Mandy, “Have you ever thought maybe we should have bought a bigger house?”
She laughed. “Just bring out the chairs, hon.”
Sarah poked her head out of the kitchen, and said, “Muggy... keys. Need my suit.”
He laughed, and tossed them at her.
A few minutes later, Sarah was leaning on the deck, talking to Lisa, who actually took off her headphones for the occasion.
Skinner asked, “Where’s Jeffrey?”
Teena smiled. “I think he’ll be back soon. He said that he didn’t want to be in the way, and felt that given his connection to the family, he’d let you all have some time first. Which is silly. He’s a good man. I think he’ll be back around six.”
The adults sat in plastic chairs, watching for a few minutes, when Gwynne finally said, “I was wondering if you all would like to come up to Victoria... we have room.”
Joel nodded. “I was thinking about that. I would feel safer. Too many people have been coming and going here. The only issue is Mandy’s dad. I’m not willing to abandon him here.”
Skinner said, “I assume you own this house?”
Joel said. “Yes. He actually bought it for us, free and clear.”
“Why don’t you let Spender stay here with his father for a time, if he’s willing, and take your family to safety?” Skinner said.
Mandy frowned. “I don’t want to... I know this is hard for you all, but the two of them were all the family I had for a long time. Right at the moment, I don’t want to let anyone out of my sight, if you can understand that.”
Gwynne frowned. “There is a security issue. I have put too much into the space up there to have it compromised. It is the best refuge I know. And I do not trust him.”
Jessie put her hand on her mom’s shoulder. “Mama, I know you’re nervous, but if need be, we could ‘sell’ the Harrod’s house, and put them there. He doesn’t have to know...”
Gwynne nodded. “It would actually solidify the Harrods’ story down here, make social services more comfortable about working with them. But we’ll have to do something about the entrance...”
Jessie said, “Not a problem. Put him in another part of the house, and lock that room, palm lock.”
Frohike said, “You really need to use the place over on Wilson. It’s bigger. And you can block the entrance there just as easily. Sell the Harrods’ house to their next identity. They’re not going to be using it for a while anyway.”
“You don’t think?” asked Gwynne.
Frohike shook his head. “Man, how could they? They’re going to have to make new identities leaving here. Going back to the same house the next week? That would be stupid. And they’re not stupid.”
Mandy asked, “What about identities for us? Will we need to change again?”
Byers said, “I don’t think so. But we may have to do some back flips to get you visas. Your degrees will help. But you really should go soon, before it gets bad.”
Joel asked, “How bad do you think it’s going to get?”
Langly shuddered. “You don’t want to know. Wait, I think you probably do know, come to think of it. Bad.”
Gwynne asked, “When can you guys come?”
Mandy and Joel looked at each other, then Mandy said, “I think we can leave Tuesday, if that’s not too soon.
Gwynne frowned. “If you go up next Friday, I can come with you, and get you settled. We’ll have the people to make the transition smoother to get you up there, help on both ends. But I have to be here through Wednesday. We’re got a meeting at the café.”
Frohike’s eyes widened. “All of them?”
She smiled. “All of them.”
He whistled. “How the hell did you find hotel space? It’s spring-freakin’ break!”
She smiled. “That, my dear, would be telling.”
Teena leaned forward. “Can I come too?”
Gwynne laughed. “That’s why we’re giving Mandy and No..Joel the six bedroom house. I’ll shift the reservations over to another house. We’ve been using it as a bed and breakfast, but rather informally. Three suites with private bathrooms should do, yes? I think the place has five bathrooms all together.”
Teena looked down. “I have money, if you need...”
Gwynne shook her head. “If we need it, I will tell you. Right now, this is what this place is for. It’s a quarter mile from where your son and his wife will eventually live, if everything goes well.
Langly looked at his watch. “Dude. I have to go. Dammit, I want to stay so much. But I’ve got to go be a bad guy again. Skinner? You want to come?”
Skinner nodded. “Let’s work me into your side of the operation. Krycek’s acquaintance can get me through the door, as myself, given how much I’ve had to do with their organization in the past.”
Langly snorted. “Don’t tell Mulder and Scully. Just let them see you watching them at some point. Scully always cracks up when she sees me...”
Frohike said, “Langly, you’re an idiot. They’ll want to go talk to him. And that’s a Bad Idea, at least not without planning.”
“Oh! The disk. Should I give it to Krycek?” Langly asked.
“You’d better, I think,” said Byers.
“Feeling the trust groove?” asked Frohike.
“Feeling the ‘we have to solve this thing, and we need every resource we can get’ groove,” Byers answered.
“Fair enough.” Frohike stood up.
Langly was surprised to be the recipient of a hug. “Dude, I love ya, man, but it’s not like I’m leaving the country.”
“We’ve missed you,” Byers said.
Langly grinned. “Awww... I feel all mooshy inside. When we’re done with this gig, do we FINALLY get to go live in the bat cave?”
Frohike grinned. “That’s the idea. But I’ll tell you, I could kick their asses for not starting this a couple months ago. Years even. I want to go home already.”
Joel looked curious. “Bat cave?”
“Has to be seen to be believed. But yeah.” Langly smiled. “It’s been real, see ya later.”
Skinner followed him back out to the front of the house. Skinner looked back as they were getting into the car, and saw the Smoking Man standing in the window, no cigarette, just looking very old.
He shivered. “Let’s go be bad guys, Langly. I need something to do.”
5:30 p.m. Chula Vista
Once they were back at Tif’s house, Mulder held on to Tyler through a nap, and then the boy leaned on him, not playing, for another hour after. At 5:30, Tif asked him, “Don’t you need to get home to your lovely wife?”
He shrugged. “She’s working until 11 tonight, so that we can do the class tomorrow.”
Tif smiled. “You stay then. You can leave at 6:30 and take a plate to her.”
He frowned. “You don’t have to do that.”
“Mister, you managed to go hold that boy while they stuck him with needles. That deserves a dinner at least. And he doesn’t want you gone right now.” She tipped her head in Tyler’s direction.
Tyler tightened his hand, grabbing Mulder’s shirt. “Da.”
He looked down. “Poor kid. That had to have hurt. IV’s are bad enough when they’re using warm fluid, but that thing was icy, and he’s just not very big.”
7:00 p.m. UCSD
Traffic was light when he finally left. He drove directly to the hospital, and carried the Tupperware of chicken and noodles into Urgent Care. Scully looked so tired, but she smiled when she saw him, and walked out with him into the night, to find a new bench. He tucked the band-aid and the plastic bag with the cup and liquid in it on top of the container, along with a plastic fork, and handed it to her. “Samples. For testing.”
She turned the band-aid over, and nodded. Then she looked at the cup.
“Tell me what it is. Not the cup. The liquid,” he said. “They ran it via IV.”
She tucked the samples into her pocket, and opened up the plastic container. “This looks like real, home-cooked food.”
He smiled. “Tyler was rocky after his doctor visit, so I stayed. Tif fed me dinner and sent this for you.”
She smiled. “Real food. Not made in a restaurant or ripped out of a plastic bag or dropped from a height in a vending machine. I think I love her. I know I love you.”
He leaned in for a kiss, but she said, “Must eat. Kiss later.”
He frowned, and she cocked her head, questioning. He nodded in the direction of her shoulder, and she looked. Skinner and Krycek were walking together down the path toward them. Mulder and Scully looked at each other, but she continued eating.
Krycek said, when he got close enough, “We have a problem.”
Scully frowned. “Tell,” she said, around a piece of rotini.
Krycek didn’t mince words. “They killed one of them tonight, testing a cure. Injected something in her belly that liquefied the fetus, and then started to liquefy her. It was horrific. Even for me, it was horrific. Apparently it wasn’t specific enough. But he gave me the research. I’m hoping that whoever is helping you, and I don’t need to know who he is, I’m hoping he has some insight. Because while I don’t mind making sacrifices for the cause... I got the impression that the only reason the good doctors minded was because it meant they had to keep working to find something new. It was bad. Really, really bad.”
She closed her eyes. “Those bastards.”Mulder remembered the cards that morning, death and the pregnant woman side-by-side, and shuddered.
Her face looked pained. She nodded. “Thank you. It should help.”
Mulder looked at Skinner. “What are you doing here?”
Skinner said, “That’s the good news. Mr. Stiff Upper Lip has requested that they accept my help. Which will allow us to eliminate the tail on you, Mulder.”
“Don’t you already have a job? Something about a dresser or something? Instigation?” Mulder asked.
“Ha ha. Well. I took leave. Wasn’t much good there, and the director decided that he’d send me on a rest cure. I took him up on it. I think he and Kimberly were in cahoots.” Skinner looked at Scully’s dinner. “Is that chicken?”
She turned away from him, huddling over her dish as she continued to eat. “Mine.”
Mulder chuckled. “She’s been on shift since 11 this morning.”
Skinner looked at Krycek. “Can I speak to them in private for a moment? I need to deal with some family business.”
Krycek got up and walked away without another word.
Skinner leaned close, and said, “Your sister is moving north. End of next week. Whole kit and caboodle of them are going with Gwynne. They are looking forward to seeing you on Sunday.”
Mulder sighed. “I’m looking forward to seeing them. But I’m glad they’ll be getting out of dodge... what happened today could draw attention.”
“Are they taking him with them?” Scully asked.
“Yes, actually. She’s got some old bed and breakfast she’s going to let them use as a house, in the family neighborhood. Your mom is going too.”
Scully sighed. “Is there any way of getting a message to my mom? I want her to know, but I don’t want to risk it...”
Skinner answered, “I suspect that Gwynne is the one to ask about that. She can probably get a message, if anyone can.”
“She could come visit my brother... She’d be close.” Scully sighed. “It feels so wrong for her not to know.”
“I’ll try. You two take care. I’ll be out here for a while. If we need something from the bureau, I think Kimberly will help.” Skinner stood up, and turned to walk away.
Scully put a hand on his arm. “Thank you.”
He smiled. “De nada.” Then he walked away.
9:00 p.m. Teen Mothers’ Home
Langly sat in the main monitor room, watching the displays flick, pretending to drink a beer, half paying attention to the perpetual free-floating game. In one monitor, a woman rocked a baby. In another, a child lay sleeping, monitors beeping. His gaze flicked to the Jamison house, where the monitor had settled on the crib where Tyler slept. Every so often the static monitors would flick 10 seconds of every other camera in the house, and then come back and stay on the primary subject.
He frowned, and turned when the room went silent. A huge, silent man stood in the doorway, watching the monitors. The other men in the room looked up at him, fear in their eyes. The silent man stared at the monitors for a time, then walked back out of the room. Langly waited.
A moment later, one of the men said, “Always creeps me out when one of them shows up. This ‘cause of the experiment this afternoon?”
Another man said, “Jesus, I hope not. Hate it when those things breathe down our necks.”
The third man looked confused. “What do you mean, things?”
The first man said, “You’re new, you don’t know. He’s one of the shapeshifters. Badass. Heard Mr. Morley call him a bounty hunter once. And I sure hope I’m never one of his targets. They tend to clean up by killing everything in site. And he looked pissed.”
“They always look pissed, man. I think they just consider it convenient to put their faces that way, saves time.”
“You’d think being able to look like anyone, they’d look like, oh, Brad Pitt. Or Sean Connery. I mean, if I could do that, that’s what I’d do.”
The new guy frowned. “You telling me that was an alien?”
Langly stood up, and walked out. He went back to the main room of the office, glanced at the monitors, stuck a set of headphones on, and flipped a switch to focus on the sound from one particular office. The other man at the board ignored him, utterly absorbed in watching the locker room.
On the monitor, Ernie the Clone looked more emotional than Langly had ever seen him. Through the headphones he heard the man say, “You don’t understand. We were instructed. Because of unwanted publicity. You do agree that secrecy is of the utmost importance....”
Langly couldn’t hear the other man reply, but Ernie’s voice went up almost an octave as he said, “We’ve got at least four people investigating the deaths right now. If we silence all of them, it will bring more attention, not less. It was bad enough with that FBI agent. I really don’t know what he was thinking.... Yes, I know he’s dead. Would you talk out loud, dammit? Listening to you that way gives me a headache. Yes, I know I’m deeply flawed. I may be a lesser entity, but dammit, I’m smarter than you’ll ever...”
The bounty hunter picked Ernie up by his throat, brought out a gimlet, flicked it open, and then paused. He stood there, head cocked for a moment, face away from the camera, and then set the doctor back down on his feet. He spoke, finally. “That was not smart.”
Ernie actually rubbed his throat. He stood there for a moment, apparently listening to something that wasn’t coming over the wires, and then nodded. “I’ll instruct them, unless you want to. The source? Alex Krycek. Confirmed by the Brit. In the absence of Morley, and given the recent changes in the Syndic... Yes, I understand. I will keep a closer eye. Do you want me to continue this line of research?”
Another pause. “I can certainly do that. We’ll lose as many as we would have otherwise... probably more. Are you no longer interested in this project? Oh.”
On the monitor, the bounty hunter turned as if to leave, and Langly ripped the headphones off and flicked off the audio feed. He walked back down to the distance monitoring room, and leaned in to say, “Anyone want a doughnut? Toss me keys and I’ll go fetch.”
A pair of keys arced over the heads of two of the men in the room, and Langly caught them. “Back in a few.”
He headed back out of the office. As he opened the door, he jerked when he saw the bounty hunter standing directly in front of it.
The bounty hunter said, mildly, “I do not know you.”
Langly swallowed. “I was assigned here to monitor the project.”
The bounty hunter tilted his head to one side. “Really. And where are you going?”
“Doughnuts... we’ve got enough people on monitors right now, I decided to treat them. It was a rough day today.” Langly suddenly realized he was saying too much, and stopped.
The bounty hunter stared at him for what seemed like hours, and then took a step back. “I would like a Bavarian cream.”
Langly managed not to slip into full blown hysteria, but it was a near thing. “Sure thing, dude.”
He was torn between walking casually and running like hell, and the result was an almost drunken swagger. When he got out to the parking lot, he ended up trying three cars before figuring out which black sedan the keys fit.
As soon as he was about three miles south of the home, he pulled over, walked twenty feet from the car into the brush at the side of the road, and called Krycek.
“We got company. Boy with a face.” Langly said.
Krycek swore. “And?”
“And Ernie laid the responsibility for the change in focus at your feet. The scary dude didn’t seem too pleased, but he wasn’t talking, even though Ernie was answering.”
Krycek said, “The clones can hear telepathy but they can’t broadcast more than just emotions, and from what the bad boys have said, they’re horrible at stopping the broadcast, which makes them easy pickings when the shapeshifters get pissed. The ‘shifters can send and receive, but they’re kind of stupid about the receiving from non-teeps, and they can’t broadcast to anyone who isn’t special enough to hear. I never saw the point, myself.”
“They read minds?” Langly asked, feeling thicker than usual.
“They aren’t very good at reading what someone isn’t sending on purpose, and most of us can’t send on purpose, or so the man with the smokes said. But the fact that we can’t do that? It’s a big part of why they’re doing the whole hybrid thing. Trying to smarten us up so we can actually hear them the easy way... saves them effort. And supposedly we have the genes for a more efficient form of telepathy, but they’re almost never active. Which is why they don’t just kill us. Or something.” Krycek sounded almost bored. “Where are you, anyway?”
Langly looked around. “Couple miles south of there. I told them I was going to get doughnuts. Big guy wants a Bavarian. Crazy. Do they even eat?”
Krycek laughed. “They can ingest nutrients, even take pleasure from it. But they don’t need it the way we do, and they don’t do with it what we do.”
“No shit.” Langly said.
“Exactly,” Krycek answered.
Langly cringed. “I so didn’t need to know that. But do you know where there’s a doughnut shop around here? I’m suddenly craving lemon filling.”
Krycek was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Dunkin Donuts. South, then west on Requeza, south on Regal, and then east on Nobel.”
“Thanks dude. I’m hating this job more and more. Any suggestions?” Langly asked.
“What did the doctor say to the bounty hunter?” Krycek asked.
“He asked if he should continue the project you set him. Then he seemed to hear an answer, and said, ‘We’ll lose more of them,’ asked if he should continue, and then he seemed sort of surprised but didn’t say more.”
Krycek swore again. “Bet you anything the bounty hunter told him to string me along. Fuck. Go back, keep your head low, and holler the second anything changes. Oh, and buy the guy a doughnut.”
The doughnut shop was surreal, florescent lights and a bored woman behind the counter. Langly stood, trying to decide, and finally said, “Give me two of everything you have left. Three Bavarians.”
The lady raised an eyebrow, shrugged, and filled two boxes. “Need coffee, mister?”
He looked at his hands, which had been shaking for the past half hour. “Definitely.”
to Chapter 23
Note: No, really.
The cards just fall that way. I had already known what was going to
happen at the TMH, the cards just came up that way. Spooky.
I pick up the deck, and think, “Scully’s reading” or “Mulder’s reading” and then I throw the cards. I quoted a few of the card definitions from the little book that came with the deck. Love the deck, the book, not so much. The Voyager Tarot.
The title is from a suggestion by Ravynnightstorm for this particular video. The song, “Do you love,” is perfect for this chapter, and the vid reminds us where this crazy thing all started. Come on, after all that, they couldn’t possibly just let the whole San Diego connection drop? Right?