Brown Mountains, NC, April 26th, 8:30 am
They found Mulder's remains - his bones I should say, because that's all that was left. I must admit I felt a brief, inexplicable pang at that. Over the years, I've killed more men than I care to keep track of, but for a moment there, it was hard to look. Ok, the man had done nothing but thrash me every chance he got - but he had struggled so hard, fought so well, and now this. No aliens. No apocalypse. No conspiracies. A damn 'shroom, no less, albeit a gigantic one. 'Not with a bang but with a whimper', as they say.
Of course he had to die, for the insanity to stop. He never would have given up. He'd have continued to chase fireflies, kept up his lonely pursuit of aliens long after they were all gone, and who knows where that would have taken us all, for he was ever one to drag the world with him on all his crusades.
I turned from the dead to the living. Agent Scully, lying wet and pale on a gurney similar to the one carrying Mulder's bones. She was fresh out of the emergency shower when we got there - the paramedics had hosed her down good, then the gurney for good measure, before they put her on it and threw blankets over her. Didn't have to bother about clothes - there were none left. She wore no mask - maybe they didn't trust her to keep it in place - but they kept these huge fans blowing around her. Probably had to pile on a couple more blankets on account of that. Except for being unconscious, she looked largely unharmed. Her face and throat showed angry red marks from the acid, but even those were paling as we watched.
"It's a miracle", said the big man beside me. The man I had almost killed, and now no longer had a reason to.
I was in RTP, NC, when one night I got a message through my usual channels, telling me to be at a certain spot in the Brown Mountains in the morning. The message said Skinner would meet me, so I assumed the message was from him. Only in retrospect did it occur to me that he would have little enough reason to want me there. Maybe the message was from the Smoker, wanting to find out about something he had heard. Only, I'm pretty damn sure that for once, he didn't know a thing. And I sure as hell never reported it to him. We were pretty much through by then anyway.
I had suspected a trap, of course. I had come well prepared - well heeled, I should say - but Skinner still surprised me. The moment I arrived, he stepped out of the shrubbery to greet me, his gun pointed straight at my heart. I know he's an excellent shot. Maybe even as good as me.
"Hand it over, Krycek", he said, holding out his free hand.
I raised mine. My free one, so to speak.
"I haven't got it", I tried, stupidly, 'cause I knew he wouldn't fall for it. He didn't.
"Don't insult my intelligence, Krycek. You'd never go near me without it. You're a natural coward."
I sighed. "Just careful around the lions. 'Specially when they're pissed off. How do I know you won't shoot me the minute I reach for it?"
"Guess you'll just have to trust me."
He said it a little too gleefully for my taste, but then, I didn't really have a choice, did I? Taking care not to make any sudden movements, I reached into my jacket and brought out the modified palm that controlled the nanites I had once put in Skinner's body.
"Gee, all you had to do was ask", I said with a shrug as I handed it over. It wasn't as if I worked for the Syndicate any more. Never had, since the alien rebels appeared, and I knew which side my bread was buttered on. I tried for a while to take over the Syndicate, to hand it over to the rebels, but the Smoker figured me out. Then the rebels got them anyway, all except the Smoker and Diana Fowley. Game over. Colonists left, I assume the rebels did the same, though we never managed to prove that. Battle lost and won, depending on how you looked at it. No reason now to hang on to the Skinner-control. Let him control himself for all I cared. Might be a useful exercise for a guy like him.
He was still pointing the gun at me. "And the others?"
Took me a while to know what he meant. Other devices like this one.
I shook my head. "Drugikh njet."
"Dammit Krycek, speak English!"
I gave him an insolent smirk - recklessly staking my life on the slim chance he wouldn't shoot until he knew.
"There are no others", I dutifully translated. More words, but apparently that was the way he wanted it. Quite insular, the good AD. No real interest in other cultures. Except possibly the German one.
He stared at me for a long while. I stared back, expecting the worst. Then, abruptly, he lowered his gun. Reaching into his pocket, he got out a protective mask and handed it to me.
"It's toxic up there", he muttered, with a jerk of his bald head in the direction of the mountain above us.
I took the mask, surprised that he seemed to have another reason for bringing me here, than to get the remote control off me. No matter; if he didn't want me poisoned, he probably wasn't going to shoot me either. I'd likely be safe for now.
He brought out another mask like the one he had given me, and I slipped mine on, as soon as I saw him slip on his.
"Come", he said. "Got something to show you, up here." And we trudged up the mountain.
Scully opened her eyes - large and turquoise, and perfectly clear. Then they filled slowly with tears.
"Mulder is dead", she said, and I heard Skinner's deep breath of relief at not having to be the one to tell her. "I felt him go."
Neither of us said anything. We knew she'd get around to it herself, given time. But it occurred to me then that she showed no surprise at my presence. I wondered if she really was as lucid as she looked. Maybe she didn't recognize either of us.
"I shared his dreams", she said, still looking a lot more aware than her words would indicate. "Sometimes. We were linked - the link would go on and off as we both dreamed, but occasionally, our dreams would merge."
She smiled a little through her tears. "His were wild", she said fondly. "Mostly they were about aliens, as you would expect. And conspiracies, and Genesis, and ..."
"Genesis?" Skinner ventured in surprise. "I'd have thought that was more your department, Agent Scully."
Addressing her by title. Apparently, he felt she was pretty lucid too. Or not lucid enough.
She closed her eyes briefly, concentrating. "It came from the aliens. Something about an artefact, a piece of slab with a part of Genesis written on it, in Navajo, if you believe that. The - I think it was the controversial piece. The one telling us to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the world."
I nodded. "Take the planet and use it. Makes a certain kind of sense that such a message would come from those with the galaxy at their disposal and worlds to waste. Though if you ask me, humanity is perfectly capable of coming up with that all by its lonesome."
"Mulder used to believe that it was part of the political struggle in the area at the time", Scully said, looking directly at me - still with no sign of surprise to find me there. "A manifesto to be used by the conquering nomad tribes against the nature-oriented settlers, whose lands they coveted. But his dreams told a different story. I think he had decided to blame all humanity on the aliens. I think that - perhaps unconsciously - he was casting about for the ultimate pattern, the one that would explain everything. The one solution to all conundrums."
"The Philosophers' stone", Skinner said, at the same time as I said, "42". We exchanged a quick look but neither of us cared to elaborate.
"I don't remember much else", Scully said. "His dreams have been gone for some time now. I think there was one about finding his sister dead and in a better place. An obvious wish fulfilment, and so simplistic, he would never have accepted it if his mind hadn't started going already."
She looked up at me, and her eyes were tear-filled again. "In his last coherent dream, you died, Krycek." A quick glance towards the AD at my side. "You shot him, sir. In cold blood." Her eyes flicked back to me. "You were unarmed - if you pardon the expression."
I sighed. "So Mulder had it in for me to the last. No surprise there." I caught her renewed glance at Skinner. "What - you think his dreams might be prophetic? That why you memorized them?"
"I hope not", she said, catching me off guard until she explained. "So many died. In his dreams as well as my own. His mother ..."
"Oh God", Skinner muttered, "Somebody will have to tell her. Guess that's me. I understand they weren't close, but ..." His voice trailed off, and Scully's resumed.
"Eventually, Mulder's dreams ceased and I was left with my own. He was in them at first. Then he was abducted, and I was working with others - two other agents took over the X-files. And people just kept dying."
Her tears became sobs, racking her body. "The gunmen ..." she forced out, barely intelligibly.
I guess I blinked in surprise. Never would have thought she cared one way or the other for those little toads - crackers and amateur spies, nothing else to them that I could see. Not from the Smoker's surveillance tapes anyway.
"I remember thinking", she said, "'The gunmen are at Arlington - we're on our own.' It was as if democracy had lost its last foothold in America, and all our hopes and will to resistance were gone."
"I'm sure they'll be flattered to hear that", I said a bit acidly. "They may believe in their own hype, but I don't think they ever hoped to convince anyone else."
Skinner latched on to something else. "Arlington?"
She smiled a little through her tears. "You gave them a hero's burial, sir. You said it was the least you could do."
The corner of his mouth twitched a little. "I think you overestimate my position in the chain of command, Agent Scully".
From the look they exchanged, it was a private joke between them. Idly, I wondered if Mulder had known about that. Whatever, it seemed to cheer her up. It looked like her bad dreams were gradually losing their hold on her.
"We had a child", she said unexpectedly. "Mulder and I. A son. Or rather, he was Mulder's and he wasn't. There was some confusion there. Something about aliens - and CGB Spender."
I don't know why she would refer to the old devil by one of his aliases. Maybe to name her demons. She seemed more composed now. I doubt she could have told us this part otherwise.
Something about that composure got to me. I found myself crouching by her bedside - gurney side, I should say. I even would have put a supportive arm around her, but I was on the wrong side of her and would have to choose between awkwardly wedging my artificial arm between her shoulders and the gurney, and reaching right over her, sort of possessively. I ended up just crouching at her side, looking at her.
"That's impossible, Scully", I said, as gently as I could. Somehow I couldn't quite work up the nerve to call her by her first name. "The child I mean. You know it is."
She nodded. "Another blatant wish fulfilment, I know. Actually, it was a dead giveaway. I think that may have been when I started to pay attention to my dreams, check them for consistency to try and disprove them. I know I saw the fluid more often then." Catching our confusion, she added, "That's what happened whenever I was - surfacing a little. I could see the greenish yellow slime that was digesting me - oh yes, I knew about that, sometimes. It was part of my dreams. Sometimes I knew exactly where I was, then it was gone again, lost in some soothing dream-explanation."
"And yet you survived", Skinner said. "That's the one thing we can't figure out, Agent Scully. How come you survived, almost without a scratch, and Mulder - didn't?"
I think he had been about to say something more graphic. I was glad he thought better of it.
For a moment, her eyes mirrored the overcast sky, as she looked past us both. I had a feeling she knew the answer but was contemplating how much to tell us. Or how much to tell Skinner, with me present. Finally, she said, "I think I might have an explanation for that. By now, it seems to be the only one that makes sense." Ignoring me, she looked directly at her superior. "Do you remember the case of Clyde Bruckman, sir?"
Skinner gave her a blank look while searching his memory. His glasses above the mask made him look kind of artificial. Then he caught on. "The old man who Mulder claimed could accurately foretell the deaths of others, but who died himself in the course of your investigation? Yes, I do, and I also remember you didn't share your partner's belief, Agent Scully."
Back to cold formalism, as soon as she mentioned work. 'Your partner'. I could have hit him; she didn't need any of that right now.
Oddly, it didn't seem to bother her. As if she had entered the same formal mood - maybe that had been Skinner's intention. Maybe I should give him some credit.
"I didn't, not then. And I never reported Mr Bruckman's final prophecy. He said I wouldn't die. Naturally, that was too preposterous for anyone - including Mulder - to believe, so I thought no more of it. Then, much later, we had the case of Alfred Fellig, the man who - on Mulder's further investigation - seemed to have had an inordinately long life."
Skinner looked blank again - more so than before. Positively alien this time.
Scully frowned a little. "We were working for AD Kersh then, but I would have assumed the report would ultimately go to you, once it was determined to be an X-File. Maybe no one made that classification. In fact, Mulder wasn't strictly on the case, as it was assigned to myself and an agent named Peyton Ritter."
Some life returned to behind Skinner's glasses. "Ah, the one who shot you? I heard about that, and I like to think I was instrumental in getting Agent Ritter suspended. You nearly died, Agent Scully."
Damn if there wasn't some extra gravel to his voice. Could it be he had some specific, long-suppressed affection for her? Thought he had been a little too swift, snapping back to formal. Never would have expected the old sadist to have any soft spots, but I filed the theory for reference, of course. Maybe next time he tries to slug me in the gut till I taste blood and then chain me to his balcony, I can use the information to my advantage somehow.
If Scully noticed anything unusual about his voice, she didn't let on. "That's the point, sir. I didn't. And I should have, because my wound was bad enough. Instead I healed so fast, Mulder remarked on it, though he didn't know what to make of it. Because there was one thing I hadn't told him. One thing that didn't make it into my report, as - just like in the case of Clyde Bruckman - I found it not only irrelevant, but slightly disrespectful, to relate a dying man's ramblings. But Alfred Fellig clearly believed, that as he finally achieved his heart's desire - to die - he passed his immortality on to me."
Didn't see that coming. For a moment, I wondered how sane she really was, after being gradually digested in a cave. Still, there was the irrefutable fact that she had indeed fallen victim to the fungus, and the likewise irrefutable fact that she was still alive. Whereas Mulder ...
"Agent Scully ..." Skinner tried, but I don't think he really had anything to say.
"Naturally, I didn't share his belief", Scully said, as if reassuring him before striking the final blow. "I had no more explanation for my recovery than had Mulder, or anyone else for that matter. And I never made the connection to Mr Bruckman's prophecy then either. Until this happened." She indicated her surroundings with a quick glance. "In my more wakeful moments, I had time - and reason - to think about it. Especially after I - was alone. In the midst of my grief, I couldn't help wondering why I was still alive. I think that puzzle helped me cope. Not only was I alive, but somehow the acid didn't really seem to get to me, not enough to do any lasting damage. Then it dawned on me. What if those two old men were telling the truth? Until I can come up with a more plausible explanation, I think I'll have to accept the possibility that they were."
I was about to suggest we test her hypothesis, but I strongly suspected they wouldn't have appreciated the joke. Not then, and not coming from me. 'Sides, it wasn't all that funny.
She was such a little thing, lying on that gurney. Bereaved, but not beaten. Frankly, I never could imagine anything getting her down permanently. Not even Mulder - or the loss of him. Petite but resilient, apparently more so than any of us had known, herself included. Always ready for the next round. I liked that about her. Always had.
I don't know whether or not Skinner accepted her theory. All he said was, "We'll talk more about this later. You should sleep now, Agent Scully. You're exhausted."
And indeed she looked a little pale and worn out from her long explanation. I could see it had taken a lot out of her. Then she surprised me.
She was wet, damp, soaked and bedraggled, and she looked up at me and said, "Krycek, you've got quite lovely eyes - did you know that?" Then her own promptly closed, and she was asleep, just like that. A healing sleep, I had no doubt.
Through his glasses, over his mask, Skinner gave me a totally baffled look - and I started laughing. Laughing like I never had since I was a boy, and though I knew better than to let my guard down - with him or anyone - I couldn't seem to stop. There were tears in my eyes when the fit finally ebbed.
It felt good, laughing like that. Think I might do it again sometime.
I was far along on my way back, weaving in and out of the afternoon traffic on I40, when it hit me: I still hadn't the damnedest idea why Skinner would have sent for me.