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.
BOOK VII MUSIC [mp3]
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Blessed Are the Dead
Continued from Book VI
Sitting on the edge of his bed, Ca-Lo tugged off his boots and tossed them carelessly across the room. They landed with a satisfying thud beside the birdcage. He ignored the finches' nervous twittering as he peeled his dark shirt up and over his head. It billowed like a black parachute when he cast it in the general direction of his boots.
He removed his socks, then stood to unzip his trousers. They were standard military issue, as form-fitting as a second skin and as black as oil. He pushed them to his ankles, stepped free, and abandoned them in a heap on the floor.
As was his custom, he wore no undergarments.
He turned to regard the change of clothes lying neatly atop the bronze-colored linens of his bed: denim pants, white T-shirt, pullover sweater in navy blue, leather jacket, thick-soled boots, a wristwatch with a calfskin, not a metal, strap.
The kind Fox Mulder wore.
He picked up the watch and fondled the strap between thumb and forefinger.
No detail was too small. Dana would be wary. Her desire for Mulder would not blind her to small differences.
It would be a challenge to deceive her. Not like the last time, when Ca-Lo resorted to Nih-hi-cho mindbending. Dana had been vulnerable that night, susceptible to psychological manipulation after her Assessment by the Quad. It had been easy to win her over, to persuade her to make love to him.
Unfortunately his mindbending skills were not as sophisticated as those of his Nih-hi-cho masters; he could not rely on mental manipulation alone to convince her to return to the ship. Yet it was imperative he get her safely aboard Tse'Bit'a'i' before his troops moved in to raze the rebels' camp.
He could kidnap her outright, if it came to that. Dragging her to safety against her will was preferable to leaving her exposed on the battlefield. But if at all possible, he wanted to avoid physical force and its inherent risk to their unborn child.
No, better to pose as Mulder, convince Dana to leave peaceably, and reveal his identity only after she was out of harm's way.
To prepare for his subterfuge, Ca-Lo had spent the last forty-eight hours reviewing Mulder's dossier. Two decades' worth of surveillance photos, written communications, digitized audio clips and videos had been collected by Nih-hi-cho allies or stolen from their enemies. They documented criminal investigations, covert meetings, and even intimate sexual encounters. Various technologies had been used. The more traditional cameras and bugs were periodically discovered and destroyed by Mulder and his three unconventional friends, but very little time passed before they were replaced by less obvious systems, leaving few holes in Mulder's history.
Nothing in the files came as a surprise to Ca-Lo; he had studied them countless times over the years, scrutinizing his brother's mannerisms and speech patterns, sometimes going so far as to pretend he was Mulder, fantasizing about living his life, outside the ship, a free man.
It would be easy to slip into his brother's persona now, as effortless as donning jeans, sweater and wristwatch. Like Mulder, Ca-Lo possessed an eidetic memory, which made it possible for him to recall even the smallest detail he'd seen or read about his brother's charmed life.
There were a few details in the files Ca-Lo would have chosen to forget, if he could. Like the appalling surveillance video of Mulder joking with Dana about "the pizza man."
Imagine taking a potential rival so lightly! It was unthinkable!
Mulder's tolerant attitude could only be explained by his privileged life. He did not feel wrenching, jealous anger the way Ca-Lo did because he had not had every prize wrested from him. He had not endured the punishing sting of a Taser or suffered endless sessions of disciplinary mindbending, the Overseers crawling inside his mind, controlling his thoughts, his body, making him think and do loathsome, unspeakable things...
Ca-Lo cursed his photographic memory and strapped on the wristwatch.
As if to purposely torment him, his mind chose that moment to replay another wretched video from Mulder's files, recorded in Dana's apartment around the time William was conceived. It provided a bird's eye view of her opening her door to Mulder, who crossed the threshold, claimed Dana's mouth with a crushing kiss, then bullied her backward into her living room, where he wrestled off her clothes and pushed her onto the couch. Jeans bunched at the knees, he pumped into her. Clutched her bare breasts. Nipped her neck and lips. She gasped. Whimpered. Called his name at her moment of climax.
So much passion. So much love. For Mulder.
Cassandra had warned Ca-Lo. She had said he was jealous of his brother. The feeling seemed manageable at the time. But now...he wanted to either murder Fox Mulder or be him.
Current circumstances required he opt for the latter and allow Major Harris to carry out the former.
He studied the clothes on the bed, impatient to impersonate his brother, to live Mulder's perfect life for a few precious days. For the very first time, he would walk the Earth as a free man, breathe air untainted by the fetid odor of ten thousand Nih-hi-cho, feel Dana's kiss, given freely, out of love, rather than coercion.
Deception isn't coercion, he told himself. Not the same at all. It was necessary. To protect Dana and her child. His child.
Would their little girl resemble him? Or would she be a red haired beauty like her mother?
It didn't matter. He would love her no matter what she looked like. He loved her already, sight unseen.
He grabbed the pale blue boxers from the bed and stepped into them.
The loose undergarment pinched his waist and tickled his genitals. He was unaccustomed to anything but his uniform against his bare skin. The excess layer would take some getting used to.
He slipped the T-shirt over his head. Pulled on the jeans. Fastened a belt about his waist.
The birds fluttered as he moved past their cage to check himself in his bathroom mirror.
Healer 27 had achieved remarkable results, Ca-Lo admitted as he studied his reflection in the glass. His right cheek was as unblemished as his left.
He opened his mouth to peer in at the silver filling in his second molar. The Healer had matched his brother's dental x-rays precisely.
With a touch of his hand, 27 had also raised scars on Ca-Lo's shoulder and thigh to resemble Mulder's gunshot wounds. He transformed the emerald color of Ca-Lo's eyes to be indistinguishable from Mulder's. He even altered his penis to appear as if he had been circumcised in infancy.
Persuading the Healer to remove his tattoo, however, had proved more challenging.
"The Overseers put that mark on you, Ca-Lo," the Healer argued. "It is not for us to eliminate without authorization."
"I have access to many things. Perhaps there is something I could get for you?"
"You are offering a bribe?"
As luck would have it, Healer 27 had an unusual predilection, one that would land him in a Privation Chamber if widely known. Sex between Nih-hi-cho and humans was not tolerated by the Society. Not even sadistic sex. Such aberrant behaviors were swiftly and severely punished. Sentences were nonnegotiable. But the lure of the Healer's perversion evidently outweighed the threat of discovery because he admitted his proclivity and agreed to remove the tattoo if Ca-Lo arranged a clandestine rendezvous.
Two Bliss Boys were dispatched to 27's quarters, along with a variety of pleasure devices: manacles, gags, assorted leather garments and a fully charged Taser.
The Healer had his night of debauchery and Ca-Lo disposed of the dead Bliss Boys at dawn with no one the wiser. 27 paid his debt by removing the tattoo.
The procedure took less than a minute and was completely painless. The mere touch of the Healer's long fingers upon Ca-Lo's flesh was enough to cause the old marks to vanish.
"We are fortunate the Overseers' attention is elsewhere," the Healer said when he was finished, "or we would both be condemned to a stasis cell for the rest our lives."
Indeed, the timing was opportune. The Society was distracted by the upcoming celebration -- the Nih-hi-cho's blessed Joining. All the Juveniles were at Harmony I, or en route. Official prayers had begun.
Intent on their divine affairs, the Overseers showed scant attention to Ca-Lo's activities or the operation of Tse'Bit'a'i'. The spacecraft sat on an outer runway at Salt Lake City airport next to her sister ships, Ne'Ol' and Chay'Da'Gahi'. Nine more magnificent war ships would soon join them, bringing the entire Armada together to protect the Society during their exalted celebration.
Ca-Lo planned to make the most of his short-lived independence. Indistinguishable from his brother, he was ready to go after Dana.
In less than ten minutes, he was striding across the tarmac beneath Tse'Bit'a'i's jutting hull. The ship's broad shadow carried a chill that raised gooseflesh on his arms, despite the leather coat he wore. His collar flapped wildly in the wind and his newly shorn hair writhed atop his head in an unfamiliar way. He paused where darkness met waning daylight and waited for his horse to be brought to him, pretending nothing was amiss. Should anyone spot him, they would think he was merely going out to practice his riding skills, just as he had done countless times since military training.
To his left loomed Ne'Ol', a massive vessel, even at half Tse'Bit'a'i's size. Sixty decks high, she possessed enough firepower to pulverize Earth's lone moon to dust in a matter of seconds.
Beside her sat Chay'Da'Gahi', a stunning example of modern design, technology, and military might. The curved hull bristled with cannons. Nearly ten-thousand closed portals hid docking bays loaded with deadly stingercraft.
And Tse'Bit'a'i' -- the flagship, largest and most heavily armed in the Armada -- outshone her sister ships in every way imaginable. Ca-Lo gazed up at her in admiration. A finger of sunlight chose that moment to pierce the overcast and coat the ship's metallic skin with a coppery glow. Symbols incised in Tse'Bit'a'i's sides sprang into stark 3-D relief. Prayers, scientific principles, philosophical pronouncements -- every square meter of her hull was pocked with the Nih-hi-cho's most revered beliefs and discoveries.
She was magnificent, formidable, unrivaled by any vessel in the sector.
Ca-Lo inhaled the tang of her recently-fired plasma cannons. Her thrumming engines vibrated the ground beneath the thick soles of his terrestrial boots. As much as he detested the Nih-hi-cho, he had to admire their military preeminence. It was a privilege to command the most powerful armada in the known universe. It afforded him his only opportunity to make choices and control fate. Directing the fleet was as close to being a free man as he had ever come.
A young soldier approached at last, leading a saddled horse. The lustrous, black animal was well-muscled. It looked capable of making the arduous mountain trek in record time. Its saddlebags bulged with supplies; a full canteen dangled against its right shoulder.
The soldier's brows rose at Ca-Lo's terrestrial clothes, short hair and unmarked cheek, but he said nothing and handed over the reins.
Ca-Lo wasted no time. He mounted the horse and spurred its ribs. It took off at a gallop toward the hills in the east. He would ride non-stop through the night. Red Dragon willing, he would arrive at Safe Camp in just under two days. The rebels and Dana would suspect nothing of his true motives, until it was too late.
The horse's hooves pummeled the pavement with a comforting thunder that lifted Ca-Lo's spirits. Freedom settled into his bones. He leaned forward in the saddle and let the wind dry tears of relief from his face.
Safe Camp, UtahSkinner's RV
"Dibeh, please sit down. You don't have to wait on me." Lady Dana was frowning, but her eyes shone with genuine concern.
Dibeh poured steaming tea into a ceramic mug, which was decorated with a flagged, fortified city and the words Disney World -- Happiest Place on Earth.
She wished her mistress would step back, or better yet, sit at the table with the officer named Skinner. The kitchen was cramped and the kettle was hot.
"You should be resting," Lady Dana reminded her for the third time since Dibeh had cleared the dinner dishes.
Nothing would please Dibeh more than to lie down and sleep, but she was duty-bound to care for her mistress. She had promised Master Ca-Lo.
She pressed the mug into her Lady's hands.
"She always this stubborn?" asked Skinner, studying his maps, making notations. His tone was sharp, but his expression softened as he focused on Lady Dana.
He watched her mistress often, Dibeh had noticed. His gaze was protective, even a little possessive. A stark contrast to the suspicious looks he cast Dibeh's way. He would surely evict her -- or worse, give her to his soldiers -- if not for Lady Dana's generous guardianship.
"I think she's more loyal than stubborn," her mistress said kindly. Tea in hand, Lady Dana moved to the bench opposite Skinner. "Thank you, Dibeh," she murmured, the hot drink steaming from her lips.
Lady Dana's gratitude surprised Dibeh, who was not used to receiving compliments for her services. After all, she had been created to tend to the needs and demands of her human masters. There was no reason to thank her for carrying out her duties.
Dibeh filled a second mug for Skinner. The tea smelled spicy and delicious. Dibeh wished she could pour some for herself, but to drink with them would be inappropriate.
She set the kettle back on the stove and imagined the hot tea filling her belly, radiating out to warm her cold fingers and toes.
Despite the layers of clothing she wore, she felt chilled to the bone. Skinner's trailer was drafty. The entire planet seemed frightfully bitter and windy.
She shivered at her memory of the dock, the lake...the dark, icy water...
She had been prepared to end her life at the bottom of that lake. But then the Red Dragon appeared and said, "Do not surrender. You have reason yet to live."
He must have been referring to her duty to Lady Dana. There was no other possible purpose for her.
Unless her mistress decided to give her to another master.
Dibeh glanced nervously at Skinner's ominous scowl.
Uncertainty pounded in her veins. She did not want to serve Skinner. She did not like his sour looks and angry tone.
She missed the familiarity and warmth of Tse'Bit'a'i', the cheerful conversations with Ulso and the other servants. She missed the peace that came from a daily routine, the comfort of knowing what was expected of her each moment.
Here, she must somehow anticipate the needs of a mistress she barely knew. She must also please her Lady's glowering companion, since he owned their shelter, food, and clothing, and he commanded the human soldiers who wanted to kill her. She was as dependant upon his charity and protection as she was upon that of her mistress.
To add to her worries, Lady Dana's belly was alarmingly large. The baby's birth would bring additional responsibilities. And Dibeh knew nothing about human infants, not even how they got out of their mothers' stomachs. Would Lady Dana be torn apart like the hosts of Nih-hi-cho young? Would she die in the process? Who would Dibeh serve then? Skinner? The child?
Divine Angels, she did not know how to care for a human baby. What did they eat? How old were they when they finally shed their skins and transformed into adults? How would Dibeh learn all she needed to know?
Hands quaking, she delivered Skinner's tea to the table and silently thanked the Red Dragon she didn't spill it.
Skinner lifted the mug, his fierce eyes locked upon Dibeh as he took a sip. Her skin heated beneath his intense scrutiny. She wanted to ask if the tea was too hot, or if he preferred it with honey the way Lady Cassandra liked it, but she was at a loss as to how to make herself understood. Like Lady Dana, Skinner could not grasp the meaning of even the most rudimentary hand signals.
Dibeh retreated the few steps to the kitchen, where she kept an ear turned toward her mistress while she washed the dinner dishes.
"She never talks?" Skinner asked Lady Dana.
"Her inability to speak is the result of the hybridization process," answered her mistress. "At least, that's what I was told."
"Aliens don't like their slaves talking back?"
"I don't think that's their motive. The aliens can read minds, so verbal communication isn't an issue for them."
"Can *she* read minds?"
Dibeh glanced up from her sudsy dishwater to find Skinner eyeing her, lips pressed tightly together.
She shook her head, wanting to assure him that she did not share the mental agility of the Nih-hi-cho, then immediately regretted her action. It was not her place to participate in their discussion without permission.
"From what I've seen, hybrids don't have that particular ability," Lady Dana explained. "They use sign language to communicate. She understands everything we're saying. Don't you, Dibeh?"
Pleased to be invited to answer, Dibeh nodded, letting them know it was true. She understood their verbal and written language perfectly, as well as the meanings of their postures, mannerisms and facial expressions. She had spent long hours memorizing, practicing.
"A half-alien who's fluent in English? You don't find that odd?" Again he directed his question at Lady Dana.
"Not really. She was Cassandra Spender's personal aide."
At the mention of Lady Cassandra's name, Dibeh felt a stab of apprehension. There had been Nih-hi-cho blood beneath Ca-Lo's desk the night she and Lady Dana were kidnapped. Dibeh suspected something dreadful had happened to her former mistress.
"I don't get it," Skinner said. "Why would the aliens give a servant to a human prisoner?"
"Cassandra wasn't a prisoner."
"I thought she was abducted at El Rico."
"More like rescued."
"But why? What's special about her?"
Lady Dana's next words were laced with bitterness. "Her son is the officer we saw back at Farmington Bay, the man who looks like Mulder."
"The man who claimed to be Mulder's brother."
"It's not as farfetched as it might sound. We know Jeffrey is Mulder's half-brother. We saw the PCR results. It's possible Mulder and Jeffrey's father had other children."
"I can't think of a worse candidate for fatherhood than Old Smokey."
Lady Dana glanced at Dibeh, who busied herself, wiping the small counter with her damp cloth.
"Walter, there's something you should know about this man Ca-Lo. He can be...unusually persuasive."
"Persuasive in what way?"
"Remember Robert Modell?"
"Ca-Lo can make people do things they wouldn't ordinarily do."
Dibeh watched them from the corner of her eye. She saw Skinner's jaw clench.
"He didn't 'persuade' you to do something you didn't want to, did he?"
Lady Dana's voice wavered when she spoke. "It's...it's difficult to talk about."
A loud knock on the door startled Dibeh and prevented Lady Dana from explaining further.
Dibeh took a step toward the entrance, but Skinner growled "I'll get it" and rose to his feet.
The visitor turned out to be Royal Jackson. Snow flecked his spiraling hair and knit hat. Slush melted into muddy puddles around his boots.
"News, sir." Royal eyed Dibeh with obvious disdain, then removed his gloves and reached into his pocket. He passed Skinner a handwritten communiqué.
Skinner scanned the document. "Why would they put all their firepower in one place? Defensively, it makes no sense."
"Not sure, sir. Maybe the warships are there to protect whatever the hell is going on in the stronghold."
"It could be they don't consider us a threat any more."
"Good. Then they'll leave us alone." Lady Dana sounded more bitter than hopeful.
Dibeh turned her back to hide her disappointment. Secretly she had been praying to the Red Dragon, asking him to send Ca-Lo and his troops to this miserable place to take her and her mistress back to Tse'Bit'a'i', where they belonged. Now there seemed little chance she would see her home and friends again. Tears filled her eyes, blurring the dishes in the sink.
A gust of wind rattled the trailer. Sleet tapped like ghostly fingers against the tiny kitchen window. Dibeh dipped her hands into the tepid water and slowly finished washing the dishes.
Opal River, Wyoming
Mulder slouched on the sofa, bare feet stretched toward the welcome warmth of the fireplace. His frostbitten toes prickled as they thawed. Every inch of him ached, especially the knotted muscles in his damaged left leg.
He drew comfort from William, who snoozed in his lap. Kenna had fed, bathed, and dressed the boy in a pair of clean flannel PJs she'd unearthed from a bureau in a back bedroom. She'd then passed William, sated and sleepy, to Mulder so she could take her turn in the iron-stained bathtub.
Mulder had accepted his son with open arms.
Imagining moments like this one had comforted him during his many months in hiding and, later, when he was confined to a prison cell, missing every milestone in William's young life.
What had been his son's first word? When had he taken his first step? Who was the man he called "dada" before Mulder came to claim the honor?
Mulder's eyes misted as he stroked William's downy-soft hair, his velvety ear. The boy's lids fluttered but remained shut. The heat of the fire, the gratifying weight of William in his lap, the simple tranquility he derived from watching his son's small chest rise and fall, lulled Mulder toward true peace -- the first he had experienced since making love to Scully in Roswell a half year earlier.
I found him, Scully, he wanted to tell her. Just like I said I would.
The fire snapped and popped, sending a welcome, piney scent into the room. The flames' golden glow dappled the hearth, the frayed rug, William's pink cheeks.
The ramshackle cabin had been a godsend. Someone's hunting camp, tucked off the main road, overlooking Opal River. It was stocked with canned food, cast-off clothing, blankets, firewood.
Best of all, there were no corpses to bury.
That wasn't to say the place was perfect. Mice inhabited the kitchen. The countertop was speckled with their droppings and the musty air carried the prickly odor of their urine. But rather than being repulsed, Mulder found hope in the faint ticking of their small toenails as they scurried about, scrounging for food and building their nests, preparing for future generations as if the end of the world was not upon them.
Beyond his outstretched legs, Gibson snored softly atop a mattress he'd dragged from one of the frosty bedrooms and positioned in front of the roaring fire. He looked vulnerable without his glasses, which he'd placed on a rickety end table beside the hearth. Mulder was struck by how much Gibson had changed in the last couple of years. He was no longer the plump-cheeked boy he, Scully and Diana had met in Inget Murray Psychiatric Hospital in what felt like another lifetime. He was leaner, tougher. Real facial hair, not a child's peach fuzz, shadowed his upper lip and chin. And he had grown more serious, if such a thing were possible.
Kenna, finished with her bath, sat cross-legged in a worn overstuffed chair, brushing her freshly shampooed hair, letting the heat from the fire dry it. She had discovered the hairbrush in the bathroom and appropriated it the same way she did every other useful item she came across. Like William's pajamas and the faded jeans she was wearing.
A size too big, the jeans rode low on her hips, the waistband not quite meeting her clean white shirt, which was a turtleneck, selected no doubt because it hid the scars on her neck. Mulder couldn't help but notice she wore no bra. Her breasts bounced with each stroke of the brush. Her nipples weren't hard, but the dark areolas showed through the light-colored fabric, drawing his eye.
"He doing okay?" She glanced at William and caught Mulder staring at her chest.
Mulder's gaze dropped to his son.
"I could hold him if he's a bother."
"He's no bother."
Kenna rose from her chair, abandoning her hairbrush on the Navajo blanket that covered the torn seat. She crossed to Mulder and reached out to clasp William's small bare foot.
"He's finally warmed up," she murmured.
The day had been raw, their hike arduous. The snow had stopped shortly after dawn, allowing them to cover approximately eighteen miles along Route 30 before sundown. The road followed Opal River, which provided fresh water as they trudged more deeply into the high desert, where limber pines, sagebrush and leafless aspens dotted the rocky hillsides.
Kenna sank onto the cushions next to Mulder and drew her knees up under her chin. Her shoulder brushed his.
The scent of soap and toothpaste wafted from her. It occurred to Mulder she must have used the cabin owner's toothbrush and the idea rocked his stomach with queasy waves. She seemed to have no qualms about appropriating people's seconds. Like Scully, she was practical in the extreme. Maybe she had lived with hand-me-downs all her life, reinforcing her pragmatic nature. Or perhaps it was the hardships of the last half year that drove her to do whatever she needed to survive.
Thank God she had found William all those months ago. How many times had she saved the boy's life since then? Mulder would never be able to adequately thank her for everything she had done on his son's behalf.
"You look beat," he said.
"So do you." Her dusky eyes took him in.
She was really quite pretty, despite the scars he knew ringed her neck. Long-limbed and slender, face unlined, hair glossy. Her mouth pursed, full, moist.
"Rick isn't coming back," she said, germane to nothing as was often her habit. She absently twirled her wedding ring.
"What makes you say that?"
"He's dead," she admitted for the first time. "Locust-monsters killed him."
"Day I found William."
"You saw it happen?"
She reached out and caressed the baby's rounded cheek. "He's beautiful, isn't he?" she asked, avoiding the question.
"I think so."
"You suppose his mother is still alive?"
"I believe she is. I hope she is."
"How long's it been since you saw her?"
"Six months." Six long months since Scully drove away without saying goodbye, leaving Mulder behind.
"A lot's happened since then," Kenna stated the obvious.
Mulder may have lost Scully, but, thanks to this young woman, he had found his son.
The fire crackled; sparks floated up the chimney like lightning bugs. William's rosebud lips sucked on something in his dreams.
Mulder's eyes went again to Kenna's breasts.
"You wanna kiss me?" she asked.
He did. He was surprised at how much. "I-I shouldn't."
"Why not? Aren't I as pretty as her?"
"It has nothing to do with that. I love her."
"I love Rick, too, but that doesn't mean we can't kiss." To prove her point, she leaned close and touched her lips lightly to his. Her breath carried the minty smell of a stranger's toothpaste. "See?" she said, pulling back a fraction of an inch.
Shaken and aroused, he inhaled slowly, deeply, feeling like he was taking his first real breath in months. The first since Mount Weather, when he'd learned William was gone, when Scully's betrayal had knocked the wind from his lungs, seemingly forever.
The ghost of Kenna's kiss tingled upon his lower lip. Her eyes remained locked with his while her fingers caressed William's baby-fine hair.
Mulder was cold. And bone weary. He wanted to feel pleasure and comfort again. He wanted to feel Kenna's hands on his skin. Her soft, pliant body beneath his. She was offering him a few moments of warm indulgence, a temporary distraction from two years of godawful torture and loneliness. It wasn't love, he knew, on her part or his, but it might assuage the empty ache in his heart, left there when Scully departed without him in Shiprock.
Wake up, Gibson, Mulder half wished. Stop me before I make a horrible mistake.
He lifted William from his lap and carefully laid him on the mattress beside the sleeping teen.
Gibson didn't stir.
Mulder grasped Kenna's outstretched hand and snagged the Navajo blanket from the chair as he led her to the back bedroom.
The floor was icy beneath his bare feet.
"It's freezing in here," she muttered.
He wrapped the blanket, and his arms, around her, then closed the door softly with a push of his foot.
Two Days Later
South of Safe Camp, Utah
Directing his horse northward along Route 30, Ca-Lo was unprepared for the jewel-like glow of Bear Lake at dusk. Twenty miles long and eight miles wide, it shimmered a bright turquoise blue, the color matching exactly the oval stone in the ring he was bringing to Dana as a wedding gift.
Ca-Lo planned to propose to Dana the way Earth men traditionally proposed marriage, on bended knee, ring in hand, heart laid bare. He wanted it to be a perfect moment, the first of many. In his mind he could clearly imagine their wedding ceremony, their first night as man and wife, a long joyful future together. He wanted all the rewards his brother so blithely took for granted: a woman who loved him, a family of his own, freedom to do as he pleased.
Ca-Lo wondered if Mulder was dead, killed by Harris. He hoped the old Watcher was safely back at Harmony I with little William. The boy would assure Dana's cooperation -- at the altar and in Ca-Lo's bed. She would be grateful to him for returning her son.
Red Dragon willing, she would grow to love Ca-Lo over time. And he would dote on her, provide her with every possible luxury, with servants, and children, lots of children. Strong, ambitious sons and lovely, intelligent daughters.
The screech of a goshawk drew Ca-Lo's attention skyward. Buoyed by an unseen draft, the bird circled beneath the heavy overcast, hunting its evening meal. Dusk was fast approaching; it would be pitch-dark in less than an hour.
Enough time to reach his destination.
The camp was visible in the distance. An untidy collection of tents, trailers and motor homes cluttering the mile-long white sand beach. Boats bobbed in slips at the docks. Smoke rose from open fires, carrying the scent of green wood and burning refuse. Windows flickered with candlelight while people hurried between shelters, bundled against the cold.
A sudden snap of twigs spooked Ca-Lo's horse, causing it to whinny and toss its head. Ghostly vapors puffed skyward as it nervously sniffed the frosty air.
"What is it, boy?" Had the horse caught wind of a sentry?
Spruce and juniper dotted the craggy, snow-covered hills on either side of the road. Murky, claw-like shadows stretched across the landscape, providing perfect cover for rebel soldiers lying in wait.
"Stop right there, mister," came a voice from the half-dark.
Ca-Lo reined in his horse at the road's center line. "I'm unarmed."
"We'll see about that."
A grim-faced man stepped from the shadows, an M-16 aimed at Ca-Lo's chest. He was dressed in a camouflage jacket, baggy wool pants, and a Rockies' baseball cap with a bent brim.
"Who are you?" the sentry asked.
"Name's Mulder. I'm looking for a woman named Dana Scully. She's a doctor. I have reason to believe she's living in your camp."
"Get off your horse, Mr. Mulder. Slow. And keep your hands where I can see 'em." The man shouted over his shoulder, "Ty, cover me while I search him."
Ty stepped into view. He was young, a teenager. Smudges of dirt darkened his smooth cheeks and undersized chin. He licked chapped lips and held his shotgun with thin, shaky arms.
"Don't do nuthin' stupid," Ty warned, "or I'll shoot your fuckin' head off."
"No need for that," Ca-Lo said, easing off his horse.
The older man passed Ty his rifle. "Watch him close."
"I got him in my sights, Gil. One false move and...BAM!"
Ca-Lo raised his hands and kept an eye on trigger-happy Ty as Gil frisked him.
"He ain't armed," Gil announced.
"I told you," Ca-Lo said.
"Shut the fuck up!" warned Ty.
Ca-Lo waited quietly as Gil rummaged through his saddlebags.
"Anything?" Ty asked, licking his lips again.
"Not much. Change of clothes, couple cans of food and...this." Gil shook the tiny box that held Dana's engagement ring.
"Please, that's for her, the woman I've come for." Ca-Lo took a step toward Gil and reached for the box.
"Don't move, mister," Ty warned, "unless you want a back full of buckshot."
Gil lifted the box's lid and peered inside. "Pretty."
"Put it back."
"You ain't in any position to be ordering me around, Mr. Mulder."
"Are you a soldier in the North Utah Infantry?"
"Might be. Then again, I might not. What's it to you?"
"I'm a friend of Walter Skinner's." This got both men's attention. "So unless you want to piss off your commanding officer, you'll put that ring back where you found it."
Gil considered for a minute, then returned the ring to the saddlebag. "Probably worthless anyway. Where you comin' from, Mr. Mulder?"
"Polson, most recently."
"Yes. I've been riding for six days."
Gil looked him over, clearly trying to assess the truth of his claim. "Anyone else up that way?"
"About a dozen, but they're in no condition to travel."
"Shit," said Ty, "we coulda used more men."
"Shut the fuck up, you moron," Gil warned.
Ty's wet mouth slapped closed and he hung his head.
"Look...Gil, is it?" Ca-Lo asked. "I'm a stranger and you've got no reason to trust me, but if you take me to Ms. Scully, she'll tell you who I am."
"You ain't seein' no one but Commander Skinner. Convince him you're who you say you are, and we'll take it from there."
"That's fine. Like I said, Skinner's an old friend."
"We'll see about that." Gil took possession of the horse's reins. "Let's go. You lead, Mr. Mulder."
Ca-Lo headed toward Safe Camp with the barrel of Ty's shotgun poking painfully in his spine.
When they arrived at the park's Visitor Center, Gil tied the horse to a bicycle rack and then escorted Ca-lo inside to an office that smelled like wet wool and burnt coffee. Five grubby men, dressed in mismatched hunting jackets, camo sweatshirts and baseball caps, sat in metal folding chairs at a table strewn with coffee mugs and topographical maps.
A stern, balding man in glasses and fatigues rose from his chair. Ca-Lo recognized him from Mulder's files, as well as from his own reconnaissance photos: Walter Skinner, ex-Marine, ex-FBI, one of Mulder's closest friends and, as leader of the rebel resistance, a significant thorn in the Society's collective side.
Adopting Mulder's relaxed attitude, Ca-Lo said, "Walter, you look like you've just seen a ghost."
Skinner blinked with a mix of surprise and suspicion. "Mulder?"
"In the flesh."
"I'll need proof of that."
"Fair enough." Ca-Lo pointed to the map, where handwritten notations marked roadways and mountain ranges. "May I?"
Skinner moved to block his view. "I don't think so."
"I can show you where the aliens are."
"We know where they are."
"But do you know *why* they're there?" Ca-Lo would win Skinner's trust by providing him with inconsequential intelligence.
"You tell me."
"They're planning a helluva party. Special invitation only."
"What are they celebrating?"
There was no reason for Ca-Lo to lie. Skinner and his troops could not stop the Nih-hi-cho. "It's like a Sweet Sixteen, of sorts. The young aliens are being introduced into the Society. They'll become members of the intellectual community, part of a group consciousness. They call it The Joining."
"Assuming what you say is true, how did you learn about it?"
"I was in Salt Lake City."
Gil raised his rifle and pointed it at Ca-Lo's temple. "You said you came from Polson."
"I lied. I trust no one...no one but Skinner and Scully." Ca-Lo shot Skinner an obstinate stare that he hoped matched Mulder's exactly.
Skinner studied him through narrowed eyes. Finally he said, "There's a man who looks like you. He would know about this 'joining.'"
Ca-Lo hid his surprise and nodded. Skinner must have spotted him at Salt Lake, probably when he was searching Besh-Lo's downed craft. It would answer the question of who had rescued Dana and her hybrid aide. "So you've heard about my evil twin."
"I've seen him."
Ca-Lo decided to continue telling small truths in order to hide bigger ones. "His name is Ca-Lo. He's a military strategist for--"
"For the aliens. Yes, I know all about that."
"You think I'm him?"
Skinner indicated the maps with a tilt of his head. "He could learn a lot by coming here. I need proof you're Mulder -- undeniable proof -- before I trust you."
"She'll know," Ca-Lo said, believing Mulder would take this tactic. "Scully can be the proof you need."
"I won't put her in danger."
"I wouldn't ask you to." He stared unblinkingly at Skinner and stepped closer, invading the other man's personal space the way he'd seen his brother do countless times on the surveillance tapes. "Let her question me. Hell, let her examine me. You can be right there watching."
Skinner regarded him for a long moment, jaw working as he considered. "Okay," he said at last. "But if she says you're an imposter, you won't live to argue the point. I'll kill you where you stand."
Scully was conducting evening rounds when Skinner entered the infirmary with Mulder in tow. Her heart leapt to her throat at the sight of him, dressed in familiar clothes, worry creasing his brow as he desperately searched the rows of cots looking for her. When he spotted her halfway across the room, his entire body appeared to relax. A slanting smile lit his face and it was all she could do to keep herself from dropping her patient's chart and running to him.
It might not be him, she reminded herself.
To give her wildly beating heart time to settle down, she finished tending her patient, a teenager, burned and blinded by plasma fire.
"How are you feeling?" She checked his IV.
She tucked the thin, inadequate bedding around his shivering shoulders. "I'll have someone bring you another blanket," she promised, knowing it would come from her bed because there were no more.
She gave his shoulder an encouraging squeeze.
Emotions under control, she crossed the room to stand before Skinner and the man who looked like Mulder.
"Scully..." Tears filled the man's hazel eyes and he reached for her.
Skinner grabbed his arm, stopping him. "Not so fast."
"This is ridiculous," Mulder objected. "Scully, it's me."
"You'll have to prove that," she said.
"What a surprise."
"Convince me you're not a clone or a shapeshifter or...or anyone else." She couldn't bring herself to say Ca-Lo's name. Waves of disgust and shame heated her face. "If you're really Mulder, you'll understand my need for caution."
"All those times I told you to trust no one and now it's come back to bite me on the ass. Guess it serves me right."
"Would a physical examination give you the proof you need?" Skinner asked.
Would it? It was an approach she would have taken in her old life, back before she had lost her faith in the authenticity of physical evidence, before experience -- and Mulder -- had taught her to rely on her instincts as well as her eyes.
"Follow me." She had seen through Jeffrey Spender's subterfuge when he tried to impersonate Mulder to get to William. If this man was an imposter, she would expose him, too.
She led both men to a makeshift examining area behind a privacy curtain.
Turning to face Mulder, she ordered, "Take off your clothes."
"Not that I'm complaining, but is this really the best place for a reunion?" Mulder glanced at Skinner.
"Strip. Now," she demanded.
He smiled, almost shyly, then shed his jacket and tossed it on the nearby examining table. His pullover and t-shirt followed. Bare-chested, arms extended, he turned to face her.
An old gunshot wound was visible on his shoulder, right where it should be.
"Tell me about this." She ran her fingers lightly across the scar, testing its authenticity.
He inhaled sharply at her touch and closed his eyes, clearly grateful for the physical contact. She let her hand drop.
"A bullet from your gun had my name on it," he said, opening his eyes.
"Why would I shoot you?"
"To save me from myself." He leaned close and whispered, "Story of our lives, wouldn't you say?"
She took a step back and Skinner moved closer, ready to intervene on her behalf. She appreciated his willingness to protect her.
"Your pants," she said to the man who looked like Mulder. "Drop them."
He waggled his brows in a gesture so like Mulder, it set her heart hammering.
"I always liked playing doctor with you, Scully." He unfastened his fly. "And I don't mind having an audience if you don't, but I gotta admit it's a side of you I never suspected." He pushed his jeans to his knees.
She averted her gaze from his boxers and looked instead at the mark on his thigh. "Explain that."
"Lucas Henry shot me during a kidnapping case."
"Which kidnapping case?" If this was Mulder, he would remember the kids' names. He had perfect recall.
"Elizabeth Hawley and James Summers. Nineteen years old. You saved their lives. You saved mine, too." He gently tagged her arm, caressing her through the thick sleeve of her shirt.
"Back off," Skinner ordered.
His hand fell away. "I still think Boggs' act was bogus. I always wondered how he convinced you to believe him."
An imposter could memorize the details of the Boggs case from written reports, but would anyone other than Mulder know about her unlikely acceptance of Boggs' supernatural abilities?
"Turn around," she said.
He pivoted awkwardly, pants bunched at his knees. "My best side," he joked.
She examined the gunshot's exit wound. Position, age -- it looked right. Could this really be Mulder? Her pulse quickened at the possibility.
"Face me and open your mouth."
For the first time, he appeared annoyed. "This is crazy, Scully. I'm Mulder."
"You want to play doctor? Say ahh." She stood on tiptoe and peered into his mouth.
One filling, second molar. If this man was an imposter, he was a damned good one.
"Convinced yet?" he asked.
"No. Get dressed."
He did as she asked. "You'll believe Luther Boggs can channel spirits, but you won't believe I'm me. That hurts, Scully."
He was teasing again and his flip-flopping moods were certainly characteristic of Mulder.
"You haven't said one word about our fight." She studied his face and eyes.
"Seems pretty unimportant in retrospect," he said, looking uncertain.
"That's not how you felt six months ago."
"Scully..." His expression grew sad. "A lot has happened since then." His focus dropped to the swell of her abdomen. "Look at you. Y-you're pregnant."
"I was wondering if you'd noticed."
"I *am* a trained investigator." A slight smile curled his lips, then quickly vanished. "I've missed a lot, haven't I?"
"It's getting to be a habit."
"For both of us. Should I be hunting down the pizza man?"
Jesus, would anyone but Mulder know their private joke?
"Pizza man?" she asked, testing him.
"Is it unmanly to admit to pepperoni envy." He mugged dismay.
He had to be Mulder. No one else could rollercoaster between grief and humor with such confidence. And, as if she needed more to convince her, he donned his panic face, a mask of composure meant to camouflage his fears from everyone but her, the only person he truly trusted. "I am who I say I am," he insisted. "You have to be willing to see. Scully, you have to believe me."
Similar words, spoken in Calumet Mercy's psych ward, came rushing back to her: Nobody else on this whole damn planet... you’re my one in five billion.
The baby fluttered inside her.
She wanted to trust him. *Needed* to trust him.
"Okay, Mulder. I believe you," she said, praying her instincts were correct.
Route 30, Wyoming
Snow skated across Route 30 in dervishes, alternately hiding and revealing the highway's golden centerline before vanishing like furious ghosts in the growing gloom. Plodding steadily westward, Mulder carried William in his arms and, on his back, a pack containing clean diapers and a two-day supply of canned food. William slept fitfully with his face buried in Mulder's neck for warmth. Gibson hugged a gallon-sized jug of water, and matched Mulder step for step. Empty handed, Kenna trailed several paces behind, dragging her feet, as she'd been doing all day.
"Don't lecture me, Gibson." Mulder kept his voice pitched low, although he doubted Kenna could hear him over the wind's bitter howl.
"I wasn't lecturing."
"If you feel guilty, don't blame me. I just asked a simple question."
"One to which you already know the answer." Mulder adjusted his hold on William, trying to relieve a cramp in his right arm. "I didn't use a condom. I didn't have one. I regret it. There's nothing more to say on the subject."
Gibson gave Mulder an accusatory sidelong glance, but made no comment.
"I admit, sleeping with Kenna was shortsighted," Mulder continued, uncomfortable with Gibson's silence, "and selfish...irresponsible...stupid-- You want me to go on?"
"There could be consequences."
Blustering snow stung Mulder's face and momentarily blinded him. He staggered and leaned into the wind, cursing his bad leg.
"She's worried," Gibson said.
"About getting pregnant?"
"No. About you. She wonders why you're treating her this way."
"I'm not treating her any way. I'm ignoring her."
"Exactly. Like she's a one night stand."
"She is a one night stand."
"You sure about that?"
"Yes I'm sure."
Gibson wiped snow from his glasses with gloved fingers. "She expected you'd be pleased."
Another icy gust pummeled Mulder. William jerked awake. "Mama?" He extended stubby arms over Mulder's shoulder toward Kenna.
Mulder glanced back. Kenna was trudging along the highway's centerline with shoulders hunched, eyes downcast. Her long hair lashed as snowflakes spiraled around her.
"It's okay, son. Go back to sleep," Mulder soothed, and lumbered on. To Gibson he said, "I am such an idiot."
Again Gibson remained silent and Mulder took it to mean he agreed. Sleeping with Kenna had complicated an already complicated situation. "I made a mistake of gargantuan proportions during a moment of temporary insanity," Mulder admitted.
"Is that her fault?"
"Of course not."
"You might consider telling her."
"How, without hurting or encouraging her?" Mulder squinted through the veil of snow.
Lurking at the top of the next rise was the faint silhouette of a house.
"Hallelujah," he said without enthusiasm. It was a place to get out of the cold, but being stuck under the same roof with Kenna's wounded looks and Gibson's disapproving stares was going to make for a hell of a long night.
"Apologize to her, Mulder."
Mulder wondered how far he would get on his bad leg, loaded down with William and their food, if he made a run for the hills.
"Coward," Gibson accused, reading his thoughts.
"You won't get an argument from me on that score."
Gibson stopped walking and held out the jug. "Take this and give me William; I'll get him to the house. You apologize."
"Now?" Mulder hated the way his voice whined like a two-year-old's.
"You want a decent night's sleep?"
"Then clear the air."
Gibson was right. It was time to own up to his mistake.
Mulder kissed William's cheek and reluctantly exchanged him for the water.
Gibson hefted William onto one hip and headed for the house. Mulder watched them fade into the whirling snow as he waited for Kenna to catch up.
"You all right?" he asked when she was beside him.
Her fists were buried deeply in her pockets. Tears glittered on her lashes and Mulder wished it was only the wind, and not him, that had put them there. Sniffing, she asked, "Why are you so pissed?"
"Coulda fooled me."
"Okay, I am mad -- at myself, not at you. I shouldn't have...what we did...what *I* did..." Shit, this was harder than he had imagined.
"See? You are pissed. I did something wrong, didn't I?"
"No, you were fine. You were more than fine."
She tilted her head back, as if searching the snow-filled night for answers. Flakes clumped on her lashes. Her lower lip trembled. "I know I'm not what you'd call an experienced woman. I've only been with one other man. So if I messed up maybe you could show me what you--"
"No, Kenna, please, it wasn't anything you did or didn't do."
Her mittened hand rose to her throat to cover the scars that were already hidden behind her turtleneck and thick wool scarf. "You think I'm ugly. I don't blame you. I-I *am* ugly."
"Kenna...no. You're not ugly. You're very pretty."
"Then what is it?" Her eyes pleaded for an answer. "Why don't you like me?"
"I do like you."
"But not as much as her."
Tears spilled onto her wind-chapped cheeks. Swiping them away, she marched after Gibson and William.
Mulder limped along beside her, trying to keep pace. "I love her, Kenna. I told you that."
"She could be dead. Rick's dead. Almost everybody's dead... 'cept us."
"You're wrong. There are others at Safe Camp."
"I'll believe that when I see it." Her defiant tone was so like Scully's it made his heart skip a beat.
"Kenna, whether there are people at Safe Camp or not, what we did can't happen again. It won't."
"'Til the next time you're feeling lonely?"
He grabbed her arm, intending only to slow her.
"Don't." She wrenched free.
"I'm trying to apologize."
"You're sorry you slept with me. I get it."
"No, it's not...I mean, yes, I am sorry that we... Damn it, stop running!"
She slowed, but didn't stop. "You got something more to say?" She glared at him.
"Yes. I'm sorry. I'm just...sorry."
"Sure you are."
They reached the front steps of the squatty ranch-style house, where Gibson was standing on the small upper landing, free hand on the doorknob. Mulder could tell from the way he cocked his head that he was listening to voices the others couldn't hear.
"Is someone inside?" Mulder whispered.
Mulder waited for what seemed an eternity before blurting, "Well?"
"I hear her."
The name sizzled along Mulder's limbs like a jolt of electricity and he nearly dropped the jug of water. "Is she okay? Where is she?"
"At the rebels' camp. She's with, uh..."
"It can't be."
"It doesn't make sense."
"God damn it, who?"
Gibson's typically bland expression registered genuine astonishment. "She's with...you."
"I'll be fine," Dana assured Skinner as she ushered him out his own door.
"I'm going to post a guard outside." He eyeballed Ca-Lo, who was leaning against the kitchen counter.
"Still don't trust me, Walter?" Ca-Lo smiled, hiding his irritation at Dana's self-appointed guardian.
Skinner touched Dana's arm and reiterated, "I won't be far."
"I know. Thank you, Walter."
"Nighty-night, Walter." Ca-Lo waggled his fingers as Dana closed the door behind Skinner.
Pushing away from the counter, he caught Dana in a loose embrace. He kissed her cheek, her ear, her neck. "Alone at last."
"Not quite." Dana directed his attention to where Dibeh sat quietly at the table.
Like any well-trained servant, Dibeh was an expert at making herself inconspicuous. Stationary as a stone, she watched their every move.
Would she give away his ruse?
"There's an alien-human hybrid sitting at your table, Scully," he said dryly. "I told you they existed."
"Yes...well...I've come to accept a lot of the things you once told me."
"I'm assuming she's friendly since she's here in your home. Are you going to introduce us?"
This elicited a surprised look from Dibeh. Tentatively she signed, "I have been hoping you would come, Master Ca-Lo. Are you taking us back to Tse'Bit'a'i'?"
"She can't speak?" he asked.
"Only through sign language."
"Can you understand what she's saying?"
"No. But her name is Dibeh. She helped me escape from the aliens' ship. She saved my life."
"Then I owe her a debt of gratitude." Ca-Lo smiled. "Pleased to meet you, Dibeh."
This produced more signing. "Why are you acting like we have not met? Why does Lady Dana call you by a strange name?"
"She seems upset," Ca-Lo said, pretending he couldn't interpret her hand signals.
"Dibeh, there's no need to be afraid. This is Mulder. He's the man I've been looking for since last May. He's a friend." Dana reached for Ca-Lo's hand and dovetailed their fingers. "You can trust him."
Confusion knotted Dibeh's brow, but her hands dropped to her lap.
Dana leaned into Ca-Lo. "It's been hard for her here," she whispered.
"Then let's give her some time to get used to the idea of having me around." Placing his hand at the small of her back, Ca-Lo steered Dana into the bedroom at the opposite end of the trailer. He drew the mildew-stained curtain closed behind them, blocking them from Dibeh's view.
Dana snaked her arms around his waist and looked up expectantly.
His plan was working. Dibeh had not blown his cover. Dana believed he was Mulder.
Sifting through snippets of taped conversations at lightning speed, Ca-Lo searched his photographic memory for an appropriate comment or question, something that would sound typical of Mulder. He settled on saying nothing at all, letting his actions speak for him. He drew her to him and rested his chin upon the crown of her head.
Her distended abdomen pressed pleasantly against his own flat stomach and he reveled in the feel of it. This was their child, their daughter, between them. His eyes flooded with tears at the idea. He could scarcely describe his euphoria, it was so foreign to him. His lifelong dream was literally within arm's reach. He hardly dared breathe, afraid he might awaken to discover this was all a hallucination, induced by the Nih-hi-cho to keep him quiet while they performed another of their heinous experiments.
"You're trembling," Dana said.
"I can't believe I'm actually here," he replied honestly.
"You're here." She chuckled and nuzzled his neck.
He tightened his embrace. This is real, he told himself. Not a hallucination. Make the most of it. "Tell me what I've missed," he whispered.
"I hardly know where to begin."
She was on the verge of telling "Mulder" the truth, that she was pregnant with another man's child. Eager to hear how she would phrase her confession, Ca-Lo decided to help her, gently, as Mulder would.
"Is there something I should know?" he asked, trying to sound troubled.
Her fingers clutched his sweater; her words puffed hotly against his neck. She refused to pull back and look him in the eye. "I was taken prisoner at Shiprock. One of the officers... He looked like you. He tricked me."
"He pretended to be you. We...we had sex. Unprotected sex." She looked up at him at last, eyes glossed with tears.
"This baby...?" He stroked her belly and tried to appear stricken. "It's his?"
A single tear crested her wet lashes and rolled down her cheek. "That's just it. I'm not certain. The timing was too close. You and I made love the night before I was captured. The baby could be yours...or his."
Her pronouncement struck him like a jolt from his old Teacher's Taser.
"A...a DNA test would prove paternity," he stammered.
The Nih-hi-cho Appraisers had run tests. They had drawn an amniotic sample, configured the baby's genetic profile and compared the results to Ca-Lo's. The DNA Verifier had indicated he was the biological father. Based on those results, Ca-Lo had assumed Mulder and Dana were not intimate in the days prior to her capture, or, if they had slept together, they had used some form of birth control.
A malfunction of the Verifier was unlikely. As was a misreading of the data. Appraisers did not make mistakes.
They would lie, however, if the Overseers asked them to.
Ca-Lo felt his happiness slipping away.
"I-I need to sit." He lowered himself unsteadily to the bed.
"Amniocentesis, PCR -- those require specialized equipment, equipment we don't have. A genetic comparison isn't possible here." She sat beside him and tentatively stroked his cheek, tracing the very spot where the Nih-hi-cho had once marked him with the tattoo. "Would it matter so much?"
"Of course it would matter."
He would not raise two of his brother's bastard children. Keeping William was a necessity, at least for the time being. But this unborn child would mean nothing to Ca-Lo if she turned out to be Mulder's.
Dana's hand dropped from his face. "You may not believe this, given our last argument, but putting William up for adoption was the hardest thing I ever had to do."
"But if this baby is another man's--"
"She's mine, Mulder. I've already lost two children. I won't lose another. I can't." A mewling sob hitched in her chest.
His anger and self-pity drained away at the sound of her sorrow. Sympathy coursed unbidden through his veins.
Great Dragon, what was he to do?
Receiving no words of divine inspiration, he gathered Dana in his arms and listened to her cry.
"What do you mean Scully's with me?" Mulder asked Gibson. He pushed open the front door and ushered the others into the house.
The inner entry was like many others they had been in: stale air, squeaky floorboards, wallpaper striped in patriotic hues. A child's schoolbooks and skateboard littered a deacon's bench to the left. To the right, a bloody handprint marred an archway to the family room. The house was as dark and quiet as a tomb.
Kenna took possession of William. "You've got the diapers," she reminded Mulder.
He shrugged out of the backpack and handed it to her. She disappeared into the family room.
Mulder asked Gibson, "How the hell can Scully be with me when I'm here and she's clearly not?"
Gibson held up a hand and cocked his head, listening again, concentrating.
"Well?" Mulder snapped, unable to curtail his impatience for more than a second or two.
"She's upset. Crying."
"You're holding her, trying to comfort her."
"*I* am here, Gibson. It's not me who's patting her back."
"She thinks he's you. He looks like you."
The officer aboard Tse'Bit'a'i'. Mulder's mysterious twin. Ca-Lo. The shapeshifter in Arrowhead had said something about human cloning being in its infancy forty years ago, the process highly unpredictable, yet--
"'Your resemblance to your brother is extraordinary,'" Gibson extracted the alien's words from Mulder's memory.
"Ca-Lo is a clone."
"Or you are."
"That's an unsettling thought."
"It's possible you're both clones."
An even more unsettling thought. "Chicken, egg, or Dolly the sheep, how did this Ca-Lo person trick Scully into thinking he is me?"
If Mulder had said it once, he'd said it a thousand times: trust no one, Scully.
"However he did it, she believes he's genuinely concerned about her."
"That's unlikely. Can you get inside his head?"
"Yes." Gibson concentrated. "He's upset, too."
"What does that mean? Is he angry? Sad?" Sexually frustrated?
"He's sorry she's crying."
Scully almost never cried. The bastard must have done something horrific to reduce her to tears.
"What is he doing now?"
"They're getting ready for bed."
"I think so."
"Son of a--!" Mulder's fist slammed the wall beside Gibson's head, hard enough to split the wallpaper and crack the underlying sheetrock.
"Jesus, Mulder. Take it easy."
"Some guy who looks like me is forcing Scully into bed and you expect me to stay calm?"
"If it helps at all, he's not forcing her."
"Oh, I feel so much better knowing that. Thanks." Mulder tried to shake the ache from his knuckles. "I need to get to her."
"We'll be there in two days, three at most."
"That's not soon enough." Mulder regretted leaving the motorcycle behind.
"We're already pushing ourselves."
"We could make another five miles tonight if we--"
"I'm not going anywhere." Kenna appeared in the archway, William perched on her left hip. "Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Maybe never. Neither is he."
"William goes where I go," Mulder said.
"He stays with me and I'm done hiking all over creation. Look at him. You think this is good for him?" Kenna wiped snot from William's chapped nose with her thumb. His cheeks glowed from windburn and his eyelashes were gummed with dried tears.
"Nose hurt, mama." William sniffled.
She cuddled him. "I know, sweetie. I'm sorry."
Mulder cast a desperate glance in Gibson's direction. Gibson remained silent, evidently not wanting to take sides.
Mulder changed tactics, deciding to use Kenna's concern for William to his advantage. "If we stay here he'll be a sitting duck for whoever sent that shapeshifter to Arrowhead."
"What makes you think he'll be any safer in Utah?"
"There are people there, people who can help protect him."
"You mean *her*."
"She's his mother, Kenna."
"Doesn't act like it. Tossed him out like yesterday's garbage. I'd *die* before I'd give him up. And if you had a lick of sense you'd see that. You'd stop trying to get rid of me and be grateful I came along when I did."
"I am grateful."
"Is sleeping with me your way of saying thanks?"
Mulder's face heated. "Of course not."
"Quiet," Gibson warned. "Both of you. I can't hear."
"Hear what?" Kenna's tone was sharp, impatient.
"Shhh," Gibson hushed her. "He's worried."
"About Scully?" Mulder asked.
"And his daughter."
"The alien army is going to attack Safe Camp."
"Not sure. Soon."
"Tomorrow, I think."
If it was true, Scully was in even greater danger than Mulder had first imagined.
"This some kind of joke?" Kenna asked. "No way anyone can hear what's going on in Utah."
"He can," Mulder said. "Gibson hears what people are thinking."
"You're claiming he's some sorta Carnac? He can read minds?"
"It's not as crazy as it sounds. He was born with a unique ability."
Kenna chuffed with disbelief. "You'll have to prove it to me."
Without pause, Gibson said, "As much as he hates thinking about them together, Mulder is hoping Ca-Lo gets Scully out of Safe Camp before it's too late."
"That's hardly proof; anyone coulda guessed he'd want that," Kenna said. "You'll have to do better. Tell me what *I'm* thinking."
"Are you sure you want me to?"
"You can't, can you?"
"Then do it."
"All right. You're confused by Mulder's callous attitude," Gibson began. "You had hoped sleeping with him would make him love you, more than he loves William's real mother, maybe enough for him to forget her altogether. You thought you and he and William could become a family. But that no longer seems likely. You're scared because, with Rick dead and Mulder threatening to take William, you'll have no one. You're afraid of being left alone."
She blinked, unable to hide her surprise. Her lips trembled. Her eyes filled with tears. "I saved William from the locust-monsters. I've been taking care of him for six months!"
"And you love him now," Gibson added.
"Yes. And he loves me." Her tears fell. "I know he does."
"Mama cry." William sniffled and stuck his thumb in his mouth.
Guilt descended upon Mulder's shoulders, unwieldy, crushing. He wanted to sit, or better still, lie down, sleep for a year. Gibson had warned him of Kenna's emotional frailty days ago. A less selfish man would have heeded the warning. But to alleviate his loneliness, he had taken advantage of her.
"I won't leave you here alone, Kenna," Mulder said truthfully. "Come with us to Safe Camp. Please."
"Safe Camp doesn't sound so safe to me."
"I have to agree," Gibson said, looking at Mulder. "It might not be the best place to go, given the circumstances."
"Scully is in trouble," Mulder argued. "The people at Safe Camp need help."
"We can't get there in time to help them."
Gibson's logic wasn't enough to dissuade Mulder. "I'm leaving at first light and I'm taking William. I hope you'll both be with me."
Gibson considered a moment. Mulder had the distinct impression the teen was searching his mind to gauge his resolve.
"You know I'll I go," he said at last, as Mulder had hoped.
"I go," William parroted around his wet thumb.
"Kenna?" Mulder asked softly.
She fussed with William's hair, combing shaky fingers through his knotted curls.
"I'll go," she murmured at last, "for him. Not for you or the people at Safe Camp, and especially not for *her*."
Safe Camp, Utah
"Mulder, please, slow down." Scully was breathing hard and her face was shiny with sweat despite the chilly wind.
In his eagerness to get them to the pick-up point on schedule, Ca-Lo had been walking fast. Too fast for a woman in her condition. The terrain was rocky and the slope steeper than he had realized. They had been climbing steadily higher, away from the camp, for about twenty minutes.
"Sorry," he mumbled and waited for her to catch up.
Scowling, she asked, "What's your hurry?"
She patted her pregnant belly. "I'm not up for a long hike, Mulder. Did you intend to go much further?"
"Just a short way. The view is incredible up there."
"It's not bad here," she said, turning to look.
A half mile below, Bear Lake sparkled beneath the first rays of dawn. Its turquoise color reminded Ca-Lo again of the ring he had intended to slip on Dana's finger...before he had learned her baby might not be his.
"I've always liked this time of day," she said, as if admitting a long held secret.
He checked his watch. In fifteen minutes a fleet of stingercraft and helicopters was due to arrive. Their mission: reduce the camp to rubble. Take no prisoners, save one, Walter Skinner. If Ca-Lo's orders were followed to the letter, and he had no reason to believe they wouldn't be, a cloaked shuttle was waiting beyond the next rise for his getaway. He had to get Dana aboard, quickly.
"See that?" She nodded at the quiet camp. "Except for the sentries, we're the only ones awake."
"I find it comforting."
"To be the only people up at this hour?"
"No, that they feel safe enough to sleep." She dovetailed her fingers with his. "It's the way I felt last night. I haven't slept that soundly since Roswell."
His stomach churned at the thought of her night with Mulder.
"Let's climb a little higher," he urged.
"Why, it's beautiful right here. Look at that sunrise!"
An arc of searing orange had crested the distant hills, setting the sky afire.
Ca-Lo glanced again at his watch. In fewer than ten minutes, the camp would burn just as brightly, set ablaze by the Armada's plasma cannons.
"Why didn't we make love last night?" she asked unexpectedly, sounding more curious than disappointed.
"We weren't alone, remember?" Dibeh's presence wasn't the real reason he had kept to his side of the bed throughout the long, sleepless night. In truth, he had not wanted to touch her, let alone be intimate, not when there was a chance her child was Mulder's.
"I could've been discreet," she said.
He adopted a teasing tone and said, "You? Quiet while making love?" The surveillance videos had shown otherwise.
She gave his arm a playful slap. "I'm not the one who howls like a werewolf when--"
He nuzzled her neck and growled softly. "There's a grove of trees just over the rise. Very private. Follow me and I'll show you who howls like a werewolf."
She wrapped her arms around his neck and drew him to her for a soft kiss.
His lips tingled pleasantly when she pressed more firmly against his mouth. He returned her embrace, feeling a desperate hollowness deep in his gut, like the hunger of a man gone too long without food or drink. He squeezed her more tightly. She moaned and opened her mouth. His tongue swept over hers and her taste ignited a fire beneath his skin. He had never experienced a kiss like this, not when he made love to her six months ago, and certainly not with any of his hybrid Consorts. This was singular -- mouth-watering, genuine, passionate.
Please, he begged the Red Dragon, make the child mine. Allow me this happiness.
Too soon, Dana drew back, breathlessly breaking their kiss. "There's a grove of trees ahead?"
"Yes, but..." The shuttle. He glanced again at his watch and was startled to see they had only three minutes before the first helicopters arrived.
She caught him checking the time. "Are we late for something?"
"You keep checking your watch."
"Sorry. Bad habit."
"What time is it?"
"Damn, I promised I'd check in at the infirmary at 7:30."
"You're not going to make it." He lifted his arm so she could read the digital display on his watch.
She released her hold on him and drew back. Her smile was gone. "You're not Mulder."
"Scully, I thought we settled this yesterday."
"I was a fool to trust you."
"What is this? What's the matter?"
"Electromagnetic pulses stopped every battery-operated watch last May."
Damn it! Despite all his careful planning he had somehow overlooked this one vital detail.
Her eyes flashed with anger. "You're Ca-Lo."
"I had hoped to postpone this conversation until you were safely away from here."
She spun on her heel. He grabbed her arm, preventing her escape.
"You can't go back," he warned.
"Let me go." She tried to pull free.
His grip held. "It's not safe there."
Her question was answered by the distinctive beat of helicopter rotors to the west.
She drew back to strike him, but missed when he scooped her off her feet and carried her up the hill to his waiting shuttle.
Dibeh awoke to an eerie quiet. "The still before the storm," Lady Cassandra called moments like these, referring to the unnatural silences that preceded Tse'Bit'a'i's defensive drills.
“Mulder's” soft snore no longer emanated from beyond the bedroom's privacy curtain as it had earlier when Dibeh was tossing and turning on her bench. She had lain awake for hours trying to figure out if he was truly who he claimed to be.
She recalled overhearing Lady Dana tell Commander Skinner two days ago that Ca-Lo had a brother named Mulder who looked just like him. So it was possible this man was telling the truth. Yet Dibeh was well-trained at interpreting the body language of others and something about him nagged at her. Most of the earthmen she'd met since leaving Tse'Bit'a'i' regarded her with suspicious eyes, lips curled in disgust, but this man treated her with seeming indifference. He appeared unaffected by her Nih-hi-cho features. As Ca-Lo would be.
And yet he couldn't be Ca-Lo, could he? A man as powerful as her master would have no reason to pretend to be anyone else. And why would Lady Dana go along with such a pretense?
Dibeh realized it must be her desire to go home that was fueling her doubts. She had been hoping with all her heart that Ca-Lo would come to rescue them, but apparently it was not to be.
No, this man was Mulder. Lady Dana and Commander Skinner accepted his word, so she must, as well. Her life was here now, not aboard Tse'Bit'a'i'. She would not be going back. Not ever. It was time to stop wasting prayers.
A faint thudding drew her attention away from her disappointment. Sitting up, she strained to identify the source and had almost convinced herself it was merely the beating of her own heart, when she noticed it growing steadily louder, and louder still, until finally it was clattering like a wooden spoon thrown loose in Cook VI's dishwasher.
An explosion, frighteningly loud, rocked the trailer and set Dibeh's heart hammering in earnest. Concerned for Lady Dana's safety, she tossed off her blankets and lurched toward the bedroom at the opposite end of the RV.
A second explosion shook the trailer as she moved through the kitchen. Dishes rattled. A cooking pot toppled into the sink. The Disney World mug jittered off the countertop, plummeted to the floor and shattered. Shards sailed through the air. One razor-sharp fragment sliced Dibeh's wrist, raising a frothy, thin line of green blood.
She ignored the sting and stumbled to the bedroom. Yanking the curtain aside, she found the bed empty. Lady Dana's nightgown was heaped upon the pillows. Her boots were missing from their place beside the small closet. Both Mulder and her mistress were gone.
Gunshots, muted by distance and metal walls, popped like fat in a fry pan somewhere outside the RV. Dibeh thought she could detect the prickly smell of smoke. She bolted on wobbly legs to the trailer's single entrance. Stumbling out into the cold dawn, barefoot, dressed only in thin nightclothes, she nearly slipped on the frosty steps as she ran down them, eyes drawn upward to a blood red sky.
Helicopters swooped overhead like winged dragons. Their deafening rotors stirred dust from the camp's worn footpaths, clogging the air with sand. Higher up, stingercrafts blasted the camp's shelters with strings of molten plasma. Everything burned: tents, boats, cars, RVs.
Throngs of terrified humans ran from their homes, screaming, bleeding, desperate to escape the choking fumes and plasma fire. They scrambled like startled stew-hares toward the lake, the hills. Dibeh ran, too, when a mortar tore through the roof of the camp's main building not thirty yards from Skinner's RV. The explosion shattered the expansive, plate glass windows. Brittle plastic and twisted metal peppered the yard. Splintered ceiling beams flew into the crowd like lances.
One frightened woman, clutching a bawling child, darted past Dibeh, only to be struck down seconds later, severed in two by a sheet of flying tin. The poor baby tumbled from its mother's limp arms, skidded across the dirt path, and was vaporized by a bolt of plasma from above.
Holding her breath against the stench of plasma and melting flesh, Dibeh trailed the crowd through rows of blazing RVs, moving uphill toward Route 30. She frantically searched for Lady Dana as she ran. Bullets whistled overhead. People cried out. Dibeh felt the spray of hot blood. Two, three, four humans fell. The survivors ran faster. Dibeh was soon outdistanced, her shorter stride unable to keep pace with the others.
Helicopters had landed at strategic points around the camp, cutting off escape routes to the lake, the highlands, the paved road. Nih-hi-cho soldiers leapt out, rifles blasting.
Near the end of her endurance and with no means of escape, Dibeh looked for a place to hide. The camp's garbage dump was not far, so she sprinted across a strip of open flatland that separated the camp from its piles of refuse. Swarms of flies fogged the air as she slogged through cans, bottles and rotted food, covering her mouth and nose against the stench of spoiled meat and disposable diapers. Two rusted oil drums lay half buried on their sides in the piles of trash. Brackish liquid pooled inside them.
Dibeh was about to crawl into one when she heard the pounding of horses' hooves out on the open scrubland. Twenty rebel soldiers spurred steeds toward the Nih-hi-cho blockade on Route 30. Walter Skinner was leading them.
The rebels' counterattack proved as useless as a hybrid's prayers. The helicopter was armored; the Nih-hi-cho soldiers wore bulletproof helmets and flak jackets. The rebels fell, riddled by machinegun fire. Skinner's horse was shot out from under him. He continued to charge on foot, alone, firing at the enemy until his ammunition was spent.
The Nih-hi-cho soldiers moved in and surrounded him. Dibeh watched, horrified, as they bludgeoned him, then dragged his limp, bleeding body onto the helicopter.
"Fuckers!" a voice screamed from somewhere behind her.
She turned to see Royal Jackson running toward Route 30, his fists raised at the retreating helicopter.
A stingercraft flew overhead, fired its cannons and cut a deep, charred furrow fifty meters long between Dibeh and Royal. The concussion knocked Royal to the ground. Face down, steam rose from the left sleeve of his camouflage jacket.
A second blast tore through the garbage behind Dibeh, fusing glass and igniting metal. Scorching winds roared past her and she struggled to breathe.
Help him, the wind seemed to scream.
Royal Jackson was trying to stand.
The stingercraft circled overhead like a hungry buzzard.
Without hesitation, Dibeh sprinted through the trash to Royal's aid.
"Don't touch me!" He flailed his good arm when she reached for him.
You must get up, she signed, and tried to pull him to his feet.
The stingercraft banked steeply, coming round to fire again. Time was short. Their only chance was to get out of sight and hope the gunner missed them.
Ignoring Royal's protests, Dibeh hooked his uninjured arm around her neck and, using every ounce of strength she possessed, shouldered him to his feet.
By divine intervention or by sheer willpower, she managed to propel him to the oil drums, where she dropped him. He crawled into the closest one, squeezing himself inside until he was out of sight. The drum wouldn't protect him from another plasma blast, but, Red Dragon willing, the stingercraft pilot would lose sight of them. She shimmied into the second drum feet first and scooped an armful of garbage in after her to hide her from patrolling foot soldiers.
The stingercraft roared overhead. The ground vibrated.
I only wanted to go home, Dibeh explained to the Red Dragon. I prayed for Ca-Lo to find this place. To take me back to Tse'Bit'a'i'. But I never meant this to happen. Please make it stop. No more killing. Please. I am sorry I was so selfish.
Dibeh held her breath and waited for the next blast of cannon fire.
Assessment Bay 22
Ca-Lo sat stiffly upon a wheeled stool facing a computer terminal, as far from the assessment platform as the room allowed. Dana was pinned to the platform, nude, awaiting the amnio procedure. Dabbing blood from his cut lower lip, Ca-Lo kept his back to her while flipping through images in Mulder's file.
"Don't do this!" Dana begged. "Ca-Lo? Please!"
He glanced over his shoulder. A youthful medic named Bicker was preparing her for the procedure. Overhead lights cast a familiar pattern of dots and hash marks upon her bulging abdomen. She struggled against her restraints. Blood oozed from puncture wounds in her wrists and ankles. Ca-Lo's own limbs throbbed with remembered pain.
He hadn't wanted to restrain her, but she had fought him every step of the way, from shuttle to Salt Lake airport to Tse'Bit'a'i's unguarded entrance. She had kicked and scratched mercilessly as he hauled her into an elevator, then down the nearly deserted corridors to the Assessment Bays. Her struggle ceased only when he set her on her feet in front of Bay 22's hulking examination platform.
"Drug her," Ca-Lo ordered Bicker.
"Sir, we don't usually--"
"Don't argue with me!"
Bicker pursed his lips and prepared a hypo with shaky hands.
"Amniocentesis can be a dangerous procedure," Dana warned. She watched Bicker's needle with wide eyes. "If you haven't done this before--"
"He's doing the damned test!" Ca-Lo snapped.
Bicker was a second year Appraiser's assistant. Training videos had provided his only knowledge of the in utero chromosomal profiling procedure. "There isn't much call for paternity testing aboard a Nih-hi-cho warship," Bicker had said earlier, defending his inexperience.
Unfortunately there was no one else available to do the test. Every Appraiser and Healer was at Harmony I, preparing for the Joining. Tse'Bit'a'i' was like a ghost ship. Human soldiers guarded the praying Nih-hi-cho, leaving only essential personnel aboard ship.
"His incompetence'll put our baby at risk." Dana's words slurred as she began to experience the effects of the anesthesia.
"So it's *our* baby now, is it?" Ca-Lo spun on the stool to face her. "I thought you weren't certain."
"Doesn't matter. Innocen' child."
"It matters to me," he said through gritted teeth.
The bio-comp shook in Bicker's nervous hands as he scanned Dana’s abdomen.
"Twenty point three two centimeters. Four hundred fifty-two grams," he reported, describing the fetus. He set the bio-comp aside to apply a sloppy layer of rust-colored disinfectant to Dana's pale stomach.
Ca-Lo looked away when the amnio needle punctured her skin.
She cried out, despite the drugs.
"Don't hurt her," Ca-Lo warned.
"I'm trying not to, sir. Removing 30 cc’s now."
"And don't give me a fucking blow by blow." Ca-Lo focused his attention on Mulder's photo.
On the screen, Mulder escorted a very pregnant Dana to his car, which was parked in front of her apartment building. He was carrying a pillow tucked under one arm.
Ca-Lo zoomed in on his face. Mulder was smiling. Focused only on her.
Bicker soon announced his results. “Probability of paternity: 99.9994 percent. Combined Paternity Index: 158251.22.”
"Meaning...?" Ca-Lo noticed his own hands were shaking and hid them in his lap.
“It means you are the biological father of this woman's child.”
Relief flooded Ca-Lo's veins. "Let me see," he demanded.
Bicker brought him the portable Verifier.
The display screen corroborated the Appraisers' earlier assessment.
Bicker's attention flitted to the photo on Ca-Lo's computer monitor. "Is...is that you, sir?"
"The resemblance is remarkable."
"It's uncanny. I've seen twins who looked less alike."
"We're not twins."
At least not according to his mother. Then again, she had lied about her own origins. She was not human. The stain of green Nih-hi-cho blood on his carpet proved that.
His own blood was red. He had seen it uncountable times during assessments and experiments and punishments.
It begged the question: If he was not Cassandra Spender's son, who was he?
The Verifier's readout screen glowed in Ca-Lo's hand. Thanks to Bicker's password, it held his genetic information -- unencrypted.
"You may go," Ca-Lo said, hoping the medic would leave the Verifier behind.
"What about her?" Bicker nodded at Dana, who was unconscious.
"I'll take care of her."
Bicker looked uncertain, but obeyed without argument.
As soon as he was out of the room, Ca-Lo initiated a computer search for Mulder's medical records.
"Red Dragon be praised."
The computer displayed a DNA test taken by the FBI at the time of Mulder's hire.
A few keystrokes later, Ca-Lo had exported the file into the Verifier database, where he ran a comparison between his own DNA and Mulder's.
Seconds later the results appeared on his monitor:
65398733663 [Fox William Mulder]
03999875288 [Subject NDP-12/Ashkii XII]
Strand repeat regions: 100%
High probability [99%+/-]
1) samples are from a single individual
2) samples are from identical twins
3) samples are from identical clones
4) samples are from an original and a clone
Additional data available at NDP Archive *******
Ca-Lo blinked in disbelief. He tried to access the archive, but found the path blocked. He had never seen or heard of the acronym NDP and couldn't begin to guess its meaning.
One thing was clear, however: he was not Mulder's younger brother, not in the way Cassandra had described. Nor was it likely they were twins, conceived naturally, given the Overseers' penchant for experimentation and cloning.
Best case scenario, Ca-Lo was the elder of the two, a real person with a real soul, and Fox Mulder was his clone.
Worst case? He refused to consider it.
Blood roared in his ears as he turned to Dana. He was surprised to find her awake, watching him.
"Whose...baby?" she rasped.
Fear etched her tired face. It mirrored the panic ballooning in his gut.
Best case, worst case, it made no difference as far as the paternity of Dana's child was concerned. Mulder and Ca-Lo shared the exact same genetic code. There was no way to determine which of them was the baby's father.
Continued in Book VIII...
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