The palmtop computer sang beneath his fingers. Alien technology was a bitch to handle, never an instruction manual when you needed one. And as for technical support - forget about it.
Captured alien technology, captured sounded so much better than stolen.
Fortunately, Alex Krycek was a patient man. He'd had to be. Any job no matter how dumb. Any sale as long as the price was right.
What were a few months in jail to a man who had always known he had a value, that sometime, someone would come and open the door? What were a few hours of frustration and fiddling with unruly electronics on the off-chance that this gadget might actually work?
He played with the mouse again, sighing at its clumsiness. He knew there were better ways; he'd seen them use this thing and their way was far superior. Look mom, no hands. Look mom, no computer either. But Krycek was no purist, you do whatever it takes. So many variables between here and there. So many reasons for it not to work. Such potential if it did.
The display fluttered to gold and he couldn't resist humming in welcome. Data reception in progress. Alex Krycek resisted the urge to respond to it too quickly; gratification delayed often proved to be gratification heightened. Two impossible things before breakfast, assuming the sound meant what he thought it meant.
Hard enough to believe that Mulder had allowed himself to sleep unguarded. Sleep? Chemically assisted sleep for sure, but Mulder had willingly drunk the cup of coffee in the same room as Alex Krycek. Surely if Mulder had been paying attention he'd never have made that mistake. Krycek swallowed at the thought of such naivete. How the hell had Mulder made it this far?
Of course, maybe this was all some frighteningly subtle stratagem by Mulder. Maybe he'd sensed that Krycek had to do something and knew that if he were alert then he'd be obliged to stop him on general principles. Alex shook the idea away. Strategy wasn't Mulder's thing; he ran on instinct. Alex had both. And this time his instincts had said to implant the signaling device behind Mulder's ear and his strategy might be about to pay off.
Pure bliss that they hadn't stripped it straight back out of him.
Which gave Krycek the third impossible thing that day. They must have wanted Mulder to be able to communicate. And with him, of all people. Well, there was a development.
He smiled as he activated the viewing screen; these were interesting times.
Who is it?
That's a dumb question.
Welcome to the wonderful world of communication.
You're on the ship?
Why would I want to do a stupid thing like that?
You're not here.
Think of this as your personal psychic hotline, electronically enhanced.
I don't believe it.
You're a skeptic now?
You're not real.
Real as you are and in a lot better position to recognize reality when I see it.
How's it hanging?
Not as far as I can tell.
They've disconnected me.
I've heard rumors about that. No direct experience myself, of course. And there aren't that many eye-witness accounts. As you can imagine.
I've got to talk to Scully.
Me, or no one.
No one then.
========= Disconnect ==========
The decision to intercept Dana Scully on her way home from the Hoover Building was obviously the correct one. It was only right that she should be the first to know. Only proper that she should find herself totally unprepared at the meeting to discuss it.
It became even more the right decision once Krycek realized that Scully's car was heading in the wrong direction. She was not on her way home at all. So, they were going to Alexandria? He nodded to his reflection in the mirror, and placed a little bet with himself. No need to follow her. Why let her study his stalking technique? Why not maintain a little magic and mystery and just go directly to Mulder's apartment. He eased back in the traffic and paused for coffee, a little taste of freedom earned.
Mulder never had bothered to upgrade the locks on the apartment door. Krycek considered it for an instant. Fox Mulder, who liked to declare himself paranoid, was actually the most pragmatic of men when it came to certain things. Like recognizing that his foes wouldn't let a little thing like a lock put them off.
Nor his friends, come to that. Krycek let himself into the room, moving as silently as the somber mood required. "Feeding his fish? Why not move them to your place?"
She spun, spilling food flakes into the hungry mouths, then onto the dusty carpet. Her hand shifted to find a weapon that was too comfortably concealed in her back holster. She failed to find it quickly enough to make her point.
He shook his head and she froze, her hand falling back to her side, her face moving back to icy calm, "Get out."
"He misses you."
A moment's silence to let her replay his words. The ice in her eyes melted for an instant. Her mouth opened on a low breath. "Do you know where he is?"
"Sure. So do you."
Two steps forward and she almost fell onto the couch, a pale reflection of the giddiness that had frightened Mulder only a matter of days before. "Get out," she offered again, sad and a little more pale, a little more of her washing away as she spoke.
"Don't you want to know what he says?"
A solid deep breath as she forced her chin forward and lifted her eyes to look directly into his. "Cut the crap. This is me you're talking to. If you can really talk to him, show me how."
"I don't think I want to do that."
"Then you're a fucking liar, Krycek. I don't play the dangling game."
"You've been playing it for years."
Are you there?
I've got to talk to someone...
I can't do this any more.
Krycek, if you're there...
I'll just leave you a message.
I can't not talk about it. You said it yourself, there just aren't many eye-witness accounts. If I tell you, you've got to tell Scully.
You will. Won't you?
Oh, forget it, fuck that little lie.
I've got to tell someone. I don't give a fuck what you do with it. I want you to tell Scully, but I'm going to tell you. Anyway, I can't make threats and you don't keep promises - so what's the point in playing word games?
They disconnected me. That's their description, not mine. They needed my body for some trials they were running.
Not normal procedure. Normal's when they just let you scream through the experiments then fuck with the memories later. I've got files full of that variant. Or sometimes they knock you unconscious - that's if the nice guys are running the tests. And this place belongs to the nice guys, so once the screams get too loud, they carefully blast you full of liquid relaxation.
I use "you" in the loosest sense.
If this gets to Scully, she'll know who I mean. I have an idea you may know, too.
Not that it matters. I neither scream nor sleep through the experiments. They disconnected me because they needed me awake and alert.
The method is disappointingly crude. I think Scully will be glad that's there's no magic about it, just the mundanity of high tech science at work here. Chemicals are injected into the spinal fluid. The autonomic nervous system is maintained so they don't need machinery to make my heart beat, my lungs expand, my stomach digest, my colon contract. The voluntary system is suppressed and along with it, not only any plan I might hatch to escape or struggle, but also the pain I ought to feel.
I'm not an experiment, they tell me. I'm a prototype. My brain has so much to offer, they say. It needs to learn so it may as well learn while my body changes. I need to understand them and my place in their plan. Just as my body needs to be ready for whatever the world, the brave new world, throws at it.
They disconnected me.
And they have no fucking idea why I cry and scream at them when I'm in no pain. How can it hurt when we've disconnected the pain sensors? And I try to be oh, so, fucking rational. And that lasts about thirty seconds until I howl that I'm not some Mr Potato Head toy and that you can't just change all the parts and expect me not to care.
So they gave me a mirror today.
So I could see how well they are caring for me.
There will be just the right amount of UV light to keep my skin warmly gold.
Just enough laps of their treadmill track to keep the leg muscles defined.
Just enough strokes through the restraining elastic of simulated water to keep my back and shoulders strong.
Just enough food, injected through the conveniently located valves to keep my weight at a steady 172.
I've never looked better.
Look, Krycek. Do me a favor. Don't mention any of this shit to Scully.
Don't go near her.
You're chatty today.
Why did you let me say all that?
Had a little chat to Dana yesterday. She says I'm a lying, fucking bastard to say that I've heard from you. She suggests I stick to lying to people who want to buy the Empire State Building.
Stay away from her.
Or else she'll shoot you, and it won't be through the shoulder.
Good to see you've still got your sense of humor.
====== Disconnected =======
Mulder - you there?
Where else would I be?
You've been awfully quiet.
And you're murdering scum.
That sort of fucks with my conversation skills.
====== Disconnected =======
It might be said to be the theme of Mulder's life, to get stuck in a predicament where either you do or you don't, and either path looks just as crappy as the other. Alex Krycek didn't like the idea of getting stuck like that. He'd already hit too many dead ends. A silo. A Tunisian jail. You don't get much deader than those. Important, then, to focus the mind on keeping the options open.
Mulder was of interest to a lot of people. Scully, for sure. But also, to the tail end of a conspiracy that was still thrashing around like a headless chicken, still looking for a leader. But there were men there, still powerful men, who saw Mulder as a knight, a man to win over, ideally suited to getting a surprise result in a crowded end- game. And then there was Skinner. The man Alex saw as the point where the personal met the political. The man had switched sides so often it was a wonder he still knew that there were sides at all. Even Alex, if forced, would concede that Skinner remained a wild card. Just as much a joker in the pack as Alex himself.
Self-sacrifice or cowardice? Krycek shrugged at the black and white of that question. Maybe Skinner really was just a man who knew the difference between a winning and a losing hand and played the game as well as he could. Cards held firmly to his chest, Skinner remained a challenge. A challenge who Mulder trusted. A challenge who Alex sensed felt somehow honor bound to play the hero; a man who needed to do the right thing for Mulder.
"Krycek." Its tone was neither a question nor a demand, yet maybe a bit of both.
Alex nodded, understanding Skinner's confusion, before moving directly to the point. "Scully's been spending a lot of time at the hospital."
Skinner admitted nothing, folded his arms to ask why it was any concern of Krycek's.
Krycek had learned to be thorough and flexible in his work, the advantage of a career history that avoided the straight lines of lives like Skinner's. Hospital records were too easy. "It's his, isn't it?"
A glimmer of weakness in Skinner's eyes, that slipped rapidly toward surrender. He didn't need to reply, just pursed his lips in preparation for an angry hmppph of dismissal.
Krycek pressed home the advantage, prowling the room confident that he'd made the right call, positively boucing as he stabbed out the words. "I need to tell him. That he's got something to come back to."
And Skinner melted, unhappy and uncomfortable at a confidence betrayed yet with no way to maintain indifference or ignorance of the accusation. "You've seen him?"
"Tell him. He's got to come back."
Are you there?
I don't know what time it is. What day it is, even. How long is it since we last spoke?
They keep all of them asleep now, almost all the time. The changes hurt and they start screaming, which doesn't seem to concern anyone here very much, except it stops some of the babies from sleeping and it's a break in the low drone of the place. I guess they're babies, they sound like babies. Baby somethings. And I think these good guys read in a book sometime that it's a bad sign if humans scream, and they don't want this to be a bad thing.
They disconnected me so they could keep me talking while they worked on my body. Because I was presented to them as some sort of novelty item. And then I spoiled it all by telling them that I knew zip. And they seemed surprised each time I told them that I knew nothing, and that I have evidence of nothing. I mean, here I am and they gave me this special status because I came highly recommended by someone, something and I'm failing to live up to my billing. Story of my life.
Sure, I have files. I had files. I've got my own personal, ambiguous recollections of events, that even other eye-witnesses won't corroborate. And it all adds up to zilch. They couldn't believe it. They would just stand there nagging away at the memories and then I'd lose my temper. At which point they would move on, and the next team would arrive.
You should understand. Their aim was not to piss me off, just to gather data. On the one hand, they wanted to know what I knew about them, double-checking their security, I guess. On the other hand, they want to re-program me to understand them better.
Sorry, about the hand talk, I was forgetting.
If it's any consolation, I haven't got any hands at all. Or arms or legs or, well, pretty much anything. They're still attached, which may be good; I'm not sure. I suppose if I ever get out of here, I'll be glad about that. If I'm me at all, to be glad about anything.
I don't know how long I've been asleep.
Not fucking asleep. I'm lying to myself. Why is that? Why lie?
Sedated into oblivion.
For days maybe. Weeks? Years? Just days, I think. Basically, I pissed them off. Surprise! Though I've got to say, even I was surprised by how good a job I made of it.
They had a little experiment they were running. They thought maybe I could show off a few telekinetic skills, maybe even give it a little fizz with a light seasoning of pyrokinetics. Turns out I'm a fast learner; I surpassed all expectations. Isn't that great?
Apparently, without the distraction of a body, or work, or people, or the TV, or food or... Well, you get the idea. Apparently, there's a lot that a brain, especially a modified and fully activated one, can do.
They were in the room here with me. Prodding and poking, correcting the UV levels to keep my skin an optimum gold, playing with the settings on electrical stimuli going to the muscles that keep me in shape and the IVs that keep me fed and watered and the drains that keep me clean.
The boss, I think he/she was the boss, of the crew was chatting with me. Not with his mouth. When they come in looking like one of those Kurt Crawfords, they use their mouths. When they come in as grays they drop the pretense and just go straight for it, head to head, as it were.
So I thought of damage and pain, of every sweet little alien cell in his big pointy alien head, simultaneously boiling up and blowing apart. And you know what? It happened. Head blew clean off. Green goo everywhere.
A couple of minutes later and there were three puddles of fluorescent green, alarms howling, and then -
And then nothing. Merciful fucking oblivion. I guess they blasted something hot through the IV and I was out like a light.
When I woke up there was nothing. No sound, no images. They've disconnected my sensors. I still prefer to think of them as my eyes and ears, but I guess my preferences mean even less now than they did before. And the concept of ownership means less than nothing. They needed them for some modifications.
So now they sedate me when necessary so they can approach safely, wouldn't want a repetition of the "incident." They're too polite to call it murder. Apart from the brief explanation of the reasons for this delay in their schedule for my re-education they don't come close enough, while I'm awake, that I can hear them. That's hearing without the ears, as I'm sure you already guessed. They hope that one day they'll be able to trust me again. They'd like to reopen dialogue. Meanwhile I can lie here and think of the differences between life and death.
I don't know what they'd do if I turned my attention to the tubes feeding me or to spoiling one of their experiments by burning off a leg or something. Probably nothing. Burning off my leg to spite my brain. It doesn't really have that much appeal.
The silence is so absolute, that I think I may already be insane.
Krycek. If you're there, talk to me.
I guess you're not.
Maybe they broke the connection.
======= Disconnect ===========
You've missed me then?
You're real. I'm not imagining you?
How do I know you're real?
Hey, you studied psychology. You can't know. You're running low on senses, yet you're still going to have to rely on perception and fill in the gaps. Which of course you did before, except you probably imagined a full set of senses was some sort of tether back to reality. Maybe you should have done philosophy, too.
Tell you what. Maybe we can play a game.
Come on, Mulder. Not like you've got something better to do.
I'll tell you a story - something old, something new.
You can still have fun. Just set your mind to it.
No reply? Well, that's a little impolite, but I'm an easy-going sort of guy.
Remember that night I visited your apartment? Go on, I'm sure you remember it, I made quite certain of it that time. Sealed my words with a little good luck kiss from your street brother. You'd been eating, something with plenty of garlic and onions, but without the anchovies or the pepperoni, so I guess it wasn't a pizza. I wonder what it was? Where did you stop on your way home? Must seem like an age ago now. Aren't you ashamed to have wasted all that time?
You're awfully slow replying for someone with fuck all to do.
What if I just stop right here?
What's the news?
You said there was something new.
Sure, Knicks won by one point in Florida. They got Indy in the playoff.
It's what I want to hear, but it's not exactly verifiable from here, is it?
How about something new that isn't just in line with my wishful thinking?
Scully's got some news.
You've seen her? Is she...
Spit it out, Mulder. What do you want to ask?
Ok, I know, let me guess.
Something ambiguous and a little ambivalent in tone. Let's try - "is she taking it ok?"
I assume your silence means I hit the jackpot.
She's well and truly fucked.
========= Disconnected ==========