RATales Archive


by tyen

Hello again. In recognition of this momentous day, I've been holding on to this fic for -just- the right time.

It was something I did for fun during the summer to feed my urge for ice and snow, trying to forget that it was 110 on the rocks outside.

This may or may not be enjoyable - my interests/hobbies do overlap on rare occasions, and VL is one big example... I've been wondering just -how- to get Krycek on a mountain and this idea came to me.


Title: Apex
Rating: PG-13 for language, sex, and extreme life/death situations. (hah!)
Category: K/OFC, Series/WIP
Spoilers: All of them just to be safe.
Timeline: After 'Flying Blind' in the series
Summary: A high-altitude secret + scheming Krycek = Anna in crampons.
Disclaimers: Climbing is an inherantly dangerous sport. Don't do it. :) It's expensive, dangerous, and your feet get really cold. (Plus like cigarettes, you can't stop after you start.. before you know it you wish you could quit and you know it's bad for you but.. but...) All stunts were performed by professionals on a closed course... in my head.

Oh, and I don't own these characters other than Anna and irritating!John. No money made.

Thanks to Rhyme for her Rhymieness and prodding. I wouldn't have let anyone but me enjoy this indulgence if it weren't for her.

Feedback: Please! karakoramslide@yahoo.com

Cover for this installment may be found: http://members.nbci.com/annaseries

*UNBETA'd Except for one chapter!* Bewarned...


She could hear her cel ringing, but had no idea where in her pile of papers it was. Scrambling through the stacks of documents, she knew she was getting closer... Finally, between last week's reports and next week's To Do list, she found the offending device.

"Talk to me," Anna sighed after stabbing at a button with her thumb and collapsing into her office chair.

"Napping again?" The familiar voice said, with a hint of amusement.

"Not quite. I'm buried down here. How's the Oregon venture going?"

"Slowly," Krycek grunted, peering out the window of his sedan to the glowing lights of the motel beyond. "The old man thinks I'm still looking for this damned thing."

Anna leaned back in her chair and propped her feet up on the piles of papers scattered across her desk. "Aren't you?"

"I've closed in, but...well, I've encountered a small... wrinkle. I need your Bird to speed things up."

Anna glanced up at her computer monitor, frowning to herself. "If you're asking about the ship, I-"

"Mulder and Scully are here in Bellefleur," Krycek interrupted. "They have no idea what they're after, but give them enough time they'll figure it out."

Kayell leaned her head back and stared at the ceilieng. "I can bury any signals on the Sat Codes...isolate the information so he can't get to it yet. My sattellite can't identify it as a craft, but I might be able to pinpoint where it crossed the grid."

"How long are we talking, here?"

Kayell leaned forward and began typing commands into the keyboard, holding the cel up with her shoulder. "Few hours. Sure you don't need me to distract Moose and Squirrel?"

"No, no..." Krycek replied, noticing one of the Agent's room lights switched off. "I think they're distracting each other at the moment. Besides, I need you to stay put... I'm not pulling you into this unless I absolutely have to. The old man has Marita keeping his feet warm, so I'll play into his game for as long as I can."

"Oh..." Kayell murmured, frowning to herself. "Shall I upload this to you as soon as I get it, then? That way our contact can remain minimal..."

She heard Krycek snicker to himself, then turn the key in the ignition. "Don't get catty on me, Anna - Rita's my best bet for handling the old man. Just lay low for now... I promise you'll get to play later."

"I am -not- getting catty. I don't get catty. I could take that stupid bitch out any time, anywhere. Just name the method."

"You know what, Anna?" Krycek asked, and Kayell snorted, stabbing at the keys harder. His voice lowered, that husky murmur just above a whisper. "I've missed you."

"Okay, now you're just being mean," she growled, leaning away from the keyboard as her connection to the sattellite processed.

"Don't get pissy," he soothed. "I just don't want you getting any attention right now. I need to stack my deck, and I sure as hell don't want anyone seeing my cards. I have big things planned, and bringing Mulder in is only part of it... I don't want him associating us as acting together again right away."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah... don't patronize me, Alex. I steal information for a living. Stop handling me and just tell me you're going underground for a while. That could only mean part of your plan is toppling power - you're gonna trump the old man. And if any of his associates take action, you'll need at least one on the Inside."

"Like I said before, Anna...I've missed you," Krycek sighed.

"Yeah, well...you'll have the info by morning. And if anyone asks, I haven't heard from you, don't know what happened in Oregon, and I'll wait for you to contact me so -I- can play."

"You're a gem." He murmured, and then severed their connection, Anna staring down at her phone for a moment before shoving it under more papers and returning to her work.

"What-ever." She muttered under her breath, scowling. "I've missed you..." she mocked, making faces at her computer screen. "You can play later..." she continued. "Rita's this, Rita's that... stupid bitch."

She glanced around at the cinder-block walls of her office and felt her anger rising. Stuck down some forgotten hallway, floors below the -real- action of Pentagon secrets, she vowed she -would- get some action someday, if she had to create it herself.

She just forgot to be careful what she wished for -- sometimes you get just exactly what you ask.

Chapter 1 - The Approach

5 Months later
Chicago, Il

The woman stepped up onto the curb from a faded crosswalk, her long overcoat flapping in the autumn wind.

If this had been D.C., she'd be fighting the first few snowflakes of the season, but no hurricane force winds. But then, she considered, when was the wind *not* blowing in Chicago? Windy City 365 days a year. Downtown stragglers filtered through the streets as taxis rolled through half-crowded intersections under an early evening twilight.

As long as spaceships weren't looming over the city centre, she figured things were just hunky dory. Evidently Mulder hadn't learned how to hotwire one yet.

Anna wasn't quite sure if she had the right place -- this block looked too clean and sterile for anything that it was supposed to be. Before her lie a bland expanse of glass and concrete lifting up into the sky in a graceful column of business normalcy.

Surely they had no idea what wolf lie among their sheep.

The high- rise office building was closed for the day, it being well past dinnertime. An errant janitor and lone security guard stared blank-faced at the first period of a Lakers game and never saw her as she slid in through the delivery dock and into the freight elevator.

Then twelve stories straight up, Anna tapped her foot the elevator cranked out a Muzac version of Mr. Bo Jangles, and down the hallway to the left just as the instructions said, arriving at a plain lever-handle door.

"ITN Technologies"

She wasn't sure if that was merely a remnant or half-hearted disguise.

The inside lobby was dark, with a few chairs scattered along the soothingly papered wall. A clear glass to the receptionist cubicle stood halfway open, an empty clipboard tucked crossway between the track and window.

Beyond, light filtered down the hallway and she eased the second door open, following the sound of humming machinery and neat click of a computer keyboard.

"I hope you know what you're doing," she told the figure that sat a bank of computer equipment.

Alex Krycek glanced over his shoulder at her, almost expecting the grim face she wore. His lashes dipped, as he looked her up and down, then turned with indifference back to his work. The effect of appearing unconcerned was all he could offer her this time, knowing a lean to either side of their usual gray neutrality was out of order.

It might take months to overcome his ordeal in that hellhole, and he could only imagine her images of him naked, filthy and desperate under the meager spray of the prison shower. He could still feel the mix of hunger and repulsion from Marita as she fed him the clues for his release, Anna watching silently from her shadowed doorway behind. But then, Anna had been there before -- to cut him loose from the veritable tangle of Consortium rope and concrete, dragging him to the surface again. She always was.

Anna stifled a grin behind a feigned scratch of her nose, leaning against the doorframe. Never, ever would she let him see the satisfaction she felt for being 'called in'. Times were tough lately, with the fall of power. Things weren't quite what they used to be; even the rats were getting hungry.

Not that Alex could have known of their demise, he had been AWOL. And her constant vigil in her concrete-wall office deep on the Inside had turned up nothing. Not even a blip on the radar. Usually when his trail went cold, she knew where to look -- but this time he'd fallen too quickly to trace.

It was taking him longer to put on the weight this time -- even after the Silo, he had recovered with amazing speed.

But evidently he *had* -adapted- to life outside quite rapidly. Krycek the consummate survivor.Success to him was not how hard you fell, it was how high you bounced when you hit bottom.

Alex turned back to the computer and palmed the mouse tightly, mostly ignoring her.

Kayell shoved herself away from the doorframe and walked slowly into the wide office, taking a long look around.

But her eyes kept coming back to him as he watched the computer screen scroll with commands, his dark hair splayed in carefully fashioned spikes that screamed of a salon that hand-fed you fruit. The leather and denim were gone, as were the Gucci suits, replaced with expensive Gen-X athletic gear she guessed he was at least 10 years to old to wear. But with the hair, the clothes, and the eerie glow of the computer screen on his face, it all seemed fitting.

And alarmingly natural.

"So, net-boy." She sighed and eased into an office chair a few feet away. "What have you gotten yourself into now?"

"Net boy?" He muttered, glancing at her.

"You look like an MTV Vee-jay."

He made a quick look down at himself and seemed to notice nothing out of the ordinary. "It's comfortable."

"Riiight..." She continued, her eyes on him. "And what is with the hair?"

"It..." he diverted his eyes from the screen long enough to scowl at her "was a mistake."

"Playing with the boys again?"

His hands left the keyboard to pull a folder from a nearby stack of papers and he grunted his disgust.

"Oh, come on, Krycek. I know you play with the boys. And you look mysteriously well kept even for you. Get a little carried away going underground?"

"Bite me, Kayell." He growled and returned to his work.

"Not that it bothers me...I mean, the Europeans have a whole different outlook on beauty and sex, they're much more open-minded than Americans. I suppose you were quite a find, even at your age."

"Anna, I didn't call you here to have you feed me some blabber about profiles and personal habits."

"Yeah, you promised me I got to play. So tell me why I'm here. Let me guess, you're the newest Backstreet Boy?"

"Anna..." he pointed a finger at her but didn't turn his attention away from the monitor. "I'm warning you..."

"Leave Skinner alone."

Her sudden shift in topic s tartled him out of his concentration and he leaned back from he keyboard, hand dropping into his lap.

"You said everything was going as planned."

"It is." She said, cocking her head to one side and staring at him. "I kept it all under control during your ... absence, didn't I? He's providing that nice, strong shoulder for Scully to cry on and taking most of the blame for Mulder's... sudden disappearance. But I've been thinking -- there is no real reason to continue doing this to Skinner, other than to keep him leashed to whatever vendetta you've held onto."

The crease over the bridge of his nose deepened as he frowned. "I don't think you're much in the position to tell me what to do."

Anna breathed a heavy sigh, leaning back in her chair. "Sure, he never chained *my* ass to a balcony, but you have to keep his option open. Don't trash a tactical advantage just cause he has it coming -- he could be your link to getting time on your side."

"If I needed the Agency's opinion on keeping options open, I'd go read Hussein's file. And y'all did such a bang-up job on Milosevic-"

"Spare me the bullshit...I had nothing to do with either operation, Krycek," Kayell snapped. "Don't color me in with them, you know better."

"Well anyway," he sighed, "just stay on course... don't change anything yet. Not until I'm sure Mulder's really on that ship. He might not be, knowing him..."

"Oh, come on!" Anna growled, leaning forward and kicking his chair. "Don't play stupid with me! You pulled me into this one blind, but you can't expect me to be one of your cronies, not me. I'm not some thug you can bark orders at."

"I can... and I *do*...expect you to do as the plan specifies, no matter who has to fall." His gaze shifted away from the monitor and razored sharp on her. "When did you develop a sudden fondness for Skinner?"

"I just don't see what good he will do us in this position. Unless you have more planned than you're telling me. He may be a pain in the ass but he has his uses."

A printer behind her hummed to life and he glanced beyond her.

"Grab that, would you?"

She swiveled the chair and waited as the paper rolled out. Not taking a peek, she handed it out to him.

"No, that's for you. You want to know what's going on, that's it."

She looked down at the page and squinted. "I think National Geographic would be a better candidate for whatever this is."

"Look closer."

"Give me a glass."

He stood and walked to the other side of the room, rummaging through a desk.

"What is it?" She asked, trying not to think about just how damn good he looked, even in what amounted to 400-dollar sweat pants.

"Another part of the artifact discovered on the African coast."

"Uhhh, Krycek," Anna smirked. "I don't speak any of the African languages, we went through this before. And I thought the old man..."

"It's not the same piece." he grimaced and returned with a magnifying element. "And it's not African."

She took it and scooted up to the table next to his computer, swinging a lamp closer and leaning over the page. He waited as she scanned the image with the element, her dark hair falling over one shoulder. His eyes strayed to the glossy black locks curtained over the paper, and the hint of pale neck beneath.

He aborted the urge to replace the errant strands, focusing instead on his computer screen. A slow burn snaked up from the base of his spine, ignoring his attempt to derail this train before it reached the station. But even his thoughts had a mind of their own; the sudden urge to push the business aside and see just how far his cock would slide down Anna's throat overwhelmed him. Slick and hot, her lips would close over the head and tease just a bit before her tongue assaulted the sensitive spot that -always- made him come...

"It's Navajo." She confirmed, voice muffled by her closeness to the paper. Krycek shook himself from his indulgent thoughts, taking a deep breath. "And it seems to be Code Talk." Kayell straightened and looked over at him. "This was the same as the one found in Africa?"

Krycek cleared his throat and shifted in his leather chair, smoothing at the hair on the back of his head with a nervous swipe.

"Same as the one that made Mulder's brain short out. Same reason he was abducted... I think this is how we're going to get their attention."

"Whose attention?"

Krycek glanced back at his monitor, ignoring her last question. "Does anyone besides me know you decipher Code Talk? Even anyone on the outside?" Kayell frowned and shook her head. "Not on my list of accomplishments with the Agency. Why?"

"Because you're going to help me with this, and if anyone else knows you could figure it out..."

"No one knows. Your MJ files was the only thing I've ever used it for."

He glanced back to the computer screen and frowned. "Why is it that downloads take so long these days?"

"Patience, young grasshopper. Patience and wideband access," Kayell smirked. "Just what is it that you're..."

She rolled her chair closer to his, leaning over his shoulder to take a look at the screen. For a moment Alex could feel her breath on his cheek, and he lost his focus long enough to smell the faint aura of flowers in her brand of shampoo.

"Destination of our next plan of action. It's in the northern Himalayas. Pakistan," he muttered, clicking through a succession of maps and pictures. "Recovery of technology and information that will be used as leverage against the current Powers That Be. I know where there's another ship stowed away. One of the first, maybe. It's been up there for decades, probably centuries. Just...waiting." He let his words hang for a moment, prolonging the melodrama he knew would suck her in. "I have word that an expedition has requested permission to climb peaks in the area..." He glanced at Anna as she studied the information, her face inches from his. "This could be it, nobody but us knows it's there. All we have to do is get to it and it's ours."

Anna's eyes cut to him as the comprehension of his words sunk in. "You're going to strip it. Use it against them... if it hasn't been compromised..."

Alex's lips tightened into a thin smile. "Then we'll have 'em by the balls. All of them."

She leaned away from him, slumping back in her chair. He waited for her to begin the usual argument about risks and tactical exposure, but she remained silent, staring down at the speckled floor tiles. Alex felt his stomach tighten. Kayell was no rookie in spytrade - but there was so much more to the fragile chain of events about to take place. Full knowledge was optional. What she didn't know couldn't hurt her -- yet.

He steeled himself against the plans he had formed; their options had dwindled to few, and decisions had already been made.

"But..." she began, her amber eyes lifting to his. "How do you...what can we...just how do we -get- to it without the news leaking out?"

"Safest way is to do it ourselves -- but *I* can't climb, Anna."

"Surely you don't mean that *I'm* going up there to check it out..."

"Piece of cake for someone raised in northern New Mexico."

"But that doesn't make me Inside, Krycek, this is insane!" She snorted and jumped from her chair, pacing to the other side of the room. "There's absolutely no way we're doing this..."

"We're not..." Alex sighed, rifling through a stack of documents. "Anya and Kolya Kolvarijc are. Their names are on the permits, and ArcticWare Equipment, Inc. is counting on them to fill out the last two spots on their expedition roster to the Karakoram Range. Low cost, minimal exposure. Plus, everyone else was otherwise deposed on other ventures."

"Lucky for us." Anna scowled, leaning against a table shoved against the far wall. "How in the hell do you come up with these ideas?"

Krycek offered a lopsided shrug and swiveled his chair around to face her. "Have anything better to suggest? I can't hire someone out to do this... *we* already know what's out there. Not a whole lot of thugs we can let in on this little secret. So, you're the designated spook for this one."

"I'm always your designated spook." Anna sighed, crossing her arms in front of her tightly. "Absolutely fucking insane. This is up there with our little romp across Siberia... "

Krycek unfolded from his chair and stalked across the room toward her, eyes predatory. Kayell didn't flinch as he closed in, lifting her chin in defiance. Whatever he had to dish out, she could take.

"We don't have much of a choice, Anna," he breathed, his low growl piercing her armor and cutting right through her defense, "this is about much more than you or I or even the shriveled old prunes that used to hold power."

Resist anything, of course, except that gravelly murmur he had honed to perfection.

"I'm sick of trying to save the world, Krycek. Your savior rhetoric got stale a few years ago... we're chasing our tails again. No amount of proof will set the clock back to pre-colonist days."

"Maybe not..." He allowed the tip of his nose to brush her cheek, inhaling her scent as his body pressed against her. She would cave - she always did. All it took was a little persuasion. "But we're dust if we don't try."

Anna felt the heat of his breath on her face, trying desperately to keep her thoughts in order. Krycek would get what he wanted, no matter what it took. She wondered sometimes if it was even worth it to resist, knowing he could bend her will this easily - and even as his lips warmed against hers, soft and imploring, she could feel the hope rising from the ashes again.

"Stop..." she murmured, pushing him away. "Just stop it." Already, she was untangling herself from him and moving across the room. "You can't whore yourself just to get me to go up some damn mountain."

"Is that what you think I'm doing?"

"Yes." She replied and ran her hands through her hair, turning her back to him. "You always use this... you know if you just pull a little on that string, I'll unravel in your hand." She turned to face him, again, waving her hand in the air between them. "Pretend you want to fuck me, and I'll tell you what you need to know. Pretend you love me, and I'll do whatever you need me to do. This is more serious than our stupid little games, Alex. We're talking full-on risk here. This goes way beyond the usual."

"Since when did we have boundaries?" Krycek grinned. "And since when did I pretend to love you?"

Anna held up her hand and signaled for him to stop. "Don't patronize me! I've known you since before any of this -crap-, so don't think I haven't figured a few things out. Alex Krycek gets what he wants any way he can get it. And if that means exploiting poor little Anna's misguided feelings, so be it. I've played this game for too long not to see this for what it is. If you need me to climb the damn mountain, we'll figure this out." She pointed a finger, stabbing into the air. "But don't pull me in just to fill your agenda."

"Anna..." he sighed, edging toward her again. "You're being paranoid again. I wouldn't run the risk of running you off like that... how many times have I asked you to go out on a limb for me?"


He reached out to touch her hair, letting his fingertips trace down her arm lightly until she shivered.

"And how many times have you asked me to go out on a limb for you?" She shot him a sideways glance, and then shook her head. "I haven't really counted-"

"Lots." He finished for her. "This is such a big chance for us, Anna. Someone has to take the reins, and it might as well be our side that wins. What's one more singular opportunity?"

"Still wanting to rule the world, I see. What if I get myself killed? This isn't like sneaking in somewhere and stealing information, Alex."

"Let me worry about the details..." he whispered, leaning in for a kiss. "I've got it covered."

This time his lips were demanding, the press of his body a method of control. He sighed as her arms slid around him, pulling him into her and holding on. The sensual slide of his tongue against hers matched the slow roll of his hips as he backed her against a table stacked with equipment, one hand rucking up her skirt with a ruthless tug.

She ground her hips into him, feeling his hardness in answer. He growled as she bit into his lower lip and shoved his hand under the soft silk of her underwear.

Anna gasped as he flicked her panties down to the floor and dropped to his knees, grinning as he licked his lips with a slow, feral movement. She had barely a moment to react before that tongue was flicking against her clit, his soft lips hot against her sensitive skin. He attacked the sensitive nub with a volley of whorls, kisses, and fluttering flicks with that wet, pink tongue. Those small, quick jabs drew out into long strokes as his eyes focused on her face, the movement of his own hand veiled as he shucked down his pants and palmed his erection. The sight of those glistening emerald eyes boring into her own with such intensity as his mouth strained against her had her hurtling closer to ecstasy with every heartbeat. Her view of the intimate caress of his hand sliding on that swollen cock was too much. But it was his involuntary whimper that sent her over the edge, gripping the edge of the table and crying out as his tongue stroked the pleasure out of her in waves - each ripple searing through her body and back again. "Guess I haven't lost it..." he murmured against her thigh, hot breath sending a violent shiver up Anna's spine. "No, no..." she gasped, tugging at his shoulder. "You surely haven't." Alex followed her lead and launched himself upright, pressing her flat against the table. "I forgot how good you taste and smell..." he groaned, thrusting into her with another soft whimper. He stilled once his cock was buried inside her, breathing fiercely through clenched teeth.

"God..." he panted, pressing his forehead against hers. "It's been too long, I can't..." Anna captured his full lower lip in her teeth and tasted herself on his tongue as it invaded her mouth, shivering as he moaned and thrust again, fast and deep.

"Just come for me." She whispered against his lips.

His hips set a hard, frantic pace that she knew wouldn't last long. Surprise shadowed her mind as she considered that he'd not taken Marita for a spin since his return from North Africa. He couldn't have. Alex Krycek used sex like he used all of the other weapons in his arsenal - and this was not an act of seduction. This was the primal release of months of pent up fear, desperation and anger as he gripped the table edge near her head and slammed his cock home, pulling one more shimmering orgasm from Anna. Her rapid-fire inner convulsions pushed him over the edge, gasping as the first explosions of release ripped through him. His thrusts grew erratic, almost frantic as he rode out the pleasure denied to him all those months locked in hell. Anna clung to him, her legs and arms clutching tight as he bucked out the last ebbs of release. Chest heaving, he collapsed over her, his one arm trembling from the effort of holding himself up.

"Doesn't change anything." Anna breathed, her lungs still pulling for air.

"Didn't think it would." He replied, nuzzling into the softness of her neck. Finally, he pushed off of her and reached for the pants pooled at his ankles. "But can't blame a guy for trying."

Anna rolled her eyes and leaned back on her elbows for a moment, smiling to him as he pulled her skirt back into place.

"I guess conjugal visits weren't policy in El HellHole Hadini." "Not -willing- ones." Krycek smirked, falling back into his office chair with a heavy sigh. "So, you gonna let me in on these plan's you've already made for my high altitude demise?" Kayell asked, swinging her feet as she sprawled across the table.

"What, and spoil the surprise?" He answered and flashed an evil grin with those strong, white teeth gleaming. Anna felt the small hairs on the back of her neck raise.

Definitely the first sign of trouble.

Chapter 2 - Roping Up

"So this is it."

Anna flinched as the voice sounded behind her - but through the puffy layers of spaceage Arctic protection from the cold, it was imperceptible. Even in the desolate expanse of emptiness -where one would usually crave the company of others, it startles her: the sudden presence of another soul teetering on the edge of oblivion. It shocks her into an almost manic state of retreat until she realizes there is nowhere to go but up. Literally.

The voice might have been one of the cruel groans from the ever-shifting glacier below or a phantom howling in the winds above, but she knew better. That husky growl was too familiar to be one of the ghosts that populated this high altitude wasteland. So Kayell kept her eyes trained on the line of a route lifting into the murk ahead and tried to swallow the panic that had threatened for weeks. Even in the slightest graying of dawn, she could make out the clouds drifting halfway up the surreal view of the mountain shoulder. And somewhere beyond were three more camps she had helped push higher up this godforsaken angle of rock.

Today *was* It; their last trip beyond high camp to try for the summit. But her thoughts weren't on the last apex of ice and rock, they were of the terrain surrounding the last stretch of technical climbing, and the booty a hanging glacier promised -- a secret buried in the ice and snow that none of these other adrenaline junkies could fathom.

And she could feel his presence, more than knew it; a shift in the eddies of wind swirling around her legs and hollow fuzz to her perception of space behind her. Anna turned her face into the biting wind and closed her eyes, wishing she were anywhere but here. Anywhere but poised to risk her life for nothing more than the sake of truth and honor. Or at least, mere memories of such abstract concepts... she had lost sight of both years ago. Now, she could only cling to the shreds of dignity she could salvage when this was over.

"Yeah," she sighed, more to herself than anyone. "This is it alright."

Now, dignity and honor seemed way down on the list compared to the simple concept of survival. Her first slide past any sense of pride had come weeks ago, on hands and knees puking her guts out. Never mind she hadn't made it to the next camp, and hadn't even made it past one of her temporary climb partner before the nausea of Altitude Sickness jerked her in half. She'd prayed for a shot of Diamox, but John had only hauled her upright with one beefy hand. "We've got a long way to go yet, just keep moving."

That seemed like years ago to her now, though, and the humility of life at high camp had lowered her modesty level acutely. Somehow the basics of human existence were too important now to giggle over. More important matters were at hand. Like -it-, for instance. The big day.

Six weeks of never ending torture culminating into one long climb into the heavens. Behind her were countless hours spent watching the weather and cursing fat, wet flakes as they pounded her tent. Sleepless nights listening to the mountain shake loose tons of snow in roaring slides of ice and powder. Agonizing stretches of time clinging to the marble-hard edge of a hanging serac by the points of your crampons and hoping //praying// it won't topple under your weight. Climbing was a yo- yo dance of pushing yourself to the limit; your lungs screaming for oxygen, your muscles cramping tight against dehydration. Exhaustion signaled your retreat -- to lower tents or to the safety of Base Camp beyond the dangerous hanging slabs of ice in the surging Ice Fall. The nights were blurs of unbearable cold and hypoxic insomnia, meals whittled to whatever your stomach could keep down.

Anna was sure hell wasn't a molten river of lava as most assumed: it was the rime ice-frosted side of a mountain in the Himalayas.

Through the dawn came the metallic clatter of ice axes swinging against harnesses, followed by a windswept hint of conversation. They wouldn't be alone for long. Almost on instinct Kayell ran a mental check of all her gear stowed at higher camps - of all the plans Krycek had briefed her on, and strained her eyes to see a higher peak nearby beyond the thick of clouds.

"Focus on something larger, push yourself higher" she whispered to herself quietly. It was one of the few things that would beat back her fear - to remind herself things could be much, much worse. There were tougher climbs, worse weather. This might be their only window of chance to push high enough to make it to her goal only a couple hundred meters from the summit. But that white band of glacier seemed so far away, shining like a wide vein of silver against the black and white pyramid above -- and well worth the eighteen hours to reach it.

"Confidence," she breathed to herself. "Confidence and control, keep your eyes open Kayell." She was accustomed to flying by the seat of her pants when it came to making her cover as accurate and natural as possible. But when it came to climbing mountains, she figured this was about as unnatural a cover as anyone could manufacture. A pair of Ukrainian mountain climbers trying to pad their guiding resume. What else could one expect from the brain of Alex Krycek. The American climbers on this expedition applauded 'Anya' for continuing their quest even after 'Alyosha' lost his arm to frostbite. His unusual attention to details impressed her, but she knew the real test was before the other climbers. But that was Alex's grand scheme, to distract them with his gruesome proof of harsh Russian climbs and worse Russian medicine. They would have never guessed it was only half a lie. But that was Alex - his plans were usually ripe with genius, wrought with difficulty, and insanely flawed. Not to mention, they usually involved Anna in a precarious position she would curse herself for later. She wondered how the hell he had talked her into this one -- how how she would get herself out.

Kayell smiled as the crest of a sun not seen for at least a week breeched the horizon far out of sight, weaving a glorious symphony of color and light across the Banotain Glacier. A bright, crisp morning would chase away the remaining wisps of clouds. This was the weather they had been waiting for. She contemplated how much she had learned in the last few weeks, and the strange ways of the mountain-bound soul. But the sharp clarity of purpose cuts deep life was something for others to enjoy. Even as the other climbers made their way past the flagged start of the climb-trail, she felt below them. They were here to follow dreams, to chase goals- she was merely here because of the man who stood so near she could feel him. Her summit wasn't that small slip of rock and ice that hovered so far out of reach - it was something lower. Something darker.

Kayell felt the panic rise in her once more but she wrestled it into submission, letting the sharp licks of icy wind sting her face without shying. The shock braced her for what lie ahead, shaking her to the core of her fears. She could very well die up there. Anna had faced bullets, unplanned excursions stealing all types of information, and countless sticky situations. But she had always been well within her means. This endeavor meant stepping outside her comfortable world of espionage and tricks of spy trade to tiptoe alone in a world far above, instead of her usual station below.

Krycek edged the last few feet between them, kicking a mound of ice away from the rocks. His thick boots stood solid on the teetering moraine, one arm waving for a moment for balance among the uneven scree. It figures she's ignoring him, trying to pretend she's alone out here by herself. "You can do this," he shouts into the wind, breath flowing out in thick clouds. "WE can do this." He caught a glimpse of her face and his stomach tightend as he realized she'd been crying. Tiny crystals of ice cling to her black lashes even after she wipes the tears away.. "We don't have a choice. And neither do I. If we're to have any chance-" "I've told you," he interrupted her, white teeth flashing in the morning glow. "I have their word... it's up there." He sees her wipe at her face again, almost angrily, and turn back into the wind. Kayell would never admit she's afraid although it's clear she's terrified. He wrapped his arm around her, barely able to get a good embrace through her layers of fleece and shouldered coils of rope. But through the bulk he feels her tremors. "I'm not scared, Alex..." she said over the wind and turned slowly. "I'm fucking petrified. How the hell am I going to do this? I have no clue what I'm doing, I could get myself killed, or one of them figure out what's up there..." She gestured to the cluster of figures clad in varying shades of blue, yellow and red strung around the trailhead.

The climbers had lit a branch of juniper and murmured Sherpa prayers of blessing learned from Nepali expeditions as they passed. Already, strings of multi-colored flags snapped noisily in the breeze, each wave sending a prayer to the heavens. She felt she might as well have been on the moon.

"I dunno, Alex..." Kayell babbled nervously and slid into the embrace. "It's so fucking -cold-. It wasn't this cold yesterday, or last week.... must be 10 below and we're not even to Camp 1 yet. I just have this bad feeling. Really bad feeling..." A shimmer of pain pulled at him, but he gave the guilt a ruthless mental shove aside. This could be like nothing before- it wasn't like they had much of a choice. But she's power and grace, even through the plumps of heavy clothing and woven thread. Beneath all of this is Anna. Still the same. Smelling of juniper flowers and gun oil, such a deadly, wonderful mixture. The urge to tell her all of it rolls across him but he shrugs it off. At least this gives them a good shot at turning the tide once and for all, even without the consortium. Desperate times, desperate measures. Something they're both well accustomed to. If she truly knew what all was at stake... but their opportunity might dissolve before it can take shape. Just one more singular opportunity. He had to put his trust in Anna: fierce and determined, currently wide- eyed and mortal without any covert skills to use. This is her version of 'naked', exposed to the world with only a small bit of luck to cling to. She likes better when time's on her side. If any of her marks could see her now.

But Anna's still mumbling into the wind, only half her words reaching his ears. "... and I dunno how I'm gonna do this. I can't feel my feet, I haven't eaten in days... they have no idea I'm making this all up as I go along. I know nothing about this shit, and here I am trying climb a goddamn mountain-" "You're gonna be fine." He soothed as she clung to him frantically. "No different that any other fucked up idea, right?" He hears her small bark of laughter before the wind tears it away.

Their plan against the world is a complex mixture of guesswork and simple mathematics. But his game with Anna was nothing more than a match of emotional chess. He knows her strengths more than she does. And like stage fright before opening night, he knows this is nothing more than a case of nerves. The lines are memorized, the moves layed out -- all that's left is precise execution. "You know, climbing this bitch is only half my problem." She said, shouldering her loaded rucksack. "Don't worry about that," He smirked, tugging on the long black braid that had somehow escaped from her layers of clothing. "Just get back down here to Base Camp." "I'll do my best." "No, promise me." His gaze sharpened to a fine, dangerous edge. "I promise, I promise..." She called, motioning toward her team mates as they leaned on their ice axes and gauged the soup of clouds still veiling the upper half of the mountain. He leaned in and kissed her quickly on the cheek, his cold lips and hot breath alien to her warmth-starved skin. "Be careful, Anna." "Keep a channel open for me." She lingered for a moment, fighting her instinct to call the whole thing off. But Krycek is right - without this chance, their fates were sealed along with everyone else populating the planet. And they didn't even know.

Her hand slipped from his slowly, Alex watching her bright red glove as if it all was in slow motion. His last chance to save her - their last chance to say it. What there was to say, he wasn't quite sure. But as she put more distance between them, it seemed less important.

Krycek pulled the hood of his down coat over his face, disappearing into the yellow layers. He turned to cross the ice with a grim determination. They would not fail this. Then he stood on the edge of the trail and watched the line of climbers ascend into the distance until they are a necklace of colored gems against the white neck of the mountain.

And she was right; climbing this mountain was the least of their worries.

Chapter 3 - Glissade

[small note: 'Glissade' is a term used to describe sliding down a slope (sometimes standing, sometimes sitting) as a way of descending quickly with less effort]

Before her lie a carpet of velvety white marshmallow crème, behind her a cloud of sugary fluff. The snows glowed surreal in the midnight light from a sliver of moon and the sweep of Anna's headlamp beam. But this wasn't reality...couldn't be: it was nothing but tasteless, irrevocably cold snow.

Her mind was playing tricks again.

Somewhere in the back of Anna's oxygen-starved brain, she knew she should have been scared. Too tired to summon the energy to be afraid, she was somewhat glad. Tacking her way up a slope at twenty-seven thousand feet wasn't really the time to panic anyway.

Sneaking away from camp without so much as what she had been wearing had cemented her role in this latest game. As if climbing this bitch hadn't signed her name on the rent check just yet, she was flying without a net. No bivouac equipment for shelter, only a hopelessly overdesigned down suit. Alpine style espionage at its worst. She wondered idly, as she watched the spiked edges of her crampons slide into another perfectly formed mound of cracking snow, what the going rate was for a guide that excelled in climbing incognito. Perhaps she'd have something to fall back on someday.

Granted, the guys on her team were guides themselves - and they weren't exactly wearing Rolexes. She'd have to take one big paycut if this was in her future-- and surely there wasn't much of a future for anyone who did this as a living. This team seemed a bit too at home wrapped in many layers of sleeping bags, cozy within the nylon confines of a domed tent. When the winds and altitude permitted, they slept like babes nestled against their mother's breast.

Only this was one huge mother -- and her breast was damn cold.

If any of the team awoke, they would only assume she had gone to answer nature's call. Peeing through a plastic contraption inside a two-man tent while strapped to the exposed side of a ridge wasn't doable with the coordination of a 4 year old. Add to that the rationale of a 5 year old and the fun blows right out of it. So she was alone at last.

No irritating baritone droning on from her climbing partner like the roar of the jet-stream blasting the summit peak above. John's constant babbling was becoming a strain...mostly because Anna had yet to figure how he could still have so much energy with yapping like he did. He wanted to confess to her every sin - every misdeed since his days as a pudgy uncoordinated pre-pubescent outcast. She figured it was because they assumed she didn't speak much english. The whole team carried on as if the wasn't there, motioning to her with their gloved hands and smiling. She was finding their Tarzan-like attempts of conversation increasingly amusing. Their sentences were fragments of direction, held together with the hope that "Anya's" English could pull it together.

Too bad they weren't going to reach the summit - she'd grown accustomed to the team's rhetoric of sunlit poses and soaring vista views. Even if the weather held out, which it didn't seem to be doing, her goal was to get to the far side of the glacier and collect her data. Then, she would push for the team to retreat down the mountain. No sense in spending any more time up here than absolutely necessary. Her thoughts turned to a world that lie far below, warm and soft in a cocoon of normalcy and as usual, she was nowhere in it. Fascinated to watch her mind as it slowed to a crawl, she could almost see her mood slide into an exhausted melancholy at this pace. Her whole body was shutting down, numb from the battering wind and cold, buzzing from the lack of oxygen. Better not to think about life in the Death Zone.

Instead, she focused on her breathing. One step forward, one breath in. One step forward, one breath out. She could hear the minute beep of her GPS unit as it marked off distance from camp, the transceiver swinging from a harness tool loop already loaded with gear. Accurate to five inches, the man at the shop had told her. Up here, five inches was a hell of a big step.

A light dusting of snow filtered across her headlamp's glow, and she snapped it off for a moment to rest. Breaking trail had burned what small amount of energy she still had - and something told her she was going to need more.

"Hey..." she called into the hand-held radio leashed to her coat sleeve. "How far?" Alex's voice crackled back. "I dunno... couple hundred yards or something." "You need to watch closely - there should be a crevasse nearby. A big one." Anna leaned over her ice axe."And-" she gasped, lungs nearly frantic for oxygen. "And it's there...on the edge. Maybe in it."

Kayell pushed on a few more feet before she noticed the dip in terrain. A crevasse almost hidden by high snows could have swallowed a whole team of climbers that weren't paying attention. Or, hide something terribly old and decidedly alien.

"Any landmarks?" She barked into the radio, leaning back into a tall drift. It had been a second- nature question, one normally asked between pointmen waiting for a mark. It didn't register in her foggy comprehension that he wasn't here, and couldn't possibly know. Nevermind the fact there was no mark, and wouldn't be one.

A full minute passed and Kayell peered up both ends of the crevasse. Where was he, off taking a piss? Surely not. Perhaps the batteries were freezing up - it had happened at camp III. A few hours tucked inside her sleeping bag had brought them back to life. But Anna didn't have a few hours, or a sleeping bag. Now was not a good time for the radio to play games.

Finally, Alex's growl crackled to life. "Yeah, there's probably a wide mouth. It's caught on the edge of a snow bridge." Had Kayell been more observant, she would have thought to ask just how he knew. Shrugging to her feet, she kicked steps up the mild slope and watched the edge of the crevasse flow upwind.

And there, as if simulating a scene from some B-rated horror movie, the veritable bony hand reached above the snowdrifts. One sharp edge of the craft jutted up from the slick edge of the abyss, a striking contrast to the natural curves and shapes formed from the near-constant winds. There could be no mistake: it was here.

"Bingo," She called into the radio, already struggling toward the geometric shadows.

"No shit?"

"Yeah." Kayell logged the position into her GPS unit and made sure to burn the numbers into her memory just in case. There wouldn't be a return trip up this hill for any reason.

"Got the graphs. Need anything else? The winds are really picking up out here."

Kayell hunched a shoulder against the gusts coating her hood with rime. The moon had slipped behind a veil of clouds, and it dissapated her wave of relief at reaching their goal. Even if she had the proof they needed, there was still the return trip back to basecamp.

"Well...actually..." Alex said, and Anna could almost hear the cringe in his voice.

The dread was already sinking in as she pressed her thumb into the radio. "Excuse me? What was that?"

"Anna, just listen to me for a second."

"I'm turning around and heading back to camp."

"No, listen... you can do this, it's a snap."

Anna poked the edge of the ship with the stake-end of her ice-axe and felt the cold vibration all the way up through her spine. This thing was alive.

"Bullshit, I'm outa here. You have your coordinates."

"Stop and think about it, Anna. Everything we need to blow the lid off the Old Man's plan is right there."

He could almost hear her laugh over the static. "First of all, the Old Codger's out of commission. But yeah, no problem, Alex. I'll just stuff this in my rucksack. Think the porters will care?"

"Anna, just stay with me here."

She didn't want to think about what he was planning. Whatever it was, the odds were against them. And with the storm moving in, their numbers were getting lower.

Still, she *was* here. And so was *It*. "Give me your idea THEN I'll decide."

"First, you'll need to orient yourself. How much of it can you see?"

Anna moved the beam of her headlamp side to side, gauging the edges of the craft. "Four or five feet. I don't even know what I'm looking at ... these angles are all wrong. Alex, I'm cold."

"I'll be quick... now, on the edge, are there shapes?"



"What is this, fucking Sesame Street? I don't have *time* for this shit." Anna yelled, kicking a ball of snow off her crampons.

"I'm trying to get you inside that thing, Anna. If you can get to the top, I can get you in."

He heard her laughter over the radio, and knew she was keeping the channel open on purpose. Either that, or she was showing early signs of Cerebral Edema. If that was the case, she would become confused and belligerent soon, and getting her off the mountain would be nearly impossible.

"I'm NOT going in there. Never ever ever."

"How else are we getting what we need?"

"Fucking don't know, don't care." She answered quickly, and let her finger off the 'talk' button. "What's in there that we can use, anyway?"

"Proof. Undeniable, solid fact proof."

Anna poked at the thing with her ice-axe again, testing its holding strength. It felt stable enough... "Alright, where's the door on this thing?"

"Up to the top." Alex replied, his teeth bared in a wide grin.

Anna dropped to her knees and crawled out onto the metal wing, raking the snow out of her way with the head of her axe. On either side, the maw of the crevasse yawned up at her. She could have sworn she smelled fresh brewed coffee.

"Top dead center." She called, letting the radio fall free on its leash.


Alex leaned back in his canvas director's chair, still smiling to himself. This was all going just as planned. Precise execution to the letter.

"Yeah," he called into the radio, cocking his head to the right to peek out the half-open tent flap. "Just push it in."

A squeak of static burst through his headphones as he waited for her response. From his angle at the communications tent to the far east of camp, he could see the others as they slept. Speaking in Russian was only one way to mask their transmission. But even now, he was sure no one was within ear shot.

"Nothing's happening." A small, faraway voice replied through the wall of static.


Anna was sure she'd followed his directions. Careful not to snag her suit-leg on one of the sharper points of her crampons, she pushed harder on the tiny raised emblem.

Still nothing moved.

"I'm not sure I'm..."


Alex heard a commotion through the open channel and pressed on the earpiece, closing his eyes. He held his breath, trying to will himself to see what was going on thousands of feet above.

"Anna? You alright?" He called, straining to hear something over the static.


Anna felt the cold, hard surface under her back. Above her, spindrift floated in from the slightly bluer hole in the ceiling.

She was in.

Somehow her headlamp had been knocked off, and her ice axe was held only by the thin leash around her wrist. Alex's voice called from the small radio on her sleeve and it echoed inside the empty walls of the ship.

"I'm ok, I'm alright." She said, scrambling to her feet.

"What the hell happened?"

"I fell in. I figured there'd be a ladder, or a ramp, or something."

Despite the cover of clouds, an eerie glow eminated from the square door above. Waiting to allow her eyes to adjust, Anna tried to make out the interior of the craft.

"What am I looking for? This thing looks cleaned out..."

A shiver raced up her spine, her senses lurching to life as if a switch had been flipped: her every instinct was to run, but the hole above was too high to reach. A dizzy thought pressed on her, flashes of past fears realized and forgotten. A rush of adrenaline kickstarted her heart and lungs into overdrive, already overtaxed with the lack of fuel.

She knew she should have packed an oxygen tank just in case.

"Alex..." she whispered, her arm wrapped over the opposite shoulder to reach the radio. "Alex, I don't think I'm alone."

A soft, quiet voice repeated itself over and over in her head, don't move. Stay still.

She did as she was told.

"Alex..." she called again, catching movement out of the corner of her eye. A duck and run in a full down suit, plastic double boots and crampons was much harder than she thought it would be.

That split second of perfect, crystal clear clarity in thought, purpose, and decision flashed bright as shadows took shape.

Anna stared into something so dark, she could see herself in its reflection.


Alex heard the first scream and tore the headphones off, switching the volume as low as it would go. He scrambled back from the table of audio equipment and barely missed knocking over two chairs. There was nothing he could do. Nothing but listen, and hope.

A tight, panicked shiver snaked through him, electric tendrils licking him like fire. Even without the headphones, he could still hear her screams in his head. Twisting, struggling terror-filled shrieks that ended abruptly. A strange, familiar tingle edged at the corners of his mind.

Then there was nothing but the light tapping of the tent guides as they rattled in the wind, and the flapping of the prayer flags above.


She could hear the screech of her crampons on metal, the raw taste of bile in her mouth. The cold was gone, however, and somehow she moved on, muscles moving of their own volition.


She'd read of this sort of thing happening to High Altitude climbers. Your senses dull, your mind fuzzes, then you stumble off the edge of a cornice down 2000 feet of jagged free-falling rock. Otherwise you stop to rest and never get back up. Other expeditions find your frozen, wind-baked body and wonder if you died a peaceful death.

Below her feet, there is snow again, and the satisfying crunch of hard pack. Random thoughts circle in her brain, oddly chased by shadows she can't put a finger on. All she knows is that she's getting off this goddamn mountain and never coming back.

Behind her, there is a low groan in the darkness, barely audible over the wind. Her footing trembles, as if the rug had been pulled out from under her.

For some reason she turns, watching the wing-tip of the craft as it slides out of view. A remote pang of sadness hits her, bleak and cold until the shadows in her mind scurry away with it. The wind ceases for a slim moment, its howl practically sucked from the air and she knows what this is. Without ever having learned, some primeval instinct roars to life.


She barely has time to react before the solid impact of twelve tons of ice toss her like a ragdoll. But still, her mind floats somewhere outside her body, numb to the pain of limbs cartwheeling and ligaments snapping. The force of it is overwhelming -- nature at its purest, cleanest form. Scouring the mountain with impeccable certainty and then tapering into a wide berth of random havoc. She's aware the Slide has stopped, and that the ridge looming to her left was just above where her camp had been.

All that was left was a clean, smooth canvas glowing in the faint moonlight, instead of three yellow tents.

They had all been swept down the Cwm, still snug in their bags.

Anna sunk down into the deep, smooth snow and felt a faraway emotion welling up in her, something that felt remarkably like despair. But it seemed miles away from reach, just beyond the circling shadows occupying her mind. It was already taking stock of the equipment lost in the slide, most importantly her pack. But her ice tool had remained leashed to her hand, even though the rope connecting it to her harness had snapped. The oily phantom invading her every cell was quickly repairing the damage her body took in the avalanche - and keeping her terror shielded behind a wall of careful control. Already it had sorted through various memories for information and had decided on the comfortable, familiar dialogue she was most accustomed to.

//You're not dying, just get up and move//

Anna stared up at the sparkling stars peeking through the clouds and nodded to herself. Just a few mintutes of rest, then she'd start picking her way down the Cwm.

//No, you're going to get up and go -now-//

She didn't remember getting to her feet, but felt her muscles act without her asking. Her fear wailed at something dark floating in her subconscious, but it never quite reached her.

//They didn't suffer, you know that. The ship had to be destroyed. You know that too. But he didn't tell you all the plan, did he?//

Anna shook her head, stumbling down a steep slope of soft snow. He never said anything about this...

//You would have never agreed if you knew//

"Damn Skippy," she whispered to the drifts. Something like laughter flitted in her mind.

//He was concerned for your safety. As he is now. They heard the avalanche from below... but he knows you survived//

She glanced at her shoulder and saw only the frayed end of the tie where her radio once was. Just how could he know?

//He simply knows. But he believes it's instinct, or hope. He still has a vestige of communication leftover from his experience in the past with one of us... He's not fully aware of the exact nature or scope of this trait, but he's managed to refine it somewhat recently. How do you think he arranged this agreement? I'm provided someone with the proper skill and temperment, and his plan goes forward under our direction.//

At her feet was a near-vertical drop of ice and rock, the fixed ropes swept away by the slide. One tattered remenant floated in the wind for a few feet, almost mocking her with its slow snake of a dance.

"Edge of the Cwm..." she muttered to herself dumbly. All her senses were dulled, as if a blanket had been tossed over her brain. The cold reached her, however, with the ebbing of adrenaline.


That one simple word echoed in her head until it lost all meaning and took the shape of dark oily streams before her eyes, as if she were looking through muddy glass. Suddenly it seemed so perfect an idea, she thanked her visitor and complied.

Her knees buckled, crampons scritching on the frozen rock and then she was sliding, clutching her axe to her chest as she slid down the sheer face of ice. Halfway to the bottom, she maneuvered her body over and swung her ice tool into the hard pack, slowing her momentum as she neared the foot of the pitch.

But as she sat in the cold snow catching her breath, a low rumble from behind her caught her attention.

//Just a small storm//

Flakes began to cloud her view, moving up from below. Soon, everything around her was gone from view but a torrent of windblown snow, stinging her face and filtering in through every seam in her clothing.

'So I suppose you know this place pretty well,' Anna thought to herself, guessing the dialogue with the oil wasn't one sided.

//You have no idea. So little of us left, and so far apart. Not much to occupy this high - I know the pulse of this mountain as I know your pulse now//

Kayell moved on despite the whiteout, relying on the strange instinct of direction the oil provided. Somehow, she would get through this. If only to make sure Krycek got what he deserved.

//Just remember// It told her simply, letting just a hint of emotion reach her, //Without this, without - us-, you have no chance. They have no chance.//

Anna dropped to her knees in the steep snow as It allowed herself to reconnect, all the fear and pain breaking through the wall of oil until It left her sobbing in a heap, curled into a ball on the edge of oblivion.

More soon