Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Naraka - Part One


July 19th 2012
Interstate 90, Massachusetts
2:56 a.m.


The sky was deep black, and stars glimmered as Douglas Cross peered through the windshield.  They were only thirty miles or so away from Boston and he hadn’t seen any other cars on the highway with them.  But then, it was the middle of the night.  He should have been pleased with the situation, but for some reason he was nervous.  He knew how crucial this situation was for his employers.  He supposed he wouldn’t be able to fully relax until they arrived safely at their destination.
     In the passenger seat beside him, his wife muttered, “I’m not budging on this issue, honey.”
     The look in his wife’s eyes was playfully defiant.  He tried to play along.
     “Gail, normally I’d respect your opinion, if your opinion made any goddamn sense.”
     Douglas watched as his wife folded her arms and glared at him.  It was a look he knew well now, a humorous look that told him ‘This warrants no further discussion.’  He sighed theatrically whilst keeping his eyes on the road ahead.
     “But Kirk is clearly the best Captain,” he said.  “It’s painfully obvious. Starfleet would’ve been destroyed a dozen times over without him.”
     Gail frowned.  “Kirk is just a philandering brute.  What’s the Captain of a starship doing getting into so many fist-fights?  It’s Picard all the way.  The man has gravitas.”
     Douglas let her see the smirk on his lips as he drove.  “If I’d known you were so hot for bald men I would’ve shaved my head before the wedding…”
     Gail grinned, leaned over and gently punched him on the arm.  “I am not ‘hot for bald men’, just one bald man.”
     “Whatever.  Hussy.”
     Gail chuckled.  There was a comfortable silence between them for a few minutes.  The tiny tracking-light on the dashboard’s modified sat-nav was still glowing.  Gail hadn’t even noticed it. 
     Douglas was still within his parameter.  He took a long, slow breath and tried to relax.
     “Ok,” he said, “No Star Trek talk in front of your mother.  She’s awesome and everything, but…”  He glanced at his wife and grinned.
     But suddenly Gail cried, “STOP!”
     His eyes immediately snapped back to the road, but it was too late.  Douglas caught a glimpse of something large and black, a split-second before the Mercedes hit it.  There was an awful growling shriek as it slammed into the car’s hood, cracked the windshield and bounced up over the roof.  It collided with the road again in a rolling confusion of sharp black limbs.
     Douglas slammed the breaks and the Mercedes ground to a squealing halt.
     His heart was hammering in his chest.  He peered across at his wife, at the look of sheer terror in her eyes.
     “Jesus Christ,” he muttered, his chest heaving from the adrenaline now coursing through him.
     “What…what the hell…was that thing?” Gail murmured, more to herself than to him.
     Douglas glanced at the tracking-light on the sat-nav.  The light had gone dark.  This was bad.  This was very, very bad.  He glanced in the wing-mirror, and then the rear-view, but the thing they’d hit was nowhere to be seen.
     Gail said fearfully, “It was some kind of animal, but it was big…”
     Douglas realized that the front of the car was steaming.  The radiator was busted.  He couldn’t see properly through the spider-web of cracks in the windshield.  He turned his gaze to his wife and touched the side of her face.
     “Listen to me very carefully, Gail.  You need to stay in the car.  Do you understand?”
     “What’re you talking–”
     “Do you understand?” he barked at her.
     Confused and frightened, she nodded quickly.  Douglas unzipped his jacket and removed the Heckler & Koch VP70 from a concealed holster.  Gail’s eyes bulged when she saw the handgun.
     “Oh God, Doug, what the hell is going on…?”
     “Stay in the car,” he said darkly.
     Douglas Cross opened the car door and stalked out of the vehicle with his weapon raised.  He scanned the darkened highway; the dense trees on either side of him.  He had to think quickly and efficiently now.  The cargo was loose, and if the security-detail riding with the Carrier hadn’t executed it, then he and his wife’s lives were in serious danger.  This was a nightmare scenario; something he had trained for, but something he now couldn’t quite believe was actually happening.
     As he stalked around to the front of the car he saw that it was completely caved in, smoking and steaming.  The Mercedes wasn’t going anywhere.  Weapon still raised, he moved forward a few paces and saw what looked like claw-marks across the hood.  The claw-marks continued across the roof; deep grooves in the metal, as though the cargo had instinctively tried to halt its tumbling.
     He glanced up at the dark, empty stretch of highway behind the car.  The cargo was nowhere to be seen.  There was no blood on the road.
     Douglas tried to swallow his unease and hurried round to the passenger side.  He yanked open the door and hustled Gail out of the car.  Her eyes flitted from him to the gun in his hand and back again.  He could see that she realized he’d been keeping things from her.  They had been married only six months.
     Almost imperceptibly she murmured, “Who the hell are you?”
     Aggressively, he grabbed her arm, leaned in and said, “Stay behind me, and stay close.  This thing will rip us to pieces if it gets a chance.”
     Immediately Gail’s face twisted and there were tears in her eyes.  “Oh God…”
     Douglas tried to ignore his own empathy for her terror.  He turned and began stalking quickly down the empty, darkened highway.  To her credit, Gail stayed close behind him.  He prayed that no other motorists came by in the next few minutes.  He had to end this here and now.  If he didn’t, this situation could quickly turn into a massacre.  Douglas realised that his heart was pounding.  Despite the almost sultry heat of the summer night, a cold black fear was spreading inevitably through him.  This was worse than Serbia, worse than Pakistan, and yet they were only about 48 klicks from Boston.
     Suddenly a ferocious growl came from the tree-line to the right of the highway. Douglas swept his VP70 towards the sound.  His utter fear was making his finger tremble amateurishly at the trigger.  Behind him, Gail’s breath was shaking.  She sounded like she was almost hyperventilating.
     “Just stay behind me, baby…”
     A pair of neon-green lights flared in the darkness of the tree-line, and it only took Douglas a moment to realize he was staring at the cargo’s strange, unearthly eyes.  In the next instant something big and black erupted from the darkness, with a shrieking howl.  Douglas didn’t even have time to fire his weapon.      


*


Vigil Taskforce Headquarters
Washington D.C.
12: 34 p.m.


The clear summer light made the skies above Washington look like blue stained-glass.  It poured through the floor-to-ceiling windows that ran the length of the back wall, illuminating the large, sleek office and warming her face.  Dana Scully allowed herself to smile a little at the warmth, and closed her eyes as she stood at the windows with a cup of hot coffee in her hands.
     “You like this office, don’t you?” she heard him ask.
     She opened her eyes, turned her head and looked at him.  “I guess so.  It beats our old digs.  Living in the FBI basement wasn’t exactly a cushy gig.”
     At one of their large desks Fox Mulder smiled at her with mischief in his eyes.  “I don’t know.  The basement had character, atmosphere.  It was homey.”
     “You start putting up newspaper clippings and Bigfoot and Crop Circles all over the place and I might have to kick your ass, Mulder.”
     Mulder raised his eyebrows at her.  “Sounds delightful.”
     Scully turned to face him directly and took another sip of her coffee.  Mulder added, “I’m guessing you’re not gonna be too pleased about this then…”  He retrieved something from beneath the desk, something he’d been hiding.
     It was a rolled up poster, held in place with a rubber band.  Mulder widened his eyes in an over-the-top expression like a magician unveiling his latest trick.  Scully instantly knew what the poster was.  She rolled her eyes in mock-irritation.
     “Come on, Dr Dana…I promise I’ll keep this place clean and tidy.  But you gotta let me put this up, for old times.”
     “Not a chance, Mister.”
     With amusement and defiance in his eyes Mulder said, “You’re not the boss of me.”
     “Sure I am.”
     “Not today, lady.”  He got up and strolled over, pulled the rubber band from the poster in his hand and unfurled it against the wall.  He pressed his arm against it to hold it in place and glanced at her.
     Scully peered at the pleasingly familiar image of a UFO hovering above a tree-line, and the words I WANT TO BELIEVE printed in black.
     “Come on,” said Mulder with a grin.  “You know it makes sense.”
     Scully smiled gently at him. 
     They had been in Washington for the last six days, sifting through intel concerning Labyrinth’s assets here in D.C.  The taskforce’s Fisher Protocol was collating data from every available federal source.  It was painstaking, laborious work.  Today they had been at it since seven in the morning, and they had finally earned themselves a little half-hour break. 
     But it still bothered Scully; that they were no closer to finding William, despite both of them spending every spare moment trying to chase down potential Defence Department leads into his disappearance.  Despite the strain they were putting themselves under, and the constant dead-ends, for the last six weeks Mulder had been incredibly sweet with her.  He was always sweet, but recently he’d been taking extra time to be playful, funny and light-hearted.  She knew that Mulder could sense that she needed it.
     Scully was so grateful. 
     Mulder peered at her, still smiling, but she could see in his eyes that he’d intuited her thoughts.  He frowned compassionately and said, “Are you still thinking about what Skinner told us?”
     Scully smiled at him again, but she could feel the sadness in it now.  She nodded.  “I know that reopening the case should make me happy, but…Haynes is dead.  He’s never going to face justice.  That son of a bitch should be rotting in prison right now.”
     The events in Wyoming, and later with Andrew Haynes, had shaken her to the very core.  Those experiences had succeeded in practically breaking her.  During that dark, grief-stricken time she nearly lost her mind.  She had almost killed Haynes, who later shot himself; the man the FBI now believed to be an unsolved serial child-killer that ViCAP had dubbed ‘Moloch’.  Scully had pushed herself to the edge, secretly using Vigil’s resources to eventually discover his identity.  She had come frighteningly close to killing the man herself, so close to executing him in his own home. 
     But Mulder had pulled her out of the fire, as he had done so many times during their career together.
     Mulder was peering strangely at her as they both stood in their new office.  Eventually he rolled the poster back up, slipped the rubber band around it and sighed. 
     “Scully, because of you a cold-case is going to be solved.  Because of you five families who gave up on justice are finally going to be able to lay their children to rest.  And that’s all because of you.  You’re a goddamn hero.” 
     The earnestness in Mulder’s tone was heart-wrenching.  But Scully knew there was more complexity in Mulder’s thoughts than he was letting on.
     Scully had told him things.  Six weeks ago, in that hospital room in Bethesda, she had told him awful, shameful things – things she had kept secret for over a decade.  It still twisted her insides and put a lump in her throat to even think about it.
     But she guessed Mulder had recognised that her confession had taken every ounce of willpower that she’d possessed.  He hadn’t mentioned it since.  In the last six weeks Mulder had been exceptionally playful and charming.  In his own wonderful way he was trying to help her heal those wounds.  But still, Scully couldn’t help but wonder if on some level Mulder was ashamed of her.  His love for her wasn’t in question.  She could feel it in his every glance and smile, but she had a hard time believing that he was at peace with the awful things she’d told him.
     Christ, she had fallen so low back then.
     As Scully stared at her partner’s handsome face, into his deep brown eyes, she knew that she was staring at her earthly saviour.  But more than that, she was staring at the man she desperately loved; her best friend.  It hurt to imagine that he might secretly think less of her now.  But if he did, Scully couldn’t blame him.
     She took a long, deep breath, put another smile on her face and gestured at the poster in his hand.  “What would Skinner say?” 
     “Skinner isn’t here.  We’re not FBI anymore.  We’re rolling with the elite now, Scully.”
     A moment later there was a knock on the door and Rachel Marx poked her head into the office.  The dark-haired young analyst frowned at them.
     “Sorry, guys, but break-time is over. Lessinger wants you in the conference room right now.  We just got some new intel from Fort Meade.  Everyone’s quietly freaking out.  We might actually have something here.”
     Scully glanced at Mulder.  He grimaced.  She could feel his light-heartedness fading immediately.  Mulder tossed the rolled up poster onto the desk, peered at Rachel and said softly, “Lead the way.”

In the conference room a clutch of senior and junior analysts were standing around the table, talking animatedly.  A few of them were seated, scrolling through documents on video-tablets.  At the front of the room Scully noticed Taskforce-Leader Janet Lessinger cueing something on the large monitor on the back wall. 
     Lessinger was in her late fifties; a stern but handsome woman with grey-blonde hair.  She was ex NSA and had worked at Fort Meade for over twenty years.  Despite Scully’s initial anger about the situation regarding William’s disappearance, Janet Lessinger had done everything in her power to invest time and resources into gathering intel on his abduction.  Beneath her solemnity and officiousness beat the heart of a good woman.  Scully didn’t trust her completely yet, but she liked her.  
     But Scully felt a flash of apprehension when she peered across the room and noticed the look in Lessinger’s eyes.  The woman seemed afraid.  A young analyst activated the automatic blinds and the sunlight quickly dimmed.
     “Ok, people, let’s take our seats,” Lessinger said loudly.
     Everyone gathered at the large mahogany conference table in the semi-darkened room.  Eventually everyone was seated, and Scully glanced at Mulder beside her.  He seemed worried. 
     Scully cast a quick glance at Rachel Marx sitting three seats away.  Scully hadn’t got to know her that well yet, but she knew that the twenty-six year old programmer and cryptographer possessed a brilliant mind.  Apparently she’d been recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency three years ago, straight out of college.  There was worry in her eyes too, and that frightened Scully.
     People were staring expectantly at their Taskforce-Leader.  Janet Lessinger smiled uncomfortably by way of introduction.
     “Ok,” she began, “Most of you know that we’ve been using Vigil’s Fisher Protocol to collate and cross-reference data from both Langley and Fort Meade, as well as data gathered by our own field operatives.  We thank Rachel Marx for the efficient maintenance of that system.”
     Rachel didn’t smile or speak.  She just nodded in acknowledgement.
     “So far we’ve been able to use the Fisher Protocol to model profiles and locate suspected Labyrinth assets.  I know…that some of you feel this has created a very paranoid working environment, especially concerning our inter-agency liaisons, but Labyrinth is unfortunately a credible threat to the intelligence-infrastructure of the United States – and all possible measures are being taken.”
     Lessinger tapped the video-tablet in front of her and an image blinked to life on the large monitor affixed to the back wall.  Everyone peered at the image of a man’s face; a guy in his early forties with dark eyes and jet-black hair.
     “His name is Douglas Cross,” said Lessinger.  “A recently married forty-three year old accountant from Pittsburgh.  Except that Douglas Cross is not his real name.  His real name is Aadesh Ranna.  He used to work for India’s Research and Analysis Wing, before being recruited into their Defence Intelligence Agency.  Of mixed-race parentage, his mother was a Caucasian American nurse stationed in Calcutta.  His father was a highly-decorated soldier in the Indian Army.  In 2008 Aadesh Ranna was supposedly killed in a road traffic accident in New Delhi.  But NSA now believes he faked his own death and has been operating as a mercenary for hire since that time; that he was recently in collusion with the Labyrinth faction of the US intelligence services.”
     Mulder spoke up.  “You said ‘was’.  He’s dead?”
     Taskforce-Leader Janet Lessinger shot Mulder a quick glance.  “Yes.  He died last night, in Massachusetts.  Something…something tore him apart.”
     She tapped her video-tablet again and a gruesome image appeared on the screen behind her – the remains of what had once been a man.  But the torso had been ripped from the pelvis, and the arms ripped from the torso, so that what remained were bloodied bits and pieces like a broken mannequin. 
     A slideshow of close-up images began; what looked like the mutilated remains of three other bodies.
     Scully narrowed her eyes at the images.  As a former forensic pathologist she perhaps didn’t find them as unsettling as the other men and women in the room, but what disturbed her was the violence of it.  She could already see that only a wild, powerful animal could have done this to a human body.  She noticed evidence of what looked like teeth and claw-marks, and she wondered what Mulder was already thinking. 
     She glanced at him, but he just looked mildly horrified at what he was seeing.          
     The Taskforce-Leader tapped her video-tablet again, and a new image appeared on the monitor behind her – a large unmarked truck, lying jack-knifed on its side across a stretch of highway.
     “This is on the I-90, only thirty miles or so from Boston.  The driver was found dead in the cabin, with a bullet in his head from a high-powered rifle.  We believe that a sniper was stationed somewhere along the tree-line ahead of the truck. And the remains of three other hostiles were found in the back of the rig. All torn to pieces.”
     The image on the monitor changed to a view of the truck’s unmarked rig; its back doors hanging open.  Inside was what looked like the trashed, blood-drenched remains of a state-of-the-art medical bay.
     Mulder glanced worriedly at Scully.
     “Something was being transported?” asked one of the men at the conference table.
     Janet Lessinger nodded.  “It seems so.  Something living.  And we believe that members of the Labyrinth faction tried to intercept and acquire it for themselves.  Apparently they failed.”
     Mulder spoke up again.  “And you believe that this man Douglas Cross – Aadesh Ranna – was acting as some kind of unofficial courier for this transport?”
     “Yes.  But this is where it gets…strange.”  She glanced apprehensively at Mulder and then looked down at her video-tablet.  “The wife of this Labyrinth asset – Gail Cross – she’s alive.  And she claims that her husband was attacked by…uh…some kind of creature.”
     Strange, anxious looks were traded among the men and women at the table.  Nobody smirked or tittered in disbelief, but Scully could feel the fear in the room.
     Finally, Taskforce-Leader Lessinger peered at Mulder and then at Scully.  “This is your area of expertise, is it not?  You investigated many cases like this during your time with the FBI’s X Files unit.”
     Mulder just nodded silently.
     Lessinger continued, “It’s the tentative opinion of the senior Vigil members that this transport may have been carrying some kind of biological weapon…”
     Suddenly Mulder said, “Why don’t we just say what we’re all thinking?”
     Nervous glances were exchanged around the table again.  Nobody bothered to answer him.  He glanced at Scully and smiled humourlessly.
     “Mr Mulder, Dr Scully…Vigil is requesting that you travel to Boston immediately.  To conduct a full interview with Gail Cross, and to gather any other information you can on this entire situation.  If Labyrinth is trying to get its hands on a biological weapon, we need to pinpoint the source.  We need to know where that truck came from.  All available intel has been collated in your briefing packets.”
     Scully glanced at Mulder, and then they both peered at the Taskforce-Leader and nodded.
     Janet Lessinger added, “I must remind you that apart from the data in your briefing packets you’ll be operating entirely in the dark.  The word from Langley and Fort Meade is that this situation has already been classified as a matter of National Security.  It’s to be handled quietly and carefully, which means you might encounter animosity from Boston PD if forced to liaise with them.”
     Scully decided to speak. 
     “Ma’am, with all due respect – if Vigil believes a living biological weapon may be on the loose in Massachusetts…then why haven’t CDC or FEMA been alerted?  Why are you sending just two civilian operatives?”
     Janet Lessinger didn’t seem annoyed by Scully’s question.  She merely sighed and said, “Like I said, you and Fox Mulder have experience in these kinds of cases, and this matter has already been classified under the National Security Act.  Unfortunately we’re just going to have to work with what we’ve got.”
     But Scully could see in the Taskforce-Leader’s eyes that she was thinking the same thing that Scully was; that someone somewhere was protecting something.  Not Labyrinth members necessarily, but there were powerful people out there who had a stake in this somehow.
     Attempting to swallow her discomfort, Lessinger added, “Your plane tickets are waiting for you at Washington National.  Be very, very careful.  We don’t exactly know what we’re dealing with here.”
     Scully nodded and peered over at Mulder.  His eyes were already alive with nascent intuitions.

*


1:42 p.m.


They were on their way to Washington National Airport.  Mulder was driving as Scully sat in the passenger seat and went through their briefing packets.  She’d been quiet since they left Vigil Headquarters.  Mulder knew that William’s disappearance and Andrew Haynes’ suicide was still on her mind – and that this new assignment wasn’t doing much to distract her. 
     The last few months had been filled with so much sadness.  Scully had dragged herself out of a very dark psychological space through sheer will.  Mulder felt like he’d almost lost her to a black hole of grief and depression.  She was doing a lot better, but she was still troubled.  She smiled more these days, but Mulder could sense that the smiles were often for his benefit.
     He was recalling yet again what Scully had confessed to him six weeks ago in Bethesda.  Her grief at thinking he was dead all those years ago, and having to bury him.  Getting drunk one night with Agent Doggett when she knew full well that she was pregnant.  And then later putting a gun to her head…coming a hair’s breadth from ending her own life…and the life of their child.
     Mulder felt himself bristle with raw emotion at the thought.  It was such a shocking, awful thing to hear, and his heart had immediately gone out to her.  He hadn’t brought it up again since that night in the hospital room, but it had been going round and round in his head since she’d told him.  Things were better between them now, and he was so grateful.  He wanted Scully to heal, to leave that shame and guilt and darkness behind her, but Mulder recognised that there was some part of him that was angry at her.
     His secret anger in turn made him feel sad, but when he wasn’t feeling anger or sadness he felt a powerful compassion for her.  He wanted to help her, to show her just how much he cherished her.  Over the course of the last six weeks he had tried to shake himself out of these queasy, unsettling feelings whenever they reared their ugly heads.
     Now, as he drove, he told himself, She thought you were dead.  She loved you, Fox, and she had to bury you.  She was left all alone.  And it broke her.  You cannot be angry at her for anything that happened.  You didn’t lose her.  You didn’t lose your baby girl.  You came so close, so many times.  You should be grateful, you stupid son of a bitch…
     Mulder surreptitiously clenched his teeth and gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. The thought of his beloved Scully in any kind of pain, let alone the emotional agony that she must have gone through after his funeral – it was utterly heart-breaking. 
     He really did empathise with everything she’d told him, and he wanted to be able to accept it, to process it. But as much as he tried he just couldn’t fit the things she’d told him into his mind.  It didn’t seem like Scully.  It didn’t seem like the actions of the woman he loved so deeply.  Even in a moment of grief-stricken insanity, Mulder had thought that she would be stronger than that.
     He hated himself for feeling this way.
     He couldn’t hide these feelings from himself, but the last thing he wanted was for Scully to feel this weird undercurrent of anger, distress and disappointment.  Humour and banter were the only ways he knew to mask his mixed feelings.  Things were better, but sometimes the atmosphere between them felt odd and stilted, at least to him.   
     Mulder didn’t want feel this way towards her, even if only sporadically.  He wanted to close his eyes and suddenly have everything back to the way it used to be between them.  He wished with every fibre of his being that he could simply banish these upsetting feelings when they arose, but he couldn’t.
     “So,” Mulder said quietly, glancing at her, “Vigil thinks there might be an unknown predator running loose in Massachusetts…some kind of creature…and they don’t roll out the big guns?  They just send Old Spooky and his partner to do a little investigating?  It makes no sense.  If they really believe that, then the entire state should be on lock-down.”
     Scully looked up from the briefing packet and stared at him.  “What do you think is going on?  You think Vigil is hiding information from us again?  Like with Michael Oren’s deep-cover assignment?”
     Mulder shrugged.  “Maybe, but I think what’s more likely is that Vigil is getting its orders directly from Fort Meade this time.  Janet Lessinger flat-out told us that the whole thing has already been classified.”
     “You think NSA is twisting her arm somehow?”
     “She was NSA for over twenty years, Scully.  Those kinds of loyalties don’t just fade away.”
     Scully frowned and sighed a little.  “But she’s actually been helping us to try to find William.  She’s gone above and beyond, which she didn’t need to do.  I don’t know, Mulder…it feels like she’s on our side.”
     Mulder nodded.  “Well, maybe if NSA had it entirely their way we wouldn’t even be investigating this.  Maybe Lessinger is holding to certain orders while ignoring others.” 
     “Maybe,” Scully said quietly.
     Mulder kept his eyes on the road.  It was disheartening to still feel this tension in her, and to feel his own anger at the things she’d told him.  Softly he said, “We will find him, Dana.  We just need to keep going until we catch a break.  Sooner or later we’ll find a viable lead.”
     Again she tried to smile for him, and it made Mulder’s heart ache. 
     “I know.  But it’s just really demoralising.  Working for Vigil now; trying to build an accurate picture of this Labyrinth faction…and all the while our son is out there somewhere.  Sometimes I feel like our priorities are in the wrong place.”
     “Vigil’s resources are our best shot at finding him.  If we had an actual lead, I’d drop all this in an instant and chase it down to the very end.”  He glanced at her and frowned.  “You know that, right?”
     “I know, Mulder…I know.  It just makes me feel so powerless.  Since Wyoming; dead end after dead end.  I mean, don’t you feel demoralised?”
     Quietly, Mulder said, “We can’t afford to feel demoralized, Scully.  We need to keep going.”
     “I agree.  But what are we doing now?  We’re off to Boston to investigate a killing, and William is still out there somewhere.  I don’t know…our lives just feel kind of bleak to me right now.”
     For a few moments Mulder was silent.  He didn’t really know what to say.
     “I’m sorry, Mulder,” Scully muttered.  “It’s just really difficult sometimes.”
     “I know it is.  You regret agreeing to work for Vigil?”
     “No.  We both know Labyrinth is a real threat.  We saw it for ourselves in Wyoming. I still think we can help, but…”  Scully repeatedly tapped the side of her head against the passenger window in frustration.  “…but I just feel like…even if we beat the odds, even if we find him eventually – safe and alive – he’s still not our son anymore.  He has this whole other family.  We don’t really get him back.”
     Mulder peered at her as he drove.  She looked at him and he saw her eyes were slightly wet with tears, but she forced a sad smile onto her face.
     “I’ll be ok, Mulder,” she murmured. “As long as you’re at my side…as long as you…still see me, I’ll be ok.”
     Her words pained him in a multitude of ways, but he didn’t know what to say.  He had told her that he loved her so many times in the last six weeks.  Perhaps showing her was more powerful. 
     He took his hand off the gearstick and laced his fingers through hers.  She squeezed back firmly for a few moments, leaned over and kissed his cheek.  The look in her eyes was meekly hopeful; full of sadness and regret and yearning.  Mulder could see how much she needed his understanding.  Mulder took a long, deep breath, and the unpleasant angry feelings within him began to subside.  They drove the rest of the way in a more comfortable silence.
    
*
         
Massachusetts General Hospital
Boston, Massachusetts 
3:46 p.m.


Gail Cross had been afforded the luxury of a private room.  She was blonde and attractive; younger than Mulder had been expecting.  She was sitting up in the bed and turned at the sound of them entering the room.  Her eyes were bloodshot, like she’d been crying profusely, but she seemed physically uninjured.
     “I already gave my statement to the police,” she said blankly.
     Mulder glanced at Scully, and she approached the bed.  “We’re not police, Gail.  My name is Dana Scully.  We’re here on behalf the United States intelligence service.”
     Gail chuckled emptily without looking at her.  “You guys are like spies or something?”
     “No, we’re former FBI agents.  We work for an intelligence taskforce called Vigil.  We’re here because we need to discuss your statement again.”
     “My husband is dead,” the blonde woman said quietly.  “It ripped him apart.”  Suddenly she peered at Scully.  “You think just because you’re a girl I’m gonna talk to you?  Please go away.”
     Scully frowned.  Mulder could see that the young woman was obviously in great emotional pain.  Scully glanced at him.  He nodded almost imperceptibly and sat down in the chair beside the bed.
     “Gail, my name is Fox…”
     “Weird name.”
    Mulder smiled gently.  “Yeah, it is.  I’m very sorry for your loss, Gail.”  He could sense the mixture of grief and rage and shock all swirling around inside her.
     “The police don’t believe me.”
     Mulder tried to open his senses and his heart to this young woman, in the hope that she would pick up on it.
     “You know, back when I first joined the FBI my peers gave me a nickname – Spooky.  Because I was fascinated by conspiracy theories, aliens, folklore, mysticism…you name it.  The other agents thought I was either crazy or a joke…but I’m telling you the truth when I say that I’ve encountered monsters before.  I won’t ridicule you if you talk to me.  I won’t look down on you.”
     Scully approached the foot of the bed.  Gail Cross was peering at Mulder.  He could tell she wanted to cry, but apparently she had no tears left.
     “Do you like Science Fiction?” she asked quietly.
     Mulder smiled and nodded. 
     “Me and my husband…we were huge Star Trek fans.”
     “Me too,” said Mulder.  “Especially when I was a kid.”
     “We loved it because it was optimistic.  Hopeful, you know?  There’s so much…darkness in the world.  It sounds stupid, but…a TV show gave my life meaning.  Made all the darkness bearable somehow.”
     Mulder nodded.  “It’s not stupid at all, Gail.  That’s what art is for.  To make it bearable.”
     The young blonde woman closed her eyes and didn’t open them again.
     “We were talking about Star Trek when we hit something on the road.  It wrecked the front of the Mercedes.  It literally bounced over the roof.  And then it just vanished.  And Doug…one minute my husband is standing beside me, and the next minute that thing is tearing him apart.  Jesus…”
     Mulder glanced over at Scully at the foot of the bed.  Scully was frowning with empathy.
     “Can you describe this thing for me?” Mulder asked.
     “It was…big and black, on all fours.  Maybe the size of a lion…maybe bigger.  It had glowing green eyes, like cats eyes.”
     “Could this have been a puma, a panther; something like that?”
     “No.  It had no fur.  Just black leathery skin.  And it had these…things on its back, like tentacles.  Every time it growled they started whipping around.  Its face was…demonic.  It had a huge grinning mouth...full of sharp teeth.  It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen.  Like something out of a nightmare.  Have you really seen monsters before?”
     Mulder inhaled deeply and said, “More than I like to remember.  We were part of a federal unit that investigated unexplained phenomena.”
     Gail kept her eyes closed.  “So, you were like some kind of Twilight Zone, Outer Limits guy for the FBI?”
     “Pretty much, yeah.”  After a moment he added, “Gail, how did you survive?”
     Finally she opened her eyes, peered at him and smiled.  The smile chilled Mulder a little.
     “It was looming over me, but it didn’t hurt me.  It roared in my face…but then it just stroked my stomach with this massive claw.  And then it raced off into the trees.  It spared me.  It tore Doug to pieces but it spared me.  That’s when I realized.  When I got here I made the doctors give me a test.  It came back positive.”
     “You’re pregnant,” said Scully.
     The blonde woman looked at her and nodded.  “It didn’t want to hurt the baby…”  Mulder frowned but the woman added, “My husband wasn’t really my husband, was he?  I mean…he wasn’t the man I thought I’d married.  Was he?  I deserve the truth.”
     Mulder glanced at Scully and could see the concern in her eyes.  He peered at the young woman again.
     “Gail…your husband’s name was not Douglas Cross.  His entire history is a fiction.  His real name is Aadesh Ranna.  He was an ex-operative of India’s intelligence services.  And for the last four years he’s been working as a professional mercenary with terrorist factions here in the United States.  I’m…I’m sorry.”
     For some reason Gail didn’t seem too surprised, despite the tears that began rolling down her cheeks.  She just nodded like she finally understood something.  Softly she said, “But he did love me though.  On some level he did love me.”
     Mulder didn’t know what to say.  The pain and confusion in her expression was plain to see.  He took her hand, squeezed it and smiled warmly at her.  “Thank you, Gail.  I think we have what we need for now.”
     He left her bedside and followed Scully to the door.  As they were about to leave the room the young woman in the bed muttered, “Wait…”
     They turned and peered at her.
     “Vedanta,” she said quietly.
     “Sorry?” said Mulder, confused.
     She stared hard at Mulder.  “Vedanta.  Last week…I was…I was going through Doug’s phone.  I saw a memo he’d written.  Vedanta – Equinox Enactment.  I don’t know what it means.  I got the feeling he was hiding it from me, but…I told myself it was something to do with the accountancy firm he worked for.  I thought…I thought I might find a girl’s messages on his phone…”
     Scully removed a little notebook and pen from her coat, wrote down the phrase and checked the spelling with the woman in the bed.  She glanced at Scully’s handwriting and nodded.  “I hope it helps,” she told her.
     Scully smiled a thank-you at the woman, but she was no longer interested; turning away and gazing blankly out of the hospital window.
     Scully frowned and followed Mulder out into the busy corridor.  Nurses and doctors were going about their business.
     “Do you think this might be a lead?” asked Scully, holding up the notebook in her hand.
     But Mulder peered silently at her, his mind struggling to recall where he had heard the term ‘Vedanta’ before.
     “Mulder?”
     Suddenly it came to him.  It was a word he’d come across in his early days at the FBI, soon after stumbling across the X Files.  Back then the discovery of all those strange, unsolved cases had lit a fire in his imagination.  It was a term he recognized from spending countless hours reading up on world mythology.
     Scully touched his arm.  “What’re you thinking?”
     “I recognize that word, Scully. Vedanta.  It’s to do with Vedic philosophy…the Upanishads.”
     Scully frowned.  “You’ve lost me.”
     Mulder nodded and refocused on her.  “They’re ancient Indian spiritual scriptures.  Texts written in Sanskrit.  When I first discovered the X Files I began reading everything I could about the mythologies of different cultures.  The Vedanta, or Upanishads, are philosophical texts that discuss the nature of reality…and hidden truths.  They basically formed the basis of Hinduism.”
     Scully’s eyes were keen now.  “Gail’s husband – Aadesh  Ranna, was working for India’s DIA.  So, it is some kind of lead?”
     He didn’t answer her at first.
     “Mulder?”
     He took her by the arm, leaned in and said, “I’m starting to get a kind of creepy feeling here, Scully…”
     “What do you mean?”
     “I might be wrong, but I think whatever’s going on here is huge.”
     Scully gazed intently at him.  “What exactly do you think is going on?”
     “I don’t know.  It’s just a feeling.  A strong feeling.”  He pressed his hands to his eyes and took a long breath.  “I feel strange.  I think maybe I need a coffee or something.”
     When he took his hands away from his eyes Scully was peering at him with concern in her expression.
     She took his hand.  “Come on, let’s get you something.”


*

4: 06 p.m.


They were sitting in the hospital cafeteria.  Scully had bought Mulder a large coffee and a chicken salad.  She watched him while he ate.  He seemed unnerved, but he had that look in his eyes like he wasn’t quite sure what he was picking up on.  But his unease was making Scully feel uneasy too.  Plus, he didn’t really seem in the mood to talk right now.
     So Scully just stared at him.  At one point she reached out and caressed his cheek.  He glanced at her, smiled, and continued eating his chicken salad.
     Scully removed her iPhone from her coat pocket, opened the web browser and typed in the word ‘Vedanta’. 
     A list of entries came up, most of them relating to what Mulder had mentioned about Hindu philosophy.  She scrolled through absently, clicking on certain links here and there.  But finally one in particular caught her eye.  She clicked it, and felt a sudden rush of anticipation when the browser took her to a corporate website.  She quickly scanned through.
     “Ok,” she muttered.  “Whoa…”
     Immediately, Mulder’s gaze rose to meet hers.  “What?”
     Scully couldn’t quite believe the connection she’d made, but she knew it was incredibly significant.  “I just found a website for something called ‘Vedanta Biotech’, here in Boston. It’s a genetics company…”
     Mulder’s eyes narrowed with curiosity. “Genetics?”
     “Yeah, bio-genetic research and development.  And get this, Mulder; the CEO is a guy named Dr Sanjeev Kistri.  And the Executive Vice President of Operations is his wife, Dr Seema Kistri…”
     For a few moments Mulder was silent.  He stared at Scully and finally pushed his food away.
     “This Indian connection, Mulder – it’s not a coincidence, is it?”
     Mulder shook his head.  “I don’t think so.”
     “You think Aadesh Ranna was connected to this company somehow?  Corporate espionage?”
     Mulder sighed and dragged his chair closer to Scully’s.  He glanced around the hospital cafeteria, looked at her and muttered, “I think it’s way bigger than that, Scully.”
     But Scully already knew what Mulder was thinking.  Unfortunately she was thinking the same thing. 
     “Let me take a crack at it, Mulder. Vedanta Biotech created something…something living and extremely dangerous.  And now it’s loose…and killing people.”
     Mulder grimaced.  “You disagree?” he asked quietly.
     “No.  We’re not in the FBI basement anymore.” She offered him a smile and added, “I won’t pretend to understand how they could’ve created what Gail Cross just described to us, but I’m not as skeptical as I used to be…”
     A half-smile touched Mulder’s lips.  “That’s my girl.”  
     “But in our briefing packets it says that the crashed truck was on its way to Boston from somewhere else.”
     Quietly, Mulder said, “Vedanta Biotech must have an illegal site somewhere…where this thing was created.”
     A frightening thought occurred to Scully.  “You don’t think they were actually bringing this thing to the Vedanta headquarters?  Through a highly populated city? Would they be that crazy?  I mean, the photos they showed us at Vigil – this thing would have to be incredibly powerful to mutilate those bodies the way it did.  That’s a huge risk.”
     “Well,” said Mulder, “I think the context for this whole thing is way bigger than we can understand right now. It’s got me on edge, Scully, and I’m not sure why.”
     Scully could feel his unease growing, and she didn’t like the look in his eyes.
    “Ok, Mulder…but supposing this company has figured out the science to actually genetically-engineer this thing – why the hell would they?  I mean, that woman described something out of a horror movie…” 
     Mulder shrugged.  “Why do humans do half the crazy stuff they do?  Why did they invent the atomic bomb? Because they could.”
     Scully nodded.  Mulder was right.  “So…we really are dealing with some kind of monster?  You think this thing is still out there?  And why would Labyrinth want it for themselves?”  Scully paused, smiled sadly and added, “This thing is some kind of biological weapon, isn’t it?”
     “I think so.”  Suddenly he took her hand.  “Listen, I have this horrible feeling that if we follow this through to the end…things are going to get pretty dangerous.”
     “They always do,” muttered Scully.
     “I don’t…I don’t want to keep putting you in harm’s way, Scully.  I almost lost you in Wyoming.”  Scully saw a deep sadness surface in her lover’s expression.
     Scully leaned in and pressed her forehead to his. She could feel Mulder soften at the intimacy.  In a hushed voice she told him, “I’m a big girl, Mulder.  And putting ourselves in harm’s way is what we do, right?  For the greater good.  For the truth.”
     “The truth,” muttered Mulder, “never makes any goddamn sense.  It’s worthless if I end up losing the most important person in my life.”
     Scully felt like Mulder was holding back a torrent of powerful emotions.  She kept her forehead pressed to his.
     “Listen to me now, Spooky.  If we go down, we go down swinging.  Labyrinth are terrorists.  They’re cold-blooded murderers.  They killed Danielle Archer right in front of us, remember?  They held me out of the side of a moving helicopter.  They sent a nineteen year old kid to kill us in our motel room.  I want…I want some goddamn payback.  Janet Lessinger said that NSA already classified this entire thing.  I don’t think Lessinger is even really supposed to be letting us out here.  But that means you and me are the only thing standing between Labyrinth and this creature.  And I’m not about to let those bastards use whatever this thing is as a weapon against innocent civilians.”
     Mulder pulled away, peered solemnly into her eyes and said, “I’m kind of turned on right now…”
     With a smile Scully said, “That was kind of the idea.”
     He nodded. “Ok, ok.  So, we go to this company’s offices, show them our Vigil IDs, and try to scare some useful information out of them.”
     Scully took his hand and squeezed it.  She could see that Mulder was still frightened, but there was determination in his eyes now.


*


Across the hospital cafeteria, the sniper watched them get up and begin walking towards the exit.  He watched how the guy briefly slipped his arm around the redhead’s waist as they finally disappeared through the doors.  He’d been watching them covertly since they arrived at Mass General.  In fact, he’d been posted here since last night.  He assumed his handlers had known that someone from Vigil would eventually turn up to interview the wife. 
     The two investigators they’d sent seemed tired and not really at the top of their game – and yet the sniper wasn’t fooled.  He could see it in their eyes; they were both intuitive and very experienced.  They were credible threats, in other words.  He’d also quickly realized from their body language that they were lovers, but lovers who had spent a long time working together in a professional capacity.  The sniper knew all too well that this made them stronger and far more dangerous. 
     Of course, his urge was to get up and follow them – but he could do no such thing until he received the call from his handlers at Fort Meade.  Despite his natural calm and patience, it angered him.  If they had given him full control on the Interstate last night he could have contained this situation.  But instead three Labyrinth assets were dead, and the cargo was loose in the city somewhere.  The sniper frowned, took a sip of his coffee and then a big bite of his sandwich.  Hospital food was usually disgusting, but the sandwich wasn’t too bad.


*


Vedanta Biotech
Boston, Massachusetts
5:17 p.m.


The corporate headquarters lay on the outskirts of Boston, in a landscaped area set far back from any nearby roads.  The glass-panelled foyer of the Vedanta office-complex was sleek and luxurious.  The waiting area was composed of three black leather couches arranged around a coffee table.  Large flat-screen televisions were affixed to the walls, displaying promos of the company’s various projects.  The place reeked of money.  On the wall behind the reception counter was the corporate logo; a stylized depiction of a double-helix with added flourishes, made to look something like a Hindu Om symbol.
     Mulder glanced at Scully and handed the receptionist their Vigil ID cards.  He peered stone-faced and told her that they represented a US intelligence taskforce, that he and Dr Scully wanted to speak with the CEO – that it was an urgent matter of National Security. The young woman was unable to mask her nervousness as she glanced between he and Scully.  She told them to sit in the waiting area while she made some calls and verified their IDs, but Mulder didn’t budge from the reception counter.  Neither did Scully.  They simply stood there, hoping to convey a vague air of threat.
     Eventually the young receptionist ended her calls, peered up at them placatingly and said, “I’m afraid Dr Kistri is in a meeting right now, but someone will be down to see you shortly.”
     Mulder nodded curtly at the receptionist and glanced over at the security-guard standing near the elevators.  The guard was watching them like a hawk.
     Mulder went over to the leather couches, with Scully beside him, and they took a seat.
     “So, what do you think?” Scully asked quietly.
     “I think this place is a multi-million dollar company with a lot of vested interests.  I get the feeling we’re not welcome.”
     “Good,” Scully muttered.  “We don’t need to be welcomed.  I guess working for Vigil has its perks after all.”
     Mulder smiled at the harshness in her tone.
     For almost twenty minutes they sat waiting patiently, until an Indian woman stepped out of the elevators.  Immediately, Mulder analysed her appearance.  She was in her late thirties and very attractive, dressed in a sleek black skirt-suit and heels, but she had a solemn air about her.  There was a sadness behind her eyes.  She spoke briefly to the security guard, who motioned in their direction.  As they got up to greet her the Indian woman approached them and offered a smile that seemed a little forced.
     “Hello, sorry to keep you waiting.  I’m Dr Seema Kistri, the EVP of Operations here at Vedanta.”  She offered her hand.  Scully was the first to take it, then Mulder.  “Our receptionist said on the phone that you’re here on behalf of the US intelligence service?  How can we help you?”
     Mulder was slightly surprised; the woman had a very well-spoken British accent.  But already he could sense that this woman was afraid of their presence. 
     “Dr Kistri, your husband is the Chief Executive Officer of this company, is that right?”
     The woman nodded at his words.  “Yes, we founded this company together; a few years after earning our doctorates at Oxford.”
     “I’m an Oxford graduate myself,” Mulder told her.  She offered another forced smile.
     Scully decided to speak.  “Dr Kistri, we know you’re a busy woman but it’s imperative that we speak with you somewhere private, preferably with your husband present.”
     Mulder caught the tremor of unease in the woman’s tone.  “Unfortunately my husband is in an important meeting right now, but if you’d like we could go upstairs and discuss this matter in my office?”
     Scully nodded at her.  When the woman turned to walk back to the elevators, Scully glanced at Mulder and raised her eyebrows a little.
     They took the elevator to the top floor of the building, and began a long walk down immaculate corridors decorated in elegant panels of smoked glass.  Eventually they found their way to the woman’s plush office. 
     The space was three times the size of Mulder and Scully’s new office at Vigil, furnished with crimson carpets, leather couches and various kinds of genetic-themed artwork.  On her desk sat a little sculpture of a DNA helix. One wall of the room was adorned with small paintings that Mulder recognized as scenes from Hindu mythology.  Scully glanced at the walls, noticing them too.
     “Those are beautiful,” Scully said admiringly, gesturing at the paintings.
     The woman paid them only a cursory glance.  “Ah, yes, scenes from the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana. An indulgence from my religious childhood.”
     “The War of the Gods,” Mulder said quietly.  “Krishna and Arjuna.  Rama’s Journey.”
     Dr Seema Kistri peered curiously at him.  “Indeed.  You know your mythology, Mr…?”
     “Mulder.  Fox Mulder.  And this is Dr Dana Scully.”
     Rather than taking a seat behind her desk she perched on its edge and said, “So how exactly can Vedanta help the US intelligence service?  I must admit you’ve got me rather worried.”       
    “We believe that your company is engaged in illegal genetic research,” said Scully, eyes narrowed.  The anger in her voice was plain to hear.  Mulder hadn’t expected her to be so brazen.
     “Excuse me?”
     “The taskforce we represent,” continued Scully, “believes that Vedanta Biotech may have secretly engineered some kind of living biological weapon. Something extremely dangerous.”
     Seema Kistri scowled at her.  “This is ridiculous.  You cannot waltz in here and begin accusing us of something so preposterous…”
     “Preposterous?” balked Mulder.  “Four men are dead – torn to pieces by what a witness claims was some kind of very powerful creature.  One of these dead men was a man named Aadesh Ranna; an ex DIA Indian national, living in the US under an assumed name.  We believe this man was connected to your company somehow.”
     The Indian woman got up from the edge of her desk and stalked forward a few paces, glaring at Mulder and then Scully.  “You come in here and accuse us of making monsters? You’ve clearly both watched too many movies.  You cannot be serious.”
     Scully replied harshly, “We’re deadly serious, Dr Kistri.”
     The woman chuckled dismissively.  “I don’t know what fantastical notions you harbour concerning genetic research, but what you’re suggesting is pure Science Fiction.  If we possessed the technology and acumen to do what you’re suggesting…we’d be the biggest biotechnology firm on the planet.  You obviously have zero evidence to back up this nonsense, so I suggest you get the hell out of my office.”  She glared intently at both of them.  “If you’re not out of this building in the next ten minutes I’ll have security throw you out.”
     Mulder glanced at Scully, who was peering hatefully at the Indian woman.  “I assure you, Dr Kistri; this isn’t the last you’ll be seeing of us.”
     Scully turned on her heels and stalked out of the plush office.  Mulder quickly followed.  As Scully marched back down the corridor Mulder caught up with her and said, “You really gave it to her back there.”
     “I’m tired of pussyfooting around, Mulder.  To hell with the softly-softly approach.  I want them to know we’re after them.  I want them to feel us breathing down their necks.”
     Mulder nodded.  He could see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice; she really did want some payback for everything that had happened in the last several months.  In her own way Scully had declared war on whoever was ultimately behind this.  Mulder was thrilled and frightened at the same time.        


*

Oak Hill Suites
Boston, Massachusetts
8:47 p.m.


The motel room was tiny, but it was cheap and clean.  Scully was sitting cross-legged on the bed, the contents of their briefing packets spread in a semicircle around her.  They had hit a dead end.  Despite being certain that Vedanta Biotech was involved in all this, there was little more they could do right now.  She’d tried organising a time to view the remains of Aadesh Ranna at the Coroner’s Office, but on the phone the secretary had given her the run around – despite the access Vigil’s credentials were supposed to afford them.  She’d finally succeeded in booking a time to view the remains early tomorrow morning.  Now all they could do was sit around and wait. 
     Mulder was perched on the edge of the bed, lacing up his sneakers.  He had changed into his jogging gear and was about to go for a run.  She could see that he felt just as wired and frustrated as she did.  He glanced over his shoulder at her.
     “Are you sure you don’t want to join me?”
     “No, Mulder, you go ahead.  I’m going to keep reading this intel until something clicks.”
     “There’s nothing in there, Scully.  We just have to wait.”
     “Still…”
     Mulder sighed.  “You know, I have a feeling this thing might be here in Boston.  That it’s looking for something.”
     “What makes you say that?”
     “Just a feeling.”
     Scully had the sudden intuition that something wasn’t quite right with Mulder.  Something was putting him on edge – something other than the details of the case.
     “Mulder?”
     “Yeah?”
     “Are you mad at me for something?”
     Mulder turned to face her.  “What?  Why would I be mad?”
     Scully peered at him, trying to intuit his thoughts.  “Are you pissed at me for being so aggressive with Dr Kistri?”
     Mulder frowned.  “No.  Actually it was pretty thrilling.  I like Take-Charge-Scully.”
     “I feel like you’re mad at me.”
     He frowned again, but it seemed forced.  “Not at all.  I’m just on edge with all this.  This case is giving me a bad feeling.  I told you that when we were at the hospital.”
     “It’s more than that, Mulder.”
     Mulder was silent.  Scully could sense his discomfort.  She added tentatively, “Are you angry at me for what I told you back in Bethesda…?”
     “Scully…”
     “Wait, Mulder – let me finish. What I…what I told you, about the drinking…about the gun…I don’t expect you to be fine with  it.  I don’t expect you to fully understand what I went through after your funeral.  I can barely believe it myself…that I fell that far, that I was so irresponsible.  I mean, I’m a medical doctor…I should’ve known better.”
     Mulder didn’t say anything.  He couldn’t hold her gaze.  He simply peered at the pattern on the bedsheets.
     “You’ve been so wonderful with me these past six weeks, Mulder.  I’m so grateful…but I understand if it’s been a struggle at times.  I understand if some part of you is really, really angry with me.”
     Mulder looked up at her, sadness in his eyes.  “I’m dealing, Scully.  I’m dealing with it.  I don’t…I don’t want to feel this way.  I don’t want you to think I don’t empathise, because I do.  So much.  It’s just…complicated.”
     Scully nodded and smiled at him.  “It’s ok, Mulder.  I know how much you empathise.  I know how much you care about me.  I’m a very lucky woman.”
     Mulder offered her a sad, meek smile.
     “Go for that run,” she told him.  “Stay sexy for Dr Scully.”
     Mulder chuckled despite himself, and nodded.  “I’ll be back in less than an hour.”
     He got up off the bed, went to the door, turned briefly and winked at her.  And then Scully was alone with her thoughts in the motel room.
    

*


On the roof of the building opposite the Oak Hill Suites motel, the sniper lay concealed in his hide-site; a cement-coloured fabric draped over his body that would conceal him from the air if necessary.  The sky was finally darkening and he wasn’t worried about being spotted from the ground.  His shot placement was simple and effective – a mere hundred yards from the targets. 
     Peering through the sights of the AE MKIII, he smiled gently when he saw the tall guy finally get up off the bed and leave the motel room.  He and the redhead had been having some kind of heart to heart conversation.  Now, alone, the redhead stared through the motel window, occasionally seeming to stare right in his direction – but the sniper knew she had no idea she was being watched.  She was older than he was, late forties maybe, but she was still a cutie.  The sniper allowed himself the indulgence of the voyeuristic thrill of watching her in her private moments.  Taking his eye away from the sights he peered down into the street and watched as the tall guy exited the building.  He was dressed in sweatpants and immediately broke into a steady jog down the sidewalk. 
     The sniper wasn’t too concerned with the waiting.  Patience was foremost in his skill-set.  Waiting was part of what he’d trained for.  He pressed his eye to the sights again, and peered at the pretty redhead caught in his cross-hairs. 


*


For a while Scully sat thinking, staring out of the window.  Eventually tears found their way into her eyes.  Wiping them away, she resolved to take a big and important step – a step she should’ve taken years ago.  She retrieved her iPhone from her bag on the bed, dialled the number for enquiries and waited. 
     Someone answered and she asked to be put through to the FBI New York field-office.  She waited, listening to the ring-ring in her ear.
     “This is Dana Scully with the Vigil Intelligence Taskforce.”  She gave her ID number and asked to be put through to the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Counterterrorism Division.  She waited again while the secretary ran her ID through security-verification.
     Finally, she heard his familiar gravelly voice on the line.  “Agent Scully…?”
     She couldn’t help but smile.  “Hello, John.”
     John Doggett sounded both surprised and delighted.  “My God, it’s been a while…”
     “Too long.  You stopped writing.”
     For a moment there was silence on the line.  “I’m…I’m sorry, Scully. I just figured I should let you live your life in peace.  Plus, work is always getting in the way.  I know it’s not much of an excuse.  But I gotta say, I’m really happy to hear your voice.”
     Scully smiled even though Doggett couldn’t see it.  “The FBI’s finally paying you what you’re worth.  You’re the ASAC now.  Congratulations.”
     He laughed.  “It’s not as glamorous as it sounds, believe me.” Another pause. “Monica told me that you were working with her pretty recently.  That things got kinda…freaky.”
     “Yeah.  How  much has she told you…?”
     “Everything that happened in Richmond, and in Washington at Christmas.  I was worried about you…”
     “Did she tell you anything else?”
     Scully could feel his tension.  “Like what?”
     “About William?”
    “William?  What…Oh, Christ, what happened, Scully?”
    Scully swallowed and said, “I told Monica to keep it to herself.”
    “It’s not like Monica to betray a confidence.  What happened?”
     “Someone found him, John.  They kidnapped him right out of federal custody.  It’s the X Files…the goddamn X Files.”
     “Oh, Scully…”
     “Me and Mulder have been trying to find him for the last three months.  Nothing.  We’re working for an intelligence taskforce, on behalf of NSA and CIA. It’s really complicated.”
     “God, Scully…I don’t know what to say.  I’m so, so sorry…”
     “I need to talk to you about something.  Do you remember that night a few weeks after Mulder’s funeral?”
     “Yeah, I remember…”  The unease in his tone was palpable.
     “You let me drink that night, John.  I was grieving but you knew I was pregnant…and you let me drink…”
     For a few moments there was silence on the line between them.  “Scully, what’re you talking about…?”
     She realized that tears were rolling down her face now.  “You took me to that bar, remember?  We got drunk together, blind drunk…”
     “Scully…”
     “No, John, let me finish.  I have to say this to you.  You were supposed to have my back.  You were my partner.  But you let me drink while I was pregnant…and then I went home…and I…I put a gun to my own head.  I was going to kill myself, John…and the baby I was carrying.  I just couldn’t…I just couldn’t deal with losing Mulder…”
     Doggett’s voice became stern.  “Dana, listen to me – we didn’t get drunk together.  I wouldn’t have let you touch a drop, but that was the last thing on your mind.”
     Immediately, Scully felt a lump in her throat.  She could barely speak, but she forced herself.  “What…what’re you talking about?”
     “Scully, that night is burned into my brain.  I was so worried about you.  You told me you hadn’t slept in almost three days, and that you hadn’t eaten a single solid thing for almost a week.  I started freaking out…”
     Thoughts of Andrew Haynes and Bethesda flashed in Scully’s mind. Suddenly it felt like reality itself was beginning to shift all around her.  “Oh God,” she murmured.
     Doggett continued, “I wanted to drive you to the hospital immediately, but you wouldn’t let me.  So I dragged you to a restaurant and forced you to eat something.  I was shocked that you were still able to stand, that you hadn’t collapsed…”
     “Oh God,” Scully murmured again.
     “You broke down in tears after you finished eating, so I drove you home.  In the car you kept saying that you didn’t want to live without Mulder.  I was terrified.  I just wanted you to sleep.  In your apartment I tried to put you to bed, but…you kept struggling against me.  And then you…you pulled your gun on me.”
     “What?”
     “It wasn’t loaded, Scully.  I saw you take out the clip, but you were delirious…like you were acting out some kind of crazy drama in your mind. You put the gun in my hand, and…”
     “And what?” she asked, utterly shocked.
    “And you asked me to kill you.  You kept repeating it over and over. ‘Kill me, kill me, kill me…’ And then your Mom rang.  She was worried about you.  You were babbling. I tried to speak with her but you wouldn’t give me the phone.  Eventually I got you to calm down. Got you to lie down on the bed.  You passed out, Scully.  You slept for almost twenty-four hours.  I stayed with you.  I stayed on the couch in your lounge the whole time.  Skinner covered for me…”
     For a few moments Scully was speechless.  Eventually she muttered, “Jesus Christ…”
     Doggett’s voice was trembling as he spoke. 
    “Dana, when I saw that you were finally awake I left before you realized I was there. A few days later when you turned up for work…it was like you had no memory of the whole thing.  You seemed better.  You were eating and sleeping.  So I…I just never mentioned it again.  But…all this time you’ve believed this fantasy?  My God, Scully…I’m so sorry…”
     Silent tears were streaming down her face.  Eventually, Scully said quietly, “For eleven years I thought I tried to kill myself that night, and my baby…”
     “No, Scully…”
     “I took the clip out of the gun?”
     “Yeah.  I was just afraid for you…the emotional pain you were in.”
     “And I didn’t drink that night?”
     “No…you were delirious.  I’d never seen you like that before.  I was just trying to make sure you were ok.”
     It felt like an old, powerful shame at the centre of her was suddenly crumbling. Something profound was occurring.  She snatched the little gold cross that was hanging at her throat, raised it to her lips and kissed it with sheer unbridled gratitude. 
     “Oh, God…John.  Thank you…thank you…”
     Scully was trembling with the phone pressed to her ear, as wave after wave of powerful emotions swept through her.  And she realized that the tears streaming down her face were no longer tears of pain, but tears of relief, gratitude and joy.

*


Roxbury, Boston
9:08 p.m.


This was a particularly rough part of the neighbourhood.  Normally, Frankie kept his head down whenever the cops were around.  When he was forced to interact with them he usually did his comical homeless guy routine.  They were always gentler with him if he could make them laugh, if they pitied him.  It wasn’t that he hated the police, it was just that their concerns were not his concerns.  What did they honestly care about some sixty-three year old black guy’s problems? 
    Technically he hadn’t been homeless for the last five weeks, seeing as how Macy had been giving him a place to stay.  But he didn’t want his daughter’s charity – especially since her new boyfriend had been sleeping over more often.  Wesley made it clear that he thought Frankie was a disgusting piece of trash; a parasitic leech abusing his daughter’s goodwill and taking any opportunity to get high. 
     It didn’t matter that Frankie used to teach the kids at Tobin K-8.  His previous life as a high school science teacher was dead and buried.  To Wesley, and to Macy too, he was just a junkie that had failed again and again to get clean.  Tonight he didn’t even have enough cash for the men’s shelter, because he’d spent it on cheap rock.
     Because of all that, he normally would have avoided the police cruiser with its lights flashing at the end of the alleyway. But Frankie was certain he’d heard screaming – awful, gut-wrenching screaming, like someone getting cut.  He glanced around, trying to catch the attention of the few passers-by brave enough to still be out after dark in this part of Roxbury.  But nobody wanted to even hold eye contact with him.  He was too high for this shit, but police or not – they were still human beings.
     “I’m not a total asshole,” he murmured to himself.
     Gripping the strap of the tattered rucksack on his shoulder for comfort, Frankie stepped into the mouth of the alley.  The flashing lights of the police cruiser at the end turned the narrow space into a neon blue kaleidoscope.  As Frankie got closer he realised the cruiser’s doors were open.
     A bad feeling gripped him.  A bad juju kind of feeling.
     “Yo!” he called out, trying to sound braver than he felt, “You folks all right? You need any help?”
     There was no reply, but when he finally got close enough he inhaled sharply. An awful icy feeling of horror rolled through him.
     To the left of the cruiser, a cop was lying on the ground between two dumpsters; his sidearm still clenched in his hand.  Frankie could see that his stomach and face had been torn wide open.  Like something had been…eating him.  There was blood all over the ground.
     “Oh Lord…” Frankie heard himself murmur.
     But it was then that Frankie realized the policeman’s wounds were moving, that he was hearing tearing and chewing sounds.  Strips of flesh were being torn impossibly from the cop’s face and stomach.
     “Mother of God…” Frankie gasped.  His rucksack slipped from his shoulder and hit the ground with a soft thud.
     At that moment the shadows beside the fallen cop seemed to shift and blur and gather, and Frankie found himself peering into something big on all fours – something with glowing green eyes.  Frankie realized that he was face to face with something that had clawed its way up out of hell.  A fist seemed to close around his heart as he peered at the demon’s grinning mouth, filled with knife-like teeth. 


*


Cambridge, Boston
9:18 p.m.


The summer-evening sky had finally darkened.  The last traces of twilight were gone.  Mulder was jogging as he glanced up at the night.  He was tired and sweaty, not as fit as he used to be, but he was still making good time.  He would be back at the motel in less than half an hour.  He was trying to let the facts of this case gel in his mind, but he couldn’t help thinking about the look in Scully’s eyes before he’d left. 
     She seemed hurt by his anger, though not as hurt as he’d been expecting.  She genuinely seemed to understand that it was difficult for him to accept – and that made him love her all the more.  When he got back to the motel he would talk openly with her.  He really wanted to get past these feelings.  After all, who the hell was he to judge?  He’d been driven to suicidal thoughts on more than one occasion.  But Mulder recognized what was really troubling him.  That if she’d gone through with it she would’ve been ending two lives, not just her own. 
     He’d never got a chance to bond with their son, and as much as Mulder tried to pretend that he’d effectively dealt with that situation – it still hurt.
     Mulder realized his cell phone was ringing.  He came to a stop, took a few deep breaths and retrieved the phone from the zippered pocket on the leg of his sweatpants.  He glanced at the screen, assuming it would be Scully calling to ask when he’d be back.  But somehow it was his own number that was listed as the incoming call.  A chill of unease went through him despite the summer heat.
     “Who is this?”
     “I need you to listen to me very carefully, Fox.”
     Mulder scowled and glanced around the night-time streets for signs of someone watching him.  He saw no-one.  “Tell me who you are…or I’m going to hang up.”
     “This is Charon13,” replied the voice.
     Mulder immediately recalled the name.  It was the same person who tipped off Monica about Agent Mercer’s death at Christmas – the same person who led Scully and Monica to the Packton Industrial Park where the supersoldiers were holding he and Agent Thorne.  This person had helped them in their darkest moments, and was quite possibly an ally.  The sense of import made his stomach tighten.
     “I’m listening,” said Mulder, realising he was afraid.
     The line was silent for a few moments, and then, “This case you’re investigating for Vigil…it goes far deeper than you realize.  I have pertinent information that I need to share with you, immediately.  I’ll be taking a big risk revealing myself to you, but we’re running out of time…”
     “Like I said, I’m listening.” Mulder hoped the caller couldn’t hear the fear in his voice. There was more silence on the line for a few moments.
     “Turn to your left and look across the street.  You should see a silver BMW.”
     Mulder did as he was told.  “Yeah, I see it.”
     “Walk across the street and get in the passenger seat.  I’m waiting.”  The line was disconnected.
     Mulder felt the unease building in the pit of his stomach.  He couldn’t quite believe this was happening.  If this was a set-up, if he was being played somehow, then getting into that car was a very dangerous move.  Mulder took a long, deep breath and tried to listen to his intuition.
     Eventually he put the phone back in his pocket, hurried across the street to the waiting silver BMW, took another deep breath and climbed into the passenger seat.
     The man in the driver seat was an innocuous-looking guy in his early forties with dark brown hair, dressed in a business suit.  He peered intently at Mulder.
     “It’s good to finally meet you, Fox.  We’ll drive and talk.”  He started the engine, pulled away from the curb and began driving.  The heaviness in the car with them was palpable.
     “Who are you?” asked Mulder.
     “You don’t really think I’m going to answer that,  do you?”
     Mulder peered tentatively at the man in the business suit.  “Charon13?  Charon is the Ferryman in ancient Greek mythology.  He ferries the dead across the River Styx.  You see yourself…as some kind of ferryman?”
     “Yes,” the driver said quietly.
     “Whoever you are,” said Mulder, “you helped us back in December.  I want to thank you.”
     The driver simply nodded.  “I need you to listen to me very carefully, Fox.  What I’m about to tell you is above Top Secret. You’ve heard of the term ‘black intelligence’?”
     Mulder nodded. 
     “Well, this information is black intel.  Your life might be danger if others become aware that you’ve gained access to this knowledge.”  He paused, as if seeking Mulder’s permission to continue.  Mulder said nothing.
     “The United States is at a critical juncture right now.  Four days ago the White House enacted the Equinox.” 
     Mulder immediately recalled what Gail Cross had told them at Mass General.  Before Mulder could ask, the driver answered his question. 
     “The Equinox is the mobilization of all clandestine US intelligence apparatuses, in preparation for global war.”
     Mulder glanced at the man and said, “You mean colonization?”
     “Yes.  The Equinox is the midway, the point of no return.  The United States believes that colonization is now inevitable.  They believe that the invasion of this planet by an extra-solar race will begin on December 22nd of this year.  You’ve already heard of the Archangel Initiative, yes?”
     Mulder swallowed and nodded.  “The creation of sentient Archangel drones to protect military infrastructure when colonization begins.”
     “Yes, but Archangel is just one arm of the overall project.  There are others.  The case you’re investigating is connected to one of these sub-projects.”
     Mulder clenched his teeth, peered out of the window and said, “Just who the hell are you?”
     “I’m a resistance-fighter,” the man replied quietly.  “Listen to me…the thing you’re hunting is part of something called ‘Ravana’.  A secret, illegal experiment within India’s intelligence network – the creation of what are referred to as ‘Purity Stalkers’; biologically engineered combat-units to assist the Resistance against invasion ground-troops.”
     “Jesus,” muttered Mulder.  “Ravana?  Ravana is the King of Demons in Hindu mythology…”
     “Indeed,” said the driver.  “I can’t give you all the pieces.  You must put it together yourself.  But you have only five months left.  Perhaps far less.”
     “What exactly are you asking me to do?” Mulder said darkly.
     “Everything you can,” the driver replied.  “Labyrinth is trying to acquire this biological combat-unit, just as they did with the X22 Reaper drone codenamed Gabriel.  You can’t let them succeed.”
     Mulder grimaced.  “What the hell do you want from me?  I’m just one man.”
     The driver peered at him.  “One very special man.  I wouldn’t be talking to you now if I thought otherwise.  Listen to me, if Labyrinth acquires this combat-unit they intend to open communications to the remaining colonists – to reveal the scope of the Resistance’s contingencies.”
     With eyes narrowed, Mulder asked, “Why?”
     “Because Labyrinth knows that if the colonists realize that a Purity Stalker has been successfully engineered, they will abandon the timetable.”
     Mulder felt a twisting in his guts and a lump in his throat. “Are you…are you saying that…?”
     The driver nodded.  “Yes.  Colonization will then begin.  Immediately.”
     “Stop the car,” Mulder said bitterly, fearfully.  “This conversation is over.”
     The driver didn’t stop at first.  He took a left and eventually pulled into a dark little side street.  Finally he slowed the car to a halt and killed the engine.
     Mulder felt the unease and fear swelling quickly within himself.  If he made a sudden move for the door, would this guy try to stop him?
     “I must show you something now, Fox,” the driver muttered ominously.
     Mulder inhaled sharply as the driver’s flesh and clothes shifted like an optical illusion, and a muscular man in a black flight-suit was suddenly sitting in his place.  Mulder’s stomach clenched like a fist at the sight.  In this new form the man finally turned and peered at him with dark, impassive eyes.  Mulder stared incredulously at the bounty hunter sitting only inches away.
     

(To Be Continued…)

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