Mulder sits in a plush leather back seat of a limousine, its tinted windows protecting his underslept eyes from the bright sunshine outside. They drive west. Pennsylvania Avenue speeds past, the power washed facades of the court, Archives, the DOJ all glinting falsely like the eye teeth of a televangelist. Downtown DC has grown into its whitewashed, made-over self. Mulder closes his eyes when the limousine, surrounded by red-and-grey taxis and jaywalkers, inches past the Hoover Building, its patriotic flags either waving to him or flipping him off. He’s too tired for this. He has been up most of the week prior, scouring his mind and his files and his assets for connections to what he is coming to realize, after all this time, could well be the answer he had been looking for.
He feels like an unwelcome houseguest in this city. He knows he brought it on himself, emerging so rarely for years. He could have chosen a lighter load, a lighter life, but he has long ago made peace with his role in this world: fringe dweller. Hunter. What a waste. The entirety of the ostentatious helicopter ride into DC, which ended on the rooftop helipad of the brand new Hyatt Regency, a playground for the wealthy and careless, Mulder kept thinking: Could it really be so simple? And was it worth it? Is it worth it?
Here we are again, Mulder’s mind taunts him. Alone, tired, retreading familiar ground. I hope you’re happy down here. You certainly seem comfortable.
He flinches as the vehicle hits a pot hole. Don’t think about it, Mulder, he shuts that most maudlin part of himself down. Focus.
Sharks, unloved and alone in the cold over millennia, can only swim forward. He will too.
“It will start on a Friday. It will look, and I want to emphasize look, like a coordinated attack on the United States. An external threat, setting in motion a wave of escalating and ever-more confusing protests and destruction,” says a slick voice next to him, its consonants clipped, authoritative, obviously affected. Tad O’Malley gesticulates with his wrist, simulating forward motion with his well-manicured fingers, and Mulder has been here before, reeling from fear and shot in the head and desperate for answers, listening to the paranoid rants of men with too much time on their hands and too much power.
“I think I’ve seen this movie,” Mulder mumbles, unable to shake the image of the Englishman’s limousine exploding, crushing his hope for answers. That time, his blind faith and inability to stop had saved her, saved Scully, brought her back to him from the brink. He has no hope of making the same happen now. He’s been telling himself for years now, quietly, he’s doing this for William, for their son, so that he can be safe and live in freedom.
Of course, he never voiced it, his son’s name. Not out loud. He merely let the deafening silence speak lies to Scully; he let her snarl, plead, accuse him of selfishness. She was right. It’s all about himself. He went from zero to sixty in under two seconds, and blew past her in his fervor, and when he looked up she was gone. It’s too late.
Mulder fixes his gaze on the seat back video monitor in front of him. The footage, cut together slickly from multiple sources, shows civil unrest across the globe: Burly looking white supremacists with long-range rifles patrolling Main Street in some nowhere town, black masks and black flags of anarchists underneath Brandenburger Tor, police assaulting civilians and the resulting chaos, civil wars, coordinated military marching, and fire, fire, fire. “Stop! You’re hurting me!”, screams a woman, clearly edited in for effect, as a riot officer drags her by her neck out of a crowd. Elite Peshmerga soldiers, women with set brows, fix the camera lens with their stares. The Director of the DEA shakes hands with Bernie Sanders. The video zooms in on them briefly, catching something in both of their eyes: it’s power.
O’Malley speaks. “There will be no stopping it. Unless you help me, Mr. Mulder.“
Who has time for this manipulative bullshit? Scully would have been out of here ten minutes ago, having pistol whipped the smug son of a bitch and flung his own blood into his eyes with a flick of her manicured fingers. But Mulder can’t help himself. He hates that he has to know. He simply has to know.
“This looks suspiciously like the controversial music video for N.W.A.’s Fuck Tha Police,” Mulder hisses, looking intently into the eyes of the self-proclaimed pundit of truth. “Except with a more muddled message. Am I supposed to be impressed by your clever use of stock footage?”
“Laugh all you want, Mr. Mulder,” O’Malley counters, “but it is my distinct impression that I have something you want.”
This piece of shit knows exactly what he’s doing. The sincerity, dressed in smugness, is breathtaking. He is no more than a kid in a fine Italian suit. Mulder is no stranger to vanity himself, he understands that impulse, to become larger than life so that someone will listen. Tad O’Malley, with his small media empire, is the Maserati of bourgeois libertarian thumpers and truthers. Once upon a time Mulder would have stood up on the steps of the Capitol, smoothed his tie, and pointed fingers at the men responsible: The higher the office the more of the blame they bore. In this day and age, men who fancy themselves truth seekers throw money at lobby groups, buy ad space on YouTube, comb pomade into their hair and bleach their teeth. Meanwhile, the lies unfold on the ticker tape of scrolling banners on the news, obscuring the eyes of those unfortunate souls who fall victim to big boys with big toys, collateral in the name of the facade of liberation.
But. And. And beneath it all, something big is brewing. Mulder can feel it in his bones. He lost his family to this humming deep in his cranium, watching her walk away countless times, so now, he figures, he really owes it to himself to pursue it without reservation. If only he can know, if only he can know then he can do something.
O'Malley smirks and hands Mulder a cloth pouch. “I appreciate your confidence. We’re going to go for a little drive, to see some people. I believe you’ll find it very interesting.”
Mulder fidgets, rolling the cloth between his fingers, and stares out the window while O'Malley pours himself a club soda from the ice bucket.
Mulder tips his head back and sees buildings glinting in the sunshine through the glass roof of this waxed and buffed ostentatious display of power. It’s too bright outside; his eyes sting and tears threaten to well up. When he slips the black hood over his head, his senses sigh in relief, and he feels himself giving in to the frisson of the unknown. He remembers, suddenly, the blood-tang in his mouth, all but losing his life to another kind of freedom fighter, a lifetime ago, and the stale smell of his own recycled air underneath another such hood.
I’m sorry, Mulder thinks at nobody in particular, I’m sorry but I have to know.
It’s in his blood, the search, this city. He knows they are already on the on ramp to I-66, feels the familiar thump thump of the crumbling infrastructure beneath these wheels that to some are worth more than a human life. He lets the darkness and the rhythm of the beat-up highway take him home across the river, into the powerful swirl of the question mark ahead.