Friday, 20 December 2013

Cathedral - Part One

December 12th 2012
King’s Cross, London
10: 13 p.m.


The rain was falling with a gentle hiss just beyond the windows of the old Victorian house, giving the roads and pavements an almost unnatural mirrored sheen.  Althea Richards smiled as she sat in the armchair, sipping her glass of brandy and watching the night outside.  A young couple passed by arm in arm beneath a black umbrella.  On the other side of the road a teenage boy was braving the rain in a hooded sweatshirt, hurrying along whilst peering at the tiny lighted rectangle of the phone in his hands.
     She used to love the rain, in her younger days.  But that was the problem with old-age; it left one so susceptible to colds and flu and minor complaints that could easily be shrugged off in youth.  She took another sip of brandy and recalled the many walks she and Peter had taken out on Hampstead Heath over the years; through rain, wind and shine.  She remembered one evening in particular – giggling like fools as he held his jacket over her head to protect her from a particularly heavy downpour.
     “Oh, old woman,” she chided, “stop doing this.”
     Peter was gone, almost ten yeas now, and she was alone.  But it didn’t really feel that way.  The house still resonated with his memories, and it was getting harder and harder to keep those memories separate from the present.  After Peter’s death, Elizabeth had insisted that Althea sell the house – but her daughter didn’t really understand.  As long as Althea was able-bodied enough to live on her own and take care of herself she just wasn’t willing to let go.  Not after spending the best part of her adult life in this house, married to a wonderful man and raising a beautiful daughter with him.
     Elizabeth had two children and a husband of her own now.  She was only thirty-eight years old; with a life full of potential and many good years ahead of her.  But Althea couldn’t say the same.  So, she would hold on dearly to what was left.
     She slowly got up from the armchair and crossed the living-room to the mirror above the fireplace.  She rested the brandy glass on the mantle and peered studiously at her reflection.
     The woman in the mirror didn’t look like the woman Althea still imagined herself to be.  She didn’t feel sixty-nine years old.  Her body ached and complained more frequently than ever, but she thought of herself as fairly fit.  She could still climb the stairs, she could still move around unencumbered.  In her heart she felt like a much younger woman.  But the reflection disputed that.  Her face was covered with wrinkles, the skin sagging on her throat.  Elizabeth always told her that she was still incredibly beautiful, and Althea loved her dearly for it, but they were largely the kind words of a daughter who didn’t want to acknowledge her mother’s closeness to the end of life.
     Althea’s long silvery hair reached halfway down her back now.  It was a hassle to keep it at this length, but Peter had so adored her hair.  She remembered when it had once been a lustrous shade of black, and not the colour of moonlight – back when she could turn the heads of all the young men.
     Althea allowed herself a little smile.
     “Oh, Peter, Peter, Peter…” she murmured.  She sighed and pulled the hair-band from her wrist, gathering and securing her tresses into a pony-tail.  She gave herself a final appraisal in the mirror, lifted the crucifix hanging around her neck to her lips and kissed it. 
     She moved to the door, switched off the standing-lamp and went out into the lit hallway.  Before she reached the stairs she stopped and found herself peering at the framed photographs on the walls.  In one of them she and Peter were standing outside the Royal London Hospital with the other staff, all of them with champagne glasses in their hands.  She squinted and noticed that she and Peter were holding hands.  She smiled, having forgotten that particular detail.  None of the other staff had been aware of their relationship at that point, as far as Althea was aware.  Grinning, she realized the photo must have allowed their colleagues to put two and two together.
     There was an incongruous sound from behind her – the sound of a shoe treading on the hardwood floor, but before Althea could even react to it a leather-gloved hand clutched her throat – and another clamped itself firmly across her mouth.
     Oh, God, no…
     Her stomach plummeted in horror and her hands shot up instinctively, trying to claw herself free.  But the intruder at her back was incredibly strong.  Terror, panic and dread collided and swirled within her like a sudden storm.  Dear Lord, she was helpless.  She was utterly helpless.
     “Dr Althea Richards?” her assailant muttered in her ear, in an American accent.  “Is that right?  Please nod if I’m correct.”  She began nodding furiously, his hands still at her throat and mouth.  Suddenly he released her from his vice-like grip.  Despite the terror, she whirled round to face him.
     He was a tall man with incredibly limpid green eyes; irises that were so reflective and feline that for a moment she thought he must be wearing contact lenses.  But she realized in an instant that the colour of his eyes was real.  Although she had never seen him before, a powerful intuition sliced through her terror like a knife.
     Suddenly she knew exactly why he was here.  Althea took a step backwards down the hallway.
     “Do you know why I’m here?”
     “No,” she lied.
     “Go into the lounge,” he told her.  There was no force or threat in his tone; the authority was all assumed.
     Afraid to turn her back on him but knowing it would make no difference, she did as he asked.
     “Sit down on the couch.”
     She did, peering up at him as he switched on the lamp and came to stand in the centre of the living-room.  He suddenly squatted in front of her and pressed his gloved hands together, his green eyes catching the light again and flashing like those of a cat.  It was unearthly.  The terror was coursing through her now, making her tremble.  She didn’t want this bastard to see it, but she couldn’t stop it.
     “You’re a Catholic, aren’t you?” he asked, gesturing at the crucifix around her neck.  “And a former paediatrician?”
     “Yes…that’s…that’s right,” she replied, her voice shaking badly.
     “I think you know why I’m here, Althea.”
     “No, I – I don’t,” she stammered   
     “Your father was a member of SIS, wasn’t he?  British Intelligence.  MI6.”
     Althea tried to swallow her fear but her throat was dry.  She knew that lying to this man about her father’s background was pointless.  She nodded at him.
     “He entrusted something to you, just before his death in 1964.  I need it.”
     Althea summoned every ounce of resolve she could muster, and forced herself to say, “You’ll have to kill me…”
     The man with the feline green eyes just smiled faintly.  “Oh, I intend to.  But not before you give me what I need.  The Clavem De Saeculorum.  I need it, Althea.  I know you have it.  You have no idea, old woman, no idea at all…how many wars have been waged, how much blood has been spilled…hunting for the thing that you possess.  You have no idea how many people I had to kill just to find you.”
     Althea knew only a fraction of what this man was alluding to, but she knew enough that his words chilled and hollowed the very centre of her         
     She pressed her eyes shut, trembling, seeing in her mind’s eye an image of Peter.  Her husband was smiling with such empathy, as though urging her to be strong…to be resolute. She opened her eyes and peered at the intruder. 
     “Kiss my arse,” she muttered in defiance.
     He sprung from his squatting position, not with anger or wounded pride, but with an expression that said her reaction was exactly what he expected.  He moved calmly towards her, peering at her for a moment before his hand lunged at her throat like a cobra.
   Althea couldn’t even gasp as he choked her – unbridled horror exploding through her mind for only a few seconds before she was swallowed by the darkness.

She awoke on her bed, and would have thought her last few memories were a nightmare if not for the awful throbbing around her neck.  Panic and adrenaline flushed through her system again immediately.
     The intruder was standing in the darkness at the foot of the bed.  The sodium vapour glow of the street light outside spilled through the bedroom window, illuminating half his face and making one of his awful eyes glint reflectively.
     Suddenly she recognized a powerful scent in the room with her.  Petrol.  The realisation was horrifying.  He had doused the bed in petrol.  She wailed involuntarily but realized her mouth was taped shut; a muffled squeal in her own ears.  He had bound her to the bed with thick straps of what felt like leather.  She tried to thrash and writhe but only her right arm was free to move.
     “I found it, Althea,” he said quietly.  “I tore your daughter’s old bedroom apart but I found where you’d hidden the clavis.  Thank you.”
     Wave after wave of nauseous horror crashed through her body and her mind.
     “Look down at your chest, Althea.”
    She forced her gaze downward.  Her blouse and bra had been sliced open and pulled aside.  There on her chest he had duct-taped something to her bare skin. An oval object the size of a fist.  When she realized what it was she shuddered and tried to scream again.
     It was a grenade.  He had duct-taped a grenade to her chest.
     He reached forward and did something to the edge of the bed.  Suddenly the lower half of the mattress burst into flames.  The heat instantly seared her legs and feet, but she couldn’t move them.  She scrambled with her free hand to try and unclasp the leather restraints but they were bound so tight.
     Her heart was slamming in her chest, the grenade taped against it.  The flames began spreading slowly across the petrol-soaked bedsheets, her clothes catching alight.  The pain immediately swelled.  In a few moments it would become agony.
     “I’m giving you a choice, Althea,” she heard him say.  “Most witches during the Middle Ages weren’t given such a choice.  Slowly burn to death and face your maker, or pull the pin and condemn your immortal soul to Hell.”
     A sudden fury seized Althea as she heard him speak, as her clothes and skin began to burn and blister and melt.  She let out a muffled shriek beneath the tape across her mouth.
     “This is your tribulation, witch.  This is your–”
     Althea grabbed at her chest and tore the pin from the grenade.
     Outside, the bedroom windows erupted  – blasting fire and smoke and shattered glass into the London street.  Several car alarms went off at once, wailing plaintively in the night.    


*


December 20th 2012
Lincoln Memorial
Washington D.C.
9: 22 a.m.


People were milling and talking, and texting on their phones, as Fox Mulder climbed the steps towards the Lincoln Memorial.  He was dressed in a black suit and tie as he approached the white marble edifice ahead of him; styled after the Doric temples of Ancient Greece.  He always felt the same sensation of homecoming whenever he visited this place.  This was the first time he was back in over ten years, but it felt like no time had passed at all.  He reached the summit of the stairs, paused for a moment between the two central fluted columns, and then crossed the open threshold into the Memorial’s interior.
     A few small groups were standing around, talking quietly as they peered up at the large marble statue of the sixteenth President of the United States.  Abraham Lincoln was still sitting in his chair, his hands resting on the chair’s arms as he gazed down at the citizens watching him.
     Mulder smiled and took a long, deep breath.  It felt good to be back.  He’d missed this place.  He turned and crossed through the row of interior columns and into the southern chamber. 
     A group of teenagers were standing over by the inscription of the Gettysburg Address.  Mulder hung back for a while as they muttered amongst themselves.  Finally they turned to leave and one of the kids smiled warmly at Mulder as they passed him.  Mulder returned the smile. 
     He approached the inscription.  Although he knew it from memory he carefully read it out in his mind.  Once he was done he went back to the beginning and read it a second time, and found himself reading parts of it aloud in an unobtrusive murmur.
     “…a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.  Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.  … The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here…  —that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
     Mulder closed his eyes.  Quietly he said, “Mom, Dad, Samantha, Melissa, Byers, Langly, Frohike, Agent Pendrell, Agent Mercer…”  He opened his eyes again.
     He gazed up at the ‘Emancipation’ mural perched just above the Gettysburg inscription.  It filled the length of the entire wall.  In its center panel the Angel of Truth stood among a group of slaves, depicted in the act of liberating them; her vast wings unfurled and her palms held high above her head. 
     It was an image that had always touched Mulder at the very core of his being.  He was here because he suspected he would need some of the angel’s strength in the coming days.  He gazed deeply at the angel; her unfurled wings, her palms held high.
     “I’m afraid,” he told her in a whisper.  “It’s almost here and I’m so afraid.  Afraid that we’ll fail…that billions of people will die.  I’m afraid we’ll never get to see our son again…”   
     He peered down at his own hands, clenching them into fists. 
    “Fox Mulder?”
     He turned at the sound of the voice.  An older man dressed in a black winter coat, scarf and gloves was standing in the chamber with him, a few feet away.  He had the strap of a leather satchel across his shoulder.
     Mulder nodded.  The man came over and stood beside him, glancing at the Gettysburg inscription and then up at the ‘Emancipation’ mural.
     “I wasn’t sure you’d come,” Mulder told him.
     The man was perhaps in his mid-sixties, about Mulder’s height, with a trim grey beard and rimless glasses.  He looked more like a college professor than someone who supposedly worked for the inner recesses of the US Defense Department.  He smiled faintly at Mulder, a deep and sober intelligence behind his eyes.  There was sadness in his eyes too, and he seemed to make no attempt to conceal it.
     “I didn’t really feel like I had a choice, Agent Mulder.”
     “I’m not an agent of the FBI anymore.  I’m a civilian now.”
     “That’s not technically accurate,” said the older man.  “You work for the Vigil Intelligence Taskforce; an NSA-CIA operation created by a Presidential Executive Order.  You’re hardly a civilian these days.”
     “Technically I’m just an analyst for them,” said Mulder.  He added, “The first time you contacted me, three weeks ago – you said you were watching me through a military satellite.  I remember your exact words: DOD Warbird-Grade Orbital Weapons-Platform.  A satellite equipped with advanced pulse weaponry, you said.  Was that true, or were you just trying to scare me?”
     “No, it was true.  But I was trying to scare you, into taking me seriously.  I apologise, but I didn’t have a lot of time.  Why did you ask me to meet you here in particular?”
     Mulder peered coldly at the bearded man in the rimless glasses.  “I like it here.”
     “Well, let’s take a walk.”
     Mulder followed him into the main chamber, past the statue of Lincoln and out onto the steps of the Memorial. 
     In the distance ahead of them, at the end of the Reflecting Pool, stood the giant white obelisk of the Washington Monument.  The bearded man stared at it for a few moments and asked quietly, “What do you really know about this enemy you’ve been fighting for the last eight months?  What exactly do you think Labyrinth really is, Agent Mulder?”
     Mulder thought about how to respond. 
     “I think they’re a domestic terror group hidden within US intelligence; religious fundamentalists who believe that by bringing America to its knees they’ll somehow fulfil the will of God.”
     His companion nodded, not bothering to look at him. 
     “That’s what I thought you’d say.  But you only understand a few pieces, not the entirety.  Labyrinth is an apocalyptic neo-colonial elite within US intelligence – a group of men and women with connections to some of the most powerful families in America.  They’ve been using extremist Christian ideologies as a cover for causing political upheavals in the United States, preying on people’s fears.  They’ve been funding and orchestrating terrorism for decades…establishing millennial cults and survivalist militias.  The Scythe of St John was just one of these. 
     “Labyrinth’s ultimate gameplan is two-fold.  They wish to accelerate the End of Days, to have a hand in bringing about what many of their members perceive as the true biblical apocalypse…what you call Colonization or Occupation.  For many of these people, what you think of as extraterrestrial lifeforms are actually fallen angels…powerful shapeshifting demons – agents of Satan.  If they fail to bring about the apocalypse they’ll attempt to establish a theocratic elite within the United States…that will plunge this country into a new Dark Age, a modern medievalism.”
     “And what about this breakaway group that calls themselves the Apostles?” Mulder asked quietly.  “They used to be part of Labyrinth, didn’t they?  But they oppose them now?” 
     The stranger stared at him for a moment before nodding.
     “Yes.  But although they are opposed on certain matters, their ideologies seem to be very much connected.  Labyrinth wanted to accelerate Occupation, but the Apostles were willing to let it occur ‘naturally’.  But they both view the visitors as a satanic presence on the Earth.  There are other differences in their beliefs that I’m not privy to.  Understand something here, my friend; the ones running Labyrinth and the Apostles…they’re an extremely powerful covert intelligence faction, and they’re in control of a large number of radicalized assets, infiltrators and mercenaries.  Many of whom are willing to kill indiscriminately, and to be killed, in order to protect the beliefs that their leaders have nurtured in them.”
     Mulder was silent for a while, gazing down at the Reflecting Pool as he considered the stranger’s words.  “You’re saying that the power-brokers behind Labyrinth and the Apostles don’t really believe their own ideologies?  That they’re simply using them as a tool to control this network?”
     “Yes, exactly.  A network that is now fractured and fighting among themselves.”
     Mulder glanced at the man, sensing a huge sadness in him triggered by something he’d just said.
     “You lost someone close to you, to Labyrinth, didn’t you?”
     “Yes.”
     Mulder didn’t press the question.  He sighed and asked, “So what do the leaders of these factions actually believe?”
     “They know what you know, Agent Mulder.  That nothing is as simple as Black versus White, or Good versus Evil…they’re aware of the infinite shades of grey.  But unlike you…they’re terrified of what they don’t understand.  And if they cannot destroy the unknown…they will seek to control it.  Your father was one of these men.  He had his own private interests, but he was well aware of the Labyrinth faction…and often allied himself with them when it suited him.”
    Mulder felt the implication in the stranger’s words, and knew immediately he wasn’t talking about Bill Mulder.  “My father…?”
     “Your real father.  Or, I should say, your biological father.  These entities that move among us, Agent Mulder…they’re things that we don’t fully understand.  Things beyond our comprehension.  Isn’t that the original definition of the word ‘alien’?  They may indeed be extra-solar, or inter-dimensional, or all or none of the above.  You’ve seen them for yourself.  You know there’s perhaps more than one race present on Earth with us, and that certain groups are at war.  It seems that some of them came here millions of years ago.  But do you really know where they came from?  Perhaps your father didn’t either.  He spent the better part of his adult life trying to develop a vaccine to combat the viral threat these entities pose to the human race.  Although he understood these shades of grey, these more subtle mysteries and spiritual questions, he was terrified of their vast implications.  He lived his entire life in fear.  And it drove him insane.”
     Mulder recalled the bizarre vision of the Smoking Man he’d witnessed on the first night this stranger contacted him. 
     “You’re saying that…that he was afraid because it’s impossible to control something that adheres to no known rules…something that blurs boundaries and thresholds?”
     “Precisely.  Your father was a very intelligent and cunning man – far more cunning than his peers, which is why he outlived most of them.  He understood that this phenomenon was truly alien in ways that most normal men could barely fathom.”  The bearded man in the rimless glasses finally turned and gazed fiercely at Mulder.  “Listen to me very carefully, Fox.  Colonization is not just the invasion of this planet by an extraterrestrial race.  That’s only part of it.  It’s something much, much greater than that.  I think…I think it’s the fulfilment of a secret so powerful, so incredible, that the various elites of this planet have been protecting it for thousands of years.”
     “Thousands of years?  What…I…I don’t understand,” murmured Mulder, chilled to the bone by the man’s words.
     “You will.  By the end of all this, if you’re still alive…if you find a way to stop what’s coming, you’ll understand.”
     Mulder peered at the bearded man as they stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  He was afraid.  “So, it’s happening,” he muttered.  “It’s really finally happening…” 
     He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, taking deep breaths through his nose.  He tried to absorb the realisation that he was perched on the precipice a journey that would test him to far greater depths than ever before. 
     Mulder realized with frightening, savage clarity that everything had been leading him here.  He’d always known it.  He just couldn’t deny it any longer.  Everything in the X Files, every vision and moment of madness he’d endured – all of it had been leading him to this point – trembling now on the cusp of what might be the most powerful moment in human history.
     “Oh God...” he murmured.
     The stranger gently touched Mulder’s arm.  “Are you ok?”
     Mulder forced himself to open his eyes and look at the man.  “You need to tell me how to stop colonization.  For the love of God, just tell me.”
     “I don’t know how to stop it.  I wish I did, with every fiber of my being.  But I know something that might help you find a way.”
     He gestured for Mulder to follow him down the Memorial steps. 
     At the bottom they moved across the Mall and began walking along the length of the Reflecting Pool.  The bearded man reached into the leather satchel hanging at his side and removed an iPad.  He cued something on the device and handed it to Mulder.
     It was a video-file.  Mulder pressed play.
     The view through the camera was moving through a dense and seemingly remote rainforest terrain.  Voices in foreign dialects were talking among themselves.  They weren’t speaking Spanish or Portuguese.  Mulder sensed the presence of anger and bitterness in their words.  Eventually five men came into view ahead of the camera, hacking through the brush with machetes in their hands.  One of them glanced back at the camera-operator and said something, his voice full of venom.  The operator responded in the same language. 
     Mulder could see that the men were South American, clad in the dirty t-shirts and ragged trousers of rural peasants.  The footage cut to a small clearing in the rainforest.  The camera swept sideways to reveal a large, crumbling stepped-pyramid.  The structure was greyish in color, with vines and plants creeping halfway up one side of it.
     Mulder glanced up from the iPad at the man walking beside him.  “This is Mayan architecture…”
     “Yes.  It’s the ancient Mayan city of El Mirador, in Guatemala.”
     “El Mirador?”  Mulder had read about it before.  As far as he could remember, it was located in the remote rainforests of an area in northern Guatemala called Petén, and it was one of the earliest known examples of Mayan culture.  Archaeological teams had been trying to study it since its discovery in the 1920’s, right up until the present day, but looting, poaching and criminal violence in the area made the site a complicated and dangerous place to study.
     The footage showed the camera drifting from man to man as they seemed to squabble with one another.  Mulder realized that the eyes of all these men were zealously intense.
     “Do you know what they’re saying to each other?” Mulder asked the stranger, without glancing up from the screen of the tablet.
     “I can understand most of it.”
     Mulder turned up the volume a little.  “Translate for me.”
     “They’re arguing about how much time they have left.  One of them seems to be saying that the military will be coming soon.”
     The footage cut again.  Now all six men including the camera-operator were sitting in a circle atop the large, flat summit of the stepped-pyramid.  The summit barely breached the canopies of the trees.  Around them the rainforest stretched in every direction like an ocean of vivid green. 
     The men were chanting now, in a steadily escalating rhythm of intensity.  The camera-operator moved quickly between the faces of the other five men.  Mulder came to a stop beside the Reflecting Pool as he gripped the iPad, frowning at the wild looks in the men’s eyes.
     “They’re chanting about the Sky Gods and the Hero Twins,” said the bearded man.
     On the screen one of the Guatemalan men began speaking in a voice much louder than the chanting of his companions – a voice full of fury and righteous conviction.
     “He’s saying something about how they’re the chosen elite, better than the poor dogs; the other Mayan peasants.  He’s talking about how justice will prevail when the Sky Gods eat the flesh of the unbelievers…and the Black Ghost invades their bodies and their minds.  The necromancers will rejoice when the gods descend.  The Waking of the One Who Sleeps, The Waking of the One Who Sleeps, The Waking of the One Who Sleeps…”
     On the screen of the iPad the furious speaker suddenly screamed something at the sky, snatched up the machete beside him and drew it across his own throat. 
     Mulder grimaced as the man slumped and began to shudder, quickly bleeding to death.  One by one the other men did the same; screaming something at the sky and then slitting their own throats.  Finally the operator tilted the camera down at the machete beside him as he gripped it.  A moment later Mulder heard him make a wet choking sound.  The camera fell from his hand, tumbled and came to rest – pointing directly at the six Guatemalan men lying dead atop the stepped-pyramid.
     A moment later the video-file ended.
     Mulder exhaled deeply, glancing up at the bearded man beside him.
     “Listen to me now, Agent Mulder.  In less than an hour you’ll get a call from either the FBI or the Vigil Intelligence Taskforce, concerning a death on US soil that’s connected to what you just watched.  It’s your way in…it’s your final chance to permanently upset plans for Occupation.”
     Mulder tried to absorb what he’d just seen.  He grimaced, staring at the older man.  Quietly he asked, “This site at El Mirador…it’s…it’s some kind of lighthouse, isn’t it?”
     The man nodded silently, with narrowed eyes. 
     “These deaths, they’re somehow connected to what I told you three weeks ago about a key that Labyrinth and the Apostles have been searching for.  I don’t know what this key actually is…but I know they’ve been warring to discover its location and control its power for the last thirty years, Agent Mulder.  If you can somehow find this key…you might be able to stop what’s coming.  I’ll try to help you, to lead you to the truth…but my knowledge and influence has its limits.  There are things occurring here that I don’t fully understand.”
     Mulder swallowed and nodded.  He took a breath and asked, “Just before those men killed themselves…when they looked up at the sky…what were they screaming?”
     The bearded man peered darkly at him.  “‘It has begun.’”                

She watched two particular figures in the distance, keeping her eyes on them as they conversed a little more before the older man finally walked away.  She watched the younger man reach into his pocket and retrieve a cell phone.  She waited a beat.  A moment later her own cell phone began to chime.  She answered it and pressed it to her ear.
     “He just left.  I’m not inside the Memorial anymore.  I’m at the Reflecting Pool.”
     “I know.  I’m watching you.  I’m not far.”
     Dana Scully glanced over her shoulder at the base of the Washington Monument, and then up at the huge white obelisk rising towards the sky.  Dressed in a black blazer, skirt and heels she began walking towards her partner.
     “You need to see this, Scully,” he said on the line.
     “What is it?”
     “A video-file.”
     As she got nearer she smiled at him, lowering the phone from her ear and ending the call.  Mulder did the same.  He had a video-tablet clutched in his left hand.  She reached him, slipped the phone back into the pocket of her blazer and peered into his eyes.  He seemed worried by whatever the insider had shown him.
     She glanced at the iPad and then back up at his face.  Despite his worry, he smiled for her.  “He still wouldn’t give me his name, but he said he’s going to help us.  He said he’ll be in contact in the next few hours; hopefully with more information.”
     “We can do this, Mulder,” she told him.  “No more running, no more waiting.  Whatever happens in the next two days we’ll face it head-on.  Together.  Right?”
     He inhaled deeply and nodded.  She gripped his right hand and squeezed it.  He gestured at the iPad in his other hand.  “Let’s get back to the car.  You really need to see this, Scully.”
     They began moving quickly across the Mall.  Scully looked up at him.  The tension was plain across his face.  And she knew why.  It wasn’t just because of whatever the insider had told him or shown him.  It was because the date they had been dreading for over a decade was now less than thirty-nine hours away.
     And because they had failed to find their son. 
     Earlier in the year their son had gone missing; the son that Scully had given up for adoption twelve years ago, in an effort to protect him from dangerous forces that wished to covet him. 
     As they crossed the Mall, Scully glanced up at Mulder again.  His eyes were already full of intensity.  She thought back to the terrifying events of the last year.  Their first case with the Vigil Intelligence Taskforce in April had led them to knowledge of their son’s abduction.  The boy had been found in the corridors of the Pentagon, claiming he had dreamed his way into the facility.  The security-breach had terrified everyone involved.  A covert DOD team were tasked with escorting the boy from the site in Arlington to another secure location, when they were ambushed and murdered by unknown assailants. 
     William had been taken. 
     His adoptive parents were inconsolable.  Scully grimaced as she recalled her conversations with them; their unbridled anguish at losing the most important thing in their lives.  She inhaled sharply and attempted to hold back her own anguish.  She and Mulder eventually discovered that the boy’s presence within the Pentagon had been related to the downing of a classified UAV drone-prototype – codenamed Gabriel.  The prototype was part of something called the Archangel Initiative; the creation of artificially-intelligent drones to protect military infrastructure when colonization finally began.  The Gabriel prototype had been engineered using retrieved UFO technology – and had inadvertently formed some kind of psychic link with William.  Scully had almost died during their investigation of these disturbing events in Wyoming.  Since that time, during the last several months, she and Mulder had done everything within their power to find their missing son.  So far, they had failed.  And now it seemed colonization was imminent.  Scully was just as afraid as Mulder was.  But she knew that her partner, the man she loved, was not about to give up.  He was willing to give it everything he had, one last time – and so was she. 
     Scully could sense almost pre-cognitively that they were in for a fight like none they had experienced before.
     The fight of their lives.
     Her cell phone began chiming again as they crossed the Washington Mall.  Mulder looked at her, frowning, as she pulled the phone from the pocket of her blazer and glanced at the screen.
     “It’s Vigil,” she told Mulder.
     “Christ, that didn’t take long.”
     She glanced at him again before answering.  “Dana Scully,” she said grimly.
     “Dr Scully, please hold for Taskforce-Leader Janet Lessinger.” 
     She kept striding across the Mall with Mulder at her side, waiting until she heard Lessinger’s voice on the line.  “Dana?”
     “Yes, Taskforce-Leader?”
     “I need you and Fox at headquarters immediately.  We have a critical situation unfolding here.  I need to prep both of you, privately.”
     She glanced up at Mulder, already knowing what he was thinking.  “We’re on our way.”

As Mulder drove she sat in the passenger seat, holding the iPad on her lap as she watched the video-file.  She watched as the South American men atop the stepped-pyramid slit their own throats after chanting and screaming at the heavens.  She watched as the camera tumbled and came to rest, pointing at the blood-drenched corpses in the middle of the rainforest of verdant greenery.
     She looked at Mulder, shaken by what she’d just seen.  “But why would these men film their own ritual-suicides?”
     “I don’t know, Scully.  But I think this El Mirador site in Guatemala is some kind of lighthouse, like Skyland Mountain, Ruskin Dam and the site in Kazakhstan.  I think these men were trying to activate something…send a beacon, or open some kind of gateway.”
     Scully shook her head, frightened now.  “Through a ritual-suicide?  How, Mulder?”
     He gripped the steering wheel a little tighter, and frowned. 
     “I don’t know, but El Mirador is an ancient Mayan holy place.  You remember what the Smoking Man said about the Mayans – that their Long-Count Calendar ends on December 22nd 2012.  Colonization is supposed to begin in less than two days.  Back there the insider said that these men were chanting about the return of the Sky-Gods…that they’ll consume the flesh of the unbelievers…that the Black Ghost will invade their bodies and minds.  And that the necromancers will rejoice when the gods descend.”
     “Necromancers?” said Scully, horrified.  “As in death-magicians?  Jesus, Mulder…”  A frightening connection suddenly surfaced in her mind.  “The Black Ghost…as in the Black Oil?  You think that’s what they were talking about?”
     Mulder nodded grimly.  “I think so.  This DOD insider just mentioned the key again…this key that Labyrinth and the Apostles have been warring to find.  He says what happened at El Mirador is somehow connected to it.  He says if we can somehow find this key, whatever it is…it might be able to help us stop what’s coming.”
     “Do you believe him, Mulder?  About this key?”
     He frowned and glanced at her.  “I want to believe…”
     Scully took a long breath and peered through the windshield, as Mulder navigated their car through the D.C. streets.  She didn’t need Mulder to say it.  She could feel it in her bones.  Something truly terrifying had already begun to unfold.


*




Vigil Taskforce Headquarters
Washington D.C.
10: 34 a.m.      


Their ID cards were authenticated and verified.  They passed through the full-body scanners.  Mulder noticed Rachel Marx standing on the other side of the secondary security checkpoint.  The young Vigil cryptographer looked nervous and jittery.  After he and Scully were allowed through the checkpoint she hurried over.
     “It’s looking pretty bad, guys,” she informed them.  “Some kind of murder.  Everyone’s worried.  I don’t know the details, but the other analysts are saying that CDC was called out.”
     Mulder shot Scully a quick look.  He knew it had to be pretty bad if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had been called.  The look in Scully’s eyes told him that she was thinking the same thing.
     As the three of them moved quickly to the elevators Rachel said, “Taskforce-Leader Lessinger wants the two of you in her office right away.  If it’s some kind of contagion I’m guessing she’s going to want a full blackout on any potential media coverage.”
     As they stepped into the elevator Scully asked her, “Does Langley and Fort Meade already know about this?”
     “Of course.  Apparently it happened just outside D.C.  So they’re waiting for any word from us, but CIA has field-teams standing by.”
     The elevator took them to the sixth-floor of the converted office-complex.  They moved quickly down the hallway.  Rachel Marx stopped at the doorway to one of the hub-suites and said, “Good luck, guys.”
     Mulder and Scully both nodded at her.  They navigated the corridors towards Janet Lessinger’s office.  Stopping just outside, Mulder peered at Scully.  She gave him a gentle nod.
     “Here we go,” he muttered and knocked on the door.
     “Come in.”
     They entered the large, spartan office of Vigil’s Taskforce-Leader.  The woman in her fifties with greyish-blonde hair looked up at them from behind the desk.  “Take a seat.”
     They sat down in the chairs and peered at her with nervous expectation.  She reached across the desk and passed Mulder a leather folder.
     Scully leaned in as he opened it.  Apart from the briefing-document there were several color photographs inside; images of a junkyard.  The space was filled with wrecked and decommissioned vehicles.  A naked Latino man was slumped in the driver seat of a rusting Chevrolet.  He had no eyes, just black sockets rimmed with blood.  Another close-up photo revealed the man’s torso. 
     A strange symbol, streaming with blood, had been carved into his chest – a group of three interlocking spirals in a triangular orientation.
     “Do you recognise it?” Lessinger asked.
     “It’s a Christian Trinity symbol, right?” asked Scully.  “I recognise it from text-books.”
     Mulder shook his head.  “No, it’s a Triskelion.  It was only later adopted as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.  It’s more popularly known as a Celtic symbol, but it’s actually neolithic – at least five thousand years old, maybe even earlier according to some scholars.”
     “And what does it mean?” asked the Taskforce-Leader.
     “The Triskelion is speculated to have many different meanings,” Mulder told her.  “To the Christians it’s the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  To the Celts it had fertility and cosmological significance, but it seems to also pre-date all those interpretations.”
     She nodded and Mulder saw a flash of fear in her expression.  “That’s what the other analysts said too.  I’ve had everyone on this since we found out about it this morning.  Vigil has identified the man in those pictures as Diego Roberto Cielo; an ex-operative of the Guatemalan D-2 – the country’s Military Intelligence Directorate.”
     Mulder glanced briefly at Scully, who frowned and asked, “I’m assuming he’s not a naturalized citizen?”
     “No, Dana.  Langley claims to have no idea how he got onto US soil.  But he and a number of D-2s members were trained by the CIA during the sixties and seventies, at the School of the Americas.  And Guatemala’s CIA liaisons now seem to be closing ranks around this thing.  They claim to have severed all ties with this man after the Civil War ended and Arzu became President in 1996.  They’re calling him a rogue asset and denying any knowledge of how or why he was in the United States.” 
     “This man’s surname,” Scully said quietly, “I recognize it.  Cielo – it’s the Spanish word for ‘sky’ or ‘heaven’.  Does Vigil think it’s an assumed identity?”
     Mulder glanced at Scully, recalling what the insider told him about the video of the ritual-suicides at El Mirador; that the men had been chanting about the return of the sky-gods.    
     The Taskforce-Leader leaned forward slightly, fixing them with a stare. 
     “We haven’t been able to determine if Diego Roberto Cielo is his real name.  Listen, it gets worse.  That junkyard where the body was found, it’s in Bethesda…and it’s already been quarantined by a CDC biocontainment team.  By sheer fluke, one of the first police-officers on the scene discovered a contaminant within the corpse.  Less than ninety minutes later that same police-officer pulled his sidearm on one of the CDC team, and shot him three times.  He’s dead, and the police-officer has been missing for the last hour.  The other three members of the Montgomery County Police Department are being held within the quarantine and are being checked for infection.  Preliminary reports from CDC suggest they’re not infected, thank God…but Vigil believes the missing patrolman definitely is.  NSA advised a complete media blackout on this matter, and DOD just authorised it.”
     Mulder was feeling kind of sick now.  Everything the Taskforce-Leader had told them was horrifyingly familiar.
     Scully frowned as she asked a question to which Mulder knew she’d already intuited an answer.  “Has CDC identified the contagion?”
     Janet Lessinger glanced away, seemingly afraid at what she was about to tell them.  “No, but Vigil’s teams think they’ve identified it, based on your FBI field-reports.  We think that it’s Purity Control.”
     Mulder pressed his eyes closed, suppressing a sigh.  He knew that Scully was feeling the exact same thing right now.
     “Diego Roberto Cielo’s body was secured by the rest of the CDC team, and was immediately shipped to the biodefense campus at Fort Detrick.  The body is being held in a BSL-4 facility there.” 
     Mulder opened his eyes again.  Lessinger was peering directly at Scully.  “Dana, Vigil is requesting that you and Mulder head to Fort Detrick immediately, to assist the biocontainment team in conducting a preliminary autopsy.  Fort Detrick has some of the best facilities and staff in the country, but they have no context for understanding this pathogen.  You do.  You and Mulder have encountered it before.”
     “It’s not just a pathogen, Janet,” Mulder said bluntly.
     She frowned.  “I know…I know that you believe that it’s extraterrestrial in nature.  And frankly, if I’m brutally honest…I’m not inclined to disagree with you.”
     She let the implications of that statement hang heavy in the air for a few moments.  
     “Ok,” Mulder said quietly, “We’ll do what you’re asking.  But listen…this cop who’s gone missing…if he really is infected with Purity…that means he’ll have a purpose.  He’ll be searching for something, and more than likely he’ll try to kill anyone who gets in his way.  You need to put everyone on high alert and do everything in your power to find this guy.”
     Janet Lessinger’s mask of officiousness seemed to crack a little, and she peered at them with genuine concern. 
     In a soft, almost conspiratorial tone she said, ““I already am, but…if your FBI field-reports are anything to go by, this thing might’ve already found another host.  If Labyrinth is involved in this I’m worried that we could be looking at a widespread outbreak of this pathogen…the implications of which I find too horrifying to contemplate.  God forbid, but if Purity begins to spread somehow…we could be looking at the most devastating bioterrorist attack in US history.  I know you both realize that.  I know you tried to warn Vigil that Labyrinth might be planning for something awful to occur on US soil before the end of the year.  I just…I just pray that this isn’t it.”
     Scully glanced at Mulder and then peered directly at Lessinger.  “We’re going to do everything we can, Janet, believe me.”
     The former NSA agent nodded, glancing away.  She seemed to understand the unspoken implication of Scully’s words.
     “The biocontainment team is already waiting for you.  Just be really, really careful.”


*


National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center
Fort Detrick
Frederick, Maryland
11:56 a.m.


Scully was sitting on the bench just outside the initial shower-room at the threshold of the BSL-4 lab.  She was wearing only a white towel wrapped around her mid-section as she peered up at Mulder, unable to mask the nervousness in her eyes.
     “You don’t have to do this yourself, Scully,” he said quietly.
     “Yes I do.  You know I do.”
     Mulder kneeled in front of her, taking her hands.  “Dana, let one of the biocontainment team do it.  This is what they’re trained for.  You can talk them through it on the headsets.  They’ve already told us this is extremely unorthodox.  The only reason they’re agreeing to it is because the command center has ceded to Vigil’s authority, because you told Lessinger to convince them it’s a matter of National Security.  But as far as they’re concerned this is a serious breach of protocol.”
     Scully gazed into his eyes, seeing his fear for her. 
     “I can’t, Mulder.  I can’t let these people walk into a situation like this without any concept of what they’re really dealing with.  If the body of this man Diego Cielo is really infected with the Black Oil…I can’t turn away from that.  You know I can’t.  They’re trained to deal with biohazards, but they’re not trained to deal with Purity.  You know it.  I’m not going to let anyone else put their life at risk.”
     Mulder sighed and hung his head.  “What if it penetrates the suit?  What if it…gets inside you?”
     “I’m going to do everything to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
     He looked at her again and nodded, his eyes creased with concern.  “Ok.  Ok.  I’ll be watching on the cameras, Scully.  You’ll still be able to talk to me if you need to.”
     “I know.”  She squeezed his hands.  “You can’t come any further, Mulder.  I need to take this disinfectant-shower and run the gauntlet of security-precautions – I’ve got to pass through the vacuum and ultraviolet chambers before I even get to the internal airlocks.  I’ll see you real soon, ok?”
     The look on Mulder’s face told her that he wanted to say he loved her, but that saying it was an admission that something could go wrong – that he might not see her again.
     “See you soon, partner,” he murmured.

Scully stood inside the final airlock.  She was wearing the positive-pressure personnel suit required for all BSL-4 facilities.  In the biodefense community they were more commonly referred to as ‘Blue Suits’.  Within the suit she had been fitted with a wireless headset, at Mulder’s insistence.  The biocontainment team had begged her not to do this alone, but Scully had called Vigil and spoke directly to the Taskforce-Leader. Lessinger had contacted the necessary people and confirmed authorisation to have all protocols suspended in this instance.
     Scully knew she couldn’t back out now.
     She attached the yellow overhead tubing to the port-mechanism on her suit and locked it.  With a faint rushing sound she was connected to the segregated air supply.  She activated the entrance-system and stepped into the biolab.
     It was an immaculate white-walled space filled with equipment and gleaming work-surfaces.  In the center of the lab, on one of the medical tables, lay the triple-sealed Hazard Containment Body-Bag that carried the corpse of Diego Roberto Cielo.
     Scully approached the table, glancing up at the security-cameras in the corners of the room.  A mechanical arm connected to the table held a rig of three additional cameras.  The camera-rig activated automatically with her movement.  She waved gently.
     “I’m here, Scully.  We’re all here,” came Mulder’s voice through the headset.
     “Can you hear me ok?” she asked.
     “Yeah, the headset’s picking you up just fine.”
     “Ok, I’m going to begin.”
     The Containment Bag was marked with a bright red Biohazard symbol.  She unzipped its entire length, breaking the first seal, and pulled back the section to reveal a full-length interior panel of clear vinyl.  Beneath it, Cielo’s eyeless corpse peered up at her – the scabbed Triskelion symbol carved into his chest.

In the security-suite Mulder stood with the rest of the biocontainment team, watching Scully on the bank of monitors.  He glanced at the six men and three women around him; the expressions of anxiety and outright fear on their faces.
     As he returned his attention to Scully on the monitors he heard the familiar text-message bleep of his cell phone.  Frowning, he reached into his pocket for the phone.  The text-message was from an unknown number, just two words: OWEN CAMERON.
     Mulder briefly tried to search his mind for recognition of the name, but was distracted by one of the biocontainment team; a younger guy with cropped hair and a goatee.  The young laboratorian peered with suspicion at Mulder and asked loudly, “So what does the NSA think we’re dealing with?  It’s got to be something pretty serious to suspend protocol like this.”
     Mulder shoved the phone back into his pocket and returned his gaze to the monitors.  He covered the mic of his headset with his hand and told the young man, “It’s some kind of evolved pathogen.”
     “What…we’re talking about a viral hemorrhagic fever? Something on the level of Ebola or Marburg?”
     “Something worse,” Mulder said without looking at him, still covering the mic of his headset so as not to distract Scully from her task.
     “Something worse?  Like what exactly?” The anger in the laboratorian’s tone was plain.
     “That’s classified.”
     “Hey, you’re standing in the NBACC,” the young man continued, raising his voice.  “We work for the Department of Homeland Security.  If the NSA has brought an unknown variable inside our facility and isn’t telling us why, then you’re putting all our lives at risk.”
     “Zachary,” one of the older men warned him.
     One of the women piped up.  “No, he’s right, Leo.  What Dr Scully is doing is highly dangerous.  She has no training for this.  She shouldn’t even be in there.  And I’m not comfortable with it either.”
     Mulder kept his eyes on the monitor as Scully opened the Hazard Containment Bag inside the biolab.  He sighed and glanced briefly at the woman and the young man.  They had a point.  Mulder wasn’t comfortable keeping secrets from them that might put their lives in danger, regardless of Vigil’s protocols.  He decided to give them a censored version of the truth.
     “It’s an evolved pathogen that’s able to infect multiple hosts, moving from one to the other.  Body-jumping, in effect.  It’s able to take control of the central nervous-system, causing heightened strength and a resistance to pain, and inclines them towards erratic and incredibly violent behaviour.  It eventually destroys the central nervous-system, killing the host unless it can find another.”
     He glanced over at all of them, disbelief and fear in their expressions.  But none of them asked him if he was joking.  They all seemed to immediately grasp why this had been deemed a National Security issue.
     The older man who had warned Zachary looked over at Mulder with a kind of sober terror in his eyes.  “I’ve been working with pathogens all my life and I’ve never encountered one that behaves like that…”
     “I’ve encountered it before,” Mulder said darkly.  “Dr Scully and I, we both have.” 
     On the monitors, Scully began performing an ad-hoc preliminary autopsy with the instruments available to her inside the sealed biolab.

Scully had accessed a kit of sterilized scalpels, to be used only in emergencies – in case their sharp edges were to accidentally breach the positive-pressure suit in the presence of an aerosol-transmitted infectant.
     She’d performed an external examination, finding no signs of any contagion; black oil or otherwise.  Then she’d slowly and fearfully performed a Y-incision, peeling back the skin to reveal the rib-cage.  But she had no shears to open the chest cavity.  She’d taken samples of skin, hair and fluids, placing them in small vacuum-sealed steel containers.
     Now, the eyeless face of the Guatemalan man seemed to peer accusingly at her.
     “Are you ok?” asked Mulder through the headset.
     “I’m ok.  I don’t know how much more I can do here, Mulder.  I don’t have the proper tools.”
     “There’s no sign of any contagion?
     “No, nothing.  It’s strange.  CDC must’ve found something though.”
     “Lessinger said that the missing cop in Bethesda had been infected.  If it was the Black Oil then maybe it jumped and left this body’s system completely.
     “I should still be able to find some trace elements, but I can’t know for sure because I can’t open him up.”  Gently, she pressed down on his sternum.
     The dead man shuddered violently on the table.
     Scully screamed in horror, stumbling backwards and knocking the steel containers to the floor with the edge of her hand.
     “Scully!” Mulder cried in her ear.
     The corpse of Diego Roberto Cielo suddenly arched its back and slumped down on the table with a bang.
     “Scully, get the hell out of there!
     But she was transfixed in disbelief as the dead man began opening his mouth, wider and wider until she heard his jaw dislocate with a pop.  A split-second later a storm of writhing black and yellow erupted from his mouth.
     Scully let out a ragged scream, her mind swept blank with sheer terror – as a violent buzzing filled her ears – and hundreds of bees began swarming in the biocontainment lab all around her. 
     She stumbled and fell, snagging her arm on the tubing to her air supply.  The darkening swarm obscured her vision.
     A wailing alarm began to sound, and a moment later several jets of white smoke blasted downward from the ceiling, roiling through the lab and consuming the bees.  Scully was lost in the whiteness.                   


*


It had been almost fifteen minutes since they had lost contact on the cameras and headsets. Mulder’s guts were churning with dread.  Zachary had offered to go in and find her, sprinting off towards the biolab’s entrance.  Mulder and most of the remaining members of the biocontainment team were now clustered in the exit corridor, waiting in fear.  Mulder’s hands were clenched into fists. 
     He was peering at the floor, silently praying, when Scully suddenly burst through the biolab exit and came stumbling into the corridor; clad only in a towel and still dripping with water from the disinfectant-shower. 
     He locked gazes with her and felt a wave of powerful relief rush through him.  He immediately sprinted towards her.  She grabbed him, hugging him fiercely.  She was trembling.  He inhaled deeply as he held her in his arms.
     “Oh God, Scully…what the hell happened?”
     “Didn’t you see it?”  Her voice was quivering, the side of her face pressed to his chest.
     “The cameras blacked out a moment after the body started shaking,” he told her.  “I lost you on the headset too.  One of the team has already gone into the entrance airlock, to try and get you out…”
     She pulled away and peered up at him.  He could see her strength and courage already beginning to return as she held his gaze.
     “Bees, Mulder.  I…I saw hundreds of bees come pouring out of his mouth…”
     He immediately went cold at her words, glancing over his shoulder at the members of the biocontainment team at the end of the corridor.  Their eyes were filled with disbelief and fear.
     “That’s impossible,” muttered the head of the team.
     “Check the cameras,” Mulder growled at him.  “Tell Zachary to head back, and try to get the goddamn cameras working…”
     The team-members glanced nervously at each other, turned and hurried through the doors.
     Mulder gazed at Scully again, kissing her forehead and embracing her a little tighter.
     “His stomach, Mulder…his stomach couldn’t contain such a huge number of living insects.  What…what the hell is going on?”
     “I don’t know, Scully.  But it’s bad, whatever it is.”


*


Scully had finally put her blazer, skirt and heels back on.  She stood in the changing-room, peering darkly at her reflection in the mirror.  Her hair was still damp from the disinfectant-shower.  The terror of her experience in the BSL-4 biolab had subsided now, but she was left with a cloying feeling of gathering dread.  She didn’t want the members of the biocontainment team to see even a hint of trauma in her eyes.  They had begged her not to go through with it in the first place. 
     She knew that what she’d witnessed was impossible.  There hadn’t been simply a few bees hidden inside the corpse of Diego Roberto Cielo – there had been hundreds.  Enough to swarm the entire lab.
     A host of potential explanations for what she’d experienced were moving quickly through her mind, and she was already anticipating what the team might tell her – that it had somehow been all in her head.  Some kind of hallucinatory substance on the body, perhaps.  It had seemed so utterly real, but she’d experienced visions before that were indistinguishable from reality while they were happening.
     She gave her grim-faced reflection a final glance before leaving the changing-room.  She moved through the corridors, and stopped to take a deep breath before she re-entered the security-suite.
     Mulder and the biocontainment team were all standing around in silence.  Looks of incomprehension and powerful fear were etched on the team’s faces.  They looked haunted.  She glanced worriedly at Mulder.  He simply stared back with concern in his eyes.
     “I can’t explain this,” muttered the head of the team.  “I can’t explain to myself or my colleagues how any of this is even possible…”
     “It’s completely insane,” one of the women said quietly.
     Scully frowned and marched over to Mulder beside the bank of monitors.  On the screens, the floor of the BSL-4 laboratory was littered with hundreds of dying bees.    


*


National Security Agency
Fort George G. Meade
Anne Arundel County, Maryland
2: 37 p.m.


As he sat in the leather chair behind his desk he glanced around at the many artifacts that had come to populate his office.  Medals and certificates and photographs adorned the walls, all of them essentially meaningless now.
     Robert Karin turned his head and glanced at the US flag draped on its stand over by the windows.  He could hardly bear to look at it.  Instead he focused his attention on the small framed photograph that was perched on the edge of his desk.  The pretty brunette was grinning at the camera, her arms around two little boys with beaming smiles.  Behind them the Pacific stretched endlessly.  He had taken that photograph six years ago, but it felt like an eternity.
     Karin grimaced and picked up the encrypted cell phone from his desk.  He held it to his ear and replayed the voicemail for the eighth time.
     “Rob…listen to me.  It’s changed.  Everything’s changed.  You made it this way.  I begged you.  You made me beg.  But you’ve made your choice.  You made it before you even met me, didn’t you?  I don’t care what you believe.  I don’t care anymore.  I’m taking the kids.  I’m really doing it this time, Rob.  I know…I know you could find us anywhere.  But you’ve run out of time, haven’t you?  Just leave my mother out of this, that’s all I ask.  Just leave her in peace.  I wanted you to choose me.  I prayed for it.  But you chose the project.  Well…I’m choosing family.  If you’re right about everything, then I don’t know how much time me and the boys will have left…but I’m choosing my family, Rob.”
     The voicemail ended.  That was it.  No goodbyes, no tears.  Bethany had simply hung up the phone.  The brutality of that action resounded in his guts, making him feel sick with a thousand different emotions.
     But he was used to controlling his emotions.
     He put the phone on the desk, leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes.  He sat like that for a few minutes, until the comm on his desk bleeped.
     He tapped the touch-screen surface of the unit.
     “Yes?”
     “Deputy Chief, you have a visitor.”
     “Who is it?”
     “It’s…it’s Nathaniel, sir.”
     “Send him up,” Karin said immediately.
     He waited with his eyes closed, his hands gripping the armrests of the reclining leather chair.  After another few minutes there was a knock on the office door.
     “Yeah,” Karin said, raising his voice only slightly.
     Nathaniel entered the office and closed the door behind him.  The tall, muscular asset with the close-cropped hair was dressed in a sleek black suit and tie.  But he bore the mark of a still-healing gash just under his right eye, and the remains of tiny little cuts that peppered the side of his face all the way down to his neck.  He peered across the room, with a savage expression.
     “Jesus, Nathaniel…what the hell happened to you?” Karin asked with a vague smile.
     The asset ignored the question and said coldly, “The Guatemalan site in Petén – El Mirador – they’re all dead.  They tried to activate it.”
     Karin chuckled, amused by Nathaniel’s sober intensity.  “I’m aware of that, Staff Sergeant.”
     “Yeah?  Are you aware that Chameleons were scouting the site just before the Guatemalan military showed up?”
     “That’s to be expected.”
     The special-operations asset stalked across the office and placed both fists gently on the desktop, peering darkly at Karin.
     “I swear to God…don’t screw around with me, Robert.  Are we going to execute this thing or not?  We’re less than thirty-six hours away.  My contacts at DARPA are saying that someone located the Clavis De Saeculorum eight days ago.  They have intel from the burnt-out home of a dead woman in London – the daughter of a former SIS operative.  They think whoever took the Clavis from her is already back in the United States.  They…they think it’s Farrow.”
     Karin chuckled.  “Lucien Farrow is dead.  A lightning-strike stopped his heart.  You know that, Nathaniel.  You saw the body.  DARPA is feeding you bullshit.  We’re so close to the end now that all kinds of nonsense and rumor is flying around – powerful men all quivering in fear, letting their imaginations get the best of them.  It’s amusing really.”
  “It’s not bullshit,” Nathaniel growled, “And you damn well know it.  They’re saying that Farrow survived the lightning-strike in Canada and now the explosion in London.  They told me that they think this is all connected to the Triskelion research he was conducting for them…that he’s not human anymore.  He has the Key now.  And he’s calling himself Abaddon.  Are you listening to me?”
     Robert Karin held the asset’s gaze.  He knew that Nathaniel didn’t believe his lie about Farrow being dead.  Lucien Farrow was one of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s most valued covert field-operatives until his apparent unexplained death three months ago during a ‘storm’ in rural Canada .  Karin muttered, “It doesn’t matter anymore.  It’s all gone to hell.  DOD initiated the Eidolon Covenant less than an hour ago…”
     Nathaniel’s eyes widened in genuine fear.  It was rare to see him afraid, and Karin realized he was taking a kind of perverse pleasure from it.
     “You…you cannot be serious.  They’re…they’re just going to let it happen?”
     “There’s nothing more to be done, Staff Sergeant,” muttered Karin.
     For the first time in twelve years he saw tears in Nathaniel’s eyes.  The younger man pressed his lips together and shook his head, lost for words.
     “If I were you,” Karin told him plainly, “I’d leave this awful place, go back to your apartment, sit down with a bottle of Jack – and enjoy the next thirty-six hours.  Forget about Chameleons and Farrow and the Clavis.  Enjoy what’s left of your life.”
     For a long time the asset just peered at him, trying to hold back the torrent.  Tears began to roll down his face.  Finally he murmured, “You’re a coward.  You’re all cowards.”
     He turned and walked out of the office.
     The Deputy Chief of the Special Operations Directorate took a long breath, and looked again at the framed photograph of the brunette and two boys on his desk.  They were alive, for now, but their smiles were dead.  They were what felt like a universe away.  He placed the photo face-down on the desktop.
     Robert Karin looked down at his own hands.  He tugged the platinum and diamond wedding band off his finger, grimaced and tossed it casually across the office.  It bounced off the wall, hit the floor and rolled unceremoniously under the bookcase.


*


Interstate 270, Maryland
3:02 p.m.


They had left Fort Detrick and were heading back to D.C.  In the passenger seat, Scully was peering silently out of the window; trying and failing to process what she’d just experienced in the lab at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center.
     “Are you ok, Dana?” Mulder asked quietly.  Scully glanced at him.  Fear and anger and nascent intuition were all evident in his eyes.  His hands were fiercely gripping the wheel.
     She didn’t know what to say.  She expected things to get increasingly crazy, as they always did with anything related to the X Files, but she hadn’t imagined it would begin like that – with such frightening inexplicability.
     “I’m ok, Mulder,” she said eventually.  “I just have no idea where this is heading, or what it means.  How did those bees get inside the corpse?  There were way too many of them.”
     She could see from his expression that he was furiously trying to synthesise a theory or meaning from what had just occurred in the biolab at NBACC.
     Just before they left, Scully had called Taskforce-Leader Lessinger and described what happened.  The former NSA agent listened quietly to the bizarre account, and told Scully she would call back in the next half hour.
     They were still waiting for that call.
     “I think,” Mulder said carefully, “that what happened back there might be some kind of apport....some kind of spontaneous manifestation.”
     Scully couldn’t even pretend to understand.  “I thought we were dealing with Purity; the Black Oil.  But what the hell are we talking about here, Mulder – science or magic?
     “I’m not sure there’s a difference in this case, Scully.”
     She frowned.  “What do you mean?”
     “We know that the conspiracy was originally planning to use Africanized honey-bees to carry and transmit the Black Oil; to unleash a viral plague in the months leading up to colonization.  But that hasn’t happened, right?”
     “Right...” she said, not fully tracking his line of thought.
     “Because those plans were changed by the intervention of rebel factions...what Krycek called resistance-fighters.  And now these cult deaths in Guatemala; trying to activate a lighthouse through a ritual self-sacrifice.  I think...I think science and magic are blurring and mingling here, Scully.  Boundaries are being crossed somehow.”
     Scully squeezed her eyes shut, and gently thumped the back of her skull against the headrest of the passenger seat.  Mulder glanced at the action.  “We still don’t even know what these lighthouses really are.”
     “We know they’re locus points, places where colonization will initially begin.  I think these sites are where the ships will first make themselves known.”
     “I get that, Mulder.  But I have a hard time grasping how the spilling of human blood would ‘activate’ them somehow, or how those bees came pouring out of Diego Cielo’s mouth...”
     Mulder looked at her for a moment.  She knew he could see that she was finding it difficult to process; more from the shock of her experience in the BSL-4 lab than anything else.
     “In many ancient cultures the spilling of human blood was considered a legitimate way to contact the gods.”
     “I know,” she admitted quietly.  “It’s just really frightening.”
     “Dana, don’t let what happened back in the lab sway you, ok?  We need to stay focused.  This thing is only just beginning.”
    “I know, Mulder.  I know.”
     “I think we need–” Mulder began, before he was cut off by the chiming of the cell phone in Scully’s lap.
     Janet Lessinger was finally calling them back.  Scully glanced uncertainly at Mulder.  She switched the call to speakerphone so he could hear, and answered.
     “Taskforce-Leader?”
     “Dana, I just spoke to NBACC.  They’re terrified, but they confirmed your account of what happened.  I can’t claim to know what the hell is going on, but I also spoke directly with the command center at Fort Detrick.  They’re quarantining the lab and shutting down the entire biocontainment suite until further notice.  All staff-members are being reassigned to other suites at the facility.”
     “Are they going to study the bees for possible contagion?”
     The Taskforce-Leader sounded angry.  “I assume so, but they wouldn’t tell me.  The General said he was holding me personally accountable, even though he agreed to suspension of protocol.  I don’t like being used as a scapegoat.”
     Scully grimaced.  “I’m sorry, Janet.  I was just trying to protect them.”
     “I know you were.  If you hadn’t gone in alone things could’ve been far worse.  The biocontainment team would’ve been completely blindsided.  Look, the main thing is that you’re ok and the insects in the lab are secured.”
     Scully took a breath.  “I can’t explain any of it, Taskforce-Leader...”
     “I know.”  For a moment the line was silent, and then, “There’s more bad news.  The missing police-officer who shot the CDC worker in Bethesda...there were several sightings of him in D.C.  He attacked an officer who tried to apprehend him; crushed his throat and threw him down a Fire Escape.  The victim’s not infected, but he’s on life-support at Sibley Memorial.  The surgical team don’t think he’ll pull through.  And our suspect is still at large.”
     “Christ...” muttered Scully.
     “That’s not all,” Lessinger said grimly.  “We have three witnesses to the attack, who claim that the assailant was wearing black contact lenses.  This thing is Purity, isn’t it?”
     Scully looked over at Mulder.  His expression was full of intensity.  “Taskforce-Leader?” he said.
     “Mulder?”
     “I think I might have a potential lead about Diego Roberto Cielo, but I’m not sure.  We’ll need to stop off at the FBI.  I need to talk face to face with some friends, about an old Bureau case that might be linked to this somehow.  It’s a long-shot, but if we don’t start quickly gathering as many leads as we can, out in the field, this thing is going to spin out of control in the next few hours.  I can’t explain it, I can’t prove it, but I know in my gut this is leading somewhere really, really bad.”
     “I agree,” Lessinger said simply.  “Fox...listen; not a word of this is getting to the media, but Homeland, NSA and CIA are all performing threat-analysis and quietly talking about whether FEMA might have to get involved if this thing starts to spread.  It’s complicated, but some of their teams are disputing whether such an evolved pathogen even exists.”
     “It exists, Janet, believe me.”
     “In your personal opinion, are we looking at the preliminary stage of a bioterrorist attack?  Do you think Labyrinth is intending to unleash Purity in a densely-populated metropolitan area?”
     Mulder glanced at Scully, frowning.  “I...I don’t know, Janet.  I can’t answer that.  But Scully and I are going to do everything we can to gather as much useful field-intel as possible.”
     “Keep me appraised of the situation, Fox, Dana.  And be careful.”
     Scully ended the call, took a breath and exhaled it slowly.  She let silence fill the moving car for a few moments, and then she asked, “Why the FBI, Mulder?”
     He pressed his lips together.  His eyes were darkened with what Scully recognized as insight.
     “While you were in the biolab I received a text from an unknown number.  I tried calling it but it kept getting rerouted.  I think it’s from the DOD insider I met this morning.  The text was just a name –  Owen Cameron – but I think I know who that is.  A former FBI agent.”
     “What does that have to do with what’s happening here?”
     “It’s a link in this Guatemala connection,” Mulder told her, “the fact that Diego Roberto Cielo was a member of D-2; their Military Intelligence Directorate.  In the briefing document it states that during the Guatemalan Civil War he trained with the CIA, starting in the mid-seventies.  I think…I think this is all connected to a seriously dark chapter in US history, Scully.  There used to be someone at the FBI with an interest South American politics, especially Guatemala.  I never met him, but my old ASAC Reggie Perdue used to talk about him all the time.  He was supposedly close to a bunch of ex-CIA guys.  I remember Reggie saying he was working on a very politically-sensitive case with connections to Guatemala before he got shit-canned.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “Apparently, FBI senior staff shut down his investigation; accused him of falsifying evidence and had him fired.  No OPR, no explanation – they just threw him out.”
     Scully frowned.  “And you think his old investigation is somehow linked to what’s happening here?  Because of this name the insider sent you?”
     She trusted Mulder’s instincts.  They were often preternaturally accurate, yet she couldn’t help but wonder if this would be a waste of the little precious time they had left. 
     They were less than thirty-six hours away from the date set for colonization.  Glancing from the passenger window, she realized the sun would be setting in less than two hours.
     “I know what you’re thinking, Scully, but this DOD insider must’ve sent me that name for a reason.  I think this former FBI agent is who he’s referring to.  There’s a connection here that’ll help us somehow.  I don’t know how or what, but I can feel it.  We have no other potential leads, and we need to keep moving forward.  You’re gonna have to trust me.”
     She’d seen that look in his eyes many times before, usually on the cusp of some revelation or break in the case.  She felt a sudden flash of powerful emotion move through her.  She didn’t know if it was excitement or terror.
     “I trust you, Mulder.”  


*


Federal Bureau of Investigation
J Edgar Hoover building
Washington D.C.
4: 13 p.m.


Assistant Director Walter Skinner got up from behind his desk when Mulder, Scully and Special Agent Monica Reyes entered his office.
     “Is everything ok?” he asked.  “Vigil’s already spoken to us about this missing patrolman who killed the member of CDC, and hospitalised the DC officer an hour ago.  The Bureau already has several teams looking for him.”
     “This is about something else,” Mulder told him grimly, “something that might be connected to what’s happening here.”
     The Assistant Director motioned for them to come over.  The three of them approached the desk.  Scully frowned and told him, “Monica’s agreed to help us, but we need your help too.  Off the record.”
     Skinner peered at them for a few moments.  He seemed to be aware of something that he didn’t want to talk about.  “What’re you looking for?”
     Mulder moved closer to the desk and said quietly, “We need any information you can find on former Special Agent Owen Cameron.  Any files relating to his last case.”
     Skinner frowned, not expecting that particular request.  “Cameron?  The guy that got fired for intending to falsify evidence before the Senate Subcommittee?  I don’t know much about him, Mulder.  It was over twenty years ago and I wasn’t his AD.”
     “No, but you can get the information we need.  He was working on some kind of hush-hush investigation outside the Bureau mainstream, and I think it’s somehow linked to what’s happening here.”  Mulder didn’t want to, but he forced himself to add, “We think this whole thing has to do with December 22nd.”
     Mulder saw the flash of genuine terror in Skinner’s eyes, before the mask of professionalism came back down a moment later.  Skinner knew what he was implying – but he could see that the Assistant Director wasn’t willing to talk about it. 
     Mulder glanced over at Scully, then Monica.  Agent Reyes looked suddenly horrified, as though some intuition in her mind had finally slotted into place.  He forced himself to turn away from the brunette’s frightened expression, returning his attention to Skinner.
     “Look, Walter,” Mulder said plainly, “Can you get us the information or not?  We’re running out of time...”
     Skinner understood what Mulder was saying.  The bald Assistant Director glanced at Scully, at Monica’s horrified gaze, then peered back at Mulder.  He sighed and asked, “Is it bad?”
     “It’s really, really bad,” Mulder told him.
     Skinner looked away, unable to mask the fear anymore.  Mulder wondered if he was recalling his vision of the Smoking Man that he’d confessed to seeing in November.  From the moment he’d been assigned as their AD on the X Files unit almost twenty years ago, Skinner had been repeatedly compromised and forced into delicate positions – but Mulder knew that Walter Skinner was a good man; a brave man who left many things unsaid and was aware of far more than he usually admitted to.
     He looked at Mulder as though deciding something profound – and finally gave him a sad, brotherly smile despite the fear in his eyes.  Mulder was a little surprised by it, but he returned the sad smile.
     “So, you think it’s really happening?” Skinner asked quietly.
     “I think so,” murmured Mulder.  “Unless we can stop it.”
     Skinner moved from behind the desk, walked over and put his hand on Mulder’s shoulder, peering at him with a level of intensity that Mulder had never witnessed before.  He suddenly felt very emotional and humbled under the gaze of his former Assistant Director.
     “I’ve been afraid of this for almost twenty years,” Skinner confessed quietly.  “I never really though it would actually happen.  I still can’t process it.  I get up every morning and I try not to think about the X Files.  But when I’m alone, it’s all I think about.  So, if you’re telling me that you think it’s really actually happening...then I…I give you the benefit of the doubt, Fox.  If you really believe it…then you find a way to stop it.  You hear me, Agent?”
     Mulder took a huge breath and nodded at the older man.  “We’re gonna try,” he told him, his voice shaking slightly.
     “Give me thirty minutes,” Skinner muttered.  “I’ll get you the files you need.”

The three of them were sitting around a table in one of the FBI’s unoccupied tech-suites.  The blinds had been drawn, casting the space in semidarkness.  Mulder had his elbows on the tabletop, his palms pressed to his eyes. 
     But right now, Scully was more worried about Monica.  The tall brunette looked haunted.  Although she wasn’t crying, her eyes were wet with tears.
     “Are you ok, Mon’?” Scully asked gently, taking her hand.  Monica wouldn’t look at her.
     “No, I’m not.  You...you really think that some kind of invasion is about to happen?  That everything we discussed at Mulder’s trial is coming true?  What you told me about ...about the Navajo legends of the Sixth Extinction?”
     Scully winced at the expression on her friend’s face.  She didn’t know what to say.  She glanced down at her own hands, and nodded.  “We think so, Monica.  That’s why we need Skinner’s help.  And yours.”
     Monica pressed her lips together, her eyes painfully wide.  Scully watched as tears finally began rolling down her cheeks.  Instinctively she reached out and gently wiped them from Monica’s face with her thumb.  But Monica didn’t even acknowledge the physical contact.
She simply continued to gaze wide-eyed at nothing.
     “I’ve talked about the X Files with Sasha so many times,” she murmured.  “So much has happened.  Doggett moved back to New York.  I was finally honest with myself about my sexuality.  And I met Sasha.  I finally met someone I can imagine spending the rest of my life with...and now you’re saying all of that might end up being for nothing...”
     Scully ached for her; the pain in her voice.  She glanced at Mulder, but he was still sitting in silence with his palms against his eyes.   Scully pressed a hand to the side of Monica’s face, turning her head so their gazes met.
     “Talk to me, Monica.”
     Monica was finally looking at her.  “I guess...I guess I just never really imagined this day would come.  And I’m frightened.  I’m really frightened, Dana...because I believe what you’re telling me.  And now I feel like a fool.”
     Scully frowned.  “Why a fool, Mon’?”
     “Because I’ve been wrapped up in love and sex and decorating the new apartment with Sasha...like everything’s normal.  Like the world is still going to be here in a few days.  But you and Mulder...you’ve been living with this knowledge for a long, long time.”
     Scully narrowed her eyes; angry at the fact that her sweet, kind-hearted friend was suddenly feeling this way.
     “Listen to me, Monica.  You’re not a fool.  You’ve done nothing but help us since Imogen Ianelli in Richmond last year.  You’ve done nothing except be a true friend since the day I met you.  Mulder and I...we’re going to do everything we can to stop whatever’s coming.  We’re going to fight with everything we’ve got.  We’ll go to the ends of the Earth if we have to.  We don’t know what’s going to happen.  But we’re not giving up.”
     “That’s right,” Mulder said finally, lowering his hands from his eyes and gazing fiercely at the dark-haired FBI agent.  “This thing is just beginning, Monica.  And we still have some time to try and find a way to–”
     The door to the tech-suite suddenly opened, and Assistant Director Skinner walked in.  He was clutching a large brown box wrapped in clear plastic.  He dumped it on the table.  It was covered with FBI Archive stickers.
     “I just broke about six different FBI regulations,” he muttered.  “Feels good.”  He glanced at Mulder, Scully and Monica, and then gestured at the transfer-authorisation documents bundled on the box’s lid.  “Those will let you get these files outside the building, if you need to.”  He looked at Mulder again, frowning.  “I wish I could stay, but I can’t.  I’ve got meetings with three other ADs and a Section Chief in less than an hour.  But if you need me, call me on my cell and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
     “Thank you, Walter,” Mulder said quietly.
     Scully got up from the chair, moved forward and kissed Skinner gently on the cheek, letting it linger for a few moments.  He didn’t seem flustered by it.  He simply gave her a faint smile when she pulled away.
     He glanced at the floor and muttered “Be careful,” before turning and leaving the tech-suite.  Mulder immediately began unwrapping the plastic from the box of archived files.     


*


5:36 p.m.


The files were a seemingly thrown-together assortment of research materials, photographs, case-notes, interview transcripts – and documentation on Special Agent Owen Cameron’s eventual disgrace and dismissal from the FBI.  But as they began sorting through everything, a very dark and horrifying picture began to form.  All three of them were shaken by what they were reading, and its subtext.
    “This can’t be real, can it?” Monica murmured, appalled and afraid.  “He must’ve had some axe to grind, surely?  I…I can’t believe…”
     Mulder glanced at Scully.  Her eyes were dark with a burgeoning awareness.  She knew enough about political history to intuit a context for what they had found in the archived files.  Mulder could clearly see that it sickened her too.
     It seemed that back in the late eighties Agent Cameron was conducting a private investigation outside the Bureau mainstream, concerning the CIA’s involvement in rural and urban counterinsurgency operations during the Guatemalan Civil War; a war that had officially lasted for thirty-six years. 
     Since the violence between Mayan guerrilla groups and Guatemalan government forces began in earnest in the sixties, an unimaginable amount of blood had been shed.  Much of it was now a matter of public record – paramilitary death squads, the systematic killing of innocent civilians, state-sanctioned terrorism, and the Forced Disappearances of individuals that numbered in the tens of thousands.  The CIA and its alliance within the Guatemalan military had been accused by various Human Rights organizations of committing genocides against the indigenous Mayan population.       
     Mulder knew all this already, from the countless hours he’d spent reading and educating himself on the darkest, most unsettling aspects of American history.  He knew all too well that the CIA had a very twisted relationship with South America in general.
     But Special Agent Owen Cameron had been digging even deeper.
     It seemed that he’d been trying to build a case against certain factions within the CIA and the US Defense Department, and was intending to go before a Senate Subcommittee.  
     Mulder felt nauseous at what they were reading.  Glancing over at Monica again, he saw that her tears had returned. 
     “But…but they were just children,” she trembled.
     Agent Cameron apparently believed that groups within CIA and DOD were using the chaos and violence of the counterinsurgencies in Guatemala to engage in a clandestine operation; the Forced Disappearances of specific targets – all of them children.
     There was a list of specific names and nicknames; many of them noted by Agent Cameron as homeless street-children or kids from the poorest rural families.
     The list had a hundred and sixteen names on it.
     Mulder glanced at Scully as he slid the page from Cameron’s notes across the table.  He couldn’t hide the tears in his own eyes now either.  Scully’s gaze widened in horror.
     “It’s a known fact that children were sometimes disappeared along with rebels and dissidents during the war,” he muttered.  “But this…this is a systematic and very specific targeting of certain children…” 
     He swallowed, suddenly thinking of William.  His stomach clenched with an appalling sense of dread.  He tried to push it to the back of his mind for the moment, and glanced down again at the agent’s typed notes.
     “It gets worse.  He says here that he suspected a group within D-2 were being used by DOD to help continue this operation within the United States.  That these…these innocent Mayan children in Guatemala were seen as just an expendable test-run.  He says that his CIA contacts told him…told him that complicit factions within DOD referred to this thing as ‘Bedtime’.”
     Mulder could see that Scully and Monica were both immediately chilled by the name.  Even Mulder was chilled the moment the word left his mouth.
     “Bedtime…?” murmured Monica, barely even able to speak the word herself.
     “Some kind of recruitment,” Mulder muttered. 
     “Recruitment for what?” Scully asked darkly.  Her expression was seething with anger and disgust.
     “He didn’t know.  That’s what…that’s what he was still trying to find out, before senior staff accused him of falsifying evidence…of making this whole thing up...”    
     Mulder couldn’t speak anymore.  He simply shoved the pages across the table towards Scully.  She glanced at Mulder’s haunted expression and began reading the pages.
     “They accused him of being a paranoid fantasist,” Scully said quietly to Monica.  “They got an FBI psychologist to sign a statement confirming he was mentally unstable…that he posed a threat to the physical well-being of the other agents.”
     Monica kept gently shaking her head, her wet eyes unblinking.  “I feel sick,” she muttered.
     Mulder pressed his hands to his face, overcome.  “They ruined him, Scully.  They ruined him before he could go public with the case.  Someone from DOD or CIA, someone with a lot of influence, must have put pressure on FBI senior staff…or else someone from the Bureau was part of this thing from the very beginning.”
     “Is this guy still alive?” Monica asked suddenly.
     Mulder lowered his hands from his eyes and shook his head.  He tapped a particular page on the table and said, “FBI internal memo states that he died in 1994 of alcohol-related poisoning.  They fired him in ’89.  It took him five years to drink himself to death.”
He shook his head and added, “They just threw all this stuff together, sealed it in the archives and forgot about it.  Forgot about him.  Like he didn’t even matter.”
     Scully reached across the table and gripped Mulder’s hand, clearly realizing that he was identifying deeply with the disgraced former agent.
     Monica was going through the little stack of photos again; her mouth set in a grim line.
     “Mulder?” Scully asked gently.  Her expression was softer now, realizing how much old pain Mulder was suddenly re-experiencing.  “Are you ok?”
     Mulder clenched his teeth, trying to keep his emotions at bay. 
     “These innocent children meant nothing to these people, Scully.  Literally nothing.  Just a means to an end.  We need…we need to find out what that end is about.  We need to find out what this ‘Bedtime’ operation was recruiting these kids for.  If they continued doing this in the United States, if these Mayan kids were just a test-run to these people…this thing could still be going on today…”
     “Jesus Christ,” Monica gasped suddenly.  She was peering wildly at a photograph in her hands.  “Oh my God…guys, I think this is bad…this might be really, really bad…”
     Mulder lunged across the table and snatched the photograph.  At first he didn’t recognise anything wrong with it.  The back of the photo was stamped with the words ‘Guatemala City, 1987’.  The image itself was of a large group of Guatemalan paramilitary men, many of them in scarves and mirrored shades to conceal their identities.  Some had automatic weapons slung across their shoulders.  Other men in the group were suited government officials, smiling as if they had nothing to hide.  One of the men in the background was a muscular Caucasian with a trim beard and dark, penetrating eyes; dressed in similar combat gear as the South Americans.  But he was holding the hand of a teenage girl.   The girl was no older than fifteen or sixteen, with dark hair and a cold, blank expression.
     “Oh my God,” muttered Mulder, in sheer disbelief.  “That’s Rachel Marx…”
     He couldn’t quite process what he was seeing.  The dead-eyed teenage girl in the photograph was the Vigil cryptographer and former CIA analyst who had been working closely with them for the last several months.  She’d maintained Vigil’s Fisher Protocol, and accompanied him and Monica to Oregon during the Widows Hand investigation.  Mulder had begun to think of her as a genuine friend.  They had spoken to her at Vigil Headquarters just this morning.   
     “I – ” Mulder began, but he was lost for words.
     Scully tore the photo from his grasp, peered at it and muttered, “Jesus…”  Her gaze snapped up again.  “Maybe…maybe it just looks like her,” she murmured unconvincingly, flipping the photo and reading the stamp on the back.  “This is dated 1987.  The girl in this photo is in her mid-teens.  I mean, Rachel’s only twenty-six…she would’ve been only a year old in ‘87…”
     Mulder felt a wave of sickness rolling through him.
     They had been played.  They had been played from the beginning.
     “It’s her, Scully,” he said, convinced of the words as he spoke them.  “We don’t know how old she is. We only know what she’s told us…”
     Mulder watched as Scully’s expression darkened, as she realized the full import of what they had just uncovered.  She asked haltingly, “How…how could our DOD insider know we’d find this photo?  How could he know about this?”
     “I don’t think he did,” Mulder said after a few moments.  “He was just trying to lead us to the children.”
     “Jesus, Mulder…we need to call Vigil right now.  We need to speak with Taskforce-Leader Lessinger…”
     Mulder suddenly pulled his phone from the inside pocket of his suit-jacket, and dialled a number.  Scully and Monica waited with fearful expressions.
     “Taskforce-Leader…?”
     “Mulder?  Is everything ok?” 
     “We’re ok.  Listen, can you check with security and find out if Rachel Marx is still in the building?” 
     “Why…what’s going on?”    
     “I’ll explain, but we don’t have a lot of time…” 
     There was a pause before Lessinger muttered, “Give me a minute…”
     Mulder waited, peering with narrowed eyes at Scully and Monica.  The three of them sat in silence.
     “Mulder?  Security just logged her ID; she left the building twelve minutes ago.  Now tell me what the hell is going on.” 
     Mulder took a quick breath and said, “I’m going to send Special Agent Monica Reyes over to you with some critical intel…”  He glanced at Monica.  She quickly nodded.  “Taskforce-Leader, we think Rachel Marx may be a Labyrinth asset.” 
     Another pause on the line.  “You…you can’t be serious, Fox…”
     “I’m completely serious, Janet.” 
     The Taskforce-Leader silently considered his words.  When she spoke again, the fear in her tone was palpable.  “Ok, you bring me this intel immediately.  I’m going to contact Langley, Fort Meade and DC police.  If you’re right, then this is a matter of National Security.  We’ll check her apartment first.  If she’s not there, we’ll hunt her down…”
     “No, no,” Mulder said immediately.  “Listen to me, Janet; if she gets spooked somehow, if she senses even a hint that we know, we could lose this entire thread.  Scully and I will find–”
     “I can’t let you do that, Fox,” Lessinger interrupted.
     “Please, Janet.  You have to buy us some time.  If she gets a word of this to Labyrinth we could lose any actionable intel that she might have.  Even if we bring her in, it could be hours or days before she talks, even under duress.  If Labyrinth is planning something, knowing that a key asset within Vigil has been compromised could force them to accelerate their timetable.  You know we can’t allow that to happen…”
     “Are you absolutely sure about the veracity of this intel?” Lessinger asked.
     Mulder was fully aware that he was asking her to break protocol, but he was also aware that their Taskforce-Leader was already willing to do so.  She just needed him to make it easier for her.
     He tried to trust his intuition, and muttered, “Yes, we’re certain.”
     “I’m giving you an hour, Fox.  Find her, and get her to talk.  Do what it takes.  I’ll be waiting for Special Agent Reyes.” 
     Mulder ended the call. 
     In a slightly shaking voice he told Scully and Monica, “Rachel Marx passed through security twelve minutes ago.  She’s left the building.  Lessinger said that she’s giving us an hour.  If we don’t get back to her by then with actionable intel, she’s gonna break out the big guns to hunt Rachel down…”
     He glanced at Monica.  She immediately began throwing everything back into the archive box.  He turned his attention to Scully.
     “What the hell do we do?” she asked.
     Mulder muttered darkly, “We’ve got…we’ve got my Glock hidden in the hotel room…”  The Willard InterContinental Hotel wasn’t far from FBI headquarters, only a few minutes away on Pennsylvania Avenue.
     Scully thought about it for only a moment, her eyes fierce.  She nodded.    


*
        

Fairfax Apartment-Complex
Logan Circle, Washington D.C.
6:04 p.m.


Night had already fallen over D.C.  The city’s lights were glinting and sparkling against the darkened sky.  It had taken less time than they thought it would to fetch his weapon from the hotel and then drive to Logan Circle.  In the last few months they had driven Rachel home more than once.  She had even invited them inside and made them coffees a few times.  Her apartment was the first logical place to look.  If they were lucky she might have come home, possibly to retrieves something, or to pack her bags if she was afraid her cover was at risk.  It was more likely that she’d come home if she didn’t expect anyone at Vigil to notice or care about her sudden absence.
     Mulder felt sick to his stomach at the thought of the young woman skilfully deceiving them the entire time.  A few months ago Scully had even bought her a gift to thank her for helping them during the joint Vigil-FBI investigation in Oregon.    
     Mulder felt like a fool, but if Rachel really was working with Labyrinth – then the former CIA analyst had been an exceptional actress.     
     Mulder paced along the brightly-lit corridor, the sidearm already clenched in his hands.  He glanced back at Scully.  She nodded silently at his intention as they approached the door to Rachel’s apartment.  If the young analyst wasn’t here, then any potential lead was as good as dead.  They didn’t know why Rachel suddenly walked out of Vigil Headquarters less than half an hour ago.  Had she sensed somehow that her cover was in jeopardy?  Had she been warned by someone?
     Mulder was about to carefully press his ear to the door, when they both heard sudden movement on the other side.  He gestured wildly at Scully to get back down the corridor.  They sprinted back to the stairwell and rounded the corner just as they heard the front door being opened.  A moment later it was closed and then locked.
     Mulder risked a glance.
     Rachel Marx was hurrying down the corridor, a black duffel bag slung over her shoulder, her eyes seemingly blank.
     A moment before she passed the corner, Mulder reached round and pressed the barrel of the Glock 22 to Rachel’s throat.
     The woman froze in mid-step as Mulder moved into view, followed by Scully.
     Rachel’s eyes were wide with terror. 
     Mulder pressed the sidearm into her throat a little harder.  “Back up,” he growled.  “Towards the apartment.  Make it quick.”
     She immediately did as she was told, moving backwards down the corridor.
     “Open the door.”
     Mulder could see the horror etched on the young analyst’s face as she fumbled for her keys.  When she finally got the door open, he backed her inside and stepped into the apartment.  Scully followed, gently closing the door behind them.
     “Guys, this is crazy,” Rachel trembled, tears already spilling down her cheeks.  “It’s me.”
     “We don’t know who the hell you are, but we’re going to find out…”
     Mulder ordered her to turn around, and then marched her at gunpoint across the open-plan lounge towards the leather couch.
     “Drop the bag and sit down.”
     The former CIA analyst tossed the bag to the hardwood floor and sat down on the couch, trembling as she peered up at Mulder.
     “Guys, you’re making a mistake...”
     Mulder had the gun held in both hands, pointing it directly at her.  As Scully came to stand beside him he saw the anger and sense of betrayal in her eyes.  They both felt it.
     “We thought you were our friend, Rachel,” Mulder said through gritted teeth.
     “Jesus, Fox, I am your friend!” she exclaimed, wide-eyed.  “We’ve been working together for eight months!  You know me!”
     Scully peered darkly at the young woman.  “We know you were in Guatemala in 1987, with paramilitary forces and a CIA official.  You were in your mid-teens, but you told us you’re only twenty-six years old.  How is that possible?”
     “Guatemala?  I don’t know what you’re talking about, Dana.”  Rachel’s eyes were pleading, full of incomprehension.  “I swear, whoever you’re talking about is not me….”
     “That’s a lie,” Mulder told her, moving forward slightly with the Glock.  Rachel flinched at the nearness of the weapon.  “I always thought you were more than just an analyst for the CIA before Vigil recruited you.  I always got the feeling you had some kind of extensive field-experience.  I even joked about it with you back in Oregon, remember?  But I just figured your work was classified, and that’s why Vigil headhunted you in the first place…”
     “Ok, Fox, ok,” she suddenly relented with a terrified expression.  “I…I was in Guatemala in ’87, when I was fifteen.  I lied to you about my age because…I used to work for a covert division within the Company.  We were all field operatives…and all our files are full of lies.  But it’s not what you think…”
     “That’s bullshit.”
     “I swear to God I’m telling you the truth.  You were right in the beginning – it’s why Vigil recruited me.  I’ve spent my whole life inside the Company…”
     “Shut up,” Mulder ordered, and then glanced at Scully.  “Dana, check the bag.”
     Scully kneeled and unzipped the duffel bag that Rachel had been carrying.  He watched as his partner’s anger and disgust deepened even further.  Within the bag, a black semiautomatic pistol with an attached suppressor was nestled amongst the folded clothes.  Scully grimaced, rose to her feet again and held up the suppressed pistol for Mulder to see.
     He recognized it from his FBI weapons training.  It was a Jericho 941, a powerful handgun manufactured in Israel.  It had been modified and threaded for the suppressor that was attached like a long black finger.  Mulder knew it was a popular weapon among drug-cartels and professional mercenaries.
     “Are you going to keep spinning this bullshit?” Scully scowled at their suspect.
     Rachel peered at the modified Jericho for a moment, then hung her head and closed her eyes.  A few moments later she began to chuckle.
     When she looked up again her entire demeanour had changed.  Even her posture seemed different.  Mulder had the eerie sense that they were peering at someone who had just cast aside an entire personality because it no longer served her.  The look in Rachel’s eyes was older, darker, almost feral.
     “Worth a shot,” she muttered with a slight shrug, her voice a little deeper than normal.
     Mulder stalked forward a few paces and held the gun only inches from Rachel’s forehead.  She smiled coldly at him.  He felt like he was looking at the smile of an experienced predator.  It chilled him.
     “Just who the hell are you?” he sneered.  “Is Rachel Marx even your real name?”
     “No,” she said plainly.
     “So who are you?”
     “My name is Rosa Maria Santos.”
     “How old are you?  Why were you in Guatemala in ’87?”
     “I’m thirty-nine years old, and I was born in Guatemala.”
     “What?” said Mulder, astonished.  “Thirty-nine?  But you don’t look a day past your mid-twenties.  And you don’t look South American at all.”
     The woman smiled again.  “I’m only half Guatemalan, on my mother’s side.  My father was an American expatriate.  I’ve lived among mercenaries and killers my whole life, Fox.  So your gun doesn’t scare me.”
     “You’re going explain who you really are and what you really know,” Mulder said quietly, “Or I’m going to kill you, right here in your apartment.”
     She merely sniffed and nodded at his threat, glancing at the Jericho in Scully’s hand and then peering back up at Mulder’s weapon. 
     “What do want to know?”
     “I want to know how you’re connected to the death of Diego Roberto Cielo, and the ritual-suicides in El Mirador…how Labyrinth managed to get you inside Vigil.  And what you know about this child-recruitment operation that DOD and CIA referred to as ‘Bedtime’.  You better start talking, you duplicitous bitch…”
     She chuckled again.  “That’s a lot of questions, Fox.  Suppose I don’t care if you kill me?  Suppose I sit here and let you fire a bullet through my skull at almost 1400 feet per second?  What will you do then?  Threats only work if the subject is threatened.”
     Mulder cocked the hammer of the Glock.  “Your choice.”
     For a long time she just gazed at him with wild eyes, as if daring him to pull the trigger. Nervous at the woman’s apparent lack of fear, Scully asked her, “We found a photograph of you with a CIA official in Guatemala City.  I want to know who that man was.”
     She fixed Scully with a piercing stare.  “He’s the man I now consider my father, after leftist rebels slaughtered my biological parents when I was three years old.  People say three years old is too young to remember things…but I remember everything.”
     Mulder looked at Scully, then back at the woman on the couch.  He had the feeling that she was speaking the truth, at last.
     “Tell us what happened.  Quickly.”
     The woman finally glanced away, genuine emotion flashing in her dark eyes. 
     “War happened, Fox,” she said softly.  “My parents were civil servants.  Mayan rebels stormed the offices where they were working, and took them.  They dragged me out of my grandmother’s house, and shot her.  They brought us all to a place in the hills.  They called my father a perro, and my mother a worthless government puta.  They shot my father in the face.  And then those six men held my mother down…and made me watch while they took turns raping her.  She kept screaming and crying for the first hour, but by the end she had no strength left.  Then they slit my mother’s throat and left me there…” 
     “And then?” asked Mulder, disturbed by the story despite his intense anger.  He glanced at Scully and saw her frowning, unsettled too.
     Rachel continued to gaze at the floor of the apartment while she spoke, her voice shaking slightly with emotion she couldn’t conceal.       
     “A few days later an American CIA official found me, starving and half-dead…still clutching mi madre.  He was running counterinsurgencies in Guatemala at the time, and he took care of me.  Years later I discovered he was a very, very powerful man.  He raised me as his own daughter.  I begged him to find and take vengeance on the guerrillas who did that to mi familia.  It took four years, but he showed me photos of the dead men…what his friends in D-2 had done to them.  I was seven years old at the time, but I remember looking at the images of those butchered rebels.  It was the happiest day of my life.  On my eighteenth birthday I begged him to place me in the Company’s training-programs.  Field-operations, Strategies and Infiltration, among other things.”
     Mulder peered at her, realizing that some part of her had been desperately aching to tell this story despite whatever else her objectives were.  He could feel how the events she’d described had altered her on the deepest possible level.  Mulder realized he was pointing his gun at a very scarred and disturbed woman.
     “This man you consider your father…he works for Labyrinth?”
     “He doesn’t just work for them.  He’s an elder.  He helped create it.”
     “And you’re a part of Labyrinth now because you’re loyal to him?  Rachel, don’t you realize this man is using you?  He’s been using you your entire life.”
     She narrowed her eyes, gazing at Mulder with unbridled savagery.  “He loves me.”
     “That’s what he wants you to believe.  But you’re just a means to an end.  He started a process that would turn you into a weapon when you were just a kid.  That’s not love.”
     “It was my idea,” she hissed at him.
     “No…I doubt that.  He manipulated you.  He made it seem like it was your idea.”
     “You know nothing.”
     Mulder was trembling with anger now as he pointed the gun at her.  “Did you help this man commit genocide in Guatemala, Rachel?  Did you help him kidnap innocent children through this Bedtime operation?  Did it continue here in the US?”
     She smiled malevolently, like she was proud that she disgusted him.  “Rachel Marx doesn’t exist.  I invented her.  My name is Rosa, and we conducted a number of counterinsurgencies.  We put the fear of God into all anti-government forces, regardless of class, background or social-standing.  As for the children, it was part of a very special project…but they’re all dead now.”
     “That’s your idea of retribution?  Helping to kill thousands because of what six men did to your mother?  Kidnapping innocent children to be used as test-subjects?”
     “We didn’t spill enough blood,” she told him, still smiling.  “It should have been more…”     
     Mulder felt his anger boil into rage at what she’d said, and the nonchalant way she said it.  He moved forward and pressed the Glock to her forehead.
     “Tell me what Labyrinth is planning, you sick freak…”
     There wasn’t even a hint of fear in her eyes.  In a voice that was almost a whisper she said, “I’m only going to tell you one more thing, Fox.  In less than thirty hours Armageddon is going to begin.  The Sleeper is here.  He’s already walking the Earth…”
     Mulder immediately recalled what the DOD insider had said this morning about the ritual-suicides at El Mirador.  The men had been chanting a particular phrase over and over again: The Waking of the One Who Sleeps…
     “The Sleeper?” Scully asked quietly, fear in her tone.
     Rachel grinned at her.  “The Sleeper is the entity that you would call the Antichrist…”
     Mulder chuckled darkly, eyes narrowed.  “The Antichrist?  I think you and Labyrinth can do better than that.”
     “I’m deadly serious, Fox.  The Revelation of St John is almost upon us.  What you think of as colonization…it’s the End of Days prophesised in Holy Scripture.  The Antichrist is here.  The Sleeper walks among us.”
     For a moment Mulder gazed into her wild, zealous eyes, and then glanced at Scully.  “This is pure garbage,” he muttered.
     But Scully didn’t seem so sure.  She had instinctively clutched the little gold cross at her throat, staring at Rachel with a fearful frown.
     “Dana,” he told her softly, “Get her up…get her up before I pull this goddamn trigger.”
     Scully grimaced and grabbed Rachel by the arm, hauling her up off the couch.  She held the Jericho in one hand and roughly shoved Rachel to face Mulder, stepping behind her.
     In an action that was almost lightning-fast, Rachel threw all her weight backwards against Scully, and jumped – bringing her feet up off the floor and savagely slamming them into Mulder’s chest.  Mulder was hurled backwards into the wall and went crashing to the hardwood.  Scully was simultaneously sent reeling backwards by Rachel’s sudden shift in weight and tumbled over the edge of the couch. 
     Intense pain was radiating across Mulder’s ribcage as he lay slumped against the wall, winded and gasping for breath.  He managed to refocus despite the pain, and saw Rachel already halfway across the open-plan lounge; sprinting for the door with the speed of an athlete. 
     The Glock had been jarred from his hand and had skittered across the apartment floor, out of reach. 
     Grimacing against the pain, he turned his head and glanced across at Scully.  She rolled awkwardly onto her side on the floor, shoved the suppressed Jericho in Rachel’s direction and squeezed off three shots.  The gunshots sounded like muffled cherry-bombs, slamming into the door a moment after their suspect had thrown it open and lunged through.
     “Go…after her,” Mulder gasped, pressing a hand to his chest as he tried and failed to haul himself to his feet again.
     Scully quickly got up and sprinted across the lounge, giving Mulder the briefest concerned glance before plunging through the doorway.

Scully raced down the fourth-floor corridor with the semiautomatic clenched in her right hand.  She heard the sound of a door clanging shut.  She kicked off her shoes without stopping, discarding them as she ran; the click-click of her awkward heels replaced with the flat sounds of her feet.   She turned the corner and shoved open the stairwell door.  She heard Rachel pounding down the steps just below her.  Scully began the descent, rushing down the steps without knowing how much of a lead the younger woman had.
     She was worried about Mulder, but she knew that Rachel couldn’t be allowed to get away.  Scully knew that if she lost her – if the analyst managed to contact Labyrinth – the repercussions could be catastrophic.  Terror and adrenaline forced her onwards down the stairwell.
    When she burst through the door and into the street-level hallway, heaving for breath, she glanced left and right.  The back exit-door was still swinging closed.  Scully ran, shoved herself against the door before it had a chance to close completely, and hurried out into the night.
     The space behind the apartment-complex was a landscaped area of greenery and benches organized around a fountain.  Scully cast a quick glance at the winged statue at the fountain’s apex.  But there was no sign of Rachel Marx.  To her left she noticed a young guy sitting on a bench, a burning cigarette in one hand and a cell phone in the other.  He was peering in absolute fear at the gun clenched in her palm.  She glanced down at it, realizing how terrifying it looked with the attached suppressor.
     He quickly pointed to his left down a narrow path between the apartment-complex and the neighbouring building.  “She…she went…”
     He didn’t even have to finish his sentence.  Scully began sprinting down the path, ready to whip the semiautomatic up in front of her at a moment’s notice.  She expected the path to take her directly onto the street, but it was curving back around the apartment-complex.
     Damn, Rachel was fast.  Scully saw no sign of her. 
     But a split-second later something came lunging out of the foliage that lined the pathway – slamming her against the wall of the building.  Panic and terror and adrenaline flooded through Scully’s system.  She caught a glimpse of feral, murderous eyes in front of her face; pressed up against the younger woman like lovers in a clinch. 
     Rachel grabbed Scully’s arm and twisted it, trying to wrench the gun from her grasp.  Scully screamed in pain but managed to hook her foot around Rachel’s ankle, and tugged, immediately squeezing the trigger.  Rachel stumbled.  The sound of the shot was little more than a muffled thump, but it seared open the left leg of her jeans and tore a bloody chunk from the edge of her thigh.  Rachel shrieked in agony.  Scully expected her to slump to one knee from the pain and shock.  But Rachel was still pressed against her with both hands gripping her arm.  She wrenched harder, twisting Scully’s wrist; still trying to get her to drop the gun.  Scully cried out again  – suddenly flashing back to her brutal encounter with Rebecca Killian in Oregon.  That woman had been a trained US Marine, and Scully had survived.  She wasn’t about to let this psychotic bitch get the better of her.  Scully intentionally dropped the gun, making Rachel falter for just a moment.  It gave Scully a chance to grab the back of Rachel’s head with her other hand, pull her forward slightly – and slam her forehead into the bridge of the younger woman’s nose.  The angle wasn’t direct enough to break it, but she finally stumbled backwards with a strangled grunt, freeing Scully from the clinch.
     Their eyes met again for a second, and Scully saw fear, before Rachel turned and launched into a staggering run down the path.  Blood from the gunshot wound in her thigh was spilling across the concrete.
     This wasn’t over.  With her teeth gritted in rage, Scully snatched up the Jericho from the path.  Her wrist was still stinging badly from the attack.  She aimed the gun at the limping woman, exclaiming, “Don’t make me shoot you in the back, Rachel!  Just stop!  Don’t make me do this!”
     The woman kept running.  Scully lowered the weapon and went after her.  At the end of the path she could see that it opened onto a little gated area.  Beyond it she could see the busy street and hear the noise of traffic passing by.
     “STOP!” Scully begged her, although she wasn’t about to shoot an unarmed woman in the back, even if that woman had just tried to kill her.
     Rachel staggered through the gate, with Scully only a few feet behind.  She bolted out into the middle of the street, whipping her head sideways as she was suddenly caught in the bright glare of headlights.  The sudden shriek of breaks filled the air.  She glanced back at Scully with a dark, triumphant smile on her lips  – as the Metro Bus ploughed into her.  Rachel Marx was instantly sucked beneath its wheels as it squealed past.  A few seconds later it slowed to a stop.
     Horrified, her heart slamming in her chest, Scully stared wide-eyed at the halted bus.  She came to her senses and immediately shoved the gun into the waistband of her skirt, concealing it with the hem of her suit-jacket. 
     Inside the bus a group of passengers were already pressed against the back window, disbelief on their faces.  Scully sprinted round to the back of the bus.
     She swallowed when she saw the mangled body of Rachel Marx lying open-eyed on the blood-streaked asphalt.
     Scully closed her eyes, her chest heaving as adrenaline still coursed through her system.  From across the street came the sound of a woman’s scream.  Scully snapped her eyes open again and saw a small group of pedestrians gathered on the opposite sidewalk, peering at the mangled corpse at her feet.  She looked up at the bus again, and saw several faces peering down.     
     She heard the sound of the Metro’s doors hissing open, and turned to see the driver hurrying towards her.  “Jesus Christ…what the…”   His words trailed off when he saw the broken and bloodied body lying just beyond the rear bumper.  “Oh, Lord in Heaven,” he murmured, turning away as though about to wretch.  He did – vomiting his stomach’s contents onto the asphalt.
     Scully grimaced and backed away, up onto the sidewalk again.  She’d failed, and she needed to get back to Mulder.  She began walking quickly towards the gated pathway to the apartment-complex, but glanced over her shoulder at the ruined body a final time.
     What she saw made her gasp and spin round.  Her mind was flooded with new terror at the impossibility of what she was suddenly seeing.  Beside the trembling bus driver, something else was now standing over the corpse of Rachel Marx.
     Like a shadow that had come to life, it was vaguely humanoid and almost eight feet tall – flickering in and out of visibility.  It was little more than a silhouette, but it seemed to be hooded.  It towered above the driver, who didn’t even seem to acknowledge its presence.
    “Oh God…”
     Scully was flushed with the horrifying sense that it had become aware of her gaze.  It seemed to turn towards her.  Scully realized the thing was peering right at her – that it was curious, surprised that she had noticed it.
     “Oh…my…God…” she murmured, wondering for a moment if she had slipped into some awful nightmare.  A feeling of ancient, incomprehensible malevolence seemed to emanate from the shadow-thing.
    She clutched the gold cross at her throat and squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, in an attempt to will the bizarre apparition away.  Moments later when she opened her eyes again, the tall shadow was gone.

When Scully finally rushed back into the apartment she saw Mulder on his knees beside the couch, the scattered contents of Rachel’s duffel bag on the floor around him.  He was clutching a small leather-bound book in his hands. 
     He looked up at her, frowning.  “She got away…?”
     Scully stood in the doorway, wearing her shoes again, feeling sickened by what just occurred – what she had just witnessed. 
     “She…she ran into the path of a bus, Mulder.  She just killed herself…right in front of me.  Her body’s lying out in the middle of the goddamn street…”
     Mulder grimaced.  “Jesus.  Are you ok?”
     Scully rubbed her wrist, and nodded.  “Yeah.  You?”
     “I’m ok.  I think I found something…”
     Scully closed the door behind her, pulled the concealed semiautomatic from the waistband of her skirt and hurried over to Mulder.  As she kneeled beside him she realized the open leather-bound book in his hands was a Holy Bible.
     “This was folded in some of her clothes,” Mulder said quickly.  “But look at this…”  The book was open at the first chapter of Revelations.  Along the top of the page was a handwritten line of words and numbers.
     TOP SECRET//SAR-PELLUCID – TEC-2971-3011-B6149
     “It’s some kind of designation for a DOD Special Access Program,” muttered Scully, immediately recognizing the general layout from other intelligence documents she had worked with in her career. 
     Mulder nodded, gazing fiercely at her.  “Something called ‘Pellucid’.  And I’m betting it’s the project that these bastards were secretly recruiting those children for.  That’s what this CIA ‘Bedtime’ operation was all about…kidnapping innocent children so they could be used in this Pellucid program…”
     Scully was still badly shaken from her encounter outside with Rachel, and the bizarre apparition she’d seen.  But she felt equally sick at the thought of people within the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense secretly stealing children to be used as expendable lab-rats.
     It was almost too horrific to even contemplate.  Back at the FBI, Agent Cameron’s list had the names or nicknames of a hundred and sixteen missing Guatemalan children on it.  And just earlier Rachel Marx had implied that all those children were now dead.
    Scully swallowed and muttered, “Mulder, we need to find out everything we can about this Pellucid program.  But first we need to get out of here.  Rachel’s lying in the street and…”
     They both froze for a moment at the sound of approaching sirens.
     Scully grabbed his arm, ushering him to his feet.  “Come on.  We’ve got to go.  Now.”


*


6:46 p.m.


Scully felt a little calmer now, but she was still afraid.  They were sitting in the car, a few blocks away from the Fairfax Apartment-Complex.  Mulder had offered to speak with Taskforce-Leader Lessinger, but Scully wouldn’t allow it.  She was the one who had chased Rachel Marx into the street.  She was the one who watched her die.  She ended the call with their superior and sighed deeply, pressing the cell phone to her lips for a moment.
     “How’d she take it?” asked Mulder.
   “Pretty well,” Scully told him.  “She’s fuming and horrified that we’ve had an infiltrator inside Vigil for so long, but she’s not holding us accountable for her death.  She’s got tech guys going through every inch of Vigil’s servers, in case Rachel compromised the system in any way, or wrote backdoor programs for Labyrinth.”
     “That’s pretty much a certainty,” Mulder said quietly.
     “She thanked us, despite what just happened.  She said without us Vigil would’ve probably never discovered her real identity.  They’re running the name Rosa Maria Santos through Langley’s intel.  She’s questioning senior Vigil members who recommended Rachel in the first place.”  Scully glanced at the woman’s bible in Mulder’s lap.  “CIA is trying to find records on this ‘Bedtime’ operation.  And DOD is running the SAP code we found.”
     “They won’t find anything,” Mulder told her.  “What about Monica?”
     “She’s still at Vigil with a team of analysts, going through Agent Cameron’s archived files.  Lessinger asked me to thank you personally.  She said it was your hunch that uncovered a devastating security-breach.”
     Mulder shook his head.  “It was hardly a hunch, Scully.  The insider led us to Agent Cameron.  And it was blind luck that we found the photo of Rachel, Rosa...whatever the hell her name is.”
     “I don’t think it was blind luck, Mulder.”  He looked at her with a curious expression.  “I think...maybe there’s...a higher power involved.”
     “I won’t dispute that possibility, Scully, but–”
     “Mulder,” she said, quietly but with urgency, “what Rachel told us just now...about Armageddon, and the Sleeper...this thing she thinks is the Antichrist...”
     Mulder’s expression was stern.  “Listen to me, Dana.  I’ll admit that if colonization occurs it’ll be an apocalypse, but this stuff about the Antichrist is nonsense. Labyrinth is a group of religious extremists.  Their beliefs are a mixture of classified intelligence and garbled Christian ideology.  They’re liars and murderers and zealots.”
     But Scully was afraid.  She recalled the shadow-thing she’d witnessed standing over Rachel’s dead body.  She shuddered at how real it had seemed.
     “I know they’re zealots,” she told him, touching the cross at her throat.  “But ignoring the link between the biblical End of Days and colonization seems foolish to me, Mulder.  And dangerous.”
     “I’m not saying that, Scully.  I’m saying that the idea of the Antichrist is a very old political creation, not an actual person.”
     “That’s not what it says in the bible,” Scully muttered.
     “Dana, the Christian Bible is politics and metaphor and allegory...”
     Scully felt a sudden flash of anger move through her.  “We’ve seen aliens, Mulder.  Well, I’ve seen angels too.  I’ve seen demons, and you damn well know that.  So don’t sit there and tell me the bible is nothing more than politics and allegory!  We’re less than two days away from the potential extinction of the human race, for Christ’s sake!”
     Mulder stared at her, looking only slightly shocked at her outburst.  But Scully couldn’t help herself.  She went on, sneering, “Are you really that pig-headed?  You really so unwilling to read between the lines?  For a genius, Mulder, you’re pretty goddamn arrogant sometimes...”
     Mulder just peered at her with concern in his eyes.  His expression instantly transformed her emotion from anger into sadness, and fear.  Her chest trembled suddenly and she began to cry, but she choked it off before the tears overwhelmed her completely.
     “Oh God, Mulder, I’m sorry...”
     He frowned, leaning over from the driver seat, and hugged her.  In her ear he muttered, “Don’t apologize.  You’re...you’re right, Scully.  Thinking about it as ‘colonization’ keeps it manageable somehow, allows me to deal with it psychologically.  But...thinking about it as the actual End of the World in a religious or spiritual sense – it terrifies me.  Makes me feel completely powerless...and I can’t afford to feel powerless right now.  I don’t believe for a second what Rachel said about the Antichrist, but I understand what you’re saying to me.”
     Scully sighed as she was held by him, realising how frightened she really was – and how badly her encounter with Rachel Marx had shaken her.  She wanted to tell him about the shadow-thing she’d seen peering over Rachel’s corpse, to express to him the awful feeling of ancient evil she’d felt as it looked at her.  But for some reason she couldn’t bring herself to speak about what she’d witnessed.  Not yet.
     “How’s…how’s your chest?” she asked softly instead.
     “It still hurts a little.  I’ll be ok.”
     “I’m just really, really scared, Fox.”
     “I know.  Me too.”
     “William is still out there.  Our son is still out there.  We failed him.  And now we’ve run out of time...”  Scully could hear the anguish in her own voice.  It made her bury her face against Mulder’s neck.
     “We haven’t failed him yet, Dana.  And we still have some time left.”
     “Lessinger wants us to head back to Vigil immediately for a full briefing,” Scully told him.  “She said the infected patrolman who shot the CDC worker was found dead half an hour ago, not far from the original quarantine in Bethesda.  No sign of Purity anywhere.  Initial tests show no traces of contaminant in the body.  If he was infected with the black oil, it’s already found another host.”  Mulder merely sighed as he held her.  “Do you really think Vigil will find nothing on this Special Access Program?”
     “Yeah, I do.  Whatever this thing is, it’s ultra-classified.  Kidnapping innocent kids to use in some kind of experiment...it’s not the kind of thing they’ll keep accurate records on.”
     “So what do we do?”
     Mulder pulled away from the hug and stared at her for a moment.  “This DOD insider,” he muttered.
     “But we can’t contact him.  He can only contact us.  He keeps rerouting his number, remember?  Bouncing it around between God knows how many satellites.  We’re stuck in a waiting game, until he decides to feed us another breadcrumb.”
     “Maybe...” said Mulder, his eyes lit with a forming idea.
     “What’re you thinking?”
     Mulder pulled his cell phone from his suit-jacket, stared at the screen for a moment before dialling a completely random number.  He put the call on speakerphone and pressed the cell to his ear.  It was ringing.  After about twenty seconds somebody answered.
     “Hello?”
     “I know you can hear me,” said Mulder.
     “Yeah, I can hear you, dude.  But I have no idea who you are.”
     “I know you’re listening,” Mulder continued.  “We need your help.”
     “Dude, who is this?  Gary...?  Did one of the guys put you up to this?”
     “I need you to call me back right now,” said Mulder.
     “Call you back?  Hey, kiss my ass, dipshit.  You seriously need to find a better way to spend your evenings, bro.” 
     The guy on the line hung up.  Mulder glanced at Scully and gave her a faint smile.  They waited in silence for over a minute, their anticipation quickly fading.  Mulder grit his teeth in disappointment, and was just about to put the phone away when it started ringing.  He glanced with sudden hope at Scully and gazed at the screen.  An unknown number.  He put the call on speakerphone again and answered.
     “That was a very foolish and dangerous thing you just did, Agent Mulder.  But also quite creative and insightful.  You better hope that I was the only one listening, which I can’t guarantee.”
     “We need your help,” Mulder told the insider.  “To identify some kind of DOD Special Access code.  It’s somehow connected to the ritual-suicides at El Mirador.  A recruitment operation called ‘Bedtime’, run by the CIA for some kind of classified program called Pellucid.”
     “Agent Mulder…you’re asking me to wade even further into extremely dangerous territory, and I’m already in deep enough.”
     “If the world ends on the 22nd none of this is going matter,” Mulder said plainly.  “You said you wanted to help me. You said you didn’t want your grandkids to inherit a ruined Earth.  So just how far are you willing to go?”
     “Fine.  Give me the code.”
     Mulder opened Rachel’s bible in his lap to the first chapter of Revelations, and read out the handwritten code at the top of the page.
     “Ok, listen, this might take a few hours…”
     “A few hours?” balked Mulder.  “We don’t have that kind of time.  We’ve got less than thirty hours before colonization is supposed to begin.  Every minute is precious.”
     “I’m not a magician, Agent Mulder.  You’re asking me to illegally gather information on a classified Special Access Program.  And if it’s connected to what I showed you this morning then people are willing to kill quite liberally to protect it.  So, take it or leave it.”
     “Ok, ok,” Mulder said reluctantly.
     “Sit tight.  Stay where you are and I’ll try to call you back in the next two hours.”
     The insider hung up.  Mulder looked at Scully and raised his eyebrows.
    Scully muttered, “Taskforce-Leader Lessinger is expecting us back at Vigil.  She’s waiting.”
     “I guess we’ll have to keep her waiting,” said Mulder.  Scully sighed and nodded.

  
*


8: 32 p.m.


They had been sitting in the car for almost two hours now.  Janet Lessinger had already called them back, asking why they hadn’t arrived at Vigil for the briefing.  Mulder told her that they were following a lead through another channel; further investigating the SAP code they had found.  At first the Taskforce-Leader had been angry, exasperated, before finally relenting.  She admitted that NSA and CIA had turned up nothing on the code so far.  Apparently, analysts at Fort Meade and Langley were calling the code a hoax – claiming that there were no records whatsoever on this Betime operation that Agent Cameron’s files talked about, or any DOD Special Access Program called Pellucid.
     But Mulder knew that Janet Lessigner had been an NSA agent herself for twenty-seven years, and was well aware that something was deeply wrong.  Despite the missing Bethesda patrolman recently turning up dead, with no signs of Purity in his system, she was still terrified that they could be on the verge of some kind of bioterrorist attack.  She might not have stated it directly, but she was aware that he and Scully were Vigil’s best bet at stopping it.  She was essentially authorizing them to do whatever it took out in the field to uncover more intel on Labyrinth’s immediate plans.  Mulder got the sense that Janet Lessinger was beginning to fully grasp that she was being lied to by people within the NSA and CIA, and that Labyrinth’s influence was far wider and more pernicious than she’d ever wanted to seriously consider.
     Mulder knew that Vigil’s Taskforce-Leader was frightened.
     Now he and Scully sat drinking coffee and eating sandwiches they had bought from a nearby twenty-four hour diner.  Mulder already felt exhausted by the day’s events, and he knew Scully did too.  They had to keep their strength up.  They had a long way to go before this thing was over, one way or another.
     “I think maybe I’ve lost my appetite,” Scully muttered, placing the half-eaten sandwich on the dashboard and taking another sip of her coffee.
     “Just try and get it down, Scully,” he told her.  “We need our strength.” 
     She grimaced, nodded and picked up the sandwich again.  “I just…I just can’t stop thinking about Diego Roberto Cielo and those bees at NBACC.  And…and I can’t stop thinking about William.  Tell me, Mulder…do you honestly think we have any shot at finding our son before whatever’s supposed to happen actually starts happening…?”
     Mulder looked at her.  “I don’t know.  I really hope so.  We know William is related in some big way to the colonists plans…so, I’m hoping…”  He finished the sandwich and crumpled the wrapper in his fist, closing his eyes for a moment.  “I have to tell you something, Dana…” 
     He didn’t want to hedge his words.  He wanted to just come out and say it.
     “What?”
     “I feel so guilty.”
     “About what?” Scully frowned at him.
     “About my attitude towards our son,” he told her, trying to keep his voice from wavering.  “The visions we’ve had of the Smoking Man these last few months, and my nightmares…it really got me thinking.  Got me thinking about how I need to face up to this guilt.”
     “What do you mean?”
     Mulder kept his eyes closed.  It was easier to speak of these things if he didn’t have to look into her eyes.  “I think…I think I was never really ready to be a father.  I mean, the man I thought was my father wasn’t the world’s best Dad.  Bill Mulder was a cold man most of the time.  And…the man who actually was my father was a monster.  Our worst enemy.  I think I…I was terrified of becoming a Dad.  Scared that it would conflict with my pursuits, my quest to uncover the truth.  But…but more than that…I think I was terrified of failing our child.  Like the only thing that made me a real person was you, Scully.  And that running around in the dark, chasing aliens, was the only thing I really knew how to do.  And that’s why I think I was so ready to hide when the supersoldiers were threatening my life.  I used it as an excuse to just run away and leave you completely alone with our newborn child…”
     Scully just peered at him, saying nothing.
     “I feel so guilty for that, Dana,” he murmured.  “I feel so ashamed.  And I hate myself for it.  I swear to you…if I could go back, I’d do things differently.”
     Scully frowned and reached over, pressing a hand to his cheek.  “I was the one who told you to leave me with William.  I was the one who convinced you to go, Mulder.”
     He shook his head, took a breath and said through clenched teeth, “I should have said no.  I should’ve never left you and William alone.  But I think on some level I left because I didn’t know how to be a father.  Hunting down the Truth, that’s what I knew. That’s what I thought I was good at.  I didn’t support you like I should have.  It’s the one thing in my life that I regret the most…”                    
     "Fox..."
     “Dana,” he said quickly, “Nothing you say will make it ok.  Nothing you say to me will absolve my behaviour or stop me feeling guilty.  But…see, I’m glad I feel so guilty.  I’m so, so glad.  Because it means that I love him.  It means I really did love our son…”
     “Oh, baby…” Scully murmured.
      Mulder swallowed the emotion and peered into the redhead’s eyes.  He felt vulnerable and naked, and he wanted her to see it.
     She leaned forward a little further and took his face in her hands, pressing her forehead against his.
     “I know you loved him, Mulder.  That’s not even a question.  You’ve just spent the last eight months searching for him, risking your life over and over again.  You worked yourself to the bone.  Half the time you barely allowed yourself to sleep.  I understand, Fox, about feeling conflicted…but you’ve got nothing to be ashamed about.”
     Quietly he told her, “Yes I do, Scully.  I do.  And that’s ok.  I want to feel ashamed.  It makes me feel closer to him.  Reminds me that I’m still human…”
     They were both jolted from the intimacy by the sudden ringing of Mulder’s cell phone.  He took a huge breath and pulled away from Scully, snatching the phone from the dashboard. Another unknown number.  The insider was finally calling them back.  Mulder glanced at Scully again.  Her expression was full of empathy and concern for what he’d just been talking about.  He tried to refocus on the task ahead of them.  He put the call on speakerphone and took another deep breath before answering.
     “Yeah?”
     “Listen to me very carefully, Agent Mulder.  Whatever you’ve uncovered is some kind of terrifying horror-story…”
     “What do you mean, a horror-story?”
     “Most of my contacts in DOD claim no knowledge of it.  And the ones who talked won’t even speak of it beyond a whisper.  I heard terror – horror – in those men’s voices.  I had to go far and wide to make any kind of sense with this thing.  But whatever Bedtime and Pellucid actually were, they’ve been completely cleansed from the intelligence record.  Not a trace of any official documentation anywhere, even at Arlington.  All that’s left is legend and rumour and conjecture.  All they would tell me is that Pellucid was part of an unacknowledged MK-Ultra contingent, codenamed ‘TEC’.”
     Mulder glanced sharply at Scully.  Her eyes were wide.  T.E.C. was the supposed name of the black-project that Imogen Ianelli claimed to be a part of back in Richmond last year – a project that she implied was connected to the practical applications of time-travel.
     Feeling a rush of adrenaline beginning to move through him, Mulder asked, “Did you manage to find out what this acronym T.E.C. stands for, or what the contingent entails?”
     “They said that T.E.C. stands for ‘The Eight Configuration’; an umbrella MK project encompassing a number of Special Access Programs, all concerned with quantum physics and altered states of human consciousness.  Pellucid was the most secretive, dangerous and well-funded of all of them.  I got the feeling that a lot of blood has been shed over Pellucid.  Bedtime was a CIA operation recruiting subjects for Pellucid, from all over North and South America.”
     Mulder was chilled completely by what he was hearing.  Special Agent Owen Cameron had been right.  Quietly Mulder said, “I need more.  I need–”
     “There’s only one more thing I can give you, Agent Mulder,” the insider said quickly.  “It’s a location.  A Roman Catholic church in North-eastern D.C.  Corpus Christi, in Michigan Park.  There may be someone there with more information…a deep asset; a member of what you would call the Resistance.  But this individual is apparently highly paranoid and extremely dangerous.  The man who gave me this information owes me his life.  It’s the only reason he disclosed the location of this church, and I still had to beg him for it.  He said you’ll be putting your lives at risk if you go seeking answers there.  That’s everything.  Please don’t try to contact me again, Agent Mulder.  I’ll contact you, if and when I have any more useful intel.  Good luck.”
     The insider ended the call.
     Mulder pressed his lips together and looked at Scully.  She was gently touching the gold cross at her throat, clearly unnerved by these religious connections.   They had found the Special Access code written in Rachel Marx’s bible, in the first chapter of Revelations, and now the DOD insider was telling them that a Catholic church in Michigan Park might hold more answers.
     “What do you think?” Mulder asked her quietly.
     Scully peered at him with a resolute expression.  “I think you should start the car.”


*


Corpus Christi
Michigan Park, Washington D.C.
9: 04 p.m.


The church was a modest building with Renaissance architecture, sitting on the edge of the neighbourhood.  The windows were faintly glowing and its doors were still open as they parked the car.  They hurried across the street beneath the night sky, climbed the small flight of steps and entered the building. 
     Rows of candles were lit; illuminating the church’s columns, pilasters and lintels in flickering firelight.  Statues of saints peered down at them.  A few parishioners were dotted about in the pews, praying silently.  The nearest half of the building was wreathed in shadow.  Mulder glanced at Scully beside him in the shadows, and saw that her attention had been drawn by a statue of the Virgin Mary gazing down solemnly from her plinth.
     Mulder noticed a priest moving among the candles near the altar, extinguishing them as he went.  The flickering light in the church began to slowly dim as he proceeded.  The priest eventually glanced up from his task, noticing them, and smiled.  He began striding down the aisle.  Mulder immediately started assessing his appearance.
     The priest was a tall, broad-shouldered man in his mid-fifties with dark hair, perhaps a few years older than Mulder, with a surprisingly toned physique hidden beneath his black cassock.  His face bore a smile that didn’t quite seem to reach his eyes, but he had an otherwise pleasant, unassuming face.  A face that most people would be inclined to trust.  Scully had already noticed the priest approaching them.
     “Hello,” he said with a smile when he reached them.  “We’re just about to close for the evening.  Is there anything I can help you with?”
     Mulder extended a hand.  The priest took it immediately.  “We’re with the United States intelligence service,” Mulder told him, peering directly into his eyes.
     The man frowned slightly, still smiling, and glanced at the little gold cross around Scully’s neck.  “I’m Father Benjamin Jacobs.  I must admit I’m rather surprised.  This sounds quite serious.  How might Corpus Christi help the US intelligence service…?”
     Mulder glanced briefly at Scully, hoping the priest would notice the unspoken communication and be unsettled by it.  “We’d like to talk with you in private, Father Jacobs.  We don’t want to take up much of your time, but it regards an urgent matter of National Security.”
     The dark-haired priest raised his eyebrows in an expression of bemusement.  “Well, in that case you’ll have to wait a few minutes until the last of my parishioners leave for the evening.  Is that ok?”
     “That’s fine,” said Scully.  “We’re happy to wait, Father.”
     He nodded and smiled at them, moving away down the aisle between the pews.  Scully looked at Mulder and asked quietly, “You think this is the guy?  The deep asset?”
     “I think so.  I don’t think there’s anyone else it could be.”
     “He seems more like ex-military than a member of the clergy,” Scully muttered.  “Something about his vibe that I can’t quite place.”
     “Yeah,” said Mulder.  “He’s in really great shape for a priest.  He carries himself like an athlete, or a soldier.  I think we spooked him.”
     “Good,” Scully replied coldly.
     For the next ten minutes they wandered around as the remaining parishioners began to leave.  Mulder peered at the statue of Christ directly above the altar.  The eyes of the statue were full of suffering and compassion, seeming to gaze down at him directly.  The flickering candlelight moving across the sculptured stone made the eyes seem almost alive.  Mulder found himself slightly unnerved by the statue’s face, as though the effigy of Christ was somehow aware of the madness that was on the brink of being unleashed upon the Earth in the coming hours.  Mulder had to look away from the statue.
     He saw that Scully had her eye on the last parishioner, an elderly woman.  She got up from the pews and crossed herself.  She noticed them watching, smiled and wished them a Merry Christmas before walking slowly down the aisle and leaving the church. 
     They were alone now.
     Mulder sensed Scully’s tension and watched as she unbuttoned her suit-jacket, providing easy access to the Jericho she had concealed in the waistband of her skirt.  She had unscrewed the suppressor and left it in the glove box of the car, making the semiautomatic easier to conceal beneath her jacket.  Mulder began unbuttoning his own suit-jacket, so he could reach for the Glock 22.  A few moments later Father Jacobs reappeared from a back room, striding towards them with an apologetic look on his face.
     But Mulder felt a sudden flash of unease.
     “I’m sorry for the wait,” said the priest, and then suddenly whipped up his hand.  Almost simultaneously, Mulder drew his own weapon.
     The priest had a sidearm pointing directly at him.  The gun had a suppressor still attached to the modified barrel.
     Mulder flinched with dread at the sudden stand-off, but he kept his Glock pointed at the man only ten feet in front of them.   He could feel Scully’s sudden terror, her anger at not realizing the immediacy of the threat.  The dark-haired priest stood in the center of the aisle, dressed in his black cassock, pointing the silenced weapon at them.  His eyes were hard and grim now, but his lips spread into a thin smile.
     “You have ten seconds to lower your weapon and tell me who you are, and what you’re doing here, before I kill you both.”
     “Father Jacobs,” Mulder said immediately, “I am not going to lower my weapon.  We work for an NSA-CIA taskforce called Vigil.  We’re trying to gather information on a rogue intelligence faction codenamed Labyrinth; a domestic terror group that’s planning to cripple the United States…”
     Father Jacobs cocked the hammer of his silenced handgun and muttered, “Not good enough, my son.”
     “Listen to me!” Mulder exclaimed, still pointing the Glock at the priest.  “A high-level DOD informant told us that you’re a member of the Resistance…an ally, someone who’s aware of a Special Access Program called Pellucid and it’s connections to–”
     “Do better,” said the priest. 
     Mulder narrowed his eyes at the dark-haired man, trying to suppress his anger and fear.  The priest’s stance was completely unwavering.  “The main doors are still open,” Mulder told him.  “What if someone walks in off the street and sees you like this?”
     “Do better,” the priest warned him again, a harder edge to his tone this time.
     “We’re trying to stop the full-scale colonization of this planet by a malevolent extraterrestrial race.  We were told that you’d be willing to help us…”
     Mulder knew how crazy the words sounded, even to his own ears. 
     The priest peered at them for a moment before responding with, “And why should I care about your little science-fiction story?”
     Beside Mulder, Scully suddenly spoke.  “Father Jacobs, a powerful terrorist organization called Labyrinth believes that December 22nd 2012 is the Last Judgement…the End of Days…the biblical Revelation of Saint John.  You must help us.”
     The priest smiled as he and Mulder both kept their weapons aimed at one another.  He seemed to be enjoying himself.  He seemed to be gaining pleasure from making them afraid.  Mulder tightened his grip on the Glock in his hands.
     “And what if you’re right, little girl?” the priest asked Scully.  “What if December 22nd is the end of all mankind?  Isn’t that God’s will?  Who are you to argue with the will of the Creator…?”
     Mulder sneered and took a step forward with the Glock, risking a bullet, but the priest didn’t fire. 
     “Don’t call her a little girl, you hear me?  Whatever’s coming is not the will of God.  It’s a false Armageddon engineered by powerful men, and by entities who wish to use the human race as a genetic resource.  Put down the gun.”
     “Don’t take another step,” the priest warned him.
     “Mulder…” Scully muttered fearfully.
     But Mulder took another step, and then another.  “Don’t make me shoot you,” he told the dark-haired man through clenched teeth.  “We came here to ask for your help.  I don’t know if you’re really a member of the clergy, but if you are…do you really have what it takes to serve your God?  Are you really a resistance fighter?  Because if you pull that trigger before I pull mine…you could be dooming the entire planet.”
     The priest suddenly lowered the gun, and chuckled.  “You think a hell of a lot of yourself, Mr Mulder,” he said with a grim smile.
     “You know our names?” Mulder asked, still keeping the Glock trained on the man’s chest.
     The priest nodded.  “There are several hidden micro-cameras placed in the eyes of some of these statues, and they’ve already run your faces through DODs facial-recognition systems.  You’re both ex-FBI.  The now defunct X Files unit.  The investigation of unexplained phenomena, yes?”
     Mulder was stunned, glancing at Scully as he held the priest at gunpoint.  She was peering at the statues.  It seemed the statues really were watching.
     Father Jacobs approached them, the gun in his hand hanging casually at his side now.  He stopped a few feet short, appraising them with a wolfish expression.  This close to him, his face no longer seemed unassuming.  His eyes were cold and dark.  Mulder sensed the presence of some fiercely-controlled form of violence within this man.  He realized they were in the company of an exceptionally dangerous individual.
     Finally the man lifted his hand and offered Scully his silenced handgun.  She snatched it immediately and barked, “Just who the hell are you?” 
     Mulder reluctantly lowered the Glock in his hands.  He could clearly see that Scully was afraid of being this close to the priest.
     Father Jacobs glanced at the cross at Scully’s throat, and muttered, “I’m what you might call a spy-killer, I suppose.  A clean-up asset for covert operations.”
     “A spy-killer?” said Scully.  “Are…are you even a real priest?”
     “I earned my theology degree and studied in seminary until my mid-twenties.  I’ve been a member of the Roman church for over twenty-seven years.”
     “But…you’re ex-military, aren’t you?” Mulder asked brusquely.  The priest nodded. 
     “How can both things be true?” Scully asked him.
     “Because they are, young lady.  It’s called multitasking, and its something that deep-cover assets have to become quite adept at…or they soon die horrible deaths.”
     Scully peered into his eyes despite her obvious fear.  “Who do you work for?”
     “I used to work for an unacknowledged annexe of the Department of Defense, but now I work only for my parishioners.  And Almighty God.”
     Scully sneered at him.  “Is that supposed to be a joke?  Is that collar you’re wearing nothing but a joke to you?”
     “No joke, Dr Scully.  I was just trying to keep my head down, stay unnoticed, and attend to the spiritual needs of my congregation.  But that time is clearly over.”  He focused his attention on Mulder and added, “You wanted to know about Pellucid.  Come with me.”
     He turned his back on them and began walking.  Mulder glanced at Scully, realizing they could now shoot him in the back if they wanted.  The priest clearly wasn’t afraid of them.  That frightened Mulder.
     They followed him beyond the reach of the flickering candlelight and into the shadowed half of the church.  They watched as he locked the main doors with a ring of keys on his hip.  Then he led them into a side hallway and into a back room.
     He switched on a lamp by the door, illuminating a small study.  There was a stained-glass window behind his desk, depicting the Madonna and Child.  His bookshelves were filled with theological tomes, but Mulder saw a modified laptop open on the desk. A thick trunk of cables was connected to it, which trailed across the floor and disappeared through a hole in the bottom of one of the bookcases.  Mulder realized the bookcase was concealing a hollow compartment behind the wall, filled with God only knew what.  He glanced back at the laptop.  The entire casing had been removed, exposing the inner workings of the screen and the micro-circuitry.  The machine had been augmented with various pieces of unrecognizable technology.  It looked like something from a cyberpunk movie.  Mulder glanced nervously at Scully.
     “Why have you decided to help us?” she asked the priest.  He smiled and went over to his desk, hunching over it.  He tapped a few keys on the modified laptop and glanced at the screen.
     “Why not?”
     Mulder was unnerved by his words and his matter-of-fact tone. 
     “We need to know what Labyrinth is planning with regards to colonization,” Mulder said quietly.  “We need to know about these ritual-suicides at the Mayan city of El Mirador in Guatemala; how they’re connected to a recruitment operation called ‘Bedtime’ and a DOD program called Pellucid.  We need to know about this key that Labyrinth and the Apostles have been warring to find.”
     The priest stared at him.  “The cult deaths in Guatemala are not isolated incidents.  It’s happening in Africa too.  Christian missionaries have written accounts of certain illuminated African tribes that worshipped gods from the sky, much like the Mayans.  Tribes that practice necromancy and blood-magick.  This has always been part of the plan.”
     “How…how do Labyrinth and the Apostles fit into this plan?” asked Mulder with a frown.
     “The Apostles?” chuckled the priest.  “Do you even know what Labyrinth and the Apostles really are, Mr Mulder?”
     “Why don’t you tell me?”
     “They’re a pseudo-Gnostic neo-colonial cult within US intelligence, who have been trying to enslave the entire human race for almost seventy years.”
     “Gnostic?” asked Mulder.
     “From Gnosis; the Ancient Greek word for Knowledge.”
     “I know what it means,” said Mulder.  “But what are you trying to say?”
     Hunched over the desk, the priest glanced up at them.  “I’m saying that colonization is just the beginning, not the end.  It’s related to this Key you mentioned.  The Clavem Saeculorum. Latin for the Key of Ages.”
     “And what is this key?” asked Scully.  “What is it supposed to unlock?”
     “It’s rumoured to be a very ancient piece of alien technology, passed down through the elite priesthoods of every great empire since Sumeria.  And it’s supposed to open something that DOD refers to as Triskelion.”
     Mulder found himself chilled completely at what the priest had just said.  He glanced sharply at Scully.  She nodded.  A triskelion symbol had been carved into the chest of Diego Roberto Cielo.  Something buried deep in Mulder’s subconscious was trying to make him aware of some oblique connection, but he couldn’t quite comprehend it.
     “What is Triskelion?” asked Scully, eyes narrowed.
     “I don’t know,” the priest told her, “But I do know that the Clavis has been the subject of many, many wars.  In the black-intel community there are even legends that the Knights Templar acquired it and then lost it again during the Middle Ages.  I don’t know if those legends are true, but the existence of the Clavis is connected to the ideological core of Labyrinth and the Apostles…to their prophecy of the Sleeper.”
     Scully looked at Mulder.  It was the same thing that Rachel Marx had told them back at the apartment a few hours ago.
     “And what…what is the Sleeper?” Scully asked shakily.
     “Come here,” he told them.
     With trepidation they approached the desk and went round it to stand beside the priest.  Mulder kept the Glock 22 clenched firmly in his hand, and even though Scully was armed he made sure to put himself between her and the dark-haired man.
     On the screen of the laptop were a series of thumbnail images.  Father Jacobs clicked one and enlarged it.  Mulder immediately recognized it as a satellite image.
     “Where is this?”
     “Alaska,” said the priest.  He closed the image and opened another.  This one was higher resolution, and seemed to show a collection of ruins half-covered by snow.  The priest glanced at Mulder, smiling.  “This was the site of a classified DOD research-facility.  It’s where Pellucid was conducted.  Bedtime was a kidnapping operation handled by factions within the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense.  Two hundred and twenty-six missing children from all over South America and the United States passed through this Alaskan site.  But the facility was completely destroyed in 1989.”
     “Why?” asked Scully, horrified.  “And how?  I mean…how could our government do something like this?  And to what end?”
     Mulder watched as the priest glanced over at her with a withering look.  “These were not just ordinary children, Miss Scully.  Bedtime was concerned with only recruiting children that fit a certain profile.”
     “What profile?” she practically hissed at him.
     “Extreme extra-sensory and PSI abilities.”
     Scully’s eyes widened.  Mulder suddenly felt sick.  “They were kidnapping psychic children?  That’s what Pellucid was about?”
     The priest nodded.  “It was a very dangerous program, but the men who created it felt that it would be the jewel in the MK-Ultra crown.  They called it ‘The Eight Configuration’ MK Contingent.  Conspiracy theorists think they understand MK, but it was never truly about mind-control technologies.  That was mostly nonsense and spin.  MK and Pellucid in particular were about creating technologies of the mind…harnessing the raw power of human consciousness.”
     Mulder tried to swallow the sickening feeling that had surfaced in him.  Quietly he asked the priest, “What’re you saying…?”
     The priest peered back at the satellite image of the ruined Alaskan facility.
     “Pellucid was a black-project concerned with the weaponization of Lucid Dreaming states, Mr Mulder.  A program so secret and dangerous that after the facility’s destruction in 1989 the program was wiped from the intelligence record, and almost everyone connected with it was systematically executed.  Less than a handful remain.”  Father Jacobs smiled at Mulder.  “One of the surviving research-team is a man named Dr Ryan Cohen.  He’s living in New York City, in Brooklyn.  He’s a terrified, broken man…with a soft, bleeding heart.  But he’s been hiding for as long as I have.  He can show you the real truth of what’s coming.”
     Mulder swallowed and muttered, “Lucid Dreaming?” 
     A very powerful and dark feeling had gripped him.  He was suddenly terrified of what the strange priest was telling them.  Some nameless anxiety was gathering in the pit of Mulder’s stomach, and he didn’t know why.  All he knew was that it was very, very disturbing.
     “What happened to these children?” Scully murmured, her voice close to breaking.
     “The few who survived the experiments were murdered, and their bodies were burned.”
     “Oh God,” Scully murmured in horror.
     Father Jacobs smiled and nodded gently.  “Oh God indeed…”  He tapped the screen of the modified laptop, his finger on the image of the ruined facility.  “That’s where the Sleeper was born.  I know because I was there.  The Apostles worship it, but Labyrinth…”  He chuckled.  “Labyrinth fear and revile it, good little Christians that they are.”
     “What in God’s name are you talking about?” Scully asked, her voice trembling.
     “You’re afraid now, aren’t you?” said the priest, without looking at either of them.  “You’re afraid of what I’ve told you.  And you should be afraid.”  He chuckled again.  “You think you’re horrified now?  You have no idea of the horror that’s coming.  Men in the highest offices are on their knees right now, because they know what I know.  We’re less than thirty hours away from Dies Irae…the Dawn of the New Jerusalem.” 
     A thin, predatory smile curved the priest’s lips.  “Children die all the time, but at least Pellucid’s children had…shall we say, their uses.”
     Mulder suddenly lost it.  An incandescent rage flooded through his entire body.  He grabbed the priest by the front of his cassock and hurled him up against the stained-glass window.  His head slammed against it, instantly cracking the glass – bisecting the face of the Virgin Mary.  Mulder slammed him against it a second time.  Scully simply looked on with furious, silent approval.
     “You think this is funny, you vile son of a bitch?” Mulder growled at the priest.  “You think the kidnapping, abuse and murder of over two-hundred children is funny?”
     Father Jacobs grinned at Mulder.  “I find the whole thing quite amusing, yes.”
     Mulder grabbed the man’s throat with one hand and immediately raised the Glock 22 with the other, pressing the barrel against his temple.
     Despite his rage, Mulder had the sense that the priest was allowing him to do this…that the muscular dark-eyed man could have easily attempted to defend himself if he’d wanted to.  Mulder didn’t know what that meant, but he didn’t care.  He felt like fire was in his veins now.
      “Kill me, Fox,” the priest said, still grinning.  “Slaughter me and send me to my God.”
     “I don’t think God would have you,” Scully murmured beside Mulder.
     “Kill me,” the priest said again.  “Kill me, and then travel to New York.  Find Dr Ryan Cohen.  His current location is in the open decrypted file on my laptop.  Tell him that Benjamin always knew where he was.  Tell him that the only reason he’s still alive is because it was fun to watch him suffer.  Tell him he failed to protect the children, from me and from DOD…and that he’ll fail to protect the Vessel as well.”
     Mulder squeezed the priest’s throat and pressed the barrel of the Glock even harder against his temple.
     “Shut up, you disgusting piece of shit, or I will kill you…”
     But the priest didn’t relent.  “I know who you are, Fox.  I didn’t realize it was you at first, but I know all about you.  You have no idea what’s happening, do you?  You made a promise, long before your birth.  And now the Angel of the Abyss is hunting you, because of that promise.  And I’ll take great comfort…in knowing that when you were finally faced with the ultimate truth…the horror of it all crippled you completely.  By the way…your Daddy says hi.”
     Mulder’s eyes flew wide with incomprehension, hatred and fear.  “Who are you talking about?” he screamed.  “What the hell are you talking about!”
     But Father Jacobs suddenly snatched Mulder’s hand and shoved his finger down on the trigger of the Glock.  The gunshot blew open the side of the priest’s skull in a jet of gore and bone fragments that blasted across the bookcase.  Mulder flinched and Scully gasped.  They both stumbled backwards against the desk as the priest slid down the fractured stained-glass window depicting the Madonna and Child, and slumped to the floor.
     Mulder was still clenching the smoking Glock in his right hand, his chest heaving.  He peered unblinking at the dead man, and then glanced at Scully beside him.  She looked just as shocked and horrified.
     “We…we need to get out of here, Mulder,” she murmured, staring at the dead priest beneath the window.     
     She turned and slammed shut the modified laptop on the desk.  She tore the trunk of cables from the port and scooped the laptop into her arms, holding it against her chest.
     “Mulder!” she barked at him.  “We need to get the hell out of here, now!”
     He finally pulled his gaze away from the dead priest and peered at her, nodding.  His entire system was flooded with a hideous, sickening feeling, but he knew he had to listen to his partner.  He bent down and snatched the ring of keys hanging at the dead man’s hip, tearing them free.
     They hurried out of the study, through the hallway and back into the main space of the candlelit church.  Once they reached the doors Mulder fumbled with the ring of keys until he found the correct one.  He kept trying to swallow the sick feeling moving through him.  Finally the doors opened.
     They were mercifully out in the open air again.  Mulder took a huge breath and glanced up at the black sky.
     “Lock the doors, Mulder,” Scully said forcefully.  He did as she asked, throwing the ring of keys into the bushes. 
     Scully grabbed his arm while clutching the laptop to her chest, and they hurried across the street to their parked car.  “I’ll drive,” she practically ordered him, realizing that he was in no state to think clearly. 
     He reached into the pocket of his suit-jacket and tossed her the car keys.  She caught them.  His mind was shimmering with awful, nameless feelings.  He realized that he was in shock from what just occurred in the church, but it was more than that.
     The priest’s words had triggered some vague intuition in his mind.  He couldn’t understand it or even begin to grasp its meaning, but whatever it was it was terrifying on a level he had rarely experienced in his life.
     “ –the car, Mulder!”  Scully was shouting orders at him, determination and fear on her face.  Mulder opened the passenger door, climbed into the seat and closed the door behind him.
     He realized Scully was now sitting beside him and still talking, but he wasn’t really listening.  He pressed his eyes shut and tried to quiet the awful feelings that were teasing and tugging at his consciousness.  He tried to will his mind into a place of calm and clarity.
     “–listening to me, Mulder?”
     He nodded with his eyes closed.  For a little while longer Scully kept saying things, fear and concern in her tone.  Eventually she stopped talking, and Mulder felt her grip his left hand and squeeze it.  Mulder squeezed back, keeping his eyes closed and saying nothing.  He didn’t know how long they sat like that.  It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes but it felt like an hour.  He focused on taking careful, regular breaths through his nose.  At some point Scully let go of his hand and began talking again, but not to him.  She was talking to someone else, a desperate pleading quality in her tone.  He didn’t know what she was saying, but she was trying to convince someone of something.
     In Mulder’s mind the sound of internal voices were making themselves known.  He wasn’t sure what was happening to him.  But he knew it was very strange.  He couldn’t open his mouth and speak now.  He couldn’t even open his eyes again.
     Daddy says hi…
     The Child is Father to the Man…
     Do you think I’m done with you yet?  Fathers are never done with their sons…
     An old man lifting a burning cigarette to his lips, his cold eyes full of secrets.  A city drenched in fire and strewn with rubble.  Survivors picking their way through a devastated landscape that barely resembled Washington D.C, hiding from things on the ground that wished to harvest them.  Alien ships patrolling the skies. 
     At the center of Mulder’s mind the images were replaced with a flash of ethereal blue light.  A child’s face seemed to stitch itself from the shimmering luminescence.  It was the face of the boy in the photograph that the Van De Kamps had given them.
     It was William’s face.  And then the face of a young girl, of William’s age.  At first Mulder thought it was a childhood image of his sister, but the girl was someone else.  For a moment Mulder saw the two children standing side by side, composed of bluish brilliance.
     He saw William and the girl link hands, and then the image was gone.
     A rushing sensation began to swell through the sudden blackness in Mulder’s mind, a rising frequency that seemed to increase in pitch until it was almost unbearable.
     Mulder snapped his eyes open, suddenly completely aware of his surroundings.  He glanced immediately at the driver seat and saw Scully peering fearfully at him.
     “Christ, Mulder, are you ok…?”
    He nodded uncertainly.  “What…what happened?”
     Scully lunged over to the passenger seat and hugged him.  “It was like you…you gradually slipped into some kind of catatonic state.  You became completely unresponsive.  Jesus Christ, Fox…”
     “I’m ok, Scully,” he told her, confused.  “I’m not sure what just happened, but I’m ok.  How…how long was I out?”
     “Almost seven minutes.”  Scully was gripping him fiercely.  “I was just praying you’d snap out of it.  What just happened back there, Mulder…I think it thrust you into a severe shock that triggered some kind of momentary catatonia.  Christ, that was frightening…”
     “I’m ok,” he assured her again.  The awful sick feelings he’d experienced just before his stupor had passed completely, replaced with confusion and a faint anxiousness.  He had full recall of everything that had just occurred, but he didn’t know what any of it meant.
    “Who were you just talking to?” he asked her quietly.  “After you stopped talking to me, I mean.”
     Scully kept hugging him.  “Taskforce-Leader Lessinger.  I was terrified, Mulder.  I told her everything that happened in the church.  I…I told her what Father Jacobs just said about Pellucid…and about this man Dr Ryan Cohen in New York.  She said we were leaving bodies in our wake, but I tried to convince her to let us find him…”
     Mulder buried his cheek against Scully’s red hair as they held each other.  The sensation was comforting.  “Did she agree to it?”
     “She said she’s gonna call us back in a few minutes.  Mulder…are you sure you’re ok?”
     “I’m ok, Scully.  I can’t explain it, but I’m ok.”
     She abruptly pulled away from the embrace and peered at him.  “The things he said…they can’t be true, can they?  Two hundred and twenty-six children…all of them used in this Pellucid program…all of them murdered by forces within our own government?”
     Mulder swallowed and shook his head.  “I think it is true, Scully.  And somehow it’s connected directly to colonization.”
     “But how?  That sick bastard just told us it was some kind of lucid dreaming project…”
     “I don’t know how,” he told her.
     Scully gritted her teeth, a look of disgust flashing in her eyes.  “He was bragging, Mulder.  That bastard was bragging that he’d interfered with some of those children…”
     “I know, Scully.  I know.”
     “This is awful, Mulder.  This is like a goddamn nightmare…”
     Mulder leaned over, kissed her forehead and told her quietly, “We need to stay strong, ok?  We need to figure out how all this is connected.  And we need to find a way to stop it.  If colonization is really going to begin in less than two days from now…then we need to understand how Pellucid fits into all of this.”
     In a voice that was almost a whisper she said, “I don’t know if I can really do this, Mulder.  I know this has just started and I’m already terrified.  I mean…we’re trying to prevent a global holocaust.  Jacobs mentioned Dies Irae.  That’s the name of a thirteenth century Catholic hymn.  It means ‘Day of Wrath’.  The Last Judgement.  What if the Book of Revelations was really some encoded, garbled prophecy about colonization?  What if…what if this really is the biblical apocalypse?  The Angel of the Abyss is hunting us?  That’s…that’s Abaddon, Mulder.  That’s the Destroyer.  I’m a scientist, but…I’m…I’m still a Christian.  The believer in me is freaking out right now.  Oh God, Mulder…I don’t…I don’t know if I have the strength to do what it takes to finish this thing…”
     Mulder kissed her forehead again, letting it linger for a long time.  He could feel her terror.  He could feel how her grip on what was real was beginning to falter, because he was feeling the exact same thing.  He didn’t know what to believe anymore.  But he knew he had to act like he did.  He had to be strong for her.
     “You have the strength,” he told her.  “We both do.  Listen to me – we have to believe that this is not God’s plan, ok?  We have to believe that this is just powerful men creating a perversion of Christian theology.  A false Armageddon.  Otherwise we’ll go completely crazy, Scully.  We can’t afford that.  Everything you’re feeling, I think it’s how Labyrinth gained its members in the first place…by preying on peoples religious beliefs, their fears and anxieties.  We can’t allow ourselves to fall for the same tricks.  We can’t give up now.  Otherwise everything we’ve been through, all our work on the X Files, all our sacrifices, all the people we’ve lost…it’ll all be for nothing.  We can’t allow that.  We’ve come so far since we first met each other, Dana.  We have to keep fighting.  Not just for the truth, but for you and me…and for William.”
     Scully peered up at him and held his gaze.  Mulder could see her courage vying for control against her fear.  Mulder knew that her courage would win, no matter how great her fear.  It was part of the reason he loved her so deeply.
     Eventually Scully took a fortifying breath, and nodded.             
     Mulder lifted the little gold cross from around her neck and pressed it to her lips.  Scully smiled faintly and made a kissing sound before Mulder let the cross fall back into place.
     A moment later Scully’s cell phone began ringing.  She stared pointedly at Mulder for a few seconds, her expression full of courage and fear and love, and then snatched the phone from the dashboard.
     “Lessinger?” asked Mulder.
     She nodded, put the call on speakerphone and answered.  “Taskforce-Leader?”
     Janet Lessinger’s voice was shaking badly, and it took them only a moment to realize she was crying.  A feeling of sudden dread filled the car.  Mulder shared a fearful glance with Scully.
     “Janet, are you all right?” Scully asked quickly.  “What’s wrong?”
     “Dana,” the older woman began, “they’ve won…somehow those bastards have won…”
     “What do you mean they’ve won?  What’s going on there?”
     The former NSA agent’s voice was shaking so much that she could barely form a coherent sentence.  “Six…six Vigil analysts…were just found with…with their throats cut…in our hub-suites…”
     “Jesus,” Scully murmured.
     “Someone…someone walked into our building…and…and murdered them…right under our noses…some blonde guy with a fabricated Vigil ID…someone listed as David Gamble.  He…he just slit their throats and passed through security like…like it was nothing…oh, Jesus Christ…”
     “Janet, listen to me,” Scully told her.  “When did this happen?”
     “Less than fifteen minutes ago.  Just after…just after I ended my call with you, but…”
     “But what?” said Scully, peering up at Mulder in disbelief.
     “But NSA and CIA have already been informed…and I just got…I just got a call from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  They said two major security-breaches in one day…and six deaths within our own headquarters…”
     “Just take a few deep breaths, Janet,” Scully said into the phone.  They heard the Vigil Taskforce-Leader inhale and exhale deeply a few times. 
     “They’re shutting us down, guys.  Apparently they’ve been considering it for the last few hours…since our best cryptographer was revealed as a Labyrinth asset.  But what’s just happened has given them no choice.  The Oval Office has agreed.  Vigil is being immediately dissolved.  They’ve already deactivated all our servers…”
     Mulder peered darkly at Scully, sharing her shock and disbelief at what Lessinger was telling them.  Six people with their throats cut, just like the ritual-suicides at El Mirador.
     “Oh God, guys…the dead bodies are still sitting in the hub-suites.  I just went in there and saw them.  There’s…there’s blood all over the floor…”
     “Listen to me, Janet,” said Mulder, leaning closer to the phone in Scully’s hand.  “What else did ODNI say to you?”
     “They said…that a team from the Department of Homeland Security are on their way here right now.  That they’re going to seize control of Vigil’s servers and subject all the staff to rigorous questioning, under the Patriot Act.  None of us are allowed to leave the building.  They just…they even cut the phone lines.  I’m calling from my cell.  They said…they said that if anyone tries to leave the building before Homeland arrives we’ll be considered enemies of the state and potential terrorists.  I’m scared, guys…I’ve never experienced anything like this before in my career.  It’s…it’s Labyrinth.  I just know it.  Somehow they engineered this whole thing…”
     “You need to stay strong, Janet,” Mulder told her.  “You hear me?  You’ve got nothing to hide.  Homeland will figure that out eventually.”
     The terror in her voice made both he and Scully wince.  “But…they’ll hold me accountable for this…if they don’t already think I’m working with Labyrinth.  They’re gonna crucify me, Fox…”
     Mulder peered at Scully again, lost for words.  He didn’t know what to tell their Taskforce-leader.  He didn’t know how to comfort her.  He gritted his teeth in fear and frustration.
     “Fox,” she said shakily, struggling to control her voice, “I’m not sure, but…they might think you and Dana are working with Labyrinth when they find out what I’ve done…”
     Mulder shared a frown with Scully.  “What did you do, Janet…?”
     “Just before they deactivated our servers I got you and Dana two seats on a military transport plane, leaving from Andrews Air Force Base in less than ninety minutes.  It’s making a test sortie to NYC.  I already confirmed it with base security.  I have some old friends there.  I had one of our analysts hack both of your Vigil IDs.  They should still be able to get you onto the base.  If you leave now…you might be able to get to New York before the Air Force even realizes what’s going on.”
     “Jesus Christ, Janet,” said Mulder, “Are you telling us that we might be listed as official fugitives in a few hours?  Enemies of the state?  Terrorists?”
     “It’s possible,” she muttered tearfully.  “Before ODNI shut down our servers they issued a recall-protocol for Vigil operatives still out in the field.  In a few minutes you’re going to get a call from them, asking that you return to Vigil headquarters immediately, or turn yourselves in to the nearest police station for questioning.  You need to ditch your phones.  Homeland will probably get NSA to start tracking them in the next ten minutes, if they haven’t already…”
     “Oh God,” murmured Mulder, glancing wildly at Scully. 
     “This is a preliminary for some awful terrorist attack,” Lessinger said on the line.  “I can feel it.  Labyrinth is planning something huge on American soil, and it’s imminent…and this is their attempt at preventing us from stopping it.  I think this was their plan all along.  You have to stop this, guys.  You have to.  You’re going to be all…all that’s left of Vigil now…”
     “Janet…” Scully said uneasily.
     “No, listen to me.”  The former NSA agent’s voice was harder now.  She was struggling to sound strong for them.  “I don’t care what happens to me, but you cannot allow Labyrinth to succeed in whatever the hell they’re planning, you hear me?  You said this doctor in New York is connected somehow to Pellucid…and that Pellucid is connected to Labyrinth’s plans.  You damn well stop those plans.  And when the dust settles, if we’re all still in one piece, I’ll do everything in my power to fight for you.  Special Agent Reyes is right here with me, and she wants me to tell you–”
     The line was suddenly disconnected.
     “Janet!” Scully shouted.  But there was no response.  She peered up at Mulder with wide, frightened eyes.  “Oh God, Mulder…this is a nightmare.  This can’t really be happening….”
     Mulder shook his head and muttered, “Start the car, Scully.  Head towards Maryland. Andrews Air Force Base.  That’s where we’re going.  Right now.”
     Scully immediately twisted the keys in the ignition.  The engine growled to life and she quickly pulled out into the street.
     Mulder’s pulse was beginning to race, as the severity of their situation began to sink in completely.  He tore open the glove-box and rummaged around for a pen, quickly finding one.  He held it between his teeth, unbuttoned the cuff of his shirt and began rolling up the jacket and shirt sleeves of his left arm.  He pulled his phone from his pocket, accessed his contacts and began scribbling several important numbers onto his bare forearm.
     He made sure to copy the private number of FBI New York Division’s Assistant Special Agent in Charge, John Doggett.
     Scully glanced at him as she drove, already realizing what he was doing. 
     “Give me your phone,” he said quickly. 
     She immediately handed it to him.  He opened the passenger window and hurled out both of their phones.  They hit the asphalt and burst apart in a shower of circuits and plastic and broken glass.
     Scully glanced at him, afraid, but tried to keep her eyes on the road. 
     Quietly she asked him, “What if Lessinger’s wrong and Andrews Air Base already knows what’s going on?  What if…what if they round us up at the security gate, and throw us in an interrogation room for the next few days?”
     Mulder swallowed and shook his head.  “Then we’ll be powerless to stop this.  Labyrinth will win, and colonization will begin as planned.  We have to make sure that doesn’t happen.  We have to make sure we get aboard this military transport…that we get to New York.”
     “Oh my God, Mulder...is this…is this really happening?”
     “It’s happening, Scully.  Now’s a good time to pray, I think.”
     Mulder watched as Scully pressed down a little harder on the gas pedal, fearfully lifted the gold cross from her throat and kissed it.



(To Be Continued…)
              
******************************



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