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SILVER CORNET

 

DAY ONE

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE LINE
AMTRAK TRAIN #748, HEADING WEST
"THE WESTERN COMET"
1:16 a.m.

 

They were heading west, streaming through the darkness, and
since there was nothing outside the windows - the lights of a
far-off ranch every hour or so, a crossing that streaked by in
blinks of red with its gates dropped down but no cars to heed
the warning -it seemed like the train had lifted off from the
tracks and begun rocketing into the ink black sky, into its cold
and its vastness and its blanket of stars.

Only the gentle rocking of the sleeper car around her assured
Scully they were still tethered down in the small space, the
couch they'd sat on in the daylight pulled down like the seat of
an old-fashioned theatre seat, folded out to a surprisingly soft
double mattress covered in a riot of sheets. The blanket they'd
found over the seat - a thick wool piece blue as an eye and
covered with tiny logos - was crumpled at the foot of the
mattress, which nearly touched the opposite wall, the whole
right side of the bed taken up with the window, which they'd
left uncovered, the shade pulled up and the world looking in on
them on like an eye.

It had taken a lot for her to keep the shade up, but in the end
it had been the play of lights on his skin as he'd moved, the
gold and reds and blues streaming across his back, the furrow of
his brow, his face blinking in and out of darkness like a film.

Their lovemaking was new enough that she found it nearly too
intimate to watch. The sight of Mulder's face over hers, his
mouth wet and full from the soft kisses he soothed her with each
time they started this unfamiliar dance, seemed to make him look
too young and vulnerable in full light, particularly when she
took in all of him over her, against her, inside her. It was
too much to take in at once, and the flashes of the landscape,
the light like islands in the dark, made it softer and more
gradual, memory mixed with dream.

She remembered how he looked in the sepia glow on his couch
just a week before, the two of them sipping beer like college
buddies, a movie in the player long since ignored, the case
knocked aside like the bottle caps they'd tossed. She'd found
herself leaning so close to him as she moved her bare hips
against his that he was forced to close his eyes against her
cheek.

"Why won't you let me look at you?" he'd whispered, his lips
grazing her jaw, her throat. She was gripping his hair tightly
in her hands, the strands short and slick with sweat.

"I-" but then her breath caught, and there was no more need for
words.

There was something wonderfully private about the train's
cabin, though, the room tiny and filled with their things: the
remnants of the dinner he'd brought back from the dining car
left on a tray by the door, the sweater he'd pulled over her
head, tucking her hair back into place with a strange, fond
smile, draped on the round knob of a cabinet where they'd stowed
their bags and coats. His jeans were still kicked over the edge
of the bed, and the room was almost too warm and smelled of
sweat, bread with butter, coffee and cologne and them.

The train rocked, clicking on its tracks. They must have
entered an even more desolate part of the state now, because the
lights had all gone out.

When they finished (though she didn't like to think of it like
that), he curled up behind her as their breathing leveled, her
hot skin dewing with cool sweat. She listened to him, her body
moving forward and back as his chest rose and fell, felt his
lashes blink against her temple.

She smiled. Her gaze was on the window, at the moon that
seemed to be following close beside the train, "The Silver
Comet," bound for Boise, Amtrak #748.

"You okay?" he asked from behind her, his arms tightening
around her. He had her own arms folded against her chest as
she'd begun to shiver, her hands tangled with his, their fingers
laced.

"You always ask me that," she said, just above a whisper so she
could be heard over the ticking of the wheels on the track.

"'Always'?" he asked, and she could feel his cheek pull up into
a smile against hers. "I don't know that we've done this enough
times for me to have established such a generalized pattern,
Scully."

She chuffed. "Now you're starting to sound like me."

"Could be worse," he said, and the smile faded. "You could be
starting to sound like me."

She leaned her head back and met his gaze as best she could in
the dark. She wondered if part of his reply was earnest, so she
kissed him, as if to reassure him against some doubt. She let
her lips linger against his until she felt the shadows abate.

"You're worried we shouldn't be here," she said softly, and he
exhaled and settled them both back down, both of their gazes on
the window and the landscape.

"I don't know, Scully," he said. "I thought..." He trailed off.

She knew what he thought. An anonymous note sent to the
Bureau, to them both. The simple Courier font on simple white
paper: "Amtrak #748, Milwaukee to Boise. August 29th.
Something on the train you both need to find."

The case with the "genie" had wrapped in all its strangeness.
No leads on anything else. Mulder had gotten the note and she'd
felt the air in the basement grow heavy, like the sky before a
heavy rain.

It was a mystery, certainly, the two of them selected for it by
name. But more than that, she knew that he felt as she did,
that this was some other immense shoe dropping from the time
with Kurtzweil and Antarctica, another time when there'd been
"something on the train."

There was something, all right, she thought, bemused. Seventy-
eight passengers peppered in the sleeping and regular cars.
Fifteen of them a group of recruits on their way to Laramie,
young men and women in their late-teens in starched looking
fatigues. Twelve children of various ages who found the
"panorama" car with the heavy plastic ceiling a wonder as the
train shot across the northern plains. Five African American
men in a blues band from Memphis who were prone to playing
impromptu jams in the dining car, much to a mixture of
irritation and delight. The rest a blank slate of mostly white
faces, blank, Mulder had said, "as Idaho potatoes."

Two cars in the back designed for carrying passengers'
automobiles, called "AutoTrains," and three baggage cars
completed the extent of their mystery. They'd been around to
all the cars they could reach in the three days they'd been
riding since Milwaukee, and there were enough passengers they'd
spoken to who had brought bags and cars along to fill the cargo
cars completely.

"There's got to be something, Scully," Mulder said from behind
her. "Even if there's nothing here for us to find, maybe it's
something about *us* that made someone want us here."

Scully took his hand and pressed it against his lips. His
knuckles were soft, his fingers warm against her mouth. She
felt languid and sleepy, the train still swaying slightly, her
back warmed by his chest.

He buried his face in her hair, nuzzling her hair out of the
way. "You don't care right now, do you?" His voice was vaguely
teasing, and she could hear the smile.

"Uh uh," she admitted, and he squeezed her harder against him.
"I feel like we've got some privacy for the first time..."

His lips were on her neck. "How'd you know I've been taping us
at my place?"

She smiled, but there was something a little sad in it as she
kept turning the feeling over like a coin. "I mean away from
D.C. Maybe there's something about the train moving all the
time...something about how small and private this feels. I
mean...I feel like I can..."

How could she say what she felt like she could do? That she
could finally feel for him what she had all this time, and show
him those feelings, do with him what she'd always wanted to do?

"I know," he said softly, saving her the confession. "I feel
like I can, too."

For a moment, they were like the old lovers they were, perhaps
not "old" in practice, but in what she knew they held between
them. There in the quiet, his legs tangling with hers beneath
the sheets, his hand moving down to cup her breast, she felt
that kind of safety, that right, and that ease.

 

****

9:28 a.m.

It seemed a little early for "When the Saints Go Marching In,"
though Mulder seemed to be in the minority with that opinion as
he entered the dining car. The small booths lining the windows,
the sunlight streaming in, were filled with the passengers,
children standing on the padded seats with their small hands
pressed against the glass. There was a blonde toddler with
curly hair that had left a handprint made of strawberry jam, and
her mother shook her head fondly and smiled as Mulder passed.
He smiled pleasantly back.

Truth be known, he was beginning to enjoy this trip. They were
making good time on the 10-day journey across the northern plain
states. He'd always laughed at Amtrak's motto of there being
"something about a train that's magic;" "if they get you there
on the right day, it's magic," he'd grumbled to Scully in
response to her suggestions to take the train and rent a car
rather than fly or drive. But now he had to admit there was
something comforting about it, something about seeing the same
faces for days.

He was starting to be able to recognize familiar faces: Baby
Strawberry Jam, Old Man Who Always Wore White Shoes and a Tie,
Scared Recruits 1 and 2 (two teenage girls in fatigues, always
sitting together, looking wide-eyed as birds). Stand-Up Bass
Who Stared at Scully's Breasts and God Help Him Because Mulder
Was Going to Kick His Ass.

And then there was Trombone Man, who was always watching
everyone, and always watching him and Scully in particular when
they were around.

Like he was watching Mulder now. He was playing a rousing,
looping rendition of the chorus of the song, a trumpet player on
his left and the drummer tapping the booth with his sticks (Gold
Tooth and Sunglasses, respectively). He wasn't looking at music
or the table or his fellow players from the group. His eyes
were following Mulder as he walked through the center aisle and
up to the counter.

Mulder stopped at the bakery case, waiting as the man behind
the counter finished putting another pot of coffee on to brew.
While he stood there, he did his best to look nonchalant, but
when he felt the man's eyes stay on him, he turned around and
stared right back at the Trombone Man.

The man - an African American man of some indeterminate age
over 45 - wore a black suit with a white shirt and a thin black
tie. He wore a hat that looked battered, black with a white band
that looked new. It had a white feather tucked in it that
seemed to dance as he played. A salt-and-pepper moustache, a
gruffy goatee...

And strange eyes.

Mulder realized this last fact as he met the man's unwavering
gaze. Something a little too...

Something.

Mulder couldn't name it exactly. It was like the man knew what
Mulder looked like not just with his clothes off, but also
without his skin.

The thought made him feel cold, and he knew the odd sense of
unease showed on his face. Mulder rubbed his hand across his
just-shaved face as if to clear the slip in his cool away.

Trombone Man was smiling his pursed lips, though, the trombone
losing, for an instant its lilting, deep sound. His lips curled
up and he winked at Mulder. It was an overtly friendly gesture,
meant to put him back at ease.

"They're something, aren't they?" the counterman said, suddenly
standing before Mulder and startling him away from the man's
gaze.

"Yeah," Mulder said. "Yeah, something all right."

"Didn't know they did Dixieland, too," the man continued. He
was in his 30s and somehow kept his freckles. His tag said his
name was "Ron."

Mulder nodded to let him know he was done with talking beyond
getting something from inside the case. "Two coffees, large.
Bagel with-"

"-Cream cheese, with two jellies. Yeah, I know. Your wife
always gets the same thing." Ron smiled, and Mulder quirked one
in return. Ron turned and started fetching the drinks and
things.

Mulder turned his back to the counter and surveyed the
landscape streaming by outside the window, the seemingly endless
blue sky over the plains, the people in their familiar knots and
places. The music had stopped and the band had settled down to
eat.

("Your wife...")

He didn't know what to think of that, of the strange
familiarity of the people, of Trombone Man still looking at him
over the rim of his mug.

Ron put a to-go cup of coffee on the counter and Mulder reached
for it, removing the lid to a puff of steam. Trombone Man saw
Mulder looking at him and raised his mug slightly in a faint
rendition of a toast.

Those strange eyes again, looking into him. Mulder felt like
he could look into them and see straight through the man's face
to somewhere he'd rather not be.

The train, so private and comfortable not so long ago felt
suddenly too small, like a bottle sealed up with all of them
inside and tossed on the plain's endless green sea.

 

****

5:14 p.m.
SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA
STATION

 

It was a small station, one building with a central waiting
area, three vending machines (Coke products, one that dispensed
chicken soup and hot chocolate from the same chute, a snack
machine with a bag of Lay's hung up against the plastic front).
One counter manned only during daytime hours, which were fading
fast along with the warmth from the day's winter light.

There were six people in the room besides the man selling
tickets and making the announcements when the train was coming
through, all six of the people men.

Two stood near the windows, one smoking, his hand going up and
down to draw on the cigarette and ash the only movements he
made. The other was reading a magazine, though anyone watching
him closely would see that he'd spent the last 20 minutes on the
same short page.

Two others sat near the vending machines, one wearing a cowboy
hat he'd pulled down so that the brim covered his face. The
other was watching the clock and the one computer screen that
said the train was thirty minutes overdue.

One other stood watching the television playing with no sound,
a huge man with a bald head, his hands slack at his sides, his
mouth slightly agape and his eyes slightly askew.

And the last, a man in a long black overcoat that looked like
it was made of some oily skin, sat still as a stone against the
far wall, his hands in front of his face as if he were saying
some long, difficult prayer. He had long hair the color of
snow, and behind the closed lids, dark dark eyes. His face was
a smooth as a baby's, and his fingers ended in long, smooth,
sharp nails.

The intercom crackled to life:

"Ladies and...well, gentlemen, we're sorry for the delay this
evening, but Train Number 748 is about 10 minutes away now.
We'll be letting you board as soon as it gets into the station
and once we change out some crew and supplies, you'll be on your
way. Thank you for traveling with Amtrak, and we hope you all
have a pleasant journey and a pleasant rest of your night."

The man in the overcoat opened his eyes, peering at the inside
of the station around his fingers, the tips of his nails. The
man by the vending machine pushed his hat up and looked back at
him, the man with the magazine glancing up, as well.

By the window, the man stubbed out his cigarette and reached
for his bag. It was large and heavy with hard sides, and the
man struggled with its weight.

The man who'd been watching the monitor went to the odd fellow
in front of the television, tapping him on the shoulder to turn
him away. He made a noise, stretched like a cat waking, and
went for the trunk he'd left by rows of empty seats.

The white-haired man kept still, his fingers steepled, as the
train's whistle blew off, the sound echoing through the fading
light toward them.

A smile crept onto his lips as he whispered:

"So it begins."

 

****

 

END OF CHAPTER ONE. CONTINUED IN CHAPTER TWO.

****

DAY TWO

 

THE BADLANDS
SOUTH DAKOTA
DINING CAR OF "THE SILVER COMET"
3:12 a.m.

 

The lights had been dimmed like an airplane over the ocean
trying to let in the night. The train was moving swiftly
through a stretch of the Badlands where there were no stops, the
Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation somewhere far to the south, the
tracks stitched like a scar across the plains. Rain was
falling, the drops running in beads across the window's outsides
and catching tiny bits of the dining car's counter lights.

In one of the booths along the windows, the white-blond man
sat, his hands folded on the table, his long, sharp nails flush
against the backs of his pale hands. He hadn't moved for a half
an hour, as though he were trying for the ultimate economy of
emotion, the way a spider finds a safe place within its nearly
invisible web and sits.

The only sounds were the tracks clicking beneath the train like
a second hand's tick, and the night stocker, an older man in a
blue shirt and blue worker's pants, who was filling up the
refrigerator with cartons of milk and cream. He'd tried saying
hello to the man in the booth, but had received only a look he'd
rather forget in reply.

The snow-haired man sat in the booth in the relative dark, his
hands folded, his eyes on the door that led to the three sleeper
cars toward the train's rear. His oily looking coat seemed to
absorb the light, making his smooth pale face almost glow.

Then, something changed about him, his dark eyes closing in a
long blink. He let out a breath and loosened his shoulders, a
smile touching the corner of his slash of a mouth.

The door to the adjoining door opened, then closed, and the one
to the dining car slid aside.

Three-fifteen. Right on time.

**

Scully came into the dimly lit car with a vague sense of
disappointment to find other people there, though she realized
that her expectation that she was the only one not sleeping like
an angel on the train was likely a bit out of place.

The train reminded her of a ship, the rocking something that
people either found wonderfully relaxing or too alien to take.
She wondered, not for the first time, if there was nothing of
her father in her, since the swaying did nothing but jangle her
nerves and keep her irritatingly awake.

Mulder was the opposite. The man could fold himself into a
square anywhere - plane seats, car seats, the small bed in their
cabin - his long legs contorted but his face blissful and
relaxed in his sleep. She'd watched him fondly for a time, the
tiny nightlight over the seat shining down on his face, then
risen and dressed and headed out into the quiet corridor toward
the dining car.

She wanted solitude. An old newspaper from a town she'd never
visited. A magazine about destinations. Anything. But she
found a friendly "evening" from the amiable looking man stocking
the dining car and a strange smile from an even stranger looking
man instead.

"Hi," she said to the man behind the counter. There was a
short row of stools with a formica counter on one side that gave
the place the air of a 1950s diner, only this one still on its
wheels. She sidled up onto one, her jeans and the thin black
sweater she wore feeling too thin for the car's cold air.

"I'm not open, ma'am," the man said, looking genuinely
apologetic.

"No, no," she said quickly. "I know. That's fine." She
tucked her hair behind her ear as he smiled.

"Can't sleep?" he asked, returning to stooping down for another
carton of milk that reminded her of grade school and a quarter-a-
week.

"Not tonight," she said, and busied herself reaching for a
vacation magazine. She wished he'd be quiet. She'd really
wanted to think.

"I'm sure, sir," came a voice from behind her, "you could
manage a mug of cocoa or the like for the lady and myself."

The stocker stood, taking in the man as though he were
surprised to find him there at the counter behind Scully, and
she turned toward the sound, as well.

"Well, I..." The stocker looked vaguely afraid.

"No, I'm fine-" Scully began.

"Nonsense." The man - too-white hair and a face somewhere
between a child and a young man - smiled a charming smile.
"It's just a bit of water or milk and one of those packets
there." He smiled wider, now looking even more disarming, and
the stocker smiled nervously back.

"Well, sure. I can do that." He looked at Scully. "You want
water or milk, ma'am?"

Scully felt confused at the sudden turn of events, her
expectation of quiet and solitude turning into sharing a drink
in the blink of an eye. She actually didn't want anything at
all, but she didn't feel like she could refuse at this juncture
either, since the stocker was going for the packets and milk,
nearly spilling the canister in his haste.

"Uh, milk I guess," she said, smiling faintly to the man behind
her, who smiled warmly back.

"Trains are terribly hard to sleep on, don't you agree?" he
said. She liked his voice. It was warm and seemed to have a
thrum underneath it, a uniquely masculine and soothing sound.

She nodded. "They are," she agreed flatly, trying to let him
know she wasn't looking for anything like company without
seeming unfriendly. The man stuck out his hand anyway, and she
looked down at it, and the strangely long nails.

"Alexander Kever," he said quietly, and noticed her looking at
his nails. "Forgive the claws. Classical guitar. They're a
necessary evil, I'm afraid." He fanned the air dramatically,
and Scully chuffed.

"You must love your work, Mr. Kever." She carefully shook his
hand. It felt soft as silk.

"Oh, I do," he said, leaning down and touching his lips to the
back of her hand. "I do indeed." He gestured to the booth with
his other hand. "Won't you join me by the window? There's not
much to see but the rain is quite nice."

Scully hesitated, looking at the booth and at the back of her
hand as she drew it away. It tingled slightly from the strange
contact.

"I promise to be a proper gentleman," he said grandly, placing
his palm on his chest and bowing his head piously. She smiled
faintly at that. Kever's use of language, his careful speech,
already made him sound like he'd just leapt out of a Period
Film. The strangely anachronistic hair helped the image, as
well.

Still. Something about how he'd maneuvered both of them made
her unsure. Control was control, whether it was subtle as
velvet or...

"All right," she said. She was curious in a way she couldn't
name. The stocker was pouring milk into a mug for her and
fumbling with another from the rack for another to fill.

"I'll get them, Miss...?" Kever raised a white brow.

Scully felt her cheeks beginning to flush, though it wasn't
attraction but that uncomfortable fluster of realizing someone
might want something she might not wish to give. "Dana," she
said. "My name's Dana."

He angled his head. "Dana then. No need for us both to wait."
He gestured to the booth again.

She rose, not so much to comply but to get away. When she slid
into the booth, she pressed against the window with one shoulder
as if to bolster herself.

She wished Mulder were there, not because she felt physically
unsafe but because Kever's attentions were the kind that one
look from Mulder -- even before they were...involved -- would
have deflected away. Attraction from men made her tired more
than anything, a game she'd rather not play.

Kever came forward in his long duster, a mug in each hand. He
held them both in odd grips so that he'd ended up with his index
finger's nail touching the surface of both drinks.

"Sorry," he said, fussing as he set the mugs down. She could
still see where the nail had broken the chocolate's skin. "They
are dreadful for anything but what they're meant for. I'll get
another if you'd like."

"No," she said quickly, pulling the drink forward. "It's fine.
Really."

He slid into the seat soundlessly and cupped his mug, looking
at her as he took a sip. She followed his lead and took a
drink, his eyes meeting hers over the rim. She realized that in
this light, his eyes looked nearly black.

"Are you headed to Boise, Mr. Kever?" she asked, swallowing.
She wondered how fast she could drink the stuff so she could
take her leave. The space behind the door of her sleeper cabin
was looking particularly inviting just now.

"Partly," he said. "It's not my final destination, but I'm
riding the train that far, yes." He put the mug down. "You?"

"Boise. We have family there."

"'We'?"

Something about his voice sounded...amused?

Scully cleared her throat. "Yes, a friend and I are traveling
together."

"A male friend?" His black eyes were shining, rain in oil.
She decided in an instant that she didn't like his smile.

"Yes," she said, to avoid being rude, but she didn't elaborate.

Kever laughed softly, then leveled his gaze, going still. "Oh
Dana," he said quietly. "Sleeping with that man on a train.
Just what on earth would your father say?"

That was it. She pushed the mug away.

"My father is dead," she said, the words quiet and angry.

"Lucky," Kever said, either not seeing or not acknowledging her
rage. His smile showed his white teeth. "For you and for him."

She fumed, but something about his words made her feel vaguely
ill.

"Mr. Kever," she said, appalled, her palms on the table, her
eyes looking into his own black depths. "I thank you for the
cocoa and the...pleasant...conversation, and I wish you the best
on the remainder of your trip."

She stood, and without looking back, headed through the dimly
lit car and out the connecting door to the sleeper beyond.

**

The stocker watched the woman go, her haste and the straight
line she made for the sleepers making it clear she was angry or
afraid. He looked back at the long-haired man at the table,
pretending to fuss over the counter as he stared.

The odd man was smiling down at the table, his long fingernail
tracing the rim of the woman's barely touched mug. Then, not
moving his hand, he looked up and met the stocker's eyes, and
the man looked hurriedly away.

The stocker didn't look at him as the other man rose, coins
hitting the table for a tip.

"Back to our work," the strange man said amiably. "For both of
us, it seems."

The stocker didn't look up, but laughed nervously and agreed.

He didn't look as the white-haired man strode through the car
toward the sleeper cars, the door slamming behind him and
leaving the stocker to his work and his dawning sense of relief.

**

3:35 a.m.

 

Alexander Kever was not a man to hurry. Truth be known, he had
no reason to. He had all the time he could ever need.

He was aware of his men's fatigue, though, except for Fellix,
the giant man who was so fascinated by TV. Fellix didn't seem
to have the sense to be tired, and in fact seemed surprised
every time he woke up from being asleep, as though he were never
quite sure what had happened to cause him to miss much of the
night.

The others, though, were clearly showing signs of wear as they
followed Kever down the narrow passage to the last sleeper car.
The conductor was dozing in his vestibule, a smaller sleeper
with an open door, and they moved past him silent as the grave.

Number 19, 20. Twenty-one. At 22, Kever stopped, the huge man
standing just beside Kever so that when the door opened, he
would be out of the occupants' view.

"Gentlemen," Kever said, drawing himself up to his imposing
(except to Fellix) height. Murphy, Hicks and Roarson stood a
bit further down the corridor, in case there was trouble with
cabins 19, 20 and 21. They all nodded, and Kever knocked.

Nothing. He knocked again. No movement, and no sound.

"Oh for pity's sake," Kever said under his breath. He knocked
again, harder this time, and called a name - "Major Warren" -
into the joining of the door and the frame.

"Come now, Major," he said. He could hear someone moving
within the cabin, then go still. A face against the door, an
ear listening close to the crack. "I know you're there and
awake, and that Lieutenants Harris and Bolton are there, as
well. You might save all the trouble here and open the door."

The door slid to the side partly, revealing a salt-and-pepper
haired man's face. He wore a black turtleneck, sweats. His
brow was furrowed deeply, his jaw taut, his body alert. His
left hand was on the door and his right was out of sight.

"Who the hell are you?" he snapped, though he was quiet.

"I've come for your keys, Major." Kever didn't move as he
spoke. His hands were folded together at his waist.

The man's eyes bulged, but he retained his rigid mask of
alertness on his face. "Wrong cabin, mister," he said, and
tried to slide the door back again.

Fellix's hand shot out, his thick fingers halting the door.
The man looked around the door to the hand's owner, his mouth
coming open as he looked up...and up.

Kever sighed. "Your keys, Major."

"I'm not a major. I don't know what the fuck you're talking
about."

Kever looked down, cleared his throat. "You are Major William
Warren from the U.S. Army Intelligence's Weapon's Division.
Behind the door -- with their guns drawn, as yours is, I'd wager
- are Lieutenants Martin Harris and Theodore Bolton. You've
been assigned to transport a rather large shipment of a
biological contagion that's been codenamed 'Mercury' by the U.S.
Government. Is this ringing any bells, sir?"

Warren stared.

"The keys are to the dark blue sport utility vehicle with Idaho
plates that the Army is using to transport the contagion to a
facility in northern Idaho, a common practice for your division
to move weapons and biological research in plain sight on
passenger trains, tractor trailers and passenger buses to avoid
arousing suspicion of these highly dangerous and
ethically...questionable...weapons. Even the two F.B.I. agents
haven't been able to find them. You've been that careful, that
good."

"If you know so much about what you're talking about," Warren
tried, "what do you need my keys for?"

Kever smiled. "Any attempt to open the vehicle - or start it --
without the single set of keys in your possession instantly
activates a silent alarm that alerts the Pentagon, initiating a
national security operation involving the Army's Special Forces.
Thus, it would be much simpler, Major, if you simply handed over
the keys."

Warren met his eyes, going from surprise to fear to rage.

Kever tsked as though Warren were a child who had misbehaved.
"Major, let's avoid this being any more unpleasant than it needs
to be. The keys." He held out his hand.

"Fuck you," Warren said, and he started to move. Nothing more
than a twitch of his fingers on his left hand.

That's as far as he got, or would ever get again, as Fellix
moved in.

 

*****
OGLALA INDIAN RESERVATION
WYOMING/SOUTH DAKOTA LINE
10:24 a.m.

The Panorama Car was packed on the sunny day, the train
speeding through just outside The Badlands into eastern Wyoming,
the sky a brilliant blue. White clouds were crowding overhead
and everyone sat with their seats partially reclined to look up
at the ever-changing view.

Scully was not looking up, though she did have her seat
reclined, her hands laid out flat just beneath her ribs. Her
breathing was slow and even, but her face looked slightly pale,
red blots high on her cheeks.

There it was again. Her hands pressed down as the sharp pain
shot into her belly, blooming inside her, then fading away. It
took longer for it to fade this time, though, the pains slowly
increasing in intensity and frequency as the sun climbed.

The tray of food - bland oatmeal and some milk - that Mulder
had brought her sat on the pull-down tray beside her, relatively
untouched. She'd thought that milk might coat her stomach a
bit, but she was wrong.

"God," she breathed as she pushed down on her belly again, the
pain from the last sharp twinge rolling again.

"Ma'am? You okay, ma'am?"

Her eyes snapped open, half-expecting to see Alexander Kever
above her, though the voice wasn't even close to the same.
Instead, a kindly face looked down at her, an African American
man wearing a hat that looked like it had been sat on and
straightened out again. It had a feather in it, white, and the
man was standing there with one hand in his pocket and a
battered smallish case in his other hand.

It was one of the musicians, she realized, the one she caught
staring at her from time to time as she moved through the cars.

Stared at her *face,* she amended wryly to herself, and smiled
faintly up at him.

"Yes," she said, moving her hands though the pain had yet to go
completely away. "I'm fine, thank you." She said it in that
hurried way that was meant to be dismissive of strangers. She
had enough strangers for one day.

"You look like something's hurting you is all," the man said,
undeterred. "I was just wondering if there was something I
could do to help you out."

She shook her head. "No, nothing." She closed her eyes,
hoping he'd take the hint and leave it at that.

Instead she heard the seat beside her, the one with the tray
down to block anyone but Mulder from sitting there, creak, the
tray going up. She opened her eyes to find him sitting there,
the tray on his lap.

"Well, if you don't mind, ma'am, I might sit here for awhile
and look at the sky, since there ain't no other seats in here
right now."

Scully wanted to get irritated, but when she scanned the place
quickly, she noted that he was right.

He chuckled. "Don't believe me, huh?" he said. "And you a
woman of faith."

She scowled. She honestly wanted to check to see if she was
wearing a sign on her forehead advertising her business to the
world. She already had that vague unsettled feeling like Kever
had told her fortune or read her mind.

The feeling must have shown on her face, the irritation,
because the man touched his own chest just below his throat.
"Your cross," he said. "I was talking about your cross."

Scully's hand went to it out of habit. "Oh," she said, and
smiled, a little laugh of relief coming. "Of course." She
reached for the tray, willing herself to calm down, and set it
on her lap.

Just because Kever had been a creep didn't mean he was the
representative type for everyone on the train...

The man reached out his hand. "My name's Zekial Ambrose Blue,
ma'am," he said. "But my friends call me Blue." He smiled and
showed her a few gold teeth. She shook his hand and told him
just her first name.

"You're with that band," she added. "You play the trombone."

Blue nodded. "Trombone, bugle, trumpet, tuba...you name it, I
can play it if it's a horn, ma'am." He leaned forward
conspiratorially. "Don't tell nobody, but I can play the French
Horn, too. I can't say that, you know, because a French Horn
ain't supposed to play *the blues.*" He winked, and Scully
chuffed a weak laugh, her hand going to her middle again.

Blue noticed the gesture. "You think you ate something that
was bad, ma'am?" he said softly, not using her name.

She shook her head. "I'm fine," she said quickly. "It's
nothing, I'm sure." She looked at the case he'd set close to
his knee when he sat. "What's that?"

Blue looked down at the case, a tired smile on his face. "Oh,
that's my silver cornet." He touched the case, the outside of
which was worn from what must have been white originally to
parchment brown.

"Cornet?"

"Like a baby trumpet," he said. "Kind of short and fat."

The pain was starting in her belly again, and she could feel
her face going flushed and dewed with sweat.

"Does it have a special sound?" It came out less normal than
she'd hoped.

"Oh, yes ma'am," Blue said softly. "A real special sound.
That's why I keep it with me all the time."

She jerked, her hand rolling to a fist and pushing in. A small
sound slipped from her lips.

"Ma'am, where's that dark-haired man with the busy eyes you
always with?" he asked, leaning over and putting a hand on her
shoulder.

Mulder was, in fact, in the baggage car, trying to go through
some of the cases they'd seen being loaded the night before.
He'd left her in the panorama car when she'd woken late feeling
so ill, his search of the bags half-hearted. They'd decided
when they'd risen that the trip was a red herring, and they were
just going to see the ride out.

"If you could help me get back to the sleeper car, Mr. Blue,"
she said, moving the tray onto the floor so that she could
stand.

"It's just Blue, ma'am," he corrected, coming up with her and
taking her arm.

"Okay, Blue," she said. "I'm in the second sleeper car."

He nodded. "I'll help you back there, ma'am," he said, picking
up the case that held his silver cornet, holding her with his
right hand and it in his left.

"And it's Dana, Blue," she corrected. "Just Dana." She smiled
through the pain, but her eyes were insistent.

He smiled in return. "All right, Dana. Come on with me and
I'll take you back."

 

*****

EASTERN WYOMING
7:45 p.m.

"I'm all right..."

If Mulder had to hear her say that one more time, he thought he
would scream. "Scully, you're not all right," he said, his
patience drawing to a thin line and snapping in two.

He was holding her on the bed, his body spooned up behind hers,
the nightlight's glow feeling like it was throwing off heat
instead of light, her body - and his where it touched hers -
covered with sweat. He'd stripped off her shirt, leaving her
huddled in a white bra and a pair of bikini underwear, a cold
cloth he'd drenched in the tiny sink on her forehead and temple.

He'd come back to the panorama car about eleven that morning
looking for her and found someone else in their seats, a
laughing child and the Trombone Man.

"Mr. Mulder," he said, startling Mulder with the use of his
name. "That's your name, right?"

Mulder nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, that's me. Where's-"

"Dana's in the sleeping car," Trombone Man said. His face had
fallen to a frown. "I took her back there myself awhile ago and
she told me to come back here and wait for you to tell you where
she'd gone to."

"Thanks," Mulder had said quickly, and turned to go when
Trombone Man grabbed his arm.

"You ain't got much time," he said. "Hurry now."

Mulder had been turning that statement over as he lain with
Scully through the day, most of the time spent watching her
sleep. She'd awakened at around dinnertime, and when he'd
offered to go get her something to eat, she'd told him no.
Shortly after, the fever and the stomach pains got worse, her
face going even more pale and spotted with red.

(You ain't got much time...)

The spasm - or whatever it was - was passing this time again,
and Scully went from being taut to going limp in the circle of
his arms, as though she were a puppet who'd suddenly lost its
strings.

"See?" she whispered, breathing hard. "I'm fine...just...just
get me some water and I'll be fine..."

He moved the cloth away and put his hand on her forehead,
finding her boiling hot. He swore under his breath and sat up,
still wearing his jeans, and began tucking the blanket around
her more tightly.

"Scully," he began, reaching for his shirt. "I'm going to go
find the conductor and get him to tell the engineer that we've
got to stop at the nearest stop, and that you need an ambulance
there." He jerked the turtleneck over his head hard enough to
rip it in his haste.

"Mulder, don't..." she tried, but she was holding onto the
blankets with her fists. "You'll draw too much attention to us-"

"Aw, hell, Scully, there's nothing here," Mulder said, standing
and pushing his feet into his tennis shoes. "We've been through
everything on this train ten times." He jammed his feet home
and leaned back over to push the covers closer around her again,
pressing a soft kiss to her hot cheek.

"I'm going to get them stop the train," he said softly. "I'm
going to leave the door open while I go to the end of the car so
I can hear you if you call." He touched a kiss just above her
closed eyelid. "I'll be right back."

As he pushed the door open, he saw that the lights were off in
the corridor, the small running lights that came on after dark.
The conductor must have forgotten to turn them on, though he was
in his vestibule; Mulder could see the light bleeding from the
open door at the end of the car, the train rocketing through the
night.

He steadied himself against the plexiglass windows as he moved
to the front of the car, coming around the corner.

"Hey," he said, turning to face the conductor, "I need you to-"

And he pulled up short.

The conductor was there, in his usual seat where he watched his
small TV. But the TV was gone, pulled out of the wall from the
looks of things.

And the conductor's head was lolled back on his shoulders at a
strange angle against the back wall, his eyes open, staring at
nothing, his tongue blue. His neck had been wrenched until it
broke.

"Jesus..." Mulder breathed, reaching for the emergency phone
beside where the television should be. He picked it up, the
line popping on in his ear.

"Engine!" he called. "Engine, can you hear me?"

There was a pause, then:

"I hear you, Mr. Mulder," a voice said pleasantly, though it
was one Mulder didn't recognize.

"Who the hell--?" Mulder began. Something about the voice
made him go white.

The voice went on. "That's not important. Not anymore. And
before you ask...no, I won't be stopping this train."

 

*****

 

END OF CHAPTER TWO. CONTINUED IN CHAPTER THREE.

****

DAY THREE

EASTERN WYOMING
"THE SILVER COMET"
1:31 a.m.

 

Widespread panic had a particular sound, and it was one that
Fox Mulder knew entirely too well. There was something dully
familiar about the sounds of women crying, caught between sobs
and screams, and of bodies tussling against one another and the
walls of the train as it rocketed through the darkness, the dark
more thick and more pressing because whoever had taken over the
Silver Comet had, to add to the pandemonium, turned all the
lights out.

That left the dance of what appeared to be military-issue head-
mounted flashlights around the people who were being hustled
from their sleepers, trailing untied belts from robes, bare feet
moving unsteadily down the narrow corridor that ran along the
sleeper car toward the door that connected it to the one behind
it.

"Move!" one of the men shouted as a woman tumbled down,
blocking everyone's progress and causing a sudden knot of bodies
behind. Everyone's eyes were on the men, all of whom wore ski
masks, any details of anything but their automatic weapons
hidden by the blinding flashlights. One held a post at the
middle of the car, pushing people along. One held the door open
to the adjoining car, and one herded the passengers - startled,
frightened - down the line.

Mulder pulled up short as the fallen woman stared up into the
light above her, the man holding the door open coming forward,
the bulb on his forehead staring harshly down at her like a too-
bright eye.

"GET UP!" the man roared, and Mulder had a pang of pity for her
as he took in her face. Her mouth was open, its corners pulled
down, and there were streaks of tears down her face. Her gray
hair was a mass of curls framing soft cheeks. The hand that
reached up to shield her eyes wore a plain gold wedding band.

Her husband helped her up, looking at the man as though the
elderly gentleman meant to kill him with his eyes.

Mulder would have been glad to add his hands to the task -- and
the gun he'd tucked in the back of his pants, hidden beneath his
open white dress shirt he'd fumbled on in his haste - were it
not that his arms were quite full with Scully, her face tucked
against his throat. He could feel her fever against the side of
his jaw, heat coming off her in waves, her body too warm through
the sheet he'd wrapped her in after dressing her in a shirt and
a pair of his sweatpants as one of the other thugs had stood in
the doorway to their cabin, screaming for him to move.

He'd gotten the gun before the man had realized he and Scully
were still in their cabin. After all, there were probably 20
other people in their car, and they were a bit less accustomed
to this sort of thing.

"Mulder..." Scully whispered close to his ear. Her arms were
folded tight between their bodies, and he could feel her hands
trying to come up against the tight wrap of the sheet.

"Hang on, Scully," he replied, mustering something tender into
the words and squeezing her more tightly. Her toes kept
brushing against the window's glass.

"What...?" He felt her eyelids fluttering open. Her brows
pinched and she caught on a breath. "God, it hurts...Mulder..."

"You're all right," he offered, and then shushed her softly as
they approached the Middle Thug, the one who'd taken up his
place in the doorway to an empty cabin and was doing his level
best to glare menacingly and brandish his gun. Mulder couldn't
help it. He glared right back as he passed.

"Keep your eyes down!" the man said from just behind him, and
he shoved Mulder between the shoulder blades so hard that Mulder
nearly fell.

In a rage, he spun in the small space, his jaw tight as wire,
and spoke through gritted teeth.

"Don't fucking push me," he snarled, holding Scully tight
against him. He'd had an instant of fear that he'd let her drop.

"Or what?" the man said, his flashlight dancing a bit as he
laughed, drawing a yellow line of light down Mulder's face. He
held the gun up as Mulder kept silent and glared.

"Move."

Mulder turned again and continued on in the line. Bide your
time, he told himself. Get Scully somewhere safe...

They were all being crowded into the dining and Panorama cars,
a rag-tag bunch of people all rousted from their sleep who had
fallen into a grim silence as they'd settled into seats or
leaned against the car's walls. The Panorama Car, closest to
the back, must have been filled already because Mulder ended up
in the dining car. It looked like it was, in fact, filled with
most of the men.

They're going to try to separate us... he thought, looking down
at Scully, craning his neck to look into her face. Black
circles had begun to form under her eyes, and there was
something like a bruise in the space between her nose and lip.

The thugs were pushing in now, apparently having cleared the
front of the train. Mulder did his best to back into the crowd,
and an older man who apparently got his plan to keep Scully out
of sight nodded and stood in front of him, giving up his space
against the wall.

"Mulder..." Scully whispered, and Mulder shushed her as the
car fell into a tense silence, only broken by the sharp slam of
the door to the Panorama Car behind.

Think... Mulder closed his eyes. Think...

(Engine 1, Engine 2, Crew Quarters, Passenger 1, Passenger 2,
Sleeper 1, Sleeper 2, Dining Car, Panorama, Baggage 1, Baggage
2, Auto 1, Auto 2,...)

"What the hell is going on here?"

A man at the front is the one who'd barked it, and Mulder had
to stop himself from rolling his eyes. There was always one man
who, accustomed to bullying for control, would try to do that in
a situation like this and get himself or someone else killed in
the process.

Sure enough, it bought the mid-40s man in his Green Bay Packers
T-shirt the butt of a machine gun. Right in the face.

As he tumbled back, the masked gunmen leveled their guns at
everyone else. "Anyone else got any fucking questions?" Middle
Thug asked, and there was, mercifully, no response.

"I'll tell you everything you need to know right now," he
continued. "We have control of this train and we're going to be
in control of it until it stops at one of the unscheduled
stations that's between here and Boise. Once we've stopped the
train, we'll be disembarking with one of the vehicles that's in
one of the automobile cars. It doesn't belong to anyone here in
either the dining or the Panorama cars, and it's parked right up
against the ramp. Once we've taken the vehicle, you'll all be
free to go about your way."

Mulder bit his bottom lip.

Lies, he thought. All lies.

He looked around. Everyone in the train was going to die.

Middle Thug kept going through the tentative murmurs of false
relief. "For now, I want all the women who are left in here
back in the next car," the same man called, "and it'll go a lot
easier on you if you go on your own. Now GO."

There was a smaller bloom of crying than Mulder had heard
before, and several women came out of hiding from behind their
husbands and began to withdraw toward the back. Mulder didn't
move, and the man in front of him, seeing this, didn't budge
either.

Mulder looked down at Scully's face again. Her eyes were open
now, wide and blue above the circles. She'd come awake and
seemed aware of the precarious place they both were in.

"Mulder, don't..." she breathed, and he didn't know if she
meant to keep her with him or to let her go.

"Where's the one carrying the woman?" the Middle Thug called,
and he and the other two began scanning the assembled men.

"Fuck," Mulder said under his breath.

He was acutely aware of both the gun tucked at the small of his
back and his own desire to use it. It was pointless to think on
it for too long. What was he going to do? Open fire in the
narrow car? He'd simply get innocent people - and likely he and
Scully both - killed right away. The realization of just how
helpless they were burned him with new rage.

Two of the men were coming toward him now, the Middle Thug with
a satisfied smirk on his face. Scully turned her face into his
throat.

"Give her to me," the other man said as they reached where
Mulder stood. The man slung his machine gun over his shoulder
and made an impatient "gimme" motion with his hands.

The man in front of him stepped aside at the wave of the Middle
Thug's gun barrel, and Mulder felt his jaw tighten as the other
man held out his arms.

"No," Mulder said. "She stays with me. She can't stand.
She's sick."

"Uh uh," the man said. "Hand her over. Unless you want her
even sicker. And off the side of the train."

Mulder swallowed, but his eyes flared. His mind began playing
the image of handing her over and then going for the Sig-

"I'll take her for you, mister," came a gentle voice, and then
the Trombone Man was standing between Mulder and the masked man.
He was holding up his hands as if to show they were empty,
though one of them held a battered looking case.

"No," Mulder said again, shaking his head.

The Trombone Man looked at back at him with those strange,
black eyes. He was looking over the top of a pair of tinted
glasses, his white shirt and black jacket looking pressed, his
rumpled hat in place.

"It's all right," he said softly so that only Mulder and Scully
could hear. "I'll look after her for you. Make sure she stays
safe."

Mulder stared, shaking his head once, telling the man to move
with his eyes.

"Don't do it, Mr. Mulder," the dark man said quietly. "Ain't
gonna do nobody no good if you get yourself killed right here.
Now I promise you. She'll be all right."

Mulder didn't know if he accepted the promise as true, but
something about the man's voice made the part about him being
killed sound right. He let out a breath in resignation and took
a step closer, transferring Scully's limp body to the other
man's arms. The hand that didn't hold the case curved around
her upper arm, holding her almost tenderly against him.

"What's in the case?" Middle Thug asked, tapping it with the
barrel of his gun.

Mulder watched the Trombone Man smile. "Oh, that ain't
nothing, sir," he said. "It's just my little silver cornet."

Great, Mulder thought, rolling his eyes. I've just handed
Scully off to a man who's queer for trumpets...

Trombone Man smiled, showing off his gold teeth. The Middle
Thug blew out a breath in frustration. "Just go," he snapped.

"How about you let me take her to a place where she can lay
down," the Trombone Man said.

"Like where?" Middle Thug asked.

"Say that place where the conductor usually sleeps. Right on
the other side of that door." The older man nodded toward the
door they'd come through. "I promise you I won't be no trouble.
I just want her to have a place to lie down is all."

The two masked men looked at each other, and Middle Thug
finally nodded. "All right. Take her to that first open cabin.
But you go further than that, I'll blow both your fucking heads
off. You hear me?"

"Yessir," Trombone Man said, nodding. "I surely understand
that."

Mulder watched them move through the crowd of men, all parting
to let them go through. With every step they took away from
him, Mulder felt something sinking inside him. He had a strange
feeling that he'd never see Scully again.

Middle Thug was looking at him, and broke into a smile.

"I'm gonna kill you," Mulder said softly. The men around him
stared, putting as much distance between them and Mulder as the
tiny space allowed.

The Middle Thug just laughed. "Sure you are, Mr. Mulder.
That's what he called you, right?" He nodded to the Trombone
Man, who'd disappeared back into the sleepers.

"Yeah," Mulder replied.

"Fox Mulder? F.B.I.?"

Mulder swallowed and nodded. "Yeah," he said. He didn't like
the sound of that.

"Well, lucky me," the masked man said, raising his gun.
"You're just the man Mr. Kever wants to see."

 

****

 

THE SLEEPER CAR
2:38 a.m.

 

Scully woke to the sensation of something cold against her
lips, and for a terrifying instant, she thought it was the
barrel of a gun, the cold metal round shape against her lips.

At that association, her eyes shot open and she started, which
only sent a new shriek of pain through her middle, her belly
feeling like it was being torn apart.

"No!" she cried, trying to push the metal object away. A drop
of liquid spilled out from it onto her lips, warm, and she
reached up to wipe it roughly away.

"Dana, it's okay..." It was Blue. He was speaking quietly,
soothing her with a soft shushing sound. "I'm not hurting you
with this now. You drink up a little bit."

He was there in the darkness, light from the hallway - the door
to the car behind bleeding light - faintly illuminating the tiny
room. She saw some of it glint on a gold tooth as he smiled,
but there was something sad about his face.

"I need you to drink a little bit more of this," he said, and
he tipped the object - a flask - to her lips. "This is gonna
take some of that pain away and give you back some strength."

She looked up at him, trying to catch her breath and place her
surroundings. There was a taste in her mouth, something
terribly sweet.

Like the cocoa. Like Alexander Kever and his drink...

"Don't!" she said, and tried again to push Blue's arm away.
"No, he poisoned me...he-"

"Yes, ma'am, he did in a way," Blue said, nodding. "And what
I'm giving you will help some with that."

Scully froze, blinked. "How do you know?" she breathed. "How
do you know about that?"

Blue smiled. "Just drink this, Dana. You ain't got enough of
it in you to do much, and I promise you...you drink this some of
that pain will go away for awhile. I swear." He held the flask
up again.

She shook her head. Something was wrong here for him to know
about Kever. Though her brain was muddled, she could recall
that Blue hadn't been there in the dining car the night before,
and she hadn't told him yesterday when they'd sat together,
before he took her back to her sleeper cabin to wait for Mulder
to return.

Her hand shot up and stilled his arm again. She shook her head.

"I'll tell you the story while you drink," he said softly.
"Okay?"

"Tell me before," she said, though the pain in her - like
something crawling there, something with sharp teeth - was
almost too much to bear. She gritted her teeth and pressed on.
"How do you know...about Kever? What he did to me?"

Blue chuffed a laugh. "Ma'am, I know *everything* about you.
Everything. Dana Katherine Scully. Your mama is Maggie and
your daddy was 'Ahab,' like you called him. You got a brother
named Charles, though he goes by Charlie, don't he now?"

Scully's eyes bulged and she grew still.

"Mr. Mulder, he's your partner in the FBI, but he's your
boyfriend, too, though that's pretty new. In a manner of
speaking, that is." He seemed to nearly blush. "Not that it's
proper for me to talk about things like that, you being a lady
and all."

"What's...what's my other brother's name?" Scully asked, her
voice afraid.

Blue's expression softened to a warm smile again. "He's Bill,
but William's his name, too. Like your daddy." He grew
serious. "And like your boy, too. The boy you were going to
have with Mr. Mulder not too long off from now."

Scully gaped. "That's impossible." She shook her head, the
pain growing. "I...wait...what do you mean 'were going to
have'?"

Blue held up the flask and Scully looked at it, the pain - and
the curious horror flowing through her - too much to bear. She
nodded and he tipped it gently against her lips, warm, sweet
liquid flowing into her mouth and the pain beginning to pull
back like a wave.

"The one you were going to have before you got on this train,
Miss Dana," he whispered. He sounded sad.

"The train?" she said, her eyes lolling. She was too weak to
listen. Too...

Blue touched her face so that she focused on his face again,
his eyes black but seeming to glow in the dark. When he spoke
again, there was something in his voice that was as grim as the
grave.

"Before the end, Dana," he said. "Before the end of the world
began."

 

*****

 

END OF CHAPTER THREE. CONTINUED IN CHAPTER FOUR.

*****

DAY FIVE

WYOMING
WESTBOUND
"THE SILVER COMET"
TIME: UNKNOWN

 

"Where were you just then?"

Where had he been? Mulder felt like he'd been having one of
those nightmares he associated with fevers, the sweat pouring
off of him. Even the floor, made cool by the air rushing under
the train, seemed too warm, as though the cold metal beneath the
industrial carpet were burning rather than chilling his back.

He'd been lying there for what seemed like forever, his mind
finally drifting off in the quiet. Waking dreams. Something in
the tea had sent his mind back...

Where...?

Oh yes. The beach with Samantha. Martha's vineyard. A strand
of her hair had been caught in the corner of her mouth and she
was pulling the dark curl away, smiling at him. There was sand
on her face, white enough to look like powdered sugar. She was
wearing a red bathing suit with a flower on the belly and
he...he was saying something to her.

What was it?

"Tell me where you were."

It was pitch black in the car, the smell of some sort of sweet
tobacco drifting around through the smell of decay. Kever was
far off in the corner, sitting in that tatty recliner like it
were a throne, and Mulder didn't have to see him to hear the
smile in his voice, that odd tone he used. Condescension mixed
with something fond, as though Mulder were a favorite dog.

"None of your business," Mulder croaked out. His throat was
dry. The heat in the car was unbearable, though at least the
smell had partially abated.

Kever laughed, the bemused chuckle.

"It's hot as hell in here," Mulder mumbled, his chest heaving
as he pulled in the hot air. It burned his throat, making his
voice more hoarse.

"That's your doing, Fox," Kever said in the darkness. "As
usual, you've designed your own Hell." He laughed again. "I've
always found you so entertaining. So very entertaining."

"Hey, glad to help you out." The bravado was easier to manage
in the dark, when he didn't have to look at Kever, though he
could tell from Kever's voice that he was back to
his...normal?...appearance, the mouth of fangs not sending the
hissing into his words.

In any case, since Kever seemed more interested in terrorizing
him (at least at the moment) than killing him, Mulder had found
a tiny bit of safety, enough to gather his "fuck you" attitude
around himself, even though its protection was as meager as a
suit of armor made of glass.

"Why doesn't anyone imagine a *cold* Hell?" Kever wondered
aloud. "I mean, you I understand completely, with that pesky
fear of fire you've got. But why hot? You're much more likely
to die in the cold, after all, than in heat short of fire."

Mulder rolled onto his side. He could hear the sound of
flames, like a fireplace roaring to life, and he looked over to
see a hearth had appeared next to Kever, flames the color of
blood licking off a high pile of wood. Kever was a shadow in
the chair next to it. Mulder rested his cheek on his arm,
swallowed. His legs felt like lead, and he curled them up, his
knees against his chest.

"Dante's final Circle was ice, I think," he offered.
Distraction was the key right now while Mulder figured out what
to do next.

"Yes," Kever said. "Poor Judas. I stand corrected."

Mulder licked his lips, the blisters that had formed from
Kever's cup of tea, the drink that had sent him to floor, still
searing with pain. He'd been unable to rise since, and since
Kever had turned all the lights out - seemingly even the sun,
since it had turned to an Eternal Night - he'd lost track of
time, if time still existed outside this train.

If the world was still out there at all...

"Of course it's still there, Fox," Kever said, one side of his
face lit by the fire and glowing red. "You are prone to
dramatics, aren't you? And to sentimentality, with your sister
and her little swimsuit on the sand..."

"Why do you keep asking me what I'm thinking about, where I've
been in my mind, if you can *read* my mind?" Mulder asked. He
was so tired...

"Because I like hearing how you would characterize what you're
remembering," Kever replied. "And why you're remembering it.
Take that memory, for example. Why are you thinking of a
meaningless day on the beach from your childhood when you're
here with me, and so much is riding with us?"

"Memories are like that, Mr. Kever," Mulder muttered, closing
his eyes. "You don't always have control over them. They just
come back to you when you need them. Right now I guess that's
one I needed."

The image of Samantha floating back to him, like a bottle with
a message in it floating onto his shore. He smiled faintly.

"You loved her so much," Kever said. "I wonder why."

"She was my sister." It seemed so obvious.

"No, it's much more than that," Kever pressed, shifting to
cross his legs, one hand holding an ornate black pipe, its end
glowing as Kever put it in his mouth and inhaled. "Yes, you
were marooned together in that family of yours and clung to each
other that way, but it's more...I think you were done a
tremendous favor by losing her, if I may say so."

"You may not," Mulder rumbled.

Kever ignored him. "If you'll allow me to play Devil's
Advocate-"

"Wouldn't that be representing yourself?" Mulder quipped.

Kever ignored him. "--your life would have been quite
different had she lived. And the things you know, the things
you've found out about this world...you'd have never known them,
would you?"

"No, I wouldn't," Mulder said, reaching up to wipe his lips
again.

"That whole conundrum of what's destined and what's earned...I
love to think on that. It's such a satisfying knot to tie and
untie." Kever puffed his pipe, the strangely sweet smell rising
in the room with the smoke.

Mulder swallowed, pondering it himself, but also growing a bit
angry at Kever's amusement at the whole thing. "I don't believe
someone has to suffer to learn the things they need to learn."

Kever smiled. "Perhaps not," he said dismissively. "But in
your case..."

Mulder grew quiet, staring at the flames in the fireplace, the
roaring fire wreathed in the arcane stone hearth. He was quiet
for what felt like a long time, the train clicking along on the
tracks.

"Was it you?" he asked softly, unable to stop the words from
coming. "Did you take her from me?"

Kever uncrossed and crossed his legs again. "Of course not,"
he said. "Despite what I'm accused of, I rarely pay attention
to any one person or thing with an eye toward causing a specific
harm. Plus, I so rarely have to do a thing. Humankind does a
very efficient job of causing its own undoing. What's sitting
in the back of this train is proof enough of that."

Mulder couldn't think of a thing to say to counter that, both
because it was true, and because it brought him back to the
present in a way that made his heart sink. He closed his eyes.

"You're paying an awful lot of attention to me right now,"
Mulder said finally. "A lot of attention to Scully, too."

Kever put his pipe in his mouth, his teeth making a clicking
sound on its end. "Yes," he agreed. "I am." He seemed pleased.

 

Mulder swallowed. He wanted to stand and face Kever again, but
he'd already seen where that would get him. Instead, he pulled
himself into a sitting position, his elbows balanced on his
knees.

"You were the one who sent us that note, about there being
something on the train we both needed to see." He felt very
sure.

Right up until Kever started laughing, coughing slightly as
smoke caught in his throat.

"No, Fox, that was not I," he said. "That was a man within
your government who thought you and Agent Scully his last hope
of exposing the research into the Mercury Project." He chortled
again. "No, I am not responsible for your being here. But you
are, in a way, responsible for my presence. In an oblique way."

Mulder shook his head. "I don't understand."

Kever smiled, his white perfect teeth catching the firelight.
"The train will be going over a bridge on its journey that has a
compromised segment that will collapse when we cross. The
Mercury virus will come in contact with the water and be
released into the air, with the inevitable consequences I
discussed before."

Mulder swallowed, but his mouth had gone dry as bones.
"So...Scully and I would have been killed anyway. The virus
would have gotten out and..." He couldn't bring himself to
believe it enough to say it, and pressed on. "That doesn't
explain why you're here. Why you took over the train. If we
were going to die anyway, why waste your time making sure it
happens?"

"First," Kever said, standing and taking the few steps to the
strange fire. "Time doesn't mean the same thing to me that it
does to you, so there is no such things as 'wasting' it.
Second, in the words of the lovely videos you used to watch with
such fervor: *I like to watch.*" He winked at Mulder
conspiratorially.

Mulder watched him, though, something niggling at him as he
watched Kever tamp out his pipe into the fire, the red flames
flaring as the tobacco hit the flame.

"Why did you kill the men who were traveling with the virus?"
He looked at Kever's back, holding very still.

"Call it...insurance," Kever said, not looking at him as he
picked up an ancient looking box on the mantle and opened it,
refilling his pipe. Fellix, barely visible in the corner where
he was sleeping in another chair, shifted in his sleep, making a
noise not unlike a restless child.

Let it go, Mulder told himself. Don't think about it...don't
let him in...

(I don't *believe* him...)

Mulder pushed it down, hoping that Kever couldn't hear the
thought as it bloomed.

"What did you do to Scully?" he asked, mustering that anger
again.

Kever reached down to set his index finger alight in the red
flame, which he used to light the pipe.

"I killed her."

Mulder felt instantly like he'd fallen from a tall building,
falling...and then hit the ground. He closed his eyes, his
teeth gritting down.

"She's dead." Mulder said it as flatly as he could.

Kever nodded. "Yes. Just a bit ago, in fact. In terrible
pain and utterly alone in the dark." His voice dropped to a
whisper. "Just as you always feared."

He blew out a puff of smoke that occluded his features, though
Mulder knew he was looking for the reaction, which Mulder
couldn't help but give him. Kever's black eyes were alight with
delight.

"Why...why her?" Mulder got out, though bile had again risen in
his throat. "Why *just* her?"

He wanted to launch himself at Kever and do what he could to
the creature. Every muscle in his body was taut as wire to do
it. He hated enough to die trying it.

Kever smiled again. "Ask me again about the men. Why I killed
the men."

"Fuck you." Something was welling in his throat, hard as a
stone and hot as the fire before him.

"ASK ME!" Kever roared, turning, and the fire behind him rose
as if on command. The train car's temperature rose quickly
enough to make breathing hard. Mulder felt like his lungs were
on fire.

"You can kill me," Mulder shouted back, and now he did rise.
"But you're not going to toy with me like some goddamned INSECT-"

Kever moved without moving. As Mulder found his feet, the
creature was simply *there,* standing before him again as
before, his hand on Mulder's throat, the nails digging in. The
face before him the creature - the yellow eyes, the fetid
breath, the mouth full of needle-like teeth...

In his other hand, he held up a set of keys in front of
Mulder's face, the ring dangling from between two long
fingernails.

"These are the keys to the SUV, Fox. Without them, the vehicle
can't be driven. And the only way to have stopped the virus and
save your pitiful, worthless race was to have these keys. But
you didn't figure that out soon enough, did you? And now you
can't do it...what you needed to be able to take these keys from
me...it's gone now. Dead as you soon will be..."

That was it then. He'd killed Scully because she could have
stopped him. Somehow...there was something she could have done.

No. Something *they* would have done. Together.

That was why Kever had come. To make sure of it all. To make
sure they didn't manage to interfere.

Mulder stood straighter, ignoring the pain in his throat from
the nails, ignoring the fire behind Kever and those yellow eyes,
and the skin going gaunt and green.

"You're not as powerful as you make it seem, Mr. Kever," he
whispered, but his voice was firm and strong. "You didn't come
to enjoy our destruction and you're not making sure it's done.
We would have stopped this and you had to stop *us,* which is a
very different thing. And you had to kill one person just to
have any control over any of this, even with everything else you
can do. One *person.* And now you've got me to play with and
punish for having that kind of power over you. You weak,
cowardly son-of-a-BITCH."

Mulder felt the fire crest in him, flaring. He leaned back
enough to get a bit of distance and let a wad of spit fly,
straight into Kever's face.

When the creature opened his eyes again, stunned, they'd gone
as red as the flame. His lips pulled back from his teeth,
revealing black gums, a thick tongue hidden there.

"I'm not afraid of you anymore," Mulder said, and he smiled.

"You will be," the creature replied. "Oh Fox...you will be."

 

*****

 

END OF CHAPTER FIVE. CONTINUED IN CHAPTER SIX.

****

DAY SIX
CROSSING INTO IDAHO
320 MILES TO THE BRIDGE OVER THE SNAKE RIVER
6:15 p.m.

 

It wasn't that she didn't believe in angels. Everything in her
childhood, all those hours spent in the smoke prayers of
cathedrals, the stained glass memories of beings with wings
coming through high windows as though riding on the beams of
light behind them, had prepared her to believe that angels were,
in fact, real, hovering somewhere unseen just out of the corners
of mortal eyes.

What Scully couldn't come to terms with, though, was that one
was sitting before her, humming a song she vaguely recalled as
being from the Civil War, a older and very ordinary looking man
with a graying goate and calloused hands that were turning a
battered hat around and around in them slowly by the brim.

And perhaps more importantly, she couldn't come to terms with
what it all might mean. She didn't want to think about that.

The lid to the case holding Blue's silver cornet had slammed
shut, the light too bright blinding her without pain and
stealing her consciousness away as though it had lifted her
awareness up like a leaf and carried it off. Everything she
remembered after that she hadn't trusted to be separate from
dream, though the look Blue was giving her in the near-dark made
her uneasily sure she had dreamed nothing. He was looking at
her over the rims of his glasses, his eyes dark as bottomless
pools.

She was feeling stronger, strong enough to sit up, which she
did, pushing up from beneath the thin blanket and the warm dark
fabric of Blue's jacket, which he seemed to have pulled over her
as she slept. She could taste the sweetness of the liquid he'd
given her before, and realized he must have plied her with more
of it while she'd been lost in that place that both was and was
not like sleep.

Blue didn't move as she sat up, her weight on her right arm.
She returned his grim gaze, the only sound the clacking of the
tracks beneath the train, the landscape outside washed in a
bloody sunset, the sky the color of burning coals.

The direct approach to things had always proven the best course
of action in difficult circumstances, though she'd often been
accused of being too forward or too blunt. Since being seen as
too forward was the least of her concerns (with the end of the
world in the balance), she now played to that strength.

"Tell me why you're here," she said quietly, her voice firm.
"Please."

Blue said nothing. He didn't move for a long moment, not even
to blink. Then his gaze flitted to the case, and back to hers
again.

"If I interpret the text correctly," she began. "You're
the...angel...sent to blow the trumpet that signals the end of
the world. Judgment Day."

Blue smiled faintly. "So some folks believe," he said. "Yes,
ma'am."

She nodded. Okay, she thought, her mind racing, trying to
remember things she'd once known but had seemed to forget.
Okay...

"Is there some part I'm supposed to play in this?" She could
feel herself go a bit ashen as the words left her mouth.

Blue nodded. The smile was gone. "Yes, ma'am."

She waited, hoping the answer to the next question would simply
present itself, that he would volunteer it. But the fact that
he hadn't told her thus far was proof that he would not - or
could not? - tell her on his own.

"What part do I play?" Her mouth had gone dry.

Blue turned the brim a few more times slowly, studying the
brim. "It's more...what part *could* you play, Dana."

She swallowed. "And on which side of this?" she asked, her
voice dropping to a hoarse whisper.

"I'm not sure what you mean," he said, not looking up from his
hat.

"Which side do I play a part in? Preventing what's going to
happen, or making sure it does?" She felt her eyes welling.
She didn't want to believe any of this, the fantastical
implications of it.

"That, Miss Dana, depends on you," Blue said, looking up again.
"You and Mr. Mulder, and the choice you both make this night."

Now the tears did come, born not from hopeless but frustration,
from something like rage. "Why?" she blurted. "Why does this
have to hinge on *us*?"

"Mr. Mulder's the one that brought evil into this, ma'am," Blue
said, trying to placate with a gentle tone. "Because of
something he seen a long time ago, a boy who was taken over by
something evil that got its sights on Mr. Mulder and has held on
to watching him, held onto watching him *tight.*" He gripped
the brim of his hat for emphasis, the material crinkling in his
fists. "And part of the reason he's held on so hard is because
of *you* and something you seen before, the same thing you seen
tonight that left you changed, made you something he couldn't
fight straight on, and that made him afraid."

Scully's mind went reeling, memories crowding in. The parking
lot where she'd knelt down, Mulder's voice on the cell phone at
her ear and the angel before her, the Seraphim.

"What did he say to you?" Blue asked. "Do remember what Father
McCue said?"

She did remember, but she didn't speak it. Her hand came up to
cover her mouth.

The train sped up, jerking slightly on the tracks. Blue's head
turned toward the window suddenly, the sun dipping down and all
gone nearly to darkness. He turned back to Scully, his features
hardened, intense.

"Dana, we got so little time," he said firmly. "Do you
remember what he said?"

She dropped her hand enough to say it. "He said that to look
upon the Seraphim in all his glory...was to give up one's soul
to heaven." How could she forget?

Blue nodded. "Yes," he said, a whisper of sound.

"But it's just a story," she insisted. "It's only a story in a
book that the Church doesn't even recognize as being true!"

Blue smiled sadly. "Stories are funny like that, ma'am," he
said. "Sometimes it's the ones that are so strange and that
seem the hardest to believe that have the *most* truth in them.
Folks got funny ideas about the truth that way. They think that
it's got to be easy to tell and see for it to *be* true, and
ma'am, things hardly never work out that way."

Scully nodded, and Blue went on, his voice rising, his eyes
flashing with some inner light.

"And if you think about it, ma'am, the fastest way to get over
being afraid of something you don't understand is to just tell
yourself that whatever a story is trying to say ain't real and
that it don't matter anyway!"

Scully swallowed, nodded again. "Yes," she said softly.
"That's often the way it is."

Blue leaned forward, touched her hand. "Dana, you've seen my
face," he whispered. "My *real* face. Now do you believe in
what you seen with your own eyes? Do you *want* to believe?"

She didn't want to, no. Like Blue had said, a story could be
too true, so true it made her afraid. And she was very afraid.

"Yes," she said. "I do."

Blue smiled again, wide enough now that it touched his eyes.

"How do we fight this man?" she asked softly. "What should I
do?"

Blue rose and sat next to her on the bed, moving slowly, his
hand reaching out to take hers. It was calloused and warm as an
old man's.

"The first thing you got to do, ma'am, is believe that he is
*not* a man," he said. "There ain't nothing about him that is
except that suit of skin he's got on, and it ain't a very good
likeness for passing out here at that."

Scully remembered his strange eyes, the long hair that was too
white, and those horrible claw-like nails.

A necessary evil, he'd said. She swallowed nervously again.

"All right," she said. "Now tell me what he did to me. Tell
me how he made me so sick, and why."

Blue squeezed her hand. "Dana, he saw Mr. Mulder long ago and
that made Mr. Mulder vulnerable to him, someone he decided to
keep his eye on, a toy for him to keep aside to play with at
some later time. But what you saw...well, you gave something up
when you looked on me, on my true face. When you gave that up
you took something on in you, too, something that he can't look
on now with *his* true face. He had to find a way of touching
you with what he is, getting some part of him in you to dim that
light, and he did."

She remembered the night in the dining car, the cocoa he'd
brought, one long nail dipped in it, his too-polite apology and
offer to replace the cup. She'd been in such a hurry to escape
his unsettling presence, she'd refused and drank it instead...

"But you...you cured me?" she asked, nodding to his jacket
pocket where the flask was tucked away.

"In a way," Blue said quietly. "I helped you throw off what he
put inside you. That's all."

Her eyes welled. "Can you help Mulder?" she whispered. It had
grown very dark, and she found it hard to make out the specifics
of Blue's face. "Please."

"Mr. Mulder don't need my help, ma'am," he said, and she could
hear something fond in his voice. "One of the reasons Kever
took such a shine to him was because he knew that Mulder was a
challenge for him, and he don't like challenges as much as they
make him *afraid.* Mr. Mulder can handle Kever on his own for
now."

"But how?" Scully asked. The thought of Mulder alone with
Kever, with what he was...

Blue went on. "Partly because he believes in so many things so
easily, and partly because he don't believe in nothing but one
thing all the way. Believing easily will make him sure he needs
to take Kever on, that what Kever's told him about what's on
this train is true enough to try to stop it; not believing
completely will keep him from realizing Kever has the power to
tear him up like he's trying to do, and that will keep him safe
for awhile."

 

She thought about what he said for a moment, turning it over.
"I'm the one thing, aren't I?" she whispered sadly. "The one
thing he believes in."

Blue nodded in the darkness, the silhouette of his head bobbing
once. "Yes, ma'am, you are. And Kever's told Mulder that he
killed you, but Mulder knows that's a lie. He knows Kever's
afraid of you, and of him."

"Why?" she asked. "Why is he afraid? When you're here and you
could stop all this without us. Why don't you stop it?"

Blue shook his head. "People set this in motion, and people
are the only ones who can stop it again. People willing to
sacrifice for what they believe, for what they know is right."

He looked at Scully for a beat, his expression soft.

"You can stop what's going to happen," he murmured. "The two
of you. Because Mr. Mulder believes in you and in this world,
believes that he can save it, and that he can save you. And you
believe in me, and in Mr. Mulder."

Scully looked at him as they passed a strobe of lights, staring
into his eyes in the intermittent light. She was still and
quiet for a long moment, quiet as a grave.

"How?" she whispered.

Blue looked out the window, as though seeing something far off
in the distance. "The train's going over a bridge across the
Snake River. The bridge won't hold and the train will fall."

Scully's eyes widened, but she said nothing.

"You can hold Kever in the front car where he's at and give Mr.
Mulder time to get to the truck, the one that's carrying that
thing you all made. If you hold Kever, Mr. Mulder will be able
drive it far away from the water, because if it touches that
water..." He glanced at the cornet case, squeezed her hand
again.

"But all the people on the train...and me. We'll die," she
said, sounding numb.

Blue gnawed his lip. "Well, ma'am," he said gently. "Things
that are precious...they cost a lot. They always have. And
they always will." He reached up and touched her chin where it
had fallen as she looked down. "You try not to think on that
too much right now," he whispered, and she looked up again.

Finally, she nodded, pulling in a shaking breath. Then she
spoke.

"Tell me what to do."

 

****

THE DINING CAR
45 MILES TO THE BRIDGE OVER THE SNAKE RIVER
11:45 p.m.

Ronald Royce had always prided himself on being a man of
action, though wife Becky had always found fault with this.
Every time he flipped another driver off from high in the seat
of his Suburban, every time he walked out onto the front porch
of their house in Boise to shoo kids tramping his lawn away, she
would cluck at him from the living room like a hen and tell him
that Baby Jesus came to teach him patience and look how Ronald
paid him thanks?

Sitting in the corner of the stinking Dining Car of this
godforsaken train, Royce didn't have much thanks to pay for the
predicament he found himself in. Nor did any of the other men
who had casually gathered around him, their defacto leader in a
bloodied Green Bay Packers T-shirt and flannel pajama bottoms
covered with pointing dogs and mallard ducks.

"We've been sitting here on our cans for five days," Royce
whispered sharply, the gunmen all out in the areas between the
cars, hemming them in like dogs in a crate. "I've been saying
all along that there are enough of us that if we storm these
sonsabitches, we'll take them by surprise and we'll take back
over this place."

"How far near the front you going to be standing in this rush?"
an older man, close to 60, drawled, looking at him hard. "I
imagine those machine guns could do quite a bit of damage to the
ones in the front. You willing to be leading the charge?"

Two days ago, Royce would have said no. Even yesterday he
would have had to think about it. But today? He didn't give a
good goddamn.

"I'd rather die like a man on my feet than get shot up here in
this dining car with a bunch of sissy men who can't take a
stand," he said, glaring, but the older man only smiled.

"Sissies, huh?" the man asked. "Mr. Royce, I ain't the one
sitting here with puppies and ducks on my ass."

Royce started to rise, his jaw hardening to a scowl, when one
of the other men, a young man named Clark, held his shoulder and
kept him sitting down.

"Come on, you two," Clark said firmly, quietly. "We don't have
the luxury of fighting amongst ourselves. We've crossed into
Idaho, and we all know at this point that they don't have any
intention of letting us off this train alive."

That got Royce to relent, and the older man looked down, let
out a heavy breath.

"What's your plan, Mr. Royce?" Clark asked.

Royce looked at the men around him, at the older man, at Clark.
There were easily 45 of them in the car.

"You and me, Clark," he said with conviction. "I know just the
thing to get them in here pissing mad and confused."

 

****

THE SLEEPER CAR
35 MILES TO THE BRIDGE OVER THE SNAKE RIVER
11:55 p.m.

 

Blue was standing beside the door, two of Kever's henchmen
smoking cigarettes by the open doorway to the connecting area
between the Sleeper and the Dining cars, when he heard the first
shout. He glanced at the clock over the dead conductor's cabin.
11:55.

Right on time, he thought. Right on time...

"Miss Dana," he whispered, and Scully came forward from where
she'd stood back in the shadows, Mulder's shirt giant on her, a
V of white skin showing from its open neck. Her cross hung
there, catching the light from the cabin where the henchman had
both turned, unshouldering their guns.

"What the fuck is going on in there?" one of the men snapped
to the other.

"Oh Jesus," the other man replied, pushing past him. "Looks
like we've finally got a fight."

Blue could hear it, things crashing, a man calling another man
something, shouting, a riot of sound.

"Come on!" the first man said, and the two of them went through
the door fast, screaming for everyone to get down as they broke
through the door and into the noise beyond.

"GO!"

Blue heard someone scream the word from inside the Dining Car,
and then there were sudden bursts of machine gun fire,
screaming, more body-on-body sounds.

"Come on!" Blue said, stepping into the hallway and gesturing
Scully forward. "We ain't got much time before we reach the
river. You got to move fast."

Scully stood in the hallway, the riot of bodies, shouting,
glass breaking, before her through the door to the Dining Car as
the men tackled and overpowered the henchman en masse.

She could smell gunpowder, screams of pain. People were dead.

As this thought bloomed in her, she felt Blue's hand curl
around hers.

"Come on," he said again. "I'll get you through."

 

****

 

END OF CHAPTER SIX. CONTINUED IN CHAPTER SEVEN.

****

DAY SEVEN

"THE SILVER COMET"
EASTERN IDAHO
22 MILES TO THE BRIDGE OVER THE SNAKE RIVER
12:04 a.m.

 

"Follow me!" Blue called back to her in the din, and Scully
took hold of the back of his jacket, clutching the dark fabric
in her fist as Blue started forward through the Dining Car,
through the shouting and smoke from machine gun fire that hung
in the air like a gray mist. He pushed people aside with one
hand, his battered case holding his cornet in his other fist.

The Dining Car was tumbled with bodies (most of them moving,
she was relieved to see), and in the corner was a crush of men
who had pinned one of the two remaining armed gunmen up on one
of one of the booths' seats, his back pressed hard against the
window. Two men had hold of his machine gun and were pushing
with all they could muster, trying to wedge the weapon beneath
the masked man's chin to break his neck.

Considering the desperate look in the gunmen's eyes and the
weight of the men behind the two men pushing in, that fight
would be over quickly, and the gunmen would be dead. The
passengers weren't going for simply disarming the men; after
five days in captivity, the fear had exploded into rage and the
men were out for blood.

They were getting it, too. As Blue pushed through the men like
a shield in front of her, Scully's socked feet soaked in a slick
of blood and she slid and nearly fell.

"Hang onto me, Miss Dana," Blue said, loud enough for her to
hear, which meant he was nearly shouting. He slowed up long
enough for her to gain her footing, the warm ooze on her feet
leaving footprints behind her as she grabbed Blue's coat with
the other hand, as well, and gave him a slight push to let him
know she'd found her feet again.

"I'm all right," she said. "Go."

He reached out and took hold of a man at the back of the pile
subduing the last armed man, buried underneath a dozen men who'd
just managed to knock the machine gun away and were now beating
the man to death. Their hate was strong enough to taste in the
air in the car, the cursing and shouting seeming to make the gun-
mist thicker as the men found revenge. Scully felt she could
choke on it, even though she did, of course, understand how hate
could bloom like that.

Blue grabbed the man and tossed him as though he were a rag,
leaving a small pathway to the door connecting to the next car;
Blue pressed forward quickly and they were through the sliding
door, past the stinking bathroom, and into the loud, cold space
between the Dining and the Panorama Cars.

"We should be clear when we get through here," Blue said,
breathing hard, his voice nearly lost in the sounds of the
tracks, and he slapped the door's pad and it slid aside, the
smell of too many bodies and too little air hitting Scully in
the face like a hand.

The women were standing, clustered as they listened to the
sounds of fighting from the Dining Car, several women holding
others back as they encouraged each other to stay put unless the
men returned. Scully caught snatches of their urgent
conversations, the sounds of weeping, children shrieking and
crying in fear. But both of her hands were on Blue's jacket and
he was moving fast through the car, several women grabbing onto
his arms as he passed. He shook them off, calling out to
everyone as he went:

"You ladies get near the doors now, you hear?" he shouted.
"Get near the doors and the minute you see the chance you get
off this train. You all hear me now? The minute you think you
can do it, you get off this train!"

People were listening, gathering up children who hiding on the
floors, the night sky streaming above them, shot with millions
of stars. Scully had a vague feeling that the sky was pressing
in on her, pressing down on the train. The air seemed to be
being pushed out.

They got to the next door, and Blue slapped the door again, the
heavy metal and glass sliding aside. The rush of cold air was
welcome after the oppressive smell of urine and sweat, and Blue
didn't hesitate as he pushed through to the next car, an empty
passenger car full of empty seats.

She followed the flow of the train's cars in her mind:
Passenger #2, Passenger #1...Crew Car. That's where Blue had
told her Kever - and Mulder - could be found.

"Get ready," Blue said, and he was speeding up, speeding toward
the other side. "Get ready, Miss Dana...we're close now."

 

****

THE CREW CAR
15 MILES FROM THE BRIDGE OVER THE SNAKE RIVER
12:16 p.m.

 

"Get UP!"

The floor was so hot that Mulder could feel his cheek singeing
against its bare surface, the carpet long since turned to ash.
Still, the pain kept him down, his head feeling like it was made
of lead. He would swear if he tried to lift it, his neck,
already wrenched from the giant Fellix's last blow, would snap.

Kever's voice was angry and growing angrier as each hour had
passed and Mulder endured his punishment for his insolence and
his lack of fright. But it was also growing far away, seeming
to echo as though Mulder had held a shell up to his ear,
everything receding into a hollow hiss.

"I said GET UP!" Kever shouted again, and Mulder felt Fellix's
huge hand grab the back of his shirt, the other scruffing his
hair, and Fellix hauled him up like a rag doll, planting him on
shaking legs again in front of Kever, whose temper was flaring -
blood red in his slitted eyes - again.

Mulder could feel the dried blood on his face from his nose,
his mouth. One cracked lip had swollen and was crusted dry, as
though Mulder had been lost in the desert without water, and his
face badly burned. He faced Kever, his eyes lolling, as he took
in what was now a familiar sight.

"I'm not afraid..." he whispered to Kever, feeling Fellix's
fist tighten in his hair. "Not afraid of you...not afraid..."

It had been his mantra through Kever's torments, the first
beginning at daybreak.

Teena Mulder, on her hands and knees on the floor before her
front door, every sheet torn from the linen closet, her face so
set and determined that she appeared to have gone insane, her
jaw muscles working like Mulder's own when he was angry or
afraid. Her fingers pushing the cloth beneath the cracks, the
gas hissing in the house.

At one point she crushed her fingernail between the door and
the thick white of a sheet, the fingernail bending back on the
worn wood until it snapped it half, blood coming, and she didn't
flinch or slow, her finger tucking towel and blood and
everything beneath the crack...

"So alone," Kever's voice had drifted to him in the midst of
the vision he'd started before Mulder's waking eyes, the
nightmare he couldn't wake from, couldn't escape. "Look at her,
Fox. Look at her eyes." He'd hissed the last until his voice
became the sound of the gas.

There was more, so much more that Kever had shown him, trying
to drown him in an ocean of his regrets, everything he'd felt
he'd been responsible for a riptide pulling him from the shore.

Samantha on the slab. Scully on a blinding white table, her
belly blown up in some obscene approximation of a life growing
inside her, her blue eyes frozen open as the drill came down.

"Your fault," Kever whispered behind the drill bit's whirr.
"All your fault, Fox. Such a terrible failure of a man..." And
his voice became the drill, became the soft sound of the metal
entering flesh.

Mulder lost track of time, of place. The only thing he could
see clearly beyond the visions, clearly of the present, was
Kever's face, the only thing he could feel was the heat licking
up from the rotted car, the carpet peeled and burning, the fire
in the fireplace next to Kever roaring as with delight.

"I know what I've caused," he remembered saying to him. "I
know what I'm to blame for, and what I'm not. You can't hurt me
with that anymore."

That was when Fellix had moved in.

Now he stared into Kever's face, one eye swollen nearly closed,
his mouth dry as a bone, his tongue swollen with thirst. He
could feel his legs shaking and Kever's rancid breath on his
face.

"There's no hope," Kever said softly. "None at all. You know
that, don't you? In a few moments the train will cross onto the
bridge and everything in your world will be gone."

Mulder let the words seep into him, sinking, the water of
something akin to hopelessness closing in over him. His throat
felt full of salt and water and regret.

Kever seemed to sense it, and his eyes flared, his lips turning
up in his black-gummed approximation of a grin.

That flared the rage again. "You won't," Mulder said hoarsely.

"Won't what?" Kever asked, coming closer with his mouth of
teeth. He looked ready to bite.

Mulder smiled faintly. "Even if you destroy me...us...you
won't win."

That was when he heard the sound of the door opening with a
crash behind him, a racket of noise in the oddly quiet car.
That was when Kever looked up over Mulder's shoulder and past
Fellix, who'd also jerked his head to look back in surprise.

Mulder saw Kever's lips pull back over the needled teeth as his
red eyes widened, his face twisting with rage as Fellix's grip
loosened on his hair.

Fellix turned him as he turned himself and he saw her standing
before the doorway, his white shirt hanging from her, his
sweatpants rolled to her calves, her red hair pushed back and
darkened with sweat. She was pale and small, her hands clenched
to fists.

Behind her, the Trombone Man stood in his battered hat and
black suit, his head and shoulders visible just behind Scully.
The man bent down and set the instrument case Mulder had always
seen him carrying beside him, then stood again, his arms crossed
over his chest.

Despite the pain, the frayed rope of his strength stretched to
snap, Mulder smiled, closed his eyes. He was suddenly grateful
for Fellix's hold on him. He realized he was too weak to stand.

A chance...he thought. There's a chance.

"Let him go, Mr. Kever," Scully said into the stunned silence,
and Mulder heard a low sound start in Kever's throat, the fire
behind them flaring like a furnace with Kever's rage.

**

She tried not to let the horror she felt as she looked at
Mulder and Kever come over her face, but her breath did draw in
as she looked at the blood that had soaked the front of Mulder's
shirt, his chest, and her eyes grew wide as she looked at Kever,
or what Kever had become, behind him.

The giant man who held Mulder was the least of her concerns
when she looked into Kever's face. He was looking at her, yes,
but his attention seemed absorbed by Blue standing behind her,
close enough that she could hear his slow, even breath.

"It's not your place to interfere," Kever hissed at Blue, but
Scully could tell that beneath the rage was something else,
something that sounded like it had the slightest doubt in it,
something like fear.

"You were the first to overstep your bounds, Mr. Kever," Blue
said quietly behind her. He sounded, for the first time since
she'd met him, angry. Enraged. "I'm just leveling things out
again."

What happened next happened so fast that Scully nearly cried
out in her surprise. Kever had lifted off from the deck of the
car and come toward her, his skin-like coat fluttering around
him like leathery bat's wings. His feet made a sharp sound as
he landed in front of her, close enough for her to touch him if
she'd wished. She didn't wish.

But it was Kever's hand that shot up toward her, toward her
face and neck. Blue's hand slid onto her shoulder and with its
touch, she didn't flinch from the clawed fingers shooting
towards her, right at her throat-

And then they stopped, the fingers frozen an inch from her
face, shaking with effort and from Kever's rage.

Scully watched the fingers for a beat, then looked from them to
Kever's face.

"You can't touch me," she said in her most quiet and dangerous
voice, the conviction of her belief in her words giving them an
almost eerie weight. "You can't touch me, and you *will not*
leave this car before it falls. You can't move against me, and
you know it. I'm holding you here."

Kever pushed against the invisible force that kept his hand
away. His teeth gritted down, that same growl rising in his
throat.

"I will kill you!" he shrieked, the sound tearing around the
small space. The temperature in the car leapt as the fire
spilled from the fireplace, the chair catching, the rotted walls
glowing with heat.

Scully nodded. "Yes," she said calmly. "But Mulder will leave."

 

She flicked her gaze to Fellix, who still held Mulder. Mulder
was shaking his head, his eyes boring into hers, anguished, but
unafraid.

"Let him go," Scully said to Kever. "Your fight is with me
now. Only with me."

Kever screamed, the sound high and shrill, like an animal
caught in a trap's teeth. It stood the hair up on the back of
her neck despite the blistering heat. But she didn't move, not
even to back away from the stench that came up from Kever's
throat. She leveled her gaze at him, her jaw hardening, and
held her ground.

 

Behind her, she heard Blue move, walking slowly around Kever
with quiet, measured steps. He walked the few paces to where
Fellix held Mulder.

"Give him to me," Blue said, and Fellix, his eyes dumb and wide
as plates, let Mulder go with a start and backed away.

Blue reached out calmly, his hands closing on Mulder, and
caught him as he fell.

**

Mulder had tried to stand, wanting to mirror Scully's stance on
Kever's other side. But as the giant man's hands left him, his
legs - already shaking with exhaustion and strain - and buckled
beneath him.

That was when he felt the Trombone Man's hands on him, and
something rushing into his body, something tickling inside his
chest. He felt suddenly like he were filled with tiny wings.

"Stand up there, Mr. Mulder," the man said, though Mulder
realized now that he was much more than a man. "I've got you.
You just stand up there now...that's it."

Mulder righted his legs under him, his hands on the older man's
shoulders as he steadied himself. The tickling in his chest
kept going, fluttering out. He felt his head clearing, the pain
ebbing partly away.

He raised his face to look into the other man's eyes, saw the
dark black pools reflecting his face back. He nodded, telling
the being in front him he could stand, that he was okay, and he
was released.

"Get them," the Trombone Man said softly, nodding to the table
beside the flaming chair, the white-hot fire moving down to the
carpet and threatening to engulf the small table to the side.

The table on which Kever's key now lay.

Mulder looked at them at the being in front of him, whose face
was deathly serious.

"Go on," he said to Mulder. "You know just what to do. You go
on and save all these people." He nodded to Scully. "Just like
you've saved her. And I have. Just like she's saved you."

Mulder looked at Scully, still holding Kever at bay before her,
though her eyes - welled with tears - were only on Mulder's face.

 

He didn't break her gaze as he stepped to the table, inches
from the flames, and plucked the keychain up, gripping it in a
fist as he moved past Blue, around Kever, to stand behind her
where Blue had stood. He leaned close, Kever's hand shaking
again as he reached for them both.

"Scully..." he whispered.

Her hand came back to touch his forearm, slid down. Their
fingers found each other, clenched.

"I love you," she whispered. "I'm sorry I didn't say it sooner
than this."

He squeezed her fingers, leaned forward to touch a bare patch
of her shoulder with a kiss. "I love you, too, " he replied,
matching her tone. "And don't be sorry, Scully. You did say
it. I think we both always did."

He looked back up at the Trombone Man, who nodded toward the
door, his expression determined but sad in some way.

"Go, Mulder," Scully said, her voice shaking with tears.
"Please..."

With one final look at Kever, Mulder let go of her hand,
slapped the door controls, headed out through the connecting
doors and was gone.

**

Scully felt the train lurch a bit beneath her, the car filling
up with pungent smoke, the flames catching the rotted drapes,
the couch, the beds.

The sound of the tracks beneath them - steady as a heartbeat -
changed to a hollow, echoing sound.

The bridge. The first of the engines had crossed the bridge in
the darkness.

My God, she thought...no...

"It's over," Kever hissed with glee, his hand falling from
where he'd been trying to get his claws around Scully's throat.
"The train's on the bridge and the bridge *must* fall!" He
grinned that hideous grin, his black gums shining in the roaring
light like oil.

"Yes," Blue said from behind him, coming forward to stand
behind Scully again.

Kever laughed, the sound full of terrible glee.

"The train's going down all right," Blue said from behind her,
reaching down to grab his case. "But not all of it, Mr. Kever.
Not all."

Scully turned to look at him as Kever's laugh was cut short, a
wrenching sound of metal on metal starting beneath their feet.
Her eyes were wide with fright.

"Trust me, Dana." Blue called, reaching back to slap the door
open again. "And grab hold of me as tight as you can."

She didn't have time to do anything but what he said, her hands
locking down on his dark coat, as the front end of the car
angled suddenly down with a crash. Fellix made an inarticulate
noise and rushed to his master, everything in the car tipping
forward as though they lived in a bottle and it had just been
turned down to pour its firey contents out.

Blue threw himself back, taking Scully with him as she saw his
free hand, the one not holding the silver cornet, grab hold of
the door jam where the door had slid aside, his fingers grasping
the edge as the car tipped even more sharply, hanging for an
instant in what she sensed was nothing but black air.

She screamed.

They fell.

**

Mulder heard the start of the bridge's collapse, the sound of
metal and concrete snapping, a rumbling like an earthquake, rock
breaking against rock. He was halfway through the second
passenger car, all the seats empty and only two women trickled
out from the Panorama Car, when he felt the floor beneath him
begin to tilt, and he was suddenly struggling up what felt like
the beginnings of a hill.

"Oh Christ..." he said under his breath, the tearing sound and
crashing getting louder, a deafening boom, and he was hanging
onto the seats and pulling himself forward, one seat back at a
time.

The train was falling already, he realized, both the giant
engines hauling the front of the train down with their
tremendous weight. The snapping sounds and the tearing was the
bridge crumbling and the snapping of the tracks.

Gogogogogogo....

He ran as best he could, the women screaming and heading away
from the car as it tipped.

"Get out of here!" he shouted to the women in front him, who
were trying to hold onto the nearest seats. "We're on a bridge
and we're falling! Go back! GO BACK!"

That got them moving, but the effort was short lived as he
heard a giant screaming screech and the train's brakes locked
down, throwing him and the two women down in the aisle, one of
the women managing to hit the front seat and the other tumbling
over him, screaming, as he reached out and grasped a seat leg
with one hand to stop himself and the woman's leg with other to
keep the two of them from rocketing from the back.

The screaming of the brakes kept going, and he could feel the
train sliding down beneath, sliding...

"RUN!" he screamed to the woman he held, her forehead bleeding
beneath her blonde, mussed hair as he pushed her off him, and
the two of them scrambled up as the car's angle suddenly
dipped.

They were stopped, but this car was still on the bridge. They
were falling, and the juncture where the car joined the Panorama
Car was bending and tearing, buckling in.

"GO!" Mulder screamed, pushing the woman in front of him, the
other woman screaming and running through the connector, pulling
herself through as other passengers grabbed her and yanked.

Mulder got the woman in front of him through the joint as the
car gave way. He was caught in the connecting area, and three
men had grabbed him just as the car broke off, disappearing
around him in a huge booming sound. Behind him, it fell.

He was on his stomach looking down as he watched the car and
the passenger car in front of it, the Crew Car, the
engines...all of it, its lights still flickering in the cool
night, fall the 200 or so feet toward black water below, and,
with a thunderous crash of metal and water, began to disappear.

"NO!" he howled, throwing himself forward, the sound ripping
from his throat. The men behind him had him, though, and kept
him from following her down.

**

Scully was jerked away from Blue as the car hit the river
below. The car's end had broken already, throwing Kever and
Fellix and the fire into the river and washing them away, the
black river rushing in. It was only the water that kept her
from being crushed against the wreck.

As she lost hold of Blue's coat, she free-fell the 20 feet from
the door where Blue had been, found herself suddenly immersed in
the coldest, darkest water she'd ever experienced, water choking
her as she gasped at the cold.

She pushed off from a piece of debris as she went under to get
her head above water again, but the train car was going down at
an angle, water gurgling in as the lights flickered on and off,
the metal roof of the car growing closer and closer as the water
rose inside.

She watched it grow closer, kicking out with her socked feet,
her body rising with the water toward the metal above.

She coughed, hacking the water out, her hands flying up to
touch the roof, the train gurgling, the lights finally blinking
their last and going out.

"Blue!" she called to the darkness, feeling the water pressing
her more against the train car. She coughed again. "BLUE!"

There was a gap of air between her and the roof now, and that
was all. She felt the water rising, the car sinking fast...

Swim, she told herself, water to her ears, then over them, her
face moving up to press against the roof.

Swim...

But it was too late.

**

"Son of a BITCH," Mulder spat, tears coming to his eyes,
welling so fast they burned.

"Are you hurt, buddy?" a man behind him asked. "Are you okay?
Let me-"

"GET AWAY FROM ME!" Mulder roared, throwing himself to his
feet. He turned to the assembled crowd, all bloodied and bruised
and staring at him like so many startled sheep.

"Everyone listen to me," he said. "I'm with the F.B.I.," he
began, thinking it would give him some sort of authority to be
giving orders, when it didn't mean a thing and he knew it. Not
here. Not now. He kept going anyway. "I want everyone to get
off the train. Stay away from it. Stay in a group so that when
they find you you'll all be together. Do you understand?"

A low murmur came up and many of the people, seemingly either
on autopilot from the shock or glad to have someone act in
control, began to move toward the back of the car, toward the
door off the train at the connecting door. A few others tried
to argue with him, asking what the hell was going on, and Mulder
actually pushed one man down as he stalked through the crowd,
the keys in his pocket and his hand over them.

The train, where it had not toppled over the side, was
derailed, all the cars on their wheels but the wheels not on the
tracks. He walked at angles through the cars, past the bodies in
the Dining Car, the masked gunmen bludgeoned to death, through
to the baggage, picking his way over bags. When he reached the
first Auto Car, he saw that the cars, all chained down, were
intact.

Through the first, through the second to the back.

There it was. Blue SUV with Idaho plates. Black glass
obscuring the windows.

His face was knotted up in a rage as he reached for a fire axe
on the wall, kicking in its box and grabbing its wooden handle
through the shattered glass. Hacking the chains that held the
tires felt good, all four of them snapped with vicious swings,
the tears running down his face.

When he was finished, blood on his hands from the glass, on his
face from Kever and Fellix, he went to the emergency release
lever, yanked it hard, and the door began to creak down, the
back of the train car tilting down.

In his anger, his grief, Mulder leaned against it, growling
through grit teeth with the effort, and threw his weight onto
it, sending it crashing down to form a ramp.

In the strange silence that followed, the sounds of passengers
piling off the train, crying and shouting, he reached into his
pocket and brought out the keys. The square silver key slid
into place with a satisfying "snick."

He climbed into the driver's seat, slid the key in the ignition
and the vehicle rumbled to life, its new engine strong and quiet.

 

Only then did he allow the grief to wash over him, Scully
falling, disappearing into water. He imagined her so afraid...
He leaned forward until his forehead touched the steering wheel,
and drew in a deep, quaking breath.

"Oh God," he breathed.

This is not what she would have wanted, he decided. A voice
seemed to be whispering it to him.

("Go..." she'd said to him.)

("Save all these people...")

He leaned up, steeling himself.

"Okay," he said, throwing the car into gear. He turned the
headlights to bright, wiped roughly at his battered face. His
hands were shaking. "Okay..."

Mulder could see the container holding the Mercury virus in the
rear view mirror. He knew that now that he'd entered the car...

He pressed down on the gas. The SUV shot down the ramp,
bumping down onto the tracks. In the headlights he could see a
flat, open plain to his right, just down the rise from the
tracks.

He turned right, skidding the tires out, and headed into the
night.

****

THE BANKS OF THE SNAKE RIVER
EASTERN IDAHO
5:50 a.m.

 

The train had crashed in a remote area, the high plains of
eastern Idaho full of small towns spread far apart, the Snake
River running through it. It would be a few more hours before a
private prop plane, flying low to look for elk, would find the
wreck of the Silver Comet, its cars tossed like toys on the edge
of the bridge that has stretched across the Snake.

Zekial Ambrose Blue knew this, knew just how much light needed
to come into the cobalt sky before the plane would take off from
its private strip, knew when it would arc across the sky and see
the train and send out enough rescue workers to take care of all
the passengers, all the living and all the dead.

The banks of the Snake were a mixture of sand and rocks. He'd
found a sandy area that was relatively smooth and soft, and,
perhaps more importantly, that stood out starkly when viewed
from the edge of land the train had dropped off.

On it, he'd laid Scully's body, which he'd fished with some
difficulty from inside the wreck. His black suit was even
blacker now, his white shirt stuck to his chest and stained with
mud and silt from the river's bottom where she'd been trapped
inside the car. Her skin was so white it looked a blueish gray,
her shirt caked in silt and dirt, her hair fanned out behind her
head and tangled with grasses, oily wet.

Blue sat on the edge of a rock, watching the sun rise into a
clear sky, the stars slowly fading out. Beside him, his silver
cornet's case, likewise silted and battered a bit more than it
had already been, sat, its handle hanging off on one side from
its crash against the wall as the train fell.

One of the latches had popped open. Blue reached down with
light smile and latched it closed again.

He remembered what he'd seen on the bottom as he'd shouldered
her, pulling her free. Kever, still in his oily skin-like coat,
Fellix behind him, both of them walking unhurried across the
bottom of the river, Kever's coat fluttering behind him in the
current as if in a breeze. His long white hair trailed behind
him as he walked, his boots kicking up tiny clouds on the bottom
as he moved away from the wreck as though he were walking away
from some disappointing game.

If he'd seen Blue taking Scully's body from the train he gave
no notice. What he'd come to do, regardless of her life or
death...he'd failed. He had nothing left to do but retreat,
regroup, change his garb and his name and his skin, and try
again.

When the sun had pulled up enough to light the land a bit more,
a ray of light falling on the river and the rocks on the bank,
Blue reached over and laid a hand on Scully's forehead, the skin
cold as ice.

He held it there for a long moment until he saw her chest rise
suddenly, her breath pulling in on a huge gasp. She coughed,
water bubbling out.

"Just rest..." he said softly to her, smiling fondly. "You
rest now."

She didn't open her eyes, but turned her face toward his hand.
As her brow furrowed, her hands coming up beneath her chin, she
began to shiver.

"I'm cold..." she whispered faintly. "So cold."

He stood then and removed his jacket, sopping wet as it was,
and laid it over her, covering her arms and torso, up to her
chin.

"Don't you worry, Miss Dana," he said softly. "They'll find
you in a bit."

He stood and looked at her for a few minutes as she faded to
sleep, then looked out over the river, the sun catching on the
surface, the warmth from it setting slowly in.

Smiling, he reached down and picked up his case. He
straightened his tie a bit, and righted his battered hat on his
graying head. A few steps up and he was on the slope to the
plain by the river. He turned east and headed out, humming to
himself, still smiling, "When the Saints Go Marching In."

**

THE HIGH PLAINS
EASTERN IDAHO
6:45 a.m.

The helicopter pilot watched the blip on this radar screen, the
dawning sun flooding the interior of the cockpit and warming its
flat black interior too quickly for his liking. He reached over
and flipped on the fan.

Below him, a line of black SUVs streamed out across the flat
prairie, each one throwing off a faint cloud of dust behind it,
spinning sirens on their tops.

"Tango Six to Ground 4, come in, over," he said, nodding to his
copilot, who was also watching the blip on the screen close in
on center.

"Ground 4 here. What is the target's position now, over?"

The pilot looked down at the reading. "You should be coming up
on him just over the next rise. I don't have visual yet, but he
appears to still be stationary, over."

The radio crackled. "Is he alone, over?"

"Affirmative," the pilot replied. "Looks like he's stalled out
and all by himself, over."

"Give us a flyover of the area and tell us what you see, over."

The pilot gunned the engine a bit more, streaming out ahead of
the line of vehicles, up over the slight rise, banking slightly
left to bring the single blip into center on the screen. As he
cleared the rise, he saw the target - a blue SUV stopped next to
a dirt road, its driver's door hanging open.

There was someone lying next to the car, a small form lying on
the ground on his belly, his arms and legs splayed as though
someone had dropped him there.

"Ground 4, I have a visual. The vehicle is stopped and there's
one person visible. Repeat, one person. Appears to be
unconscious and on the ground beside the car, over." He turned
the stick and slowed to circle around again.

"Affirmative," came the reply. "We're on it. Full quarantine
procedures apply. Stand by, to land for transport, over."

"Standing by, over," the pilot replied.

He circled in a wide arc as the black SUVs closed in,
surrounding the stationary vehicle on all sides. He was
circling a second time when the doors to the SUVs opened, men in
white suits spilling out. He closed the circle down even
smaller, checking for a good place to set down as the white-
suited men obscured the man on the ground and waved for him to
land.

**

 

EPILOGUE
THREE WEEKS LATER
SOMEWHERE IN MONTANA
UNIDENTIFIED ARMY BASE
8:34 a.m.

 

Scully, still looking pale, pulled her long black coat around
her more tightly in the back of the white van, her hands
clenched in her pockets as she stared out at the sprawling dark
structures spread out through the windshield, the high electric
fences gleaming.

Walter Skinner sat beside her, his jaw set like iron. He was
dressed in his usual blue suit and trench coat, the coat a bit
too light for the early winter here in the Plains. Their driver
had the right idea - an Army green parka, tufted around the
hood. It couldn't be much more than 40 degrees here, and steam
puffed out from the car leading them toward the base.

"You okay?" Skinner said from beside her. Though he meant it
with concern, it came out in his usual clipped tone, said from
between tightly closed teeth.

"Yes," she replied automatically. She'd been being asked that
for days. From doctors. Her mother. From Skinner. "I'm fine,
sir."

Skinner nodded as the lead car slowed at the gate. Scully
watched with some interest as there was a lengthy conversation
between the car's driver and the heavily armed guards, who
finally stood back, opened the thick metal gate. They began
waving them through, the car and the van she was riding in, the
guards looking in at her as she passed.

Not a place where strangers came often, she guessed, and she
was right.

They circled the compound, passing building after building, all
of them looking like warehouses painted black. There were
sparse living quarters, but most of the buildings were huge and
windowless, guarded by armed soldiers and gates.

Finally they stopped in front of one of the buildings, and the
driver got out, sliding the side door open and offering his hand
to help Scully out. She did not take it, but stepped carefully
down on her own instead. Skinner followed her out.

"If you'll follow me, ma'am," the driver said cordially, but
his tone was authoritative. It was not a choice at this point.

Scully nodded, and Skinner trailing behind, he ushered her
through the guards and gates and into the strangely sterile,
white-interiored building they'd stopped beside.

It had taken every string Skinner had to get them this far. An
outsider entering these most secret of the military's secret
places was a truly rare thing.

But then there was already an outsider inside this base, and
the two that wanted to join him, one until he left, well...they
knew everything the single strange inhabitant did anyway.

At least that was the tact that Skinner had used with the
C.I.A., and the C.I.A., already reeling from Army Intelligence's
massive gaffe, had persuaded the Army to see it that way.

They reached an area where they had to go through two sealed
doorways again, each one opened with a sliding keycard the
driver wore around his neck. Once they'd entered that, Scully,
all in black in the white white world she'd entered, stopped and
stared, Skinner pulling up, as well.

There, at the far side of the room, behind a huge floor-to-
ceiling window of plexi-glass, was Mulder. He was standing in
green sweatpants and a thin T-shirt, the wires of monitors
trailing down from its hem to the floor.

And he was looking at her, his hand against the glass. He was
looking at her with warm eyes, that crooked smile that seemed
both relieved and sad on his face.

She gave him the same smile in return.

"I'll hang back," Skinner said softly, and he stayed by the
door, touching Scully's back to urge her forward. She slowly
closed the distance, until she was standing before the glass.

"Hey," he said, and she could hear his voice through a speaker
set over the window. He looked down at her, his hand pressed
flat beside him.

She looked him over. His face was still bruised, red from
scorching. There was a patch of what looked like second-degree
burn on his cheek. His other hand was bandaged, and he looked
thin and pale in his dark, ill-fitted clothes. He needed a
shave, too, which gave him an even more haggard look.

"Hey," she said, and she had to look down to keep her voice
neutral. There were so many eyes on them, she knew. So much
she wanted to say...

What she said was: "They said you're not showing any sign of
infection."

"Yeah," he said, glancing up at the camera pointed at her. The
one pointed at him.

""They said they'll know for sure in three more weeks." It
was maddening, like talking about the weather.

It was useless to say these things. She knew that he'd been
told it all already, and from the looks of him, three more weeks
would be a lifetime. The bed behind him was unmade, book
scattered on the white table that extended over the hospital
bed.

"There's so much I want to tell you..." she said softly. "So
much I want to say about what happened, about what you did, and
what I did, and-"

"Not here," he said, seeing her struggle. He nodded to the
cameras again. "Later, okay?"

She looked up, nodded, and her eyes were shining.

"Scully," he said softly, the words a caress, and brought his
hand down the glass near her face. He put the other on the
other side, as though bracketing her in his grasp.

"I know what saved you," he continued.

"What?" she whispered, looking into his eyes. He looked so
tired...

"It's something I told you a long time ago, something you told
me," he said. "That you've always had the strength of your
beliefs."

She smiled back, her eyes welling, pulled her hands from her
pockets slowly, reached up and placed them on the glass between
them, feeling the warmth of him coming through it, touching her
hands with the warmth of his.

"So have you, Mulder," she replied. "So have you."

He smiled that crooked smile again, his eyes moving back and
forth from her eyes to her lips.

She curled her fingers, wanting so badly to touch him,
frustrated by this last bit of distance between them, this last
one she wanted to pass.

But they had time to do and say anything they wished now, she
thought. They all did.

All the time in the world to live.

 

****

END