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 VI MUSIC [mp3]
Temporarily disabled to save bandwidth. Sorry for any inconvenience.
Continued from Book V
Crista terminalis. The location of the sinuatrial node, the pacemaker of the human heart. What makes us tick, literally.
The heart is situated obliquely in the chest, its broad, attached end directed upward, backward, and to the right. It corresponds with the dorsal vertebrae, from the fifth to eighth inclusive. In an adult, it measures five inches in length, three and a half inches in breadth. It weighs from eight to twelve ounces, and its proportion to the body is one to 169 in males and one to 149 in females.
Scully appreciates the anatomy of the heart. Its purpose is irrefutable, its performance quantifiable.
What confounds her is the commonly held romantic notion that the heart is the repository for emotion. Countless autopsies have failed to yield one shred of physical evidence to support the theory that this muscular organ is anything beyond a circulatory pump, but Scully has experienced the ache of grief personally. And nine years with Fox Mulder have taught her that believing is not always seeing. Sometimes it takes gut instinct, a sixth sense, or even a flutter of the heart to understand the truth.
"After great pain, a formal feeling comes," claimed poet Emily Dickinson. Scully recalls the verses from an undergrad lit class. Nerves sit ceremonious, like tombs; the heart is stiff; feet, mechanical. It is the Hour of Lead. If you are able to outlive it, you remember it the way a freezing person recollects the snow: first a chill, then stupor, then finally, finally, you are able to let go.
Scully anticipates Dickinson's "quartz contentment." She longs for her heart to turn stony, durable as a granite breakwater, unmoved by tide and turbulent seas.
How liberating it would feel, how healing, to shed her sorrow and guilt, to cast off conscience, to weep not one more tear for William or Mulder or the daughter growing within her womb. She yearns to relinquish the terrible, hollow throb in her heart, to forget past mistakes.
But to do so means sacrificing her best memories and abandoning her greatest loves -- the very things Mulder has accused her of.
He doesn't understand. She gave up William not out of defeat, but to shield him, to protect him. It was an act of resistance, not submission. A mother's last defense.
And Dana Scully's greatest heartache.
Rendezvous Beach State Park, Utah
October 17, 2002
A seven-inch incision split the patient's chest. Rib spreaders exposed his internal organs. Scully carefully removed the first of two 45-caliber bullets from beside his beating heart. She tied off a stubborn bleeder. As she probed for the second round, the patient went into ventricular fibrillation and then cardiac arrest.
Without a defibrillator, Scully's only option was to try to restore a rhythm by manually massaging the heart.
"Come on, soldier," she pleaded, fingers pumping, "don't give up."
Ten minutes ticked away. The heart refused to beat on its own. The anesthesiologist softly announced, "He's dead, Dr. Scully."
"One more minute." She had already lost two young men earlier in the day and she was not going to lose this one, too.
"Doctor, there are others waiting. Help them."
Moans and cries carried through the open door of the outer room, where nurses triaged the wounded. Six medics sutured cuts, cleaned debris from torn flesh, treated minor burns, concussions, shock. There seemed no end to the injured, and intelligence sources indicated the North Utah Infantry was in serious trouble; a second wave of casualties was due before nightfall.
How many would perish on the battlefield? How many more would die en route from Salt Lake City?
Scully prayed Skinner was okay.
She peeled off her bloody gloves. They landed with a slap in a bin overflowing with medical waste. She wasn't qualified to perform heart surgery. She wasn't qualified to perform *any* kind of surgery. But Dr. Forrest was operating on his nineteenth patient of the day -- a teenager with shrapnel lodged in his spinal column. And Dr. Singh was exhausted after twenty-two hours of life-threatening plasma burns, head wounds, missile injuries.
There was no one else available with advanced medical training. No one to step in and relieve her.
A team of grim-faced volunteers wheeled away the dead soldier. Scully blinked back fatigue and prepared for the next patient. She donned fresh gloves, arranged sterile instruments on a clean tray, took a deep breath.
Another young man was delivered to her operating table. His right foot was missing, the leg badly damaged from the knee down. A tourniquet, applied in the field, had kept him from bleeding to death on the trip to Safe Camp.
It was a miracle he was still alive.
"I need more light here," Scully demanded.
"I'm on it," replied a volunteer, who hurried to find additional kerosene lamps.
"Please, don't cut off my leg," the patient begged, apparently unaware that his limb was already gone.
Scully recognized him. "Flak, can you hear me?"
He squinted up at her, confused by pain and drugs. "I-I know you?"
"I'm Dana Scully, Commander Skinner's friend."
He turned away. "The alien lover."
She disregarded his resentment. He was not alone in his prejudice toward Dibeh. The entire camp hated the hybrid; they kept her under armed guard twenty-four hours a day. Scully was allowed only brief, monitored visits.
"It's all gone to hell," Flak growled through clenched teeth. "We...retreated...under fire...Jesus, Jesus, guys falling, blood everywhere...my leg..."
Scully wanted to ask about Skinner, but knew this was not the time or place. "Lie still. I'm going to help you."
Flak groaned. His eyelids fluttered and closed. "Please, I don't want to die."
She signaled the anesthesiologist to start an I.V. "You won't die."
It was a promise she couldn't guarantee. If Flak survived surgery, it was possible, even likely, he would die of infection in a few days. The recovery ward was rife with the characteristic fruity odor of pseudomonas, a difficult bacteria to combat even under the best of conditions. And these were not the best of conditions.
The makeshift hospital was located in a former visitor center at Rendezvous Beach State Park on the southern shore of Bear Lake. It was a bare bones unit with dwindling supplies and no electricity or modern diagnostic equipment. Surrounding it was a "city" of RVs, tents, pop-up campers, cars and trucks. People squeezed together, took shelter wherever they could find it. Military personnel bivouacked at the former marina, sleeping aboard sailboats and motor yachts. Dibeh was being held prisoner at the end of one long dock, exposed day and night to bitter winds and freezing temperatures.
Guilt washed over Scully. She lived in comparative luxury, alone in Skinner's dilapidated Winnebago.
"He's ready," the anesthesiologist announced.
Scully mentally reviewed the steps of transfemoral amputation, a procedure she had never tried before today. Risks included heavy blood loss, the development of clots, infection, failure of the stump to heal due to inadequate blood supply. If Flak lived, rehabilitation would be a long, arduous process.
She selected a scalpel from the tray. "Let's do it."
Wasatch-Cache National Forest
“We all know the field we play on and we all know what can happen in the course of a game,” Skinner had once told Mulder. “If you were unprepared for all the potentials, then you shouldn’t step on the field.”
Skinner had known the potentials when he led the North Utah Infantry into the aliens' stronghold at sunset on Sunday, October 13. He knew the enemy's forces outnumbered his own. He knew his weapons were inferior.
Tossing grenades at plasma cannons was like pissing at a tidal wave.
But Skinner pressed on despite the unlikely odds. He decided it was worth the risk, any risk, to try to defeat this god-awful foe, to release the scores of men, women and children who were being held prisoner, forced by alien masters to work as slaves in factories that supplied the enemy army with food, clothing, weapons.
Temperatures hovered just above freezing four nights ago when Skinner's army attacked Harmony I. A few tattered clouds shrouded a rising quarter moon, providing scant light as two-hundred and fifty-six foot soldiers stole silently through Salt Lake City's outer neighborhoods to the walled alien settlement within. Skinner remembered a prickle of foreboding on the back of his neck when his troops took up their assigned positions outside the ten-meter-high bulwark encircling the citadel.
The objective was to infiltrate the stronghold, storm the factories, free the human captives, and kill as many alien-loving sons-of-bitches as possible. Munitions teams were ordered to destroy the breeding labs, the stockpiles of armaments and the alien air force, giving the released prisoners time to escape to the hills of Wasatch-Cache. McInness, Skinner's second in command, was to lead a unit to Antelope Island, to free the humans imprisoned there.
Privates Brady and Stewart volunteered to create a diversion at the citadel's guarded east gate, allowing Skinner's company an opportunity to gain access via the unfinished section of wall to the north. Dressed in stolen enemy uniforms, Brady and Stewart pretended to be drunk, late for evening roll call. They stumbled and laughed, called each other names, poked fun at the solemn-faced guards.
They were convincing actors. The guards let them in.
Once inside, they lobbed half a dozen grenades at the gate, guard station and nearby barracks before they were shot down by M16s.
The two young friends had known going in it would be a suicide mission. They were brave men, good soldiers. Heroes.
The exploding grenades drew the attention of alien troops throughout the citadel. Armed with carbines and knives, Skinner's soldiers quickly overtook and killed the distracted sentinels at the northern breach, then hurried to their intended targets.
Half of Skinner's infantrymen perished before the factory doors were bludgeoned open. Another twenty or thirty fell while escorting escapees to freedom. Only three alien shuttles and two Blackhawk helicopters were disabled. No munitions warehouses were destroyed. All of McInness's men were lost. Not one prisoner was freed from Antelope Island.
Three decades before his attack on Salt Lake City, before the North Utah Infantry failed its mission, before extraterrestrial demons controlled the Earth, Skinner was a young private in Viet Nam. His squad was caught while on patrol in Quang Tin. They fell. All of them. Haskell, Peters, Richardson, Pooley, Johnson, Mantenuto, Atkins and Sergeant Williams. Skinner lost his faith in God that day. He lost his faith in everything.
But on this cold autumn night in what seemed another life, Commander Walter Skinner was as changed as the world. He humbled himself before the Almighty. The ragged remainder of his army and a handful of freed hostages rested fitfully beneath the pines of Wasatch-Cache National Forest as he knelt stiffly beside his bedroll and brought bandaged palms together, mimicking a gesture grown rusty since his pious boyhood in the flatlands of east Texas. With tears burning his eyes, he blinked in astonishment at the paltry number of survivors. Then he prayed for the souls of his lost soldiers and begged for the future of mankind.
Arrowhead Creek, Wyoming
Sometime after midnight
“Mulder?” Gibson spoke softly from the hall outside Kenna's bedroom. “You in there?”
You know I am, Mulder silently challenged, guessing Gibson was listening to his thoughts. He sat on the edge of the bed and caressed William's satiny cheek.
The baby stirred but didn't wake. William lay tucked against Kenna's breast, wet thumb slipping from his mouth. She slept on her side with one hand placed protectively atop the baby's belly. They looked peaceful in the honeyed glow of the oil lamp.
"Pleasant dreams, son," Mulder whispered and rose from the bed. He considered covering them with blankets, but the room was comfortably warm, thanks to the kerosene heater.
He opened the door to Gibson and asked in a low voice, “What's up?"
Gibson peered past him to Kenna. Her dark hair fanned the pillows and her T-shirt rode high on one hip, providing a glimpse of white panties. "I could ask you the same question."
Mulder stepped into the hall and pulled the door quietly shut behind him, blocking Gibson's view. Gooseflesh prickled his neck and arms; it was at least twenty degrees colder in the hall than the bedroom. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You like her."
"She risked her life to save my child."
"That's not what I meant."
Mulder crossed his arms and glared. "What did you mean?"
"I know what you're thinking," Gibson reminded him.
"Then you know I love Scully."
"Yes." Gibson nodded at Kenna's door. "But you're thinking about her."
Mulder's face heated. Gibson had evidently "overheard" a moment of unexpected desire, knew Mulder had become aroused at the sight of Kenna's long, bare legs, her braless breasts.
"Was it good for you?" Mulder growled before adding silently: get your ya-yas someplace else, Gibson.
Gibson met his anger without a hint of embarrassment. "I can't help hearing what I hear."
Mulder knew it was true. And it was clear from Gibson's expression he wasn't being judgmental. Still, Mulder's unconscious reaction to Kenna seemed disloyal to Scully and he felt a need to explain.
"My body responded to a pretty woman, that's all. I didn't act on it. I didn't go looking for it. It just happened. It doesn't mean anything and you're old enough to understand the difference between a fleeting physical reaction and a lasting emotional bond."
"It's happened more than once."
"Are you keeping count?"
"No, but you've been in her bedroom every night since we arrived."
"My son is in there."
Gibson stared at the door, head cocked as if listening. "He's the reason she thinks about sleeping with you."
Mulder blinked in surprise. "She wants to sleep with me?"
"She doesn't want to. But she's worried about being left on her own."
"And if we have sex, I'll stay and she'll get to keep William. Is that it?"
"She loves him. She thinks he's--"
"A gift from God. I know." Mulder shouldered past Gibson and headed for the kitchen. His left leg ached like a son-of-a-bitch and it dragged slightly as he limped down the hall. "You can stop worrying. I don't plan to sleep with her."
Gibson trailed after him. "Are you sure?"
Mulder spun around and Gibson almost stumbled into him. "What the hell makes you think I'm suddenly incapable of controlling my actions?"
"You aren't yourself," Gibson answered honestly. "You haven't been since Bellefleur."
Mulder tried to corral his irritation, reminding himself that Gibson was his friend. The teen had sheltered him during his exile. Mulder trusted him with his life. He took his opinions seriously.
Months of torture at the hands of the aliens, followed by more torture courtesy of the U.S. military, had taken its toll. Summer vacation in a coffin and a year on the run hadn't helped his state of mind.
Then he learned Scully had given their son away. It was the final straw, apparently. The most unlikely betrayal he could have imagined. It seemed irreconcilable. Unforgivable.
"Only if you want it to be," Gibson said. Light from the kitchen lamp reflected off his glasses, making his eyes unreadable.
"Why in God's name would I want that?"
Mulder's heart was pounding. He tried to steady his quaking hands. Failing, he entered the kitchen. His jacket was hanging where he'd left it on the back of a chair. He grabbed it and fished through the pockets for a cigarette. His fingers closed around the half empty pack and the lighter he'd stolen from a dead man in New Mexico.
"You had something to tell me?" he asked, lighting up. "Other than to keep my dick in my pants?"
Gibson waited while Mulder drew on his cigarette. "Skinner's been hurt," he announced softly.
Mulder nearly dropped the lighter.
"I don't know."
Remorse sucker-punched Mulder. Four days ago Gibson had told him Skinner was leading an attack against the aliens in Salt Lake City. It was part of a larger offensive. Something called Operation Free Earth. Mulder should have been there to help.
"What about the other units, the ones you told me about, in Denver...Phoenix...Dallas?"
"A lot of people are dead."
God damn it. Mulder held his breath, allowing the nicotine to flood his veins.
Smoke swirled ceiling-ward when he spoke. "Where is Skinner now?"
"Hiding. Somewhere east of Salt Lake, a place called Safe Camp."
"Safe Camp? Is that near here?"
"Maybe. I'm not sure."
Ash dripped from the cigarette onto the scuffed linoleum floor. "Will They be coming after him?"
Gibson shrugged, although the answer was obvious. A large-scale alien victory meant no one was safe. There was nowhere to hide; They would find everyone eventually.
Mulder knew he should join Skinner, help him defeat the invaders or die trying.
When he's old enough, tell the kid I went down swinging, he'd once said to Scully.
But if Mulder followed his quest to its bitter end, who would be left to protect his son?
"I can't leave him. Not again. Not for any reason."
"I didn't say you should."
"It's too dangerous."
"We'll stay here then."
"For how long? Until They find us, too?"
"What choice do we have?"
Mulder tossed the butt of his cigarette into the sink. He had made his commitment months ago and it was to his son.
"I hate doing nothing," he muttered.
"We could stock up on food, other stuff," Gibson suggested. "Get another heater."
"And bury the Quealys." Mulder sniffed the air. The Quealys had been dead for days. The place should reek, but there was no stench of decaying flesh. No odor at all.
He slipped the lighter back into his pocket and his knuckles bumped the artifact Gibson had found in the ruins at Kits’iil. He took it out and held it up to the light of the kitchen's single oil lamp.
"What is this thing?"
"Albert Hosteen said it was a key...the 'answer to the world's dire condition.' "
Mulder caressed it with his thumb, felt its tiny, incised symbols. "Maybe he wasn't speaking metaphorically. It could be a real key. A transponder," he said, wishing for the Gunmen's expertise. "Receives a signal, then responds with an identity data code. Like IFF." In response to Gibson's questioning look, he explained, "Identify Friend or Foe. IFF transponders were used during World War II on aircraft to identify them. Friendly aircraft responded to preprogrammed interrogation codes, indicating to radar operators they were okay."
"If the code in this transponder relays the appropriate information..."
"We're in like Flynn." He closed his fist around the device. The artifact seemed to warm in his hand. His voice thinned to a murmur. "Question is, in where?"
What secret did the transponder protect? What truths would be revealed when it was fit into the appropriate lock? Was it a solution to the world's problems, as Hosteen had said?
Or was it a key to a Pandora's Box?
“How is she?" Ca-Lo asked, leading the way to the Ablution Pools.
Grower 16 hurried to keep pace with Ca-Lo's longer stride. "Splendid. We think you'll be very pleased."
Prolonged exposure to cloning chemicals had discolored the Grower's gray skin, giving him an olive cast. His long fingers were stained dark copper and his Nih-hi-cho eyes were almost as emerald as Ca-Lo's. He wore a loose-fitting jumpsuit, soiled at the cuffs with protein ointment. The ointment's sour odor reminded Ca-Lo of sweat and semen, although Nih-hi-cho didn't sweat or ejaculate.
"How much longer?" Ca-Lo asked.
"Another twenty-six days, unless we add accelerant."
"No, no accelerant. Don't risk the embryonic root." Accelerants caused unpredictable mutations. This clone had to be perfect.
They entered the Pools' upper gallery, a vaulted mezzanine that overlooked an enormous hexagonal chamber twenty meters below. Massive square piers and glossy, onyx columns supported the balcony; arched portals overlooked hundreds of cultivation cisterns arranged in rows on the chamber's polished ebony floor. Growers identical to 16 tended the tanks, vigilantly monitoring their murky, phosphorescent fluid and the developing clones within.
Clones. Detestable beings, in Ca-Lo's opinion. On the surface they appeared to be exact replicas of their original donors, but were in fact inferior because they lacked the indefinable, yet crucial, ingredient that distinguished true humans from their synthetic facsimiles -- what a more religious man might describe as a soul, bestowed by the Divine at the moment of natural conception. By comparison, clones were merely empty vessels, devoid of spirit. Second-rate reproductions.
Ca-Lo strode quickly toward the nearest spiral staircase. Grower 16 followed close behind.
"How goes the Amicable Resolution?" 16 asked, referring to the recent rebellion.
The Nih-hi-cho penchant for peaceful euphemisms irritated Ca-Lo. They diminished the Armada's resounding victory. Fifty-six separate uprisings across the continent had been quashed. Surviving rebels were being hunted down and rounded up. Despite their paltry weapons, the humans had been superb strategists and fierce warriors in a guerrilla-style conflict that could have gone on for decades if not for the Armada's quick and precise response. The terrestrial offensive had been impressively coordinated and skillfully deployed without benefit of modern communications technology. Ca-Lo admired their leaders' cunning, ingenuity, and bravery. So much so, he had given explicit orders they be brought to Tse'Bit'a'i'... alive. He planned to interrogate each one personally, before they were executed.
The Grower's voice wobbled as he ran behind Ca-Lo. "Then we shall soon have hosts for the next generation of Infants! Good, good. The Nursery has lain empty too long. When is the first shipment due?"
"I wouldn't know," Ca-Lo said with annoyance. "The reproduction of your race is outside the purview of my responsibilities."
"Apologies, sir." 16 ducked his head, but continued jabbering, his excitement overriding his manners. "This is a wondrous time to be alive. Momentous. Colonization is assured; the Juveniles are returning for the blessed Joining!"
The prospect of a Nih-hi-cho Joining made Ca-Lo's skin crawl.
The Infants had gone through their transformation, shed their puerile skins to become adolescents. An entire neo-generation was gathering at Harmony I to be assimilated into the collective in a solemn ceremony of communal prayer. Minds would connect, thoughts conjoin. More than a million pious intellects would merge in joyous adoration of the Great Red Dragon and his Divine Legion of Angels. It was the Society's most revered ritual.
And Ca-Lo was not invited. The Nih-hi-cho believed the inherent inability of humans to access the Society's group consciousness would dilute the sanctity of the religious experience. In their eyes, autonomy was a weakness, individuality an abhorrent genetic failure, unworthy of the Holy Dragon.
No wonder the Nih-hi-cho had a predilection for cloning. Duplication circumvented sexual reproduction while also satisfying their perverse desire for conformity.
By contrast, Ca-Lo prized his singularity above all else. It differentiated him from his Nih-hi-cho masters and their loathsome clones. He was unique; he was human.
Ca-Lo jogged down the spiral staircase. When he passed through the arched door at the bottom, he was faced with scores of identical tanks containing partially formed clones.
"Which one?" he asked, suppressing his revulsion.
"This way." Grower 16 took the lead.
They zigzagged through a maze of cisterns until the Grower stopped in front of Pool CVII and extended his tapered fingers. "Here."
"Leave us," Ca-Lo ordered.
The Grower bowed and hurried away.
Alone, Ca-Lo pressed his palms to the side of the tank and studied the embryonic root inside. Beneath a protective layer of protein ointment, Cassandra Spender's familiar features were beginning to take shape.
Floating in the tank's gentle current, she seemed to roll toward him when he spoke, as if she could hear his voice. Impossible, of course. She was far too immature to hear anything at all.
It had been a difficult decision to have her cloned. The husk in the tank was not his mother. No matter how closely it might resemble or act like Cassandra Spender, it could never be her. It would never possess her spirit.
Still, Ca-Lo missed Cassandra's affection, the first and only kindness he had ever known. His desire to feel her gentle kiss once more upon his brow had been overwhelming.
The clone could assuage his loneliness. It might also provide clues to Cassandra's true origins.
His "mother's" green blood had been unexpected, a profound disappointment, irrefutable proof that he was not her biological son.
Ca-Lo was determined to learn the truth about her...and himself.
He beckoned Grower 16 with a mental command.
"Sir?" The grower appeared a moment later.
"Transfer the genetic records of my mother's clone to the comp in my quarters."
"Is there a problem?"
"Yes...well...it's just that...hm...this clone's profile has been encrypted."
"We are not privy to the reason, sir."
"Certainly I'm allowed to view my own mother's genetic history, aren't I?"
"Em...no. You do not have permission...sir."
"On whose orders?"
"The Overseers, of course."
It was an insult. Ca-Lo had won the planet for them, yet they continued to treat him worse than their lowliest hybrid servants.
He would endure their humiliation no longer. He would challenge his alien masters.
"I'm done here." Ca-Lo turned away from Pool CVII.
"Shall we walk out together?" Grower 16 asked.
"I can find my own way."
Never in her worst nightmares had Dibeh imagined herself in a place so unfamiliar and frightening.
Two armed guards kept watch over her day and night. They frowned and jabbered at her, prodded her with their rifles, stomped loudly up and down the floating wooden platform where she was being held prisoner. She huddled near the water's edge, fearful of falling into the sinister lake or being swallowed by the enormous sky. She had never been out in the open like this. Never so wet or cold.
Her hands were restrained behind her back with biting plastic ties, making it impossible for her to sign to her angry human captors that her bladder was full and she needed to relieve herself soon or soil her garments. She could only hope they would not wait too long to take her to their necessarium, a filthy, smelly box built over a hole in the ground, full of excrement and buzzing flies.
Homesickness gripped her heart as tightly as the physical bonds that cinched her wrists. She longed to return to Tse’Bit’a’i's warm and welcoming interior, where the air smelled like be-la-sana mist and honey paste wax. There she was surrounded by the familiar faces of other hybrids. She missed her friends Ulso and Jeha. She even missed grumpy old Be-Gahi.
Here she knew no one other than Lady Dana and the dark-skinned man with ropey hair and silver earrings. And aside from them, Earth people seemed cruel beings.
They had given her nothing to eat, not one scrap of food since her arrival three days ago. She was allowed only one drink of water per day. Her tongue felt gummy and her throat raw. She was so hungry she would gobble down spoiled tacheene if given the chance. And her thirst was so intense she had even been tempted by the putrid water in the necessarium's foul pit.
Forced to sit for hours without moving, she was now shivering uncontrollably. Her thin garments did little to block the wind. Biting gusts carried prickly, foreign odors and the chill transformed every breath into ghostly vapors. A waning moon gleamed overhead like a Consort's silicon arm band, casting a hoary glow upon the metal barrels of the guards' M16s, the dock's gray planks, the choppy water and rocking boats.
The sloshing waves reminded Dibeh of the shuttle crash and the dead Refuter, salt water filling her mouth and nose, panic rising in her chest as she struggled to keep from drowning.
Silently she beseeched the Great Red Dragon, "Please help me. I have always loved you and kept faith in you and your Divine Angels. Please do not forsake me."
The moon slowly dimmed behind a cobweb of clouds. Wind whipped Dibeh's hair and stung her face like a thousand sewing needles.
The pressure in her bladder was growing too great to bear. She grunted to the guards, hoping to make them understand her desperation.
"Shut the fuck up," yelled the tall one with pale eyes and oily hair. When she whimpered more softly, he thundered down the dock toward her and aimed his rifle at her head.
Dibeh closed her eyes and prayed, "Do not shoot me."
"Leave it alone, Burk," said the female guard with spiky hair.
"You an alien lover all of a sudden, DeSanctus?" Burk asked.
"No, but it isn't hurting anything."
"It's offending my sensibilities." Burk laughed at his own joke and the harsh sound ricocheted off the hulls of the surrounding boats. He poked Dibeh's temple with his rifle. She bowed her head and tried to make herself as small and inoffensive as possible.
"You're scaring it," said DeSanctus.
"Awww. Too fuckin' bad." Burk jabbed Dibeh again. And again. "Quit looking at me," he warned, "unless you want one of them big ol' black eyes shot right out of your freakin' skull. You want that? Huh?"
The barrel of his gun hovered a mere millimeter from her left eye.
Dibeh kept perfectly still.
"I don't hear it saying no." His finger twitched on the trigger. Unexpectedly, he shouted, "BANG!"
Dibeh jumped and her bladder emptied, soaking her thin trousers. A dark puddle spread quickly around her. It flowed between the slats of the dock and rained into the lake.
"Aw, Christ! The fucker pissed itself. Look at that! Pee-ew!"
Shame heated Dibeh's cheeks as Burk cursed and paced up and down the dock, causing it to rock sickeningly from side to side.
"Burk, you're such an asshole," DeSanctus said.
"I ain't the one stinking up the place." He sniffed the air. "I think it needs a bath."
"Burk...come on. We got orders. We aren't supposed to hurt it."
"We ain't hurting it. Way I see it we're doing the fucker a favor." He handed his rifle to DeSanctus, then gathered a rope from one of the dock's cleats. "Shoot the little shit if it tries to bite me."
"What are you gonna do?" DeSanctus asked.
"Dip it in the drink. Rinse off the stench."
Burk threaded the rope roughly beneath Dibeh's arms and around her chest. He tied a tight knot, then tested it by giving it a yank that squeezed the air from Dibeh's lungs. Using the rope to lift her, he dangled her over the water.
She squirmed with fright as waves lapped her bare toes. Burk laughed again, just before he dropped her into the icy black water.
Cold engulfed her. Panic stiffened her spine. She kicked frantically, but was unable to rise to the surface. With her hands bound, she was helpless.
She sank slowly, her breath held against death while fear sliced into her like a newly sharpened boning knife. Already her legs were so numb she could not feel her feet. Perhaps they hit bottom, because she seemed to stop moving and a fog of silt rose up from below, billowing around her, making it impossible to see.
She waited there for what seemed an eternity, lungs aching for air. When she could bear the pain no more, it occurred to her she might open her mouth and throat, and thereby end her thirst and her life with one quick inhalation.
Would it hurt? Maybe it would soothe her parched throat.
She unclenched her jaw. Opened her mouth.
Shadows swirled in the current beneath the dock. The thick piers appeared to sway. They took on the shape and proportion of a multi-headed serpent. Beards of algae became scales. Silvery bubbles transformed into glistening eyes.
Divine Angels, it was the Great Red Dragon.
An old prayer hummed in Dibeh's mind, one of the first she had ever learned:
"My eyes are ever toward you, O Holy One,
For you relieve the troubles of my heart.
Consider my distress.
Consider how many are my foes,
And with what violent detestation they hate me.
Oh guard my life and deliver me,
For I take refuge in your infinite love."
As if in a dream, the Dragon's tail coiled carefully around her waist and buoyed her to the surface.
"Do not surrender," one of the Dragon's seven mouths whispered into her ear. "You have reason yet to live."
Tossed by the serpent's curled tail, Dibeh landed on her back atop the dock's rough surface. She closed her eyes. Gasped for air. Choked. An urge to vomit rocked her stomach as she was dragged several meters. The planks beneath her shook with the approach of heavy footfalls. She was rolled onto her stomach.
"Untie her!" growled a deep, masculine voice.
Dibeh was jostled; her arms flopped to her sides like bread dough, heavy and unfeeling. Searing fingers gripped her jaw, lifted her chin from the deck. She blinked water from her eyes and tried to focus on the face in front of her.
Not the Red Dragon.
But another savior.
It was Lady Dana's friend, the man who had rescued her from the salty lake. Walter Skinner.
He leveled squinting eyes at Burk, who stood with one end of the wet rope still dangling from his fist.
"Sir, I wasn't doin' any--" Burk dropped the rope.
"Find Dr. Scully. Bring her here," Skinner ordered. "Now."
"Go!" Turning to DeSanctus, Skinner said, "Locate Royal Jackson and tell him to get his ass out here, ASAP."
Safe Camp, Utah
Census listed 464 women, 553 children and 152 men living in Bear Lake's RVs, boats, tents and cars. The majority of men were over the age of sixty or recovering from injuries, which meant there were plenty of lonely, frustrated young women eager to hook up with a healthy, good looking guy like Royal Jackson.
"Make love to me, baby." Ashley nuzzled Royal's neck as they stumbled into the sailboat's tiny forward cabin. Long, painted nails scraped his tattooed chest, circled his nipple rings.
"I saw him first." Tisha staked her claim by thrusting her tongue into Royal's mouth while squeezing his cock.
All three were naked and Royal was sporting a massive hard-on. Eager to get down to business, his dick throbbed in Tisha's warm hand.
She flicked the Prince Albert at its tip with her thumb. "This should be interesting."
"Careful there, girl."
He gave her a playful shove onto the bed.
The boat rocked; gentle waves lapped the hull. Tisha rolled onto her belly, presenting him with her shapely bare ass. Her skin was the color of polished walnut.
Ashley, pale and smooth as whipped cream, faced Royal as she sat on the edge of the bed beside her darker friend. They were chocolate and vanilla, and Royal loved the look of both. Ashley spread her legs, exposing a shaved pussy and cherry-red lips.
"I've got a place for that big dick of yours," she said, fingering herself, tempting him to choose her before Tisha.
"I see that, baby." Jesus, he was hard. "Scoot up."
He climbed onto the bed and buried his nose between Ashley's silky thighs. Her giggles turned into moans as the sterling stud in his tongue rode her clitoris. She tasted like she'd been sautéed in butter and dipped in the sea, a rich, salty combination that heated his groin and chased every non-sexual thought from his head.
"Hey, I'm getting lonely over here, sugar." Tisha pouted at him over her shoulder.
He lifted his mouth from Ashley long enough to say, "Can't have that."
Her back arched and she hissed with pleasure when he snaked a hand between her legs and slid two fingers inside her.
God almighty, she was wet and snug, and evidently as horny as a bitch in heat. She pushed against his hand, burying his fingers up to the last knuckle.
He rose up onto his knees, positioned himself between the two women and began to finger Ashley, too.
"Oh, yeah," she whimpered.
"You like that, baby?"
"Make me come, Royal-honey."
He pumped them in unison, his eyes darting from Tisha's full, rounded ass to Ashley's small, bouncy breasts. The white girl's nipples pointed skyward, pink as ripe watermelon. He was about to lean down and suck one into his mouth, when a better idea struck him.
"Sit up," he told her, withdrawing his fingers from both women.
"Damn it, Royal. I was almost there!"
"Don't worry, baby, you'll get off." He slapped Tisha's ass. "Roll over. I want you sitting up, too, hon. Come on, face each other."
"Jesus, Royal, you're a fucking tease."
"Why'd you stop?" whined Ashley.
"I wanna see a little girl-on-girl action."
The women gave each other sidelong glances.
"Now." He motioned for them to get together.
"Yes way. You want my dick in your pussy, you're gonna suck each other's titties first."
"How 'bout I suck your dick instead?" Ashley pushed him onto his back, leaned down and took him into her mouth.
"Sweet fuckin' Jesus, you do that fine." He groaned with pleasure as she swirled her tongue up his length. She took the Prince Albert in her teeth and tugged, slowly, steadily. The strain was intense...and freakin' sexy.
"Oh, yeah...that's nice."
Her mouth left him. "We're just getting started, hon."
Next thing he knew, she was straddling his hips and guiding his cock into her.
He watched his dick disappear, inch by blessed inch.
Her eyes squeezed shut. She gasped. She was tighter than most of the women he'd been with. He liked the way she held her breath and bit into her lower lip as he filled her. He wasn't sure if she was feeling pleasure or pain, but hell, either one was a compliment to the size of his dick.
Tisha crawled across the bed to sit beside his head, feet tucked beneath her, knees spread wide enough to give him a clear view of her pussy. She bent over him and pressed one heavy breast to his lips. He drew its rigid nipple into his mouth and sucked hard while lifting his hips to meet Ashley's downward thrust.
His balls tightened.
Heaven. Fucking heaven.
Just when he was thinking life couldn't get any better, Tisha whispered in his ear, "How 'bout you put that talented mouth of yours to work someplace else?"
She repositioned herself over him, straddling his head, facing Ashley. Her curls tickled his nose and chin.
He pressed his face to her wet slit.
Closing his eyes, he breathed in her scent and imagined the two women fondling each other's breasts as they rode him. In his fantasy, they French kissed. Rubbed each other's clits.
He speared Tisha's pussy with his tongue. Bucked against Ashley's cunt. He anticipated the best damned orgasm of his life.
The urgent voice was neither Tisha's nor Ashley's.
Fuck. It was DeSanctus.
"Skinner's asking for you," she said. "Get dressed."
Royal nudged Tisha off him. Reluctantly, he stilled Ashley's downward thrusts.
"Your timing sucks, DeSanctus," he said.
"Don't be pissed at me." DeSanctus eyeballed the situation. "I'm just the messenger."
"Do you have to go, sugar?" Tisha asked, her tone petulant.
Ashley pouted and climbed off him.
"No choice." Royal scrambled from the bed and brushed past DeSanctus to collect his clothes from the galley floor. "Duty calls."
Ashley followed him out of the bedroom and posed coyly against the doorframe. She looked delectable with tousled hair, flushed cheeks, back arched to make her tiny breasts point up at him. "Want us to keep the bed warm?"
He pulled on his pants, then leaned in to kiss her. "I'll be right back, baby. Don't go anywhere."
He slipped into his boots, yanked a T-shirt over his head, and followed DeSanctus off the sailboat.
"Skinner's through the roof," she said, hurrying toward shore. Her boots thudded against the wooden planks, keeping time with Royal's hammering heart.
"What the hell happened?"
"Burk was goofing with the alien."
"Fuck. I told him to just watch the damned thing."
"He didn't hurt it."
"No? Then why is Skinner asking for me?" Royal regretted not grabbing a jacket. It was freezing cold out in the open. And it was beginning to look like he might not be getting back to Tisha and Ashley as soon as he'd hoped.
Hurrying through the marina, Royal and DeSanctus passed dozens of boats tied in slips. Most were dark, but voices drifted up from below decks, amplified by the water. An occasional cry of passion punctuated the dark, reminding Royal of what he was missing.
In less than two minutes they reached the dock where the prisoner was being kept. Skinner was waiting there, hands on his hips, jaw set. The alien lay at his feet. It was soaking wet and either unconscious or dead.
Skinner targeted Royal with angry eyes. "Where the hell have you been?"
"I left you in charge."
"I gave orders to Burk--"
"*You* were responsible for this prisoner's well-being and *you* will be held accountable for what's happened to her."
"Yes, sir, but...uh...I...what did happen?"
Before Skinner could answer, Burk returned with Scully. Outrage darkened her eyes as she knelt beside the alien and began examining its drenched, seemingly lifeless form.
"It's not dead, is it?" Royal asked.
"You better hope to God she's not," Skinner said.
"We need to get her someplace warm," Dr. Scully said, stroking the alien's sodden hair.
"Take her to my trailer," Skinner ordered Royal.
"Me? You want me t-to carry it?"
"Christ." Burk hissed with disgust.
"Yes, I want you to carry her." Skinner locked eyes with Royal. "And do it gently. Pretend she's your balls in my fist. Get my drift?"
"And you..." Skinner turned to face Burk. The big soldier swallowed so hard Royal could hear it over the slap of waves against the shore. "You're coming with me."
Arrowhead Creek, Wyoming
“Wha zat?" William stood on the Quealys' front step beside Mulder. He was bundled against the cold in snowpants, jacket, hat and scarf. Snot glistened beneath his red nose. He pointed one mittened hand at the yard, which had been transformed overnight into a winter wonderland.
"It's snow," Mulder said. All eight inches of it. "Welcome to Wyoming."
William blinked in astonishment.
Mulder tried to set aside his apprehension about the upcoming winter months and adopt William's childlike delight. The clean, bright landscape sparkled. Fat flakes eddied on air currents like fairytale sprites. The house, the trees, the entire world appeared dipped in cake frosting.
And it was only the middle of October.
"Come on, buddy. Let's do this before we freeze our ass...er, noses." Two empty buckets dangled from Mulder's left fist.
Kenna wanted water, enough for Gibson and Mulder to take baths.
After breakfast she had announced without preamble or apology, "You two stink."
“Tink!” William had parroted, crinkling his small nose and mimicking her look of disgust.
Gibson sniffed the air. His hair hung in greasy clumps. His face was mottled with road dirt.
The creases in Mulder's hands were black and his nails were caked. He brought a fistful of his sweatshirt to his nose.
It reeked of motorcycle exhaust, gasoline and, most pungent of all, his own sweat.
"You fetch the water and I'll heat it on the stove." Kenna's tone made it clear they had no choice. "You can wash in the sink. Buckets are by the front door."
Mulder and Gibson exchanged glances, neither wanting to brave the cold to pump bath water.
"I lugged the coffee water," Gibson reminded Mulder and lifted his mug as proof.
"It wasn't snowing then."
"Is that my fault?"
"Fine. I'll go," Mulder said. He frowned at the window, where snow blanketed the outer sills and fogged the glass. "But if I'm not back before dark, send out a St. Bernard."
When William saw Mulder putting on coat and boots, he begged to go, too. Mulder was game, but Kenna needed convincing. After seemingly endless coaxing, she reluctantly granted permission, albeit with detailed instructions of where not to go and what not to touch. It was a milestone of trust, and Mulder planned to take full advantage of it.
So here they were. Two men on a mission. Father and son. Unsupervised.
The weight of paternal responsibility hit Mulder like a blazing meteorite dropped from a clear blue sky. He should be doing something fatherly, shouldn't he? Preparing his son for life in a harsh world, imparting sage advice.
"Wanna write our names in the snow?"
William spun to look back at the door with worried eyes. "Mama?"
Kenna was there, watching them through the frosty window. She gave a half-hearted wave.
"So much for trust." Mulder reached out to help William navigate the slippery steps. "Need a hand, son?"
"No." William turned and crawled down the stairs backward. When he reached the bottom, he scooped a palm-full of snow into his mouth.
"How's it taste?" Mulder asked.
William zigzagged across the yard. The snow came up to his knees. He turned often to check his progress. "Boots." He pointed out his footprints to Mulder.
"I see." Mulder's own trail looked inhuman, an unsightly scar in the otherwise pristine snowscape. His bad leg dragged like the Mummy's in a bad B-movie. Fate had transformed him into one of the mutants he used to hunt.
William plowed forward in a new direction and Mulder patiently followed, letting the boy explore to his heart's content. There was no reason to rush. Nothing urgent needed doing.
Over the last three days Mulder and Gibson had canvassed Arrowhead for supplies. They'd collected food, clothing, diapers, toiletries, tools, oil lamps and candles. Two kerosene heaters from neighboring homes now warmed the Quealys' kitchen and living room. Extra fuel was stored in gas cans in the garage. Every closet in the house contained a loaded shotgun or rifle, and every closet door had a newly installed latch to keep the weapons safely out of William's reach. Broken windows had been repaired, drafts plugged, doors and windows secured. As far as was humanly possible, they had readied themselves for the coldest months of winter.
Assuming they lived to see spring, Mulder planned to leave Arrowhead to search for Scully when the weather permitted safe travel again. Until then, he would get to know William better, win his trust.
And figure out how to tell Kenna she wasn't needed anymore.
William paused at the corner of the house, reluctant to wander around back where the vegetable garden was located. "Babies?" he asked, concern peaking his faint brows.
"No babies, son."
It was a lie of sorts. William had watched Mulder and Gibson bury the Quealys in the garden two days ago. The boy had repeatedly referred to the bodies of the Quealy children as babies. He became quite distraught when Mulder began shoveling dirt over them. Kenna had had to take him inside. It took two chocolate Ring Dings to quiet him.
"No turnips either."
William resumed his exploration. He trudged the length of the driveway, circled around several squat, ornamental evergreens, waded to the mailbox.
Eventually, with occasional reminders about their purpose and repeated directional guidance from Mulder, they arrived at the well.
The pump rose up out of the snow like a submarine periscope in a frothy sea.
"Me do." William grasped the handle.
"Sure. I'll help you."
Together they filled the buckets.
Back inside the house, they played a game of "Cups and Balls" at the kitchen table while Kenna heated the water. William sat in Mulder's lap. Gibson sank into the chair opposite them to watch. A small pile of raisins between them provided edible "balls" for the game.
Mulder hid a raisin beneath one of three kid-sized plastic drinking cups. He shuffled the cups and asked, "Where is it?"
William selected the correct cup and Mulder let him eat his winnings.
"Don't feed him too many of those," Kenna said. "I told you before they give him diarrhea."
"One too few? Six too many?" Mulder made a "yikes" face and continued the game despite Kenna's warning.
This time William chose the cup to his left.
Mulder lifted it to reveal a raisin. "We have a winner."
"He's good at this," Gibson said.
William gobbled his prize. "Do 'gain!" he demanded.
Mulder made a show of hiding the raisin and shuffling the cups.
Without hesitation, William pinned his finger to the one on the right.
"Sorry, son. Guess this one is mine." Mulder showed him the raisin under the center cup.
William grabbed it.
"Hey, that's mine." Mulder pouted, pretending to be upset. "Gimme."
William's head wagged.
"But I'm soooo hungry. Pleeeease?" Mulder opened his mouth.
William considered for a moment, then relented. He twisted in Mulder's lap and dropped the raisin onto his tongue.
Mulder mugged for him, puffing his cheeks and crossing his eyes as if the raisin tasted terrible. William reacted by laughing out loud, a delightful chuckle that was unexpectedly deep for a child so young.
Mulder's heart flip-flopped.
Did William understand the meaning of the word? Or was this like the last time, a child's innocent mistake?
Wanting...*needing*...to know, Mulder asked, "Who is dada?"
Before he could respond, Kenna scooped William from Mulder's lap. "Time for your nap, baby boy." She nuzzled his cheek.
"Mo' raisin," he said.
"No more." She glared at Mulder. "Water’s ready. Soap and shampoo’re beside the sink. Towels are on the end of the counter.”
She turned from Mulder and strode from the room, taking William with her.
Ca-Lo absently spun his knife on its point, drilling a shallow scar into the hard surface of his desk while he studied a high definition video clip on his computer monitor. The clip had been shot from a surveillance hovercraft less than an hour earlier. The quality was exceptional, revealing astonishing detail. A neglected ranch house, snow-covered yard, frosty water pump. And two hearty souls, bundled against the cold in coats and hats. Laughter steamed from wind-chapped lips as Fox Mulder helped a happy toddler pump water.
"The child is William, I assume," Ca-Lo said.
"Yes, sir." Major Harris's voice sizzled from the audio panel in Ca-Lo's desk.
The video clip reached its end and stopped. Ca-Lo hit replay. "Who took the pictures?"
"Lieutenant Bradford. Good man. Trustworthy."
"I trust no one, Harris." Especially not you, he added mentally, not caring that his old Watcher could read his thoughts across the miles between them.
"The point is moot in Bradford's case, Ca-Lo. He met with an unfortunate accident right after he forwarded the clip. His shuttle suffered a malfunction. He's dead."
Harris was covering his tracks. And this time his subterfuge would work in Ca-Lo's favor.
"Too bad," Ca-Lo said, not feeling at all sympathetic. "I want the boy. Bring him to me."
"What about his female caretaker? And Mulder's young friend Gibson Praise?"
Ca-Lo recognized the name. The adolescent was a modern day Missing Link, a genetic throwback who possessed the ability to read minds like the Nih-hi-cho. Such anomalies were rare, but not unheard of. Cassandra had mentioned this particular one. He had allegedly been part of a pet project of Ca-Lo's father.
Ca-Lo pinpointed Mulder's image with the tip of his knife. "Perhaps there will be another unfortunate accident."
Harris paused before responding.
Displeasing the Overseers carried serious consequences, as Ca-Lo had learned long ago. Harris's lesson -- five months in a Privation Chamber -- was recent enough to make the Watcher even more cautious than was his custom.
"Fate rests on the Red Dragon's back," he said at last, promising nothing.
"So they claim." Ca-Lo had stopped believing in benevolent deities years ago. Life had taught him there were no miracles. A man must steer his own fate.
"I have something else for you," Harris said.
"You found Dana."
"Yes. The retreating rebels led us straight to her."
"Where is she?"
"Utah-Wyoming border. Former state park. A place they call Safe Camp. My team is ready to go after her."
"No. Leave her to me."
"Order your men to hold off." The video came to its end again. William and Mulder froze mid-laugh. "Where are you now?"
"Low altitude over Arrowhead Creek."
"Good. Get the boy. I'll go after Dana."
There was no need to remind the old Watcher to be discreet. They were both working outside the Overseers' orders.
"As you wish, sir."
Harris signed off and Ca-Lo sat for several minutes staring at the image of his brother.
"Like looking in a mirror."
His knifepoint hovered in front of Mulder's face; he imagined carving Nih-hi-cho symbols into his brother's smooth cheek. The same marks as his own: Ca-Lo, the Destroyer.
He ran his fingers over his old scars, feeling their shallow indentations.
A Healer could be bribed to remove them. And change the color of his emerald eyes.
If he cut his hair, he would be indistinguishable from Fox Mulder.
A smile thinned his lips. He would pretend to be Mulder. He would enter the rebel's camp and bring Dana safely back to Tse'Bit'a'i', where he would marry her. While they celebrated their wedding night, his army would descend upon the terrestrial hideaway and destroy everything and everyone there.
Ca-Lo would raise Dana's son and his daughter together as brother and sister, under one roof. They would be a family, the first he had ever known.
He reached behind his neck, grabbed hold of his long hair and sawed through it with his knife.
"I'll make you love me, Dana," -- he tossed the tail of hair aside -- "as you have loved my brother."
Mulder pauses at the Quealys' kitchen door, shoulder pressed against the frame. An oil lamp on the table casts a sphere of flickering amber, which gilds the naked woman who is bent over the sink rinsing soap from her hair.
"Are you going to just stand there, Mulder, or are you going to pass me a towel?" Her tone is petulant. Her hand blindly explores the counter. The towel is beyond her reach.
The gentle curve of her spine brings tears to his eyes. It's Scully. Dear Scully. He has missed her.
He crosses the kitchen, no longer able to move with the stealth of a prowling cat; his leg pains him, but there is relief waiting just beyond his fingertips. He presses the towel into her hands and then strokes a droplet of water from the swell of her hip.
She chuckles. The sound delights him. She scrubs moisture from her hair, stirring up a clean scent that robs the strength from his knees. He cannot keep his hands off her when she grins up at him through terrycloth and wet curls, her pique gone, ardor sparkling in her eyes.
"Pinch me," he says, "so I know I'm not dreaming."
"I've got a better idea." She turns to face him, rises up on bare toes and presses a feather-light kiss to the cleft of his chin. Her breath warms his cheeks, tickles his neck. Her left breast is silk against his palm. "Make love to me," she whispers.
His stiffening cock offers no argument; it is pushing relentlessly against the denim of his jeans. He hoists her onto the counter and takes a position between her splayed knees. She is chuckling again. Dampness blossoms on his shirt where she rolls her wet head against his shoulder.
A familiar hunger grips him as he surveys her body with open palms, skimming her thighs, ribs, arms. His fingers weave into her tangled hair. He cups her cheek and leans in for a kiss. His tongue glides into her mouth. Deeply, he explores. Feels her swallow. Molds his hand to her throat and pushes her head back, exposes her neck and chest.
A bib of scar tissue brings him up short. Corrugated skin, striped white and pink, ringing her throat. Chin to collarbone. Breasts and nipples, miraculously perfect. Shit, it's Kenna in his arms, not Scully. How did he make this mistake?
Kenna blinks up at him with liquid eyes. "You don't have to stop."
He wants to keep going. He aches to be inside her.
"I can't... I shouldn't."
"It's not like you came looking for this," she parrots his earlier excuses. "It just happened. It doesn't mean anything."
"It's a fleeting physical attraction. Nothing more."
"But I love Scully."
"She gave your son to a stranger," she reminds him, lower lip pouting and seductive. Her fingers pluck at his waistband. "Just like your father gave your sister away. His own flesh and blood. A terrible thing to do."
How does she know these things? He hasn't told her about Sam. "Stop it."
"I would never abandon a child...*your* child." She leans close, nips at his neck and chin, covers his mouth with wet, warm lips.
Confusion knots his stomach. Panic ricochets along his nerves.
"Red alert, big guy," warns Frohike, startling Mulder so badly he stumbles backward into the kitchen table. A chair teeters and crashes to the floor.
"I didn't touch her," Mulder says, hands raised like a criminal.
Langly ogles Kenna. "You expect us to believe that?"
"He'll be trying to unload a few acres of Florida swampland next."
"Or London Bridge."
"You don't understand..." Mulder's throat closes. He can't breathe. Can't move.
"Playing with fire." Byers shakes his head.
"More like nitro. Scully's gonna be pissed, dude."
Frohike steps closer, frowning. "You hurt Scully and I'll kick your ass, Mulder."
Fingers tighten on Mulder's arm.
"Wake up." An urgent warning in his ear. "There's someone in the house."
* * *
Mulder jerked awake. He was lying on the living room sofa with Gibson leaning over him, one hand gripping his arm.
"In Kenna's room," Gibson said, not bothering to lower his voice. Concern knotted his customarily smooth brow. "He's alone, but he's armed."
"Shouldn't we be whispering?" Mulder swung his feet to the floor.
"He can hear our thoughts. He's alien."
"Shit." That meant they couldn't shoot him without exposing themselves to his toxic blood. "He wants William?"
Mulder lurched across the living room and down the hall, unsure what he was going to do when he got to Kenna's room, but hell-bent on protecting his son at any cost. Gibson followed after him, sneakers slapping as he ran.
They stopped just short of the threshold. The door was open and Kenna's bedside oil lamp was lit. It illuminated a short, human-looking man with gunmetal-gray hair and a deep facial scar. He stood an arm's length away from the bed. A handgun gleamed in a holster on his belt. A knife rode his thigh, strapped to his left leg just above the knee. He was dressed in a plain black uniform and glossy, knee-high boots, the same type of uniform Mulder had seen on the soldiers aboard Tse'Bit'a'i' at Shiprock.
The intruder cast a cloudy eye in Mulder and Gibson's direction. "Come in," he said, voice calm. He smiled, deepening the scar that cut through his blind eye. "I've been looking forward to making your acquaintance, Mr. Mulder."
Mulder peered past him to where Kenna sat stock-still on the bed. Her expression was glazed, as if in a trance. She held William tightly to her chest.
William's eyes were wide with fear, but he remained quiet, thumb stuffed in his mouth, his other hand clinging to the fabric of Kenna's shirt.
"Who are you?" Mulder demanded.
"Ask your gifted young friend." The intruder's gaze flickered to Gibson.
"You've come for my son," Mulder said. "Why?"
"To take him back to Tse'Bit'a'i'."
The alien ship. Rock with Wings.
Mulder's fists tightened. "Over my dead body."
The intruder shrugged. "Your choice." Then, studying Mulder's face with obvious curiosity, he said, "Amazing. Human cloning was in its infancy forty years ago, the process was highly unpredictable, yet look at you. Your resemblance to your brother is extraordinary."
The image of Jeffrey Spender's ravaged face arose in Mulder's mind. "My brother is dead."
Disdain curled the intruder's lips. "Not that weakling," he said, obviously reading Mulder's thoughts. "That one possessed neither the skill nor the fortitude to lead the Nih-hi-cho Armada. I'm talking about Ca-Lo, your 'twin.' "
The officer aboard the alien craft at Shiprock. The man with the long hair and tattooed face.
The intruder chuckled and his focus slithered to William. "With proper training, your son will one day take his uncle's place as the leader of our great Armada."
Mulder stepped forward, intent on wringing the man's neck. Lightening fast, the intruder drew his gun.
"I wouldn't try anything rash if I were you, Mr. Mulder. There is the safety of innocent bystanders to consider."
William stopped sucking his thumb and the room fell silent.
"You son of a bitch," Mulder ground between clenched teeth. "Touch my son and you won't live to see the outside of this room."
"Careful, Mulder," Gibson warned. "He can read your mind. He has the advantage."
"You would be wise to listen to your young friend," the intruder said. "You cannot win a fight against me. I will know your every move before you--"
Mulder lunged and shouldered the intruder hard into the wall, grazing the nightstand. The oil lamp wobbled. Mulder's hands closed around the gun. He struggled to free it from the other man's steely grip.
"Get them out of here!" he shouted to Gibson.
Gibson moved to the bed and tugged Kenna's arm. She sat frozen. The baby began to whimper.
The intruder grasped the gun with formidable strength. His short stature and middle-aged features belied inhuman power. He bullied Mulder backward across the room. Slammed him into the wall. Mulder's arms shook with effort as he tried to gain control of the weapon and point its deadly barrel toward the ceiling or floor...any direction where it couldn't harm his son.
Inch by inch the alien leveled the gun at Mulder's heart.
William's whimpers turned into wails. "Dada!" he screeched.
The gun fired, startlingly loud. Its ringing report echoed like thunder in the small room.
Mulder felt no stabbing pain, no fiery hole in his chest. The bullet had miraculously missed him. But where had it gone?
"William?" he shouted.
An evil smile split the intruder's face as he raised the gun beneath Mulder's chin.
"Say your goodbyes, Mr. Mul--"
A spray of broken glass, hot oil and flames exploded behind the intruder. His eyes went wide. He spun to face Gibson, who had hurled the oil lamp and hit him dead center between the shoulder blades.
The stinging, noxious odor of alien blood flooded the room. The intruder's back was on fire. The flames traveled quickly, spreading up and down his entire body, igniting his hair, his clothes, melting his flesh. His green blood boiled. Caustic steam rose from his shoulders and his head as his arms flailed. He staggered on buckling knees.
"Help me!" he screamed.
Losing his balance, he toppled onto the bed. The fire mushroomed. Sheets and blankets burst into flame.
"Everyone out!" Mulder shouted. His lungs burned. Painful tears blurred his vision.
He hauled Kenna and William from the bed, away from the fire. Her eyes were red-rimmed and gummy from the alien's poisonous blood, but her dazed expression was gone, replaced by fierce determination. She sprinted barefoot across the smoldering carpet, oblivious to the broken glass and blazing oil.
Gibson followed her into the hall.
Mulder held his breath against the deadly smoke and took one last look at the alien. The creature was no longer recognizable. Nothing but a puddle of viscous, bubbling ooze remained atop the burning mattress.
The room was ablaze. Tongues of fire leapt from the bedding to the drapes. The wallpaper was curling, turning black. Choking on fumes, Mulder lurched from the room and slammed the door shut behind him.
"We can't stay here." He steered Kenna down the hall. "This place is going to be nothing but cinders in a matter of minutes." Smoke rolled out from beneath the closed bedroom door.
"Let’s go then," she said, stumbling on bleeding feet. She cradled William against her shoulder and tried to hush his frantic cries as she headed for the front entry, where the coats hung by the door. She grabbed William's snowpants and coat from their peg.
In minutes, all four were out of the house, dressed for the cold, with food, water and weapons in hand. Mulder held William in the crook of one arm. He tried to shelter him from the worst of the bitter cold by facing away from the swirling snow. An ominous wind whistled over the house, carrying smoke and sparks into the black night.
"Anyone remember to call a cab?" he asked, wondering how the hell the alien had gotten to Arrowhead Creek.
That's when he saw it. A circular depression in the snow, undisturbed by the bitter wind. He walked around it, careful to keep his distance in case the ship was still there, cloaked to make it invisible. He remembered how violently the force field in Bellefleur had vibrated his arm when he touched it and he didn't want William inadvertently sticking his hand in.
"It's there, isn't it?" he asked Gibson.
"Anyone on board?"
"His friends will be looking for him."
"What are we going to do?" Kenna asked.
Mulder turned away from the hidden ship. Even if it were visible, they wouldn't know how to operate it. "Looks like we're walking."
"We could take your motorcycle, couldn't we?" Kenna shivered in the cold.
The Scout could hold two, plus the baby, but not all four of them. And whoever was left behind stood little chance against an alien search party.
"Take it, Mulder," Gibson said, reading his mind. "I can stay here."
"I'll know when they're coming. I'll be all right."
"I said no." No one was being left behind. "The snow is too deep for the bike anyway."
"How far are we going?" Kenna asked.
Mulder adjusted William's bulky knit hat and turned to Gibson. "Think we can find that Safe Camp you were talking about?"
Safe Camp, Utah
Skinner's 1983 LeSharo Winnebago had seen better days. The door swung loosely on rusted hinges, the interior smelled of mildew, and the dated upholstery was split and stained. Not quite twenty feet long, the RV provided scant room for one person, let alone three. Bench-style seating and a fold-down table crowded the tail end. A built-in double bed filled the forward section. Wedged in between were a kitchenette and shoebox-sized bathroom.
Dog-eared maps of North America covered the walls, windows and ceiling. They were marked with black circles, red Xs, blue lines. This was Skinner's "war room," before Scully moved in.
"These look like chemical burns," Scully said, examining Skinner's hands by candlelight in the cramped kitchenette. "Plasma fire?"
"Alien blood." He glanced at the bed where Dibeh was sleeping beneath a mound of blankets. "Is she going to be all right?"
"She has deep bruising on her back and arms where they beat her, and lacerations on her wrists from being tied. She was hypothermic, dehydrated and half starved."
After getting her warm, Scully had fed her the first meal she'd had in days. Spaghetti-Os. She ate three cans.
Scully gently spread antibacterial ointment over Skinner's right palm, the worst of the two. "Thank you for helping her."
"She isn't safe here, you know. They hate her, what she represents."
"Maybe when they get to know her--"
"They won't try. Not after the things they've seen."
"You've seen the same things, but you protected her."
"My reasons aren't as honorable as you might imagine. I stopped Burk for your sake, not hers."
"I don't believe that." She wrapped a clean bandage around his hand. "There's no sign of infection. Someone did a good job on this in the field."
"Blanchard. Our medic. She's dead."
Sorrow arrowed Scully as she taped the dressing. The emotion seemed excessive. She hadn't even known the medic. "I-I'm sorry."
He shrugged. "You look beat."
"I've been in surgery since dawn."
"That was twenty-two hours ago."
"When did *you* last sleep?"
"June, I think." He withdrew his hand from hers and opened a cupboard, removed a glass tumbler and a fifth of vodka. "I'd offer you a drink," he said, pouring a shot, "except..." He lifted his glass to her swollen belly.
The baby somersaulted inside her as he downed his drink and refilled his glass.
"You okay?" she asked.
He tossed the second shot to the back of his throat. The glass clunked loudly against the counter when he set it down. "I'm fine. A little tired, is all. I'm going to go, let you get some sleep."
He turned toward the door.
"Wait." She placed a hand on his arm, stopping him. "Please...don't go."
His lower jaw worked side-to-side as he considered. "You need rest."
"You're not the only one with insomnia."
He nodded. "Okay. But just for one more round." He collected his glass and the vodka and moved to the table. He sat heavily on the bench and poured another drink, slowly this time, purposely, as if trying to savor the action, the smell, the sound.
She took the seat opposite him. A roadmap of the American Southwest separated them. While he sipped his drink, she traced Route 666 to Shiprock with the pad of her ring finger.
“He never forgave me," she blurted. The unexpected confession caused her to blush. She hadn't intended to reveal her argument with Mulder.
Confusion deepened his scowl. "He?"
"Mulder." She shouldn't go into it. There was nothing Skinner could do to ease the hurt in her heart. Yet despite her reservations, she heard herself explaining. "He...he was angry about William.”
Skinner shook his head. “You’re wrong. He forgave you.”
“No. We fought the last time...” She struggled to maintain her composure and failed. Tears stung her eyes. This was exactly why she had wanted to avoid the discussion. “He blamed me. I blamed him. It was foolish.”
“No. He forgave you at Mount Weather, when I first told him about it.”
A hunger for the truth burned in her. “What...what did he say?”
“At first...he cried."
A tear skidded down her right cheek. She quickly wiped it away. "He did?"
"He loved William. You know that."
"What I did...it hurt him terribly."
"Maybe, but he was worried about you, how you were handling it. He blamed himself for not being there with you. For not helping protect you and William."
Skinner's version of events didn't mesh with her own. Mulder had accused her of sending him away for selfish reasons. He had insisted she was relieved when he left, that she didn’t want the responsibility, that she still didn’t.
Out of sight, out of mind, he'd said.
"I convinced him to go into hiding." Her voice wavered and the tears fell. "I tried to tell myself he was out of harm's way. I could sleep for the first time in months, imagining he was safe."
"But he wasn't safe."
"Don't do this."
"He was never safe. Not anywhere. And William wasn't either." Her decision had been a drastic mistake. How could she have been so misguided? "He was a miracle, Mulder's and my one and only miracle. And I gave him away. Mulder has every right to hate me."
Skinner's focus dropped to the swell of her belly. "One miracle? Looks to me like you and Mulder were granted a second chance."
"Walter..." She couldn't meet his eyes. "My baby... I'm not sure..."
Skinner misunderstood her fears. He reached out and stroked her cheek.
"I'm not him...I'm not Mulder. And I'm not trying to take his place, but...I am here. I can take care of you."
She drew away from his caress.
"Don't get the wrong idea," he said, "I just want to help you, protect you...and your baby. Nothing more."
From the sadness in his eyes, she could tell he thought Mulder was already dead.
Her heart ached with tearing pain.
There would be no quartz contentment for her, she realized. No letting go, no Hour of Lead. She was unable to shed her sorrow and guilt, or cast off her conscience.
For as long as she lived, she would weep for William and yearn for Mulder.
And she would never again give up on either of them.
"They're alive, Walter. I believe that. Help me find them. Please."
Continued in Book VII...
"After great pain, a formal feeling comes"
by Emily Dickinson
After great pain, a formal feeling comes --
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs --
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?
The Feet, mechanical, go round --
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought --
A Wooden way
A Quartz contentment, like a stone --
This is the Hour of Lead --
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow --
First -- Chill -- then Stupor -- then the letting go --
AR Table of Contents