Actions

Work Header

Gibson & Marita

Chapter Text

The United States

Carlisle, Pennsylvania

2009

2:21am

The eighteen-wheeler rode through a construction zone. Nancy completely disregarded the speed limit change and sped the truck past motorists in the right lane. Gibson looked down from the passenger side into the cars they passed. Being this high up, he could see just about everything. So far, he’d seen a girl with a bong between her legs, a van full of kids playing games in the backseat, about a half-dozen littered floorboards, one female driver drop her milkshake, and one guy getting a hand job.

Mostly he saw empty, dark fields with sporadic lights twinkling like stars. He liked to look at the homes they passed. The yellow lights in the windows were like beacons on a vast sea. It was oddly comforting to see people still up and functioning at this late hour. He often wondered what went on in those houses. Insomnia. Late night chats with strangers on the Internet. Teens happy to be up all night watching movies. TV and video games glowing blue on faces and window panes. Sex. Probably a lot of sex happening right now.

“I don’t know why people slow down,” Nancy muttered. “There ain’t any cops.” She kept the truck steady at 70, passing orange barricades and zoned-out motorists.

Gibson looked into the large side mirror again. All headlights were far behind them. None were getting closer.

“Move, dumbass!” Nancy leaned over the steering wheel. They were stuck behind an SUV. “More accidents happen this way.” She flicked off the car. “I’m gonna lay on my horn here in a minute.”

Gibson saw the golden arches of McDonald’s up ahead. His stomach growled. Side mirror check again. Two tiny lights disappearing behind a hill. Far away.

“Finally!” Nancy stepped on the gas as the SUV merged right. “Can you see who’s in there?” She tried to lean over him to look. “Bet they’re old. See if they’re old.”

He didn’t know what old would be to Nancy. She had smoker’s lines around her lips and a shock of white-gray hair in her ponytail. It was like a skunk’s tail. He looked in the car. “I think he’s like forty.”

“Well that explains it.”

He wasn’t sure that it did. He returned his gaze to the front. There were all kinds of fast food places coming up. Just the signs alone were making him hungry.

Nancy bit into a peach. Juice dripped down her chin and splashed on her cleavage. The ripe scent made his stomach grumble. Nancy wasn’t her real name. At least she wasn’t as scared of him as she was a few hours ago. He’d bribed her with some cash he’d stolen from a wallet at a rest stop near Ironto. She made him pull out all his pockets and dump out his backpack to make sure he had no guns or knives. The whole time she was thinking about her .308 in the cab.

She took another bite of the peach. She saw him looking, and he turned to the window again.

“You want one?” She picked up a paper bag. “Here. Help yourself.”

He didn’t need much convincing. He grabbed a peach and devoured it. His stomach relaxed.

In the glow of the dashboard, she watched him. “How old are you again?”

“Twenty-three,” he lied. She knew it was a lie. In the few hours they’d ridden together they’d each told about a dozen lies. He looked around for a napkin.

“In there.” She pointed to a compartment. He opened it and a flutter of brown and white spilled out.

“Thanks.” He wiped at his T-shirt. The problem was he was too thin. His height just accentuated it. He tried to hide it with the stained clothes he wore, but he looked like a runaway. That’s what she believed: a teenage runaway. But she had no plans to drop him off at a shelter or call any authorities. It wouldn’t do much good anyway. He’d be long gone as soon as she started thinking about it.

Nancy reached behind her, rustled through another paper bag, and pulled out some pretzels. “Here.” She tossed him the bag. “I shouldn’t have those anyway. Too many carbs.”

Gibson tore open the bag and shoveled a handful into his mouth.

“Slow down. You’ll choke.” She handed him a warm bottle of Pepsi. He drank it down and ate more. He glanced at the side mirror again. No headlights. Just an open black hole of highway.

“You know, Jake,” she drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. “Whatever it is your getting away from, it can’t be that bad.”

He emptied the bag and gulped down the Pepsi. He could already the feel the sugar and salt hitting his bloodstream.

“Now, it’s none of my business, but running away from stuff never helps.” She scanned the highway as a crackle voice came over the scanner - BOLO. Bear in the bushes at exit 48.“My step-brother ran away when he was about ten.” She chuckled. “Didn’t get very far, but pert near tried.”

Gibson put the peach pit and empty Pepsi bottle in the empty bag of pretzels. “I told you. I’m meeting up with some friends.”

“And I gotta mansion with a pool.” She swallowed some old coffee and began to slow down as exit 48 loomed ahead. Another eighteen-wheeler tore past them on the left, Cammolite printed on the side. She picked up her radio. “Back it down, Cammolite. Bear at 48.” The truck continued speeding past, yellow trailer lights flickering in the dark. She shook her head. “Better him than me.”

Gibson checked the side mirror. A car behind them was moving into the left lane. He sank down a little in the seat.

“Anyway,” Nancy continued. “He packed up mom’s suitcase. It was too big for him. We found him in the park. You know what he was mad about?” She glanced at him. Gibson shrugged. “Mom forgot to buy the candy he liked. That was it.” She had an asthmatic laugh. “Man, we were so worried. He was gone for hours. Just sitting there in the park with that suitcase.” She shook her head and chuckled again, then her expression turned serious. “One of my girlfriends back in high school ran off. Didn’t turn out so good for her.” She drank the rest of the coffee and tossed the paper cup behind her. “When they found her a few months later, she was behind some trees, strangled to death.”

She was mostly making that up. She was really good at telling stories, though. He had to hand it to her. She’d bragged about her baby grandson during the drive through West Virginia. He was really a preteen that liked to set things on fire. By the time they reached Maryland she was on to the Redskins playing like a bunch of pansies and how she’d been at the Superbowl two years ago. She’d really just watched it in a bar alone.

“My friends live in Watertown,” he told her. “We’re meeting up there.” I-81 was a straight shot to the Canadian border. The maps at rest stops confirmed it. Everybody went to Canada when they were getting away from something. At least, that was what he heard. If the government got too oppressive or not oppressive enough, people just threatened to move to Canada. If they take our guns, we shall march to Canada! If they don’t take our guns - Canada! If Congress doesn’t shape up - Canada! Very few considered Mexico. Canada was for the righteous. Mexico was for the criminals.

Gibson felt more righteous.

“Whatever you say, Jake.” She flipped the turn signal and began to slow.

“Wait, where are you going?” Gibson looked at the side mirror again. There were a pair of headlights far behind them.

Nancy didn’t answer as she pulled off the highway and turned into the Flying J Truck Stop, all lit up and bustling with truckers and sleepy-eyed college kids. Stopping here hadn’t crossed her mind at all. Was he just not paying attention?

She pulled the truck into a covered area. All around were other tractor trailers, dark and still with sleeping occupants. It was getting noisy in his head. Someone nearby was thinking about what to eat for breakfast. Here came another thought about prostitutes. He wished for some headphones and music cranked as loud as it would go.

“Your ride ends here, buddy.” She looked at him with sympathy.

“No, I said Binghamton. You said you’d take me to Binghamton.” He looked past her at the exit. A car was coming down the ramp. The only car.

“I know.” She reached into her pocket and counted out the money he’d given her. “Take this and call your folks. There’s some showers here.” She unbuckled and went into the bunk behind the seats.

He watched the car pull in. His throat began to close up.

Nancy handed him some detergent and dryer sheets. “You can wash your clothes, too. You look like hell, kiddo.” She sat back down and reached under the seat for some Morleys. She pulled one from the pack with her lips, lit it, and rolled the window down. “Somebody out there is worried sick about you. Do the right thing, okay?”

Through the smoke, he watched the car door open. A group of girls with anime characters on their tops hopped out. His heart rate slowed.

Nancy exhaled. “I can’t tell you what to do, being that your twenty-three and all.” She eyed him up and down. “But you gotta tell somebody where you are. I just know they need to hear from you. I would if you were my kid.”

Bazelle and Wayne were not worried sick over him. If anything, they’d been pissed he wasn’t there to provide such a luxurious income. They were probably coaching some other poor kid on how to play chess and sorely disappointed with the results.

“I appreciate your concern,” he said. “But I really need to get to Binghamton. I’ve got more money.” He grabbed his backpack and unzipped it. He wasn’t sure how much he had left.

“No.” She held up her hand. “Just go on in, get yourself a shower, clean clothes, and a hot meal. If you really need to, I’m sure you’ll find another ride.” She sighed. “I just don’t feel right about it.”

He didn’t care if she felt right about it or not. “I don’t have anybody to call, okay? My parents are dead. I just need to get to Binghamton. My friends are waiting on me.”

She pursed her lips and took another drag. “You kill somebody?”

“No.”

“Drugs? You been stealing or something?”

“No. I just want to see my friends.”

“Honey, I know there aren’t any friends.”

He swallowed. “Fine. There’s not. I just need to get out of here.”

She scratched her chin and looked around. All the trucks were quiet as graves. This was a popular rest spot. Cars were pulling out onto the road, leaving the parking lot empty. He watched the anime girls get back in and drive off. Gibson looked over at the truck next to them. The yellow lights on the trailer were on. He could see the silhouette of the driver in the seat. He looked at the letters on the side and his stomach sank.

Cammolite.

“I don’t know…,” Nancy shook her head. “I don’t think this is right.”

Gibson slowly reached for his backpack, not taking his eyes from the truck. “Let’s go in and talk about it.”

“First promise me you’ll call somebody. Anybody.”

“I will.” Cammolite gleamed against the trailer. The driver was still, watching them. “I promise. Let’s go in.”

Nancy took another drag and picked at a hangnail. “If I take you to Binghamton, you gonna be all right?”

“Yeah. I’ll be fine. Let’s go in. Now.”

The driver got out of the cab and came towards them. Another guy got out of the passenger side. They both had guns.

“Run!” He shouted at Nancy. “Run inside!”

“What?” She dropped her cigarette.

“Run!” He screamed.

A bullet came through the windshield and through Nancy’s head. She slumped forward, the weight of her leaning on the horn. The passenger door opened and Gibson was pulled out. He tumbled onto the pavement and felt a kick in his ribs. He tried to roll under the truck.

“Little punk!” The man snarled. He grabbed Gibson’s collar, dragging him out, but he broke away and ran towards the entrance. That voice. It was familiar. There was no way it was him. It couldn’t possibly be him.

Gibson ran inside, looked around, and saw a sign for the showers. He looked behind him to see the profile of Alex Krycek nearly colliding with a shelf of granola bars. Gibson ran for the showers and saw a door marked vacant. He ran inside, shut it, and locked it. There was a sound, a shot through a silencer, and a body falling to the floor.

Shouts and then nothing but the faint whine of Nancy’s horn in the lot.

He looked around the shower room. There was a shelf, a stall behind a curtain, a urinal, and a toilet. He looked for a window or a vent, but saw only tile from floor to ceiling. He needed an edge. Something sharp. Something heavy. He grabbed onto the shower rod and pulled as hard as he could. It was stuck tight into the wall.

He knocked everything off the shelf and tipped it over, shoving it against the door. He found a metal chair and piled it on top. There was a wooden towel rack behind the toilet. He dumped off the towels and began to pound the shelves loose with his fist until it bled. He wrapped his hand up in a towel and punched and kicked until a chunk of wood splintered off. He held it out of in front of him backing up towards the stall.

There was a bang on the door. A kick. Another one. Then two, three kicks in rapid succession. The door lock broke and it caught against the shelf. Gibson stood behind the curtain, and thought wildly about what to do. He turned the shower on as hot as it would go while the two men wrestled with the shelf.

The room began to fill with steam. They were having a hard time with the shelf. The chair fell and struck one of them. He cursed. The steamy heat made Gibson’s shirt cling to his skin. It soaked into the sweat on his hands and the slice of wood became slippery.

The men didn’t say a word and they were trying not to think. The shelf gave way and they were inside. Gibson ran from behind the shower curtain, out of the steam, and stabbed as hard as he could, the sharp edge plunging into one man’s eye. The man screamed and fell back. The other one body slammed Gibson onto the tile and there was an explosion of stars before his eyes when his head collided with the floor.

“It’s over, you son of a bitch!” The man backhanded him, his knuckles smashing into Gibson’s nose.

A tunnel closed around his vision, but before he blacked out he saw the man wasn’t Alex Krycek. And the one stumbling around with the wooden shard in his eye wasn’t him either.

But Gibson saw him. He saw Alex Krycek as he lost consciousness, leaning on a car horn, the blast of sound penetrating a dark road, a tractor trailer flipping and tumbling to where he stood, laughing at strangled girls behind trees.


 

Jamaica

Kingston

2022

11:32pm

Gibson woke with a start when he heard the clanging and beeping outside of his cell door. At first, he couldn’t tell who or what it was, punching numbers into the key pad. The bulbs that hung along the ceiling were old and dim. He turned over on his cot, when he saw the woman in a ragged hospital gown slide the door open and run over to him.

“Come on!” She whispered urgently. “We’re getting out of here!”

He looked at her, horrified. Despite the burns on her face and chunks of her blonde hair missing from her scalp, she looked vaguely familiar. He tried to recall if she’d been on the beach with all of them before the Jamaican officers dragged them all into a truck and drove them off the beach to this place.

Whatever this place was.

It must have been used as a jail by colonists centuries ago. Wrought iron and brick, the place smelled ancient. It was underground, too, so there was no way to escape that he knew. He’d noticed as soon as they’d thrown him in here that his ability to hear thoughts had been clouded somehow. It wasn’t like it used to be. What had they done to him? And his skin crawled with something. It felt like slugs were moving through his veins at times.

Gibson had lost all sense of time, but he’d figured out they’d been inside that…thing, frozen like icicles for six years. Had this freakish looking woman been in there, too?

“Who are you?” Gibson asked her, as she tried to pull him up off his cot. “I’m not leaving until you tell me who you are.”

She paused for a second, looking him over with icy blue eyes that glowed. “I can’t believe this is you,” she seemed amazed. “Such a man now. Deep voice and all. They did very well with you. It’s a waste to keep you holed up in this place.”

He stared at her, uncomfortable. He didn’t like the way she was looking at him; with pride almost. Who in the hell was this woman?

“You can still do it though, right?” She asked him desperately. She pointed to her head. “Can you hear what I’m thinking?”

He tried for a second, but it was clouded, muffled, like someone trying to talk through a pillow.

He slowly shook his head, and she yanked him up onto his feet.

“Maybe you’ll get it back, but we have to go. Now.”

He stopped her. “Please tell me who you are! Where are we going?”

She pulled him out of his cell. “I’m your saving grace. And you’re mine. We need each other to make it out of here. You need to trust me, Gibson.”

How did she know his name? It wasn’t like it was written down anywhere.

He noticed she was limping, one of her legs looked bad, it was bruised and her hospital gown stuck to the dried blood on her thigh. She was missing all of her toenails.

“What did they do to you?” He asked her. “Is that what they were going to do to me?”

“Worse,” she replied. “Much worse.”

He began to panic as he followed her through corridors mixed with old colonial walls and modern metal doors. This wasn’t right. Where was everyone? There was usually noise up and down these hallways, all day and all night. He’d gotten used to the sounds. But this place was abandoned now.

Something wasn’t right.

He noticed she moved rather quickly with her limp. She had to be in pain. He followed her nervously, wondering if she was taking him somewhere to be killed, then he started hearing shuffling from some of the other cells.

“Marita!” Someone shouted. “You can’t leave us here!”

“Don’t leave us here!” Came another shout.

Gibson turned back to see a man he definitely remembered from before. Deep brown skin, and hard, stone-cold eyes. He gripped the bars of his cell, the fear all over his face.

“Marita!” He screamed after them. “They’re gone! We’re going to die down here!”

She ignored all of them and kept going.

“Why don’t we let them out?” Gibson asked her, hesitating for a minute. It seemed wrong to leave them if they were escaping.

She grabbed his arm and said viciously, “They’ll kill us!”

Panicked shouts and pleading followed them as they made their way to an elevator. It looked odd at the end of the corridor, metal doors and keypads next to iron sconces and ancient brick.

They went inside and she began punching numbers into the keypad.

“How do you know to do that? How do you know the way out?” He asked her, starting to feel uneasy. Maybe he shouldn’t have come with her, but the faint cloud of thoughts coming from her suggested she was genuinely trying to help him. And help herself, too.

“If you hear any of them,” she commanded. “Any of them at all, you tell me, okay?”

He knew who she was talking about, but he hadn’t heard them at all. It was strange. Where had all of them gone?

When the elevator doors opened, it looked like they were inside of a post office. A post office that a gust of wind that come through and stirred up everything. Packaging, envelopes, and tape was strewn about everywhere. The Jamaican flag had been torn off one wall, one half of it missing.

The front doors were wide open as they ran out into the night into the city of Kingston. Gibson was petrified at what he saw.

Kingston was on fire.

Georgian structures all along King Street were blazing. Men and women cheering it on as they ran up and down the streets, ripping apart the Jamaican flag, dragging books to be burned out of the Parish Library. He briefly saw the silhouettes of other men and women, dressed in black, armed to the teeth, surgical masks over their faces, UNION, scrawled across the vests they wore. They held their rifles in the air, and people cheered. People got out of their way, applauding them like this was some kind of twisted parade.

He didn’t know it at the time, but the same thing was happening in Havana and San Juan; the furor island-hopping around the Caribbean.

“Come on,” Marita demanded, dragging him away from the rioting.

“What in the hell is happening?” He asked her.

“Whatever it is, it’s saving us right now!”

The people were far too distracted to notice the disfigured white woman in a hospital gown and young man in worn-out scrubs running away from the chaos. They probably looked like escaped lunatics. She took them into a tourist shop, the doors smashed through, and began digging through the clothes.

“Change your clothes!” She instructed. “We have to look like tourists!”

He turned away from her, shocked, as she ripped her hospital gown right off in front him. There were slashes and burns all over her.

God, what on earth had she been through?

He removed the scrubs he’d been wearing and put on jeans that didn’t fit quite right and a T-Shirt with Bob Marley’s face on it. He had no idea what size clothes he wore anymore. Definitely not child sized.

Marita put on a dress with a tropical scene printed on it, then yelped with pain, grabbing her leg.

“Shouldn’t we take you to a hospital?” He said, going over to her.

“You think there’s really still a hospital still standing out there!” She pointed at the door.

She crammed a hat over her head to hide her face and scalp, and they made a run for it to the harbor. He followed her as they ran straight for a cruise ship, Royal Caribbean, printed on the side. They were getting swept up in a crowd of white tourists trying to board the ship before it left.

“How are we going to get on here?” He asked her, as they ran alongside panicked tourists, desperately trying to get away.

“There’s too many of us for them to count!” She replied. “Just pretend like you belong on here!”

There was someone at the entrance trying to scan everyone’s passes as they came onboard, but the scanner had stopped working. Gibson and Marita managed to push past the people with the scanners and upon to the lower deck without incident.

As soon as they were on the ship, Marita collapsed into a lounge chair, crying and laughing at once. “We did it! We got away! We did it!”

She pressed her hands to her mouth, laughing erratically as Gibson looked out at burning Kingston.

What in the hell was happening?

He looked over at Marita, blood was starting to leak through her dress from the wound on her leg. God, the pain she must be in.

“I’m going to go find you a doctor or something,” he told her, but she didn’t seem to hear him.

“They can’t kill me!” She repeated to herself over and over. “They will never be able to kill me!”

She laugh-cried again, and he felt uneasy as he looked at her.

He didn’t know then what this all meant. He didn’t know then what he had gotten himself into. And he didn’t know then that he would owe her more than he would ever be able to repay.

And she would never, ever let him forget it.

 

Chapter Text

The United States

Houston, Texas

1997

10:50am

…I can’t stand this anymore! Tonight I’m going to tell him…

…think maybe I should buy the generic walnuts..aren’t they just as good as name brand walnuts?…

…these shoes are so ugly, but at least that bitch over there has uglier ones…

Gibson put his headphones on.

...if I work 45 hours this week, we can pay the mortgage….

…she won’t call me. She said she would and now she’s over there with Trevor….

Hit play.

…just say you’re sick and you can leave…no one will know…like get a headache or something…

…why did I wear these pants?

At long last, Symphony No. 9 in E Minor filled the space in his head. All the voices in the auditorium filtered out. Sweet relief. There were too many people in here. Kids, parents, and teachers milled around in anticipation and boredom. There were lots of tissues and snacks being passed around. Back and forth to the restrooms. Back and forth to the souvenirs. Up and down the aisles while teachers and volunteers checked names and pointed to tables with their pens.

At least he could just see now. Not hear. Just see.

He saw the Texas State Scholastic Championship banner above him.

He saw a kid vomit all over his mother.

He saw a gaggle of angsty teens, arms folded in defiance, stroll over to the gymnasium.

He saw a herd of pristine Helicopter Moms preen their sons with spit and thin black combs.

No. 9 was just the right soundtrack for this. Gibson wasn’t allowed to listen to anything but classical. Bazelle and Wayne told him it would make him smart. But, yes, of course Gibson, you’re already smart, they said. This will help you stay smart. He didn’t care how smart it kept him as long is it drowned everything else out.

Now he looked down at his feet dangling in the chair between Bazelle and Wayne. Her Converse sneakers toe-tapped on the carpet. She wore them all the time. He could swear she even wore them in the shower. Every morning she’d come sailing into the kitchen in her big purple kimono, those Converses on her feet, and dock herself to the stove.

He turned his head to the left and saw Wayne’s green loafers. He wore those all the time, too. He wore them while he shuffled about the living room, picking up crayon drawings and game pieces. He wore them while he wrote a fake prescription for one of Gibson’s foster siblings. He wore them while he sprinkled grass seed on a hopeless mound in the yard.

Shoes were important. He didn’t get why something that stepped in mud puddles and discarded gum would be so important.

A perky young woman with pencil-thin brows approached them. Gibson hit pause.

“Is this him?” She looked from Wayne to Bazelle with a smile. Gibson looked at her feet. Brown pumps. With gum stuck to them.

“This is him,” Wayne stood. He’d rubbed and wiped at his nose until it was cherry red. “Master level.”

“I see,” the woman’s voice rose to the pitch reserved for children. She bent down slightly. Her mascara curled up like spider’s legs. “What’s your name young man?”

“Gibson,” Bazelle answered. “Our Gibson.” She rested one hand on his shoulder in mock affection. “Our only boy.”

“Only boy,” Wayne affirmed, imitating the gesture. Gibson felt like they were pushing him into the floor. “He’s not playing here, is he?” Wayne waved dismissively to the kids sitting down at long tables, chess boards and clocks set out between them.

“Master levels are in the gym,” the woman replied. She thought Wayne was a creep. She thought Bazelle was ugly. She thought Gibson was autistic. The woman leaned down again. “You’re going to be playing the big boys and girls.” Her eyes widened like this was exciting.

“Now, he’s a damn good player,” Wayne said. “This five thousand dollar prize, would you all double it for someone exceptional?”

The woman’s face flushed. “Excuse me?”

“What he means is,” Bazelle gave him a look, “Gibson’s never lost. Not once. Is five thousand for the master level or the whole she-bang? Brochure wasn’t clear.” She was wiping and sniffing so much her nose was as red as Wayne’s.

“I don’t understand the question,” the woman’s pencil-brows furrowed. “Five thousand is five thousand. That’s the prize.”

“For a State Champion?” Bazelle was going crazy with her nose.

“So if he beats all them,” Wayne’s thumb jutted towards the gym, “he wins just five thousand?”

The woman was frowning, starting to figure it all out. “And a trophy.”

“Where?” Bazelle craned her neck. “Got it on display?”

The woman pointed to the back of the auditorium. A tall, silver rook sat on a table in front of a big check.

Bazelle and Wayne were both wondering if it was real silver. Might there be some gold in there somewhere? They exchanged a glance and looked back at the teacher.

“USCF flew us out here,” Bazelle said boldly. She reached into her pocket. That wasn’t an easy task for her. She was a beast of a woman. She looked like she swallowed a barrel. She pulled out the card and presented it proudly. “Gibson played at UNC last week. Guy got his ass handed to him. Master level. And he’s a child.”

The woman looked at the membership card, frowning deeper. “USCF flew lots of families out here today.”

“Gibson took ten grand home from Oklahoma last month,” Wayne said proudly. “They recognize talent when they see it.”

No one could haggle like Wayne. Gibson was used to it. For his first chess game ever, he won a gift card to Blockbuster. Wayne got the librarians to add a $100 cash. The women bought the sob story: Gibson was an only child. Born sickly, with cancer, or anemia, or with a chromosomal disorder, or with one kidney. It varied from place to place, person to person. Bazelle suffered through miscarriages before their gift from God came along. And just look at him today! Such talent! It’s like he was born to play!

The librarians agreed. They patted Gibson’s head and he just stood there, the epitome of resilience and destiny. That night Bazelle and Wayne went out, leaving the oldest foster girl, Abbie, to look after everyone. In the morning, Abbie made all ten kids runny eggs and burned toast. She tried to keep them all busy and kept checking the driveway. She worried over a pot of soup until the afternoon when Bazelle and Wayne came home. Their eyes were sagging, gums swollen, and they hadn’t stopped rubbing their noses since.

Gibson stopped listening to all the scamming and picked through the thoughts like threads. He was particularly interested in the ones coming from the gym. He eyed the teens. Twenty in all. Eighteen boys and two girls. He hoped he wouldn’t have to play any of the girls.

The boys were bluffing to each other with their mouths, but nervous as shit in their heads. That was normal. Gibson could work with that. The two girls were harder to figure out. Girls were always harder. Boy thoughts were simple. They thought one thing at a time, compact beginning to end, then folded it away. Depending on how hyperactive he was, it was like a cup floating by on a stream or bouncy balls flying off a conveyor belt.

Girls thought in layers. Long complex layers that overlapped, underlapped, and twisted around each other. They couldn’t separate things out as easily. Everything mixed together, and he could lose the thought he needed to hear. He did not want to play against any girls.

“Okay, okay,” the woman was saying. “I’ll see what I can do, but it’s not my decision. The superintendents come up with the funds.”

“Is this tournament USCF affiliated?” Bazelle asked. She pretended to look for the trademark. It was on the banner, the check, and all the day’s agendas. She always played this card when she wasn’t getting her way.

“Yes ma’am, of course.” The woman was insulted.

“Anybody can get this off the AOL.” She tapped at the brochure. “I’d like to speak with the tournament director. You can’t use the logo unless they give permission.”

“They gave permission.” The teacher was appalled now. “They give it every year.”

“Can you go get him?” Wayne asked. “Or her. We’d like to speak to them.”

The teacher spun around in her brown pumps and marched off. Texas had surprisingly few boots wearers. That’s what Gibson expected. Lots of boots and hats. Texas did not live up to its promises.

Bazelle waited until the teacher was gone and bent down. “Alright. You go in there, do your thing, and we’ll take care of the rest.”

Gibson gave her a nod and went into the gym. They acted like he was complicit. He’d never tried to undercut any of their fibs or correct any facts. They took this as childish ignorance and/or acceptance. He didn’t have to do anything except win. They did all the talking, answered all the questions, and he just sat there. He didn’t like answering questions anyway.

A reporter in Idaho tripped him up once. The local news guy with gleaming teeth and hair shellacked against his scalp didn’t let himself get distracted by Bazelle and Wayne. News guy genuinely liked kids and had two of his own. He stuck a microphone under Gibson’s chin and asked, “Do you have a secret to winning?”

The guy had a silly grin because he expected a silly answer. Like maybe Gibson had a lucky pair of socks. Maybe Gibson only ate one thing for breakfast every morning. Maybe Gibson got a special treat afterward. Maybe…could be…

Nobody knew. Bazelle and Wayne didn’t know. They thought the foster system had screwed up and sent them a gold mine. A real genius. Not like these other kids; sneaking out, back-talking, failing grades, and shoplifting. He wasn’t a thing like them. He had a gift. A gift they were going to keep opening for as long as they could.

The three of them sat in front of the camera, unmoving for a few seconds. Finally Gibson leaned forward and said simply: “No.”

News guy didn’t know what to do for a second. The corner of his smile twitched. He spun around to the camera and played it off. “And there you have it! Back to you Ken!”

Gibson didn’t want to answer anymore questions after that.

The gym was getting quiet as the players found their places. Gibson found the spot with his name and sat down. The name on the other side was Jamie B. He looked over at the two girls. One was seated but the other was talking. He didn’t want to play against any girls. At any other time he preferred the company of girls to boys. Not here, though. Here he had to win.

A chubby teen boy pulled out the chair and gave Gibson a look. “Are you lost? I think you’re supposed to be in there.” He pointed to the auditorium.

The pencil-browed teacher came over. “He’s not lost.” She smiled at Gibson. “He’s in the right place.”

Gibson stared at her and turned to look out the doors. Bazelle and Wayne were already gone. They never stuck around. Chess games were boring as hell and other parents spent their time hovering, reading, or staring off into space. They couldn’t cheer or come over to help. Everything had to be as quiet as possible. Bazelle and Wayne couldn’t stand it. Gibson would rather them be gone anyway. Had they gotten their deal? From the way the teacher was looking they just might have.

He assessed his opponent. Jamie B. looked like a marshmallow stuffed into that white dress shirt. Dots of sweat formed around his dirty blonde hair. His father was sitting behind him. Gibson looked. The man watched Jamie’s back with hawkish eyes, sipping spiked soda from a paper cup. Jamie was scared of his father.

Gibson scooted up to the table and waited. Jamie had the white pieces. He moved first.

Jamie moved a pawn. Tapped the clock.

Gibson moved a pawn. Tapped the clock.

Move. Tap. Move. Tap. Gibson heard the other voices fade as Jamie’s enhanced. He was really scared of his father. There was no one to stand up for him at home. No one to confide in at school. Playing chess was the only thing he liked. He liked it better when his dad wasn’t around. In just under ten minutes Gibson had this boy all figured out.

On it went. Move after move, thought after thought, minute after minute, and Gibson was circling poor Jamie like a shark. In fact, Jamie had two sharks after him. The other one was behind him, scowling and furious his only son was too fat to play basketball. He blamed Jamie’s mother. She was turning their boy into a sissy. All his friends at the rig bragged on their boys, making the JV teams, tall and lean, owning the hallways, and shoving kids like Jamie into trashcans. And what did he get? He took a long drink. This. This is what he got.

Gibson took a few seconds to plan his next move. Jamie wanted to move his king next. He really shouldn’t move his king. Two more moves and Gibson would have Jamie’s king in check. Gibson glanced at Jamie’s father and moved his own king. Jamie blinked and sat up straighter. He hadn’t expected that. Not from a Master. Gibson looked at Jamie’s father again. He was boring holes into Jamie’s neck.

Jamie was thinking about his knight now. He flip-flopped between a knight and a bishop. Gibson clutched his hands in his lap. The knight. He wanted to whisper it to him. Give him some kind of signal. Move the knight.Not the bishop. Jamie’s eyes roamed all over the board in imaginary moves.

Come on, Gibson thought. Move the knight and I’ll be trapped. One game out of twenty. Gibson could afford the sacrifice.

Impulsively, Jamie picked up his rook and slid it up the board. Gibson looked at him with irritation. Now he was really going to lose. Gibson crossed his arms and pretended to think. No matter what he did at this point, Jamie was a goner. Gibson had no choice.

Just then, a prickly feeling trickled over the back of Gibson’s neck. He reached back to scratch.

It came again. It came with a thought.

Gibson looked up from the game at the bleachers. Some parents watched their kids intently, others chatted softly, and a few more day-dreamed. Someone’s pager was going off. Gibson turned his head to look behind him. More of the same. He scanned up the bleachers to the top and saw lone man sitting underneath a flickering florescent light, puffing on a cigarette.

Gibson stared at him. He was staring right back. The prickly feeling again. The man’s thoughts were like bubbling oil.

“Hey! Pssst! Excuse me!” A Helicopter Mom was standing on the bleachers below the man, waving her French manicure at him. “You can’t do that in here! Go outside! There are children in here.”

The man looked at her.

“Put it out,” she ordered.

The man took another drag and looked down at her.

“Did you hear me? Put it out and go outside!”

The man stubbed out the cigarette on the seat and flicked it down a few steps. Helicopter Mom and the other parents glared at him as he walked slowly down the bleachers, each step purposely louder than necessary. He stared at Gibson. Gibson stared back. Bubbly oil. Slippery. His thoughts were hard to grasp. He left the gym, lighting up another cigarette, and Helicopter Mom sat down with all the conviction of a martyr. She’d just saved all these innocent lungs. A few parents near her whispered their gratitude.

Gibson felt a tug on his sleeve. He turned back to the game, the man’s oily thoughts still seeping into his mind. He completely lost Jamie. He completely lost everyone else.

He looked at poor Jamie, wished him well, and made his final move.

Checkmate.


Half the auditorium was dark. Volunteers were packing up the games and folding up the tables. Gibson sat on the stage with the rook trophy and big check for $10,000. He was the youngest chess champion in Texas history. The tournament director announced it to hundreds of people. They clapped, they stared, their heads full of envy and awe. He liked the feeling of winning. He liked being the best. Even though he had an ability, and an advantage, it still felt good to win. He let himself bask in the moment. Trophies and cash meant nothing to him. It was all the praise. It was in his blood; in his name.

Not surprisingly, a reporter was there with the local paper. Gibson wouldn’t answer any questions. He said his parents had gone to get the car and they’d be back to talk to her. Bazelle and Wayne didn’t come back, so the reporter gave Gibson her card and said they could call her later.

It was later now. Gibson was still waiting. None of the adults seemed to notice or care he wasn’t claimed for. He picked the trophy up with one arm and grabbed the check with the other and went outside. He placed both on either side of him on a bench and waited. He looked around the parking lot. A pickup truck drove past, Jamie in the passenger seat, his eyes red, head hanging. Gibson watched the truck stop to turn. It went right, the engine revving as it sped down the highway.

In a clump of mini-vans, moms and dads buckled in their children, said goodbye to their friends, and began to drive away. Behind the clump, Gibson saw a car with its headlights on, idling, one man sitting in the front. Gibson looked around for Bazelle and Wayne, but there was no sign of them.

The headlights cut off.

A man got out of the car, young-looking with an intense face, and began walking determinedly towards him. The man was attractive in a smug way. Maybe he’d been on the JV basketball team and shoved fat kids into trashcans. He said nothing as he came straight towards Gibson, his thoughts slamming into Gibson’s mind like a hailstorm. Gibson froze, unable to move.

This man was ugly on the inside. His thoughts pelted Gibson mercilessly. Stealing, killing, manipulation. Power.

Gibson couldn’t move. He was paralyzed with fear.

Right then, a brown taxi pulled into the lot, cutting off the man’s path. Bazelle hung out the window.

“We bought champagne!” She shrieked.

Gibson grabbed the trophy and check and ran for the taxi.

“Oh, look at this. Look at this!” Wayne grabbed the check and pretended to take a bite out of it. His nose was inflamed, his face sweaty.

Bazelle took a drink out of the champagne bottle, scooting over so Gibson could get in. There was dried blood under her nose. One eye was so swollen the eyelid was turned inside out. “Look! Look! Look!” She repeated. “Hey! Hey!” She tapped wildly on the driver’s shoulder. “Look what we got!”

Gibson looked around for the man, but he was gone.

“Where to?” The driver asked impatiently.

“Just a minute! Just a minute! Can’t we celebrate?” Wayne reached across the seat to ruffle Gibson’s hair. “That’s our boy. You see this. You see all this. We did this.”

Bazelle poured some champagne into the top of the rook, threw the bottle out the window, and it smashed on the pavement. “Here, here,” her movements were shaky and quick. “Take a sip. Quick!”

“Quick or it disappears!” Wayne laughed. Bazelle laughed. It was like a cackling of crows.

“Hey!” The driver turned around. “I’ll call the cops. Seriously.”

Bazelle grabbed the trophy and gulped down the champagne.

“Let’s go to the Hilton.” Wayne was shaking like a leaf. “Take us to the Hilton.”

“The Hilton! The Hilton!” Bazelle bounced manically up and down on the seat.

Gibson locked the door as they turned to leave the lot. He slumped down in the seat. Just before they turned he saw the car again. The young guy was in it. Next to him was the smoking guy. They watched the taxi turn, stared right at Gibson. A thick, oily hailstorm was in his head.

“Ten thousand!” Wayne was shouting.

“Ten!” Bazelle shouted.

“Ten!” He repeated.

“Ten!” She repeated.

Gibson reached into his pocket.

“Thousaaaaaaaaand!” Wayne sang.

Put on his headphones.

“TEN THOUSAND!”

And hit play.


 

The North American Union

East Region

2027

9:46am

A flock of birds coasted through a blue sky as the train came through. The sound of the engine jarred the pastoral scenery, and like an agile metallic worm, wove between the hills before it was gone.

The 9:46. Gibson had all the times memorized. 9:46. 11:17. 12:33. 2:45. 3:25. And finally the 4:47. There were later ones, but they did something with the tracks. They were re-routed through some other place. He was guessing. He didn’t really know. He felt like he didn’t really know anything anymore.

“It’s so loud,” Marita muttered underneath her bonnet.

“And fast,” he replied. “I bet we could get to California in like an hour.”

He was pushing her in her wheelchair down the road. It was a routine they had. She didn’t want to wake with everyone else at four, so he’d come back to the house after the chores were done and help her down the stairs to her wheelchair. Anna saved some breakfast for her. If she was feeling up to it, Marita would help Anna with the dishes. Marita would dry while Anna washed, and then Gibson would take her outside for a while. Anna assured her the fresh air would do her good.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Marita told him. “Not yet.”

Gibson looked around at all the scenery. It was so quiet here, with the exception of the trains. Quiet outside and inside. He’d never really listened to the world until it stopped chattering to him inside his head.

“Where are we going?” Marita looked around. The bonnet hid her scarred up face and the long plain dress covered up her body. She didn’t want anyone looking at her. There were no mirrors in her room, because she didn’t want to look at herself.

“Down that way.” He nodded to a bend in the road. “There’s less bumps. And horse shit.” He maneuvered the wheelchair around a pile. A horse and buggy was coming towards them. The driver waved. Gibson waved back. He had no idea who it was.

“Don’t go too far,” she said. “People keep looking at me.”

“I think they’re looking at both of us.”

Everyone in the community knew they were outsiders. When they’d first come to Phillip’s house, they were welcomed without question, without doubt. It was Marita’s idea. She said this was something people did. People who needed to hide, to disappear, they came to the Amish. She knew things. She knew a lot of things. She was the only voice he could hear in his head now. It wasn’t constant, it wasn’t even that loud, but it was there. He didn’t know who she was back in Jamaica. Now he knew. They knew the same people. One in particular was like a scab. An oozing, weeping scab being ripped off, gushing with infection.

He tried not to hold it against her.

She’d saved him, after all.

The horse and buggy turned down a gravel lane. It parked beside a black Cadillac. He always thought the Amish didn’t use cars, but some did now. Neither he nor Marita knew what happened exactly. Phillip and Anna said their English neighbors told them it was an election that started it. Then hundreds of terabytes of data was released on the Internet. Classified data. It made people angry. Phillip said it all fell apart after that. Chaos ensued. A time of uncertainty. Then everything returned to normal for them. All except for the weed.

Phillip grew the minimal required amount - two acres - in his back lot. The new government told them if they wished to keep their horses and buggies, bonnets and suspenders, they’d grow the weed. They were paid a lot of money for it. Their houses got bigger, their families grew, their properties increased, and they were flourishing. It was a necessary trade-off.

Gibson misjudged a bump and Marita grabbed the wheels. “Be careful!”

“Sorry.” He slowed down a bit.

He wanted to ask her things, but she was so broken, outward and inward, he thought it was best to leave it alone. She’d come back to get him in that place. She could have just left, but she came back to get him. That thought alone made him keep his questions and comments to himself. But he really wanted to know. Maybe another day. Another time. When she’s better.

They were walking alongside Paul’s farm by a wooden fence being built on the perimeter. Gibson turned them around the fence when he saw Fox Mulder standing with a group of men. He pulled them back.

“What is it?” Marita turned, her face half-hidden by the bonnet.

He blinked a couple times, and peeked around the fence.

“What?” She asked.

“Mulder. I just saw Mulder.”

“What? Let me see.” She tried to wheel herself over, but he stopped her.

“Hold on.” He looked again. The young man looked like Mulder from the side, a near carbon-copy, but when he turned his head he looked like someone else. “No, that’s not him.”

“Let me see.”

“Wait a minute.” He stared at the guy. He looked a lot like Mulder from this distance. Like if the two were standing together, one would swear they were father and son.

“Let me see, Gibson!”

“Shhh!” He was getting a strange feeling, a memory, a thought he’d heard from a long time ago, breaking the surface.

“Gibson, move. Let me see.”

He turned to her. “Didn’t she have a son? Dana Scully?”

She gawked at him. "What son?"

“They had a baby. A boy. I think that’s him.”

The guy had his back to them now, walking with the elders across the field. He even walked like Mulder. He was talking quietly to one of the elders; his voice was smooth and deep. Gibson guessed William was younger than him; around twenty-seven or twenty-eight. When William turned his head he saw Scully. She was in his eyes.

"Let me see!”

Gibson pushed her so she could peer around the side of the fence. She looked for a minute or so, shaking her head. “It’s not possible.” She turned to him. “It’s not possible. She couldn’t have children. They made sure.”

“Not sure enough obviously.”

“Do you think you could try? Try to listen for him?”

“I don’t know.”

“Just try.”

He sighed and began to quieten his mind. Marita was just getting louder. She was anxious and getting in the way. “Quit thinking.”

“How am I supposed to quit thinking?”

“Just try to. It’ll be easier for me.”

He stared at the young man, trying his best to block everything else out. After a while, he heard something. Scrambled and hazy, but he could hear him.

“William,” he said. “His name’s William.”

Marita rolled the chair closer to him. “Is he really their son?”

William’s mind was a mess, but he found Mulder in there. He found Scully, too. Birth parents…then…adopted parents? He shook his head. Had he heard that right? “He was adopted. She didn’t keep him.”

Marita stiffened. “Adopted?”

“He found them, though. He found Mulder and Scully.”

“Is that why he’s here? Are they here, too?”

He tried to listen some more to find out, but William's thoughts were a tangled web. Gibson pulled at each one, trying to follow it until he heard the name Emily. And then Mary. But there was something wrong. He'd done something wrong. There was something dark and shameful around those names.

"Emily," Gibson whispered to Marita. "What was the name of that little girl? Scully's daughter. Was it Emily?"

A shadow fell over her face and she looked down at her hands. "Yes."

"I thought she died."

Marita said nothing, and she didn’t have to. That little girl lived. Marita had made sure that little girl lived.

Gibson remembered hearing about her in Scully's thoughts when he'd first met her. The pain over that child haunted her. That woman's mind had been filled with a constant stream of pain and worry, and thoughts of Emily echoed in her from time to time.

Gibson was starting to feel sick as he untangled it all, putting together a picture, a story that he wished he didn't know. It couldn't possibly be true, and he hoped that he wasn't really hearing it.

"Do you know why he’s here?" Marita was back behind the fence, hiding.

He didn’t answer her. He’d heard enough. He tried to shake William out of his mind, tried to peel away the layers.

Her jaw clenched. "So, they didn't make it out, did they? And they're still alive somewhere."

"Yeah. Maybe."

"What are you hearing? Tell me. Why is he here?"

Gibson went behind her chair and wheeled her away. If he could do something for Mulder and Scully, then he would keep their son's secrets. And what secrets they were.

"He's here for redemption." He quickly wheeled her back down the road.


When they got to the house, he pushed Marita in through the back door and over to the couch.

She wouldn’t stop talking about it. “Even after what they did, she had a baby! One that lived and grew, and she just gave him up?”

He braked the wheels. “You want to go upstairs or stay down here?”

“She had a son.” She took the bonnet off and flung it to the floor. “She had son and just gave him away.”

He sat on the couch. “I’m sure she had a reason.”

“It doesn’t matter what the reason is.” She shook her head in disgust. “It was impossible. She has no idea how lucky she is. No idea!”

Without the bonnet, the scars on her face were prominent. Her blonde hair had grown in to cover up the ones on her scalp, but there was a line across her left cheek. Another one over her forehead. The tip of her left ear was gone.

“What about Emily?” He asked. “Wasn’t she impossible?”

The shadow came back. She fiddled with the front of her dress.

He leaned forward, lowered his voice. “Is that what you used to do? Kidnap kids?”

“I didn’t kidnap her,” she snapped. “I was trying to save her.”

“From what?”

She shook her head. “They would have killed her eventually. Kept her locked up in a cage like a lab animal. They were following me, making sure I was loyal so I couldn’t take her back to Scully. I took her to Barbados. I left her in a church. The safest place I could find.”

He let that sit for a minute. She’d told him she’d been Mulder’s and Scully’s ally. At least she’d tried to be, but there were temptations. Others getting in the way.

“Did he help you?” Gibson asked.

She cut her eyes over to him, eyes with that unearthly blue glow. If Phillip and his family noticed, they never said anything. “Who?”

“You know exactly who.”

She scowled at him. “Help me over to the couch.”

He stood up so she could lean on him and helped her sit. Her leg had been saved by a surgeon in the Caribbean. She’d nearly lost it to gangrene. She couldn’t stand on it for too long, although she tried. Mercy and Ruth, Phillip’s and Anna’s daughters, tried to help with homemade remedies and lots of prayer. The boys, Peter and Daniel, made a ramp out front for the wheelchair. They were good people. Too good for them.

“He had to do what he was told,” she said “Just like me.”

Gibson leaned over her so their faces were even. “That’s bullshit. And you know it.”

She glared back at him. Her mind went dark and quiet.

“Marita? Gibson?” Mercy’s voice came down the steps. “Is that you?”

Gibson stood upright, and Marita reached into Anna’s sewing basket. Anna kept the mending by the couch. Marita tried to help her with it, but she was terrible at it. When Marita wasn’t around, Anna got out her seam ripper.

“Yeah, we’re down here,” Gibson called. He looked at Marita trying to thread a needle, her hands were shaking. “We just got back. We had a long walk.”

Marita pulled out a pair of pants and tried to hem them. She was truly awful at sewing. Her talents lied elsewhere.

Gibson lowered his voice to a whisper. “You know what he did to me?”

She wouldn’t look at him. She stuck the needle in and pulled it through.

“He kidnapped me.”

Needle in. Needle out.

“He stalked me. Followed me.”

Needle in. Needle out.

“He wasn’t just doing was he was told.”

Needle in. Needle…stuck. She pulled out the thread.

“He enjoyed it.”

She threw the pants down and turned away from him.

“How could you not have known?”

“He’s dead,” she said evenly. “Let it all die with him.”

“How do you know that?”

She whipped her head around. “I know. Trust me. I know.”

Gibson heard a creak on the stairs and they turned to see Mercy standing there.

“Did you want some lunch?” She asked.

There was a pause. A barn door rattled in the distance.

“We’re fine,” Marita said. She looked over at Gibson, her glowing eyes flashing. “We’re just fine.”

Chapter Text

The United States

Beckley, West Virginia

1999

10:02pm

The man sitting next to Gibson on the bus had a cold.

He coughed and hacked and wasn’t even bothering to cover his mouth. Gibson looked around for another seat, but the bus was crowded. There’d been a festival or something. People were riding to get back to their cars. It was getting windy out and the clouds covering the stars threatened a storm.

Gibson was riding because he didn’t want to stop anywhere. He’d been on the bus, sitting in the back, for three hours now. He looked out the window at downtown for the five hundredth time. There wasn’t much to it. Raleigh County Courthouse. Mountaineer Dry Cleaning. GC Murphy. A paper bag came dancing down the sidewalk and smacked one man square in the face. There was a couple walking a dog and a kid about his age ambling along behind them. For a second, he wished he was that kid.

The bus came to a stop and people started getting off, including the coughing guy. Gibson looked out the window. No one was waiting to get on. He had to get off soon. The buses only ran so late. The doors closed, leaving a family and one other woman. He decided he’d have to get off with the family. A mom, a dad, and three kids. He could walk behind them on his way out, make it seem like he was with them. Then…then what? Run off to where? There had to be a homeless shelter or a church around here somewhere. He looked up at the sky. He didn’t want to get caught in the rain.

And he was so tired. And starving. Earlier that day he’d crept around a neighborhood looking for food. Maybe a pie in a window left to cool, but nobody actually did that. He’d seen that in a cartoon once. What a bunch of lies. He stood outside of a convenience store, tried to look as pitiful as he could, and asked a woman for some change. She ended up buying him some donuts and asked too many questions. He ran off before she could call anyone.

After about fifteen minutes, the bus slowed down. The family stood up and began ushering their kids to the exit. Gibson stood up too and followed them. When the bus stopped, they got out and he went behind them. As they made their way to their car, he walked behind, looking every which way to make sure there was no one else around, then he ducked behind another car and waited. The family’s footsteps stopped, a car door opened. Another one. Some conversation. Car doors closing. Engine starting. Then they drove away.

He waited. He listened. Inside and out.

There was no one nearby.

He waited some more and peeked his head around the car, looking left, looking right.

No one around.

He carefully stood up and began walking down the street. To where, he had no idea, but it was important to keep moving. He’d gotten this far and was determined not to stop. He zipped up his jacket against the breeze and heard a distant roll of thunder. He abruptly turned down a residential road and looked for any open garages or unlit porches. He could be gone before anyone found him. He hadn’t been getting much sleep lately anyway.

Suddenly, he heard a sound behind him and spun around.

The sidewalk was empty. There was a man dragging a trashcan up his driveway. He was thinking about how much he hated the President. Gibson turned in a complete circle, looking around him, then continued walking. Every so often thoughts would whisper out of the houses he passed. He was on alert for one in particular; a hailstorm of words, a tornado of phrases.

He stopped when he saw a shed with an open door. He looked around and went for it. He was so hungry and so tired, he might as well let himself get some sleep. What would be the worst thing if someone found him sleeping in there? They’d call someone. The cops. CPS. He’d be taken back to Bazelle and Wayne. He could lie. He could say he’d left an abusive home. Once anyone saw where he’d been living, they’d believe him. He was getting better and better at lying. He knew the truth about everyone and everything, but he could lie like a champ.

Another round of thunder sounded just as he was crossing the driveway. Then there was a click and the cold feel of metal against his head.

He stopped.

“So help me God,” a voice said behind him. “I’ll put a hole right through your skull.”

Hailstorm.

Gibson turned to Alex Krycek holding a pistol. It must have been difficult for him to keep his mind quiet. Krycek had learned by now. So stealth. So incredibly underhanded.

Gibson thought about screaming for help. Porch lights would come on. People would come out to see. Krycek wouldn’t really shoot him in the head. That defeated the whole purpose.

Gibson looked at Krycek’s other hand. Something gleamed in the streetlight. It was a syringe.

“You can either cooperate,” Krycek said. “Or I make you cooperate.” He held up the needle. “Don’t make me do it.”

The last time Alex Krycek stuck Gibson with something, Gibson didn’t wake up for days. When he did his head was wrapped in bandages, and he could hardly stand up. It was pure luck and good timing that aided Gibson in his escape. Everyone in the facility had been warned to guard their thoughts around him. One guy hadn’t guarded his well enough.

Krycek was guarding his now, and having a really hard time with it, too.

“Turn and walk,” he ordered.

Gibson obeyed and felt the muzzle of the gun poke him in the back.

“Faster.” Krycek jabbed it in his spine and Gibson picked up his pace.

Krycek steered them to a car, idling, just a couple blocks away. He pushed Gibson in the backseat, and got in the passenger side.

“Go,” Krycek ordered the driver. “And don’t think about anything.”

Gibson didn’t recognize the driver, but this whole thing was making him nervous. Anxious thoughts pinged around in his mind.

“What do you mean don’t think?” The guy asked.

“I mean don’t think,” Krycek turned and aimed the gun to the back. “Just drive. Don’t think about anything else.”

The car shifted into gear and began driving down the road. Gibson wondered if he could open the door and jump out. If he ran fast enough he could lose them.

He heard all the doors lock, and the car picked up speed. So much for that idea.

He shut his eyes and tried to think of something. He could grab the driver’s head, cover his eyes, and make them crash. He could roll down the window and start screaming to anyone that might hear. He could even jump out the window if he needed to.

Rain began pounding against the windshield. The wipers were creaky. The squeak across the glass made Gibson’s skin crawl.

Krycek hadn’t budged an inch. “You’re not getting away this time. I’ll shoot you through the leg if you try to run.”

The driver glanced over at him. “We have to deliver him alive, you dick. If you shoot him and he starts bleeding, we’d have to take him to a hospital.”

“Bleeding isn’t dead.” Krycek smiled. “He’d still be alive when we got there.”

They were on a highway now, going way above the speed limit. Gibson looked out the window for passing cars. Maybe he could signal something. Maybe he could yell out the window that he was being abducted. The highway was empty and quiet. Inside and out.

Both the driver and Krycek were having a hell of a time keeping their thoughts in line. They were taking him to a place with no address. It wouldn’t show up on a map. It wasn’t even on the electrical grid. It only existed in thoughts.

It didn’t sound like it was the same place as before. That one had been attached to a military base. Only one entrance and exit. This one wasn’t attached to anything. The car turned down a dirt-packed lane into a forest. It bounced over bumps and ruts. Gibson put his hand on the window roller. Krycek kept the gun trained on him.

“Don’t even try it,” he growled.

The car drove until the headlights revealed the forest breaking apart into a field. A warehouse sat in the middle, one light on near the entrance. When they got out of the car, Gibson thought he might be able to run. The rain might help. If he could make it across the field without getting shot, he’d be in the woods. They’d lose him in there.

Krycek jammed the gun in his back and Gibson moved forward, following the driver inside. His heart was beginning to pound like a hammer. Inside the warehouse, tractors were parked. Brand new tractors. There was a humming sound coming from beneath their feet. When they got to a door, the driver scanned a badge and the doors opened to reveal an elevator. Gibson hesitated, but the gun poking in his back made him move.

As they began to descend, Gibson looked up a Krycek.

“Told you,” Krycek said. “You won’t get away this time.”

It must have been fear. Fear and anger swirling around inside him. It was the only reason Gibson would have opened his mouth. “You’re a traitor.”

Krycek’s nostrils flared with anger.

“You are.” Gibson said. “You’re not loyal to them.”

Krycek cut his eyes over to the driver, who was keeping his gaze straight ahead.

“You’ve been helping others. Going behind their backs. I know what they’d do to you if they found out.”

Then Krycek was on him. Gibson’s felt his head it the wall and Krycek’s hands around his throat. “You snide little shit…,” he choked out. His hands tightened. Gibson grabbed his arms, tried to push him away. “Snide little shit!”

Gibson felt his throat close up. Spots before his eyes. He couldn’t breathe.

“Hey!” The other guy grabbed Krycek and pulled at him. “Stop it!”

Gibson punched. He beat Krycek’s arms and shoulders with his fists. He felt his legs buckle.

“Stop it!” The driver tore Krycek off him and Gibson began to cough, clutching his throat.

The driver held Krycek away. “He’s just a kid!”

“He’s not just a kid,” Krycek replied, breathing hard.

The elevator opened and Krycek stormed ahead. The driver grabbed Gibson by the arm and yanked him down the hallway. “Keep your mouth shut,” he whispered. “He’s psychotic. You don’t know what he can do.”

But Gibson did know. He knew the first day; when the hailstorm first hit.

They put him in a room similar to the one before. It was like an examination room in a doctor’s office. Krycek shoved Gibson into a chair, like a dentists chair, and the driver turned to leave. In through the door walked the smoking man and another one Gibson vaguely remembered from before. The other one had a husky voice with an accent that was hard to place. He took a seat in the corner. Then a woman walked in. He definitely recognized the woman. Dark hair, blue eyes. He remembered that night like it was yesterday.

You’re worried about her, and she’s worried about you.

The look on Dana Scully’s face flashed in his mind.

Diana. He watched her take a seat in the other corner, clearly unnerved that he was staring at her. He couldn’t stop staring at her. Her belly was huge. She tried to hide it, pulling her blazer around her. Gibson stared in disbelief.

The smoking man took a puff. “It’s too bad we lost you last time, but don’t worry,” he put the cigarette out on a metal tray and handed the butt to Krycek. “You’re in good hands here. More security.”

Gibson looked up at Krycek. If looks could kill…

Gibson could say something. The smoking man would believe him. He was the most valuable thing in this whole facility, and Krycek had nearly choked him to death. The smoking man might kill him for that.

The smoking man turned to Krycek as well, looked him over, and lit another cigarette. He exhaled. “You want him to leave?”

Gibson nodded.

The smoking man turned back to Krycek. He flicked his head towards the door.

“You serious?” Krycek looked around, like one of them might protest. No one said a word. They just stared at him. Krycek made an angry, brutish grunt and turned to leave - but not without giving Gibson one last threatening glance. His thoughts showered down into Gibson’s head: Keep your mouth shut. I won’t stop next time.

And then Krycek was gone. Gibson relaxed a little.

“Now,” the smoking man sat down in front of him. “It’s important you be truthful with us. If you help us, no harm will come to you. Understand?”

That wasn’t true. Gibson nodded again.

The man pulled a photograph out of his pocket and handed it to him. Gibson looked down at it. It was a bald guy, wearing glasses. In the background was the FBI and DOJ seal.

“Do you recognize him?” The smoking man asked.

Gibson stared at the photograph. He did recognize him. He’d seen him for only a minute over a year ago.

“Did he ever speak to you?”

Gibson shrugged.

The smoking man turned to look at the other guy. He inclined his head. He looked over at Diana. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“Did you hear anything?” The smoking man prompted. “Any thoughts at all?”

Gibson shrugged again. He put the photograph down.

“If he were around you, would you recognize his thoughts?”

Gibson looked at all three of them, one at a time. The man in the corner looked bored. Diana was looking at the floor, hands on her stomach. Their minds were quiet. They knew to keep the incessant chatter at bay. He looked back at the smoking man. He nodded slowly.

The smoking man finished his cigarette and lit up another. “Thank you, Gibson.” He stood up, and turned to the other guy. “Get him some dry clothes. And something to eat.” The guy assented and left.

A second later a man in a lab coat walked in with a needle. He sat down next to Gibson, rolled up his sleeve, and rubbed alcohol on the bend of his elbow.

Gibson watched the smoking guy and Diana. Something rolled between them like thunder. A crackle. Diana hoisted herself up from the chair and came over to him. She put her hands around his other arm, watching the needle. Her hands were cold. “It’s going to be okay.” Her voice was firm. “You’re going to be just fine.”

Gibson felt the sting of the needle and everything began to fade.

“Just fine.” Diana’s voice sounded like it was coming down a tunnel.

Fading…fading…fading…

“Fine.”

Fading…to black.

 


 

 The North American Union

East Region

2027

6:04pm

Anna hurried around the dinner table with Ruth helping her lay out the dishes. Mercy pushed Marita into the dining room, parking her at the end of the table. Gibson took a seat at the end next to her. He looked over at her. She shifted her eyes to him quickly then looked away.

After everyone was settled, they all joined hands, and Phillip began to pray. It was in a German-Dutch mix that Gibson didn’t understand. It had a rhythmic pattern to it. Phillip’s voice was always somber and humble. Gibson often felt an unintentional pull from his own thoughts to focus on Phillip’s words. He didn’t know what they were, but the meaning was there. He couldn’t focus this evening, however.

Marita’s hand was limp in his own. He opened his eyes and looked over at her. She kept her head down, eyes on her lap. He stared at her until she finally looked over. She squeezed his hand, and he pulled it away.

When the prayer was over, they dug in. Plates and baskets were passed around. Anna oversaw everything, making sure everyone had enough to eat. She jumped up to get tea and water. Ruth poured some water in Marita’s glass.

Gibson had never eaten like this in his life. It was a lot of food. Gibson was never hungry. Anna made sure he and Marita never went hungry. She was always hovering around with a plate of food, a dish towel slung over one shoulder. She’d come out to the field in the afternoons with pound cake or shortbread. She encouraged Marita to drink more water, and handed her glass after glass of milk at lunch. Anna believed in the healing powers of fresh milk, good food, and prayer. It seemed to work. They were stronger and looked much healthier now than when they’d first arrived.

There was something to it, Gibson thought. There was something to consuming the vegetables he helped plant and grow, eating bread Anna made fresh everyday, and cutting up the beef and poultry Phillip either butchered himself or traded with one of his neighbors. There was something to it. Honorable. Simple.

Phillip and his family chattered around the dinner table. Gibson wasn’t listening. Usually they talked about sermons, farming, who was courting who, who needed to borrow some yarn, whose horse needed to be put down, whose Cadillac needed new tires, Elder so-and-so, scripture, and maybe little bit about the weather. They never talked about themselves or complained about a thing. Gibson wondered if they were just on their best behavior with him and Marita around. But it had been a few years now. He didn’t know what any of them really thought about. He found it peaceful.

Marita pushed some green beans around her plate. She was thinking about their conversation earlier. She glanced over at him. Gibson tuned her out.

“Marita, are the beans okay?” Anna asked.

Marita gave her a half-smile. “They’re fine. I’m just not that hungry.” She put her fork down.

“I hope you’re not getting ill,” Anna frowned. “Would you like some milk?”

Marita took a sip of water. She wheeled herself away from the table. “I think I’ll go sit out here for a little while.” She wheeled herself into the living room.

Gibson saw her look at him as she went, wanting him to follow her. He ignored her.

There was just enough daylight left after dinner. Phillip usually read something out of the Bible, but Gibson went outside, grabbed a shovel, and went to dig some holes. He’d been helping Peter and Daniel dig holes for fence posts all week. They were putting one up all around the property. There were a lot of holes to dig.

Gibson had also never worked this hard in his life. Phillip never asked him to do anything. Gibson just did it. He felt like he should help out in some way. He knew how to milk a cow, how to build a chair, and more about harvesting cabbage, tomatoes, and marijuana than he’d thought he’d ever know. This kind of life was starting to grow on him.

He was digging in the south field when he looked up to see Marita wheeling herself over to him. She stopped a few feet away and watched.

“I wish I could help,” she said after a while. “I don’t know if they’d like that though - a woman out of the house, digging around.”

Gibson finished the hole and went to the next one. He pulled out the wooden stake they used as markers and started digging.

She followed him over. “I don’t think you’re being very fair to me.”

He dug the shovel in and hit a rock. He leveraged the shovel underneath it and pushed it out.

“It was a long time ago. I didn’t know.”

Gibson stopped and wiped sweat and dirt from his forehead.

“I didn’t. I really didn’t.”

He took a few breaths and watched the sky turn orange-pink. Sunsets used to scare him. Darkness was too uncertain; it could easily shroud someone from his sight. Too many shadows and not enough light.

“I wasn’t trying to defend him, but it was a long time ago.” She folded her hands in her lap. “We were both powerless. There wasn’t much we could do.”

“Say no, maybe?” Gibson shoveled away some dirt. “Ever hear of that?”

“They were orders not requests.”

“I really don’t think they ordered him to strangle me or shove a gun in my face.”

She was quiet for a minute or two. He stopped digging and looked at her. She used to be pretty. That was easy to see. Scars and missing eyelashes marred her; it took something away from her. He didn’t know how it happened. She didn’t want to discuss it and never thought about it either.

“You and I are more alike than you think,” she said finally. “We’ve both been betrayed by those we trusted.”

He wiped away more sweat. “What makes you think I’ve trusted anybody?”

“You trusted Mulder and Scully, didn’t you?”

He looked down at his feet.

“You tried to help them. Then they just forgot about you.”

Forgot wasn’t the right word. Distracted was more accurate. He never saw them again after Mulder’s trial. They disappeared completely.

“It was the same for me.” She wheeled closer. “I wanted them to be right. To put the ones responsible on trial. See justice take its course.” She looked around the field for a few moments. “But they forgot about me, too. Betrayal always comes with a price.”

Gibson propped the shovel up and leaned on it. “Like you said: it was a long time ago.”

“You and I put ourselves on the line, out in the open, and we were punished for it.”

A wasp buzzed by his head. He wiped more sweat from his face.

“And Alex…,” she paused there, her voice breaking. “There isn’t anything I can do about it now. If I’d known…,” she paused again. He waited. She used that pause for all it was worth. “There’s nothing I can do about it now. Nothing I can say.”

He didn’t actually know what he wanted her to do or say. He wasn’t sure why he’d spoken to her that way earlier. She wasn’t him. Guilt by association perhaps. “Well, now you know.” He started digging again. “I’m sorry about earlier.”

“It’s all over now.” She looked around them at the setting sun and there was a clip-clop of hooves in the distance. “We’re safe.”

He stopped again. He wasn’t getting any work done with her out here. He looked around them and listened.

Quiet.

So blissfully quiet.

Except for her. She was remembering something. It pensively came into focus. Someone chasing her with a knife.

He watched her face. “What did they do to us?”

The memory vanished. “Look in a mirror, and you’ll see.”

She turned the wheelchair around and went back to the house. He watched her go. One wheel got stuck in a dip. She tried to lean to the opposite side to get the wheel out. He picked up the shovel, came up behind her, got her unstuck, and took her back inside.


 

Russia

Volgograd

1996

2:36pm

Marita stood under the sculpture and looked up at it.

The Motherland Calls. Sweeping sword, mouth agape. It wasn’t so impressive from this angle. The giant legs and fleshy hips reminded her of redwoods. She wondered if a real woman had been the model for the face. And why were modern sculptures always draped in Greek or Roman attire? Lady Justice. Lady Liberty. It was like sculptors had no sense of time. Or any sense of dignity, judging by the detail of the statue’s breasts. She gave the sculpture a critical eye like she gave everything in her path a critical eye.

Not even statues can be trusted.

She turned away from it and looked around at tourists holding up cameras, trying to fit their friends into the shot. In the reflectors of her sunglasses she could see there was no one coming up behind her. There was no one behind her at all. People were walking further away to get a better shot. She took out a disposable camera and pretended to be considering a picture. She hadn’t taken a single one since she’d arrived.

Marita checked her watch again and went to the back left corner to wait. She’d sit, but her dress was Prada. Last season, but still. She paced back and forth, occupying herself with the camera, and trying to pluck out some Russian phrases from the conversations around her. She wished she felt more relaxed. She wished she felt more anxious. She never seemed to achieve a good balance.

In her peripheral, she saw a white male coming towards her. He had intense eyes. About 6’1”- give or take. Scruffy face. He stopped a few feet away from her, took out a camera, and snapped a few shots of the statue. His aim was bad. He went around to the other side and disappeared behind the feet.

Marita was sure that was him. She didn’t know what he looked like. They said the contact would meet her here and the rest would take care of itself. No more than two minutes out of her life. Two minutes in her life felt like two days.

After about five minutes, the man reappeared. He was looking up, his head tilted nearly all the way back, as he moved closer to her. He appeared to be stunned by the massive size of the statue. He should be. It was the biggest sculpture of a human female in the world. She wondered if he knew that. She wondered if any of the men here knew that.

She waited. He took his time approaching her.

“Vuchetich was pretentious,” he said to her smoothly. He wasn’t Russian. An American. His accent placed him somewhere in the mid-to-northwest.

“But it’s Nikitin’s best work,” she replied.

He nodded and glanced over at her. She kept her gaze forward.

He moved to the other side of her and began patting his pockets. He pulled out a pack of Morleys and did another pat down. The pack was brand new. He’d just bought it. “Do you have a light?”

She took a book of matches out of her bag and handed them over.

He deftly palmed the piece of paper inside before he lit the match. He took one drag and let the cigarette dangle between his fingers. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” She took the matches from him, and began to walk off.

She could feel his eyes on her as she made her way back to the car. In her sunglasses, she could see him ambling along behind her, trying to look inconspicuous. She wasn’t all that surprised. Men always looked at her that way. They liked to follow her, too.

Marita was about halfway back to her hotel when she saw the same car about two vehicles behind her. She considered that for a moment and took and abrupt turn down another street. The car went slowly past and in the rear view mirror she could tell it was that same man. Her hands clenched the steering wheel.

The rest would take care of itself, would it?

She drove in a square, a few blocks from her hotel, watching for the car. She didn’t want to make a call unless it was absolutely necessary. When she was sure she’d lost him, she pulled into the parking garage, pulled the brake, and went to open the door. She glanced up in the rear view mirror and saw the car. He was still sitting in it. She swore under her breath, took a gun out of her bag, and got out.

She marched over to the car, rapped on the window, and pointed the gun at him. “Out.”

A smile crept across his face.

“Out,” she ordered.

He slowly opened the door, holding up his hands, and got out. He was still smiling. It just pissed her off.

“There’d better be a damn good reason why you followed me here,” she told him.

His eyes went down her body and back up to her face. “A beautiful woman is always a good reason.”

“You think I haven’t heard that before?” Her hand tightened around the gun.

“But I say it better than anyone else.”

“Empty your pockets,” she commanded.

He stood still, still holding his hands up.

“Empty them.”

“Wanting to get into my pants already? But we’ve just met.”

She cocked the gun.

That shut him up. He quickly reached into his pockets and took out the Morleys, a wallet, a keychain, and a small pocket knife. She made him set everything on the roof of his car.

His smile widened. “It’s not what you think. I broke protocol. By choice. My choice.”

“You’re going to get us both killed.” She looked around the parking garage. They were alone. “You were supposed to take it and leave.”

“Sometimes I can’t control myself.” He looked her square in the eyes. “And I’m betting sometimes you can’t either.”

Now she didn’t know what to do. He could have an accomplice hiding in the car or in the garage somewhere. She hadn’t thought this through. She kept the gun on him while she grabbed his wallet. She opened it to see his passport.

“Vladimir Andrevich,” she read aloud, and raised her eyes to his face.

“It’s not real,” he replied. “Yours isn’t either.”

She didn’t like how he was looking at her. No, that wasn’t true. She did like how he was looking at her. That was what bothered her. It was the intensity in his eyes - laser-focused and relentless. Like if a bomb went off nearby he wouldn’t blink.

“It’s really Alex,” he said softly.

She heard the ding of the elevator and the doors opened. A couple walked out. She lowered the gun quickly, and he lowered his hands. She stared hard at him while the couple walked to a car and got in. It took them a minute to start it up. Her heart thudded so hard she could feel it in her temples.

“See,” he whispered as the car backed out of the space. “I’m not dangerous.” He took one step towards her. She took one step back. He kept his gaze on hers as the car slowly drove off.

When it was gone she tossed the wallet at him. “Get out of here.”

He put the wallet back in his pocket and smiled.

“Now.” She raised the gun.

He complied, backing up towards the car, removing his things from the roof.

“If I ever see you again, I’ll put a bullet right between your eyes,” she said viciously.

He smirked at her and got in the car, closing the door. She kept the gun on him as he started it up and shifted it into gear. She watched him back out when he hit the brake.

He rolled the window down. “You’ve got a place in Philadelphia?”

She tried not to flinch, not to move a muscle, but it was automatic. Beyond her control.

“I like monuments,” he said calmly. “The Liberty Bell is one of my favorites. I’ll be paying it a visit soon.”

She said nothing. The gun was starting to shake in her hand.

“It was nice to meet you.” He smiled at her again. “Marita.”

He backed the car out and drove off. She stood there with the gun aimed for about a minute after he was gone. Then she dropped it, taking a huge breath, she put her face in her hands. She was shaking so much. Why was she shaking so much? She had to get a hold of herself. Find that balance.

She took another breath. Then another. She calmly put the gun back in her bag. She locked the car. She walked towards the elevator. She got inside. She pushed the button for the twelfth floor. As the doors closed she caught a reflection of herself…

She was smiling.

 


 

The North American Union

East Region

2027

7:48pm

Phillip was reading downstairs. Peter and Daniel were out courting girls. Anna sewed quietly on the couch. Mercy and Ruth were finishing the dishes and getting a head start on breakfast.

Gibson parked Marita by the couch, wished them all a goodnight, and went upstairs to take a bath. After he’d drained the tub and dried off he saw a small circular mirror by the sink. There was a lack of mirrors in homes here in general. A vanity thing. They were usually small and hidden away so one couldn’t get too self-absorbed. Had Marita not pointed it out to him once, he never would have noticed. He went over to it.

A man looked back at him.

Just a man. An ordinary man.

He took his glasses off and set them on the sink. He didn’t need them anymore. He wore them for comfort. They’d done something to his vision. It was perfect.

He stared at the reflection. The last time he saw himself he didn’t look like this. He wasn’t this grown up. He turned his face to one side, and then the other, unsure of what he was looking for. He felt around on his nose, his cheeks, his jaw. When he pulled back his hair above his ear, he could see it. A pink slice; a scar. He traced it with his finger all around the circumference of his head to the other ear. He turned and got a glimpse of another one at the base of his skull, a long line on his spine all the way down.

He didn’t remember those scars. He reached back to feel it. A raised bump. He rubbed his fingers over it, and stared at himself some more.

It didn’t seem real. Like someone had switched the mirror with a screen.

He blinked. Blinked again. Rubbed his eyes. It was slowly starting to dawn on him. Settling in, getting comfortable.

He should look older than this. He counted it out on his fingers. He’d be about forty now. He didn’t look anywhere near forty. Maybe thirty. Maybe even the same age as William.

And Marita…shouldn’t she be in her sixties? Her age was difficult to place for the scars, but she looked considerably younger than sixty.

He got dressed and went down to her room. She got her own room because of how she had to sleep with her leg propped up. He had to share with Peter and Daniel. The house was quiet. There was an orange glow of an oil lamp coming from downstairs. Anna and Phillip were talking softly.

He knocked on the door and whispered, “Are you asleep?”

He heard her shift around on her bed. “Come in.”

She was reading by lamplight. Some random religious text Anna gave her. Underneath the quilt he saw her leg elevated. She put her book down and looked at him, expectant.

“How old are you?” He asked her.

She sighed. “Shut the door.”

He did and sat down in a rocking chair across the room.

“This is as old as I’ll ever be,” she said, her voice measured and slow. “So will you.”

“Why? What did they do?”

She sat up and moved her leg over a couple of inches. “I don’t think we should talk about it here. We should wait until we leave.”

“When we go out tomorrow?”

“No. Leave. For good.”

“Why would we leave?”

“We were never going to stay.”

He looked at her confused. “Where else is there to go?”

“We’ll figure it out.”

On the one hand, he was uneasy that she was just assuming they’d leave together. Couldn’t one of them stay if they felt like it? On the other hand, he was curious about what was outside of here.

“So…,” he leaned forward. “We don’t get older? What would be the point in that?”

“I’m certain there are millions of people who could give you lots of reasons.”

“It just doesn’t make sense.”

She tilted her head one way and then the other. “It does and it doesn’t. I think it’s a side effect.”

“Of what?”

She turned to him, studying his face. “Let’s wait. It’s a lot to take in.”

“I don’t want to wait.”

She sat forward, pushing some pillows behind her. He jumped up to help her. “I think you already know.” She looked up at him. “It wasn’t that big of a secret in there.”

He adjusted the pillows and sat back down. “We’re aliens.”

“Hybrids,” she corrected.

He expected her to say more, but she fell silent. Somewhere a dog barked. He heard the front door open and close. One of the boys was back.

“They had a different purpose in mind for you, though.” She folded a corner of the quilt then unfolded it. “So, we’re a little different, but basically the same.”

“It sounds worse when you say it out loud,” he said, examining a blister on his palm. “When you’re just thinking about it, it doesn’t seem so…”

“Final.”

“Yeah.”

“Irreversible.”

“That, too.”

“There’s more like us.” She pushed the quilt away. “When we go, we can look for them.” She looked around the room. “We don’t belong here. Or anywhere. Not anymore.”

He was used to not belonging anywhere. He rocked in the chair and stared at her. “I don’t like that you know so much.”

She pulled up the sleeve of her nightgown just a little to reveal the edge of a scar on her arm. “It was my job to know things.” She pulled the sleeve down. “They just used that against me.”

“Why do this to you, though? If you knew so much, why make you this way?”

“You make it sound like it’s a gift.”

Someone was coming up the stairs. It sounded like Phillip.

“We shouldn’t talk about this anymore. Not until we’re gone.” She winced and grabbed hold of her leg, clenching her teeth.

He stood up. “Are you okay?”

“It’s fine. Just a cramp.”

“You want me to get Anna? Ruth?”

“No, it’ll go away.” She breathed a sigh of relief. “I need to try walking more.” She looked up at him. “Tomorrow. Will you help me? I don’t want to be stuck in that chair when we go.”

Her mind was quiet now. He felt like she did it on purpose. He didn’t know if he should find that worrisome or not. “When do you think we’ll leave?”

“I don’t know. As soon as I don’t need the chair any more. A couple more months?”

He nodded. He turned to go.

“Gibson?”

He turned to her.

“I really didn’t know what he did to you. I hope you believe me.”

He listened for a thought, but there was nothing. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

He shut the door and went to bed.

Chapter Text

The North American Union

East Region

2028

7:20am

Gibson stood on the bank of the Susquehanna River with the rest of the men. He watched William slowly wade into the water, assisted by one of the elders. William glanced over at Gibson a few times, but Gibson knew William had no idea who he was. Now that he’d opened up a line into William’s mind, he couldn’t stay out of it. Gibson couldn’t believe the things this young man had done. It seemed made up.

Word went out yesterday afternoon there was going to be a baptism today, but Gibson found out just last night it was going to be William. It didn’t surprise him. William was here for something. William thought if he did this, he would be forgiven.

Gibson purposely took Marita by Paul’s farm on occasion, hoping to get a glimpse of him. She did, too, although she wouldn’t admit it. He’d brake the chair by the pond, help her up, and she’d hobble around for a few minutes. He was right there beside her if she needed him. After walking a short distance, she’d sit down, sweating and exhausted. She wasn’t improving as much as she’d hoped. It was frustrating her. Privately, Gibson was glad. He didn’t want to leave yet. Especially since he might have found a good reason to stay. He looked around at all the women standing on the bank. That good reason wasn’t here this morning. He’d been hoping to see her.

William was standing out in the middle of the river now, Paul and Michael on either side of him. The water must be cold this time of morning, but none of the men seemed to be chilly. William looked misty-eyed and a bit nervous. Gibson thought that this would be something his father would do. Scully wouldn’t do something like this, but Mulder would.

Gibson watched as they leaned William back, dunking him into the water. When they brought him up, the sun was rising through the trees. Gibson tried to listen to William. Did he feel absolved? Had his sins really been washed away in the current? William glanced over at him one more time as they wrapped him up in a towel and before everyone began walking back. They were all going to Paul’s house. Gibson wasn’t going there.

He broke away from the rest of the group and took a path through the woods he’d found a few weeks ago. He liked to walk through here when he didn’t feel like being seen on the road. He couldn’t take Marita on the path. It was too bumpy and tree roots sticking up here and there didn’t allow smooth passage for a wheelchair.

He also liked to take walks here with Grace.

This path would take him behind her family’s farm, and he hoped he’d get to see her.

Grace was only twenty but was considered an old maid in this community. The first time he saw her was a few months ago. She was minding two little girls while she walked barefoot between rows of radishes and peppers, picking the ripe ones and putting them in a basket. He thought the girls were hers, but he found out later they belonged to one of her sisters. Grace had three older sisters, all married and living with their husbands. Her only brother had cerebral palsy, so she had to go out with her father each morning to tend to the livestock.

The second time Gibson saw her, she was loading up a wagon with marijuana plants alongside her father, her brother sitting behind the horse. The plants were not processed on the farms. They took them down to a Union manufacturer a few miles away where they were processed and shipped to stores or to fulfill Internet orders.

The third time he saw her, he was wheeling Marita past her house. Grace had been sitting on her front porch with her brother. Gibson waved at her, and she waved back.

Then, for some reason he still couldn’t pinpoint even now, they’d started walking together in the evenings.

It just sort of happened.

He quickly learned that a young man walking with a young lady in this community meant something. It was kind of a big deal. He liked spending time with her. She was a calming influence; uncomplicated and reserved. It was soothing to be around someone like her after hearing and seeing so much viciousness for so long.

He respectfully kept his distance and didn’t try to hold her hand or anything like that. What did hand-holding mean to them? Sex? He didn’t know and thought it might be rude to ask someone. Nonetheless, Grace had no reservations about walking with him. She seemed perfectly content with her life. She told him all about her days helping her father, helping her mother, taking care of her brother, then watching her nieces and nephews. She spent the majority of her time helping others. He’d never met anyone like her before.

“Have you ever left?” Gibson asked her one evening as they walked up the road, buggies and black Cadillacs driving past them. He always made sure to watch the time. He didn’t want her coming home late and people thinking things.

“Left?” She raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah. Don’t you all have like a thing? Where you get to leave for a little while?”

“Oh, that.” She nodded with a smile. She had a nice smile. “No. I never did that.”

“Why not?”

“I like it here. I’ve never wanted to leave. Not all of us do those things, despite what you’ve heard.” She smiled at him again.

He didn’t really have a reply. Her answer was simple enough: why leave a place where you are happy?

Her dark eyes studied him for a minute. “Is that woman in the wheelchair your wife?”

“No, no.” He shook his head. “Not at all. We’re friends. Good friends.”

“You’re not related to her?”

“No.”

“You’ve never told me why you and her came here. I know she was hurt by someone.”

They were approaching the pond on the side of the road. Sometimes they would sit on a bench by the water and talk. Gibson always made sure to keep a respectable distance.

“Yeah,” he replied. “She was almost killed. And she saved me. So, I want to take care of her until she can walk again.”

They sat down on the bench, Grace on one side and Gibson on the other, making sure there was a proper distance between them.

“That’s very kind of you,” she smiled, then she leaned towards him slightly, lowering her voice. “What did she save you from? Were you almost killed?”

He was unsure if he should tell her about that mess; about anything at all before they’d come here. What would she think of him?

They were quiet for a minute as Gibson debated on whether he should answer her question.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “Maem always tells me curiosity killed the cat.”

“It’s okay. I don’t know if I want to discuss it right now.”

She nodded and they sat for a time in silence, but it was a peaceful silence. He wondered to himself why she wasn’t married off yet. She was such a good-natured young woman and not entirely unattractive. Plain, but still comely. He guessed it didn’t really work like that here. The women didn’t get to choose who would court them and marry them.

He’d been thinking about that quite a bit recently. The whole Amish dating thing. He wasn’t sure if that’s what they were doing. Most of the guys took the girls out in their buggies or Cadillacs. He didn’t have either one of those. If that concerned her at all, she hadn’t let on.

As he walked by Grace’s home, he saw her out in the field, pulling up weeds. He lingered by the property, wondering if he should approach her or not. She looked up just then, giving him a smile and a wave. He waved back. She got up, brushing dirt from her hands and came over to him.

He felt a flutter in his stomach each time he saw her. It was a nice feeling. Familiar and foreign all at once.

“Did you go to the baptism?” She asked him breathlessly. The scent of earth and fresh linen surrounded her. He felt his face flush.

“Yeah. It was nice.”

“I wish I could have gone but,” she turned to look behind her and back at him, “my brother isn’t feeling well. I had to stay home.”

“I’m sorry. Is he okay?”

“Just a cold, I think.” She paused. “I’ll see you later?”

“Of course.” He smiled. She smiled back. Another flutter. “I’ll come by after dinner.”

“Okay.” A breeze came through, stirring her bonnet strings. She always left them undone. They flitted around like the feeling in his stomach. He wanted to take hold of one and wind it around his fingers. That probably wasn’t allowed. What would that be - like second base?

He said goodbye and went back to Phillip’s. He didn’t realize he was grinning until he walked in the back door and Anna saw him.

“And what are we so happy about?” She asked cheerily.

“It was a nice morning,” he replied as he went upstairs to help Marita.


He tried to make the walk with Grace that evening last longer. He steered them to the trail in the woods, making a circle, and coming back to the road. As they walked back, they talked about mundane things: the weather, whose buggy needed repairs, whose barn needed a new roof. Gibson didn’t know why, but talking about such ordinary things was calming. After seeing and hearing so much turmoil and ruthlessness, it was nice to know there was still simplicity and honor in this world.

He slowed their pace as they approached her home. She slowed with him.

“I had a nice time,” she said softly.

“Me, too.” He looked over at her. She looked over at him. He wanted to kiss her. It came on suddenly, like a lightening bolt to his head. That would break Amish dating etiquette for sure. He wondered if she felt the same way. He felt like if he tried to invade her thoughts, it would be too violating. He hadn’t tried, but he really wanted to.

When they reached her home, he walked her up to the porch. She thanked him for the nice evening as she usually did, but then she reached out her hand to him.

He just stood there, like an idiot, not knowing what to do. Did she want to shake his hand? That seemed kind of weird.

He hesitated for a minute, then took her hand, feeling her fingers thread through his. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d held a girl’s hand. For a second, he thought about pulling her into his arms. His heart pattered in his chest. She seemed to be waiting for him to do something. He looked around and tried to listen for her. Her thoughts came in easily, like a steady flow from a warm spring. He found what he needed, then carefully brought her hand to his lips, kissing the back of it quickly. Her cheeks flushed pink, and she smiled at him.

“Goodnight,” she said.

“Goodnight,” he replied.

There was a giant grin on his face as he walked back. It was on his face as he walked through the back door, saying hello to Anna in the kitchen. It was still there as he walked past Marita’s bedroom, barely noticing her sitting there in the half-darkness, an oil lamp behind her, her eyes glowing.

“What are you doing?” She growled.

He stopped. “What?”

She wheeled herself into the doorway. “What. Are. You. Doing?” She sounded angry. It was throwing him off.

“What am I doing?”

“Are you deaf?”

He stood there, a little shaken by her tone. “I’m walking down the hall to my room. What are you doing?”

“I told you. We’re not staying here.”

“I know that.”

“Then what are you doing?”

He felt a little embarrassed even though he shouldn’t be. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes you do.”

“Are you mad I went for a walk with Grace?”

A walk?” She wheeled herself closer to him. “You’ve gone out with that girl every night for weeks. What’s wrong with you?”

“We’re friends. I like walking with her. I can’t stay in the house all the time.”

“We are not staying here. You’re just going to get her hopes up and hurt her.”

He could hear her thoughts rumbling at him like a storm. “We went for a walk. What are you so angry about? And besides, you can leave if you want. Doesn’t mean I have to.”

Her eyes widened, her mouth opening with shock. “I can’t believe you’re saying this. After all I’ve done for you? You’re just going to stay here and leave me somewhere, all alone?”

“I didn’t say that!”

“We are leaving here! This is temporary!”

“I know! But I’m just saying, I don’t have to leave. Why leave a place where you’re happy?”

A sadness spread across her face, her chin started to tremble. “You’d be dead or worse if it wasn’t for me.”

“I’m just saying. You don’t need to make such a big deal out of it.”

She wheeled even closer, nearly running over his feet. “She’s Amish. You’re not. Stop playing around with her. And besides, she wouldn’t be able to be with someone like you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You think she’d still go walking with you or even speak to you if she knew what you were? Where you’ve been? What you’ve done? Leave her alone. That girl and her family are going to expect things from you that you can’t give them.”

He crossed his arms and didn’t reply.

“How would you explain it to her? Because you’d have to. She’ll want a child. What kind of child do you think that would be?”

He felt his ears burn. “We’re just walking together. That’s all. Quit making such a big thing out of it.”

She glared at him. “She’s just going to reject you and so will her whole family. You have to think, Gibson. Think about what you are doing.”

“Goodnight,” he said to her brusquely, walking the rest of the way down the hall.

“Gibson,” she hissed at him. “Gibson!”

He shut the door, leaving her there, alone.


The east edge of Paul’s property was coming up.

Gibson steered the wheelchair in between a lump of horse shit and a pothole like a pro. “Does anyone ever clean this up?” He wondered out loud. “Or fill the holes?”

Marita wasn’t speaking to him. She sat with her arms crossed, her mind a boiling pot.

“Seems like somebody should,” he continued. “If someone caught their wheel in that, it might break.”

No response.

He started talking about cows. He rambled about how big they get and all they eat is grass. Horses, too. Isn’t that funny? They’re such big animals and yet they eat like rabbits. He went on and on. He told her about the rabbit he saw out by the tomatoes. It was tiny. It wasn’t scared of him at all. Do animals have thoughts? He’d never heard an animal think before. If so, what do they think about? Food. Probably a lot about food. Predators, too. Sleep. Procreating. Is that all humans thought about millions of years ago? Maybe if -

Marita grabbed the wheels, stopping them abruptly. She turned the chair around to face him. “Are you going to see her later?”

He didn’t answer.

“Are you?”

He glowered at her. “Do you think you own my life?”

“It’s because of me you have a life!”

He didn’t know what to say to that, so he said nothing.

“You need to tell her,” Marita said. “Tell her you can’t walk with her this evening. Maybe tomorrow. Make it gradual. She thinks you have intentions.”

“You don’t know what she thinks.” He shoved his hands in this pockets.

“Exactly.” She rolled closer to him. “This is why we need each other. Why we have to stick together. You have your ability, and I have answers.”

He looked off at the hills as a train came through.

“It’s true.” She softened her voice a bit. “I didn’t think we’d be here this long. I thought I’d manage better than this.” She rolled herself in front of him so he’d look at her. “But we can’t stay here.”

He watched the flash of metal as the train shot by, Inter-regional Railway printed on the side. “Maybe you can’t.”

“This is not your home.”

He wondered where that train was going. He’d never seen a train move so fast.

Marita sighed and looked around them. No buggies or cars. Just a couple of Clydesdales chewing on some grass. “Which would you rather do, Gibson - leave here in peace, without anyone finding out? Or being thrown out after telling that girl and her family what you are?”

He still wouldn’t look at her, but he considered her words. There was only one right choice. Even so, he wanted to make the wrong one.

“If you really care for this girl, you’ll stop.”

He looked at her finally. “I get it.”

“How would you feel if you were her? Wouldn’t you rather be blissfully ignorant than know the whole truth?”

“I said, I get it.” He went behind the chair and pushed her down the road.

“Take me by the pond.” She straightened out her dress. “I want to try walking. I need to practice my balance.”


 

The United States

Washington D.C.

1997

9:11pm

Everyone out on the sidewalk was plodding slowly along in the humidity. No rush to get anywhere and too saturated by the heat to care. It was the hottest day of the year, and a cloud of moisture hung over the city, sweltering and clinging. Marita darted in between couples, families, and grungy-looking tourists, getting impatient. Her dress was sticking to the sweat forming on her body. Damn this humidity. That’s what you get when you build a city on a swamp.

She cut a left on 2nd Street towards Union Station. She was debating on whether or not to take the Amtrak back to Philadelphia tonight. She was so tired and hot, she might as well get a room. Just for one night. There was no harm in that. But to be home…in her own bed…she should ask for an apartment in DC. Next time they sent her on an errand, she would ask. No. Demand. Long stays in hotel rooms were getting expensive. She was reimbursed for her trouble, but not always on time.

Marita pulled out her cell phone and thought about calling Mulder. They’d just met less than an hour ago, and he would probably find a follow up to their conversation strange. Almost needy. She wasn’t needy. She was uncertain. Did he understand what she told him? He was so eager, so desperate to know, that he’d believe just about anything. But did he actually understand it? She found it amusing. So amusing that she had to keep herself from laughing. Laughing at how serious he was, how he swallowed up her words like he was dying of thirst.

He needed her. Now more than ever, did he need her.

His partner was a bitch. Those were not his words, but she was an uptight bitch. Marita knew all about her - Dana Katherine Scully - from her birth date, to her height, weight, shoe size, her poor dead sister, and the time she got so drunk at her first Homecoming Dance she threw up all over her date. Initially, Marita was going to approach her and form a friendship. Solidarity. Women in government needed each other. But she was unapproachable. Distant.

And a bitch.

So, Mulder it had to be.

She put her phone away and impulsively walked into a bar. The blast of the blessed AC hit her as soon as she opened the door. She felt like she could breathe again. Everyone with a penis turned their heads in her direction. She could practically feel their eyes on her legs and breasts like laser beams, etching her form in their memories for private moments later.

She sat down at the bar and dug through her bag. The bartender placed a napkin in front of her. Before he could get out his greeting, she ordered a Tanqueray on the rocks. He looked impressed.

The music was loud enough. The seat high enough. And if the drink was poured well enough, she’d be certain enough. Everything was a balancing act for her. Tipping the scales one way and then the other until they were even. One didn’t walk leaning to one side. One walked upright, on both legs and both feet, sharing the weight evenly. It was a balance. An effortless balance.

She pulled everything from her purse, but saw no cigarettes. It was a shame. She liked to punish her liver and lungs at the same time; revel in all the vices at once. One was only half as good without the other. The bartender handed her the drink. She asked for a glass of water to go with it, took a long sip, and felt the cool liquid spill down her throat. Best decision she made all day.

Marita took out her cell phone just in case she got a call. Or needed to pretend she got a call.

Before long, she felt someone behind her. The bottles of liquor were stacked too high against the mirror behind them to see who it was.

“Isn’t this a coincidence?” His voice curled around her neck like a vine.

She turned to see Alex Krycek’s inviting eyes and boyish grin. She turned away and took another sip. He sat down next to her. She made her irritation known.

“Must be something in the air. Or in the water,” he said. He was drinking scotch. Of course he was drinking scotch.

“I’m not going to change my mind,” she replied coolly.

“Of course not.” He looked around the bar. “Just thought I’d say hi.”

First there was a phone call, about a week after Volgograd. She let it go to her answering machine. Another call about two days later. Answering machine. He “accidentally” ran into her in Baltimore the week after that. A call to her cell phone. She hung up on him. Flowers at her doorstep. Flowers at her desk. They went in the trash. Almost a month went by, and she thought he finally got the hint. But during a stay in DC for a special assignment he found out what hotel she was at. He waited in the lobby all night long for her to come down in the morning and begged her to go have coffee with him. Just coffee. It doesn’t have to be anything else. Just that.

She barely acknowledged him, told him no, and left.

Then she opened up her mail one day. She’d let it pile up while she was away, kept forgetting to put a hold on it. He wrote her a letter, five pages long, that was so flowing and flowery that she couldn’t believe it was the same man that smirked at her while she held a gun to his face. She folded up the letter neatly, with care, and placed it in a box. Every evening she took it out to read it, repeatedly going over her favorite parts, then put it away, and went to sleep.

“They need to give you more things to do,” she said to him, looking at all the liquor bottles in front of her. “You have too much time on your hands.”

“I know what else I want in my hands.”

She was shocked to feel a jolt between her legs. She took long sip.

“It’s a shame,” he said softly. “You live in one of the most historic cities in the country, and you don’t even have the time to enjoy it.” He drained the glass and signaled for another. “That must have been why you weren’t there. I waited all day. I stayed after they closed. I don’t do that for just anyone.” He paused, waited for a response, but he didn’t get one. “Did you know the Liberty Bell didn’t crack during the Revolution?” He looked over at her like she might answer. She kept her eyes trained ahead. “It was in 1835. They rang it after the death of Chief Justice John Marshall, and that’s when it cracked. City of Philadelphia profited from the rumor. Sent it all over the place for gatherings and such. I guess the Revolution story is more romantic.” He turned to her. “Passionate. Someone so caught up in something that they weren’t able to control themselves.”

She thought about going to the Hyatt. The Marriott was close by. Mark Twain used to stay at the Hay-Adams. She didn’t even like Mark Twain, but she’d sleep in a place he’d slept in.

“I don’t know what it is,” Alex continued. “You haunt me. Wherever I am, wherever I go, I only see you.”

She finished her drink and signaled for another. “You’re wasting your time.”

“Am I?” He looked around them. “You haven’t left yet. It’s a free country. You can walk out that door anytime you want.”

She shifted her eyes to him.

He leaned forward to whisper. “There’s something here. Don’t you feel it?”

There was a particular part in his letter that she liked. It had to do with the Hindu god, Shiva, and the goddess that saved him, Parvati. Shiva drank a poison to save the world. Parvati gripped his throat to keep it from spreading, keeping it there forever, turning his neck blue. Alex told her she was his Parvati; there to contain the poison inside him. To save him. To keep him whole.

Marita pushed the empty glass away, and took a gulp from the next one. She could feel the gin sliding through her veins, warming parts of her that hadn’t been touched in a long time. She waved over the bartender. “Do you have a cigarette?”

He hastily took one out, handed it to her, and lit it for her.

Alex watched him walk away, then placed a hand on her thigh. “I want to be with you tonight.”

That hand. She felt a warmth spread through her. A pulse. She enjoyed it and hated it all at once. She took a drag. Exhaled. “I don’t think it would be wise, considering our circumstances. And our employers.”

He took his hand away. Without another word, he put some cash on the bar, and walked out the door.

Marita finished her drink and her cigarette. Collected her thoughts. Collected her composure, and walked out onto 2nd Street. The Hyatt it would be. The moist heat clamped onto her as she walked along, slowly, wondering how she’d gotten here. If she thought about it for long enough, she could pinpoint where it started. Where she’d reached the point of no return. Sometimes she wished she could just disappear. Take a train, or a plane, to some place and never come back. Smash her phone. Change her name. Would anyone look for her? Maybe for a little while, but there was no one close enough to her to worry.

She’d only walked a block when she saw him, sitting in a car in an overpriced parking lot. He watched her walk by.

She stopped. She watched his face. The longing there. The pain of rejection.

It had to be the gin. Maybe even the nicotine. Whatever it was, it pulled her over to the car, made her open the door, and get in.

She shut the door. Looked straight ahead. “Take me somewhere.”

He stared at her. She turned to look at him.

Alex drove them across the Potomac and out of the city. He sped into the lot of a Super 8, and ten minutes later they were standing in a room. It smelled like stale smoke and mildew. A picture with a campy beach scene hung crooked on the wall. Not ideal. But there was a bed and a long night ahead of them.

He tossed his keys on the floor and came towards her like a bull. She put a hand against his chest, stopping him. “There won’t be another time after this.”

He stared into her eyes. “Then lets not waste it.”

His hungry mouth was on hers, her lipstick smearing a red line across his neck. He took her up against the wall, impatient, immersed. Drenched. She pulled his shirt off. Buttons popped off her dress and bounced on the worn carpet as he tore it off. He was inside her. Rough. Impatient. She gasped.

She’d never been so turned on in her life.

They collapsed on the bed with her on top. She put her hands around his neck. He grabbed them, wanting her to squeeze harder. She couldn’t stop herself, taking him in as deep as she could. He was hard, rough. She was wet, panting.

It was only when there was no turning back, no way she could stop the rush building up inside her, when she knew. He was going to destroy her. Shatter her heart into a thousand pieces. Leave her broken and used up. She would pay for this. She would suffer for this. Was she crazy?

Someone could have followed them here. Someone was going to hear them.

Was she crazy?

She heard her name. She heard his name. She heard herself crying out.

She heard something break. A dam bursting forth, rushing through, engulfing her, drowning her.

She’d never been so turned on in her life. He’d never been so drenched.

 


 

The North American Union

East Region

2028

6:28pm

Gibson walked down the road.

Someone waved to him from a passing buggy. He waved back once he recognized who it was. A black Cadillac came down the other side, slowing down as it passed the buggy. He thought he recognized the man driving it, but didn’t wave at him.

The Amish only drove black Cadillacs. Black like the buggies. Austere and plain. There were dealerships that catered to them, removing all amenities before they’d consider purchasing one. He wished he knew how to drive. He’d never learned. Maybe someone here could teach him.

He was going to meet Grace soon, so he decided to take the longest walk possible to her house. He needed some time to think. And he was really amazed that just walking around in silence, such a simple thing, was a good avenue into introspection. In the past, when he’d walked down roads alone, he was looking around, his guard up and senses on alert. He didn’t have to do that here.

Since he was meeting with Grace soon, he was mostly thinking about her. She told him they could go walking later into the evening. She didn’t have to be home as early as usual. The expectancy in her eyes each time he saw her and the way she smiled at him made him happy.

But also worried.

She liked him. Even if he couldn’t hear her thoughts, he could tell she did. He tried to be respectful and not listen to them, but it was difficult sometimes. Especially since he didn’t know what he was doing, but he continued doing it anyway. He needed confirmation that Grace really enjoyed being with him. He couldn’t think of a time when anyone at all had liked spending so much time alone with him.

He didn’t know what he would say. He didn’t know what he would do. There was the right thing and the wrong thing. Why did the wrong thing always feel so right?

He’d thought many times about how Grace might react when he told her. Because he would have to - like Marita said. If he intended on spending the rest of his life with her, then she would have to know. What would she think of him? Would she still like him? He didn’t know if what he felt towards her was love or not. But he liked to be with her and even missed her when he wasn’t. That was close enough to loving someone, wasn’t it? He was used to things between himself and a young lady happening quickly. But he could take his time now. He didn’t have to run off somewhere else to hide.

He was smiling to himself as he thought about Grace. About her careless bonnet strings fluttering around in the breeze, about her smile, and her lovely dark eyes, as brown as tree bark, looking up at him when he told her goodnight. She had tiny hands that felt so good in his own, hands he never wanted to let go of at the end of the evening.

He would have to let go of them. It was better if she never knew a thing. Better for her. Better for him. Marita was right, and he hated that she was right.

As he crossed back onto the road, he was so absorbed in his thoughts, he didn’t notice the car slowing down as it approached him.

It wasn’t a black Cadillac.

The car came to a stop, then reversed to a stop alongside him. Gibson stopped walking when he saw who the driver was.

William rolled the passenger side window down and looked out. "Do I know you?"

Gibson leaned down and looked back. He hadn’t expected to see him. He thought it was really remarkable how much William resembled his parents. In that moment, with the way the evening light was shining in through the windshield, William looked like his father.

"No,” Gibson replied.

"You're always staring at me as if you do.”

William was really a miracle neither of his parents had expected to have. "Your mother went through so much to have you,” Gibson replied, “And here you are. All grown up."

"You know her?" William asked, looking slightly surprised.

Gibson hesitated for a second before he answered. "Yes. Your father, too."

"What's your name?"

Gibson could tell him, but it wouldn’t mean a thing to him. He started to walk off. "I have go to meet someone. Good luck to you, William."

William backed up again. "Can I have your name at least?"

He gave William’s question a few seconds of thought before he answered. "Tell them that Gibson and Marita extend their best wishes."

As Gibson continued down the road, William didn’t drive off right away. His car lingered there for a few more seconds. Gibson stopped and watched him drive off, wondering if he got what he came here for.

When William’s car was out of sight, Gibson continued to Grace’s house. She was sitting out on the front porch in a rocking chair she said her father made when he married her mother.

“Hi,” she smiled.

“Hi,” he smiled back.

She opened the door and said something to her parents in a German-Dutch mix and walked down the steps to join him.

“How was your day?” She asked him as they walked onto the road.

“It was good,” he replied. “How was yours?”

She always had a story to tell him. Something about her brother or nieces and nephews. It was always mundane, something ordinary and simple. He always liked to hear it, though. The way she told it to him was very descriptive. He thought she probably elaborated to make it more interesting.

Grace talked to him as they walked down the road, and then he began steering them towards the trail in the woods. He preferred that over the road. They would have more privacy. Out on the road, people saw them together and that made him feel like they were under a microscope.

As they walked along the trail, the sounds in the woods was like an accompaniment. Birds, rustling leaves, and sometimes they’d catch the sound of a creek nearby. Gibson thought about how he could do this with her all the time. If he stayed here, they could walk through here every day for hours. If they had children together, they could walk here with their son or daughter. He looked over at her, as she told him all her stories from the day, and imagined going to sleep with her in bed next to him. Maybe they would be laying there, after making love, falling asleep in each other’s arms. Maybe waking up in the morning to see her pulling back her long, hickory-colored hair, getting ready for her chores. Maybe watching her in a rocking chair with their child, singing hymns to it softly.

As he imagined that life with her, he was struck with something. A peace, an assurance, a hope for the future. The future was suddenly so clear and so wonderful. He would tell her the truth, and she would accept him. He felt sure she would.

He stopped her in the middle of the trail and in the middle of her sentence.

“I want to stay here,” he said to her. “I’m not going to leave.”

Grace was caught by surprise. She stood in front of him and waited for him to say more.

“I want to stay, because…,” he hesitated with a second of doubt before he finished. “I want to be with you. I want to marry you.”

Grace’s eyes widened for a second, but then a smile spread over her face. He saw her cheeks turn a light pink. “You do?”

“Yes,” he stood closer to her. “But…I mean, you know, only if you want to marry me...if you want to be with me…”

Grace stared up at him, her eyes flicking around his face for a few seconds. “Yes,” she breathed. “I do. I want to be with you, Gibson.”

He smiled at her, feeling elated and a little relieved, too. He took both her hands in both of his. He wanted to kiss her, but he wasn’t sure if that was appropriate yet. If they agreed to get married, then couldn’t he kiss her?

She looked up at him, waiting for him to do something. Did she want him to kiss her? He tried to listen to her thoughts.

He saw her frown. “But you haven’t joined the church.”

“The church?”

“Yes. We all join. It’s a vow we take in front of each other and with God.”

Gibson thought about that for a minute. He hadn’t considered the religious aspects of this life. He would have to if he stayed. Grace’s family might not let her marry him otherwise. They were the types that drove cars and let the women wear a little bit of jewelry, but he didn’t think they’d react well to her marrying a complete outsider - in more ways than one.

“What do I have to do to join?” He asked her.

“You would have to start coming to the services on Sunday and talk to some of the elders.”

He nodded as he considered. “I can do that. How long will it take?”

“I’m not sure. You’ve been living here for a while now, but it’s really up to them.”

Gibson looked into her eyes. “And then you’ll marry me?”

“Where would we live?” She asked him.

He felt embarrassed. He really hadn’t thought this through. He didn’t have any money or own any property. No one was going to just give it to them.

Gibson hung his head. “I don’t know. I guess I really didn’t think about this enough.” He shook his head. “I was just thinking about being with you. I wasn’t thinking about the rest of it. I’m sorry.”

She took a step closer, hope filling her eyes as she thought of something. “Maybe we can stay with my parents for a little while. All of my sisters are gone now. There’s plenty of room for the both of us.”

Gibson felt even more embarrassed. Ask a woman to marry you, then stay with her parents? “I don’t want anyone to have to support us.”

“It won’t be for long at all,” Grace said, tilting her head to bring his gaze back on her. “We can make it work.” She came closer to him, quieting her voice. “And as long as we’re together, that’s all that matters to me.”

“I don’t want to embarrass you,” he replied.

“How could you? How could someone wanting to spend their life with me embarrass me?”

Gibson could see in her eyes and hear in her thoughts that she was sincere.

“I’ve never met anyone like you,” he whispered to her. “I know I won’t ever again. I can’t imagine a future without you with me.”

He could see tears coming into her eyes. “Me, too,” she whispered back. “It’s the same for me, too.”

Gibson didn’t know what to do, or what he was able to do. They were completely alone out here on the trail. He cautiously let go of one of her hands and brought it to her face.

Can he kiss her now? He hadn’t kissed a girl in a long time.

Wait. How does this go again? He didn’t want to do it all wrong and embarrass himself even more.

He tried listening to her thoughts again, when he heard a sound down the trail. He turned to see Marita in her wheelchair, Mercy pushing her carefully around tree roots and rocks.

He froze, his heart pounding.

Marita and Mercy waved as they got closer. Gibson stepped back from Grace, letting go of her hands, and Grace folded her arms in front of her, looking away from him. It suddenly felt like they’d been caught naked together.

Mercy stopped Marita in front of them and said hello.

Marita stared coldly at them. “Nice to see you, Grace.”

“Hello,” Grace replied shyly, trying to fade into the background.

Marita shifted her icy stare on Gibson. “I didn’t know when you were coming back. Mercy said she’d take me out for a while.”

Gibson shrugged, looking down at his feet. “We were on our way back.”

Marita said nothing and looked at the surrounding trees and dirt path cutting its way through.

“Oh, I don’t mind taking her out,” Mercy piped up cheerfully. She was only fifteen, but had the patience and optimism of a saint. “Especially back here. The road gets so crowded this time of day. Everyone coming back from town.”

“Yeah,” Marita agreed, giving Gibson the frostiest smile he’d ever seen. “I told her we should try the trail. If we needed to, she could help me up to walk if we couldn’t get the wheelchair through.” She looked around them again. “It’s so quiet back here, too. Private.” She shifted her eyes back to him; cold, accusing eyes. “No one can see anything.”

Gibson felt his ears burn. “Well, I should get Grace home now.” He turned to her. “You ready to go?”

Grace looked puzzled, but she nodded. They walked back in the direction Marita and Mercy had come from. Gibson could feel Marita’s eyes on them as they walked away. He could hear how angry she was.

As they walked away, Grace whispered, “You’re not really taking me home, are you? I don’t want to end our time together yet.”

“No,” Gibson replied. “We can go out by the pond, if you want.”

He hoped Mercy and Marita wouldn’t come down that way. He was an adult. He could make his own decisions. But he supposed it was guilt that made him feel this way. She’d saved him from something terrible. She could have just limped out of that underground prison and left him with everyone else.

Oh, that’s right. They’d left people there.

He cowered at the thought. Would he have to tell Grace about that? She wasn’t hiding anything from him. He could hear that. He shouldn’t be hiding anything from her either.

They continued to the pond in silence. Grace looked over at him warily. “She seemed kind of angry. Why would she be angry?”

Gibson sighed with irritation. “I don’t know. Well, no, I do know.” He paused. “She wants to leave here, and she wants me to come with her.”

“Why?”

“I think she just doesn’t want to be alone.”

When they reached the pond, they sat down on the bench. Gibson didn’t try too hard to put that much distance between them. “Are you going to tell your parents?”

“Not tonight.” She scooted a little closer to him. “I think my father would like it if you came by to talk to him. Not all of my sisters’ husbands did that. He’ll see it as a sign of respect.”

“Okay.” Gibson looked over at her. “I will.”

He forgot about all the etiquette as he took her hand and pulled her closer to him, until she was right up against him, until her face was close to his.

He was really going to do this. He was really going to marry this girl. He never thought this would be something he’d want to do or be able to do. Ever. But it was going to happen now. She cared about him, he cared about her, and she would understand that he had no control over what he was. It was the truth.

He gathered up his courage and kissed her. Her lips were soft, her breath warm, and for those few seconds his lips were against hers, her tiny hand gingerly touching his face, he forgot the world existed. They were the only two people in the Universe.

He broke the kiss, and turned away all in one awkward movement. He felt stupid. Like he was the one that had never done this before.

Grace smiled at him, and leaned against him as they watched the sun go down.

She was happy. He made her happy. And for the rest of his life, that’s all he ever wanted to do.

 

Chapter Text

The North American Union

East Region

2028

6:45pm

"I want to marry your daughter. I love her."

Gibson said it for the one hundredth time as he did another lap around the vegetable garden. It was after dinner and the air was lazy and thick. Gray clouds were slowly moving in from the east. He'd been rehearsing for an hour now.

Gibson tried different inflections on the words. "I want to marry your daughter. I love her."

No, that wasn't right. He shook his head to himself and thought maybe he should say it in a different order. "I love your daughter. I want to marry her."

He said that several times, trying out the words, slowing down phrases, and pretending the makeshift fence was Grace's father. He stood up straight, lowered his voice, and bowed his head slightly in respect. "I love Grace. I want to marry her."

Dammit. It just didn't sound right. No matter how he said it. This had to be perfect. He had to perfect his words and tone. He was only going to have one chance. Grace's father was a respected elder in the community. Gibson's delivery had to be good. Really good. This man wasn't going to give away his last daughter to just anyone.

Gibson paused in his pacing again and repeated the words, "I love your daughter. And I wish to marry her."

That sounded better. Saying he wished to marry her sounded more humble. Saying it was a want might come across the wrong way. He was going to have to watch how he said it. His voice had to be softer, more respectful. This wasn't a demand. It was a wish. A request.

Gibson heard Anna's voice and looked across the field. She was taking the laundry down from the clothesline. Marita was following along behind her, a laundry basket on her lap. Anna carefully folded a pair of trousers and set it in the basket. Marita wheeled along, listening, watching puffy gray clouds move across the sky.

Gibson was keeping it a secret. For now. He hadn't told anyone his intentions. Everyone was going to find out soon enough. He wanted it to be a secret until he got up his nerve, and this was going to take a lot of nerve. A lot of effort.

There would be questions. Gibson had to have answers. Like, how would he support him and Grace? Gibson would work at the warehouse down the road where all the marijuana plants were processed. And where would Gibson and Grace live? Gibson would say they would live with Phillip until there was enough money to buy their own place. It wouldn't take that long. He would work day and night to support them and their future children.

And that was where Gibson got stuck - their children. Grace wanted them. He did, too, but he would have to explain himself to her long before. He would have to tell her what he was and what kind of children they would have. She could bail on him and wait for another man. But he believed she would appreciate the truth. She loved him, and she would appreciate his honesty. He was sure, but would her father?

He thought it was best to tell Grace first. It would be difficult, but if she didn't run away from him, then it might be okay. They might be okay.

He did another lap around the garden, practicing his lines. The sun was moving closer and closer to the west, and he had to meet with Grace soon. Instead of going for a walk, Grace was going to invite him in. They'd be allowed to sit together and hold hands as long as her parents were in the house. Gibson decided that tonight he'd get her father's blessing, and then he'd ask to speak to her in private.

Or no. No, that was too much for this evening. Tomorrow evening. Even if her father said no, he wanted her to know. He wanted her to know everything.

Gibson heard the swish of wheels on grass and looked up to see Marita pulling up in front of him. "You ran off after dinner pretty quick."

"I don't want to talk right now." He walked around her and turned a corner around some cabbage.

She wheeled along behind him. "What are you going to say to her?"

"Don't worry about it." He saw some weeds in between some pea plants and reached down to pull them up.

"You have to be firm," Marita coached. "Don't upset her, but make it clear this was just temporary. We'll be leaving soon."

"I said, don't worry about it." He tossed the weeds across the field.

"Ruth helped me walk around the living room this morning. I think we might be gone in just a few months."

He didn't respond. He reached the end of the garden and turned left around the turnips. Marita kept on coming, no matter how fast he walked.

"It's better if you stop it now," she said to him. "Before it gets too serious."

He spun around. "I don't want to talk!"

She stopped.

"Let me handle it my own way, okay?"

She frowned at him. "That's the problem. I don't think you will handle it."

"I will. Just leave me alone."

He began walking away, but she caught up to him and cut him off. "Gibson. We have to leave. And you don't love her anyway. You never would have started something you can't finish."

"You don't know anything about it." He walked past the garden towards the gravel path that went to the road. Marita had a hard time on that path. The wheels always got stuck.

"Gibson," she called after him. "We are leaving here. Make it quick."

He turned around. "How serious was it between you and him?"

Her mind turned into a blank canvas.

He walked closer to her. "Did you love him? Did he love you?"

A brush stroke on the canvas. Then another. Long and curving. Alex Krycek turning his back. She was pleading with him, but he turned around and walked away.

"Why are you asking me that?" She was saddened by the memory.

"I just want to know."

"You don't need to know."

"I need to know if I can trust you. You want me to leave with you, and I don't know if I can trust someone that loves an asshole who kidnaps kids."

She glared at him.

He looked her over. "Unless you were doing it, too."

Emily flashed in her mind for a second. "I told you I didn't know. I didn't know what he was doing."

He searched for the truth in her thoughts, but they were evasive. They hid like night crawlers from a spotlight.

"I'll be back later." He turned and walked towards the road, feeling Marita's glowing eyes on him until he was out of sight.


The United States

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1997

7:09pm

Marita punched in the code on the keypad outside of the building. There was a beep and the heavy doors unlatched to let her inside. She got into the elevator and pushed the button for her floor. She took a huge breath as soon as the doors closed. Until she was inside the building and the elevator was on its way up, she felt like she was suffocating. Holding it all in until she was safely inside her home, where in just a few minutes she'd be enjoying a hot bath and a big glass of wine.

She was thinking about that as she made her way down the hall. Hot, bubbly water and a dry, oaky Merlot. Maybe she'll really indulge and open the bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon she'd bought in Madrid. It cost about as much as some people's rent.

She needed it, and she deserved it. The assignment they'd given her was going to take every ounce of her will and energy to survive. When she agreed to it, her voice was sure and strong, but on the inside she was as weak and yielding as a blade of grass. It had to be done. An innocent life was at stake.

She was reaching into her purse for her key, when she saw someone out of the corner of her eye. She turned and startled at the sight of Alex Krycek, standing in the hallway outside her door.

"Why won't you return my calls?" He said desperately. His eyes were red-rimmed and his skin pale.

"How did you get in here?" She backed away, reaching into her purse for pepper spray.

"Please, can I talk to you?"

"I'm calling security." She turned and marched towards the phone in the hallway.

He ran in front of her to stop her. "I just wanted to see you. And to talk. Please? I can explain everything."

She ignored him and grabbed the phone off the hook. He took it from her hand and put it back. "Will you just listen? That's all I ask."

She'd never seen him like this. Not even after she found the note stuck in the pocket of his jacket a few months ago. I had a great time last night, the feminine cursive read. Call me soon. Xoxo. 555-2222.

He was in the shower, so Marita neatly placed the note on the hotel bed, gathered up her things, took his car keys, flung them off the balcony into the bushes, called for a taxi, and never looked back.

There were two voice mails after that. In the first one, he was angry at her, saying she had no right to go through his things, saying it wasn't like they were in any kind of relationship, and he saw her with Fox Mulder. If she can screw around with him, then what else was he supposed to do?

In the one following that, he was upset, apologetic, and claimed nothing happened. Okay. Something did, but it didn't mean anything. He hadn't seen Marita in two months, and he was just lonely. He just missed her is all. It was a one-time thing. He'll never do it again.

Before he could leave anymore messages, she changed her phone number and asked her employers for a new cell phone. That was a month ago, and here he was. She'd never met someone so relentless.

"I want you to go," she told him as calmly as she could. "I don't want to see you. I don't want to talk."

"So, I just mean nothing to you at all? All those times - did it just mean nothing at all?"

She took out her cell phone and dialed 911. She made her way to the elevator.

"Marita, please!" He followed her. "I need you! And you need me."

"911, what is your emergency?"

She opened her mouth to answer, but nothing came out.

"You wreck me. You save me. You're everything to me." His voice was full of anguish.

"911?" The voice was monotonous and slightly annoyed. Marita couldn't will herself to speak.

"The poison inside me," he whispered. "You drain it. When I'm with you, it's gone."

"Hello?" They were going to hang up. "Please state your emergency."

She wavered. She thought about the time they were in Toronto, humping each other like crazy in a stairwell. He liked the unconventional. She liked the thrill of getting caught. Anyone could have walked in, seen her up against the railing and his pants down to his ankles. She felt like she was burning from the inside out. Whenever his breath passed by her ear, whenever his lips were on her skin, whenever he was grabbing her hands and putting them around his neck, she was burning. Burning like a heretic on a stake.

She hung up the phone and turned to him. "You have one minute." She looked down at her watch.

He came over to her and put his arms around her. She couldn't find it in herself to pull away.

"I made a mistake," he said. "A huge mistake. Please don't do this. We need each other. We were meant for each other. Can't you feel it?"

She felt something right then. An urge to slap him and push him off her. Then she'd just pull him back, kiss him, and they'd fall down on the floor in a heap. They'd do it right here, in the middle of the hallway, unconcerned and unhinged.

"This was a mistake," she replied. "This whole thing, between you and me, was a mistake. They gave me an assignment, and if they catch me with you, I'm as good as gone."

"What assignment?" He eyed her suspiciously. "With Mulder?"

She pushed him away and went for her door. If she got in quick enough, she could lock him out, and call the police from her home phone.

"I told you to stay away from him," he called after her. "He's just using you." He paused there and said viciously, "In more ways than one."

She spun around. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I know what you're doing. Trying to break him and her apart, but it won't work. He's delusional and she's far too loyal. So, you can stop with all the secret meetings."

Marita was shaking with outrage. "What are you implying?"

"You know exactly what I'm implying." He stood in front of her, lowering his voice. "I saw you. I saw you go in his apartment."

She felt her fists clench. She might actually break his nose.

"How many times, hmm?" He looked at her with anger and pain. "How many now?"

Fox Mulder was a surprisingly honorable man. He hadn't tried a thing. Marita was simultaneously relieved and insulted. That uptight bitch had quite a hold on him. Marita liked to follow her from time to time, watch her walk in and out of the Hoover building, her face so serious and her eyes so bland. She always got her coffee at the same place. Drove the same route home. Shopped for her clothes and food at the same stores. What a boring, uptight bitch she was. Marita found her fascinating.

That was the only reason Marita had agreed to take part in this new assignment. Scully was enduring a deeply personal pain right now. Had this been anyone else, Marita never would have agreed.

She scowled at Alex's accusing eyes, wanting so much to slap the shit out of him for believing she would so something like that. Instead, she pulled him towards her, and pressed her lips against his so hard she could feel his teeth.

They were in her apartment in seconds. She kicked the door closed, unzipped his pants, and pushed him onto the couch. And it was like it had always been, frenzied and hurried, until they were spent and useless. But he stopped it right in the middle, right as it was getting good, and took her into her bedroom. She was unfamiliar with this side of him, the one that wanted to take his time with her, and was too gentle and tender for her liking. It was the nature of the whole thing. She was used to getting what she wanted out of him when she wanted it.

She lay there with him afterward, uncomfortable and exposed. He lay on his stomach, his head turned towards her. She stared up at the ceiling. She could hear the people above her walking around and the sound of his breath. She realized she'd been holding hers in.

"You remind me of this book I read," he whispered to her.

She snorted. "You read books?"

"All the time." He turned on his side and ran a hand over her stomach. "It was about an empire. Fictional empire. It all fell apart when the leader came under the spell of a beautiful woman."

She turned her head to look at him. "Sounds ridiculous."

"That's what I see when I look at you - the end of an empire, of an era. I bet if you waved your hand, you could create another one to replace it."

"Why are beautiful women always so mystical in stories? Believe me if I could cast spells, you wouldn't have any limbs."

He laughed. "Is that all you'd do?"

"And you'd have no free will. You'd do everything I say."

"Pretty sure you've done that to me already."

She turned on her side, looking him dead in the eyes. "Did you talk about this with that other woman?"

It was too dark to see his face clearly. It looked like he was smiling. "All I thought about was you."

She sat up, putting on a robe, and went looking for her purse. She found a cigarette and a lighter, went back into the bedroom, opened up a window, and sat beside it. That first long drag hit her like a ton of bricks.

He lay on the bed and watched her for a time. She idly thought about getting a new rug for her bedroom. This one was Persian. The red in it matched the shade of Dana Scully's hair.

And the hair of her daughter's.

"What else would you do to me?" Alex asked slyly.

She exhaled and thought about it.

"Tie me up? Leave me in a dungeon somewhere? Use me when you wanted me?" He was getting turned on by his own words.

"I think I'd make you disappear completely."

"Well that's no fun."

"It would be for me."

He stared at her for a few seconds. "I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself. She was there, and you weren't."

She exhaled again and watched a group of drunks stagger across a parking lot. "You're terrible at apologies."

Silence passed between them. Marita wouldn't really make him disappear. She would miss him. She hated that she would miss him.

"So, what's your assignment?" Alex asked quietly.

She finished her cigarette, put it out on the sill, and flicked it down to the street below. "Saving a child." She stood up from the chair.

He stared up at her. "What child?"

"Dana Scully's child."

He sat up. "What?"

Marita didn't believe it either. The little girl's body was tagged and ready to be taken to the incinerator, where all the botched experiments went. She'd been dead for just under two days when she was found sitting up in the morgue, crying and trembling with fear.

No one knew what to do with her. What could they do with her? Marita was told the child had to go. She was to take that girl somewhere where she'd never be found. Emily belonged with Scully, and Marita had thought about how to arrange it. She didn't know of any possible way to do it. Leave the girl at her doorstep? Leave her at the Hoover building? She could hand Emily over to Mulder and let him worry about it. But Marita knew they would be watching. It was a test. An assessment of her loyalty.

"Scully has daughter," Marita replied, sitting down on the bed. "Everybody thought she was dead."

"A daughter? Scully?" He moved next to her. "Who's the father?"

Marita shrugged. "There isn't one."

"That's not possible."

"It is." She paused. "You know it is."

"Don't do it."

She looked over at him.

"Don't do it. Trust me, if they can make you kill a little girl, then they can make you do anything."

"I'm not going to kill her! I have to take her somewhere, out of the country."

He shook his head, adamant. "Don't do it. Seriously. Let it be on them, not you."

"She'll just become a lab rat. What kind of a life is that?"

"Does Scully know? Mulder?"

"No." She stared into his eyes. "What you saw that night wasn't what you thought. I had something to give him. His home was the most private place to do it."

Alex laughed cruelly. "You think his place is private? You know how many times they've had me go in there to plant devices? And he's definitely aware. Hundreds of hours of him watching porn and eating those goddamned seeds. You'd better pray they don't hear your voice in those recordings."

"Like you said, he's aware."

She could feel the suspicion practically dripping off him. "What did you give him?"

"It doesn't matter. And it wasn't that."

It felt like he believed her. Still, she was sure he would follow Mulder around for a while or even key his car and vandalize his home just because.

The two of them were trapped. Locked in. Bought and paid for. The slightest hesitation was seen as blatant betrayal. And right now, Alex was on their shit list. He was in too deep for them to eliminate him completely. But her? Still a novice. Still having to prove things and if she didn't do it, neither Mulder nor Scully would win this battle.

They needed her. Whether they liked it or not.

"Where are you going to take her?" Alex asked.

"I don't know yet."

"If you're going to take her out of the country, South America would be best. Maybe even the Caribbean. And give her a sedative. It's best if she doesn't know what's going on."

"You sound like you've done this before."

He said nothing.

Marita really didn't know what she was going to do yet. If she handed Emily over to Scully, mother and daughter would be together, but Marita would be finished. Maybe if she took off right after, changed her identity, she could get away with it. And if she told Mulder, he'd want to help. He'd want to help so much that he'd screw the whole thing up. The man didn't think before he acted. One of these days he was going to go too far and find himself an outlaw. A pathetic, delusional outlaw and that uptight bitch would go right down with him.

"We should get out of here," Alex said softly. He brushed a strand of hair from her face.

"It's late. And I have some things to do."

"No, I mean, out of here." He gestured out the window. "Out of the state. The country. Get away from all of it. Change our names. We could do it. I know a guy."

She stood up and went to her wardrobe. "You're going to have to leave through the garage, in case anyone is watching."

"Don't you love me?" He was still naked, making no attempt at all to get dressed. She didn't want him as badly when he was being all lovesick and tormented.

She found his pants in the doorway and tossed them over. "You should go."

He sat there for a minute, holding his pants, while she got dressed. In some dreamworld somewhere, some alternate reality, she would love to get away from all this and spend the rest of her life an anonymous face. That was never going to happen. Not to her and certainly not to him.

"I'll prove it to you," he said, reluctantly getting his clothes back on. "I love you, and you love me. I know you do."

He was still buttoning his jeans when she pushed him to the door. "Go down the elevator to the garage. There's a door on the left side for the staff. Go out that door and across the alleyway to the parking lot. If you stay low, then no one will see you."

"I think you were born to save me," he said, the words heavy and thick.

She looked into his eyes and saw the Alex she hated and loved and wanted and needed and despised. There was no real Alex. He could transform himself effortlessly. He could turn it on and turn it off as easily as flipping a light switch.

The common thread through it all, through each role he catered to, was his relentlessness. She could imagine him forcing his way out of the womb, determined to join this world, and ready to bend others to his will. She was the immovable object, and he was the unstoppable force.

"And I think you were born to unravel me," she replied, her words just as heavy as his.

He kissed her deeply and stormed down the hall. She wondered if and when he'd come back, like a knight on a horse, waving the banner of true love or waving a sword to pierce her heart.

Marita closed the door and stood against it. Minutes passed. She watched the lights through her dark window as Philadelphia went to sleep, preparing for another day at the office. Preparing for coffee makers, meetings, traffic, and morning talk shows. Preparing for the ordinary and routine, unaware of the future rumbling from the skies above to take it all away.

Dana Scully lied when she said she didn't remember anything. Marita knew she was a liar. The conversations with Mulder were on a cassette tape and backed up on a password-protected disk. Marita kept both in her own safe. They made Marita transcribe them, and she made copies. Lots of copies.

The uptight bitch was a liar, and she was well-aware of what she was now. Changed. Forever and completely changed.

Marita went to her desktop and listened to the off-pitch tune of the modem as it dialed in. She went to the US Airways website and typed in some dates.

Marita thought about how she and Dana Scully had that in common: lying. The difference was Scully lied about the wrong things. She told Mulder she was okay. She could handle any case that came across their desk, even if it involved children. It was total bullshit. That woman can't handle a thing. What mess she was, but she hid it well. Lies. Just a pack of lies. What a lying, uptight bitch she was.

But that was okay. That was just fine. Emily was going to live. She was going to live and grow and one day that little girl was going to haunt the shit out of those bastards. And her mother, too. After all, Scully gave up on her. She saw the empty casket, but she gave up. What a shameful thing to do to your own child.

Marita took out her credit card and purchased two one way tickets, one for her and one for a child, to the island of Barbados.


The North American Union

East Region

2028

7:16pm

The porch light was on at Grace's house, but she wasn't sitting out there like she usually was. A gust of wind from the approaching storm made one of the rocking chairs rock back and forth. Gibson wondered if he could make her a rocking chair as a wedding gift.

As he approached, he saw a curtain move slightly on the second floor. The house was deathly quiet. No lights in any of the windows, despite the darkening skies. He wondered if they'd left to go to the store. He wondered if her brother was doing okay. When he got to the porch steps, the front door opened, and Grace's father came out.

He was imposing with a long brown beard, black hat, and he wore a watch. Also black. He stood at the top of the steps, looking at Gibson sternly.

Gibson stood at the bottom of the steps, trying to look past him into the house, but the door was shut. "I'm…I'm here to see Grace?"

"You won't be seeing her tonight," her father replied. He turned his head slightly to look behind him. "Or any night. Please leave my daughter alone."

Gibson felt a chilled sickness wash over him. "I'm sorry?"

"Grace can't see you anymore."

Gibson swallowed a lump climbing up his throat.

"Leave," her father said. "And don't come back."

Gibson stared up at him in disbelief. The chill got worse. "I don't - I don't understand." His voice got lost in a rumble of thunder. "Is she sick? Is she okay?"

"Leave!" Her father came down one step. "Please go!"

The feeling inside him was intolerable. He wished he could leave his body. "But - but, I…I thought -"

"Get off my property!" Her father roared. "Leave!"

Gibson backed down the sidewalk, her father's eyes bearing down on him like stones. Cold and accusing, distrustful and filled with anger. As Gibson turned to run off, feeling something inside him shatter, he heard the front door open and close.

There was someone inside crying so loud that the next roll of thunder seemed to echo the weeping.


Marita found him in Phillip's barn later. It was raining finally. Steady drops came down on the roof and rain water trickled down the sides of the door, puddling into a mess of mud and horse shit at the entrance. The air smelled like damp wood and the bale of hay he was sitting on.

He didn't look up when she wheeled herself inside. She took off her wet bonnet and wrung it out.

"I was looking all over for you," she said. "Anna told me you came back a couple of hours ago."

He heard her but didn't acknowledge it. He started to wonder what would happen if he just sat here. If he literally just sat right here on this bale of hay forever. If he never got up to eat or drink or do anything at all. How long would it take for a person to die if they sat still and never moved again?

She set her bonnet in her lap and stayed there with him for a time. Rain seemed appropriate. He felt like how rain drops must feel when they splashed to the ground.

"Come back inside," she said. "It's miserable out here. It's supposed to last all evening and into tomorrow."

He didn't move or look at her.

She wheeled over to him until her feet came to rest against the hay bale. "I told you this would happen. You can't just come here and be one of them. You can't expect a girl like her to have any kind of choice."

He did look at her then. She wasn't smug. She wasn't triumphant. She pitied him.

"What did you say to him?" Gibson asked, his voice not much louder than the rain.

He thought she might look offended and say something like: what do you mean? Or: say what to who? Or: what are you talking about? He thought she might actually play it out. He thought she might actually follow all the steps of denial.

Instead, she folded her hands in her lap and said, "He's got a disabled son and a spinster daughter. He's responsible for them for the rest of his life. He's responsible for everything she does. It's a trade system; handing a daughter off to be taken care of by another man."

Gibson watched her face. "So, did you just go over there one day? Just invited yourself over?"

"Are you serious?" She gestured crossly to her wheelchair. "Did I just propel myself down there and up the porch steps? Are you really asking me that? You know how far that is?"

"You could at least pretend to feel a little bad about it."

"I don't have anything to feel bad about. What's the point in me even saying it? You won't believe me. Your mind is made up."

That was true. He didn't tell her that. He could hear in her thoughts that she wasn't lying. She also wasn't exactly truthful either.

He got up and left the barn, walking out into the rain. She said something else but he didn't hear her. He'd been hoping it would just keep raining like this as he walked away, down the road, and in the opposite direction of Grace's house. He didn't care how wet he got. He was okay with his clothes soaking and sticking to his skin, but the rain soon changed into a light mist.

He walked for a long time, staying on the road, knowing it had to end somewhere, but the patchy fields and neat rows of crops never ended. Is this all there is now? There has to be a world outside of here; a world he knew better than this one, even if it had all changed.

He walked so far that he began to see unfamiliar homes and fields. There were muffled yellow lights behind curtains in windows. He abruptly turned and went back; all the way back to Phillip's house until he could hear crickets and frogs chirping along with another cloud burst that pattered on the pavement.

The house was quiet when he got inside. Phillip's car and buggy were gone.

Marita was in the kitchen. Her chair was parked at the end of the table while she lay out squares of fabric on it. He got himself a glass and filled it at the faucet. He stood there watching her sort the fabric into stacks.

"I think I should make them something as a thank-you gift," she said to him. "It shouldn't be that hard to sew all this together for a quilt, should it?"

It would be for her. He lit a kerosene lamp and set it on the table near her.

"It would be easier with a sewing machine," she murmured. "Maybe she's got a pedal one."

That quilt would look like shit. She didn't know how to use a sewing machine.

"I can only work on it when they're not here." She held two pieces together. "That's kind of ugly. It doesn't really match."

"I think that's the point," Gibson replied.

"To be ugly?"

"To use what you have."

Several minutes of silence passed as he drank all the water in the glass, and she matched quilt pieces together. He thought about how squares on a quilt were like squares on a chess board. He thought about a quilt lying flat on the floor and the spaces occupied with pawns, rooks, and queens. He thought about how it only made sense when one of them moved.

"If you really loved her," she said softly. "You'd be a mess right now. You'd be inconsolable."

"What makes you think I'm not?" He sat in a chair, the wood creaking a little.

"Because you love like how I love. Deeply. All-consuming. You'll never see her again. You know you won't, and it's not tearing you apart inside."

He didn't know if she was right. Sometimes, when she thought Gibson wasn't around, she thought about Alex Krycek. She thought about them in bed together, or fighting, or conspiring, or doing a myriad of other things Gibson didn't want to know about. And she'd really loved that sadistic son of bitch. Still. Even now, right now, she loved him. Is she crazy? She had to be.

"I think I can go down to that warehouse where they process all the weed." He rubbed at a dirt stain on his pants. "It's not that far of a walk. I heard minimum wage is like ridiculously good now." He wiped away some dirt on his fingernail. "I can save some of it to give them when we go."

"You've never been in love before, have you?" The kitchen wasn't big enough for her voice to sound so small.

"It's just a chemical reaction anyway, isn't it? And completely pointless unless both people feel the same way."

"You deserved so much better than what you got," she sighed. "I think if someone takes your life away from you and uses you for their own gain, you should be able to do the same thing back."

"An eye for an eye?"

"More like a truth for a lie."

"You should be a poet." He stood up and stretched. "I'm going to bed."

"Hey," she called after him as he left the kitchen.

He turned around.

"You were the only one there worth saving. I wish I could have stopped them sooner."

He considered her words, turning them around in his mind. "I don't think anybody could have stopped them. Just delayed the inevitable."

He went upstairs, washed up, lay down in his bed, and didn't sleep at all.


The United States

Lexington, Kentucky

1998

3:38pm

Gibson sat on the couch playing with his Game Boy. He could hear Abbie in the next room trying to break up a fight. Matt kept stealing Denise's Nano Pet. Denise stole it from the mall a few months ago. Neither Wayne nor Bazelle wanted to know how she did it. They plugged their ears and covered their eyes.

"Give it back!" Denise cried.

"Give it back!" Matt mocked her.

"Knock it off," Abbie ordered.

"Will you two shut up!" Bazelle was in the recliner, holding an ice pack to her head. "Jesus, just one more peep out of either of you and your sleeping in the garage."

The garage was full of paint cans, a motorcycle with no wheels, and lots of ants. They never made Gibson sleep in the garage. They had a brand new refrigerator with an ice-maker because of him. He shared a room with Matt and Jeremy and an AC unit in the window. Lucky for them because summer was coming with a vengeance.

Bazelle cut on the TV and watched the news. She said she had a migraine, but she was coming down from last night. She finally woke up about an hour ago. Wayne was outside somewhere, doing God knows what.

"You ready for this weekend?" Bazelle asked.

Gibson looked up from Tetris and nodded.

"This is a big one. That dude is Russian. They don't play around."

Gibson was trying to fit the L shape beside a cube. He didn't want to think about what a big deal this was. This guy was an International Grandmaster. He had more titles and awards than Gibson had fingers and toes. He didn't want to be nervous, but he was. It was just going to be Gibson and that guy in a giant auditorium. There would be cameras and reporters. People were getting suspicious now. No one ever said so, but it was in their heads. Something was up. This kind of attention might not bode well for him.

Nonetheless, Bazelle and Wayne were looking forward to all the money. They could add another addition onto the house. More kids and more money from the state. Wayne knew how to keep all the winnings hidden away from the IRS, and Bazelle knew to keep a couple of grams around for the interim. It wasn't pressure Gibson felt. More like responsibility. And a ridiculous sense of pride.

Matt came into the living room and snatched the Game Boy from Gibson's hands. "This is mine now. It's not fair you get to hog it all the time."

"Hey," Bazelle said lazily. "You can have one when you earn one."

"Why does he get all the stuff?" Matt looked like the might throw the Game Boy against the wall. "It's not fair!"

"Gibson gets all the stuff because he's not an ungrateful little shit," Bazelle retorted. "Give it back or your ass is grass."

Matt tossed it on the floor and went to go harass Denise some more. Gibson picked up the Game Boy. It had shut off. He turned it on again.

"Don't worry about what he says," Bazelle moved the ice pack to the other side of her head. "His mom was on crack. Might have to trade him in."

Gibson watched the screen cut on and waited. The news program was rambling on about the President and a White House intern. The commentators babbled about perjury and did their damnedest to analyze the woman in question.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph this country's gone to Hell." Bazelle stared at the TV, her hair wet and matted from the ice pack. "Makes you wonder if they shouldn't just get rid of the whole system and start over."

The young woman's face flashed on the screen right as Wayne came in the front door. He was shaking like a leaf. "Where's the shotgun?"

Bazelle glanced over at him. "The what?"

"The shotgun. I think there's some guys watching the house."

Bazelle took off the ice pack. "What guys?"

"I've seen the same two men in the same car three times today. They were parked a few blocks away the first time and now they're right across the street. What if it's the IRS?"

"Are you serious?" Bazelle hoisted her girth from the chair and shuffled to the door. "Show me."

Gibson set the Game Boy down and followed them. He went to the front window and looked out. There was indeed a car there, but it was empty. He looked up and down the street but didn't see anyone. He listened. Just Bazelle and Wayne, worrying over the IRS and some dealers. No oily hailstorms, but they'd been around. Gibson hadn't seen them at the last tournament a few months ago, but he heard them. They were in the room somewhere, watching. Possibly in disguise.

And they knew. They knew exactly how Gibson was winning.

Gibson went to the back door and looked around. All he saw was Jeremy and Kim, swinging on the lopsided swing set. Maybe it really was the IRS or social services. It wouldn't surprise him at all.

Gibson returned to the couch and turned on Tetris again. He was placing a cube into the right corner, when the announcer on TV changed to a new story.

"And in a few minutes we'll have more on the shooting at Augustus Chapman High School just outside of Houston…"

Gibson looked up from the game.

"Are you sure it's the same car?" Bazelle whispered.

"Positive," Wayne whispered back.

"…where fifteen year old Jamie Allen Barkley gunned down twelve of his classmates and two teachers before turning the gun on himself…"

Gibson felt all the hairs on his neck stand up.

"Well, if it's not the IRS, then who would it be?" Wayne was saying. "The FBI?"

"Oh, shit," Bazelle groaned.

"…students say there were no signs and no warnings. Jamie was in the Chess Club and was a straight A student. He…"

Gibson felt sick to his stomach. A picture came on the screen. Gibson would not have recognized him. He'd lost some weight and his dirty blonde hair hung limp and greasy to his shoulders. There was a wallet chain around his neck with a lock on it. He wore all black. His eyes looked empty and hopeless.

"What would the FBI want?" Bazelle said nervously. "The prescriptions? I thought you stopped doing that?"

"I did," Wayne hissed. "I'm telling you, it's got to be the IRS. We'll have to bury it out in the backyard. And we've got to call social services. We claimed too many dependents last year. I told you that was a stupid idea! They always know."

Jamie's face stayed on the screen. Gibson dropped the Game Boy to the floor.

"…one of the suspect's friends claims he thought there was something wrong when Jamie quit the Chess Club last year. But teachers and students alike are unaware of why he would lash out so violently…"

"I'm gonna go flatten their tires," Bazelle said.

"Don't do that! Then they'll never leave." Wayne looked around nervously. "We need to get the shotgun."

The Governor of Texas was on the screen now. He was the son of a former President. He droned on about prayers for the students and families, hardship, and coming together to stop senseless violence.

"Okay, we'll get the license plate number then." Bazelle went to a drawer and began digging for a pen and paper. "If they show up, we'll call the cops. I mean, it's shady to sit around and watch a house. Even for the IRS."

"I need to find that gun. Where did you see it last?"

There was a shot of Augusts Chapman High School. S.W.A.T. vehicles were in the parking lot. A black body bag came out on a stretcher. A line of text moved across the screen, Jamie Allen Barkley took a rifle from his father's gun safe. Father has no comment.

"I'll call the cops anyway," Bazelle muttered. "They don't have any right. Just grow some balls and come to the damn door, you know?"

"Where's that goddamned gun?" Wayne was opening the cabinets and closet doors. "I know I saw it the other day."

Was Jamie in that body bag? The camera zoomed in. A hysterical girl appeared on the screen. She kept flipping her hair to side as she talked, "He got kinda weird after a chess thing last year. Said he didn't want to do that anymore. I was worried about him."

That's the thing. That's the limit: dead people don't think. The lights cut off and it's over. The dead don't think. Gibson thought he might vomit. He stood in front of the TV, bile rising up this throat.

"Matt! Jeremy!" Bazelle shouted. "Get your asses in here right now!"

"You think they took it?" Wayne ransacked the cabinet under the sink, tossing cleaners and trash bags all over the kitchen. "They wouldn't know where it is."

The dead don't think. They don't do anything. They lie there in a box underground. They do nothing. The dead don't think.

Gibson jumped up from the couch and ran into the kitchen. "I'm not going."

Bazelle and Wayne turned to look at him.

"I'm not going to the tournament. I'm not playing anymore!"

He turned and ran up the steps to his room, slamming the door. He hid underneath the bed until it was dark. He scrambled for his headphones and cranked the volume on Symphony No. 9. It didn't sound like a hailstorm anymore. It sounded like a rain of bullets, slamming into his mind, searing through the song, and through his tears.

Chapter Text

Barbados

Bridgetown

1997

7:22pm

The plane was descending. Marita carefully sat Emily up in the seat next to her and buckled her in. Emily had spent the entire ride in a deep sleep. Marita made sure they had all three seats to themselves, in the back, near the window. The fewer people saw her with a child the better.

It wasn’t easy getting through the airport in Miami. Marita made sure Emily was drugged long before. She was assured the mix would not only put Emily to sleep, it would erase her memory. A child this young wouldn’t have many memories, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

Marita had to carry Emily in one arm, while she tugged their luggage behind her with the other. She would have loved to have accepted the help from friendly staff and handsome men, but she smiled and said they were fine.

They were just fine, she said. Poor thing, she’s been sick. I’m hoping this trip will help her feel better.

An over-achieving flight attendant had been particularly annoying when they first boarded.

What a pretty little girl! What’s her name? You think she’d like some juice when she wakes up? I can bring her a snack if she’s hungry.

Marita smiled and smiled and said everything she could to get the woman away from them.

Oh, thank you! Her name’s Natalie. Yes, like Natalie Wood. Yes, she gets her hair from her father. I have some juice for her. She’ll be okay. Plane rides make her so sleepy. And we’ve been traveling all day. Yes, yes, we’re fine!

Now go the hell away before I put you in the ground!

Emily slept through all of it, cuddling her stuffed blue elephant. Marita bought it for her in South Carolina. The drive to Miami took about fifteen hours, but Marita stopped at an Econo Lodge off I-95 to break it up. She hefted Emily, still drugged, out of the backseat and took her inside. Marita checked in under one of her numerous aliases. She had a whole list with identification and financial records to match. She used her most common one - Lisa Lampado - because it would be easier for the bastard assigned to follow her to keep track. Marita couldn’t just assume hotel staff or even flight attendants were just that. It was entirely possible they were being paid to report her activities.

There was a claw machine in the lobby of the motel. Marita noticed the elephant sitting at the top. She slid a dollar bill into the machine and lifted the elephant out. She gave it to Emily the next morning, and the girl hadn’t let go of it since.

Marita worried Emily might wake up when the plane landed. The sedative lasted for approximately eight hours, and she was armed with several days worth. Just in case. It was going to wear off soon, and Marita wanted her to eat something.

“Don’t worry,” Marita whispered to her. “We’ll have a nice dinner at the hotel, and then…” She stopped there, not knowing how to finish.

Then…she was going to leave this child somewhere alone. She was going to abandon this little girl and never see her again.

It made her heart ache. It made every ounce of goodness and sense left in her scream at how wrong this was. For the first hour of the flight, she had her cell phone out and roaming, so close to calling Dana Scully, and telling her to please come to Bridgetown. Scully had no idea who she was, and if she showed up at all she wouldn’t be alone. She’d come with Mulder, a whole fleet of FBI agents, and Marita would be arrested for kidnapping. Before she could even make her first phone call, before she could be appointed an attorney, she would be dead. They’d find a way. They always do.

Marita held Emily’s hand through the turbulence as the plane descended to the Grantley Adams International Airport. She thought about how to get past the overbearing flight attendant and through the airport with a sleeping child. Would anyone really notice or care that much? She wondered what she would do if Emily woke up and panicked. What if she started screaming and tried to run away?

She woke up in the Econo Lodge. Marita was bringing in the last of the luggage and saw her sitting up on the bed. Marita stood in the doorway like a deer caught in headlights while Emily stared back at her.

Marita didn’t know how to play this off. She’d expected Emily to sleep through the night.

The girl stared at her with wide blue eyes, like a little Dana Scully. She might as well be. A clone, a reincarnation. It was disconcerting.

“Did you have a good nap?” Marita said gently, slowly approaching her.

Emily turned to look out the window, and back at Marita, her eyes questioning.

“We’re on our way to be beach,” Marita said softly, kneeling down in front of her. “Do you like the beach?”

Emily probably didn’t know what a beach was, much less ever been to one. She looked like she might cry.

“It’s beautiful,” Marita went on. “Clear blue water and lots of sand.”

Emily turned away from her.

“And seashells.” Marita sat down next her. “Maybe we’ll find a pretty seashell to take…” She almost said home and stopped herself. The child had no home, and the person she belonged with was far away.

In the morning, Marita gave her the elephant and another dose of drugs in her orange juice. Emily was out within a half hour. Marita felt like she couldn’t breathe.

After the plane landed, Marita filed out behind the other the passengers with Emily in her arms. She moved past the flight attendants as quickly as she could and into Grantley Adams. She looked for the baggage claim and tried to quicken her pace as much as possible.

Marita went outside to hail a taxi. The first car to pull up had a miniature statue of St. Jerome Emiliani on the dashboard. Marita stared at it so hard it seemed to be moving and speaking.

“Where to ma’am?” The Barbadian man inside was young and blaring Billy Ocean on his radio.

“The Radisson,” Marita replied, hoping Emily wouldn’t wake up.

The man got out of the car to help her put the luggage in the trunk. “Pretty girl,” he smiled.

“Yes,” Marita agreed, getting in the back, carefully laying Emily across her lap.

The drive would’ve taken less time if it wasn’t for the crowds and traffic. Marita took out her cell phone and thought about calling Scully again. Just one call. That’s all it would take. Marita turned to look behind them to see if there was a car following them. It was a guarantee there was, but she didn’t know which one.

Alex was right: the longer she put it off, the harder it would get.

“And they’ll notice,” he told her at a quick rendezvous in Chicago. “They’ll notice how long it takes you and see that as a weakness.”

He looked like hell. His face was scruffy, and there were dark circles under his eyes. She found him in a dirty hovel in Riverdale where he was conducting surveillance on someone. He couldn’t tell her who.

“It has to look like a vacation, though,” she told him. “If I leave after one day, that will seem suspicious.”

“Just use a different name.” He was preoccupied with the window, counting each time a certain individual walked by. “And keep her knocked out. The longer she’s under, the less likely she’ll remember anything later.”

“But she has to eat. I don’t want her to starve.”

“Well, wake her up for that, but do it quick. Just dump her and go. That’s the best way to do it.”

The coldness in his voice unsettled her, although she knew what kind of man he was. She knew that first day when he got out of the car in Volgograd, grinning like a fool. He’s killed before. Ruthlessly. Mercilessly. Accidentally. He could hold it in, but it was just another role, another mask. She wanted to believe the man she saw behind closed doors was authentic, but that was stupid. Just as stupid as him thinking she was truly herself when she was with him.

She was sitting on a mattress on the floor. He slid away from the window and sat next to her. “I have to go away for a while.”

“For what?”

He shook his head.

“Is it that big of a secret?”

He looked troubled for a second. “It could change the world.”

“Did they find another one?”

He shook his head again, slower this time.

“What is it?”

The blinking of a dying neon sign across the street made half his face appear deformed. “It isn’t an it. That’s the problem.”

His cryptic talk annoyed her. “What do you mean?”

He stared at her for a long while before he spoke again. “What would you do if someone could hear your thoughts?”

She searched his eyes. “Did they intercept another ship?”

“I said, someone. A person.”

“I would need to see it to believe it, I suppose.”

He gazed out the window, the blinking neon accentuating the exhaustion in his eyes. “I think I’d have to kill someone that knew all my secrets.”

She felt her stomach knot up. “That doesn’t seem too difficult for you.”

He turned back to her. For a second it looked as if there were two black holes where his eyes should be. “You think it’s easy for me or something? Like I can just do it, no problem?”

She didn’t answer. She looked over at the OPEN sign twitching like a junkie.

He moved in front of her, his head blocking the window. “If you could hear my thoughts, what do you think you’d hear?”

“Right this minute?”

“Yeah. Right this minute.”

She gave this a few moments of consideration. “That if you don’t give them a thorough report on your target, they’ll kill you.”

He took one of her hands and kissed each of her knuckles. “Is that all?”

“And if they told you to kill me, you’d do it. This would be the perfect place.”

He stopped.

“It’s true, isn’t it? And if they asked the same of me, I would do it, too.”

He was looking at her, but she couldn’t read his expression. He let go of her hand and crawled on top of her, making her lay back. His face was just an inch away from hers. She felt her senses go on alert.

“I’d never hurt you,” he whispered. “Not for anyone, and certainly not for them.”

“I don’t believe you at all.”

“Why are you even here?”

She sat up quickly, making him tumble to one side on the mattress. She stood over top of him and stared down at him. Lack of sleep and stress roughened him up. It was like the putting dirt back on something you dug up. “I’m here because you love me.” She paused. “And I love you.”

He stared up at her, his expression blank, then a smile curled up his cheeks. “Now I don’t believe you.”

Marita grabbed her purse and went for the door.

“Do it quick,” he said to her. “It’ll be easier for you and for the girl.”

Marita opened the door. He got up and put his hand against it. “I’ll try to call, but I can’t promise anything.”

She waited for him to take his hand away.

“And one day we’ll both be so far away from this shit. I promise you. You’ll have to trust me then.”

He let go and Marita strolled out onto the streets of Riverdale, making a note that her gun was loaded if anyone approached her. She didn’t believe a word he said at the time, but now she believed that leaving Emily behind had to be done as soon as possible. At least he could tell the truth about that.

Emily started to wake up right as they pulled up to the Radisson. Marita tipped the taxi driver and went inside to check-in. Emily stirred in her arms, putting one arm around her neck, nearly dropping her elephant. Marita felt her heart swell. Was this what being a mother felt like? She could feel an inkling of it, just a tiny piece. Having a child of her own had never resonated with her, but at that moment, carrying Emily to their suite, she felt the way a mother must feel: protective, caring, and whole.

She lay Emily down on one of the beds, and the girl’s eye lids fluttered. Marita held her breath. She grabbed the blue elephant and set it by her. Emily stretched and curled up on her side. Marita smoothed back her red hair from her face.

A little Dana Scully.

She thought she should give Emily a bath and order some room service. It wouldn’t hurt to let her be awake for a couple of hours.

Marita dug through the drawer of the desk to find the menu. She found the remote and flipped through the channels to find some cartoons. On her way into the bathroom, she saw Emily standing in front of the balcony doors, staring out at the ocean and the darkening skies. She was holding the elephant by its trunk.

“Emily?” Marita said softly.

The girl startled and spun around.

“It’s okay,” Marita held up her hands. “It’s just me.”

Emily’s chin trembled. Tears sprang up in her eyes. “I want my mommy.”

Marita felt like her heart was tearing into shreds. A little Dana Scully that never should have been. How were they to know she’d cheat death? How were they to know she’d disappoint and surprise? How were they to know who she ended up with?

Marita knelt down so she was eye-level with the child. “Your mommy’s coming.” She glanced over at her cell phone on the coffee table. “She’ll be here soon.”

Emily sniffed and Marita quickly found a tissue. She sat down on the floor and pulled Emily into a hug. “It’s okay. Everything will be okay. Your mommy’s on her way.”


Marita gave Emily a bubble bath, some dinner, and put her in The Little Mermaid pajamas she found at The Disney Store. She decided not to drug Emily’s food. She found a Gideon Bible in the night stand and read the first few chapters of Genesis. She hadn’t thought to bring any children’s books with her.

Emily watched Marita as she read, holding her elephant, tugging at its ears. She listened and watched. It made all the hairs stand up on Marita’s arms. She smelled like grapes from her bath. Little fair eyelashes framing her expressive eyes. Emily listened intently as Eve picked the forbidden fruit.

A little Dana Scully.

Her lashes grew heavy when Adam took a bite. She hugged her elephant and lay back on the pillow.

A little Dana Scully that never should have been.

Cain and Abel were at the point of no return when Emily’s eyes stayed closed, and she hugged her elephant to her side. A contented little sigh as she finally fell asleep.

Marita lay beside her for a few minutes, then she paced around the living area, wearing a circle in the palm tree-print carpet. She held her cell phone in her hands. Each time she reached down to dial Scully’s number, she stopped before she even finished the area code. She went over to the hotel phone and wondered if they were tracing that, too. They’d have to know what room she was in by now. Scully’s cell phone was likely compromised. Bureau-issued phones had quicker tracing capabilities. Marita flipped through her appointment book for her home number.

If Marita did this right, she could have Emily at Grantley Adams by the time Scully’s plane landed. The uptight bitch could have the whole damn FBI, Coast Guard, and the Royal Barbados Police Force with her and it wouldn’t matter. By then, Marita would be on a cruise ship to the Bahamas under an alias she rarely used. And when any of them figured out where she’d gone, she’d be on a plane to Brazil, her bank accounts closed, cell phone tossed into the sea, and her savings in the Caymans withdrawn. Bridges burned. Hands washed.

It was the right thing to do.

She checked on Emily, gathered up some change, and went down to the lobby. She made a pass and didn’t see anyone but the bright-eyed night clerk. She wished Marita a good evening in a thick Bajan accent. Marita ignored her. She found a pay-phone, took a couple deep breaths, put in some coins, went through the long-distance menu, and shakily dialed Scully’s number.

202. She paused for a second and looked around.

555. Another pause.

643…her finger lingered over the 1 before she finally pressed it.

It took a few seconds for it to connect. It rang once. Twice. Marita tightened the cord around her fingers. It rang and rang. The phone cord was cutting off circulation to her thumb. Weren’t all good uptight bitches at home by now? At home and in bed? Marita swore under her breath.

It rang and rang. Didn’t she have an answering machine?

Marita heard a sound behind her and turned. A man was sitting in the lobby, wearing a tropical-print shirt, khakis, and sunglasses. He shook the newspaper out that he was reading. He hadn’t been there before. She glanced around as the phone rang. The lobby was completely empty except for the two of them. She began to feel uneasy, turned to hang up the phone, then stopped.

“Hello?”

Scully’s voice sounded slow and tired. Marita opened her mouth to speak. The man in the lobby shook the newspaper again and cleared his throat loudly.

“Hello?” Her voice was clearer.

Marita’s mouth hung open, her breath heavy.

“Who is this?” Scully’s voice was razor sharp. Marita could hear someone in the background. A man. Scully wasn’t alone.

Marita couldn’t hang up the phone. She couldn’t turn around. She couldn’t do anything but stand there.

“I don’t know…,” Scully’s voice was muffled, like she put her hand over the receiver. “I can hear them breathing.”

Marita clamped her hand over her mouth. The man was tapping his foot now, like to the beat of a song.

Scully’s voice was loud and clear: “Who is this?”

Marita hung up and jumped back from the phone. The night clerk looked up from the desk. Marita turned and made her way to the elevators as all the fortitude and assurance drained out of her. Just as the doors were closing she saw the man get up, remove his sunglasses, give her a nod, and saunter away.


Right as Marita entered the hotel suite, she heard her cell phone ringing. She rushed over and answered it. “I just tried to -”

“What?” The male voice asked.

Her heart sank.

“Hello?” Alex said. There was a lot of background noise. The connection wasn’t good.

“It’s me. I’m here,” she replied.

“Did you do it?” His voice cut in and out.

“Where are you?” Scratchy static overpowered his reply. “I can’t hear you.”

“I said, I’m in Texas.”

“Texas? You said you were going away for a while.”

“Yeah. To Texas. Did you do it yet or not?”

Marita glanced into the bedroom. Emily was sleeping soundly with her elephant. “I haven’t found the right place yet.”

There was nothing but static for a second or two. Marita spoke again, in case he didn’t hear her, but he interrupted. “I’m quitting. I’m leaving.”

She went out on the balcony for better reception, but the crash of the waves was just as bad as the static. “What? Leaving?”

“After this, yeah.”

“I don’t understand.”

The static eased up a bit. “I can’t do this anymore.” His voice sounded hollow. “I mean, kids? They’ve got us messing with kids now?”

“What do you mean us?” She moved back inside.

“Look, I don’t want to get into it. I can’t get in to it. I -” his voice warped and cut out from the distance and poor connection. “…a game……if I just……we……”

“Alex.” She plugged her other ear. “I can’t hear you.”

“I said…” More static. “We just……..can do it. I -”

She repeated herself, but there was no point. The call dropped. She hit *69 and the ring tone sounded for a few seconds before cutting out. She grabbed the hotel phone and dialed his cell, not caring if it was being traced.

“I have to call you back,” Alex’s voice crackled through the receiver. “I told you. This will change the world. I don’t want to be responsible.”

He hung up.

She sat still on the sofa with the receiver in her hand for a few minutes. She was still holding it when Emily shuffled into the room, dragging her elephant behind her.

She sat down on the sofa. “I’m thirsty.”

Marita stared at her for a second before she reacted. She hung up the phone and went to find Emily a bottle of water in the small fridge. She paused by her purse and took out two of the pills. She went into the kitchenette, crushed them up with a spoon, and mixed them in the water.


Marita let Emily sleep all morning. She crushed up some more pills and mixed up another drug in liquid form to put in Emily’s orange juice. Breakfast was going to be Emily’s last meal with her. It had to be today.

And Marita hadn’t slept a wink. She had the local phone directory spread out on the coffee table and a map of Bridgetown. There were several public schools and a few private in the area. The problem was they weren’t in session. Barbados was celebrating its Independence Day over the weekend and the schools were closed.

So, Marita looked for nurseries, pre-schools, day care centers, and orphanages. She had a story roughly planned out. She’d say when she arrived a few days ago, this little girl was lost. She’d say she took the little girl all over the hotel to find her parents, but they were gone. She’d say she didn’t call the authorities right away because she felt sure the girl was a tourist, like her, and it would be easier to help her find her mommy and daddy. They wouldn’t dare leave their daughter here, she’d say. What kind of parents would do such a thing?

There was a problem with that story and approaching any kind of day care or police: they’d remember her. If Emily happened to wake up and recall what she’d just been through, there’d be too many people that could identify her.

She had some simple disguises in her suitcase. A wig of short, dark brown hair. Three pairs of eye glasses in various styles. Makeup to make her look older or younger. A fake wedding band. Flats to make her shorter. Lifts to make her taller. She could always change her appearance if needed.

But Marita didn’t know about any of the child care places here. Would Emily be taken care of? She’d read about children being abused, starved, or worse in places like that. She wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she left Emily in that kind of environment. She considered waiting until Monday, when the schools would be open. It would be easier for her to take Emily to one and….what? Leave her? Leave her where? Just set her inside a classroom and run off?

Marita rubbed her temples as a headache began. Monday was too long. It had to be today. She could put Emily to sleep and just leave her in the hotel, but the staff would remember her. She could take Emily to a nice neighborhood somewhere and leave her on someone’s doorstep like in storybooks. That still didn’t guarantee Emily would be safe. She wanted to make sure this child would be cared for and loved.

She could still call Scully…she wondered if Scully had traced the call and called the pay phone last night. Marita wondered if the night clerk would answer it. Her heart pounded. That was a stupid slip-up. And that man…that goddamned man…Marita didn’t recognize him, but he’d witnessed her mistake. And acknowledged the correction. She knew he was watching. It was possible he wasn’t alone, and he would report her actions. It would have been easy for him to have gone to the pay phone, dialed the operator, and retrieved the last number called.

Marita’s stomach rolled with anxiety. Why did she do that? None of this would be happening if it wasn’t for that uptight bitch. Any parent thinking they were burying their child, only to find their child missing from the casket would have torn the earth in two to find them. But Scully didn’t. Marita thought about that for a minute. Why? Did it have something to do with Mulder? Did he convince her not to? Marita found that unlikely. While Scully had a familial bond with Emily, Mulder would have seen the child as evidence. He would have been just as eager as her to find the girl. So why didn’t they? This nagged at Marita. It puzzled her. It didn’t make much sense. And Scully wasn’t over it by any means. Marita wondered if she could smuggle Emily back to DC and just leave her at Scully’s apartment. It would be difficult, and she’d likely get caught long before, but she didn’t know how else to do it.

Now Marita’s stomach began to burn with anger. The things she had to do for people. She shouldn’t have to do this. She shouldn’t have to bring Scully her child. Scully could have found her before now had she really wanted to. It wasn’t that hard. The woman had used her position and badge to gain unauthorized access to places before; she could have done it this time.

That twice-damned uptight bitch.

Marita was flipping through the phone book again, when Emily appeared in front of her. She had her elephant. Her hair was a mess.

Marita pushed the phone book and map away. “Oh. Good morning. Are you hungry?”

Emily hugged her elephant and nodded.

Marita got up and went to get the French toast she’d brought up from the restaurant earlier. It was cold now. Marita heated it up in the microwave. She poured Emily a cup of orange juice and looked down at the crushed pills on a napkin.

She looked up at Emily. She was sitting at the table, looking out at the ocean.

Marita balled up the napkin and put it in the garbage. She brought the orange juice to Emily, got the French toast from the microwave and set in front of her.

Emily looked at the orange juice and at Marita.

Marita sat down in front of her. “It’s okay,” she said softly.

Emily hesitated and took a sip. Then a bite of her toast.

After Emily finished her breakfast, Marita combed her hair and put her into a sun dress. Emily went to the balcony doors, sat down in front of them with her elephant on her lap, and looked out. Marita went through the phone book again, but she was distracted. She couldn’t leave Emily in a children’s home or a school. She stared at the back of the child’s head. They just weren’t safe enough. They weren’t safe enough in the United States. How would they be better here?

Marita left the couch and sat down next to Emily. She looked out at the turquoise water and perfect beach. There weren’t many people out as it was private; reserved for guests at this particular resort.

“Do you want to go out there?” Marita asked her.

Emily looked at her, a soft smile on her face.

The least she could do is let Emily enjoy the beach for a little while. She could let her build a sand castle, or look for seashells like she’d promised.

“Your mommy will meet us out there,” Marita said, her voice tight.

Emily’s smiled widened, and she stood up.

Marita made sure Emily had enough sunscreen on. She didn’t want her fair skin to burn. She got a couple of beach towels and slipped the drugs in her bag before they left the room.

Marita held Emily’s hand tighter than she intended as they made their way outside. She wore a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to shade her skin but also hide her identity. She lay the towels out on the sand and took Emily over to the water.

She made sure Emily didn’t wade out too far and kept her where the water barely covered her feet. Emily watched the tide roll in and out with amazement.

“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Marita squeezed her sand. “The water? Look at how blue it is.”

Emily looked out as the breeze tousled her coppery hair. It really was pretty. Marita couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone to the beach and actually got to enjoy it. She looked around. No one seemed to be paying much attention to them.

Marita walked Emily up and down the beach, letting her play in the tide, thinking about how she was going to do this now. And where to take her. It had to be today. If she let this go on for another day, she’d lose her nerve. And her life.

Marita looked up the beach to see a man several yards away from them. He sat in a chair under an umbrella reading a newspaper.

Marita picked Emily up. “Come on.” She turned around. “Let’s go back.”


About an hour later, Marita was lounging on the beach towel watching Emily play in the sand. Her back was turned, and Marita glanced around the beach, making sure not to take her eyes off Emily for more than a second.

She didn’t know how much longer she could stall. And really what was the point? She had to leave this little girl somewhere. It was like ripping off a bandage: the quicker it was the less pain there was. It didn’t matter to them where as long as she did it and as long as Emily was drugged up enough to not realize it. It was supposed to be a simple thing, and Marita thought that if anyone else was doing this it would have been easier for them. Rather than murder a little girl, they just wanted her out of sight and out of mind. Which was worse? A quick, painless death or waking up somewhere strange with no memory of how you got there?

Marita didn’t want to think about how scared Emily would be. How confused and lost she would feel. She understood now why Alex had been so cold. It was easier. It was much easier to detach one’s self from the circumstances. Otherwise, it was gut-wrenching. It wasn’t that simple for her. It threw her off balance. She was afraid if she let her mind spiral down that path, she would never return.

She watched Emily play in the sand. Marita couldn’t be cold. She couldn’t be detached. This child cheated death and her mother was mourning the fake loss. Marita felt a rolling tide of anger wash over her. This was really all Scully’s fault. Marita wouldn’t even be here right now if it wasn’t for that uptight bitch. What the hell is wrong with her?

She looked over at her cell phone and looked around the beach again. The guy with the newspaper was gone. She picked up her phone and thought if she kept the call short, then it would make it harder to trace. Scully wouldn’t be home right now. She’d be out and about with her Bureau-issued phone. Agents kept a log of all the phone calls they made or received. There was always Mulder. He wouldn’t have the call traced, and he probably didn’t log all his phone calls like the uptight bitch did.

Marita looked around one more time and dialed his number. She kept her eyes on Emily’s back as the child piled up sand in front of her.

The call connected and started to ring.

Marita felt a drip of sweat run down her back.

It rang repeatedly just like Scully’s phone the night before. Marita looked around the beach again and again. She was starting to shake like she was cold. She pulled her wrap around her shoulders as the line kept ringing.

When she looked back at Emily she saw what the child had been doing, and she dropped her phone.

Emily stepped away from the pile of sand. She’d shaped it into a giant cross.


Marita carried Emily through the streets of Bridgetown, looking desperately for the name she’d seen in the phone directory. The name only stuck out because it was the only one she’d seen in Spanish.

Marita shifted Emily in her arms. She was dead weight and clinging to Marita’s neck and her elephant. Her breath was heavy and warm on her neck. She’d spiked Emily’s Shirley Temple with enough of the drugs to knock her out for twelve hours and erase her short-term memory. Marita’s arms ached and her dress stuck to the sweat on her skin. It wasn’t even that hot. It was everything. It had to be today.

Before long, Marita spotted the sign: Sagrado Corazon de Maria. The spire of the cathedral lay against a bright blue sky as she made her way towards it. There were nuns here. Dominican nuns. She’d asked the waiter out on the beach about the church and he told her. The nuns had been in the city for ten years after they’d migrated from the Dominican Republic.

As Marita neared the cathedral she saw it stuck out like a sore thumb with it’s stucco and red tiles. Like she’d been hoping, one of the front doors was wide open.

Her arms hurt, her heart hammered, and sweat was beading on her forehead. Nuns were good. Nuns would make sure Emily was taken care of.

“You’re going to be alright,” she whispered to Emily as they approached the door. “I promise you. You’re going to be alright.”

As Marita neared the entrance, she noticed it was dark inside compared to the sunny outside. She hesitated. Were they holding a special service? She looked at the white-lettered sign out front. It was written in Spanish, but it appeared the church was open to the public for prayers until 5pm.

Marita carefully stepped inside. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she saw it was empty. In the front was a statue of the Virgin Mary. Above her was a crucifix. Somewhere she thought she heard singing or chanting. She looked up and down the aisles of the wooden pews but saw no one in them. Marita quickly chose one up front, one that would be noticeable if a child was laying in it.

She looked around one more time and gently lay Emily down in the pew. Her breath caught in her throat. Her eyes stung with tears. She set Emily’s blue elephant beside her and knelt down to whisper, “I hope, if you ever remember this, that you understand I didn’t have a choice.” She paused and brushed a tear away. Her whisper sounded loud in this cavernous space. “And your mother…” She stopped there and looked at the crucifix. Jesus seemed to be looking right at her. “Your mother is Dana Scully. Please find her one day. Please, if there’s anyone you remember, remember her.”

Marita stood upright and stared down at the peacefully sleeping child. She looked to her right and saw a set of steps leading up to a separate wing. There were quiet voices coming down them.

Marita turned and walked briskly out of the cathedral. The sun stung her eyes when she was outside, disorienting her for a moment. She put her sunglasses back on and glanced around at the myriad of pedestrians, taxis, and bicycles that went by. If that son of a bitch was watching, he’d see she just completed her assignment.

Marita walked along the streets. Her arms felt empty, her mind blank, and her heart torn in two.


The night clerk from the previous evening was managing the front desk. Marita slid the postcard from the gift shop towards her. “Can you mail something for me?”

The night clerk gave Marita a bright smile. “Of course, ma’am.” She took the post card and flipped it around. “It isn’t filled out.”

Marita tried to steady her voice. “I had surgery on my hand recently.” She held up her right hand, making the wrist go limp. “I was hoping you could write it out for me.”

Marita was ambidextrous. She had a hand and a style for each of her aliases, but Dana Scully had a whole arsenal of handwriting experts to consult. Marita didn’t trust herself to disguise her writing adequately.

“Sure thing,” the night clerk replied. She picked up a pen and clicked it. “What should I write?”

Marita recited the address to the cathedral. She explained the person she was sending it to was getting married soon and wanted to know if there were any nice Catholic churches in Barbados for the ceremony.

“I see,” the night clerk said as she wrote out the address. “Sagrado Corazon de Maria is so beautiful and historic. Your friend will have a lovely wedding there.”

Marita smiled weakly and gave the night clerk Scully’s address to write down. After she was done, Marita pulled some cash out of her wallet. “That should cover the cost of the postage. And for helping me. I really appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome, ma’am.”

Marita didn’t hear her. She was already making her way back to the suite before the sentence was even finished.


The clerk watched the blond woman board an elevator and went over to the man sitting by picturesque floral display in the lobby. He was almost completely hidden behind a spray of blue plumbago.

She handed the man the postcard. “The blond lady in room 322, right?”

The man folded up his newspaper and looked up at her.

She nodded to the postcard. “She wanted me to send this.”

The man took the postcard from her and looked it over.

“Pretty sure she’s the one from 322,” the clerk reiterated.

He pulled his wallet from his pocket and took out several bills. “What did she say to you?”

“Just that she wanted me to write it out for her. Her friend is getting married and wanted the address to a church.”

He counted out two hundred American dollars. “That was it?”

“Yes, sir. That was it.”

He handed her the money. “Okay. Thanks.”

“My pleasure.”

She watched him rip up the postcard and throw it in the trash.

 


 

The North American Union

East Region

2029

6:11am

When the weather changed to fall and Gibson was cold from the walk to the warehouse in the mornings, it was like he was too numb to feel much of anything. The walk took about forty minutes. Forty-five if he was especially tired.

He got there early, hung up his coat, and went to the packing side. He pulled the vacuum-sealed packages of weed from bins and slapped a label on it, flung it down a chute where drones waited to haul the boxes all over the NAU. It would be on someone’s doorstep within hours.

He flipped the bags around to make sure all the seeds and stems were picked out.

Amish Blend. He peeled and stuck the label on, flung it away, and grabbed another one.

All weed looks alike, he thought. Amish Blend. Old-fashioned font with an illustration of a wholesome farm.

Amish Blend. Peel, stick, fling.

This was honest work, despite the product. It really was. He was surrounded by good, honest people. Nonetheless, how would anyone know this actually came from the Amish and not some burnout’s basement?

Peel. Stick. Fling.

Amish Blend.

There wasn’t a whole lot of discussion about it. Not on the packing side anyway. Over in the processing side they had to dry it, save the seeds, grind up the stems, and carefully seal up the precious leaves. The young men and women wore masks so they wouldn’t inadvertently get high. Become inadvertently dishonest.

Peel. Stick. Fling.

Gibson did that for twelve hours with a mandatory break every two hours, one hour for lunch. Air quality was tested every morning and no one was paid less than $25.00 per hour. The minimum wage was $20. Somewhere in a country far, far away, defeated and lost to history, this had been a dream. This had been fought for, begged for, and denied. He couldn’t believe he was living this. He couldn’t believe he’d lasted this long.

Peel. Stick. Fling.

He did the math: about 15 years ago someone working a twelve hour shift took home $87. Not even that because they were taxed. After twelve hours, he took home $300.00. Untaxed. It was the weed that was taxed. He saw it weighed and priced before it was handed off to a drone. One ounce - not ounces, grams, he kept forgetting - clocked in at $84.50. It was taxed at a rate of 25% per gram. Pricey stuff after shipping, but people bought it up. Everything was expensive now. The NAU had the highest taxes in the developed world but none of it was on income. There was no such thing. The IRS was dead and buried.

Bazelle and Wayne would have loved it.

Peel. Stick. Fling.

Liquor was taxed at a rate of 35% per liter. Tobacco and all nicotine-containing products were the highest, at 51%. Sugar and caffeine, 45% and 44% respectively. They were considered drugs now. Someone told him that the other day. Sugar and caffeine are drugs. Firearms and ammunition, just a measly 17%. He liked to do all the calculations in his head as he worked, thinking about what he could afford now. Thinking about how quickly he could have enough money for a Cadillac. For some new clothes. For…

Peel. A home for him and Grace.

Stick. Property.

Fling. A life.

He stopped for a second and leaned on the bin. Now was not the time to think about it. Now was not the time. He grabbed another bag. He saw too many stems and pushed it through a door flap to be re-packaged.

Amish Blend. Peel. Stick. Fling.

Phillip borrowed a tablet from an English friend so Gibson could open up a bank account. Deposits were made electronically and he had a choice in the type of currency. There was a whole list of things he’d never heard of. Bitcoins. Google Cents. Amazonians. UberFunds. He shook his head at the list of weirdness as he looked for something familiar. There was a digital exchange he could have transferred into a wearable device if he had one. It didn’t even have a name. Just a symbol that looked like a horseshoe impaled on a spike. Paper currency wasn’t an option. The national currency of the NAU, Union dollars, simply abbreviated as U, was the one he chose. His employer handed it to him on a card every pay day.

It wouldn’t be long and he’d have plenty of money. He planned to leave some for Anna and Phillip, purchase a car for him and Marita, and whatever else they needed. She claimed she had an offshore account years ago, but she had no access to it and wasn’t even sure if it still existed.

She was walking up and down the stairs now. Slowly and leaning on the banister, but she was doing it. He hadn’t seen her standing upright in so long, he forgot how much taller he was. He saw her that morning when she came out to the barn as he was finishing up his chores. Her breath fogged up in front of her as she balanced herself against the door.

“What time are you going into work today?” She was out of breath, her face pink from the cold air and exertion.

He hung a bridle he’d been cleaning on a hook. “Same time as every day.”

“Can we talk for a minute?”

“An actual minute?” He set the stool he’d been sitting on in the corner.

She came inside, letting the warmth from the horses and hay steal the cold. “They’re still alive.”

“Who?”

“Not all of them, though.” She looked around and took a smart phone from the pocket of her coat.

“Where’d you get that?” He exclaimed.

“Shhh!” She held up her phone. “Remember him?”

The man looking back was as old as a dinosaur. All white-haired, shriveled, and sunken cheeks, but Gibson recognized him. He took the phone from her. “How did you find him?”

“Old Republican registry.” She took the phone and tapped on the screen. “Nursing home in the South Region.”

“He’s got to be 100 years old,” Gibson guessed.

“Probably. Now listen.” She leaned back on a stall. The horse within nudged at her shoulder, thinking she was there to feed him. “I think we should find him. Pay him a visit when we leave.”

“I don’t want to see him.” Gibson remembered how that man liked to just stand by and watch. Like the experiments and surgeries were just a movie this man happened to catch late one evening.

“Why should he live out his life in peace after what he did to you? To us?”

“You think a man like him could ever feel peaceful?”

“He might not even recognize us. It says here he’s got Alzheimer's and prostate cancer.”

“So, he’s suffering. Suites me fine.” Gibson turned to walk out of the barn.

“Wait a minute, wait.” She grabbed his arm.

He stopped.

“There’s more.” She scrolled on the contraband phone and held up another image. This time it was a woman. Long silver hair and dull blue eyes. The recognition was instant.

“She was there, too, wasn’t she?” Marita asked.

Gibson stared at that woman. He’d thought she was dead by now. She was well on her way when he last saw her. It had been so long that he’d all but blocked her out.

“She lives in the North Region. Not in a nursing home, so maybe we can skip her.”

Gibson shifted his eyes back to Marita. “Skip her?”

“No one would suspect anything,” she replied simply. “They’re so old and so sick, it would be recorded as natural causes.”

He shook his head. “That’s why you want to leave?” He stood closer and lowered his voice. “To murder a bunch of people?”

“I like to think of it as putting a sick animal out if its misery.”

He watched her face. She was completely serious. If this had been just seven or eight years ago, maybe he would’ve thought differently. It was pointless now. Clearly, that man and that woman had succumbed to old age and mortality. The cycle of life was working on them. It didn’t need his or Marita’s help.

“I gotta go.” He left the barn, and she hobbled quickly behind him.

“It doesn’t even have to be painful,” she said as he walked away. “It could even be quick.”

“Bye.”

The color of her words and thoughts hung around him for the rest of the day. He would’ve thought differently a few years ago. He would have thought differently when he was nineteen. Twenty. Twenty-one. Before he lost count and years were just ripped and trashed like pages out of a book.

When he got to Phillip’s house that evening, he went directly to the barn to do his evening chores. He pitched hay into the horse stalls to keep them warm and fed the goats. He repaired a wagon wheel and spread cat litter and rock salt over the barn entrance and driveway to prepare for the morning frost.

As he was getting ready to go inside and have the dinner Anna saved for him - he was really going to miss that - he heard a sound from up in the barn loft. A chime. He looked up the ladder to see Peter nestled against a bale of hay holding something in his hands. It had a light. It shined against his face.

“Hello?” Gibson called.

Peter startled and looked down. His face was sheepish.

“What are you doing?”

Peter stuck the object in his pocket and came down the ladder. He stood at the bottom, his face pale.

“What is that?” Gibson asked.

Peter took the object from his pocket. It was a hand-held game, not much bigger than his palm.

Gibson looked at him, shocked.

“I just found it,” Peter said and shrugged.

“Yeah,” Gibson looked at the shiny screen and curved corners. “You did.”

Peter messed with a button on his coat. “Are you going to tell my folks?”

“I don’t see why,” Gibson replied slowly. “If you just found it.”

Peter’s stance was rigid. “We can’t always keep the outside out.”

“I understand.”

Peter lingered for a moment or two before excusing himself.

Gibson wandered out to the corn field. He walked into it like he meant to. Dry husks hit him in the face as he passed through. They slapped against his skin harder and he began to jog. He brushed between stalks as he ran. The memory of it made him run faster, made the husks slap harder, made the dead cobs under his feet crunch and split as he thought about it.

Running through a corn field. A crying baby. An arm caught in a sliding door. Blood.

He stopped and fell down. His lungs filled and emptied. He didn’t want to get back up. He froze.

And at the end of it, after all of that, Alex Krycek was waiting.


The next evening, Gibson got home later than usual. He took the long way back, and then added another mile just because. He liked walking in the chilly air. He liked the dead leaves skittering by his feet in the breeze. The puff of his breath in front of him. The far away whine of a train engine. All of it seem to match him on the inside.

In the barn, he went through his evening chores quickly, not wanting Anna to wait up too late. He was going to miss her kind face and the warm dinner plate kept in the stove for him. He was going to miss all of this. The broken straw on the barn floor. The weak sunlight poking through the slats. The smell of woodsmoke and decaying leaves. He took a minute to take it all in, photographing it in his memory.

This wasn’t his home. He didn’t belong here. He didn’t belong anywhere.

A sound by the barn door made him turn. He saw Grace standing inside it, a heavy wool shawl wrapped around her, and holding a basket. He dropped the shovel he was holding with a clatter.

She startled at the sound. “I didn’t mean to scare you. Daniel told me you were out here.”

Gibson picked up the shovel and set it against the wall. His heart felt like it was being squeezed.

Grace walked inside a little ways and stopped. He noticed the strings of the blue winter bonnet she wore were tied firmly under her chin. She looked around. “Phillip keeps up his barn well.” She looked up at the loft and around at the stalls. “He only has the three horses now, doesn’t he?”

Gibson nodded even though he hadn’t really heard what she said. He wiped his hands on his pants and stood up straighter. Grace’s eyes were soft and dark in the lantern light. He averted his gaze, feeling a sudden chill. And a wave of shame.

“I heard you were leaving soon,” she said softly. “Anna was talking to my mother. I shouldn’t have been listening, but…” Her eyes began to water, and she blinked it away. “I snuck out after dinner. Daed’s reading, so…”

“I’m sorry,” Gibson blurted. He hung his head. “I know I should have told you, but -”

“I just wanted to say goodbye,” she interrupted gently. “And you don’t have to tell me anything.”

The squeeze abated.

“There’s nothing to tell.” She shook her head. “Not to me. Not to anyone.”

Her thoughts whispered through the barn and into his mind. Her father had spared her any details, and she trusted his judgment. Whatever her father knew, Gibson wasn’t sure. He just assumed it was everything.

She reached into the basket and took out a crocheted blanket and handed it to him. “For your friend.” She pulled a plank of wood out of the basket. “And for you.”

Gibson took the plank and read the words burned into the wood: Das größte davon ist die Liebe.

“My brother-in-law taught me,” she said quietly. “I learned it last summer. He makes all kinds of wood-burnings and sells them to the English.”

Gibson traced a finger across the intricate text and tried to put together what he knew of German. He could pick out the word “love” but the rest of it wasn’t coming to him. “Thank you.” His eyes began to sting. He held the plank and blanket against his chest.

“You’re a good man, Gibson.” Her hands clutched the basket tighter. “Wherever you go, always remember that.”

He felt like something inside him was pierced and it was spilling out of his eyes. He thought about all the people who had come to meet their end because of him. Those left behind in Jamaica. Ones that tried to help him, shelter him, and set him free. Chess opponents. Their ghosts seemed to surround him now, furious and accusing; all the death, misery, and pain he’d caused in his life. It had finally found its way to the surface and it was on his skin, dripping down his cheeks, and onto the plank of wood.

“That’s not true,” he said to her, his voice barely a whisper. “It’s not true. I’m not a good man, Grace. I’m…I’m worse. I’m…,” the words rushed out, uncontrollable. “I’m not even a person. I’m not even - I’m a - I’m not a good man. I don’t know why I even thought you’d be happy with me. You could never be happy with me. You deserve better. I’m sorry I made you think so good of me. You shouldn’t.”

Grace approached him cautiously. She set the basket down and gently kissed his cheek. She brushed one tear away and then another. She smiled softly. “You are good to me always. God bless you, Gibson.” She picked up the basket and left the barn. He watched the dark shawl and the blue winter bonnet walk away until she was gone.


Gibson sat on the back porch, waiting for all the lights to go out. He was still holding the blanket and plank to his chest, close to his heart. Grace’s words and her kindness warmed him in the cold air, but all her kindness could not erase his past. It couldn’t drain the blood, genes, and chromosomes that were inside him. He could see now, wiping a random tear away, that Marita was right about them leaving. How could he continue to face these people? How could he continue to look them in the eye, share their food, sleep in their homes, after all he’d done? They believed in a forgiving and merciful God, but one that justly punishes those that do wrong. He’d done wrong; caused it, aided it, witnessed it, and he deserved to be punished for it.

He turned to look at the windows. All were dark except for one in the kitchen. It was dim but grew brighter until the back door opened and Marita’s hand came out with a lantern.

She peeked around the door. “What are you doing out here?”

He turned away from her.

He heard the door close, and she walked carefully to the railing and leaned on it. “Why are you just sitting out here?”

He glanced over at her. “Can you leave me alone? Please?”

She looked like she stepped out of Little House on the Prairie in a long night gown and a blond braid over one shoulder. She held the lantern up to his face. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Go back inside. It’s cold.”

She didn’t listen. She set the lantern on the railing and sat down beside him. Her breath clouded in front of her and mingled with his. “What’s wrong, Gibson?”

“Do you just pretend not to hear anything I say? Or do you just not get it?”

She frowned at him and rubbed her arms. “You don’t just sit out here in the cold for no reason.”

“There’s a reason.” He glared at her. “That I don’t want to talk about. Okay?”

She sighed and slipped her hands into the sleeves of her nightgown. She didn’t ask anything else, but she didn’t leave. She sat there with him for a while. He watched her breath and his fog up in front of them. Her mind was semi-quiet. Not on purpose, but she wasn’t thinking about much. Mostly about being cold and wondering what his problem was.

“I’m going to miss this place,” he said without intending to.

“I think I will, too.” She looked up at the sky. It was clear. Not a cloud in sight. “But I’m sure we overstayed our welcome a long time ago. Even people like them lose their patience.”

It never appeared to him that Anna or Phillip were sick of them. Then again, they were too nice to show it if they did. He followed Marita’s gaze to the stars. “Somewhere up there is part of me. And a part of you.”

She looked over at him. The words hung in his foggy breath and as soon as he said them, he felt a hollowness grow in the pit of his stomach.

“You’d think,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to handle living here. Like the conditions wouldn’t be right for us.”

“That wasn’t the purpose,” she replied. “Hybrids need human DNA to adapt. That was the whole point: intermingle and take over. That was supposed to yield the best outcome.”

He looked over at her. “You said we’re not the only ones.”

She tucked her feet under her nightgown and shivered. “There’s more. There’s a lot more.”

“Do you think they know?”

“They’d have to,” she met his eyes. “You knew before you asked me. Because you could feel it.”

He listened to the quiet around them and looked around. A distance away he could hear wind chimes. He didn’t know what he felt before. Or what he felt now. But he wasn’t what he was before. He was changed. Forever and completely changed.

Marita sighed. “I need to tell you something.”

“You got more people for your hit list?”

She stared straight ahead and rubbed the cold from her arms. “Mercy took me on a walk and we went by their house. You were off doing whatever. Grace’s mother was out on the porch. She came down to talk to me. She asked me about you.” She turned her head and set her glowing eyes on his. “I told her you were the most loyal person I know. I told her you would always take care of Grace and had the best of intentions.”

He watched her expression. Listened for a thought. She wasn’t going to let one slip.

“That was all I said. Then Mercy and I went down the road.”

He looked at the crocheted blanket. “Why didn’t you just tell me that before?”

“You wouldn’t have believed me before and you don’t now.”

He unfolded the blanket and put it around her.

“I know what it looks like,” she continued. “But if something was going to happen, if it wasn’t meant to be, I didn’t want to be the reason why.”

He examined the wood-burning again. He tried to imagine Grace putting the umlaut above the O and adding a little flourish to the L. Aside from that, the words were simple. Plain, simple, and efficient.

Marita pulled the blanket over her arms. “I’m sorry it happened. But like I told you, her father is responsible for everything she does. I think if he let her marry you, it would’ve hurt his reputation.”

He could see it coming into view the longer he looked at it. The German and the English starting to connect.

“I am sorry, Gibson.” Marita’s voice was sincere. “She’s a nice girl, a sweet girl. I’m sure you grew to care about her.”

The greatest of these is love.

He traced each line of each letter slowly. “I guess I did.”

“And part of it’s my fault. We should have left a long time ago.”

“I guess we should have.”

“You didn’t deserve to be hurt in the process.”

He set the plank beside him. “Did you care about him?”

Her glowing eyes flashed. “Don’t start with that right now. I’m trying to apologize to you.”

“I’m not starting with anything. I’m just asking.”

Whenever she thought about Alex Krycek, it was like muddy water. He didn’t know if it was just because he could hear it; if she was just making an effort to be vague.

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “He wasn’t the most honorable man, as you know.”

“You think he cared about you?”

“What does it matter?”

“I’m just wondering. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone caring about him.”

She attempted to stand up, and he got up to help her. “He cared when it suited him.”

“When was that?”

“You’d have to ask him. Too bad he’s dead.” She leaned on his arm for support. “Skinner shot him.”

“Who?”

“Walter Skinner. He just shot him like an animal and left him to die.”

Gibson thought that was far too merciful for a man like him, but he kept his thoughts to himself. “Skinner sounds familiar.”

“You’d know him if you saw him.” She picked up the lantern. “For the longest time, I wanted to do the same to him. But I suppose it’s better for us all.” She looked out into the chilly darkness. “Sometimes things just need to end.”

He reached down to pick up the plank of wood and followed her inside.

“Where did you get that?” She asked.

“I just found it,” he replied.


 

 

The United States

Location Unknown

1999

4:52am

Gibson swallowed another wave of nausea. The painkillers they had him on were too strong. It was on purpose. They made him sick and dizzy. No chance he’d have the strength or will to run off.

He reached up to touch the stiff bandage wrapped around his head. His skull was like the lid on a jar. Unscrewed, contents taken out, and the lid put back on. Did he even have a brain anymore? What pieces of him were taken, probed, and altered this time?

He lay in a bed in a make-shift hospital room. For all he knew, he might be in an actual hospital. But the lack of pages and sirens made him think otherwise.

He didn’t hear anything at all. Inside or out.

For days now, he was aware of a presence. A woman. She came in to sit him up, get him to eat, check his vitals, make sure any tubes he was hooked up to were working properly. His vision was blurry without his glasses, but he knew her by her voice.

It all could have been a dream, but the other day (Other week? Other month?) she was in the room, gasping and crying. He looked over and saw the fuzzy image of her clutching her stomach. She smashed an emergency button with her fist. The alarm sounded like it was coming up from the ocean. There was a commotion, a few men came to the room and took her away, one walking unhurried behind the rest, the cherry of his cigarette glowing brightly in the dim light.

He lingered for a second, standing over Gibson on the bed. Gibson thought he said something, but he couldn’t understand it. All Gibson understood was that his head ached and his limbs felt like lead. And maybe now he was hallucinating.

Gibson tried counting the minutes. Just to test himself. He silently counted to sixty, then started back again. Then again until 10 minutes passed. He wiggled each finger and toe, took a deep breath, and slowly sat up. The head-rush and punch of nausea he expected didn’t happen. He felt around on either side of the bed for a table. When he found one to the left he grasped around for his glasses and put them on.

He looked around the room. Bed. Small table. Lamp. Two chairs. A big dark window on the opposite side. One-way glass. Gibson stared at it. He could see his reflection, but something about his image didn’t look right. He took his glasses off, rubbed them on the hospital gown, and put them back on. The image wasn’t clear. It wasn’t sharp. It was still fuzzy. His vision was naturally bad. Near-sighted for as long as he could remember, but glasses had always corrected the problem. He swung his legs to the side of the bed, stilled himself for any dizziness, and slowly stood up. He took baby-steps over to the glass, and stared at himself. How long had he been here now? So long that his vision had gotten worse? Or was that a side effect?

He touched the bandage on his head again. It went all the way around. Underneath it, he was bald.

Everything was so quiet.

As he stared at the window, he sensed someone on the other side. In fact, he could hear them. Their thoughts were like cloudy water. He slowly backed away and got back into bed. He shouldn’t have gotten up. Now they’ll just drug him up some more to keep him docile.

He jumped when he heard the lock on the door turn. It opened and that same woman, Diana, walked in. She was holding something in her arms, bouncing it lightly while it gurgled and one tiny hand came up to tap her on the chin.

She moved cautiously towards the bed. “Lie down. Pretend your asleep.”

Gibson stared at her.

“Please, Gibson,” she whispered. “Please do as I say. I’m not going to hurt you.”

He reluctantly lay back down and shut his eyes.

He heard her come closer. The baby in her arms cried a little and she shushed it. “There’s going to be a shift change in about three minutes just down the corridor. You’ll have to wait exactly three minutes. I’ll open the door and you run left and don’t stop running.” He heard her unzip a bag and the shuffling of clothes. “Once you’re out, run through the field until you get to a road, there’ll be a car there waiting for you. Please do as he says. I promise he won’t hurt you. He’ll take you to the bus station. And once you get there…” She paused. She paused for so long, Gibson opened his eyes.

She was staring down at the bundle in her arms. She looked puzzled by it. Almost suspicious.

Her voice was heavy when she spoke. “I’m sure you’ve figured it all out by now.”

He sort of did. He looked at the baby. Babies didn’t really have thoughts. Not that Diana would care. She was thinking about this child’s father. She was thinking about how it was up to her to make sure father and son never knew one another.

He cringed on the inside. It couldn’t possibly be true, but it was. Diana regretted this child’s existence just as much as she regretted his conception.

She sat on the bed. “I have a cousin in Winnipeg. I want you to take Gregory to her. She’ll be expecting you.”

His stomach sank.

“I know you can do it.” She lifted a bag and set it by the bed. “Here’s everything you’ll need.”

Gibson stared down at the bag. The only thing he knew about babies is that they cried a lot. And she wanted him to take a crying baby all the way to Canada? He didn’t even know where they were now. He shook his head at her.

She frowned. “I’m helping you. You’ll help me in return.”

He shook his head again.

“My son isn’t safe. You aren’t safe.”

The baby started crying, and Gibson moved away from it.

“Hush, dammit, hush,” Diana hissed at it, shaking him in her arms. She glared at Gibson. “Take him with you. It’s the least you can do.”

Gibson went to the door, hoping it was unlocked, but she grabbed him by the arm. “Take him! Get him away from me and from this place! You have to!”

Her grip on his arm hurt. He’d never seen anyone look so cold.

“They won’t let me leave, and I can’t keep him here,” she said. She looked down at the child, her face full of disgust. “He was never supposed to be.”

Gibson didn’t know what to do. He reached for the door again, but she pushed the crying child into his arms. Her breath was heavy and desperate. “Don’t let them catch you again.” Her fist slammed the emergency button. An alarm blared. She put the bag around his shoulders. “Run!”

He sped out of the room and down the hall like she told him, the lights red and orange on the walls. He didn’t even know where to go. He just ran. The baby was crying and wiggling in his arms like a worm.

Gibson heard a scream and turned to look behind him to see Diana being chased. She tried to run through another door. It was sliding closed. She slid through it as some armed guards grabbed her arm to pull her back. The door cut right through her shoulder. There was a spurt of blood as her severed arm flopped onto the floor.

Gibson ran from the horror, the image searing into his brain, until he came to a door. It was glass and he could see out to the darkness. He stopped. The baby cried and cried. He shoved his shoulder against it. It wouldn’t budge. He kicked it and looked behind him. No one was coming yet. He saw a red button on the side and slammed it with his elbow. The door flung open and another alarm began to sound over top of the one inside.

He ran out, taking a breath of the cool morning air, his bare feet slick on the grass. Lights illuminated behind him. He didn’t even know where to go. He just ran. Gregory was getting heavier in his arms. He was frightened. His legs kicking, fists waving in the air. Gibson ran straight into a cornfield. Husks smacked at his legs and face. He shielded Gregory with the blanket so he wouldn’t get scratched. He felt a part of the bandage tear off one side of his head. The air stung the tender scar.

He was running out of breath. His sides ached. The cornfield seemed to go on for miles. Husks slapped like dozens of hands. The ground was muddy and slick. It was hard to run through the muck sucking at his bare feet. His legs began to cramp. Gregory’s cries hurt his ears. Everything was beginning to spin and blur and fade.

Suddenly, he burst out of the field and nearly fell down. He could see a car idling on an empty road just a few feet away. He ran towards it, looking behind him, expecting to see someone lunging for him.

As he got closer he saw the man sitting inside it and came to a sudden halt.

Alex Krycek got out of the car.

“No,” Gibson said hoarsely.

“Get in,” Krycek ordered.

“No!” Gibson turned to run down the road, but he was worn out. He could hardly breathe or will his legs to move any faster. Gregory was like a boulder in his arms.

“Come back here!” He could hear Krycek behind him.

“No! Get away from me!”

Krycek grabbed him by the back of the hospital gown and jerked him towards the car. “Get in! Now!”

Gibson tried to twist away from him, but he was so tired, and he was afraid he’d drop the baby. Krycek pushed them into the back seat, put the car into gear, and slammed on the gas pedal. The car lurched forward and tore down the road, making Gibson fall back against the seat and a fresh round of cries from the baby.

Krycek scowled at him in the rear view mirror. “Change your clothes. You look like shit. And cover your head up.”

Gibson couldn’t move. He was petrified.

“I said, change your clothes!” Krycek held up a gun.

Gibson dug through the bag and found some jeans, T-shirt, and a baseball cap. He tried to fix the bandage around his head before he put the hat on.

“And shut that kid up!” Krycek growled. “I don’t want to listen to that shit!”

Gibson dug through the bag for a bottle or something and found a pacifier. Gibson tried to give it to him, but the baby wasn’t having it. He looked for a bottle.

“I told you to shut him up! I will put a hole in both your heads! Shut him up!”

“I don’t know what to do!” Gibson shouted back. His head was beginning to throb. The painkillers were wearing off. He was beginning to feel light-headed.

He put the baby on his lap and tried to rock him. After a minute, Gregory quieted down. He’d exhausted himself from the trauma.

The car sped on and on. Gibson couldn’t look out the window. The trees spinning by made him sick. He tried to catch his breath and still his pounding heart. Everything hurt. His feet, his lungs, his head, his ears. Everything hurt. He wondered if he was dying. He wondered if this was what it felt like.

He closed his eyes and saw Diana’s arm smack onto the floor like a dead fish. He thought he might vomit.

Krycek was glaring at him in the rear view mirror. “When we get there, don’t speak to anybody. Just get on the damn bus and go. Not a word to anybody. Understand? I will find you and end you if you open your mouth.”

Gibson was too exhausted to react, but he could hear that Krycek had been paid a shit ton of money to do this. Diana must have robbed a bank.

He saw the sky begin to turn a light blue when the car slowed. In front of them was a Greyhound station, silver buses lined up in a row. Krycek parked the car and got out. He went around to the trunk, opened it, and slammed it shut. He opened the back door to let Gibson out. Gibson wasn’t sure if he could stand up. He slid out of the car with the bag on his shoulders and tried not to wake the baby.

“Here’s the address,” Krycek tucked a piece of paper into a pocket of the bag. He handed Gibson a roll of dollar bills and a bus ticket. “Get out of here.”

Gibson quickly complied and went towards the buses.

“Hey!”

Gibson stopped and turned, even though he didn’t want to.

Krycek came over and bent down, his face close, his breath fogging up Gibson’s glasses. He grabbed the front of Gibson’s shirt. The pupils of his eyes were menacing little pinpoints. “If I ever - EVER - see you again, I will kill you.”

Gibson blinked and stared just as menacingly back. “Maybe I’ll get you first.”

Krycek flinched. His jaw tightened. He shoved Gibson away and stormed back to the car.

Gibson watched him leave. He said a silent wish that he would never have to see this man again, but he if he did, he knew exactly what he would do.

 

Chapter Text

The United States

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1997

9:09pm

Marita unlocked the door, took the chain off, opened it up, and scowled at Alex standing there.

He burst inside like a jet of water and slammed the door. “What the hell’s your problem?”

She went back to the sofa, where she’d been sitting for the last hour. The room was completely dark. Shades drawn. No lights.

Her problem was she needed to get some sleep. She hadn’t slept in several nights. Just a couple hours here and there was all she could manage. She kept thinking there was something she was forgetting. Something she was going to miss.

Alex stood over top of her. “Have you lost it?” He was gearing up for a fight. She’d figured out he liked to fight because there was no boundary between sex and fighting in his mind. He’d argue with her, get laid, and they’d be okay. In the deepest, darkest parts of her soul she found it arousing.

“Look at me!” He demanded. “What the hell are you doing?”

She stared at a crack in the shades. A slim line of light. She couldn’t remember if it had rained that day or not. Early that morning, unable to sleep, she drove the two and a half hours to DC and parked outside of Dana Scully’s apartment building. Being that it was Sunday, Marita had to wait until almost eleven before Scully came out. She strode to her car in blue jeans and a plain black top, so lost in her own thoughts she didn’t notice Marita get out of her car. Scully barely registered the man on a bike that zipped past her or the couple struggling with the leash on their basset hound before she drove off.

She just drove off. Didn’t see Marita at all.

So, Marita followed her. She made it obvious. Scully was clueless. It made Marita angry. She’s a stupid uptight bitch. Just stupid. Shouldn’t Scully know by now? Shouldn’t it be a natural instinct by now? Marita couldn’t believe how easy it was to follow her to a corner market. How simple and easy it was to follow her inside and watch her as the walked up and down the aisles putting stuff in a cart. Look at her being all normal. Look at her just shopping like fool! Look at her just going about her days as if her daughter never existed!

The fury inside Marita scared her. She envisioned herself grabbing that stupid uptight bitch by her hair and slamming her head into a shelf until she was dead. What she’d just been through, what she’d just endured, and here’s Dana Scully just shopping!

Marita watched for things that might be for a child, but Scully paid $19.52 for laundry detergent, apples, paper towels, yogurt, coffee, and a half-gallon of skim milk. Marita could have strangled her.

Alex leaned over to get into her line of sight. “Are you listening to me?”

Scully went home and didn’t emerge from her building again until four-thirty. She opened the trunk of her car, stared at it for a few minutes, took out a black gym bag, and went inside. Marita had her windows rolled down to stay cool and to make herself more conspicuous. She couldn’t believe Scully didn’t noticed her.

She’s stupid. Just an idiot. A stupid uptight bitch.

Alex didn’t like being ignored. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her. “Look at me!”

Around five, Mulder came along, walking down the sidewalk and into Scully’s building. Marita gave it a few minutes, got out of her car, and marched towards the building. Before she was even across the street, a car came speeding at her and screeched to a halt in front of her.

Alex stuck his head out the window. “What are you doing?”

Marita only paused for a second, just a second, before she tried to walk around his car. That second was all he needed to jump out and grab her.

Alex loosened his grip on her shoulders. “You know she won’t believe you, right? Even if he does, she won’t. That’s how it goes.”

If Mulder or Scully heard the commotion outside, saw Marita slap Alex across the face until he let her go, saw her run back to her car and speed off with Alex right behind her, she would never know. A few pedestrians saw it all go down and none of them seemed concerned. It looked like a lover’s spat. A soap opera. It maybe lasted twenty seconds.

“You’re thinking about it too much.” He didn’t look so rough now. Whatever happened in Texas must have cleaned him up.

She turned away from him and pulled a blanket over her. It was still hot outside, but she didn’t feel it.

Marita went back to Philly with him on her tail. She took a different exit and lost him long enough for her to get home.

“Seriously,” he continued. “You did the right thing.”

Not long enough.

She searched her living room for something else to look at. There was a piece of art she’d bought in Berlin a few years ago. A little girl standing in a meadow. She wore a straw hat, painted from the side, the little girl appeared to be walking through to nowhere in particular. Just a scene the artist plucked from his imagination or maybe he’d found a little girl to stand in a meadow for him. He painted while she stood there. Nineteenth century pastoral. It was all the rage.

He just painted and the child stood there motionless until he got the colors right.

“You know I could say something,” Alex kept on. “That was dangerous and they don’t like instability.”

That must have sucked. Just stand still while someone paints your likeness. What if that child wanted to play? What if she wanted to go chasing after the butterflies? And where was her mother? Shopping in a market like a stupid uptight bitch?

Marita turned to Alex. She felt like she could see right through him. Like a ghost. “What were you doing there?”

“Does it matter?”

“It all matters.” She got up to take the picture down.

“If she gave even half a shit about that kid, she would’ve found her by now.”

Marita put the painting in a closet. “I want you to leave.”

“What if it wasn’t me?” Alex came over to her. “Hm? What if it wasn’t me and one of them saw you? You know they watch her all the time, right?”

Marita looked around her living room. It was a mess. Her suitcase was still propped up in front of her bedroom door. She’d just left it there. It had been almost two weeks.

“And he could have seen you,” Alex continued, watching her open the suitcase. “You can’t be that obvious. What if he came over to you?”

Marita took out the sun dresses she’d bought for Emily. She got a trash bag from under the sink and stuffed them inside. “Take this to the dumpster on your way out.” He shut up while she got Emily’s things out of the suitcase and threw the trash bag at him. “Take that and get rid of it.”

He held the bag in one hand and gawked at her.

“Get rid of it,” she repeated. “And don’t come back here.”

His eyelid twitched, his mouth a thin line. “I saved your ass today. Most people would be grateful.”

She got in his face, her voice a furious whisper, “I want you to go.”

He didn’t flinch for a second, then a smile crept up one corner of his mouth.

“Go,” she growled.

He dropped the bag and kissed her, his tongue slipping into her mouth. She put her hands around his neck, squeezing, clenching him like a vise. He backed her to the dining room table, shoving everything off, plates and glasses smashing on the floor. She let him have her right there on the table for two delirious minutes until her fingernails left marks on his neck, until she was filled and emptied out all at once.

She let him stay the night, but she didn’t sleep. She sat by her open bedroom window and exhaled smoke into the warm air. She stared at him sleeping naked in her bed and wondered what he’d done in Texas. Probably killed someone. Probably got rid of a problem; a problem that would change the world.

She went out to the living room and picked up the trash bag. She left her apartment, went downstairs, out the door, and walked to the dumpster out back. She held the bag for a few seconds. She said a silent prayer that a nun would be proud of. She tossed the bag in the dumpster and walked away.


 

The North American Union

South Region

2030

6:46pm

“Where are we?” Marita asked, watching the landscape spin by out of the window of the car.

“I don’t know,” Gibson replied. “Louisiana? Maybe?”

“Did they really take down all the signs?”

“We just passed one that said Lake Charles is that way.” Gibson pointed off to the left.

“Where’s the phone?”

He pushed it across the dashboard at her. He’d found it on the Internet. There was a crack across the screen and part of the case was missing, but they just wanted something that worked and synchronized with the satellites. It didn’t have to be new.

Marita unlocked the phone and opened up the location. “It just says…South Region.”

“Yeah, but where? South Region….what?”

She showed him the screen. “That’s all it says.”

Gibson glanced over at the screen quickly, trying not to take his eyes from the road. He didn’t really know how to drive. It’s not like he’d ever gone to a Driver’s Ed class or had a license, but his legs were more reliable on the pedals than Marita’s. Her left leg cramped up all the time.

“How big is the South Region?” Gibson asked. “Can you zoom out and see?”

All they did was drive. Just drive, drive, drive. Or him. That’s all he did. She sat in the passenger seat, complained about everything, plotted and planned, and yelled at him to stop when she had to pee. Drive. Just keep on driving. It’s all they could do. They didn’t want to stay in one place for too long.

They knew they were in a whole other country, but the unfamiliarity was still disorienting. Highways weren’t the same. There were signs for landmarks but nothing to indicate states, counties, or cities. It was all gone. And the distance between those landmarks wasn’t measured in miles anymore. He found he didn’t really know how many kilometers equaled a mile or vice versa. He also noticed the lack of cars on the roads. Every so often a metal, elevated track would line up with the highway, or shoot over top of it, and a train would zip by so fast that if he blinked he missed it.

He noticed the lack of traffic signs, particularly any stating the speed limit. Other motorists passed by him constantly. They had to be going close to ninety, or whatever that equaled in kilometers. Gibson didn’t want to drive that fast. He was driving without a license and didn’t want to be pulled over, but neither he nor Marita had seen a cop car since they’d left. Absolutely none.

“Can we stop in a minute?” She asked, shifting around in her seat.

“We just passed a rest area,” he mumbled as another vehicle blew past him. “Is there just no speed limit or something?”

“If the other cars are going that fast, then you can, too.” She swiped through the phone. “All it says is: ‘Welcome to the South Region, President Chase Donovan.’ Then there’s like a flag.”

“I don’t know if I should drive this car that fast.”

They’d purchased a twenty-seven year old Cadillac from one of the dealerships near the Amish farms. He’d used part of his warehouse money, and she’d found out one of her old accounts still had cash in it. She’d jumped through about a million hoops to get the money out. She’d opened the account under one of her past aliases. She said she had several, but wouldn’t tell him anything else. That pissed him off. So, they had a fight.

There they were on the side of the highway, yelling at each other while vehicles sped past them, angry gestures and finger-pointing. He told her that if she wanted him to trust her, she had to tell him these things. How was he supposed to trust her when she hid things from him? She yelled back if they didn’t do things her way they’d get caught. Did he want to get caught? Did he want to wind up in prison in an unfamiliar country, tried by an unfamiliar justice system? He should just shut up and do what she says. What he wanted to know was irrelevant. It was ancient history. It didn’t matter.

It mattered. It all mattered to him. He didn’t want this to be a mistake. He didn’t want to regret leaving the Amish with her.

They drove off one Wednesday morning with food wrapped up in tin foil from Anna, a Bible from Phillip, and both of them buzzing with a feeling that felt like apathy diluted with uncertainty. Marita kept turning around to look behind them long after they’d reached the highway. Gibson gripped the steering wheel so she couldn’t see him shaking.

It was like being sent out into a forest with nothing. Sent out into a desert with nothing. Blindfolded and spun around. Slapping the air with a stick, hoping you’ll get a shower of candy.

Marita turned her head sideways and pointed to her cheek. “How does that look? Can you still see it?”

“I don’t think makeup is going to help. At all.”

She pulled the visor down and looked in the mirror at the scars on her face. They’d gotten better but still obvious. It upset her. When she thought about it, it was like glass breaking. In spite of his anger and doubt, he felt sorry for her. He didn’t know how he’d feel if he was so scarred up. Probably ashamed. Ashamed and humiliated, just like her.

“That last place had cameras,” she said. “They’re too identifying.”

“We were far enough away.” He saw a sign for their exit ahead. He pointed at it. “At least those still exist.”

For several weeks, Gibson kept waking up at four, expecting to hear Daniel or Peter walking down the stairs and the sound of the coffee pot on the stove. But he woke up alone in a motel room, Marita right next door, and he couldn’t get back to sleep. He’d lay awake until the sun came up, get dressed, knock on her door, and they’d be off again. It went by fast. Time had been slow with the Amish, but now it sped up. Sped up with a grudge, a burning grudge, a score they were both determined to settle once and for all.

Gibson forgot to cut on the turn signal when they exited the highway. A car honked at him as it sped by.

“Is there a gas station off here somewhere?” Marita asked, sitting forward in her seat. “Did they take down all those signs, too?”

Gibson saw one up the road to the left. He pulled crookedly into a parking space, and Marita hopped out and walked as quickly as she could inside.

Hatred is a strong emotion. Revenge comes out of it, like a branch on a tree. His life had been ruined, stolen, all screwed up, and the opportunity for payback was too tempting. The pull was too strong. He didn’t have her cunning or her experience, so she planned it out. All he wanted was to see their faces when they recognized him. When they knew it was over, and he was there to see it.

He kept telling himself that when they were done, they would part ways. He didn’t know where he’d go or what he’d do, but it didn’t have to be with her. She didn’t seem to have much of a plan after this herself. She could walk just fine now and didn’t need him anymore. She had to have somewhere she needed to be. She’d be just fine without him, and he’d be just fine without her.

Why did the thought of that scare him?

He took the phone and tried to find out how close they were. He was relieved to see that the Humble Heart Nursing Home wasn’t too far away. An icon popped up next to the location claiming the facility to be NAU-approved. He didn’t know what that meant.

When Marita got back, he showed her the screen. “Just a couple miles. I mean, kilometers or whatever.”

“Where’s the syringe?” She asked, looking through the backpack they had.

He pulled back out onto the road and drove a little faster. He still didn’t know what the speed limit was. On the other side of the road, cranes and humanoid AIs were building a train track over a bridge.

“I guess that’s why there’s less cars.” He nodded towards it.

Marita stuck the syringe in a bottle of succinylcholine and drew some in. “Should have been done a long time ago. They run on solar and methane.”

“Cow shit? We have trains that use cow shit?”

“What else is it good for?” She pulled her hair back into a ponytail. “Okay, so, I’ll say I’m the relative this time. I’ll say I’m his niece or something like that.”

“And who am I?” He could see a quaint little sign up ahead, the flowy cursive letters telling them Humble Heart was to the right.

She looked him over. “I’m not sure if you’ll pass as my son.”

“I can be a grown up son.” He shrugged.

“It’s just that we don’t look much alike.”

“So?”

“It has to be believable in case there’s an investigation later.”

“Why would there be?” He turned into the parking lot, nudging the curb slightly. “He’s old. That’s what happens when you get old: you die.”

“We’ll say you’re my husband.”

“Hell no!” He protested.

“You’re right. Boyfriend. We aren’t wearing rings. Someone might notice.”

“I’m not going to say that!” Gibson exclaimed, turning off the engine.

“Why?” She looked insulted. “Would it be that hard to believe?”

“It’s too weird.” He shook his head. “We’ll go with son. I think that’s easier to pull off. You could have been a teenage mom.”

She got out of the car and put the phone and syringe in her purse. “We got some weird looks the last time. Boyfriend is better.”

“I’ll say I’m his nephew or grandkid. That’s better.”

She came around to the driver’s side and opened the door. “Why is this even an argument? It’s all fake!”

He glared at her.

You’re being weird about this, not me. Now, come on.”

“Oh, God,” he groaned, getting out of the car.

As they walked towards the entrance, she grabbed his hand. He pulled it away. “I’m not holding your hand.”

“It has to look real.” She grabbed it again.

“Stop!” He pulled his arm away from her.

She grabbed his hand again, and he pulled away again. “I’m not doing that! Quit it!”

She took his hand and held it firmly. He stopped and gave her a look.

“You want to do this the right way, don’t you?” She gave him the same look.

He glared at her.

She put her other hand on her hip and glared back.

“Fine,” he growled. “You win.” He turned to go inside, pulling her along behind him.

“Stop looking so pouty,” she grumbled as they went inside towards the visitor’s desk.

“Why? Maybe we just had a fight, and I’m dumping you after this.”

She scowled at him, then smiled broadly for the nurse at the desk.

The nurse smiled back. “Hi, can I help you?”

“Hi,” Marita said, swinging her hand and Gibson’s back and forth, while he tried to stop looking pouty. “So, I’m not sure if we’re at the right place. I’ve been searching for my great uncle, and I think he was moved here.”

She pulled out the phone and showed the nurse his information. It had taken them a while to find it. Neither of them had been sure of his name, and then they bickered about how it was spelled for a good two hours.

The nurse nodded and tapped open her tablet. “Your name?”

“Debbie. Well, Deborah. But my great uncle called me Debbie.”

The nurse typed in the name. “He’s here,” she smiled. “But he doesn’t have either of those names on his visitor’s list.” She frowned and looked over at Gibson. “Are you a relative?”

“This is my boyfriend, Mickey,” Marita smiled. “And I’m not surprised my name wouldn’t be on his list.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “He makes up those names. He probably changes them at least once a week, doesn’t he?”

The nurse smiled sadly. “We have a lot of residents here that do that. Let me check the past names he’s provided.”

Gibson gave Marita a look when the nurse swiped on her tablet.

Mickey?

“Oh, here you are!” The nurse said. “Deborah. Deborah Ann?”

Marita nodded. “Yes, that’s me.” She took out the fake NAU ID card and Gibson fished around in the pocket of his jacket for his. There were no names on them, just a number and an image. The exchange on the Dark Net had happened quickly and smoothly. The privacy concerns in this country made stuff like this easy. Illegal and harshly punished, but easier than before. Also, expensive. They’d paid a high price for these.

The nurse took their ID cards. “I’ll be right back.”

Nursing homes were less vigilant than other places. Mostly all they did was have the cards scanned to make sure they were authentic, while other establishments checked for codes embedded into the front and back that determined citizenship status and displayed fingerprints that matched the owner’s. Afterward, all the data collected was erased. Record keeping revolved around a weekly cycle rather than months or years. Sometimes information was only on record for a few days.

“Mickey? Really?” Gibson whispered when the nurse walked away. “Like Mickey Mouse?”

“It was the first name I thought of,” she whispered back.

“Are you really going to make me hold your hand and give me stupid names, too?”

“Shhh!” she hissed as the nurse returned with their cards.

He always held his breath when this happened, hoping the person would actually give them back and not be getting on their phone to call Intelligence.

The nurse handed them back and told them what room Debbie’s great uncle was in. She handed Gibson a pamphlet before they walked off to the right.

“The Watchtower?” He said, looking at it.

“Just throw it away.” The smile was gone as her expression morphed into one of focus and determination.

He pulled his hand away from hers. “Did Jehovah’s Witnesses get all the nursing homes? I thought the Pentecostals bought them.”

“I don’t know.” They came to the end and could only go right or left. “Which way did she say?”

“Over here, I think.” He turned right, and she followed him. He was starting to get nervous now.

“Can you hear him?” She asked.

“I don’t really hear much of anything, to be honest.”

The first part of this, getting inside the nursing homes and gambling with relatives names, was the most difficult. Most of these guys had severe, mentally debilitating illnesses. It wasn’t hard to convince nursing home staff that their great-grandpa or uncle or whatever just didn’t remember them. Marita was good at crying when they needed it, and Gibson was good at making up family stories. But they had to do some research first to find out what kinds of families these men had. If they never had any children, then great-grandfather had to be replaced with something else. Only relatives were allowed in to see nursing home residents. No one else could be admitted without a relative with them.

They found the door and stopped. It was made of glass and Gibson could see right inside at the back of a bald, liver-spotted head facing a TV screen.

“You ready?” Marita asked.

He nodded.

“I’ll stand in front of the door, then come up behind him to block anyone from seeing. If you see a distress button close by, nod once.”

The glass doors were for the resident’s safety. He’d seen them in all the nursing homes they’d been to. Staff could glance inside quickly to make sure residents weren’t dead on the floor when they did their rounds.

Gibson slowly opened the door and went inside, a sudden smell of hand sanitizer mixed with cigar smoke filling his nostrils.

“I’m not hungry,” a voice came from the bald head. It was basically the same voice; husky and dull. He’d always sounded bored. Looked bored. Looked like nothing really amused him.

Gibson walked around the easy chair the man was sitting in and stood in front of him.

He remembered that face. It was a terrible face now, wrinkled, sagging, butchered by time and gravity, but he recognized it. He’d seen it quite a bit when he was younger, surveying him coolly with a measured, scientific gaze as Gibson was operated on and submerged into a cold tank of liquid. That face morphed and distorted as he lost consciousness and didn’t wake up again for six years.

His blood began to boil.

Marita came in quietly, standing in front of the door, reaching into her purse for the syringe.

The man looked disinterestedly at Gibson. “I said I’m not hungry.” He pressed a button on his chair and a shot of liquid flowed through a tube inserted into his arm.

Gibson found a chair and set it in front of the man, blocking the TV.

“Where’s Nurse Owens?” The man asked sullenly.

Gibson could see Marita looking around the room at any equipment that might alert the staff. He leaned forward in the chair. “You don’t remember me?”

The man’s eyes focused on Gibson as if he was trying to. Gibson thought he should have worn glasses. Sometimes he wore them and sometimes he didn’t. Today he chose not to.

Gibson hadn’t known this man’s name back then.

But he knew now.

He knew all their names.

This man’s name was much too ordinary; too ordinary and innocent for the atrocities he’d committed. It should be something awful. Something that felt as rough as sandpaper when spoken.

The man’s eyes narrowed. “Are you the imbecile here to fix my TV? I’m not deaf! The sound’s all messed up.” He waved his hand at it as if shooing it away. “I can hear just fine. Just make it louder. I hate reading captions.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about that,” Gibson said nonchalantly.

The man stared at him, a suspicious look moving over his features. “Have you been here before?”

Gibson sat back in the chair. “You really don’t remember me at all?”

The man said nothing.

Gibson reached into his pocket and took out a rook and tossed it on the man’s lap. “Does that help?”

The man looked down at it for a few seconds, then at Gibson’s face. After about a minute he started to laugh, a wheezing, hoarse chuckle that rattled out of his throat.

Gibson watched his face, quickly looking over at Marita as she moved closer.

“Well shit,” the man said with that husky, accented voice; one Gibson never wanted to hear again. “I really thought you’d gotten out of here. I thought you out of anyone would have been smart enough to leave.”

Gibson didn’t respond.

“I thought you might appreciate our efforts one day.”

“When will that be?” Gibson asked. “When I’m as old as you?”

The man laughed again. “You’ll never be as old as me.” He picked up the rook and held it between his fingers. “I had this feeling I’d see you again one day. It’s nice to see the work we put in wasn’t for nothing.”

Gibson listened, waiting for some kind of revelation; some sign of remorse; some kind of confession. But none of them ever expressed any of that. No one was going to tell him what he wanted to hear. Or Marita. There wasn’t going to be any pleading or regret. They’d accepted that.

“Hmmm,” the man said, turning the rook around in his fingers, his hand beginning to shake. He pushed the button on the chair again and the shaking stopped. “You still play?”

“Maybe there’s a chess board here with some pieces and we’ll see if I’ll still win.”

“What am I thinking right now?”

Gibson looked at him for a second before he guessed. “That I’m here to kill you.”

“That’s very good.” The man put down the rook. “It’s not going to change anything, you know.”

“You’re right. It won’t.” Gibson stood up.

“That’s not who you are, either. Your gift was meant for something better. I hope you’ve used it for that.”

Marita was standing right behind him now. He hadn’t noticed her at all.

The man heaved a resigned sigh. “If you take this out,” he pointed at the tube. “I’ll be gone in under an hour. I might even suffer a little bit. You could also get a pillow from the bed and smother me. I can’t get up out of this chair without help, and I won’t put up much of a fight.”

Gibson didn’t want to be the one with the needle. He would help, but he didn’t want to be the one to do it. Vengeance burned hotter in her than it did him. He wondered sometimes if this was fair. All these people who’d ruined their lives were at the end of theirs. What was the point in hurrying it along?

Gibson knelt down in front of the man and pinned each of his hands on the arm rests.

A hateful darkness spread over the man’s face. “You used to look at me that way. You thought you knew me.”

Gibson smiled faintly. “I’m not going to kill you.” He glanced up at Marita. “But she is.”

The man’s eyes widened for a split second, his head turning to see her right as she stuck the needle in his neck. Her face was the last one he was going to see. She emptied the syringe into his vein. She jerked it out as the man started to stiffen with paralysis. He was going to die slowly and very painfully. The dose was lethal, but diluted enough with saline to reduce its potency. It was a long, drawn out death; longer than it needed to be.

“Don’t forget that,” Marita said, pointing to the rook.

Gibson grabbed it and stuck it in his pocket. She unhooked the heart monitor and switched the cord with another machine. Gibson turned the man’s head back around towards the television. The man could still hear what was going on, but he couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t move or talk. His vision was gone by now.

“Alright,” she said. “Go look around the hall, then countdown from twenty before you run up there.”

They always went and got help, knowing full well nothing would help. It looked like cardiac arrest or a stroke. By the time Gibson got back with a doctor or a nurse, he would be dead and Marita would be faking hysterics.

As he left, she was sitting down in front of him, whispering something in his ear. It sounded something like, “I’ll see you in Hell.”

She gently kissed his cheek and closed his eyes.

But she would never see Hell.


 

Canada

Easterville, Manitoba

1999

5:27pm

The woman who opened the door smelled like vapor-rub. Her robe was partway open showing a spaghetti-strap tank top with no bra. Her chocolate-colored hair was pulled back so tightly from her face, it stretched her skin.

She eyed Gibson holding a wiggling, whining Gregory and leaned on the door. “Is she dead?”

Gibson looked up at her and tried to keep Gregory still. He’d had enough of this kid. Gibson was ready to hand him off and be on his way.

The woman leaned down, looking at him with eyes the color of storm clouds, and repeated her question: “Is she dead?”

“I don’t know,” Gibson admitted.

She didn’t seem to like that answer. She rolled her eyes and held open the door. “Get in here.”

Gibson walked into a wave of heat from a wood-burning stove. The front room of the little cottage was full of boxes and crates. In one corner, a crib was halfway put together. In the other corner, a boy about his age was playing Super Mario. The boy turned to look. He was a bug-eyed kid with prickly thoughts that reminded Gibson of a cactus.

The little cottage was easy to find. It was the only house down a lonely stretch of gravel road. Diana told him a fib. Her cousin’s place wasn’t in Winnipeg. Not exactly. It was a long, cold walk from the bus station, so Gibson had bundled up Gregory as best he could. He contemplated leaving Gregory at the front door, knocking loudly, and running off. But he didn’t know if anyone was home. He didn’t see any cars and it was quiet. He didn’t want Gregory to freeze.

The woman took the baby from his arms and held him up. Gregory was red-faced and looked like he might cry again. Gibson was over it. Just done. Babies were nothing but a pain in the ass. All they did was scream, and shit, and spit up. He’d done his best on the trip, but he worried Gregory might be getting sick.

Gregory burst into a wail and the woman put him over her shoulder and rocked him. “This is definitely her kid.” The woman sat down on a sofa that used to be white but was stained so bad it looked a sticky tan. “Did she send along anything else?”

Gibson looked at her, confused.

“Like a note or whatever?” She rocked Gregory. “Stupid bitch. A baby this young shouldn’t be on a bus full of germy bums.” She surveyed Gibson crossly. “Or with a kid that doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

Gibson wasn’t offended. He didn’t know what he was doing.

“Bridget?” There were a series of creaks on the stairs and an elderly woman blew down them like a gust of hot wind. She wore ski pants and a man’s stretched out sweater. She put her hands on her hips and frowned. “Is this him?” She gestured to the baby.

“This is him,” the other woman - Bridget - replied.

Gibson could hear neither one of them were excited about this kid. And neither one of them wanted to take care of him. Each one was hoping the other would do it.

The elderly woman turned her attention to him. “And who are you?”

“She sent her son with him,” Bridget answered. “A baby with a baby.”

“Is she dead?” The old woman asked gruffly. Her voice sounded like how a man’s voice would sound pretending to be a woman.

Gibson shrugged.

“What’s wrong with your head?” The old woman asked.

He’d taken the bandages off and wore the baseball cap to cover it up. He pulled the hat down over his ears. “Nothing.”

She knelt down a little so she was eye-to-eye with him. There was something familiar about her, around the mouth and eyes. He felt like he’d seen her face on someone else. Someone male. “Are we supposed to feed you, too?”

Gibson shrugged again.

The bug-eyed boy had paused his game and was sitting up on his knees, watching the whole exchange with amusement.

The old woman clicked her tongue and her eyes softened. She stood upright. “Bridget, go boil some water.”

“I think I should feed him first.” Bridget turned to Gibson. “Did she give you any formula? Bottles or whatever?”

Gibson set the bag at her feet and took everything out.

“I suppose she told you I’m her cousin,” Bridget said.

Gibson nodded.

“I guess in some roundabout, twice-removed way I am. This is Aunt Kathleen.” She nodded to the old woman, then nodded at the boy. “And this is Sam.”

Gibson didn’t know if he should wave or say hi so he just looked at them. The boy turned away from him and started Mario back up. The noise of the game and gurgling from Gregory was all the sound there was for a few minutes. Gibson felt like they were all waiting on him to do something.

“And you are?” Aunt Kathleen prodded roughly.

“Gibson,” he answered.

“Well, Gibson,” Aunt Kathleen looked around the room. “I suppose we should give you something for your trouble.” She dug through a pile of stuff on a table stuck cockeyed against a wall.

“You don’t have to give me anything.” Gibson backed up towards the door. “She gave me some money to get home.”

“Home?” Bridget asked. “Weren’t you living with her?”

Gibson backed up some more.

“She lied!” Bridget exclaimed to the old woman. “She wasn’t watching him for a friend!”

“And you’re surprised?”Aunt Kathleen was still digging around, throwing stuff on the floor. “She’s always been a liar. She came out of the womb a lying brat.”

“What did she do, just find you on the street?” Bridget asked him. “God, she’s awful. I hope she’s rotting in Hell.”

Aunt Kathleen found her wallet. “You shouldn’t wish for that. Hell couldn’t handle her.” She unzipped it and pulled out a stack of Canadian dollar bills. “This should be enough. And you can have some dinner and spend the night. In the morning, I’ll drive you to the bus station and you can go wherever you need to go. Just not back to her. You understand?”

Gibson was clutching the doorknob, ready to make his escape, but Aunt Kathleen pulled him away from the door and locked it. “Understand?”

Gibson said he did. He didn’t know if Diana was dead, but after what he saw, he couldn’t see how she’d be alive. The thought of that arm made him ill.

“Sam, go wash your hands and boil some water,” Bridget said to the boy. She shook up a bottle and tried to give it to Gregory.

Gibson had a hell of a time trying to feed him on the way up. A kind woman on the bus tried to help him, but Gregory was difficult. Now he was being good. Gibson was a little miffed. The kid just didn’t like him.

“Sam,” Bridget repeated.

Sam ignored her. Mario was smashing through a wall and jumping on mushrooms.

“Samuel!” Aunt Kathleen roared.

The boy stood up, threw down the controller, and stomped into the kitchen.

“As you can see,” Aunt Kathleen smiled mockingly. “Our house seems to be where all the unwanted children come.”

“I can hear you!” The boy called. The sound of water filling a pan came out of the kitchen and Gibson really wished he could leave.

It wasn’t because he felt threatened. Both women were thinking about how annoyed and inconvenienced they were now with a baby. But the prickly-cactus thoughts from the boy were more worrisome. He wasn’t a good kid. He’d done some bad things, and he’d ended up here.

Aunt Kathleen sat next to Bridget as she fed Gregory. Sam stomped back into the room and resumed his game. Gibson just stood there.

He really wanted to leave.

He looked around for a back door or a window he could climb out of.

“He seems like a good baby,” Bridget noted. She looked over at Gibson, her eyes narrowed. “Where did she send you from?”

Gibson stared at her.

Aunt Kathleen turned to look at him, too. He wasn’t sure what to say. The truth would sound like a lie.

“Were you staying with her or did she just find you on a street corner somewhere?” Aunt Kathleen asked.

Gibson tried to come up with something believable. “She’s in the FBI. I was -”

“Still?” Bridget looked surprised. “I thought they fired her.”

Gibson clammed up, afraid he’d said the wrong thing.

“Listen here, Gibson,” Aunt Kathleen said. “Whatever lies she gave you to tell us, wipe them from your mind. Where did you see her?”

Gibson thought about it and said, “At a chess game.” He stood up a little straighter.

Both women waited for more, but he didn’t have any more.

Aunt Kathleen exhaled heavily and got up. “I see. Diana at a chess game. Just let the world end now, dear Lord. Let it end now. Samuel!” She poked the boy on the shoulder. “Get in here and help me.”

“I’m not done yet,” Sam retorted.

“You’re done when I say you’re done.” She took the controller and cut off the TV. “Come on.”

Sam stomped into the kitchen behind her. Bridget picked up Gregory and went towards the stairs. “I should give him a bath and change his clothes.” She paused and looked at Gibson. “You need a shower or a bath or anything?”

Gibson shook his head.

“Fine,” Bridget continued up the stairs. “Go in the kitchen and sit down.”

Gibson looked at the door. The thought of food made him realize how hungry he was. So, he went into the kitchen and sat down.


Dinner was brown beans and mashed potatoes.

Both were bland and the potatoes were too chunky for Gibson’s liking, but he ate it up. He hadn’t eaten in so long.

“Look at him,” Bridget said, watching. “I bet he hasn’t eaten in days.” She cradled Gregory in one arm, fresh and clean from his bath, and picked at mashed potatoes with the other. Gregory was as happy as he could be now.

“Get him some more soda,” Aunt Kathleen said with her mouth full. “Diana probably found him in a homeless shelter and bribed him. That’s what she does.” She turned to Sam. “Eat it! There’s starving children in Africa!”

Sam picked up a bean and squished it between his fingers, giving Gibson a cold, prickly stare with his buggy eyes.

“Can you watch him when I go pick up Britney and Erin?” Bridget asked.

Aunt Kathleen stabbed at the beans with her fork. “Can’t you take him with you?”

“I don’t have a car seat yet.” Bridget smiled at Gregory. “He’s a cutie. She doesn’t deserve a sweet baby like him.”

Gibson would beg to differ. Gregory wasn’t sweet. Not to him. He’d been peed on and screamed at enough to last him a lifetime. Bridget might not think he’s so cute in a couple days.

“Leave the baby here, then.” Aunt Kathleen’s habit of talking with her mouth full was grossing Gibson out. He started to wonder whose Aunt she was exactly. All she was thinking about right then was eating and getting Sam to eat. “Take him with you.” She nodded to the boy. “You want to see your sisters, Sammie?”

“No.” Sam picked up another bean. Squish.

Gibson stared at Sam, and he stared back. An unwavering and unnerving stare. His sisters were one of the reasons he was here. He’d hurt one of them.

Gibson swallowed and avoided his eyes.

He looked around the kitchen. It was small with light blue wallpaper that was peeling off in the corners. There was a cluster of black and white photographs by one of the cabinets. Gibson squinted to see them better. His glasses were practically useless.

“That’s not nice,” Aunt Kathleen said. “They’ll want to see you.”

“Britney won’t.” Bridget shifted the baby in her arms and took a bite. She lowered her voice. “He’s not supposed to be around her without Erin or a guardian.”

“You’ll be there and so will Erin.” Aunt Kathleen glanced at Sam. “Britney’s just a little thing. She won’t remember it in a few years.”

Sam stared. Another bean. Squish.

“He’s smiling,” Bridget gushed at Gregory. “Look.”

“Not a Fowley smile. Thank God.” Aunt Kathleen shoveled in some potatoes. “Eat your dinner, Samuel.”

Gibson squinted at the biggest photograph. A wedding photo. A young Aunt Kathleen in a wedding dress with a man in a military uniform.

“Why don’t you eat it?” Sam slumped in his chair and picked up a clump of mashed potatoes and pressed them into the table.

“If he’s just going to waste food, tell him to get up,” Bridget muttered.

“You know what it is?” Aunt Kathleen jutted out her fork to Gibson, waving it around as she spoke. “The FBI. I mean, how do you screw that up? That was a lot of work. No one in her family ever made it that far. I bet she didn’t tell you that.” She glanced at Bridget. “I don’t know how your Uncle keeps his head on straight.”

“He’s not my Uncle.” Bridget tickled Gregory on the chin. “Not anymore.”

Gibson saw the names. Aunt Kathleen was Kathleen Spender. Her married name.

He felt strange. Like two wires had crossed in his brain and were giving him a jolt. He looked at Sam. The boy was staring past him in an empty way, still squishing beans.

“They’re family, whether you like it or not.” Aunt Kathleen wiped her mouth with a napkin. “Oh, for Heaven’s sakes!” She took the beans from Sam and pushed him out of the chair. “Just go sit in there play your Barrio game!”

Gibson thought the man in the uniform looked familiar, too. In a passive way. Someone he might have seen in a dream.

Sam went around the table and purposely knocked Gibson in the shoulder with his own. After about a minute, he heard the game cut back on.

Aunt Kathleen stood up and began picking up the plates. “I hope this is the end of her. We’re just not going to do it anymore. Not with her. Not with any of them.” She piled the plates in the sink and bent down to look at Gregory. “We’ll raise you right. At least you’ve got half a chance with us.”

Gregory looked at her, then looked at Bridget. He seemed just fine with that.

Gibson slipped out of the chair and went into the living room. He sat on the sofa and watched Sam play. He stared at the back of the boy’s head and hoped that whatever chances Gregory had would not be interrupted by Sam.

But when Sam stood up, removed Gibson’s hat, and smacked him on the head, his smile malicious, Gibson knew that wasn’t possible.


When Gibson was sure everyone was asleep, he sat up and listened. They put him in Sam’s bed. Bridget left with him earlier and came back without him. He was spending the night some place else and that was an unexpected bonus. Gibson only had to sneak past two people. Three if he counted that baby.

It was unfortunate that the stairs creaked. If he didn’t think he’d fall, he’d slide down the banister. Gibson took the risk and each step at a time, testing out the volume of the creaks, and then he was at the bottom and walking towards the door.

Right before he grabbed the doorknob, he paused and looked towards the kitchen. He crept over and got a closer look at the photographs. The man in uniform looked so familiar because Gibson had seen him. Much older. Much more threatening.

He didn’t know what to think. What that meant about Gregory or for Diana was something he couldn’t wrap his head around. It was probably better if she was dead. For everyone.

Including him.

He grabbed an apple and a banana from the kitchen counter, and ran out the back door.


It was almost seven-thirty when the bus pulled into the Lexington station. Gibson only woke up because the bus had stopped. He’d slept for the majority of the ride.

He waited until everyone was out of the aisles before he got up and got off. In a way, he felt lonely since handing Gregory over. He felt like he didn’t have anything to do and the trip was slower. Still though, it was nice to not have a little red-face thing screaming at him.

He exited the bus station and from patchy memory, crossed the street and found Wilson Boulevard. He’d thought about it earlier and was sure it was Wilson to Plymouth, a left, then Starkey to Eden. He guesstimated it was about two miles.

As he walked he got hungry. Maybe Abbie was making soup. That used to be all she did, but Abbie was bound to be legally emancipated by now. Bazelle might be making soup then. He wasn’t sure what he’d say to any of them yet. Just, “Hey, there. I’m back,” and just walk right on in, find his Game Boy, and pretend none of the past year’s nightmares ever happened.

Sure. Why not?

He’d never expected Bazelle or Wayne to look for him, file a report, worry, or do shit. It’s possible they tried simply because he brought in so much money. He couldn’t imagine them not missing that. If there was a reason, that was the reason.

When he found Eden Road, he saw some familiar houses even though it was dark. He felt nervous and wasn’t sure why. Would they be angry? If so, they’d get over it. He wouldn’t play chess anymore, and they’d get over that, too.

As he got closer to the house, all the way down at the end of a cul-de-sac, he noticed several houses he passed were boarded up and had notices in the windows. It made him walk faster. The notices were on every single one on the right. He started running. He ran down the road and came to a dead stop under a streetlight.

Plywood covered the windows. The bare mound in the front yard bore a young, scraggly tree. He saw the garage door was partly open and inside was the motorcycle with no wheels. He ran towards it and ducked under the door. He went to the door to go inside, tried to open it, but it was locked. He pressed his ear to the door and listened.

Not a sound. Inside or out.

He foolishly knocked on the door and tried to open it again.

He went around to the front and peeked in through a crack in the plywood. Dark as midnight in there. He went to the front door and knocked. He went to the back door and knocked. He went back inside the garage and pounded on the door, panic eating him up on the inside.

He jerked at the knob and pounded until his fists hurt.

He sat down on the motorcycle, his heart a rapid thud in his chest.

Gone.

All gone.

He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know where else to go.

He sat for a long time. It could have been minutes. It could have been hours. He dug around under a shelf for a dirty blue tarp and spread it on the garage floor. He lay down on it and tried to catch his breath.

Gone.

All gone.

And he was alone.

All alone.

 


 

The North American Union

West Region

2031

11:57pm

Gibson stood on one side of the motel room bed, arms crossed, glaring at Marita. She was on the other side, her arms crossed, too, staring just as hatefully back.

“I’m not sleeping on the goddamned floor again,” he growled.

“I can’t sleep on the floor,” she snarled back. “My leg hurts!”

It was a show-down they had every night – which one gets the bed. For a while, they had enough money to get two motel rooms and never had this problem. Now their funds were dwindling and they had to share a room. If they didn’t find a way to get more money soon, they’d have to share the Cadillac.

Gibson thought they might actually kill each other if it came to that.

“Your leg doesn’t hurt that much,” Gibson said. “You walk around fine all day then suddenly, when it’s time for bed, your leg hurts?”

It was just too much sharing small spaces together. They were getting on each other’s nerves, arguing all the time, and over the stupidest things. The fights were mostly about their disappearing cash supply and where to stop at night. After Humble Heart, they’d kept moving, using made up names anywhere that asked for them, tried to learn everything they could about the country they were in, and every night, like clockwork, fought over who slept in the bed.

Once, emphasis on once, they’d tried to share it. Gibson lined pillows between them as a barricade and lay so close to the edge he was nearly falling off. Marita asked him if he was twelve. He retorted that he couldn’t remember being twelve. She ended up smacking him and kicking him in her sleep. He grabbed a blanket and pillow and slept in the bathtub that night.

Another time, the argument got out of hand. They hadn’t realized how loud they were being. Gibson made a great show of pulling everything off the motel bed, leaving Marita with nothing but a flimsy sheet with questionable stains, and went out to the car to sleep. She chased him out the door right into two uniformed officers carrying assault rifles. Someone in the motel had called them to report a domestic disturbance. Both Marita and Gibson stumbled through explanations and apologies, hoping not to be hauled off to prison. Neither one of them knew what kind of punishment came with disturbing the peace in this country.

“This floor is filthy!” She snapped, pointing to it. “Why can’t we just share?”

“You kicked the shit out of me the last time! Your leg didn’t hurt so bad then!”

There were times when he really hated her but not completely. A few times Gibson tried to leave, to get the hell away from her once and for all, but he always came back.

She sat down on one corner of the bed and shook her head, her voice tired. “It’s just a damn bed, Gibson.”

He stood there, arms still crossed, tilting his head at her with a challenge.

She sighed. “We have to find a way to get some money. We can’t keep doing this. I mean, don’t you think this is ridiculous?”

“You’re saying that now? When have you ever had to sleep in a bathtub or in the car?”

She glared at him, her stare so hard and furious, he had to avert his eyes. Her voice was barely a whisper when she spoke. “You’re behaving like a child.”

He uncrossed his arms, feeling more embarrassed than insulted. It was really stupid. The whole thing, the whole stand-off that played out every evening, was just stupid. They could share, but it weirded him out to be in a bed with her. That was too close. He’d never really shared a bed with anyone.

“I just don’t like this,” he said. “I’ve never had to do this before. I’m just not used to it.”

She looked at him for a long while, then away, as if she was thinking about something. She got up and dug the phone they shared out of her bag. “There’s a way we can get some money, a lot of it, and fast.”

She sat back on the bed and motioned for him to sit beside her. She showed him what she had pulled up on the phone. It was a list of casinos in the NAU.

“There are no restrictions on gambling,” she explained. “It’s fully and completely legal everywhere and all forms of it, too.” She tapped on a link. “There’s one owned by the Paiute just a few miles from here.”

“Kilometers,” he corrected.

“Whatever.” She pointed to the images of an enormous room filled with slot machines unlike he’d ever seen, and a whole area the size of a sports arena dedicated to poker. “I guess since they got all their land back, they decided to keep building casinos.”

“Why don’t we just go to Las Vegas?”

“I looked. It’s gone.”

“What do you mean gone?”

“I mean gone. Like a hole in the earth gone. The Hopi and Shoshone got everything back from some treaties in the 19th century, and blew it up.” She shrugged. “But look, there’s poker games going all the time. We can do that. Well…you can do that.”

He looked at her, already hearing the plot forming in her mind. He shook his head. “You’re really just unbelievable.”

“What? It’s perfect for you. You’d win all the time.”

“I can’t do that stuff anymore.”

“I know it might be harder listening to more than one person, but it’s basically the same thing.”

He shook his head again. “I’m not doing it.”

“We need money! This is the fastest way. You don’t really even need to know how to play.”

“I said no! I don’t want some Mob people after me for taking all their money!”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure they’re all dead now,” she looked down at the phone. “Have you read anything about the justice system here? They really believe in the death penalty.”

“For what?”

She looked away from him, her voice soft. “Mostly murder.”

He knew what she was thinking without having to hear it. They really hadn’t thought about it until later. At the time, they were both too caught up in it. Revenge can be nice, but the way they executed people here was quick and cruel. He was sure the worry over that, over ever being found out, just elevated the tension between them.

“Well, with or without the Mob, I’m not playing poker. I won’t be able to do it.”

She stood up. “If you practice, if you do it enough, then maybe it’ll be like it was before.”

“How many times do I have to say no for you to listen?” He stood up, too. “Just drop it!”

“What else are we going to do?”

“I don’t know! Not that! We can figure out something else!”

“Sometimes I think you just like to disagree with me! No matter what I say you want to argue!”

“God, what is wrong with you?” He was getting angrier by the second. “You know I don’t have to be here, right? I can leave anytime I want!”

She grabbed the car keys off the table and threw them at him. “Go, then! I’m not stopping you!”

She’d never done that before and it put him off for a second, but just to show he wasn’t kidding around, he stormed out of the motel room and went out to the Cadillac. He expected her to follow him out, yelling at him the whole time, but she didn’t.

He drove off, speeding down a dark back road. He drove for a while, not knowing how fast he was going, or where he was going, feeling a sense of liberation mixing with his rage. He didn’t know how it was possible to dislike and need someone so much. Because that’s what this was. This was some twisted, co-dependent thing they’d created between them. He didn’t really know how. And why he put up with so much from her…well, he knew why he did that.

She’d saved him. Just him. She’d been gravely injured, knew the way out, but instead of leaving him to die with everyone else, she came back. He knew it wasn’t a completely unselfish act, though. She’d needed him and his ability, and even though it was severely diminished, she didn’t just abandon him somewhere when she was done with him. She could have.

Now, here he was, abandoning her, leaving her behind.

He clenched the steering wheel so tight, his knuckles turned white. He turned the car around and drove back to the motel. When he walked back into the room, she was laying on the bed, scrolling through the phone with the TV on.

“Forget something?” She said scornfully.

He tossed the keys on the table, went into the bathroom, locked the door, stripped off his clothes, and got in the shower. He stood in the shower until the hot water ran out, wishing this wasn’t his life. All the people who’d done this to him were dead now, but he didn’t feel any better. It was an empty feeling that surfaced from time to time; empty, dark, and so cold that the heat from the water still left him shivering.

He dressed and came out of the bathroom. She was standing by the window, her back to him, looking outside.

He lay down on the bed. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

She didn’t turn around. “Do what?”

He thought for a minute or two, then said, “But I do need to learn how to play. I had to learn how to play chess, so I should know how to play poker and all the different variations. There’s cameras in those places. Someone would notice if I wasn’t actually playing the game.”

She still didn’t turn around. “My dad taught me some when I was little. I can show you some things, but I’m sure there’s more on the Internet.”

That was the first time she’d ever alluded to any kind of family. It struck him that he didn’t really know her that well. She never talked about where she came from or what her life was like from before. Except for Alex Krycek.

“I shouldn’t play for a lot,” he said. “Smaller games are best. Maybe build my way up. You said there’s no limits, right?”

She did turn around then, looking at him doubtfully.

He shrugged at her. “We do need money. You were right about that.”

She looked at him laying on the bed and pursed her lips. He stretched out, putting his hands behind his head, silently daring her to say something.

She sullenly grabbed a pillow out from under his arm and tugged at the blanket underneath him.

“No, just…,” he sighed. “Just get in. I’ll sleep on top of the blankets, okay? Just don’t kick me or slap me.”

She slowly sat down, holding the pillow against her. “I’m sorry.”

He moved over so she could lay down. “Me, too.”

After a minute or so, she got into bed, turning out the light. He turned on his side away from her, feeling incredibly uncomfortable, and still not sure why.

He really wished this wasn’t his life, but he had a life. He was alive because of her. And, just like in poker, these were the cards he’d been dealt.

Now, it was time to play them.


 

The United States

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1997

8:25pm

Marita touched up her mascara.

Her hands were shaking so much it made it worse. She got out some tweezers and tried to separate the clumpy parts of her lashes. Then she worried she might accidentally poke herself in the eye so she used her fingernail.

She heard her cell phone ring again and let it go to voice mail.

She put more blush on. She was so pale. She’d been sickly and pale for days now. She’d thrown up twice today. Once yesterday. A few days ago she went to the pharmacy and grabbed everything she could find for a cold or flu. She had vitamin C pills and herbal tea. She had NyQuil, DayQuil, and Alka-Seltzer Plus. She had cough drops and Tylenol. But she wasn’t stuffy. She wasn’t feverish. Mostly she was fatigued and her head ached.

She straightened up in front of the full-length mirror and rubbed at the perfect creases in her tailored business suit. She went through her jewelry box to find some earrings. She put one in and the urge came on so sudden that she dropped the other earring down the toilet as she bent down to vomit again.

“Shit.” She stood up and spat into the sink. “Shit!”

Marita wiped her mouth, the taste making her gag. Yesterday she went through all the food in her fridge, checked for strange smells or puncture marks in cans and cartons, and threw it all out. After that, all the food in her cabinets was tossed. She felt like she couldn’t even trust the oranges and bananas that sat on the counter.

She picked up her cell phone and called the assistant. He was some random loser that took all their messages, didn’t ask questions, and delivered them without peeking. She’d seen the guy and wondered what debts or sick family members he had to be bribed with.

They were going to be pissed. This was very important.

That morning, right when she woke up, feeling worse, she got a medical encyclopedia from her bookshelf. She leafed through it to look for all her symptoms then cross-checked those with different types of poison. It didn’t really help. Anything in small doses could make her just sick enough to mistake it for the flu.

The assistant didn’t answer so she tried his other number.

Last night, she felt fine. Energetic even. She’d rehearsed it all in her head: yes, she had unauthorized contact with Walter Skinner. Yes, he discussed the bees with her. No, she didn’t think he knew anything. All he had was theories, completely unfounded, and for all she knew he had his own agenda.

It was best to explain things in a concise manner. Long-winded tales, punctuated with emotions, didn’t go over well with them. Just black and white, he said-she said, where, what, and when. She wasn’t lying. Not completely.

After making the assistant promise he’d apologize profusely on her behalf, she lay down in her bed, fully clothed. She stared at the ceiling, watching it spin. She should go to the ER at least. She’d have some paperwork to provide as proof. She’d never canceled on them before, never late, never any trouble. She thought she should just show up anyway and spread her germs around, make them all sick, and they can kiss her ass.

If there were any germs to spread. Poison can be in anything. Any drink, any bit of food. She could have breathed it in, touched it, or rubbed up against it. Anywhere at anytime. How would she know? A doctor could tell her. She should go to a hospital. They might catch it in time.

But she didn’t go anywhere. She lay there until her eyelids shut out the spinning, slipping into a deep, dreamless sleep.


It was late when a knock on her door woke her. She squinted her eyes to the streetlights and got up to close the curtains.

Another knock.

She checked herself in the mirror. Her eyeliner was smudged and her hair was tousled around her face. She combed her hair with her fingers and got a tissue to fix the eyeliner.

This time the knock was louder. Urgent.

She went to the door and looked through the peephole. She swore to herself. She unlocked the door but kept the chain on. She gazed suspiciously at the man waiting out in the hall.

“You weren’t at the other place,” Fox Mulder said. “In New York.”

She glared at him. They didn’t even know she had an apartment here. Marita Covarrubias didn’t live in Philadelphia, but Betsy Kauffer did.

She continued to glare. He looked lost for a second.

“I need to ask you something,” he urged.

“How did you find me?” She caught a scent. Was he wearing aftershave? Cologne? She’d never noticed before. It was strong. It was making her dizzy.

“The same way I found you in New York.” He moved towards the door. “Can I come in?”

“Now’s not the best time.” She felt an ache in her head that made her stomach churn.

“It’ll only take a minute.”

Only a minute.” She slammed the door in his face, unlatched the chain, and let him inside. Whatever he was wearing was overpowering. It seemed to be seeping from his pores. She swallowed sour bile as he took a seat on her sofa. She stood across the room.

Mulder looked at her like she might offer him a drink. She wasn’t going to offer him shit. Betsy Kauffer didn’t even have a driver’s license. The kinds of queries he’d run in the FBI databases must have taken him days.

“Tell me what you want. Make it quick.” She sat down in a plush armchair and tried to take deep breaths without him noticing.

He pulled a manila envelope from his coat pocket. He opened it up. He dumped a dead bee on her coffee table.

That did it.

She was up like a bullet, running like hell to the bathroom. She threw up twice. She was still on the floor when Mulder appeared in the doorway.

He knelt down. “Are you okay?”

She grabbed a square of toilet paper and wiped her mouth. “You should go. I think it’s the flu.”

“I got my flu shot.” He helped her up and into the living room. He sat her down on the sofa and went into her kitchen. Cabinets opened and closed. The sound annoyed the shit out of her.

“Top right by the stove,” she snapped at him.

He grabbed a glass, filled it with water at the sink, and brought it to her. She hadn’t realized how thirsty she was until she gulped down the entire glass. She took a breath and avoided looking at the bee. Or smelling anything. Jesus, why did he have so much cologne on?

She rubbed the bridge of her nose. “This isn’t a good time. I’m not feeling well, and I need to be somewhere.”

“I’m sorry,” he replied. “But this couldn’t wait.” He nodded to the dead bee. “I had some friends examine it. It’s not a normal bee.”

Marita didn’t give a flying rat’s ass about bees. She was sick of hearing about bees. First Skinner, now him? They should talk to each other about the bees and leave her the hell out of it. “Not normal in what way?”

“I was hoping you could answer that.”

Of course he was. This was what happened when she avoided him. The phone calls and one email with a date, location, and time she completely ignored. Nonetheless, whatever Mulder suggested to her she would corroborate. She’d been told to do it, and she planned to obey.

When she didn’t respond, he went on, “I think they’re carrying a disease. A virus.”

She nodded, feeling dizzy again. She hadn’t thought to check herself for any bee stings. Or any insect bites. Spider bites can make people sick. Is that what they did? Dumped a pack of black widows into her hotel room?

“An extraterrestrial virus,” he pressed on.

“How would you know that?” She asked him even though she knew the answer. That uptight bitch probably stuck the bee under a microscope. She probably keeps one on her beside table like a sex toy. She probably had her glasses on, her face so serious, her tone so dry, said the bee was an African honey bee, and when she found the mysterious substance in its cells, he couldn’t help himself.

“I don’t,” he replied. “Not for certain. Haven’t you heard anything about this?”

Tell him what he wants to hear. So easy. So easy for her to just take care of it. She can do it all.

She went back into her kitchen for more water. She thought about the long trip she had to make to South Carolina. She thought about how she didn’t like long trips anymore and how she probably had whatever these bees were carrying.

Makes sense. Blame it on a bee. It wouldn’t be too difficult to get her that way. It would mimic the flu and one day she just wouldn’t wake up. Why not? Why not kill her off? It would be easier, and she knew better than anyone they didn’t like to try too hard. Maybe she didn’t do it fast enough. Maybe she didn’t leave Emily somewhere soon enough. Maybe the asshole in the lobby traced her call. Maybe Alex ran his mouth. She’d never know, because whatever illness she had, they’d done it to her. She knew it. She knew it as sure as the sun rises.

It was just going to get worse. No cure. No medical book with any answers. This is how she goes. Quietly slipping away, punished, and discarded. She’d done everything they’d asked. Everything. This is how they repay her. They kill her off. They get rid her. She’s just a piece of low hanging fruit. Just a useless appendage. And this is how she goes.

“Hey,” Mulder called, standing up. Marita looked down at the glass overflowing as she held it under the faucet. He rushed over and turned the faucet off. “Are you alright?”

The concern on his face made something inside her snap. Her legs buckled underneath her, and she collapsed to the floor in a sob. He mopped up the water with a towel and helped her up. She sat back down on the sofa, crying so hard she couldn’t make a sound. He grabbed a box of tissues and pulled out several, pushing them into her hands. “You’re really sick, aren’t you?”

She wiped her eyes and tried to steady her breath. Find that balance.

“You know something,” he said plainly.

“You’re right,” she replied after a minute. “The bees are what you say.”

His face scrunched up with suspicion. “Why didn’t you tell me that before?”

“I thought it would be better if you figured it out on your own.” She shifted her eyes to him. He’d pulled his blue tie loose and had a coffee stain on his shirt. There was a lump in his right pocket. Gun or badge. And he had very expressive eyes. She noticed that the first time she met him. Right now his eyes were telling her he was confused by her behavior, and he was on the verge of distrust.

If she wasn’t so sick, she’d fuck him. Just because she could. Just because Alex thought she had already and just because that uptight bitch would hate her for it. Let’s just see her go shopping after that. Marita thought about taking him into her bedroom. Right now. Or right here. He’d enjoy it. He’d enjoy it so much he’d be back for more. More sex and intrigue. Because that’s what everything is in this world. That’s what everything is, and this shouldn’t be any different. He’d sought her out in private. He should know better. He’d be suspended or terminated for having an inappropriate relationship with an informant. She was suddenly furious at this imaginary breach of integrity; suddenly appalled at the thought he’d give in to temptation so easily.

He sat stiff on the other side of the sofa, expectant and baffled. She wondered if he could tell what she was thinking. It had to have crossed his mind a few times.

He put the dead bee back in the envelope and stood up. “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well.” He made for the door and spun around. “If you’re lying to me, I’ll find out.”

Marita stared after him as he left. She took the blanket off slowly from her shoulders, folded it up nice and neat, then made for the toilet to vomit again.


“Miss Clark?”

Marita stood up in the waiting room. Half the people in there were coughing and the other half looked sick as dogs. Something was going around. It was only mildly reassuring.

Marita followed the nurse back and tried not to think about dead bees or Mulder’s god-awful cologne. After a whole night, it still stuck in her nostrils.

“How are we doing today?” The nurse asked, taking her into an examination room.

“I’ve been better,” Marita replied. “I think I have the flu.”

“Oh my, that’s not good.” The nurse sat down by a clipboard and pen. “How long have you felt ill?”

“A few days now.” Marita looked around the room. There was a picture of sunflowers and puppies above the examination table.

“Mmmhmm,” the nurse noted. “Checked your temperature?”

“It’s actually been normal. 98.6 right on the nose.”

“I see.” She scribbled that down. “Chills?”

“No.”

“Body aches.”

“No. Just headaches.”

“Okay.” The nurse finished her writing and snapped on some gloves. She felt around on Marita’s neck, then grabbed a thermometer from the wall. She put it in Marita’s mouth, under the tongue. “No swollen glands or anything.” She scribbled some more. “You don’t really look feverish either.”

Marita rolled her eyes.

The nurse took the thermometer out and looked at it. “Yep. 98.6” She made a note. “Doctor will be in shortly.”

“Thanks,” Marita muttered.

When the door was closed Marita got down from the table. She hated those things. The crinkly paper and sticky vinyl. She’d been lucky to have only had the flu once in her life when she was fifteen. Back then it also showed up at an inopportune time - an awards ceremony. She got first place in something she couldn’t remember now.

The door opened and a big-boned woman with a pixie haircut came in. “Hi Debbie.”

“Hi,” Marita replied.

She’d been seeing Dr. Agee for about a year. She liked to switch off doctors every couple of years when it looked like they were getting too curious or concerned. Dr. Agee was mostly mellow and methodical. She just wanted the medical facts.

“I hear you’re feeling ill, Debbie.” Dr. Agee sat on a stool. Concern creased her broad forehead. “You think it’s the flu?”

“Something like that. I just feel awful. It won’t go away.”

Dr. Agee shined a light up her nose and in her eyes. “How many days exactly?”

Marita thought about it. “A few. Over a week.”

“Hmmm.” Dr. Agee stood back and assessed her. “And no fever at all?”

“No. Not really.”

“Okay.” Dr. Agee pressed a stethoscope to her chest, then she pressed it on her back. “Have you had a lot of stress lately?”

“I have actually.”

“I see,” Dr. Agee looked at her quizzically. “When was your last period?”

Marita felt a rush of blood to her head and face. Dr. Agee’s words seemed to have an echo. Marita felt disoriented for a moment. She was sitting, but she thought she might fall over.

Dr. Agee squinted over her spectacles. “Have you missed one?”

Marita felt a cold lump of dread growing in the pit of her stomach. She nodded slowly.

“You’ve been having lots of nausea?”

“Yes.”

“Mornings or evenings?”

Acid climbed up her throat. “Mornings.”

Dr. Agee gave her a tiny smile. She picked up her pen and began writing. “I can give you a urine test or blood test so we can know for sure, but all your symptoms sound like pregnancy.”

Marita stared at her. A cold, hard stare she felt in her bones. The doctor went on and on, but Marita stopped listening. She just stopped listening. The room got smaller. It tunneled out like a hallway, long, dark, and treacherous. She couldn’t get that word out of her head. She couldn’t stop hearing its relentless echo in her ears.

It went through her like a stake.

“Debbie?” Dr. Agee pulled a cup wrapped in plastic from a cabinet. “You can go in the restroom down the hall.”

Burning on a stake.

“Debbie?”

Like a heretic on a stake.

“Just go down the hall.” Dr. Agee put the cup her in her hands. “Let’s find out for sure.”

Burning. Melting. Ashes.

Gone.


Marita lay in her bed listening to the traffic outside and a faint siren several blocks away. Someone was in trouble. Or someone was in need. The prescription was still balled up in her fist. She didn’t know if she would bother to get it filled. She didn’t know if she would bother to get out of bed again.

I’ll have the results in about a week. I’ll give you a call.

They didn’t poison her. They didn’t infect her.

Debbie? Are you okay? You know you have a lot of options, don’t you? At this point there are options.

But Marita felt infected. She felt poisoned. She did this to herself. Alex did this to her.

Dr. Agee gave her a pamphlet and a prescription for some anti-nausea medicine. It’s safe for the fetus. And don’t worry. Let’s find out for sure.

She didn’t need a blood or a pee test to know for sure. It might as well be a sign, all lit up, and pointing straight to her uterus. She felt around on her nightstand for her cell phone and called Alex. He didn’t pick up, so she called again. After about five times, his voice stopped the ringing.

“Hello?” He sounded hurried and breathless.

“Where are you?” She asked.

A few deep breaths. “I’m not -,” another breath. “Can I call you back?”

“No. I need to talk to you.” She paused. “I need to see you.” She was surprised at how calm she sounded.

He said something under his breath she didn’t understand. “I can’t right now. What is it?”

“I need to talk to you in person. When can you get here?”

“I can’t -,” a sharp inhale, like he’d been running. “I don’t have time. Can I call you back?”

A surge of anger went through her. “No, you can’t call me back. It’s very important. Get in a car or get on a plane and get here. Right now!”

“I can’t exactly do that right this minute! Jesus! What happened?”

She flung the covers off her and got out of bed. “I need to talk to you. In person.”

“And I said I can’t do that! Which part don’t you understand?”

She was starting to feel sick again. “It’s very important! I don’t care how you do it, just get here!”

“And if it’s that important tell me right now!” There was a sound, a scuffle. “Shit! Shit! I’ve gotta go!” He hung up.

She stared at her phone, contemplated calling him back, contemplated throwing it against the wall. This was always how it would be with him. When she didn’t want him around, he was there. When she needed him, he didn’t want to be. This is always how it would be. She let her phone slip to the floor and put her face in her hands. This is always how it would be.

She lay back down, half expecting him to call again, but knowing he wouldn’t. He was probably in the middle of following someone, in the middle of a betrayal or an escape. He must be getting rid of another problem. She wondered if that problem would change the world.

She would have to deal with this on her own. The thought of that wasn’t too bad. She felt a little lighter as she pondered it. On her own. Whatever she did, the decision was hers alone. Some control, some agency. She played with the edge of a pillow case. No one knew. It was her secret. Completely secret as the pregnant woman in question wasn’t Marita Covarrubias. She was Deborah Ann Clark, age 33, single, born on April 25th.

She quickly sat up as an idea began to unfold. She went to her safe and unlocked it, pulling out all the documents and IDs. She shuffled through them, reading the names and signatures she’d perfected after countless hours.

Deborah Clark. Lisa Lampado. Betsy Kauffer. Helen Saliba.

She’d need a new one. She’d need another name, another identity. Completely new. A fresh start. Her heart pounded and her hands shook with excitement. This wasn’t a disaster. This was freedom. Tears spilled out of her eyes and down her cheeks, splashing on Helen Saliba’s passport.

It all rolled out before her like a carpet. It all took shape, completely formed. Ready and waiting. She felt like a convict stumbling out of a dark cell, blinking in the brightness of the sun, seeing it for the first time in decades.

She was free. This child was setting her free. No more of this. No more Alex. No more Mulder. No more of them. She was free.

She was free. And Marita she would be no more.

Chapter Text

The North American Union

West Region

2031

8:57am

Gibson didn’t win his first poker game.

He didn’t even make it through the first hand.

When he opened his eyes the morning after, the sun was painfully bright, so he shut his eyes again. As he moved under the covers, he felt like there were weights in his arms and legs. His muscles ached. There was a throbbing at his temples that made him sick.

He covered his head with a pillow and groaned.

“Feeling better, Sleeping Beauty?” Marita’s voice snapped across the motel room at him.

He squinted at her sitting in a chair, her arms and legs crossed while her face sulked at him. “What the hell happened?”

“You don’t remember?”

“No. I don’t know.” He noticed he wasn’t wearing a shirt. He pulled the blankets over himself. He was mortified. “Where’s my clothes?!”

Marita stood with her hands on her hips. “Oh, I’m so sorry! Would you rather me have let you sleep in your own vomit?”

“What?”

“I’ll do that next time!” She grabbed a pillow from the floor and threw it at him. “I told you not to drink so much! Why don’t you ever listen to me?”

“What?” He tried to sit up, but the pounding in his head made him regret it.

She handed him a bottle of water and two white pills. “Take that and lay back down.”

“Don’t talk so loud,” he groaned at her, covering himself up to hide from the sunlight.

“You passed out as soon as you sat down.” She sat on the edge of the bed. He loosely noted that passing out drunk was one way to get the bed all to himself.

“How much did you drink after I went upstairs?” She questioned. “Do you remember?”

Gibson swallowed the pills with the water, his fingers brushing against his nose. He saw dried blood. “Shit, is my nose bleeding? Did you hit me?”

“You fell! Right on your face when we got to the parking lot! You don’t remember that?”

“No.” He honestly couldn’t. Shit…how much did he drink? It freaked him out that he couldn’t remember. He searched his mind frantically for the last thing he did.

“You can’t drink like that,” she said, her voice softer. “I told you to calm down, I told you eat something first.”

He tried to think. They just went up the street to the Paiute casino. But what happened after that?

He remembered earlier they’d used what was left of their money on new clothes. Marita told him he couldn’t go to a poker game looking like a hoodlum.

“How do I look like a hoodlum?” He gestured to his T-shirt and blue jeans. Neither one fit very well. He’d over-worn both to the point where there was a hole in the knee of the jeans and another hole forming in the shoulder seam of the shirt. He thought he looked a little rough but not like a hoodlum.

She looked at him like he was an idiot.

“You’re basically wearing the same thing!” He gestured to her stained top and dark denim. “What does it matter?”

“We can’t walk in there looking like this,” she replied. “We have to look like we know what we’re doing. Like professionals. A gentleman and a lady.”

“It’s a casino, for Christ’s sake! Who goes in there like that?”

“We do!”

“Fine,” he relented. “But I’m not wearing like a suit or whatever. I had to wear that shit every time I played chess. I don’t like it.”

So, she bought him a suit.

He told her she could go to Hell and take the suit with her.

She shouted that she would love to, and maybe he’ll decide to join her once he walks in the casino looking trashy and realizes only trashy people will want to play poker with him.

He yelled back that he didn’t care how he looked and to enjoy her time dressing up demons in ugly suits in Hell.

He was pretty sure they yelled more awful things at each other but that was all he could remember. He did drive off for twenty minutes and came back.

For herself, she bought a semi-fancy dress, and later, when she’d showered and changed, put on some jewelry, and sat down to put makeup on her scars, he found couldn’t stop looking at her.

Gibson realized this was probably how she’d looked before. Or pretty close. He’d wondered from time to time not only what she’d loved about Alex Krycek, but also what he’d loved about her. If sadistic psychopaths could love anyone. Most of the time, around anyone they encountered, she was like a quiet little snake. Cool, soft-spoken, and with a pinch of seductive charm. When it was just Gibson, she was acerbic, impatient, manipulative, and could cut throats with her words. It was a million times worse since they’d left the Amish.

Alex had to have seen that side of her. Had that turned him on or something? Did he like a little bit of bite to his women? Never knowing where he stood with her, her ability to enrage and pacify in maddening succession, her capacity to connive and scheme. It must have kept him on his toes, kept him going, kept him coming back to ravish her against walls and car hoods. It must have been their foreplay.

But Gibson could see why Alex may have loved her now. She really was a beautiful woman. Absolutely stunning when she made herself up. It was a terrible shame she’d been mutilated so badly. She didn’t think about it much, but when she did those thoughts sounded like how the color gray would sound. Flat, cold, bloodless gray. She still had to wear false eyelashes and tried to keep her arms and legs covered whenever they were out in public. He could tell it bothered her and how ashamed she was by her appearance. Her life had been spared but not her pride. That was by far the deepest wound of all.

The dress she’d bought was long and a deep red, almost a blood red. It was sleeveless, but she had a nice cardigan to wear with it to cover up her arms. She was really trying, he noticed. She was really trying to look like she once did.

She scowled at him staring at her in the tiny mirror she used. “What?”

He shrugged. “You look…nice.”

She turned to look at him, a hopeful smile on her face. “Really?”

“Yeah. Really.”

She turned back to the mirror to finish. “You don’t.”

“Right, well, just wait. You’re way over dressed. I’ll blend in better when we walk in. Less attention.”

“I’m not walking in with you.” She stood up to put on her cardigan. “It won’t look right: me like this and you like that. I’ll go in first and look around. You come in a few minutes later. Alone.”

He frowned at her.

“You insisted on looking like this, then go right on ahead. But I’m not going to be seen with you. It won’t look right.”

He couldn’t believe his feelings actually felt hurt.

She checked herself one last time in the mirror then went to the door. “Let’s go.”

Gibson sat there, still frowning.

“Come on. The first game is in an hour. You need to sign up.”

He stood up. “Wait a minute.” He grabbed the suit off the bed.

“We don’t have time!”

“I said give me a minute!”

He went into the bathroom to change out of his hoodlum clothes into the suit. When he surveyed himself in the mirror, the reflection wasn’t what he was expecting. He never expected it, really. Wasn’t there a movie about a guy who went to sleep one night a kid then woke up the next day a grown man? Gibson figured this must be how he felt. It was a shock, a jolt, a feeling he couldn’t get used to. He couldn’t remember this happening. A man looked back at him in the mirror, a man he still didn’t recognize or fully understand.

Marita had her pride taken away, but he had the most precious years of his life stolen from him. He supposed, as he adjusted the blazer and smoothed down the collar of the brand new shirt, that what he saw looking back at him wasn’t that bad. Even in the dull, greenish bathroom light he did look better with the suit on. Less juvenile and unkempt.

He draped the tie around his neck and came out. Marita’s eyes lit up when she saw him.

“Shut up,” he mumbled before she could open her mouth.

“I was just going to say – “

“I said shut up!” He stood in front of her and pointed to the tie. “I don’t, um….I don’t know how to tie it.” He tried to avoid her eyes, beaming at him with triumph and some other expression he didn’t want to see.

She tied it for him, and he tried to watch what she was doing so he wouldn’t have to ask her again. He didn’t like how her face was so close to his. He was starting to sweat.

She smiled at him as she opened the door. “You feel better don’t you?”

“Not really.”

When they got to the car, he automatically went to the driver’s side.

“I’m driving.” She pushed past him and handed him their phone. “You need a quick review before we get there.”

“I think I got it,” he replied, getting in the passenger seat.

“You’ve got a flush, what hands beat it?”

“Um…a full house, royal flush…” He was starting to get anxious as he spoke. He knew this yesterday. He knew it the day before. He was practically crammed full with everything he’d never wanted to know about poker.

“There’s two more.” She started the engine.

“Full house.”

“You already said that.” She pulled the visor down to check her lipstick.

Suddenly, the tie felt too tight around his neck. He tugged at it as he tried to think. “A…straight?” He cringed right after he said it.

“Jesus Christ,” she hissed through her teeth. She cut the engine and looked over at him.

“I’ll know it when I get there.” He was trying for confident but not quite making it.

“If you’re not ready, we can just go again tomorrow.” She rubbed her head irritably. “I guess we could take these clothes back and get a refund so we can eat tomorrow and pay the rest of the week, but if you’re just going to clam up and forget everything, there’s no point.”

That’s what made him so nervous. They were both depending on him. Their well-being was at stake. He supposed all they needed for the rest of the week was a couple hundred. He should be able to bluff his way into that, and he could fold once he had it. But he really wanted to win. Win all the hands. He’d never lost before.

That wasn’t his only fear, however.

He was afraid his ability was never going to be like it was. It gave him hope that he could hear Marita’s thoughts at times, and that he’d heard Grace’s, too. He thought that was only because he’d been around them for so long. But he’d heard William’s. William was a stranger to him. But why William’s and not Phillip’s? Why Grace’s but not Mercy’s? It used to be everyone. Easily. Constantly.

And if his ability never returned to that, then what was he? Who was he? It had caused him nothing but trouble as a child, and back then it felt more like a burden, a curse, than anything else. But now, without it, he didn’t know who or what he was. It was as if a part of him was still frozen, trapped, and suffocating. If there had been any way at all to reverse what they’d done to him, the only people who knew were six feet under or spending eternity in urns.

“I’m alright,” he lied to her. “I’m okay. I’m ready.”

She looked over at him, considering his words, and started the engine again.

Away they went. Like Bonnie and Clyde.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The place was hard to miss. It looked like a pile of steel, neon, asphalt, and concrete had popped up out of the desert into a flashy resort. He was going to say something snarky to her when a few men walked by them in the parking lot towards the train station. They were all dressed like he was earlier, but he held his tongue as they went inside.

The structure was multi-level, and the ground floor was disorienting at first; bright signs, crowds, and a cloudy substance obscuring his view. It only took him a second to recognize the smell of marijuana. People walked by exhaling smoke from fancy-looking pipes that lit up in an array colors each time they took a drag.

A tall, middle-aged Paiute man walked by them, a young white woman on each arm. One woman’s pipe – long, slender, and pure gold – nearly hit Gibson in the face as she held it out from her in between two fingers. To his left he saw an entire section covered with multi-colored smoke. People sat within it, surrounded by impressively large bongs, eating from a buffet, and laughing; their eyes were red and squinty. The bongs were even labeled: Hydroponic. White Widow. Shaman Grade. Amish Blend.

To his right a large group of elderly women talked amongst each other excitedly in Spanish. There were tattoos up and down their arms, faded and sagging from time. The NAU and West Region flags seemed to be hanging in every corner and behind every room like this place was a national monument.

Everyone was dressed up. Some looked like they were going to a board meeting and some to a dinner party. He didn’t look over at Marita. He knew what her expression was.

He stopped walking when he saw that everyone in there was also armed. Everyone, every single person, had a damn gun. Open-carry was illegal in the West, but not inside the casino. He couldn’t think of a worse place someone could have a gun.

While he’d stopped to stare, Marita had found a directory glowing from a screen above a small cocktail lounge. He was going to follow her but he momentarily got distracted by women and men dressed as mermaids in cylinder tanks, swimming up into the ceiling and down under the floor. They had an apparatus attached to their noses so they could breathe. The women swirled in the water, their hair flowy and their seashell bras glimmering. The men’s muscles rippled in their backs as they swam, pressing their palms to the glass to smile at people watching them.

Gibson felt like he had a dream like this once.

“Okay.” Marita came over to him. “You’ve got about forty-five minutes before you need to be in there.” She pulled out the phone. “I signed you up for Texas Hold’em.”

It felt kind of odd to be playing that when Texas no longer existed.

“It says poker players drink for free on Wednesdays,” she added, scrolling through the phone until she noticed his unease. “What’s wrong?”

“This is weird.”

“What is?”

“This.” He gestured around them and lowered his voice. “Everybody’s high. And there’s mermaids. And there’s guns. Why does everybody have a gun?”

“Because they can, I guess.” She looked around, too, not nearly as uncomfortable as he was. “That reminds me: we need to get guns.”

“I don’t want a gun.” He watched a couple of Ute women, in a mix of traditional and modern dress, parade by him, each one with an assault rifle strapped on their backs. The barrels were pink. The strap had words woven into it that he couldn’t read.

“We have to have them,” Marita said, watching the Ute women go by. “If everyone has one now, then we should, too.”

“Today’s Wednesday, right?” He scanned the enormous room for an empty bar stool. He spotted one and went right for it.

She followed along behind him. “Don’t drink too much. You haven’t eaten much today.”

He sat down and tried to loosen his tie a little. Why had she tied it so tight? His hands were starting to shake. Were people going to be watching him play? What beats a flush again?

The bartender, an AI, sort of hovered itself over to them. From a distance, the AIs in this place looked just like people, but the mechanical movements of their facial features and extremities were a little disturbing. Gibson tried not to look directly into its face.

“What can I get for you?” It pushed two napkins by them.

Marita held up the phone. “He’s a poker player, and I’m his guest.”

The AI scanned the screen of the phone with its eyes. “Drinks are free for players and one guest until 11pm.” Its voice was ambiguously male. “Please order whatever you like.”

Marita got a glass of wine. Gibson wanted a shot of tequila.

As soon as it was in front of him, he downed it in one gulp. It stung his throat and he coughed.

“Haven’t you had tequila before?” Marita asked, pouring him some water from a pitcher.

“I thought I did,” he replied, gagging a little.

He ordered another one and drank it immediately.

Marita glared at him. “Slow down.”

A young white woman came to stand on the other side of him, leaning her back against the bar. She wore a plain black dress, but it was so tight he could see her nipples poking through. He was surprised to feel a rush of blood to his crotch.

“Hi there.” She smiled at him with sparkling white teeth and glossy pink lips. “Are you having a nice time?”

He froze. He didn’t know what to say so he nodded and tried to avoid looking at her breasts.

She leaned seductively towards him. Her eyes were the color of fresh cut grass. “I’m Crystal Waters. What’s your name?”

Name? What name? Did he have a name?

“If you’d like me to show you around this evening, it’s 700 for the first hour and 850 for each hour after.” She traced a long black nail along the collar of his shirt.

Gibson looked at her, completely dumbfounded and apparently now mute. He looked around and saw other young women conversing flirtatiously with patrons, male and female. He realized they were all prostitutes, but he hadn’t noticed them when they’d walked in.

These prostitutes weren’t dressed like ones he’d seen in the past. The women were dressed like they were headed for work at the office, albeit they didn’t seem to be wearing any underwear under their clothes. He saw men, too, also looking very business-like as they approached patrons at slot-machines and at the myriad of bars. He watched a plump Mayan woman link her arm in a black man’s who had a sultry, chiseled face and walk past them. She turned and waved to her giggling friends as they went towards the elevators. The man eyed Marita as he went by and gave her a wink.

Marita stared after him, open mouthed, nearly falling off the bar stool.

“Um,” Gibson said, trying not to look directly at Crystal Waters’ cinnamon-colored hair and silky smooth legs. “I’m not, um…I’m just here to…”

Crystal Waters shifted her hips and leaned in closer, the scent of her perfume wafting around him. “Or you can have me for the whole night. Only 1,000.”

He wasn’t used to attractive women looking at him and talking to him. Even if they were just doing their job. He swallowed. “I don’t think, um,” he shook his head. “I don’t…,” he kept shaking his head, not able to finish his sentence.

Crystal Waters gave him a shrug and a smile and wandered off.

Gibson took another shot of tequila, hoping that one would stop his hands from shaking.

“Maybe you should go upstairs with her,” Marita whispered to him.

“What?” He looked at her with disgust. “Hell no!”

She turned in her seat. “It might calm you down. You’re a nervous wreck.” She snapped her fingers at the girl. “Hey!”

“Stop!” He tried to turn her back around. “I don’t want a hooker! We don’t have any money anyway!”

“We will when you win later.” She got up to go after Crystal Waters.

He went after her and grabbed her by the arm. “I don’t want to do that! Don’t embarrass me!”

She looked at him hatefully. “Would you like her better if she took all that makeup off and put on a dress down to her ankles? Maybe a bonnet with the strings undone?”

She might as well have punched him in the stomach. “I have a better idea,” he said smoothly. “How about I get one for you? I’m sure there’s a sociopath around here somewhere. One that kidnaps kids and stands by and does nothing while their heads are cut open!”

He turned abruptly and went back to his seat and had a fourth shot of tequila. He was getting used to the burn now.

Marita came back over, downed the rest of her wine, and turned to him, her eyes flashing with hurt and rage. “I’m going upstairs!”

“Good! Get out of here!”

“I’m going!”

“Leave! Go!” He waved her off.

He sat there for a minute, then wished he’d gotten the phone from her. He didn’t know what time it was. How much time did he have? At least the tequila was taking some of the edge off.

“That your wife?”

He turned to see where the voice came from. He saw a woman that looked like a droopy daffodil sitting next to him. Her brittle yellow hair was unbrushed, and she was squeezed into a dark green pantsuit a couple sizes too small.

“No,” Gibson replied. “Just a friend.”

The woman swayed in her seat. Her speech slightly slurred, and her eyes were bloodshot. She pointed to his shot glass. “You’re drinking that all wrong.”

“Am I?”

“Hey, bitch!” She squawked at the bartender. “Salt and limes!”

That was where things started to get fuzzy. He could remember it up until that point: the droopy daffodil lady doing tequila shots with him. He could only remember about four or five. She taught him to lick salt off his hand and suck on a lime. There were bits and pieces of him laughing at something she’d said. Didn’t she try to kiss him at one point?

Oh, God.

Then what?

There was a blur of Marita shaking him, telling him to wake up, and then she turned to apologize to someone.

He didn’t remember going to the game at all. Or throwing up. Or falling down. What else couldn’t he remember?

He pulled the blankets down from his face a bit. “I remember doing tequila shots with a lady at the bar but not much after that.”

Marita shook her head at him with dismay.

“I didn’t have sex with her, did I?”

“What? Who?”

“The…daffodil lady.”

“Who?”

“That lady at the bar.” He put a pillow over his head, muffling his voice. “God…I don’t remember.”

“You didn’t have sex with anybody! I tried to buy you that girl and you wouldn’t do it! Remember that?”

He did, but he didn’t want to think about it. His head hurt too much.

“When we go back tonight, go upstairs with one of those girls. You’ll feel better and don’t drink anything!” She punctuated the last three words by jabbing him in the side with her foot.

“I’m not going back tonight.”

“We have nothing left! I couldn’t take your suit back because you threw up all over it. I got some money from my dress, though. We’ll use that and get you girl. First thing.”

“I’m not doing that!” He yanked the pillow off his head and looked at her suspiciously. “Where did you go last night?”

She stiffened. “I told you. Upstairs.”

“Yeah, but upstairs for what?”

“Just to look around.” She pretended to busy herself cleaning up her clothes strewn all over the floor.

He watched her for a moment or two. He could hear it a little bit. Just a little. She was trying to hide it. “With that guy?”

She said nothing.

“Did you pay a guy to sleep with you?”

“Pay him with what? We don’t have any money!”

He looked over at the table and back at her. “Where’s your necklace? And earrings?”

“In my bag,” she grumbled.

He watched her for a while, sat up, and prayed the painkillers would kick in soon. He supposed he had no cause to judge her if she had, in fact, paid a guy to have sex with her. He’d never really thought of her with those kinds of needs or feelings, but she had them. Why wouldn’t she? And maybe he thought it would be hypocritical. Had she not been there and he had 1,000 for Crystal Waters, wouldn’t he have done the same? He tried not to think about that woman’s nipples poking through her dress. Or the musky, spicy scent of her perfume.

Or her lips.

Her Hair.

Her Legs.

God. Dammit.

“I don’t know if going upstairs with a hooker is going to help anything,” he said quietly.

“Why not?” She was sitting down at the table now, scrolling through the phone.

He sighed heavily, feeling the weight of his fears fall upon him. “What if I can’t do it anymore?”

She flicked her eyes over at him. “There’s pills that can help. Besides, she’s a sex worker, I’m sure she’ll come up with something.”

“No, not that!” He scowled at her. “I was talking about hearing people think.”

She put the phone down. “You can hear me, right?”

“Not all the time. I think that’s just because I’m used to you and I know you.” He looked around for a shirt to put on. It felt weird walking around without one around her. He sat next to her at the table. “What did they do to me?”

He’d asked her this before, but he either changed his mind or she wouldn’t tell him. She insisted it was best to never discuss it and leave it in the past where it belonged. She’d told him she didn’t really know, but he said that wasn’t what she was thinking. She absolutely knew. She was the only person alive that did.

He looked into her scarred up face, minus any makeup from last night. She looked back into his. Why did they have to do that to her? Had she really deserved so much brutality? With her, it seemed their goal was mostly torture and punishment, with him there’d been a purpose.

“You already know most of it,” she said softly, reaching out for his hand. “I don’t want to upset you. I don’t want you to be thinking about that tonight.”

“Just tell me.”

She chewed on her bottom lip.

“I know I’m hybrid. I know that part. But what’s the rest of it? What kind of hybrid?”

“I don’t want you to hate me,” she said, tears coming into her eyes.

“I don’t. I won’t. I promise.”

She looked around the room, then back at him. “They were in the middle of Phase II when we got out. Phase I was the ship. You won’t remember it, but I was there. I saw them put you in there.” She looked away from him. “I really tried to get you out. I really did. They weren’t going to listen to me.”

He’d suspected that, so he wasn’t surprised. He waited for her to go on.

“And Alex was just doing what he was told.” Her chin was starting to tremble. “I know you don’t believe that, but he was. And to keep you from figuring out what they were doing, they had to…change you. It was like…they had to turn ‘off’ the genes that gave you your ability.”

“By doing what?” He asked slowly.

“Giving you different ones.”

“Alien ones?”

She nodded.

“I was already like that. What difference would that make?”

“There’s not just one kind. There are several.”

“What do you mean?”

She looked around the room again. “There wasn’t just one type of human. There were subspecies – homo erectus, homo floresiensis, homo neanderthalensis, homo sapiens, and so forth. They all had the same origin millions of years ago, but branched out into different subspecies. That’s what hybrids are: different subspecies of the same thing. But they don’t take millions of years to evolve. It happens in one generation.”

“How many are there?”

“I don’t know.” She paused. “The only reason why they haven’t wiped out humans is because they need humans. They need human DNA to survive here. It’s something in the mitochondria. But, unlike early humans, they already know only one species is going to be the lone survivor. That’s what they were doing with you and a few others – trying to make a hybrid to out-populate all the other ones.”

“So, which one am I?”

She paused, thinking. “I really don’t know. Maybe you’re just half of one. I wasn’t there for that. They didn’t leave me in the ship as long as they left you. Maybe a year or two. That whole thing, moving us to Jamaica, wasn’t planned. It was because this was happening.” She gestured all around them. “Then it spread and they had to abandon the project. That’s why they left us there.”

He’d figured that out a long time ago. They’d been left there to die. Just evidence to cover up and forget about.

“There’s a side effect from it,” she continued. “It can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.”

“What?” He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.

“Memory loss. That’s why you don’t remember much of it. Even when you got away. You were unaware when they took you out. You didn’t know you’d grown up.”

He sat very still and let all of that sink in. Marita stood up and went to the other side of the room and began making the bed. “Alex and I were going to take you somewhere safe, but he was killed before we could. We didn’t tell anybody about it.”

He didn’t believe that at all. Not at all. If Gibson ever saw Walter Skinner again, he would thank him for offing that psychopath. He refused to accept there’d ever been any compassion in Alex Krycek. He began to wonder what happened to Skinner. He didn’t dare mention that name to Marita. If she ever saw Skinner again, she would be merciless.

“So,” Gibson began. “If the genes are turned ‘off’, how do they get turned back on?”

She sat down beside him again. “I don’t think it works like that. Maybe it will come back another way.”

He gave that some thought. “It would have by now, though. If it was going to at all.”

“It did. You can hear me.”

“It’s not the same.” He stood up and gulped down a whole bottle of water, his head starting to clear up. “It was like this endless stream before. Like radio stations playing all the time, but I was the only one that could hear them.”

“All you can do is try.” She went over to him and brushed imaginary lint off his shoulders. She put a hand up to his face. He almost dropped the water bottle. “Just try tonight. Tomorrow night. And keep doing it. It may all come back, and you’ll be like you were before. Only better.”

He wished she wouldn’t stand this close to him. But he didn’t want to move either.

He shook his head at her. “Why did you love him so much?”

She shifted her eyes away from his for a second. “It’s complicated.”

“But it’s not. It’s really not.”

Alex Krycek was still here. Right here. Right in between them. He didn’t understand why she hung on to that man, but he knew there was a dark secret in there. She hid it from him, locked it up someplace in her mind. And in that dark place was Emily. A little girl taken away and left behind.

He wanted to tell her right then. He understood how she felt. He’d taken a child somewhere and left it, too. He looked into her glowing eyes. Like her, he didn’t have a choice. They’d both been used. They’d both been helpless.

It was too close. The way she was standing in front of him, and what he wanted to tell her. If she wanted to keep hiding things from him, then he’ll do the same. The door closed, and he turned away from her.

She went back over to the table and picked up the phone. “Texas Hold’em or Five Card Stud?”

“I don’t care. Just pick one.”

He left the room to shower, and spent the rest of the day trying to get over his hangover. And also manage feelings and desires he didn’t quite understand. He wished he’d stayed on the farm. Maybe he couldn’t have married Grace or any other Amish girl, but there was nothing complex or intimidating about milking a cow or harvesting squash. Simple and tranquil. Honest and wholesome. Clean sheets and a hope-filled sunrise.

Why leave a place where you are happy?

He looked over at Marita getting ready again. She was trying to arrange an outfit with the clothes she had left. Only one of them would have been happy if they’d stayed, and only one of them happy if they’d left. He started to think that this was always how it was going to be. Because he didn’t think he could be without her, and she couldn’t be without him.

The sun set, evening came, and he put the suit back on, washed earlier in the bathtub and hung on the shower rod to dry.

She opened the door and turned to him, with her face made up and her arms and legs covered to hide her past, to hide her pain. “Ready?”

He paused before he walked out, taking one of her hands in his. “I should say it more.”

Her face was a mask of confusion. “What?”

“Thank you. For saving me.” He paused. “For caring about me.”

He didn’t wait for her to respond. He went outside and got in the car to prepare himself. He had to win. He had to get it back. He also prepared himself for Crystal Waters. He had an idea. She might be able to help him with something. Well….lots of somethings, but there was only one thing he wanted to do.

Okay, more than one.

His heart pounded.

He had to get a hold of himself. Deep breaths, he thought. Deep breaths and play to win.

Win.


 

The United States

Richmond, Virginia

1997

3:11am

That went well, Marita thought to herself. Walter Skinner wasn’t at all what she’d thought. Balding, stern, and gruff, he was surprisingly helpful. Withholding and rude at first, but she got what she needed. She always did.

She’d left Payson hours ago and was on her way back to Philly. She’d taken some of the anti-nausea pills prescribed by Dr. Agee. Nonetheless, the sight of all those kids sick with smallpox had tested her gag reflex to its limit.

She was close to telling Skinner about Mulder’s visit. The two men were going around in circles and coming to her with information. She liked that. It made this so much easier. For them, however, they were making it harder than it had to be. People can talk all they want, but action was what was needed.

This would be the last all-night drive she would ever take. She needed to take care of herself now. More than ever did it need to be now.

She glanced over at her cell phone in the passenger seat. Since passing into Virginia, it had rang about four times. She knew who it was, and she wasn’t going to answer. She wasn’t going to answer any calls from him ever again.

Is it wrong, Marita wondered, to not tell a man he’s going to be a father? What if that man was completely wrong for the role? That should make a difference. She watched her rear view mirror out of habit and saw no one behind her. He wouldn’t have followed her. She wouldn’t be surprised if he was waiting at her apartment right now.

The thought of him standing there, all pissed off because she was ignoring him, whining about how she didn’t answer her phone filled her with dread and irritation. She didn’t have the space in her brain to deal with him.

She looked for the next exit and took it, driving into a quiet gas station, glowing brightly in the dark morning hours. She went to a pay phone and dialed Dulles International. She went through a menu to find the next flight to New York. She pulled out her wallet and shuffled through credit cards for Lisa Lampado, Deborah Clark, and Betsy Kauffer. She chose her own credit card and paid for a ticket for the 4:37am flight to New York. She had just enough time to get there.

After a bathroom break, she drove the rest of the way into DC. She was tired, but she’d sleep on the plane. And when she got there, she’d rest some more, then go to her office in the UN building. She was going to need all new identification under a new name. She had the name already picked out.

Like a middle finger jabbing him in the neck.


 

“Krycek. K-R-Y-C-E-K,” Marita said softly into the phone.

There was a shuffling sound before her friend, Tara, spoke. “C-E-K, you said?”

“That’s right.” Marita looked around the office. It was quiet today as it usually was on a Friday afternoon. She looked down her gleaming office window at 1st Avenue. “When can you get it to me?”

“Hold on a sec.” Tara was typing. “What’s the first name?”

“Kelly.”

“Kelly Krycek. Catchy.”

“It is.”

Tara typed some more. “So, you need a new passport, credit card, and driver’s license?”

“All of it.” Marita paused. “And a work visa.”

“To where?”

“Canada.” She caught sight of a woman walking with two children. One on her hip and tugging the other one along with her hand.

“Hmm,” Tara said. “I thought it might be somewhere more glamorous for you.”

Marita didn’t need glamor, she needed safety. She followed the woman with her eyes as she turned the corner and disappeared. Boy or girl, Marita didn’t care what she had. As long as it was healthy and happy that’s all that mattered. It’s all any expectant mother would want. She thought about carrying Emily in her arms and felt a familiar tug somewhere inside her. Emily was a pretty name, a sweet name, but she didn’t think she could handle saying that name every day for the rest of her life.

“This might take me a while,” Tara said. “And I’ll have to have the payment up front this time. I’m sorry. It’s not you, but you wouldn’t believe how many people stiff me.”

“I understand.” Marita turned to the book of baby names she’d been thumbing through. She’d bought it at the Borders three blocks away. Some of the names were just dumb. Trixie? Jammie? Adolf? Goldie? Her child would have a good name. A name to last them through a lifetime. They’d have to learn to write it and introduce it to new people. Think it and speak it. And one day, long after Marita was gone, her child’s name would be on their gravestone. The thought of them resting in peace underneath Trixie Krycek was abhorrent.

“Amazingly enough,” Tara said. “There’s not another woman on this earth named Kelly Krycek.”

Marita was already sure of that. “How long will it take?”

Tara took a long exhale. “Well, all these agencies are getting smart now and patching up their software. New York state is especially vigilant these days. New Hampshire might be easy. Live Fee or Die. They don’t monitor shit.”

“New Hampshire is okay. Are you thinking a month?” She absently rubbed at her stomach and imagined if the little fetus could feel it.

“I’m thinking…six to eight weeks.”

“Oh,” Marita frowned.

“Yeah. An extra thousand might speed it up a little. I know a guy in the Social Security office.”

“How much faster?”

Tara was quiet for a minute as she thought about it. “Two weeks? Maybe three?”

“So half the time?”

“Yeah, around there.” Tara started typing again. “And I hate to ask this, but could you do cash? My guy with Social Security won’t take it any other way.”

“How can I get it to you?” Marita closed the baby name book, and glanced around again. A receptionist was making copies nearby, but the machine was loud enough for her not to hear.

“We can meet in the old place,” Tara suggested. “Today or tomorrow.”

“I prefer today.” Marita thought about how much money she had to move around and from which accounts. “Give me about two hours.”

“Okay.” Tara paused, then said. “What’s in Canada anyway?”

Marita stood up from her chair and put on her coat. “My family.”


 

The North American Union

West Region

2031

8:05pm

Crystal Waters wasn’t wearing her nipple dress.

Her skirt ended just below her knees. Her blouse was looser than last night, but Gibson could tell she wasn’t wearing a bra. She wore false eyelashes that glowed in different colors like fiber optics.

She was massaging the shoulders of a very happy old man at a slot machine when he approached her.

“Hi.” He said it a little too loud.

She turned her head to smile at him.

“I don’t know if you remember me…,” He pointed behind him. “I was at the – the – over by the…,” He couldn’t think of any words. They’d all been erased from his brain.

She continued to smile at him.

“You said it was, um….,” He turned to see Marita watching him, giving him a firm nod. “I don’t have 700, but I have 500. So…I was wondering...”

She took her hands off the old man’s shoulders and turned to him.

“How long…,” His voice cracked, and he swallowed. “How long for that?”

Crystal Waters came over to him. She tugged playfully at his tie. “Is this your first time here?”

“No, I said…I was here – when you – uh, when I was…” Talk normal, idiot.

She shrugged. “Same difference.” She linked her arm through his and began leading him towards the elevators. The old man gave Gibson a look of contempt and shouted curses at him.

“First time visitors get a discount,” she said easily as they passed by Marita.

Marita lifted her glass of wine to him and waved. He glared at her. She’d assured him men did this all the time, but weren’t they losers? Was he a loser? He didn’t want to be. He’d never lost before. But there was something he wanted to try. It was sort of like an experiment; testing out a theory.

Crystal Waters took him to an upper level. It was like a hotel. She explained all her rules, but he didn’t think he’d be breaking any of her rules. An AI pricked his finger in the hallway and slid the drop of blood through a scanner. NEGATIVE showed up on the screen and the AI destroyed the blood sample. Behind it was a screen with the Great Seal of the NAU listing privacy regulations for bodily fluids.

It was probably a good thing they didn’t keep his blood. Someone might be a little shocked at what they saw.

She scanned her palm on a door and it opened. The room was simply furnished with a bed, two plush chairs, nightstands, and a table. He was astonished by how clean it was. There was a small fridge packed with beer. Something that looked like a vending machine filled with rolled marijuana cigarettes. Shaman Grade was printed on the top with the NAU seal beside it. The seal was also stamped on a poster in the corner citing the bylaws of a labor union for sex workers.

She sat on the bed and opened a drawer of the nightstand. “Put your firearm in here, please.”

“I don’t have one.” He looked her over. “Do you?”

She reached under the waist of her skirt and pulled out an antique Colt revolver. He guessed women in her line of work needed protection.

“I have to leave it out.” She set it on the nightstand. “It’s policy.” She reached into the drawer and pulled out a box of condoms.

It was amazing: AI bartenders, lightning fast trains, firearms assembled in seconds, and still no cure for herpes.

She came over to him and removed his blazer, her green-grass eyes looking right into his. “What’s your name?”

“Gibson.” Good. He remembered this time.

“What do you like, Gibson?”

After the blazer was off, she started to unbutton his shirt. He was too nervous to move. He should be doing the same to her, shouldn’t he? He could hardly remember the last time. But no. That’s not why he came up here.

He was amazed at how quiet it was. No screams of ecstasy or headboards banging against the wall. That was good, though. He wouldn’t get distracted.

“Where are you from?” She asked softly. “The West?”

He looked past her at the bed. How many times a night did she have to come up here and fake moan her way to a living? On her back. On her knees. Men bending her over the bed and slapping her on the ass. What kinds of things did she have to do?

A memory detached from somewhere inside him and floated to the surface. He sat at a chess tournament, one of the first ones. He was still proving himself back then. He wasn’t famous yet.

He was in a high school gymnasium, the smell of old sweat and rubber mats everywhere. He saw Let’s Go Rams! printed on the walls with a horned beast posed like it might attack. He’d just moved his knight knowing his opponent, a teenage champion in the school district, would be moving his bishop. Gibson remembered acne blossoming on the guy’s cheeks. The sides of his head were shaved and the oily hair of his crown was pulled back into a lopsided ponytail. He must have been bullied. The thoughts in his head were somber and uncertain. They didn’t match him on the outside.

Gibson was waiting for the guy to make his move when he heard someone else’s thoughts stabbing in his head. Loud. A knife scraping metal. Nails down a chalkboard.

Louder.

Sandpaper.

A chainsaw against glass.

He didn’t always know whose thoughts belonged to whom. If he was in a crowd it took him some time to connect them. They flayed and rippled in his mind like spider silk, crying at him like little lost puppies. Right then, he only had to hear one, but these thoughts were drowning out all the others.

His opponent stared him down like an assassin and reached for his bishop while Gibson looked around the gym. There was a man out there thinking things. He was having thoughts about a girl. Disturbing thoughts. He’d heard violence in people’s heads before, but this was new to him. This man was thinking about the pleasure he would get from causing this girl pain. Sadistic pain.

He saw the girl. She stood in a lazy, tenth-grade slouch by the door, wearing a Spice Girls T-shirt and silver platform sandals. Her sandy hair was in braided pigtails down her shoulders. She was thinking about summer vacation and getting her braces off. He looked for the man, but he didn’t know who those thoughts belonged to. There were a lot of men in there thinking.

He wanted to get up from the game. Just get up, grab that girl, and run. Take her somewhere safe so that man couldn’t do those terrible things to her. Gibson lost track of his opponent’s thoughts and nearly messed up his next move. When he looked again, the girl was gone.

He hid under his bed that night; curled up, sick, and shaking, his face wet with tears.

Right now, right this minute, he wanted to grab Crystal Waters and get her out of here. What did she have to do? Did men treat her that way? He imagined running off with a casino hooker into the desert for a few seconds.

He felt the lust trickle out of him like a weak faucet.

He had to win some money tonight. Hear people’s thoughts and win. Again. All over again, only this time there was no guarantee he would win. He had no secrets, no power, no advantage. But he had to try this. Just to see.

“You’re a quiet one.” Crystal Waters pulled off her blouse with a flourish, exposing her breasts. She had a tattoo on one. A waterfall.

Gibson looked up at the ceiling. He could feel perspiration dripping down his back as biology wrestled with his logic. He tried to think about something else. He thought about being on the farm and having dinner with Phillip’s family. Then going for a walk with Grace later.

She took one of his hands and brought it up to her chest.

Going for a walk. Keeping his distance. Waiting. Talking. A mystery between them.

“I just want to kiss you,” he blurted out.

“Oh.” She looked slightly surprised. “Okay. On the lips?”

He glanced down between her thighs and back to her face. “Yeah.”

“With my clothes on?” She pointed to her skirt.

He considered that for a second. “Yep.”

She tilted her head at him in amusement. “Okay, Gibson.” She sat down on the bed and motioned for him to join her.

He waited a second, taking in her face, smelling her perfume, and trying to hear something. All he could hear was his heart thudding in his ears.

He kissed her gently at first. Slowly, lazily, like he had all the time in the world instead of just one expensive hour. Her lips were sticky with gloss, but he found it mildly arousing. He felt her tongue push into his mouth. He tried to keep his hands from wandering. She tasted like a cherry cough drop.

He heard something then. Muffled and soft, but he could hear it in his head. He pulled away from her.

“Did you like that?” She traced one of her long nails over his lips.

He didn’t answer, he just kissed her again, this time deeper and longer. He listened intently. Was that just a fluke before?

She reached down to unzip his pants. He reluctantly brushed her hand away.

“No, I like this. I like kissing. Just kiss me. That’s all you have to do.”

“It’s an awful lot of money for just a kiss,” she whispered. She took one of his hands, slid it up her skirt, and placed it between her legs.

He inhaled sharply, feeling a concentrated surge of heat down his spine.

“You can kiss me here, too. If you want.”

He heard it again. He could hear what she was thinking. As clear as a bad connection, but it was there. Maybe it wasn’t knowing someone or how long he was with them. Maybe it was something else. Intimacy? Emotions?

He could hear she really wanted him to do it, too. She would like that. He could hear exactly what she would like.

Wait. Does she really think he’s a creep?

His ears burned.

“Just if you want,” she whispered.

He studied her face for a second. She was used for other people’s pleasure. It didn’t really matter why she did it. She was pliable, eager, and willing when it suited someone else.

He removed her skirt and lay her back on the bed. He could give her exactly what she wanted. Unlike any man she brought up here before, he could do that. In a way, it was like winning.

Plus, he did say he wanted to kiss her.

This didn’t mean he would be able to hear what the other poker players were thinking later, but this was something he could take with him. Contemplate and try to connect. It still meant something even if it wasn’t complete.

He spent time kissing her neck before he made his way down her body, giving attention to the places that counted, particularly that waterfall. He moved down, down more, until he heard her gasping and knew he was in the right spot.


 

The United States

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1997

9:06pm

After Marita got out of the shower, she surveyed herself in the full-length mirror.

Just a tiny bulge was all it was. For the most part, she still had her flat, smooth stomach. Her body was near perfect. Curvy and narrow in all the right places. Good genes, good diet, good balance. It was never going to look quite like this again. But that was okay. She’d get it looking good soon enough.

After she dried off and got dressed, she resumed packing one of the boxes in her kitchen. The light on her answering machine blinked incessantly, but Marita resisted its pull. She’d been screening all her calls for the last month. She only responded when they wanted something. And lately they were more persistent. Especially about Walter Skinner.

She was wrapping some plates in a towel when her cell phone rang. She let it ring three times and got aggravated at the sound so she answered it. “Hello?”

“Are you in DC?”

She sighed irritably at the sound of Mulder’s voice. “No.”

“How soon can you get here?”

“I can’t. We’ll have to talk this way.”

There was a long pause and the sound of jostling pocket change. “It’s too sensitive.”

“Then call me back from your office.” She hung up and tossed phone in an armchair.

She went back to the kitchen and resumed packing. Pretty soon he wouldn’t be able to get a hold of her. It was a damn shame, too. He was on the right path and without her he was destined to veer off. She couldn’t afford the risk anymore.

About twenty minutes later, her cell phone rang again. She picked it up on the first ring. “Hello?”

“There’s been an incident.” His voice dripped into her ear like oil. She could tell he was calling from a pay phone and taking a long drag. “Has Mulder been in contact with you?”

“No.” She sat down in the armchair. “Where are you?”

“And Krycek?”

She hesitated. It was the first time he’d ever asked her about him, but he said it so smoothly, so nonchalant that she didn’t know if it was a trap. “Alex Krycek?”

Inhale. Exhale. Some background noise. “We’ll be convening soon. We’ll need your input on what to do with him.”

She felt an icy jab down her spine. “Krycek? Or Mulder?”

“Do you have a preference?”

Now she could feel it in her veins, an icy chill all over her. She went to her door to make sure it was locked. She steadied herself, steadied her voice. “I don’t know. Do you?”

He laughed. “I’ll be in touch.” He hung up.

She dropped her phone and rubbed her face. She looked around at all the packing she had left to do. She had to get out of here. Now.

She unfolded another box and heard her cell phone again. She picked it up, her voice coming out more pissy than she intended. “Hello?”

“This line is secure,” Mulder said softly. “But I don’t have much time. I need to meet with you.”

“I told you I can’t.” She grabbed a role of packing tape and ripped off a strip. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to -”

“Are you at home? In Philly?”

She tilted her head to one side, cracking her neck. “Yes.”

“I can be there by 11:30.”

Maybe it was better to see him one last time. She could tell him everything she knows. Everything, and let him do with it what he wants. Warn him, too. He had to stop being so reckless.

“11:30,” she repeated. “Not a minute after.” She hung up and looked around. There was no way to hide it. She was leaving, and he was going to see it.

She went into the bathroom to dry her hair, take some pills, and rubbed her stomach. “It’s just going to be you and me,” she whispered. “Just you and me.”


At 11:28 there was a knock on her door. She opened it and let Mulder inside. He stopped short at the sight of boxes stacked in the corner.

“Are you moving again?” He looked disappointed.

She avoided looking him in the eye. “What do you have to tell me?”

He lingered in the entryway. “Are you going back to New York?”

She sat down and hoped he’d do the same. “You came all this way for something. What is it?”

He crossed the room and sat on her sofa. He leaned forward, lowering his voice as if they were in public. “Two nights ago a guy called into a radio show. Claimed he worked at Area 51. He was panicked and saying things that could have been made up, but the radio station goes off air suddenly.” He paused for effect. “Right in the middle of his phone call.”

Her eyes narrowed. This couldn’t be what he came all the way here for.

He moved closer to her. “That same night and the next, there were sightings of unidentified aircraft in Nevada and Arizona.” He paused again. “I think the phone call and the sightings are related.”

She slowly shook her head at him. He was way off. He’d veered right off the path. He was going to come crashing to a halt soon. It was no wonder Scully was the way she was, having to listen to this shit all the time. He was doing well with the bees, but now he was back to the bullshit. Amateur. Elementary. The things she had to do for people.

“Were you listening to the radio show?” She asked him.

“Some friends of mine sent me the recording.” He took out a cassette player. “I had it enhanced. There’s the sound of aircraft in the background, but it’s not the sound of any known aircraft.”

Marita stared at him. He was losing it. Either his mind or the truth, but he was losing it.

“The guy that called in said the bigger cities are going to be wiped out. They - the government - can do something about it, but they’re not.”

She sighed irritably. “I don’t know anything about aircraft or radio shows.” She waved away his cassette player. “That’s not relevant. Whatever you’ve been told or heard, isn’t relevant.”

“Then what is?”

“Experimentation. On innocent people.”

He looked like she’d just slapped his hand. “Are you toying with me?”

She got up and went to pack another box. “If that’s what you think, then you should go.”

He watched for a few minutes, then he stood up, uncertainty crossing his face. “Why are you leaving?”

She didn’t answer. She wrapped up some glassware in newspaper.

“Is something happening?”

She placed it in the box.

“Tell me.”

“This is our last meeting.” She picked up another piece of newspaper and tore it in half. “I have to move away.”

He came closer. His expression was hard to read. “Why? What’s happening?”

She slowly stood up and looked him in the eye. “I had some news recently.” She placed a hand over her navel.

He looked at her hand and in her eyes. He understood.

“I’m going some place safe. For me. And my daughter.”

He ducked his head, looking lost and defeated. She felt a twinge of guilt.

“I see,” he said after a minute. He nodded and walked in a circle around her living room, hands on his hips. “I see.” He didn’t really see. She’d caught him way off guard. “Why didn’t you just tell me on the phone?” He sounded upset. “So I wouldn’t have to come all this way.”

“You said it was important.”

“It was. It is.” He gave her a look of contempt. “And you’re just going to take off. Just like that?”

“I can’t do this anymore. Surely, you can understand why.”

He sat back down, slumped over. She hadn’t expected this kind of reaction. She sat down next to him, the guilt getting worse. “Would you rather I have just left suddenly? Never told you why?”

He shook his head.

“I’m sorry.” She didn’t know what else to say. And she wasn’t that sorry. She couldn’t wait to get out of here.

He looked at her curiously. “There aren’t that many people who believe in me. Or who want to help me.”

“I’m sure your partner believes in you.” She tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice. “And she helps you all the time.”

“It’s not the same.” He leaned forward on his knees, clasping his hands in front of him. “And believe…I don’t know what she actually believes.”

Scully believed in what could be tested. In the scientific method. In atoms and nuclei. It was logical, it was safe and measured, but Marita could imagine it would drive someone like him crazy. “I’m sure it’s in the truth.”

“Does the truth still exist when no one believes in it?”

It wasn’t a question that needed an answer. He knew that. She knew that.

He sat up and placed his hand over hers. The gesture surprised her. “I won’t forget all your help. I want you to know it’s appreciated.”

“Don’t stop searching.” She looked at him steadily. “Don’t ever stop.”

He stood up and went towards the door. She got up and followed him. “Mulder.”

He opened the door and turned around.

She felt like she had stage fright, but he had to know. Someone else had to know. “Go to Barbados. Take Scully with you.”

He gave her a look. “For a vacation?”

If she said it, it might change his mind about her. If there was anyone she still wanted to keep contact with, it would be him. “Just go.” She put her arms around him, hugging him tightly. “To Bridgetown,” she whispered in his ear.

He embraced her back. “Why?”

“There’s a church. A Catholic church. Take Scully there and you’ll see.” She pulled away from him. “Take care of yourself. And her, too.”

He still looked confused when she gently closed the door on him. She stood there for a minute until she was sure he was gone. She hooked the chain and went back to packing.

She didn’t think she’d feel this guilty. Maybe this was a mistake. She could still communicate with him from time to time. She’d have to be careful about it and ensure it was only from pay phones or a junk email address. But she could do it.

She was about to close up the box when she heard a commotion outside her window. Two men shouting, a scuffle. She went over to it and looked down at the street.

Mulder was sprawled on his back, reaching up to touch his bloody nose. The man standing over him turned around and Marita gasped.

It was Alex. He caught sight of her in the window, gave her a look of outrage, and ran off down the street.

Chapter Text

 

The North American Union

West Region

2031

7:47pm

“So…you want me to play chess?” Crystal Waters asked, eyeing the phone Gibson had set between them, horizontally so that black was on her side and white was on his.

He sat down at the table in the room, trying to keep his eyes on her face and not the skin-tight dress she was wearing.

“But with my clothes…on?” She frowned in confusion.

He made a quick glance of her body. “Yes.”

He didn’t need the distraction. It was going to be hard enough trying to play chess again for the first time in…had it really been almost thirty years? The very last time, the one he could remember, was in a lab with that man chain-smoking cigarettes. They’d shaved one side of Gibson’s head and had wires all over him. He could still remember the smoke in his face and the man smiling at him. A fatherly smile. The man was fascinated. He was proud.

But Gibson couldn’t think about that right now. It was going to be hard enough trying to remember to play after so long. He didn’t need a naked woman sitting across from him to make things…harder.

She ran a hand up his arm, a sly grin spreading across her cheeks. “You sure that’s all you want?”

He glanced down at her breasts and back up to her face again “Yes.” He was starting to get all sweaty.

Dammit, why did she have to be so pretty? And nice to him. He was paying her for that attention, but still…and after last night, GOD, last night. He was going to think about that for a long time. Oh, yes he would. Anytime Marita yelled at him or he had a nightmare, he would think about that. He was thinking about it as she sat down across from him, crossing her smooth legs, twirling a strand of hair in her fingers. She’d been pleased to see him again.

He took a breath and tried to calm himself. He needed to be calm. Last night had been great. He was confident, sober, and ready - until he sat down at the poker game. Then it wasn’t so great.

He didn’t do so well. He royally sucked.

He thought for sure spending time with Crystal Waters would help. He thought for sure that’s what it was. Spending time with someone, being close with them – maybe a little bit more with her than he needed to be – he was sure that would work.

It did not. At all.

It was all the people. He saw them when he went in, standing at balconies and leaning down to watch. Crowding around tables. Leaning to the side to whisper their comments to each other. He didn’t want to lose. Especially not in front of a crowd. He heard nothing. Nothing. Just the noise of the arena.

Gibson bought 100 Us worth of chips to buy into the beginner’s table. All the cash that flowed in the casino was national currency, and Gibson figured beginners would be more casual. Less serious. Especially with their own, real money.

Not true.

He watched his chips begin to dwindle as the only other man at the table, a guy with a spray-tan and hairy fingers, collected more and more. The limit for beginner games was only 500, but each player had to put 100 into the pot. The only thing he had to show for himself at the end was 46 Us. He didn’t know what the hell he was doing, and Spray-Tan Man’s mind was just a bunch of white noise. Gibson couldn’t handle it. He folded and cashed out after only seven hands.

He blew past Marita on his way out. She was poking the screen of a slot machine, her face scrunched up with bewilderment as she occasionally glanced over at a hologram performer.

“Let’s go!” He called to her.

“You’re done already?” She followed him out to the Cadillac. “How much?”

He stopped. “Not enough.” He held up the card they put his winnings on. “Forty-six.”

“Thousand?!”

He shook his head. “Just…forty-six.”

She blinked. “What happened?”

He got in the car, and she got in with him. “I can’t do this. I just can’t do it.”

What happened?”

“We need to do something else. I can’t do this.” He looked over at her. “I didn’t hear anything. Nothing. It’s gone.”

“It’s not gone! You can hear me!”

“Why, though? Why you? And William? And Grace? And that girl?” He jabbed his thumb at the casino. “Why not everybody else? Why is it just specific people?”

“You need to stop with that. Just play the game!”

“I’m not going to win anything that way!”

“You don’t have to win every single hand. Just enough to for us to eat. And live in a bigger room. At the very least.”

He shook his head and started the car. He couldn’t explain it to her. It wasn’t the same.

She tried to convince him on the way back. Convince him to just practice tomorrow before they go, and he’ll be fine. Don’t think about it. Just do it. People win thousands, and they have no abilities. They have no secrets. He can do it, too.

She just didn’t get it. He stormed into the motel room, almost shutting the door on her. “We can think of something else! This was a bad idea!”

“My ideas aren’t bad!”

“This one was!”

She watched him as he ripped off his tie and got out of his blazer. “You’re upset that I can block you out. That’s why you want it back so badly.”

He looked at her like she’d grown two heads. “Do you listen to yourself when you talk?”

“It is.” She crossed her arms. “I can block you out. And you hate it. You want to hear everything. You want to hear about these!” She pointed to her arms. “That’s what it is. You think if you get it back, I can’t block you out anymore.”

He could not believe the the audacity of what she was saying. “Yeah. You’re right! It’s about you! It’s all about you! I couldn’t possibly have my own reasons for doing anything!”

“Your reason is some ridiculous pride thing! People lose stuff! They lose games! They deal with it! Why shouldn’t you?” She clenched her fists and came closer to him. “We are not going to end up on the street or starving! You have to stop thinking about it!”

“You aren’t trying! Why don’t you do something?”

“I did! This was my idea! You weren’t trying! We were running out of money, and I found us a way out! Not you!”

“And I’m supposed to just shut my mouth and go along with it? Just do whatever you say. Forever? Paying some kind of debt to you?” He paused. “Actually, you know what? This is about you! This is about you making me do things for you because of one thing – that one time you helped me!”

“I could have left you there!”

“Right now I wish you would have!”

She was seething. “I risked everything to get you out! My life!”

“You thought I could still do it! That’s why it was me! You wanted me to listen, so you would be safe!”

“That’s not true!”

“It is true!” He came closer to her. “I’m not doing this anymore. I’m not going to go in there and look like an idiot for you! I’m not doing it!”

“You won’t if you just play the fucking game!”

“I can’t just play the fucking game!”

There was a pound, pound, pound at the door. They looked over at it. When Gibson opened it a hateful looking woman was standing there. She began fussing at him in rapid Spanish. He had no idea what she was saying.

Marita came over and spoke to her in Spanish. He was surprised. He’d never heard her speak it before. She was fluent. They went back and forth for a couple of minutes, Marita’s tone apologetic and calming, until the woman seemed satisfied and left.

Marita shut the door. “We’re being too loud.”

Gibson watched her as she sat down on the bed, removing her shoes. “You speak Spanish?”

“And Russian. Japanese. A little bit of French.” She sighed. “I’m sorry.”

He sighed. “Me, too.”

“I don’t mean to put pressure on you.”

“It’s not that.”

“Then what?”

He sat down in the chair across from her. “I guess it is pride. A ridiculous pride thing.”

“We can’t afford pride, Gibson.”

“I know.” He paused. “I just don’t get it. I didn’t care that much when I played chess. I mean, I wanted to win, knew I would win, but…I just didn’t think about it.”

“Then don’t think about it now.”

He looked at her curiously. “Yeah, it’s like…you don’t think about breathing. You just do it.”

“Exactly.”

He had a plan halfway formed in his head, and when he woke up the next morning it was fully formed. And now here he was, playing chess with a casino hooker. It was the last of their money. If this didn’t work, they were fucked.

No pressure or anything.

“Have you ever played before?” He asked Crystal.

She shrugged. “Just, like, on the computer. Not for real.”

He pointed to the screen. “That’s a knight. It moves in an L shape, like this.” He showed her with his finger. “A bishop moves diagonally.”

“Which one?” She pointed to a pawn. “That one?”

“Pawns only move forward. Once space at a time except for the first move.”

She twirled her hair, looked down at the phone, and up at him. She grinned. “This is really weird.”

He sighed. If only she knew how really weird it actually was…

When they started to play, he listened like he used to. He was having a difficult time hearing her tonight. He didn’t know why. Was he going to have to make out with her again? Of all the things. That couldn’t be it, though. He’d never touched Marita, didn’t touch Grace at all before he could hear her, and was never close enough to William. It wasn’t touch. That certainly seemed to help, but that wasn’t it. What was it then? He pushed it out of his mind and tried to focus on something else.

“Is Crystal your real name?” He slid a pawn into place.

She laughed. “No. Is Gibson your real name?”

He hesitated. “No.”

“I didn’t think so.” She moved one of her rooks. “Sounds like a butler’s name.”

He smiled. “I guess it does.”

He listened for her again.

Nothing.

Dammit. He had two hours with her this time. Two hours to figure this out. He stared at the screen of the phone, trying to plan what to do next. It was difficult if he didn’t know what she was thinking. This was how all his opponents had felt years ago. He’d sat across from them full of self-assurance, full of a secret, and knowing he would beat them. He didn’t like this game so much now.

“What does the king do again?” She asked, laying her chin on her hand. “Can I move it this way?”

“The king can’t really do much. It’s the queen that has all the power.”

“Really?” She raised her eyebrows. “Well, hell yeah! Long live the queen!” She moved her queen and sat back. “I always thought a man invented this. Why would he make the queen so powerful?”

“I don’t know.” It was ironic in a way. The king was the weakest piece in chess; easy to defeat, easy to corner, easy to take down if one knew how to do it. The queen was more difficult. The queen had mobility. When he thought about him and Marita, it was exactly like that. It really was. She had all the power. He stared at the screen as he thought about it. If the king moved too far away from the queen, he’d find himself in check. The king needed the queen.

“Didn’t Russians invent this?” Crystal idly moved one of her bishops.

He stared at the screen. The queen could move as far away as she wanted but not the king. He was vulnerable. He ended the game. She could protect him, but he couldn’t do the same. “It was invented in Persia. Or India. I think. One or the other. Europeans changed it.”

“Hmm.” Crystal got up from the table and went to the vending machine. “Do you mind?” She took out a rolled marijuana cigarette, lit it up, and took a drag. “I usually do this on slower nights, but it might help me concentrate.” She passed it to him. “Want some?”

He shook his head. He didn’t want anything to mess him up later. He moved his knight finally and waited for her to move again. He looked over at her black queen and his white queen. He pictured both of them growing legs and just walking off the board, leaving the kings to fend for themselves.

Alone. Just leaving without a second thought.

Crystal moved a pawn, and he sat forward to see what he could do. This wasn’t working. He heard nothing. He was getting frustrated. Why had he heard it last night?

He looked over at her, exhaling a stream of marijuana smoke, and saw that man again. And that lab. The whole room changed. The man sat back in the chair, wearing a suit, legs crossed, smoking one cigarette after the other.

The man smiled and tapped his temple with his finger. “I can feel you trying to get in.” He leaned forward, exhaling. “You’ll never know the things I know.”

Gibson folded his hands in front of him, and looked at the chess board. Just a couple more moves and he would win. If this man did what he thought. The needle in Gibson’s arm began to sting, and he looked down at it. There was a dark liquid flowing into his vein. It was making him feel sick. He grabbed onto the table, afraid he was going pass out.

The man stood up, stubbed out his cigarette, and lit another. “The smartest person in the room is always going to be me. Remember that.”

Gibson pulled the needle out and got up to run, but someone grabbed him. He heard the man leave as they dragged him into another room.

“He’s just a kid!” Someone said.

The man watched as they held him down and shoved the needle back in his arm. “That,” he pointed, “is not just a kid.”

Gibson blacked out and then….then what? He was all grown up. He was being dragged down a beach in Jamaica, sand scraping his legs, as he looked down his body at his hands, panicking, hyperventilating, and unable to process what he was seeing. There was another man there smoking, but it was an eMorley. He looked different, but the same.

Kids. They grow up so fast.

Is that what happened?

Was that it?

All that time…so much time had passed.

There was something else, but he couldn’t remember. Something happened before that.

“Hey,” Crystal leaned forward, startling him. “It’s your turn.”

He blinked a couple of times, coming back to the present. The screen of the phone was a blur, the black and white pieces were fuzzy. He heard something then and looked up.

There it was. Her thoughts were like little bubbles popping out of her head, one right after the other. It reminded him of the thought bubbles in cartoons.

She was thinking about…the rest of her shift. And how no one else could possibly ask her to do anything as outlandish as this.

“Am I winning?” She smiled at him. “I can’t tell. If I keep my king where it is, you can’t get to it, right?”

He looked down at the screen and up at her.

She took another drag. “We should have a bet. The winner gets something from the other.”

He gingerly moved his king one space over.

“Oh, there we go.” She bounced her knees up and down as she studied the screen. “You have two hours, you know. I don’t think we’ll play that long, do you?”

Now she was thinking about going home later and what she was going to do tomorrow. The store then…laundry. No. It was clothes, but he didn’t know what about clothes. Still not clear enough. It was words in a haze, in a fog, a sound like it was being made under water.

Gibson started to wonder if it was how much time he spent with someone. Hadn’t he been here with her for this long last night before he heard anything? But he’d lived with people on the Amish farm and never heard a thing from them.

He stood up and grabbed the phone, shutting it off.

“Hey,” she stood up, too. “It was just getting good.”

“I’m sorry. I need to go now.”

“You’ve still got over an hour.”

“I know. Just keep it.” He went towards the door, then turned around to her. He kissed her. “Thank you.”

“You’re….welcome?” She said as he left.

He went down to the poker arena and checked in. He was seated at a table full of beginners again. That was fine. He would just play the game and not worry about it.

The first hand was dealt, and he played without thinking too much. He didn’t try to listen. He just looked at his cards and tried to focus on the game. As the evening wore on, however, there was silence in his head. He wasn’t hearing anything. Just emptiness. Crickets.

He looked at his cards. They were terrible. He looked around at the other players and wondered what they had. If he could just hear them, dammit, he’d know. It would be so much easier if he knew! He kept his expression neutral and watched the faces of everyone else. Did they look pleased or disappointed?

The guy next to him smelled weird. Like a mix of gasoline and flowers. He had a bruise on one arm and his shirt was buttoned up all crooked. He called the bet. The woman next to him was big-chested. It looked as if her breasts were going to burst out of her top and spill over the side of the table any second. She raised the bet. The bracelets on her arm jangled as she shifted her eyes around the table. Sneaky and mischievous.

She hadn’t raised anything all night, he realized. She must have a good hand this time. He looked around the table to recall who else had raised. The old man in the big blind position was bitching at an AI who brought him the wrong drink. He’d raised, too.

Then…he heard something: flush.

He looked around the table. Who had a flush?

Suddenly and without warning, all their thoughts began to fill his head. Then everyone else in the arena. It was like someone turned on a water hose, full blast, and aimed it into the space between his ears.

Shit. Not everyone at once! He wanted to plug his ears from the noise, but that wasn’t going to help.

It was the woman on his left that had a flush. The guy on his right had a straight.

What beats a flush again?

More confident now, he pushed his chips into the middle, raising his bet. He kept doing it. Game after game, he kept doing it until he had nearly a thousand Us in front of him. Then just as suddenly as they’d poured in, the flood of thoughts dried up. He decided to cash in before he pushed his luck and went running out with the card.

Marita was sitting at the bar with a huge grin on her face while one of the male hookers whispered in her ear.

“I got it, let’s go.” Gibson grabbed her arm.

“Wait a minute!” She turned back to the hooker.

“Come on.” He felt like someone was going to come running after him. He felt like someone knew what he was doing. It had happened before.

Marita scowled at him and looked at the guy. “I’ll be back tomorrow. Will you be here?”

“I sure will, baby,” he winked at her and walked off.

“What were you doing?” He asked, watching the guy saunter over to a group of old ladies. He didn’t really need to ask.

“None of your business,” she snapped at him. “How much this time? Did you make it to fifty?”

“Nine hundred and seventy eight.”

Her jaw dropped. “Really?”

He nodded. “Yeah.”

She grabbed his shoulders. “Really, really?”

“Yes. Really, really.”

“Oh my God! That’s fantastic! Why’d you stop?”

“I didn’t want to push it. I heard a little bit, but…it’s still not as clear as it used to be. I think I need to - ”

“But you did! You did it!”

“I guess. I wish it could have been better, but - ”

“But it’s something!”

They ran out to the Cadillac and began making plans to stay somewhere else that night. They wouldn’t have to stay in that ratty motel room anymore.

He watched her as she drove them back. She was all dressed up again. She looked noble. Queenly. He thought about the chess game he played with Crystal. He thought about the black queen and the white queen just leaving the kings to fend for themselves.

He studied Marita for second. “Are you going to leave?”

She shifted her eyes to him, then back to the road. “We’re going back to the motel, then I’m leaving. That place is nasty. You can stay there if you want, but I’m not.”

“I meant when I start winning more and getting lots of money, are you going to take it all and leave?”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re always so worried about me leaving you somewhere. You just never said if you would do that to me.”

She pulled into a parking space at the motel. “What in the hell are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about you leaving. Leaving me.”

“Why would I do that?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.”

She unbuckled and got out of the car. “You’re ridiculous sometimes. You know that? You can hear all the shit that goes on in people’s heads, especially mine, and you don’t know if I would do that or not?”

He slammed the car door. “You said you were blocking me out!”

“Because I need privacy! No one digs around in your head and knows things about you. You should treat me with the same courtesy.”

“I’ve never heard you think about it.”

“Because I don’t think about it! I’m not going to leave you somewhere! Okay? Don’t ask me stupid shit like that!”

“It’s not stupid shit! If you’re going to make me promise not to leave you, then you should do the same for me!”

“I never made you promise a thing!” She dug in her purse for the motel room keys. “You want to leave so bad - go!”

“Oh, right. I’ll just leave. Bullshit I can just leave!” He was raising his voice, and he was pretty sure someone was going to hear them. “You need me! You need me WAY more than I need you! And you know it!”

“And if you really think so, maybe you should take the car and go!”

“Why do you keep saying that? Do you want me to?”

“You obviously want to!”

“I never said that!”

“Yes you did!”

“You’re twisting my words around!”

“Hey! Hey!” A short, chubby man stood on the balcony around the second floor. “Romeo and Juliet! Give it a rest!” He went back in his room and slammed the door.

Marita rolled her eyes, stormed up the steps, and unlocked the door.

Gibson followed along behind, not sure if he had his answer or not. “Are you going to leave me? Just say it. Yes or no?”

“Jesus, listen at you! Yes or no? Are you twelve?”

“Answer me!” He slammed the door. He didn’t give a shit if the chubby man heard them.

She’d started gathering up her clothes, but she flung them to the floor and came over to him. The hard expression on her face softened. “You’re right. I do need you more than you need me. You’re right about that. But I have to trust you. I have to trust that when you’re having one of your hissy fits and you drive off, you’ll come back. I have to trust you. And you have to trust me. It’s all we’ve got, Gibson. It’s all we can do.”

He looked down at his feet and grumbled, “It’s not a hissy fit.”

“You either trust me, or you don’t. If you don’t, maybe you are better off on your own.”

He studied her face. She wasn’t doing her bluffing thing. She was serious. “I do trust you.”

She clasped her hands in front of her. “Good.”

“Good.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

They stood there for a minute, not knowing what else to say. He knew she wasn’t lying. She trusted him, but still…there was something…

She picked up her clothes. “Let’s get out of here.”

As he gathered his things he realized what it was: if she trusted him, then why would she block him out?


 

The United States

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1998

9:39am

Marita bent down to fasten the strap on her shoes.

It was getting difficult now at five months. She could still hide it, but simple things, like bending down or buttoning up her jeans, were getting harder. She’d bought several dresses with an empire waist and a few loose-fitting tops. She wanted to hide it for as long as possible.

And she was doing a damn good job. No one knew a thing.

After her doctor’s appointment, she was going to check her P.O. Box again. The stuff for Kelly Krycek should have arrived by now. Tara told her there’d been a delay as her friend at the Social Security office was arrested. Marita had a moment of panic, but Tara confirmed that the guy didn’t keep good records. What he did keep was stowed away with another shady government worker.

They were all one big happy family.

Marita had to open up a box to look for a coat. Practically everything was ready to be moved. As soon as she had her ID for Kelly Krycek she could open a bank account and travel to Ontario to look for a house. She’d wanted to be all moved and gone by now, but delays happened.

Alex wasn’t going to be one of them.

She changed her home number and got another cell phone. She gave the security company that monitored her apartment building Alex’s picture and told them he was a dangerous stalker. She’d filed an incident report after he’d punched Mulder in the face and ran off. Mulder was unwilling to file the report himself. She’d cleaned his bloody nose and had no explanation to give him as to why Alex was there. She was afraid he’d figure it out. Or that uptight bitch would figure it out.

She had all her mail forwarded to her abandoned apartment in New York, knowing if her mailbox got too full the landlord would send it all back. The only thing she worried about was Alex getting past the security cameras and getting inside. So far, he hadn’t tried.

She ignored the nagging voice in her head that said she should tell him. At the very least, leave a voice mail. An email. Just so that he’s aware. And also aware that she wasn’t going to let him see or know their daughter. On her way out of Philly, she could call him up on a pay phone and break the news. She could hang up before he had a chance to react.

But why tell him? Really. Why? What good would it do? He would have wanted an abortion, paid for it and everything, but in the slim chance he didn’t, she wouldn’t get a second of help out of him or a cent of child support. There wasn’t a speck of fatherly instinct in him, and he could disappear just as easily as her. He might pretend. He might even be happy. But at the end of the day, he was still him. Corrupt, backstabbing, and malicious.

It was better for Natalie to never know him.

Natalie. That was her name. Marita just found herself thinking it whenever she went to an appointment or looked at baby clothes. It came on slowly and naturally and now she was used to it. Natalie Maria Krycek. N.M.K. Marita found herself doodling her initials when she was on the phone or waiting on a flight. It was a beautiful name. A noble and strong name. One she’d be proud to sign, to spell, and speak.

Marita finished getting ready and drove to her appointment. She had to have them more frequently, but this would be her last one with Dr. Agee. She didn’t know yet how she’d transfer her medical records under a different name. She might need Tara’s help for that.

When the nurse called her back, Marita began to feel slightly light-headed. She’d had that for a couple of days now. A quick check of her medical encyclopedia revealed this could happen sometimes.

The nurse weighed her and Marita was shocked to see she’d gained so much weight since the last time. “Is that normal?” Marita asked the nurse in the examination room.

“Quite normal.” The nurse winked. “Healthy and normal. Gaining is good. Losing is bad.”

When Dr. Agee breezed in Marita was feeling stranger. Dizzier and like her head was swelling.

“Morning, Debbie.” Dr. Agee smiled. “How are we today?”

“Good,” Marita replied. “Actually, I feel a little dizzy. I don’t know if I slept well.”

“The extra weight on your back can get uncomfortable. And if you’re a back sleeper, that’ll have to change.” Dr. Agee listened to her heart, front and back, then told her to lay back on the table.

Marita patiently endured the petroleum jelly and the wand roaming all over her stomach. Dr. Agee watched the screen, making small talk, lecturing her about nutrition. Marita nodded and stared up at the puppies and sunflowers. Yes, she was getting enough calcium. Yes, she was taking her folic acid. No, she wasn’t smoking.

Then Dr. Agee fell silent.

Marita tore her eyes from the picture and looked over at her. “What’s wrong?”

Dr. Agee got her stethoscope and pressed it to Marita’s stomach. She held it there for a minute, adjusted the earpieces, and listened again.

“Is everything okay?” Marita asked. The dizziness was getting worse.

Dr. Agee quickly set the stethoscope down and opened the door. She came back a few seconds later with a nurse.

“What’s wrong?” Marita felt a surge of panic inside her.

Dr. Agee’s face was stern. “I’m not getting a heartbeat. We have to induce you.”

“What?” Marita’s voice came out a weak cry.

“Call an ambulance,” Dr. Agee said to the nurse as she stuck a needle in Marita’s arm.

“What?” Marita repeated. “What’s happening?”

“Come on, Debbie.” Dr. Agee helped her off the examination table. “You need to go to the hospital.”

“What’s happening?”

And it happened fast.

So fast her brain couldn’t keep up with everything going on. The EMTs in the ambulance taking her blood pressure. The sharp pain tearing through her insides. Then the ER doctor and Dr. Agee telling Marita her cervix wasn’t dilating and her blood pressure was too high.

She was rushed to an operating room, where the doctor speaking to her had teeth that were too big for his mouth and cold hands. He shouted at some nurses and told Marita they would have to perform a C-section.

An IV went in her arm. Another couple of shots. Then an oxygen mask was put over her face. She couldn’t keep up. She couldn’t keep up with what was happening and eventually she lost track all together as she went under, to a place black and empty.

Cold and dead.


 

Two weeks later.

 

A loud bang at four in the morning woke her.

Marita sat up on the couch, then wished she hadn’t. There was a wild rush to her head, and she could almost hear the throbbing behind her eyelids.

She lay back down and looked at the time. The newspaper had arrived. She lay still for a few more minutes and surveyed the darkened room. A half bottle of gin was on the coffee table. The glass next to it was a third of the way full of watered down liquor from the ice cubes. She reached for it and took a sip. It went down easy.

She got up and went to the bathroom. She felt like she’d never stop going to the bathroom. She was still bleeding and only alcohol remedied the cramping. Dr. Agee said it might feel like labor. If the bleeding got too heavy or the pain didn’t subside, she was to go to the ER immediately. Marita would rather endure it. Because it was punishment. It was karmic justice. She deserved every bit of it.

She lay back down on the couch. More gin.

She kept telling herself: just one more day. Just one more day, then pull yourself together. One day turned into three. Three into six. Six into nine. Her leave of absence from the UN was drawing to a close.

The TV was on and the volume low. Elizabeth Taylor was peddling her perfume. Didn’t she say something about pulling yourself together? Something about having a drink, putting on some lipstick, and pulling yourself together? Marita had the drink covered. She didn’t feel like getting her lipstick.

Just one more day. She’d be okay if they just gave her one more day.

Marita left the hospital after two days with Natalie’s ashes, her eyes dry, her back too straight, and her skin too pale. Dr. Agee advised that she see a therapist.

Sometimes these things happen, Debbie. And we don’t know why.

Marita went home first. She set the urn provided by the hospital’s crematorium on her coffee table. It was ugly. A plain silver with a cross on the front.

It will help you to talk to someone. Dr. Agee wrote out a prescription for Prozac. I hope you’ll consider it. This can be traumatic for any woman.

Marita called a funeral home in South Philly and put on a long black dress. She chose her jewelry carefully, pearls with gold. The stitches pulled the whole drive there. The sun was a weak glow behind the clouds and the funeral director’s mouth was lopsided and his dentures clacked as he spoke. She chose a white marble urn and had Natalie’s name engraved on it. A little marble angel sat on the top.

Debbie? Are you listening to me? Now, I can recommend a few therapists in the area that specialize in this kind of loss.

She carried it into a room with no flowers, the lights dim, organ music playing through speakers, where she was the only person sitting as a clergyman hired by the funeral home read some useless Bible verses. She didn’t know why this bastard thought the story of Rachel would be comforting.

Don’t blame yourself, Debbie. I know you want to. I know you think you did something, but sometimes no matter what the mother does to care for herself, these things happen.

Stitches pulled. The organ played. The man’s voice was halting and clotted.

Still, her eyes were dry. Scratchy and dry. Her skin was dry. She felt dehydrated. She felt like a cavern.

The ground was icy. There was too much mud. She put Natalie’s ashes in the mausoleum. The funeral director gave her all the time she needed. And she would have taken it. She would have stayed there all night. She would have slept there. She would have had dreams. Natalie would have blond hair and Alex’s eyes. She’d be inquisitive and adventurous. Marita would have her hands full. The child wouldn’t want to go to bed yet. She’d be the kind of girl that wanted to stay up late, ask questions, and sit on her mother’s lap.

Don’t blame yourself.

And Marita could see her, walking across a meadow, a straw hat on her head, spinning in between flowers and butterflies, her laughter like a warm breeze. Then the artist would pack up his paint brushes and easel. She’d sit on the canvas for eternity, walking to no where in particular.


Another loud bang.

Marita had fallen back asleep. The sun was up. She rolled over on the couch and covered her head with a pillow.

The bang was a knock. Three knocks on the door.

So far, she’d been lucky. No visitors and she kept her cell phone off and home phone unplugged. It was simultaneously depressing and a relief that no one needed her that badly.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Until now.

She didn’t move. She hoped whoever it was would give up and fuck off. She held her breath, feeling like even that would alert the visitor she was home.

After a few minutes of quiet, she let out a long, slow exhale. It was warm around her face under the pillow. She lingered on the couch, then took a long drink from the bottle of gin. She got up, folded up the blanket, and took it back to her bedroom.

She saw herself in the mirror.

She looked like an empty shell. There were marks on her face from the pillow creases. Her eyes were sunken and baggy. She took the Prozac from the medicine cabinet and washed it down with more gin.

As she passed by the front door on her way to the kitchen, the hairs stood up on her neck. She paused. She went to the door and looked out the peephole. An eye looked back at her.

She yelped and jumped back.

“It’s me.” A voice said. “Please let me in.”

She leaned her head against the door, her heart pounding, her brain foggy. She might as well. She unlocked it and opened it up.

Alex stood there, his eyes full of tears.


 

The North American Union

West Region

2031

12:56am

Nine hundred and seventy-eight Us got them a nicer hotel room, some food, and other necessities. It didn’t get Marita better manners.

Gibson irritably kicked her clothes over towards her bed. “Can you clean your shit up? Or at least keep it on your side?”

She was on their phone, completely ignoring him as he tried to clean up. He couldn’t wait until they each had a phone of their own.

“I think you should try another level tomorrow night. A higher one,” she said. “For intermediate you only have to put in 300.”

“I don’t know if we should put that much in.”

“Why not?”

“Because. I don’t know. Just because.” He sat down on his bed - his bed dammit - and looked for a remote for the TV.

“Nine hundred is good, but we need more than that.” She tapped on the phone. “I’m signing you up for an intermediate level game. Starts at 7.”

“Didn’t you hear what I just said?”

“You can do it.” She stood up. “You did great last night, and you can do it again. I have faith in you.”

“That’s easy to say when you don’t have to do anything.”

“I just did!” She pointed to the phone. “And you wouldn’t be playing at all if it wasn’t for me.”

He didn’t want to have this argument with her again, so he resumed looking for the remote. “If we lose everything and have to get a single bed again, you’re sleeping on the floor.”

“Fine. It’s a deal.” She strode confidently across the room to the bathroom. “If you panic and lose, then I’ll sleep on the floor.” She turned to him and smiled. “But that will never happen again.”

He dug through the desk drawers. “We’ll see.”

When she came out a few minutes later, in a T-shirt and pajama pants, he was looking under the bed.

“What are you doing?” She sat down on her own bed.

“Where’s the remote at?”

“Just get up and turn it on.”

“I didn’t see any buttons.”

“Well, I don’t know then.” She got on the phone and started scrolling on it.

He sat down on his bed and watched her for a minute. “Do you remember, um…do you remember that man? The man on the beach?”

She looked up from the phone.

“He was smoking. Like an electronic cigarette. I didn’t know who he was, but he knew me.”

She set the phone down. “I don’t remember a beach. I remember waking up on a table. There was a light over me.”

“He said: ‘kids, they grow up so fast.’ Like he knew me. From before.”

She shook her head. “Was he one of…them?”

“No, he was younger. He didn’t look familiar. But he did, you know?”

She shook her head again.

“It was him and Jamaican police.” He looked around for the remote some more and gave up. “They dragged me off the beach, put me in a truck, and took me to that prison.” He looked over at her. “You weren’t there?”

“I don’t remember that.” She picked up the phone. “I don’t remember a beach. Or a truck.”

He went into the bathroom to change clothes. When he came out she was huddled up on her bed, hugging her knees.

“Where were you?” He asked her. “When they found you?”

Something jagged and cold split into her thoughts. “I was home.”

“Home where?”

She got up and turned down the covers, her voice shaking. “I don’t want to talk about this, Gibson.”

He watched her get into bed, turning off the lamp beside it. Her thoughts faded away, fluttering off into the Heavens like angel wings.

He got into bed, too, but left his light on. He stared up at the ceiling, conjuring the image of that man. He didn’t know who he was, but there was something….just something about him.

Kids. They grow up so fast.

The man took a drag, eMorley lighting up blue on the side of his cigarette. He gave the Jamaican men a firm nod, and Gibson was dragged down the beach, sun stinging his eyes, his head empty and blank.

Marita turned towards him slightly. “Where were you?”

He stared up at the ceiling. The lamplight was hurting his eyes. He turned it off. “Running away.”


 

Gibson looked around the table at his opponents, leaning on the cushion around the sides. This didn’t look like an intermediate table. He was starting to think someone had messed up and put him with the beginners.

He always pictured poker games with rough men slamming knives into the table, accessorized in prison scars, thick cigars, and eye patches. Swearing at each other, raising their bets higher and higher; daring, cold, menacing. Tough and angry men who thought nothing of taking risks, and would ride out of town with their winnings on a motorcycle, waves of dust blasting behind them.

That wasn’t what he saw.

One player was a woman who looked to be about eighty. There was a tattoo of Chinese symbols, faded and stretched out, on her upper arm. She spent the first couple of hands shouting to an old man at another table. Something about turning off the lawn mower. Then she started pulling balled up tissues out of her purse and complaining about her deadbeat grandson. She read the texts he sent her out loud and held her phone so close to her face it smushed the end of her nose. She asked the man next to her if he thought she should report her grandson to Intelligence for watching too much pornography. And will he please turn off that goddamned lawn mower? Honestly! The noise! Think of the noise!

The guy she kept talking to looked barely eighteen. He was skinny and pale, jittery and paranoid. He blew his nose in his sleeve repeatedly and sneezed all over the chips a couple times. Gibson had to move his chair away from him, and he realized the guy never asked the neurotic grandma for one of her tissues. He never responded to her questions either.

The man beside of Gibson looked to be about fifty. He was Native, but Gibson didn’t know which tribe. He looked misty-eyed the whole time, like the might burst into tears at any moment. He played well, though. A few times, Gibson asked him where he was from, his name, things like that. The only answer Gibson got was shrugging shoulders.

There was another guy who looked boring and distracted. He folded early in the game and wandered off. The only other woman was heavy-set, youngish, and kept giving Gibson suspicious glances. She also folded early and disappeared. He mostly played the other three. He felt like Snow White with three of her most bizarre dwarfs: Sneezy, Granny, and Weepy.

It was good they were all weird. He didn’t feel intimidated and in this game that was the kiss of death. Still, the moment from the night before, the thoughts rolling in like a tide, wasn’t happening yet. It really didn’t matter. He had more chips than anyone else. It seemed they were all too distracted to play well.

The dealer made another round and Gibson peeked at his cards. An ace and a king. He wanted to smile at his luck, but kept his face neutral. He looked around the table. No thoughts, but it was obvious that Granny was disappointed with her hand. He decided to take that and run with it.

Before he made his bet, he heard a commotion from the other side of the arena. He looked over to see a Hualapai woman marching in, surrounded by a small, obsequious crowd. She wore a black cloak and tall black boots. She had a buzz cut and her torso was shaped like a box. She seated herself at a professional table, made obvious by the gold trim, and flung off her cloak. She handed it to a short, skinny Ute man beside her.

About five players sat down at the table with her, their faces full of awe. An AI showed up with a drink and set it down beside her.

Sneezy looked at Gibson with wide eyes. “Carpathia’s here.”

Gibson was surprised the guy could talk. “Who?”

Carpathia,” the guy replied. He turned around to look. “Holy shit. I can’t believe it’s really her.”

Gibson had no idea what he was talking about, but by the fuss people made over her, he could tell she was a big deal. A pro. A crowd was gathering around her table, blocking her out. Gibson strained to hear something, but there was just a chatter, the general noise of the arena. Even Granny and Weepy were sitting up straighter and looking over her way.

The professional tables required a lot of money to play. Tens of thousands. That was where the real money was. The casino sent over AIs just to bring them drinks, food, rub their damn feet, and light their joints. Professional players even had their own restrooms. Gibson couldn’t imagine having his own private bathroom in a place like this.

There was a break in the crowd and Gibson saw Carpathia say something hatefully in Pai to the Ute man. He nodded quickly and skittered away with her cloak. He returned with another AI, holding out a tray of drinks in gold cups. Carpathia took one, drinking from it, her long black nails like bird talons curling around it. She put it back and waved the AI away. A Hualapai woman with neon-yellow rimmed glasses whispered something to Carpathia. She cursed at the woman and turned to the players, smiling broadly. There were tattoos on her teeth. They all looked absolutely terrified and like they might drop to her feet and kiss them at any second.

Gibson tried to tear his gaze away. He couldn’t get distracted. He looked down at his cards again and at his opponents. Carpathia’s entrance had shaken them up. They weren’t on their guard now. He could tell by the looks on all their faces he was the one with the best cards right then.

He tried to hear some thoughts to confirm, but there was nothing. It didn’t matter. He pushed all his chips into the middle. “Raise.”


 

Gibson strode out to the slot machines and lounges. He could barely contain his excitement. He looked down at the card in his hands. On that card, there was 7,569 Us. He was practically bursting at the seams with pride. It was almost like standing on a stage and accepting a trophy for a chess game. The looks, the thoughts, the envy. He’d forgotten how good it felt.

And how a good his own hotel room was going to feel. His own bathroom and shower. He felt like the biggest champion on earth in that moment. He tried not to let the fact that his ability wasn’t reliable bother him. He’d actually played the game without it - and still won. He wondered if he’d finally met his calling at last.

As he walked out to find Marita, he heard a familiar voice and a familiar stream of thoughts enter his mind. He looked over to see Crystal Waters leaning on a table, flirting with two male patrons.

One guy was fat. So incredibly fat it appeared as if the chair he was sitting on was bending under his weight. The other guy had greasy hair and scratches all over his face. Gibson stopped and stared. The thoughts he’d been missing all night slammed into his brain. The fat man was thinking about the things he’d do to Crystal. How he’d bruise her wrists and ankles from tying her up. It turned him on. And the greasy man got those scratches on his face from a prostitute at another casino. He’d tried to choke her.

Gibson froze. He looked around for some more decent-looking men, but the only ones he saw were also prostitutes. It was late and the casino was beginning to wind down.

Crystal glanced over at him, recognized him, and gave him a wink. She was thinking about how she needed to pay for something. It wasn’t clear enough. He cautiously approached her and tried to look like he knew what he was doing.

“Nice to see you again,” he said too loudly. “Can you help me with something really quick?”

The two men gave Gibson the evil eye. He tried to ignore them and pulled Crystal away.

“Don’t go upstairs with them,” he whispered to her urgently.

She frowned. “What? Why?”

“You don’t really want to take them upstairs, do you?”

She shrugged. “I serve all kinds people.” She gave him a tiny smile. “You should know that better than anyone.”

“Here.” He gestured for her phone. He took out his casino card and tapped the phone with it. He typed in 2,000 Us and gave it back to her.

She looked at the amount, wide-eyed, and started to say something but he stopped her.

“Just take it. Take the night off. Do whatever you want with it, but just don’t go upstairs with them.”

“Gibson, I -”

“Please,” he urged. “Just trust me.” He turned to look for Marita and heard the gratitude and confusion in her thoughts. She was relieved. She was intrigued.


 

Gibson went up and down the rows of slot machines but didn’t see Marita anywhere. Most of them were empty now. It was nearly 2am. He was surprised all the action at a casino ended so early, but it was a week night.

He scanned all the bars and lounges, the AIs cleaning up and a few human bartenders, flipping chairs on tables as he looked around. Where in the hell was she? He wished he had the phone. A thought struck him, a terrible thought, and he ran outside to the parking lot. He looked around in a panic for the Cadillac and saw it was still there. It was only momentary relief. If she didn’t leave, then where was she?

He looked around one more time, passing by the columns where the mermaids swam, empty now and the water draining out. He was approaching an AI to ask when he heard giggling by the elevators.

He looked over to see Marita, her head bent conspiratorially towards the man next to her. He was clearly one of the casino hookers, handsome and fit; he whispered something in her ear and she laughed again.

Gibson stormed over to her. “Hey!”

She was too enthralled to noticed him.

“Hey!” He marched over and tapped her on the shoulder. “We need to go.”

She gave him a look of annoyance and turned back to the hooker, batting her fake eyelashes at him. “I’ll see you later.”

“I hope so, beautiful.” The hooker kissed her cheek and gave her a steamy stare before he got back on the elevator.

Gibson glared at her as they made their way back to the car. She combed her fingers through her messy hair and tugged at her bra strap through her dress. She cut her eyes over to him. “What?”

“You know exactly what.”

“Don’t you get all judgmental with me,” she scowled. “You remember where you were last night?”

“We didn’t do anything.”

“Oh, bullshit! Then we didn’t either.” She opened the passenger door and got in.

Gibson got in and started the engine. “We don’t have enough money for that.”

“You’re such a hypocrite. Why is it okay for you, but not for me?”

He drove through the parking lot. “You told me to do it. It was your idea.”

“And you didn’t fight me so hard on it, now did you?”

She was thinking about it. She’d kept the lights off so the guy couldn’t see all her scars. He let her be on top.

Gibson sped back to the hotel. “You shouldn’t do things like that.”

The guy got her off. Twice.

“Why are you so high and mighty all the sudden?” Marita was aghast at his attitude. “And besides, what else am I supposed to do while you’re playing? Just sit around?”

His hands clenched the steering wheel. She was rolling around under the covers with him. His lips were all over her. His hands.

“We have plenty of money anyway,” she went on. “Speaking of which, did you get another thousand?”

She was underneath him at one point, her eyes closed, imagining the man was Alex Krycek.

Gibson slammed on the brakes an intersection. Marita lurched forward, her hands slamming onto the dashboard. “Jesus, what’s wrong with you?”

“Five thousand,” he replied. He looked over at her, her eyes wide, a smile beginning on her lips. “I got five thousand.”

She smiled at him, triumphant, jubilant. “I won’t be sleeping on any floors ever again. And neither will you.”

“You’re right about that.” He stared at her. She wasn’t even trying to hide it. The whole encounter was playing out in her mind like a movie. Lighting and music and all.

Her smile faded. “You wouldn’t understand.” She sat back in the seat, her gaze moving to the window.

A car honked behind them, and he realized he was still stopped. “I can get my own room.”

“I hope you do.” She crossed her arms.

He pulled into a parking space and cut the engine. He looked over at her. Her glowing eyes settled on his. He wondered if she’d fling her clothes all over the floor in her own room. If she’d leave the bed an unmade mess. If she’d kick at nothing beside her.

“You only know what I want you to know.” Her voice was quiet.

He reached over and took the phone from her. He tapped the card and put a thousand into the payment app. “Stay with him as long as you want.” He got out of the car and went to pay for his own room.


 

Gibson moved his way around the intermediate tables over the next few nights. Although his ability wasn’t reliable, he found he could easily read people. Expressions and body language. And in the moments when he could hear their thoughts, it wasn’t always clear or useful. One night he played a group of elderly women who had traveled from the North Region. He’d never heard such dirty thoughts from old women. Or such language. The f-bomb was dropped with relish.

They all thought he was cute. One in particular - she had to be pushing seventy-five - bought Gibson drinks all night. She wore her lipstick crooked and giant rings on each finger. She whispered to Gibson what she’d do to him if she were just twenty years younger. He told her he had a wife. She told him he’d forget all about his wife after she got done with him.

He wanted to find another table, but those old bitches had some money. A lot of money. And they played good. Really good. He liked the challenge, and the fact that they were so busy shocking him with their dirty talk they weren’t on their guard. He won over seven thousand from them.

7,000. 8,000. 8,500. He hovered in between 5k and 10k. Just enough. Just enough for him and Marita to live off of, get them each a nice hotel room, two separate phones, and for her to stow away. She was good at the savings part. Within two weeks she’d put away nearly 11k. She told him when they had 12k, she was going to invest it in a solar company. He was glad she thought about these things. He trusted her with that part of it.

After a few nights, Gibson began to notice the same man and woman at his games. They weren’t playing. They were up in the balcony, sitting at a round marble table, watching him. They were obviously Paiute and obviously interested in him. Nothing about them seemed threatening, and the only time he didn’t see them was when Carpathia was playing.

Carpathia Twelve Trees drew in quite a crowd. She drew in phones held high to record her and her games. She drew in revenue, and she was even put in a private room with six lucky players and put on television. Gibson found her fascinating and distracting. The only good thing about her was that her presence would confuse his opponents just enough for him to take all their money.

After he circled through intermediate he went to advanced. The players were more confident, experienced, and they looked at Gibson like he was a joke. There were some nights he was desperate to hear them, afraid he wouldn’t win, but he’d learned all their weaknesses, all their tells, and soon the long-time players were not so pleased to be eclipsed by him.

One night, he had close to 10k in front of him. He was shivering with excitement on the inside. A soft hum of exhilaration as he went through hand after hand, gathering more and more chips.

He felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up to see that Paiute man next to him.

“Excuse me.” The man frowned sternly. “I need to have a word with you.”

His tone was so abrupt that Gibson felt a knot of anxiety forming in his stomach. He stood up and followed the man outside of the arena.

“What’s wrong?” Gibson asked him.

“Your wife.” The man snapped. “She owes us some money.”

“My wife?” Gibson looked at the man baffled. The man pointed over to a room off to the side where Marita sat in between some security guards, her face pale and her eyes full of worry.

Gibson swore under his breath and stormed over to the room. Marita tried to stand up when she saw him, but a security guard sat her back down.

“She’s been stiffing one of our escorts,” the Paiute man said. “She hasn’t paid him in weeks and that’s not how we do business here.” He turned to Gibson and glared angrily. “Twenty thousand. Or we call the Guard.”

He started to feel sick. He looked over at her, and she averted her eyes. It was true. He could hear all the mess in her head. She’d been sleeping with that same hooker, promising to pay, but never doing it.

Jesus Christ, what had she done?

He looked around the small room. The Paiute woman was there in the corner, sitting back and watching with great interest. Something didn’t feel right to him just then. He couldn’t see how Marita had racked up that much debt in such a short time.

“Look,” Gibson told them. “The game I’m playing right now, I’ve got ten grand in front of me. If you let me finish and win it all, I’ll give it to you.”

“Twenty.” The man demanded. “Not a cent less.”

He stared at Marita. She was looking at her feet. “We don’t have twenty.”

“Well, that’s funny.” The Paiute man stood a little straighter. “She says you do.”

Gibson felt his stomach fall to his feet. Marita’s mind went as quiet as a tomb.

Gibson took out his phone and opened up the payment app. Twenty wouldn’t leave them with much. All they’d saved would be wiped out, too. Gibson let the man watch while he put in the payment and the money was sent.

The Paiute woman held up her phone. “We’ve got it.”

The security guys let Marita up and pushed her out of the room.

“You need to keep your woman on a shorter leash,” the Paiute man said. “And maybe consider a divorce.”


 

The car was quiet.

Gibson sat in the passenger seat, arms crossed, staring straight ahead. He couldn’t see the gas gauge. For the first time in several weeks, he was worried it was close to E.

“Are you hungry?” Marita asked quietly. “I haven’t eaten since lunch.”

He ignored her.

She was driving too slow. He was ready to jump out and just walk the rest of the way.

“Will you please say something?” She almost drove through a red light.

“I’m going to play against Carpathia.”

“Who? Against who?”

“She’s a pro. We’ll need 10k to buy in. I’ll get 10k tomorrow night or the next night. However long it takes, and I’m playing her.”

“I’m not going back there! That was humiliating.”

“Don’t go then.” He took out his phone. “I’ll go by myself.”

“Let’s find another casino.” She pulled the car into a space. “And I swear to you, it wasn’t that much. I think they were scamming us. That man and woman have been watching us for a few nights now. There is no way in hell I owed that much.”

Gibson turned to her. “But you owed something.”

She looked away.

“Why didn’t you just pay him?”

“I was paying him. I just…” She paused there for a few seconds. “I don’t know. It’s hard to explain.”

“Well, explain it!” Gibson demanded. “We have hardly nothing left - of my money! I earned it! All that hard work and now all of it’s gone!”

“It’s not all gone! We have enough to get us through a week or two. Until we find another casino at least.”

“We’re not going to another one. I’m playing Carpathia. If I win a game with her, we won’t need to do this again for a while. We’re doing things my way now.”

“You don’t even care that they were holding me like a prisoner! They scammed us! We can’t go back there!”

“You can’t but I will!”

She got out of the car and slammed the door. “They tricked us. And what the hell do you want me to do? I said I was sorry.”

He got out of the car. “You can shut up.” He slammed the door. “That’d be a start.”

As he charged across the parking lot, he noticed she wasn’t following him. He turned to see her standing by the car, her face hidden by her hands. He stopped for a second and went back to her.

“I didn’t mean to say that,” he said softly. “I just don’t understand. You could have just paid him.”

She removed her hands and there were tears streaming down her face. “I just wanted to see. I just wanted to see if he really wanted to be with me for me and not the money I was giving him.”

Gibson shook his head at her.

“He told me I was beautiful. Perfect.”

Gibson felt all the fight drain out of him as he looked at her scarred up face and her glowing eyes filling with more tears. Suddenly, it was all clear to him. Her face and her mind said it all. She’d certainly been scammed, but in a hurtful way. One that went deeper than pockets and bank accounts. She’d wanted it to be true. She’d wanted be the woman she used to be.

Gibson reached out to hug her and let her cry into his shoulder. He listened to all the pain and shame. He couldn’t be angry at her now. And he couldn’t say what he wanted to say right then.

The words lingered on his tongue and then they just dissolved.


 

“I didn’t think you’d come back,” Gibson said, sitting down at the table.

Crystal Waters lay on her side on the bed. Mostly clothed. She propped her head up on her elbow. “Why wouldn’t I come back?”

“I thought you got a different…job or something.” Gibson looked over at the condoms on the nightstand and then at her naked breasts. That waterfall…it was hard not to look.

“Aren’t you glad I’m back?” She tilted her head teasingly and rolled onto her stomach, a strand of hair flicking over her lips. It got stuck in her lip gloss, and she brushed it away.

He smiled. “I am.”

She smiled back. “Did you want to play another chess game?” She slid a hand over her shoulder and down her arm. “Or something else?”

She was intrigued by him now. And quite accepting of the couple thousand he gave her earlier for her time.

“You don’t have to be like that with me,” he said quietly.

Her smile faltered a little. “I just want to make sure you get your money’s worth.”

He got up and sat down on the bed next to her. “What makes you think I won’t?”

She sat up and slowly undid the knot of his tie. “You always will with me.”

He let her take off his tie and unbutton his shirt. He watched her face. “Why do you do this?” He tried to listen for her answer in her thoughts before she spoke. Any kind of drug dependencies. Any kids. Sick family members. An evil pimp. He went through it all like a laundry basket and didn’t find it.

“Because I like it.”

“You like sleeping with strangers?” He felt her hands slide across his chest. He wondered if she could feel his heart on the other side; thudding out a rhythm that was becoming familiar when he was near her.

“Who doesn’t like sex?” She removed the rest of her clothes and straddled his lap. She bumped her hips up against him. She could probably feel how aroused he was getting. “And I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. I set the rules. This is my room.”

He had to clench the covers to keep his hands from wandering all over her. “What if all I want is to talk to you?”

Her breath passed by his ear. He felt it tingle. She sat up on her knees, her breasts right in front of his face. “Then talk.” She rolled her hips over his lap again and he shivered. The light kisses she was planting all along his neck were making him weak.

“I’m not normal,” he said flatly.

She looked in his eyes. She had the most lovely, bright eyes. It was like looking into a green glass bottle, filtering the world, changing it. “Chess in a place like this isn’t normal.”

“Well, besides that. I’m not normal.”

She put her arms around his neck and gyrated her hips down into his crotch. His fingers tightened around the blankets. “Are you a werewolf?” She whispered.

“Werewolves aren’t real.”

“A Skinwalker? I had a Navajo client the other night. He told me all about them. They’re really scary.”

He brought a hand up to her face, stroking her cheek with his fingers. “This isn’t what you wanted to be when you were growing up.”

“Oh. You’re a psychic.” She grinned.

She was thinking about a book. In that book was a list of famous queens. She’d looked at all the illustrations and paintings; took her time remembering their names and life stories. She made herself a paper crown. She stood in front of a mirror, draped in a sheet, and pretended people were throwing flowers at her.

“I can picture you like that,” he whispered.

“Like what?”

He gently lifted her off his lap and stood up. “I didn’t want this to be my life either.”

She seductively tucked her chin into her shoulder. “Are you a vampire?”

“They’re not real either.”

“I don’t know about that.” She stretched out on the bed. “I’ve read some stuff.”

He looked at her laying there, the image of beauty and eroticism. He could see her parading through a street. Medieval. Renaissance. Early Modern. Ancient. Dynastic.

A Queen.

A Chess Queen.

He could really see her like that.

He sighed. “I can hear what people are thinking.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Not everybody. Not…it used to be different.”

She smiled at him.

“Just some people, though. Not everyone, and I don’t understand why. It used to be everybody.”

“Some people?” She grinned. “Do you know what I’m thinking?”

“Yes.” He paused. “Sometimes.”

She stood up and unbuttoned his pants. “What am I thinking right now?”

He looked into her green-grass eyes and slid his fingers through her soft, long hair. “That I’m a creep.”

She laughed and took off the rest of his clothes. She pressed her naked body up against him and he was lost now. Just a lost cause. “I know what you are,” she whispered against his lips.

“You do?” He whispered back.

She kissed him softly. She put her lips by his ear. “An alien.”

He stiffened, then heard her soft giggle. She kissed a path from his ear to his lips. She made a downward motion with her palm, making the lights dim. She believed he was just a man. A lonely man. Lonely and pathetic, like all her clients. She was trying to set up a fantasy; find something that would turn him on.

She didn’t have to try hard.

He gathered her up in his arms, kissing her, and backed her towards the bed. She lay down, and he got on top of her.

“Have you come to abduct me?” She caressed his shoulders. Her fingernails tickled the skin on his neck.

“I’ve come to rescue you,” he said to her softly, looking in her eyes. “Take you from this place and to my castle.”

The playfulness left her eyes, and she looked at him curiously. Her thoughts began to bloom in his mind like a bed of flowers. He kissed her deeply and caressed her like he might turn her skin into silk. He let her pour into his mind. Let her slip through the cracks. His sweat and his breath mingled with hers as he searched for it. Concentrating. Pleasing. Giving. Taking. He thought he might take her away on this bed as it moved back and forth, back and forth, across the desert. They’d move away like this, to some place long ago, when he was lost and hungry. Lost and cold. He could take her away.

From him.

She wouldn’t think about him anymore.

He sucked in his breath and felt a shock of warmth through his body. She wrapped her legs around him and promised him. He made her feel things. He made her feel something she’d never felt. He knew her best. He knew her better.

He touched every scar. Kissed them away. They seemed to fade under his lips.

He would take her away. From him.

Her legs tightened around him. Her body quivered. Her back arched, her head thrown back as she cried out. He looked down into Crystal’s eyes and imagined they were glowing.

He imagined falling into them. Looking through them, filtering, changing everything.

 


 

The United States

Tsegi, Arizona

2000

8:09pm

Gibson heard a howl and walked faster.

He could see the line of mobile homes and small houses over the red dirt of the landscape. He’d seen them on the flat surface and it felt like it was taking forever to get to them. And it was cold. He shivered. The sun was going down and leaving him in near total darkness and in a chill.

His feet were blistering inside his shoes. He’d been walking all day. He was lost and panic nearly ate him alive for a few hours until he saw the line of mobile homes in the distance. The desert played tricks. They were further away than he’d thought.

He wasn’t exactly sure what day it was or what month it was. Days and weeks linked up into one long stretch of time. He thought about just turning around and retracing his steps, but he wasn’t exactly sure how he’d arrived here.

First, he tried to go back to Canada. All the money Aunt Kathleen gave him was still in his pocket. No one took Canadian money, and he didn’t know where to go to convert it. He’d tried to get on a bus to go back to them, because he’d rather be there than no where, but he didn’t have enough. Next, he went to a pay phone and flipped through a phone book. He tried to find Bazelle and Wayne, but they weren’t listed. Of course they weren’t listed. Too afraid of the IRS.

So, he hitchhiked his way out of Kentucky, filtering out the thoughts of the drivers that pulled up to him that could potentially harm him. He rode with a Mexican family that spoke no English to Arizona. They dropped him off outside of Tucson, and the mother gave him some flan and a bottle of water.

And then somehow, he was here. Walking along and almost like he couldn’t stop.

His skin was sunburned and the blisters were hurting. He was scared of the wild animals that might be out here. Coyotes and tarantulas. Rattlesnakes. It was mostly fear that kept him going. He hoped if no one took pity on him, there was a barn or a shed he could sleep in. Maybe someone had left out a bowl of water for their cat or dog. He’d drink it. He was that thirsty.

As he stumbled along, he heard something else. Footsteps. They were moving quickly somewhere near him. He stopped. He looked around. He could still hear them, but he didn’t see anyone. He wondered if he might be trespassing, and someone angry was coming after him. He began to walk faster.

He heard the footsteps again and was completely shocked to hear the thoughts. It was someone he knew. Someone he thought he’d never see again.

He came to a halt and looked around. The silhouette of a man stood a few feet away from him. Gibson could hardly see him for the waning light.

“Gibson.” The man said.

Gibson felt a chill run through him. He recognized that voice.

The man came closer, and Gibson wasn’t sure if he should run away or collapse from relief.

It was Mulder. Fox Mulder.

As he came closer, Gibson saw he’d changed quite a bit. He had a scruffy beard and his hair was grown out over his ears. “What on earth are you doing here?” He looked around them. “Were you looking for me?”

Gibson felt his eyes fill with tears. The relief of seeing a familiar face was overwhelming. “I’m lost,” he choked out. “I’m lost and I’m….” He began crying, only slightly embarrassed for being like this in front of a grown man.

“It’s okay.” Mulder came over to him and took his hand. “Come on. It’s okay.”

Mulder led him to a mound sticking up from the earth. From a distance, Gibson would have thought it was a rock, but it was a mound of red dirt with a blanket covering the entrance. Mulder took him inside it, and Gibson saw it was dark except for the fire in the middle, casting eerie shadows on the dirt walls.

Mulder sat down on a mat and grabbed a jug of water. He gave it to Gibson and he almost choked from drinking it so fast.

“What are you doing here?” Mulder asked him.

Gibson wiped his running nose with the back of his arm. “I was hitchhiking. The last people dropped me off.”

“From where?”

Gibson took another long gulp before he answered. “Kentucky.”

“That’s a long way.” Mulder took out a container and opened it up revealing a stack of bread that looked like tortillas with bubbles. It smelled heavenly. He handed one to Gibson, and Gibson devoured it in seconds.

“And you just ended up here?” Mulder asked.

Gibson licked his fingers. “I was just walking. I didn’t know where. I just…walked.”

Mulder looked at him soberly through the flames of the small fire. He shook his head. “There isn’t much space in here, but if you need a place to stay, you’re welcome. I’m sure my friends won’t mind.”

Gibson heard his thoughts whispering through the space. Mulder was running away from something, hiding.

“I don’t even have to tell you, do I?” Mulder said quietly.

Gibson shook his head.

“I have some friends here. This used to be an old medicinal hut, but they made a bigger one. They’re letting me stay in it.” He paused and looked around. “They helped me. A few years ago.”

Gibson heard it. Mulder was in this very hut. Near death. A Navajo man had brought him back.

“Do you want anymore?” Mulder offered Gibson some more bread and he readily accepted. “Were you followed?”

“I can hear them,” Gibson said in between bites. “They haven’t been around.”

Mulder nodded slowly. “You can sleep over there.” He pointed to a sleeping bag with a woven blanket on top of it. He held up the jug. “I’m going to get some more water.”

He left the hut, and Gibson crawled over to the sleeping bag. He was so incredibly grateful and now so incredibly weary. He took off his shoes and rubbed his aching feet. He fell back on the sleeping bag and looked up through a hole in the top of the hut at all the stars.

They moved across the the clear sky, twinkling and winking at him as if they knew all his secrets. Gibson closed his eyes. He was dead asleep before Mulder returned.


 

Thirteen hours later, Gibson heard the sound of voices.

His eyes flung open. He put his glasses on and turned to see Mulder standing in the doorway of the hut talking to someone. Gibson got up and went over to the door, peeking around the blanket.

A Navajo man stood by a pickup truck, a younger Navajo man inside the cab. The truck looked like it had seen better days and the back was full of water jugs. The man lifted two off the back and handed them to Mulder. “This should last you until we get back. If not, you can use the pump. Just make sure you boil it first.”

Mulder thanked him and handed him some money. The guy took it and turned to the younger guy in the pickup. The younger guy looked odd to Gibson. His face. His eyes.

“You know we don’t need it,” the older guy said. “Although we appreciate it.”

“You do need it,” Mulder replied. “And much more. Your father saved my life.”

Gibson noticed the young guy had scars on his face. Around his lips and eyelids. He looked too thin. The older guy glanced over at the doorway and saw Gibson looking out of it. “Your friend’s up.”

Gibson tried to disappear behind the blanket. He was hearing something from the young guy he didn’t like.

“It’s okay,” Mulder pulled the blanket aside. “These are my friends.”

Gibson stood in the doorway and gazed at them. The young guy gave him a strange look. It was cold, almost accusing. He turned away, and the older guy got in the pickup.

“We’ll see you in a week,” the older guy called and they drove off, red dust kicking up behind the wheels.

Mulder picked up the water jugs and took them inside the hut. “Did you sleep okay?”

Gibson followed him inside. “There’s something wrong with that guy.”

Mulder set the jugs in the corner and put a pot over the fire pit. “Which guy?”

“The young one. Something happened to him.”

Mulder lit a match and threw it into the pit, waving it with his hand. “I know. He was kidnapped.” Mulder poured some water into the pot. “Because of me.” He sighed. “Because of us. They almost turned me away.”

Gibson sat down by the fire pit as it began to blaze. “I thought you said they helped you.”

“They did.” Mulder sat down beside him. “Then they were screwed over because of it.”

Gibson could hear a little bit of it. He and Scully had been here before, but for what Gibson didn’t know. Mulder turned off his stream of thoughts like a faucet.

“You hungry?” Mulder pulled out a pack of oatmeal.

Gibson nodded. He was always hungry.

After breakfast, Mulder took Gibson out of the hut. He gave Gibson some clothing to protect him from the sun and a different hat. The baseball cap was stained with blood from his stitches falling out.

“What did they do to you?” Mulder asked when he saw his head.

“Surgeries,” Gibson replied, putting on the hat. “And experiments.”

Mulder knelt down, his face full of remorse. “I’m sorry we weren’t there. I promise you that’ll never happen to you again. Not as long as I’m alive.”

“What about Scully?”

He stood upright. “What about her?”

“Is she here?”

“No.” Mulder made a wide arc to avoid a rattlesnake, sunning itself on a rock. Gibson followed his path. “And and I can’t contact her either.”

They’d made a deal, Gibson heard. They had some kind of an agreement. Mulder was in trouble with the FBI.

“I keep a gun over here.” Mulder pointed to a column of rock, jutting up from the earth. He went to a pile of rocks, reached in, and pulled out a shotgun. “Remember where this is. In case you need it.”

Gibson said he would.

“And in the event I need to make a run for it, I’ve got a bag packed over there.” He pointed to another pile of rocks. “If you ever think you’ll need it, don’t hesitate.” Mulder took him around another rough path, barely noticeable in the red dirt. “I’ve had a lot of time. A lot of planning.”

“For an invasion?” Gibson asked.

Mulder slowed his step. “Why do you ask when you know?”

He didn’t have an answer for that.

As they walked along, Mulder took him by a cave. The rocks inside were all bended and smooth, like works of art. Gibson paused to look in it. The rock was so smooth that he wanted to touch it. The sunlight lit up the space in pinks, yellows, and oranges. It was like a sculpture of a sunset.

Mulder noticed him standing there and came over. “When you need to feel better. Fast.” He turned to the opening of the cave. He sucked in air and screamed as loud as he could into the space. Gibson felt goosebumps all over him as the sound echoed off the rocks, layering over each other, in an eerie, screaming chorus.

Gibson stared at Mulder wide-eyed. He may well have lost his mind.

Mulder smiled. “Don’t knock it till you try it.” He gestured towards the cave. “Go ahead.”

Gibson looked at him warily.

Mulder held his arms wide. “No one’s out here, except you, me, and the coyotes.”

Gibson turned to the cave and let out a pathetic holler into the space. The echo wasn’t quite the same.

“You can do better than that,” Mulder encouraged.

Gibson went closer to the entrance, took a deep breath, and screamed as loud as he could into the cave. The rocks seemed to swallow up his voice and spit it back out in the most creepy, most awesome, most powerful way.

Gibson turned to Mulder. Mulder grinned. “You feel better, don’t you?”

Gibson grinned back. “I do.”

“If I never have a son,” Mulder mused. “I hope he’s exactly like you.”


 

Time seemed to slow. Gibson lost track. He was happy just to have food, water, and a comfortable place to sleep. Weeks went by. Sometimes all they did was sit around inside the hut in silence. Gibson liked the peace and quiet. He grew used to the dry heat of the days and the hard chill of the nights. He grew used to Mulder’s brooding thoughts that reminded him of someone slowly stirring a pot.

And some nights Mulder would spring up out of his sleeping bag and run outside the hut. Gibson would sit up, waiting a few minutes until Mulder came back, telling him it was all right. Just go back to sleep. And Gibson would sleep. He felt safe with this man. Safer than he’d ever felt with anyone.

One evening, they sat on rusty lawn chairs around a fire outside the mound. They’d found them in a trash heap on the reservation. Gibson’s chair was off balance. He had to keep leaning to the left to keep the chair from tipping over. Mulder stared into the fire and spat sunflower seed shells on the ground.

Gibson looked around them nervously when he heard a far away howl. He pulled his feet up at the thought there might be a tarantula or a snake under his chair. He was becoming scared of things that he’d never been scared of before.

“They won’t come down this way.” Mulder spit out another shell. “They never do.”

Gibson relaxed a little.

Mulder broke up a couple of cactus needles and tossed them in the fire. Gibson felt like an outlaw. Like a cowboy. He wondered if he’d get to ride a horse. Bazelle and Wayne bought a pony once. They were giddy, shaking like leaves, when Gibson ran out with the rest of the kids to see it. It was an ugly pony. Dirt-brown, stank, and had an infection in one eye. Matt and Jeremy pushed each other into a fist fight trying to climb on top of it. But the pony disappeared just as suddenly as it appeared. Bazelle lied and said it ran off. When they finally came down, came to their senses, Wayne shot it in the head and put it in the ground before the owners could have them arrested.

“You have the keys to the kingdom,” Mulder said quietly. “You ever think about that?”

Gibson looked up at the sky, at all the stars, like they might provide him an answer. The sky was so clear out here, so big. He could swear if Mulder sat him on his shoulders, Gibson could touch it.

“You could own the world.” Mulder shifted his eyes over to him. “You could own everything. Everyone.”

Gibson shifted in his chair. “I don’t want to own anything.”

“What do you want?” Mulder was curious. He leaned forward, waiting.

Gibson didn’t have to think for too long. Food. Shelter. A bed to sleep in. All the time. Every day. To never have to run away or worry ever again. To stay out of labs and feel…what did he want to feel?

“You want to be safe.” Mulder sat back.

Safe. Gibson nodded at that.

That wasn’t all. At times he felt like he was climbing on the edges of what he needed. What he wanted. Then he’d fall off and couldn’t find his way back. He would just get lost.

“We all have the right to be safe.” Mulder’s voice was quiet. “And know the truth.”

“It’s not always good, though.” Gibson tilted to the left to keep the chair from tipping.

“What? The truth?”

“People lie because it’s easier. No one really wants to know what others are thinking. About them. About anything.”

“But it’s the truth.” He grabbed another handful of seeds. “No matter how bad or good it is, it’s still the truth.”

“I wouldn’t want to know,” Gibson replied softly. “If I couldn’t know, I wouldn’t want to.”

“Keys to the kingdom.” Mulder spit out another shell. “And you can do anything.”

“I don’t want the keys.”

Right when he said it, it became the thing. The thing he needed and wanted: to never hear another thought again. He could just go home. To some home somewhere, far away, and go to bed like a normal boy. Wake up like a normal boy. Grow up. Grow old. Die happy.

“I don’t want the truth. I don’t want…I don’t want this.” Mulder finished the sunflower seeds and put his face in his hands. “I feel like everything I’ve seen or heard is just a mirage.” He turned to look at him suddenly. “Does the truth still exist when no one believes in it?”

Gibson thought about the pony. He’d wanted to believe Bazelle. He didn’t want to believe there was a dead horse in the backyard somewhere. He didn’t want to imagine Wayne, huffing and puffing with a shovel, laboring over a hole late into the night while Bazelle held the flashlight, bitching at him all the while. And when Matt told Denise they’d killed the pony, and Gibson saw Denise crying, he told her it wasn’t true. Of course the pony ran off. It ran off into the woods and it was okay. Denise stopped crying. Lies were easier.

Mulder stood up and began folding up his chair. “You tired?” He kicked dirt over the fire.

Gibson folded up his chair and followed Mulder back into the mound-hut. The man’s head was buzzing like a hive. The things he’d seen…and with her. Scully was never too far away inside Mulder’s head. He thought about her when he woke up. He thought about her as he made a fire. He thought about her all through the long, chilly nights.

Gibson paused in the doorway, still holding his chair, while Mulder unzipped his sleeping bag. “It does exist. It always exists.”

Mulder turned to look at him.

“It’s like the way you feel about her. She doesn’t believe it. But you do.”

Mulder stood there like a statue.

Gibson went over to his sleeping bag. “You should tell her. She loves you, too.”

Gibson was all snuggled in his sleeping bag, getting drowsy from his body heat. Mulder just stood there. Still as a statue. Gibson couldn’t be sure, but he thought Mulder stayed that way all night.


 

The truck came back. This time it was just the older guy. Gibson sat in the back while he and Mulder talked. He let his legs dangle over the edge and wondered what it would be like to ride in this across the desert. He’d still like to ride a horse, though. Just once.

Mulder came around and appeared in front of him. “We’re gonna go somewhere.”

Gibson stared at him. He felt his throat close up. Mulder wasn’t even trying to hide it.

Mulder pursed his lips and looked down at his feet. He looked sad for a second. “It’s okay. I promise you, it’s alright.”

Gibson swallowed. “Okay.”

“He can ride back there until we get off the res,” the Navajo guy called to him. “Cops around here pull us over for everything.”

Mulder looked at him, his eyes getting hazy. “It’s alright.”

Gibson folded up his legs and moved over. Mulder closed up the back and got in the front. Gibson slumped down, feeling the truck wobble over the ground, a cloud of dust kicking up behind it.

He should have known. But once someone knew what Gibson could do, they could just hide things. They could exert control and be careful. Mulder was careful. Gibson watched the mound get smaller as they drove away. He angrily brushed a couple of tears from his face.

It seemed to take forever. When they were finally off the reservation, Gibson sat in between Mulder and the Navajo guy in the front. He tried to look stoic, but he was shaking on the inside.

Mulder patted his knee. The words echoed in his mind, It’s okay, Gibson. You’ll be safe.

They took him to a school. A deaf school. Gibson wasn’t paying attention to anything. Like the name. The parking lot. The vague glow of a TV screen through a window. It felt like the world was closing in around him. The Navajo guy got out. Mulder got out. Gibson didn’t move.

“Give me a sec,” Mulder said to the guy. He leaned through the open door. “I want you to be safe.” His eyes softened. “I don’t want anything bad to ever happen to you again. No one will find you here.”

He only half-believed that himself. Gibson sullenly got out of the truck. Mulder knelt down. There were tears in his eyes. “I can’t let you stay with me. You’re not safe with me. I want you to grow up, get old. Into an old, happy man. And they never find you again.”

Gibson felt a few tears escape.

“There is so much in you. You’re too good for this world.”

Gibson brushed the tears away. Mulder hugged him, and Gibson felt like he might hold on too long. Hold on like some pathetic little brat, begging and screaming, kicking and refusing.

“I’ll tell her,” Mulder whispered to him. “I’ll tell her.”

Gibson let go. He just let go, and pulled himself together. He turned around and walked towards the entrance, his head held high, into his new home.

He could sense Mulder behind him, watching.

Still as a statue.

Goodbye.