Continued from Chapter Twenty
["The Mastodon Diaries" is rated NC-17 for Violence, Language, and Graphic Sexual Content. Reader discretion is advised.]
“Turn around. I want to check those cuts on your back.” Scully pushed away the remains of her dinner and targeted Mulder with determined eyes.
“They’re fine...they’re nothing. I think they’re already healed,” he lied, before stealing a half-eaten plum from her bark plate.
She cocked an eyebrow and twirled her finger. Clearly she was not going to be put off.
He set down the plum and, feigning annoyance, presented her with his bare back. Her fingers danced deftly over his injuries. To be honest, he sometimes secretly enjoyed it when she doctored him like this. Not when they were in the middle of a case, chasing moth men or beast women or CIA-sanctioned terrorists, but times like now when there was nowhere to go, no next big thing to investigate. He welcomed the feeling of security that came from her healing touch. Even more than that, he craved her affection, and in his mind, her medical concern was proof of her love for him.
She prodded a tender area and he hissed with exaggerated pain.
“Watch it, Scully.”
“Are you admitting these need attention?”
Her hands settled more softly on his raw skin, soothing him like mist in a desert.
“I’m admitting nothing of the kind.”
“Turn toward the light, please.”
He did as she asked, pivoting on the furs until his back was to the fire, while she scooted around him for a closer look. They were alone in the hut, sated by a late afternoon nap, an even later dinner, and their fledgling candor. Being completely open with her had felt cathartic. His confession about the wife swap hadn’t angered her in the way he had feared. She was still with him; she still loved him. The world was ripe with mysteries and miracles, which made him a very contented man.
“There’s some localized infection. These lacerations need washing,” she warned.
“What? I’m not taking a bath in that cold lake tonight.”
“Then I’ll clean them with what we have here.”
She reached for the waterbag and her folded shirt, which she dampened before she began to gingerly daub his back.
“You’ll probably have some permanent scarring,” she said.
“Will I?” He leaned into her nurturing caresses. “I’ve been wondering about that...whether or not there’ll be any physical evidence of our time here once we get back.”
“Why wouldn’t there be?”
He shrugged, earning himself a compassionate “Hold still.”
“I mean, will my gunshot scars return?” he asked. “Will that one on your stomach disappear? And what about your tattoo? Will it come back?”
“You think we might revert to our actual ages?”
“Maybe. We really have no way to know how time travel will affect us.”
Her ministrations slowed almost imperceptibly. “What about our memories? Will we remember what happened?”
“If we do, it’s likely whoever brings us back will erase our memories and replace them with something more...benign.”
“That’s not possible, Mulder.”
“We both know it is.” The Budahas case, their second case together, had ended with him in a daze and Scully denying the military’s culpability...along with the prospect of selective mind drains. “Colonel Budahas didn’t suffer from amnesia. And neither did I.” Would she argue the point now?
“They’ll consider us a security risk,” she said, making the leap this time.
“Exactly.” He glanced over his shoulder at her. Concentration lined her brow, but he wasn’t sure if it was in response to their conversation or to the condition of his back. “I guarantee we’re going to wake up outside Hill Air Force Base with nary an Ice Age thought in our heads.”
“In that case...” She stopped blotting his wounds. Her expression took on a decidedly predatory look. “Make love to me now.”
“I won’t say no to that.”
Turning, he captured the cloth from her hands and set it on the ground beside them. Her hair was burnished by the fire’s glow and her skin was darkly flushed. She licked her lower lip, making it shimmer in the flickering light. Imagining her taste, he felt blood rush to his groin. The muscles in his arms and legs tensed, and his heart began to drum in his ears.
He wanted to slow this sudden physical urgency and make love leisurely. This might be their last opportunity before they were returned to the X-Files, with its EBEs, genetic mutants, government conspiracies and Bureau protocol -- all of the everyday things that had gotten in the way of romance and real living. He hoped that by moving with excruciating purpose he might forestall their inevitable homecoming, maybe imprint this act into his memory so completely that no amount of brainwashing or drugs or mind control voodoo could ever excise it.
Damn, he hated to lose their hard won honesty. The Ice Age had afforded them an unprecedented opportunity to hash out their feelings for one another. Given all the obstacles waiting for them in 1998, it might be years before they felt this easy and open in each other’s company again...if it ever happened at all.
“Let’s take our time,” he suggested.
“Sounds good to me. Where shall we start?”
He stroked the velvety curve of her ear with his thumb. “How about a little aural stimulation?”
“Aural? Did I hear that right?”
“Mm-hm. I want you to tell me what’s going on in here,” -- he touched her temple -- “and here,” -- he placed his fingertips over her heart.
“I don’t have your gift for gab, Mulder.”
“Doesn’t matter. Describe whatever you’re thinking...whatever you’re feeling...while I make love to you.”
“You’ve got to be joking.”
She was sitting on her knees, facing him. Her fur skirt reached only mid-thigh, casting a tantalizing shadow between her slightly parted legs. He wanted to reach under it and explore her, excite her, relieve his own escalating need.
Slow down, he reminded himself. Make it last.
“Put it in scientific terms if you have to, Scully. Just...enlighten me.” He leaned in and kissed her cheek, her nose, her lips.
She chuckled against his roaming mouth. “Mmmm...all right. Uh...let’s see. A woman’s sexual response begins with either physical or psychological stimulation, or both.”
He found her predilection for doctor-speak endearing, even in a romantic setting like this. “Let’s start with the physical. More fun for me.”
“Okay. This excitement phase lasts from a few minutes to several hours, depending on the woman.”
“Or the man.”
“Am I in for a long night?”
“I hope so.” His palms skimmed across her cloaked shoulders to the neckline of her doeskin tunic. Tugging at its tie, he unfastened it and exposed her cleavage.
Her cell phone hung heavily from a rawhide cord around her neck, matching the one he was wearing. He started to remove it.
“Should we?” A touch of her fingers stopped him.
“Might be awkward if we get zapped back to 1998 right in the middle of...” He nodded at the bed.
“But it would end the speculation.”
Mulder smiled. “Wonder who’s gonna win the pool?”
“Not me. I’ve already missed it by at least five months.”
He knew she was joking, but liked the idea that she might have considered becoming lovers before now. “You placed a bet?”
“I did. In fact, I covered the last half of ’96.”
“As early as that?”
“I was optimistic.” She waggled her brows, mimicking his customary come-on.
Her teasing enchanted him and he wished he had made love to her in ’96.
She slipped the phone over her head, and now it was his turn to stop her.
“Scully, we don’t really want to miss Nichols’ call. Do we?”
Earlier in the day, she’d told him she feared returning to the present because she’d seen their future and there was no “happily ever after” in store for them.
She set the phone beside the bed. “Would that be such a terrible thing?”
Yes. According to her earliest visions, she was going to become pregnant, she was going to give birth to their son. Surely she didn’t want to miss that. He knew he didn’t. As for his alleged death and all the rest, who was to say the future was carved in stone? With a little foresight...
“I won’t let you give our baby away. And I won’t die,” he promised.
“You said we couldn’t change the future, Mulder. You said the ‘Cosmic Censor’ wouldn’t allow it.”
“I didn’t say that exactly. The theory posits that the Cosmic Censor will always prevent us from altering the *past*. It doesn’t say anything about the future.”
“But isn’t our future just someone else’s past?”
“Is it? I don’t know. I prefer to believe our actions can and do affect the grand scheme of things.”
“I was brought up to believe that God has a Plan, and He is directing us.” Out of habit she reached for her cross, and frowned when she realized it was no longer there.
“God may post a road sign every now and again, Scully, but that doesn’t relieve us from making individual choices. This may sound overly self-important, but I believe what I do matters. I have to, otherwise, why bother to do anything at all?”
“I’m not arguing that our choices don’t matter in a moral sense. I just think we may have less influence over the future than you think.”
“All paths lead to the same destination?”
“Something like that.”
“No, I think we have more responsibility than that. I think--”
“Mulder, could we please postpone this philosophical debate for another time?” Frustration pinched her face. “Clock’s ticking and I...well, to be blunt, I want to make love, not discuss the meaning of life.”
“Works for me.”
“The phones will be right here,” she assured him, removing his from his neck, too. “And so will we...for quite some time I hope.”
“I did promise you a long night, didn’t I?”
“You did. And it’s time to make good on that promise.”
“So where was I before I went off on an ill-timed tangent?”
“Here.” She pointed first to her lips, then dragged her finger slowly to the enticing shadow between her breasts.
“Mmmmm, yes.” He bent to tease her collarbone with his tongue, then nipped his way downward, while slipping one hand beneath the buttery fabric of her tunic. She smelled humid and salt-sweet, like a foggy summer morning at Quonochontaug. She tasted like sea-spray, and touching her made the Atlantic thunder in his ears. Palming her left breast, he tested its weight, and she arched into his caress. Her nipple tightened and so did his groin. “Is this turning you on at all, Scully, or do I have to use that psychological approach you mentioned earlier?”
“I’m getting sufficiently...hot.”
“Then let’s take this off.” He slid the tunic from her shoulders, baring her breasts completely.
An urge to suckle overwhelmed him, and he lowered his lips to one rosebud nipple. Taking it into his mouth, he swirled his tongue over and around its pebbled surface. He was rewarded by a throaty moan as she combed her fingers through his hair and peppered the crown of his head with kisses.
“Equal time,” he mumbled before descending on her other breast and sucking hard. The rigid nub of flesh fit perfectly within the curve of his tongue. When she moaned again, he released her with a wet pop, and reminded her, “You’re supposed to be telling me how this feels, remember?”
Her nipples glistened with his saliva, and he massaged them with his thumbs, spiraling outward in slippery circles.
“Right. I’m-I’m feeling flushed,” she said. “My nipples are...uh, erect.”
“I can see that. What else?”
She swallowed, looking a little embarrassed, but willing to indulge him. “Blood is rushing to my genitals, engorging my labia and clitoris.” Her eyebrow lifted. “Too clinical?”
“I like playing doctor with a real doctor.” He untied the knot at her waist, opening her fur skirt and exposing the coppery curls between her slightly parted legs. Running his hand along her thigh, he said, “Keep going.”
“My...my vagina is becoming lubricated.” Her choice of words was straightforward, but her tone and posture were charmingly seductive. Still on her knees, she adjusted her position, spreading her thighs a little to allow him better access.
He reached between her legs. “Is it?” Pushing at her opening, he explored its folds, orienting himself to her soft curves, while reveling in the dampness he discovered there. His heart skipped a beat when she shifted again, parting her knees even more. Clearly she wanted him to enter her, and her not-so-subtle invitation increased the pressure in his groin. His cock throbbed against his loincloth. Pursuing his natural instincts, he nudged his middle finger into her slick depths. Jesus, she was wet. And snug. “Tell me what you’re feeling when I do this.”
He prodded her, burying his finger up to the last knuckle, making her inhale sharply.
“M-my heart rate and blood pressure are increasing. Muscles are tense.”
He crooked his finger and began to stroke slowly in and out.
Bless her, she reached for him and loosened his loincloth. Freeing his cock, she took him in her fist. The heat of her palm and the pressure of her grip delighted him and he hissed with satisfaction. His thumb searched for her clitoris, found it and pressed, making her quiver against his hand.
Years ago, back when he was a prepubescent teen lacking any real life experience with the female body, he assumed the human vagina was a smooth thing, like the inside of a rubber bicycle tire, or maybe more elastic, like a balloon. Imagine his surprise when he first delved into Christy McCarty’s depths and discovered she was slightly ribbed and pebbly. His first thought was that she must be an exception to the rule, a genetic anomaly, which may have been where his interest in mutants began.
With a little more experience, he came to appreciate the uneven topography of the female anatomy. The irregularity caused a delightful friction that wouldn’t have been possible within a smoother vessel.
“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured, exploring Scully’s unique inner landscape. “Keep talking.”
“Oh, it will.”
“As it continues, then, I’ll--” She paused to inhale, eyes going wide when he varied the pressure inside her. “I’ll begin what’s called the plateau phase.”
“My arousal level will continue to...climb, along with my...blood pressure...heart rate...respiratory rate.” Her words were halting, ragged, breathy. She spread her legs wider and tugged at his cock, her intentions obvious. This was more than an invitation; it was a demand. She wanted him to bed her. “The upper two thirds of my vagina...will expand and my uterus will elevate. The...the shift is referred to as...as ‘tenting,’ and is thought to allow for...for easier passage of sperm into the uterus.”
“Really? All that just to accommodate li’l ol’ me?”
He hitched closer, positioning himself between her splayed knees. Slow down, he counseled his overeager libido. He wanted to bring her to a climax before satisfying himself. He wanted to hold time at a standstill. He wanted to remain in this exact moment for as long as possible.
“Mulder...” She slid one arm around his neck and pressed her forehead to his shoulder. Her cheek flamed against his neck.
He insinuated two fingers into her. “What does this feel like?”
“Oohh,” she breathed. “Full. Wonderful. Don’t stop.”
“I won’t...not as long as you keep talking.”
She nodded against his neck, blending the moisture on her brow with his own sweat. “My-my genitals are continuing to swell, and...and the Bartholin’s glands are secreting more fluid at my vaginal opening--”
“*More*? Jesus, you know what I like.”
He could feel the frantic tapping of her pulse beneath her flushed cheek, in her fingers where she gripped his erection, and deep, deep within her body.
“Orgasm,” she whispered, sounding desperate.
“You’re almost there. Tell me what’s coming next...no pun intended.”
“F-five to twelve...synchronized contractions...approximately one second apart.” She tilted her pelvis. He quickened his movements, prodding and rubbing simultaneously. “The first will be the strongest.” He felt a soft squeeze, the slight pull of her inner walls upon his fingers. “Blood pressure...heart rate...respiratory rate...reach maximum peak.” Her head lolled and her eyes closed. “There will be...will be a...a loss of voluntary muscle control.”
“I’ll curl my toes.”
“Oh, sweet Jesus, let’s get to that part.”
Instinct was crowding out all thoughts of self-control. He felt as if he were caught in a Roche Radius, circling her like the satellites in Saturn’s rings, torn by tidal forces, drawn inexorably toward her by a gravitational pull too powerful to challenge.
Physical desire supplanted his civilized restraint and he withdrew his hand from between her legs, causing her to mewl with disappointment. Grabbing her wrists, he plowed her over. He forced her onto her back, wedged his hips between her thighs and wondered only peripherally if he was being too rough as he ground frantically against her pubic bone.
“Here...here...” she panted. She reached between them and guided him to her entrance.
One false attempt, off center, the motion painfully incomplete, then he was suddenly inside her, pushing, sliding deeper...oh, sweet Jesus...enveloped in her wetness and warmth.
Her breasts, her soft belly cushioned him as he thrust into her. He grunted with satisfaction at each down-stroke; she inhaled at each withdrawal. Her nails bit into his arms and her legs wrapped around his hips.
“Tell me how you feel,” he insisted.
“So good...oh, don’t talk--”
“How do you feel, Scully?”
“I--” She gasped. “I love you.” Her eyes squeezed shut, her breathing stopped, she shuddered underneath him. She was climaxing, and feeling it brought him closer to his own release.
“I love you, too. I do. I love you...too...” He repeated the words with each thrust. He would continue to repeat them until they were branded into his soul, so that he would remember to tell her again, no matter what was done to try to make him forget. He would confess his love after they returned to their old life. He would let her know exactly how he felt. He would tell her it was only in her arms that he was genuine and whole. She completed him...she saved him, oh God, how she saved him. He was worthwhile because of her, honest because of her. He owed her everything, and he would tell her...back home...he *would*...soon.
His thrusts became more frantic and forceful. He lost his timing, but it didn’t matter so long as the pressure and friction continued. A bead of sweat dripped from the end of his nose and landed on her cheek, looking like a tear. He wanted to kiss it away but his orgasm was upon him, unstoppable, paralyzing.
He emptied himself into her with a teeth-clenching growl.
The first contractions were powerful, only seconds apart. They were quickly followed by weaker ones, lasting a little longer. And then, much too soon, it was over.
The thunder in his ears quieted. His pulse steadied. He felt his erection flag. She was hugging him, and real tears wetted her cheeks.
“How do *you* feel, Mulder?” she asked, eyes shining with affection.
* * *
Hill Air Force Base
May 14, 1998
Colonel Beck stuck his head into the cockpit. “It’s a go,” he told Nichols and Ianelli.
The two scientists became suddenly alert, straightening themselves in the pilot’s and co-pilot’s seats. No doubt they had grown tired of sitting on their asses while General Kaback was dicking around with Stroehmer in his chamber of horrors.
Stomach acid stung Beck’s throat. He wanted to get on with this, too. Recover the agents and worry about cleanup later.
“Bring ‘em back,” he ordered.
“About time,” Nichols growled. “Better step outside, Colonel. Things are going to get dicey in here.”
Beck took his advice and deplaned, quickly descending the metal stairs to join the General and Captain Linden, who were standing just inside the closed hangar door. Beck knew there were armed guards stationed on the far side with orders to use whatever force was necessary to prevent intruders from entering and interrupting the rescue attempt.
The aircraft emitted a high-pitched whine as the engines fired up. The noise rapidly intensified to a thunderous roar, which vibrated the concrete floor beneath Beck’s feet and rattled his teeth. All three officers gaped at the ship, not quite knowing what to expect next.
A blue-white line fizzled into existence above their heads, startling Beck. It crackled and hummed, thickening as it grew longer. Beck’s stomach lurched when the ceiling suddenly disappeared behind a snowstorm of dust. It seemed to be coming out of the fissure, spewing over the craft, piling up on the concrete floor. It was soon on his shoes and uniform, sticking to the Captain’s upturned face and the General’s bristly scalp.
The fissure brightened. It began to jitter like an electrical arc, raising the hair beneath Beck’s collar. It was expanding at an alarming rate. Already it stretched from one end of the hangar to the other, bisecting the aircraft through the cockpit.
“Holy Christ,” Captain Linden muttered, blinking against the glare. His whole body was quaking and he looked ready to bolt.
Beck expected the General to order the Captain to hold steady, but Kaback remained mute. His mouth hung open, his lips twitched, one arm lifted to shield his eyes.
The hangar’s walls appeared to undulate. The aircraft shimmered. Fear rolled through Beck’s gut. He had trusted Nichols to control this thing, but now he wasn’t sure anyone could.
* * *
Season of the Mastodon Feast
Somewhere East of Turkey Lake
When Klizzie awoke, she was lying naked on her back in a murky glade. The stars appeared blurry, like distant campfires cloaked in mist. Pine needles prickled her spine and buttocks. Her head ached and her jaw throbbed. Klesh was squatting between her splayed legs, watching her.
She wanted to scream but was prevented from doing so by a rawhide gag. Her wrists were bound above her head and tied to the tree behind her.
How long had she been unconscious? Had Klesh mated with her? She couldn’t tell. Her insides were still fiery from her lovemaking with Dzeh.
Where was he? she wondered. Waiting for her at the hut, or was he already on his way to find her?
As if able to see her thoughts, Klesh said, “I expect Dzeh will be worried when you do not return.” He placed a gnarled hand on her abdomen, making her shudder. “He will come looking for you.”
He began to stroke her belly, spiraling slowly outward. She struggled to escape his unwelcome fondling, until she noticed that her panic was arousing him.
She stilled her movements and glared at him.
“Do you have any idea how lonely I have been these last four years?” His voice hissed like an angered snake. “No pretty female to share my sleeping skins. No loving arms or tender kisses. Not since yours.” His scarred palm explored her inner thighs, skating from her knees to her groin and back again in a continuous irritating motion. “I have often thought about our night together.”
So had she, but the memory was far from pleasant. It filled her with loathing, for him and for herself.
“Do you think it was right that I was punished, while you were not?” His fingers continued their nauseating crawl. “For four long years I have gone without the security of family, without a warm shelter, without a woman’s companionship. Four years because of you. Yet you have lost nothing. Does that seem fair?”
He stared angrily into her eyes, his mouth twisted with contempt.
“What are those years worth?” He grabbed hold of her thighs and dug his nails into her flesh. “And my ruined reputation? What value do you place on it?” He spread her legs further apart. “Any idea? Because these are the things you stole when you lied about what happened between us.” He positioned himself on his knees. “I once considered taking you from Dzeh as compensation for what you stole from me.” He brushed her ulh-ne-ih with his crooked thumb, causing her to flinch. “Now I think that is not enough. You must suffer as I have suffered.”
His gaze targeted her stomach.
“You must lose what is most dear to you.”
Not her baby. Please, do not let him harm the baby, she pleaded with the Spirits.
He leaned over her until his beard was tickling her breasts and she could smell the sour odor of wo-chi on his breath.
“When you do not return to the village, *hagade*, Dzeh will go to the lake to look for you.”
Find me, Dzeh, her thoughts begged, before it is too late. Please do not let this chindi hurt our child.
Again he seemed to see her thoughts. “Your baby is in no danger,” he sneered. Then, unexpectedly, he rose to his feet.
“It is Dzeh I plan to kill,” he announced. “When he arrives at the lake I will be there...waiting for him.”
Helplessly, she watched as he turned his back on her. “I will bring you his heart,” he promised and jogged away.
* * *
To look upon Gini filled Dzeh with joy the way snowmelt flooded the rivers in spring. “How are you feeling, my little sister?” He crouched beside her bed and palmed her dark head, brushing an unruly lock of hair from her face. Her skin was cooler, thank the Spirits.
The fire crackled in the hearth. Its warm flames painted the hut with friendly shadows. Ho-Ya sat nearby and watched them over a tortoiseshell bowl of steaming tea.
Gini’s mouth was set in a thin, stubborn line. Clearly she had not yet forgiven him.
Not caring if Ho-Ya overheard the regret in his voice, he asked, “Was I really so terrible?”
Gini gave a quick, firm nod.
“I am sorry I struck you.” He wasted no words on how the Clan had considered his actions proper and necessary. It was only her opinion that mattered. “Is that why you ran away? Because I hit you?”
“No,” she said in a mouse-sized voice.
Her gaze slid to Ho-Ya and back again. She whispered, “I was scared.”
“A brave girl like you?”
Her head bobbed.
“Tell me what made you afraid.”
Worry glittered in her eyes. She bit her lower lip and refused to speak.
He would have to coax the words from her.
Fingering the unusual totem that hung from her neck, he asked, “Where did you get this?”
“Muhl-dar gave it to me...to make me well. It is magic.”
She took hold of the ornament and her face brightened a little. Dzeh found himself feeling both resentful and apprehensive of Muhl-dar’s gift. Gini was clearly recovering from her illness. Were her pink cheeks due to potent Eel Clan medicine?
Many believed Muhl-dar had conjured the lightning storm the night he was stoned. He’d proven himself to be a powerful man when he killed the mastodon with his thunder weapon, saving Chal’s life. In Dzeh’s own dream-vision, a female Spirit had spoken directly to Muhl-dar in a voice that all could hear.
But if Muhl-dar were truly a shaman, then why didn’t he save himself from the beating in the field several nights ago, and why hadn’t the Spirits come to his aid to free Day-nuh from the log in the swamp?
“Muhl-dar was nice to me,” Gini said. “Day-nuh, too.”
“Yes. They fed me and told me stories and took me into their bed when I was scared at night.”
“They never hurt you?”
She shook her head. “No. They loved me.”
He was relieved they had not harmed her, yet he felt a twinge of jealousy at how quickly and easily the newcomers had usurped his place in her heart.
“Klizzie and I have taken care of you all of your life, Little Sister. Have we not?”
“And we have fed you and told you stories and let you into our bed whenever you were frightened.”
She nodded, looking contrite.
“We love you, too...you must know that.”
She plucked at her fur blanket. “Then why did you want to send me away?” The sorrow in her voice struck him like a fist to the gut. “I think you do not love me the way you used to.”
He gathered her into his arms and she began to cry. “That is not true. I did not *want* to send you away, Gini. And I will always love you -- you must believe that.”
“Then why did you Promise me to Chal?” she said through her tears, sniffing loudly.
Across the hut Ho-Ya sniffled, too, and wiped at reddened eyes, evidently sympathizing with Gini’s anxiety despite the fact that she was Chal’s mother.
Perhaps the boy had been right and it was not such an easy thing for a girl to move away from her family to live with a new mate in a strange clan.
“You do not have to go anywhere you do not want,” he promised, knowing he was once again challenging tradition. “It would make me very happy to have you stay with Klizzie and me.”
“As long as you want.”
“But...but you said...”
“What did I say?”
“You said I had much growing to do and I did not know proper manners, and...and...and you would not take care of me any more.”
“I was not seeing things clearly. The decision to stay or go will be yours. I will not force you to live with a boy you do not like.”
She threw frail arms around his neck. “Oh, Dzeh...thank you! I love you so much!”
Her declaration soothed his raw spirit and he hugged her tenderly in return.
“It is settled then,” he said. “First thing tomorrow I will tell Chal that you will not be Promised to him.”
“First thing?” Her words were muffled against his beard.
“Yes. Very first.”
“What else will you say?”
“I will tell him I can no longer consider him a suitable match for my Little Sister.”
She drew back, and he was surprised to see apprehension creasing her young brow.
“Is that not what you want me to say?” he asked.
“I guess so...but...do not hurt his feelings, please.”
“What do you care about his feelings?” Dzeh asked, seeing that she obviously liked the boy more than she was willing to admit. He glanced at Ho-Ya. A smile twitched at the corners of the older woman’s mouth.
“He...he is not really so bad,” Gini said grudgingly.
“True. He helped me search for you.”
“And he risked his life to save Muhl-dar, too.”
“He also told me it is cruel to send young girls from their families to live with strangers.”
Ho-Ya hissed as if displeased, but pride was shining in her eyes. “My son is too outspoken,” she said, her tone making it clear that she did not mind his forthright nature. “Perhaps he would be better suited to a girl who can overlook his habit of challenging the way of things. Like Tlo-Chin, that tall, pretty girl from Turtle Clan.”
“Perhaps,” Dzeh agreed.
Gini frowned. “Tlo-Chin is not so pretty. Her teeth are crooked and her hair is always in knots and...and...she cannot cook...or sew.”
“That is true,” Ho-Ya admitted. “I have tasted her sour stew and seen the poor tunics she has made. But she is a hard worker and always polite. Her mother says she likes Chal.”
“That is important,” Dzeh said. “They might make a good match.”
“But I like Chal, too,” Gini blurted.
Dzeh pretended to be surprised. “You do?”
She shrugged and blushed bright pink. “I do not dislike him.”
“Little Sister, I am confused,” he said. “In one breath you say you want nothing to do with Chal, yet in the next you say you like him. What am I to tell him when I speak with him tomorrow?”
“Maybe...maybe you could ask him if...if he likes me?”
Ho-Ya laughed out loud at this, an amusing whinny that made Dzeh smile, too.
“He talks of nothing but you...Little Daughter,” Ho-Ya said, honoring Gini with the formal endearment.
Dzeh chuckled and gave his sister a squeeze. “Ask him yourself. Your future is now your own making.”
Gini’s eyes rounded. “But I cannot arrange my own Joining.”
“Because...that is not how things are done.”
He touched his finger to the strange totem that dangled from her neck. “Maybe it is time to change some traditions.”
“Dzeh of Owl Clan, I never expected to hear such words come from you,” Ho-Ya said, laughing again.
“Your son has taught me a thing or two. He can be very persuasive.”
“Yes, he is like a hammerstone to flint,” she said, acknowledging her son’s determination with a rueful but satisfied smile. “Still, he is my child and I love him with my whole spirit. You will learn how it is after Klizzie’s baby is born.”
“Klizzie is going to have a baby?” Gini asked, excitement dimpling her cheeks.
“Yes, Sister, you will be an aunt before winter is over.”
“Oh, Dzeh! Hare Spirit finally answered your prayers. I am so happy! The idol worked!”
Ho-Ya said nothing to contradict the girl’s assumption, although Dzeh knew she believed the baby had come from Muhl-dar, not him. No longer smiling, Ho-Ya set down her tea. “Where is Klizzie? She has been gone too long.”
It was true. Klizzie had promised not to linger and he’d expected her back long before now.
“I will find her.” He helped Gini back into her bed, drew the fur blankets up to her chin and tucked them snuggly around her shoulders. “I am glad you are feeling better.” He kissed her small nose, then rose to his feet.
“I will prepare fresh tea,” Ho-Ya offered. “Klizzie will be chilled after her bath.”
“Thank you, Aunt,” Dzeh said and quickly exited the hut.
* * *
“I’ll be right back,” Mulder said, feeling restless. He gave Scully a gentle kiss on the cheek.
“Where’re you going?” she murmured drowsily from her side of the bed.
“To wash my back.”
“No, you sleep. I won’t be gone long.”
He slid from the furs, put on his loincloth and grabbed one of the odd-looking soap roots that Klizzie had left for them.
When he stepped outside, goosebumps sprouted across his shoulders and arms. The night air was considerably cooler than the fire-warmed hut, and if not for the sting of the cuts between his shoulder-blades he would have given up the idea of a bath to return to the comfort of Scully’s embrace.
Walking briskly, he arrived at the shore in minutes. He found it deserted, but humming with insects. Diving frogs and jumping fish punctuated the high-pitched din, sounding like the first fat raindrops of an approaching storm. Topsy-turvy constellations wavered on the lake’s inky surface and a gibbous moon tinted the entire nightscape with silver.
Mulder filled his lungs with crisp autumn air. Smoke from the villagers’ campfires prickled his nose, and he was comforted by its familiar smell. It had come to represent cooperation, kinship, security. He hadn’t expected to find any of those things in the Ice Age.
Against all odds he’d discovered happiness here. He’d gained the acceptance of strangers, earned the love of a little girl, and come to realize that Scully was with him for the long haul.
Telling her the truth, admitting his fears and shortcomings, had not sent her running after all. She wasn’t going to abandon him for being honest with her, even when being honest was painful. He’d always known she was courageous and steadfast -- more so than he was or ever hoped to be -- but her strength, her loyalty, her capacity for understanding and forgiveness went far beyond what he could have imagined. He’d told her about Diana, and she’d stayed with him. He explained his anxieties about becoming a parent, and she stayed with him. He admitted to being a coward about the mate exchange, and she stayed with him. Her faith and trust seemed boundless. She loved him unconditionally. What else mattered when compared to that?
All his adult life he’d been searching for Samantha, subconsciously hoping that by finding her he would regain his lost family and earn a place in the world. To his surprise, he’d discovered that feeling of belonging right here, with Scully. The sense of wholeness he’d been craving for so long was in this prehistoric village, in the cave back at the valley, and even in that awful swamp. It was anywhere, *everywhere* he was willing to trust...in other people, in the future, in fate, God, the Cosmic Censor, whatever, but most of all in Scully’s capacity to love him despite his weaknesses and failings.
Testing the water with his toe, he hissed at its chill. Ripples expanded in ever-widening circles across the surface, blurring the stars. Hercules collided with Ophiuchus. Virgo wobbled.
Until recently Mulder had wanted to be Scully’s hero in a traditional sense, expecting that her appreciation -- and his personal satisfaction -- would follow. In many respects, he still wanted to be her guardian, her rescuer, a Hercules or white knight. But he’d discovered it took far less courage to save her life than it took to trust the resilience of her heart.
Donning the mantle of fatherhood, on the other hand, had turned out to be a million times easier than he had anticipated. Playing daddy to Gini had proven he was up to the task of “planting his feet in the world,” as Diana put it so long ago. He’d accepted the responsibility and no longer feared it. He now felt confident he could be a doting and capable parent.
Gazing at the stars, billions of years old, peaceful, he experienced his place among them. Scully was his life-long partner, no matter where...or when...they found themselves. Their relationship was the Truth-with-a-capital-T for which he’d been searching all along. It felt good to finally believe in something as ordinary, yet as extraordinary, as the trust of an eight-year-old child or the enduring love of Dana Katherine Scully.
“I’m not alone,” he whispered to the sky. A contented smile spread slowly across his face.
Someday he would marry Scully. They would have a son. He would protect and love them with every heartbeat and breath.
Lightning bugs floated above the reeds, winking in and out. An owl hooted in a tree to the east.
Mulder wondered if there was still time to tie the knot before Jason Nichols snatched them back to the present. He pictured Scully dressed for a tribal wedding ceremony, clad in a snow-white doeskin tunic, her hair done up in beads and feathers. She would make a beautiful bride. He regretted not suggesting it sooner, back in the valley, right after she’d agreed to marry him.
Would she forget her promise once they returned home? Would it be stolen from her along with her other memories?
His smile vanished. The bastards at Hill Air Force Base had the ability to wipe their minds clean. They would use it to prevent him and Scully from telling what they knew.
A snapping twig startled him and he spun to find Dzeh jogging toward him across the beach.
“Where is Klizzie?” the tribesman asked, his voice sounding anxious.
Mulder was able to translate Dzeh’s words, thanks to Gini’s lessons, but was confused by his question. “Klizzie?”
Suspicion deepened Dzeh’s scowl. He pulled his knife from the waist of his breechclout and stopped an arm’s length away. He lifted the stone blade to Mulder’s chin.
“Get that thing away from me,” Mulder complained. “I haven’t seen her.”
Dzeh kept the knife where it was and began to yammer. From what little Mulder could understand, Klizzie must’ve been at the beach not too long ago.
“Where is she?” Dzeh demanded in his own language.
Answering in English, Mulder said, “Don’t ask me! The place was deserted when I got here.”
Dzeh couldn’t understand him, of course, and Mulder didn’t know how to make his meaning any clearer. He waved a hand at the dozens of footprints pocking the moonlit beach, any of which might provide a clue to Klizzie’s whereabouts. When he spotted one with only four toes, the hair on the back of his neck stood on end.
“Look.” He shoved Dzeh’s knife aside and went to the track. “You know who this is.”
Panic glittered in the other man’s eyes. “Klesh!”
“Ten to one he’s got Klizzie.”
“We must find her.”
Yeah, but where do we look? Mulder wondered. He quickly scanned the edge of the forest.
A man stood looking back at him from beneath the black trees to the east, only fifty feet away. The moon revealed deep scars on his face, arms and legs. It was Conan the Barbarian, or Klesh, as Dzeh had called him, and he was standing with his arm outstretched, Mulder’s handcuffs dangling from his wrist. In his clenched fist was something solid and heavy looking, and he was pointing it in their direction. Moonlight glinted off its metallic surface, and Mulder recognized the sleek barrel of Scully’s lost Smith and Wesson.
* * *
Hill Air Force Base
May 14, 1998
“This is it.” Jason’s announcement was unnecessary; there was no mistaking a time distortion.
Pillows of dust fogged the air, churning like snowflakes in a nor’easter. A silvery crack bisected the hangar straight through the aircraft’s cockpit.
Jason and Lisa were sitting at the ship’s console, knuckles white on the controls. Through the windshield they could see Kaback, Beck and Linden gaping at the brightening fissure. It lit the hangar like non-stop chain lightning, tinting the air blue, sizzling, snapping, humming louder with each passing second.
Jason braced himself for the predictable flashbacks and flash-forwards that accompanied a rift in the continuum. Time was coiling and coalescing, and he likened the phenomenon to a melting Slinky. Events that happened years ago were located on the lower rings, future events on the upper. They merged as the phenomenon progressed. Childhood memories blended with moments from old age, resulting in a dizzying, unrecognizable chronology. The human mind was unaccustomed to this non-linear existence; he’d seen it drive unprepared time travelers mad.
Events from his boyhood began to bombard him: his sister’s sixth birthday party, a heart-stopping ride down Fletcher’s Hill on a toboggan, sheep-shearing on his father’s ranch. Soon, a scene from his future snaked into his consciousness. He caught glimpses of an elongated lab equipped with twenty-odd hands-free computers, their monitors the size of the hangar’s door, but paper-thin and translucent. Each screen displayed a model of a time anomaly similar to this one.
From beyond his visual field, he heard Lisa gasp, and her fear yanked him back to the present.
“Don’t be afraid,” he shouted.
“W-what’s going on?”
“It’s the distortion. The continuum is folding back on itself.” He wanted to describe it to her in detail, calm her nerves by explaining the physics, but there wasn’t time. He grabbed her hand. “It won’t hurt you. Just ride it out.”
“It’ll all be over as soon as we get the agents back.”
“Oh my God...I see...no, stop, stop!”
“What is it?”
Maybe she answered him, maybe she didn’t. He couldn’t be sure because Lisa and the airmen outside the craft, even the craft itself, shimmered in and out of existence. He thought he glimpsed autumn foliage and the flicker of campfire, heard phrases spoken in an ancient, unfamiliar language, felt the icy chill of a glacier skate across his skin.
Blindly he gripped Lisa’s hand and prayed this wouldn’t be his last conscious act.
* * *
Klesh could not believe his good fortune. To find both Dzeh and Muhl-dar together on the beach was a gift from the Spirits. His two greatest enemies were at his mercy and he was not in a merciful mood.
He pointed the thunder weapon straight at Dzeh’s heart. The Spirits would help him use it. They were at his side tonight.
“Where is Klizzie?” Dzeh demanded. His rounded eyes blazed and he took a threatening step forward.
“No,” Muhl-dar warned, grabbing his arm. “It might be loaded.”
Klesh didn’t know what the words meant, but he was pleased to see the Eel man was made nervous by the weapon. His unease showed that he understood its power, but could not control it from where he stood. He was not a Spirit, he was not even a shaman. He was just a man with the same fears and weaknesses of all men. His blood would soon stain the beach red.
“Where is she?” Dzeh shouted. “If you have hurt her I will kill you!”
“You are in no position to kill anyone.” Klesh sneered at the Owl clansman’s pathetic knife. “Ask your chindi friend what it is I hold in my hand.”
“I know that thing. I have seen it bring a mastodon down.”
A mastodon? This surprised Klesh. He had witnessed the weapon put a hole through Tse-e’s hand, but to take down a mastodon? It was evidently more powerful than he had imagined. “Then you know it can kill you and Muhl-dar both.”
Lightning sizzled in the west, momentarily silhouetting Crouching Cat Mountain. The storm was obviously far away; there were no clouds overhead and no rumble of thunder.
Muhl-dar took several steps closer, positioning himself between Dzeh and the weapon. The Eel man was speaking gibberish. A curse perhaps? Was he conjuring Spirits?
“Do not move!” Klesh commanded, and Muhl-dar ceased his incomprehensible mumbling.
A fist-sized clump of cottonwood seed drifted down from the night sky and landed softly on the beach six paces in front of Klesh. A second snow-white ball descended to the sand. Then another. And another.
What sort of chindi magic was this? He turned his face to the sky and blinked in surprise as more seed floated earthward.
Klesh instinctively sought his totem pouch with his free hand, eager for its protection. Inside it he felt the crossed sticks of Li-chi Tse-gah’s shiny totem. Maybe it would protect him from this strange storm of seeds.
Another flash of lightning lit the night, closer this time.
Keeping the thunder weapon aimed at the other men, Klesh dug into the pouch and removed the red-haired woman’s totem. He held it up to the sky.
Muhl-dar’s eyes bulged at the sight of it.
“You fucking son-of-a...” Muhl-dar broke into a run and headed straight for him.
* * *
A man with close-cropped hair and blue eyes blocks Scully’s way. He is wearing a nondescript suit. A gun in a shoulder holster bulges beneath his suit coat. She doesn’t recognize him, but guesses he’s an FBI agent. She feels she must get around him into ICU, but doesn’t know why...she knows only that she feels afraid.
“I need to see him,” she says.
“I know, but I wish you wouldn’t.” His tone is sympathetic and his eyes are full of concern.
Ignoring him, she enters the room. She is both shocked and relieved to find Mulder lying in the hospital bed. Tubes snake from his mouth and arms. Horrific scars pock his face and limbs. A poorly healed incision begins at his neck and disappears into his collarless hospital gown. Machines hiss and beep, and the air smells like a morgue. She goes to him and tentatively places her palm on his chest, expecting to feel...what? Nothing? But dear God, dear God, his body is warm. And beyond all odds his heart is beating. Her fear begins to dissipate. She leans over him, embraces him and weeps with unrestrained relief.
This is what it feels like to have a prayer answered, she realizes.
Suddenly she is no longer at Mulder’s bedside, but is unlocking his apartment door. He waits behind her, dazed and shuffling, dressed in new pants and jacket. She’s carrying a duffel bag and is wearing a long coat, which barely hides her enormously pregnant belly. She lets them in his door, aware that this is neither reality nor a dream, but another of her visions.
“Must feel good to be home,” she says.
He replies with a noncommittal, “Mmm.”
His lack of enthusiasm worries her. She deposits the duffel in his bedroom.
“Something looks different,” he says as she reenters the living room.
“Ah...that’s it.” He chuckles without humor. Why does he look so uncomfortable, while she feels overwhelmed with joy to be with him?
“Missing a molly,” he accuses, examining the fish in his tank.
“Yeah, she wasn’t as lucky as you.”
He inches toward the desk, where he leans gingerly against its edge. He is acting as if the world will shatter if he moves too fast or attempts a smile.
“Mulder...I don’t know if you’ll ever understand what it was like. First learning of your abduction...”
He’d been taken. But by whom? Or by what?
“And then searching for you and finding you dead. And now to have you back and, uh...”
This moment is after she buried Mulder in Raleigh, she realizes. The events in her visions are happening out of sequence, which means she probably misinterpreted others based on her assumptions about chronology. Even so, she can’t be sure of the timing. Is it William she is carrying in her swollen belly or is she pregnant a second time? Has she already given her son away or is that nightmare still to come?
She has no time to find out. In the blink of an eye, she is no longer in Mulder’s apartment. She is in a darkened room. It looks like a prison cell and she is once again -- or still? -- on the verge of tears. Mulder is lying on the floor. Slowly, he sits up and yawns.
She is not pregnant, she notices.
“Mulder, I need you to talk to me. Confide in me or we’ll lose.”
“We can’t win, Scully. We can only hope to go down fighting.”
“You’re scaring me.” She goes to him. “Mulder, I’m so scared that I’ve just got you back and now I’m going to lose you again.”
“I know what I’m doing.”
Does he? Clearly he’s been beaten, starved, deprived of sleep.
“Well...whatever you’re doing...you have no idea how much has already been lost...what I’ve had to do.”
Regret swamps her. Her heart feels ready to burst.
“I do know,” he says, his voice thick with compassion. “Skinner told me.”
She begins to cry. “Our son, Mulder... I gave him up.”
The horrible truth hangs in the air, seemingly solid in this murky place. Mulder gathers her in his arms and her last shred of composure crumbles as he tries to comfort her. William is gone...forever. He is with strangers. She isn’t sure how she knows this but she does. Somehow she’s aware that she prays a dozen times a day for the safety of her child. She prays even harder that Mulder will not despise her for what she has had to do. “Our son... I’m so afraid you can never forgive me.”
“I know you had no choice.”
Sometimes there are no good choices. Sometimes there are only choices.
The darkness of the prison cell is incrementally replaced by a dazzling desert sun. She is in the passenger seat of a rusted Chevy pickup; Mulder is at the wheel. He’s wearing mirrored sunglasses and his expression is unreadable as he drives. Her sense of regret has diminished, but it is not completely gone.
Dust coats the cracked windshield. There is a roadmap of New Mexico unfolded across her lap. Her finger rests on a blue line representing I-40, west of Albuquerque.
“Turn must be coming up,” Mulder says. “We’re almost into Gallup.”
“Are you sure you want to take Route 666? Sounds ominous to me.”
He chuckles and nods. “Seems appropriate, considering.”
Considering what? she wonders.
“How many miles to Shiprock?” he asks.
At first she thinks he has said “shipwreck” and it makes the nape of her neck tingle. But she checks the map, finds the tiny town is located in the Navajo Reservation, and estimates the distance.
“Eighty miles. Why Shiprock?”
“Shiprock is a 1700-foot eroded volcanic plume. It’s sacred to the Navajos. They call it Tse Bi dahi, which means ‘Rock with Wings,’” Mulder explains. “It comes from an ancient myth about a great bird that transported the ancestral people to their land before it turned into a stone peak. Sound familiar?”
He frowns at her. “Tse Bi dahi is a metaphor for an extraterrestrial spaceship.”
“More likely it’s a metaphor for the site’s power to lift the human soul above the problems of daily existence into an awareness of the Great Spirit.”
He seems to appreciate her explanation as much as his own. “Either way, it’s the place we gotta be.”
“Isn’t it closed to climbers?”
“Are we playing by the rules all of a sudden?” He grins and steers the car onto 666.
It’s a relief to see him smile. She hopes his good humor will last all the way to Shiprock, only...they are no longer riding in the cab of the pickup. They’re standing in a ramshackle living room of a small, overheated house. She feels at home in this place, although she doesn’t recognize its worn, western-style furnishings or the Navajo rugs that decorate its walls and floors.
A young boy is sitting expectantly on a threadbare sofa. He has a bed pillow in his lap, which covers most of his outstretched legs. His feet are bare and dusty. He’s wearing a child-sized Yankees T-shirt, denim shorts and a Band-Aid on his chin. He has red hair, blue eyes and a smattering of freckles across his nose, yet his expression is so much like Mulder’s it takes Scully’s breath away. She knows instinctively this is his son. Her son. This is William.
“Hey, buddy,” Mulder says to the boy. “You ready?”
He nods enthusiastically, fidgeting just the way his father does when he’s excited.
Mulder is holding a pink-clad newborn in the crook of one arm. Her wispy hair is the same dark shade as his own. Her small fists box the air and mewling grunts hum in her throat. The sounds make Scully’s breasts ache.
“Moof, moof, moof,” orders a redheaded toddler in a yellow sundress. She is scooting a plastic fire truck across the terracotta floor and runs the toy straight into Mulder’s leg. “Daddy! Moof!”
“Ella, don’t you want to say hello to your new sister?” he asks.
“No!” She frowns in disgust and steers her fire truck away.
“*I* do!” William says, clearly losing patience. “I’ve been waiting...forever.”
“Mommy just went to the hospital yesterday, sport,” he reminds William.
“Seems like forever.”
Mulder brings the baby to William and carefully sets her on the pillow in his lap. He stays within arm’s reach and keeps a careful watch on the boy, but allows him to hold his sister on his own.
“Hi Virginia,” William says, eyes wide with wonder. He cautiously pats the top of the baby’s head as if she were a puppy. “Her name is Virginia, right?”
“Yes, sweetie,” Scully answers. “Although your Dad has taken to calling her Ginny.”
“I was lobbying for ‘Elvis,’” he tells William, “but your mom nixed the idea.” Pride shines in his eyes as he watches his son and new daughter. About to make another wisecrack, he glances over his shoulder at Scully. His smile fades a little. “Why don’t you lie down, sweetheart?” he suggests. “You look beat. I’ll watch the kids.”
Her abdomen is sore and she knows she should get off her feet, but she’s too enamored by her family to leave them. A son, two daughters, and a husband whom she loves with all her heart. She twirls a wedding band absently around her ring finger and wonders how she arrived at this blissful moment.
“She’s looking straight at me!” William says. His missing front tooth makes him whistle when he talks. “I like her, Dad.”
“Me, too, son,” Mulder says, and winks at Scully.
“Me *no* like,” Ella says from behind an overstuffed chair. She begins caterwauling at the top of her lungs.
The baby whimpers at the ear-splitting noise and Mulder immediately collects her from the pillow. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” he murmurs, before handing her over to Scully. He goes after Ella, lifts her from the floor and blows a loud raspberry onto her belly. Her unhappy screech turns into a squeal of delight.
This is all familiar, like deja vu, or discovering you’ve been walking in circles.
Scully is reminded of her tattoo. The Ourobourus represents the future turning to face the primordial roots of the past. “In that moment, a new dimension of the self will arise and the world will be reborn.”
She doesn’t recall who told her that or when, but knows it is what is happening now... in her vision and in the Ice Age. The past is revealing her future. For the first time she sees the events of her life laid out side-by-side and the truth is revealed.
Mulder was right, at least in one respect -- each individual choice can and does shape the future. But what he didn’t see, couldn’t see, was that it isn’t possible to predict the outcome of those choices. What at first seems like a poor choice may turn out to be the proper one when viewed in a larger context. The big picture, the grand scheme, God’s Plan, whatever you choose to call it, is too broad to see in its entirety without the perspective of time.
The ultimate outcome of Scully’s decisions may never be revealed to her, but her time in the Pleistocene and her visions of the future have taught her that having trust -- in a higher power and, maybe more importantly, in her own true heart -- will eventually lead her to the appropriate destination. All paths do not lead to the same place, but all choices will take her where she’s supposed to go.
She understands she will give up her son because she loves him. Strangers will keep him safe because they are good people. And God will bring him back to her for His own reasons.
She gazes at her little boy, her husband, their daughters, and sees a happy ending and a new beginning all in one.
Walking in circles? Yes and no. She is part of a sequence, a link in a chain, which is itself another link in an even greater chain, looped like an endless strand of DNA, a helix leading to...what? God is giving her only a glimpse of her role in His Divine Plan. But that is enough.
* * *
Scully awoke feeling calmer than she’d felt since early childhood, back when she used to share a tiny San Diego bedroom with Missy, a time when she’d been able to smell the sea through their open window and hear the murmur of their parents’ laughter in the living room downstairs as she drifted off to sleep each night. It was an innocent period in her life, when truth came effortlessly, choices were uncomplicated and every decision was simple to make.
As wondrous as it had been, though, she had no wish to return to it. It was her future that held promise.
Imagine, just a few short hours ago she had told Mulder she wanted to remain in the past and never return to 1998.
Rolling over on the furs, eager to tell him she’d changed her mind, she discovered the bed was empty and Mulder was not in the hut. Alarm pricked her scalp and she sat up. She had a vague memory of him saying he was going to the lake to wash his back. She rose from the bed. Feeling chilled, she grabbed his jacket and put it on. Comforted by its warmth and familiar scent, she went to the hut’s door, pushed it aside and peered out into the black night.
Lightning jittered along the horizon above the lake, although the stars were out and there were no clouds. What appeared to be seeds or clumps of dust were falling from the sky. A wave of nausea struck her when the moon suddenly blurred and lurched eastward. It morphed nightmarishly from full to quarter, and back again, as it stuttered across the heavens. Its unnatural movement reminded her of the UFOs she and Mulder had watched from a grassy embankment outside Ellens Air Base in Idaho on their second case together. They’d argued about the strange dancing lights, about whether they were lasers or experimental aircraft or something extraterrestrial.
More lightning-like flares erupted overhead and the constellations appeared to rotate at a dizzying, inexplicable rate. She grabbed onto the hut for balance.
What the hell was going on?
The flashes were bringing the tribes-people out of their huts. They whispered nervously and pointed at the sky.
A silver-blue crack shimmered into existence approximately five hundred feet above her head. It extended from the mountains to the west, across the valley, to the forest in the east.
This was it, she realized. This was their rescue. Jason Nichols was opening a time portal.
The phones! Jesus! Did Mulder have his? She ducked back into the hut and searched frantically among the fur blankets for her cell. There! There it was! Right next to Mulder’s.
Damn it! She had to get it to him. These were the homing devices.
She grabbed both phones and ran toward the lake.
* * *
“Son of a bitch!” Mulder rocketed toward the scarred caveman. The memory of him with Scully, holding her head to the ground while he attempted to rape her from behind, fueled his rage. He could still see Conan’s friend grinning from ear to ear in anticipation as he waited his turn. Scully’s shoulders and arms, the backs of her thighs, the soles of her feet, had been crisscrossed with cuts and mottled with bruises, unmistakable evidence of her brutal manhandling. Dressed in nothing but her silk underwear, she’d screamed when Conan yanked her panties down and--
Mulder careened into him, knocking them both off their feet, giving him an odd sense of deja vu. The gun went spinning from Conan’s hand and landed with a thud in the sand about ten feet away.
“This is for Scully!” Mulder rose onto his knees and threw three rapid-fire punches, slugging Conan in the jaw, the mouth, the nose. “And this...” -- he struck hard with his left -- “is for me.”
Blood sprayed from the caveman’s split lip and he howled in pain. He raised his arms to protect his face. Scully’s necklace dangled from his clenched fingers, and the sight of it infuriated Mulder. He lunged for it, but Conan was too quick, yanking it back and holding it out of reach. Mulder lunged again. Conan’s fist shot out and caught him on the chin, knocking him on his ass.
Blood drizzled from Mulder’s open mouth as he bellowed, “Give me that!”
Conan sneered and held up the necklace, taunting him.
“Fucker...” Mulder scrambled toward him, lobbed a right hook, connected, and followed it with an upper cut.
Unfazed by the blows, the caveman plowed his fist into Mulder’s ribs, doubling him in half. Two more punches to the chest sent him sprawling.
Lightning sizzled overhead. Peculiar clumps of dust rolled across the sand, through the air; it stuck to the men’s hair and sweaty skin.
Spitting blood, Mulder called to Dzeh, “Gonna help me out here, buddy?” He glanced over his shoulder and saw Dzeh picking up the gun.
“Throw it here!” Mulder signaled for the weapon.
Dzeh tossed it. Mulder grabbed for it and missed when Conan rammed into him. He was knocked sideways. Sledgehammer fists pummeled his head and neck. Each blow caused an explosion of pain.
The tribesman was already there, yanking Conan to his feet and felling him almost immediately with a well-placed wallop.
The scarred man hit the ground hard.
“How did that feel?” Mulder asked. He plucked the gun from the sand.
The victory was short-lived. Conan’s heel caught him in the arm and knocked the gun loose. Both men scurried on hands and knees for it. Conan was quicker; his scarred fingers closed around it. Mulder latched onto his wrist and tried to wrestle it free.
Dzeh came at Conan from behind and cinched a brawny arm around his neck, making the Neanderthal’s eyes bulge.
“How do you like the odds now?” Mulder asked, referring to Conan’s penchant for ganging up two on one. He pried at his fingers, but Conan refused to release the gun. “Give it up!”
Conan suddenly jerked free. The gun fired.
The noise was godawful at such close range. Dzeh released his chokehold to clap a hand over his left eye. Blood seeped from between his splayed fingers. His mouth opened as if to speak, but nothing came out. Dropping to his knees, he lurched forward and collapsed facedown on the sand.
Mulder raised wary eyes to Conan’s gloating stare, and found himself looking down the barrel of Scully’s gun.
* * *
Hill Air Force Base
May 14, 1998
Pearsall gripped the counter behind him and tried to make sense of what was happening. He could see Stroehmer across the room, standing between two exam tables, his grinning face tilted ceiling-ward. Alarmingly, the building’s roof appeared to be gone, replaced by a midnight sky. The air was hazy with fist-sized clumps of dust, which floated upward from the floor toward the stars. Confounded by the phenomenon, Pearsall was only marginally relieved to recognize the constellations.
A cabinet door rattled behind him and in his stupor he attributed the sound to Ophiuchus’ Serpent. The creature seemed to have come to life in the night sky, twisting and writhing in its holder’s clenched fists.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Stroehmer shouted.
“What the hell is happening?”
A beaker crashed to the floor, splintering on the tile.
“Time distortion. Watch.”
To Pearsall’s amazement, two naked figures solidified out of thin air onto the tables beside Stroehmer -- a lanky, dark-haired man and a petite redheaded woman. Almost immediately they vanished like flickering ghosts.
“It’ll all be over soon.” Stroehmer rubbed his palms together.
Pearsall blinked and suddenly was in another room, a more modern lab with futuristic equipment and twenty times as many beds. Each held a patient. The shocked-looking men and women were secured by restraints, and all were screaming incoherently. But the scene was almost instantly replaced by a vivid childhood memory, a visit to the National Zoo, when Pearsall rode his father’s shoulders, giving him a better view of the snakes in the Reptile House.
A large rattler slithered toward a shady spot inside its pen, its sides swollen with a recent meal.
From somewhere beyond its glass cage, Dr. Oskar Stroehmer clapped his hands and cackled like a madman.
* * *
//In my dream, the newcomer named Muhl-dar captured a snake, which he placed in a bone cage. When Snake Spirit discovered the caged snake, he became angry. Snake Spirit released the snake and turned it into a man, then sent this snake-man to seek revenge. After much searching, the snake-man found Muhl-dar living with his mate at the camp of Owl Clan. Muhl-dar fought with snake-man and defeated him by breaking him into two halves. Snake Spirit became enraged by the death of snake-man, so he disguised himself as a lightning bolt and traveled to earth in the belly of a giant storm, intending to kill Muhl-dar. The night sky was turned inside out. The stars and the moon were moved from their customary positions as the lightning bolt grew to an enormous size. Cottonwood seed fell like snow, even though it was not the season for seed. Clansmen ran in every direction, afraid for their lives. Those who remained behind heard the chirping of a bird. It was followed by the voice of a far-off female Spirit, who spoke to Muhl-dar, and although we could not understand her words, he was able to speak to her in her own strange language and he became quite excited and happy to talk with her. Then she swallowed up Muhl-dar and his mate. The people of Owl Clan were sad to see them go.//
Dzeh watched stars coalesce behind closed lids. He tasted blood. The world seemed to lurch beneath his outstretched arms. He was lying facedown on the ground. Sand encrusted his lips, stuck to his fingers, its grit needled his elbows and knees. Something wet and warm oozed down the left side of his face, soaking his beard. He wanted to wipe it away, he wanted to rise to his feet, but even the slightest movement caused excruciating pain.
The sound of angry voices came to his ears as if underwater. He listened more intently, until he was certain he recognized who was speaking. Muhl-dar and Klesh were having a heated quarrel. Opening his one good eye, Dzeh tried to focus on them, but they were cloaked in a fog of cottonwood seed, two or three paces away on the moonlit beach.
Muhl-dar was kneeling and Klesh stood over him with the mysterious thunder weapon pointed directly at his head. Both men wore storm-cloud expressions and argued in harsh, clipped tones. Klesh prodded Muhl-dar’s cheek with the terrible weapon, making him snarl.
Dzeh wanted to help Muhl-dar, and wondered where he had dropped his knife. He remembered having it before he grabbed Klesh by the throat, before the clap of thunder echoed inside his ear and a spear of fire slashed his brow above his left eye.
As if weighted by stones upon his back, Dzeh rose up on hands and knees. His left temple throbbed and his limbs quaked as he half-crawled, half-dragged himself across the sand to his knife. Overhead a lightning bolt divided the sky. It hissed like an angered snake. Unlike ordinary lightning, it did not immediately die away. It glowed more fiercely than any flash Dzeh had ever seen, reminding him of the white and treacherous Tkin Glacier to the north, or the silvery scars on Klesh’s ruined face.
Locating his knife in the sand, he picked it up and shouted to Muhl-dar. When Muhl-dar glanced his way, he tossed him the weapon. The effort made his head pound and caused him to collapse, but not before he saw Muhl-dar raise the knife to Klesh’s chest.
Then an unexpected thing happened and Dzeh wasn’t sure if he could trust his eyes. It was possible he was slipping into the dream world of Spirits, and was not really witnessing an earthly event.
Klizzie stepped out of the seed-fogged night behind Klesh. She was naked and her bruised skin glowed with the blue-silver light of the heavenly bolt. Blood ringed her wrists and striped her fingers. The beads in her braided hair rattled like pods on a honey locust before a winter storm, and her dark eyes glittered with tears and determination.
“Klesh,” she murmured, “it is over.”
He turned to face her. A nasty smile deepened the scar on his left cheek. He leveled the terrible thunder weapon at her head. “Yes, it is.”
Without warning, she ducked beneath his outstretched arm and shoved him hard. He stumbled and pivoted toward Muhl-dar. The thunder weapon flared.
For two heartbeats no one moved, startled by the weapon’s fearsome noise.
Then Klesh peered down at his belly, where blood was seeping from a slash across his gut. Dzeh’s knife was embedded deeply into his side. The thunder weapon dropped from his open hand and his eyes rounded when entrails suddenly spilled from his wound like a nest of snakes tumbling down a mountain slope. He tried to scoop them up and stop their uncoiling by holding them in the clench of his arms. His deformed legs began to quake and he collapsed to his knees. He gaped in astonishment at the terrible wound, at the blood-soaked sand, at Muhl-dar and Klizzie.
Releasing his belly, he pointed a wet, gnarled finger at her. “You...?”
He was beyond saying more. The Spirits were extinguishing the fire in his eyes. He teetered sideways, took three shallow breaths and then fell. Clumps of cottonwood seed billowed around him and he did not move again.
By now many people were gathering on the shore. Their faces wore expressions of terror as they pointed at Klesh, the thunder weapon, and the sky. They shouted: “Snake Spirit has come to kill us!” “We will be punished.” “It is the stranger’s fault!”
Dzeh knew this was his vision come to life. The lightning bolt was growing to an enormous size. Cottonwood seeds clogged the night air, making it difficult to see. The stars and moon were unrecognizable as they eddied through the air like fallen leaves in an autumn river. Would the female Spirit rescue them as his vision had foretold, or were his kinsmen doomed?
“Prophecies are often unclear when they are first revealed,” the Shaman had said after Dzeh divulged his dream to the men in Tsa-ond Cave. “Interpreting them is like hunting in fog. Sometimes we must wait until events reveal themselves before we can know whether it is best to charge or run.”
Flares ignited along the rim of the giant lightning bolt, causing it to crackle and expand. People scattered in every direction, afraid for their lives. Dzeh lost sight of Klizzie in the confusion. Fear gripped his throat, choking off his breath when he could not locate her. He tried to rise to his feet to go look for her, but dizziness quickly overtook him and he fell again to his hands and knees. The wound at his temple throbbed. He squeezed his eyes shut against the pain.
“Do not move.” He felt gentle hands cradling his face. He looked up to find Klizzie by his side, exhausted and afraid.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
She nodded and slipped her arms around his waist to help him stand. “We must go. It is not safe here.”
“We will be fine. The female Spirit will save us.” He drew her down beside him on the sand.
At that moment the sky opened, torn in two by the lightning bolt. The surrounding landscape rippled and the seeds that had been previously falling began to drift upward into the widening breach. It was impossible to see what lay beyond; the sky had become as bright as a midday sun. Inside it, Dzeh thought he glimpsed the face of his dead mother, looking as young and happy as she had in life. She vanished as quickly as she had appeared, replaced by more faces, smiling children who looked a lot like Klizzie. Were these their sons and daughters? They, too, disappeared into the brightness.
Silver light filled the valley, illuminating the frightened men and women who were mumbling prayers on the beach. Day-nuh was standing among them, her eyes focused on Muhl-dar. She was dressed in one of the Eel skin cloaks. In her outstretched hands she carried two small objects that put off the phosphorescent glow of lightning beetles.
Muhl-dar glanced her way before retrieving the thunder weapon and plucking the shiny, foreign ornament from Klesh’s gnarled fingers. Then he went to her and traded the ornament for one of the objects she held. She looked relieved and Dzeh was uncertain if it was the totem or Muhl-dar’s smile that made her eyes shine with grateful tears.
They startled when the object in her hand trilled like a bird at first daylight. Muhl-dar’s soon did the same, and for a moment the glowing objects sang in unison. The birdsong was followed by a thin, faraway voice. It was the female Spirit from Dzeh’s dream-vision. She seemed to be living inside the object in Muhl-dar’s palm. When he replied to her, his words galloped with excitement. He dovetailed his fingers with Day-nuh’s, then shouted across the sand to Dzeh, “Take care of yourself, buddy. Take care of Klizzie and Gini, too.”
Then the sky became blindingly bright. Dzeh wrapped his arms protectively around his beloved mate, and over the crown of her bowed head he watched Muhl-dar and Day-nuh fade like stars in the dawn.
Continued in Chapter Twenty-Two...
Special thanks to mimic117 for beta of Chapter 21.
This chapter received
See The Mastodon Diaries Dictionary for an explanation of the paleo-indian terms and names.