It was official. Fox Mulder had resigned from the Fringe Division. Mulder, her partner of five years, back when Fringe was just themselves, and a bunch of cold cases with an "X" designation, working out of the FBI basement in DC. Back when there still was a Federal Bureau of Investigation. Dana had read the memo when it came through, but she needed to see him. She wanted, no, she needed to hear him say the words before she'd believe it. As long as she'd known him, his passion for the work was what had defined him. While she was working with him, it had begun to define her as well.
"Mulder, are you sure this is what you want? Fringe Division will still need good officers, even under the auspices of the Department of Defense." Dana felt equal parts dismayed and relieved that he was leaving law enforcement for good. She wanted him to be safe, as safe as one could be in a world where the fabric of the universe was coming unraveled. But she wanted him to be happy, too, and it was hard to imagine Mulder happy outside of Fringe.
Mulder looked up from his piles of boxes and files. "I know what you're thinking. You think I can't be happy unless I'm chasing monsters. But I can, Scully. I'm not essential. They are finally taking Fringe seriously, adding personnel, adding all kinds of tech. But the kind of investigative work I used to do here, the kind we did, that's not the primary mission now." There was nothing she could say to that; he was right. The transition of Fringe to Defense had meant Mulder had to be willing to lead one of the new para-military response units.
"Besides, I don't want to work for Broyles. I'm not cut out for that kind of pain. It was hard enough working under Skinner, and he was just an ex-Marine. Frankly, I think the Colonel's relieved." He grinned. "Charlie's staying, though. In fifteen years, he'll be running the place himself."
Dana snorted. "Crazy Charlie Francis? Running Fringe? Only if he survives."
Mulder nodded. "I managed. But then, I had you to save my ass, at least until you jumped ship."
Damn him. Are we back to that again? "Mulder, you didn't need me, you never did. I've been more useful to your cause in the lab than I ever was in the field." She squared her shoulders and forced herself to look him straight in the eye. "Besides, I'm not here to argue with you. I'm here to say good-bye and good luck. Have a wonderful life." She took a step backward toward the door.
He looked stricken. "Wait. You don't understand, Scully. I'm getting out of the car, finally. Just like we'd talked about. But I'm not leaving you. I want..." He put down the file he'd been juggling awkwardly.
She was puzzled. "What do you want from me? You know I'm not leaving now. My work here is important. If I have to do it working for the Department of Defense--"
Suddenly, he'd erased the distance between them. He took her hand, gave her that look, the one she'd ignored for years. Brought her fingertips to his lips, kissed each one in turn. "Mulder."
"That's my name." He was kissing the back of her hand as though she was a French heroine in a 19th century bodice ripper, tender caresses that were literally making her weak in the knees, even as she tried not to laugh.
"Mulder." She was losing the ability to form complete sentences. Concentrate, Dana. Subject. Predicate. "What are you doing?" He pulled her into his arms and began nuzzling her neck. Oh that felt so...
"I thought that was obvious. Apparently, I've lost my touch. Lack of practice, I suppose." He bit down gently on her ear lobe.
That was enough to bring her out of her Mulder-trance. She pushed him away. "We haven't even been out on a date."
Mulder grinned. "Are you asking me out? Great. I accept. Where do you think we should go?" He was back to kissing her fingertips again. This had to stop.
"The View," she said, managing to pull her hand away. The rooftop restaurant at the Times Square Marriott was the first place that popped into her head. Maybe she'd always wanted to go there with him. Sit at a window table, watch the candle light reflected in his eyes as the restaurant slowly revolved around the cityscape. "But you need to finish packing first," she said, without much conviction. Somehow they had migrated closer to his desk. She stepped backward, and felt its edge pressing against her bottom. She moved quickly aside as she saw his eyes glance first at her and then at the newly pristine surface.
He never had gotten her that desk. He'd promised to make it up to her, but that was not exactly what she'd had in mind.
"Okay," he said, most reluctantly.
They didn't make it to the restaurant that night, or the next. But he took her there the night he proposed three months later. And three months after that, the night she told him she was pregnant with William.
As he took in the news, his eyes lit up like the National Cathedral at Christmas time. No Pinot Noir for her for the next nine months, but she could still enjoy-- the view.
Dana didn't panic when Mulder was later than usual arriving home. He'd been late before commuting home from the weekly lecture he gave at Boston University. The train schedules had been erratic for years, ever since the Amber quarantines began. Sometimes he forgot to charge his phone. Nights when she knew he wouldn't be home before the children's bedtimes were Mommy nights. She made her special macaroni and cheese, let them stay up a half an hour late. Read to each of them. That was usually Mulder's job, so she enjoyed taking her turn. By 8:30, they were fed, bathed and tucked into bed. He was usually home by 10:00 pm. At 11:00, she decided to clean. She couldn't read or work. In between scrubbing the grout in the bathroom tiles, she tried his phone several times. The three messages ranged in tone from mildly irritated at the beginning to panicked at the last. The fourth time she called, she found herself routed to a recording: "The Bell North phone number you have been trying to reach is not responding. Please check your number or try again later." The final call she made that night was to Charlie Francis, who promised to try to track Mulder down just as soon as he could get free. There had been another level two event in Boston.
The next morning she called her secretary to say she wouldn't be in, explaining that there was a family emergency. She dropped William off at school and took Holly to the sitter as usual, telling them only that Mulder had been delayed. Though she had already showered once, she got in again, letting the warm water run over her aching shoulders and neck. Her phone sat silently on the counter top. She changed her outfit twice, then waited on the couch in the living room. The news of the latest quarantine incident was on all five news channels. She switched it off.
She tried to pray.
Charlie's call never came. Instead, there was a knock on the door.
She refused to believe it at first, insisted on seeing the video footage for herself. But it was true. He had entered the train station at 4:20 pm. He had never left.
Charlie sat down next to her, opened a video file on the Fringe site for her to see. "This eyewitness report is still incomplete, but you can watch what's been recorded so far, Dana. After the quarantine alarm sounded, Mulder saved dozens of lives down there. Helped safely evacuate the car he was in, and the two on either side. He carried a man who'd been in a wheelchair to safety and went back to see if there was anyone else who couldn't get out. He was such a fast runner." He shook his head. "And you know how he was."
Yes. Yes, of course she did. Fox Mulder. Jumping off a bridge onto a moving train to find the truth. Hijacking an out-of-service gondola on Skyland Mountain to save her from Duane Barry.
"He thought he could outrun the Amber."
Her face was composed and her hands were folded carefully on top of her lap. Unconsciously, she leaned forward a little as the Secretary looked over her resignation and request for transfer.
He continued to stare at the tablet on his desk and cleared his throat. "I was very sorry to hear about your husband, Dr. Scully. Although we will miss your expertise at Fringe, your request for transfer to a research position will be expedited. I imagine you'll be wanting to take some time off to be with your family."
"No. I plan to return to work as soon as possible. I've made all of the necessary arrangements," she said carefully.
He looked up at her then. Maybe that was not the answer he'd expected. "I see. We'll have to find you some laboratory space. I'll talk to Dottie about assigning you an office."
She was relieved. "Thank you, sir." There was no better place to work, especially given what she hoped to focus her research on.
"As far as the proposal you submitted. Naturally, it will have to go through the usual committees for funding, but I have to say, I don't think you should waste any more time on this. No one feels any worse than I do about the casualties but there is simply no way to remove those bodies safely, not without compromising the structural integrity of the Amber itself. We can't put more lives at risk."
She didn't want to do that. "I understand that, sir. But I think it should be studied anyway. Maybe the victims are in a kind of suspended animation. What if they could be removed safely?"
He shook his head. "Dr. Scully. You're a gifted scientist. But I created Amber 31422. I know its properties. If there was a way..."
"What if they're still alive?" she said softly.
That's the first thing she had to find out for certain.
He pushed back in his chair and stood up. "Submit your proposal. Secure the funding. Then go from there. Perhaps I'm wrong."
That was a bit too easy. "Then I can have access to your own research?" she said warily.
"I'll help you in any way I can. But you're a medical doctor, a forensic pathologist, not a chemist or a physicist. I doubt it will mean much to you."
So he didn't think she was up to the task. We'll see about that. "Thank you," she said.
Though her research proposal was accepted, the funding was stalled. Well, she'd just have to find other means. She'd build a time machine if that's what it took to get him back.
Two men wearing fedoras sitting in a nondescript diner in a black vinyl booth ordered from the menu and waited patiently. When the food arrived, they poured large amounts of Tabasco sauce on their entrées, draining the bottle.
"Did we do the right thing?" asked the one wearing the gray suit. His face was bland, devoid of emotion and hairless.
"He was not – important." The one wearing the brown suit concentrated on the hot sauce. He didn't want to miss a spot. Like his companion, his face was smooth. He frowned a little.
"No, he was not. Not in this universe. This world is too damaged. The Oiliens have gone," Gray Suit agreed.
"She is important."
"She is important."
"We will watch her more carefully," they chanted in unison, nodding.
Brown Suit tasted his food. "We need more of the Tabasco."
Grey Suit did the same. "Yes. I will ask our waitress to bring us each a bottle."
She had read the attachment on the Joshua Rose case through, then read it again. There were already replies to it and replies to the replies. She couldn't look. Not until she'd had time to think about what it meant. She packed up her things, told her secretary she had a dental appointment and left for home.
She tried to act normally at dinner. When they were done eating, she sent William and Holly off to do their homework, helped her mother with the dishes, then sat down to reread the email. There was a message waiting on her personal account from her sister-in-law.
Let's meet for lunch next week. How's Friday at noon? Let me know as soon as possible.
It was in code, of course. Mulder's sister was a well-known member of AVID, Amber Victims International Defense, and an outspoken human rights lawyer. It was certain Samantha's email was being read and her phone tapped.
She thought quickly. "Mom. I'm out of tampons. I need to run to Kroger's. Is there anything you need?"
They met in the produce department, where Samantha had discovered a small camera-free zone. As they talked about family and the weather, Samantha reached over and placed a small plastic compact in Dana's purse. "This is important. Look at it tonight. We can meet in the park at lunch tomorrow."
"Are you sure it's safe to meet again so soon?" Dana objected.
Sam's eyes surveyed the room. "No. I'm not sure. Please, just look at the disc."
Dana nodded. She was certain she already knew what was on it. What she had yet to decide was what to do with that information.
It was cooler than she'd expected, despite the sunlight filtering through the trees onto the bench where she sat in Central Park. Her container of left-over chicken salad sat untouched on her lap. She shivered. Maybe it was fortunate she'd taken the entire day off. She hadn't slept.
She was startled when Samantha sat down next to her. "Sam. I didn't see you."
Samantha unwrapped her sandwich. "What did you think?" she asked.
"I think we need more information," Dana said carefully. She opened up the lid of her Tupperware and stabbed at the lettuce.
"Then get it. Your clearance level is … " Samantha said evenly.
"Probably not high enough to access this," she lied. "It's Fringe division, security level one. My department is research-oriented, much of it theoretical, and we don't necessarily receive level one briefings unless the information is pertinent to our field."
"Damn it, Dana. You used to be a supervisor in Forensic Pathology at Fringe! They didn't take away your security clearance."
Samantha's anger was understandable but she had no idea what she was getting into here.
"I'll try to find out more. But I need to be careful. I think I may be close to a break-through in my research. I don't want to lose my clearance or my position." She didn't want to end up in prison either but that didn't need to be said. She picked at the salad. Maybe she could change the subject. "How are your parents?"
"You're changing the subject." Samantha sighed. "Fine, I suppose. Dad is still drinking too much. Mom has been coping better than I expected. Her decision to go back to teaching after Dad retired seems to have been good for her. They're hoping you'll come up for the holidays. Is your mother going to San Diego?"
"We haven't talked about it yet. But I'll ask." Dana said, seeing her sister-in-law's face. "I know how much they enjoy seeing the children." William and Holly were their only grandchildren, and likely to remain so. Samantha had broken up with her fiance after her involvement with AVID took over her life. Between the hours spent organizing and her full-time job, there was no time left for a relationship. Sam didn't seem to care.
"How is Will? He seemed so quiet the last time I came over." Samantha's face softened.
"He is doing as well as can be expected. He misses his father." Holly was only two when it happened so she can't recall a father. She avoided looking at Sam. Maybe she wouldn't ask.
"How are you doing?" Sam said hesitantly.
Dana forced herself to face her sister-in-law. "I miss him, too," she said simply.
Samantha nodded. "I never realized what he must have gone through, what my parents went through when I was kidnapped..."
And now they were going through it again, except this time, there was no FBI to call in to save the day. Dana reached over and squeezed her sister-in-law's hand. "I'll let you know what I find out."
There was only one place for her to go with information this explosive.
"Turn off the tape, Frohike," Dana insisted.
She doubted that. "I wondered if you were free for dinner. You three haven't been by to see us lately. William misses you." The Gunmen refused to let her into their lair after she went to work for Defense, and really, she couldn't blame them. It was safer for all concerned if they kept to neutral territory.
There was silence on the other end. "What time did you have in mind?" he said finally.
"How about six? You don't need to bring anything but yourselves." She would need to stop at the butcher's, and maybe the bakery, unless her mother had already made something for tonight. She'd have to call to find out.
"Six. Fine. We'll be there."
Because the government had such tight control on the flow of information, the only way to securely pass on anything remotely sensitive was on these old floppy discs from a long-obsolete computer technology. Even owning the machine was technically a felony but Mulder had refused to hand his in. The Gunmen had installed a nearly invisible trap door to hide it, so unless they were able to train dogs to sniff out contraband computers, she supposed they were safe. For now. Dana opened the door to her bedroom, where she had set-up Mulder's old PowerBook on a small card table.
"We can take the disc home. Read it there." Byers looked worried.
"And then what? I want you to see this."
She turned on the machine and waited for it to boot up. Next she placed the disc into the slot and performed the necessary maneuvers to get it to load. She opened up a file.
A document came into focus.
"What is this?" Langley demanded.
"Am I reading this correctly?" Byers asked.
The briefing about the Amber victim who was freed, revived and then caught again caused something of a furor within the small circle of scientists who were privy to it. On the one hand, it confirmed what she had long suspected but been unable to prove: the Amber victims could still be revived. On the other hand, she still had no definite answer to the problem of destabilization, only a theory. It had been four long years. But Mulder was still alive.
Frohike looked at her approvingly. "Dr. Scully takes a walk on the wild side."
Dana raised an eyebrow. "It's classified material from a Fringe division case. This was given to me by Samantha, but it's not news to me. However, this next file is." She closed the memo, then used the mouse to open another file. The audio was not easy to understand given the limits of the ancient tech.
A man's voice: Just do what I said. It wasn't supposed to be like this. They weren't supposed to be this close. Look, I'm doing my best here-- you know that.
A woman answers: Do you know what it was like for him? In the Amber? Did he tell you? Well, he told me. He was aware of every moment. His mind was stuck in the last thought he had before he was trapped. This horrible feeling of fear... and loss. Wondering about his family, how we would get along. Can you imagine that?
The man again: I have a plan.
"That file was--edited--from the memo I received two days ago. Someone with a high level of influence decided I shouldn't have that information." Secretary Bishop, no doubt. Or maybe this wasn't from that memo. "Or maybe someone else decided to leak it, along with the memo to Sam's group. She naturally brought it to me," Dana added.
The Gunmen looked stunned. Of course she had been too, but the time for emotion was over. Now it was time to act.
"This provides solid proof that the Amber victims are alive, plus a method to free them. The government will clamp down hard if this goes public," said Langley.
Dana nodded. "I know and I think I have a plan too. But I'm going to need your help."
She had prevailed upon Samantha to keep the news quiet for the week it had taken her to prepare. She'd had her over for dinner as cover. They'd argued once the kids were finally in bed.
Samantha began with a pronouncement. "Matthew Rose is going to go public. We have convinced him that he'll be safer if he comes forward to tell his story."
"The government will never permit that," Scully warned. "They control the news media: television, radio. They don't have to stop the presses to shut down the newspapers. All they have to do is pull their licenses and shut down their internet sites."
"What if we sent text messages to our membership? Asked them to text and blog and twitter?" Samantha countered.
"The government controls the phone company, too," Dana said wearily. "Texts are monitored, calls aren't secure." What was wrong with her? She's a lawyer, she knows all of this, better than I.
"They can't put us all in jail," Sam said defiantly.
Don't count on that. "You need to let me handle this in my own way. If you end up imprisoned, it won't help your cause. It certainly won't help your brother," Dana said with as much patience as she could muster.
She drove to what had once been the Boston Back Bay Railway Station in a borrowed Ford Minotaur. She didn't want to set off any alarms by using a credit card at a rental agency. Her mother knew something wasn't right when she left for work an hour early. That combined with the unexpected visit from the Gunmen had set off her parental radar. "I may be home late tonight, Mom, but I'll call you. Just make sure the kids get their homework done."
"I hope you know what you are doing," was all her mother had said. Dana hoped she did, too. The idea of orphaning her children made her feel ill. But she couldn't live with herself if she didn't try to free Mulder. The thought that he still was conscious, aware of his imprisonment, his mind playing in an endless loop the last thought before the Amber seized him: it was more than she could bear. It wasn't an entirely selfish act. If she was successful in freeing him, she reasoned there was a chance that she could help other victims. As a test site, the Metropolitan Boston quarantine area was ideal. After all, much of the city had been evacuated.
Her study of Amber 31422 had led her to the unfortunate conclusion that the bodies of the trapped victims were not just encased in the Amber, but interacting with it, possibly even on a sub-atomic level. Their mass helped form the patch, so unless an equal mass was supplied when Mulder was freed, she took the risk of undermining the quarantine seal. Her research had yet to find a single material that could be easily substituted, and time had run out. This was going to be quick and dirty. She decided to use a crash dummy. It wasn't going to work on a mass scale but for one person it should suffice. It had worked in her laboratory with rats and the cloth rats that she had specially made. The robotic arm had gotten very good at substituting the fake rat once the real rat had been lasered from the Amber. What she needed was a Mulderclone, but since procuring that was unlikely, a dummy would have to do.
Since she hadn't time to requisition one, she just walked into the Ford safety test site, flashed her Science Division ID and requested that they load one into the backseat. She'd had no time to formulate a back-up plan. She didn't want to think about what the response of AVID would be, but it would be chaotic and emotional, maybe even violent. The government would do its utmost to repress dissent. There were 10,000 people trapped in Madison Square Garden alone. If their families knew what she knew...
If she had any hope of freeing Mulder it would have to be now.
Getting through the check-points using her ID had been easier than expected. The two bored Homeland Security officers hadn't raised an eyebrow at the sight of her dummy. The Gunmen assured her that they had ID that would stand up to close scrutiny as well. They were bringing the equipment needed to free him, and a special sealant to affix the dummy in place once Mulder was freed. She had requisitioned a small research cylinder of Amber to release in case of a breach. That would be how they'd catch her should this fail. She had a portable defibrillator, an ambu bag, all of the common cardiac drugs; in short, everything she could think of to insure that he would survive until she could get him to a hospital. She'd even reviewed the drugs. She could do it. She could save him.
She peered out of her car window. Where were the Gunmen? She couldn't face seeing Mulder without their back-up. She knew he was close to the edge of the quarantined area. She'd seen the video the Fringe division had shot of the area. He was frozen in mid-stride. She sat back and closed her eyes. At the time, she would have given nearly anything for the chance to see his face. Now she was grateful she hadn't.
Tap, tap, tap. "Dr. Scully." She must have zoned out. Who the hell was that? Tap, tap, tap, this time on the other window. For not the first time since she'd left law enforcement, Dana wished she'd kept a loaded weapon on her person. These men didn't look menacing but they didn't look normal either. Pin-striped suits? Fedoras? They were dressed as though auditioning for a nineteen-thirties gangster movie.
"Please exit the vehicle, Dr. Scully." She had seen the photos of the entities known as Observers but had never encountered one. That she was aware of, she corrected, since they didn't usually announce themselves. Something was wrong here. Reluctantly, she opened the car door and stepped out.
"What is going on?" she demanded. "And why are there two of you?" she added. "Don't you usually work alone?"
The Observers looked at one another and then back at Dana. "We are here together because it is necessary to complete our mission." Gray pin-stripes. Bland expression. Bald and smooth-faced as a boy.
All at once she knew. "Why are you both needed?" she asked again.
The one wearing gray seemed to be the spokesman. "We are here to remove Fox Mulder from the Amber. Your plan is flawed." Well, damn it, of course it was. It was the scientific equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. This Observer looked a little more authoritative, a little more confident than his companion. She decided to call him Felix. The one in the brown suit could be Oscar.
"I don't understand. Why are you helping us?" And where the hell were the Gunmen? They should have been here by now.
"Oh. Yes. They are going to be delayed." Felix seemed pleased with himself. Were they reading her mind? This was becoming surreal.
"Why is that?" Damn it. Tell me something I don't already know. "You'd better not have done anything to hurt them."
"Of course not." He looked mildly shocked. "We disabled their vehicle. It was not difficult. By the time you are ready to leave, they will be here." He looked over at the train station. "We would like to begin now."
Her eyes widened as Oscar removed an unfamiliar-looking device from his coat. It was black, shaped like an old remote control device, with three small green bulbs and a single red one in a row at the top. "Stop. You haven't told me why you are here." She eyed the device in his hand.
The Observers exchanged looks. "We can't tell you that," they said in unison. Oscar pushed a button, which activated it. Green-green-green-red, the lights flashed in sequence. Green-green-green-red.
"Is it because Mulder is--important?" she said desperately. Green-green-green-red. She couldn't take her eyes off the lights.
Felix spoke in a clear monotone: "You won't remember anything that happens, beginning with our arrival. Only that you came to Boston and that your plan failed. Fox Mulder is not important."
Green-green-green-red. You're wrong green-green-green-red. She tried to close her eyes. Green-green-green-red he is important. He's everything.
"Scully. Scully. Scully, can you hear me?" His voice? She opened her eyes. His beautiful face. No. Not possible. She must be dreaming. A good dream, at least. She entered unconsciousness.
When she woke at last, he was by her side, sitting in a wheelchair, looking just as he had four years ago, the day he'd left for Boston. Weaker, of course, due to the years in stasis, but his physician said Mulder would recover completely. The doctors had no explanation for why she'd passed out when the Lone Gunmen had arrived or why she'd slept for three days straight. According to the Gunmen, she must have resuscitated Mulder, as he was alive though unconscious when they arrived.
The Fringe Division had been unable to determine why Mulder was freed or how or even by whom. Theories abounded but none had panned out. After taking Mulder and Scully to the hospital, the Gunmen had dumped the equipment they'd brought with them, then returned home. With no physical evidence to connect them to Dana's plan, Samantha was able to get the charges against them dropped.
Dana was questioned until she had no more information to give. She confessed to planning the trip to Boston with the intention of freeing Mulder from the Amber. She had no memory of her visit to the Ford testing facility or indeed, driving to Boston. She was placed on probation in return for her silence and Mulder's freedom, but she was forbidden to contact any member of the media or AVID's membership. Holidays were going to be a little awkward unless Samantha stepped down. Finally, Dana was demoted; though allowed to keep her research position under supervision, she was banned from continuing her investigations into Amber 31422.
She was going to have to figure out a way around that. She was close to a solution. She was certain of it.
"They let me off easy, Mulder. I'm not in prison. I'm still employed. And you're free." She was on their bed, cradled in his arms as he stroked her hair.
She felt him tense up. "I don't understand why you did it, Scully. Why you took off to Boston with a contraband crash-dummy riding shot-gun, let alone why you were willing to risk your life with so little chance of a return? What about our kids?" he said softly.
She sat up and turned to face him. "I know it sounds crazy, but after I heard the audio and realized how much you must be suffering… I couldn't live with myself if I didn't try. I know it was wrong." She tried to stop the tears.
"Shh." He cradled her again, kissed the top of her head. "Remember, I took a risk, too. Scully. The people on the train needed help. But I didn't stop to think about you or Will or Holly, not until the very end, when I knew I wasn't getting out. But having put it all on the line, why did you agree to keep silent?"
She had to make him understand. "Because the truth will come out, just as it did with the other Amber survivor's story. Because no matter how many people they put in jail, or experiment on, or threaten, the government can't hide the truth forever." Samantha's words flashed into memory.
"I'm going to find a way to free the others. I won't allow them to stop my research, even if I have to do it in our basement."
He smiled at that. "I never stopped believing in you, Scully. My last thought, the one that kept running though my brain, was that you'd come for me. That thought protected me from madness. That thought saved me. And then you did."