"Dr Duchovny," said a voice from outside his door, "we're ready for you."
David stood and shouldered the duffel bag sitting next to him on the bed. In the mirror opposite, he caught his reflection and paused for a moment, just looking. A tall, pale, dark-haired man in nondescript clothes looked back at him. Given the utter upheaval of his life over the last few days, it was almost a surprise to see his own reflection. Someone else's might've almost made sense.
Had it really been only three days ago that his most pressing concern was calculating how much time he'd have to shower and change between his final lecture and his date? Christ, his date. His first since the divorce and very likely his last. There really was nothing like having a gun pulled on you to make you reconsider the benefits of staying single.
Now here he was, being shuttled from place to place by armed and—he hoped—dangerous men who spoke little and smiled less, all because some whackos had decided they wanted him dead. Why anyone would want to kill a divorced literature professor who lived in a one bedroom apartment and was teetering on the edge of fifty, he had no idea. He'd tried to explain this to the various government agents who'd grilled him extensively on his manuscript and the nature of his relationship with the biologist he'd been consulting at DARPA. He'd told them over and over that his research was purely theoretical—more of an intellectual exercise than anything—and literally ancient history. It was simply ludicrous to think that Dr Carter's death could have anything to do with the mythical universal antidote of an ancient Greek king.
Yet Chris was dead and his research stolen, and David had nearly suffered the same fate. He wondered, not for the first time, just what the hell had happened to his life.
With a last glance in the mirror, he opened the door to the imposing figure of the waiting agent. His babysitters switched so often that David had stopped trying to remember their names, but this one wasn't easy to forget. Agent Jeffords was a human mountain. His biceps were the size of David's thighs and seemed ready to burst through the seams of his shirt at the slightest provocation. He was so tall that he actually had to duck his head to avoid knocking himself out on the door lintels. It was amazing the man could even fit in a car.
David considered the little he'd been told about this next move as he followed Jeffords. The succession of safe houses where he'd been stashed for the last three days were as unremarkable as the multiple cars in which he'd been transported. They seemed equally bland and interchangeable in their sameness. It was this, he'd been told, the very ordinariness of it all, that worked as the best kind of camouflage. People's eyes simply slid across them without attention on their way to something more interesting. But while there was safety in being invisible in the crowd, apparently it wasn't safe enough for him. There was concern about the possibility of a mole somewhere higher up, so David was being handed over to a private firm. The irony that even the US Government had to outsource from time to time was not lost on him.
So here he was, the veritable hot potato in a game he definitely didn't want to be playing. The trouble was that no one had bothered to ask him.
Jeffords came to a stop at the end of the hallway, his wide shoulders blocking the view so that David didn't see the newcomers until he was almost on top of them.
A woman with the most extraordinary blue eyes leaned almost nonchalantly against the back of the sofa, the epitome of the cool blonde. Like the rest of the sober-faced and dark-suited government employees, she wore a shoulder harness and a holstered gun, but the resemblance between them ended there. The cut and fit of her clothes whispered discreetly of high end tailoring. Her blouse was unbuttoned just enough to subtly hint at cleavage without any overt display. Her trousers rode snugly at the curve of her hips and implied that the rear view would be equally pleasing.
Everything about her appearance was both completely professional and tantalisingly provocative at the same time.
David found it oddly unsettling. He told himself that was the reason he couldn't seem to stop looking at her. Because she certainly wasn't his type. Not at all.
"Dr Duchovny," said Jeffords, "this is Agent Anderson."
"Gillian," she said as she straightened and held out her hand. There was a slight quirk of her mouth that made David feel like she was laughing at him.
He dropped his duffel, annoyed, and shook her hand with a little more force than strictly necessary. "David."
She didn't even blink. "Are you ready?"
"Ready as I'll ever be."
With a brisk nod, she turned to Jeffords. "Let's go."
Four of them got into the car. It was a different make and model from the previous ones but just as average. Jeffords drove while another agent David hadn't seen before rode shotgun. Gillian was in the back with him, still and silent as a sphinx.
A half hour went by, then another. No one spoke: not to him, not to each other. David felt his anxiety rise with every mile. His life was in danger and he was essentially hostage in this car with three complete strangers. Everything had spun out of control and none of them seemed to give a damn. "Is someone going to tell me where we're going?" he demanded, beyond caring about how belligerent he sounded. He had a right to know.
Gillian turned to look at him as calmly as if he'd commented on the weather. "It's safer if you don't know."
"Safer for whom?"
"All of us. Right now everyone in this car is as vulnerable as you are. The fewer people who have access to our route and destination, the safer we'll all be." Her expression softened slightly. "I know you must be frightened. I'm sure this all seems needlessly cloak-and-dagger to you. But my job is to keep you safe until this situation can be resolved, and in my experience the best way to do that is to keep the transfer of information strictly limited."
"Even from me?" he asked incredulously.
"For now, yes. I'm afraid you're going to have to trust me."
David looked into her clear blue eyes and she returned his gaze with a calm and steady one of her own. The connection between them felt private somehow, even intimate, as if the other occupants of the car had vanished. Her words had been only for him. In spite of himself, David felt reassured. He nodded once. "Okay."
Gillian gave him a slight smile and turned back to the window. After a moment he followed suit, the late afternoon sun setting the world ablaze as he watched the long black ribbon of highway unfurl from horizon to horizon.