Thursday, 16 May 2013

Viduae Matri


August 26th 2012
Sky Lakes Wilderness
Klamath County, Oregon
10:14 p.m.


The dark room was lit only by a circle of burning votive candles in red glass holders.  Within the circle Dana Scully sat cross-legged with her arms outstretched, elbows resting on her knees, eyes closed.  She was barefoot, clad only in a veiled black gown.  The gown was thin and gauzy, a strange sensation against her nakedness beneath.
     The fear was eating away at her, but she tried to control her breathing. Dread had tightened her stomach.  She tried to remind herself that she had agreed to do this.  There was no way to back out now.  She was supposed to be meditating – recalling in her mind’s eye the strange symbol the first woman had shown her – but all she could picture was Mulder’s face.  She had been sitting like this for nearly twenty minutes. 
     Finally, from the corner of the room, she heard the woman ask gently, “Are you ready?”
     Without opening her eyes Scully responded, “I’m ready.”
     She heard the woman approach and stop just beyond the edge of the circle.  She reached out and lifted Scully’s veil.  “You can open your eyes now.”
     Scully did as she was told.
     The woman was dressed in an identical black gown.  She smiled and offered her hand.  Scully took it, uncrossed her legs, got up and stepped out of the circle of burning candles.  She tried to regulate her breathing.  She wouldn’t allow this woman to sense even a hint of her fear.
     The woman led her from the dark room and into an even darker corridor.  They moved through it, passing locked doors until they came to a door that was open.  A cold white light from the room was spilling faintly into the corridor.  As Scully stepped into the doorway she saw that an ad-hoc medical bay had been set up in the room, rigged with small portable lights.  It seemed incongruous amidst the many rooms of the old commune; like it wasn’t supposed to be there, and that frightened her further.
     Noticing her expression the woman at her side smiled gently.  “Don’t worry.  It’s just a quick scan, to ensure that you are who you say you are.”
     The woman led her to the medical table.  Scully took a long surreptitious breath and climbed onto the cold metallic surface.  As she lay there the woman went over to a console.
     There was an electronic whir as a mechanical arm unfolded from beneath the table, extended itself over her body and began pulsing with a blue neon light.  Slowly the arm began to move across the length of her body.  Scully swallowed and tried to maintain her composure.
     After perhaps only three minutes the pulsing blue light on the mechanical arm stopped.  The arm whirred again and began to fold itself back beneath the table.
     The woman left the console, approached the table and smiled at her.  “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
     Scully tried to smile and shook her head.
     “You passed our test, Katherine.  You’re one of us.  Now we just need to see if you’re one of us.”
     The way she’d said it made Scully flinch inside with fearful anticipation.  The woman went over to an intercom on the wall, pressed it and spoke into the microphone.  “She has the mark, in the back of her neck.  Her brain, her womb and uterus show signs as well.”
    For a moment there was silence, and then another female voice came through the speaker.
     “Her brain...?”  The voice sounded curious.
     “Yes.  It surprised me too.”
     “Bring her down.  The others are ready.”
     The woman turned away from the intercom, came back to the table and smiled again at Scully.   “Our sisters are ready for you, Katherine.  This is your initiation.  It’s a wonderful, wonderful night to be alive...”

The woman led Scully through the dark and into some kind of basement area within the commune.  Now, an old wooden door stood before them.  Scully couldn’t help but glance apprehensively at her guide.
     “Don’t worry.  Rose has vouched for you.  And the scan was positive.  You’re one of us.  There really is no reason to be afraid.  You must lower your veil now.”
     Scully swallowed, nodded and did as she was told.
     The woman opened the old wooden door and led her into the basement room.
     Inside, the darkened space was lit with dozens of little candles in red glass holders, identical to those that had formed her meditation circle upstairs.  Through the veil Scully could make out the shapes of other women in black gowns sitting in the room amongst the candles.  All of them had their veils lowered, like human shadows in the candlelight.
     The dread was building in the pit of her stomach now, but she forced herself to summon some resolve.
     The guide reached across and unclipped the tiny clasp on the shoulder of Scully’s gown – it slid effortlessly from her body and fluttered to the ground.
     Scully stood there naked and vulnerable in the candlelight.  Although she couldn’t see their faces beneath the veils, she sensed the eyes of the other women peering at her.  Unable to resist the feeling of helplessness, Scully squeezed her eyes shut and pressed an arm across her bare breasts, a hand against the place between her thighs.  She half expected to hear the other women tittering with amusement at her nervousness, but they all remained silent.
     “Come closer,” she heard one of them say eventually.  “We’re not going to hurt you.  We’re going to set you free.”
    Scully forced her eyes open again and willed herself to move towards the veiled women.  Some of them got up from where they were sitting and surrounded her.
     “I remember when I was a neophyte,” said one of them.
     “We all do,” said another.
     “We all felt the fear that you’re feeling,” said a third voice.
     “But the fear passed quickly, and led to our liberation.”
     “Transformed us...”
     “Taught us humility and power.”
     “Lie down on the ground, Katherine.”
     Scully couldn’t tell which of the women had last spoken, but she hesitated anyway – realising she was doing an awful job of hiding her fear from them.  One of the women lifted a veil, and Scully saw that it was ‘Rose’.  Her deep anxiety eased only slightly.
     “Lie down, Katherine,” Rose told her, with compassion but also intensity in her eyes.  “You’re my charge.  I vouched for you, and I’ll help you through this.”
     Scully realized she was trembling slightly, standing naked among these strangers, but she nodded.  She slowly lay down on the floor, peering up at the black shapes of the veiled women above her.  She locked gazes with Rose, the only one who had her veil lifted.  Scully knew that the young woman could see the anxiety in her eyes.  She kneeled beside Scully, gripping her hand. 
     “It’s ok.  The sisters are going to mark you with the sigils now, and turn your flesh into a canvas upon which magick shall be written.  It’s a symbolic awakening, but also quite a literal one too.  You’ll be changed, Katherine...and all the horror that led you here will be given meaning.  Your life will have purpose now.  True purpose.”
     Scully saw that two of the women had small pots in their hands, with little brushes in them.  They kneeled beside Rose.  Scully inhaled sharply as one of the cold brushes touched her naked skin, and they began marking her with a black, sticky fluid.  Her heart began to thud in her chest as the women painted strange glyphs onto her body.
     She couldn’t quite believe she was actually doing this; that she was actually here in this candlelit room with these women.  She tried to remind herself why she had come here, why she had agreed to this in the first place.  She knew all too well how dangerous these women were, and how fervently they believed the things they believed.  Mulder and Vigil and Washington D.C. seemed like a universe away already.  She lay there naked and helpless – feeling utterly alone.
     She clenched her teeth and watched as one of the women painted another black glyph onto her stomach.  She glanced up at Rose beside her as she gripped her hand.
     “Don’t be afraid,” Rose muttered, but Scully caught a glimpse of the terror hidden behind the young woman’s eyes.


*


Thirteen hours earlier
J Edgar Hoover building
Washington D.C.
9:04 a.m.


It had been only half an hour since she’d left.  As Fox Mulder stood hunched over the sinks, peering into the restroom mirror, he could already feel his stomach churning.  He was picturing her face as she sat in the backseat of the car, about to be driven to the airport by federal escort.  He recalled the look in her eyes as she stared at him through the back window, mouthing the words I love you as the car drove away.
     He turned on the tap, splashed water onto his face and then glared back up at his own reflection.
     Was it insanity to let her go?  Had he done the wrong thing by respecting her wishes?  He recalled their earlier conversation with a tightening in his guts.
    Don’t do this, Scully...we can find another way.
     Are you kidding me? Our first viable lead in four months and you want me to just walk away?
     You read the intel same as me.  You know how dangerous this is...
     It’s always dangerous, Mulder.  If it was down to you you’d do it in a heartbeat.  Why is it one rule for you and another for me?  We promised each other; any viable lead and we’d chase it down to the bitter end, remember?
     Dana...baby...
    Don’t.   We have a chance here...an actual chance...and I’m not going to let it slip through our fingers.  He deserves more than that.  We OWE him more than that.
     Mulder remembered kissing her deeply, his heart full of dread and yet pride for how brave she was; for how far she was willing to go for this.  She’d smiled that wonderful smile.
     You’ll keep me safe on the outside, Mulder.  Build an accurate picture.  We’ll still be in contact the whole time. You’ll be the angel on my shoulder.  Or in my ear.  We’ll get him back.
     He peered at his grim-faced reflection with narrowed eyes.
     Behind him, the door opened and Walter Skinner stepped into the restroom.  The bald Assistant Director saw the look on Mulder’s face in the mirror and said, “You ok?”
     “Peachy,” Mulder growled.
     AD Skinner peered at him for a few moments and frowned.  “Look, Mulder...this wasn’t originally my idea.  When I told Agent Reyes about what Vigil had uncovered, and its connection to this case, she begged to be assigned...and I wasn’t about to let her tackle this on her own.”
     “I’m not mad at you, Walter,” Mulder said quietly.  “I’m not mad at anyone.  I’m just scared, ok?  I’m really scared.”
     Skinner frowned again and nodded.  “But we’re going to keep her safe.  You and me and Monica; we’ll have her back at all times.  Ok?”
     Mulder sighed, peering at Skinner’s reflection in the mirror.  “Yeah.  Ok.”  He turned to face him directly.
     “I can get Monica or Rachel Marx to address the team instead if you want...”
     “No,” Mulder said quickly.  “I’m on point with this, right? This is her life we’re talking about.”
     Skinner nodded.  “Right.”
     They left the restroom and stepped back into the familiar corridors of the J Edgar Hoover building.  They walked down the hallway, passing other agents, and went into the meeting room.
     The small team had already assembled.  Including Monica Reyes and Rachel Marx there were only ten people in the room.  Mulder and Skinner made twelve.  It was a small team of agents for such a delicate and dangerous op, but Scully had wanted it that way.  The fewer people involved in this the better.  After all the years they had been out of the Bureau, trust was not something Scully was willing to give too easily to this new generation of federal employees.
     Monica Reyes glanced over at Mulder and smiled nervously.  Skinner went to the front of the elegantly-appointed room and addressed the team.
     “Ok, good morning everyone.  We have some analysts here from the Vigil Intelligence Taskforce; a group working on behalf of the NSA and CIA, and the FBI will be giving them our full cooperation in this matter.  One of these analysts is Rachel Marx, who was with CIA for three years before joining Vigil.”  He gestured at the dark-haired young analyst.  She smiled gently and nodded.  Skinner continued, “The other used to be one of our own – former Special Agent Fox Mulder.  He’ll be taking point on this op.  Mr Mulder...”  
     Skinner went and sat down with the team, beside Monica.  Mulder took his place at the lectern at the front of the room.
     “Ok, I’ll get right into it,” Mulder began.  “Six months ago the FBI started a highly sensitive operation that only a handful of senior agents were made aware of. A deep-cover assignment.  In February, Special Agent Nina Walker was tasked with infiltrating a cult that the FBI believed to have terrorist sympathies.  An all-female cult based in Oregon that calls themselves the Widow’s Hand.  The FBI believed this cult was using its esoteric mystic beliefs as a cover for the stockpiling of a considerable amount of automatic weapons and explosives, but the Bureau was never able to pin anything on them.  The cult consists of formerly professional women from educated backgrounds – and the Bureau feared that the cult was transitioning from a group of New Age kooks to something more resembling a highly-organised militia.  But then, a month ago, Special Agent Nina Walker was able to send another important communication from their commune in Klamath County, Oregon.  It seems that the members of this female cult believe themselves to be...alien abductees.”
     Some of the agents sitting in the room frowned; a few of them smiled or chuckled.  Mulder glanced at Skinner and Monica. 
     He continued, “Inside this cult, for the last six months, Special Agent Nina Walker has been operating under the identity of ‘Rose Adams’.  Rose is her middle name.  Her communication also stated that she’d discovered the Widow’s Hand had been interacting with a right-wing Christian militia calling themselves the Scythe of St John, a group with serious grievances against the FBI until most of their members vanished late last year.”
     “Yeah,” said one of the agents in the room, a young blonde guy.  “There were rumours about that group; that something almost happened here last Christmas...”
     Mulder glanced again at Monica and Skinner.
     “Let’s stay on track here, please,” he said to the young agent.  “This cult – these Widows as they call themselves – are now aligning themselves with legitimate terrorists.  Individuals that Vigil has been tracking for the last four months.  The reason that the Vigil Intelligence Taskforce contacted the FBI is because of this woman...”
     He nodded at Rachel Marx and she tapped the screen of a video-tablet in her lap.  An image blinked to life on the large monitor affixed to the wall behind Mulder.  He looked over his shoulder at it.
     The image was a grainy colour photograph of a woman in her late forties.  She had intense dark eyes, short black hair and a hard, angular face.  She had been pretty once, but the cruelness of her eyes seemed to obliterate what remained of her beauty.
     “We believe this woman to be the cult-leader.  Apparently, the other women refer to her as Widow Mother.  Her real name is Rebecca Killian – a former US Navy SEAL...”
     “Wait,” said the blonde agent, “That’s nonsense.  There are no female Navy SEALs.  Women aren’t allowed to serve in the special operations forces.”
     Irritated, Mulder peered at him.  “Actually, you’re wrong.  What I’m about to share with all of you is classified Naval intelligence uncovered by Vigil.  Rebecca Killian was a former US Marine who was recruited into an experimental black-ops contingent – codenamed ‘SEAL Team Omega’.  Only a handful of the highest-ranking members of the Naval Special Warfare Command even knew of its existence.  Killian was one of three women allowed to serve within SEAL Team Omega.”
     Looks of genuine worry were now shared by most of the agents in the room as they glanced among one another.
     Mulder continued, “She’s managed to stay off the grid for almost eight years, but she’s incredibly dangerous – a highly-skilled ex-operative who was employed in some very politically-sensitive missions...until one of those missions went wrong in 2002 and several members of her team were killed.  But there’s more.  According to recent evidence uncovered by Vigil, Rebecca Killian believes herself to be a multiple alien abductee...what’s known as a ‘repeater’ in UFO abduction literature.  We believe that she’s working with someone outside of the cult, another surviving member of Omega.”    
      Most of the agents in the room seemed fearful now.  They didn’t find it amusing any longer.  “Listen,” Mulder said pointedly, “According to evidence compiled by the Bureau during Agent Walker’s infiltration into this group, Rebecca Killian is a highly-intelligent charismatic sociopath...”
     “Most cult-leaders are,” said the blonde agent who’d spoken earlier.
     “Yes,” said Mulder, eyes narrowed, “but most of them are not former black-ops Navy SEALs with serious military connections.”
     The young agent finally shut his mouth and simply nodded uncomfortably.  Mulder peered at the faces before him and tried to control the tension he was feeling.
     “Half an hour ago a Vigil Taskforce analyst – a former FBI agent named Dana Scully – left this building to board a plane for Oregon, where Special Agent Nina Walker will attempt to induct her into the Widow’s Hand.  Apparently, in the last six months Agent Walker has managed to build up a certain level of trust with the other women, and more specifically with the cult-leader herself.  Walker is taking a very big risk by bringing a new woman into this group.  She risks blowing her cover.  So, both Vigil and the Bureau now have people at serious risk in this operation.  And one more thing...”
     He glanced at Skinner, Monica, and then peered back at the other agents.  “Dana Scully is my former FBI partner, my lover and my best friend.  So, this is as personal as it gets.  I want all eyes wide open on this, and both women back safe and unharmed once this op is completed.  Rachel Marx, Agent Reyes and I will be feeding you real-time intel from Oregon.  Assistant Director Skinner will be the team-leader here in D.C.  You’ll find all other pertinent information in your briefing documents.  Thank you.”    
     Mulder immediately left the lectern and stalked out of the room before the small team of agents could ask him any questions.

In the corridor just outside the meeting room Mulder sat on one of the chairs – peering at a photograph clutched in his hands.  He had tears in his eyes.  He thought he was in control, that he could handle this, but now as he peered at the photo he could feel all the old anguish beginning to resurface.
     To his left, the door to the meeting room opened and Rachel Marx stepped into the corridor.  She looked over at him, concern in her expression.
     “Agent Reyes asked me to come and check if you’re ok...”
     Mulder didn’t respond, continuing to stare at the photo in his hands.  The young cryptographer came and sat beside him in one of the chairs, frowning.  She glanced at the photo.
     “Cute boy,” she said quietly.  “Who is he?”
     “My son,” Mulder told her, his voice trembling.
     “I didn’t know you had...”  Her words trailed off as she gazed into Mulder’s eyes.  “You and Dana...?”
     Mulder nodded.  “We haven’t seen him in almost twelve years...”
     Rachel glanced again at the photo, confused.
     Mulder said quietly, “His adoptive parents gave Scully this photo three months ago, just after he went missing...”  He turned and looked at the young woman.
     Her keen eyes seemed to understand something.  “Is that...is that why Dana’s agreed to this?  You think his disappearance is connected to this case somehow?”
     Mulder nodded again, realising she could clearly see the tears in his eyes.
     “This is the Van De Kamp boy that Taskforce-Leader Lessinger was trying to find?  I had no idea, Fox...”
     “We asked Lessinger to keep it quiet,” said Mulder.  “We only found out about his disappearance a few weeks before you joined Vigil.”
     Rachel’s expression was full of empathy.  “I don’t remember my parents,” she muttered, glancing away from him.  Mulder peered at her but she wouldn’t meet his gaze now.  “They were killed when I was three years old.”
     For a moment Mulder thought she was going to say more, but she didn’t.  Mulder didn’t press her.
     Instead he gazed back down at the photograph of the dark-haired little boy clutched in his hands. 
     “We’ll keep Dana safe,” Rachel muttered eventually.  “And we’ll find your boy.”
     Mulder grimaced and held back the emotions.  He wanted so desperately to believe her.


*


Sky Lakes Wilderness
Klamath County, Oregon
11:06 p.m.


In the darkened, candlelit basement room the other women had given Scully back her gown.  Sitting in a large circle now, Scully counted twenty-four women – all of them with their veils lifted.  Her fear and anxiety had subsided a little now that the ‘initiation’ had finally ended.  She could still feel the painted symbols drying on her skin beneath the gown.
     “How do you feel?” one of the women in the circle asked.
     Scully tried to think of something genuine but non-threatening to tell them.  “Uh...I feel strange.  I don’t...I don’t really know what to think about all this...”
     Many of the women smiled or chuckled, glancing at one another.
     “We know exactly how you feel,” said one of them, a woman in her mid-thirties with curly brown hair.  “When I first came here I was a wreck.  I wanted answers for what happened to me.  My family called me a schizophrenic when I told them about my abduction experience.  My boyfriend left me, my family disowned me and I lost my job.  I lost everything.”
     Scully peered at her and asked haltingly, “What...what did you do...before you came here?”
     The woman smiled.  “I was a cop.  LAPD, for twelve years.  My job was everything to me, but the guys found out somehow...and I became a joke.  It didn’t take long before they thought up some excuse to have me fired.  The other women here have stories just like mine.  Teachers and nurses and lawyers...you name it.  There are people from all walks of life here.”
     Scully swallowed at the sensation of all these strangers peering at her.
     “What about you, Katherine?” asked another.  “What’s your story?”
     During the flight into Oregon Scully had meticulously gone over the acceptable version of ‘her story’, but now that the time had come to tell it she could barely speak.
     Glancing briefly at Rose, who peered stone-faced, Scully cleared her throat and said, “I was a medical doctor.  In the mid-nineties I was abducted.  They...they performed tests on me.  They took my ova...and left me barren.”
     Many of the women glanced knowingly and darkly at each other, nodding at her words.
     “They created a child,” Scully went on.  “A hybrid child from one of my eggs.  A little girl.  Emily...”
     Despite herself, tears welled in Scully’s eyes.  In the flickering candlelight she saw the intensity in the women’s expressions – mixtures of empathy, recognition and fury.
     “What happened to her?” asked one of the women, a young Asian.
     Scully took a long, faltering breath.  “She died.  She was very, very sick...and I couldn’t help her...”
     Someone else spoke and the others peered at her.  “We know the pain you’ve been carrying all these years.” 
     The girl who’d just spoken looked young; still in her late teens.  Like Scully she was a redhead, but her hair had been cropped extremely short.  She had large, pale blue eyes – almost grey – that made her appear strange and unsettling in the candlelight.  Although the girl was young Scully was immediately afraid of her.
     “I’ve been through what you’ve been through,” the girl said quietly.  “Twice.  The first time...they made me conceive when I was just nine years old.  My parents thought I’d been raped.  They didn’t want to believe what I told them.  The second time it happened I was thirteen.  I became a pariah.  The girls at school called me a slut, a whore.  But in my third trimester the Lights came and took the baby.  Everyone thought that I’d killed it...that I self-aborted...”
     Scully swallowed in horror at what the redheaded girl was saying.  Her strange grey eyes burned with savage intensity. 
     “But don’t worry,” the girl added.  “You’re with us now, and Widow Mother will take care of you...as she takes care of all of us.”
     A few of the women peered at the floor at the mention of ‘Widow Mother’.  Whether it was out of respect or fear, Scully couldn’t tell.  She pressed her lips together and prayed that she would hear from Mulder soon.


*


11:47 p.m.


The large cabin sat on the very edge of the vast forest, an old disused ranger’s station.  Vigil had ensured it would be available for them to use as a base of operations.  Its relative closeness to the commune was all-important.  They were only two miles from Scully’s location.  Above the seemingly-endless forest, stars glimmered in the night sky. 
     They had arrived under cover of darkness and found a tech-team in the old cabin setting up the last of their equipment.
     Mulder had spent the entire flight into Oregon poring over the Bureau’s and Vigil’s collective intel regarding the cult.
     The tech-team had left, and now Mulder was alone in the old station with Monica Reyes and Rachel Marx.  Apart from the equipment the room was bare, only their food, rucksacks and rolled up sleeping bags dumped in the far corner.  The fireplace was burning as Mulder stood peering at the crackling flames.  Over by the interior wall Rachel was doing a final check on the equipment.  Monica came over to the fireplace and stood beside Mulder.
     “Dana’s a very brave woman,” she said carefully.
     Mulder glanced at her.  “I know.  She’s not fearless, but she’s as close to it as any person I’ve ever known.”
     “Except maybe you,” said Monica with a tentative smile.  Mulder chuckled reluctantly.  “This is going to work,” she added.
     “I hope so...”
     “We’re all set,” said Rachel, peering over her shoulder at them.
     Mulder and Monica went over to the bank of computer equipment and took their seats beside the Vigil cryptographer.  There were three screens set up.  Two of them were dark, but the largest displayed a three-dimensional structural blueprint of the old commune, the angles of which Rachel could manipulate from the console.  Within the computer-model of the building a red point of light was pulsing steadily.
     “Is that her?” Mulder asked, aware of the shakiness his voice.
     “Yeah,” said Rachel.  “She’s in one of the basement rooms.”  Glancing over at Mulder, she added, “Ok, are you ready?”
     Mulder nodded.
     “Activating the Echopoint in three...two...one.”  Rachel reached over to a small black box connected to the console and flipped a switch.
     A barely audible hissing came from the console’s speakers.  Nobody was talking yet.  Mulder took a long, tremulous breath.
     Before Scully left for Oregon, Rachel had secured the use of an Echopoint from her contacts within the CIA – a tiny receiver/transmitter and tracker that could be inserted into an operative’s inner eardrum and attached securely to the skin.  It was next-gen technology; especially useful in particularly dangerous ops, and utilised the configuration of the user’s eardrum to boost the outgoing signal.  They would be able to hear what Scully heard, and she would be able to hear them.  Agent Walker didn’t have the luxury of a fitted Echopoint, but she had another means of communication that she’d smuggled into the commune.
     Mulder swallowed, leaned forward and spoke into the microphone.  “I’m here, Scully.”
     The only response was what seemed like a sudden inhalation of breath, and then the faintly hissing silence resumed.  Mulder glanced at Monica and then over at Rachel.
     For almost six minutes they sat waiting silently, until a voice finally came through the speakers.
     “You can open your eyes again.  You’re ready for the final stage of your initiation.”
     “What’s the final stage...?  I thought...I thought it was over now.”
     Scully’s voice.  Mulder felt a powerful relief flood through his entire body.  He glanced at Monica and Rachel and saw the relief in their eyes too.
     “No, that was Orientation.  This is the Strengthening.  To come face to face with Widow Mother you must be tempered.  Strengthened.”
     “I’m afraid.”
     “I know.  We were all afraid.  But we all went through it.  First the Strengthening, then you sleep.  And then tomorrow morning you’ll meet Widow Mother.”
     Mulder tried to control his fear for her and said into the microphone, “I’m here with you, Dana.  Every step of the way.”


*


11: 58 p.m.


With her heart thudding in her chest, Scully was led by three guides through the darkened maze of the commune’s basements – towards a corner lit with a single red bulb.  In the crimson glow Scully realised that a metal door was set into the wall, like the door to a prison cell.  She grimaced at the sight of it and glanced at the guides.  The women peered firmly at her, all empathy gone from their expressions now.
    One of the guides was the teenager with the cropped red hair and strange greyish eyes.  Scully realized she’d been clutching a thin metal chain in her fist, with a single key dangling from the end.
     She went to the metal door, unlocked it and motioned for Scully to step inside.  But Scully was rooted to the spot, glancing fearfully at the other two guides.  One of them picked up a metallic tube that was stood upright against the wall and held it sideways in her arms.  The tube was roughly four feet long and nearly a foot in diameter.  It looked heavy, and Scully had the sense that something awful was contained within it. 
     Her gaze went back to the open metal door and she noticed a circular hatch in its surface; the same diameter as the metallic tube in the guide’s arms.
     Terror was coursing through Scully now.
     “Please,” she said shakily, “I’m afraid...I don’t know if I can do this...”
     In her ear she heard Mulder’s voice say, “Stay strong, Dana.  I’m with you.”
     She tried to draw strength from his words, from knowing that they were connected.  She swallowed again, glancing at the teenage girl with the savage grey eyes, and walked slowly into the room.
     The thick metal door was immediately closed and locked behind her.
     She was in pitch blackness now.  She couldn’t see a thing, and then a moment later another red light flared to life above her.
     She was standing in a tiny space, more a chamber than a room.  It was maybe six feet across on both sides.
     In the crimson light Scully pressed herself into a corner, peering at the door to her cell, and sank to the floor.  A split-second later the circular hatch in the door slid open with a scrape of metal.  She heard the tube that the guide had been carrying being fitted into the opening.  It was too dark to see into the tube, but Scully’s stomach clenched.
     She heard the sounds of the other women walking away down the basement corridor.
     She was alone.  Christ, she was alone in this tiny little cell, bathed in red light.
     “Scully...?”
     “I’m here,” she replied, her voice trembling.  “They’ve locked me in a cell.  Oh God, Mulder...”
     “You’re not alone, you hear me? I’m with you.  Me and Monica and Rachel, we’re all here with you...”
     “I’m scared,” she told him.
     “I know, Dana, I know.  But you’re gonna get through this.”  
     Scully peered in fear at the dark circular opening in the door.  A spider crawled through it.  She inhaled sharply as dread made her stomach plummet.  She wasn’t particularly afraid of them, but the sudden knowledge of what these women intended to do filled her with horror. 
     Another spider crawled through, and then another and another.  Suddenly dozens upon dozens of them were seething through the opening and down the surface of the door.
     “Oh, Jesus Christ, Mulder...”
     “What is it?”
     “Spiders,” she said, her voice almost breaking.  “They’re filling the cell with spiders...”
     “Stay calm, Scully...”
     But there was no way she could stay calm.  Like a black wave sliding down the door, the spiders scrambled and crawled over one another.  They were fairly small, like average house-spiders – but Scully realized there were maybe hundreds of them.  She clenched her teeth, her chest heaving.  She watched helplessly as they made their way to the bottom of the door. They began spreading out across the floor, some of them scurrying up the walls.  In a matter of moments many of them reached her – crawling across her bare feet and up her legs.
     Her stomach clenched like a stone fist, her breath so fast that she was almost hyperventilating.  She could feel their tiny legs on her skin as some of them began moving under the hem of her gown.  Scully was naked beneath the gown, vulnerable.  Immediately she began screaming and kicking, trying to swat them away.  She felt them squishing beneath her palms and the soles of her feet.  Beneath the gown she felt some of them moving quickly across her thigh, her abdomen, her left breast.
   “MULDER!” she screamed, “MULDER, HELP ME...!”
     In her ear she heard, “Scully!  Scully, I’m with you!  Oh, Jesus, just stay calm!”     
     But all sense and reason was consumed as Scully was covered with the moving spiders.  She kicked and swatted and slapped and punched – and she screamed and screamed and screamed.  She only clamped her mouth shut went she felt one of them move through her hair and scurry across her face.  She snatched it from her cheek and crushed it in her fist.  There in the seething cell, bathed in red light, Scully endured the nightmare.


*


1:24 a.m.


Mulder was pacing just outside the cabin, his fists clenched as he peered at the ground and the forests and the black sky. It had been over an hour since they’d heard any word from Scully.  Mulder feared that the shock and horror of what she was enduring had caused her to pass out.  He wanted to jump into the 4x4 that was parked behind the cabin and drive as fast as he could to the commune, storm in and rescue her – but he knew he couldn’t do that. 
     If the women were armed, as the FBI and Vigil feared, they would most probably shoot him dead.  But even if they didn’t, Scully would never forgive him.
     He glanced over as Monica came through the door and stepped out onto the porch of the old ranger’s station.
     “Anything?” he asked brusquely.
     Monica shook her head, sadness in her expression.  “Rachel’s manning the Echopoint, so the first word that Scully says…”
     Mulder peered at the ground again as he continued pacing.  “I knew this was a bad idea…”
     “She’ll be ok, Mulder,” Monica told him.  “It’s typical cult programming.  They’re trying to create a new baseline for her psyche…but she won’t be there long enough for such blunt reprogramming to work.”
     Mulder glared at her as he paced.  “Is that supposed to comfort me?”
     “Uh…yeah, it was supposed to….”
     Monica’s slightly wounded tone made Mulder stop pacing.  He went and sat on the porch steps.  Monica quickly sat beside him.
     “Sorry,” he told her.
     “No need to apologise,” she said plainly.
     Mulder peered out to their left, at the edge of the Winema National Forest.  The tree-line looked dark and threatening.
     He removed the digital recorder from the pocket of his jacket, held it to his ear and pressed play.
     “Mulder, you’ve listened to it dozens of times,” Monica began, but Mulder shushed her as he tried to hear some new insight or resonance he’d missed.
     For the first thirty seconds the recording was just a hiss, and then two voices.  According to Vigil one of them was Rebecca Killian, the cult-leader, and the other was a man – who Vigil believed to be Matthew Resic, Killian’s troop-mate and possible lover back when they served in Omega together.
     The woman’s voice came first.  “Is this line secure?”
     “As secure as these things can be.  How far are you into Phase Two?”
     “About halfway.  They’re angry, so they’re buying it.  But they have every reason to be.”
     “Don’t get too attached.  They’re just a means to an end.”
      “They’re my flock.  I’ll decide how attached I get.”
     “Your flock?  Jesus, you sound like you believe it.”
     “Maybe I do.  These women all suffered, the same as me.  How can I not feel connected to them?”
     “You’re making me uncomfortable, talking like this.”
     “What about the Van De Kamp boy? Any news?”
     “East Coast, we think.  We’re narrowing the field.  Should have a location in the next few days.  We think he’s travelling with two others.”
     “Descriptions?”
     “Unconfirmed. But at least one of them has training.  They took out the Pentagon security-team in Arlington, and left three assets dead in Pennsylvania.”
     “We need the Van De Kamp boy.  He’s the crux of this whole thing.”
     “YOUR whole thing, you mean…”
     “Don’t start with me.  I’ve told you before; my contact in DOD said they believe that he’s the pinnacle…the Crown Child.”
     “How did Labyrinth even find out he exists?”
     “It doesn’t matter.  They did, and now we have a shot at really sticking it to them and the Apostles.”
     “I don’t really see that working. Labyrinth and the Apostles have been at this for almost twelve years.  If we go wading into a civil war we’re liable to end up in body-bags…”
     The woman on the recording chuckled.  “You still see them as inner-circle Intelligence, but Labyrinth’s members are also religious fundamentalists…same as any others.  They’re fragmenting now, fighting amongst themselves…like all zealots.  We can use that.”
     “No, they’re not the same as any others.  They’re far more grounded, resourceful, and they have far more power.”
     “Maybe so, but their entire theology is built on a lie.  If we acquire the Crown Child we can prove that to both sides.”
     There was exasperation in the man’s voice.  “We should be worrying about December instead of this kid.  We know hardly anything about him.  For all we know this whole thing could be a psy-op.  You really trust your contact?”
     “I do.”
     “Fine.  But I still think you’re making this too personal.”
     “Everything’s personal in a war.  You know that as well as I do.  Stay on it.  Keep narrowing the field.  I’ll let you know when we reach Phase Three.”
     The conversation ended, replaced by a soft hiss.  Mulder switched off the recorder and peered over at Monica beside him on the porch step.  She didn’t say anything, merely frowning with concern.
     “That’s why Scully agreed to this,” he said quietly.
     “This whole thing is crazy,” Monica muttered, more to herself than to Mulder.  “Who the hell are the Apostles?”
     “Hell if I know,” he said quietly.  “But whoever they are, they used to be members of Labyrinth.”
     “Some kind of breakaway group…”
     Mulder nodded. 
     Only a handful of people within the FBI were privy to the truth about the Labyrinth faction of the US intelligence service – the fact that this rogue domestic terror group had infiltrated huge swathes of the infrastructure, and that the Vigil Intelligence Taskforce had been created to specifically combat the threat that Labyrinth now posed to the United States.  He and Scully had brought Monica completely into the fold two weeks ago, when Vigil first contacted the Bureau about their Widow’s Hand operation.  Scully had told Monica little pieces over the last few months, but Mulder remembered Monica’s look of horror when they told her about Vigil’s true mandate and the full scope of what they were dealing with.
     But until this audio-fragment that Vigil’s servers had managed to decrypt, Mulder had never heard any mention of a breakaway faction referring to themselves as the Apostles.  The fragment alluded to some civil war within Labyrinth – and William seemed to be a part of it.
     There were dark forces out there who still wanted their son.  He remembered the look in Scully’s eyes when Rachel Marx had tentatively first played her the audio-fragment in one of the hub-suites at Vigil headquarters.
     There had been such ferocity in Scully’s eyes.
     Mulder was very, very frightened.  What chilled his blood even further was Rebecca Killian’s referring to William as the Crown Child.  Mulder knew this was all tied to William’s status as some kind of unique hybrid – a ‘perfect child’, whatever that really meant. 
     Mulder recalled the vision the X22 Reaper drone had shown him out in the Wyoming scrublands several months ago.  The Archangel prototype – codenamed Gabriel – had shown him how William had formed some kind of psychic bridge with the machine due to the resonance between the boy’s biology and the drone’s alien energy-source.  It was William who had caused the sentient drone to crash – a drone that had rebuilt itself and had healed Scully from a mortal gunshot wound.  The drone was out there somewhere, self-aware and completely autonomous.  And now Scully was risking her life to acquire information on William’s current location – information that might not actually exist.
     “Christ,” Mulder murmured and pressed his hands to his eyes.
     Just thinking about all of it turned his stomach and sent his mind reeling.  It was almost too big to conceptualize, too big to fit into his head.
     He felt Monica place a reassuring hand on his shoulder.  “One step at a time,” she told him quietly.  He nodded with his hands still pressed to his eyes.    
     Through the open cabin door they heard Rachel Marx call out to them.  “She’s awake! Get in here!”
    Mulder and Monica shared a brief stunned glance before jumping up and hurrying back inside.
     They immediately took their seats beside Rachel at the console.  Mulder leaned forward and spoke into the mic.
     “Dana, are you ok?”
     “I’m ok, Mulder…”
     “The spiders…?” he asked tentatively.
     “Most of them are dead.  I squished them.  There’s gunk all over the floor.  I’m stomping the last of them.  Christ, I feel sick…”
     But her voice had strength in it again, and Mulder felt a flood of relief move through him.
     “I…I think I passed out, Mulder…”
     “Yeah,” he said into the mic, smiling despite himself.  “Me and Monica and Rachel were panicking like crazy…”
     “Is Skinner with you?”
     “No, he’s with the team in D.C. like you asked.  It’s just the three of us.”
     “Good.  Ugh…”
     The sound of heavy footfalls came through the speakers.  Scully was still crushing the last of the spiders in the cell with her.
     “Have I ever told you that I think you’re the sexiest woman alive?” asked Mulder.
     “A couple of times…”
     Glancing at Monica and Rachel he saw that both women were smiling now too.  And then Scully said fearfully, “Someone’s coming back!  I can hear them coming down the corridor…
     The fragile levity in the cabin dissipated immediately.  Monica and Rachel’s faces fell.  Mulder grimaced and waited.


*


The floor and walls of the red-lit cell were covered with the splattered remains of dead spiders.  Scully’s hands and gown were smeared with drying gunk.  It made her skin crawl, but less so now that most of them were dead.  There were still a few crawling high on the walls near the ceiling, and some that trembled half-crushed and dying at her feet.
     Scully was doing everything she could to control her breathing, to maintain her composure.  It wasn’t easy, and now she listened to the sounds of footsteps moving through the basement corridor outside.
     “I’m with you,” she heard Mulder say in her ear.
     She nodded even though Mulder couldn’t see it.  She listened to the sound of the door to her cell being unlocked.  The door swung open and Scully found herself peering at Special Agent Nina ‘Rose’ Walker.  The young woman’s eyes were filled with compassion and worry.  Scully scrambled up from the corner of her cell, lunged and embraced her.
     “Oh, thank God…thank God.”
     The young FBI agent held her tightly and said in her ear.  “Are you ok?”
     “I...I think so…”
     Rose pulled away and peered into Scully’s eyes.  “The others are in the dorm rooms, preparing for bed.  I’m supposed to take you to your own room for the night.”
     “My own room?” asked Scully, eyes narrowing.
     The young agent frowned and glanced back down the basement corridor.  “Just for the first night.  It’s standard procedure for all new initiates.  And then tomorrow you’ll be with me in one of the dorms.”
     “Is that Agent Walker?” Mulder asked.
     “Yes.”
     “Thank her for doing this, from me.”
     She stared at Rose and said quietly, “Mulder says thank you, for helping us pull this off.”
     Rose simply nodded and glanced away. She seemed to be holding back powerful emotions. 
    Despite having met this young woman in person only briefly during her arrival, Scully already felt bonded to her.  They had talked sporadically in the weeks leading up to this – through an encrypted cell phone the young agent had managed to smuggle into the commune, but now as Scully stared into her eyes the feeling of connection was palpable.  This woman was the only person she could trust in here.
     Touching the side of her face, Scully asked, “How the hell have you managed this for the last six months?”
     Scully could see the threat of tears in Rose’s eyes, but she glanced away again and shook her head.  “I don’t know…”  Suddenly she snapped her gaze back to Scully.  “Listen, tomorrow morning you’ll meet Widow Mother.  The identity that the Bureau put together for you seems to be airtight.  You wouldn’t be here otherwise, whether I vouched for you or not.  Widow Mother is very, very thorough.” 
     “Her laptop,” Scully said quickly.  “In your communications you said that she had a laptop that she always keeps with her.  I need to get to it.”
     Rose peered nervously at her.  “She keeps it in her room, along with other stuff.  You won’t be able to get to it right now; she’s in there.  She keeps it locked when she’s away, and Eleanor is the only other person who has a set of keys.”
     “Eleanor?”
     “The youngest one here,” said Rose, and Scully caught the fear in her voice.
     Scully immediately realized she was talking about the teenage girl from earlier, the one with the cropped red hair and strange grey eyes that had locked her in the cell.  Scully realized that Rose was afraid of Eleanor, and she guessed that many of the other women were too.  She recalled the chilling feeling the girl had given her back in the introduction circle.
     “Come on.”  The young FBI agent closed the cell door and began quickly leading Scully through the darkened basement corridor. 
     They found their way up the stairwell and onto the first floor.  Eventually Rose led her through the darkened hallway and onto another staircase, taking them all the way to the third and highest floor.  The old commune was large, with eighteen rooms, built in 1924. In the last two weeks Scully had read and re-read everything she could about the building’s history, and had memorized the layout from structural blueprints.
     The building was originally an outpost designed by European settlers who had followed the Applegate Trail through Southern Oregon, before moving to Klamath Falls and selling the property just before the end of the Second World War.  It had several owners since then, until a group of private investors had acquired it six years ago.
     Sitting out in the Sky Lakes Wilderness, not far from the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, it was the perfect place for a cult of women who wanted to remain isolated.
     “I’m guessing all the exits are locked?” Scully asked quietly as they moved along the corridor.
     “No,” Rose told her.  “The Strengthening is the only time they lock us up.  If we want to leave after that we can, according to Widow Mother…”
     “What?” said Scully, astonished. 
    “If you’re still here tomorrow morning, you’ll meet her.  The others have bets going on whether you’ll leave or not…”
    Scully peered at her.  “If that’s true, why the hell would anyone stay here after going through what I just did?”
     “Because they’re all broken,” she murmured.  “They want answers, they want kinship.  A family…”        
     They came to a door at the end of the hallway.  Rose opened it for her, turned and smiled awkwardly.
     “I know you must have a thousand questions, but I can’t stay. The others will be waiting for me. Tomorrow morning in the garden, after you’ve met her – we’ll try to talk more.”
     The young FBI agent turned and stalked away down the corridor.
     “Wait…” Scully began in the loudest whisper she dared, but the woman kept walking, turned a corner and disappeared from sight.  Scully stood there for a moment, alone and afraid. 
     In her ear Mulder asked, “Scully? You ok?”
     “I’m ok.  Did you hear all that?”
     “Yeah, I heard.”
     Scully took a long breath and stepped into the room, closing the door behind her.  Apart from a double bed against the wall and an armchair over by the windows the room was bare and cold, like a nun’s dwelling.  On the bed she saw a pair of jeans and a vest, both black, folded neatly on the duvet.  There was another door on the right side of the room. 
     Scully went over to it, opened the door and peered into a small en-suite bathroom.  It seemed newly-fitted, with pristine modern appliances.  Affixed to the wall above the bathtub was a gleaming silver showerhead.  

Her gown discarded, Scully stood naked in the bathtub – head bowed beneath the showerhead.  The hot water felt good on her shoulders and the back of her neck. She let the water cleanse her of the symbols the women had painted on her, and wash away the crushed remains of the spiders that had tainted her skin.  The tiny Echopoint device concealed in her inner eardrum wouldn’t be dislodged by simple running water, though it did briefly interrupt the signal. 
     There was no Mulder in her ear as the hot water sluiced across her body, just an odd feedback hiss, but she was fairly confident that the signal would resume as soon as she was done.  She just wanted this black sticky mess off her body. As the water cleansed her skin Scully thought briefly of baptism, and touched two fingers to the little gold cross that hung at her throat.


*

2:13 a.m.


Dressed now in the black jeans and black vest that had been left folded on the bed, Scully sat in the armchair by the windows.  She peered out at the moonlight falling on the leaves of the trees across the field, giving them a strange silvery sheen.
     She thought about the photo the Van De Kamps had given her several months ago, the photo she had left with Mulder just before leaving FBI headquarters in D.C.  Scully had memorised the boy’s face – his gentle smile, his intelligent eyes that seemed to contain more soul than was expected for a boy of his age.  William’s eyes seemed to imply that he’d lived with some strange knowledge; some secret understanding that tinged those eyes with wisdom and sadness.
     “If I could’ve taken your place, Dana, I would have.”
     A half-smile touched Scully’s lips.  “How exactly?  Dress you up in a miniskirt and heels and tell them your name’s Foxy? First time for everything, Mulder.”
     “Who says it’d be my first time?”
     Scully actually chuckled at the tone of his words in her ear.”Still full of surprises, Foxy…”
     “I’m an open-minded kinda guy.”
     Scully smiled again, despite herself, peering down at her own hands. 
     “Agent Walker said she’ll try to talk with me tomorrow, after I meet Widow Mother.  I’m praying that I can get to her laptop somehow.”  Scully paused for a moment, swallowed and shook her head.  “These women, Mulder…they’ve suffered in their lives.  I saw it in their eyes.  Despite what they just put me through…I think…I think I can understand how desperate they must have felt, to stay here.”
     “Broken people do crazy things, Scully.  We’ve seen it a thousand times.  How are you holding up?”
     “I’m coping.  It feels like you’re a thousand miles away.  I miss you.”
     “I miss you too.  Just two miles away.”
     “I just keep thinking how extraordinarily dangerous this is.  If something goes wrong, if they find out about me or Agent Walker…”
     “I won’t let that happen.  Me and Monica and Rachel, we’re right here with you.  The angels on your shoulder, right?”
     Scully smiled sadly.  “Right.”  For a few moments she was silent, and then added, “I need to try and sleep soon.  Will you read to me?” 
     “Always,” was Mulder’s reply.    


*


2:34 a.m.


In the old cabin Mulder was sitting at the console with Scully’s tattered copy of Moby Dick open in front of him.  He’d only been reading for a few minutes, but he sensed that Scully’s exhaustion combined with the salve of his words was already helping her to drift off.
     “Keep going, Mulder,” she said sleepily through the speakers.  “I’m…I’m listening.”
     Mulder peered down at the novel and continued.
     “…Chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea of the great whale himself. Such a portentous and mysterious monster roused all my curiosity. Then the wild and distant seas where he rolled his island bulk; the undeliverable, nameless perils of the whale; these, with all the attending marvels of a thousand Patagonian sights and sounds, helped to sway me to my wish. With other men, perhaps, such things would not have been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts…”  Mulder stopped reading, listened for a moment and asked, “Scully…?”
     But all he could hear was the sound of her breathing. 
     Mulder turned the chair away from the equipment console to peer at the crackling fireplace.  He realized that Rachel Marx was still sitting up, backlit by the fireplace, smiling at him.  Beside the young cryptographer Monica was already dozing in her sleeping bag.
     “You guys really love each other,” said Rachel.  It was more a statement than a question.
     Mulder simply glanced away and nodded.  Rachel was conspicuously silent, so Mulder added, “We’ve been through a hell of a lot together.”
     “Mmm,” said Rachel, nodding, her eyes keen.  “I can tell.  I could tell when I first met the two of you.”  She patted the floor beside her; an offer to join her.  Mulder reluctantly got up, went over and sat down next to the young woman.  The heat of the fireplace began to warm his back.
     Rachel glanced over at Monica asleep in her bag.  “It’s going to be ok, Fox.”
     “You don’t know that.  But thanks.”
     The dark-haired young analyst peered at him.  “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I did some off-the-books research into you and Dana a while back.  With the taskforce seeing Labyrinth assets around every corner I figured a little paranoia in this case was prudent.”
     Mulder chuckled, not really surprised.  “You thought maybe we were the bad guys?”
     Rachel shook her head.  “No, I just heard some rumours about how you got recruited into Vigil, your former careers with the FBI…I just wanted to know what kinds of people you were.”
     “And…?”
     “And you and Dana are remarkable people,” she said quietly.  “Heroes, really.  You were a credit to the Bureau.  I wish the Agency was filled with people like you.”
     “Yeah?” said Mulder.  “So what’s it like being a former CIA spook?”
     Rachel simply raised an eyebrow, a hint of a smile on her lips.  “I’m not a spook, just an analyst…a humble desk-jockey.”
     “Oh, I don’t know about that,” Mulder said casually.  “Janet Lessinger has referred to you as a genius on more than one occasion.  I think you were very involved in fieldwork in some capacity or other.  Once upon a time it was my job to notice these things, Miss Marx.”
     Rachel just smiled at him.  After a few moments she said, “Monica told me you haven’t slept in almost twenty-four hours.  Try to get some rest, ok?  I’ll man the console and wake you if I hear anything from Dana.”
     Mulder nodded reluctantly, grabbed his pack and began unrolling his sleeping bag.


*


August 27th 2012
10:02 a.m.


Scully was grateful that she’d managed to sleep, and that she hadn’t dreamt of spiders.  But despite the shower late last night she still felt tainted.  And now she was more afraid than ever.  She was about to meet Widow Mother.  The room was filled with bright daylight as the teenager with the cropped red hair and grey eyes stood in the doorway, peering at Scully with an intensity that was unsettling.
     “Are you ready?” asked Eleanor, dressed now in the same black jeans and black vest that Scully was wearing.
     Scully stared at the girl in the doorway.  “I guess so…”
     “She has a lot to teach you.”
     Eleanor led her down the corridor, turning left at the junction into a wider hallway. They kept walking until they came to the last door before the hallway ended.
     “Just stay calm, Dana,” Mulder said in her ear.  “We’re all here with you.”
     The girl knocked dutifully on the door.
     The response from the other side was an unceremonious, “Come in.”
     Eleanor removed a key from the front of her vest, attached to a thin silver chain around her neck. She lifted the chain over her head and unlocked the door.
     The room was obviously the biggest in the entire commune, with large arched windows in two of its walls.  The walls were covered with countless newspaper and magazine clippings. Text and images were everywhere. Scully caught glimpses of UFOs, crop circles and mathematical formulae.  One of the windows was open and a small satellite transmitter-dish was perched on the wide ledge, connected to a thick trunk of cables that trailed across the unvarnished wooden floor and led to a console of computer equipment; flat-screen monitors and little black speakers. Connected to the equipment was an open laptop, rapid data-streams scrolling across its screen – the laptop that quite possibly contained information on her son’s current location.
     Scully tried to absorb the details of the surroundings in the few brief seconds before she realized Widow Mother was sat on the edge of a four-poster bed on the right side of the room.
     “I know,” the woman said.  “It’s overwhelming, but I take the protection of my family very, very seriously.  Eleanor, leave us.”
     The teenage girl at Scully’s side retreated back through the door and closed it behind her.
     Scully just stood there in the private quarters of Rebecca Killian, a woman that both FBI and Vigil believed to be a former US Marine and clandestine Navy SEAL – and also a highly-intelligent sociopath.
     Scully felt the sensation of fear prickling against her skin.  The woman was dressed in the same black jeans and vest that Scully was wearing, the only difference being that Killian had a pair of USMC dog-tags hanging from a chain around her neck.
     The woman caught Scully’s glance, and peered down at them.  “A past life,” she said, lifting and kissing the dog-tags before letting them fall back into position.  “You have to remember where you came from in order to know where you’re going.”
     She fixed Scully with a piercing stare, and Scully was immediately afraid.  The photo she’d seen at Vigil hadn’t done the woman justice.  She had an incredibly toned physique.  Despite her hard, angular features she was still attractive.  Her black hair was cut boyishly short.  Scully noticed an old scar leading from her collar bone, sweeping diagonally across her throat and ending just under her chin.  Scully immediately knew that the woman had been either incredibly lucky or resilient to survive such a wound.
     “So you’re Katherine Miller, the medical doctor.”  Scully tried to control her anxiety, and nodded.  Killian added, “And you came to us because you want answers for what was done to you…”
     Scully nodded again.  “A child…a child of mine died many years ago.  A hybrid child.” Scully caught a glimpse of what seemed like genuine empathy in the woman’s eyes. 
     “Come here,” she said quietly.
     Scully swallowed and approached, realising that an armchair stood beside the bed on the opposite side.
     “Take a seat.”
     Scully did as she was told.  Rebecca Killian moved to sit facing her.
     “You’re an old friend of Rose’s.  She vouched for you.  I did some background checks on you, Katherine.  What happened to you was a tragedy.  All of the women here have tragedies much like it.  Including myself.”     
     Scully peered down at her own hands in her lap.  “I lost everything.  I just want some answers. I want to be around people who’ll understand; people who won’t ridicule me. You locked me in a room full of spiders, but…but I’m still hoping this is a place where I can be accepted.”
     “It was only to strengthen you.  Look at me, Katherine.”
     Scully looked up at her, afraid.
     “You’re doing great, Scully,” Mulder said in her ear.
     The cult-leader peered at her with keen eyes.  “The scan showed that you have a mark in the back of your neck. And your brain displayed abnormalities.  Tell me what happened to you.”
     Scully pressed her lips together, feeling genuine anger rising despite the fa├žade.
     “My abduction left me barren…and left me with cancer.  An inoperable form of brain cancer.  I nearly died.”
     Killian’s eyes narrowed.  “Most of the other women that endured what you’re talking about are now dead.  Why are you still alive?”
     Scully took a long, slow breath.  “A microchip in the back of my neck. I think it healed me. Either that or sheer faith.”
     It was Killian’s turn to look away.  In a quiet voice she muttered, “You’re the first woman that I’ve met in a long time who understands.  The others here have their own horror stories…but not like ours.”
     Scully felt a tightening in her guts.
     “I’m dying, Katherine,” the cult-leader told her, holding her gaze once more.  “A rare, inoperable brain tumour.  I had a mark in the back of my neck too, but I destroyed it several years ago.  Working for the military can make you extremely paranoid.  Since that time a contact was providing me with an experimental drug that slowed the tumour’s growth.  But my contact died.  And now I only have a few vials left of the drug.”
     Scully stared at her, wondering if this was some elaborate mind-game – but she sensed genuine fear in Rebecca Killian’s eyes.
     “Why are you telling me this?” Scully asked quietly.
     “Because you’re new here, and I want you to understand that we share a tragedy.  We’re connected.  And because I don’t want you to be afraid of me.”
     In Scully’s ear Mulder said, “Don’t believe a word that comes out of her mouth, Dana.”
     But Scully had the sensation that what this woman just told her was true.  She didn’t know how to feel about it.
     “Rose told me that you believe the End of Days is coming.  Is that true?”  Killian stared at her for a long time before nodding.  “Is that why all this awfulness has happened to me?”
     Killian nodded again.  “Do you want to know the truth?”
     “Yes.”
     The cult-leader leaned forward slightly, clasping her hands between her legs.  “What happened to you…what happened to all of us in one form or another, is part of a military-run hybridization program. They stole our children, destroyed our lives. And the reason is because our government believes that on December 22nd of this year our planet is going to be invaded by a malevolent extraterrestrial race.  The highest echelons of US intelligence refer to it as ‘colonisation’.  They believe these hybrids are the only ones who will survive the viral apocalypse.”
     Scully swallowed her fear as she peered into Killian’s eyes. “I don’t…I don’t understand.”
     Rebecca Killian held her gaze, unwavering.    
     “Apparently, the plans of the Colonists have changed somewhat because of a rebel faction. But our government believes the timetable is still set – that on December 22nd the alien presence will make itself known to the entire world…and, simultaneously, a plague will be unleashed upon the Earth.  This plague is codenamed ‘Purity’.  It will annihilate ninety-five percent of the Earth’s population within the first six months, and our raw biological material will be used as a catalyst for the spontaneous repopulation of this alien race.”
     Scully swallowed, shaking her head.  “No, I’m…I’m a medical doctor…I can’t believe that.  That can’t be true…”
     “You’re doing really great, Scully…”
     “True or not, Katherine, very powerful people believe it.  They believe that this event has been presaged by many of the world’s religions, symbolically encoded in various texts by those that knew fragments of the real truth.  The Christians called it the Last Judgement.  The Muslims called it Qiyamahthe Day of Resurrection.  But it doesn’t matter what you call it.  Much of the US government believes the Apocalypse is coming whether we believe it or not.”
     Scully frowned, holding the woman’s gaze.  “But what do you believe?”
     A small smile turned the corners of Rebecca Killian’s mouth.  “I believe that forewarned is forearmed.”
     She glanced down and pressed a button on the digital watch on her wrist.  


*


In the disused ranger’s station Mulder sat hunched over the equipment console.  He glanced up and looked over at Monica standing by the dying embers of the fireplace.  There was worry in the brunette’s eyes.
     “Forewarned is forearmed?” she said fearfully.  “This Killian woman is turning these poor souls into her own private little army…”
     Beside Mulder, Rachel Marx said, “I’m worried too, but twenty-three cultists doesn’t make an army, Agent Reyes.”
     “It does if they have a stockpile of explosives and automatic weapons on site,” muttered Mulder.
     Monica nodded.  “Exactly.”
     “Wait, guys,” said Rachel.  “Agent Walker hasn’t been able to confirm the existence of any cache of guns or explosives, and she’s been there for six months.  I mean, maybe Rebecca Killian is just exactly what she appears to be – a crazy bitch on a power-trip.”
     Mulder glanced again at Monica, and knew what she was thinking.  Rachel Marx hadn’t been through the things they’d been through.  She couldn’t comprehend that Killian’s talk of colonisation and a coming viral apocalypse was practically identical to information that both he and Monica had been aware of for a long, long time.
     He turned his attention to Rachel.  “Do you want to know what I think?”  She frowned and nodded.  “I think that Killian believes this apocalypse stuff is a real possibility, and she’s preparing for it; weapons, bombs, and training her members to use them efficiently.  I also think she’s working with people on the outside in some way. Vigil already knows about the other surviving member of SEAL Team Omega – Matthew Resic, but they obviously have ex-military contacts that are also a part of this.”
     Rachel pressed her palms to her eyes for a moment and said, “Ok, ok, but if that’s true Agent Walker would’ve explicitly confirmed to the FBI by now that Killian was training these women to…”
      The young analyst’s words trailed off as her eyes went wide.  Mulder saw the horror in her expression, a dawning realisation.
     “Oh, God,” Mulder said quietly, realising too.  His gaze snapped over to Monica by the fireplace.
     “Agent Walker’s in on this?” Monica asked fearfully.
     “Jesus,” muttered Mulder, “They’ve converted her…” 
     Rachel Marx shook her head despite the fear in her eyes. “No, guys, come on…this is an FBI agent we’re talking about…”
     But Mulder immediately turned back to the equipment console, switched on the mic and said quickly, “Scully, listen to me.  Agent Walker…she might be involved in this whole thing.  She might’ve been feeding the Bureau false information this whole time…”
     There was no response from the speakers.
     An awful feeling of dread flared in the pit of Mulder’s stomach.  “Scully, for the love of God, say something…”
     But there was nothing, not even the faint electronic hiss of a transmitting signal.  On the monitor displaying a 3D computer-model of the commune Scully’s red tracking beacon was no longer pulsing.  Mulder glanced wildly at Rachel.  He didn’t even have to say anything.  She immediately began checking the console, tapping buttons and adjusting levels as an expression of horror gathered on her face.
     “We’ve…uh…we’ve lost the signal to the Echopoint…”
     Mulder couldn’t even speak.  He swallowed and closed his eyes.
     “Something’s jamming the signal?” Monica asked disbelievingly, the fear in her voice plain to hear.
     “No…something’s…something’s fried the microprocessor.”
     “It’s Killian,” Mulder managed to say, opening his eyes again.  “She’s used some kind of electromagnetic device…”
     “Oh Christ,” murmured Rachel, slowly lifting her hands away from the console as if in shock.
     Mulder lunged out of his chair and stalked across the cabin to his rucksack, removing the loaded Glock 22.
     “Fox…you can’t just go storming in there,” Rachel muttered shakily.
     “The hell I can’t.”  He glanced up at Monica.  “You coming?”  For a moment Monica just stared at him with wide eyes, and then nodded.  He looked back at Rachel.  “You stay here and try to get that thing working…”
     “I can’t, Fox.  The microprocessor’s dead.”
     “Then get on the phone to AD Skinner and the team in D.C.”
     “They’ll…they’ll already realize,” stammered Rachel. “They have real-time updates. Both systems are connected…”
     “Just get on the goddamn phone!” Mulder barked at her, and began sprinting through the old cabin towards the back exit.  Monica followed right behind him.


*


The moment Rebecca Killian had pressed the button on her wristwatch Scully had felt a tiny jab in her ear, like a mild static shock.
     For a few moments she didn’t realize what it was, but then the look in Killian’s eyes flooded Scully’s heart with horror. 
     Widow Mother peered at her with savagery in her expression.  Scully bolted out of the chair, and took a few uncertain steps away from the woman.  The cult-leader calmly got up from the edge of the bed. 
     “Do you think I’m stupid, Dr Scully?”  She flexed the fingers of both hands before balling them into fists.  “Did you really think a ruse as silly and transparent as this would fool someone like me…?”
     Scully’s heart was thudding in her chest now.  Her stomach was in knots.  Her mouth was dry.  She took another few steps backwards towards the open window.
     “You’re here because I wanted you here, Dana…”
     The former US Marine and black-ops Navy SEAL hunched her shoulders.  Scully could sense the almost feline strength and lethality coiled within the woman in front of her.
     “Mulder…” she murmured desperately, but there was no response.
     She was alone.  She was alone with this woman.
     Rebecca Killian began advancing slowly on Scully.  “You’re going to tell me everything you know about William Van De Kamp…the people who created him, his true purpose.  And then I’m going to slit your throat.”
     As quick as a snake the woman pulled a black carbon combat-knife from a sheath concealed in her waistband.  She brandished the black blade in her fist, turning it this way and that. 
     “Is he the Crown Child?  Or is that prophecy just more fundamentalist propaganda? Answer me, you stupid bitch.”
     But Scully couldn’t even speak.  Her insides shimmered with terror.
     “I need to know if this child really is what they say he is, Dr Scully…”  When Scully didn’t respond, the woman simply smiled.  “Either way, I’m going to kill him.  I’m going to take him away from the world…the same way they took my children away from me…”
     Killian suddenly lunged towards her, combat-knife raised.
     Scully grabbed the base of the satellite-transmitter dish that was perched on the ledge of the window behind her, and whipped it round with all her strength.
     It connected with the woman’s head with just enough force to deflect the blade towards Scully’s left.  Scully cried out as she felt the very tip of the combat-knife slice through the flesh of her shoulder.  Killian was only dazed for perhaps a second, stumbling backwards and already raising the blade for another strike.  But Scully used that brief moment of advantage to slam the transmitter-dish into Killian’s face again with even more force.
     “HE’S MY SON!” she screamed, and drove a knee into the woman’s groin. There was a grunt of pain as Killian involuntarily dropped the knife, but somehow managed to grab a fistful of Scully’s hair with her other hand, and tugged.  Scully shrieked in pain as the hair was almost torn from her scalp by the roots. 
     In the next instant the woman hurled her round and sent both of them slamming into the wall.  Newspaper clippings were instantly dislodged and fluttered around them in the air.  For just a moment Scully saw the woman’s eyes filled with fury at the unexpected tenacity of her opponent.  Killian immediately tried to headbutt her, but the gap between them was half an inch too wide.
     Her heart thudding in her chest like a drum, Scully rammed the transmitter-dish still clenched in her hand into the side of the woman’s head again like an unwieldy club.
     Killian screamed.  Scully clubbed her again, so hard this time that several of the pie-slice shaped sections of the transmitter-dish burst apart and went spinning across the room.
     The woman slid down the length of the wall and collapsed, the side of her head streaming with blood.
     Scully let go of the base of the mangled transmitter-dish still connected to the trunk of cables.  It clattered heavily to the floor beside Killian.  The adrenaline and fear and shock coursing through Scully’s body made her tremble.  She felt unsteady on her feet.  Her chest was heaving.  She glanced at her left shoulder and saw blood streaming from where the knife had cut her open, but the adrenaline had dampened most of the pain. 
     She stumbled across the room towards the unit of monitors and computer equipment.  Hands shaking, she unplugged the open laptop, slammed it shut and scooped it into her arms. 
     A black laptop bag was lying unzipped beside the dresser.  Scully hurried over to it, dumped the laptop inside, zipped up the bag and hauled the strap over her head.  She winced as the strap pressed against the bleeding wound on her shoulder.  She switched the strap to her other shoulder, glancing back at Killian still lying on the floor.  The woman groaned and began to stir.
     Scully tried to hold back the terror.  She had lost contact with Mulder, and the commune was filled with women who were loyal to their leader.  She had to find Agent Walker and get the hell out of here.         
     She ran to the door, threw it open and peered into the empty hallway.  She hurried down it, turning at the junction and sprinting towards the stairwell.  She fled down the steps as fast as she could, afraid that she would encounter one of the other women at any moment.  But when she reached the first-floor hallway she found it was empty too. 
     But she could hear voices.  Some of the women were in a nearby room.  Their voices didn’t betray urgency or worry.  They had no idea what had just happened.
     Scully was about to make a run for the back exit when she stopped herself, remembering that Agent Walker had mentioned that most of the women would be out in the garden this morning.  She couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Agent Walker behind with these women.  When they discovered what Scully had done all eyes would fall on Rose, the one who had vouched for her, and there was no telling what they would do.  She had to pray that Mulder realized that something was wrong, and that he got his ass over here before they took out all their rage on the young FBI agent.
     Taking a deep breath, Scully turned and began heading quickly for the front entrance.  She traversed the length of the corridor, turned the corner and saw the front doors in sight.  A flare of cautious hope moved through her.
     “What did you do...?” a voice muttered to her left.
     Scully snapped her gaze round and saw Eleanor standing in the kitchen archway.  The teenage girl with the cropped red hair and strange grey eyes peered at her with unbridled hate.  Her gaze flicked to the laptop bag around Scully’s shoulder, then back up to Scully’s face.
     “Unbeliever,” the girl hissed, before raising both hands in front of her and letting out a ragged scream.  She broke into a run towards Scully, shrieking like a banshee ready to claw her eyes out.
     Scully stumbled backwards, hauling the laptop bag off her shoulder.  She gripped it by the carry-handle, swung it backwards – and lashed out with it just as Eleanor reached her.  The girl took the full force of the blow to her face, her nose breaking instantly.  She was spun sideways as a thin arc of blood splattered the wall.  She crumpled to the floor, wailing and writhing, both hands pressed to her ruined nose as blood began gushing through her fingers.
     Scully kept hold of the bag, turned and bolted for the doors.  She flung one of them open and ran out into bright daylight.
     She raced across the grassy field towards the tree-line of the forests ahead, as visions of being shot in the back began flashing through her mind.  She tried to ignore them, throwing the strap of the laptop bag over her shoulder again and running as fast as she could.
     She knew that Rebecca Killian would be furious, baying for her blood.  Scully knew that the former black-ops Navy SEAL would be coming after her.  Scully had no idea where she was going.  She just ran, heading towards the forests.  Wave after wave of terror moved through her.  Finally, Scully plunged into the cover of the tree-line.  But she didn’t stop running.

In the commune, Rebecca Killian was seething with fury.  Eleanor peered shamefully at her, her broken nose streaming blood down her chin and neck and the front of her vest.
     “I’m…I’m sorry, Mother…”
     But Killian ignored her, slamming a long metallic box down onto the kitchen table.  Other women were gathering in the kitchen archway now, peering at their leader with fear and confusion. 
     She opened the metal box and hauled out the MTAR-21 Micro Tavor Assault Rifle, along with two Walther P99 semiautomatics.  She glanced again at the archway and saw Special Agent Nina ‘Rose’ Walker standing among the group of concerned Widows. 
     Killian tossed Nina one of the semiautomatics.  She caught it and immediately racked the slide.
     “She’ll be heading for the forests,” Killian told her.  “You’re coming with me. We’re going to track and end this bitch.”
     Nina simply nodded. 
     Killian glared at Eleanor.  The girl seemed chastened by her gaze.  “Get to the basement, and break out the weapons.  The FBI might be coming.”
     The blood-smeared girl nodded furiously and barged her way through the other women huddled in the kitchen archway.
     Nina approached as Killian shoved the remaining Walther P99 into the back of her waistband.  The young agent touched the sticky blood on the side of her head.
     “That bitch hurt you, Becca…”
     Killian glanced away at the intimacy.  “I underestimated her.  She managed to get the drop on me.  If I was still in the field that never would have happened…”
     Nina leaned forward and kissed her deeply.  Killian let herself feel the sensation of her lover’s tongue in her mouth, before finally forcing herself to pull away.
     She picked up the MTAR-21, hefted it in her hand and peered at Nina.  “She already has a head start…”
     “She doesn’t know these woods,” Nina said coldly.  “She won’t get far.”
            

*


Mulder was driving way too fast.  The 4x4 jostled and shuddered over the uneven ground as he kept his foot firmly on the gas.  Fear gripped him as he tried to maintain control of the vehicle. The dirt road had already ended.  Trees whipped past in the windows.  In the passenger seat beside him, Monica steadied herself against the dashboard and peered grimly through the windshield.  To her credit, she didn’t ask him to slow down. 
     “If anything happens to her…” he growled through clenched teeth.  He had almost lost her back in Wyoming.  Memories of her bleeding to death in his arms flooded back to him.
     He wasn’t going to let that happen again.
     But a new horror moved through him when he saw the rocky incline up ahead.  It was far too steep for the Jeep to traverse.
     Mulder immediately slammed the breaks, jolting him and Monica against their seatbelts.
     “DAMN IT!” he roared, slamming a fist onto the dashboard.
     They would have to go the rest of the way on foot.  Without a word to Monica he disengaged his seatbelt, threw open the door and leapt out.  Monica did the same.  They left the abandoned Jeep behind them with its doors still open, and began sprinting towards the rocky incline.


*


The forests were dense, shafts of sunlight slicing through the canopies.  Scully had her back pressed up against a tree as she listened for any advancing sounds.  She heard nothing except her own heaving breath.
     But she knew Rebecca Killian was already out here somewhere, and closing in.
     She could feel it.  Her heart was pounding.  She swallowed and tried again to control her breathing.  She adjusted the strap of the laptop bag around her shoulder.  Although the blood had slowed, the wound on her shoulder was sill bleeding, covering her entire left arm and hand with blood.  The wound wasn’t as bad as it appeared but it was already burning and throbbing like someone had poured acid into her flesh.  Scully gritted her teeth and tried to deal with it.  Droplets of blood were falling from the tips of her fingers into the undergrowth.
     Scully knew that the former US Marine was already hunting her.
     Suddenly she heard a brief snatch of voices carried on the breeze by some fluke of air currents.  She froze.  She recognized one of them as Killian’s.  But there was someone else with her.
     With her bloodied hand, Scully clutched the little gold cross at her throat.  “Help me, Father,” she murmured, closing her eyes for a moment.
     Another snatch of human voice found its way to her on the breeze.  It was then that Scully recognised the second voice.
     Agent Walker.
     Scully’s stomach twisted as she realized the awful truth.  She was unarmed and alone in the wilderness with two women who wanted to kill her, and one of them was an FBI agent.

Killian advanced through the trees with Nina beside her as she kept the MTAR-21 pointed directly ahead, sweeping left and right with the barrel. 
     The bitch was still bleeding from the wound on her shoulder, making it easier to track her – but the trail had gone cold for the moment.
     “She’s nearby, I can feel it,” Nina said quietly, the semiautomatic raised in her hands.
     “Shut up,” Killian murmured.  Anger flared within her at having to stalk with a non-military partner who might easily give away their location.
     “But we have the advantage…”
     “Just shut your mouth,” Killian ordered in a hissed whisper.  She approached Nina, moving her lips close to her lover’s ear, and murmured, “We’re going to split up and circle round. I go left, you go right…”
     Nina nodded.

Scully kept low and began crawling through the undergrowth, the laptop bag hanging at her side.  Her heart was still pounding, her stomach queasy with sheer dread.
     She didn’t want to die out here.
     She kept crawling, and only stopped for a moment when she recognised the sound of running water.  There was a river nearby.  She continued the crawl, eventually finding another tree for cover and pressing her back against it.  She sat like that for almost a minute, grimacing at the pain in her shoulder.
     She heard movement from not too far away.  Scully risked a glance around the tree.  About sixty feet away Rebecca Killian was slowly advancing with a compact assault-rifle in her hands.
     Terror gripped Scully with renewed intensity.  Despite her fear she realized that if she stayed where she was Killian would eventually see her.  She had only two awful, terrifying choices.
     To make a run for it…or stay and be discovered in the next thirty seconds.  She knew what Mulder would do in this situation.  She swallowed her terror and climbed to her feet as gently and quietly as she could.
     In her mind she told herself, This is for William.  This is all for your son.
     She lunged from the cover of the tree trunk and began racing towards the sound of the river.  Immediately, rapid gunfire erupted around her like thunder, shredding the bark from a tree only a foot to her left.  Scully’s heart leapt into her mouth but she kept running.  Another burst of automatic gunfire shredded the bark of a tree to her right.
     Killian was trying to adjust her aim, to lead Scully directly into the line of fire.
     Scully silently prayed that the dense trees would provide her enough cover, and kept pounding through the undergrowth as fast as humanly possible.  She risked a glance back and saw glimpses of the woman obscured by the trees – and realized that Killian knew she was about to lose sight of her target.  The cult-leader broke into a run in her direction.
     The sight sent another jolt of adrenaline flushing through her system and Scully picked up the pace.  Up ahead there was a verge sloping away and out of sight.  Glancing back a final time, she saw with horror that the former Marine was almost upon her – no more than ten feet away – and raising the assault-rifle in her hands.
     Scully did the only thing she could think of.
     She came to a sudden, stumbling halt.  Killian’s sheer speed and momentum sent her crashing into Scully before she could fire the rifle.  Both of them were hurled forward over the verge and began tumbling down a grassy slope.  Scully screamed as they fell, Killian’s elbow catching her in the stomach.  The slope flattened out as both women came to a stop in a rolling confusion of limbs.
     Scully inhaled sharply.  Pain was raging through her stomach and her shoulder but no bones seemed broken.  The sound of rushing water filled her ears, but she couldn’t see the river.
     She glanced to her right and saw Killian lifting her head several feet away, dazed, and then peering at her with hatred in her expression.  Scully began frantically searching for the woman’s fallen Tavor.  She saw the assault-rifle nestled in the undergrowth just out of reach.  She scrambled towards it on her hands and knees – and saw that they were on the edge of a small bluff, a river rushing forty feet below them.
     Scully gripped the Tavor and swung round, about to aim and fire.  But Killian was already on her feet, sneering down at her, and savagely kicked the assault-rifle out of Scully’s hands.  Scully screamed as the weapon was wrenched from her grip and went spinning over the lip of the bluff and into the river.
     She could only watch as her opponent reached round to the back of her waistband and pulled a semiautomatic pistol into view. 
     She began raising it at Scully and hissed, “You can’t–”
     The gunshot blew open a hole in Rebecca Killian’s stomach.  She stumbled, went over the edge of the bluff – and plunged into the churning river forty feet below.
     Scully lay trembling, blinking repeatedly in disbelief.  Her heart was hammering against her ribs.
     She turned her head and peered back up the sloping verge, half expecting to see Mulder there.
     Special Agent Nina Walker was standing at the top, the semiautomatic raised in her clenched hands.
     Quickly but carefully, the young FBI agent made her way down the verge; reaching Scully and kneeling beside her, immediately taking her hand.
     “Are you hit?”  Scully could only stare uncomprehendingly.  “Dana, are you hit?”
     Eventually Scully managed to shake her head.  Agent Walker took a long, deep breath and peered out over the edge of the bluff.  When she finally returned her attention to Scully there were tears in her eyes.
     “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you,” she murmured, trembling.  “We became…we became lovers in the third month I was here…”  She dropped the semiautomatic and pressed her hands to her eyes.  “She had the whole house bugged…I couldn’t…Oh God, Becca…”
     But Scully was barely listening, suddenly realizing that she no longer had the laptop bag around her shoulder.  She’d lost it in the fall.  She scrambled forward, now terrified it had gone over the edge of the bluff.
     As she glanced back up the slope she caught sight of it.  A new feeling of dread rolled through her, stronger than before.  The strap of the bag had snagged on a large rocky outcrop to the far right of the incline.  The bag itself had been torn open in the fall.  The smashed remains of the laptop were scattered across the rocks.
     All of the fight went out of Scully in an instant.  She slumped, finally giving up.  Tears quickly filled her eyes and she began to cry, pressing her face against the cool grass.



*


Scully and Agent Walker finally emerged from the tree-line.  Scully was carrying the smashed remains of the laptop in her arms like a collection of sacred junk.  Both of them saw the commune on the other side of the field. 
     A group of seven women were gathered just outside the building.  All of them were carrying assault-rifles, pointed at the ground.
     Despite her exhaustion, Scully felt a flash of renewed fear.  She glanced at the semiautomatic in the young FBI agent’s hand.  It was a pathetic defence against the weapons those women were carrying.
     But Agent Walker raised the gun up into the air, drawing their attention to it.
     “Your mother is dead!” she cried out across the field.  “Widow Mother is gone!
     Scully stopped moving, her entire body trembling with exhaustion and shock.  She let the shattered pieces of the laptop fall from her arms and into the grass.  She closed her eyes, defeated, expecting the armed women to open fire at any moment.
     Was this how it was going to end…in complete failure?  She felt so ashamed.
     But there were no gunshots.  When Scully found the resolve to open her eyes again she saw that one of the women on the other side of the field had dropped her weapon.
     One by one, the other women began tossing their assault-rifles onto the ground.  Only one of them kept a weapon clenched in her hands. Even from this distance Scully recognised her cropped red hair.  It was Eleanor.
     Scully’s attention was shifted by movement to her far right.  She turned her head and saw Mulder and Monica Reyes running towards them about a hundred yards down the tree-line, pistols in their hands.  But they came to a faltering stop when they noticed the women standing across the field.
     “Eleanor’s going to kill us,” Agent Walker muttered.  Scully’s eyes went to Mulder further down the tree-line.  His expression was filled with horror.
     He peered across the field at the girl with the assault-rifle in her hands.  Scully watched as Eleanor suddenly swung the weapon round, turning it on herself.  A split-second later her head came apart in a cloud of red.  The shot echoed across the field as the girl slumped and fell into the grass.


*


August 28th 2012
J Edgar Hoover building
Washington D.C.
12:42 p.m.


The three of them were sitting in the office of Assistant Director Skinner, sitting in silence while he ended the phone call.  Scully just sat there, hands in her lap, trying to ignore the stinging in her shoulder.  The wound had been cleaned and dressed, but it was still painful. 
     Scully peered across at Mulder.  Her partner’s expression was grim.  She glanced over at Monica Reyes.  The tall brunette tried to smile at her but Scully could see the sadness in her eyes.
     Skinner ended the call, looked at the three of them and frowned.  “Portland Division found the basement bunker.  It wasn’t even on the structural blueprints.  The women had built it themselves.  Over sixty automatic weapons, thirty handguns…and over two hundred pounds of plastic explosive, along with detonators.”
     “Jesus,” Mulder said quietly, glancing at Scully.
     Skinner continued, “All twenty-two surviving members of the cult are being charged, and Agent Walker is still being questioned about her relationship with Rebecca Killian.”
     “They were lovers,” said Scully.
     Skinner frowned again.  “Agent Walker is claiming that she began sleeping with Killian in order to get closer to her, to learn more about her military contacts.”
     “That doesn’t explain why she didn’t just tell us the weapons were there,” said Monica, a note of anger in her voice.
     “She claims the Bureau would’ve pulled the plug on the op before she could uncover Killian’s network on the outside.”
     “You buy that?” Mulder asked.
     Skinner shrugged and sighed.  “That’s for OPR to decide.  If they conclude she really was working with Killian…then Agent Walker is going to spend the rest of her life in prison.”
     For the second time since entering the office, Scully spoke.  “What about Killian’s body?”
     Skinner glanced away, hesitating before answering.  “They’re dragging the river, but…”
     Through clenched teeth Scully hissed, “So she’s still alive.”
     “We don’t know that, Dana.  Let’s not jump to conclusions.  She suffered a gunshot to the stomach and a forty-foot fall into a churning river.  Portland Division might still find a body.”
     “She’s a former US Marine,” Scully muttered.  “A highly-trained black-ops Navy SEAL.  If anyone could survive something like that, I’m betting she could.”
     Skinner peered silently at Scully, and she saw that he knew she had a point.  Instead of agreeing with her he said simply, “Just try to get some rest, Dana.  You’ve been through the ringer.”
     Scully glanced at Mulder and said, “There’s something I need to know first.”

They had left Monica with Skinner in his office and travelled down through the building.  They went into one of the FBI tech-suites and peered across the darkened room at Rachel Marx.  The Vigil programmer heard them enter but raised her hand, gesturing for them to give her a minute.  She was sitting behind a desk as she peered at the screen of a MacBook. Finally, Rachel looked up at them.
     “Tell me that it’s good news,” Mulder told her quietly, glancing briefly at Scully.
     Rachel raised her eyebrows in an expression of bewilderment and sadness.  “I was able to salvage about 45 percent the laptop’s hard-drive.  But…if there was any data concerning William Van De Kamp’s current location…it’s been lost.”  Rachel couldn’t hold Scully’s gaze.  “I’m so sorry, guys…”
     Scully swallowed, trembling inside.  “So,” she began shakily, “this was all for nothing?”
     “There is one thing you need to see,” Rachel said quietly.  “It’s a salvaged video-file.  It’s slightly corrupted but still playable.”
    The young programmer got up from behind the desk and came over to Scully, taking her hand and squeezing it gently.  “I’ll give you guys some privacy.”
     She closed the door behind her, leaving them alone in the tech-suite.
     Scully gazed up at Mulder, not knowing what to say.  “I tried, Mulder,” she murmured.
     He reached out and touched the side of her face with his palm.  Scully glanced at the floor, ashamed at her complete failure.
     “It’s not over yet, Scully,” he told her.  “We will find him, I promise you.”
     “How can you say that after everything…?”
     He cupped her chin in his hand and peered into her eyes. “Because Dana Scully and Fox Mulder are physically incapable of giving up.”
     His words prompted a little smile from her, despite herself.
     “Whatever’s on that video-file…you should watch it first, Scully.  You put your life on the line for our boy.  That’s heroism, plain and simple.”
     Scully smiled sadly again and nodded.  “Ok.”
     Mulder kissed her cheek and left the room.  Scully was alone in the darkened tech-suite.  She went over to the desk and sat down in front of the open MacBook.  Rachel had already cued the video-file.
     Scully pressed play and waited.
     The footage stuttered and fragmented from the corrupted digital information, but Scully could still see it was from a hi-res tactical head-camera; worn by a moving figure wielding an automatic weapon in the bottom of the frame.
     The angle of the video moved with the wearer’s point-of-view.  The figure was stalking through a darkened industrial space.
     “Do you have a fix on them?”
     “I lost them.  I’m trying to reacquire the targets as we speak.”
     “You stay sharp, Matthew, this kid isn’t–”
     Three gunshots echoed in the darkened space and the figure wearing the headset instantly collapsed.  The video began stuttering and fragmenting again.
     “Matthew! Math–”  The audio suddenly squealed and distorted, and then abruptly ended.  But the camera kept filming.  The image kept stuttering, but a hand reached out and pulled the headset from the fallen wearer.
     Scully found herself peering into the face of a dark-haired young boy.  Her breath caught in her throat.  She watched as William peered into the camera lens with anger and intensity in his eyes.  He seemed hardened, tempered.
     Suddenly the distorted audio squealed back into existence.
     “– be more of them! Come on!”      
     Scully couldn’t tell if the distorted off-screen voice had been male or female, but William glanced in its direction.  He gave a final angry stare into the camera lens before tossing the headset aside.  It hit the floor at an angle, and Scully had the briefest glimpse of legs running out of frame and into the darkness.
     A moment later the video-file ended.
     For a few moments Scully just sat there, unmoving, peering at the blank screen.  Her mind was reeling.  She didn’t know what to think about what she’d just seen, or how to process it.  She didn’t know if it was joy or terror she was feeling.  Finally she swallowed, closed her eyes and pressed her face into her hands.


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3 comments:

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  3. Hey Raj
    I removed my last comment after seeing the results of typing at 3 AM. Thanks for the latest wonderful chapter in the REAL saga of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. You are a terrific writer and getting better all the time. It's a good thing you didn't make this one a cliffhanger because the suspense is unbearable.

    Beth

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