Sunday, 15 April 2012

Arcanum - Part Two


December 25th 2011
Route 57, Virginia 
3:33 a.m.


They had been driving for nearly four hours now.  Fox Mulder was tired, but the little girl in the passenger seat, with the gun resting casually in her lap, was enough to keep him anxious and alert.  He risked another glance at her.  The awful, sickly feeling within him flared up again.  It was Samantha, recognisably his sister – and yet it wasn’t her.  There was a dangerous predator lurking behind the girl’s eyes.  Mulder could feel it emanating from her like a psychic wave.
     He still wasn’t sure if the clone intended to kill him.  Back at the factory she’d saved him, in fact.  She had appeared like a wraith behind the crew-cut soldier and slit his throat with a hunting knife that seemed too big for her hand.  Mulder almost shuddered.  Despite the fact that she’d saved him, he recognized that he was far from safe with the murderous lookalike.
     “Where are we going?” he asked again, expecting to be ignored as before.  But this time she answered him.
     “We’re going to the place of the fairies.”
     After a moment, Mulder said carefully, “I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.”
     The girl in the hooded-sweatshirt didn’t bother looking at him.  She merely tightened her grip on the gun in her lap.
     “It’s a special place, a holy place.  Magic lives in the earth there.  There’s something you need to see.”
     Boldly, Mulder asked, “Why did you kill Agent Mercer?  He had a wife and daughter.  He was a good man.”
     A thin smile touched the little girl’s lips. “It was easier that way.”
     “Easier?”  He couldn’t hide the disgust in his voice.
     She turned in the seat and peered at him.  “Do you believe in fairies?”
     Mulder grimaced.  “I believe in a lot of things.”
     “So I’ve heard.  Do you believe in genetic memory?  Do you think it’s possible?”
     Mulder stayed silent.
     “You know, they made me faster, stronger…more intelligent.  But I remember things that never happened.  I feel things that she felt.  I–”
     “Stop,” Mulder said tersely, hands gripping the steering wheel.
     She continued unabated.  “I remember when the Lights came.  I remember when they took her.  I used to dream about it.  I felt her fear.  She was so scared.  And remember you, Fox.  You always used to tease me, but I knew you loved me.  HerLoved her.”
     “Please stop talking,” Mulder almost pleaded.
     There was silence in the car for a few moments.  Finally the hooded girl said quietly, sadly, “You think I’m a monster.  I guess I am.”



Fairy Stone State Park, Virginia.  
5:20 a.m.


The girl had told Mulder that they needed to hike the rest of the way to avoid rangers and security patrols.  The Christmas sky was still black, but dawn wasn’t far away.  They had been hiking through the dark forests for nearly forty-five minutes now.  The scent of moss and pine and vegetation carried on the breeze.  The girl was incredibly agile and sure-footed, often scampering ahead and glancing back mockingly.  Mulder kept a careful eye on the gun in her hand.  Eventually the trees opened up into a clearing; a small gully littered with strange-looking stones.  They were odd, pale shapes in the moonlight. 
     Mulder squatted and picked one up.  The stone was shaped like a St. Andrew’s Cross…or an X.  It appeared almost artificial but there seemed to be hundreds of them scattered across the gully floor.
     “What are these?”
     He glanced up and saw the girl wandering back towards him.  “It’s a Crux Dessucata. A Fairy Stone.  A long, long time ago a group of fairies were playing in a spring near here.  But a strange messenger came and told the fairies that Christ had been killed at Golgotha.  When they heard about the Crucifixion they wept for days, and their tears crystallized to form those stones.”
     There was a strange presence in the forests with them.  Mulder could feel it.  He slipped the fairy stone into the inside pocket of his leather jacket.  The hooded girl noticed and smiled.  He rose to his feet again, glancing from the girl’s face to the gun in her hand.
     “How much further?”
     She jabbed her thumb over her shoulder.  “Just over that hill.”
     As Mulder climbed the terrain he wondered if this was how death would come to him, finally.  Was this his destiny, to be executed by a psychotic little girl that was the spitting image of his sister?  He didn’t want to muse on the dark poetry of that possibility.  Instead he pictured Scully’s face; her clear, intelligent eyes, her sensuous mouth that he had kissed a thousand times.  He tried to hold on to that image as he and the girl crested the hill.  The forest was more dense here, even darker, hidden away from any obvious hiking trail.
     The girl strolled over to a specific spot and stopped.  She motioned with the gun for Mulder to join her.  He approached cautiously.
     “Can you feel it?” she asked.
     Through gritted teeth he said, “Feel what?”
     Instead of answering him she wandered over to a nearby tree, knelt and removed something from the undergrowth – a cloth-wrapped bundle.  She unwrapped it, wandered back over, and tossed the shovel at Mulder’s feet.  His stomach clenched like a fist as he stared down at it.
     The hooded girl cocked the hammer of the gun in her hand, pointed it square at his chest and said, “Start digging.”           


*


J Edgar Hoover building
Washington D.C.  
6:02 a.m.


Dana Scully stood at the windows of Assistant Director Skinner’s office, watching as dawn began breaking across the skies over Washington.  All across the city presents were waiting under trees, to be unwrapped by eager children.
     Skinner was peering at her from behind his desk, his shirtsleeves rolled up, his collar unbuttoned and his tie in a pile on the desktop.
     For the third time that morning, with compassion in his eyes, Skinner said, “Go home, Dana.”  She ignored him.  “I’ve got good agents looking everywhere. Everything that can be done is being done.  You shouldn’t have to spend Christmas day like this…”
     Scully looked at him.  “My partner, my boyfriend, is missing…possibly dead.  I’m not leaving until I know he’s safe.”
     Skinner nodded and Scully noticed a sad smile on his lips.  “What?” she said, sounding harsher than she’d meant to.
     “I just…I’ve never heard you refer to Mulder as your boyfriend before.”
     “Well, we never got married, so…”
     “It makes you sound like high-school sweethearts,” Skinner said quietly.  And then, “No way is Mulder dead.  I think that guy is unkillable.”
     Despite her fear, Skinner’s kind words raised a small smile.  She didn’t believe it but it was comforting to hear.
     Skinner went on, “I know you’re scared.  But think of all the crazy stuff we’ve been through.  If there’s anyone who could beat the odds, I’d put all my money on Fox Mulder.”
     “Thank you,” said Scully. 
     Skinner was about to say something more when the office door opened.  Monica Reyes and Sasha Thorne stepped into the room.  Monica had her arm around Agent Thorne’s waist, supporting her.
     “What did the shrink say?” asked Skinner.
     With a cynical smile the tall black agent said, “She booked me some sessions with the guy down at Richmond, and reminded me that counselling is mandatory after an experience like this.  Apparently, getting kidnapped by religious whackos can be psychologically debilitating.”
    With a glance and a smile full of relief, Monica said, “Dr Calder has no idea how tough this chick is.”
     “Testify,” said Agent Thorne, dark humour in her eyes.
     The two of them came and sat in the chairs opposite Skinner’s desk.  Scully didn’t move from her position by the windows.  The mood in the office quickly became heavy again.  Scully could feel it.  They were all worried for her.  She couldn’t bare the silence, but had nothing more to say.
     “No word from the agents downstairs?” Monica asked finally.
     Skinner shook his head.  “They’re trying.  I had some of the Divisions set up checkpoints at the obvious places, but…I think we might’ve already missed them.”
     “Monica sighed.  “Jesus…the X Files.  I almost forgot how dark it all was.”
     “I didn’t,” said Scully, and all eyes turned to her.  “Not only is Mulder missing after just a day in D.C., but we’re also still no closer to understanding why all of this is happening.”
     Monica spoke up.  “It’s all connected to what happened with Imogen Lanelli in Richmond.  But how and why; that’s the tricky part.”
     “I just want him back!” barked Scully in a tone so forceful it was almost a shout.  Looks of concern flitted between Monica, Skinner and Agent Thorne.
     “I’m sorry,” Skinner said quietly.  “I convinced Monica to get Agent Thorne to bring you out here.”
     Scully took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.  Then she said, “It’s not your fault.  The girl on the security footage, that killed Agent Mercer; this apparent clone of Mulder’s sister…you had no choice.”
     “I still feel like shit,” Skinner muttered.
     But Scully held back tears and said, “I think to get him back this time we might need a miracle…”
     With determination in her voice Monica said, “Well, it’s Christmas Day, it’s a time for miracles.”
     Scully tried to smile, and touched the little gold cross that hung at her throat.      


*


Fairy Stone State Park, Virginia.  
6:23 a.m.


Mulder had been digging for almost an hour, as dawn slowly broke above him.  Sweating profusely, he’d abandoned his jacket by the side of the hole.  The hole was now waist-high and he scowled as he looked up at the hooded girl with the gun in her hand.  Every time he looked at her face, and saw Samantha, his chest tightened.  In the cold, grey daylight it seemed even stranger.
     “Is there a problem?” she spat, irritation and amusement in her eyes.
     “You know what?” said Mulder.  “To hell with you.  If you’re gonna shoot me, then just shoot me.  But I think I’m done with digging my own grave.” 
     He tossed the shovel at his feet in defiance, and it hit the soft earth with an odd clunk.  He glanced down and saw something.  Squatting in the hole, he brushed some of the earth away.  He realized what he was looking at; the bones of a human hand.  The bones of a child’s hand.
     Peering back up at the girl, Mulder barked, “What is this?  Why did you bring me here!”
     A look of horror and sadness settled on the girl’s face.  Mulder saw tears begin to roll down her cheeks.  “My…my sisters.  Oh, God…I’m sorry…”
     She tossed the gun into the trees and suddenly leapt into the hole.   She was immediately on her knees beside Mulder, sobbing and clawing at the Earth.  For a moment Mulder just stood there, and all he could hear was the genuine pain of a traumatised child.  He dropped to his knees and began digging with her.  And suddenly there were bones all around them, and the hooded girl was cradling a skull in her hands.  She peered into its empty sockets, where eyes had once been, and wept.
     “They brought us here, all the Sixth-Gen clones.  My sisters…and they made us dig our graves…made us kneel beside it…and…”  The girl was shaking now, her eyes wild.  “…and they shot us in the back of the head.  I don’t…I don’t know why I was the only one who survived…”
     Suddenly the girl dropped the skull and lunged at Mulder, hugging him fiercely.  Mulder could do nothing but cradle her awkwardly in the bottom of the hole.  Tears found their way into his eyes too.  He stared at the skull peering up at him accusingly.  He was sitting in a mass grave…a grave that contained the dead bodies of his sister.  And then Mulder was sobbing too.


7: 54 a.m.     


They were sitting in the car again, covered in mud and dirt.  They had refilled the grave and hiked back through the forests, avoiding the tourist trails.  Now, sitting in the driver seat, Mulder felt strangely empty.  He hadn’t cried like that in a long time.  Neither had the hooded girl, apparently.  The atmosphere between them had changed.  She had no gun, and Mulder realized the clone was a deeply-wounded predator.  He felt connected to her now, and it frightened him.
     Quietly she said, “Do you remember my sixth birthday?  When you mushed cake into my hair?  I remember crying that day, but by bedtime I was giggling about it.  I can’t believe that memory doesn’t even really belong to me…”
     “I remember,” said Mulder.
     “At the base they were always testing us.  Strength, agility, intelligence.  I was assigned as the in-house handler.  Do you know what that means?”
     Mulder shook his head, and peered through the window at the trees by the roadside.  The forests seemed preternaturally quiet now.
     “It means that I was Big Sister.  That’s why they gave me Samantha’s name.  The others just had numbers.  I remember Three; she was the weakest.  She had a lot of internal genetic deformities.  The doctors called her the runt of the batch.  We were especially close.  I told Three that I would keep her safe.  She trusted me…”
     Mulder could see that tears were threatening to burst from her again, but she kept it inside.
     He took a long breath and said, “The others like you that I’ve encountered…when they died they just…dissolved…into a greenish mess.”  He swallowed at the awfulness of what he was saying.
     Darkly, the girl said, “Fourth-Gen clones or earlier.  A design flaw; cellular dissolution begins from the moment the consciousness leaves the body.  But the Fifth and Sixth-Gens are permanent.  We don’t melt away like vampires when you kill us.  We rot in graves like everybody else.”
     “Except you,” muttered Mulder.
     She nodded.  “Except me.  I dug my way out of that grave.  The bullet must have glanced off my skull somehow.  I was buried alive, and all I could hear was my heart pounding.  I thought I was going to suffocate.  When I finally got out, the kill-team was already gone.  But they won’t be hurting anyone now.”
     Mulder looked at her.  She gave him a proud, dark smile.  He understood what she meant.
     “They’re afraid of me,” she said, and grinned.  “The men that rule this country; they tried to kill me and they failed.  And now they’re afraid.  They know what I’m capable of.  And they haven’t managed to stop me yet.”
     There was silence in the car for a while.  Mulder closed his eyes and tried to let the torrent of powerful mixed emotions pass through him.
     “I’ve missed you, Fox,” he heard the girl say.
     “I’ve missed you too.”  It was a horrible, wrong thing to feel; to see his sister in this murderous child, but he couldn’t think of anything more authentic to say. 
     He felt her put her hand in his.  He thought about the bones in the grave.  Girls that had once all worn the face of his sister.  He knew the real Samantha was at peace, in that starlight realm he had witnessed in a vision many years ago…but it didn’t make this any less gut-wrenching.
     “Jesus Christ,” he murmured, eyes still closed.
     “I’m sorry that I killed Agent Mercer.  But I’ve killed innocent people before.  And I’m going to do it again, Fox.  I don’t live in your world.  My mind doesn’t work like it should.  I’m…I’m broken inside.  And I now I just…I just don’t care who I hurt.”
     “What do you care about?”
     “Revenge, I suppose.”
     Mulder opened his eyes and looked at her, pulling his hand away.  “Sam, revenge will eat you alive.  Believe me, I know.”
     She smiled sadly at him.  “That’s the first time you’ve called me by my name.”
     Mulder remained silent, trying to sort through his mixed feelings of compassion and repulsion for this girl.
     “You know, the fairies and the angels and some of the ghosts…they talk about you, Fox.  They call you Seeker of the Crossroads.  Some of them even call you God of the Doorway.  You’re a celebrity.”
     “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mulder said softly.
     “Of course you do.  You don’t have to pretend with me, Fox.  Listen to me now.  Those men back at the factory…those supersoldiers.  They’re going to hunt you down, because they think you have information about T.E.C.  They won’t stop.  They think if they can gather enough data about it, they’ll be able to use it to begin the End of Days.  And maybe they can.  You need to kill them.”
     “How?”
     “I have no idea.  But they’ll keep coming until you do.”
     Mulder peered at her again.  “And what is T.E.C.?”
     “It’s a black project run by the NSA.  I think it’s the beginnings of…of what will eventually become the project that sends Imogen Lanelli back through time.”
     Mulder sighed and pressed a hand to his eyes.  “How do you know all this?”
     “Because if I didn’t I’d be dead by now.  Knowledge is power.”  She narrowed her eyes and said, “Look, Agent Mercer was a dead man anyway.  Those two guys in the factory, they were planning to kill him.  He was getting too close, and they were angry.  Kill-teams had already murdered the rest of the Scythe of St. John.  I just got to him first.  He had information that I needed.”
     “And what about the militia’s leader?” asked Mulder.  “You killed him too.”
     She shook her head.  “No, no, I didn’t do that.  That was a trick.  They’re just trying to confuse you, waste your time.”
     “I need to inform the FBI about that grave.”
     The girl seemed to swallow her sadness at the mention of it.  “Good.  My sisters deserve a proper burial.  If we’re still alive when we get back to Washington, I’ll leave…and you can tell them what you want.”
     “If we’re still alive?”
     “I told you, those supersoldiers will be looking for us.  I dropped one with a machine gun, and I slit the other’s throat.  I don’t think they’ll be pleased about that.”
     Mulder tried to process the enormity of what was happening, but he felt strange.  He felt empty and agonisingly full at the same time.
     “Start the car,” said Sam.


*


J Edgar Hoover building
Washington D.C.  
10:54 a.m.   


Scully awoke with a start.  She had been dreaming about black oil moving and shifting silently across the floor of their bedroom.  She blinked repeatedly and gazed up into the smiling face of a handsome young agent. 
     “Sorry,” he said, “I didn’t realize you’d fallen asleep.”
     Scully widened her eyes to chase the sleep away, and looked down at the coffee and half-eaten sandwich on the tabletop in front of her.  She gazed around the large FBI cafeteria.  Cold grey daylight filled the windows at the far end.  She looked back up at the young agent peering down at her.
     “I’ve been up for a long time.  I must’ve just closed my eyes for a moment.”
     The agent smiled and shrugged.  “You don’t remember me do you?  James Clarke; I was one of your students back at Quantico.”
     Scully tried to remember but the sleep was still on her.  Finally she shook her head.  “I’m sorry.”
     “I knew it was you.  I’d recognise that red hair anywhere, Dr Scully.”
     Irritated, Scully reappraised him and recognized the familiar vibe of male attraction.  She was too groggy and worried to be flattered by it.
     “I’m married,” she said bluntly.
     The agent frowned and nodded, seeming confused.  “Uh, ok.  I didn’t mean…” Immediately Scully felt like a fool.  “I just wanted to say hi,” the agent said, looking clearly uncomfortable now.  “Have a good day, Dr Scully.”  He turned and walked swiftly away before Scully had a chance to apologize.
     Scully sighed and touched her coffee cup.  It was stone cold.  She hadn’t fallen asleep for just a moment.  Glancing up again, she saw Monica Reyes hurry into the FBI cafeteria and begin scanning faces.  Scully raised a hand.  Monica saw her and a big smile bloomed on her face as she jogged over to the table.
     “Dana…Mulder’s downstairs.  He’s ok.”
     Scully bolted to her feet as the tightness in her stomach finally opened.  Her heart was almost fluttering.

Downstairs, she saw him standing at the security checkpoint; covered in mud and dirt, looking for all intents and purposes like a crazy person. 
     She grinned and raced over to him, throwing her arms around him.  When she finally managed to pull away and look into his eyes, he gave her a lop-sided smile and said, “Sorry I’m late.  Got kidnapped.  You know how it is.”
     Scully laughed and could feel the tears in her eyes.  She kissed him deeply.  When she pulled away for the second time she said, “What happened?”
     Despite his attempt to make light of the situation she could sense the disturbance in him.  She could see it in his eyes.  Now she felt her joy quickly becoming something darker and heavier.
     “Supersoldiers.  Dr Igani’s dead.”
     “We know.  D.C. police found the car you were in.”
     “Scully, the girl from the security footage was there.  She saved my life.  And then she orders me at gunpoint to drive down into Virginia.  I…”
     And Scully wondered if the girl had somehow known where they lived.  The thought chilled her.  Tenderly, Scully touched a hand to Mulder’s cheek and whispered, “What?”
     “We found…we found a grave, Scully.  Filled with the bones of children.  Clones, like her.”
     It took only a moment for Scully to comprehend the ramifications of what her lover was saying.  The thought of how awful it must have been for him – it almost made her heart break.
     In another whisper she said, “I’m so sorry, baby…
     Mulder inhaled deeply at the intimacy and nodded.  “The FBI needs to know.  Skinner needs to send a team out there.”
     Suddenly, Scully’s cell phone was ringing.  She fished it from the pocket of her blazer.  Skinner was calling.
     “Is Mulder with you?”
     Scully swallowed and said, “Yeah, he’s right here.  We’re downstairs, at security.”
     “Is he ok?”
     Scully glanced at the dried mud on his jeans, t-shirt and jacket.  “He’s ok, thank God.”
     “You both need to get back up here, now.  I just got a call from the morgue.  It seems this Dr Joseph Igani…his body’s gone missing.”
     Scully’s eyes went wide and Mulder noticed.  “Did the morgue cameras record any intruders?”
     With a weary, bewildered tone that Scully recognised, Skinner said, “It seems as though Dr Igani may have simply walked out of the pathology lab…”
     Scully frowned.  “Wait, what?  But…you told me that he was shot in the head at close range…”
     She heard Skinner chuckle humourlessly.  “Yeah, well…I guess the X Files is unofficially reopened.  Just get up here.  You need to see the tape.”

In the elevator, Scully reiterated what Skinner had just told her.  Mulder didn’t seem too surprised.  He just raised his eyebrows and nodded.  She was really worried about him now.  She could feel the familiar, almost psychotic intensity throbbing within him.  This new feeling had already killed the relief and joy of getting him back safely.  Everything was happening so fast.  Yesterday morning at home with Mulder seemed like a month ago.  She didn’t know what to say to him, except tell him that she loved him.
     “I love you.  One step at a time, ok?”
     He nodded silently and smiled, trying to disarm her.  But still she was worried.
     As they stepped into Skinner’s office, the Assistant Director was already cueing something on the flat-screen monitor mounted on the far wall.  Monica and Agent Thorne were seated in chairs at a small conference table in the far corner of the room.  They gave Mulder warm looks of relief.  He nodded at them in acknowledgment. Skinner turned and peered at Mulder.
     “Ok?” he asked simply.
     “As ever,” Mulder replied with equal brevity.
     “Good.  You need to watch this.  They just emailed it over.”
     He jabbed the sleek remote in his hand at the monitor.  A crisp, colour image appeared; a high-angled shot of a brightly-lit pathology lab.  A row of three silver tables, the middle one occupied by the body of a tall black man.  Scully couldn’t see the details of his face too clearly but she felt the flush of recognition. 
     And then the corpse sat up on the table.  The image immediately went dark.  Scully glanced wide-eyed at Mulder.  “Well, that’s a hell of a thing,” he muttered.
     Skinner gave him a sour smile.  “All the cameras in the building went dark at that moment.  None of the night-staff saw him leave, or anything unusual.  They only realized an hour later that the body was gone.”  He glanced between Scully and Mulder.  “Just like old times, huh?”
     Scully couldn’t shake the feeling of recognition.  “Did they send you any close-up photos of the body?” she asked, not quite knowing what she was expecting to notice.
     Skinner pressed a few buttons on the remote, and an image of the dead man’s face appeared on the screen.  The top right side of his head had been blown away, but his face was relatively unmarred.  Scully’s blood went cold when she realized who she was looking at.
     Her gaze shot to Mulder.  “This is the guy that you spoke to?  This is Dr Igani?”
     Mulder narrowed his eyes and nodded.
     Scully felt ice-cold.  She couldn’t comprehend the scope of what was happening any more, but she forced herself to say the words.  “Back when I travelled to Africa, to take rubbings from the craft that the fishermen found…I…that man is the witchdoctor I saw.  The shaman that appeared in the car with me…Oh my God…”
     Mulder suddenly seemed more present now.   “Some truths are not for you,” he said, echoing the shaman’s words from all those years ago.  Scully nodded; she could never forget it.  The event, like so many on the X Files, had been permanently etched into her mind.
     “I remember you telling me about it,” Monica said suddenly.  Scully turned round and looked at her.  She had totally forgotten that Monica and Agent Thorne were seated at the conference table.  She looked back at the face on the screen. Skinner switched to a wider shot that revealed the man’s torso.
     “It’s him,” said Scully.  “He looks a lot more muscular, stronger…but it’s him.”
     Skinner seemed baffled.  “But what does that mean…?”
     “I have no idea,” muttered Scully.
     Skinner carelessly tossed the remote onto his desk.  “Jesus, this keeps getting better and better.  I’ve got a dead FBI agent, murdered by a child that’s apparently a clone.  A dead doctor who obviously isn’t dead…and now you’re telling me that he might also be some kind of mystical African witchdoctor.  This really is like old times.”
     With unnerving calm, Mulder said, “Walter, you dragged us out here again because you thought we could be useful.  If you want, you can just turn this whole mess over to the agents downstairs.  See how far you get.”
     Skinner laughed darkly and glanced at him.  “I missed having you around, Agent Mulder.  It’s always a party when you’re in town.”  He seemed to be only half-joking.
     Mulder glanced at Scully and then back at Skinner.  “Walter, listen to me…I’ve got a strange feeling about all this.  Nothing makes any sense.  I think…I think something really bad is about to happen…and we’re running out of time to stop it.”
     Skinner pressed a hand to his eyes and took a deep breath.  “Any ideas?”
     “I think it’s something to do with this Scythe of St. John.  I was just kidnapped by two of their members…two supersoldiers.”
     Skinner looked sharply at him.
     Mulder went on, “This girl who looks like my sister, she saved me.”
     Scully stood there as Mulder recounted the story of finding the grave filled with the bones of other children like her.  Skinner listened, growing ever more horrified.  By the end of it he was standing there grimacing.  Scully could see that Mulder’s words had broken though his normal professionalism. 
     With a look of deep sadness in his eyes, Skinner said finally, “I’m really sorry, Fox.  That’s awful.  I don’t know what else to say…”
     Scully noticed the pinched expressions on Monica and Agent Thorne’s faces.  The story had gotten under their skin too.
     “I don’t think those supersoldiers are the last two members of this militia,” said Mulder.  “I think there are others out there.  Whoever tried to wipe them out failed miserably and now they’re pissed…”  Looks of trepidation were exchanged around the room.  “And this girl said that these supersoldiers were planning to kill Agent Mercer because he was getting too close to something.  But she got to him first.”
     “Why?” Skinner asked angrily.  “Why did she kill him if she’s not connected to this militia?”
     “She wouldn’t tell me that,” Mulder replied. “But, she’s not sane.  She’s a psychopath; a very damaged little girl.  I think whoever created her did terrible things to her.”
     Agent Thorne spoke for the first time since Scully and Mulder had entered the office.  “I guess being shot in the back of the head and digging yourself out of your own grave is enough to drive anyone crazy, let alone a twelve year old child.”
     Skinner sighed.  “Christ, this is spectacularly bad.  So, what do we do?  If there are other Scythe members out there, planning something…what’s our next step?”
     “We need to alert FEMA and Homeland,” said Agent Thorne.  “We need to let them know we have intel about a possible domestic terror attack, an imminent attack.”
     Mulder nodded at the agent’s words and then turned his attention to Scully.  “I think these supersoldiers will try to come after us.  We’re safest here, I think.”
     Scully nodded but she couldn’t get the image of the African witchdoctor out of her mind.  What did it mean that this Dr Igani appeared to be the same man?  She had tried over the years to accept the notion that the witchdoctor had simply been a feverish hallucination brought on by the hot African climate, but she knew such an explanation didn’t ring true at the heart of her. 
     “Ok,” said Skinner with a defeated shrug.  “We alert FEMA and Homeland.  Merry Christmas, everyone.”


*

11:49 a.m.


Scully sat back down at the table and peered at Mulder, sliding the coffee and bagel towards him.  He looked down at it blankly.  He looked practically insane sitting there covered in dirt and dried mud, a visitor’s pass clipped to his leather jacket.  Scully hadn’t seen him look this haunted in a long time.  It was frightening to see it in his eyes again.  The heaviness and darkness were back.
     “Just eat,” said Scully, gesturing at the coffee and bagel.  “You could do with the energy.  We’ve been up a long time.”
     Mulder nodded and fearlessly took a huge gulp of hot coffee.  Scully couldn’t help but wince. 
     He fixed her with a stare and said, “I’m worried that I might lose it, Scully.  That girl; Sam.  Finding those bodies.  I can feel my psyche all churned up.”  He took a deep breath and added, “I didn’t tell this to the others, but…this clone, she has memories that belong to Samantha.  She told me that she remembers events from my sister’s life.  It’s really messing with my head.”
     Scully considered his words, realizing how painful and confusing it must be, but she had no idea what to say to him.  Every comforting thing she could think of sounded trite in her mind. 
     She reached across the table, took his hand and squeezed it.  He gave her a boyish smile that was almost too tender to bare.  She could see his vulnerability, and he made no attempt to hide it from her.  She glanced around at the few agents in the cafeteria with them.  It was Christmas Day and the J Edgar Hoover building had only a fraction of its normal staff working.  Most of the agents would be at home with their families right now, preparing Christmas Dinner and hanging mistletoe above doorways.
     Mulder got up from the table and said, “Nature calls.  I’ll be back in a sec’.”
     Scully smiled and nodded at him.

As Mulder stood relieving himself at the urinal, he tried to push away the darkness.  Instead he tried to focus on the larger themes that seemed to be hiding behind all these disparate elements - this clone of his sister, Agent Mercer’s death, Suncross Digital Systems, Dr Joseph Igani.  But his mind was in turmoil, and he felt too strange to bring any insights into focus.  He felt woefully unable to handle all this craziness.  He wondered how he’d managed to endure it for over a decade during his time on the X Files.  Supposedly, he was a genius.  Other agents were usually intimidated by his abilities.  But right now, Mulder felt like a guy who was too old and too tired to step back into that world completely.
     “It’s just shock,” he tried to reassure himself.  “You’re in shock.  You’ll figure this out.”
     A mental image suddenly came to him; Scully’s naked curves beneath him as they made love, the little gold cross at her throat glinting in the moonlight.  Suncross.  The Divine Light passing through the Underworld, beginning at the Winter Solstice and ending today.  The Sun…the dazzling Eye of Heaven.  For some reason Mulder glanced up at the tiny security camera in the corner of the restroom.  He felt the rush of adrenaline. 
     Curious now, he went over to the row of sinks and climbed up onto the counter.  He was in a precarious position but he wanted to get a better look at the camera.  Printed on the camera’s plastic casing were three tiny yellow letters: SDS.  Suncross Digital Systems.  
     Mulder heard himself mutter, “Oh, God, no…”
     He leapt down off the sinks-counter, his mind suddenly racing with questions and possibilities, all of them bad.  How had Skinner’s agents missed this?  And suddenly the truth began to dawn on him in all its staggering complexity.  He made a move to the door, his heart beating forcefully now. 
     But the door opened, and a young agent stepped into the restroom.  The agent was dressed in a black suit and tie, with an FBI ID clipped to the breast-pocket.  But he turned and looked Mulder straight in the eye.  And Mulder realized in a moment of horror that this wasn’t an FBI agent.  It was the crew-cut soldier who’d kidnapped him; the one whose throat had been cut by the hooded girl. 
     Instinctively, Mulder lunged at him.  But the supersoldier’s hand swept up fast.  Mulder only had time to see the silenced pistol rising in front of him.  The gunman smiled and shot Mulder point-blank in the chest.

The suited gunman looked down at the body slumped awkwardly between the urinals.  The force of the shot had thrown him back against the wall.  The gunman returned the silenced pistol to his jacket, adjusted the cloned ID clipped to his breast-pocket, and left the restroom.  As he walked the corridor he was pleased that only a few genuine agents were dotted here and there.  It had been a thrill, to impersonate an FBI agent and brazenly walk into one of the most secure buildings in the country.
     At the entrance to the FBI cafeteria he stopped and retrieved his cell phone from his trouser pocket.  He speed-dialled a number and waited.
     “Yes?”
     “The threat is neutralized.  You can begin.”
     “Was security a problem?”
     “Thanks to you and some sophisticated technology, it was not.”
     A moment of hesitation, and then, “Well…I guess this is it.  For the Scythe, and for the glory of Almighty God.”
     The suited gunman took a deep inhalation of pride.  “Almighty God.”
     He ended the call, slipped the phone back into his pocket, and tried to spot the redhead sitting in the mostly-empty cafeteria.  When his eyes found her, he smiled.

Scully was sipping on Mulder’s coffee, gazing out of the cafeteria's far windows.  Mulder was taking his time.  She didn’t blame him.  It had been an insane twenty-four hours.  Scully pictured him staring at his reflection in the restroom mirror, as he tried to force himself to a place of strength and clarity through sheer will.  It worried her, but she had faith in him.  She had witnessed Mulder’s near-inhuman levels of endurance many times.  Sometimes it was infuriating – most of the time it was incredibly arousing, and made her proud.  It had been an intoxicating thing to work with such a powerful person.
     She glanced up and smiled when she heard someone approaching, but it wasn’t Mulder.  It was the handsome young agent from earlier in the cafeteria, the one who’d caught her sleeping.  He seemed to think the smile was intended for him, and sat down opposite her at the table.
     “You still don’t remember me, Dr Scully?”
     “Look,” she said, trying to be amicable, “I’m sorry if I was a little harsh earlier.  Clarke, wasn’t it?”
     He smiled at her, and Scully was sure she could still sense his attraction towards her.  “Special Agent James Clarke.  You taught Forensic Pathology at Quantico.  I’m only mentioning it because you told me that I was one of the best students in your class.  I believe your exact words were that I displayed ‘an incredible aptitude’.”
     She glanced down at Mulder’s coffee in her hand. “Look, James –”
     “Shut up.”
     Bewildered, Scully peered at him.  All the warmth had disappeared from his face.  His eyes suddenly seemed flinty and hard.  A tremor of panic went through her.
     “Dr Scully,” he said quietly, “I have a gun pointed at you underneath this table.  And if you don’t shut up and listen to what I’m going to say – I will shoot you in the stomach and you’ll bleed to death right here in FBI headquarters.”
     Scully wanted to believe this was some kind of sick joke, but the look in the young man’s eyes was utterly serious.  Suddenly she felt sick and cold and completely helpless.
     In a soft, quiet voice the young agent began, “I’m not sure if you know anything about radicalization, Dr Scully.  It’s whereby a previously ‘normal’ person is swayed to extreme fundamentalist religious beliefs.  It’s normally used in an Islamic context, but it’s equally applicable to Christianity.  Most people tend to think of it as brainwashing, but in my case it was what you might call a Revelation.”
     Scully was trembling with fear now, as she sat there opposite this innocuous-looking young man.
     “I see that you’re a believer.”  He gestured at the little cross around her neck.  “Or is that just for show?”
     Scully opened her mouth to say something, but the words stuck in her throat.
     Special Agent James Clarke just chuckled at her expression.  “Dr Scully, you should know that the very Armies of Hell have corrupted every federal institution in this country.  We’re living in a degenerate cesspit.  This is the Abyss.  And the only way out of the Abyss is to glory the awesome power of Almighty God.  Everything else is just idle posturing.”
     Anger began quickly replacing her fear as Scully listened to the deranged young man’s rhetoric.  Through gritted teeth she hissed, “You’re an FBI agent…how can you do this?”
     He frowned and glanced at his watch.  “In…just under half an hour it won’t matter.”
     “Why?” Scully almost growled.
     Agent Clarke simply shrugged.  “Because you and me and everyone else in this building will be dead.”
     Scully’s eyes went wide.  The implication made her blood go cold again.
     The young agent nodded.  “Do you believe in fate, Dr Scully?  Here’s an example that might sway you.  The Scythe has been meticulously planning this event for the last thirteen months.  And someone in the intelligence community found out and pulled the plug.  Their deep-cover operatives had become radicalized.  They killed most of our group.  And then you and your man turn up on the eve of what’s going to be the biggest terrorist attack in US history since 9/11.  It’s like the Lord himself brought you right to me.”
     A thin, lustful smile curved his lips.  “I even asked you out once at Quantico.  But you brushed me off like I was a rookie still wet behind the ears.  You praised me and then you pushed me away.  You flirted with me, and then you ignore me.  Damn Catholic girls…”
     He glanced at the cross at her throat.  “I guess it’s fitting that I’d be presented with the one that got away, on the day of my sacrifice.”
     Fear and rage all swirling together, Scully leaned forward and hissed, “I don’t even remember you…”
      Agent Clarke smiled in her face.  “It’s obvious…the red hair, the pouting lips.  You’ve got Babylon all over you…and God hates whores.”
     Scully wanted ram her fist into his face, but she knew he wasn’t lying about having a gun pointed at her beneath the table.  She eased back into her own seat.
     “So…is this about God, or politics, or sexual frustration?”
     His expression changed for a moment, a flicker of anger.  She’d got to him.  She added, “My husband is going beat you half to death, and I’ll join in.”
     That made him laugh and peer at her like she was a naïve schoolgirl.  “Dr Scully, I just got off the phone with the man who just shot your ‘husband’ to death in the men’s restroom.”
     Her stomach clenched as a wave of crippling dread went though her.  She went cold, very cold.  She realized that tears were streaming down her face.  She tried to think, but feelings of deep blackness had stolen her mind.
     Special Agent James Clarke glanced at his watch again, and muttered, “Not long now.”
  
Mulder awoke with a moan on the floor of the men’s restroom.  It felt like he’d been hit by a train.  There was a place on his chest that was still throbbing like fire.  He grabbed the edge of the urinal and hauled himself into an awkward sitting position against the wall. 
     His mind was blurry, unfocused, but he remembered the suited gunman with the FBI ID.  Anger sharpened his mind slightly.  Mulder tore off his leather jacket and pulled up his dirty t-shirt.  Looking down at himself he saw a strange purple bruise had bloomed on his chest, just over his heart.  It was in the vague shape of an X.  Mulder laughed involuntarily, not quite understanding what he was looking at.  Had he finally lost his mind?  He should be dead.  The gunman had shot him, right? 
    Amidst the pain of the throbbing bruise, he tried to recall exactly what had happened.  He snatched his leather jacket again and reached into the inside pocket.  He was breathing hard. Clenched in his fist were the shattered pieces of the Fairy Stone he had taken from the forest with the hooded girl.  Mulder opened his palm and saw the glint of a flattened bullet among the broken bits of stone.
     He glanced again at the livid X-shaped bruise on his chest.  He burst into wild staccato fits of laughter, grabbed the urinal and hauled himself to his feet.  The pain was still intense and he felt unsteady, but he was alive.  Somehow, he was still alive.  His laughter quickly faded when he realized the gunman was probably still in the building.  His gaze shot to the tiny security camera in the corner of the restroom.
     “Scully,” he heard himself say with fear, and suddenly nothing was funny anymore.  He stumbled over to the door, pulled it open and plunged blindly into the corridor.  A passing female agent gave him a double-take.  He must have looked insane and unwelcome without his visitor’s pass.
     Increasing adrenaline steadied his legs as Mulder broke into a run back towards the FBI cafeteria.  He rounded the corner and came to faltering halt.  Standing just outside the cafeteria’s main doors was the suited gunman from the restroom; the crew-cut supersoldier. He was apparently watching something through the interior windows. 
     As though sensing Mulder’s presence the gunman immediately glanced round, and saw him.  A look of puzzlement and then anger passed across the gunman’s face.  For a moment Mulder didn’t want to believe that the son of a bitch was willing to shoot him again, now in full view of other agents.  But the gunman reached into his unbuttoned suit jacket, quick as lightning. 
     Mulder lunged to his left and threw himself against the stairwell door.  It flew open and he went slamming into the wall of the stairwell.  His mind was still groggy, his chest still throbbing painfully, but he knew he wouldn’t get lucky a second time.  With a ragged shout of self-motivation he launched himself down the steps as fast as he could.  As he turned each corner in each new flight of stairs, the urge to look up and see if the gunman was following him was overwhelming.  But he resisted it.  He tried to focus on pounding down those steps as fast as he could.  Mulder knew the gunman was following him, he didn’t need to see it.  As he raced further down the stairwell his heart began to slam forcefully in his chest, and the bruise under his t-shirt began to sting painfully.  But Mulder kept moving.  He didn’t want to survive a point-blank gunshot to the chest only to be killed by getting shot in the back.
     When he reached the bottom of the stairwell he tore open the door and launched himself into the underground FBI parking garage. 
     “I need help!” he bellowed, hoping to attract any nearby agents.  “We have an armed intruder inside the building!” 
     But there were only a few cars in this section of the parking garage.  The place was deserted.  Mulder broke into another sprint towards a dark blue BMW at the far end of the section, and immediately lunged behind it for cover. 
     He tried to ignore the pain and his racing pulse, and peered cautiously over the car.  Nobody came surging through the stairwell door.  The suited gunman didn’t appear. 
     For a few moments there was silence, and then Mulder heard the sound of an engine.  He turned and saw a silver van coming down the ramp into the furthest section of the garage.  Mulder edged around the car slightly to remain concealed from the van’s driver.  As the van turned to park, Mulder caught the words stencilled on its side: Suncross Digital Systems.  Beside the words was the company logo; a stylized microchip within a yellow sun.
     Mulder swallowed and pressed his forehead against the cool metal of the BMW’s side.  “This is not happening,” he murmured, and then more forcefully, “This is Not Happening.”            
     He forced himself to glance up, knowing exactly what was hidden somewhere inside that van - something innocuous but powerful enough to inflict catastrophic damage. 
     He didn’t know how the van had gotten past the security checkpoints, but he did know that he had suddenly found himself in the middle of something very, very bad.  Mulder’s pulse was still racing.  He squinted at the driver-side window of the van.  He was just close enough to make out the older man that he’d seen briefly at the factory, the other supersoldier.
     And Mulder had no weapon.  He wasn’t a federal agent anymore, just a visiting civilian with incredibly bad timing.  If he tried to make a move, and the driver of the van saw him, what then?  The supersoldier would be a lethal opponent.  In unarmed hand-to-hand combat, Mulder was certain that the soldier would win. 
     He grimaced and took a long, deep breath.  He tried to assess the situation like an agent.  He had no weapon.  His cell phone was still in his jacket on the floor of the men’s restroom.  He couldn’t call Scully or Skinner to warn them about the threat.  The Fire Alarm…that was the only other option. 
     Mulder was about to move when he felt the cold barrel of a gun pressed to the back of his head.
     “Get up, Fox.”
     Mulder winced as a feeling of self-disgust went through him.  In his sheer panic he’d allowed the gunman to creep up on him. 
     Carefully, Mulder climbed to his feet and slowly turned around.  The crew-cut gunman was pointing the silenced pistol right in his face.  Mulder took a step back, and then another, pressing himself against the side of the BMW.
     The gunman smiled and shook his head.  “I underestimated you.”
     “Twice,” said Mulder.  “You underestimated me twice; just now upstairs when you shot me, and back at the factory when you kidnapped me and I still kicked you in the face.  Remember that?”
     The gunman’s lips curled into a snarl.  He snatched the FBI ID clipped to his jacket and tossed it onto the concrete. 
     “You arrogant son of a bitch, this is God’s work.  We’re doing God’s work.  Hallowed be thy Name.  Thy Kingdom Come, thine Will be–
     Mulder flinched as the multiple shots tore open the gunman’s chest in gouts of crimson, sending him staggering backwards and collapsing to the concrete beside his discarded ID.  With his eyes wide and his pulse racing, Mulder turned and saw Agent Thorne approaching with her sidearm drawn.  The tall black woman peered down at the young man, then over at Mulder.
     Her aim shifted suddenly and she fired again, three times.  Mulder felt the bullets whistle over his shoulder.  He spun round and saw the bloodied van driver sliding down the side of his vehicle into a heap on the concrete.
     For a moment Mulder just stood frozen.  He forced himself to turn back round.
     Agent Thorne cautiously lowered her weapon and continued approaching.  “I came down from Skinner’s office to check on Scully. Saw you at the end of the corridor.  I saw him pull the gun on you as you went for the stairwell door.”
     “Jesus,” Mulder muttered.  He pressed a hand to his eyes and said, “Agent Thorne, there’s a bomb in that van.  We’re the target.  The FBI.”  
     Agent Thorne looked over at the silver van, horror in her eyes.  She broke into a run towards it.  The suddenness of her action compelled Mulder to do the same.  They reached the van and Agent Thorne grabbed the handle for the side door.  It slid open smoothly to reveal rows of harmless-looking computer equipment, but Mulder wasn’t fooled. 
     He squatted and began searching the collapsed driver.  He knew that neither of the soldiers were dead.  He knew it might be only a few minutes before they were both on their feet again.  Mulder pulled a cell phone from one of the pockets of the driver’s uniform.  On the phone’s screen a timer was counting down:
     3: 58
     3: 57
     3: 56…
     Mulder’s blood went like ice-water, and he heard himself murmur, “Oh, Christ, no…”
     Agent Thorne peered over his shoulder and saw the phone in his hands, saw the timer counting down.
     3: 53
     3: 52…
     “Oh my God,” she faltered. 
     Mulder bolted to his feet and spun round, grabbing Agent Thorne by the arm.  “We’ve got to get this thing out of here, right now, or everyone dies!”
     Mulder tore open the driver-side door and shoved himself behind the wheel, dropping the phone into his lap.  The keys were still in the ignition. He twisted them and heard the growl of the engine. 
     The moment Agent Thorne hurled herself into the passenger seat, Mulder threw the van into a ferocious reverse – not even giving her time to close the door.  The shriek of tyres on concrete filled their ears.  Mulder kept reversing at high speed across the FBI parking garage, narrowly avoiding parked cars.  Suddenly he swung the van round in a one-eighty that sent the van rocking dangerously like a boat at sea.  The passenger door slammed itself closed.  For a moment Mulder thought the van was going to tip over, but he managed to control it and surge forward.
     Mulder knew the guards at the security checkpoint would have seen all this on the cameras and would be waiting with weapons drawn, but he didn’t know if he would have time to explain it to them.  As the silver van raced up the ramp, he glanced at Agent Thorne in the passenger seat.  “We’re both dead,” she said, wide-eyed.
     Mulder glanced down at the screen of the phone in his lap.
     2: 41
     2: 40
     2:39…
     A gunshot cracked the windshield and it shattered an instant later.  Mulder had no choice but to slam the breaks.  The van came to a grinding stop just before the barriers of the security checkpoint.
     Mulder heard the voice of a guard shout, “Slowly get out of the van with your hands up, and get face down on the ground!”
     Three guards were approaching the van, with weapons drawn.  Fearlessly, Agent Thorne shoved her ID through the window and held it up for them to see.
     “Special Agent Sasha Thorne!” she cried.  “We have a critical terrorist threat here!  This van contains a bomb!  We need to get it out of FBI headquarters right now!  This is not a goddamned drill!”
     Mulder could see uncertainty pass across the faces of the guards, but the senior guard only bellowed his previous command.  “I said slowly get out of the van with your hands up, and get face down on the ground! Now!”
     Agent Thorne screamed, “Listen to me!  If we get out of this car the bomb will go off and we’ll die, you’ll die…everyone in this building will die! “
     Peering down at the phone in his lap, Mulder roared, “One minute, forty-five!  One minute, forty-four! One minute, forty-three!”
     Cautiously, the senior guard closed in on the van and yanked open the driver’s door, gun pointed at Mulder’s head.  He glanced down and saw the phone in Mulder’s lap.  He took a step forward and saw the timer counting down on the screen.  His eyes flitted to Mulder’s face, holding his gaze – and the guard saw Mulder’s look of genuine horror.
     “Jesus,” the guard whispered.  And then his gaze snapped round to the others.  “Open the gate!  Open the gate now!”
    One of the guards turned and ran back into the security booth, activating the gate. 
    In the van, Agent Thorne turned and stared at Mulder.  Tears were rolling down her cheeks.  “We’re not gonna make it…”
     Mulder grimaced.  “We’re gonna make it.”  He slammed the accelerator pedal and the van growled, surging through the checkpoint and up the exit-ramp.  Mulder yanked at the wheel and took the van into a sharp right-turn, into the grey daylight of Pennsylvania Avenue.
     There were only a few cars on the road and Mulder kept his foot on the gas.  He watched helplessly as the speedometer kicked up to fifty, sixty, seventy.  He risked a glance at the phone in his lap again.
     1: 20
     1: 19
     1: 18…
     Glancing back up at the road, Mulder had to swerve suddenly to avoid a car.  The van overtook it and shot past with only inches between them.
     “Do we jump?” Agent Thorne muttered, more to herself than to Mulder.  “Even if we jump the blast will still kill us…there’s no way to get enough distance…Oh Christ…”
     Images were flashing through Mulder’s mind now: Scully’s eyes, Scully’s lips, her smile, her nakedness beneath him as they made love.  No, he had love in his heart, and there was work to be done…he couldn’t let it end this way.  Mulder knew that he and Agent Thorne were moments from obliteration, unless he was wrong about the bomb.
     Mulder knew he wasn’t wrong.
     Something the hooded girl had said to him suddenly surfaced in his mind.
     You know, the fairies and the angels and some of the ghosts…they talk about you, Fox.  They call you Seeker of the Crossroads.  Some of them even call you God of the Doorway.  You’re a celebrity.
     Mulder glanced down at the phone.
     0: 34
     0: 33
     0: 32…
     Images from his time on the X Files began streaming violently through his mind: a black triangle unleashing its searchlights above him, a medical clinic staffed with adult clones of Samantha, watching helplessly as black oil was poured from above him into his eyes and nose and mouth, bound to an alien device as metal spikes were inserted into his face and blades cracked open his chest cavity…a seemingly-dead Scully coming back to life in his arms as he cradled her on the floor…
     Through gritted teeth Mulder whispered, “The Seeker of the Crossroads is asking for your help…”
     And suddenly Agent Thorne was sobbing and reciting the Lord’s Prayer.  “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us–”
     The words caught in her throat. 
     Up ahead, in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, a figure was suddenly standing.  A tall, naked black man.  He spread his arms wide as the van surged towards him, as though welcoming it.  Mulder faltered for an instant, and managed to glance down at the phone in his lap.
     0: 02
     0: 01
     The bomb detonated…

Inside the J Edgar Hoover building’s FBI cafeteria, Scully felt a strange electrical shudder pass through her.  For a moment she thought it was some weird psychic pre-shock of the bomb finally detonating.  For an instant it felt like her heart had stopped, like time itself had stopped.  She peered at Special Agent James Clarke, sitting opposite with a gun pointed at her beneath the table.
     A strange fearlessness seemed to possess her from nowhere.  She leaned across the table, inches from the young agent’s face, and said, “If you’re going to shoot me, you sick son of a bitch…then go ahead and shoot me.” 
     Scully pulled back and was about to get up from the table, when someone came up fast behind Agent Clarke’s chair and pressed a gun to the side of his head. 
     Fear bulged in the young agent’s eyes when he felt the barrel shoved against his temple.
     Monica Reyes whispered into his ear, “I don’t know who you are, or what you’re doing, but I don’t like you.  I don’t think Dr Scully here likes you either.  Put the gun on the table, slowly.”
     Special Agent Clarke did as he was told.  When Scully finally saw his concealed weapon, her eyes narrowed and her mouth twisted into a snarl.  She peered at him and then glanced at Monica.
     “Hit him,” Monica said quietly.
     Scully leaned forward and punched him in the face. The young agent grunted, stunned by the force of the blow.
     “We’re all still here,” she spat.  “No explosion.  No martyrdom for you.  You’re going to pay for what you’ve done.” 
     Above him Monica nodded and tapped the gun-barrel against his head.  “The Bureau is going to have a field-day with a rogue agent planning terror attacks on his own people,” Monica said coldly.
     Special Agent James Clarke flexed his bruised jaw and his eyes narrowed.  A superior, knowing smile trembled on his lips. 
     “Is that what you think?”  His trembling smile broke into a malicious grin.  “Then you know nothing about politics.”
    
Out on Pennsylvania Avenue, Mulder opened his eyes and found himself standing in the middle of the road.  He squinted at the cold grey daylight. 
     Baffled, he glanced round and saw Agent Thorne standing beside him.  Her eyes were closed, her expression serene.  The blare of a car horn made her eyes fly open instantly with fear.  She and Mulder spun round to see a row of three cars idling a few feet behind them.
     Mulder snatched Agent Thorne’s arm and pulled her back onto the sidewalk.  One of the passing drivers gave Mulder the finger as the sparse traffic resumed on the National Highway.
     Agent Thorne seemed completely bewildered and frowned at Mulder.  “Whoa, whoa, whoa…what the hell just happened?”
     Shaken but beginning to tingle with adrenaline, Mulder glanced around the wide tree-lined avenue. 
     There was no sign of the van he had been driving only a moment earlier.  And no sign of Dr Joseph Igani.  The naked African had been standing in the middle of the road a moment before everything had gone black.
     Mulder took a long, deep breath.  Something had heard their prayers.
     Astounded, Agent Thorne muttered, “We should be dead right now.  That man…that man in the road…”          
     Agent Thorne began crying with relief, and doubled over.  Mulder took her and hugged her.  Her cries became sobs.  “We’re alive,” she choked.  “We’re actually alive…”


*


Office of the Deputy Director
J Edgar Hoover building
4: 23 p.m.


Mulder stood beside Scully, next to AD Skinner, Agent Thorne and Agent Reyes, as the five of them waited before the desk of Deputy Director Nathan Harris. 
     The fifty-something Deputy Director listened with a puzzled, curious expression as Skinner related the events of the last forty-eight hours.  Occasionally he glanced at a video-tablet on his desk, cross-referencing details with the case-notes he had asked for.
     Mulder could sense the apprehension in the room, and glanced at Scully.  Her face was stern, professional, listening to every nuance in Skinner’s words.  Agent Thorne had a tired, bemused expression on her face.  Monica took her hand for a moment and squeezed it reassuringly.
     “…and I know how unbelievable Agent Thorne and Mr Mulder’s accounts of events sound, Deputy Director, but I am willing to go on record and vouch for them personally.”
      Mulder could sense no aggression in the Deputy Director’s eyes, only an acute intelligence that was unexpected.  There was genuine concern and empathy in his eyes, unlike some of the previous men that Mulder had to deal with over the years.
     Finally, Deputy Director Harris said, “Assistant Director Skinner, these accounts…as bizarre and outlandish as they might appear – they’re all corroborated by the footage we pulled from our security cameras.  I’ve no idea how this terrorist contingent managed to breach our security protocols and turn one of our own agents, but…” 
     He took a quick sharp breath.  “…but I’m in no doubt that things occurred much as these individual narratives suggest.”
     “I’m relieved to hear that,” said Skinner.  “But with no van, no evidence of any terrorist threat…and the disappearance of the suspects that Agent Thorne shot…well, I’m uncertain how to categorize these events.”
     The Deputy Director nodded and suddenly fixed Mulder with a piercing stare.  “Mr Mulder, I remember when you used to work here in this very building.  The other agents used to tell stories about you…about how you were a crackpot, a disgrace to the Bureau, and even a borderline-schizophrenic.  But some of the more, uh…enlightened agents would talk about how you were a problem-solving genius, one of the best agents this institution has ever had.  Those were the stories that I appreciated the most.” 
     The Deputy Director smiled and Mulder caught a sense of something behind his eyes, some kinship or familiarity.  Mulder realized that this man, who now occupied the second highest position within the FBI, had seen things in his life.  He was open to things that the men around him were not.
     Mulder would have smiled too if not for the strangeness of the insight, and the fact that he was totally wiped out from the day’s events.
     He gave the man a nod of appreciation.  “Thank you.”
     Deputy Director Harris narrowed his eyes and shook his head.  “I think it’s me who should be thanking you.  All of you.”  He let his gaze fall on Scully, then Skinner, Agent Thorne and Agent Reyes. 
     “It seems that the five of you might’ve averted a terrorist attack on American soil…on Christmas Day, no less.”  He looked at Skinner again.  “I’ll do my best to explain the subtleties and nuances of this entire event when I discuss it with the Director.  I have a meeting with him scheduled in an hour.  I can’t say how the Director will want this handled.  Quietly, I’d imagine.” 
     His eyes turned to Mulder and Scully.  “I’m afraid the two of you will have to remain in D.C. for a few weeks while we try to unravel this whole thing.  The Bureau will pay for your hotel and all your expenses while we liaise with DC police and other agencies.”
     Scully nodded, and then Mulder too. 
     A curious look appeared on the Deputy Director’s face.  He peered down at the palm of his own hand and said, “Agent Mulder, what do you think happened here today?”
     Mulder frowned.  The Deputy Director knew full well that he was a civilian, and no longer an agent of the FBI.  The man seemed to be offering him a courtesy, a mark of respect.
     “I’m not entirely sure,” said Mulder.  “But Agent Thorne and I were behind the wheel of that van, and a moment later everything went black and we were standing in the middle of the road.  Something was changed.  I think we were afforded some kind of grace.”
     “Do you believe in God, Agent Mulder?”
     Mulder glanced at Scully, who smiled and peered at the floor.  “I used to believe in a lot of things, but not God.  But my time on the X Files…it showed me that maybe there is a spiritual force out there that loves us, protects us…and sometimes allows us to get lucky.  If we believe.”
     The Deputy Director smiled.  “That sounds like a yes.”
     Mulder looked at Scully again; the curve of her relieved, smiling mouth, the intelligence of her eyes as she peered at the office floor…the little gold cross that hung glinting at her throat.
        

*


Willard InterContinental Hotel, Washington D.C.  
7: 39 p.m.


The hotel mattress felt soft and inviting as they climbed beneath the covers.  The room was dark, lit only by moonlight through the blinds.  The faint sounds of passing cars were the only things that punctuated the quiet.  As she pressed herself against Mulder’s naked body, Scully could just make out the strange X-shaped bruise on his chest.  She wiggled further down the bed until she was level with it, and kissed it softly.
     “Do I ever tell you how sexy you are?” she asked quietly.
     She heard Mulder chuckle.  “Sometimes…but it’s not the kind of thing a guy ever tires of hearing.”
     “Well, I’m saying it to you again, Mulder.”
     She moved back up the mattress until their eyes met.  “Today feels like a dream.  I thought I’d lost you again.”
     “I’m like a bad penny,” Mulder whispered in her ear.  “I’ll always turn up.”
     Scully grinned in the darkened solace of their hotel room.  She closed her eyes and pressed her face into the curve of Mulder’s neck.  He held her, and yawned.  “I love you so much, Doctor Dana.”
     She savoured the warmth of his body against hers.  Sleepily she said, “Make love to me.”
     But moments later the two of them were asleep in each other’s arms.


*

Langley, Virginia
10: 04 p.m.


Dr Ethan Somerset had left his wife in bed and snuck from their room.  He padded quietly down the stairs.  She was such a light sleeper, and would know instantly what he was up to if she awoke. 
     He crept into his study, shutting the door behind him.  He removed a small silver key from his pyjama pocket and unlocked his desk drawer.  He removed the half-empty pack of Morley’s, cracked open the window and lit a cigarette with his father’s old Zippo.
     The smoke tasted good in his lungs.  He was finding it harder and harder to sleep these days.  He really needed this bedtime ritual, but Alyssa would just give him grief about it.  His surreptitious smoking would simply be added to the long list of things he had to keep from her, many of which were in the interests of National Security.
     “Hello, Ethan.  Remember me?”
     He spun round at the familiar voice, and saw his finest work standing in the study doorway.  The little girl was clad in a grey hooded-sweatshirt, a silver pistol hanging casually in her hand.  Dr Somerset’s blood ran cold.
     “Sam,” he gasped, “You’re alive…my sweet, sweet girl…you’re alive.”
     “No thanks to you, daddy.”  He cringed at her use of the word.  “Did you think I wouldn’t come for you?” she asked quietly.  “After everything you did to me…and to the others?”
     “I never laid a finger on you!” he spat, as terror began to eat at the very core of him.
     “No,” said the girl in the doorway.  “You were too powerful for that.  But you let them hurt me, and twist my mind, and turn me into a weapon.  You didn’t care that I had feelings.  That we all had feelings.”
     Despite his fear, Dr Somerset narrowed his eyes and said imperiously, “That’s because your feelings were irrelevant.  You were the property of the US military.  You still are.  They own you…and killing me won’t change that.”
     For a few moments his creation was silent.  And then she said, “An FBI agent came to visit you last week, didn’t he?  Well, I shot him in the heart just to find out where you live.  And now here I am.”
     He knew that the girl was going to kill him.  He could feel her violence in the air.  He didn’t want to die.  He didn’t want this genetic miracle - his finest hour - to be the one who would finally send him to the Reaper.  He grimaced and lifted the burning cigarette to his lips, defiantly taking a deep lungful of smoke.
     “Do it,” he hissed.  “It doesn’t matter anyway.  The End of Days is coming.”
     “I know,” the girl replied.  “But your End is already here.”
     She pointed the gun in his direction and pulled the trigger. 
     As Dr Ethan Somerset lay bleeding to death on the floor of his study, he realized that what he was feeling was sheer mortal dread.  Blind panic was filling his consciousness as he began to hear dark, secret things whispering in the shadows.  The ugliness consumed him.  He felt his own heart stop.


********************
 

    

    


    


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