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Mesabi Ferrum

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TITLE:  Mesabi Ferrum

AUTHOR: Zoonr

EMAIL: zoonr@hotmail.com

DISTRIBUTION: *NO ARCHIVE*.  I’ll post to the normal places, anywhere else, please link to my site http://zoonr.tripod.com/  (and let me know first). 

SUMMARY:  It's 2012 and Earth is about to get hit with the "s**t storm of all time." As Mulder and Scully race to find their son, William, and save him from the impending alien invasion, the aliens unleash an unspeakable plague on mankind while engrossed in their own civil war.  Meanwhile, Gibson Praise and others in the 'World of X' are learning that you have to have a pretty big ring to hold all those keys to the X Files.

DISCLAIMER:  This work contains characters and situations of the television series "The X-Files," which are the creations and intellectual property of Chris Carter, Ten-Thirteen Productions, and FOX Broadcasting Co. The author makes no claim to ownership over these elements, and this work should be distributed only in a free manner without promoting monetary gain.  Any reference to actual government agencies is purely fictional and based on the fictional version of the agency depicted in the television series "The X Files."  All content relating to real persons, places or entities is the sole product of the author and was acquired by coincidence, not with the intent to resemble actual practices, opinions or policies and not with the approval of any such entity.  For specific reasons, I had to say ALL of that… sorry for such a mongo disclaimer!

SPOILERS: Specifically "William" and "The Truth" but it covers the entire series.

RATING: R  (Sexual situations, graphic imagery, language)

CATEGORY: S, X, R, A

KEYWORDS: MSR, Pre/Post Colonization, Post Series, DRR

POST DATE: 10-16-2004

MY NOTES:  The story includes discussions and interpretations of various Native American and other religious mythologies.  I conducted extensive research, however ultimately this is a work of fiction and some creative license was taken with regard to these themes.  I intend no offense to anyone whose beliefs I may have contradicted.  I have only respect for all of the real world beliefs discussed within this story. In addition, I am not a doctor, a pathologist, a microbiologist or even remotely any other type of scientist.  I promise that I have not taken any more creative license with science than was taken within the television show itself.   

FEEDBACK: Loved and feared at zoonr@hotmail.com

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Mesabi Ferrum

PART ONE

CHAPTER ONE

The wind howled as it whipped through the trees, swirling over and around the boy standing among them.  To William, the wind sounded less animal and more human; like a child screaming.  A nylon flag graced by a white buffalo flapped violently overhead, snapping itself like a firecracker.  The cold, damp air covered William with a thin film of moisture, and he shivered, fear chilling him more than the elements.  Ten yards in front of him to his left a twig broke and he turned to see a rabbit scamper off into the cover of the brush.  He wished he were that rabbit, free to flee, to adhere to its instinct to hide.  Instead, William's feet felt like concrete blocks, heavy and embedded into the soft earth below him.

The forest was dark, except for a peculiar glow coming from some undefined origin deeper in the foliage.  The light spread out in a ball, distorted, blurred and soft from the mist.  If he could touch it, William imagined the light would feel fuzzy, like balls of cotton.  Out of the light, there came a man whom William did not recognize.  As the man walked towards him, William again tried to lift his feet, but his legs felt disconnected from his body.  He knew something was about to happen that he'd rather not be around to witness. 

Worse yet was the feeling that another pair of eyes were on him.  Someone else watched him intently from the brush, but William could not see who--or what--it was.  He only felt a presence.  The feeling both comforted and terrified him, a contradiction he didn't bother to analyze.

The man, now only a few feet away, stopped.  William could not clearly see the features on his face, yet he knew he had seen the man before.  The man turned around towards the light and lifted his arms up to the sky, as if he wanted to embrace the stars that loomed somewhere behind the thick, gray clouds.  The wind blew even harder, and William leaned forward to keep himself upright, squinting as he struggled to keep his eyes open.

The ball of light moved.  It rose up from the cover of the underbrush, the light radiating from somewhere inside something metal and mechanical.  As the light climbed higher, the clouds cleared, finally revealing a sleek, circular spacecraft.  It hovered overhead, bathing William and the man in a bluish light.  William turned towards the man, but the man no longer stood nearby.  William looked up and saw that the man had been lifted into the light.  He floated like a puppet on a string towards the ship with his arms still raised as though he were embracing the empty space between him and the source of the light.

Finally, William found his legs.  He would not be next.  He had to escape before it was too late. 

After one final look up, William turned away from where the ship had risen, and he just ran.

^^^^^^^^^

Rural Wyoming

December 20, 2012

2:20 am

"What is it, Will?  Another bad dream?"  The boy stood in the doorway.  The dull light of the full moon danced on the floor as it came in through the large window near the bed, but William stood in the shadow just beyond the light’s reach.  Rob blinked the sleepiness away from his eyes, and lifted himself up on his elbows to get a better look at his son.  If he could have seen William’s face clearly, he would have recognized the reddish-tint in the boy's cheeks, more pronounced now than it was naturally.  In spite of the embarrassment he knew his son felt at running into mom and dad’s bedroom because of a bad dream, twelve-year-old William hovered in the doorway, looking unsure of his decision to interrupt his parents at this late an hour.  His dreams were coming more frequently and Rob saw the fatigue in his son’s eyes.

"What was it this time?"

"Same as last night," Will said quietly, rubbing his hand over the wooden doorframe.  Rob had noticed a distinctive change in his son's personality in the last few weeks.  Normally, William was energetic, eager to learn, always questioning what he didn't understand.  Lately, he had withdrawn.  Rather than rush out to play ball with his friends after dinner, he retreated into his room, shutting himself from his parents and the world.  If William were a little older and cavorted with a rougher crowd of boys, Rob might have been concerned he was using drugs.  But Rob Van De Kamp knew his son much better than other fathers knew their sons, which was why he was worried.

Not long ago, William had mentioned having strange and disturbing, recurring dreams that would awaken him in a cold sweat.  It had been many years since William had habitually crept into the bedroom Rob shared with his wife, Susan, wishing to wrap himself up in the cocoon of safety between them.  But lately, it had become an almost nightly affair. 

"Well, come on in, then… if you can stand the noise.  Mom's sawing logs again."  Rob gave a weak smile, and patted the empty spot in the spacious king-sized bed beside him.  "Do you want to tell me about it?"

William shook his head as he crawled over Rob and slipped under the covers. 

"It might help if you talk to me."

William seemed to consider that for a moment, and even opened his mouth slightly on the verge of speech.  Then he quickly pursed his lips together and inhaled deeply through his nose, shifting his gaze downward.  "I don't want to, Dad."

"All right then.  I won't force you.  But, if you change your mind, you know where to find me.  Right here next to the foghorn."  Rob brushed his fingers over William's cheeks.  Then he pulled the covers up a little higher over them both, and slid lower down the bed.  He didn't want to push William more than Rob knew he could handle.  Will would talk to him when he was ready.  Rob had always been close with his son, and until recently William seemed destined to be one of those rare children who would actually confide in his parents when worried or under stress.  So, instead Rob laid back, closed his eyes, and finally fell asleep in spite of the rough sound of Susan's breathing. 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Duluth, Minnesota

December 20, 2012

6:32 am

Dana Scully sat on the edge of the bed, methodically pulling on her wool socks, trying not to stir the man beside her.  The room was still dark, though in winter it always seemed to be dark, especially up here in the frozen north.  She never imagined spending her last days on earth here.  Why they hadn't just headed south to Mexico years ago sometimes escaped her.  Even now, she thought about getting in the truck and driving.  Her time in Mexico would be short, but at least it would be better than one more moment in this place, where for months on end the landscape was covered in a swath of white and the cold penetrated through her skin, to the bone and into her very soul.

She glanced over at Fox Mulder, sleeping on his side with his knees tucked up to his stomach.  She half expected him to have his thumb stuffed in his mouth to complete the image.  During the past few months, all he seemed to do was sleep.  They'd come to this town nestled on the banks of Lake Superior in their usual flurry.  Mulder was sure they'd find answers and she was sure to follow him.  But of course, as always, no answers had been found, and for the first time since she'd known him he'd sunk into what had become a paralyzing depression, nearly taking her with him. 

Truth was, they both had been heading in that mental direction for some time.  The fact that Mulder had arrived before her was surprising, but not shocking.  For ten years they'd been together nearly every hour of every day, unable to rely on anyone but each other.  It was one thing to have only each other, yet be able to live in the real world, with real jobs and a few real friends -- able to live in the world as yourself -- but it was a significantly different matter to be cut off from every shred of normalcy except for the company of one other human being, even if you loved that person as much as she loved Mulder.  Add to that the impending doom of civilization, the failure to prove to the world what would happen and the inability to find their son and one could say the last decade had been a bit of a downer. 

Their latest failure had been the last straw, and now they were almost out of time.

 Scully dropped her shoulders, wondering whether Mulder would even notice if she did head down to Mexico.  They'd barely spoken in the last few months, and when they did speak, it was either in short sentence fragments or in loud shouting contests leaving them both exhausted.  Their situation combined with the short daylight hours of winter had frazzled their nerves more than she ever imagined possible. 

Scully shook her head.  In spite of all that, deep down she knew he would notice if she left, no matter where she went.  He always noticed her, even now.  Though, it might take until she arrived at her destination before he realized she was gone.

"Where are you going?"  Mulder's groggy voice came from underneath the blankets, muffled and low.

"I'm going for a walk."

"It's six-thirty in the morning.  And freezing."

"I'll wear a hat."

"Wouldn't you rather wait until it's light out?"

Scully stood up quickly and whirled around.  Months of pent up silence spilled out making her sound angrier than she intended.  "No, Mulder, I wouldn't.  Damn it!  We may only have two days left.  There's no time to wait.  I'm going for a goddamn walk!"

"Oh," he said.  Her outburst seemed to do little.  "All right."

Scully sighed, feeling a twinge of regret.  She couldn't really blame him.  They'd failed.  For the past ten years, they'd tried everything they could think of to stop Colonization.  Truth be told, they hadn't come up with much.  They'd broken into government facility after government facility, destroyed experiment upon experiment, Scully had prayed to heaven and Mulder had shouted to the press.  Nothing had worked.  All of that aside, the only failure that mattered to them was the one she had thought about every day for more than ten years.

Scully glanced over to the nightstand where a picture stood in a stainless steel frame.  The photograph, slightly faded now, was of a smiling, downy-haired baby with big blue eyes staring up at her.  It was a moment frozen in time, a baby that would never grow up in the eyes of his parents, a symbol of past failure and irrevocable regret. 

She looked away from the picture and swallowed back the lump that was forming in her throat.  She had spent the last decade wallowing in guilt and allowing Mulder to share in it.  It was useless.  All she wanted now was to soak in the last moments of this life before heading into the great unknown that was the next one.  Whatever that may or may not be.   

Scully sighed, "I'll be back soon."

"K." 

She headed out into the foyer of the tiny house they'd rented only a few months earlier.  Its owners were "summer people" and had little use for the house during the winter.  The wind off Lake Superior was brutal this time of year, and most of the people who visited from the Twin Cities had no desire to face an even colder winter in Duluth than they would at home.  They’d posed as writers and agreed to help with the maintenance of the property.  Mulder and Scully were able to get this place for a real bargain, paying only pennies for a place that during the summer would probably bring in a handsome income.  Considering their funds had almost completely dried up the house was a great find.  It was not always easy getting cash when you’re on every wanted poster in every post office in the United States. 

Scully grabbed her coat and hat and opened the door to what would be, in an hour or so, the second to last dawn she would probably ever see.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^

7:20 am

Scully stomped her feet on the mat in front of the door, sending sticky clumps of snow falling gracelessly to the floor.  She removed her hat and her coat, hung them up neatly on the rack and headed towards the bedroom, expecting Mulder to still be sleeping in the bed where she left him.  She was going to have to wake him up, and she dreaded it.  She'd dreaded it a half an hour into her walk when the snow had begun to fall, tentatively at first until it grew into penny-sized, wet flakes.  The scene would have been beautiful, if it hadn't lodged a pit in her stomach the size of a plum.  She had turned around immediately and headed back toward the cabin.

She entered the cozy bedroom and glanced at the bed.  It was a comfortable queen sized bed; the frame was made of round cedar logs, sturdy and homey.  It didn't fit either of their personalities, but it reminded her of home nonetheless; of a time when she had her own bed, her own home, and she believed her future could be changed.  Of course, her immediate future was still unknown to her.  Would she eat pizza for dinner or make spaghetti?  The nuts and bolts of her life were still changeable.  Unfortunately, what she could no longer change was how everything would end.  More than ever she now wished she could go back in time and warn the woman she once had been not to take for granted simple pleasures she rarely allowed herself to indulge in:  A bath on a Saturday afternoon, walks on the National Mall during lunch breaks in springtime with the Japanese Cherry Blossoms in full bloom, sleeping in on Sunday morning and reading the paper in bed with Mulder.

But she couldn't go back and right now she wondered to where the occupant of this particular bed had wandered off.  Mulder seemed to be taking a break from hibernation.  The bed was unmade, but empty.

She turned her head towards the bathroom, where the door was open a crack.  She heard the rhythmic patter of water hitting the bathtub.  A second later, she heard the shower knob squeak and the sound of the curtain sliding over the metal rail.  He hadn't taken a shower in about two days, so this surprised her considering the state she left him in earlier.  He had seemed entrenched in the den he'd built himself, content to snooze away his remaining few hours.

Nearly twenty years earlier Scully had met Fox Mulder whose unrelenting passion to seek the truth at all costs had both, inspired her, infuriated her and been the main reason she found herself falling in love with him not long afterwards.  She couldn’t believe that same man would now willingly choose to sleep through the start of Colonization. 

She felt hopeful for a moment as she watched him emerge from the bathroom, steam following him into the bedroom.  He wore a towel around his waist and rubbed another haphazardly over his hair, creating a disheveled look that sent a shiver through Scully, reminding her of another time and place.  Those few short months before Mulder's abduction had brought many moments of 'firsts,' of letting loose butterflies within her she never knew existed. 

That was a lifetime ago.

He looked up. "Hey," he said, smirking.  She realized she was staring at him.  He had been wrapped up in three layers of clothing every day for months and seeing him fresh from the shower wearing only a towel produced a long dormant flutter within her.  "I thought I was getting a little ripe."

"You have no arguments from me," she said, clearing her throat and straightening herself a little, remembering why she had been trying to find him in the first place.  "Uh, Mulder.  It's snowing."

"Looks pretty," he said, turning his head to look through the window outside where large, drowsy flakes fluttered down to the ground.  She had hoped he would catch her meaning, but he showed no hint of recognition.  He just continued to stand in front of her, patting the towel over his body and hair, soaking up the moisture from his shower.

"It's snowing Mulder.  *Early.*  I think we should each take an injection."  She said it in her old, business-as-usual-Scully-tone, and braced herself for an argument.  At the very least she expected a drowsy lack of interest before he flung himself on the bed for another twenty years of slumber.

"So do I."  He threw the towel he held back into the bathroom, where it landed softly on the damp floor.  He quickly covered the clumped mess with the towel he wore around his waist and headed naked towards the dresser opposite the bed to search for a clean pair of boxers.

"You're agreeing with me?  No arguments?"

"I could probably come up with one if you're itching for a fight.  But I'd just be faking it."

"What happened?"

He slid on a pair of blue and gray flannel shorts, and turned towards her. 

"I had a dream."

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

CHAPTER TWO

Near Sedona, Arizona

December 20, 2012

12:01 pm

John Doggett raised his hand, fist closed, poised to knock on the flimsy plastic door that separated him from the inside of the small, metal, bullet train-like trailer.  As he brought his hand down to strike, the door opened inward and Doggett’s arm swung impotently at the desert air. 

"Damn it.  I hate when you do that," Doggett said.  Despite it being December, he was hot and thirsty and if he saw one more cactus, he was going to pull out his gun and commit cactucide.  Too bad he’d flown and left the gun at home.  As many times as he’d made this trip, he still hadn’t gotten used to the wide-open spaces and traffic free sounds of the Southwest.  So far, this trip had been the worst yet, because the only flight he could get at such short notice had been a red eye into Tuscon.  He’d been driving for hours since landing.   

Gibson Praise, a short, stocky young man in his mid-twenties stood inside the trailer, a couple of steps, or about two feet above the ground, smugly staring down at Doggett.  His arms were crossed over his chest, and at that angle Doggett could only barely make out the long scar that crossed over the man's skull from ear to ear.

"I can't help it if it's one of the few forms of entertainment out here," Gibson said.

"Are you going to let me in, or what?  It's starting to rain out here," Doggett said, stepping up onto the steps, not waiting for Gibson to reply.

Gibson moved aside, and allowed Doggett to enter the place he'd called home for the past several years.

"It looks like we may need to build an ark out there.  Sky's darker than I've ever seen it.  Wind's starting to blow, too." 

"It's starting."

"That's what I'm saying.  It's gonna rain buckets," Doggett said, taking off his wet coat.

"I mean *it.*  *It's* starting."

"What?"  Understanding dawned and Doggett shook his head.  "No. Gibson, it's just a big thunderstorm.  Might be some flash flooding, but --"

"That's an understatement.  Have you checked the Weather Channel lately?"  Gibson extended his arm and pointed to the muted television, a bulky 20-inch tube model circa 2003.  The television sat on an old wooden crate in the trailer's tiny living room. 

Doggett moved around Gibson so that he could stand directly in front of the television.   "Turn it up."  Gibson grabbed the remote control and pressed a button with his thumb, increasing the volume level from 7 to 20.  Doggett peered down at the two-dimensional Weather Man, who stood in front of a computer generated, holographic map of the entire United States.

 "... unprecedented weather patterns.  This is definitely a historical day for meteorology.  Stay tuned to the Weather Channel for more on the unusual weather across the country."  The program faded into a commercial for laundry detergent, blasting a cheery tune at about twice the normal level.  Gibson turned the volume down again, and threw the remote on the sofa behind him.

"What?  It's raining everywhere?"  Doggett asked.

"Yep."

"So, besides it being freaky, what do you say is happening?"

"You know what I'm saying.  This is how it begins."

^^^^^^^^^^^

Rural Wyoming

December 20, 2012

12:17 pm

Susan Van de Kamp huddled near the fireplace, hands extended toward the flame in a near desperate attempt to get warm.  She'd been feeling progressively worse ever since the morning, after being caught outside in the rainstorm, trying to get the last remaining sheets off the clothesline.  She'd almost made it too, and then all hell had broken loose.  The sky opened up like she'd never seen before.  And now, almost five hours later, it showed no signs of letting up.  Some December weather they were having.  Instead of blissful flurries of snow, timed perfectly for Christmas as usual, it was behaving like spring.  The air was cool, but not cold, and the thunder in the distance made her think it was March not four days before Santa.

"How're you feeling?  Better?"  Rob's hand settled on her shoulder from behind as he kneeled down beside her on the floor.  With his other hand he lifted up a steaming cup of hot cocoa and she took it from him gratefully.

"No.  I think it's getting worse, actually.  Must be the flu."  Susan took a sip of her cocoa and settled back against Rob's chest.  He wrapped his arms around her.  "Where's Will?" 

"Playing a video game, I think.  They changed the status of his basketball game from 'delayed' to 'cancelled.'  Seems the school's roof is in pretty bad shape -- leaking so bad the gym is flooded.  They'll probably have to cancel the one next Friday night, too."

"Oh, no.  He's been looking forward to that game since the beginning of the season."

"That's what I thought, too.  But when I told him, he just shrugged, like he didn’t care."

"That's odd."  The word got caught in Susan's throat and she spasmed, coughing brutally.  Rob handed her the box of tissues.  With one hand she grabbed a handful and wracked up phlegm for nearly half a minute, leaving herself exhausted.  Rob's eyebrows scrunched up in a look of tender concern.

"Are you okay?"  Susan gave one final wheeze, and nodded slowly.  Rob helped her up off of the cold floor and settled them both on the sofa instead.  Rob's body heat made up for the loss of warmth from the fire, and then some.

"I'm okay."  She smiled up at him, and smoothed her hand over his wrinkled brow, down his face to rest on his chest, trying to reassure him.  His face softened, and his heart rate slowed.  "Did Will tell you anything about his dream, yet?"

"No, but I'm really getting worried.  Did he mention anything to you?"  Susan shook her head as she gently blew on her cocoa, sending little ripples through the velvet liquid.  She was more interested in using the mug to warm her hands than in drinking her favorite Winter-time beverage.  In fact, the chocolate aroma made her slightly nauseous.

"If he wouldn't talk to you, he definitely won't talk to me.  You two have something special."  She kept her eyes intentionally downward.

"He loves you.  You know that."

"Of course he does."  Her lips turned up in a smile, but it felt forced, even to her.  She knew William loved her, and she loved him more than anything.  He had been her dream come true ever since he arrived at their door nearly twelve years ago.  He was a wide-eyed, round faced baby, unusually content in her arms even though it had been less than one week since his birth mother had given him up for adoption after almost a year of caring for him. 

Susan loved her son, but they had never really connected.  Not like Rob and William, not the way she imagined a birth mother would connect to her own flesh and blood.  She felt awful about that.  Rob and she had tried for years to have their own child.  She always had that drive for motherhood, a drive that more and more women these days had suppressed.  She'd never had any ambition to earn a living outside the home, choosing instead a far more difficult and important life's work.  Being a wife and a mother was all she ever wanted to be.

Yet, somehow the day she learned they would never have their own biological child, a piece of that dream died, and so did a piece of herself.  The decision to adopt was an easy one, and she truly wanted to go through with it.  But from the moment they had learned about William, and the mysterious reasons surrounding his birth mother's decision to give him up, Susan had worried that her dreams would again be damaged.  On some subconscious level she never opened herself up to accept this boy, or at least to become close to him.  She felt guilty, but it didn't change how much she cared for her son.

"I love him, too," she said, trying to convince herself more than Rob.

"Come on, Sus.  I'll draw you a hot bath.  You're shivering."  Rob sat up and pulled on her arm until she followed.  They walked past the big bay window in the living room.  Outside the rain fell even harder.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Duluth, Minnesota

December 20, 2012

8:07 am

Mulder closed his eyes tightly and turned his head away as Scully quickly pushed the needle into his arm.  To look at him, one would think the needle was a Yellow Jacket dive-bombing him, stinger first, with its heart set on protecting the Queen.  Scully was convinced that a five year old would be easier to inject than Mulder.  The stress she still felt from her morning walk caused his reaction to irritate her more than usual.

"Jesus, Mulder.  You've gotten hundreds of shots in your life.  Why are you always such a baby?"  She’d spoken a little more harshly than she had intended.  Usually, she was conscious of Mulder’s past experience with needles and drills, but today her nerves were frazzled, and by the time she had realized what she had said, it was too late to take it back.

"I just don't like to *watch* the needle boring into my skin.  That's a fairly common phobia,” he said, shrugging.

She sighed, and softened her next words.  "There.  All done."  Scully set the syringe down on the table and pressed a piece of gauze over the entry mark centered between his left shoulder and elbow, dabbing the minute amount of blood before applying a Band Aid over it.  "You hardly felt it, did you?"

"That isn't the point," he said, trying to convince either himself or her that his fear was perfectly normal and rooted in common, everyday experience, though she wasn’t sure which.  Maybe both.

The corner of her mouth twitched as she removed her sweater, revealing only a thin, white tank top underneath.  "So, are you going to tell me about this dream of yours, or do I have to guess?”  Scully uncapped a brand new syringe and pushed it through the top of a small, liquid filled vial.  She pulled back the moveable part of the plastic syringe, sucking the light amber-tinted substance through the needle.  Mulder turned away as she brought the tip of the needle to her upper arm and applied pressure.  She was glad, because Mulder passing out on her was an event she would just as soon avoid. 

They'd conducted this same ritual almost every week for the past year, except for the past few weeks.  Though, without proper trials, it was difficult to know how often if was truly necessary to take the serum.  They'd run low on supplies, and Scully thought it would be prudent to save the remaining doses for emergency use only.  She suspected that Mulder could not have cared less, however.  He complained incessantly about the metallic taste the serum produced in his mouth.  Everything they ate had a hint of iron in it.

"Food was just starting to taste normal again," he said, changing the subject away from his dream.

"When was the last time you ate, Mulder?" 

Mulder lowered his head, suddenly looking like a scolded ten year-old.  "I don't know," he mumbled.  "I think I ate something yesterday.  We had tacos."

"That was two days ago.  Mulder, you have to eat.  We shouldn't be taking these injections if our blood sugar is low.  I haven't had time to study the effects that might have on our immune system’s response to the serum."  She wasn't trying to preach to him, just stating the facts.   After her injection, she began cleaning up, sorting the empty serum vials and the full ones into separate groups on the table, and stuffing everything else that was reusable back into her med kit.   "Besides, you're stalling.  Tell me what happened in the dream."

"You're not going to believe me," he said, avoiding eye contact with her.

"Obviously you saw him, again.  What did he tell you this time?  Where are we supposed to go?"  She tightened her jaw and pushed her chin slightly into the air hoping to block his words from entering her space.

"Wyoming."

"Wyoming."  She blew out a frustrated breath.  In the past five years, the figure in Mulder's dreams had lead them to about two dozen different places.  Sometimes, the boy, (who Mulder emphatically believed was their son, William), would specifically tell them an exact location; other times the location would be implied.   Before Mulder brought them to Duluth, they had made a stop in Hibbing, Minnesota.  Mulder dreamed that he and Will were playing basketball with former Boston Celtics star Kevin Mchale, who was from the little town on Minnesota's Iron Range.  Before that, they'd stayed in a small mining town outside of Pittsburgh, all because Mulder dreamed William was wearing a coal miner's hat with a "Steelers" sticker on the side.

"He's there, Scully.  I'm sure of it this time."

"What makes this time any different from the last time you were sure of it?"  Truthfully, she wasn't angry.  She was just tired of traipsing all over the country, and getting her hopes up.  She wasn't sure she could do it again, even if it was just one more time, and probably the last chance she'd ever have.  Her last dying wish wasn't to re-live giving William up for adoption, which is what it felt like every time they came up empty handed. 

"I'm sure."

"I can't do it, Mulder.  I can't."  She pushed her chair away from the kitchen table she had made into a temporary medical clinic.  She crossed the room to stand in front of the big window that overlooked Lake Superior, out onto the vast white blanket of snow, which covered hundreds of miles of ice, and finally ended at the Michigan shoreline, into infinity.  It was frozen tundra, void of anything, blending in seamlessly with the gray, winter storm sky.

"He's there Scully," he said, balling his fist and bouncing it silently on the table.

"Mulder, in two days, chances are all hell is going to break lose.  Most likely, we'll die.  I don't want to spend the last two days we have on earth in a car headed for nowhere Wyoming chasing another phantom, another dead end."

"Then why the hell did we just inject ourselves with this crap?"  His voice bellowed through the tiny house, cracking slightly on the last word.  He stood up, eyes blazing with confusion and frustration. 

Scully shared his confusion.  A few hours ago he had been ready to dig a hole and throw himself inside it.  Since he had awakened from his dream, Scully saw hints of a recently re-ignited flame blazing in his eyes.  It both frightened and excited her.  Unfortunately, it was too late.  Why after spending the last month slowly dying was he asking her to pick up the trail?

"You know why, Mulder!"  She was shouting at him too.  She was never one to back down in a fight, certainly not now.  "The serum might make the virus innocuous.  It’s the only chance we have."

"I know what the damn injection is for.  But why the hell don't you want to go to William and give it to him?  I know where he is.  What the hell have we been doing for the past ten years?"

"We've been chasing figments of your imagination!"  She shoved the remaining empty bottles of serum off the table and they crashed to the floor.  A moment later Mulder and Scully stood face to face silently staring holes through the other, until Mulder lowered his gaze and drew a breath.  He stood with his hands on his hips, and spoke softer, struggling to control his tone.

"I know this has been hard on you, Scully.  And I know that you have lost faith in me.  But if you could just let yourself remember a time when you believed in me, and come with me now, I promise you I'll bring you to him."  He held his hand out to her; his eyes pleading with her in the same silent language that long ago they’d used to communicate with almost more than with words.  "For old time's sake?”

She looked at him for a moment; her jaw tight, as she took in deep, even breaths. 

"I'll start packing.  We can leave in an hour."  The contempt she felt slipped through to her voice.  She walked past his outstretched hand without a glance.  She hadn't lost faith in him.  She would still follow him to Hell and back.

But she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of knowing it.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Rural Wyoming

December 20, 2012

3:31 pm

Rob Van de Kamp tossed three tablets of Advil into his mouth with one hand and lifted the glass of cold water to his lips with the other.  He guzzled the liquid until the glass was nearly empty, then he threw the remaining water at his own face.  He couldn't see, but he was sure that the water turned to steam the instant it touched his skin.  An hour after pulling Susan out of the tub and sending her to bed, he was feeling almost as bad as she looked.  He wasn't coughing as heavily, but he had a terrible case of the chills, which seemed paradoxical to his incessant sweating and fiery feverish forehead.

That was one fast, insidious bug they'd caught. 

All he wanted to do now was fall into bed and sleep it off.  In a few hours he was sure he'd wake up feeling good as new and ready to finish digging post-holes for the basketball hoop he was trying to get up in time for Christmas.  Not that it looked like he'd be able to do that any time today anyway.  He'd been caught in the rain after trying to sneak some work in during a lull in the storm.  One minute, the sky looked like it would clear up, poking blue through the clouds, then literally the next minute it was raining biblical-style, like the floodgates of heaven had opened up directly on his house.  Rob had barely made it back to the house before his tools succumbed to rust right there in his hands.  At least, that was how he planned to tell the story to William and Susan later on.

Speaking of William, Rob hadn't seen him practically all day.  The boy's melancholy seemed to grow exponentially with each downturn in the weather. 

Rob staggered up the stairs, stopping at William's bedroom door before he headed to his own, where his wife, suffering from a severely stuffed nose, was sure to be snoring at record decibel levels. 

William's door was closed, unusual by itself.  William’s behavior had changed lately, and Rob wondered if his son had officially entered the surly phase between adolescent and teenager.  Rob felt the need to commit a basic violation of privacy that he had once said he would never do with his own son.  He placed his hands on either side of the doorframe and leaned his ear towards the door itself, pressing it flush against the cool, painted white wood. 

  1.   He heard nothing.  Not a video game, not music, not the television. 

His internal alarm was going off mildly.  He wasn't sure why, but Rob felt uneasy.  He had been ever since William came into his bedroom the night before.  William’s attitude and his unusual behavior added to that paranoia.  Or maybe it was just this flu he'd caught. 

Rob laughed softly to himself and turned on his heels away from William's door.  Bed.  He needed bed and lots of it.  As he started down the hallway towards his own room, Rob heard a creak as William opened his door.

"Dad?"  William's voice sounded small and timid. 

"Yeah, buddy.  It's just me."  Rob smiled meekly.

"Is Mom okay?"

"Yeah, she's just resting.  She'll be fine once she's slept for a while.  What have you been doing all day?"

William shrugged and looked down towards his feet.

"Come on, son.  What's wrong?  It's not like you to be so unhappy."

William hesitated, but he looked like he might tell Rob what was bothering him finally.  Rob patiently waited for William to speak when he felt comfortable.  He didn’t want to scare him off.

"I had another dream.  I-I took a nap and had another dream."

"Same as last night?"  Rob asked.  William shook his head violently.

"I dreamed that you and mom got really sick.  You were dying," he said.

"Oh, Will.  No, mom and I just have the flu.  By this time tomorrow, we'll be good as new."  William looked unconvinced.  Rob took a step toward him and held his arms out, beckoning Will to come closer and into his embrace.  William stepped forward but he didn't return the hug.  Rob pulled back to look at his son, hoping to console him with his own confidence.  Perhaps that dad face Rob usually used for similar occasions was on the blink, because William didn't seem to feel any better.

"Dad, I think something bad is happening."

"What's happening?"  Rob soothed his son.  William looked directly into his father's eyes, and when he spoke, a chill went through Rob that was not caused by any virus.

"They're coming."

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

CHAPTER THREE

State of Coahuila, Mexico

December 20th, 2012

2:14 pm

Monica Reyes balanced a brown paper bag stuffed to the brim with groceries on her hip as she fumbled for her keys.  She'd crammed them in the pocket of her jeans, and they were in there good and tight, wedged in the folds of the thick fabric.  The day was hot, and even though dark clouds moved across the sky, she suspected the heat wasn't planning to let up any time soon. 

The struggle to find her keys, combined with the strain her balancing act put on the muscles in her arm, caused her to break out in a slight sweat, mildly irritating her.  It wasn't long ago she could run ten miles in the dry Mexican heat, and now she digging in her pocket exhausted her.  My, what fifteen years could do to a person.

Finally, she struck metal and looped her index finger through the ring on the key chain.  She pulled the keys out of her pocket, unlocked the door and pushed it open, practically falling into the tiny kitchen.  Quickly, she stumbled to the little folding table near the center of the room and dropped the bag on top of it.

"Ugh.  I have to start working out again," she said, huffing out a breath.  Monica pilfered an apple from the top of the sack and rubbed it absently on her sleeve before taking a bite of the crisp, tart fruit.  She ate as she walked through the doorway into the living room.  With her mouth full, she called out, hoping to surprise Joy with the cache of lemon drops she'd bought on impulse. 

"Joy?  I have a surprise for you," Monica said between swallows of apple.

Monica had liberated Joy, with the help of the girl’s mother, Patti, from a secret government installation nearly two months earlier.  The twelve-year old had been the subject of science experiments along with several other children.  Monica had desperately hoped to save the others, but had only been able to smuggle Joy out of the compound.  Monica planned to go back as soon as she thought it was safe. 

Ever since bringing Joy and her mother to live with her at the small house Monica had purchased years earlier in Mexico, Joy had become progressively more sullen and withdrawn.  Monica hoped to cheer the little girl up and she wasn’t above bribery

The house was atypically silent, aside from Monica's crunching.  She swallowed the piece of apple she was chomping and finally looked up, scanning the tiny living room. 

"Oh, my god," she said. 

The living room was in a state of complete disarray.  Two lamps were shattered, their pieces scattered on the floor.  The heavy sofa was on its side, throw pillows slashed apart.  A piece of glass that normally belonged in the center of the coffee table was smashed into shards.  Even artwork that had been hanging on the walls was either slashed or lay on the floor.  Picture frames were askew on wall hooks.  Panic spread through Monica’s body and she launched into a near sprint towards the stairway.

"Joy!  Patti!  Are you okay?"  Monica reached the top of the landing and called out again.  She heard a faint whimper coming from Joy's bedroom, which she shared with her mother, Patti.  “Joy?  Where are you?"  Monica called.

Monica pushed open the door to the bedroom, which was half off of its hinges, quickly stepping inside.  Twelve-year old Joy was huddled in a corner of the room, her head on her knees, crying inconsolably.  Her mother, a woman Monica had gotten to know very well over the past year during the planning stages of Joy’s liberation, lay dead a few feet away from her daughter. 

And next to her was a man that Monica had never seen before.  

He had blood on his hand but was also dead.  The man’s skin had turned a dark gray in patches on his arms and face.  If Monica channeled back to her days with the Bureau she would assess that the man had killed Patti, but there was no obvious cause of the man's death.  Right now that didn't matter.  Ignoring her investigator's instinct to protect a crime scene she rushed over to the frightened girl and wrapped her arms around her.  She looped her arms underneath the girl's back and legs and lifted her up off of the floor.  Joy didn't protest. 

As they passed the dead man, his body spasmed, momentarily startling Monica.  When they reached the bedroom doorway he stilled.  Satisfied he was still dead, Monica continued out of the room and down the stairs.  Joy buried her head into Monica's shoulder, slightly muffling the sound of her sobs. 

Outside, a crack of thunder signaled the impending rainstorm, and a few seconds later a flash of lightening flickered over the horrific scene.  It was only a matter of time before the heavens would open up and weep in unison with them both.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Interstate 94,

Near the Minnesota/North Dakota border

December 20th, 2012

1:45 pm

The snow continued to fall in wet, heavy clumps, blanketing the road and slowing down their progress.  Mulder drove at a steady pace of about fifty miles per hour, a good twenty or thirty slower than he had hoped to drive.  Luckily, the state of Minnesota was used to large snowfalls and the enormous plow trucks were out in unbelievable numbers, slicing through the snow, pushing it to the side of the road, while simultaneously spraying a mixture of chemicals and sand over the newly exposed asphalt.  But it was still too slow for Mulder's liking.  Time was something they and the world didn't have. 

It was somewhat surreal that the Department of Transportation crew continued to clear the highways, to do their duty, oblivious to what was happening around them.  Mulder wondered when they would finally learn the truth.  How long would it take them to realize that the very snow their plows pushed aside contained the vehicle of their demise.  Would they ever know?  Mulder didn’t think so.

As they drove, Mulder and Scully passed several trucks and cars on the highway.  Several vehicles were loaded with top mounted ski racks, transporting families likely headed east to the large hills substituting for mountains along Minnesota’s North Shore.  Some cars pulled trailers with snowmobiles and All-Terrain Vehicles, a favorite pastime in the dragging months of winter.  Mulder almost wished he were one of those ignorant vacationers.  How much easier would it be to just go to sleep one night and not wake up in the morning?  Death was something he had resigned himself to the past month or so.  He'd almost begun looking forward to the day when there was nothing but nothingness.  He now realized that wasn't what he had wanted at all. 

He was just very tired.

Scully sat in the passenger seat of their big SUV beside him.  She gazed absently out the window with her elbow resting on the window ledge and her hand pillowing her head.  Since packing up their meager belongings and leaving Duluth, they'd spoken approximately five words to each other.  Soon they'd cross the spot where the western border of Minnesota, lined by the Red River, became North Dakota. 

They'd taken the northern and slightly longer route, hoping to prolong the time they would have to drive through the Mesabi Iron Range, preserving what they believed was some measure of protection within the boundaries of the largest iron deposits in North America.  The aliens feared iron of this density, which was why Mulder believed William had directed them there in the first place.  At least, that's what he rationalized after they had arrived in Minnesota nearly two years ago hoping that this would finally be the time they found their son. 

And after he had failed to find him.

Mulder had believed William would be there.  Maybe he was on a basketball team in Chisolm, or enjoyed fishing in the thousand foot deep iron ore pit mines that had filled with water since their abandonment in Gilbert.  He wanted to believe his son was guiding him but that he just hadn’t understood the message. 

Luckily Scully had found something.  That part of Minnesota, known as "The Range," was an easy source of low grade iron ore which Scully used to enhance the substance they'd been injecting themselves with in the hopes of building up their iron levels.  Duluth was technically not in the range, but it was a major trade hub of taconite pellets, which were loaded on ships in Lake Superior and transported through the Great Lakes to Pittsburgh and other steel producing areas. 

It was only a theory, but Scully believed that the serum she created, which she’d named Mesabi Ferrum, but Mulder referred to as “the stuff”, might make humans resistant to an alien virus.  Mesabi Ferrum was based on a similar compound to the one Jeffrey Spender had injected into their son almost twelve years ago.  It had had little effect on William.  But after she had witnessed iron’s effects on a Super Soldier, she later told Mulder that Jeffrey’s actions had made her wonder what the connection between the two events had been.

When Mulder had broken into Mount Weather, he had not only learned the date of Colonization, but also the method the aliens would use to bring the Plague as well as some of the biological characteristics of the disease itself, which was largely derived from the physiology of the aliens.  Since humans and the aliens were biologically similar to each other, Scully hoped that the one thing that seemed to be different, the magnetite intolerance, would be the key to creating a vaccine.  Humans needed iron to live, but it seemed that the opposite was true for the aliens, or at least some of them. 

It was a long shot, she claimed.  Mulder thought she was selling herself short.  It was their last best chance at defeating the aliens and preventing Colonization.  If anyone could save mankind, it was Scully.  Unfortunately, the serum did little good so long as they were the only humans who had access to it.  It was hard to distribute the stuff to the rest of the world when they had effectively dropped off the planet.  Fox Mulder and Dana Scully had been fugitives from the federal government since 2002, and many, including members of Scully's family, believed they were dead. 

"Snow's getting heavier," Mulder said finally.  He spoke softly, but in the dead silence of the truck his voice boomed, causing Scully to jump slightly.  "Sorry."

She turned to look at him and faked a smile, failing miserably.  "It's beautiful, isn't it?"  She said, wistfully.

"Maybe if it wasn't bringing a Plague to end all Plagues."

"Yeah, there is that."

"I've noticed more cars in the ditch."

"Storm's getting worse.  Makes driving harder."

"I suppose, but it's not exactly blizzard condition yet.  This is Minnesota.  They're used to heavy snowfall up here," Mulder said.  He lifted a sunflower seed to his lips, cracked it between his teeth and tossed the spent shell into the ashtray.  Mulder thought he noticed a smile form in the corner of Scully’s mouth.  Usually she barely tolerated his seed cracking habit.  Maybe his annoying habit reminded her of the past.  He’d felt the past prickling him all day, and it comforted him.

"I'm not sure I get your point," Scully said, bringing him back to the present.

"It just seems more people than usual are having car trouble.  The further away we get from the Iron Range, the more breakdowns I've seen.  And I swear that in several of the cars, people were slumped over the wheel."

"If they spun off the road, they likely could have been injured.  Maybe we should call for help,” Scully said.  They hadn’t carried cell phones in years, but more than likely any driver in any car would have one.

"They didn't look like the type of accidents that would cause injuries to me.  I don't think stopping for help would be a good idea."  Mulder glanced down at his gas gauge.  The tank was getting low and soon they’d be in the Dakotas.  Long distances of nothing in a snowstorm told him he better stop soon at least to refuel.  "Are you hungry?  We have to stop for gas anyway."

"Wait a minute.  Are you suggesting that the Plague is already causing illness?  That would be one of the fastest pathologies I've ever seen."

"That surprises you?  The weird thing is that I didn't see one accident until we passed Bemidji," Mulder said. 

Bemidji was a small town on the western border of the Iron Range.  Not exactly the end of it, but close.  After that, the rich deposits of iron began to peter out significantly. 

"I guess that would make sense.  If iron in large concentrations can kill the aliens, then maybe it can also slow down the bug they're using.  If it's based in alien physiology, it seems logical.  Maybe we should head back."

"No, if this bug is as fast as it looks, William won't have time.  We may already be too late."

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Near Sedona, Arizona

December 20, 2012

3:36 pm

It was only about 3:30 in the afternoon, but outside the sky was dark as night.  The rain pummeled the tiny trailer, echoing off the metal, creating a tinny sound that was almost hypnotizing to the occupants inside.  They sat on the sofa, both silently watching television.  Anyway, one of them was watching a television program, the other was looking at the show on the tube but listening to the one playing inside John's head.  Not that there was much of interest going on there, aside from building frustration and boredom.

"All right, that's it.  I can't just sit around anymore," John said.  He jumped up off the sofa, throwing his hands on his hips, looking for any way to release some of his nervous energy. 

"What do you want to do?"  Gibson calmly looked up at John. 

"I don't know.  If what you say is true, which I'm not saying it is, then I can't just sit around and wait for the world to end." 

Gibson smiled at his friend.  He knew that despite his words, John was afraid.  He was aware more than almost anyone of what was going on, and his denial was only a form of deflection.  Even now as it was happening, it was too mind boggling to put into words. 

"What are you smiling at?" John asked.

"We've done everything we can.  All we can do now is wait."

"That can't be all.  This can't be everything.  We should go out and do something,” John said, still pacing.

"If we leave here, we won't have the protection from the rocks."  Gibson opened his mouth to say something else, but before he could get the words out, he turned his head abruptly toward the window. 

"What is it?"  John moved toward the window to peer out into the rain.  Visibility was reduced substantially with the storm, but despite that Gibson could make out headlights coming toward the trailer, speeding toward them at a good clip.  "Who is it, Gibson?  Can you hear them?"

Gibson understood John’s meaning and moved to stand beside him, focusing his thoughts on the occupant of the car.  The car slowed and came to a stop.  The door opened and just before the driver stepped out, Gibson knew who it was.  "It's a friend."

"Well, who is it?"  John looked up and Gibson felt John’s anxiety leave his body when he was finally able to make out the visitor’s face. 

"Monica?"  John said.  He moved away from the window with sudden quickness, and threw open the door to the trailer.  The wind blew in, blowing a newspaper off the kitchen table.  John stepped out into the rain.  He jogged towards her, oblivious to the fact that he was getting drenched.  Upon reaching her, he lifted Monica up in a bear-like embrace.  She'd barely had time to see who was accosting her before he squeezed her the way a child may accidentally squish a small animal that it wants to protect. 

Through a breathless gasp and turned up lips Monica said, "Hi, John.  Good to see you, too."  He set her down, and clasped his hands over her face, rubbing his thumb over her cheek. 

"What are you doing here?  I didn't think I'd see you again," John said.  Though Gibson stayed inside the trailer, he heard their conversation perfectly.  His mind amplified their words and thoughts, though he wasn’t always sure which were which.

"I know.  I'm sorry."  Monica looked down at her feet, the mirth in her eyes left her suddenly as she remembered their parting, as well as the reason for her arrival.  "I need your help."

"Well, come on.  Let's get out of this rain," John said, putting his hand on her back, pushing Monica towards the trailer door.

"Wait.  I have someone else with me," Monica said, turning back to the car.

"Oh."  The look on John’s face was comical.  He thought the 'someone else' was a man, likely a boyfriend, perhaps even a husband.  Not that it should really matter to him.  John had made it clear to her the last time they saw each other that he could never see the two of them as anything more than partners and friends.  Monica turned back, and Gibson's mind heard Monica pick up on John’s expression.  She considered letting John sweat it out for a moment, maybe for some friendly sadistic fun, then her thoughts returned to the passenger who still sat in the car.

Monica walked over to the passenger side of the door, opened it and helped a little girl out of the car.  She shepherded her toward the wide-open door to the trailer and walked up the steps and inside.  When all were safely in the dry trailer, door closed to the elements, Monica introduced them.

"John, Gibson... I would like you to meet Joy."

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

CHAPTER FOUR

Near Sedona, Arizona

December 20, 2012

3:43 pm

"Hello, Joy.  I'm John."  Doggett bent over placing his hands on his knees, bringing his eyes to her level.  She looked to be nine or ten years old, but it was becoming harder and harder for Doggett to judge these things the older he got.  If he had to guess by looking at Gibson, he would say the kid was nearing forty rather than twenty-five.  That may have had more to do with Gibson's wisdom beyond his years rather than his looks, or his uncanny creepiness, which Doggett meant in a good way.  "I'm pleased to meet you."

Joy took a slight step backward and leaned into Monica, hiding herself from him.  She blinked at him, clearly frightened, but she didn't completely cower and her eyes were dry.  Doggett looked up at Monica, and scrunched his forehead.

"She hasn't said a word since Mexico.  I think it's some sort of shock," Monica said.

"What happened, Monica?" 

"I'm not sure.  I didn't actually watch it happen, but Joy did.  I got there... after.  Too late."  Monica looked down at Joy frowning in apparent worry, looking uncertain whether or not she wanted to talk about what had happened in front of the girl.  "Joy, honey?  Why don't you come over here and watch TV."  Monica moved toward the sofa, and Joy followed without question.  She sat down in front of the flickering tube, her sneakered feet dangled over the sofa cushions, and Gibson handed her the remote control.  It wasn't until Monica tried to move away that Joy showed any reaction.  She reached over and latched onto Monica’s arm.  "It's okay.  I'll just be right over there.  Stay here, okay?"  Monica smoothed her hand over Joy’s hair and gently smiled.

A moment later, the three adults gathered in the kitchen area of the trailer.  It wasn't exactly another room, but it was better than talking in the living room within easy earshot of Joy.  The men listened as Monica told them how she had found Joy's mother Patti dead at the hands of what she believed was a Super Soldier. 

"What did it want?"  Doggett asked, gritting his teeth.  The mere mention of Super Soldiers made all the fillings in his mouth ring.   The creatures – they weren’t men – had lost interest in him since he had left the Bureau a few years earlier.  He wasn't Fox Mulder.  He didn't have the energy to chase conspiracy theories until his dying day.  Even if he happened to know this one was real.  His paying job now was as a private investigator.  With his credentials he’d managed to carve out a decent living for himself. He’d retained a few professional contacts, but for all practical purposes his Bureau access was gone.  Even though he’d maintained a relationship with Gibson during the past ten years, his lack of any true power had taken him off the alien threat list. 

He wasn’t sure anyone could truly be considered a threat anymore.  When your enemies hold all of the cards, it doesn't matter what you bet.

"It wanted Joy."  Monica crossed her arms, and glanced around Doggett making sure the little girl was still preoccupied by her program -- or programs.  Following Monica’s gaze, Doggett watched as Joy flicked through channel after channel in an almost hypnotically even pace.

"Why did it want Joy?"  He felt as if he were interrogating an unwilling suspect, coaxing minute bits of information out of her.  "Come on, Monica."  His tone stiffened a bit, and Monica snapped her head back toward him, shaken out of her preoccupation with the girl.

"Because Joy is one of the Twelve.  I helped her mother rescue her from a government lab almost two months ago.  If you can call it that.  Whatever government we once had hasn’t existed in a long time."

“Rescue?”  Doggett asked.

“Yes, rescue.  She wasn’t there by choice,” Monica said.

"Who are the Twelve?"  Doggett asked.

"Children being used by the aliens for a project having to do with colonization.  I don't know exactly what the project is except that it has to do with their special abilities," Monica said.

"Special abilities?  Come on, Monica.  What could a bunch of kids have to do with all that?"

"Everything, John.  You've met Joy's mother before.  Her name was Patti.  She was the wife of the NSA employee we caught breaking into Dana's apartment.  It was her husband that was killed by the Super Soldier that wanted to kill Mulder.  Is this ringing a bell or should I keep going?"

"So, Joy is the daughter that she claimed was like Scully's son, William?" Doggett said.

"Yes," Monica said it as if it was a final statement; like all the pieces were now in front of him and everything should be obvious.  To him it felt like she had handed him ten pieces out of a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle and then was confused by why he was having trouble finishing it.

"So?"

"Damn it, John!  You're acting like this is brand new information!"  She let out a breath and pinched the bridge of her nose with her thumb and index finger.  "I'm sorry."

"It's okay.  I'm trying to understand.  I'm just not as good as you are at connecting all the paranormal dots."  He smiled a half smile from the corner of his mouth.  "Let's just start at the beginning.  How did you get reacquainted with Joy's mother?" 

Monica returned his smile, pulled a chair out from the kitchen table, sat down, and began to tell them the story of her life for the past year.  If she had been anyone other than Monica Reyes, Doggett would have thought she was nuts.  Truthfully, he still thought she was nuts, but he also believed every word she said.  Almost.  He wasn’t sure he was ready to admit that to her yet.

Doggett looked across the table. 

Gibson just smiled.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Near Sioux Falls, South Dakota

December 20, 2012

8:08 p.m.

Mulder's head lolled to the side, jerked up quickly, then began a slow decent back down again.  Scully had been driving almost an hour, and Mulder had been fighting off sleep the whole time.   Scully hoped he would be able to rest.  They planned on driving non-stop to Wyoming, and with the weather what it was, it would probably be into tomorrow afternoon before they got close to William.  Mulder said he wasn't exactly sure he knew the name of the town they were headed to, but was fairly sure it was in the northeastern corner of the state.  He'd know it when he saw it, he kept telling her. 

"Mulder, it's okay.  You can sleep."  He popped his eyes open, cleared his sleepy confusion, and scrunched up his nose in an irritated snarl.

"I thought that's what I was doing."  Tired of arguing with him, and even more tired of being his mother, she simply nodded.

One mile marker, then another and another passed before either of them made another sound.  In those three miles, they saw about twenty-five cars stopped alongside Interstate 29, which soon would take them to the northern limits of Sioux Falls, South Dakota where they would then turn onto Interstate 90 and head straight through the Badlands into Wyoming. 

No problem. 

Except that along with the early winter sunset, a blustery wind had arrived, blowing snow across the flat, eastern Dakota landscape.  Some spots bordered on impassable even with their giant, four-wheel drive Tahoe. 

As they approached Sioux Falls, and the junction with I-90, Scully could make out the strobing lights of several emergency vehicles blocking the road near the exit on the northern edge of town.  She slowed the truck, and looked briefly at Mulder.

"What's this?"  She asked.

"Don't stop," Mulder said, sitting up straighter and fully awake.

"Mulder, I have to.  They're completely blocking the road, and there's a concrete median."  A uniformed state trooper signaled for her to stop, and Scully obeyed.  He came over to the driver's side door and motioned for her to roll down the window.  Scully pressed the button, and the glass slid easily into the door, letting in a rush of chilly air.  The trooper bent over, placed one hand on the window frame, and his other back toward his holstered weapon.

"Ma'am, I'm sorry but we're closing the road.  The storm's blowing snow across the highway."

"Sir, it's important that we continue."

"I'm sorry, but you'll have to find another way.  Though I'd highly recommend you take the exit and go to the first hotel you see," he said, pointing toward the off-ramp, which led into the small city of Sioux Falls.

"Can you tell me of another route?  We're heading west and had hoped to take I-90."

"Both interstates from here on westward and southward are closed by order of the Governor.  If you need to go west, you'll have to head east back across the border and then make your way to Nebraska."

"Is there a highway other than the interstate that isn't closed?"

"Yes ma'am, but I wouldn't chance it,” the trooper said, shifting his weight to the other foot.  “If we can't keep the interstate open, the smaller highways would be even more dangerous.  If you got stuck on one of those, you could get stranded."

Scully shook her head in disbelief.  She shouldn't be surprised, but in spite of all she knew and had seen, she was.  It just kept getting worse.  Mexico sounded exquisite at the moment.  She considered questioning the trooper further, but as she lifted her head to speak, Scully spotted something, and changed her mind.  "Thank you, sir."

"Be safe, ma'am,” he said, then ducked his head and looked at Mulder.  “Sir."  Then completing the movie cliché, the trooper tipped his hat and stepped back from the truck.

Scully rolled up the window, and gently pressed down the gas pedal.  She directed the car to one of the two only available outlets.  The exit into town was out of the question, so instead she took the cloverleaf exit that led to Interstate 90 east back into Minnesota. 

"What is it?"  Mulder asked.  Scully checked her mirrors, making sure they were safely headed east and out of view of the blockade.  She couldn’t detect headlights or any sign that they were being followed.

"Did you see those trucks back there?" she asked finally.

Mulder shook his head.  "All I saw were the trooper's cars, an ambulance and a couple of SUV's which I assumed were part of the state police."

"Yeah, and behind those, I saw a truck with FEMA written on it, and behind that were two HAZMAT teams, fully decked in level four suits.  One of them was working on the passenger of a car in the ditch," she said, still nervously glancing into her review mirror.

"Oh, shit.  Looks like they've essentially shut down the state of South Dakota.  Soon they'll declare martial law," Mulder said with more alarm in his voice than Scully had heard in a long time.

"We have no choice but to go through Nebraska.  As soon as we hit the Minnesota border, we'll head south."

"For all we know, that's closed, too," Mulder said.

"We’re out of other options,” she said, shaking her head.  “Maybe further south it will only be raining, not snowing. It's fairly warm here; snow's wet, barely fluffy enough for the wind to blow it around."

"So you think maybe they won't have snow as an excuse to close the roads?"

"It's a long shot, but maybe.  We'll make it, Mulder."  She felt his gaze on her, and turned to look at him.  His eyes sparkled, and he tried to hide a smile, but failed.

"What?"

"Nothing."  He turned back to look through the windshield.

“Mulder, what is it?” He didn’t answer right away.  “Mulder?”

“Felt like old times again,” he said, still looking out the window.

Finally, for a moment, she felt it, too.

^^^^^^^^^^^^

Near Sedona, Arizona

December 20, 2012

10:21 p.m.

Monica, John and Gibson sat around the kitchen table.  Each held a cup of coffee, but none of them had taken more than a sip.  They stared silently into the spaces in front of them, except for Gibson whose gaze fell upon Joy.  She was still in the living room watching every channel on television. 

They'd only caught glimpses of the news, but it seemed that a strange illness was sweeping through Arizona.  The hospitals were being inundated with people suffering with flu-like symptoms.  A few of the national television networks reported similar phenomena across the country.  The Center for Disease Control requested that only the elderly or children be brought to hospitals due to limitations on medical staff and space.

Monica had just finished her story of how she had broken into the facility where Joy lived.  She told them how she had wanted to take the other eleven children, too, but had run out of time.  She told them of how Patti had begged Monica for help after Joy had been taken away from her upon reaching her tenth birthday, two years ago.  Without warning, men, who Patti assumed were from the government, had come into their home and taken the little girl without a word.

She knew that John was wrestling with the facts in his mind, sorting out the perception from the reality.  John Doggett was a black and white kind of guy.  Things either made sense, or they didn't.  Things that didn't make sense were classified as mumbo jumbo.  This had always frustrated Monica.  She thought of it as sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting "la la la la la!"  But she realized later that it wasn't so much that he didn't want to understand, he just couldn't understand.  He wasn't stupid; he just looked through the world using a different kind of prism.  Actually, using no prism, just glass.

If Monica saw a rainbow, she'd wonder what it felt like to walk through it.  Show John Doggett a rainbow and he'd list each individual color he could see.  Show Dana Scully a rainbow and she'd describe the qualities of bent and transformed light, how the water disperses it into a beautiful spectrum of color.  Show Fox Mulder a rainbow, he'd ask to speak with the Leprechaun.

Different people saw things in different ways, and there was usually little anyone could do to change that.  Ironically, it was just when Monica had figured this out, that she and John had parted ways.  Though, it wouldn’t have mattered if she’d known sooner.

"You haven't told us yet, Monica.  Who killed the Super Soldier?"

"I have no idea," Monica said, raising her eyebrows.

"You have no idea?"

Monica shook her head. 

"You’re sure no one else was there?  I doubt the thing had a heart attack and just keeled over on its own."

Monica shrugged.  "What can I tell you, John?  I don't have a clue.  I didn't spend any time trying to find out either.  All I could think about was getting Joy out of there before more came looking for her."

"How do you know it's even dead?  We've seen them come back from some pretty amazing things before."

"I guess I don't.  He looked very dead, and I have no idea who or what killed him."

"Joy did," said Gibson.  He’d been quiet the whole time while Monica told her story.  His eyes had seemed vacant as he stared in Joy’s direction. 

"Joy?  I don't think so," John said.  Monica saw the gears turn in John’s mind.  He was probably thinking of Knowle Rohrer, a man he’d seen killed several times, but who always came back.  Monica herself had been with John when the last death finally took.  Super Soldiers were nearly indestructible.  She had seen them shot, decapitated and even turned into mulch.  No twelve-year old girl could stop them.  Even Monica had trouble believing that one.

Gibson remained seated, but he looked at John with certain eyes.  "Yes, she did.  She just told me.”

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Rural Wyoming

Friday, December 21, 2012

5:58 am

The temperature outside the Van de Kamp house had dropped about ten degrees during the night.  A thin layer of heavy wet snow covered the yard like a tarp.  There was little wind and aside from an occasional cough, inside the house all was silent. 

Rob had been awake on and off all night.  Now he lay in his bed exhausted from intense shivering.  About ten minutes ago he’d made a decision.  He was taking Susan to the hospital.  He couldn't recall feeling as badly in all his life, but Susan hadn't been conscious since dinner the previous night.  She’d been awake for a short period of time at that, allowing Rob to help her drink some broth. 

If only he could get out of bed to get to a phone.  Rob wasn't sure he had the energy to do it, and panic was crawling throughout his body.  He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to muster the strength to call for William.  He took a deep breath, and when he opened his eyes intending to shout for his son, William stood beside the bed, looking down at him with a somber face.  Startled by William's presence, Rob blew out the breath.

"Will, where did you come from?" Rob said, trying to smile.

"You wanted to talk to me," William said, sounding strange.  He was calm; all traces of his fear were gone, or maybe just hidden beneath an eerie quiet exterior mask. 

"Did I call for you?  I don't remember," Rob asked bringing a hand to his sweating forehead.  William shook his head.  He lifted his hand, and held out the cordless phone from the kitchen.

"I called the hospital like you wanted.  Nobody answered," William’s voice shook slightly.

"How did you know I wanted to call the hospital?" 

"You said so.  I heard you inside my head."

"Inside your head?"  In spite of his weakness, Rob pushed himself up into a sitting position.  Either he was delirious with fever, or William had just told him he was hearing voices in his head.  Whichever it was, it wasn't good.  "Will, what are you talking about?"

"I know you don't believe me, dad.  I can hear your thoughts inside my head."  William turned away from his dad.  His somber façade melted away, and he sounded like a teenager worried about starting a new year of school.  This ability didn't seem to surprise, or frighten William, it just was.  To Rob, it seemed that William thought reading people’s minds was as ordinary as brushing his teeth.   

William walked over to the wingback chair near the chest of drawers a few feet from his parent's bed.  He slumped down into it.  His eyes looked downward and he swung one foot back and forth, sliding it on the hardwood floor.  "I've been able to do it for a long time.  I didn’t want to tell you or mom.  I was afraid you’d think I was crazy."

"Will, I'm not sure what you want, but it's not nice of you to trick me when I'm this sick."  Rob wondered if there had suddenly been a switch flicked inside his son that had turned him into someone else’s child.  Rob had never heard of boys playing the telepathy card to gain something he wanted, but Rob supposed there was always a first time.  William always had been a creative child.

"I knew you'd say that," William said.  He tapped his foot lightly on the floor like he was squashing a spider. 

"Will, I can't have this conversation right now."  Rob slid back down on the bed, too tired to hold himself up any longer.  Next to him, Susan inhaled deeply and let out a breath in a raspy gush of wind.  Rob turned over, and lifted his hand to his wife's forehead.  He pulled his hand back, wincing.  She was on fire.  He didn't think it was possible for a person to be that hot.  He noticed for the first time that she had developed several pink lesions on her face, resembling burn-marks.  He touched his own face, and could feel splotches of rough, sensitive skin all over. 

"Wait a minute.  Will, did you say that the hospital didn't answer when you called?"  There was one small hospital in town.  Locals were more likely to call their local doctor than 9-1-1.  Will had probably hit the speed dial.

"Yes.  I tried a couple of times."

"Did you call 9-1-1?"  William shook his head.  As Rob opened his mouth to speak, William jumped up and handed Rob the phone, answering his father's non-verbalized request to give it to him.  Rob took the handset from him, unsure what to say.  He could admit it was uncanny, but he wasn't ready to believe that William could read his mind.  Besides, right now he needed to get himself and his wife to an emergency room.  Mind-reading parlor tricks would have to wait.

Rob pressed the numbers on the telephone and moved the receiver to his ear.  Instead of ringing he heard the three toned beeps of a disconnected number followed by a recorded voice telling him to please check the number and dial again.  He turned the phone off and tried a second time.  Same response.

"9-1-1 is disconnected?"  He shouted, his voice cracking in exasperation.  He threw the phone at a pile of laundry in the corner of the room.  "What the hell is going on?"

Rob threw the covers off his body, and pushed himself up off of the bed.  Once on his feet, he wobbled momentarily and put his hand on William's shoulder to steady himself.  William responded by wrapping his arms around his father, ignoring his small size in an effort to keep him upright. 

"Dad?" William asked, frightened.

"Will, I need you to help me find my car keys.  We need to take your mother to the hospital.  Can you do that for me, son?"  William emphatically nodded that he could, and broke away from his father, headed toward the door.  Rob heard a thump, and wondered if William had tripped on his way out of the bedroom.  From somewhere deep inside a dark tunnel, Rob heard his son pleading for him to get up, and he realized it was he who had fallen.  He wanted to take away William’s distress, but he was powerless to oblige.  Everything was becoming so peaceful to him.

William's wails became more distant until finally there was only blackness.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

CHAPTER FIVE

Mulder sat at the edge of the dock.  His feet dangled over the side, reflecting in the rippled water below.  The sky above was brilliant blue, and occasionally a white puff of cottony cloud would blow over him, taking a leisurely tour of the upper hemisphere.  A slight wind blew around him, holding the already hot summer temperature at bay.  Two bobbers floated several feet in front of him in the water, lolling with the tide, as seagulls squawked overhead waiting for the humans to supply them with dinner, making their work a little easier.  The salt air filled Mulder's nostrils and he closed his eyes savoring the sensation of absolute peace.

Suddenly, one bobber plunged deeply into the water, making a soft ‘ker-plunk’ sound. 

"Dad!  Dad!  I got something!"  A boy leapt up from his seat beside Mulder, fishing pole in hand.  "Do you think it's a shark?"  He asked eagerly.  The boy tugged on the rod, and cranked the reel with blinding speed.

"Easy Will.  Don't pull too hard.  You don't want the line to break."  Mulder stood up, wanting to help his son, but also wanting to let him handle things on his own.  He looked back toward the shore, smiling from ear to ear at Scully who was lounging in a reclining beach chair, sunglasses on, wide brimmed hat covering her head.  She held a book in her hand and watched her boys with amused approval, trying to hide her own ridiculous smile. 

"It won't.  I got it."  William began reeling the fish in, even as it fought for its life.  Mulder cheered his son on in delight, laughing.  Finally, the fish emerged from the water.  It was relatively small, probably about three pounds, in spite of the fight it had put up suggesting otherwise.  After it was a foot above the water's surface, Mulder grabbed the net and leaned over to capture the fish before it broke the line. 

Before Mulder could get it properly positioned, a shark leapt from beneath the surface and chomped down on William's catch, pulling the little fish inside its huge jaws and breaking the boy's line before returning to the safety of the water below. 

"Whoa!"  Mulder sat back on his haunches, amazed. 

"Oh man."  The disappointment in William's voice made Mulder forget the thrill of what he had just witnessed, and he turned to console his son.

"It's okay, Will.  There'll be another one," Mulder said, putting his hand on William’s shoulders.

But Will shook his head and sat back down on the dock.  He looked at his father, his face somber, but not tearful.  "That was my last chance."

"No it wasn't.  We'll just get you another hook and you'll be all set."  Mulder ruffled the boy's hair.

"No.  They're coming for me," William said.  He turned to look at Mulder, and Mulder felt a chill go through his spine.  "Dad, you have to hurry."

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Near Sedona, Arizona

December 21, 2012

3:24 am

Monica sat at the table, sipping her tepid cup of coffee, while staring absently out into the dark expanse of moon-starved desert.  It was still raining, though not as heavily as it had been when she arrived less than twelve hours earlier.  There was an eerie sense of calm surrounding her as she sat listening to the sounds of her companions sleeping in the trailer nearby. 

Perhaps it was just numbness.

She'd awakened after two hours of fitful sleep and decided to give up the ghost.  If she only had a day or so left before it all ended, why should she waste her time sleeping?  Not that she could sleep anyway.  Last night's revelation was prickling her mind and she knew that it meant something greater than what she comprehended, but couldn’t pinpoint what it was. 

Joy had killed the Super Soldier.  The little girl still had not spoken out loud, even after an hour of coaxing.  Gibson was absolutely sure.  He hadn’t guessed either and he hadn't simply read her mind to obtain the information.  Joy had telepathically told him, and she knew he had heard her.

"Wild, isn't it?"  Gibson's soft tenor was dampened by the white noise of the rain outside, but Monica flinched nevertheless.  "Sorry.  I do that to people a lot." 

Gibson stood in what could be called the doorway to the kitchen from the living room, if there had been a door. It was really just the spot where the linoleum met the carpeting.  He wore a flannel bathrobe that made him look boyish, especially standing hunched slightly with his hands tucked inside the robe's deep pockets. 

"It's okay.  I was zoning out.  I didn't think anyone was awake."

"It's hard to sleep when the world is ending, don't you think?"

"Didn't I just say that?"

"No, you thought it, but I wouldn't know about that."   He smirked playfully and walked over toward the table, then pulled out a chair and sat beside Monica.

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes.  Though it was probably only truly silent for Monica.  All the flotsam floating in her mind was likely background radio noise for Gibson. 

She wondered what it was like for him.  They'd spent a little time together a long time ago.  It was after Mulder's resurgence from hiding and during a time Monica had come to think of as "the beginning of the end," as fatalistic as that sounded.  But she really never had a chance to get to know him.  She suspected that was somewhat intentional on his part.  When you know the innermost thoughts of every person around you, the only way to hold on to some semblance of privacy is to fiercely guard your own.  Also, when you're the key to the existence of mankind, the Holy Grail of the X-Files, always the target of manipulation and coveted by the forces of good and evil, you probably don't trust very easily.

"I trust you," Gibson said. 

Monica looked up at him, unsure whether to be intrigued, or feel invaded.  

“And I trust John,” he said, then smiled awkwardly.  "I'm sorry again.  Sometimes it's difficult for me to separate thought from voice, especially when I'm not looking directly at a person."

"No, it's okay.  It just catches me off guard a little."  She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it.  She tried to reword in her mind how to better phrase her question.  "What's it like?  Do you ever go crazy from all the noise?  I mean, people are always thinking, even in their sleep."

He took a moment, looking thoughtful. 

"It's hard to explain what it's like for me, just like it would be hard for you to explain silence to me.  When I was younger, maybe five or six years old, I began to understand that what I heard in my head were the thoughts of other people.  It frightened me, especially when I understood that this was not something everyone could do.  But the older I've gotten, the more conditioned I've become to it."

"It's not overwhelming?"  Monica couldn't imagine staying sane if she could never have quiet.  It would be like forever living in a cafeteria, with constant, never-ending chatter that was completely insignificant. 

"It was, but now it's more like... selective listening.  I’ve heard that parents can tune out the noise of several kids playing in a room, but the minute their child calls for them, or cries, their parent’s ears pick it up.  It’s the same for me, I guess.  I can pinpoint what I want to listen to, and block everything else out,” he said.  He smirked shyly, “It’s harder for me to ignore voices when there are fewer people in a room around me." 

That made sense.  Monica had never been a parent, but she'd been around children a lot.  And there had been a few boyfriends she had used this skill on as well.  "Like a deep focus."

"Yes, exactly."

"Are you just a receiver, or can you also send... ah, signals?"

"I used to think that I could only pick up thoughts like a one way radio.  But during the time when I lived at the School for the Deaf, I became close friends with a hearing impaired girl.  She was totally deaf, and could speak very little.  I couldn't sign yet, but one day I wanted to ask her a question.  I had formed it in my head, and intended to write it down for her to read.  She answered me before I could find a pen."

"You don't think that perhaps she was just reading your mind?  That she was also telepathic?"

"That's what I thought at first, but she was never able to do it again, except for when I wanted her to.  That was the first time I realized I had some control over it.  That I could direct a thought with my mind to another person."

Monica shifted a little in her seat.  Her eyes were wide, completely fascinated.  This was the kind of thing she had looked for her whole career, and the sad thing was she'd known for ten years of his abilities but had never bothered to ask him about them.  Why she hadn't talked to Gibson about this a long time ago was something she could not explain. 

No, she could explain it.  John had taken Gibson back to Arizona to protect him shortly after Mulder and Scully had "disappeared."  He had told her not to follow him, and she had listened. 

It hadn't happened like that exactly, but the end result was the same.  When John had returned to the bureau after an "extended leave of absence," she'd already been transferred to San Juan, working there for about a year before she resigned from the FBI.  They'd sent a few emails before she quit, and he'd even come out to see her once under the pretense of following a lead, but essentially that had been the last they'd really spoken to each other.  When he finally quit a few years ago, Monica hadn't even found out about it until a few months after the fact, and that had been through a colleague of hers at her new job where she was a counselor at the Puerto Rican version of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

That John was here now with Gibson was actually somewhat of a surprise to her.  She'd come looking for Gibson, thinking that he would have a unique insight into Joy.   Monica thought that maybe he could help her learn what had happened. Come to think of it, she wasn't sure at the moment how she had known where to look for Gibson, either.  She hadn't seen or had any contact with him in ten years.

She looked up at him.  "It was you, wasn't it?" 

Gibson shook his head, catching her meaning.  "No, I think it was Joy."

"Come again?  She didn't even know about you before yesterday."

"She called out... sent a signal.  I received it.  I answered it."

"I was under the impression that you could only hear those in close proximity to you.  I didn't think your abilities reached that far.  "

"They don't.  But hers do."

"So then what?  She knew you were here and then directed me with her mind to find you?"  She said, half-joking.

Gibson nodded.  As open as she was to believing in extreme phenomena, Monica was having trouble wrapping her brain around this one.  Not only was Gibson telling her that Joy was telepathic, but that she was some kind of super transmitter.  Looks like they'd better call a locksmith, because there was a new key to everything in the X-Files.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Western Nebraska

December 21, 2012

7:09 am

"Mulder?"  Scully reached over to touch his cheek.  He'd been mumbling in his sleep for several minutes and now he was mildly thrashing his head back and forth.  Thankfully he'd been asleep for most of the night because Scully's eyelids were getting heavier and heavier by the second.  They needed to switch places unless they wanted to end up in the ditch with most of the other cars on the road.  They'd stopped seeing emergency vehicles sometime after midnight.  They'd gotten out to check on one driver who'd gone off the road in a deserted stretch of Nebraska highway.  The car was cold; the accident clearly had happened quite a while before, but the driver was still hot.  He was also very dead. 

The man had lesions on his face and hands that resembled radiation burns -- burns similar to the type found on survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  If it was radiation, not a virus causing the deadly epidemic, Scully could not figure out for the life of her why she and Mulder were perfectly healthy.  Her serum would have little effect on preventing them from contracting radiation sickness.  Just to be safe, they'd decided not to stop and check on any more stranded drivers.  Both of them had already been exposed to the snow, which was clearly the carrier either way, but until they knew exactly what was going on, there was no need to risk unnecessary exposure to what had proven itself to be a lethal affliction. 

They neared the Wyoming border as the first light of day rose over the horizon on December 21.  It occurred to Scully that the closer she presumably got to her son, the more she realized she still imagined him as a baby.  He'd be approaching twelve years old soon; nearly a teenager, but in her mind's eye he would always be the innocent, mild mannered child that she loved with all her heart but could not protect.  And it made her heart ache more with each mile they moved closer to him.  She rarely let herself indulge in imagining what life would have been like if things had been different.  What if she and Mulder had been left alone, free to raise William like normal parents?  It was too painful to think of such things and normally she would force the thought out of her brain.

But every once in a while, she would let her mind drift to some random fictional day -- a holiday -- and she would picture waking up on Christmas morning.  Mulder would be seated next to William near the lighted tree, as they both inspected their cache noisily in an effort to wake her up so they could get on with the present pillage.  They wouldn't know that she had been spying on them, amused and content as her boys made piles of their spoils.  After a while, her own excitement to see William open his presents would move her into the family room and the wonderful sound of tearing paper and laughter would fill the room.

Scully shook her head, shaking the image out of her brain, out of her heart.  Things had not worked out that way.  Her fate, Mulder's fate and William's fate had taken them down another road, and she could not change the past no matter how hard her imagination tried.  It was time to meet this life's destiny head on.

"Mulder?  Wake up."  She gently squeezed his shoulder, keeping her voice soft.  She smiled at him as she flicked on the truck’s blinker and veered off the road to the shoulder.  Not that there was need for such courtesy.  They were the only living souls on the highway, save for the random solo vehicle kicking up snow zooming past them.  The more she thought about it, the more it seemed strange.  With all that had happened, they hadn't seen a single government or military vehicle on the road; nothing since the FEMA cadre in South Dakota, and a few minor wrecks shortly after.  "I need you to drive now." 

He blinked his eyes open, momentary confusion glossed over them like the shade on a window flying open, letting in the sunlight.  The glazed look in his eyes passed quickly and he sat up straight in the seat.  "Where are we?"

"We're close to Wyoming.  I think another hour or so and we'll cross the border.  I can't keep my eyes open though."

"Oh, okay."  He unbuckled his seat belt and they both exited the truck, crossing each other's path, but not touching, at the hood of the car.  A moment later, they were back on the road, driving slightly faster thanks to Mulder's lead foot. 

"You were dreaming," Scully said after a moment, hoping to coax him to talk.  Perhaps he was still groggy from his sleep, but he seemed sullen again, same as nearly every day for the past few months.  She didn't want him to revert back to that state, both for his own health and her sanity.  Also, she honestly wanted to know about his dream. 

She decided to wait until later to discuss with him the lack of emergency crews and what that might mean.  Right now she wanted to talk to him, but not about their quest, if that’s what it still was.  She just wanted to talk.  The past few months had pushed them farther apart more so than the past ten years combined, but she still loved him and she missed him.  Strange how being stuck with someone every day for a decade can make that person seem far away, in some ways more than if you had been physically apart.

"Yeah," he said.  His eyes stayed transfixed ahead of him and the firmness in his voice suggested to her that he expected a fight.  She couldn't blame him.  Both of them had built up their defenses fairly well.

"Tell me about it," she asked.  He made a gruff noise, but didn't speak.  "Mulder?  Please.  I really want to hear about it."  He turned toward her briefly, seeming to assess her sincerity.  It hurt her that she had done that to him; made him afraid of sharing his thoughts with her.  Truth was, she still wasn't convinced that William would be at the end of this road.  She wasn't sure if that was due to doubt in Mulder, or because of her own protective wall.  "Please?"

He either decided she really wanted to hear, or he was just tired of this little dance they had perfected, because he sighed, bit his lower lip, and nodded.  "It was the dream where we're all on the dock and William and I are fishing."

"Mmm."  He'd told her of this dream before.  It was a pleasant one, and she could almost see it as clearly as he did by now.  It reminded her of her own childhood, of her father teaching herself and her brothers how to catch 'the big one' while her mother and Melissa lounged on the beach, catching rays in the days before the concerns of skin cancer.  It was a sweet memory of childhood that she longed to emulate with her own family one day.  "I like that one."

"This time it was different.  William caught a fish, but then a shark jumped out of the water and ate his fish."

"Sounds exciting."  She closed her eyes, letting the images relax her and allowing the feeling of contentment lull her to sleep.

"I suppose.  Except then he said something to me.  I think it was the *real* William talking."  Scully opened her eyes and turned toward him, breaking the spell of the fantasy. 

"What did he say?"

"That we're running out of time and he needs us, now."

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Rural Wyoming

December 21, 2012

10:06 am

As the truck crept forward, the driver was mindful of alerting the occupants of the two-story farmhouse of his arrival.  The vehicle’s lights and engine were off and it coasted the last few yards of the long dirt driveway in neutral.  The driver and his companion looked towards each other, each silently wondering if this was the place.  With a nod, the driver told the other it was, and he applied the vehicle's brake and brought it to a full stop. 

They stealthily exited the vehicle and walked cautiously toward the front door, passing a half installed basketball hoop along the way.  It seemed every light was on in the house, but little sound could be heard from the people they presumed were inside it. 

It was the moment of truth.  The boy they had searched for a long time was now within their reach, and so was the power he possessed.  The tall one, the driver, opened the screen door to the house, pushed open the storm door and walked inside.  He heard what sounded like crying coming from somewhere upstairs.  As soon as he made that connection, the crying stopped and the house was graveyard quiet.  The driver nodded to his partner to follow him and they both started towards the hallway leading to the stairway. 

At the top of the landing, one of the bedroom doors was open.  A tiny swoosh of wind came from inside that room.  The driver motioned for his partner to wait at the top of the stairs, while he continued down the hallway toward the bedroom alone.  He pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped inside the master bedroom.  Inside the room lying on the bed, was a woman who looked to be asleep, and on the floor was an unconscious man.  The boy knelt next to him on the floor clutching the man's shirt.  The boy, his face tear-streaked, looked up at the driver with fear.  This brought sorrow to the driver's heart.  Surely the boy would know he was there to protect him.

"Is he in there?"  The driver's partner called from outside the room, impatient to wait any longer. 

"Yes.  Wait there for another minute," he called.  Then he turned back toward the boy and tried to soften his posture.  Perhaps he seemed more menacing than he felt.  This was, after all, just a twelve-year old child, and he was a big, strong, adult the boy had never met before.  "Hello, William.  I'm very pleased to meet you." 

The boy stared at him, like a deer caught in the headlights.  The driver stepped closer.  As he did so, William slid back, still clutching the shirt of the man on the floor.  His action was more from instinct than conscious thought.  "Don't be afraid.  We're here to help you," the driver said.  William shook his head back and forth, but did not speak.

Again, the driver's partner called from the hall, "I'm coming in there."  Before the driver could protest, his partner stepped around him through the doorway.  "We're running out of time."  William's eyes jumped quickly to the new face coming towards him.  If he was afraid of the driver, he was terrified of the other.

After stepping into the room towards the boy, the driver's partner began to shake violently.  His arms and head flailed wildly, shrouded in pain.  With a gasp, the motion stopped, and the driver’s partner lay on the floor completely still.

The driver stood gaping at his friend, completely stunned by what had just happened.  He looked to William, pleading with him with his eyes, wanting an explanation for what had just taken place.  The boy seemed to be in a state of surprise, bordering on shock.  The driver bent over and felt for a pulse of the man who lay on the floor.  There was none.

"He's dead."  The driver looked upwards toward the ceiling, and lifted his hands up as if offering up a sacrifice to God.  "I don't understand.  I thought you'd be pleased.  We've found him.  Quetzalcoatl has returned."

"What is going on?  Who the hell are you?"  The other man, the formerly unconscious man, whom the driver assumed was William's earthly father began to shout as he struggled to get to his feet.

The driver, now in a state of shock himself, looked at William’s father, confusion plastered all over his face.  He moved his gaze back and forth between William and the father.  "My name is Liam.  I've come so that your son can take his rightful place at the side of God."

"What?"  The father's voice boomed, even as his face dripped with sweat and his body shivered.  He glanced down at the floor, seeing the body of the Liam’s partner, and his mouth gaped open at the horror of the scene in front of him.  “How did you get in here?”

William’s father turned around toward the nightstand next to his side of the bed, and opened the drawer.  He reached inside and pulled out a six shot revolver and pointed it at Liam.  "Stay there!" he said.

"Please, I'm here to help."  Liam held his hands up in a posture of surrender, confused.  Why should they fear him?  Was he not the messenger of God?  Was he not here to protect the Serpent King, the Great Unifier, the boy who would lead them all to peace and the dawning of the coming new age?  Liam took a step towards William in spite of his father’s command, hands still raised. 

"I said don't move!"  Rob bellowed.

Liam stopped in his tracks and lowered his head as tears spilled down his cheeks.  Everything had gone wrong.

^^^^^^^^^^

Washington, D.C.

December 21, 2012

12:01 pm

"Where's the damn status report?"  The man punched at a button on the speakerphone, and it clicked off.  He tapped his fingers rhythmically on the large, heavy oak desk, and in his mouth his tongue twirled a wooden toothpick between his teeth while he waited for his sorry excuse for a project manager to give him what he had requested an hour ago.

Toothpick Man heard the distinctive sound of knuckles wrapping tentatively on the other side of the door separating his office from the hallway, quickly followed by someone behind the door trying to stifle a cough.

"Get in here!"  The Toothpick Man had little patience for delays, and he had no desire to coddle inept performers this late in the game.  Everything he'd been working towards for over a decade was about to come to fruition. 

The door to the office opened quickly and a shorter man, about five foot, six inches tall, walked through it.  He clutched half a ream's worth of papers as he shuffled his feet inside.  His brow was glazed with sweat, and the Toothpick Man would have laughed out loud if he hadn't been so preoccupied with the content of that stack of papers.

"Well?"  The Toothpick Man walked around the big desk to stand in front of it.  This move made the shorter man take a step backward.  He no longer had the buffer of the wooden desk and the Toothpick Man delighted in the discomfort he inflicted on his subordinate.  "Spill it, Davis." 

Davis cleared his throat.  "Phase One has progressed more rapidly than we had anticipated.  The pathology of the virus is a little over twenty-four hours for total biological systems failure."

"What percentage are we looking at?"

"Well, it's still early, but it seems the virus infects about ninety percent.  Death rates are harder to ascertain at this time, but it should be pretty close to the same.  Their immune system creates very little resistance.  If they get it, they will die."

"Will we be ready to go to Phase Two on time?"  This was the heart of what he wanted to know.  This plan had been set in motion longer than he had been alive – as a human or in his enhanced form.  If the Toothpick Man believed in mythology, he could say the plan existed since the dawn of human history on earth.  But he really didn't care for mythology or religion, one way or the other.  What he knew was that he was in charge of the North American Continent Operations, and if he screwed it up, he might as well take an iron bath.

"We should be ready, sir," Davis said, stuttering slightly as he tried to spit out the words.  He raised a shaky hand and scratched at the back of his neck, rubbing the bumpy, protruding bone there. 

"Should be?"  The Toothpick Man growled.  How Davis had been chosen for this project was a mystery.  The man, even if he was a Beta Hybrid was completely incompetent and a sissy to boot.  If the Toothpick Man had the option, the subordinate would have been sent to the laboratory for vaccine experiments. Hopefully, he'd be tested on a bad batch.  The Toothpick Man didn't have that option, however.  Davis was special.  Toothpick Man clenched his jaw as the thought came to him.  If he was forced, the Toothpick Man would have to admit that Davis was more significant than he was, at least to the Grays they both reported to.  He had been hand picked and then transformed, and it would take an act of God to remove Davis from the project. Literally.

At least for now, Davis reported to him, a lowly Gamma Hybrid.  Toothpick man hoped Davis appreciated the irony in that.  It probably had escaped him.

Davis cleared his throat.  "Will be ready, sir.  I meant, we *will* be ready." 

"Good," Toothpick Man said.

"In fact, the operation will probably be much easier than we anticipated.  The wide-spread panic we predicted hasn't happened.  There are small pockets, but most of those have been handled with little incident.  The fact is, most people are either too sick, or have family members who are too sick to cause any trouble.  Ah... there is one small problem, however."

The Toothpick Man, who had just felt relaxation creep up on him a little, grumbled.  If it were so small of a problem, Davis would be able to handle it on his own.  Or, should be able to handle it on his own.  He was talking about a Beta who was still afraid of spiders. 

"What small problem?"

"Most of the survivors are showing up in geographically unsafe areas.  We'd planned on that, but what we didn't plan on was the speed of infection. Consequently, most of the human forces, such as FEMA and the military have suffered severe reduction.  I don't know that we'll be able to send those groups in to pull the survivors out of the Iron Saturation Zones.  The survivors could be embedded there and there's not much we can do about it short of bombing everything.  We don't have the manpower, not with all the defections."

"You mean treason," he said, gruffly, his teeth clenched together.  This was a very, very sore point.  "The option to bomb is still on the table."

"Sir?  That would eliminate infrastructure.  It would cause too much damage.  That's not part of the plan."

"Why do we need the infrastructure anyway?  It's all crap," Toothpick Man said, waving his hand in front of him, somewhat bored by Davis’ concerns.

"It's not part of the plan, sir.  I don’t think we –“

“Calm down, Davis.  I was only joking,” he knew Davis was right.  “Kinda,” he added.  He couldn't fathom why it was so important to save all structures.  Of course, it would be nice to not have to clean up giant messes, but if the destruction was only in isolated pockets, who the hell should care?  He certainly didn't.  When all of this was over, he planned on heading west to Los Angeles -- or what would be left of it -- and taking a much-earned retirement.  He'd move into a former celebrity's house in Malibu and listen to the sound of the sea.  For now, he still had plenty of work to do before that dream could come true.

"What about the kids?"

"The kids, sir?"  Davis could be so dense. 

The kids.  The children.  The Twelve.  They were only the most significant commodities on the planet, possibly the galaxy.  The children were the keys to their ability to colonize the planet.  Those kids.  After a moment of silent staring between the two men, if one could still call them that, a light flicked on in Davis's brain.  Synapses fired, and he finally understood the question.  "Oh, the Children. I'm sorry, sir.  So far, there has been no reaction to the virus.  Of course, we lost our control subject, so--"

The Toothpick Man scowled.  If there was one hitch in the operation, that was it.  One of the Twelve had been kidnapped.  It just so happened she had been the only control subject among them, which made things complicated.  Someone had been sent after her, but he had not returned and they'd lost all contact with him.  It was going to be difficult to determine what effect an immunized Alpha Hybrid would have on the final release of the virus. 

Preliminary studies did not look good.

That was out of the Toothpick Man's control, now.  He could only concentrate on following the plan from this point on, and he intended to make it perfect.  "I want another update in one hour."

"Yes sir.  Do you want us to move the start of Phase Two up?"

The Toothpick Man's brow knotted into what looked like a painful jumble of flesh.  He took a deep breath so that he could calm down the sudden reflux of anger that stirred in his stomach, and leaned back on the edge of his desk.  He placed his hands on either side of himself to support his weight.  "No, I do not want us to move up the start of Phase Two.  You may want to re-read the plan Davis, but this operation is coordinated world wide and the date has been set for..." the Toothpick Man smiled, his jaw clenched and his lips barely moved as he nodded his head, "... a very long time.”

"Right.  Of course, I’m sorry, sir.  I'll report back in an hour." 

Davis turned on his heels and headed back toward the office door, no doubt relieved to move into the relative safety of the hallway. 

Once Davis had pulled the door shut behind him, the Toothpick Man walked back around the desk and opened the middle drawer. He pulled out a rectangular box made of cardboard which opened on a paper hinge. He pulled out a cigar, tore off the cellophane wrap, and bit off one end.   He sat down in his chair, reclined back a bit, and lifted his feet up, placing them on the desk with a deep thud.  Everything was going smoothly, in spite of the earlier setbacks.  With any luck, he'd be choosing one of the newly vacant homes on the west coast within the month. 

Then he could finally relax in absolute peace.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^