He cracked his eyes open slightly, the voice rousing him from a fitful sleep. The room was still dark, but the shape of the light on the wall told him that someone was standing by his open hotel room door. Facing the other direction, he forced himself to be still, hoping that the intruder would leave him the hell alone. Ever since his aborted attempt to return to Washington, he had yet to get a decent night’s sleep. Between the conflicting emotions, the dangers facing his loved ones and friends, and the lingering pain from the effects of the iron compounds in the Manville quarry, there had been more than enough to worry over.
Unfortunately, it didn’t seem as though he was going to get his wish. “Get out of bed, Mulder,” the voice said again, and it was all too familiar. “You don’t actually think you can pretend to be sleeping, do you? I can tell when you’re awake.”
“No kidding,” Mulder said, rolling over, rubbing his eyes. “And can you tell what I’m thinking now?”
“No need,” McShane replied drolly. “I can see it in the expression on your face.” He waited for Mulder to sit up on the side of the bed, stretching his shoulders as if they were tender. “You’re not still feeling the pain, are you?”
“Just now and then,” Mulder answered. He shrugged. “At least I’m not picking iron shavings out of my skin anymore.”
McShane smiled slightly, but his expression sobered almost immediately. “I wouldn’t have woken you if this wasn’t something vital. Something has happened.”
“Scully?” Mulder asked, suddenly very awake and aware.
“No, nothing has happened in Washington,” McShane said with a slight shake of his head. “At least, not yet. Someone came calling at the Clark Crowne Plaza earlier this evening. They were looking for you.”
“Do you know what they wanted from me?” Mulder replied, aware of the possible implications.
“Not entirely,” McShane admitted. “However, the hunting knife and handgun he was carrying does suggest something unpleasant.” He gestured towards the clothes hanging in the closet. “That’s why I’ve come to get you. We’re holding him in an isolated room at the institute. I intend to get answers from him, and I think it would be instructive for you to be there.”
Mulder shot him a quizzical glance. “Instructive, how?”
McShane smiled. “You’ll see.”
PHARMACEUTICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE
Mulder stood in the stark and bare white hallway, staring through the small glass window in the heavy steel door. The room behind the door was empty, this wing of the building having been deserted soon after McShane’s arrival in the fall. Other than two chairs and a small table between them, the room was as bare as the hallway, the drab textured gray of the epoxy floor reflected on the smooth white vinyl walls. Above, a recessed light shone a single shaft of white down on the table and chairs.
McShane sat with his back to the door. Another man was secured to the other chair by his wrists and ankles, his face battered and bruised, slumped forward with his eyes unfocused. Mulder’s lips tightened at the sight, wondering just how much of the damage had been necessary, and how much had been for the amusement of whatever security force McShane had chosen to employ. He finally decided that he didn’t want to know.
“I hate this,” Mitch muttered next to him. The older man was staring at an old circular chart recorder, set to monitor the temperature. “I never signed on to torture people.”
“If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think any of us did,” Mulder replied, still looking through the window. “This is all Thomas, and whatever game he’s playing.” He turned to Mitch with a slightly wolfish grin. “Besides, he could just make us go along with it, if we objected, right?”
Mitch didn’t smile in reply, but the slight nod told Mulder what he wanted to know. After the ploy in December, it had become more and more obvious that the progress of the project was being purposefully directed on a steady pace. Not much more had been discovered, in terms of the evolution of the virus at the center of it all. McShane insisted that all of the work on the virus, as conducted by those leading the black projects within the shadow government behind the super-soldiers, was rushing towards a singular goal of replacing the human population. The work here was centered on determining the path their enemies were treading towards that goal.
At the same time, Tatiana Smoleeva had discovered an unknown compound within the ice core samples taken around the body held in the cold room on the other side of the building. While the bulk of the ice registered an age exceeding one million years old, some of the samples had small “pockets” of ice that registered a modern or even future origin. It seemed that there was now something within the ice that resulted in that property, but so far, Tatiana had been unable to identify the compound.
That left Mulder with very little to do, except wait for some new discovery or source of information to emerge. He had the feeling that McShane was just as anxious, for reasons that Mulder could not guess, and that was part of the justification for this night’s activity. They all wanted answers to the lingering questions, but for Mulder, it was personal. He had stolen so many fleeting glimpses of what had been hidden, and a part of him was willing to go to extreme measures to get answers to his thousands of questions. But another part of him couldn’t help but compare his current allies with the men that had fostered the virus in the first place.
“All right,” Mitch said, pulling him out of his reverie. “The temperature in the room is down to 20 degrees Centigrade. Just below room temperature.” He nodded towards the digital controls next to the recorder. “Thomas said to reduce the temperature by a degree every ten minutes.”
Mulder glared at Mitch. “He did? And just how far can the temperature drop in that room?”
Mitch sighed, pointing at the chart. “At least 25 below. Cold enough to induce hypothermia pretty damned quick.” He shrugged. “We kept these rooms available just in case someone was exposed to the retrovirus. Thomas felt they could be used for this.”
“A means to an end,” Mulder muttered. “Just like everything else.”
“I imagine that you’re starting to feel a bit of a chill in the air,” McShane said calmly. “Rest assured, I feel nothing. And I will continue to feel nothing, no matter how cold it gets in the confines of this small space.” He leaned forward slightly. “Can you say the same?”
The older man looked up, his body still tilted ever so slightly forward. “It had to be done.”
“What had to be done? Killing Mulder?” He looked over his shoulder towards the window. “Why would you have to do that?”
“Mulder must die,” the man repeated.
“And he will,” McShane assured him. “In fact, it’s already happened…after a fashion. Several times.”
The man blinked in confusion, and then attempted to regain some semblance of control. “You have no idea what you are facing, what you seek to prevent. It can’t be stopped. It is the future.”
“Ah, but you see, I do understand,” McShane said with a smile. “The real question, my friend, is not whether the future can be stopped. It’s what future one thinks as inevitable. And unfortunately for you, I believe that your vision of the future and mine are incompatible.” He sat back again, watching the man intently, studying him. “You are not what I expected. There is a mystery here that needs to be solved. Who sent you?”
“Do what you will,” the man countered. “I will say nothing.”
“It doesn’t matter if you tell me or not,” McShane replied, his voice still calm. “If you don’t tell me, then I will wait until the cold forces your body into shock, and you lose consciousness. Then I will take it from your mind. The end result will be the same. The only difference is time, and of course, the damage to your body in the process.”
The man was about to speak, but then he saw McShane smile suddenly. “What?”
“You’re not afraid,” McShane said with a predatory grin. “Oh, you fear the pain, but the damage itself…you expect to heal from it.” He looked at the man more closely. “But you are not one of the modified soldiers that attempted to kill Mulder before. No, you are quite human. Changed, but human.” He nodded. “That’s it, isn’t it? Something changed you, healed you. And you expect that same thing to heal you again, if you get survive that long.”
“How?” the man asked, his mouth gaping in awe. “How can you know this?”
“Because I, my friend, have been changed as well,” McShane replied. “Not by your artifact. Oh, yes, I see it very clearly now. Interesting little piece of something much, much bigger. Something you recently found, something that has led you to make this attempt on Mulder’s life.” He leaned forward, placing his arms on the table. “Why don’t you tell me what you found?”
“Nothing,” the man replied, shaking his head. “I’ll tell you nothing.”
But McShane noticed the way the man had started shaking, the slight paling of the man’s skin. “It’s not quite so easy to stay warm now, is it? It will keep getting colder, you know. You feel the way it’s creeping into your skin, like needles pricking your exposed flesh, twisting and etching deeper and deeper…soon it will grind into your bones and gnaw away at you, slowing your blood. Why let it go on like this, friend? Wouldn’t it be easier to simply tell us what you know, who sent you?”
“No,” the man spat out, past the shivering. “I can’t tell you. I won’t.”
“Deny it all you like, but you will tell me.” McShane glanced around the room, as if noticing the slowing of the air, the stillness of the bitter cold as the temperature steadily dropped. He sat quietly watching the man struggle with his need to remain silent, and the desire to preserve his own life.
“Please,” the man said finally, glancing towards the door as he shivered uncontrollably. “You have to let me do this!”
“Who are you working for, and what do stand to gain from Mulder’s death?” McShane looked around again. “It’s been quite some time. I imagine that it’s already below freezing in here. How much more are you able to take? How far are you willing to go?”
“We need him to die,” the man stuttered out. Already, he was beginning to fade in and out of clarity. “The son must live, but Mulder must die. That much is clear now.”
“The son must live,” McShane repeated, his smile fading slightly. “Yes, that much we agree on. But you intend to use him somehow, don’t you? Just as there was a reason for the son to be born. Why it had to be confirmed.” McShane nodded to himself. “And that is why you tried to kill Mulder then, as well. Or those you manipulate, whether they know it or not.”
The man stiffened in pain as McShane rose to his feet. “No! Please…stop!”
“I’m afraid we’re past that point, my friend,” McShane said as he walked around the table. “There is more at work here than even you can imagine, knowing what you know. I no longer have the time to waste playing with you.” He looked down into the man’s eyes, piercing them with his stare. “You will give me what I want. Now.”
The man let out a single, strangled cry, and then slumped forward, unconscious. McShane heard the steel door open behind him, but even as Mitch ran to the man’s side to release him from the chair, he was no longer paying any attention to what was happening in the room. Instead, he was reconstructing the scattering images and traces of information that he had stolen, placing them in order, fitting them into the puzzle that he had uncovered. It fit the pattern, without a doubt, but it also told him one other important piece of information.
“Mulder,” he said, turning towards the door. He walked out calmly, ignoring the resounding din of the fans as warmer air rushed in behind him. Mulder was standing in the hallway, staring at him with a mixture of fascination and horror. “Mulder, I need you to come with me.”
“What did you do to him?” Mulder demanded. “Is he dead? Did you kill him?”
“No, of course not,” McShane replied with a smirk. “He is far more useful alive. We will be able to learn much more from him if he is able to return to his people, content in the knowledge that he killed you. I will have Simon see to his release before the morning ends. In the meantime, there is something we should discuss.”
Mulder shook his head. “No. I refuse to be involved in this. Not anymore. Not until you give me some answers.”
“You will get your answers,” McShane replied, as he swiped his card to allow them out of the restricted area. “And then, Mulder, I assure you, you will want to be involved. Because if you refuse, you might survive, but your sweet, innocent son, and everyone you love, may not. I assume we understand each other?”
He turned and walked down the hall towards the administrative building, leaving Mulder to follow.
MARCH 4, 2002
“Nothing,” Doggett said, staring at Skinner with a slightly amused expression. “Not a single case worthy of investigation. Nothing that Agent Reyes and I can be assigned to.”
“I’m sorry, Agent Doggett, but there’s nothing coming through channels that can be classified as an X-File,” Skinner said, shrugging. “The fact is, there’s not much attention being focused on the unexplained right now. Most of the regional offices are working on background checks on terrorist suspects and possible leads on the anthrax and nuclear threats to the major metropolitan areas.” Skinner sighed, rubbing his forehead. “More than ever, the X-Files are considered to be a side project, and a waste of time.”
“Then what the hell are we assigned to them for?” Doggett demanded. He shook his head, staring out the window. “I understand that there’s bad blood between me and AD Follmer, after that business in New York, but this is getting ridiculous.”
“I wouldn’t assume that Follmer is the one keeping you off new assignments,” Skinner replied with a sigh. He glanced towards the ceiling, hesitating just long enough to make his point. “Follmer’s not the only person who has reason to keep you in the basement.”
Doggett smirked, and then stood, looking down at Skinner with a bemused look in his eye. “Then I guess I’ll be going back down to that basement.” He turned towards the door, shaking his head again. Halfway through the door, he stopped and gave Skinner a weary smile. “Maybe we can find something in those file cabinets that Mulder didn’t solve.”
Skinner returned Doggett’s smirk, but once the door was closed, he let out a curse. He hated lying to John and Monica, hated giving excuse after excuse for the lack of activity in the department over the past several months. But Deputy Director Kersh had made his wishes clear. He had warned Mulder about the intentions of the super-soldier project, using Skinner as a go-between. He had convinced Follmer to drop inquiries into Doggett’s activities during the investigation of the Bureau, and to limit Doggett’s suspension after the New York incident to six weeks. But all of that had come with a price, and that price had been Skinner’s absolute loyalty.
That loyalty had been proven immediately after Mulder’s departure, and the end of Doggett’s investigation. Threats against Mulder’s life had been sent to the Bureau, and they were coming from an unknown source. At least, it had been unknown to Kersh and those pulling his strings. Rather than risk the chance that Doggett, Reyes, or Scully might learn about a possible weakness or group with competing authority, Kersh had been ordered to place Follmer in charge of the case. And Skinner had been chosen to assign an agent outside of the department to determine the source of the threats.
That agent had been undercover for months now, but contact had been lost almost a month ago. Doggett and Reyes, following Doggett’s suspension, had managed well enough. But then Kersh had warned him about the decision to use Scully to draw Mulder out of hiding. As he had expected, Doggett had warned him away as soon as possible, and Skinner had taken the opportunity to cover his own ass. Things could have gone badly then, but the subsequent investigation into Angel and John’s disappearance had deflected any serious questions.
Still, Skinner knew that his choice to save Mulder at his own expense would come home to roost. Following the reports by the border patrol officers in North Dakota and the recovery of the rubbings from a satchel bag at the accident site, Follmer had announced his intention to question Scully about her possible knowledge of the origin of the rubbings. Skinner knew that it would be a mistake, that it would force some kind of explanation, once Doggett and Reyes became aware of the possible connection to an X-File. But his own reaction at seeing those familiar symbols again, after the harrowing experience with Mulder in the hospital, had betrayed them.
After all those years, straddling the fence between serving the men who had placed him in his position and helping Mulder and Scully in their cause, seeing Mulder taken away in Oregon had forced him to make a stand. He had kept to that decision, even when it had cost him authority and favor in the Bureau. A year of standing firm against the tide, and then he had crumbled. It struck him to the core, knowing that he could compromise himself again so easily, but he forced himself to remember that it had been to save Mulder’s life, just as he had done it to save Scully all those years ago.
None of that would matter when his betrayal became known.
The phone rang, and for a few moments, he simply sat and stared at it, not wanting to pick it up. He knew who would be calling for him, the task he would be asked to perform. But in the end, there was nothing to be done, and he answered the phone, letting out a shuddering sigh as he brought the receiver to his ear.
“Assistant Director Skinner,” the voice rumbled, far too pleasant for the circumstances. “Agent Scully is on her way. You should bring the files to my office immediately. Our guests are waiting.”
“I understand,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. That was Kersh’s way of saying that at least one of the other senior agents working with Follmer was a product of the project. “I’m on my way.” Setting the phone back on the cradle, he pulled the files out of the drawer and looked at the edge of the rubbings in the plastic evidence bag. What secrets did those ancient symbols conceal? And what did it mean, that Mulder was somehow connected to it all again? Would it be worth all of the pain this day would cause?
Slamming the drawer closed and walking towards the door, Skinner couldn’t see how it could.
PHARMACEUTICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE
FEBRUARY 3, 2002
“Our guest’s name is Robert Comer,” McShane said to Mulder, watching the other man intently as he stood by the office door. “Is that name at all familiar to you?”
“No,” Mulder said, shaking his head slowly. “Should it be?”
“He’s an FBI agent, actually, so it was possible you had encountered him in the past,” McShane replied with a shrug. “Despite seeking your life, he has no recollection of you, so I wasn’t expecting you to remember him. Though he is hardly memorable.”
“He’s an agent?” Mulder said, his eyes flickering back in the direction of the parenteral wing, where the cold room had been located. “The super-soldiers, they’ve discovered this place? Tracked me down?”
“No,” McShane said, pursing his lips in thought. “That is the strange thing. He was assigned to investigate threats against your life by a cult in North Dakota, led by a man by the name of Josepho. Have you heard of him?” He nodded when Mulder shook his head. McShane gestured towards a seat on the other side of the table, and Mulder reluctantly complied.
“Josepho was a soldier assigned to a reconnaissance mission in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. During a particular phase of the mission, his squad was ambushed and largely slaughtered. Josepho survived, wounded but conscious. He saw four soldiers appear as if out of nowhere, rushing the Iraqi position in a frontal assault. Despite being riddled by enemy fire, they advanced and overwhelmed the Iraqis and then withdrew without a single moment of hesitation.” He smiled at Mulder’s expression of interest. “Sound familiar?”
Mulder nodded. “It could be a couple different things, but it does sound a lot like these super-soldiers we encountered.”
“And the timing confirms what we know of the history of the black projects,” McShane pointed out. “Josepho believed these soldiers to be angels, sons of God. He also believed them to be alien, based on their abilities. When he was discharged from the military, he relocated to the same area as your old friend Absalom and the UFO cults in the northern states. What he saw in those years, both in contact with Absalom and others, convinced him that the aliens were real. He became convinced that the aliens were meant to take control of the earth, that they were fated to do so. And he convinced others of the same. His belief became that much more credible when he was contacted by some of the super-soldiers themselves.”
Mulder gave McShane a quizzical glare. “That doesn’t make sense. From what we were told, these super-soldiers were part of a government project to defend against the alien plans for colonization. So why would they want to convince this Josepho that the aliens were meant to take over?”
“Things are not as simple as they appear, Mulder,” McShane replied with a smile. “It ought to be clear by now that even the best intentions of the conspiracies you sought to uncover went utterly awry.” He gestured towards the direction they had come. “Agent Comer, for instance, believes everything that Josepho has told him. And that is why he is here to kill you, despite still sending his reports back to the agent in charge of his assignment.”
“Agent Doggett,” Mulder guessed. He saw the look on McShane’s face, and frowned. “Then who assigned Comer to an X-File?”
“It wasn’t classified as an X-File,” McShane said with a slight smile. “And Comer was assigned to the case by your friend Walter Skinner.” He laughed at Mulder’s shocked expression.
“You see? Things are never as simple as they appear.”
MARCH 4, 2002
Monica looked over the mosaic of papers on her floor, unable to believe what she was looking at. It had been hard enough to believe that Walter had been keeping secrets from them all of this time, especially a case that might have been related to the UFO cults they had been investigating during Mulder’s initial disappearance. John was in North Dakota, having left as soon as she had assured him that she had enough knowledge of the Navaho dialect on the rubbings to complete the analysis on her own. He had hopes that if he could leave before confronting Skinner, he might be able to convince whoever was in charge to let him on the case.
Monica had a feeling it wouldn’t amount to much, but she agreed that he had to make the effort. Besides, there was enough information on the rubbings from the old X-File to keep her busy for much of the afternoon. Already, she had found herself fascinated by an entire section that seemed dedicated to a random assortment of letters. There was something familiar about it, she knew, but there was nothing that seemed to correlate with any of her previous experience.
What did seem strange was what Scully had told them. Or rather, what she hadn’t told them. She had said something about the information being a language, words of some kind, inscribed on the outer hull of a buried UFO. The vessel had apparently crashed there over a million years ago, on the east African coast. Dana had refused to say more, preferring to look after William, but Monica couldn’t help but notice the fear and awe in Scully’s eyes. There was something more to it all, something they hadn’t been told. Unfortunately, the report that went along with the rubbings was hardly informative, with entire sections left out or removed at some point. So little remained that John had been unable to identify the source of the rubbings, even though he had read all of the files in the office shortly after being assigned as Scully’s partner.
Monica mused over what she did know as she carefully translated another section of rubbings. Mulder had been contacted with information about an unknown artifact, from which rubbings like these had been taken. Mulder had reacted to the rubbings for some unknown reason, possibly related to his exposure to an unknown virus a couple years earlier. The exposure had led to changes in his brain chemistry that were still undetermined, other than the fact that the structure of several parts of his brain had been altered. The rubbings had been taken from a UFO found at the site from which the artifact had been removed. Mulder had been apparently cured and little more had been done to determine the meaning of the rubbings themselves. Like so many of the cases Mulder and Scully had investigated, there were more questions to be found than answers.
She was about to give up and consult one of her reference books when her eyes caught a familiar arrangement in another section by her feet. She moved to that section and reviewed the arrangement again, to be sure that she was reading it correctly. Sure of her discovery, she scanned the rest of the section and began confirming that there was a pattern, and that it fit what she had suspected.
“The periodic table,” she murmured, astounded. It was hard enough to believe that an alien culture would choose to inscribe the outside of their ship with writing that matched a modern dialect of Navajo. The possibilities presented by that discovery were too much to consider. But to find the periodic table of elements encoded within the language? Another thought occurred to her, and she returned to the first section she had been studying.
“Base pairs,” she said, blinking to make sure her eyes were still working properly. “Those are base pairs. DNA.” She checked the number of base pairs again. “Human DNA. What the hell is human genetic information doing on the outside of a UFO?”
Her confidence and wonder restored, she began scanning the other sections for familiar patterns, and soon enough, she had found a progression of prime numbers and a reasonable listing of scientific constants, mostly related to physics. But soon those sections were identified, leaving a number of sections completely unexplained. Sheet by sheet, she rechecked the arrangement, considering different ways to sort out the pages, until she caught a phrase that stopped her cold.
“The Zend Avesta,” she whispered. She sat back on her heels, staring at the words. Phrases depicted the creation of the world, and of man. She could contemplate aliens encoding scientific principles, using them as a basis for their culture, even inscribing them on their ships. But how could they possibly have knowledge of human religion? How could an alien race understand matter of faith, as seen and interpreted from a human point of view? Especially when everything they had been told referred to the aliens as an intelligent virus?
She scanned through the other sections, putting them together again, piece by piece. Here was a section with passages from the Q’uran, the Old Testament, myths and lore of creation from dozens of cultures spread across the globe. Stunned and almost unable to wrap her mind around the implications, she stopped herself halfway through the task and closed her eyes, thinking it through. Some of what she had seen was something she couldn’t recognize, and while she could continue on her own, she had come to realize why Scully had been so evasive. She had known more than just the potential hidden within these words. She had known something of the content. She had known just how dangerous and powerful these words could be, in the wrong hands.
Pulling herself to her feet, she reached for her cell phone.
PHARMACEUTICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE
FEBRUARY 3, 2002
“I don’t understand,” Mulder said finally, shaking his head, biting at his lower lip. “Why would Skinner assign an agent outside of the department to an X-File?”
“Agent Comer doesn’t have that information,” McShane replied, tapping at his temple. “But apparently he also had contact with a man by the name of Brad Follmer. Another assistant director under Kersh.”
“I don’t know anyone named Follmer personally,” Mulder admitted. “Though Scully did mention him once or twice, I think, back in the fall.” He considered the situation for a moment, and then shrugged. “If Kersh was involved, and the super-soldiers were in contact with this Josepho…that might explain Skinner’s actions. He might have kept Doggett and Reyes out of it to protect them.”
“And you think they will understand that?” McShane replied calmly. “Especially if it should become known that an attempt was made on your life, by the agent Skinner assigned in their place? Mulder, you need to look at the larger issues here. Skinner and Kersh may be sitting on the fence to ensure your safety, and the safety of your loved ones, but in the end, what does that really mean? What is the end result?”
Mulder shook his head, laughing slightly. “Why don’t you just tell me?”
“As long as Skinner and Kersh are protecting your friends,” McShane pointed out, “they will also be shielded from learning too much about the project. Perhaps enough to forestall any kind of resistance they might manage to generate. With your son under constant threat, regardless of whatever they might believe, the agents championing your cause are hamstrung. Don’t think for a moment that Kersh doesn’t know that, and that Skinner was chosen to aid your escape for that very reason.”
“Is that why we’re here?” Mulder asked, smiling slightly. He nodded confidently. “That’s what all of this is for. It’s not just about your mission, because you didn’t need me for that. Leakey, Mitch, the others…they would have delivered the body from Antarctica into your hands one way or another. But you wanted me here because you’re organizing the real resistance. And if they all want me dead, and they’ve maneuvered around Skinner and everyone else…”
“Then by having you on the team, we gain the advantage,” McShane confirmed. “Now do you understand what happened in December? It wasn’t just about foiling some plot to abduct your son, though that was certainly a large part of it. It wasn’t just about proving our intentions, or gaining your trust. More than all of that, it was a way to pass vital information to your allies, when every other avenue of disclosure has been shut down.”
McShane gestured towards the door again. “Agent Comer is going to be returned to Josepho and the cult, and they will be allowed to think that you’re dead. But we also need to use him to our advantage.” He leaned forward, tapping his temple again. “We’ll plant a seed in his mind, deep and dormant, slowly and persistently turning him away from belief in Josepho’s doctrines. And before long, he’ll make his move. He’ll force action from Skinner, and Kersh, and this Follmer. And then we’ll see just how far this conspiracy goes.”
MARCH 5, 2002
Scully opened the door, smiling faintly as Angel walked into the apartment. She glanced in the direction of the nursery, indicating that William was already asleep. Angel nodded, and when Scully gestured towards the table, she took a seat there and waited until Scully came out of the kitchen with two cups of green tea.
“Thanks for coming over on such short notice,” Scully said, trying to work the tension out of her neck. “Something’s happened, and I needed to talk to someone. Someone other than Monica or John, I mean.”
“Of course, anything I can do,” Angel replied. She watched Scully for a moment, her expression concerned. “What happened? Something with William?”
“No, not exactly.” Scully took a sip of the tea, and then placed the cup on the table, holding it between her hands tightly. “I was called into the deputy director’s office this morning. There was an agent working undercover within a cult. Some kind of UFO worshippers.” She shrugged. “Nothing special, but there was an accident when the agent attempted an illegal border crossing. The agent is missing, but at the accident site, they found dozens of pages. Rubbings of inscriptions and etchings.”
Angel listened silently, and then nodded to herself. “I can hear it in the tone of your voice. You’ve seen something like this before, haven’t you?” She set her cup to one side, and then leaned forward, with her arms on the table. “What kind of inscriptions?”
“Words,” Scully murmured. “In a dialect of Navaho, written on the outside surface of a UFO, recovered in Canada. These rubbings are similar to rubbings I took from the surface of a ship a little less than three years ago in east Africa. Rubbings that detailed a mapping of the human genome, the periodic table...passages from every holy book known to man. Chapter and verse regarding the creation of life and man.”
“I see.” Angel smiled slightly, but her expression was bitter. “Are you wondering what it might mean? Whether this could be what it seems to be?”
“I saw that ship with my own eyes,” Scully replied, as though Angel hadn’t spoken. “As hard as it might be to believe, science says that the ship in Africa was over a million years old. Perhaps several million years. And every religion is represented on its surface.” She looked from her cup into Angel’s eyes. “I look at these words, these symbols of power and creation, and I wonder why I was the one who found them. I wonder if they were meant for me to find.”
“Wonder?” Angel asked evenly. “Or fear?”
Scully smiled humorlessly. “As a scientist? Wonder. As a mother?” She shook her head, taking in a deep breath, then letting it out slowly. “Something inside of me, deep in the core of my being...it tells me that this has something to do with my son. Answers to his existence.”
Angel bit her lip as she considered her words. “And what part of you is listening to that voice? The scientist, or the mother?”
Scully sighed. “I don’t know.”
Angel nodded, as if expecting the answer. “You wouldn’t be the first person in the history of the world to feel as though something so extraordinary pertained directly to you. But perhaps, if what you say is true, there is more than a little reason to believe it.”
Scully’s eyes widened slightly. “I...I wasn’t expecting you to actually agree with me.” She let out a shuddering breath. “I think Monica was a little frightened at the thought. Though to be fair, she was still coping with the idea that something alien might have started everything we take for granted. Religion, science...our lives.”
“If that is what it means,” Angel pointed out. “Even if the ships in Africa and Canada had crashed millions of years ago, what tells you that the inscriptions originated before the ships crashed? The writing is in Navaho. And you said that you recognized passages from holy books. How many of those religions formed within the last thousand years, or during the recorded eras of history, for that matter? How would those holy books come from aliens, millions of years ago, when they are less than a couple thousand years old?”
“But the stories, the ideas and concepts, they’re much older than that,” Scully pointed out.
“And if you told me that these words described basic ideas and concepts, then I would grant you that,” Angel agreed. “But you didn’t say that. You said they were exact quotes from holy books. Which version, I wonder? You recognized passages from the Bible?” Scully nodded. “And which version of creation was written on the surface of this ship? One of the versions in the King James translation, or the one written and hidden in the Dead Sea Scrolls?”
“What are you saying?” Scully said finally, her expression defiant. “That this is some kind of hoax?”
“Only that things may not be as they appear,” Angel countered. “Like so much of what you’ve encountered, how much do you know about the context surrounding these events and objects and words?” She looked in the direction of the nursery. “On the other hand, you know exactly where William fits into your life and your world. Why worry about some words, powerful as they might be, written on a sheet of metal?”
“Because I know, just as much as I know that there’s some connection between these words and my son,” Scully replied evenly, “that there is something different about him. Whatever context might exist, that much I cannot deny.”
Angel shrugged. “Maybe there is. And maybe, whatever may be written about him or for him, it is simply a part of a greater whole. It may only be one side of the story. One version among many, like the stories of creation. Perhaps even a matter of metaphor.”
“Maybe,” Scully agreed. Even so, her expression remained hard and unyielding. “Maybe you’re right. But it doesn’t matter what I believe. Because there are people out there who still want to take him away. People with plans for him. And they believe. What choice do I have?”
PHARMACEUTICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE
FEBRUARY 3, 2002
“They want me dead, these cultists,” Mulder said, glancing over his shoulder towards the door. “That they’re connected in some way to the conspiracy behind the genetic engineering experiments behind the super-soldiers…I was willing to accept that they would want me dead, given that I seemed to resist the virus, but why would the cultists want me dead? And what does that have to do with my son?”
McShane didn’t answer, but instead turned to one side, tapping the keys of the old laptop computer on his desk. He seemed to search for something for a moment, and then smiled to himself, methodically clicking until he stopped several minutes later, turning back to Mulder.
“I want you to understand that when you see this, you shouldn’t worry.” He took hold of the laptop, turning it slowly so Mulder could see the image. “I have already made the necessary...adjustments...to ensure that you will not react.”
As soon as he saw what was on the screen, he looked away instinctively. But against his better judgment, he looked again, remembering the symbols all too well. “Where the hell did you get those?”
“They were on the computer already,” McShane replied with a shrug. “I understand if you are uncomfortable. The last time you saw a representation of this information, on a rubbing made from an artifact, it had quite an unexpected effect.”
“It changed me,” Mulder admitted, staring at the screen. “I could hear things, knew things...thoughts, desires, flashes of insight. Even predictions, visions.” Then his expression soured. “Scully had all of the originals, and as far as I remember, the only other copies were destroyed in a fire.” He pointed to the screen. “So where did you get this?”
“You were right about the originals,” McShane replied with a nod. “And the fire. The man who retrieved this information for me, under the pretense of working for the project, set the fire himself. The same man who provided the nanotechnology control system that we used in our analysis not long ago.”
Mulder frowned, his eyes blazing with anger and betrayal. “Krycek? You were working with Alex Krycek?” He shot to his feet. “You son of a bitch...”
“Sit down, Mulder,” McShane demanded evenly. He gestured to the chair with a sneer. “We could continue with this senseless posturing, of course, but it will get us nowhere. You want to understand this? Then you will sit and listen to what I have to say.”
“I know what kind of man Alex Krycek was,” Mulder retorted. “He was willing to work for anyone who could ensure his survival. And he was also more than willing to demand that Scully kill her own unborn child, in exchange for my life.” He pointed to the screen. “What game was he playing when he stole those and killed Michael Kritschgau? What game were you playing?”
McShane looked over his shoulder, and then pointed to a book on one of the shelves. “You have already met Dr. Leakey, and you know that I chose him specifically for his theories and writings regarding the so-called ‘sixth extinction’. An event, I might add, that your Scully researched as well.” He stood, taking hold of another volume. He placed it on the desk, and then turned it so Mulder could read the title: Native American Beliefs and Practices. “Do you remember what she told you?”
Mulder stared at the book, and then silently took his seat, not looking into McShane’s waiting gaze. “I remember. There were legends about some kind of viral apocalypse. One might call it a prophecy. Something about a man who would emerge to save humanity against the threat of extinction.”
“The legends originated with the Anasazi,” McShane confirmed, flipping to the section in the book that applied. He showed Mulder the words, so he could see them for himself: “The Anasazi - An Entire Native American Indian Culture Vanishes Without a Trace - History as Myth and end of the world symbolism. Apocalypse and The Sixth Extinction”.
Mulder smiled slightly, his expression thoughtful as he pondered the meaning of such a thing. “Several years ago, I met a man named Albert Holsteen. He was a Navaho shaman, one of their medicine men. He spoke of the Anasazi. He called them ‘ancient aliens’.”
McShane nodded, closing the book. “Albert. Yes. He understood what it is we have here. He knew the same legends described in this book. His people maintained the legacy of the Anasazi, and hidden within their stories and lore, one can discern their true nature.” He smiled slightly. “The Anasazi were not human, Mulder. They were a people who had been on this planet for a very long time. And they disappeared because it was time to prepare for what they had foreseen.”
“They were aliens,” Mulder said confidently. “The same aliens who came on that ship, the one Scully found in Africa. They created life, guided evolution, started our religions. They were among us all that time?”
“Is that what you believe?” McShane asked with a bemused expression. “That they came on those ships, created us? Haven’t you learned to look deeper than the most obvious answer to every question?” He gestured towards the screen. “You know that you will travel over a million years into the past, along with that massive spacecraft that you discovered in Antarctica. You know that this is going to happen. Why presume, then, that the ship Scully discovered had its origin in the distant past? Why presume that the beings on that ship were aliens, and that they created humanity and our conceptions of God?”
Mulder laughed. “What, am I supposed to believe that the ship came from the future? That aliens in the future are going to inscribe the human genome and scripture on their ships for no reason at all? Do you have any idea how insane that sounds?”
“No more insane than the idea that Josepho and his band of merry men uncovered a second ship, not long ago, after he saw a supposed vision that told him where to look.” McShane pointed to the screen again, ignoring Mulder’s expression of equal confusion and surprise. “A second ship, Mulder, with inscriptions just like these, buried in a field near Calgary. He believes the super-soldiers are the sons of God, and that God himself is within that buried vessel. And that’s not all he believes.”
“What?” Mulder demanded, turning away from the screen, looking into McShane’s eyes. “What did that man tell you?”
McShane’s smile widened. “They found another version of the prophecy, Mulder. Hidden within the words imprinted on that ship they found. Josepho believes that the prophecy speaks of your son, and more to the point, he believes that it speaks of you.”
“What does it say?” Mulder whispered.
McShane chuckled. “You know what it says, Mulder.” He leaned forward, smiling widely.
“It says you have to die.”
MARCH 5, 2002
“Scully!” Doggett stepped out of the office into the hallway, then ran to catch up with her. “Damn it, Dana, hold on a second. We need to talk.”
“There’s nothing more to talk about, Agent Doggett,” Scully said without turning. She stabbed the call button for the elevator, then wrapped her arms tightly across her chest. “You heard what Skinner claimed. That Mulder was killed by someone loyal to this rogue military officer, maybe even by Comer himself. He admitted that he was keeping secrets from us, purposefully keeping you and Monica off this case.” Finally, she looked up at him, her eyes full of pain. “We trusted him, John. I trusted him. After Mulder was taken, after everything that happened…and now this.” She shook her head, stepping into the empty elevator as it opened. “I have to go back, get William, before something else happens.”
Doggett stepped into the elevator with her, and waited for the doors to close. “You don’t actually believe that Mulder is dead? You have to know better than that.” When she didn’t answer, he sighed, relenting. “What exactly are you planning?”
“I have no idea what to do. I would take him to my mother, but after Melissa…” She shook her head. “No, I can’t do that. There has to be something else, another way to keep him safe. From the cultists or the FBI.”
Doggett held up a hand for silence, then glanced up at the ceiling. Scully understood immediately. Doggett pulled out his notebook from his pocket, writing at an angle that concealed the words from the security camera. Finally, he tore it out, folded it, and handed it to Scully. She raised an eyebrow as she stuffed it into her own pocket.
“Just trust me this time,” Doggett said firmly. “I’ll make a couple calls once we’re clear. Make sure everything’s set up.” He eyed her warily. “Can you do that?”
Scully seemed like she wanted to question him, maybe even challenge him, but she only nodded in agreement.
Scully waited at the table impatiently, glancing down every so often at the paper John had handed her. His reasoning escaped her completely. Why would he want her to meet someone here, of all places, and under these circumstances? It had taken some doing to convince Monica to stay at the apartment with William again, after what they had seen. But even Monica had come to the conclusion that William needed to be taken someplace safe. John hadn’t said as much, but she doubted that it would come as much of a surprise when he learned of their plans.
But first, she had to make those plans, and waiting for unknown persons in a deserted music club was beginning to seem like a waste of time.
She looked up, and was shocked to find Byers, Langly, and Frohike coming towards her, their expressions serious. She tucked the note into her pocket absently as she stood, smiling nervously. “Is it too much to hope that you were the ones Agent Doggett sent to meet with me?”
Byers nodded. “He didn’t say why, only that it had something to do with another matter we were investigating, and locating someplace where prying eyes and ears wouldn’t reach.” He looked over at Langly and Frohike, his expression turning agitated. “We weren’t sure how much he had told you.”
“Told me?” Scully asked, scowling. “Why? Is there something I should know?”
Frohike slid into one of the empty seats, shrugging. “Nothing much. After that business with Mulder at the end of the year, we managed to get some information about the surveillance network. We managed to locate some areas that weren’t covered.”
Langly nodded as he took a seat next to Frohike. “Agent Doggett and AD Skinner spent some time a couple months ago looking into the information.” He glanced at Byers, as if wondering how much he should say.
“The investigation ended, for all intent purposes, around the end of January,” Byers added. “Since then, we’ve been monitoring the specific areas that we determined were safe. Most of them are still outside of the network, as far as we can tell.”
“They are.” The four of them turned at the sound of Angel’s voice coming from the entrance. Craig was standing with her, his expression grim. Angel walked towards the table slowly, her eyes falling on each of the three men at the table, as if taking their measure. “I assume you are here for that reason?”
“What do you mean?” Scully said, glancing at the boys before looking back at Angel. “John did set up this meeting, didn’t he?”
Craig nodded. “He called me, asked me to bring Angel to the club, said that he’d meet us here.” He looked around. “Why do I have the feeling he’s not here?”
“Because he wanted us to come here and meet with Dana and her friends, not him,” Angel replied, as though it was obvious. She turned to Scully. “Dana, I’m sorry. I was under the impression when we last spoke that it had been a theoretical discussion. I had no idea that there would be an attempt on William’s life.”
Scully nodded. “I know. I’m not even sure that anyone was expecting Comer to take it this far. But maybe now you understand why it doesn’t matter what I think of my son, when there are people like him out there.” She sighed, rubbing her forehead to relieve the tension. “So this is one of the places not covered by that surveillance network?”
“This club, my store, my apartment,” Angel confirmed. Seeing the look of surprise and worry in Scully’s eyes, she shook her head. “It wasn’t planned to deal with any specific threat. But it was intended to keep prying eyes away from our conversations.” She turned to the boys. “Can we leave it at that?”
“They can, for now,” Scully replied for them, glaring at the three men to ensure their compliance. They looked less than convinced, but they understood the need. Scully smiled slightly in thanks, and then turned back to Angel and Craig. “We need to get William someplace secure, until we can resolve this. Maybe for a long time. Can you help?”
“I can, but it wouldn’t be wise to choose a location here in the city or the nearby suburbs,” Angel said, turning to the Gunmen.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have any information beyond the metropolitan area and the district,” Langly added.
“We could work with Angel, if you want,” Frohike said, trying to keep the reluctance out of his voice. He turned to her. “You have other places we could go, places outside of the national network?”
“I can think of a few places we could go,” Angel said with a nod. She tilted her head towards Craig. “We could make the necessary arrangements, while your friends prepare a means of ongoing communication. Would it be correct to assume that they are talented in that sort of thing?” Scully nodded, while the boys shifted slightly in their seats. “Good. Then we’re agreed. I’ll make sure he’s safe.”
“One thing,” Byers said quickly, glancing at Langly and Frohike, who were just as alarmed. “We ought to get out of town ourselves, if only to make sure they can’t track down Angel or William through us.” He nodded towards Scully. “We’ll meet in an hour, at our usual place. Then we’ll proceed to the first location, where Angel ought to wait for us. Then we’ll stick together.”
Angel tensed, but then nodded. “If that is what you need to do, to trust me with William.” She turned to Scully. “You should get back. John ought to be stopping by your apartment soon, to find out what we’ve planned. You’ll need Monica’s help to get everything prepared in time.”
Scully stood, nodding her agreement. “All right.” She turned to the boys, smiling tightly. “An hour.” Then she regarded them all. “I want to thank you for doing all of this. I know you’ll do everything you can to keep William safe.”
PHARMACEUTICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE
FEBRUARY 3, 2002
“I have to die,” Mulder repeated, peering at McShane quizzically. “Why do I have to die?”
McShane turned the laptop towards himself again. “That depends, according to which version of the prophecy you adhere to.” McShane tapped a few keys. “The general prophecies are actually quite vague. They speaks of a time, roughly ten years from now, when the human race will face extinction, due to what has been called a ‘viral apocalypse’. If you recall what Craig once explained to Agent Doggett, this may not be the most accurate description. But it will do, under the current circumstances.”
McShane gestured in the direction of the research labs. “Dr. Kasten, Dr. Laufer, the others…they are working to understand the evolution of a virus that is even now being prepared for mass dispersal. The experiments that some believe gave life to your son are a part of that process.”
“According to Kersh,” Mulder interjected, “those experiments were meant to stimulate pregnancy, alter the genetic makeup of the child. Create an organic super-soldier.”
McShane nodded. “The organic super-solider is only the first step, even if it is the final goal of the men in charge of the experiments.” He gestured towards the screen, even though only he could see the words. “The current nanotechnology behind the existing super-soldiers has been exposed as vulnerable to extreme heat and certain magnetic compounds. As we have discussed in the past, the organic version of the super-soldier has only one key weakness, which you have seen for yourself.” He tapped the back of his neck. “A central organ where the organic analogue of the control implant resides.”
McShane leaned forward. “The prophecy makes it clear that everything up to this point was meant to happen. It is a matter of seeing the signs and recognizing the connections. The men who began the project only had a few pieces of the puzzle, and even then, different factions held different pieces. When they allied themselves with the colonists, assuming they would get more information through collaboration…they were wrong.”
“What does this have to do with the prophecy?” Mulder demanded, his expression tight.
“The prophecy explains that there is a ‘miracle child’, born of parents with exceptional gifts,” McShane explained. “There are indications, vague as they are, that the child will be raised by the ‘undying’. The super-soldiers and their adherents believe this refers to them. When the transition begins, and the decision point is reached, it is said that if the father dies, then the child will be free to lead the aliens to total dominion and victory. The human race will be destroyed. If the father lives, then the child will resist the outside forces, and humanity will be preserved.”
McShane held up a hand for silence. “Or so they believe. And the details are slightly different depending on the version you subscribe to. Even the outcome differs. The oldest prophecies, the ones I have studied and which pertain to my kind, speak of a man who will save the human race. The prophecies these others believe in, those like Josepho, believe that someone will come to bring victory to the colonists.”
“It can’t be both,” Mulder observed.
“Of course it can,” McShane replied with a grin. “Mulder, has it ever occurred to you that the death they foretell, the one they think they need to bring about, actually foretells your actions ten years from now? Whatever you might do to send that giant spacecraft over a million years into the past, yourself included?”
Mulder paled. “But you just said it yourself. They believe that if I die, the aliens will win.” He slumped back in his seat, laughing to himself. “Are you telling me that this is all for nothing? That we can’t win?”
McShane shook his head, his grin still intact. “On the contrary. You are forgetting that the aliens aren’t truly alien. We’ve proven that. The virus that is supposedly alien is the ultimate expression of a genetically engineered ‘virus’ which allows a human being total control over physical characteristics. The beings that Josepho and these others believe are aliens?” McShane laughed softly. “They are the human race, Mulder. And if you ‘live’…they win.”
MARCH 5, 2002
Scully stood next to the bed, staring down at John’s motionless body. Beneath the tangle of tubes and wires, he lay breathing methodically, otherwise unresponsive to the world around him. She glanced at bandages, red in spots from the sopping of blood, and something gripped her even more tightly inside. It was bad enough to think of Mulder being out there somewhere, possibly dead without her knowing. But with William gone, stolen away by the cultists, and John possibly gone forever as well? It was nearly too much to bear. She wrapped her arms around herself tightly, turning away from the bed and stepping out of the room, letting out a shuddering breath.
“Dana?” She looked down the hall, and saw Angel running in her direction, Craig not far behind. “Dana, I just heard from Monica, and came right away. William?”
“Gone,” Scully replied, her voice low with fear, anger, and regret. “AD Follmer is putting together a task force. They promise me they’ll do everything they can to find him.”
Angel nodded. “That’s what Monica said.” She saw the unspoken question in Scully’s eyes, and shook her head. “I’m sorry, Dana. I don’t know where he is.” She gestured towards the door. “John?”
“No response,” she replied, stepping out of the way so Craig and Angel could enter. She fell into step behind them, keeping her distance from the bed. “He was struck by a car, most likely the same woman who took William. The doctors aren’t sure how much damage there might have been.” Craig turned to her, and she shrugged. “They want to give him an MRI sometime early this morning.”
Angel bent down to look at John’s face, and then turned to Craig. “I’m going to step out for a moment. I’ll be right there.” She gestured for Scully to follow her, and together the two women stepped into the hallway.
“Is there anything you can do?” Scully asked directly. She nodded towards the room. “For either of them?”
“Probably more for John than William, at this point,” Angel replied with a sigh. She shook her head. “It’s not going to be as easy as you might think. Restoring his memory is one thing. This is physical damage, a matter of access.”
“Just do what you can,” Scully murmured, biting her lip. She placed her palm against her forehead, closing her eyes. “I can’t believe this is happening. I always feared that there might be some danger to my son, with the attempt on Mulder’s life, and the things he’s done…I just thought we could protect him.” She opened her eyes, glancing towards the room again. “Mulder did, too. He asked me to place my trust in John. And all I’ve done is let him down.”
Angel glanced in the same direction, and then placed a hand on Scully’s shoulder. “Don’t blame yourself, Dana. Not for this. John was injured trying to stop that woman from finding William. You didn’t place him in that position, he chose it for himself. He was willing to give his life for your son, you understand?”
Scully nodded, but her eyes never strayed from the direction of the room. “I just wish I had the chance to make it up to him.” Finally, she looked away, tears welling in her eyes. “Jesus, I’ve said that so many times lately.” She pointed at her face, indicating the wetness on her cheeks. “And this…I’m getting so damned tired of doing this.”
“These are painful, trying times,” Angel reminded her. “Go see what the Bureau is doing to find your son. Let the rest of us look after John.”
Scully hesitated, but Angel’s expression forced her to comply. “I’ll check with Monica once I know what they have planned.” Angel nodded, and with that, Scully strode quickly down the hallway.
“They told us, you know,” Craig said, staring down at John’s face. He nodded towards the door. “The men that Dana asked us to work with to protect William. They admitted that they were investigating Angel. Them, Walter…you.” He closed his eyes, shaking his head. “Can’t say I blame you. She is keeping secrets, even from me. And now I hear that Walter’s been keeping secrets from you.”
He reached for the nearest chair, pulling it to the side of the bed, so he could sit close to John’s ear. “The funny thing is, I thought I could get away from all of that. Thomas kept so many things from me, when he was training me to fight for his cause, to protect my sister and Rhiannon. When I saw the way you handled that, how you fought to get to the truth, or as close as anyone could come…”
He stopped, running his hands down his face, as if trying to wipe away the weariness. “Angel’s shown me so much, John, ways to use my gifts to help people, maybe even make the world a better place. Maybe I thought that the secrets were just a matter of privacy, a way of protecting herself. Just like you were protecting me and Dana by not telling us about the investigation. I’d like to think that’s why you didn’t say anything.”
He leaned forward, his arms on the bedrail. “Secrets have a way of getting out, John. The things we keep inside, sooner or later, they become known. And that makes trust a difficult thing. I know that Dana’s angry with Walter, and you probably don’t trust him nearly as much as you used to…but maybe, after all you’ve done for me, the second chances and the friendship…maybe I can give you a little something back.”
He paused, looking over his shoulder. “I’m still going to trust you, John. Both of us will. Because in the end, we know you had everyone’s best interests at heart. It wasn’t about you. And I guess, if everyone keeps secrets and hidden agendas like Thomas, then it’s intentions that make all the difference. Your intentions were honest. And for what it’s worth, I think Walter’s intentions were honest as well.”
He heard movement by the door, and saw Angel standing there, watching him. He smiled slightly, unable to bring himself to flash his usual grin. “How is she?”
“Worried,” Angel replied simply. “But I think her determination will win through in the end. Now it’s just a matter of making sure that it does.”
Craig raised his eyebrows. “You can help her find William?”
Angel smiled. “Not exactly. But I think I can help William find her.” She glanced at Doggett. “And maybe a bit more. Something long overdue.” She looked back to Craig. “I told Dana we’d keep an eye on John, make sure nothing happens. She didn’t come right out and say it, but she’s worried that certain elements within the Bureau might take advantage of this situation. Would you mind keeping watch by the door?”
Craig nodded, standing and grabbing the back of the chair. “Consider it done.” When she stepped into the room to let him pass, he looked back at John. “Staying?”
“For a moment,” Angel confirmed. She placed a hand on Craig’s shoulder, smiling up at him. “I heard what you said. Thank you.”
Craig started to say something, but then just nodded, pulling the chair through the door and taking up guard in the hallway.
Angel waited until Craig was sitting in the hallway to close the door. She wasn’t concerned that Craig might overhear something. At least, not anymore. He had already heard enough about her nature to make such considerations moot, and she had no intention of mentioning anything more detailed now. But there was always the chance that Dana or Monica might stop by unannounced, and she didn’t want them to hear what she was about to say.
She walked over to the bed, staring down into John’s face. There was something peaceful about his expression now, as though a burden had been lifted, and she felt a stab of regret, knowing that once he awoke, the pain and obligation would come rushing back. That had happened too many times in the past few months, and even then, the temptation to let him forget was almost overwhelming. But she knew now, as she did then, that he needed that pain. He needed the memories to carry on. But just as much, he needed to find that chance for redemption. To find something worth living for.
Reaching out to stroke his head, her fingers softly brushing his hair, she leaned her hip against the bed. “I never wanted to see you like this, John. Ever since that night, I’ve wanted nothing more than to see you smiling again, happy, full of life, like you were before it all fell apart. I know, if things had turned out the way they were planned, you still would have been left broken, but at least there would have been hope. The same kind of hope that kept Mulder going all these years.”
She closed her eyes, her fingers slowing as they traced across his hairline. “Amazing, isn’t it? How we could both be seeking redemption for the same thing, all this time. And here we are, still searching. I knew our paths would cross, that I would have to help you find peace, but I never expected things to turn out this way. And very little surprises me anymore.”
Her fingers came to rest by his temple. “William is in no danger. At least, not from those who took him, or the circumstances they are about to bring down on themselves. William has ways of protecting himself, and the ones who created that ship want him to survive. So long as Dana finds him, before the elements can take their toll, he will live. That much is certain.”
She opened her eyes, leaning over John, her eyes tracing his features. “Left on your own, you would recover as well, in time. Very little can harm you now, but you’ll discover that in the days ahead. What you need more than that is a chance to make a difference. A chance to see how your gifts can be a blessing instead of a curse. William is calling, John. Dana is too distracted to listen, and Mulder doesn’t know how. And Monica…Monica is fighting for you, searching for her own answers.”
She removed her hand, leaning closer, her lips near his ear. “You’ve been sleeping for a very long time, John. It’s time to let it go. Listen to the wider world around you, and let it guide you. It’s time to wake up.”
PHARMACEUTICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE
FEBRUARY 3, 2002
“But I’ve seen aliens,” Mulder protested. “We’ve seen the wreckage and technology. Scully’s confirmed that there are characteristics to the DNA of the hybrids that don’t match human DNA.”
“And yet she also admitted, even offered proof, that the basic structure of the black oil virus was already a part of the human genetic code,” McShane countered. “And you’ve seen the progress of the experiments yourself. You saw that the experiments to begin hybridization, as they called it, were only recently coming to fruition. Emily, Cassandra Spender, the others…all part of the chain leading us to this critical time in our history.”
“Cassandra Spender,” Mulder said, pointing towards McShane animatedly. “How do you explain what happened to her? The Cancer Man, Spender…he admitted that they were collaborating with the colonists, the aliens, to create a hybrid. She was that hybrid, and her existence was supposed to bring about colonization. How can you explain that?”
McShane smiled knowingly. “Haven’t we already mentioned context? Placing these events into the proper perspective? What the men in that little consortium didn’t know left them vulnerable to their own assumptions. The fact is, Mulder, there are several different factions working against one another, all trying to create the future they desire. That’s what we’re all trying to do, my friend, just as those men were. They lost in their gamble, because they never realized just how vulnerable they were to being used.”
He leaned forward, his elbows on his desk. “Very soon, those behind the genetic engineering experiments will launch a program that will result in the end of the human race as we know it. Their goal is nothing less than the extermination of the human race with the passing of the current generation. Should they succeed, the next generation will be born in the form of these organic super-soldiers, artificially as the next step in our evolution.”
“Impossible,” Mulder breathed.
“It’s already begun,” McShane persisted. “In their eyes, your son marks the beginning, the final success of the experimentation. The past year has been spent developing the means of delivery, utilizing a chemical additive to water treatment facilities nationwide, if not worldwide. Agent Doggett stumbled upon part of that, during an internal struggle within the project. But the timetable has not changed.
“In the years that follow, a silent war will be waged for control. Imagine, Mulder, a war against an enemy that cannot be distinguished from allies. Enemies that can eliminate and take the place of any world leader, military commander, corporate president…anyone. Enemies that hold as their most precious and holy tenet the ideal of genetic purity and perfection. A tenet that leads to their undoing…a further evolution.”
He raised his left hand, fingers outspread, counting off as he spoke. “There are at least five different groups working against one another, often utilizing the same resources and pawns in the game, each vying for control. Two of those groups are human. One group seeks to use genetic engineering to create the perfect human genome, these organic super-soldiers, as an extension of the eugenics program dating back nearly 100 years. The other group comprises those elements within the power structure aligned against this program. For the last ten years, they have been systematically used and exterminated. You and your friends, of course, are an example of the latter.
“Then there are the so-called aliens, the genetically engineered humans. They originate from what you might call a ‘possible future’. You have seen this yourself, the mutable nature of time, read the science behind it. In fact, if I recall, Scully was educated in this subject as well. Interesting choice, then, for those men to select her as your partner. You might wonder if there was some connection there.”
Mulder tried to ask a question, but McShane waved him silent. “In this possible, even probable future, the organic super-soldiers have replaced humanity, only to find themselves facing replacement by a stronger, more versatile and pervasive mutation. Some remain 'uninfected’, and they represent a faction aligned against the spread of the mutation. They war with each other, here and out there,” he glanced towards the ceiling, “in what ultimately results in the complete dominance of the mutation as the singular form of intelligent life.”
“And that’s where all of this comes in,” Mulder said, understanding dawning behind his eyes. He waved at the room around him, encompassing the entire complex in his meaning. “I always felt that you were holding something back. You told us that this was about discovering how the virus was created, learning the plans of the project, but you just told me what those plans are. So you’ve never been concerned with that. It was just a means to an end.” Mulder nodded to himself smugly. “You’ve been trying to find out how the mutation occurred, how you can stop it. That’s it, isn’t it?”
McShane sat back in his seat, pondering his words. “The mutation involves the complete break between the physical and the spiritual, the ability of the consciousness to exist wholly independent of physical form. It still requires physicality to interact on this level of reality, hence the host form and the black oil viral form. But in essence, the ultimate, artificially-evolved form of humanity is a kind of interconnected hive consciousness. And like most newborns, they are vulnerable to older and more powerful forces.”
Mulder’s eyes went wide. “Wait a second. That thing you involved Agent Doggett in, that entity you fought…”
“A child itself,” McShane murmured. “Rendered mad by its entry into our physical world. So imagine what would happen, my friend, if the sum of humanity’s collective intelligence were to step blindly and far too quickly into the realm of pure intellect…only to find itself subsumed by a much more powerful and malevolent gestalt of mind. The darkness, balanced in perfect equilibrium with the light, until a foolish and immature species gives one side a means to tilt that balance.”
McShane let out a long sigh. “These colonists are the pawns of the malevolence within the greater intelligence of the universe, Mulder. With every being they infect, they gain power. And having originated in a state of existence higher than our own, spanning far more dimensions, outside the restrictions of time and space, they act to preserve the creation of their pawns. The rebellion against that mutation seeks to preserve their own creation, while at the same time undercutting the influence of the colonists. Both of those groups have used the human infrastructure and the super-soldiers themselves to further their goals.”
“Which is why they seem to be at odds, even within the project itself,” Mulder reasoned.
“Exactly,” McShane confirmed.
Mulder stood, rubbing his chin as he paced the room. He stalked back and forth across the room several times before coming to a stop, turning to McShane. “If what you say is true, that there is some kind of balance being maintained, and the malevolence is gaining ground…then by the same reasoning, some kind of benevolence must be acting as well.”
McShane smiled widely. “And if you are as insightful as you are reputed to be, Mulder, then I’m sure you’ve already guessed at the nature of that response.”
“The sentinels,” Mulder replied. McShane answered with a nod. “So these shamans, holy men in the ancient times, the ones who helped develop the breeding program that you claim resulted in the sentinels…they were in contact with this greater intelligence.”
“Granted visions, given signs, take your pick,” McShane confirmed. “Human beings bred to maximize strength of will, mind over matter. We are, as I have told you, exactly what the super-soldiers were meant to be. Their opposite number, if you like.”
“Agent Doggett said that you have these abilities for a specific purpose,” Mulder continued. “To watch over specific points on the planet, areas where the barriers between this world and the world of pure intelligence are thin.”
McShane nodded. “We call them ‘gates’, for that reason, though the scientific explanation would be somewhat more technical and obtuse.” He smiled again, regarding Mulder with interest. “Do you remember the discussion we had before the incident in December?”
Mulder shrugged. “I guess so. Which part did you have in mind?”
“There were plans to have the abductees with the control implants gather at specific points,” McShane reminded him. “There, they would be contacted by the colonists. The rebels also knew about those places, used the control implants to call the abductees earlier than expected.”
“Those locations, the abduction points,” Mulder muttered with a sly grin. “Of course. They coincide with the gates, don’t they?”
McShane nodded. “They do. When the time comes, we are meant to keep colonization, as they deem it, from occurring. In the meantime, we are supposed to keep watch.” McShane shifted in his seat, suddenly uncomfortable. “Most of my brothers and sisters interpret this to be a passive task. They watch, certainly, and perhaps even commune with those greater forces that gave us being. But on the whole, they are inactive.” He smiled tightly. “My experiences have taught me that waiting for a threat simply allows it time to prepare the perfect attack.”
“I’ve seen your idea of active response,” Mulder countered. “Somehow I doubt it was what your benefactors had in mind.”
“And that is none of your concern,” McShane snapped back. He pointed at Mulder in warning. “You are here, Mulder, because they want to kill you, and take possession of your son. I cannot allow that.”
“Something you still haven’t fully explained,” Mulder reminded him. “All right, so you’ve explained the motivations of all these conflicting groups, but you still haven’t made it clear why you need me here, and why they want me dead.”
McShane sighed, and then shrugged, rubbing his forehead. “The colonists and rebels want you dead because they think that you could stop them, and if they killed you, you might be resurrected in their service. The humans want you dead to discover how you were able to resist the super-soldier process.” He smiled again. “We want you alive because you need to survive for the next ten years, to fulfill your destiny and close the circle. You are here specifically because they will continue to hunt you until there is nothing you can do to stop them, in their eyes. Should they succeed in their current strategy, then things will be different. In the meantime, I thought it would be mutually beneficial to have you here, under my protection, where you can learn as much about what is coming as we can determine. The things you will need to teach William, so he can develop the proper defense.”
“With the side benefit of having me as a lab rat,” Mulder added drolly.
“Of course,” McShane agreed. “As I said before, the others all want control of your son because they believe he is the genetically perfect example of what they wish to achieve. They see him as the key to their efforts, the culmination of their work to this point.” He shook his head. “They are wrong.”
“Wrong, how?” Mulder demanded.
“William’s conception was aided by the interventions of the eugenics experiments, the nanotechnology in Scully’s system due to her implant, her exposure to the virus, all of that,” McShane replied, “but when it was inevitable that the two of you would come together, as they intended for you to do…” McShane shrugged. “A higher power intervened, chose the moment, and made possible a miracle.”
Mulder closed his eyes, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “How am I supposed to accept that? Believe that everything we ever did together was fated or manipulated?”
McShane shrugged again. “Believe what you like. But the time is coming quickly, Mulder. Josepho and others like him will be making their moves to get control of your son. They will try to possess him, and if they have to kill your loved ones and friends in the process, they will not hesitate to do so.”
Mulder stared at McShane, resolve flashing behind his eyes. “If what you say is true, then I can’t let that happen. And neither can you.”
“Which is why you need to know these things, and allow me to do what is necessary to get the answers,” McShane said with a heavy sigh. “When someone moving against your son comes along, and we have the opportunity to question him, I need to be able to do what it takes to get that information, make the adjustments, counter the attacks.” He leaned forward, peering into Mulder’s eyes. “Object to my methods all you like, but when push comes to shove, I am working to keep our strategy viable.”
“So the plan is to learn about their projects, sabotage them if we can, and what then?” Mulder asked, slumping into his seat. “If we disrupt the timetable, even stop the creation of these organic super-soldiers altogether, then from what you’ve said, it’s over. But what if we fail? What then?”
“Protect you, William, and the other sentinels until colonization,” McShane replied confidently. “There are other aspects to the strategy, of course, but you’ll see them unfold very soon. Most of them have been in place for years. And if we fail in that, there is a contingency plan.”
“What contingency plan?” Mulder asked with a frown.
McShane shook his head. “I don’t know what the plan is. Only who is preparing to implement it, should the need arise.”
Mulder heard some reservation in McShane’s voice, a hint of tension that he had not heard often over the past six months. “Who is it?”
McShane smiled. “Haven’t you guessed?”
MARCH 6, 2002
The Asian woman turned, William sleeping peacefully on her shoulder. Scully stepped through the front door, Monica right behind her. Angel immediately slid William into his mother’s waiting arms. “He just fell asleep. Poor thing was exhausted.”
“Thanks for watching him,” Scully said with a warm smile. “John ought to be released in a couple days. They just wanted to keep him under observation for a while, to be sure there’s no lasting effects from the accident.”
“Of course,” Angel replied with a smile. She turned to Monica as Scully took William into the nursery. “Craig called when John awoke from the coma. He said something happened? Some sort of vision?”
Monica nodded, biting her lower lip. “John said that before he woke up, he heard a voice. It told him that Josepho would be contact with Scully, that she shouldn’t trust them, and that he should tell her as much. Not in so many words, but that turned out to be the meaning.”
Angel regarded Monica curiously. “And he accepted this message, passed it on?”
Monica nodded, her expression strained. “I don’t know how to explain it…if it can even be explained. He’s not questioning that he heard the voice, or whether it was real. It’s more that he’s wondering who it might have been.” She smiled slightly. “It was extraordinary. I never thought I would see him accept something like this.”
Scully stepped back into the living room, giving Angel an incredulous look. “I was there, obviously, and I have to agree with Monica. It wasn’t like him. He gave me that message, told me what he had heard, with an urgency that only someone…” She shook her head. “He believed it.”
“I don’t know, but I think he knew it would help save William,” Monica said, leaning against the back of the couch. “He’s still a bit conflicted, confused…but he’s more at peace now than I’ve seen him in quite some time. Maybe ever. Almost as though this was some measure of redemption.”
“I know he thought he let his son down, and that admitting that he might have some kind of psychic ability would somehow mean he failed to do everything possible to save him,” Scully mused. “Maybe this was the only way he could let himself change that. To do it unconsciously, saving another child.”
“A child he cares about,” Monica added, and Scully nodded.
“I hope you’re right,” Angel added. She glanced at Scully. “I also heard what the attacker told you, this business about prophecy and your son. You believe it?”
Scully shook her head. “I’m not sure what to believe. I’ve read prophecies that I thought were referring to Mulder that were similar but opposite. Is it so hard to believe that there might have been more to it? Or that they were really talking about our son?” She looked back towards Angel. “But then you said it yourself, when all of this started. How do we know where any of this came from, or what it might refer to?”
“Maybe it’s like you said,” Angel replied. “That’s it’s enough that they believe in it, and that it refers to William, because the danger is the same either way.”
“Perhaps,” Scully murmured, and then she sighed, glancing towards the bedroom. “It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten any sleep, so if you don’t mind…”
“Of course,” Monica answered, as Angel nodded. The two women hugged Scully, and then muttering their soft good-byes, left the apartment together.
“Did you need a ride home?” Angel asked, as they approached the stairs.
“No, that’s all right,” Monica replied absently. She stopped at the top of the stairs, looking down at Angel with disapproval. Angel turned when she reached the first landing, turning towards Monica with an expectant expression. Monica didn’t let that prevent her from pressing forward. “It was you, wasn’t it? The voice that John heard…you told him what was going to happen.”
Angel smiled slightly, pausing before answering the question. “It’s not so simple as that. It never is.”
Monica’s expression twisted into one of confusion anger. “Then you knew? You knew where William was all that time, and you said nothing? How could you do that?”
Angel shook her head. “Like I said…it’s not that simple.” She sighed, trying to think of the right words. “It would be correct to say, in a sense, that it’s not necessary to have known William’s physical location in order to know his condition, or the steps that would be taken.”
Monica shook her head. “I don’t understand what you mean by that.”
Angel shrugged. “Some things are easier done than said.”
“But you knew,” Monica repeated. “You knew what was going to happen.”
“I had suspicions,” Angel allowed. She glanced in the direction of Scully’s apartment. “For that matter, so did she. She predicted that something like this would happen. Would you fault her as well?”
Angel turned to continue down the stairs, but Monica’s voice stopped her. “Do you believe in the prophecies, Angel?”
Angel looked up at Monica, and there was sadness in her eyes. “Does it matter?”
PHARMACEUTICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE
FEBRUARY 3, 2002
Mulder didn’t feel the chill of the breeze as he walked along the concrete of the walkway circling the administrative building. His thoughts were still swirling with the information that McShane had provided him, trying to sort it all out, make sense of it. He wished that he could talk to Scully, tell her everything that he had been told, let her calm his fears or give some alternative explanation. He laughed to himself as he realized that Doggett had done exactly that, when he had first encountered McShane. Just another way that they were more alike than they would ever want to admit.
For so many years, he had been searching for the truth, chasing after answers to questions he hadn’t even known to ask. So many of those answers had pointed to men who had done horrible, terrible things in the name of the “greater good”. He had resisted the temptation of turning to them so many times, believing that everything they were doing exacted too high a price for survival. Only when it had meant Scully’s life had he been willing to compromise those principles, only to find that other deals had been made, other costs counted.
Now, he knew even more than any of those men had known. They had never seen the markings inscribed on the craft in Africa, nor had they survived long enough to see the culmination of the eugenics project. Even if Spender or Krycek or even his father had known most of what he knew now, he was still facing something more immediate and terrifying. They had chosen, in the end, to place their families in the center of the maelstrom. He had never been given that choice, but all the same, he found himself walking in their footsteps.
Agent Doggett’s warnings about Thomas McShane had only scratched the surface of what truly lay beneath the surface. John and Monica had told all of them, more than once, that McShane had left human considerations far behind in his desire to fulfill his plans. He had thought that it was Doggett’s lack of experience on the X-Files, or the effect of his ordeal during the case. But now he knew that it was all very real.
Approaching a wooden bench, he found Mitch leaning back, his face angled to the sky, his eyes closed. Mulder thought he was asleep, and turned to walk the other direction, but the older man turned towards him suddenly, opening his eyes. Mitch smiled slightly, running his hands over his weary face, and then waved Mulder over to the bench.
“You look like you have a lot on your mind,” Mitch observed as Mulder wearily slumped onto the bench next to him. “You and Thomas were in that office for hours. Did you get anything out of him?”
Mulder laughed bitterly. “Oh, yeah. I got answers. I’m just not sure what they mean.”
Mitch considered that answer, and then shrugged. “Well, that could mean anything. I guess the real question is whether or not you heard what you needed to hear.”
Mulder pursed his lips, staring at the ground for a long time before speaking. “I really don’t know. I thought I knew why I was here, what we were doing all this time. I knew that Thomas was protecting me for some reason. I just never expected it to be about saving the world, or some ancient prophecy.”
Mitch gave him a wary look. “Prophecy?”
Mulder chuckled. “It’s sound crazy, but that’s what he said. The virus, this attempt on my life, finding my frozen remains in Antarctica...all of it. Part of the same chain of events that led to McShane and the others like him.”
“I’m just a genetic specialist, Mulder,” Mitch replied with a laugh. “I signed on to this entire mess to figure out where that thing came from. I accept that we created it, and that at some time in the future, it could do terrible harm. Maybe that’s part of some prophecy, maybe it’s not. But the evidence is right in front of us, and the rest?” He shrugged. “The virus exists. Finding out how it works, how it evolves, could save the lives of millions, even billions of people. I may not like the methods, but when I think about what could happen?” He let out a long sigh. “I deal with the unpleasant part by keeping that goal in mind.”
“The men who helped create this virus wanted to save lives,” Mulder said softly. He remained hunched over, rubbing the back of his neck. “And in the process, do you know what they did?” He glanced back at the administrative building. “They subjected people to tests using radiation, tests that left their bodies twisted and warped beyond recognition. They took genetic samples of every person born for dozens of years, searching for the right people to abduct and torture. They implanted the elderly with genetically engineered children born for no reason other than to suffer a painful death, created implants to force people to do their bidding and monitor their progress. They killed thousands over the years, trying to find a way to survive.”
Mulder shook his head, then placed his face in his hands. “I hated them for it. Because of what they did to Samantha, to Scully, to all of those people we encountered like Max Fenig and Billy Miles. Because of what my father’s choices did to us. And the bastards wound up creating the very thing they were trying to destroy, all in the name of power and survival.”
“And now you wonder if Thomas is doing the same thing?” Mitch asked with a grimace. He thought about it for a moment. “I don’t know everything he’s done, Mulder, but I don’t think he’s killed people for whatever goal he trying to achieve.”
Mulder let out another bitter laugh. “No, I suppose not thousands of people, but since when does that matter? Would a few lives be an acceptable sacrifice? Maybe a dozen, a couple hundred?” He shook his head. “Besides, he doesn’t have to kill most of them. He just influences them to do what they want. Hundreds of thousands of people. Might even be millions by now.”
Mitch nodded soberly. “I’ve thought of that. And at the same time, I realize that if I wasn’t going along with this on my own, I doubt I would have a choice. For that matter, he could have already pushed me in this direction, influenced me to choose his side. I don’t know either way, and in a sense, that takes a bit of the pressure off.”
“It is convenient, isn’t it,” Mulder replied with a frown. “He’ll make us do it, so why question the desire to do it anyway? Because if he can control us, it’s not likely that we would even know it as it was happening.” Mulder scratched his temple, and then nodded to himself. “I guess that’s the choice, though, isn’t it? Not whether or not to do what McShane wants, but whether or not to accept responsibility for what we advocate.”
“I may not like it, but I acknowledge the need for these methods,” Mitch repeated, mostly to himself. Then he looked to Mulder, his expression guarded. “What about you? Can you live with it?”
Mulder returned Mitch’s frank stare, and then forced himself to his feet and walked towards the front door without answering.
MARCH 6, 2002
Skinner slowly pushed open the door to the chapel, not quite sure whether or not he wanted to go through with this. So much had happened in the past 48 hours, events that had changed all of them in one way or another. It would probably take weeks for everything to calm again, and even Kersh had admitted that it was unlikely that another attempt to abduct William would come while Bureau attention was focused on Comer’s death. But some matters required immediate attention.
Doggett was still sitting in the front pew, staring at the light shining through the stained glass window, contemplating what he had experienced. At least, that was what Monica had curtly explained to him over the phone. Monica had also made it clear that unless there was a case to discuss or some matter related to the X-Files, she had no desire to speak with him. Her exact language had bordered on insubordination, but she had known better than to think he would make an issue of it.
Doggett must have heard the door open, because he glanced over his shoulder at Skinner, paused for a moment, and then turned back towards the window. Skinner hesitated at the doorway, not sure what he ought to do, but John spoke before he could decide.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about what happened,” Doggett said, almost as if to himself. “About some of the choices I’ve made lately. And do you know what the worst part of it is?”
Skinner stepped into the chapel, quietly closing the door behind him. “No.”
“I chose to remain on the X-Files because even if I didn’t believe in them, I believed in the people investigating them.” He turned back to look up at Skinner. “Back then, more than anyone, I trusted you. Guess the joke’s on me.”
Skinner forced himself not to respond immediately. Instead, he slid onto the pew behind Doggett, taking a deep breath in the process. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, he let out a sigh and shook his head. “It’s not that simple, John.”
“Nothing’s ever simple on the X-Files,” Doggett replied with an equally weary sigh. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past couple years, that would be it. But when I look back on how all of this started, back when we were looking for Mulder, I remember how close you came to stepping over the line. Even Scully didn’t want to make waves. She warned you not to describe Mulder’s disappearance as some kind of abduction. But all the time Mulder was gone, and for a while when he was around?” Doggett shook his head. “I never doubted which side you were on.”
“I’m on your side, Agent Doggett,” Skinner said evenly. He studied his hands in his lap, thinking about how to explain. “I’m sure you’ve talked with Dana about what we’ve been through, the kinds of concessions we’ve all had to make. Sometimes what seems like a choice isn’t much of a choice at all.”
“You may be right,” Doggett admitted, turning back towards the altar. “But sometimes people surprise you when they make those choices. And that makes it hard to trust people, if you can’t count on them.” He sighed, his gaze falling towards the floor.
“John, the kind of people we’re up against, they don’t care whether you or Monica or Scully live or die,” Skinner replied. “At least in the past, even the men who started this felt that we were worth more to them alive than dead. Especially Mulder. But it’s not like that anymore. Go too far, and they will try to kill you. You know that. Just look at what they were willing to do during the investigation last summer, even before that.”
Doggett nodded. “I know. And I know that you thought keeping us out of this case, away from something that could drive us to dig deeper, could have gotten us killed. I understand your reasons, Walter. I might even agree with them to some extent.” He turned back to Skinner, and his eyes were full of sadness. “But I still don’t know if I can trust you, if something like this were to happen again.”
Skinner smiled, his expression stricken. “What else was I supposed to do, John? What are you asking me to do?”
Doggett shook his head, shrugging. “I don’t know. Things have changed, and I doubt that Kersh or Follmer or whoever they report to will expect that you can be used in the same way, now that we know what’s been happening. Maybe now’s the time to take a chance, Walter. Push a little. See how far you can take this, what they will let you assign us to. Anything other than leaving us to rot in that office.”
“And if they push back, John, if they decide that’s still too far, what then?” Skinner asked calmly. “What if that’s all it would take to convince them that our department, and anyone associated with us, is a threat?”
Doggett shrugged again. “Then I guess we pay the consequences. But at least we’ll do it on our own terms, instead of waiting for them to decide it’s time for us to go.”
Skinner nodded to himself, and then stood. “You’re asking a lot of me, John. And you’re putting a lot of lives on the line. Yours, Monica, Scully…William…can you live with that?”
Doggett glanced back at the stained glass window. “Sometimes what seems like a choice isn’t much of a choice at all.” He smiled to himself. “I’ve been thinking about some of the things I thought were choices, and you know, sometimes you can only do so much. And sometimes you have to trust your instincts, and accept that even when you make a choice, the outcome could be the same, regardless.” He looked back to Skinner. “So, yeah, I can live with that. Can you?”
Skinner stared into John’s face for a long moment, and then shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“At least you were honest,” Doggett replied. He turned back towards the altar, his body language making it clear that he considered the conversation over. Skinner remained for a moment, trying to think of something else he might say, but finally he left the pew and walked out of the chapel.
PHARMACEUTICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE
FEBRUARY 3, 2002
McShane looked up at the sound of his door opening. Mulder stood in the doorway, biting his lower lip in thought. McShane folded his hands and placed them on the desk calmly, waiting for Mulder to say something. It took a moment, but Mulder finally walked all the way into the office, closing the door behind him.
“I’ve thought about what you’ve said,” Mulder began, taking hold of the back of the chair in front of McShane’s desk. “About what all of this means, and what you believe are the methods we should use.”
McShane smiled slightly, nodding. “And what have you decided?”
“I already told you once that I believe what you’ve told me,” Mulder replied. “And I trusted you enough to put my life into your hands, even when I didn’t know it was you.” He paused, and then waved his hands in a weary gesture of acceptance. “Our lives are already in your hands. Maybe they always have been.”
Mulder saw the slight look of impatience in McShane’s expression, so he forced himself to continue. “The way I see it, it’s a choice between accepting your methods willingly, or finding myself a victim of those methods. Maybe it’s a thin line of rationalization, or splitting hairs, but I can’t pretend that I’m not responsible.”
McShane nodded to himself, and then smiled at Mulder wolfishly. “Am I to assume, then, that you are choosing to support this cause?” Mulder nodded, but McShane pushed farther. “By whatever means necessary?”
Mulder hesitated, but finally he nodded his agreement. “Whatever it takes.”