Rating: NC-17 (language, violence, adult situations and graphic sexual descriptions)
Classification: Col/Post Col, MSR, /O, Consensual and (implied) Non-Consensual Sex, Angst, Mytharc
Warning: “Abaddon’s Reign” is a grownup tale set in harsh times. A number of scenes contain graphic descriptions and portray adult situations that may offend some readers. Please, read with caution.
In appearance the locusts were like horses arrayed for battle; on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had scales like iron breastplates, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails like scorpions, and stings, and their power of hurting men for five months lies in their tails. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon...
-- REVELATION 9:7 - 9:11
BOOK I MUSIC [wav]
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From the Smoke Came Locusts
May 23, 2002
“Agent Scully, isn’t it true that you and Mulder were lovers, that you got pregnant and had his love child?”
Kallenbrunner’s allegation circled Mulder’s brain like a dust devil across desert sands. The prosecutor had bulls-eyed his romantic relationship with Scully. But it was the only thing the asshole had gotten right.
Not that it mattered now. Skinner’s rescue had put an abrupt end to the military’s bogus tribunal. And a mere forty-two hours later, after escaping the USMC brig and dodging a fleet of black ops helicopters, Mulder and Scully were skirting the Zuni Mountains, fugitives on their way to an uncertain future.
Mulder squinted against the glare of the setting sun and tried to coax a few more miles from the rusted Chevy’s struggling engine. Rohrer’s SUV had been more dependable, but too conspicuous, so they’d ditched it back in Artesia, where Mulder hotwired the pickup.
He wished he’d been a little choosier. The truck was falling apart. The rumble of its ancient engine rattled his spine and set his teeth on edge. The noise was a little too much like the clomp, clomp, clomp of approaching soldiers, or that sound, that godawful drumming that beats deep within the bowels of an alien spacecraft.
He winced at the memory and tried to corral his unease. Dread seemed a constant companion these days.
Sliding his focus to the rearview mirror, he checked again for pursuers.
The road remained empty; no one was tailing them...at least for the time being.
Scully sat on the opposite end of the pickup's bench seat, her back ramrod straight. Sunglasses masked swollen eyes, and Mulder knew without asking that she was thinking of William. Hell, he was thinking about him, too, wondering if their son would hover like a specter between them forever.
He longed to grieve outwardly for William, but didn't want to heap his sadness on Scully. The additional burden might be more than she could bear. She was plagued by guilt, he knew. She blamed herself for giving up William, for surrendering too soon.
Trouble was he blamed her for those things, too.
Back at Mount Weather, she had looked to him for forgiveness. At the time, he let her think he understood her reasons. "I know you had no choice," he'd lied.
In truth, he didn't understand. He wanted to believe she'd done the right thing. More than anything, he wanted to trust her instincts on this. God knew he loved her more than life itself. And yet, he couldn't help but think there was more she might have done...more *he* would have done, if only she'd called him home.
Don't go there, he warned himself, shoving his misgivings aside. Burying his resentment was preferable to risking what little was left to them: their relationship, her heart, his sanity.
Static crackled on the radio, punctuating the opinions of a conservative talk show host. Grit clouded the cracked windshield and coated Mulder's tongue and throat. An incoming draft from the open windows rustled the roadmap that draped Scully's lap. Her index finger, positioned somewhere between Albuquerque and Gallup, pinned it precariously to her knee.
Her frown deepened. "Route 666?"
"Appropriate, don't you think, considering the world's going to hell in a hand basket."
The engine groaned as if it concurred. Mulder downshifted, hoping the transmission would make it as far as Shiprock.
"Much further?" he asked.
She studied the map and estimated the distance. "Forty miles, more or less. What's in Shiprock?"
Should he tell her? He doubted she would accept the truth. She had come a long way in the last nine years, but believing Krycek appeared to him as a ghost was probably too out there. The suggestion would most likely provoke a harangue of statistics linking hallucinations to insanity. He would rebut with details from past case files involving phantoms. Their difference of opinion would escalate into a debate about delusion versus apparition, and, given their current emotional vulnerability, neither would win.
It was better to say nothing.
Krycek's most recent visitation had come last night, not five minutes after Mulder finished making love to Scully in the Frontier Motel in Roswell. While she slept, Krycek urged him to haul ass to Shiprock, said it was important, a matter of life or death. "The solution is there," he'd said cryptically. When pressed for details, he shook his head and faded into the woodwork.
Typical Krycek. Evasive even after death.
"Shiprock is a 1700-foot eroded volcanic plume, sacred to the Navajos," Mulder explained, glancing at Scully. A lock of her hair had escaped her ponytail and was lashing at her left cheek. He refrained from reaching over and tucking it behind her ear. "They call it Tse'Bit'a'i'. It means 'Rock with Wings.' "
"And it's important because...?"
"According to legend, it was once a giant bird that carried the ancestral people to their land."
"I suppose you're going to tell me this mythical bird was in fact a spaceship."
He bristled at her stubborn refusal to admit what they both knew to be true. "Do you have another opinion?"
She silenced the radio with a twist of the dial. "It's a metaphor--"
"Which likely refers to the religious significance of the location...the mountain's ability to lift the human spirit above the problems of daily existence."
He appreciated her explanation almost as much as his own and relaxed a little. "Either way, it's where we gotta be."
"If it's sacred, won't it be closed to climbers?"
He grinned at her. "Since when do we play by the rules?"
Scully didn't argue. She was tired of discussing government conspiracies and alien invasion theories with Mulder. She longed for their son and found it increasingly difficult to care about anything else.
Regret stung her anew as she recalled William's inconsolable wail when she handed him over to Skinner in the nave of Our Lady of Hope Church in Dawn, Virginia.
"He'll be fine," Skinner had assured her, his jaw tight. He held the baby and the diaper bag in a clumsy fashion, looking more uncomfortable than she'd ever seen him. "They're good people."
"You trust them?"
"Yes. I've known Artie since--"
"Don't, sir." She silenced him with a stern look, then glanced nervously down the aisle to the closed oak doors. Events had conspired to make her as paranoid as Mulder, and the less she knew about the people who were taking her child, the better.
"Mumma-mumma-mumma." William writhed in Skinner's arms, his face blotchy and streaked with tears. He reached for her, his tiny fingers grasping at the air, and when she didn't take him, he howled louder.
"You'd better go," she told Skinner.
No, she wasn't sure. How could she be? Caressing her son's fiery cheek one last time, she whispered, "Goodbye, sweet William. I love you so much."
The words seared her throat. Rage, guilt, bitterness, fear...they hammered her chest as Skinner carried her son away. As soon as she was alone, she sank into a pew and broke into sobs. Harsh, furious sounds. She cried for forty-five minutes, forehead pressed against the wooden back of the pew in front of her, hands clutching her car keys like a Rosary.
"Forgive me, please. It's the only way. He'll never have to be afraid of anyone or anything," she mumbled through her tears, praying it was true.
She repeated the words in her thoughts now, hoping she'd made the right decision, sparing her son a lifetime of fear and danger.
An insect hit the windshield and exploded on impact. Mulder flicked on the wipers, smearing its amber blood across the glass, obstructing her view.
"No washer fluid," he announced, rattling the controls.
She dismissed the stain with a frown and turned to stare out the side window, where the landscape was lifeless and dry despite last night's rain. Spheres of brittle sagebrush dotted the desert, looking fragile and hollow, as if the slightest breeze would reduce them to dust.
Her heart felt the same.
Clearly she wasn't as emotionally agile as Mulder, who seemed to have rebounded, already turning his back on the fate of their little boy to focus on the future of mankind. She had hoped he might mourn with her, if only for a short while. But, predictably, he was rushing headlong into the unknown, searching for answers to a cosmic dilemma of apocalyptic proportions.
It was Bellefleur all over again, she thought dismally. Mulder had wanted to go there, despite the danger. He had put himself in harm's way because he wanted to find that ship, to prove the things he'd believed for so long were true.
Well, he'd proved it. And if it had ended differently he might have lauded his foresight over her. As it turned out, however, he'd returned subdued. Not defeated -- never defeated -- but...diminished. To say reality had outstripped his expectations was an understatement.
Last night in Roswell he had admitted, "I've been chasing after monsters with a butterfly net. You heard the man -- the date's set. I can't change that."
She responded by telling him she would not accept defeat. "You only fail if you give up."
She'd meant it, too, although she knew it would take courage, determination and resilience to wage this new battle, and she wasn't certain she possessed these. Not any more. God help her, giving up William had depleted her reserves. Recovery would take time.
Unfortunately, Mulder seemed unwilling to wait.
"There it is," he announced, drawing her attention to his side window.
She followed his gaze to where a stone mountain rode the desert like a giant windjammer. Shiprock was black and monumental, a plug of lava that had once filled the throat of a volcano, fallen victim to erosion ages ago. Deep gouges striped it with vertical shadows as the sun sank behind the distant Colorado mountains. Gilded by the setting sun, Shiprock's rugged peaks speared a bruise-colored sky. Low dikes of solidified magma radiated out from it in several directions, like a sea monster's tentacles.
"My God," she gasped.
"Not your run of the mill igneous intrusion. Gives you goosebumps, huh?”
He steered the truck onto the shoulder and shut off the engine.
"What do we do now?" she asked.
"We have a look-see."
"Mulder..." she said, trying to slow him down, but already he was out of the truck. "What are you expecting to find?" she called after him.
"Hopefully I'll know when I see it."
Krycek waited up ahead, slouched against an eight-foot-high stone dike that snaked across the wasteland to the mountain a quarter of a mile away. Mulder bee-lined toward him, thankful for the wall's shadow. It would conceal them from prying eyes as they hiked to Shiprock. By the time they got there, the sun would be set, making it impossible for anyone to spot them from the road.
"Mulder...slow down." Scully trailed by several paces, oblivious of Krycek.
Mulder wondered again why these ghosts -- Krycek, X, the Gunmen -- showed themselves only to him. Were they visible because he had died himself, permanently opening up some sort of nexus between this world and the hereafter? Or had the experience of dying heightened his extrasensory perception?
"It's all there." Krycek targeted the mountain with glittering eyes. "The questions and the answers. You'll see."
Mulder fell into step behind him and refrained from asking what the hell he was talking about. Now was not the time to be defending his sanity to Scully.
"It's just a rock, Mulder," she was saying, hanging back. "Aside from being interesting in a geological sense, there's nothing to see here."
"Maybe." He noticed Krycek was leaving no footprints in the sandy soil. "But something tells me we need to check it out anyway."
Krycek glanced back at him. "Mind picking up the pace?"
"What's your hurry?" Scully asked. "The mountain isn't going anywhere."
For a split second Mulder thought she had heard Krycek, and his accompanying relief was profound. It was also short-lived. She was looking past Krycek, completely unaware of his presence.
"If we wait until morning we could at least see where we're going," she said.
"And so could everyone else," he reminded her.
"There is no everyone else, Mulder. We're in the middle of nowhere."
"We're on sacred Navajo land."
"All the more reason to turn back."
"Would you two shut up?" Krycek growled. "They'll hear you."
Without thinking, Mulder asked, "Who?"
"What?" Scully stopped walking.
Realizing his blunder, Mulder turned to face her. "Who...uh...who said 'He who hesitates is lost'?"
She eyed him suspiciously. Krycek snorted and kept going.
"No one," she said. "It's a misquotation."
"A misquotation?" He tried to sound genuinely interested.
"The original line is from Joseph Addison's play 'Cato.' It was 'The woman that deliberates is lost.' "
"Good advice. You should take it, Scully." He reached for her hand and tugged her toward the mountain.
She frowned, yet let him lead her without further comment.
Twenty minutes later, the sun had set and they were standing at the base of Shiprock. The mountain loomed ominously over them, an impenetrable mix of obsidian and fine-grained basalt, more ancient than the desert sands that surrounded it. Night winds scraped across its corrugated surface, hissing like air from a clogged bellows; its whistle melded with the distant howls of coyotes and carried the dusty odor of sage.
"What now?" Scully asked.
What indeed. Mulder looked to Krycek for a hint.
" 'Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth,' " Krycek recited, " 'at the blasts of the other trumpets which the three angels are about to blow.' " He cocked an ear. "Listen, Mulder..." A smirk curled his upper lip and his eyes flashed. "The trumpet of the fifth angel is about to blow."
Recognizing Krycek's reference, Mulder released Scully's hand to run his fingers over Shiprock's cold, hard surface. "Revelation," he murmured.
"Excuse me?" Scully asked.
"The fifth angel...in Revelation." Mulder glanced at her. "What does his trumpet herald?"
"Locusts, if I remember correctly," she said.
"Come on, Mulder, you know the story," Krycek said. "A star falls from Heaven, bringing with it the key to Hell."
"They weren't ordinary locusts," Scully said. She tipped her head back to study the steep cliffs and Mulder did the same. Overhead, the silky black sky appeared perforated by the spark of stars. "John compared them to scorpions. He said they would torture mankind for five months."
" 'He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit," Krycek continued, strolling westward around the formation, "and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and air were darkened...' "
Mulder fought an urge to tackle and beat him into silence. Throwing a punch would be pointless, he imagined; it was likely his fists would connect with nothing but air.
Krycek kept on talking, even as he vanished into the mountain's shadow. " 'And in those days, men will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die...' " His disembodied voice caused a rash of gooseflesh to stipple Mulder's neck and shoulders.
The words conjured up unspeakable memories, blindsiding Mulder with fear and immobilizing him as effectively as the rods that once pinned his limbs to an alien examination platform. For one terrible instant he was back on the spaceship. Aliens surrounded him, bug-eyed and impassive, communicating telepathically, or with those foreign click-clacking sounds that never failed to set his muscles quaking. Saws, lances and drills dug into him, opened him, allowed icy, intense pain to coat his innards like hoarfrost.
"Mulder?" Scully's voice slipped through the recollection, extricating him from Their clutches.
He tried to steady his breathing and conquer his terror. His pulse was thundering in his ears, drowning out all common sense. He flinched violently when she touched his arm.
"I-I'm all right." He sagged against the rock, wishing he'd told her months ago about the torture and flashbacks, trying to remember again why he'd kept them a secret.
"Let's go back to the truck," she urged.
He was so tempted...
"No, not yet."
"I'm not ready to give up, Scully. You convinced me of that last night."
"No, you were right. We can't stop now. Not as long as William--" Their son's name lodged in his throat. He blinked against the sting of tears.
"Mulder...please..." Her eyes filled, too. "Don't use what I did as an excuse to--"
"I wasn't insinuating anything." He didn't want to blame her, God help him, he didn't. He wanted only to love her, to love William, to be a family again. He struggled to find something hopeful to say. "I'm going to get him back," he promised, meaning it.
"It isn't safe."
"Then I'll make it safe."
"How, Mulder? How will you--?"
"I don't know," he said through gritted teeth. "I just will. I want my son back. I want our family to be together."
"Do you think I don't wish that were possible?"
"Do you, Scully?" His bitterness boiled out unexpectedly, fiery hot and unstoppable, like the molten lava that had once created Shiprock so long ago.
She drew back, eyes rounded and mouth gaping. His accusation had obviously stung her, but he refused to apologize. There had been alternatives -- like calling him out of hiding to help her -- but she'd chosen not to do that. She had made her decision without him. She'd done exactly what she wanted to do and had given him no opportunity to object.
"You gave him up, Scully. You sent him away without even asking if I minded."
"To protect him."
No, that was his father's damned excuse all over again. Bill Mulder gave away his own child, traded Sam's life for a few strands of alien DNA and a shit-load of hollow promises...as if she were a thing, a possession, not a helpless little girl. To save her, the Smoker had said. But it hadn't saved her. She'd suffered unimaginably and now she was dead...dead because Bill Mulder had been too cowardly to fight for her. He'd abandoned Sam to his enemies, relinquished his parental responsibilities, and Mulder could not forgive him for it.
And he couldn't seem to forgive Scully either, as much as he wanted to.
"You did it for you," he challenged.
"How can you think that?"
"Because you sent me away, too."
"For the same reason! It's why I didn't contact you. It wasn't safe."
"Come on, Scully, admit it...you were relieved when I left," he said, fury overtaking him.
"Out of sight, out of--"
"Yes, just like you're relieved William is gone now."
"I'm not...I'm...I'm..." Her eyes dodged his accusing stare. "Okay, yes, I am relieved, but only because he's better off."
"Is he? Was *I* better off?" He tensed at the memory of the sergeant's raised baton. Its wallop could trigger a flashback...put him on board the alien spacecraft...restrained on the examination platform...with its saws and lasers. God, everything was running together, the alien's torture, the beatings at Mount Weather, months of exile, separated from his family... "You didn't want the responsibility, Scully. You still don't," he accused.
"That's not true."
"Then help me," he begged.
"Do what? There's nothing here!"
He bit back a retort. What was the point of arguing? She'd clearly given up. She was shutting her eyes to the threat against them, against William, against everyone. "Go back to the truck, Scully. I'll do this on my own."
"You aren't going to find anything, Mulder. The mountain is solid stone."
"At least I'm trying." History was repeating itself, he thought bitterly. His entire adult life had been consumed by his search for his sister and the hope of reuniting his broken family. Now he was about to embark on a similar quest...alone, if necessary.
Scully crossed her arms and shook her head, as if dismissing him, dismissing their son, dismissing the world's future. "Mulder--"
"Go," he ordered. "Wait for me in the truck...or, or take it, leave without me...do whatever you want. Live your life, Scully. You're absolved of all responsibility. You should like that." It was a cruel thing to say, but, God damn it, it was the truth. She'd given away their son for the sake of convenience and at that moment he despised her for it.
He spun on his heel and found himself face to face with Krycek.
"Awww. Your little lovers' spat is breaking my heart," Krycek said. "It's also wasting time. I'm about to hand you the key to Hell, Mulder. Do you understand?"
He didn't, but if Scully wasn't willing to fight for their son's future, he would do it without her. He wasn't going to give up...like her...like his father.
He bulldozed straight through Krycek and was only mildly surprised when he felt nothing. Scully remained where she was. She called out to him and he ignored her, marching around a stone outcropping. How could she care so little about their son? About the world?
Krycek appeared once again ahead of him, at the top of a short, gravelly slope. He was standing in the entrance of a ten-foot-high fissure. The indentation was wide enough for them to enter side-by-side, but, as Mulder soon discovered, it dead-ended six feet in. The uneven ground was littered with empty beer bottles. A used condom glowed lunar-white in a shaft of pale moonlight.
"If I'd known this was what you had in mind, Krycek, I would have put on something a little sexier."
Krycek ignored his comment and pointed to a small, crescent-shaped groove in the wall at about shoulder height. "Press there."
"What is it?"
"Press it and find out."
Mulder fitted his fingers into the indentation.
"Press harder," Krycek urged.
He did, and to his amazement a six-by-six-inch panel slid open beside the groove, exposing an illuminated keypad. The keys were labeled with symbols...symbols that looked very much like the ones he'd seen on Merkmallen's rubbing two years ago.
Thankfully, these markings sparked no noisy onslaught of voices in his head.
"I assume this opens some sort of door."
"I told you -- to Hell."
"And you know the combination."
"Then let's not keep the Devil waiting."
"You don't want Scully to come along?"
"She's made her decision."
"Okay." Krycek nodded at the keypad. "Third row center, top row right, second row right."
Mulder punched the keys as directed. An unseen door hissed open at the back of the hollow, exposing an elevator-sized chamber. A sickly sweet odor wafted from the cavity. He recognized it from the alien ship in Antarctica. Syrupy. Cloying. It had stuck to his sinuses, sat like a stone in his gut. For weeks after his return he swore he could smell it on his hair and skin. No amount of scrubbing seemed to rid him of it. Only time had caused it to eventually fade.
"After you," Krycek said.
Mulder held his breath against the stench, and stepped inside.
"Mulder?" Scully called.
No answer. Nothing but the lonely howls of distant coyotes.
Irritated, she glared in the direction he had gone. She could accept his grief, but, damn it, not his resentment. She'd done what was best for William. The threat against him had been real and immediate. She'd had no choice. Mulder admitted as much back in his cell at Mount Weather. She'd thought he understood.
Fine. He's hurting. He only recently learned about William, she reminded herself; he needs time to come to terms with it. Lord knew she was still trying to accept the loss herself. It was something of a relief, at least, to know Mulder was more deeply affected by the loss of their son than he'd been letting on.
She decided to remain where she was and wait for him. He would return in a few minutes, they'd get back in the truck and move on. Eventually they would sort out their hurt feelings.
The sound of tires on pavement drew her eyes to the road. Two military vehicles slowed to a stop behind the parked pickup.
Dropping to a crouch, she watched as four soldiers emerged from the forward jeep. They edged cautiously toward the truck with rifles drawn. Finding it empty, they opened the driver's side door and searched the cab. They confiscated her roadmap and the plastic bag of supplies she had purchased at a convenience store earlier in the day. She mentally inventoried its contents: bottled water, breakfast bars, local newspaper and a box of condoms -- nothing that could be linked specifically to them.
The soldiers took a moment to confer. Their gravelly voices floated across the desert as they bent their heads over her drooping roadmap. One man pointed south, then turned to stare seemingly straight at her.
Instinctively, she ducked to conceal her face, which no doubt was reflecting the rising moon as brightly as a damned beacon. She remained hunkered down until she heard the pickup's engine roar to life. Damn it! Mulder left the keys in the ignition and now they were taking it.
The driver steered the truck onto the highway and continued north. The forward jeep followed it. The second jeep pulled onto the road as well, then unexpectedly swerved from the pavement to head straight across the sand in her direction.
She scrambled to her feet and ran after Mulder.
"Mulder?" she called, panic rising in her throat as the jeep's headlights jounced nearer. "Mulder, where are you?"
She followed his tracks by moonlight, around an outcropping and up an incline to a shadowed cleft in the rock. Stepping inside, she dead-ended. He wasn't there.
Frantically she searched the dark cave with her hands, expecting to find a hidden tunnel at the back. She encountered only impenetrable stone.
"Mulder? Mulder, where did you go?"
Mulder's stomach rocketed to his throat when the chamber's floor seemingly dropped out from under him.
He lurched and grabbed in vain for something solid to hang on to. "You could have warned me," he growled at Krycek.
Krycek chuckled. "And spoil the surprise?"
Regaining his balance, Mulder said, "I feel like Alice down the rabbit hole."
"This ain't the way to Wonderland, my friend."
"Mind telling me where we're going? And don't give me any more Revelation crap."
"Then I have nothing to say."
A sudden but cushioned stop unbalanced Mulder again, rocking him into a wall. He glared at Krycek.
"Our floor," Krycek announced when the door hissed open.
"After you," Mulder insisted.
Krycek stepped out and led them down a winding corridor. The walls were rough-textured and slick with condensation, oozing a slimy, purple-black substance. It smelled foul and pooled in steaming puddles on the uneven floor. Misty air, imbued with microscopic phosphorescent particles, collected in the high, coffered ceiling. The glow provided scant illumination, yet created monstrous shadows in the doorways that pocked the walls every twenty yards or so. The doors were metallic and situated several inches above the floor, like in a submarine. All were shut.
"We're in a spaceship," Mulder guessed.
Abductee testimonials aside, he knew extraterrestrial crafts were not smooth, clean and bright. He had learned firsthand they were dismal places. Damp, organic. Alien in every sense of the word.
Krycek traipsed through a puddle without creating a ripple. "Not just any spaceship. This is Tse'Bit'a'i'."
"Rock with Wings."
It looked very much like the ships Mulder had seen in Antarctica and Bellefleur, except this one was retrofitted for human occupation. Exit signs pointed the way out -- in English. A water fountain gleamed in an alcove up ahead. Beside it was a clearly labeled restroom.
"Renovations look new," Mulder said.
"It's not like them to be so accommodating."
"They can be cooperative when it suits their purpose."
"What is their purpose?"
"Global domination, annihilation of the human species...the usual."
Mulder frowned. He was tired of answers that told him nothing. "What are they doing in New Mexico *specifically*?"
"That's what I'm about to show you." Krycek paused in front of an unmarked door. "Go ahead. Open it. Greet the new world."
Mulder tested the wheel-shaped handle and it turned easily beneath his hands. He swung the door inward, exposing a gaping black hole. It was impossible to make out what was beyond the dark threshold, but the hum of hidden machinery, combined with the trickle of water, was sickeningly familiar.
A frigid draft gusted into the hall.
"Someone forgot to turn on the heat." Mulder's words fogged the chilled air.
"The cold slows the incubation process."
"Incubation of what?"
"You already know the answer."
"I was afraid you'd say that."
Mulder hesitated before entering the black room, trying to tamp down a wave of panic. His wrists and ankles tingled where they'd been pierced when he was held captive by the aliens.
"Problem?" Krycek asked.
"Just watch my back, Krycek."
Mulder stepped over the raised doorframe, triggering the room's lights.
The interior space was vast; its remote edges vanished in a distant mist. A vaulted ceiling, several stories high, was cloaked in fog. The ground floor lay thirty feet below the broad, metal landing where Mulder was standing.
Yet it was the room’s contents, not its size, that staggered him. Cryopods -- alien incubators. Row upon row, they throbbed with a green glow that set his pulse racing.
"There must be hundreds," he said, swallowing hard.
"Thousands," Krycek corrected, "here and all over the planet, in places just like this one -- ships, buried beneath the ground, ready to rise up when the time is right."
"It's too soon for mobilization," Mulder said. "The communication I intercepted set the date at December 22, 2012."
"That is the plan."
"So...gestating aliens are being kept in stasis until the Colonists are ready," Mulder said, thinking aloud.
"It takes a lot of time to coordinate a planetary invasion."
Mulder descended the stairs on numbed legs. The hard soles of his boots clanked on the metal treads, echoing through the chamber. He tried to walk quietly, but his feet felt leaden. Mist rolled across the floor, moved by some invisible ventilation system. It carried the aliens’ saccharin stench, which grew more pungent the further down he descended.
"Why did you bring me here?" he asked.
"To stop this."
"Why not do it yourself?"
"You overestimate my abilities."
Mulder tentatively stepped onto the shrouded floor. The ground felt pebbly beneath his feet, like hardened lava. The mist parted in roiling waves as he approached the nearest cryopod. Frost coated its glass front, making it impossible to see inside. He scrubbed it with his palm to clear a small window.
"Consider yourself warned," Krycek said.
"Warned about wh--?" Mulder peered into the pod, glimpsed the unborn alien's host, and blinked in astonishment. "It's you!"
"They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
Mulder moved quickly to the next incubator and scraped away more frost. "This is you, too."
"They're all me."
"All of them?" Mulder asked, incredulous. He glanced down the seemingly endless row.
"They're clones," Krycek said.
"I assumed as much, but...why you?"
"It's possible I pissed somebody off."
The Krycek behind the glass wore a distraught expression, giving him a look of vulnerability that Mulder had seldom witnessed in the original. Clearing more of the glass, he exposed the clone's distended torso. Translucent skin stretched tautly over a fully formed alien fetus.
"If you were a Butterball, your timer’d be popped," Mulder said. "This alien looks done.”
"It is. They all are."
Shit, tens of thousands of infant aliens, ready to be unleashed upon the world.
"What do you expect me to do?" Mulder asked.
"Now you're overestimating my abilities."
"There's a control room. Back there." Krycek tilted his head toward an open door. "You can end this, Mulder. Shut off their life support and postpone colonization."
Could it be that easy?
Mulder headed cautiously for the small side room.
As it turned out, there was no need for stealth; no one was inside the closet-sized room. A bright blue holographic display screen, approximately three feet across and seemingly without physical support dominated the small space. A wheeled chair, tucked beneath a low podium with a built-in keyboard, faced the display. Mulder was relieved to see the keys included the English alphabet, along with more of the foreign symbols.
He slid into the chair and tapped the Enter key.
An access window appeared on the display, complete with an empty textbox and a blinking cursor.
"It's password protected," Krycek said, standing beside him.
"But you know the password, right?"
"Then how are we supposed to get in?"
"I thought you might...you know..." Krycek shrugged.
"Isn't that what you do best...Spooky?"
Mulder scanned the tiny room for clues, hoping against hope to find something like the Vegreville snow globe. When nothing presented itself, he considered some of the code words he'd encountered in the recent past.
He typed FIGHT THE FUTURE.
"Too easy," Krycek said. "They aren't stupid." He looked out at the warehouse of clones. "They do have an annoying sense of humor though."
"You want me to try NEENER, NEENER?"
Mulder studied the keys. The password wouldn't be something colloquial, he knew. It would be ancient, like the aliens themselves. Something like Tse'Bit'a'i' or...
Scully said Merkmallen's rubbing contained a passage from Genesis. This password would be from a religious text, too.
But which one?
Krycek's earlier warning echoed in his thoughts. Revelation. The herald of the Apocalypse.
Tentatively, he typed FIFTH ANGEL.
The access window cleared. It was replaced by an encrypted screen, filled with more alien symbols and a prompt for a code name.
"Damn it." Whose name? A real person? Another Biblical reference?
"Recite Revelation again," he ordered Krycek.
"Any one that mentions Satan."
" 'In appearance the locusts were like horses arrayed for battle; on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women's hair, and their teeth like lions' teeth; they had scales like iron breastplates, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle.' "
The prompt began to blink. It must be timed, Mulder realized. If he didn't respond soon, it could shut him out permanently.
"Get to it, Krycek."
" 'They have tails like scorpions, and stings, and their power of hurting men for five months lies in their tails.' "
The prompt turned yellow.
"Hurry up!" Mulder growled.
" 'They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he--' "
"That's it." Mulder quickly typed ABADDON into the text box.
The prompt vanished. It was replaced by a schematic of the ship in wire-frame. An entire lower level flashed with red. Mulder guessed it designated the "nursery" next door.
Krycek's low whistle of appreciation was cut short by a loud hiss in the outer room. A tattoo of what sounded like the release of several thousand locks sent a chill up Mulder's spine.
"Shit." He leapt from the chair, which teetered and crashed to the floor. Lunging toward the outer room, he stopped short when the front panels on the nearest row of pods sprang open. Steam blasted skyward. A klaxon began to blare, so loud that Mulder clapped his hands to his ears. "Damn it, Krycek," he shouted at the top of his lungs, "I thought you--"
He spun to confront Krycek, only to find he was alone in the control room.
Son of a bi--
"We have you, ma'am. Please, step out of the cave."
Scully could see four solemn-faced soldiers from where she crouched in the shadows. Silvery in the moonlight, they took on a metallic appearance and she wondered if they were human or supersoldiers. Each aimed an M-16 into her hiding place.
"I'm not armed," she called to them. They didn't lower their weapons. "I'm coming out."
As soon as she was in the open, one of the soldiers -- a stocky man with pale eyes and jutting chin -- approached her and demanded, "Face the cliff, hands on your head, feet apart."
"Turn around! Now!"
Reluctantly she pivoted and interlocked her fingers over her head. He frisked her, brusquely patting her arms, torso and legs.
"Satisfied?" she asked over her shoulder when he was finished.
"You're not carrying ID," he challenged.
She almost said, "Why should I? I know who I am," but that was the sort of smart-alecky retort Mulder would give, a response that would land him in deeper trouble. She decided to answer with a simple "no" instead.
"What's your name, ma'am?"
"Is it okay to turn around?" she asked, avoiding his question.
He grabbed her raised elbow and roughly spun her.
"What are you doing out here, Ms...?"
"Taking a walk," she said.
"Do you see anyone else?"
"I see a man's footprints."
She shrugged, careful not to glance down. "There are beer bottles and a condom in that cave, too, but it doesn't mean there's a party going on."
Jesus, she sounded like Mulder in spite of herself.
She thrust her chin at the empty highway. "Where did you take my truck?"
"You're trespassing on Indian land."
"Bring back my truck and I'll be on my way."
"Can't do that, ma'am. We--" The soldier was interrupted by a signal from his radio. He stepped away to answer it and the three others moved to surround her, rifles held high.
The seriousness of her situation hit her full force. If they discovered who she was, she would be arrested on the spot. And if they discovered Mulder was with her, they would hunt him down and kill him.
The soldier on the radio kept an eye on her while he listened to the other end of his transmission. He ended his conversation with a clipped "Yes, sir!" before returning the radio to his belt. "There's trouble," he announced to the others. "We're being called back."
"What about her?" one of the soldiers asked.
"Command says bring her."
"God damn it, Krycek!" Mulder bellowed, furious at his own gullibility. In hindsight it seemed so obvious: Krycek had wanted to free the alien fetuses, not kill them. "You used me, you son of a bitch!"
Out in the nursery all hell was breaking loose. Cryopod doors were bursting open one after the next, releasing rivers of yellow-green liquid onto the floor. As the pods drained, hundreds of naked Krycek look-alikes came into view. Immature aliens writhed inside their swollen, translucent hosts, snarling and clawing in an effort to birth themselves.
In minutes, the entire place would be crawling with them.
The staircase where Mulder first entered the nursery was fifty yards away. To reach it, he would need to run between two long rows of open cryopods. He saw no alternative, short of shutting himself into the control room, and he doubted he could hold out in there for very long.
Gathering his courage, he took a deep breath, and then launched himself toward the stairs. The floor was slick with foul-smelling liquid and he skidded as he ran. When a cryopod ruptured beside him and spewed its amniotic fluid directly into his path, he lost his footing.
He hit the floor hard. The impact knocked the air from his lungs. Cold oily liquid saturated his clothes. He struggled to inhale, to get his legs under him.
Above him in the incubator, an unborn alien screeched inside its host. It slashed out, its sharp claws puncturing the gelatinous tissue of the host’s abdomen. The Krycek clone’s eyes glazed with obvious pain, and its expression, coupled with the sickening sound of tearing flesh, prompted Mulder’s paralyzed limbs into action. Gulping air, he scrambled on hands and knees toward the stairs.
He made it past three more pods when the door at the top of the stairs suddenly swung open and half a dozen armed soldiers rushed onto the landing. Mulder dropped onto his belly and slid backward. Concealed behind a cryopod, he watched the soldiers peer down into the nursery with startled expressions.
"The tanks are open!" one man shouted over the wail of the klaxon. "The Infants are wakening!"
"It's too soon!" yelled another.
"Out of my way,” ordered an officer, who shouldered onto the platform.
Mulder gaped at him. Jesus! It was like looking in a mirror. The officer was his identical twin!
What the hell was going on?
Pinned between two guards in the back seat of the jeep, Scully craned to see where they were going. The men's shoulders pounded her with bruising force each time the vehicle jounced over a dune. The driver wasn't steering toward the paved road, she discovered when she peered past him. He was heading north, around Shiprock.
"Where are you taking me?" she demanded, putting as much steel into her voice as possible.
All four soldiers remained stone-faced and silent.
Beyond the windshield, the jeep's headlights illuminated tufts of dry weeds and occasional rock outcroppings. Dust billowed past the side windows, obscuring the view.
"Face front," ordered the man beside her, when she twisted to look out the back.
She eyed his rifle, which was propped loosely between his knees and aimed at the roof. He carried an automatic in a holster on his belt and wore a sheathed knife strapped to his calf. The man to her right was equipped with identical weapons.
She was jostled again when the driver made a sudden left turn and began speeding straight at the mountain. The men remained expressionless as the jeep careened toward solid rock.
Scully’s stomach lurched when they hit a bump and were briefly airborne. The wheels hit the ground hard, jolting her spine.
The distance to the mountain was shrinking at an alarming rate, yet the driver maintained his insane course. They were only fifty yards away and closing fast.
"Stop!" she shouted, shocked by this inexplicable turn of events. Were they on a suicide mission? "What the hell are you--?"
With only a few feet to go, the rock wall suddenly evaporated, exposing a hangar-sized portal. The stone had been an illusion, concealing a cavernous, brightly lit antechamber.
But an antechamber to what?
Mulder stared in disbelief at his doppelganger. A clone, he guessed, but created for what purpose? Certainly not to host an alien fetus, like the Krycek clones surrounding him. This man was dressed as a soldier and he appeared to be in charge of the others.
Wearing a plain black uniform and spit-polished, knee high boots, Mulder’s double surveyed the room with glittery eyes. An expression of disbelief -- or perhaps annoyance -- furrowed his brow. An odd tattoo darkened his right cheek. It resembled the alien symbols on the computer keyboard in the control room.
"Open the western bay doors," his twin ordered, jabbing a finger toward the back of the room, pinpointing an exit that Mulder couldn't see from his lower vantage.
"Release the Infants, sir?" gasped one of the soldiers.
The officer scowled. "Do it. Now."
"But, Commander Ca-Lo--"
"Do it!" he roared, before spinning on his heel and exiting into the hall.
The soldiers took one last horrified look at the nursery, then followed "Ca-Lo." The door clanked with finality behind them.
Mulder had avoided detection, but his relief was short-lived. All around him the aliens were coming to life, howling with high-pitched, inhuman voices, thrashing wildly to be free of their hosts. Their enormous, unblinking eyes targeted him as he rose on unsteady legs.
He glanced at the stairs and the door above. Should he try for it? It was probably locked. And if not, the soldiers were likely still on the other side.
He could see only two possible courses of action: make a dash for the control room or try to find the "western bay doors." He had no idea how far off that particular exit was or where it might lead him.
The alien in the nearest cryopod made the decision for him when its claws penetrated its host's belly. The clone's translucent flesh split lengthwise and the alien thrust its head out. It hissed at Mulder, barring razor-sharp teeth. Greenish-yellow slime dripped from its fangs.
"Face only a mother could love." Mulder back-pedaled.
The alien shrieked and snapped its jaws. It freed an arm.
Mulder broke into a run.
Ca-Lo strode down the hall, his long legs carrying him quickly toward the elevator. Lieutenant Harris, a shorter, older human with gunmetal-gray hair and a battle scar that had left him blind in one eye, hurried to keep up.
"Contact the fleet immediately," Ca-Lo ordered Harris. "Tell them we're abbreviating the timeline."
Ca-Lo held out a hand, silencing the Lieutenant's objections. "I won't squander ten thousand Infants." Nor would he waste the advantage of a preemptive strike by tipping his hand to the terrestrial military.
He was taking a risk. The Society reviled him, he knew. They made no secret of it, even while they praised his valuable genes. Fucking hypocrites. They claimed he was a bona fide link to their Creators because he was born immune to their virus. The Derivation flowed in his veins they said, and yet they barely tolerated him. Truth be told, he scared the shit out of them. Especially the damn Refuters. There were many among that loathsome group who would kill him in his sleep, if they dared.
Let the whole stinking lot of them squawk, he decided. His position within the Armada was assured. The Nih-hi-cho commanders would follow his lead and anyone who questioned him would be executed. He was their best strategist, necessary for colonization, and they all knew it.
He headed for the Bridge, where he would direct the Armada to an altitude of 30,000 meters. There he would initiate an electromagnetic pulse. Targeting and discharging the array of e-munitions was of paramount importance, to minimize both human casualties and collateral damage. The objective was to paralyze the planet, not destroy it. To that end, high-energy pulses would be aimed at government buildings housing strategic computer equipment, production facilities, military bases, known radar sites and communications nodes -- all previously identified through Nih-hi-cho reconnaissance operations and hired human spies. Successful deployment would take out the Earth’s telecommunications systems, national power grids, finance and banking systems, transportation and mass media. Resulting ionized gases would produce an extended fireball blackout, blocking short wavelength radio and radar signals during the critical first wave.
The world was about to be plunged into chaos. The Infants would be released -- a decade sooner than planned. Ca-Lo considered it an unexpected boon. The terrestrial military would be caught completely off guard. Humans around the globe would serve as a food source for the developing Infants, and by the time the newborns metamorphosed into adults, permanent breeding compounds would be up and running.
Ca-Lo felt a surge of confidence. He had been preparing for this moment his entire life, and his sacrifices were about to come to fruition. He would lead mobilization, win the war against humanity and then reign like a deity over Earth.
Turning to Lieutenant Harris, he growled, "Relay my orders to all hands: prepare for launch."
The stocky soldier with the jutting chin jabbed Scully in the ribs with the butt of his rifle. “Out of the jeep!”
The lankier man on her right grabbed her arm and dragged her from her seat. He hustled her between two rows of parked military vehicles. She stumbled along, gaping at the strangeness of her surroundings. Buttresses rose rib-like, supporting a dome-shaped ceiling high over her head. Catwalks crisscrossed the chamber several stories up and barrel-shaped tunnels snaked away from the vaulted space like splayed fingers. The steamy air smelled of decaying fruit and the walls dripped with an oily substance, reminding her of a freshly gutted corpse.
"This way." The soldier tugged her forward.
All around them, people were scurrying from one place to the next, swift but silent. Their sheer numbers shocked her. Hundreds, maybe thousands, crowded the antechamber and its tiered mezzanines. Her eyes widened when she spotted what appeared to be aliens among the hordes. Delicate, hairless creatures, with large inky eyes and chilling expressions. Jesus, these were Mulder's "grays."
Her knees buckled and she would have fallen if not for the soldier's tight grip on her arm.
"Let me go," she protested weakly.
She wanted to run away, leave this incomprehensible place, find Mulder and escape to somewhere far, far away. Craning to see the exit door, she discovered it was closing, shutting her in.
She wrenched her arm free and bolted for the door. In fewer than three strides, she was tackled from behind and knocked to the ground. Muscular arms tightened around her ribs, crushing her, cutting short her breath. Panting, she struggled to roll out from under her attacker.
"No you don't," growled a male voice, his words steaming her ear.
"You have no right to keep me here against my will," she grunted.
He chuckled and then the world blurred as he hauled her roughly to her feet. She felt the cold barrel of his gun press against the back of her neck.
"You'll be here for a while, ma'am."
"Why? What do you want from me?"
"That's not for me to say." He prodded her forward.
She walked on numbed legs, watching crowds scuttle around her. She followed one of the grays with her eyes. It moved like a salmon upstream, weaving its way through the living current. When it reached a gathering of soldiers beneath an arched tunnel, it stopped and gave a slight bow to the group. It was only then that Scully noticed the small, human woman standing at the center of the gathering.
The woman was Cassandra Spender, Scully was sure of it, even at this distance. She was about to call out to her, when the ground began to shake.
The crowd paused for a moment, as if taking a collective breath before their urgency returned two-fold and they rushed ahead to whatever tasks they were bent on doing.
The tremor increased. A low rumble emanated from somewhere deep beneath the vibrating floor. Cassandra and her entourage vanished down a side tunnel.
"Is it an earthquake?" Scully asked her guard, surprised by the fear in her own voice.
"Hurry!" He shoved her toward one of the many tunnels. "We don't have much time."
"Time for what?"
"Just keep moving."
Mulder raced for the control room. His pulse hammered in his ears as he pumped his arms and legs, pushing himself for all he was worth. The quaking floor threatened to unbalance him with each splashing stride. He willed himself not to fall...or panic when he realized the cause of the vibration. The ship was powering up. In a matter of minutes it would be soaring above the Earth's atmosphere.
Ahead, a cryopod shuddered as the unborn alien within fought to birth itself. Biting and clawing, it gutted the terror-stricken clone from the inside out. Internal organs spewed like confetti when the translucent shell finally ruptured and the newborn jumped free. It landed on powerful, stilted legs, then pivoted to face Mulder. Opening fanged jaws, it let loose a heart-stopping shriek.
Mulder dodged it by sprinting down an adjoining row.
The alien gave chase. It moved with alarming speed, scrambling effortlessly over the slick floor. Looking like a cross between an insect and a man, it was lithe, swift and rippling with muscles. It lunged for Mulder, raking four-inch-long talons across the back of his shirt.
At the sound of tearing fabric, Mulder changed course again, darting around a wobbling cryopod. Hoping to thwart the alien by knocking the pod into its path, he rammed it as he passed. The blow forced a grunt from his lungs. Pain shot through his arm, so intense he was certain he'd dislocated his shoulder. The cryopod teetered. He staggered out of its way as it toppled. It hit the ground with a deafening crash, shattering on impact and spewing broken glass and green liquid fifteen feet into the air. Mulder raised his uninjured arm to protect his head, but was too slow; a blizzard of glass ripped across his left ear and neck.
He howled and clapped a hand over his bleeding ear. The floor was shuddering violently now. Off to his right another pod collapsed and exploded. More debris missiled at him and he ducked to avoid being hit. Again he was too late -- several shards arrowed him in the side. Gritting his teeth against the sting, he lurched toward the control room.
An alien appeared several yards ahead, blocking his escape. Mulder skidded to a stop. His breath was coming in ragged gasps, his ear was bleeding down his shirt front, and his right arm hung uselessly at his side. The alien recognized his vulnerability. Tilting its head with malevolent curiosity, it watched him with bright, unblinking eyes.
Mulder wasted no time; he spun on his heel and ran for the stairs. If there was a God in heaven, the door at the upper platform would be unlocked and the hall outside vacant.
The alien loped after him, its clattering talons announcing its approach. It was gaining fast. The stairs were still thirty feet away. Mulder glanced over his shoulder to gauge the alien's progress. His blood ran cold when he spotted a second alien joining the first. Then a third and fourth appeared from out of the mist. As unfathomable as it sounded, all four of them were fanning out like practiced hunters to surround and cut him off.
Mulder willed his teeth to stop chattering and raced across the final distance. Reaching the stairs, legs burning from exertion, he scaled them two at a time. The metal frame vibrated beneath his feet and he nearly stumbled when the steps yawed violently. Looking down, he saw the aliens were yanking on the support struts below, trying to shake him loose. He grabbed the railing and clambered up to the first of three landings.
The room was seething with newly hatched aliens. Several dozen swarmed the area beneath him, while ten times that number headed away, perhaps in search of the western exit mentioned by his mysterious twin. Led by instinct, or maybe by the smell of desert air, the majority were abandoning their frosty storeroom -- and him -- for freedom.
Several determined newborns rattled the stairs again. Fasteners snapped. Rivets popped from the wall and clattered over metal treads. Girders squealed when twisted out of alignment. Mulder staggered higher. The rail was wrenched from his hand. It swung out, then ricocheted back, hitting him hard in the ribs and knocking him to his knees.
He cried out from the crushing blow and his shout seemed to hearten the aliens. Their eyes burned with hunger as saliva drooled from their open jaws. Intensifying their efforts, they combined their brute strength to force him from his perch. They pulled at the metalwork and dislodged another crosspiece. Three of them separated from the horde to climb to the first landing. Mulder crawled higher, past the second landing to the uppermost platform.
He lunged at the door, only to find it locked.
"Son of a bitch!" He pounded impotently against the handle.
The trio of aliens stared up at him from the lower landing. He was trapped and they knew it. Growling with eager anticipation, they climbed higher. Their added weight caused the broken stairway to bounce and creak. Mulder felt the upper platform tilt. Would it hold? Jesus, he was three stories up.
The aliens ignored the obvious danger and continued their ascent. An underpinning snapped when they reached the second landing. The stairway dipped and Mulder lost his footing. He hooked his one good arm through the wheel-shaped door handle just as the platform dropped out from under him.
The stairs swung like a pendulum from its upper fastenings. The aliens shrieked as they spiraled to the ground. They landed with stomach-churning thuds, scattering the remaining aliens.
Then the entire staircase let go. The crash was deafening. Metal struts squealed like train brakes as they collapsed; stair treads clattered across the room like canon shot. The aliens scurried out of the way, abandoning their prey to escape to the western exit.
Mulder dangled from the door handle by one arm. He felt himself slipping. Frantically, he searched for something to stand on...a bit of bent metal or a rivet...anything to take the weight off his aching arm.
It was useless. A tremor from the ship's engines shook him again.
He plummeted feet first into the pile of wreckage below. He heard the snap of bone and felt fire explode in his left thigh just before he lost consciousness.
"I've got him." The voice sounded like...Frohike?
"Careful, he's hurt pretty bad."
A set of hands snaked beneath Mulder's arms to support his upper body. He felt himself being lifted, jostled. Pain sizzled along his left leg, his right arm. He could see nothing but a burst of fireworks behind his closed lids.
"Don't drop him." It was Langly, off to one side.
"Precious cargo, boys." Definitely Frohike.
Mulder blinked, fighting to see them, but something liquid and warm swamped his eyes, blinding him.
"Hold still, big guy. You're in good hands."
The cavalry, come to the rescue, he wanted to say, but couldn't suck in sufficient air to speak.
It was enough to know they were there, although he wondered how they were able to carry him, when Krycek was as insubstantial as the wind. It occurred to Mulder he was dead now, too, killed by the fall.
"Gotta leave you here, buddy," Frohike said at last. "Don't worry. You'll be safe."
Pain rocketed through him when his back met the ground, convincing him he must be still alive...or in Hell.
"Real help is on the way," Byers assured.
"Hang in there."
"Wish we could stick around, but..." Langly patted his injured shoulder, causing him to gasp.
"You idiot," Frohike growled.
"Sorry," Langly said, just before blackness claimed Mulder once more.
"Let me out!" Scully's voice was growing hoarse from shouting. "Cassandra?" She pounded raw fists against the damp, pumicey walls of her prison cell. The sound was immediately swallowed up in womb-like quiet.
The cell was without windows or any apparent door. It was barely tall enough for her to stand in and was approximately three feet square, except it wasn't square -- it was sack-like. How her guards had managed to get her inside it remained a mystery. One minute they were hurrying through a winding tunnel, and the next thing she knew, she was in this stuffy compartment, feeling groggy and bruised and short of breath.
Exhausted, she sank into a squatting position and stared at the sludge-covered walls. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw something move there. Lots of somethings. Insects. Minute centipede-like creatures, less than an inch long. Dozens of them wriggled through the oil that coated the chamber's inner surface. She shifted and hugged her legs when she saw them squirming around her feet.
How long were her captors planning to keep her here? And who exactly were they? The Grays were obviously alien. The others looked like military personnel, supersoldiers perhaps, or shape-shifting aliens disguised as humans.
Was Cassandra Spender who she appeared to be?
It had been four years since Scully had tried to rescue Cassandra from kidnappers at the Potomac Yards, driving her car onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train and emptying her gun at the engineer. For nothing, it had turned out. She hadn't saved Cassandra, who was later presumed dead, burned with the others at El Rico Air Base.
Yet it was possible Cassandra hadn't died that night. She might have been spirited away, her life spared while the others were incinerated. It had happened before. Scully's hypnotic regression tape suggested Cassandra was taken aboard an unidentified aircraft at Ruskin Dam. Cassandra had said as much when she reappeared a year later in a Virginia train yard, mysteriously healed from her paralysis.
Scully followed the steady progress of a centipede as it climbed toward the conical ceiling, where it eventually disappeared into a greasy crevice. Tentatively she touched the wall, then dug at it with a fingernail. The material wasn't metal or stone. It was more like reinforced paper. Its wavering striations reminded her of wasps' nests, made from a mixture of masticated wood and salivary secretions -- except this material was tough and elastic.
The desire to be in her own apartment hit her like a punch to the gut. Mulder's fish needed feeding and her plants needed watering. Mail was filling her box and newspapers were piling up outside her door. The rent was due. She hadn't arranged for her mother to take care of these things. Not this time. She'd left for Mount Weather in a rush, hadn't told anyone outside the Bureau where she was going. Her mom would assume she was on another assignment, not running from the law, exiled from her former life forever.
God, she wanted to be sipping tea by her fireplace, or better yet, reading a novel, cocooned in her warm, clean bed. Tears stung her eyes at the thought of William's photograph on her nightstand. It was her favorite picture of him. He was smiling for the camera, toothless, but delightfully dimpled, his fleecy hat gripped tightly in his upraised fist and his pale hair standing all on end.
Mulder's photo was propped beside the baby's, in a matching frame. He was also smiling for the camera -- a rare wide grin, laughter lighting his eyes, because he was holding their one-day-old son in the crook of his arm.
Where was Mulder? In a cell like this one? Had they found him, too?
"Please, God, keep him safe."
She began to weep...for Mulder, for herself, but most of all for their lost son.
Crickets shrilled, hidden in weeds that needled Mulder like shards of glass. A predawn wind scraped across the flatland. Somewhere high overhead an engine thrummed. Or maybe it was only the roar of blood inside his ears. He was lying on his side, and his cheeks and palms felt scoured raw by the sandpaper earth. His neck, on the left, burned, from collarbone to jaw, and his leg...
He lifted his head to inspect his leg, and was stopped short when something liquid and warm flowed out of his left ear. Sparks of pain exploded behind his eyes. He clenched his jaw, waiting for the dizziness to subside.
When it did, he moved more carefully and tried again to peer at his leg.
It was broken...badly. A spike of bone protruded from the blood-soaked denim of his jeans just above his knee. His foot was twisted at an impossible angle. Bile slid up his throat, tasting bitter as it rolled across the back of his tongue and he willed himself not to throw up.
"Stay calm stay calm stay calm," he chanted, his eyes squeezed shut against the damage to his leg. His inclination was to slip into one of his favorite fantasies, one of those places he went in his mind whenever dread threatened to overwhelm him. The beach. His childhood bedroom. Scully's arms. These delusions brought comfort where there was none, helped him cope with saws...drills...Them.
No, not another flashback...please, not now.
For a full minute he fought against his imagination and reality, not wanting to retreat to the former or face the latter.
Scully, help me, he silently begged.
Was she nearby? Would she come if he called?
"Scully?" His voice came out unexpectedly high-pitched and thin. Too soft to carry any distance. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Sculleee!"
The crickets fell silent but the pounding in his head intensified. His stomach churned. Dizziness was eroding his vision and the world was disappearing behind a veil of gray static.
Damn it, he needed to stay alert. The situation was precarious, but not hopeless. He needed to determine where he was and what his options were.
With enormous effort he raised his head and blinked at the western horizon, away from the ruddy dawn.
Shiprock was gone.
In its place smoke and dust drifted skyward from a gaping hole in the Earth. Mulder was reminded of Antarctica, of lying on the frozen tundra, watching a spaceship grow small in the sky, while Scully lay unconscious beside him--
Where was Scully?
It took every ounce of his strength to turn toward the road. And when he did, his lungs stalled.
The truck was gone; Route 666 was vacant. Scully had done exactly as he'd suggested -- she'd gone away, left him, and now he was alone.
Continued in Book II...
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