Sunday, 11 November 2012

Labyrinth - Part Two


April 26th 2012
Great Plains, Wyoming
12: 41 a.m.


Slowly, consciousness returned.  Dana Scully forced her eyes open.  Her mind was a chaotic swirl of thoughts and feelings.  Her chest felt very tight.  For a moment she had no idea where she was.  But then the memories suddenly resurfaced with awful, piercing clarity.  Oh God – she was hanging upside down in the overturned rental car, restrained only by the seatbelt digging against her chest.  The fact that she was still alive didn’t fill her with hope.  A flickering orange light bathed the wreck.  Fires were burning outside.  Scully began to feel a growing sense of inertia.  Hanging upside down like this was frightening.
     She managed to turn to her left and saw Mulder hanging next to her, but his eyes were closed.
     “Mulder…?”  She managed to reach out and grab his arm, tugging at it. “Fox…?”  A surge of panic went through her, her insides twisting.  In the driver seat, Danielle Archer was also suspended upside down by her seatbelt, her face resting against the deployed airbag.
     “Archer…?  Can…you hear me?”
     Scully realized her voice sounded muffled and dissonant in her own ears.  She realized it was the after-effects of the missile’s detonation.  She didn’t have time to worry if her hearing was permanently damaged. 
     She grimaced, reached down and pressed a hand against the upturned interior of the roof, braced her legs in the foot-well above and used her free hand to disengage the seatbelt.  Slowly, awkwardly, she managed to wriggle her way down onto the roof’s interior.  She struggled into an upright kneeling position. 
     Immediately she reached for Mulder, dread like oil swirling within her.  She checked his pulse.  It was strong, very strong.  The dread dissolved, replaced with grim determination.  She had to get him out of there.  She grabbed hold of Mulder as best she could and unclipped his seatbelt.  He slumped forward heavily onto her.  Scully gritted her teeth as she twisted, turned and slowly manoeuvred her partner down onto the roof. 
     Sweating now, Scully carefully backed out of the shattered rear window onto the scrubland and dragged Mulder after her.  Breathing heavily and grinding her teeth, she succeeded in eventually removing him from the car completely. 
    The right side of his face was marred with a few scratches and cuts, and thin trickles of blood had rolled down from his hairline.  She quickly pulled open his coat and pulled up his sweater, checking for wounds and broken ribs.  She silently thanked the Lord when she found nothing.  Mulder was unconscious but ok.
     For the first time, Scully looked up and peered around her.  “Oh my God…”
     The entire scene was bathed in flickering orange light from dozens and dozens of tiny fires burning.  Scully realized the upturned car was resting only a few feet away from the lip of a smoking, burning crater.  Clumps of scrub vegetation were burning everywhere inside it.  The crater was at least thirty feet deep and maybe fifty feet across.  The place looked like a warzone, like something she expected to see in news footage from Afghanistan or Iraq, not the short-grass prairies of Wyoming.
     Scully peered down at Mulder and gently slapped his face a few times.  He stirred and groaned. 
     “Mulder?”
     Suddenly his eyes flew open and he sat up immediately, scrambling backwards on his hands and heels until he recognised Scully peering at him.  He stopped and just stared at her, his chest heaving.
     The shock in his eyes seemed to fade.  “Ok…ok, that was wild,” he said finally.
     Scully gestured at the lip of the smoking crater.  Mulder peered at the tiny fires burning, with wide eyes.
     “Is Archer…?”
     He turned and scrambled round to the driver side of the upturned rental car.  Scully quickly joined him and together they managed to drag Danielle Archer out of the wreck and onto the scrubland with them.  She was breathing.  Her pulse was good.  The airbag had protected her from smashing her rib-cage on the steering column.    
     Scully stared silently at Mulder and then looked back at the wreck.  From this angle she could see that the front left corner of the car was completely buckled and smashed.  She realized that the car falling at such an angle had absorbed most of the impact – and along with the seatbelts had quite possibly saved their lives.
     “Why…why aren’t we dead, Scully?”
     She peered at him.  “I don’t know…”
     “It had us in its sights.  It could’ve obliterated us if it wanted to.  It didn’t miss.  I think… I think it was some kind of warning shot.”
     Mulder was peering wildly up at the night sky now, searching this way and that, but the drone prototype was already gone.


*

12: 58 a.m.


Images and feelings from the vision the drone had shown him were still buzzing darkly in Mulder’s mind.  All he could do was sit there and let the wind ruffle his hair and play across his face.  Danielle Archer had regained consciousness, her back propped against the wreck of the overturned rental car.  She was still groggy but stared in horror at the burning crater that began only a few feet from where the three of them were sitting. 
     “Jesus,” muttered Archer and peered at Mulder.  “It’s a miracle we’re still alive.”
     Mulder glanced at Scully, then back at the CIA agent.  “No, not a miracle.  That thing was making a statement.”
     Scully moved across the scrub on her hands and knees towards Mulder, and touched the tiny cuts on the right side of his face.
     “Flying glass,” she said quietly.
     He reached out and gently touched the left side of her face.  “You too.”
     “Is it bad?” Scully asked.
     Mulder shook his head.  “Still gorgeous.”
     But Scully couldn’t bring herself to smile.  “How’s your hearing?”
     “Better,” said Mulder.  “You?”  Scully nodded.  She moved over to Archer and tried to check her again for injuries.
     “I told you I’m ok,” said the CIA woman, but she still let Scully inspect her.
     “The car’s wrecked,” Mulder said quietly.  “We’re stuck out here, in the middle of nowhere.”    
     “Well,” Archer began, “maybe those shapeshifter things will find us and put us out of our misery.”  She laughed, shaking her head.
     Scully fixed Mulder with an intense state.
     “William crashed the drone?”
      Mulder closed his eyes and nodded.  The vision was still painfully vivid in his mind’s eye.  He realised he couldn’t quite process what he’d seen. 
     “That thing showed me, Dana.  It put thoughts and feelings and images into my head.  It wanted me to know.  I think…I think it knew that we were William’s parents.  It knew exactly who we were.”
     Scully gritted her teeth and said, “How…how did it show you these things?”
     “I don’t know.  It’s like it was able to download information directly into my mind.”
     “Did you see William?  Did it show you our son?”
     Mulder peered back at her, seeing her fear and anger, and nodded.
     Scully took a deep inhalation of breath and closed her eyes. “What…what did he…look like?”
     Mulder could see this was agony for her.  It was agony for him too – their son, out there somewhere.  But Mulder could sense pre-cognitively the kind of dark thoughts that were running through Scully’s mind. 
    She had given William away to protect him.  Mulder understood that.  But he also understood that she had never quite forgiven herself for it.  He knew what it was like to have an open wound that you pretended had healed.  He knew about the quiet, secret hell she had put herself through because of that choice.  She thought she had hidden most of that agony from him, to protect him, but Mulder knew. 
     Quietly, Mulder said, “He looked like a normal, dark-haired little kid.  He looked a bit like me…but he had your eyes.  Dana, I’m so sorry…”
     “Don’t,” Scully said fiercely, seeming to tremble with a thousand emotions.  “Not now.  That can all wait until we get out of this goddamn desert alive.”
     Mulder nodded.  He could see the torment in her expression, and it frightened him.
     “You hear that?” asked Archer, and then more forcefully.  “Shut up and listen!”
     A low throbbing sound was filling the air.  It only took Mulder a moment to recognize the sound as the rotors of an approaching helicopter.  Danielle Archer immediately climbed to her feet, hope in her eyes as she began scanning the sky.  Mulder and Scully also got to their feet beside the overturned wreck.
     “There!” Archer exclaimed, pointing to a place in the sky.
     A pinpoint of white light came into view, and then the beams of searchlights sweeping the scrubland.  As the craft got closer Archer squinted and said, “I think that’s a Pave-Hawk; a search-and-rescue chopper.  I think these guys might be Air Force.”
     “Let’s hope so,” Scully said darkly.  Mulder glanced at her.  The throb of the chopper’s rotors got louder and louder until it filled their ears.  Searchlights moved within the burning crater, swept over the overturned wreck and then fixed on the three of them.  They squinted and lifted their arms to shield their eyes.
     The helicopter was moving in a semi-circle in the sky above them.  Finally it began descending about forty feet from where the three of them were standing, kicking up clouds of dust and grit.
     “I don’t see any insignia on this chopper, no serial numbers,” Archer said quickly, a note of panic in her voice.  “Ok…this might be bad.”
     A skitter of fear made Mulder turn and look at Scully.  His partner was peering at him.  He could see that she was afraid too.
    The helicopter touched down and the door immediately slid open.  Men dressed in black utility-clothing and carrying assault-rifles began pouring onto the scrubland, marching towards them with weapons drawn.  Mulder felt the dread rising in his throat.  Scully and Archer instinctively raised their hands above their heads; gestures of submission.  Mulder grimaced and did the same.
     “Identify yourselves!” the nearest man barked at them, as the others quickly surrounded.
     “CIA!” Archer called out over sound of the helicopter’s idling engines.  She slowly reached into her coat and removed an ID.  She held it up for them to see.  “We’re here on a matter of National Security!  Identify yourselves!”
    “AFSOC,” the leader barked at them. “Air Force Special Operations Command.  You’re trespassing on a classified USAF retrieval-site.  My team will have to escort you to F.E. Warren Air Force Base for questioning.”
     Mulder saw genuine terror in Scully’s eyes.  She knew as well as he did that these men were not United States Air Force personnel.  They were ex-military mercenaries employed by Labyrinth.  The knowledge filled him with a cold, black fear.
     He turned back to the armed men and shouted, “Where’s your insignia?  Where are your patches?”
     One of the men interrupted Mulder by raising his assault-rifle and firing it into the air.  The rapid-fire gunshots made all three of them flinch and cower.
     “Get in the chopper!  Now!”
     Suddenly the armed men were all around them and one of them nudged the barrel of his weapon into Mulder’s back.  In the next moment Mulder, Scully and Archer were being marched at gunpoint towards the waiting helicopter.
     A feeling of adrenalized horror was rising within Mulder, at the apparent severity of their situation.  He tried to catch Scully’s eye, to comfort her with a look, to let her know that somehow they would find a way out of this, but she was peering at the ground as the man with the assault-rifle forced her forward.  Mulder tried to let the hotter emotion of rage overtake the dread within him.
     “We’re part of an NSA-CIA taskforce!” exclaimed Danielle Archer, her voice trembling.  “We’re here on the authority –”
      The mercenary behind her slammed the rifle into her lower back.  She screamed and fell instantly, but was immediately hauled onto her feet again and dragged towards the chopper. 
     This was bad.  Mulder knew this was very bad.  Scully glanced at him.  Mulder hadn’t seen that look in her eyes in a long, long time.  She looked hopeless.  A fist seemed to close around his heart.
      They were forced aboard the idling Pave-Hawk with the armed mercenaries, and shoved down into seats that ran along the interior edge of the craft.  The sliding door was dragged shut.  Mulder’s pulse was racing, and he realized he was sweating in fear.  He managed to glance at Scully, then at Archer.  Both women were terrified.  Archer was still grimacing in pain from the weapon slammed into her back.  There were at least eight men in the darkened cabin with them, two with weapons still drawn.
     “Take it up!” the lead mercenary barked at the pilot, and the throb of the rotors increased rapidly. 
     Mulder felt the cabin lurch slightly and realized they were airborne.  He wanted to say something to these men, to try reasoning with them, but he was afraid.  If he got himself injured or killed he would be of no use to Scully or Archer.
     “It was here, wasn’t it?” asked the lead mercenary, in a surprisingly calm voice. 
     Mulder said nothing, breathing deeply.
     “Did it speak to you, Agent Mulder?”
     Mulder had the distinct feeling that failing to answer this particular question would end badly. “Yes,” he said, scowling at the man. 
     “What did it communicate to you?”
     Mulder grit his teeth and glanced at Scully again.  She had her head lowered, not making eye contact with any of them for fear of reprisal. 
     “I can’t explain it.  But you men…you’re all ex-military, right?  Army, Air Force, Marines, whatever…you swore an oath to protect this country…and now you want to destroy it to somehow fight aliens?  To glorify some wrathful God?  This can’t just be about money.  Which lie are they using to control you?”
     The leader peered at Mulder, saying nothing.    
     Archer suddenly growled at the lead mercenary, “I’m a twenty-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency.  Counter-terrorism.  I’d say you sons of bitches qualify as terrorists.  You disgust me…”
    Mulder felt a stab of panic at her outburst. 
   The lead mercenary chuckled and said.  “Well…someone at Langley obviously thinks you’re expendable, Agent Archer.”
     The chopper door was slid open and a growling, howling wind filled the cabin along with the roar of the rotor-blades.  Mulder knew what was about to happen.  He tried to lunge forward but the mercenary beside him snatched his arm and pressed the barrel of the assault-rifle into his side.
     “No!” Mulder cried instinctively.
     One of the men grabbed Danielle Archer and dragged her from the seat.  She began screaming, clawing desperately at him, but he spun her round and hurled her out of the chopper door and into the howling wind.
     “You sick bastard!” Mulder screamed, and struggled against the man beside him.  The mercenary just shoved the weapon harder against his side.  Mulder peered in horror at the open chopper door.  Danielle Archer was gone.  Scully was silently crying now, struggling to hold back the tears and failing.
     The leader turned and peered at Mulder.  “I hope you’re willing to take me seriously now,” he barked, over the roar of wind and rotors.
     “You didn’t have to kill her,” Mulder growled at him.
     “There’s nearly three thousand square miles of open desert in Laramie County alone.  They might not find her for a long, long time.  She was expendable.  You two are not.  Not yet.  Now, tell me what Gabriel showed you.”
     Scully had finally succeeded in stemming her silent tears.  She raised her head and peered at the lead mercenary, with a vicious expression.
     “You might as well kill us both,” she said through clenched teeth.  “Because we’re not going to tell you anything.” 
     One of the mercenaries beside Scully grabbed her arm and the back of her neck, and half shoved her out of the open door.
     “Stop!” cried Mulder, his heart hammering in his chest.
     Scully screamed as she was pitched forward from the side of the chopper, and held there as the howling wind battered her.  She peered helplessly at the scrubland whipping by nearly two hundred feet below.
     “I’ll tell you whatever the hell you want to know!” Mulder screamed.  “Just pull her back in!”
     The mercenary holding Scully pulled her back into the Pave-Hawk and threw her into the seat again.  The cabin door was finally dragged shut.  Scully’s eyes were filled with horror and streaming with tears.  She was shaking badly.  Mulder clenched his teeth, grimaced and attempted to swallow his rage.  He wanted to kill every single man aboard the chopper.
     “Let’s hear it, Agent Mulder,” the leader said calmly.
     “It showed me our son,” said Mulder, trembling.  “Our son can communicate with it.”
     The lead mercenary nodded.  “So it was the Van De Kamp boy who brought down Gabriel?  You need to explain to me how an eleven year old kid was able to crash a black-budget UAV.”
     Mulder glanced at Scully.  She was still shaking, wild-eyed.  “His physiology,” growled Mulder.  “His physiology is part alien…and the power-source of this UAV is alien.  Somehow they communicated telepathically.  That’s all I know, you son of a bitch…”
     The leader nodded again, apparently satisfied with Mulder’s explanation.  “See, Agent Mulder, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
     Scully suddenly peered at the lead mercenary with an almost-insane expression.  “We’re going to kill you…”
     The leader chuckled and looked at Mulder.  “Wow, your woman is one tough chick, huh?  I’m impressed.”
     “You don’t know the half of it,” Mulder hissed at him.  He looked over at Scully.  “Are you ok…?”
     She peered at Mulder and then turned her attention to the lead mercenary again, staring silently.
     “You’re not taking us to an Air Force base, are you?” Mulder asked, attempting to control his burning hatred for these men.
     “No, we’re not.”
     Mulder risked another glance at Scully.  She had a hand closed around the little gold cross at her throat and was murmuring something over and over.  Her eyes were dark, filled with an unbearable intensity.  Mulder realized that Scully was praying.


*


Corbeau Trading-Post
Great Plains, Wyoming
1:38 a.m.


The tall, thin man took a long breath and peered around.  The temporary hub-site was a collection of derelict buildings sitting in the vast, empty scrubland; an abandoned fur-trading post.  It suited their purposes just fine.  He glanced at the other three men and all the computer-tech they had set up along the decaying walls of the main building.    Corbeau had traded with the larger Fort Laramie in the east of the county back in the 1800’s, but while the remains of its famous sister-post had been protected as a historic site by the National Park Service, the little-known Corbeau Post was allowed to fall into anonymous ruin. 
     Anonymity was all-important for their work.   They had various kinds of tracking and telemetry equipment; all of it maintained by state-of-the-art nitrogen-cooled generators.  So far most of the tech had proved useless in locating and retrieving their target.  Also, some of the men in this unit were lying to him and had their own agendas.  Such was the way when you had to work with guns for hire.
     The thin man in the white jumpsuit smiled sadly and peered down at the black spirals tattooed on the backs of his hands. 
     He knew what secrets these men had, but they didn’t know that he knew.  He needed to keep it that way for as long as possible.  Once he acquired the drone prototype he would be given orders to dissolve the unit of mercenaries.  At all costs Labyrinth’s assets within the Air Force and Army had to be protected.  Most of the wet-work for this target was subcontracted to ensure that protection.
     The thin man knew all too well how important this mission was for his employers.  The timetable was set.  They were at war.
     The thin man glanced up at one of the walls of the derelict building, at a crumbling mural of the Virgin Mary.
     Money could be used to tempt and control most men.  But for men who saw themselves as honourable, religion was a far sharper tool.  Carefully manipulating someone’s religious beliefs was a source of great power.  It could be used to reorganize the thinking-processes of even the most hardened intelligence veterans.  No man was an island, after all.  It was all a matter of context.
     The thin man turned when he heard Markham re-enter the building.  The tall, muscular team-leader was scowling at him.  He had a pistol clenched in his right hand.
     “I’m starting to think that you have no idea how to acquire this target.  I’m starting to think that you’re stalling for time.”
     Markham was ex-Special Forces, a very capable and intuitive former Green Beret.  He’d presented something of a problem since they were first given their mandate by the thin man’s handler at DOD.  Unfortunately, Markham was necessary.
     “Look, Lucas…I will reacquire Gabriel.  I just need a few more hours.”
    Markham sneered, eyes narrowed.  “You said that six hours ago.  Wyoming is crawling with military…we need to cut our losses and pack our gear.”
     The thin man scowled at him.  “Have you lost your mind?  Who’s going to tell them that we failed?  You?  It certainly won’t be me.  Give me another two hours.  We’re on the brink of greatness here, Lucas.”
     Markham’s gun was suddenly raised, pointing at him.  “I don’t know who you really are, but you’re not who you told me.”
     “No,” said the thin man, “I’m not.  I’m something much greater than that.  That’s why my handler gave me this mandate.  Listen to me…our scout crew tracked the energy-pulse to a location northeast of here.  They found a crater, and Danielle Archer and her two friends.  One of them is weaponized.”
     Markham frowned, and slowly lowered the pistol in his hand.  “Are you certain?”
     The thin man nodded.  “I can use him to link into the prototype.  I just need two more hours.”
     A look of recognition moved across Markham’s face.  “You’re a conduit…?”
     The thin man nodded again.  “You didn’t think they’d rely on simple hardware, did you?  They intend to make history, Lucas.  That’s why I’m here.”
     Markham shook his head and re-holstered his pistol.  “Two hours,” he said pointedly.  “Or we dissolve this operation before it’s too late.”  He turned and stalked from the building.
     The thin man took a long, deep breath, and glanced at the crumbling mural of the Virgin Mary high on the wall.


*


Great Plains, Wyoming
1: 47 a.m.  
    
    
The Pave-Hawk finally touched down beside a dirt road and a waiting car, its headlights like eyes in the darkness.  Scully glimpsed it through the widows.  One of the armed mercenaries slid open the cabin door and ushered she and Mulder out of the helicopter and onto solid ground again.  She didn’t know what was happening, but she just wanted to get the hell away from that chopper.  The sky glimmered with stars against the darkened horizon.  
     Mulder glanced at her, concern in his eyes for what these men had just put her through.  She peered back at her partner and nodded gently. 
     She wanted him to think she was ok.  But she wasn’t ok.  They had murdered Danielle Archer right in front of her, and then threatened her with the same fate.  They had dangled her from the side of the airborne helicopter like she was nothing more than a toy, a tactical manoeuvre.  Her insides were still shimmering from the fear.
     The dark car was waiting maybe twenty feet away, and the engine was running.  The sudden roar of the helicopter behind her made Scully flinch and spin round.  The chopper lifted into the night sky, kicking up a cloud of dust and grit that enveloped them. Scully squinted and pressed her mouth closed.  In a matter of moments the Pave-Hawk was lost in the darkness of the night.
     They were alone beside the dirt road and the waiting car, as its engine gently growled.
     “What do you think?” Scully asked finally.  She noticed that her voice sounded blank, unlike the fear and rage that was glowing like an ember in her stomach.
     “Do we have a choice?” Mulder said quietly.
     “Not unless we want to trek three thousand miles through open desert.”
     “Are you really ok, Dana?”
     “No.”
     “I’m going to try to get us out of this…”
     “I know, Mulder.  I know.”
     “Something’s changed since they sent that kid with the gun to our motel room.  They had an opportunity to kill us and they didn’t take it.  I need to figure out a way to exploit that…”
     Scully peered at her partner, her lover and her best friend.  She had more faith in him than she did in God right now.  She had made the most awful choice a mother could make.  She had given away her child.  And still…this darkness had found him anyway.  Every day she secretly regretted it, hated herself for it.  But she told herself over and over that her son’s life would be spared all the horror. 
     She realized now that her awful choice had been for nothing.
     It felt like God was laughing at her.  She peered intently at Mulder as tears rolled down her cheeks.  She didn’t know what to say to him.  She just looked over at the waiting car and said, “Let’s go.”
     Mulder was silent as they trudged towards the ominous vehicle.  She could feel that he wanted to comfort her, and suddenly he gripped her hand and squeezed it.  They walked hand in hand to the car and realized the back door was already open. There was only one occupant; the driver, but their view of him was obscured by the glaring headlights.  They both stopped for a moment, peering silently at each other before climbing into the backseat.    
     The man in the driver seat turned round and peered grimly at them.  It was Michael Oren, the NSA agent they had met with Danielle Archer in the Deputy Director’s office.
     “You two are seriously lucky that I exist,” he said.
     For a few moments Scully tried to process her shock, and then a wave of cautious relief began to spread through her.  “Jesus Christ,” she muttered, “I thought…”
     Mulder peered darkly at the driver.  “They…they think you’re working for them?”
     Michael Oren shook his head.  “Those guys in the chopper think they’re working for me. Just shut up and listen.  You’re both lucky to be alive right now and sitting in this car with me.  The game is still in play.  Labyrinth thinks I’m an asset.  They’ve thought so for the last eleven months.  They’re the ones who manoeuvred me into Vigil, but NSA is using me to gather intel on Labyrinth.”
     Scully saw in Mulder’s eyes that he couldn’t quite believe they were safe, that this man’s story was true.  “That’s a dangerous play,” Mulder growled.  “Why do they trust you?  Why are ex-military guys taking orders from you?”
     Michael Oren peered at him like he should already know.  “This is a deep-cover operation.  I’ve been authorised…to do whatever’s required to earn their trust.  Get it?”
     Mulder grimaced and nodded, and a moment later Scully recognized what the NSA agent was saying.
     “Have you murdered people for them?” asked Scully, in anger.
     Michael Oren glanced away.  “Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.”
     “Really?” said Mulder, “Because they just threw Danielle Archer out of a moving helicopter.  Almost did the same thing to Dana…”
     The NSA agent didn’t look him in the eye.  “I’m sorry about that...I was hoping to get to all three of you before any of you got hurt.  But Archer was a veteran; she knew how dangerous this play was.”
     Mulder peered intently at the man.  “That’s a lie.  She had no idea.  You withheld intel from a federal agent and it got her killed.  Her blood is on your hands, and that’s the truth.”
     “I’ve got a lot of blood on my hands, Mr Mulder.  Innocent blood.  I was authorised.”
     “Yeah, you mentioned that already,” Mulder said, the disgust clear in his tone.  “And how do you feel about that?  About murdering innocent people for an intel operation?”
     Michael Oren ignored Mulder’s question.  He simply fastened his seatbelt and took the wheel, pulling the car out onto the dirt road.  Once they were driving he glanced at them in the rear-view mirror and said, “Listen to me, there’s something you need to know.  You need to listen closely, ok?”
     Scully was glad to be alive, but she was shimmering with anger, fear and shock.  She didn’t trust this man either.
     “What I’m about to tell you is beyond Top Secret.  It’s what we call black intelligence – completely off the grid.  Certain groups within the NSA believe that this X22 Reaper prototype contains an energy-source that’s extraterrestrial in nature - a piece of alien technology that can literally bend Space and Time.  But this free-energy core is now fuelling an autonomous A.I., a machine with access to state of the art missile and pulse weaponry.  So, Labyrinth wants to use Gabriel as a weapon against the United States.  But NSA just wants the prototype’s core, its heart.  We believe that the X22 was a project conducted by private black-organisations; unknown by those with even the highest security-clearance.”
     “Wait,” said Mulder, “So you’re saying Gabriel isn’t a black-budget Air Force project?”
     “No.  All the funding, R & D and engineering came from an unknown ex-military source…but a source that seems to believe it’s protecting the United States from an alien invasion.  All we know is that the project is referred to as the Archangel Initiative.  And it’s unlike any technology we’ve ever seen before.  You’re in very murky territory here.  Groups within groups.”
     Scully listened silently, trying to absorb the information.  Mulder’s eyes were ablaze.
     “Look,” Michael Oren continued, “I’m going to play you a recording now.  It’s going to disturb you, but I need you to remain calm.  I’m not kidding when I say I’m the only ally you’ve got right now, whether you trust me or not.”
     He switched on an iPod that was clipped to the dashboard and connected to the car’s speakers.  He scrolled through to something and pressed play.
     The sound of a woman’s voice filled the moving car.    
     “This is Dr Rachel Steiger…DOD Special Access: X-13864.  Initial interview…..Hi, my name’s Rachel….I’m supposed to tell you again that you’re not in any trouble…I just want to talk with you for a minute…I know you must be really scared right now, but it’s ok…I’m only here to help, ok?”
     “Ok.”  A young boy’s voice. 
     Scully inhaled sharply as mixed feelings of joy and fear and panic rose within her.  Joy at simply hearing his voice for the first time, and knowing it was him.  Fear at what this would mean.  Panic at what might be coming.
     “They told me that I’m supposed to find out how you got inside this building.  Would it be ok if you helped me to figure that out?”
     The boy again.  “I don’t know if I can explain it.”
     “We can work it out together, I think.  Right?”
     The sound of the boy fidgeting.  “Ok.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to break any rules.
     Scully turned and peered, trembling, at Mulder.  His dark eyes were wet with tears.
     “You didn’t break any rules, William.  It’s ok.  Do you know where you are though?  Do you know what this building actually is?”    
     “Uh-huh.  The Pentagon.”
     “Do you remember how you got into this building?”
     There were more sounds of fidgeting before the boy answered.  “I came through my dream.  I know it sounds crazy, but I came here in my dream and then I was here for real.
     Scully pressed her eyes shut, trying to block out the world so that all that remained was the sound of her son’s voice.
     “Why did you want to come here in your dream?”
     “Because I was scared.  I wanted someone to protect me.
     “From what?
     “From the angel.”
     “There was an angel in your dream?”
     “Yeah, Gabriel.  He’s been in my dreams for months now.  And when I wake up I’m so tired…can hardly stay awake at school.”
     “Why are you scared of Gabriel if he’s an angel?  Angels are the good guys, right?”
     “I think he is a good guy, but he’s still scary.  He keeps telling me that I’m not human.  That I’m…something else.”
     “What does Gabriel say that you are?”
     “A god.”
     “You just want your life to go back to normal, huh?”
     “Yeah.  I’m scared to tell my Mom and Dad.  They worry about me all the time.”
     “Why do they worry?”
     “Because sometimes weird stuff happens when I’m around.”
     Scully waited, aching inside like an exposed nerve, but the recording just ended.  She didn’t open her eyes.  She just sat there trembling.  She felt Mulder slip his hand into hers, and squeeze – but she couldn’t squeeze back.
     All these years she tried to tell herself that she’d made the right choice, that William was safe now, free from those that would harm him.  And all those years she’d never really believed it.  And now here was the smoking gun; the proof that the most horrific choice of her entire life had been for absolutely nothing.
     How could she ever call herself a mother?
     She couldn’t protect Emily…she had let that little girl die.
     And now she knew she had failed at protecting her son too.  How could Mulder ever look at her the same way again?  How could she look at herself in the mirror and not see her own shame?  A faint pain in her stomach made Scully wince.  She pressed a hand to it.  She tried to tell herself the pain was psychosomatic, but it didn’t help.  She was afraid to open her eyes because if she did she would have to look at Mulder.
     “Dana, it’s not your fault,” he said softly, as though reading her mind.
     “This is all my fault,” she said, her eyes still closed.  “I told you to leave, to go underground because those things were hunting you…and I couldn’t protect him…”
     “I never should have left,” Mulder said quietly.  “I never should have left either of you.”
     Scully forced her eyes open and peered at him.  Tears were rolling down his face, but his expression was stern and focused.  “It’s not your fault, Dana.  It’s mine.  Don’t ever let these bastards convince you that you were a bad mother.  You hear me?”
     Scully was silent, just peering darkly at him with a hand pressed to her stomach.
     “You hear me, Dana Katherine Scully?”
    “I hear you, Mulder.  But I don’t believe you.”
     Mulder grimaced and focused his attention on Michael Oren in the driver seat of the moving car.
     “Where the hell is he?  Does DOD still have him?”
     The NSA agent glanced at them in the rear-view mirror.  “No.  The boy was being transported to a secure location outside of the Pentagon by an armed covert unit, approximately fifty-six hours ago.  But they were ambushed by an unknown assailant.  Three DOD operatives were killed in the attack, and the fourth is on life support at Arlington Memorial. Whoever carried out the hit was a highly-skilled professional.  It was quick and clean and DOD never saw it coming.”
     Mulder leaned forward and hissed, “Are you saying that the Department of Defense lost our son…?”   
     “I’m sorry, but whoever killed DOD’s security-team has the boy now.”
     “I don’t believe this,” murmured Mulder, leaning back in his seat and closing his eyes.  “You knew about William from the start, you son of a bitch.  It’s the reason you recruited us into Vigil in the first place…”
     “It’s only part of the reason.  Everything else you heard is true.  I’m truly sorry, but compartmentalization is just part of the intelligence community.  You didn’t have clearance.”
     “Clearance?” Mulder said quietly.  “We’re his parents.”
     “No, you were his parents.  And if what this boy said is true, then he poses a massive threat to National Security.  Apparently, he managed to dream-walk himself into the Pentagon…and bring down a UAV with the power of his mind.  Think about that.  Think about the implications.”
     There was silence in the car for a long while.
     “This is insanity,” Scully said blankly, and then, “Where the hell are we going?”  She felt empty.  She felt broken.  She felt like she wanted to slip away into a perfect darkness.
     “You’ve got a choice now,” said Michael Oren, glancing at them in the rear-view.  “I’ve got a backpack in the trunk of this car.  It contains two semiautomatics, food, water, and a GPS satellite phone.  You can take it and try your luck out there in the desert.  Maybe you can get the FBI to come get you.  Or, you can come with me to the hub-site, as my prisoners.”
     “You must think we’re stupid,” muttered Scully. 
     “If I’m not at the hub-site in the next 30 minutes I’ll be putting this whole operation in jeopardy, Dr Scully.  But if you take the backpack, you need to know something else.  A small group within the NSA believes there might be other things out here also searching for Gabriel.  Things that look like men but aren’t men.   This group refers to these entities as Chameleons.  They believe these Chameleons can adopt the form of anyone they choose.”
     “The bounty hunters,” Mulder said quietly.
     “No,” said the NSA agent.  “We’ve read all your case-files.  I think they’re something similar but different.  They bleed red, not green.  But they seem to be lethal, and unstoppable.”
     “Yeah,” said Mulder, “We had a little run-in with two of them earlier, before we found Gabriel.”
     The NSA agent chuckled and glanced at him in the rear-view.  “And you’re still alive?  The legends are true then.  You are Spooky.”   
     “So why does Labyrinth want us as prisoners?” Mulder asked quietly, his eyes keen.  “Why didn’t those mercs just kill us back in the chopper?”
     “Because they need you.”
     Mulder grimaced.  “What the hell are you talking about?”
     “They’ve figured out that you’re weaponized, Mr Mulder.”
     Mulder glanced at Scully.  She could see the anxiety in his eyes, but she felt empty.  She could only listen silently. 
     “And what does weaponized mean?”
     Michael Oren glanced at him again in the rear-view.  “In the mid-nineties, during your time with the FBI, you were exposed to an evolved pathogen codenamed ‘Purity’.  You refer to it in your case-notes as the black oil.  This pathogen altered your DNA in subtle but highly profound ways.  You have no idea.  You and your son and the energy-source powering Gabriel are all connected now.  Do you understand?”
     “Are you saying…Labyrinth wants to use me to talk to it?”
     “Yes.  They think it was your presence that reactivated the drone, Mulder.  You’re the reason we have a rogue bird in the sky now.  If I take you in as my prisoner, they’ll try to use you to connect with Gabriel…try to hack its flight-path through establishing some kind of psychic nexus.  Once we have control of the prototype NSA has authorized me to blow my cover and dissolve the unit.  We can’t let them use Gabriel as a weapon.”
     “This is madness,” said Mulder, clenching his hands into fists.  “How exactly do they plan to establish this ‘nexus’?”
     “Labyrinth has a DOD asset heading the retrieval.  He works for their Special Access Programs, and he’s a very powerful conduit.  He was involved in highly-classified Remote Viewing and ESP experiments as a teenager back in the early seventies.  He can connect with you, and through you he’ll attempt to communicate with the prototype.  It’s their last shot at reacquiring this thing.”
     Scully could see Mulder’s mind working furiously behind his eyes.  “That creepy son of a bitch with the spiral tattoos on his hands?  The guy who intimidated me and Scully back at Kelverton?”
     “Yes.”
     “Wait,” said Scully, as an intuition surfaced in the back of her mind.  “Just wait a second.  You’re saying they’re all linked now – this drone, Mulder and William? So, in theory Mulder could use this psychic nexus to communicate with William as well as the prototype?”
     Mulder glanced at her.
     Michael Oren nodded.  “Theoretically, yes.  But listen to me…if you come with me, I can’t guarantee your safety.  I can’t guarantee anything.  It feels like no matter what play I go for this whole thing is going spin out of control either way.”
     “We’re coming with you,” said Mulder.  He turned and looked at Scully.  “Right?”
     The love that Scully felt for Mulder at that moment was so intense that she actually shuddered.  She was unspeakably glad that Mulder said what he did.  She peered into his brown eyes, took a long breath and nodded. 
     She was terrified, still reeling from the events onboard the chopper, but her fear was irrelevant.  Someone had murdered Defense Department officials and kidnapped their son.  The son she had given away over a decade ago in a futile attempt to protect him.  She had failed in that attempt.  Whoever had him now could be hurting him.  The thought of his fear made Scully resolute.  She saw the same conviction in the eyes of the man she loved sitting beside her.  Even if there was only a slim chance that the NSA agent’s bizarre tale was true, they had to take it.


*

                  
Corbeau Trading-Post
2: 14 a.m.


Mulder’s mind was blazing with possibilities and questions and fears.  Everything had happened so fast since they arrived in Wyoming.  He was having trouble processing it all, accepting that it was really happening.  He couldn’t bear to think what Scully was feeling after hearing William’s voice on that recording, or how she was trying to deal with the fact that their child was now officially missing. 
      Suddenly he thought of the boy’s adoptive parents, William’s real Mom and Dad for all intents and purposes – the people who had loved and nurtured and raised the boy for the past eleven years.  What the hell were they going through?  Had William simply vanished from his bed in the middle of the night?  Thoughts of Samantha’s abduction from all those years ago surfaced in Mulder’s mind.  He was certain that no government source had bothered to inform William’s adoptive parents that he’d been kidnapped while under federal custody.
     They would have nothing but agony and questions, and a gaping hole at the centre of their lives.  Mulder knew all too well how that felt.
     He glanced at Scully in the backseat of the car with him.  That strange vicious look was in her eyes again.  It frightened him; a depth of darkness in her expression that should belong to someone else, not his sweet Dana. 
     All reason and sense suggested they get as far away from Wyoming as possible – get back to D.C. and officially report Danielle Archer’s death to Vigil.  But he knew they couldn’t do that.  This wasn’t about finding the drone prototype anymore.  This was about William.  Mulder had considered the possibility that Michael Oren’s story of William’s abduction was somehow a fabrication; that the recording was faked, but he knew in his gut that it was real.  He could feel it.  He knew Scully could feel it too.  That’s why they were about to walk into the lion’s den.
     What other choice did they have?
     There were two military trucks parked beside the collection of derelict buildings that had once formed the Corbeau Post.  In the largest of the buildings lights were glowing.
     “Ok,” said Michael Oren from the driver seat, “Remember, none of us make a move until they have Gabriel’s guidance-system locked.  We need to land the drone before they can redirect it.  These guys are not screwing around – they’ll send the UAV on an immediate bombing-run if they get the chance.  And that means we can kiss a big chunk of Washington D.C. goodbye.  I’m guessing the White House and Congress…so, I think we all realize what’s at stake here.  Right?”
     “Just get us inside,” Scully said quietly.
     The NSA agent got out and ordered them out of the car at gunpoint.  Mulder and Scully got out of the car, and the chill prairie wind began tugging at their clothes.  They walked towards the main decaying building with Michael Oren following behind them, his gun raised.  Neither of them had to fake the fear and anger they were feeling.
     There was only a rectangular hole in wall where the doors had once been.  Inside the building there were all kinds of sophisticated computer technology lining the interior walls, and men in black combat-clothing manning the equipment.  Electrical cables snaked above their heads, most of them feeding into what Mulder realized were three sleek-looking generators sitting in the far corner.  One of the men was tall and thin, clad in a white jumpsuit.  He turned at the sound of them entering, and offered a sallow-faced smile.  Mulder glanced down at the black spirals tattooed on the back of his hands.
     The thin man approached them and said, “I told you we’d be seeing each other again, Fox.”
     “Yeah,” Mulder said quietly, “Well, the pleasure’s all yours.”
     “The clock’s ticking,” Michael Oren said brusquely.  “If we’re going to do this we need to do it now.”
     For a few moments the thin man just peered into Mulder’s eyes, and then, “I need to get inside your mind, Fox.”
     “This better work,” said a tall, muscular man standing over by the generators, a pistol clenched in his hand.
     “It’ll work, Lucas,” the thin man replied.  “I’m very good at what I do.”
     Mulder managed to glance at Scully and saw the dark resolve in her expression.  The thin man in the white jumpsuit suddenly grabbed Mulder by the arm and marched him over to two plastic folding-chairs sitting in the corner.  He shoved Mulder down onto one, and took a seat on the other.
     “Is this going to hurt?” Mulder asked through clenched teeth.
     The thin man chuckled.  “No, this isn’t like the movies.  A mind-to-mind connection can be very disorienting, but it’s painless.  Luckily for you.”
     Mulder expected the thin man to take his hands or touch the sides of his head, but he didn’t.  Instead, Mulder’s eyes were suddenly forced closed – as though the thin man had willed them closed.  And then an image in Mulder’s mind suddenly exploded into crystal clarity.  Mulder inhaled sharply at the force of the mental image. 
     It was the black oil, rolling and seeping into what looked like advanced forms of microcircuitry.  The dark fluid was being literally absorbed into the mainframe of some highly-sophisticated machine. And then another image burst to life in Mulder’s mind.  An image through the night-vision lens of a high-altitude camera.  Flashing and scrolling numerical sequences intercut with strange glyphs he’d never seen before.  In the centre of the night-vision image were the cross-hairs of a sniper-sight.
     “I think I’ve got it,” Mulder heard the thin man say quietly.  Mulder tried to force his eyes open but couldn’t.  It was as through the thin man was overriding his intention.  He tried to fight it, but it was useless.  He could feel sweat beginning to gather on his forehead and trickle down his back. 
     Mulder realized he couldn’t fight this guy on his own terms.  Instead, Mulder tried to focus his mental energies into a single point at the centre of his consciousness, just behind where the third eye was supposed to exist.  He imagined a bright light gathering into a single pinprick of trembling potential…and then he screamed a single word inside his mind as he let that potential explode outward again.
     William!           
     The thin man grunted as though Mulder had physically hit him.  Mulder felt a surge of hope course through him and suddenly his eyes snapped open.  The thin man sitting opposite sneered and shook his head.  Mulder’s eyes were immediately forced closed again.
     William! Mulder screamed it in his head once more, but the night-vision sniper-sight burst into his mind again.  And Mulder suddenly realized he was seeing through the on-board cameras of the drone prototype.  He was looking through Gabriel’s eyes.
     “Target is in parallel,” Mulder heard someone say.  “But it won’t be for long.  You’ve got a twenty second window.”
     Mulder could hear the thin man begin muttering something over and over.  The night-vision image in Mulder’s mind began to glitch and flicker.  More sweat began running down Mulder’s face and back.  It wasn’t painful but it felt like a rising pressure in Mulder’s ears.  Suddenly the night-vision image was gone from his mind.
     “You did it!” Mulder heard someone shout almost joyously.  “The target is lo–”
     The sound of gunfire suddenly erupted all around him.  The pit of Mulder’s stomach suddenly fell away at the jarring shock.  Adrenaline flooded his system.  Without being able to open his eyes he shoved himself off the plastic chair and hit the ground shoulder-first.  Mulder grimaced in pain but kept his head down. 
     “You crazy bitch!” he heard Michael Oren scream.  There were two more gunshots, and the sound of someone moaning in agony.
     “Where’s my son!”  Scully’s voice, wild with rage.
     There were three more gunshots in rapid succession.  Mulder could only flinch at how close they sounded.  “You must be suicidal, Dr Scully!” barked a man’s voice.
     And suddenly Mulder was able to open his eyes again.
     The derelict building around him was in darkness, punctuated by stuttering bursts of illumination from the damaged lighting-rig.  Mulder’s heart was slamming forcefully in his chest.  He scrambled over to the nearby generators, on his hands and knees in the flickering darkness.  It would provide him some cover, but he didn’t know how many men were still alive and armed. 
     Mulder suddenly remembered that he was armed too.  He pulled open his coat and tugged the semiautomatic from the back of his waistband.  The gun was one of two pistols that Michael Oren had given them back when they were driving.  Scully had insisted on it.   She’d said she wasn’t about to walk into the enemy-camp without some kind of protection, and the NSA agent had reluctantly agreed.  It was only then that Mulder realized Scully must have done something crazy. 
     “Scully!” he screamed, as the lights flickered and dimmed all around him.  “Scully, talk to me!”    
     There was no response except a gunshot that slammed into the metal casing of the generator beside him and ricocheted only inches from his face.  Mulder shoved himself to the floor, lying flat on his belly.  In the sporadic illumination from the stuttering lighting-rig, Mulder saw the thin man in the white jumpsuit – slumped awkwardly against an overturned desk.  He was still alive, but a scarlet bloom was quickly spreading across his chest.  He was peering right at Mulder.
     Mulder averted his gaze and cried, “Scully! Answer me, please!”
     But there was no answer.  The realization that one of the mercenaries had taken her down was too awful to contemplate.
     And then Mulder gasped as a faint bluish glow began to gather in the centre of the room, amidst the flickering lights.  The glow seemed to gather itself into a humanoid shape.  The shape of a young boy.
     “Oh my God…” Mulder murmured involuntarily.
     The faintly glowing figure was semi-transparent, like an astral or spirit being, but it was an image of William.  The luminous figure had the same face that Gabriel had shown him in the vision just hours ago.  The luminous boy glanced left and right, and then began walking towards him.  Mulder’s breath caught in his throat as the apparition peered down at him on the floor of the derelict building.
     There was anger and confusion in the boy’s expression.  Mulder opened his mouth to speak but there were no words.  The apparition turned and walked away towards the other side of the building, taking the bluish glow with him.
     Suddenly two gunshots blasted through the strange quiet and someone fell, crashing into something and collapsing onto the floor.  All trace of the luminous, ethereal figure was gone.  The silence was all pervasive for a few moments.  Mulder was suddenly aware of the sound of his own shallow breathing.
     “Mulder!” It was Michael Oren’s voice.  “Mulder, where are you?  It’s…it’s all clear…”
     He wasn’t sure if he believed that, but the thought of Scully lying injured or dying filled him with resolve.  Mulder crawled carefully through the flickering darkness towards the sound of the NSA agent’s voice. 
     Three mercenaries lay dead nearby.  A fourth one was still alive, peering at Mulder in terror as he gripped his own neck, trying to stop the blood pumping from a hole in this throat.  Mulder ignored him and kept crawling.
     Michael Oren came into view, illuminated by the lights of a bank of computer equipment.  He was propped against the wall, cradling Scully in his arms.  A powerful dread filled Mulder instantly.  He scrambled as fast as he could towards them.
     “She shot two of them,” Oren said shakily, “Which forced me to take out the other three.  But she’s alive…”
     Mulder shoved the NSA agent aside and took Scully in his arms.  There was a ragged gunshot wound in the right side of her stomach.  Mulder gasped, grimaced and pressed his hand against it to stem the blood.
     “Oh Christ,” Mulder murmured, “Oh, Jesus Christ…” 
     “You need to get her out of here,” Oren said pointedly.  “If you don’t get her to a surgeon she’s gonna die…”
     “We’re in the middle of nowhere,” Mulder said as his voice broke and tears welled in his eyes.
     “I’m sorry,” Oren said, glancing around, “But I need to see if some of the equipment is still online.  They locked Gabriel’s guidance-system before she started shooting.  I might still be able to force the drone to land.”
     Mulder ignored him and pressed Scully’s face to his chest.  “I’m not gonna let you go, Dana.  You hear me, baby?  This isn’t over…”
     As Michael Oren climbed to his feet and limped over to the banks of computer equipment, Mulder gently placed Scully on the floor.  He tore off his coat and pulled his sweater over his head, and carefully tied it around Scully’s waist as a makeshift compression bandage.  He pulled his coat back on, tried to swallow his panic and checked her pulse again.  Her pulse was slowing down, and the dread within Mulder clutched like a fist.
     She was dying…she was dying right there in front of him.  This couldn’t really be happening, could it?
     “Oh God oh God Oh God…” Mulder murmured as he gripped Scully and lifted her, carefully struggling to his feet again.  He carried her towards the rectangular hole in the wall where the doors had once been.  Christ, she was still bleeding.  Mulder could feel it seeping through his t-shirt and onto his own skin.
    “Stay with me, baby,” he whispered in her ear.  “Stay with me…
     Just before he reached the opening another gunshot cracked through the building.  Mulder froze there with Scully in his arms.
     “Agent Mulder!” someone screamed in rage.  It wasn’t Michael Oren’s voice.  Mulder hurried through the opening into the vast darkened prairie, heading towards the NSA agent’s vehicle.  His heart was pounding as he fumbled to get the door open.  He placed Scully as gently as he could across the length of the backseat and glanced back at the derelict building.
     Someone came staggering through the opening.  The thin man in the white jumpsuit, a gunshot wound in his chest, a pistol clenched in his hand.
     “You ruined everything, you stupid son of a bitch!” the thin man roared. 
     Mulder tore open the driver-side door and threw himself into the seat.  The keys were still in the ignition.  He twisted them and the engine growled to life.  A gunshot spider-webbed the windshield and slammed into the headrest of the passenger seat.  An incandescent fury swelled within Mulder and he shoved his foot on the accelerator.  The car lurched forward suddenly and Mulder aimed the vehicle at the opening of the main building, at the thin man framed in its centre.  Mulder screamed with anger as another two shots came through the windshield, one of them whistling past Mulder’s ear and shattering the back window.
    For a moment Mulder saw the look of horror on the thin man’s face, illuminated in the headlights, before the car ploughed into him and slammed him face-first against the hood.  The vehicle went crashing through the interior of the building, tossing aside desks and computers and dead bodies.  Mulder realized he was still screaming.  In a sudden moment of lucidity he slammed his foot on the brake and the car ground to halt seconds before slamming into the back wall. 
     Mulder’s throat felt raw.  He could hear his own ragged breathing, the sound of blood rushing through his ears, the purr of the car’s engine.  He peered at the bloodied upper half of the thin man lying flat against the hood.  He glanced into the backseat at Scully lying there.
     “Stay with me, Scully,” he told her and put the car into reverse.  The thin man slid away across the hood and slumped to the floor, out of view.  Mulder slowly reversed back through the building, back through the opening and onto the scrubland.  He was about to bring the car around when all the dashboard lights flickered and went black.  A moment later the engine died.  The car rolled to a stop.
     “No,’ Mulder whispered to himself, “No, don’t do this to me…”
     Scully was bleeding to death in the backseat.  He glanced at her again.  Tears were rolling down his face.  He felt sick inside.  He didn’t know what to do. 
     He glanced out at the empty Wyoming wilderness and saw the two Army trucks parked roughly forty feet away from the main building.  He shoved open the door and hurried out of the car – just as someone grabbed him by the edge of his open coat and hurled him round.  Mulder was thrown to the ground and grunted in pain.  He whipped his head round and saw the thin man looming over him, pistol in hand.  His white jumpsuit was drenched in his own blood, but somehow he was still standing.
     “Stupid son of a bitch…” 
     He went to kick Mulder in the stomach, but Mulder grabbed his leg and pulled before he had a chance to make contact.  He hit the ground beside Mulder, kicking up a small cloud of dust.  His gun went skittering away across the scrub.  Mulder lunged and slammed his elbow down onto the man’s throat.  He made a horrible gagging sound but Mulder repeated the action, harder this time.  The thin man’s hands flew to his throat, eyes bulging in agony.  Mulder felt like he had fire flowing through his veins.  He straddled his assailant and threw a savage punch into his face.
     “You think you can take her away from me?!”  Mulder screamed at him, and punched him again, then again.  “You think you can take everything and everyone I love away from me?!”  Each strike felt better, hotter, more satisfying.  “Samantha!  My father!  My mother!  I don’t care what you are, you hear me!  I don’t care if you’re made of stone!  I’ll kill you!  She’s everything!  She’s everything I have!” 
     Mulder kept punching and punching, slamming his fist into the face of the monster beneath him.  The thin man’s face was now a bloodied mess.  He was coughing up blood and teeth, but he was laughing.  Mulder’s fist froze mid-strike at the sound of his laughter.
     In a wet, broken voice the thin man said, “They haven’t taken everything…away from you.  Not…yet.”  His laughter was the most awful thing that Mulder had ever heard. 
     He glanced at his own bloodied fist and then clambered off the monster beneath him.  He scrambled away from the thin man, who turned his head and peered at him.  One of his eyes was already swollen shut, but the other was open and fierce.
     “Oh, little Fox,” he gurgled, “You still don’t understand, do you?”  More wet laughter.  “Every single thing you’ve ever done…you’ve done because they wanted you to.  She’s dying, Fox.  You failed and she’s dying…and you’ll need a miracle to get her back this time…”
      Mulder clenched his teeth to keep the hate at bay.  He turned away, peering around for the thin man’s fallen pistol.  He saw it nestling in the scrub just behind the car and moved on his knees towards it.  He gripped it, climbed to his feet and turned.
     “That’s the kind of hate that I like to see,” the thin man murmured.
     Mulder shot him six times, and then let the gun slip from his hand onto the scrub.  He tilted his face skyward, closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath. 
     When he opened his eyes again he hurried to the car, pulled open the back door and climbed into the backseat with Scully.  There was blood all over the upholstery.  He swallowed his horror at the sight and hauled her into his lap.  He cradled her.
     He checked her pulse, half expecting her to already be dead.  Her pulse was there, but very faint.  She was dying, but she wasn’t dead yet.
     Mulder felt like he had slipped into one of his own nightmares from his days back at the Bureau.  Back then, he often had awful nightmares about losing her while they worked a case together.  He had almost lost her so many times.
     This had to be a nightmare.  Any minute now he'd wake up.
     “Dana,” he whispered, “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry, baby…”  His tears were splashing onto her cheek, finding their way into her red hair.  He kissed her hair.  “I don’t know where we are, or how far the nearest town is…I’m…I’m lost, Scully…I’m lost…”
     A brilliant white light suddenly illuminated the prairie and the derelict buildings beyond the car.  Mulder gasped, flinched and squinted.  The powerful light was coming from above as it silently searched the landscape.  Something incredible was out there. 
     A small glimmer of hope flared within Mulder.  Did this mean…did this mean he still had a chance?
     Into Scully’s ear he muttered, “It’s not over.  Stay with me…just hang on…”
     He took a deep breath, lay Scully down on the backseat again, and got out of the car.  He peered up into the sky, half-expecting or hoping to see a ship, but beyond the glare of the light Mulder recognized the outline of a huge bird of prey hanging in the night sky. 
     It was Gabriel. 
     The drone prototype was hovering high above the main building, sending searchlights down into the structure.
     “Please help us!” Mulder called out to it.
     It spun on its axis in the sky with impossible speed, suddenly facing him.  Mulder inhaled sharply and squinted as he was fixed by the UAV’s lights.
     “I know you can understand me,” Mulder said quietly, raising his arm to protect his eyes from the glare.  “I know you could’ve killed us with the missile back there if you wanted to…but you let us live.  I know…I know you’re not just a machine…”
     The light seemed to flicker and in the next instant the eighty-foot drone prototype was hovering only ten feet above the car.  Mulder flinched at the seemingly-instantaneous movement.  The drone was now almost low enough to reach out and touch its underside.  Mulder crouched a little in fear as the huge drone hung directly overhead. 
     Suddenly a distorted, crackling voice boomed in his ears – his own voice.
     “Dana, I’m sorry…I’m so sorry, baby.  I don’t know where we are, or how far the nearest town is.  I’m…I’m lost, Scully…I’m lost…”     
     The voice was coming from Gabriel.  Somehow the drone had recorded or synthesized Mulder’s words to Scully from just moments earlier.
     The white beam of the searchlights flared into a neon red, bathing Mulder and the car in a crimson glow.  A high-pitched electronic shriek suddenly filled the air.  Mulder immediately dropped to his knees and slapped his hands to his ears.  He grimaced against the pain and tried to block out the sound.  After a few moments the sound faded, and Mulder realized his eyes were closed.  He opened them and took his hands away from his ears.  There was a faint ringing.  He peered up at the night sky.
     Gabriel was gone.   Mulder could see the stars glimmering.  He swallowed and shook his head as more tears spilled down his cheeks. 
     It was over.  It was all over.  His life was no longer worth living.  He doubled over as he began to cry, an awful hollow keening, pressing his face against the dust and grit on the ground.
     “Mulder…?”
     His head snapped round and he saw Scully sitting up in the backseat of the car, peering darkly at him.  “Mulder, what the hell just happened?” 
     She shoved open the door and scrambled out of the car towards him.  She held his face in her hands and peered at him with wild eyes.  “Why are you crying, baby?  What just happened?  Are you injured?”
     Mulder peered wide-eyed and dumbfounded at her.
     “Say something, Mulder.  You’re scaring me…”
     He could only stare in disbelief, his mouth agape.  He glanced down at her clothes, covered in blood.  “Look,” he managed to say.
     She peered down at the blood-soaked sweater that Mulder had used as a compression bandage.  “Jesus Christ,” she murmured in confusion.
     Mulder grabbed the sweater and pulled it up.  Her stomach was smeared in blood but there was no gunshot wound, only smooth undamaged skin.  Mulder peered into her eyes and said quietly, “You were dying, Scully…Oh my God, you were dying in my arms…”
     “What?”
     “I thought…I thought I’d lost you…”
     Scully suddenly hugged him fiercely.  “I’m here, Mulder.  I’m right here with you. I’m not going anywhere…”         
    When she finally pulled away Mulder reached for her neckline and took the little gold cross that was hanging at her throat.  He was smiling and laughing and crying as he kissed the tiny cross resting on his palm.  And then he kissed Scully, and he didn’t want to pull his lips away ever again. 
    But she finally forced them apart, looked into his eyes and said darkly, “I lost it, Mulder.  I couldn’t take it anymore…I just started shooting.  I wanted…to kill every last one of them.  That’s the last thing I remember…”
      Mulder took a long, deep breath and pressed his forehead against hers, gripping the back of her neck.  “Satellite phones,” he said quietly.  “We need to get the satellite phones out of the trunk.  Let Washington know where we are…or we’ll freeze out here…”
     “Did they…was I really dying...?”
     Mulder nodded, unable to process everything that had just happened.  He realized he was trembling.  “It felt like...like the end of the world."


                                                                                 *


Thirty-six hours later
Vigil Taskforce Headquarters
Washington D.C.
April 27th, 2: 53 p.m



They were six floors up in the makeshift conference room.  The large bay windows filled the space with greyish daylight.  Mulder listened to the fifty-something woman at the head of the conference table as he eyed the men sitting either side of her.  There were twelve other people in the room, men and women watching them curiously.
     “…furthermore, nobody here can make heads or tails of these reports.  These accounts of shapeshifters, and the spontaneous regeneration of human tissue following a gunshot wound.  We’re all on the same team here, Mr Mulder, Dr Scully.  So perhaps it’s best if we hear your own personal take on this, all formalities aside for the moment.”
     Mulder nodded and glanced at Scully sitting in the seat beside him.  Her eyes were dark, distant.  It worried him, but first they had to get through this.
     He got to his feet and addressed the senior Vigil members.
     “I’ve been here before,” he said.  “I’ve been in this exact place before…held liable for other people’s inability to accept extreme possibilities.  Turned into a scapegoat…”
     The woman at the front of the table shook her head.  “I assure you, Mr Mulder, no one here is trying to scapegoat you for what occurred.  You were recruited because of your work with the FBI’s X Files unit.  We’re just trying to understand.  That’s Vigil’s mandate.  We have far too little time to argue about what is or isn’t possible.”
     “Good,” said Mulder.  “I hope that really is the case.  But a lack of information-sharing within this taskforce resulted in the death of Danielle Archer, and very nearly Dana Scully.  You lied to us and it nearly got us killed.  We’ve been used like this before.  You come to us, you beg us to help you…and then you lie to us.  About Michael Oren’s deep-cover assignment, about the Archangel Initiative…and about our son, William.”
     Concerned, nervous glances were exchanged around the room.
     The woman at the head of the table fixed Mulder with a stare.  There was real concern and fear in her eyes.  It seemed their accounts of events in Wyoming had terrified her. 
     “We had no knowledge of what the National Security Agency was involved in prior to the creation of this taskforce, Mr Mulder.  Michael Oren was lying to all of us.  And nobody at Fort Meade seems able to give us an accurate account of his activities.  Look…I was with NSA myself for twenty-seven years.  Almost all of the senior members of Vigil are ex NSA or CIA.  That was the whole point…so that we would have full access to the information we need to combat the threat that Labyrinth poses to the United States.  But based on your accounts it seems these agencies have been compromised to an even greater degree than we feared.  I think we’re looking at a worse-case scenario here.”
     Mulder shook his head.  He was tired, and he didn’t know who to believe anymore.     
     “Look, you came to us…and we agreed to help you.  We’re still agreeing to help you, but you need to help us too.  That drone is still out there.  It could’ve killed us but it didn’t.  Somehow it healed Scully.  I’ve seen that kind of power before.  Those shapeshifters, whether you believe me or not…they’re still out there too.  And so is our son.  Kidnapped while under federal custody.  It’s all right there in that report.”
     The woman at the head of the table frowned, her eyes creasing with what seemed like compassion.  “In the last twelve hours Vigil has uncovered nothing except the Missing Person’s Report that was filed by the Van De Kamps with the Laramie County police.  There’s no other official intel on the boy anywhere in the system.  I’m…I’m sorry…”
     Mulder was about to speak when Scully suddenly got up out of her chair and stalked from the conference room.  The people in the room glanced at each other.
     “Is Dr Scully all right?” the woman asked.
     Mulder scowled at her.  “What the hell do you think?  Excuse me…”
     He got up and hurried down the aisle after Scully.  In the corridor he spotted the door to the nearby Ladies restroom clanging shut.  He jogged over to it, pushed open the door and went in.  A young blonde woman drying her hands at the sink peered curiously at him.  Mulder ignored her and went over to the stalls.  He tapped on the only one that was locked.
     “Dana…”
     She didn’t respond.  Mulder glanced again at the young blonde girl at the sinks.  She glanced at the locked stall and then raised her palms in a ‘whatever’ gesture.  She quickly left the restroom.
     “Dana, we’ll find him…”
     “I never deserved him, Mulder.  I abandoned him…”
     “No you didn’t, you tried to protect him.”
     “What kind of mother abandons her own child…?”
      “Baby, please don’t do this to yourself.  Whatever we have to do, we’ll find him.  We’ll use Vigil’s resources and we’ll track him down somehow.  We’ll save him…”
     From within the locked stall Scully’s voice was trembling.  She sounded spectral, haunted.  “You couldn’t save Samantha.  I couldn’t save Emily.  Just because we’ve survived all these years doesn’t mean we’re alive inside…”
     Mulder felt the tears in his eyes.  He was too tired to try holding them back.  He pressed his forehead against the door.  “Baby…if you carry around this wound inside you, it’ll eat you and eat you until there’s nothing left…”
     “I’ve been carrying this wound for eleven years, Mulder.  I thought you were a genius…you haven’t figured that out yet?”
     The anger and bitterness in her tone made Mulder wince.  “I know, Scully.  I’ve always known.”
     “What the hell do you know, Mulder?  Aliens and goblins and ghosts – that’s what you know.  You don’t know about how I was practically suicidal for three months while you were buried in the ground…and Doggett was the only one who kept me sane…”
     “Baby…”
     “You don’t know how hard it was to admit that I let Emily die…you don’t know how alone I felt when you went underground and I was left with William…”
     “I knew.”
     “I’m not like you, Fox, I can’t just keep going and going while little pieces of me die along the way.  I thought I could…but I can’t.”
     “Scully, you’re my best friend, my partner.  I love you more than you will ever know.  Everything you feel, baby, I feel it too…I just don’t always tell you because I love to see you smile.  I don’t want to see that smile crushed under the weight of all this darkness.”
     For a long time there was no response from within the locked restroom stall.  Finally she said, “But we are the darkness, Mulder.  And everything we touch turns to shit.  You should’ve let me die out there in the desert.”
     Mulder didn’t know what to say to her.  It felt like his heart was breaking.  He simply pressed his palms to the door and let the silent tears roll down his face.


***********************************************************************    
    

1 comment:

  1. Uhhhhhhhhhhggg!! What an breaking spot- my heart is in my throat and I feel a bit queasy! Sorry took me so long to post- incredibly busy lately w so much and I wanted to re-read the whole story. I gotta say, I loooooved this installment because at its heart was all the things that is most gravitational to me about XF and that the two main characters and their emotional lives-- the plots are great and intreguing, but I've always loved most when they serve to explore and deepen the inner lives of Mulder and Scully. You do a fantastic job of depicting them in this aspect and I could feel the emotional weight-- this whole thread of the mythology is what I won't forgive Fox for if they don't resolve it cause without its resolution, it completely leaves Mulder and Scully in a horrible limbo...a psychological purgatory which seems so unfair-- u do an incredible job of exploring this territory and I think it reads very realistic as to what I think they'd be feeling. Scully in particular-- as a mother myself, there is absolutely no way she would be at peace with the William situation-- no matter her inner strength, ability to compartmentalize and all...I really enjoyed u exploring this in her...and as always, just incredible, amazing writing-- if you aren't writing professionally, that's a damn crime!!!!! Thanks so much for more to this excellent story!!!!
    <333 Heather

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