WASHINGTON, DC MARCH 1ST, 2016
So this is the end of the world, thought Mulder dully, peering out the grimy window on his left.
He could see glimpses of the Potomac through the trees, its wide, muddy expanse flowing placidly in the early spring sunshine. If he kept looking out that side, the opposite roadway of the George Washington Memorial Parkway just below his line of sight, Mulder could almost kid himself that everything was fine, that it was the old days again, when he would pick Scully up at the hospital on the way into town, go for dinner or to a movie, spend the night at her place. That they weren’t squeezed together on a school bus requisitioned to ferry those who had recovered back to their homes, to free up hospital beds for the people who were still sick.
But on the other side of the bus, he could see the outer lanes of the highway still clogged with cars abandoned at the height of the crisis. He noticed it was also now lined with army personnel, a stark reminder of the state of emergency declared when the virus hit two weeks earlier. The contagion was under control, at least in DC, but the world was still turned upside down and inside out.
“It’s not over, Scully,” he said.
“I know,” she agreed wearily. “But we must focus on getting you cured. Let others worry about that for now.”
Scully was looking straight ahead, her heavy-lidded eyes focused on nothing in particular. In profile, her Roman nose and prominent chin gave her a severe look which he knew others found intimidating, but all he could see now was exhaustion. She had worked tirelessly to produce the vaccine and save people’s lives. The CDC doctors now in charge of controlling the epidemic had all but ordered her to go home and get some rest.
Mulder turned to look out the window again. He thought about the spaceship that had appeared just before he passed out. Nobody mentioned it when he woke up at Our Lady of Sorrows a few days later, and he assumed he had imagined it until he saw pictures of it on TV. The official explanation, even though no one saw it again, was that it was a secret military aircraft co-opted to help get people to the hospitals. Mulder suspected it was a secret military aircraft that had been co-opted just to take him to the hospital. He was ready to bet there had been no aliens on board either.
“I can tell you one thing, Scully: when this is all over, I’m taking all the pictures people took of that UFO, and I’m going on national TV to say ‘I told you so’. There’s no way humans designed that propulsion system.”
This earned him a tired smile, and she squeezed his hand. “Vindicated at last.”
“You never know, people might even buy my book,” he added with a chuckle. He knew what would really happen: the military-industrial complex would acknowledge the existence of the vessel, but continue to claim it was entirely man-made. “We should go to the house as soon as we can. I have food stocks and a generator. And a satellite dish. Everything we need.”
“We also need a cure.” Scully’s hard features softened, and he could sense her desperation. “Provided you go through it every three days, the blood filtration will lessen your symptoms, but you will continue to get progressively worse until we find a more radical treatment.”
“Stem cell therapy from William. Right.” He tried not to let any emotion show as he added, “So we’ll get our friends at the FBI to unseal the adoption records and hope his adoptive parents are in a helpful mood. That shouldn’t take too long.”
She paused for too long. When he turned to look at her, she fixed her large, tired eyes on his and Mulder’s heart sank into his stomach. He knew something terrible had happened.
“I already asked Skinner to unseal the adoption records,” she said finally, in a low voice. “There–There were none. Just the original transfer of care when we–I gave him up.”
“So he wasn’t adopted?” asked Mulder, confused and fearful. He had always assumed their son William had been adopted into a caring, normal family. That thought was about the only thing that had helped him accept the situation. “Is he in a foster home, then?
Again Scully was silent, her eyes shining. She shook her head.
“The only record after that is a death certificate. Blood poisoning, apparently caused by an injection with a contaminated needle.”
Mulder stared at her. He knew he should say something. He had to think of something to say. He was supposed to be the child’s father, after all. The man for whom Scully had abandoned all hope of the normal family life she once craved. He was supposed to be supportive of Scully’s decision all those years ago. He was supposed to provide strength and support to this woman who had been his touchstone and savior for over twenty years.
In the end, “I’m sorry,” was all that came out, because that was what he’d been trained to say once upon a time. The catch-all social balm when announcing a death to the families of victims.
“Mulder, I took him to the hospital after Jeffrey Spender injected him,” said Scully, her sharp chin raised in determination. “The syringe and its contents were analyzed. There was nothing wrong with the needle. And I sure as hell would have noticed if he’d been ill before I took him to the adoption center! I’ve–I’ve asked Agent Miller to double-check the records.”
They sat in silence for a long time. Mulder had been a talkative man once. He could still get worked up enough for a verbal diatribe on some subjects, but not this one. He’d never felt that there was anything he could say.
“The cell network is down again,” said Scully after a long pause. It was typical of their relationship over the past fifteen years that one of them should change the subject whenever it touched upon their son. “Oh, I hope Daggoo is all right. I couldn’t get through to the dog sitter. I’ll have to go there as soon as you’re safe at my place.”
He squeezed her hand, small and delicate in his. There was a distinct possibility the dog sitter was dead. So many people had died that it would take months, maybe even years to tally the death count. Mulder gritted his teeth at the thought of the bastard who had done this. He wished once again that he had killed the son of a bitch when he had the chance. It felt better than dwelling on what Scully had told him.
The bus wound its way up onto the Key Bridge and dropped them off at the foot of the hill leading to Georgetown. Even though Scully was the one carrying the blood filtration machine, Mulder felt weak as a kitten, and it took way longer than it should to reach her block. When they did, they found the door to the building smashed in, with garbage and people’s personal belongings strewn across the front steps.
Mulder dug out his service revolver from his bag. The prospect of a fight gave him a boost of energy; he held the weapon at the ready, all senses alert, when they turned the corner leading to Scully’s apartment. They exchanged a grim look when they saw her door. Someone had tried to break the lock with a heavy implement, though the door was still shut.
Scully pulled out her keys and glanced at Mulder. He raised his gun, then nodded, and she cautiously unlocked the door and pushed it open.
The blinds and curtains in the living room were closed, plunging the apartment into semi darkness. They left their bags by the front door. Mulder let Scully go first, gun drawn, and followed, leaving the door open to provide light and the means of a quick escape. There was a haphazard stack of cans on the kitchen table to their left, along with half a six-pack of beer, some bottles of water and a couple of bags of flour and sugar. Someone was camping out here.
Advancing into the living room, they found a man lying on Scully’s couch, curled up in a fetal position under a comforter. There was a bottle of Coke and what looked like a photo album open on the coffee table, on top of some other magazines and papers that Mulder couldn’t make out clearly in the dim light. The man was snoring lightly, his face concealed under the covers. His feet stuck out the end; they were bare and blistered, their soles filthy as if he had walked barefoot through the city, even though there was a pair of worn sneakers on the floor.
The man had fallen asleep holding a gun, but it was lying beside him on the edge of the seat now, an inch from his relaxed fingers. Mulder exchanged a look with Scully and gestured from himself to the gun; she was closer, but he had a longer reach. Scully nodded. She moved around the coffee table to cover him from the other side. With her gun pointed at the man, she stood by her desk in the window alcove and placed her hand on the lamp switch.
Holding his breath and willing his tired muscles not to let him down, Mulder leaned over the coffee table to pick up the gun on the couch. It was Captain Scully’s old service revolver, and he could tell by the weight that it was loaded. Scully always kept the gun and its ammunition in separate boxes in her closet, and he felt a sharp stab of anger at the realization that the stranger had foraged through her bedroom. Pocketing the revolver, Mulder gave Scully a thumbs up and she switched on the lamp.
“Federal agents!” he shouted. “Sit up slowly and put your hands on your head!”
The man momentarily struggled with the covers, his movements groggy and confused, before emerging and placing his right hand on his head. His left arm remained caught under the comforter for a moment before he pulled it up too and blinked at them owlishly.
His dark hair was overgrown and unkempt, and a short, patchy beard covered the lower half of his face, but when Mulder looked more closely, there was no mistaking the thin nose and dark-rimmed eyes that looked up at them.
“Oh my God!” said Scully in a hushed tone.
Mulder stared in disbelief. “Krycek?”