A new sense of urgency descends, as Mulder and Scully
receive new insights about the bigger picture.
SPOILERS: The End; The Beginning; Within; Without; Season 9
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to FOX, CC, etc.
Special thanks to Mims for the beta. Any remaining glitches are my own. The pseudo-science is all my own fault.
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* * * * *
As he steered his car down the long gravel road leading into the small town, the first thing the man noted was how uncommonly still it seemed for such a sunny day. His car was the only one on the road. There were no pedestrians, no one sitting on their front porch or entering or exiting buildings. He wondered if the quiet was related to the assemblage of vehicles parked further down the road, at the other end of town.
The initial sign of activity he found was a young Navajo girl playing in a yard. He pulled to a stop in front of the house. As he got out of the car, the chill in the air surprised him, and he shrugged his overcoat tighter. His sandy-blond hair was kept close-cropped, an ingrained habit from his Marine days, which left his ears and neck exposed to the nip of the breeze.
With a casual gait and warm smile, he approached where the girl sat on a patch of grass. She was preoccupied with her doll and the assortment of odd objects that likely held more grandeur in the windows of her imagination. He was but a few steps away from her when she looked up.
He kept his demeanor friendly but assumed an air of authority as he pulled out his badge and flashed it at her. "Hi. I'm looking for somebody. Do you think you could help me?"
The girl nodded at him, her eyes full of fear and submission.
He took out a picture and showed it to her. "I'm looking for this boy. Have you seen him around here?"
"Tasbah!" An older girl stood in the doorway of the house, one foot outside and her body partially shielded by the door. "Tas, come inside!"
Tasbah gave him one more quick glance, then jumped up and ran into the house. But he had seen enough in her face to know: the boy was here.
The door quickly shut, and he slowly made his way toward the car. But there was more to be learned here. With minimal effort, he was able to isolate the sound of their voices and tune in to the conversation on the other side of the door.
"Who was that man?"
"He had a badge, like on the TV."
"No, the other kind. With the letters."
"FBI? Did you see his name?"
"It was a bird. We learned it in school. Umm...a stork. No, a crane!"
The agent shifted his focus from the conversation. His attention had been drawn by a man approaching one of the cars parked down the street. The form and gait were familiar. Zooming in his vision, Crane was able to get a better look. He no longer cared what the girls had to say. The man he spotted would lead him exactly where he wanted to go--he had just found Fox Mulder.
* * *
Mulder glanced at his watch as he headed for the car, then glanced at it again when he realized he had been too distracted to register the time on the first look. It was getting to be late in the afternoon, well past William's nap time. He knew Scully would be eager to take their son back to the trailer. But that wasn't why he was preoccupied.
While he drove to the Hosteen property on automatic pilot, Mulder's mind was still back in the hogan he had just left and the words spoken by the medicine man. Michael Hosteen was gravely ill. Conventional treatment had failed to help, so a medicine man from another town was called in to perform a Blessing Way ceremony. The Hosteens had long been the backbone of this tight-knit Navajo community, and everyone turned out to participate in the ceremony. Mulder felt honored that he and Skinner were allowed to join in. It was with great reluctance that he had bowed out early to get back to his family.
What lingered with Mulder was the medicine man's ominous message. Soon after the ceremony started, he paused the Navajo chanting to say, in English, "There are evil spirits here." Mulder felt those words hit him squarely, as though through his closed eyes the man was staring directly into Mulder's soul.
It had been just over a month--40 days, to be exact--since Ruby's funeral. Their initial urgency to prepare a safe haven and to keep watch over their small band of refugees faded as the days passed and nothing happened. Now Mulder wondered if they had grown too complacent and lost their vigilance.
They had certainly made progress over the past few weeks. Their increased activity turned a jumble of crumbling ruins into a network of habitable rooms. It was far from the lap of luxury, but they had set up the basics to accommodate their limited number for weeks on end, if necessary. They continued to build a cache of supplies, and were even now working on beefing up the security measures.
But Mulder wondered if it would be enough. Until Michael fell sick, Mulder had relied upon his own certainty that the Hosteen legacy provided a degree of protection for them in this place, both physically and metaphysically. And he had asked the others to trust in that certainty. Now, though, word of evil spirits gave him a sense of foreboding. It was a bad omen, to be sure.
* * *
"Lion. Can you say, 'Lion'? Li--"
William snatched the animal cracker from Scully's hand before she could finish demonstrating with it. The lion was now missing his head. She suppressed her sigh and fished out another cracker.
"What's this? It looks like a bear. C'mon, William. Say 'bear' for me. Bay-rr." He grabbed at the cracker, but she pulled it out of his reach. "No, you have to say it first. Bear. B-b-bay-rr."
He started to whine, and she knew a scream was sure to follow, so she relented and handed over the cracker. He hadn't been down for a nap yet, and his patience threshold was low. Scully glanced over her shoulder, hoping that William's fussing wouldn't crank up to the next level and disrupt Susanne's phone call.
While Mulder was in town at the Blessing Way ceremony, Scully was spending the day with Susanne at the hogan on the Hosteen property where she and Byers had been living. Byers, Langly, and Frohike had run off for the day on a special errand. The set of disposable cell phones were meant to be for emergency purposes only, but Scully could tell that the only "emergency" behind this call was Byers' separation anxiety from his pregnant wife. To be fair, Susanne had given him reason for concern lately with some spotting, but she had checked out just fine. Scully wasn't worried about anything going wrong as long as Susanne took it easy.
Scully pulled out another cracker and made one more attempt, mostly as a distraction for herself since she was trying not to eavesdrop on the phone conversation.
"Oh, look, it's a monkey! Just like you. You're my little monkey, aren't you? Okay, maybe that one's too hard to say." She handed over the monkey and extracted another cracker. "How about this one? This is a...I'm not sure what that is." William obviously didn't care what it was either, since it went straight into his mouth without a second look. "Here we go. An elephant. El-e-phant. Say 'el.' Can you say that for Mommy? El. Elll."
But William was cranking up for a good screech, so Scully gave him the elephant. She was grateful to hear Susanne saying "I love you too" and ending the phone call.
"How'd it go?" Scully asked.
Susanne set down the phone and pivoted in her chair, as well as her generous belly would allow her. "They made the purchase, and somehow they got talked into a little more than the asking price."
Scully rolled her eyes. "Do they have any proof that this magical 'force field' really works?"
"John said they were given a small demonstration, but we won't know if it will work on a larger scale until we install it and test it out at the pueblo."
Scully scrutinized Susanne for a moment, trying to read her poker face. Finally, she asked, "You've been awfully quiet about this whole thing, ever since they first mentioned the existence of this device. You know I'm skeptical that it will work. How do you feel about it?"
Susanne sighed. "Honestly? I'm more doubtful about the seller than the possibility that such technology exists. There were weapons and defense systems being tested at White Sands that are beyond cutting edge. Whether they derive from alien technology or simply top secret research scientists, I don't know. But I do believe it is theoretically possible to create a force field that can block out certain types of weapons fire."
Avoiding William's reaching hands, Scully doled out another cracker and pulled the box further away from his grasp. "And do you think it's possible we've actually come into possession of such a force field?"
Susanne didn't answer right away, but her expression was not full of confidence. "I guess we'll find out soon enough. They're on their way home."
William stopped grabbing for the box so abruptly that Scully took notice. He was looking toward the doorway. Then she heard a car door shut.
"That must be Daddy. And none too soon. Hey, Will, can you say 'Dada'? Daddy would love that. Say 'Dada.' Da-da." Scully was trying to be discreet in her coaching, but when she looked up and saw Mulder watching her from the doorway, she knew she had been caught. She tried to tuck away the animal crackers before he noticed those as well, but it was too late.
"Scully, he'll talk when he's ready," Mulder said, letting the heavy blanket drop closed behind him over the doorway. "You can't force it. Kids develop at different rates."
She withheld her retort. It was an old conversation, and one she didn't feel like revisiting, especially in front of Susanne.
Scully felt completely justified in her disquiet about William's delayed linguistic development. Just that morning in the grocery store, she'd seen a little boy about William's age who was chattering up a storm. William didn't even string together nonsense syllables. She had no fear that he was mute, because he certainly made use of his vocal cords when he was cranky or wanted attention. But she couldn't erase the concern that there might be unknown side effects from the injection by Jeffrey Spender.
Instead, Scully eagerly changed the subject. "Did Walter decide to stay?"
Mulder nodded as he walked over to them. "He's never been to one of these ceremonies before, so he wanted to see the whole thing." Leaning down, he kissed William on the head, and then kissed Scully on the cheek almost as an afterthought. He straightened up and looked around the hogan. "Hey, where's Gibson? I thought he wanted to hang out with Will today."
* * *
Tailing Mulder had been easy enough. Crane was discreet in his pursuit, but on dusty, isolated roads, there was a good chance of being caught. He wondered if the former agent had lost his edge after leaving the Bureau for the quiet life.
Making the final approach to the house slowly, Crane parked a good distance away and continued his pursuit on foot. He was surprised to see that Mulder bypassed the main building for the octagonal shack several yards beyond it. Once Mulder had disappeared inside, Crane crept close enough to be within range and tuned his hearing toward the interior.
"Hey, where's Gibson? I thought he wanted to hang out with Will today?"
"He's in the house studying. There's a big exam tomorrow. Lit, I think. He still had some reading to do."
Crane adjusted his optical units to infrared detection and inspected the small dwelling for human heat signatures. There were three adults and one child. He recognized the voice of Agent Scully. That left one unidentified adult.
"I'm glad he's keeping up with his studies, in spite of everything," Mulder said.
Tuning out the conversation, Crane shifted his sight to the main house. Only one heat signature, on the other end from the outbuilding. A smaller mass than an adult--just the right size for a teenage boy.
Crane checked the outbuilding once more. Detecting no signs of impending exit, he headed for the isolated target in the house.
* * *
Mulder walked over to the table and took a seat next to Susanne. "Do we know what time the guys are due back?"
"John just called," Susanne said. "They should be here in a little over an hour."
Mulder wasn't as surprised about the "emergencies only" phone call as Scully expected. "Was the trip a success?" he asked.
Susanne looked to Scully, who answered, "I guess that depends on how you define 'success.'"
"Skeptic," he said with affectionate sarcasm. "Hey, you're the one who insisted on top-notch security. You practically dared Frohike into coming up with this scheme."
Scully sat forward in her chair. "Adobe defenses may have been fine and well for the Anasazi--they had nothing more serious to deal with than bows and arrows. But I'd feel a lot more comfortable about locking ourselves away in that fortress if it were impervious to large explosives."
He smirked at her. "I believe the exact phrase you used was 'photon torpedoes.' How could you expect Frohike to *not* rise to the occasion? In fact, I think he was turned on just by hearing that you knew the term."
"It was a joke!"
"Scully, you should know by now these boys take their Star Trek very seriously."
"Well, what I take serious--"
Stunned, Scully whipped her head around to look at her son. She could have sworn that the sound she heard had come from his mouth.
Still in shock that William had spoken, Scully didn't immediately register the meaning of the two words. But their significance sank in as Mulder sprang into motion. He was out the door in a flash.
She scrambled for her purse to dig out her gun.
Scully looked over to see Susanne holding out a syringe. It was the magnetite fluid they had injected into Ruby. Scully was suddenly glad for Byers' paranoid insistence that Susanne keep a number of these stocked throughout the hogan so she'd always have one within reach.
"Watch him?" Scully asked quickly, pausing only to see Susanne's nod. Then Scully was out the door.
The sound of a gunshot spurred her on even faster. The front door to the house was wide open, and she ran through, immediately spotting Mulder in the doorway to a back bedroom.
Mulder's gun was pointed at a man she recognized as Agent Crane. The same Agent Crane who had supposedly been killed in the FBI parking garage. Now, he stood staring at his chest in fascination, as did Mulder, while a small, blackened hole slowly grew in diameter. She realized Mulder had fired one of the magnetite bullets. Up till now, their effects had only been theoretical.
Crane looked up as she entered the room. The curiosity in his gaze shifted to determination, as though he knew his time was short. He swung around and stepped toward Gibson, huddled in the far corner of his bed. A pair of headphones rested on the boy's shoulders; the tinny sound blaring out provided eerie accompaniment for the macabre scene.
Scully did not hesitate. She shoved her way past Mulder and quickly buried the syringe in the back of Crane's neck, right between the protruding ridges. She swiftly emptied the contents and withdrew before he could do more than aimlessly swing his arms behind him.
The reaction was even more rapid than it had been with Ruby. His jerky movements toppled him to the floor as his veins pulsed with thickening blackness. The gaping hole in his chest disintegrated outward inch by inch until nothing was left of his torso but a sunken cavity. The rest of his flesh soon followed, flaking away into a pile of greasy soot. Then he was no more.
Mulder looked over at Gibson. "Are you okay?"
Gibson let out a weak, "Yeah."
"Do you know if he was alone?" Scully asked.
With a shaky hand, Gibson reached over and turned off his music. He closed his eyes briefly, then looked up at her and nodded. "He's the only one."
The three of them shifted their attention to the blackened outline on the floor, silent for a moment.
"Well, now we know what those bullets do," Mulder said. He gestured toward the residue. "We need to clean up every trace of this...stuff, just in case." He turned to Scully. "Gibson can help me with that. You should gather the troops. And then we need to talk."
That was certainly an understatement. She nodded and gratefully left him to his task. As she turned to leave, she could hear her heart throbbing in her ears, and her limbs felt shaky from the aftershocks of the adrenaline. Even though her brain told her that the immediate danger was gone, she found herself jogging all the way back to the hogan.
* * *
Since they only had one car with them in town, they finally decided Skinner should take Susanne and William to the compound, and Mulder, Scully, and Gibson would wait at the hogan until the Gunmen arrived. Despite his earlier hasty call to "gather the troops," Mulder preferred that this initial conversation be only with Scully and Gibson.
Mulder wasted no time getting down to business once the car left. He paced by the table, where Gibson and Scully were seated, and launched into his interrogation. "Crane came specifically for you, didn't he, Gibson?"
Gibson nodded. "We always knew I was in danger. That's why I was hiding out here."
Mulder mulled that over as he continued to pace. "Yeah, but why you, and why now? First Ruby, then this. I'm wondering how closely these attacks are related."
"Is this the same reason you were hiding out in Arizona, when we found you at the school for the deaf?" Scully asked.
"They've always been afraid of what I am," Gibson replied. "First the humans, then the Super Soldiers."
"And what is it that they think you are, Gibson? What are they afraid of?" she asked.
Mulder answered, "It's what you discovered yourself, Scully. The God module. Somehow the potential that resides latent in all of us has been turned on in Gibson, and it puts us on a level playing field with the aliens. With a planet full of Gibsons, we would no longer be the weak vessels they're looking to control."
"But we never found out how that potential was turned on, whether it was a result of outside influence or somehow naturally occurring," she responded.
Mulder looked at Gibson, then back at Scully. "Evolution happens in leaps."
She glanced from Gibson to Mulder. "You think Gibson evolved this way?"
"I think Gibson is the next step in human evolution."
"No, it makes sense, Scully--scientific sense. You yourself ran the tests. You proved that what Gibson has inside of him, that...that DNA--"
"Junk DNA. The genetic remnant," she said, supplying the words he was searching for.
"That genetic remnant is in all of us. We all have that same potential. The tools are there. And nature is forcing us to make the next leap for the survival of our race. If humans don't evolve, when the aliens arrive we'll go the way of the dinosaur. In fact, I think they'll be able to explain to us exactly what happened to the dinosaurs, since it seems like they were responsible for that one too."
"Okay, Mulder, supposing for a moment that any of what you're saying is correct, how is the evolution of one boy going to revolutionize the planet?"
Mulder turned to Gibson. "Because it's more than just one boy, isn't it?"
"What are you talking about?" Scully asked.
Gibson didn't respond right away, so Mulder did. "William."
Scully looked back and forth between them, then started shaking her head. "No. William has nothing to do with this."
Mulder was torn between compassion and exasperation. She was open to so many truths now, except the ones relating to her son. "It has everything to do with William. Why do you think Ruby came after him?"
"Because of what they did to him! Because of what they thought he was! But he isn't anymore!"
"He isn't," Gibson said. "But he is like me."
Scully calmed a little. "Like you how?"
"William can read minds, can't he?" Mulder asked.
"That's why his speech seems delayed, Scully, and how he could suddenly know Gibson was in trouble and say the words to help him."
She looked away, struggling to maintain her composure. He could tell she was processing his words, their logic warring against her denial. He knew she had arrived at some acceptance when her eyes flashed to him and she said accusingly, "You knew about this?"
"No," Mulder answered. "I just now put the pieces together."
She turned on Gibson. "But you knew. How long?"
He stared at his shoes guiltily. "A while. I try to make him talk out loud, but he doesn't want to. He talks to me in his head. And he understands everything you say."
"William's probably a lot more advanced than we realize," Mulder said. "In fact, he's probably withholding speech as a way of manipulating the situation."
"Gibson," Scully said, drawing his eye contact. "It ends NOW. No more silent conversations. William needs to learn how to vocalize and how to communicate with his parents. When you talk to him, you will only respond out loud. Is that clear?"
Gibson nodded meekly. Mulder almost felt sorry for him, but he agreed with everything Scully said. He was glad she was the one with the balls to say it.
Scully sank back in her chair, the energy seeming to drain from her. She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. Mulder soothingly rubbed the back of her neck, knowing how hard it was for her to take all of this in.
At last, she said, "This still doesn't explain why William has this ability, and whether it's related in any way to...whatever experiments they were running. Or to anything that was done to me."
Mulder finally sat down at the table with them. "I think it's more likely because of me." She opened her eyes and looked at him. "My anomalous brain activity? For a short time, I had the same ability as Gibson and William. I think because it was adult onset, I simply didn't have the same capability to adapt as a child born with that gift. Whatever was turned on in Gibson naturally, was triggered in me unnaturally, and I passed that on to my son."
"It doesn't work that way, Mulder." She preempted his objection. "*But*, it makes as much sense as any of the rest of this." She glanced at Gibson, who was now withdrawn and sulking. "So, what's your opinion, Gibson?"
Surprised, Gibson looked up. "I...I think Mulder may be right. I know William isn't a Super Soldier. I've been inside their heads, and he's nothing like them. He's completely human, like me."
Mulder tried not to smile at that last little dig Gibson got in. It reminded him of a phrase he'd once used to describe Gibson: more human than human. And now it applied to Mulder's own son.
Mulder wondered out loud, "I can't help but think, what would've happened if Spender hadn't given William the injection? Would he have developed into both an evolved human and a Super Soldier? What would that look like?"
Scully regarded him dubiously but played along. "He'd have superhuman strength and the ability to read minds."
"No." Mulder got up to pace again, continuing to connect the dots. "He'd have all their strengths, plus the capacity to think for himself. He wouldn't be one of their minions. He'd be greater than them."
"Where are you going with this, Mulder?"
"I'm saying, no wonder they were afraid of him. Apparently, at his birth, they didn't realize yet what he was. But maybe now they've figured it out. Think about that prophecy, Scully, the one you said that cult leader, Josepho, made. It's pharaoh and the slaughter of the innocents all over again. They can't let any children like Gibson or William survive, because one of them might also be affected by what they're putting in the water--the chloramine program--and become the very person who can defeat them. One of them, but greater than them."
Scully was wincing and rubbing her forehead. "For now, Mulder, can we stick with how to protect ourselves when more of them show up? If any of what you say is true, then I can't believe that Crane will be the last."
"If what I say is true, then it's only just begun."
Susanne couldn't tell what time it was when she awoke, only that it was sometime after dawn. Her sleep had been restless, disturbed by the distractions of a new place and the burdens weighing on her mind.
Her bladder was prompting her to get up, but she lay in bed a moment longer considering her surroundings. As of last night, their new residence was the recently constructed dormitory at the pueblo compound. It was a two-story structure with three bedrooms on each level, built in the wide gap where they had cleared out the rubble between the most intact ruins. On one side of the dorm stood the three-story adobe building that led to the cave. On the other side were the two smaller abode structures, one of which they were still using as a lab.
Their bedroom was a decent size, but very utilitarian. Nothing except white walls and institutional furniture. She wasn't ready to paint it in nursery colors, but the room needed a little personality before she could consider it home.
Home. As cozy as it was, this compound was far from the type of place where she wanted to raise her children. She accepted that perhaps they were safest here for now, when she was in no condition to be on the run and they were among friends and allies. But with her encroaching due date and the fact she was expecting twins, she couldn't avoid being anxious about giving birth in this place, which presently seemed the most likely scenario. At least with Dana there, they had a doctor on hand, but if she needed a C-section or the babies were in distress... There were too many what-ifs, and they continued to haunt her.
The group conversation of the night before had done little to ease her mind. They still had the new force field to set up and test out, and it sounded like they might need it sooner rather than later. Then, there was the other detail that had been omitted from the conversation entirely--what exactly she had witnessed with William in the hogan. Not a word had been spoken about it by Mulder or Dana, so Susanne had kept silent as well. She wondered if it was just her imagination that Dana had avoided her all evening.
Susanne's body was demanding her attention, and she decided she could stay in bed no longer. The soft breathing behind her told her that John wasn't up yet. She knew yesterday had been a long day for him, between the men's extended drive and the excitement they came home to, so she was loath to disturb his rest. Sure enough, as soon as she started to struggle out of bed, she heard John stirring as well.
"Just a minute, let me help," he said groggily.
Susanne didn't protest, since she didn't seem to have much choice. This bed was higher off the ground than the simple futon they used in the hogan, and the mattress was older and a bit saggy. She wondered if there was anything they could do about the bed before she got much larger, or if she'd simply have to adapt.
"What time is it?" she asked while she waited for him to come around the bed to rescue her from the mattress.
"Uh," he looked at his watch, and she wondered if he had left it on all night or just put it on while she was wrestling to get up. "Almost 9:00. I imagine everyone else is up by now."
With a gentle heave-ho, he got her to her feet. She gathered a few things from her suitcase and put on a robe while he patiently waited. Then they started the long trek toward the facilities--long, at least, for a woman carrying two babies who was told to take it easy. She hadn't spent much time at the compound in the last couple of weeks since she was practically on bed rest, so she was interested to see the facility in its finished state, in the light of day. Last night, she had been too preoccupied to take much notice.
Their bedroom door, as with all the rooms in the dorm, faced the back of the building; the other side of the hallway was essentially built right into the hillside. In deference to Susanne's limited mobility, she and John had been given the bedroom on the first floor on the end closest to the three-story building, which housed their common rooms and basic supplies.
Since their water source came from the cave, and the septic tank was buried on the far side of the three-story community building, the only fully-functioning bathroom facility was on that end of the compound. Thankfully, smaller lavatories were built in the dorms, but they were little more than closets containing a chemical toilet and a small sink. In the middle of the night, Susanne had made use of the lavatory at the end of the hallway; she assumed there was at least one like it upstairs. But this morning, she was looking forward to something a little less primitive.
John helped guide her as they shuffled at her slow place. Leaning close, he said softly, "You're awfully quiet this morning. Is everything okay?"
She smiled to reassure him. "Yeah, I'm just tired." Tired, and worried, and deep in thought, but she didn't share any of that. She was grateful that he accepted her words and let them make the trip in silence.
They exited the dorm into a foyer that connected to the community building. To the right, at the end of the foyer, was the main exit. But they continued straight ahead, across the foyer, through the entrance into the common room.
She and John said polite good-mornings to Frohike, Pat and Joe, and a few others gathered around the table. An informal breakfast had been spread out on the sideboard, and some people were eating while others pored over papers or chatted. But Susanne was on a mission to find the bathroom. She could be social later.
They crossed the common room and passed through the opposing door, leading to a small hallway. The last time she had been in this area, it was still largely unfinished, so it was a nice surprise to see real walls in place. A door straight ahead of them, across the hall, led to the outside. She had heard about plans for a courtyard out there, for hanging laundry and access to the generator room, but she didn't know if it was yet completed. On the other side of that courtyard, at the far end of the compound, the trailer was currently parked. Mulder and Dana were still living in there for now, where they had more space and their own bathroom. However, Susanne wasn't sure if yesterday's events would cause them to move into the dormitory as well. Rooms had been planned for the entire group, but they preferred to remain more comfortably spread out for as long as possible.
Down the hallway, another door led to the bathroom, which was no more than a single, unisex room with a toilet, sink, and shower. When the compound was at its capacity--as they seemed to be heading toward soon--that one bathroom and their limited water supply would have to suffice for thirteen people, not counting the two little ones on the way.
As Susanne and John approached the bathroom door, Hank, one of the ranch hands who had accompanied Pat and Joe, exited. He politely bowed his head and said "Ma'am" as he passed them down the hall. Susanne hadn't really gotten to know him, or his buddy Cody, very well over the past weeks, but she figured she would have plenty of opportunities now in their close quarters.
After a brief knock to ensure it was vacant, John ushered her in ahead of him and locked the door behind them. She was pleased to see there had been some attempt at decoration in here, although no more than a faded painting on the wall and a simple Navajo carving. These at least helped to offset the institutional feel engendered by the sign with a set of rules, which included limiting daily shower time to 5 minutes per person. She bit back a smile as she mused whether she currently counted as three people.
She and John made quick work of taking their turns in the shower (they couldn't have fit in there together if they'd wanted to), and she changed into the clean clothes she'd brought along. After he walked her back to the common room, he returned to their bedroom to drop off their things.
Susanne filled up her plate at the sideboard, catching bits and pieces of dialogue as she scanned the food. There seemed to be at least two different conversations going on, both relating to the new gadget John and his friends had brought back from their excursion off the reservation. Bypassing the cold cereal, she opted instead for muffins and boiled eggs. She wasn't sure how much longer fresh food might be available before they would have to rely on their stored supply of dry goods and packaged foods. The MREs she hoped would be a last resort.
A new round of greetings behind her caught Susanne's attention, and she turned to see Mulder entering the room, Dana right behind him with William in her arms. In case Dana was still trying to avoid her, Susanne preempted any awkwardness by moving around the far end of the table to take her seat, allowing them free access to the food.
Mulder leaned over Frohike's chair to peruse the roughly sketched map on the page in front of him. "You guys figured out yet where to put your new Star Trek gizmo?" Mulder asked.
Joe stretched his arm across the table and indicated a couple of markings as he spoke. "We figure we'll need to dig holes here and here, at either end of the compound. I think we can cover the trailer, but I'm not sure about the Winnebago." He tapped his pencil over the rectangle at the opposite end of the compound from the trailer, down near the lab. "The rock curves away there, and it may be too much of an angle."
Frohike looked up at Mulder. "What we're debating now is the best way to secure the posts once we drop them into the holes. Cement would be the most stable, but I'm not sure if the technology is too sensitive to come in direct contact with a substance like that."
Susanne froze with her fork midway to her mouth as half the heads in the room turned to her, while the other half turned to Dana. Susanne was saved from answering when Dana replied sarcastically, "Did you think of checking the owner's manual?"
Mulder ignored her comment and turned back to Frohike. "What's the alternative?"
Joe answered, "Some kind of a support apparatus, like a tripod, or ropes. It might be more precarious, though."
Dana set her plate on the table and took a seat near the men. Settling William on her lap, she said, "Seriously, why weren't these questions answered when you purchased the device? How much do you really know about how it operates--or what to do if it doesn't?"
"We know the important stuff," Langly replied defensively.
Susanne felt a pair of hands rest on her shoulders and looked up to see John standing behind her chair. "We were given a thorough demonstration of the product," he said. "Between the three of us, I'm sure that we took note of all the significant details."
"Please, explain to me these 'details,'" Dana said. "The description last night was a little...vague."
John sat down next to Susanne. Frohike and Langly seemed content to let him tackle her request. "When sufficiently powered, the two poles emit an array of antiparticles, which create a field that is contained by a type of plasma window. The entire field remains invisible to the naked eye, but when an object of any kind crosses the field, the object's particles are annihilated by their corresponding antiparticles, dissolving the object into nothing more than a burst of energy."
"Like a giant bug zapper, only cooler," Langly added, grinning broadly.
Disregarding his comment, Dana echoed skeptically, "'When sufficiently powered?'"
"We'll probably need to use both generators to keep it running," Frohike said.
"Only two?" she asked. "*If* the technology you're describing were even possible, what you're talking about would require a particle accelerator--a very large, very expensive particle accelerator--which would essentially need its own power grid."
"This isn't your grandma's science," Langly said. "This stuff would blow even Stephen Hawking's mind."
"That remains to be seen," Dana mumbled.
Frohike opened his mouth, but Mulder forestalled any further debate with a genial slap on his back. "Why don't we stop talking about it and take this puppy out for a test drive?"
* * *
It was almost noon by the time Scully marched outside to check on their progress. At her request, they were setting up the force field slightly further down the valley rather than directly outside their compound in case not everything went as planned. The bright sun looked deceptively warm, but it was not enough to chase off entirely the chill that clung to the shadows. Scully braced herself against the cool breeze as she approached the test site.
They had picked an open spot well apart from the trailer and a few feet out from the cliff wall. One metal pole was propped upright on a tripod and secured with wires. A few yards away, Skinner held another pole in place while Joe and Frohike tightened something at its base. Mulder stood back, watching the other men. When he spotted her approaching, he walked over to meet her.
"How's it coming?" she asked.
"They're just about finished putting it up. Then we can turn it on and give it a try. Is Gibson watching Will, or should we wait for him to join us?"
Scully stepped away from him to observe the men working. "No, I left William with Pat. I haven't talked to Gibson this morning." She didn't feel like elaborating on her frustration with the young man.
Steering the conversation back to the topic at hand, she gestured toward the poles, which looked much too short and flimsy. "This isn't at all what I imagined. Wouldn't we be better off just building a brick wall?"
He narrowed his eyes at her sarcasm, but good-naturedly so. "Don't knock it till you've tried it, Scully."
"So, you really think this is alien technology?"
"Actually, I've been thinking about that. The field is made of antiparticles--that's related to dark matter, right? Successful research into dark matter...does that ring any bells?"
She recalled the scientist who was literally afraid of his own shadow. "You mean...?"
"Dr. Chester Ray Banton."
"You think he developed this technology?"
"I think it may have been developed based on his research, possibly by the government. We never learned precisely what happened to him. Maybe his greatest fears came true."
"And you're comfortable using this, even if that's the case?"
He shrugged and shot her a rueful half-smile. "We don't know exactly where this technology came from. We'll probably never know for certain. Besides, I'm not sure we have the luxury of being that picky. At some point, I expect the Super Soldiers to wise up and show up with an army larger than one."
She held her tongue, not wanting to debate the ethics. She well understood that feeling of controlled desperation and wondered how many lines they would be forced to cross in the course of their battle. After all, didn't she have in mind to add something to public water supplies without public knowledge, or even deceptively inoculate the population under the guise of a lie? And she certainly shared his fear that their ability to protect themselves would soon be put to the test.
"What if this doesn't work?" she mused. "Do we have a plan B?"
"I'm sure it works, Scully. The boys wouldn't have gambled their life savings on it if it didn't."
She pinned him with her glare. So far, her questions about the cost had gone unanswered. "Their life savings?"
"Figure of speech," he replied, far too quickly and lightly. But before she could pursue the matter further, he said, "Hey, there's something I want to run by you. I'd like to ask the medicine man--the one treating Michael--to come bless our compound. I probably should've done this a while ago, but now that Michael's sick... It just feels like the right thing to do."
She considered ignoring his obvious avoidance and pressing ahead about the money, but she knew that would get her nowhere. Instead, she replied, "I have no problem with that. And it might be an effective gesture of good will toward the elders who let us use this land. I got the impression from Eric that there have been some rumblings of discomfort about our presence here, especially with the increase of outsiders and threats. And now, with Michael down..."
Mulder nodded. "I don't know if they blame us directly for his illness, but I know most of them don't believe in mere coincidence. Having the medicine man come out here may be just as necessary as his treatment for Michael."
"Have you heard any update on his condition?"
"No. We haven't had any contact with the town since last night. I'll probably drive back tonight to check in with Eric."
Scully withheld the words she wanted to say, which should be unnecessary considering the danger they had encountered only yesterday. But as his gaze met hers, she emphasized the message with her eyes. *Be careful.* His slight smile and nod told her that he heard her loud and clear.
"Hey! You guys ready?"
Their moment was ended by Langly's summons. The second pole was now standing freely like its companion, while the small cluster of laborers stood back examining their handiwork. Joe revved up the generator, which had an extension cord running to one of the poles, and then came over to join the other men. Mulder stepped toward the group, so Scully followed.
"Byers, you want to do the honors?" Frohike held out what looked like a remote, which Byers took from his hand.
"Okay, everyone," Byers said, "stand well clear of the field. Whatever you do, do *not* pass between the two poles."
Scully looked nervously over at Mulder. He didn't return her glance, which she suspected was intentional.
"Here goes nothing," Byers mumbled. He held out the remote and flipped a switch. A red light came on at the base of first one pole, then the other, and a soft electrical hum filled the air. Then a deafening alarm started screeching.
"What the hell is that?" Mulder yelled over the noise.
"Proximity alarm," Frohike shouted back. "Byers, shut it off!"
"I'm trying!" He desperately jabbed at several buttons. Joe and Skinner were covering their ears with their hands. Scully decided that wasn't such a bad idea and did the same. It helped only slightly.
Finally, the hideous noise stopped. Byers cleared his throat and turned to them sheepishly. "It's a safety measure to ensure no one accidentally gets too close. Maybe we should step back a few feet."
Scully was glad to know the device was designed with at least some concern for safety. Whether it had enough safety measures to suit her--or was really dangerous enough to require safety--was yet to be seen.
"Now what?" Skinner asked.
"It's on," Byers answered. "Now we test it."
Scully had her doubts but held her tongue. There was nothing visible between the two poles, not even a shimmer or distortion of light. They looked incredibly innocuous.
Mulder leaned over to pick up a rock from the ground. He held it out to Scully. "You want to throw the opening pitch?"
She shook her head no. He stepped aside, allowing himself a little space, and wound up a dramatic slo-mo pitch. Then he tossed it toward the space between the poles.
In mid-flight, the rock briefly flashed like it had been lit up with an electrical charge, then it disappeared.
"What happened?" Scully asked.
"It got zapped," Langly answered. "Cool, huh?" He was beaming, and obviously impressed.
Scully wasn't so sure. "It must have bounced off the rock face and fallen to the ground."
"Scully, it disintegrated--you saw it," Mulder said quietly and deliberately, clearly trying to tamp down his exasperation while they had an audience.
"Mulder, I'm not sure what I saw," she replied tensely, her tone lowered to match his.
He placed a hand on her elbow and guided her further down the valley. "C'mon, we'll watch it from the side. Then you can see that nothing is passing through."
When they were safely standing several feet away, looking at the poles from the side so the farthest one was blocked by their view of the nearest, Mulder called over to the group, "Go ahead. Try it again."
This time Skinner picked up a rock and threw it toward the force field. Scully saw it approach the pole and pass out of sight behind it, but it never emerged on the other side.
"See?" Mulder said. "It vanished. Just like that. The field works." He hollered to Skinner, "Try firing a bullet."
Skinner pulled his gun from its holster and aimed at the field. He fired, but there was no resulting change in the rock face that he was shooting toward, no evidence that the bullet had passed through and hit anything.
She couldn't deny that something remarkable had occurred before her eyes. If this was really a functional field of antiparticles that could break apart matter... The implications were frightening.
She turned to Mulder. "If this works on a rock or a bullet--it would have the same effect on human flesh?"
"Well, I don't think you want to stick your hand in there to find out, but yeah, in theory it can incinerate anything made of molecules. The field essentially soaks up their particles and absorbs the energy."
"Mulder, this thing is incredibly dangerous. William is very mobile now, and fast. You know how easily he runs off when he gets out of our grasp. My God, if he were to get near this--"
"I know, Scully. That's why we'll take every precaution." He placed a hand on her back and guided her over to the others while they continued talking. "This isn't the kind of thing we leave on all day, or even turn on before we go to bed at night. It's an extreme security measure, to be used for emergencies only. We'll develop a strict protocol for how and when it's used."
"Satisfied?" Frohike asked her with a broad grin as they rejoined the group. His smile dropped at her scowl.
"She's concerned about the safety precautions," Mulder explained. "I was reassuring her that we would use this device with extreme care. Right?"
Byers stepped over to her and said softly, "Believe me, I share your concerns. I have as much at stake here as you do. I promise you, we will only use this to protect our families, not endanger them."
She nodded, knowing how genuinely he meant those words. Her eyes wandered over to the poles, and she noticed that the red lights were dark, indicating the device had already been switched off. Taking a deep breath, she forced down her panic to approach this logically.
"Alright, let's talk about safety measures. How do we keep someone from walking through there? The alarm is a good idea, but it's not enough."
"We could rope it off," Frohike suggested.
Scully envisioned a small body running right underneath a suspended rope. She shook her head.
"We could build a brick wall," Mulder offered with a twinkle in his eye, throwing her own words back at her. She turned away from him, determined not to let him bait her.
"You know, we still have a lot of adobe bricks left over from the collapsed structures we cleared out to make room for the dormitory," Joe said. "It wouldn't be a bad idea to have a defensive wall. It would be no small project, but with all hands on deck, I think we could get it up in a day or two."
Joe was obviously quite serious about the idea, so Scully didn't interject that Mulder had only been joking.
"How close to the wall could we position the force field?" Skinner asked.
"Mere inches, I would think," Frohike replied. "As long as we give it enough room that they're not directly touching. They could be close enough that no one could pass between them, so the only the way someone would be endangered by the field is if they tried to breach the wall."
"Assuming the field is only turned on when we're all securely inside, right?" Scully asked.
"Certainly," Byers answered.
"What about the alarm system?" Mulder inquired. "With the wall that close, it would certainly set it off."
Frohike glanced at Langly. "We can reprogram it or reposition the sensors to face away from the wall."
The conversation paused, and Mulder looked to Scully. "Well, what do you think?"
She glanced at the faces around her watching intently for her answer. Some of them were eager and expectant, others clearly shared her concerns. She let her gaze settle on the device in question. It would not be her first choice in defense systems, but it was effective and the best thing they had. After all, she was the one who had insisted that they couldn't bunker down here without some way of protecting themselves against greater fire power. They were running out of options, and possibly time.
She threw up her hands in capitulation. "Okay, let's do it."
Mulder could see the poles rising up in the distance as he rounded the last curve in the valley, approaching the compound. The previous afternoon and evening had been consumed with discussing plans for the wall and beginning preparations, so he waited until morning to make his trip into town for any news about Michael or the aftermath of Crane's arrival.
Even before Mulder headed out, Hank and Cody had left to buy supplies for constructing the wall. There was a good chance they would have to go off the reservation to find what they needed, so he expected they wouldn't be back until much later. That meant the earliest they could start on the wall was tomorrow. In the meantime, the group had decided to set up the poles right away so the force field would be available for use in case of a more immediate emergency.
Mulder parked his car by the trailer and wandered over to the pole nearest him, already set in cement. It reached higher than it had the day before during the testing, but he wasn't sure if it was extended to the full height or could still cover more distance. There was a cord running from the base toward the courtyard, where they kept one of the generators. The red light wasn't on, but he gave the pole a wide berth anyway.
The main activity was near the second pole, on the other end of the compound. They had decided to build a long wall running the length of the compound, placing their entrances in the perpendicular walls at either end, so that the force field could cover the entire length of the wall. That left them with some vulnerability on the sides, unprotected by the force field, but the smaller portions of wall would be easier to defend and reinforce than the much longer stretch.
"How's it going, guys?" Mulder called out as he drew closer.
Frohike looked up. "You're just in time, my friend. The quick-dry cement is already hard as a rock." He tapped the cement base with his boot to punctuate his point. "Langly's hooking it up to the generator right now so we can flip this baby on and check it out."
"Uh, we're warning everyone first, right?" Mulder asked.
"Of course. Safety is my middle name."
"I thought your middle name was Herbert."
"Well, in Swahili, Herbert means 'safety,'" Frohike retorted. "Hey, Langly, you ready yet?"
"Yeah, keep your shorts on!" Langly called back. He emerged from the building at the end of the compound, one of the more decrepit adobe structures that they had chosen to use as a storage area rather than rebuilding it for other use. Joe was right behind him.
"Are you ready?" At the sound of Byers' voice, Mulder turned and saw him standing at the main entryway, between the dormitory and the community building. The wall would be built a couple of yards in front of that spot, allowing enough room for them to walk around between the wall and the buildings.
"We're ready," Frohike called back. "We won't keep it on for very long. Does everyone know what's going on?"
Byers nodded. "I told them not to come outside until we give the all clear."
"Okay, boys, here we go," Frohike said. He walked out in front of the poles to a point about equidistant between them and several paces away, while Mulder and the other two followed.
"Heads up!" Frohike shouted. He held out the remote and flipped the on switch. Then he pulled out a small weathered Frisbee and extended it to Mulder. "I found something we can sacrifice to the cause."
Mulder took the Frisbee and playfully aimed for Byers' head. After a couple pumps of his arm, testing his aim, he let it fly.
Just as he released the Frisbee, Skinner stepped out of the doorway, right next to Byers. Mulder was about to call out a warning for him to stay back, but he stopped short when the Frisbee unexpectedly sailed right through and hit Skinner square in the nose.
Mulder cringed and yelled, "Sorry! I guess it wasn't on yet!"
But Langly spoke up quietly. "Uh, Dude? It *is* on."
Mulder looked over at one pole, then the other, and saw that both red lights were lit. He called over to Skinner, "Try throwing it back."
The small disc sailed very quickly and unerringly toward Mulder's head, but his reflexes kicked in and he grabbed it before it hit its target. He examined the Frisbee, which had passed through the field twice and didn't look a bit different for it.
"Oh, shit," said Frohike.
Mulder turned to them. "I thought you tested it out this morning before you poured the cement."
Frohike and Langly shared a nervous glance. Obviously, someone had overlooked that step.
Mulder glanced at Frohike and gestured toward a pole. Frohike took the hint and turned it off, waving to Byers and Skinner that the coast was clear.
Joe said, "I think it's the generators. We're trying to cover more distance now, so it needs more power to maintain the field. We have to find some way to crank up the juice."
"Or we'll have to narrow the field," Mulder said. "How difficult would it be to move the poles?"
"We'd need a jackhammer to break up the concrete, and I'd be afraid of damaging the poles," Joe answered. "I think our first priority should be working on the power issue."
Skinner and Byers came up alongside them. "What happened?" Skinner asked, still rubbing at the red spot on the bridge on his nose. Joe started to explain, but Mulder's attention was drawn to a flicker of light down the valley. A vehicle was approaching in the distance.
Before Mulder could get a good look at it, the vehicle passed out of sight where the road curved around a bend. The dust trail it left behind was too light to be Hank and Cody in the truck. Mulder stepped away from the group to watch more closely, and they went silent behind him. Moments like this, he wished he had Gibson's--and William's--sixth sense.
The tension drained from him as he recognized the vehicle. He had been expecting these visitors, but he hadn't expected the incongruous image of the aging medicine man riding up on the back of Eric Hosteen's motorbike.
Mulder turned to his companions. "We'll have to postpone this discussion. The medicine man is needed in another village today, and he was gracious enough to stop by here and do our blessing before he left." He walked over to meet Eric, who pulled to a stop a few feet away.
Mulder waved and waited for the medicine man to dismount. Bowing his head respectfully, Mulder greeted him. "Elder Hatathlie, thank you for honoring us with your presence. I appreciate you coming out here on such short notice."
The medicine man returned the gesture and then turned to look at the complex. Mulder examined it with fresh eyes, wondering how the man would respond to what he saw. What once had been mere ruins was now a much larger and modernized set of buildings. The three-story structure still retained most of its character on the outside, as did the lab building on the other end, and the crumbling shed next to it housing one of the generators. But in the middle stood their brand-new dormitory, clearly not of the same ancient design. Even with their attempts to blend it in by covering the edifice with adobe bricks from the fallen buildings that it had replaced, the dorm stood out like a sore thumb. Mulder had no idea if this elder sat on the council to which Michael had presented their appeal to build and live here--and if he *was* on the council, which side of the argument he may have taken.
The answer to Mulder's musings came in the form of several lines of Navajo spoken directly to Eric and accompanying gesticulations toward the compound. Without awaiting the younger man's response, the medicine man headed toward the main entrance of the buildings. Mulder came alongside Eric and asked quietly, "What did he say?"
Eric replied simply, "He said it's a good thing he's here."
* * *
The small community gathered in a circle inside their common room. Elder Hatathlie took his position in the southwest corner of the room, facing east, and began a solemn Navajo chant. Eric stood next to him and translated into English.
"The blessing begins by remembering the story of First Man and First Woman, and the blessing of the first hogan."
The medicine man offer a long, melodic chant, then paused. Eric's translation, however, was much shorter and toneless.
"First Man and First Woman came to earth from the underworld and created a young man and a young woman out of the four directions. They told the young couple they would be the source of all life, but then they must pass from this world."
Mulder watched Eric's body language, how he seemed to be absently reciting rather than listening and translating. Mulder wondered if Eric was simply telling the story as he remembered it from childhood. If the young man was on track to follow in his family's footsteps and become a medicine man himself, he showed little enthusiasm for it.
"First Man gathered them up in his medicine bundle, which became the first hogan, and he taught them how to bless it. To this day, we continue to bless every Navajo home and building to honor the Great Spirit and protect us from sickness and evil."
The chanting shifted then to singing as the elder lifted his basket of cornmeal and began to move around the room. The crowd parted to allow him access as he walked toward the east wall. After dabbing his fingers into the cornmeal, he touched the wall as high as he could reach and stroked upward. He continued counterclockwise around the room, repeating the same motion on the remaining three walls.
Eric had ceased to translate, but Mulder had a general understanding of what was going on; during his time on the reservation, he attended one other house blessing, led by Michael. The four directions represented the four sacred mountains and were an essential part of Navajo rituals. Just like at their wedding, the cornmeal symbolized their most basic sustenance and therefore life and prosperity, qualities that Mulder certainly coveted for their new buildings. He felt a sense of peace settle over him as the medicine man completed his circuit around the room.
But the peace was short lived. Elder Hatathlie abruptly ended his song and turned to face the door leading toward the main entry and the dormitory. His eyes fixed on Mulder, and although the man's lips did not move, Mulder could hear loud and clear the same message that had been spoken to him at Michael's healing ceremony: "There are evil spirits here."
The elder hastened through the doorway; Eric paused only momentarily before following him. The others were left standing there in shock and uncertainty, watching each other for a sign how to respond.
Scully shifted William on her hip and leaned toward Mulder to say quietly, "I assume that's not how it's supposed to end."
Her comment roused Mulder from his stunned inertia, and he quickly turned to follow the medicine man. Ahead of him, he saw Eric disappearing through the door to the dormitory. A soft parade of footfalls fell in step behind him as Mulder pursued the two men down the long hallway and out the other end of the building. The door emptied out near the lab, which the elder passed without hesitation. He finally slowed and stopped outside the final adobe structure, the one they had left mostly in ruins and were using only for storage.
The entire walk, Mulder's mind was racing with the implications of this warning. The medicine man was making a beeline toward where they had buried Ruby, and the box containing the remnants of Agent Crane. Mulder began to fear that merely burying them near magnetite-laden hills was not sufficient to prevent the Super Soldiers from regenerating. If that was the case, they were foolishly putting themselves in danger.
As Mulder came to a stop next to him, Elder Hatathlie finally spoke. "The dead must be put to rest." But what seemed like a confirmation of Mulder's thoughts then turned to confusion; the medicine man lifted his finger and pointed toward the doorway of their storage room. Before Mulder could ask what he meant, the elder had passed through the open doorway, so Mulder once again followed.
Inside, the man repeated his gesture, this time pointing toward the far wall. The room, once a two-story structure built into the side of the hill, was now crumbled down to one remaining story with a ceiling that was largely intact. However, there was a great deal of debris that they had piled to the side, and the mound was blocking the hillside wall--the very place that the medicine man was pointing.
As Skinner stepped alongside him, Mulder looked over and nodded toward the mound of rubble. Together, the two men began clearing out the pile of rocks and crumbled bricks. Skinner retrieved the wheelbarrow that was parked in the corner, then grabbed two pairs of work gloves from a stack of equipment and tossed a set to Mulder. Without instructions, others silently found ways to contribute, grabbing buckets and shovels to help any way they could.
Before long, a hill of debris began to pile up outside as its counterpart shrank inside the room, revealing more of the wall built into the hillside. And Mulder started to realize why the elder wanted them to clear this wall.
Pawing through the rubble, Mulder shoved aside as much as he could, pulling up short when his hand passed through a gap. "Hey, guys? I think we have another cave here."
Curiosity got the adrenaline flowing, and the work took on a faster pace. Stale air filtered out of the opening as it continued to grow. This was no small crevice, like the one they had discovered that led to their water source, but a passage large enough for even Mulder to go through while only slightly stooping.
When the passage was finally clear enough, Mulder turned to Elder Hatathlie to see if he wanted to lead the way. But he shook his head and only repeated: "The dead must be put to rest." That didn't encourage Mulder about what he was going to find inside.
Thinking about the need for a light, Mulder turned to ask for one, only to find Scully standing right behind him with two flashlights. One was extended for him to take. As she flicked on her light, he offered, "Ladies first?" She shot him a sardonic smile and trudged into the darkness ahead of him.
The opening stretched into a short passageway, similar to the one leading into the cave they had transformed into Scully's hideaway, which was now the pantry. The passage opened into a much larger cavern, spacious enough that it was difficult to make out the walls on either end without deliberately shining the light toward them. But toward one end of the room, they made another discovery.
He turned to see where Scully's light was directed. At first, he thought he was merely looking at more rubble. But as he stepped closer, he began to realize the light-colored objects were piles of bones. Lots and lots of bones. From the medicine man's comment, Mulder fully expected the bones were human.
"You think this is a burial chamber?" he asked, not particularly eager to venture closer.
But Scully wasn't deterred. "I don't know, Mulder," she said as she crossed the cavern for a closer look. She squatted near the wall and ran her light over the stack. "The way these bones are heaped together, not as discernible skeletons...it looks more like a refuse pile." She picked up one long bone and examined the end carefully. Her puzzled expression transformed into one of understanding, and she perused the heap again.
"What?" Mulder asked.
Scully tossed down the bone and stood, wiping her hand on her slacks. "The ends are polished. And they seem to be mostly leg bones--*human* leg bones."
Mulder grimaced, immediately seeing where this was going. "They were eaten?"
Scully shrugged. "We know that cannibalism is the main theory for why the Anasazi disappeared without a trace. I guess now we have evidence that they weren't abducted by aliens."
A beam of light from behind him lit up the far wall, and Mulder turned to see Frohike emerging through the passage. Skinner was standing quietly near the entrance, with only a small penlight in his hand, and Mulder wondered if he'd been there long enough to observe their discovery.
Frohike, however, wasn't as subdued in his entrance. He came charging in toward Scully. "Hey, man, why do the feds get to have all the fun? Oh, yuck!" He stopped short as his light fell on the bones.
Mulder was about to give him a sarcastic retort, but Skinner interrupted. "Mulder, give me your flashlight."
Handing over the light, Mulder asked, "What is it?"
As Skinner shone the light around, his focus was on the far ends of the room, not the bones. "This cave. It's got to be twice the size of our bunker."
At that comment, Scully began to explore as well. "You're right. Do you think we could connect this to the bunker?"
Mulder could detect the controlled enthusiasm in her voice. In another cave they'd discovered behind the dormitory during their construction, an emergency bunker had been set up. It was fortified and stocked with supplies for several weeks. But the space was far too small for their entire group to spend even a few days holed up together, all sleeping and eating and...meeting other bodily needs, practically on top of each other. The bunker was meant as a last resort, but connecting or moving it to a more spacious cavern would definitely brighten their prospects.
"We should check for tunnels," Skinner replied.
Mulder was eager to join them in their exploration, but he also felt a duty to complete what the medicine man had sent him in here to do. They had already delayed the man's departure far too long and were in danger of abusing his kindness.
"Skinner," Mulder called out. When Skinner turned, he continued, "Give me your penlight. These bones were the reason we were sent in here. I need to find out what we're supposed to do with them."
Skinner nodded and tossed over his penlight. The thin beam was enough to guide Mulder back toward the dim glow of the passageway and into the muted light of the storage room. Joe and Langly were hovering near the opening, obviously anxious for news of what was happening inside. Gibson lingered by the door, while Pat stood off to the side of the room, trying to keep a squirming William from escaping her grasp. Byers was nowhere in sight, and Mulder wondered if he'd remained in the common room with Susanne.
Everyone gathered closer as Mulder emerged. He briefly summarized their discovery of the chamber, but more importantly, the bones. He turned to Elder Hatathlie and waited for him to finish his quiet chanting that had continued through Mulder's speech.
"You said we need to put the dead to rest. How should we do that?" Mulder asked.
The elder replied in clear English, betraying that his usual habit of speaking in Navajo was out of choice rather than necessity. "The Anasazi are not the ancestors of the Navajo. They were once our enemy, and they do not deserve a sacred burial place. But their spirits will linger here unless you bury them."
The medicine man turned and led the way out of the building. He walked beyond the end of their compound, past where the Winnebago was parked, and stopped to point down the canyon in a direction opposite the town.
"You must take the dead far from here and return by a path they cannot follow. Only one or two men should go. You must spread ash all over your bodies, to protect you from the evil spirits. Once the dead are buried, destroy the tools that you used for the grave. Take great care that you leave no footprints returning from the grave, or the spirits will trace your steps and follow you home."
Mulder nodded his understanding, if not his complete agreement. He wasn't too sure about the ashes--or about the description he'd once heard that the Navajo wore nothing but moccasins to a burial. He had a feeling that when the medicine man said to cover their bodies with ash, he literally meant *everywhere.* Maybe they could skip that part.
* * *
After all the excitement earlier in the day, Scully was grateful to use packing as an excuse to slip away and find some quiet time by herself. She and Mulder hadn't officially decided to move out of the trailer, but the prospect seemed more and more likely. Either way, it would be best to have anything of value packed up and ready to go at a moment's notice.
As she sorted through the bookshelves in their bedroom, she had a hard time focusing on the simple task of deciding which books to keep and which could be left behind. Her thoughts were too preoccupied with the revelations of the past couple days. Although she had reluctantly accepted the truth about her son and his abilities, the reality was yet to set in.
Without giving it full consideration, Scully tossed the paperback novel she held into the discard box and reached for the next book on the shelf. She had meant this time alone as a respite, but her churning thoughts wouldn't leave her in peace. She was plagued by the what-ifs, about what William's future would be, and if he'd even survive long enough to have one.
Trying to shake her dark contemplations, Scully looked down at her lap and found the book she had pulled from the shelf was a Bible. Immediately, it brought to mind a phrase that Mulder had spoken the other day, one that especially haunted her: the slaughter of the innocents.
The story Mulder referenced was from the infancy of Moses, when pharaoh ordered the male children killed to prevent the Israelites from growing in strength and number. But Scully was drawn to a different passage, another story of a son endangered, from the infancy of Jesus.
She flipped to the Gospel of Matthew and reread the account. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, telling him to take his wife and child and flee to Egypt because Herod sought their lives. The king feared a prophecy that a boy had been born in Bethlehem who claimed to be "king of the Jews," and so he ordered the slaughter of all the male infants in the region. But after the death of Herod, an angel again appeared to Joseph and told him, "Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life."
She started at the sound of Mulder's voice. He was down the hall but appeared in the doorway just as she closed the Bible and tucked it into the bedclothes.
"Hey," he said. "Dinner's about ready. I wanted everyone to sit down and eat together tonight, since a community meal is basically the final part of the house blessing ceremony."
Scully moved the half-full box next to her to the floor, and Mulder sat on the bed in the space it had occupied. "How did the burial go?" she asked. Walter had volunteered to help him, and this was the first she had seen either of them since they set to the task shortly after lunch.
He rolled his shoulders. "The ground wasn't exactly soft. If you hear any moaning tomorrow, that's just me longing for Bengay."
She glanced over his face and hands, remembering the description he gave her of the typical Navajo rite. He didn't look freshly showered, nor was he gray around the edges. "You didn't follow the instructions to a tee, did you?" she asked wryly.
"Uh, no. We decided to modify them a bit." Mulder looked around the room, as though just noticing she was alone. "Where's Will?"
She reached over to the shelf and straightened a couple of books that were leaning over. "He's with Gibson." She was hoping Mulder wouldn't pry further. As the seconds ticked by and he said nothing, she was grateful that he was giving her space to express what she was ready to, and no more. But she also felt she owed him an explanation.
"It was wrong of me to try and keep them apart," she confessed. "I didn't realize how deeply the threat to Gibson had affected William, but he was genuinely worried about him. You should've seen the grin on William's face when I left them to play together."
"Gibson's like his big brother," Mulder said lightly.
Scully simply nodded and returned to tidying the books on the shelf. Her decision to give the boys some time alone was a gesture of forgiveness and trust toward Gibson, but she still had misgivings about leaving the two of them to their private, silent world.
Mulder's weight shifted on the bed, and she looked over to see him digging under the sheets for the book she stowed there at his entrance. Apparently, she hadn't been as stealthy as she thought. As he extracted the Bible, he didn't say anything right away; he merely raised his eyebrows at her and opened to the bookmarked page.
"Mary and Joseph?" he asked. There was no accusation in his tone, only curiosity, giving her courage to share her thoughts with him.
She lifted a finger and pointed to the final verse she had read, about the communication Joseph received from the angel. "I was wondering if we'll ever get such a message, that everyone seeking our son's life is dead and it's safe to go home."
"Well, if I get any angelic visitations during the night, you'll be the first to know," he quipped. She knew he was trying to lighten the mood, but she couldn't bring herself to smile.
He set the Bible down behind them and reached over to take hold of her hand. "You know, I've been thinking, about all this with William and Gibson. What if...what if the fact that this is happening right now--this evolutionary leap, or genetic advancement--isn't a coincidence? What if it's...some sort of a gift, to help us fight the aliens?"
"You mean, a gift from God?" she asked, skeptical that he would draw such a conclusion.
"God, fate, whatever you want to call it. Something beyond us, with a greater understanding of the bigger picture. These genetic building blocks were woven into our DNA millions of years ago, and yet they've sat dormant all this time--until now, when we need them the most. Maybe that was intentional, part of a larger plan to give us a fighting chance to save ourselves."
He paused, and she mulled over his words. Then he added softly, "I don't know, maybe it is God."
Scully searched his eyes for the truth. "Do you really believe that?"
His mouth twitched up in a half-smile. "At this point, I'm willing to try anything."
Her eyes fell to the cross necklace still safeguarded around his neck. "Even prayer?" she asked quietly.
"I'll take all the help we can get. Although, I think I'll let you take care of that part. I figure the Big Guy is more likely to listen to you than to me."
"Sometimes I think the 'Big Guy' listens more closely to the people he doesn't hear from as often."
"Tell you what, I'll give his office a call later and see if he can pencil me in. But right now, we should get to dinner. Everyone's waiting."
He squeezed her hand and rose, gently pulling her up next to him. But instead of turning to leave the room, he tugged her closer and wrapped her in his arms. "I believe in us, Scully," he whispered in her ear. "That's the one thing I'm sure of." With a kiss on her cheek, he released her and stepped away.
Scully didn't have the words to respond. There were too many thoughts still roiling inside her. She placed a palm on his chest as she passed him, an acknowledgement and a thank you. With his hand on her back, he escorted her out the door.
* * *
They entered the common room to find the gang all there. Joe and Pat were placing a couple of steaming dishes on the table, while Byers and Hank distributed napkins and silverware to the place settings. Most of the meals at the compound had been cafeteria style, with a spread of food on the sideboard for people to come eat as their work schedules allowed. The simple fact that they were intentionally sitting down to a formal meal together made the entire occasion feel more ceremonial.
Across the room, Langly was standing on a chair, hanging something over the door leading toward the main entrance.
"Hey, Langly, whatcha got there?" Mulder asked.
Langly pulled back to examine his handiwork, and Mulder finally got a good look at what he'd been mounting on the wall: a wooden plaque with weathered paint that read "Esperanza."
"Just a little something I picked up at the scrap yard on our trip the other day. I think it's from a boat."
"What happened to the rest of the boat?" Frohike called out.
"Bite me, Fro," Langly shot back. "The name survived--that's got to bring some sort of luck."
"Esperanza...'Hope,'" Mulder mused. "That's a good name for this place."
Langly beamed at Mulder's words of acceptance and then made a smug face at Frohike. Mulder left them to their antics and turned to find Joe approaching him.
"Did you notice those dark clouds on the horizon when you guys were coming back?" Joe asked.
Mulder shook his head. "We were too busy trying to find the most circuitous route back without getting lost. You think there's a storm rolling in?"
"Possibly heavy rain, at least, or snow," Joe answered. "I hope it passes overnight and clears up by morning. We won't be able to get much of a start on the wall if it's too wet out. And we still have to fix the power hook-up for the force field."
Skinner stepped over and joined the conversation. "If we can't work outside, we can focus our attention on the new cave. That space may prove invaluable as a second bunker."
"Did we ever find any tunnels?" Mulder asked. He knew there were still people in the cavern after he and Skinner had left with the last of the bones, but he hadn't heard a final report on what the exploration revealed.
"No," Joe replied, "but we did find a couple of smaller holes that might provide a good starting point if we need to dig through. We'll have to draw up some plans and determine what resources we'll need."
"Right now, I think the most limited resource is time," Mulder said. "We don't know how much we'll have left before the next big threat arrives. None of this will do us any good if we're only half-ready when an army of Super Soldiers shows up."
"Mulder." He turned at Scully's voice and found her standing behind him, rocking William on her shoulder. Mother and son gazed back at him with the same worried expression. Mulder realized he could no longer assume that the boy was too young to comprehend the things they discussed, or the dangers they faced.
"Pat's bringing in the last dish," Scully said. "We should all get seated."
He nodded and ushered the men toward the table.
There were no assigned places, resulting in a little awkwardness and shuffling as everyone found a seat, but soon they were all settled. While it hadn't been a conscious choice, Mulder found himself at the head of the table. The long table was a simple wooden one, built by Joe and Cody specifically for this space. Although there were extra chairs, it was crafted ideally to seat twelve, which was just about perfect for the group's current size. William counted as number thirteen, but Scully held him on her lap since his high chair was back in the trailer.
The room went quiet, and Mulder looked around to see that everyone was watching him. He wasn't sure what they were waiting for him to do. Since he was the one who suggested they have the communal meal to cap off the blessing ceremony, he figured they expected him to have some special words in mind. He didn't.
With a hint of humor, Mulder lifted his water glass. "L'chaim."
Smiles broke out around the table as some echoed his toast and tapped their glasses together.
"To hope," Byers contributed.
"To the future," added Frohike.
Mulder took a drink of his water and set down his glass as the muted sounds of serving dishes being passed and soft conversation started. His eyes settled on Gibson, seated on the other side of Scully and William. Gibson looked up and met his gaze, but Mulder didn't try to censor or direct his thoughts, as he often did when he knew Gibson was listening.
Whatever may come, their future was wrapped up in the fate of these two boys.
End part 11.
Notes: Thanks for your patience in awaiting Part 11. It may
be another long wait before Part 12, since I'm still trying to
wrestle RL into submission. But I already have the rest of
this series mapped out, so it just needs to be written. If
only it would stop expanding and getting more complex on me, I
might be able to write it!
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