=====o================================================o=====

Note to the reader: The stories listed as authored by Mary Ruth Keller are all in a single universe, the Kuxan Sum Cycle. While each is an investigation that stands alone, they should be read in the following order for the plot and character developments to make the most sense.

The Caroline Lowenberg Trilogy

Sins of the Fathers
Xibalba
Twelfth Night
Saytr Play: Rustic Suite

The Dana Scully Trilogy

Prologue: Time Out of Joint
Passages in Memory
Interlude: Roman de la Pendrell
Archaea
Zurvan
Saytr Play: Anath

The Sandra Ann Miller Trilogy

Chermera

More following...

=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=

That nonpareil ITC series The Prisoner is now, after fifty-odd years, in the public domain, but credit where credit is due. The themes and titles from that incomparable creation of the minds of the late Patrick McGoohan, George Markstein, David Tomblin, and their creative team are used here in worshipful reverence for true originality. Often referenced, twice remade, but, never matched. My humble offering is but a mere echo. Gratias tibi, gentlemen.

=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=o=

=====o======================================================o=====

Chermera by Mary Ruth Keller

Chapter I - Arrival

=====o=====================================================o=====

Suola di Atene
Cambridge, England
Monday, June 1, 1998
11:59 pm

"Dal Riata is dead."

The pronouncement was benediction and warning, all at once. No one stirred in the darkened room, not the turbaned Pakistani, nor the weathered Inuit elder with hair as white and long as that of the delicate Mandarin seer who sat beside him. The speaker, his reddish-blond curls long since bleached and thinned, bent to lower the sallow eyelids of the slight woman, now still under linen and black wool. The length of his years seemed to draw him down beside her as he bent to place a brief, tender kiss on her forehead, then he straightened, as if forcing eternity away from him and the others gathered around.

His eyes passed unseeing over the sculpture mounted above the bed, a bronze circle with wavy rays emanating from it. The metal form was only slightly larger than the gold outline of the same shape embroidered into the dark blanket now being slid up over the woman's slack face. He paid no attention to either disk, but not from lack of respect for its craftsmanship and significance. He had seen this artifact many times, in many places, over his long life. He did not note that the waves alternated in length, one long and one short, repeated endlessly around the circle, nor did he bother to count the rays. He knew there were forty here, as there were on every other depiction on the chairs, walls, and doors of the Suola. Instead, he gazed downward, propping both hands on a column of alder, letting one of his thumbs stroke a Celtic lion carved there.

"We are many, we are one." The salutation was unvoiced. His words echoed back from the others assembled in the room, but were damped, almost immediately, by the thick black curtains being drawn tightly closed in reverence. What little light had been entering the Suola through windows of diamond panes, small and high above dark oak panels, was now extinguished. The speaker lit a single white taper, then with a sigh, turned to the rest. "Who shall replace the Riata? Whom can we find that is her equal?" He checked one somber face in the room after another until he had met the gaze of each in turn. There were thirty-eight of them, he knew, twenty men and eighteen women. Their world remained out of balance, or, had been further unbalanced by the death of the woman beside him.

But, there were forty chairs. One belonged to the Riata. The other, to the Slav. That chair had been filled until a few weeks ago, when she had disappeared, right around the time the imbecile media had begun fluttering about rockets in Africa. It had been the death of the Slav's predecessor, shortly after he himself had been inducted into the Forty, that had precipitated the Change. Until then, the faces in this room would all have been male. Somber, serious men, dedicated to the principles of the Light, but, lacking the voice of half of the planet. After a great struggle among the members, the first one in which he had taken part, parity had been brought to the Forty: twenty men and twenty women, speaking for all the facets of humanity. The Riata had been the first woman to claim one of these wide ebony chairs, each with the sun and its rays carved into the back and embroidered in gold on sable cushions.

From the rear of the Assembly two figures, shrouded and cowled in grey, stepped forward. Each held one end of a long strip of white satin. They advanced to a vacant ebony chair, taller than the rest by the width of a single finger. A gilded pyramidal finial adorned the ear of each stile, but otherwise, the seat was identical to the other thirty-nine. One grey figure stopped in front of, the other behind, the chair, which was shifted a centimeter forward of the rest in the row of ten. The satin was draped, first over the top rail between the finials, leaving a length long enough to trail down the full length of the back, crossing the carving of the sun with its forty wavy rays. In the front, the satin was tucked over the black seat cushion, covering the golden circle with its forty wavy rays, the gleaming remnant left to hang free down the front to the floor. Those assembled watched in silence, as all was proceeding according to their laws.

Throughout the ceremony, the man with the lion cane had left his hand on the wool beside him, knowing the once-graceful fingers that lay beneath. The Riata had led a different fight, one he had supported with his entire being. She had sought to bring the principles, not just of the Light, but of the Enlightenment, to guide the wisdom of the Forty. Humanity would no longer be directed by them, as if so few could accomplish that. Instead, they would observe and catalogue their species, leaving its many, many variants and differences to flourish. They would work, instead, to bring the Light to all people, through knowledge and freedom. There had been opposition, much dissent. His eyes drifted back to the bronze sculpture on the wall. Once it had been silver, the rays all of equal length, straight as arrows. That had been the symbol of the control the Forty had maintained, in the dark days when tanks rolled across Europe, as planes had carried bombs to rain death from across the Channel. That had been when their centuries-old principles had been subsumed into the Rule of One Race by an angry mob leader.

Finally, from the back, where one of their number had been resting against the curtained wall, came a voice. "We are many, we are one. I have no sense of the Slav. She is no longer of this Earth. But, I have seen Dal Riata in a dream." The elder stepped close to the bed, then lifted his lean arms upright to their full length. Like many of the others, his curly hair was white and thin, his face lined by time. Unlike them, his shoulders were unbowed, thanks to the years walking the Outback. "We see the Truth in dreams, but it is beyond words, beyond what we can catalogue and proscribe." He closed his sand-grey eyes, then, began swaying slightly. "The Riata is coming to us, over the long water, from the distant shore. I see that blaze marking Riata for us all, the sign of fire on high."

An angry clap of spotted hands sounded. "That is all very well." The new speaker frowned at the gasp that ran around the room at his breech of decorum, so he concluded with an impatient, 'We are many, we are one.' His curt affirmation was followed by the shaking of a long, pale face, under white hair that had been smoothed into perfection by obsessive applications of gel and combing. "But that is not our way." Slender, reddened fingers rubbed both sides of a straight, thin nose. "There will be tests for Dal Riata."

The elder with the alder lion cane nodded. "There will always be tests, Suebi. I was tested at length before I was found to be the Pict." He glanced back at the bed. "The Pure among your people are many, and your family is the Purest of all. As for the rest, the Past controls us, while the Pure are fewer and fewer with the years. We must remain as we are and not give sway to the forces that cast us into such obscurity." He had heard these same words from the Riata, many times. Now that she was no longer able to give them voice, he felt he must take her place, at least until another came forward from the byways and currents of humanity.

"We should seek the Slav first." All heads turned toward the new speaker, slight and white-haired. She rose, leaning heavily on a cane with the head of a bear. "I, the Helvetii, say we should respect the passage of Time. The seat of the Slav has been empty longer. We will only maintain our imbalance if we seek the Riata but not the Slav." There was a general rumble of agreement among the members.

"No!" The Aborigine seer was stalking around the deep chairs as he argued. "I have seen the Riata. This is Pure and True, unaltered by Time's cyclone." He spread his arms. "This Riata, *my* Riata, has seen much, has met different faces of the Deep and the Wide."

The Mandarin lifted a tapered finger. "So, what has Dal Riata seen that guides you? There is much distraction, much falsehood. Where is the Light?"

The Aborigine pointed to an ocher stone on a stand beside him. "She showed me."

The Suebi snorted. "Superstition. Children's fables. A rock with two depressions that your people see as eyes, and a crack you think is a mouth told you about the Riata? Pointless gibbering." He narrowed his crystal blue eyes at the Aborigine towering over him. "Gas, nothing more. We have the knowledge. We can seek the Riata out."

"Wait!" The Pict pointed to the figure on the bed. "We are many, we are one. We must respect those now invisible."

Suebi fingered his dark tie. "I was the one who brought Dal Riata to you. I will miss her most of all, even if we often found each other on opposite sides of debates, applying the same principles of Light, but seeing different colors, as if split by a prism. She was an ancient Queen of ancient Queens, fit to lead as are few others. Riata is the Line Royal, the line of power." He touched the clip enclosing the black silk. It was silver, inscribed with a circle and forty straight, short rays. "We are many, we are one. Very well, let us hail the new Riata. When shall this be?"

The Aborigine held his hand out, supine, waiting until the Suebi took it. They gripped each other's forearms, Roman-style, then released, each shifting the grasp to between his own arms in the same way. "When it shall be. We are many, we are one."

-o-0-o-

over the Atlantic Ocean
Monday, 7:14 pm

Fox Mulder closed his well-thumbed copy of "Death at La Fenice." He was restless from the hours strapped in his seat, but, these were First Class, so he intended to enjoy the amenities his stepfather had purchased for their return journey to the States. Wherever they would be flying next, he knew it would be in the constricted passage the FBI would pay for when they were on a case. He leaned over his partner, who was deeply engrossed in Cavalli-Sforza's The History and Geography of Human Genes. "Hey."

She marked the lead sentence of the paragraph she was reading with a Post-it, before closing the thick volume as she rotated it to balance on her lap. "Hum?" She had been drifting off to sleep, rereading the same densely-written sentence several times to stay alert.

Chuckling, he poked the cover. "That your idea of light reading, Doctor? A thousand pages?" He shook his head.

She tucked her chin. "I was expecting to make more progress, especially on these trans-Atlantic flights. But, on the passage east to Athens, all I wanted to do was sleep, then, well, I had other things on my mind." She angled her face up to meet his. "So, what's on *your* mind, Mulder? You've been fidgeting for a good half an hour, at least."

The dark-haired agent twisted to face her. "I've just been thinking about how we're going to proceed once we're back in DC."

She slid the thick volume to rest beside her hip. This might be a while. "Oh?"

He bent down to catch her eye. "We'll need to go to the Vineyard immediately to look into my Father's death, Scully. How much do you know about Nantucket and the other islands?" He found himself grinning. "Outside of old Herman's guidebooks, of course."

She studied him for a moment. "The Vineyard? Why there? Your Father's house is gone, and he's buried in Boston." As he shook his head, both ginger eyebrows jumped. "But, Mulder, I went to his funeral there. Caroline was there and it was huge."

He bent close to keep his reply down to a whisper. "That's what my Dad wanted. He was afraid of something. He kept going on about bodily integrity and how he had to be buried whole, not autopsied, and never, never cremated. Beyond that, he'd never tell me or Mom, but he made us swear to bury him on the Vineyard, while staging that fake funeral. He even created a special fund to pay for both." Unconsciously, his hazel eyes flicked to the businessman sitting motionlessly across the narrow aisle from him.

As her auburn hair brushed his shoulder, her response was almost soundless. "What was he afraid of, Mulder? He had been out of the State Department for decades." She looked up into his face, just a centimeter or two from hers.

A lifetime of sorrow, fear, and deep regret hovered in his eyes. "Like he'd tell me? Dad had a big, fancy headstone all prepared for the Boston ceremony, and another for the Vineyard. No name, just his initials. No dates. He wanted us to know, but no one else." He shoved the paperback in the seat pocket as he straightened. "You're the first person I've told about this, Scully." He hugged himself protectively.

"So, Mulder, everything I saw was a sham? What about the investigation into his shooting? Was that a fake as well? They had the ballistics data on the bullet used to kill your Father-"

He was shaking his head. "Scully, who told you about that?"

She shifted to face him, reminded again of how little they had shared with each other of their time apart after New Mexico. "Director Skinner and I discussed it."

The tall agent chewed his lower lip for a moment. "Who was informed by the Smoker, no doubt. Whatever you heard about his death; it was a lie. Mom confirmed that to me while you were recovering in the hospital in Athens. Max was with you, so we could speak in private." Looking down at her, he sent her a crooked grin. "My Dad was always afraid someone would come for his body, so he wanted to keep it hidden from the rest of the world. He made Mom and me promise."

She crossed her arms. "So, you think *He* was involved in this cover-up?"

Rubbing his face, he nodded. "I'm sure of it, Scully."

With a sigh, she started massaging her temples. "Just when I thought I was coming to understand your family, you tell me this." She looked up at him. "Your sister is a scientist. Once you and she are reunited, I hope we can become good friends." She lowered her hand to tap his wrist with her minimus finger. "As close as you and I are, Mulder."

He started blinking at her, opened his mouth once, then, he flushed, but kept silent. His eyebrows canted, before he stared down at his hands. I want that, too. Words failed his thoughts as he felt deep gratitude suffuse him. Whatever darkness would assail them, he believed the three women who mattered most in his life would come to stand united against it.

Sensing his mental retreat, the auburn-haired pathologist hastened to reassure him. "Caroline has been so wonderful to me, especially these past two months. As has Max." She found herself momentarily distracted by the small, rounded maritime clouds topping the deep blue of the ocean. "I feel like I have a second family in those two."

"You do, Scully, you do."

The edge to his voice had her turning to grasp his wrist tightly. "But, I don't know what to make of your Father, especially given what I know about your time with him." She released his arm to cross her own again. "I can't begin to understand how he thought, or why he did what he did. To you." She checked his face. "To Caroline."

"Scully." His gaze dropped to his knees. "Please." Her honest, open sympathy set a cascade of emotions churning inside of him, driving him to retreat into silence.

She drew a long breath, wanting to take him away from the horrors he was reliving, so she threw him the strongest support she could offer: her rationality. "Mulder, on a different subject." Her calm, even tones settled him, the restless shifting ceased, so she returned to one of their earlier topics of conversation. "You'll be okay with Pendrell and Phillips coming to the Field Office to work with us?"

Deeply grateful for the shelter she was extending, he nodded. "Yes. Pendrell surprised me in Africa." One cheek twitched. "I always thought he was just a geek with a crush on you." He lifted out the Leon to begin fiddling with a frayed corner on the back cover.

She shook her head. "No, he really enjoys researching whatever we bring him, in case you hadn't noticed. He'll try new techniques for us, ones the rest of the Bureau isn't prepared to accept. Phillips is just as good, when she can calm down around me. She'll pull new procedures out of the Forensics journals to try them out. I'd like to encourage her to do more of that."

Feeling the emotional churn dispersing, now, he thought of the documents in his carry-on bag, stashed in the overhead. Perhaps this is the right time. He looked over to see she was eyeing him expectantly. "Scully?" He unclipped his seat belt.

She waited. He was no longer anxious, or laser-focused, as he would be if they were debating aspects of a case. He seemed excited, and, for Mulder, almost happy. "Yes?"

He popped the elevated bin door, took down his backpack, then lifted out two plain brown folders to press against his chest. "I..." He sighed. "I wasn't going to give you these until we were back in DC, and Skinner wanted to be there, but, here." He shyly guided them into her waiting hands, tucked the rucksack away, then sat before he tapped the packets three times. "Open the one underneath first."

She lifted one corner of her mouth. "Christmas, Mulder? Have we crossed the Equator on the way to Australia?"

Settling onto the wide leather seat, he found himself edgy, yet eager for her next reaction.

She slid the bottom folder out to open it. The official document had "Office of Management and Budget" at the top, with the subject being, "Reclassification of Position." She studied the papers, her frown deepening. "Mulder?" She looked up into his gleaming hazel eyes. "Is this for real? I'm officially to become co-Section Head with you?"

He nodded. "Skinner and I agreed. It was time for you to get something for all your hard work, Scully. No raise, of course. Just more responsibility, for us both."

She closed the folder before hugging the two tightly. "So, when did you..." She shook her head, then looked up at him. "No, first, thank you. I'm deeply honored. I wasn't expecting anything like this. Thank you." After they held each other's gaze for a moment, she studied the papers thoroughly. "We're reforming the X-Files into two sections, one in the east coast and one on the west. You and I are in overall charge of the enlarged group?"

He smirked. "Yeah, we'll still outrank Nichols and his section by seniority, even if we don't have the title he does."

One eyebrow remaining canted, she turned her face upward. "When did you get these?"

The dark-haired agent began fiddling with the Leon again. "Oh, when you were in the hospital in Athens, getting checked out before we got on the plane." He sent her a tiny, shaky grin. "Skinner and I talked about it while you were recovering on Santorini after you first got there. He brought it up, and I'd been wanting something like this for you for years." When he shifted to face her, the unalloyed admiration in his eyes had her staring at her knees. "They'd just been approved by OMB, so he express-mailed them to the field office. It took that long for the paperwork to get through the system. Matheson agreed to the revised structure when Skinner brought it up with him, in fact, he wondered what took the Bureau so long to make it happen." He was astonished to see her jaw drop.

"But, Mulder, I didn't know if I was going to be healthy enough to stay in the X-Files, or even the FBI! What would you have done if I had resigned?"

He studied the yellowed edges of the paperback, willing away the blackness the possibility of her departure always brought up in him. "I don't know." The words were barely audible. He lifted his head to throw her a haunted, desperate glance. "I couldn't have used something like this to make you stay. That would have been wrong, on so many levels. You had to evaluate your own health, make your choice." He clasped, then released, her wrist. "I didn't – I don't – want you to leave the X-Files, ever, Scully. You know that. We've gotten so far, exposed so much, since we chose to work together closely, as a real team, as genuine partners, not where I try to give you orders, we fight, then we can't close investigations. But, if you had felt you had to..." He gripped the Leon tightly. "I'd rather you were safe, even if you weren't..."

Her small hand closed over the spine of the book, catching his fingers underneath it. "Thank you, Mulder. I don't know what else to say." After a single shake, she pressed her palm into the pages in the folder.

Straightening, he rested the novel on his knees. "Open the other one." She sensed the words as hoarse breath, not as sound.

Turning the cover, she nearly dropped the papers on her lap in surprise, then gasped. "You put me in for a commendation?"

He was fidgeting again. A simple yes was the best he could do.

She looked up at him. "For the Alexandria Courthouse? But, I was just doing my job. There were people, Stone, there who needed my help. What else was I supposed to do, Mulder?"

He smirked. "Avoid the cameras, Scully?"

Her auburn eyebrows drew together. "But, there's this hearing with Blevins I'll have to attend. And my being relieved of my investigative function back when I thought you were dead in New Mexico. Won't those eliminate any possibility of promotion or recognition?"

He shook his head. "No, Scully, no." He was whispering. Not if I have anything to say about it. He raised his voice to its normal timbre. "You have to understand; the commendation order came down straight from Director Freeh. He saw you on CNN, covered in blood and dust, just like the rest of us. When he learned who you were and what you did, he called Skinner personally, at home. He thinks what you did embodied everything the Bureau wants to believe is true about itself: injured agent risks life to save others." His hands painted the words in the air. "Once this pro-forma session with Blevins is over, there will be an official ceremony." He bent over her. "Scully? You really okay?"

She had both palms on her cheeks, her fingers pressing into her eyes, her shoulders shaking. "For me? All this for me?" She could barely whisper in her astonishment and gratitude.

"Scully?" He was reaching for her wrists. "Scully?" It never failed to amaze him how little his forthright and inventive partner thought of herself. That, at least, they had in common.

Dropping her hands, she looked up at him, her eyes shining. "Thank you, Mulder. Thank you." She crossed her arms tightly over both folders. "I didn't know."

His eyebrows canted. "You weren't supposed to. It wouldn't have been a surprise, otherwise."

-o-0-o-

Dulles Airport
Dulles, Virginia
Tuesday, June 2, 1998
10:54 pm

Overhead, the illuminated hands clutching a seat belt switched from orange to grey, so the partners rose to begin retrieving their luggage from the overhead bins, he passing down her laptop bag before hauling out his own backpack. The summertime thunderstorms that had looked so menacing as they had crossed over the Norfolk area had offered a light-show and some impressive rumbles as the pilot had diverted around them. But there had been no significant turbulence, which had been a great relief to the diminutive agent.

She tucked the brown folders under the computer in the main compartment, then slid the strap over her shoulder, but held onto the Cavalli-Sforza as she waited beside him for the passenger compartment doors to open. "So, Mulder, any thoughts?"

The dark-haired man pressed himself against the opposite seats so she could step ahead of him, resting his hand on her shoulder briefly as the aisle cleared ahead. "Six months, Scully."

She smiled up at him gently. "Yes, it'll feel like Santorini when you step out, but give it another six months..."

He sent her a lop-sided grin. "You'll be hopping on a plane to head east, come January, won't you?" After the homeless case and the trips to the Arctic, he knew she had very little patience with the cold and the dark.

She shook her head as she stepped into the elevated bus that would take them to the terminal. "No. We need to get to work. There is too much at stake." They found spaces on one of the short center benches, then waited for the rest of the passengers to fill the transport.

He picked up a Washington Post that had been shoved under the seat by a previous occupant. The A section, opened to page 6, was folded in quarters on itself, framing the continuation of a story on the rising "Earth First" movement. This was not the radical environmental group, but a loose coalition of organizations that had appropriated the name, promoting an isolationism that was coalescing in some areas of the country into a reaction against further planetary exploration. As he scanned the text, he felt his partner leaning against him, then she placed a hand on his arm to move the paper down where she could read, too. Enjoying the intensity of her focus, he smiled down at the auburn crown, fearing there would be few quiet moments like this in their future.

Both red eyebrows furrowed, she raised her green-blue eyes to his hazel ones. "I wonder if he's the one behind this."

Mulder sighed, then responded, his voice barely above a whisper. "Or, whether he'll exploit it for his own ends, just as the Four tried to exploit the Neo-Nazis. The demographics are remarkably similar." The bus began backing away from the plane, so they grasped the nearest hand-rails as it swayed while lowering to the ground.

The older, balding businessman in a rumpled tan suit, who had sat across the aisle from them during the flight, leaned over. "Are you finished with that?"

Mulder looked down at his partner, who nodded, so he handed the paper away.

The older man settled, but, when his gaze fell on the article they were reading, he tossed the pages contemptuously on the plastic cushion beside him. "The whole world is crazy these days."

The agents exchanged a glance, but kept silent, not knowing what to expect next.

"Aliens! Is this the best distraction Clinton can come up with? We know he's up to no good, just like he was in Arkansas." The businessman shook his head. "I hear things from the Little Rock office. Shady real estate deals we should be investigating, those bimbos of his, Hillary." He sneered at the petite woman. "You're probably a big supporter of hers, aren't you?"

One auburn eyebrow arched. "The Bureau is apolitical, Sir. We identify, arrest, and convict any wrongdoers, regardless of party, gender, religion, or orientation. We solve crimes and serve and protect the American people."

Mulder was unable to tip his head far enough forward to read his partner's face in such confined space, but, could imagine the Look she was boring into the older passenger. So he was not surprised, when he turned, to see the businessman leaning back in his seat to put distance between them. Further, he suspected the words, spoken with the simple authority of any agent in the FBI, were striking a deep incongruity in the psyche of the balding man.

The disoriented entrepreneur huffed, rubbed his eyes under his thick lenses, then glared at the dark-haired agent. "You don't let her boss you around, do you? Wives shouldn't be in charge of anything other than baking lemon squares and scrubbing toilets."

Mulder's eyes cooled to their greyest, but he matched his partner's self-control, offering only a single shake of his head in response.

Now the older passenger was infuriated. "You do, don't you? Bet she makes more money that you do, too. That's wrong. That's wrong for America." He tossed the Post onto the next seat. "That's wrong for the world." He yanked his suit bag from its fold on his lap, then stalked to one the doors in the line built into the right side of the bus, which was approaching the terminal.

The dark-haired man leaned over his partner as they began gathering their own luggage from around their feet, stacking them into pyramids to make them easy to heft. "I don't think we can blame Old Smokey for that finely-calibrated conspiracy theory, Scully."

Suitably laden with wide black padded straps, she rose. "Or, for how people only see the truths they want to see, Mulder. That never changes."

He placed a dramatic hand on his chest in mock offense, then nodded as he stepped along behind her while they waited to exit.

-o-0-o-

Apartment 5
Alexandria, VA
Wednesday, June 3, 1998
7:12 am

Dana Scully had found herself tossing and turning through the darkness, despite her fatigue from the flight. Her body, she knew, was still relaxing according to the slow clocks on Santorini, not confined to her sagging mattress. I'll have to replace this soon. It's past being comfortably soft. Her restless mind was working to recognize and catalogue all the sounds of the DC suburbs, so different from the downy silence of Thera in the night. The planes landing at National had disturbed her, as did the grinding gears and squealing brakes of delivery trucks rattling up and down Alexandria's long, straight streets. As she listened, she became aware there was someone shuffling outside her door. Hoping it was neither her partner, whom she had seen off from the airport shuttle outside his Arlington apartment building to what little rest she knew he would have as well, nor a new adversary, so soon, she slid out from under the sheets. The auburn-haired pathologist lifted the short key off the hook on the back of her bedside table to unlock the gun case that occupied the lower shelf there. Once opened, she slid out her SIG in its holster, unclipped the weapon, then padded silently to the door.

But, a voice called out from beyond the white wood. "Dana, it's Mom. I'm letting myself in." The tumblers lifted as Margaret inserted her key in the doorknob.

Scully re-engaged the safety as she placed the gun on a shelf beside the hinged side of the door before throwing back the dead-bolt. Mom doesn't need to see weapons right now. She ushered the older woman in, then turned the locks. "Mom? What are you doing here? How did you know we were home? Are you okay?"

Margaret stepped over to one of the living room windows, then pushed the drapes open a crack to check outside. "I came by your place to make certain it was ready, before your return. I had to restock your refrigerator and water your plants at least, Dana. But, I saw that there was a man in a dark suit hanging around the building. I thought it was suspicious, so I wanted to tell you. After everything I've seen with Caroline and Max, I didn't want to use the phone."

Scully joined her mother before sliding the drapes open fully. "Thanks, Mom, but don't worry about that. It's only Agent Talling, from the Bureau. I suspect Director Skinner has someone watching Mulder's place, too."

"Ah." The dark-haired woman turned to hug her second, now only, daughter. "Then I won't think about it." She patted the younger woman's back. "You feel stronger, Dana, and not so terribly thin. The time away must have been good for you."

Scully guided Margaret over to her green and white striped couch. She would not relate all of the difficulties of her remaining time in Santorini to her Mother, just yet. She was deeply relieved to have them behind her, so after they sat, she chose a simple response. "Well, I guess it was. But, I'm on estrogen now."

Margaret studied her daughter's face. "Your Grandma O'Shea had to do the same thing." She offered the auburn-haired agent a hesitant smile. "I'm sorry. I should have said something sooner. It may have saved you some worry." She could have easily added 'and Fox' to her statement, as she remembered the exhausting, frantic terror that gripped him during the hours following the bombing at the Alexandria Courthouse.

One auburn eyebrow arched. "I didn't know about Grandma. Thanks for telling me." She crossed her arms. "Mom? You still haven't said why you're here. How did you know I was coming home? Mulder and I made the decision rather abruptly." She refrained from further details, although she wanted to share, later, with the older woman the thrill of the investigation and discovery of those faked Minoan artifacts. It was one of the few of their cases she could relate to her without inducing terror, or so she hoped.

The brown-haired woman smiled. "Caroline called, once you and Fox were underway. She had wanted to have a conversation."

Scully rose to walk back into her bedroom so she could finish unpacking. She set up a luggage rack, shifted the duffel onto it, then slid the hamper from beside the bathroom door to stand next to it. She eyed her Mother, who had followed her into the bedroom. "Ah. She did? About?"

Margaret was tugging the sheets and covers back in place, plumping the pillows, then smoothing out the quilt before she sat on it with a huff. I taught you girls better than that.

After an irritated sigh, the diminutive agent prompted her with a one-word question. "Mom?"

Almost without thinking, the older woman began lifting out clothing to pass to her daughter. "She was worried about why I had been so distant after I returned." She looked up into the younger woman's face. "It's been Charlie, you see." She shook her head at the arched ginger eyebrow. "He, Valerie, and the boys had all been down with a very late case of the flu, so they needed me." She held up a bundled pair of green running socks, sniffed them, then tossed them toward the hamper. "It was hard to have to try to coordinate with Valerie's sister, Donna, about caring for all of them. You remember Donna from the wedding, don't you? She has a husband and three girls of her own, now."

The diminutive agent retrieved the socks from the hamper to carry them to the mahogany dresser, then groaned softly as she dropped them into a drawer. "Ah." Her mother was stuck on *that* subject. Again. "Oh, Mom. Please..."

"Please, what, Dana? I'm not nagging you, about anything, if that's what you're thinking." Margaret watched her daughter frown at the lower right back of an over-sized tan polo shirt the auburn-haired woman was holding up to the light. "I'm glad you, and Fox, are home safe. I just need to talk to someone about all that's happened these past few months."

Scully folded the cotton polo in half lengthwise, turned over the short sleeves, then rolled it up into a tight coil, but left it on top of her dresser. "Mom. What do you mean? I'm okay. Mulder has found his sister. He'll be heading out to see her as soon as we get settled back at work." There was little else that would matter, at least to her Mother. "What else could there possibly be for us to discuss?"

The dark-haired woman rose, then walked around the hamper to her daughter's side. "Dana, you know that's not what I mean. Saturn Five rockets launching out of the savanna while you and he are down there, and I can't talk to you about it?" She crossed her arms. "It's been all over the news. That image flashes over and over again, and I can't help but think of the time right after your hysterectomy, all that nonsense with you and Fox being mistaken as drug dealers." She stopped her daughter's restless motion with a hand on her arm. "What's happening with those creatures you and Fox were after when you left? With that scowling, taciturn bearded man, and that older woman, Christina Knox, who took you two away so quickly? I didn't want to press Caroline about it. That woman had upset her and Max so much."

The auburn-haired pathologist chewed her lower lip for a moment. Her Mother had no frame of reference to comprehend what they had found in the abandoned Consortium facility. But, she could understand the confusion, since, a few years ago, neither had she. "Mom." She hugged the older woman briefly. "There are things we do you don't need to think about. We shouldn't even be discussing them here. We don't know who might be listening."

"Dana!" Margaret stepped away. "I'm not a child, you know. I remember the stories your grandfathers told about the Second World War. If what I saw is true, this could be far, far worse."

The auburn-haired agent nodded. "Yes, Mom, it could be. I know this is hard, but - " At the knock on the door, she turned. "Excuse me."

The dark-haired woman followed her daughter out. "Dana! Please!"

But Scully's attention was elsewhere. "Mulder!" She stepped back so he could enter. "I thought I had convinced you to sleep the rest of the day?"

He was in his black suit and a new tie, cobalt blue, white Doric columns toppled to odd angles running in diagonal lines down the silk. His hazel eyes gleamed at her. "Nope, Doctor, duty calls." Finally, he noticed Margret standing beside his partner. "Hey, Mrs. Scully." He extended his arms toward her.

The older woman moved into his embrace. "Good to see you on this side of the Atlantic, Fox."

He clutched her closely, rubbing circles along her spine, before moving back to hold her by the shoulders. "She's okay, you know. She's really okay."

Her hand on his cheek, Margaret nodded. "I know." She tugged at the price tag she could see dangling just below the end of the silk. "Thanks to you." She raised her gaze to see him smiling down at her, then returned the expression.

But, he was releasing her to step over to the pathologist as he shifted focus to his partner. "Go slip into some G-woman duds, Scully. We have a meeting with Skinner in-" He checked his Swiss army watch. "-thirty minutes."

The diminutive agent tossed her head. "Was this your idea, or his?"

He clucked in mock horror. "Doctor." He placed his hand on his chest. "I would never invent a meeting with Dad, now would I?"

She tucked her hair behind her ear as she turned. "I suppose not. Was your place being watched when you got home?"

After canting his eyes toward the older woman, he nodded. "Sills. Pendrell filled me in on the precautions when he stopped by for a quick check over my apartment. I thought he'd only do the honors on yours."

"Hum." She pumped her chin at his jibe, then stepped into her hall, moving purposefully toward the bedroom. "Give me five."

Margaret watched the door close behind her daughter. "You've done wonders for her, Fox. This is the best she's looked in months."

Embers of sorrow burned in his eyes. "Thanks. It was rough for her for a while." He began fishing in his jacket pocket. "I want to show you someone, Mrs. Scully."

She eyed the packet of prints in his hand. "Is this your sister?"

The hazel glittered as he passed the stack to her. "Yes."

Margaret settled on the sofa to turn the glossy sheets over one at a time, laying one on the cushions as she worked through the stack. "She's as beautiful as you are handsome, Fox. You said she is a professor?" She met his gaze with a gentle smile.

Fidgeting with delight, he nodded. "Of fluid dynamics." His dark eyebrows drew together. "And an amateur sleuth, apparently."

Finished, she rose to step over to him, holding one image out as she walked.

The tall agent studied the photograph for a moment. "That's her cat." He frowned. "Or, that's her other cat, I guess."

"But, how did you get these? Dana said you were still making plans to go see her."

"Skinner brought them to us at the hospital in Athens. They're official Bureau documents, so I need to add them to my sister's file."

Margaret cocked her head at this fragment of new information, but kept silent.

"He had been holding them in safe-keeping for me and Mom." The dark-haired man began pacing. "I haven't had the opportunity."

The older woman frowned. "But, you're going, soon, right?"

Mulder's gaze fixed on Scully's door. "Yeah." The reply was non-committal. "As soon as – Hey! Record time." He pointed a long finger at her feet. "No spikes. That's good."

His partner had emerged, wearing a pair of flat black pumps, only slightly darker than the charcoal linen pantsuit she had pulled over a grey silk blouse. "I'm not used to that rarefied air." She handed the rolled tan polo to her partner, who tucked it in his jacket pocket as she turned to her mother. "Mom. I hope you haven't talked to anyone about what happened to you in the Med. Not even Charlie or Bill."

As she slid the prints back into their folder, Margaret checked both their faces. "Outside of general vacation-type stories, no, I haven't. I needed to have someone who could explain them to me." She passed the photographs back to the tall agent. "Which would be either of you."

Suddenly very serious, Mulder bent to grasp her shoulder. "Mrs. Scully, this is extremely important. We don't know where we stand right now."

She nodded. "But I need help, Fox, this is all so much to process."

The partners exchanged a glance before he slid his arm around the older woman. "I know it is, but, you have to stay safe. The less you know, the less you can be endangered for. They've taken innocents when it suited their purposes. I don't want anything to happen to you." He clutched her momentarily, then guided her toward the exit. Scully was holding it open as she tucked her SIG back in its holster, now clipped at the small of her back. "Ever. I've just found my sister, and I don't want to lose anyone else I care about." He glanced down at his partner, then the three headed out into the hall, Mulder and Margaret waiting side-by-side while the auburn-haired agent locked the door.

-o-0-o-

X-Files East Offices
Third Floor
FBI Washington Field Office
601 4th Street NW
Washington, DC
Wednesday, June 3, 1998
8:03 am

Cynthia Mulholland scribbled the final result of the derivation from her last Calculus II homework on the back of an early draft of Director Skinner's latest memo. There had been so much FBI work claiming her attention the past few weeks she was considering cutting back from two classes to one in the fall. With the appearance of that first article in the Post on the trial of Tyrell Saunders, then with the further investigations into the bombing of the Alexandria Courthouse, Gloria had been asked to come temporarily back from retirement to help with it all. She looked up when she heard the stairwell doors open, then, the voices spilling out had her on her feet to rush into the doorway.

"Scully, the agents downstairs barely recognized us." She imagined he was bent over his partner as they walked and talked. When she stuck her head out, she pushed her long brown hair out of the way, then congratulated herself silently on her intuition.

The diminutive pathologist was looking back up at him. "Yes, the spaces are only half occupied, so it won't be like the warrens at the Hoover Building, at least not for a while."

The slender, lithe girl-woman took several running steps toward them. "Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, I'm here."

The pair fell in step on either side of her as all three entered the new X-Files offices of the partners. Once inside, Cynthia hugged them both in turn, first, Mulder, then Scully. The brown-haired man stood with his fists on his hips as he surveyed their new space. It was smaller than the second-floor offices, which bothered him not at all. But, he grunted, bringing both women's gazes over at him.

The pathologist had left her arm around Cynthia. "Mulder?"

"Coffee?" He canted his eyebrows at the unlined face of their admin.

She smiled. "In your office, Agent Mulder. I rearranged a bit while you two were away. I was able to move most of the X-Files into Agent Scully's office." She stepped away from the diminutive woman. "It's still just as organized, Agent Scully, and according to your system. But, I was able to snag us some over-tall filing cabinets, so it takes up the same floor space."

Enjoying the sight of his partner's tucked chin, Mulder rolled his eyes in mock-horror. He expected she would be thoroughly assessing the changes to her careful arrangements. "Still happy to be back, Doctor?"

She waved a hand at him before turning to the younger woman. "So, Cynthia, how are you doing?" The three of them left unspoken the events that had traumatized their brown-haired admin from Iowa, who had been a victim of the late Gilbert Lindhauer's scheming.

Cynthia hugged her petite superior again. "It's been busy, Agent Scully. But now that you're both here, maybe it won't be so rough on Director Skinner."

The agents exchanged a glance, but it was Mulder who voiced the question. "Rough? What do you mean? In what way?"

Cynthia settled on one of the straight-backed chairs set up in a line outside Scully's office. "The media attention isn't dying back down the way we thought it all would."

Nodding, Scully stepped into her space. We were expecting that. The filing cabinets were, as the younger woman had said, floor to ceiling banks of drawers and shelves. To accommodate them both, Cynthia had finagled, from somewhere, a rickety folding step ladder, placed just inside the entrance, to reach the top units. But what caught her attention was her computer, which was unplugged from both the network and wall power. "Cynthia? Were you having trouble with hacking in our absence?" She stepped into Mulder's office via the adjoining door, still held open by her Father's Naugahyde recliner. Her partner's Mackintosh had always been kept off the network, but, it, too, was silent, the monitor dark.

Cynthia was right behind her. "I disconnected Agent Mulder's on Director Skinner's advice. We do have power fluctuations here." She pointed back into Scully's office. "But yours, Agent Scully, was under repeated attack. Mister Frohike-" She blinked for a moment at Scully's cocked eyebrow. "-said that was the safest thing to do."

Mulder, who was now sprawled in his plush chair with his feet crossed on the dark oak desk top, chuckled. "Oh?"

Wide-eyed, Cynthia nodded. "Yes. This may sound odd, Agent Mulder, but he thinks it's the UFO groups who are trying to hack your machines."

After he shifted upright, Mulder rubbed his face with both hands. "Who, MUFON? NICAP? They can get everything from the Gunmen's web-pages, X-Files included. Why would they need to break in here?"

"That's one of the items we need to discuss, Agents." Walter Skinner spoke from where he stood, in the doorway into the main hall. "If you would follow me." He pointed into his office, right next door to theirs.

-o-0-o-

The three agents settled into familiar chairs, Skinner behind his desk, Mulder and Scully on the boxy seats in front. The view behind Skinner's head was not Pennsylvania Avenue, but the red bricks of the National Building Museum. Mid-morning sun reflected off the glass arcade set in the tympanum in the upraised roof, then into the office, setting the room alight. The bald director leaned back, steepling his fingers as he regarded the two X-Team co-heads across from him. Dana Scully was poised, upright, but not inflexible, her hands resting open on her lap. She was not the battered, gaunt woman he had bundled onto a plane so many months ago to place in her partner's care. She looked rested, fit, and, dare he think it, content. The dark-haired agent, however, was fidgeting, barely able to keep his seat.

Mulder forced himself into rigidity. "Sir, what is this about hacking by UFO groups?"

The bald director gritted his teeth. "This will surprise you as much as it surprised me, Agents, but you, Mulder, are now considered a traitor to the cause."

The partners exchanged a glance before the auburn-haired pathologist gripped the metal arms of the chair. "But, why, Sir? We've revealed the existence of extraterrestrials to the world with clear, incontrovertible, and scientifically verified proof. The rocket that launched out of Africa was tracked independently in several telescopic surveys. It sped up as it departed the ecliptic plane on a course perpendicular to our solar system. Its velocity was greater than any artificial satellite launched to date, and it was issuing patterned, repeated, broadband electromagnetic emissions as it went, signals that are now being analyzed for language content. There can be no other explanation for all these facts." She cocked an eyebrow. "What more could they want?"

Mulder was pacing the room now. "It's not that simple, Scully." Both her green-blue and Walter Skinner's brown eyes tracked him as he circled the conference table. "The confirmation of the existence of extraterrestrials isn't what they were thinking they were going to get. They wanted proof of a government cover-up, not Saturn Five rockets launching from the African savanna and broadcast to the world through Earth-observing satellite imagery. It's become an open question for science and diplomacy to address, not conspiracists."

She rose to walk over to him. "So, it's only their version of events they wanted affirmed, not the actual, whole truth."

Remembering the angry businessman on the shuttle, he sighed. "Yeah, true believers can be like that." Attempting to lighten the mood, he leaned into her face. "Your cool light of reason doesn't necessarily penetrate every corner of the human psyche, Pallas."

She tapped his linen-clad elbow to lead him back to his chair.

Skinner checked both of their faces in turn. Despite all the years he had known these two, he would never fully grasp the complex, riddling code they used with each other. Palace? Why was he referring to her as a building? The bald director cleared his throat before returning the discussion to the changes of the last few months. "I thought the media circus would be our only problem." The three would not discuss the changes in the Shadow powers here, not even in an enclosed space swept regularly for listening devices by the Gunmen. Skinner stepped out from behind his desk. "Agents, walk with me." He held the door as they left, the three nodding to Cynthia as they passed her.

But the brown-haired woman had her tongue stuck out slightly, barely responding to their farewells. She was struggling with the chemical formulae she was balancing, wondering if she had time to stop by the Hoover Building to get Agent Phillips to help, or whether the brown-haired chemist would be buried in more wedding magazines and seating charts.

-o-0-o-

Along 4th Street
Wednesday, 8:47 am

Even with the morning DC rush hour winding down to an early summer close, the noise from traffic would easily drown out the quiet conversation the Assistant Director wanted to conduct with his agents. The partners had settled on one of the facing pair of stone benches along the wide sidewalks in front of the FBI building, while he stood in front of them. "I'll be taking a limo to see Senator Matheson, now that you have both returned."

Scully looked over at Mulder, then leaned forward. "Sir, is the Morley Man continuing to try to recruit you back into the Organization?"

Thinking of a dark exchange of fists in the Hoover Building underground parking, the bald Assistant Director shook his head. "Outside of his one attempt, no. He's planning something. Of that, we can all be certain, but, he hasn't firmed up a sufficiently convoluted scheme to set in motion." He tugged at his tie. "With you two coming back before you were expected, he'll have to accelerate his plans to try to regain the advantage."

The dark-haired agent fidgeted. "We've been considering possibilities for his attacks for the past few days, Sir." He checked his partner's face. "We know there are other groups like his, in the Far East and Europe. That's why Rosen and Nichols are on the West Coast, while we remain here. Whether he thinks he can play us, too – "

Scully rested her hand on her partner's arm, but looked up at their superior. "Sir, if there was ever a time to come out with what you know..."

The Assistant Director rubbed his eyes under his glasses. "It's not what I know, it's what can be documented. You two had verified much of Saunders's debrief before the trial. I suggest you review it carefully. He was deeper in the Organization than I ever was." He shook his head, terminating that particular thread of the conversation, before regarding them both. There was much more he could say, but the time would come for that. Right now, he needed to be certain his assessment of the players in their situation was correct, so he sat down beside the auburn-haired pathologist. "Agent Scully, I have to ask - "

She lifted her chin. "I am well, Sir. The problems I was having when you saw me last are resolved." The glint in the green-blue eyes was laser-intense.

Skinner shook his head. "That's a relief to hear, but, I mean, in terms of your family, and, now, I am asking for complete candor, Scully." He caught Mulder's glance at her face, but she remained resolute, so he pressed forward. "Do you think your brothers will be an asset as we go forward, or will they be a liability?"

If she could have sat up straighter, she would have. "They would never do anything to knowingly betray their oaths as officers of the US Navy, Sir."

The bald man sighed. While he deeply respected the way she instinctively closed ranks with the two red-haired men he had glimpsed but briefly once, now was not the time for her to shield them behind their uniforms. He needed to hear from the logical, analytical scientist whose work he had always admired. "I know that. But, could they be misled, misdirected?"

She crossed her arms. "You mean, as they were last year?" She was unwilling to relate to anyone other than her partner just how far they had pushed her to retain command of her life, control she refused to grant them. But they were family, so she would lay down even her life for them as she sought to defeat the powers that had almost brought Bill and Charlie under their thumb.

The dark-haired agent leaned closer to her. "Scully, if it would help, I can speak with them. They've lost one sister. That they'd let - "

Skinner rose. "No, Agent Mulder. Not you. If anyone, I will. I know what will bring them around." He gritted his teeth. "I know what would bring me around."

Mulder was on his feet, facing his superior. "Sir, there's only so much we can tell them!"

The Assistant Director narrowed his eyes at the younger man. "Oh, besides all the evidence you two have so carefully made available to the general public? They'll need more than that. Even a mountain of facts isn't convincing when decisions have different, emotion-based motivations." He eyed the approaching limo. "Shall we go?"

Scully rose to step between her partner and the Assistant Director, locking her gaze with Mulder's before looked up into their superior's face. "Sir?"

Skinner took the three steps down to the street level. "We *all* have a meeting with Senator Matheson, Agents. I suggest we not be late."

The dark-haired agent moved to the bald man's side. "Now that Lindhauer and McConnell are dead, he won't have to keep us at arm's length, will he?"

Skinner shook his head as the long black vehicle pulled up. After the uniformed driver stepped out to open both rear doors, the three climbed in.

-o-0-o-

Whisperhill Research
Beltsville, MD
Wednesday, 8:47 am

"Sir, this just came for you."

Long fingers extended to take a square package, then waved the younger man from his presence.

The old spy leaned back in his chair, turning the paper-wrapped container over in his hands, studying the return address in Korean. So, what is the lovely Amanda up to now? He had had no idea, when he took the brown-haired woman under his tutelage, just how agile her questing mind would prove. He reached in his pocket for the foil-wrapped packet, but stopped. This younger generation was refusing to tolerate his habits, which, while an inconvenience, would be indulged, for the present.

Stepping away from his desk, he tucked the box under his arm, then headed down the hall to the bank of elevators in the core of the building.

A middle-aged operative, his once-brown hair thinning, fell in step beside him. "Sir, remember, we have to leave for the West Coast tomorrow."

His response began with a single curt nod. "Indeed. Good to see you being so thorough, Luther." He pressed the top button. "Set your mind at ease. I shan't be in the Computer Lab all day. We'll still be able to review our new operations this afternoon."

After the brass doors rolled shut, 'Charlie' materialized at Luther's elbow. "He's going up to talk to Lisa again, isn't he?"

The brown eyes narrowed. "He spends too much time with her, and not enough on the work." Luther faced the younger man. "I'd be worried if I were you. I haven't heard about Caroline Podhowitz for several weeks now. " He canted his hips slightly. "You still keeping her happy in the downstairs department?"

'Charlie' sighed. "I thought I was."

-o-0-o-

Fourth Floor Computer Laboratory
Whisperhill Research
Beltsville, MD
Wednesday, 8:58 am

When the elevator doors opened, 'Ace' looked up from the case of the computer she was building. "Ah, you brought it!" She trotted over to take the package he held out. Tearing off the packing paper, she let it fall to the floor as she walked.

Picking up the brown wrapping as he followed behind her, he sighed. That intense focus of hers! "So, what are the People purchasing for you today, My Dear?"

A screwdriver, held horizontally, was halfway to her teeth. "This, oh, don't worry, it's just a CPU fan. The old one blew out on my new Tonga board. Those things run way hotter than I expected."

A dark eyebrow canted. He had decided to give full rein to her skills, but sometimes even he was at a loss to follow her. "Is this the new processor? It's not working out as you had thought?"

She was slipping on an anti-static wrist band. "It wasn't necessary, at least for right now, but I expect we'll need it here soon." She frowned as she began dismounting the dead fan.

"Why would that be?"

Finished, she flicked on the soldering station to wait for it to heat so she could disconnect the wires from the dead fan to the power supply, but, after a shake of her head, turned it back off. She unsnapped herself from the grounding strap, before moving to stand beside him. "We're not burning through funds as fast I as I feared when I asked you for this machine."

He fingered the packet in his pocket again. "I'm surprised to hear you say that, Amanda. We should have brought on a dozen new operatives in the last week alone. They will all need to be trained and paid."

Her head tilted, a brunette strand falling into her eyes. I really need to get a haircut. "I know. I thought we were going to be getting them on-board, too. But, come look at this." She headed over to her desk, piled high with wide green and white striped wide fan-folded sheets, thick paper-bound manuals, and cardboard cartons. After shifting several stacks to the floor, she retrieved a stapled packet, then turned to the next to last page. She pointed to the final line. "That's yesterday's report. The new operatives have fallen off the tally." She looked over at him, her eyes dark and owly through the thick lenses he had recently convinced her to purchase to reduce debilitating headaches from too many hours peering at code.

He lifted the pages from her fingers, careful not to contact her hands as he did so. He had no wish to provoke a scene such as had brought her to work directly for him several months earlier. Frowning, he turned the pages over, watching the numbers drop, rather than, as he had expected, increase. Finished, he handed the stack back to her. "Amanda, you should have told me about this sooner."

She tossed the pages back on her desk, setting a small avalanche in motion. "Oh, it wasn't that bad, at least not until now. I had initially suspected a rounding error in my software, but this is much beyond that."

He stepped over to try to set some order in her space. "But, at least you let me know. Thank you, My Dear. Many others would fear the consequences of informing me." Surrendering to the chaos, he straightened. "I would rather hear bad news as soon as possible, so we can plan."

But, she was already clipping the grounding strap back on her wrist. "No problem, Sir." She looked up, surprised that he, wearing a pinched expression, was by her elbow. "Just keep bringing the goodies, Santa, and we'll be okay." She offered him a quick little smile to send him on his way.

Knowing she would be lost to the world for the next few hours, he nodded. When he stepped into the elevator, he pressed the G button. He would submit to the indignity of a long smoke on the benches outside. He needed the time to formulate a strategy for these unexpected changes to his long-term plans.

-o-0-o-

Russell Senate Office Building
Washington DC
Wednesday, 9:33 am

Richard Matheson paced in front of his long bank of windows, stopping to gaze across the street to the Capitol. With his seniority, he had earned a first-floor berth in the most prestigious of Senate offices, so he meant to exploit it for all he could, as long as the voters gave the Democrats their support. It was the nearing the end of the first half of Clinton's second term, but so far, the Republicans, still in the minority, had not found enough assent from the voters to cause trouble for his plans. He had not been expecting Mulder and Scully to return from the Mediterranean this soon. Some of his preparations for the expansion of the X-team remained incomplete. There were new agents to be brought in, trained up, then set along paths he knew would lead to the furtherance of all their goals.

His gaze fell on the framed photograph of his own sweet Kate, as he loved to tweak her, hugging their two daughters, Lydia and Julia, while on the family sailboat docked at Annapolis. The girls were at Harvard and Yale, now too far away for any father's preference. His mind left behind happier times as he turned his thoughts to matters at hand. Walter Skinner had kept him informed as to Agent Scully's health difficulties, for which he had the greatest of sympathy. Katherine, for very different reasons from the diminutive pathologist he would shortly be greeting, had been forced to undergo a similar operation, at only a few years older than she. They had both suffered through the fatigue, sleeplessness, and emotional turmoil it had precipitated. He had to give Mulder credit, knowing how draining it had been for both Katherine and himself. The dark-haired agent had been steadfast in the support of his partner, so now, Matheson hoped to reward them for choosing a straight path through their travails.

As he heard them arriving in his outer office, he squared his shoulders. He expected they would not accept unquestioningly the aid he was about to offer them, especially Mulder. While he appreciated the reasons underlying that paranoia, knowing it was, in many cases, justified, there was no time to waste. He would have to use all the diplomatic skills that had carried him to his current position to see to it that the Bureau continued to play its part in the long game he had initiated so many years ago.

One of his staff, a tall, lean African American, stepped into his office. "Sir, the agents from the Bureau are here."

He let his practiced smile spread over his face. "Send them in, Mister Jackson."

As the three entered, he bounded around the desk to greet them. "Agents, good to have you back." He shook Mulder's hand before focusing down on the auburn-haired pathologist, grasping her fingers lightly, surprised when she returned a firm grip. "You look well, Doctor Scully."

She nodded. "Ready to serve, Sir."

"That's good to hear." He waved to the claw-footed chairs in front of his desk, then turned to Walter Skinner as he extended his arm to the Assistant Director. "Walt, this is a most pleasant surprise."

The bald man cast a sidelong glance at his agents. "Indeed, Sir." Aware, as he was, of the part he would be playing over the next few weeks, he hoped it would go as smoothly as possible.

Matheson walked over in front of the partners to speak while leaning against the scroll-work of his oak desk. "Agents, I have good news for you." He wanted to start the conversation on a positive note, then watched hazel and green-blue eyes lock before turning to look up at him. "We need to expand the X-Files section again, wouldn't you agree?"

Both offered single nods in response.

"I have arranged funding for you two to bring on four more agents. That will start to give you some parity with what ASAC Nichols has managed to assemble in San Diego. Quite the man in charge, wouldn't you say?" He smiled at his own joke, hoping the agents would follow suit, but expecting an inevitable response.

It was not, however, the dark-haired man slumped slightly on the padded chair who offered it. "Sir!" Scully's call was precise and intense as she leaned forward. "We appreciate all you have done for the X-Files in the past, and for the aid you have just offered us. But bringing on that many agents will take time, and, given what we know, we have a window of opportunity now that will close quickly, if we do not act." She exchanged a glance with her partner before turning back to the Senator.

Matheson held up his hand. "I appreciate your concerns, Agent Scully, in fact, I share them. I - "

The dark-haired agent found his feet. "Sir, we don't know whom we can trust. After all we have revealed, there will be plans falling into place. As Agent Scully has indicated - "

Walter Skinner blew out a breath. "Agents, would it relieve your concerns to know that it will be *I* who will be vetting the new hires?"

Mulder turned to face the bald Director, who had remained standing in the rear of Matheson's office beside a collage of schoolchildren's correspondence with the senior Senator. "Sir, you could have told us."

Skinner shook his head. "There were complications." He looked over at the diminutive pathologist, who had leaned around the padded back of the seat to make eye contact. "Not what you're thinking, Agent Scully. You two remaining on Santorini for as long as you did gave us the opportunity to identify several of *his* people who were infiltrating the Bureau. Again."

She dropped her gaze to the round rug between her seat and the Senator's desk. It had been woven with the Senate seal, a shield with thirteen stars and thirteen stripes surrounded by a gold band that, in turn, was ringed by an additional circle of blue stars on a white background. She found herself counting around the edge to calm herself, reaching forty, then searching, briefly, for the remaining ten she expected must have been incorporated somewhere. This was not how she had hoped this interview would go, but at least her partner had remained centered, watching his words in a space that could well be tapped by the very man they were all working to defeat. She offered a placation to both her superiors. "You needed to run extensive psychological profiles, didn't you?" The three from the Bureau recalled the events that had brought Tyrell Lewis Saunders to stand twin trials.

The bald Director nodded. "Exactly, Agents. I will assemble sixteen candidates, from whom you *will* be able to safely choose your four."

Mulder returned to the seat to her left before releasing a dry quip. "It looks like those offices won't stay empty for long, Scully."

One auburn eyebrow cocked, but she kept silent for a moment. Then, in a single sweeping motion, she rose to extend her hand to the Senator. "Thank you, again, Sir. This was an unexpected boon. I hope we can continue to earn your trust as we go forward." She stepped back into Matheson's outer office to collect her thoughts away from the others, ignoring the aides who looked up in surprise at her sudden appearance.

After a quick pump of the Senator's hand, Mulder walked out to join her, bending over her with a quizzical cock of a dark eyebrow, but, she shook her head as she began striding toward the door. They would speak of this later, he knew.

Walter Skinner stepped up to the Senator. "That's not how I expected that would go."

Matheson nodded. "But it went better than I had hoped. I didn't have to hold out promotions to get their attentions."

His jaw firm, the Assistant Director sent a glance back over his shoulder. "This is just the opening of the negotiations, Rich, as you well know." He left to join his agents so they could return to the FBI offices.

-o-0-o-

Karl Strauss Brewery and Grill
La Jolla, CA
Wednesday, 11:59 am

Andrea Rosen waved to her former partner, who was seated under an umbrella at a round table along the boardwalk beside the koi pond and Japanese garden. The shade thrown by the broad canvas was both darker and lighter than that over the diners around them. Unlike the rest, the sectors were clashingly different primary colors: navy blue beside bright yellow beside green or red, with a black swatch anchoring them all. Nichols had called her early this morning to arrange this lunch, the location telling her it was a serious issue they needed to discuss. When the young woman behind the stand nodded her through, she trotted over the decking, dodging a waiter in black bearing a tray laden with what she knew were rich, dark stouts along the narrow walkway. The restaurant was just off a busy street, but the densely packed trees blocked the view of the parking lot and the surrounding buildings, making the location perfect for the conversation she knew they would be having.

She slid into the seat across from the balding Montanan. "Hey."

He sipped his ale, then sent her a quick grin, barely visible under the greying mustache.

The same waiter was standing over them, so she responded to his unasked question. "Evian, please. And leave the bottle." Once they were alone, the astronomer turned back to face her former partner. "Any new hires this week you want me to chat with?" She leaned away from a shouting clutch of children harrying a brunette not much taller than her charges.

The woman, her patience with the outing clearly exhausted, was pointing at the sinuous glittering koi bobbing in the water close to the covered tables. The fish had been unintentionally conditioned to wait there for chunks of bread or other handouts by the patrons of the Grill. One of the towheaded boys extended his arm over the water. He released the weight at the end of a purple ribbon attached to a single white balloon, giggling as the mass pulled the sphere down to the surface, but, no deeper, since the helium kept it afloat. As she remembered the tantrum that had her digging in her change-purse to pay for it, the mother sighed with exasperation. The undulations of the long orange and white tails of the koi had the bulb jerking along random tracks, much to the amusement of all the children, who were now silent, fixated on it momentarily. A slight gust of wind caught the little airship, shifting it clear of the dock, then it began moving with apparent purpose, picking up speed as it traveled in a straight line until it reached the fountain in the middle of the pond.

"Kids." Nichols's gravel reclaimed her attention as he was patting his upper lip dry. "No. I've brought over the guys I trust, Ros."

She shook her head. "Nic, I didn't think you would be the least skeevy of the bunch, but I have to say, that last one looks like Mick Belker after too many years undercover."

He grinned. "Yeah, we all tease him about that, too. But, I've been wanting to get Robert inside the group since Mulder told me about this new ASAC assignment. If anyone will be able to bust open these other organizations, he will."

Her hazel eyes regarded him gently. "So, Nic, talk to me."

He sighed. "It's this Evans murder, Ros. The white-collar crimes guy, Danson, who was working the case, was called back to the New York office because one of his long-term bank fraud cases was heating up. Before he left, he worked out that something's off. Whittington gave up that younger lawyer so fast it's suspicious. If we pull that thread, we'll be able to get inside that law firm we've been investigating, and those organizations Mulder and Scully were exposing. I know it, but I don't see the pieces yet."

She unfolded stiff white cloth to spread over her knees. "We've been looking at those offices for a while, thinking there was a connection. But, Nic, didn't the whole Evans thing get shut down pretty quickly by the police themselves? Isn't that what the detective who was working the Wilton case told us? Donato, right?"

Since a tall clear bottle and a chilled goblet with a slice of lime were descending before her, Nichols waited until they were alone again. "That's exactly why I'm considering it, Ros. Donato came to me a few days ago. You're right, the case is closed, worse, with Donato having been the initial suspect in Evans's murder, there's only so much he can pursue without tripping Internal Affairs. But he and his partner, Gonzales, and a few others, including their Sargent, are working off the books. They think something's up, too. Normally, we would have enough agents to help them. Thanks to the connections Mulder and Scully have with a certain Senator, we have plenty of financial resources, so we could dig deep into the whispers and feints a case like this usually entails. But, since it's not an official ask from one law enforcement agency to the Bureau, I can't step in as ASAC and set my official people loose on it." He extended both hands to her. "So, I have to go to my resident unofficial genius for help."

After a quick smile of gratitude, she leaned across the table. "Speaking of Mulder and Scully, any word on when they're coming back, Nic?"

He sobered. "Yeah, Mulder's stepfather sent me an encrypted E-mail. They're probably already on the ground in DC."

Both Rosen's dark eyebrows shot up. "Just like that? I thought Scully was in the hospital for a bit. She's not pushing herself too hard, is she?"

Nichols shook his head. "Ros, you know how those two are. Mulder would never let her get anywhere close to that, now that they're both on the same side of the Atlantic."

Rosen sighed. "Yeah, Cary's unpacked her Mom's dining room set for us. Those cherry chairs she's so careful of are just as uncomfortable as the broken wooden things we kept dragging around in that hospital in Canada. But, I don't have the heart to tell her."

He nodded. "Family heirlooms." He pushed the menu toward her. "Ros, you better order. Our waiter keeps checking us."

She turned over the plastic-sheathed pages, then, looked up. The young man had his pencil and pad ready as he crossed the space to them.

-o-0-o-

Annapolis, MD
Wednesday, 3:03 pm

Margaret Scully eased the station wagon onto her newly repaved driveway. It had been many more hours than she had planned since leaving her daughter's apartment in Alexandria, but Route 50 had been snarled by the inevitable summertime beach traffic. On a Wednesday, too! She had passed the closed garage door of the Alberts's at the end of the street, wondering as she did so how they managed to stand the commute from here to the Pentagon and back again every day. Despite her entreaties when Dana had begun working at the Bureau, she was relieved her daughter had found an apartment so close in. To have those irregular hours with travel from one side of the country to the other at a moment's notice, then a two-hour drive at the end of it, were more than Margaret could bear to contemplate.

She collected her bag before hurrying up the stone walk to the front door. As she turned the key in the lock, she frowned. The Pomeranian was whimpering from the upstairs, not dancing in front of her as she began to step in. "Little Boy? Where are you?" The whines turned into barks accompanied by popping sounds coming from blunt claws pulling on the carpet. How did he get locked in? Worse, the house was dark, the curtains drawn, not as she had left it at her departure with the early sunrises of mid-June.

"Come in and close the door, Margaret." The voice was oily with unmistakable evil, yet strangely familiar.

She reached for the switch beside the entrance. "Who's there?"

A black chuckle reached her ears. "Please, refrain for the moment. I don't like the light."

Margaret stepped back onto the landing, giving herself space to run to the car if necessary. "Who's there?" She forced a tone she had not used since disciplining four unruly children, bored and cranky during yet another cross-country move.

"I'm not surprised you don't remember me, Mrs. Scully, or, should I say, Agrippina Maior? We've only met briefly, and under the most unfortunate of circumstances."

As she peered into the darkness, she watched a thin orange flare grow, then recalled her visitor's identity with a gasp. "I don't let anybody smoke in my house, Sir."

The acrid, burning ring disappeared. "Yes, of course. My manners have become most atrocious over the years."

Margaret stalked over toward where she had seen the glow, but her toes collided with an antique embroidered footstool he had obviously moved to block her approach. "You! You had Mel killed, you monster! And what you did to Dana!"

"Monster." He snorted. "Indeed." Another mother's voice, using the same charged word, echoed in his mind.

She considered fleeing up the stairs to try to free the Pomeranian, but, with the glowering evil in her living room probably armed, she realized she would be cutting herself off from escape, should it come to that. "What did you do to my dog? To Dana's little dog? What did you do?"

"I?" He reached toward the nearest table lamp to click the lowest setting on, then waited while they both blinked at the light. "Nothing. I'm not quite what you think I am." He shook his dark head. "It is not my choice to abuse innocence so. It never was."

The brown-haired woman took a small step toward him. "How long have you been lurking in the shadows in my house?"

The old spy sighed. "Only long enough to prepare for your return. I have seen too much hurt in my long years." He rose to approach her. "There is so much I wish I could do. For all of us."

She crossed her arms. "Or, undo. I should call the police right now."

He winced as he straightened. "I genuinely wish you wouldn't do that. I'd hate to have to use this." He patted a bulge in his jacket pocket. "Again."

She pointed to the door. "Just go. Dana and Fox have already warned me about the horrors you inflict. There's no need to threaten me. I don't know anything you don't already."

He nodded. "Then, consider this your third and final warning, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa's child. Don't look into things that are better left unknown. This is a dangerous time, for them, for you, for all of humanity. There are ancient forces at work, factors your daughter of the Enlightenment and Caroline's son simply do not understand. They think they have all the answers, but they don't. There are more things in heaven and earth - "

She stalked to the entrance, then sent a narrow swath of mid-summer brilliance lancing into the darkened space. "Don't quote Shakespeare to me. Just get out of my house."

Stepping onto the porch, he looked over his shoulder. "Caroline is well? Happy with the man who loves her utterly?" The question was nearly inaudible.

Margaret had begun to close the door, but pulled it wide at the open longing in the soundless voice. "Both, no thanks to you."

He lifted a print out of his shirt pocket to hold where she could peruse the image in the high-resolution surveillance photograph, taken from a distance on the ground, not from a satellite.

In it, Margaret could make out Max, Caroline, Fox, and Dana, eating what was probably a small lunch around one of the glass tables on the deck behind Atlantis. She herself had spent happy hours in that exact spot. She checked his face, seeing an inscrutable mask, then looked down at the figures in the print again. Max had rested his arm along the back of Caroline's seat, as she had seen him do so often while staying with them. The gesture had left her saddened by the memory of quiet times with her own long-dead Captain. Fox was leaning close to her daughter. Dana had her chin tipped up at him, obviously responding to one of his endearingly playful tweaks of her serious nature.

His hand grasping the foil-wrapped box in his pocket, he regarded her soberly. "Yes, both, very much thanks to me, wife of Germanicus Julius Caesar. Remember that. Remember that I warned you. I shall not warn you again."

-o-0-o-

Charles Scully residence
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Wednesday, 8:49 pm

William Danvers Scully Junior shifted on the canvas seat as Charles O'Shea Scully held out a Miller Lite for him to take. With the summer upon them, the brothers had decided to take their families on a short beach-side vacation. But, with each living on a single paycheck, neither could afford to rent a house, so the younger man had offered to host. It would be their first face-to-face visit since their Mother's return from the Mediterranean. Now, their children settled, their wives engaged in idle chit-chat to fill the time until retiring, the brothers had moved out to the deck to determine a plan of action.

Charlie sighed as he claimed the mate to Bill's tan chair. He turned his brown bottle slowly in his hands, feeling the chill in his fingers. He really didn't want to have this conversation.

A thud of thick glass sounded from the deck railing, then Bill studied the auburn curls of the younger man. "Good to see Mom's getting back to normal. I thought we'd never see our Mom again, instead of that woman who believes what Dana and her Jew partner have told her."

Charlie looked up. "What?"

Bill reached for the beer again. "I mean, she came down here to help out when you, Val, and the kids were sick. I almost thought we would have to cancel this."

Charlie shrugged. "Mom is Mom."

Bill leaned forward. "But, is she? Is she really?" He grunted. "It was hard, having to agree with her about Dana."

The two men locked eyes, blue on blue.

The younger brother nodded. "I know. It's almost like she had been hypnotized by *his* people." He took a swig of his lager. "Going on about Dana's job, like anything a woman does outside the home matters *at* *all*." He jerked his head toward the living room. "Val and Liz are in there, being the real women, not like her."

Bill leaned back. "I assume Liz is passing on our news."

Charlie grinned. "What? Congrats, Big Bro!" He swatted his brother's shoulder playfully. "Another bun in the oven?"

The older man chuckled. "Oh, yeah." He twisted on the seat. "This one took longer than I expected. Good thing my stateside tour was extended, or we wouldn't have been successful. Now, Liz will stop going on about community college."

Charlie rolled his eyes. "Yeah, Val's stopped checking course listings on the computer." He shook his head. "After Dana and that Jew partner of hers rescued John-John, it took a while for her to quit making comments about 'improving' herself. Mom may have kicked her off again, explaining about how bashed up Dana was from the Courthouse explosion while we were down with the flu." He ran his hand through his curls. "It's not the way the liberal media at CNN were making it out, that Dana was some big hero, pulling people out of the rubble. I have to switch over to Fox whenever there's a story about the Alexandria Courthouse bombing. I can't stand to listen to it anymore."

Bill nodded. "Yeah, Lizzie kept pointing that out to me: Dana all covered in blood, working with the firefighters." He raised his voice to a high-pitched whine. "Look, Bill, look, your sister is so brave, isn't she? You must be so proud." He resumed his normal baritone. "Probably just got in their way, is all she did. Probably bossed them around while real men died."

Charlie crossed his arms. "Don't they understand, any of them, women have one job, one thing they need to do!"

Bill tipped the bottle back, then wiped flecks from his lip with his wrist. "Three, actually, one in her belly, one on her hip, and one crawling on the floor." He looked over. "A passel of red-haired boys, like Dana will never have, ever. After her hysterectomy, thanks to her all-important *work*, that possibility is gone, permanently." His blue eyes turned toward the water. "In a way, it's good. There are too many snotty, self-promoting women in this country these days with the Clintons running the White House. We don't need any more." He set the empty brown glass on the rail again, letting his lip curl into a snarl. "The pair of them still in the Med, 'vacationing' at taxpayer expense?"

Charlie shrugged, then rose to look out over the breaking waves. "I guess. Who can say with those two? They found *his* sister, Mom said."

Bill blinked at his younger brother. "Oh, really, *his* sister? That's what this has been all about, *his* family? *His* X-Files?" Guess that tells you where we rank." Both sets of ginger curls bobbed angrily.

Charlie closed his eyes for an instant, before reviving the subject they had been avoiding. "So, what do we do about her?" He turned to face the older man. "How do we keep our word to Mom? We both promised, after all." He had begun his questions hesitantly, dropping his voice into a whisper by the end.

Bill stood as well. "Welcome her back with a few phone calls? Keep in touch? Yeah, I know that's what we both said." He shook his head. "I don't think so. Dana has to change before we reach out to her."

Charlie sighed. "Bill, I can't be that harsh. She *is* our sister. Family is family, despite any disagreements we might have."

Bill Scully glared down at the younger man, before turning to rest both hands on the rail. "You're too forgiving, little brother. Mom will never understand. It's that simple. Dana has to change." He pointed back over his shoulder. "Otherwise, we look to our own."

-o-0-o-

Apartment 5
Alexandria, VA
Wednesday, 9:12 pm

Their Ethiopian take-out dinner finished, the plates still stacked on the living room coffee table, Scully settled onto the overstuffed cushions of her tan armchair. They had silenced their cell phones and exchanged their dark suits for more comfortable clothing to have this meal and discussion. She had found a pair of black shorts in the back of her bottom dresser drawer, which she wore under a sky-blue t-shirt with the Parthenon sketched in white across the front. Mulder's black suit was hanging in her hall closet, where he had retrieved and donned the old pair of sweatpants he kept on "his" shelf there, but was still in his dress shirt, although the tie had been thrown carelessly into one stiff black shoe. He was sprawled, as much as his long body could fit, onto her green and white striped couch, so he shifted one of her throw pillows behind his shoulders to settle back.

She waited until he had wiggled himself into as much ease as he could. "So much for heading off to Massachusetts, Mulder."

He blew out a breath as he rubbed his eyes. "Yeah. I had expected changes, but not these."

She nibbled the last of the injera as she tucked her bare feet into the chair cushions. "It's not like we couldn't use the help. But, I feel like we're being railroaded here, even with Director Skinner trying to shepherd the process."

Abandoning the couch, he began circling the room. "Agreed." They exchanged small smirks. "We've been doing that a lot these past few days, you know."

She sent him a brighter smile. "Scary, isn't it?" She sobered. "But, even if we have no concerns about their abilities, talents, or loyalty, *he*'ll take advantage of the delay."

Stretching his arms up over his head, the tall agent nodded. "If it weren't getting dark right now, I'd go for a run, see what I could work out."

The auburn-haired pathologist shrugged. "I know. After all the hours cooped up in that tin can, a session on the blades would do me the world of good." She rose, then stepped over to look up at him. "Mulder, that's exactly what we should do."

His eyes twinkling, he brushed his fingers over her shoulder. "Scully, what are you saying?"

She reached over to grasp, then release, his wrist. "We should go to Massachusetts, *tonight*, Mulder." They both found themselves thinking back to another trip to New England, one he had taken on his own, while she had called repeatedly from the couch he had just vacated. "Your Father left notes on the others. We've gotten all we can get on *his* personality from the D'Amato papers and your Mother's memoirs. Perhaps we can find the evidence your Father hid, see if it gives insights into the Smoker we aren't seeing clearly yet. It might also point the way to a conviction of Krycek for his death."

Chewing his lip, he narrowed his hazel eyes at her green-blue ones. "Dad wouldn't have left anything important in the West Tisbury house. If Christina Knox..." He stepped back at the shake of her head. They could discuss the rest on the way. "We'll let Skinner know he'll be picking out those cookie-cutter J. Edgar Hoover clones all on his own."

She nodded. "I'll grab my duffel, change into something more comfortable for the trip before we run by your place." She suspected he had not unpacked.

"Not too many of those books of yours, this time, Doctor. Neither of our cars is bigger on the inside." Given the changes they had seen this day, that was the best he could find to offer. He sobered as he carried their dishes into the kitchen for a quick wash. For all that had gone right for both of them on the X-Files these past few years, she had been correct, on the plane from Athens. This wasn't going to be easy.

-o-0-o-

Upstate New York
Along Interstate 95
Thursday, June 4, 1998
4:27 am

Mulder checked his sleeping partner's face. She had rubbed his shoulder to waken him around one in the morning in New Jersey, where they had scarfed a few snacks from a vending machine, then staggered around on numb legs until they could resume driving. Less than a week ago, he had been watching her sleep in radiant Mediterranean sunlight, but, now, only the oncoming headlights of an occasional semi were bright enough to set red glints sparkling in her hair. Take me with you when you run. Her words from long ago appeared in his mind. Well, Scully, here we are, barreling up a six lane interstate highway in the middle of the night, just like always.

She shifted slightly, trying to curl into the cushions under the pressure of the seat and shoulder belts, but she remained deeply asleep. She had dropped off almost too quickly, but with the late flight, the interrupted rest, the long day at the Bureau, it was hardly surprising she had. They were adjusting to being back in DC, again in their old life. In a way, he was sorry. For all the turmoil surrounding her unexpected debility, they had been given the gift of a few weeks together as two long-time friends free of meetings, trials, and the endless grind of Bureau procedures. Be real, G-man. We ended up solving an unexplained death and exposing an international art fraud ring. One cheek twitched as he glanced over at his partner, now settled and asleep again. If, for whatever reason, they were ever forced out of the Bureau, they could put up a shingle as private detectives to make a decent living.

The dark-haired agent turned his attention back to the road. In the quiet, he had found the freedom to consider potential approaches to the investigation into his Father's murder. He was heartened she had come to agree with his certainty that Alex Krycek had killed Bill Mulder. But, they had absolutely no tangible proof of that fact. His partner had been forced to use all her prodigious intellect in an attempt to prove him innocent of this murder, but then, the case had stopped cold. In his fevered state during the events surrounding the acquisition and loss of the MJ tape, but before their return and reinstatement in the X-Files, his Father had been quietly interred. Abel's Hill Cemetery, where, unknown to the rest of the world, his remains rested, was well-marked and often visited thanks to one of its other more recent and famous occupants.

A sigh escaped Scully's lips, so he glanced over at her again. She was stretching, extending herself like a turtle from its shell, her fingertips barely brushing the fabric of the Toyota's ceiling. Then, a long inhale, followed by a tiny cough. "Mulder?" She was blinking groggily up at him.

He cocked his head, checking the empty road before leaning toward her slightly. "Hey, Grey-eyes." He sent her a teasing lop-sided grin.

She rubbed her forehead, pushing her hair back into place. "Hey yourself, Fleet-foot." She tipped her chin up for a moment. "So, how far did we get?"

"We're in upstate New York. There's a rest stop up ahead, but it's a few miles yet, if you'd like to catch a few more Z's, Doctor."

Her head rocked back and forth on the headrest. "No, I'm up." She tapped his elbow with the backs of her fingers. "Talk to me, Mulder."

He smirked, then sobered. "We need to exhume my Dad."

Considering, she shifted upright. "Yes, we do. But, the Old Men may have switched bodies or extracted evidence that would implicate his murderer-"

"Krycek, Scully. I know it was he."

They exchanged a glance before she began hypothesizing out loud. "He had his Bureau-issued weapon on him. That means the ballistic fingerprint is on file. If we find any projectiles..." She chose her words carefully, avoiding clinician's jargon for her partner's sake.

He nodded. "We'll have proof."

"But we won't have *him*, Mulder." Her auburn eyebrows drew together as they both remembered her using a similar phrase in the heated moments before Alex Krycek escaped. "I'm sorry." She touched his elbow again. "I never expected it would take us this long to get back to your Father."

He fidgeted. "Well, we were rather occupied at the time."

Now, she grasped his wrist firmly. "Mulder, you know I'll be as thorough as possible, but, after we get the order, leave the rest to me. An autopsy like this is hard on family members."

A quick cant of dark eyebrows. "I have to know, Scully."

Her green-blue eyes locked with his hazel ones. "You will, Mulder. I'll make sure of that. After everything you've suffered, I give you my word. You will."

He turned back to the road.

She interlaced her fingers on her lap. "On another subject, Mulder -"

"After this, Scully, after I know, then I'll go to San Diego." He was surprised to find he was agitated, almost to the point of pulling off onto the dark shoulder. Why does the thought of seeing my sister upset me so?

But, out of the corner of his eye, he could see she was shaking her head. "What?"

"Mulder, that's not what I meant." She lifted her chin. "Do you have any idea where we should look for those secret documents of your Father's Caroline told us about? Any remaining safe deposit boxes or vaults? Anything at all?"

Infinitely grateful she had moved the conversation away from his sister, he grunted. But, why? "No, I don't. I thought his estate had been dispersed, either to me or put in trust for Sam." He shivered. What's going on here? He'd have to discuss this with his partner. Something's wrong with me. But, the roadway was opening to the right, so he steered the Toyota toward the break they both needed.

-o-0-o-

Once they were in motion again, Mulder picked up the conversation. "Dad never kept papers at the house. There wasn't a safe there, so far as I know."

"Any outbuildings?" She sipped some mineral water, then uncapped a second bottle for him.

After a quick gulp, he handed it back to her. "Yeah, there were. But, I was in and out of all of them when I was living in the house. It was..." He was surprised to see his hands were shaking on the steering wheel.

Her small fingers wrapped over his for a moment before she dropped her arm in her lap. "You were out of the way. You could stay out of his sight for a few hours."

He nodded. "Yeah." Now, he shivered again.

"Mulder, there's an emergency stop up ahead. Pull off." Her head was tilted to one side, shifting, as she was, into Doctor mode. When he wordlessly followed the bend in the white line, set the gear to P, then engaged the emergency brake, her eyebrows drew together. She turned the key in the ignition to settle them into silence in the night. "Mulder?"

He had dropped his forehead on his hands, gripping the steering wheel until the knuckles were white. He could hear her unbuckling her lap belt, then her jeans sliding as she knelt on the narrow seat. "Scully, I don't understand." He looked over desperately. "It's not my Dad. It's Sam." When he spoke his sister's name, he flinched. "I've wanted to get her back since the moment she was taken. What's going on?"

She pushed his short hair off his forehead, focusing intently on his darkening eyes, while her fingers sensed the heat rising in his face. "Mulder, I don't like this. You've never had this kind of reaction to a discussion of your sister." She would ignore, for the moment, all the out-sized responses he had had over the years. "It's like..." She sighed as she paused. "It's like when I was uncovering with you my memories about the time I was gone." Her hand dropped to his shoulder. "Can you remember anything else about that night? Anything at all?"

He crossed his arms tightly, suddenly cold in the warm night air. "No, it's not even that. I just-" He shivered. "I just have this strong feeling I need to avoid seeing her, at all costs. It's almost like an order, playing in my head. Why?" Twisting behind the wheel, he turned to her, his hazel eyes broadcasting his confusion. "Why now?"

Knowing no other means of support, she slid her left arm behind his back, then circled his shoulder with the right, tucking her head under his chin. "I don't know, Mulder." He wrapped himself around her, so she settled against him, as much as the steering wheel and storage box between the seats would permit. When his breathing finally evened out and she could tell his heart was no longer racing, she released him. "Let me drive. We'll never get to Massachusetts otherwise."

He nodded, then they switched places.

-o-0-o-

142 Curie Avenue,
University City
San Diego, CA
Thursday, 6:16 am

Sandra Miller looked up from her laptop as she heard an engine sputter, then cease, in her driveway. She had come outside into her garden to enjoy the sunrise and the start of a new day, but, someone was walking up to her gate. "Who's there?" After the events surrounding Tom Wilton's death, she reached for a cobble bordering the walk, just in case.

"It's me. It's James." A creak, then a blond head poked cautiously through the opening. "Hey, Sandie." He stepped inside, then began complimenting instinctively. "You look good, Little Sis. How are you today?"

The chestnut-haired woman blew out a long breath. She knew, from past years of experience, her adoptive brother wanted no answer to his question, but was here to attend his own needs. "Hello, James." Her greeting was offered hesitantly. How much money it would take to send him on his way she would learn shortly.

Salazar's throat began rumbling, then his barred tail lashed the seat of the bench.

Sandra stroked his round ginger head, attempting to soothe him as much as herself, but she began panting, which just set the little tabby on his feet. "What do you want, James?"

The lean figure had reached the ring path of the garden. Tuggles, his fan tail low to the ground, charged away to lurk behind the mounds of germander in the far quadrant as the leather-clad feet clipped over the stones. "Just to talk to you, Sands."

After rising, the professor walked reluctantly over to step inside the reach of the long arms, clad in black Armani that was beginning to fray at the cuffs. Now, she knew this was a begging trip. You went to Harvard Law, Jimmy. You graduated at the top of your class, were recruited by all the biggest law firms in New York City. How did you go so wrong? She stepped back quickly, still hearing the low warning from the red tabby. "What is it, Jimmy? I thought you had made partner at the firm in Irvine?"

He shook his head. "Too many pretty people. They weren't interested in doing anything other than sucking up to the studios."

Sandra crossed her arms. "So, where are you staying?"

He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, but said nothing.

She sighed. He's living in the Mercedes, again. "How much do you need, James?" She reached into her back pocket for her wallet.

He stared down at the woolly thyme by his feet. "Four hundred should tide me over until I get to Seattle." He lifted his chin defensively. "There's a small firm Ben started up there, and he'd like me to come work with them. Just part time for right now, but, they have some big cases going to court, so we'll see how it goes."

She rolled all her cash from between the leather. Benjamin Bigelow, James's closest friend in law school, had bailed him out almost as often as she had. "This is five hundred, Jimbo. Say hi to Ben for me." She studied his face carefully. The lines around his eyes had deepened and darkened. He was no longer the carefree man she had known, the brother who had taught her how to play baseball. After handing him the money, she threw her arms around his neck. "Take care when you drive. Don't get too distracted, okay?"

He hugged her back. "Of course. You too, Sands." A grasp of her shoulder, then he was gone.

She returned to her bench, petting Salazar, then bending down to stroke Tuggles, who had charged over to huddle against her ankles the moment the gate had closed. "We'll be okay, boys. "We'll be okay."

-o-0-o-

Silence settled over the green space, then a slight breeze set the over-sized Napolitano basil leaves waving. A pair of goldfinches, the male decked in the lemon of summer, was industriously extracting the seeds from the blossom stalks of the one purple basil plant in the far back corner of the culinary quarter Sandra left untrimmed for them. As she relaxed, she heard a different engine advancing up her driveway. Who is it now?

Sandie?" The baritone was rough, whether because the speaker had just risen, or finished a late-night shift, she would shortly discover.

"Jerry!" She shifted Tuggs onto the mulch ringing the closest lavender, padded along the flagstones, then checked around her before she unlatched the opening. "Be careful."

He tipped his booted foot up straight to ease it into the opening slit. "The Church is taking his morning's constitutional around the cloister walk, I'm assuming?" Quickly stepping through, he pushed the gate shut behind him.

"Absolutely." She tossed him a lop-sided grin as she eyed the darkness on his jaw. "What brings you here? Late night?"

Rubbing the back of his neck, he sighed. "Yeah. We're still looking into Evans's death, a few of us, even though the case is officially closed."

Falling in step, they began strolling toward her circular bench. "Oh?" She eyed him. "Why?"

Donato paused, then grasped the tall woman's arm. An ostrich-feather tail, flagpole-straight, was weaving through the Genoa basil not ten inches away, then, as they waited, the Turkish Van pounced onto his shoelace. "There you are, President Roosevelt." He scooped the cat, whose white fur sparkled iridescently in the morning sun, into his arms to scratch between the pointed ears and under the chin. "Bag any elephants in the bush, Brave Sir?"

Sandra smiled down at the thick-chested detective, who was landing repeated kisses on her charge's forehead. "You can have Tugs, if you would like him."

Surprised, Jerry looked up at her. "What, the Monsignor won't extend the security of the monastery to another orphan waif?"

"What do you think?" She pointed. A round ginger tabby was glaring up at them from his perch on the bench.

The black-haired detective sighed. "It takes time for cats to adjust, but they eventually do. I can understand his not wanting to share you." He took a long moment to enjoy the sight of her loose-limbed, barefoot stroll to her bench.

Sandra lifted Salazar off the keyboard of her laptop to rest him on her knees after she sat. "So, you still haven't answered my question, Jerry, why?"

He bent down until the four white paws of the Van contacted the ground, then, as the shimmering white cat walked away, waggled his up-pointed silky tail. Pangur Ban he thought, not for the first time. "It just doesn't smell right, Sandie. I've contacted ASAC Nichols to see if there's something he can do. He said he'd make some unofficial inquiries, but I don't know how much help he's going to be. You see, I think it's somehow connected with your family, which makes it personal for him, too." He straightened to walk over to her. "Not the Silverbergs. I mean your birth family. The Mulders."

She hugged the tabby close. "Oh. Them. I've been to talk to Agent Nichols some more about *them*." She gazed off at the nearest lemon thyme mound. "My Mother is in Santorini, with her second husband, a Jewish attorney who worked to restore lost treasures to families displaced by the Holocaust. She might be okay to spend time with. He definitely would be. Nichols gave me their number, practically begged me to place a call out to them."

The black-haired detective bent over her. "You should, Sandie, you really should."

Sandra buried her face in Salazar's ginger fur, the chestnut waves falling into a curtain over them both. She replied without looking up. "But, my father, my birth father, was killed in his own home. There's never been an arrest for his murder, Jerry. He worked in the State Department, his son is in the FBI, supposedly some hot-shot profiler, and the case has lain, unsolved, with not even an investigation opened, for what, three years?" Her hazel eyes met his brown ones. "Can you believe that?"

With a grunt, Salazar wiggled out of her arms to stalk the Van. Tuggles had plopped onto the slate to watch a pair of scrub jays pouncing on and around the sunflower seed stalks, the flowers full and bent down heavily, at the far edge of the culinary quarter of her garden.

The black-haired detective nodded. "Yeah, I can. After reading what happened to them, to him and his partner, especially, I can. With that organiza - "

"Fah!" Both Sandra's bare soles slapped the slate before she began pacing. "Conspiracy theorists. What a load of hokum."

He blinked up at her meanderings. "Sandie! What are you saying?"

All nervous energy, she flung her arms wide. "Oh, all this insanity about the US government in cahoots with the Mafia or the Trilateral Commission or the Masons or whatever. Even little green men, probably, if you look hard enough." She continued stamping around the bench, ignoring the man and the two felines now watching her solemnly. "It's all a giant pile of bunkum, Jerry, designed to lure the gullible masses into some sideshow cooked up by the entertainment industry and a raft of loonies."

The thick-chested detective sighed. He had heard this tirade from her over the past several weekends, one her razor-sharp intellect had been refining with each repetition. But, it was easier than addressing what was really bothering her. "Why, Sandra? What would it buy them?"

"Jerry!" She snorted. "You're a cop. You know how to separate truth from falsehood! You had to learn critical thinking to be able to follow a trail of clues and suspects. What it would buy a few lonely, misguided people is the fame and recognition they think life has otherwise and unfairly denied to them."

He rubbed the back of his neck. They would be treading this path several more times, he could tell. "But, the Tuskegee experiments..."

"Are a far cry, horrible as they are, from some grand cabal to fix elections, gold prices, corporate mergers, judicial proceedings, all in the name of, what, Jerry, of what?" Her arms crossed, she was glaring down at him.

He slid off the bench. "But these others who are working with your brother, Sandie, they're scientists, too, just like you."

She spun in an angry circle, distracting him momentarily as chestnut waves flew around her. "Who, this Dana Scully? She's a forensic pathologist with an undergraduate degree in Physics. She never finished her PhD. She spends her time dissecting *alien* bodies, not performing original research."

"But, Doctor Rosen has." They both remembered the sober brunette with the racer's build, sitting in Nichols's office.

Sandra shook her head. "For a PhD, yes. But that's not what really teaches you to think, Jerry. If I compared how I thought when I was fresh out of graduate school with how I do it now, well, it's worlds apart. The other two - "

Jerry chewed his black mustache. "Other two?"

Her hazel eyes narrowed. "You didn't know? Agent Nichols told me two others have joined them: Pendrell and Phillips. They both have PhD's in Chemistry."

"So? All the better, right?"

She shrugged. "They've done some research, but only what the Bureau has permitted them in the course of their investigations. So, I could see all of them falling under some delusion, ASAC Nichols included."

Donato sank back onto the bench. "You think that's what this is? A delusion? Did you read Agent Scully's testimony presented at Saunders's trial? Did you? ASAC Nichols showed it to me. There were mounds of evidence. Mounds!"

The tall, angular woman danced angrily in front of him. "Science Fiction." Sandra spat the two words separately. "They could get twelve average citizens to believe it, of course. After all the 'documentaries' the *Learning* Channel and the *Discovery* Channel have run on 'Ancient Aliens,' the gullible probably expect to see hovering saucer-shaped craft with strange markings locked in back-ups on the interstates during rush hour."

He gazed up at her. "Is this why you don't want to go back to see your blood family, Sandie? Is it? Every family has the odd-ball member with the crazy ideas. Mine certainly did." He shook his head. "It really isn't a good reason, you know."

She flopped beside him. "Yes. And, no." She twisted to face him. "I'm uncomfortable with this, to say the least, but, I have a life." She held his gaze for a long moment. "It's hard and lonely at times, but it's my very own. I have accomplishments I'm proud of, work that stands on its own, research I don't want tarnished by association with that-" She blew out a breath through her nose. "-paranormal insanity."

Tentatively, Jerry took her hand, rubbing her long, elegant fingers between his squat, thick palms. "Sandie, any family who had thought they lost a daughter, then found out she was healthy, happy, successful, intelligent, accomplished, and, if I may be entirely forward here, beautiful-" He paused to shift closer to her. "-as you are would be proud of her. You should go see them, or, at least, him."

She closed her eyes as she rested her head on the top edge of the back of the bench. "I know. I need to go talk with my NSF sponsor after the school year ends. I'll look up my loonie-tunes brother while I'm in DC then. Fair enough?" Pensive, she gazed over at him.

Luxuriating in the sight and proximity of her generous lips, he nodded. He'd have to push her to keep her promise as the time grew nearer, he knew, but, it didn't matter. He wanted a future with this intoxicating woman, but she needed closure with her family, her real family, more than she was willing to admit, to him or to anyone.

-o-0-o-

West Tisbury Police Department
454 State Road
West Tisbury, MA
Thursday, 8:37 am

After she pulled into a parking space, purposely jangling the keys as she silenced the engine, Scully patted her partner's shoulder gently. Following his display of discomfort about his sister, she had expected he would have fidgeted for hours, but he had dropped off to sleep within a mile of their stop, sinking deeply into a repose she had seen him achieve only a few times over the years. Whether the fatigue of travel and the jet lag had finally caught up with her driven partner, or it was some new torment that was about to overtake him, they would learn soon enough. Her suspicion that Mulder's reaction to his sister's name was a hypnotic command implanted in his unconscious mind occupied more of her own thoughts than the monotonous drive through the dark. They had learned she had been programmed not to speak of her own time under the Consortium's control through a recovered suggestion that his memories of his sister would have been taken. That family. Those monsters. Was this part of that same process, or had the idea been implanted during the horror that was his youth after Samantha's disappearance? She would have to pursue these considerations later, since now, they were here.

She slid her palm down to his elbow to rub circles around the tip. "Mulder?" She watched him wake slowly, then look around.

"Yeah." He straightened. "I was out all that time?" He quirked a dark eyebrow. "Even on the Woods Hole Ferry?"

She nodded. "I let you sleep, Mulder. You needed it." She tipped her head forward, bringing her green-blue eyes under his hazel ones. "You ready for this? We could check into that B&B you told me about? The Hook and Whale?"

He unclipped his lap and shoulder belts. "Let's go, G-woman." He sent her a tiny grin, conveying a readiness he honestly didn't feel.

She studied him, but he was blinking expectantly, so she exited. After closing the door, she hopped up the few steps to the entrance.

He sighed, slid out, then followed her.

-o-0-o-

Once inside, she, her FBI shield aloft, crossed to the Sergeant's desk. "Agents Scully and Mulder, FBI. We're here to investigate a suspicious death." She would wait until they were past the preliminaries to discuss the details of the case.

A blond head snapped up from his keyboard. "What?" Most of the incidents the police handled were vacationers with lost wallets, or the occasional check-in of security staff for the VIP's that seemed to take over the island in summer, not rumpled FBI agents. Tim Anderson studied both their faces, surprised at how small the woman was. But, her somber expression sent him to his feet. "Let me get the Chief." He hurried toward a glass door, where 'John Howard' was painted in an arc below the words 'Chief of Police.' The office was freestanding in the middle of the small hall, all glass walls with Venetian blinds lowered for privacy. When he emerged, the man behind him was lean, his hair still dark and full.

She had expected a somber, aged visage. Instead, the broad grin under genial brown eyes in a sun-reddened oval face had the officers around him returning the expression as he walked, nodding, among the few desks scattered in the open bull-pen. But the sight of the tall agent stopped him, setting his smile even wider. "Fox Mulder, as I live and breathe! I wondered what had become of you!" A few leaping steps, then he was pulling the dark-haired man toward him.

Scully's eyebrows canted as her partner was tucked into a tight embrace, his back stoutly clouted, before the Chief turned to her to extend his hand. "John Howard, Ma'am."

Carefully keeping her distance, she gripped his palm firmly. "Dana Scully." She pointed her chin toward the man beside her. "We're partners at the Bureau, Sir."

He chuckled softly. "I know, Agent Scully. You don't remember me, but I remember you." He glanced over at Mulder before settling his gaze back on her. "You were at the funeral in Boston."

She nodded. "That's why we're here, Chief Howard. That's the suspicious death we are investigating."

He stepped back to extend his arm toward the glass door. "Then, we'll speak in here, Agents."

-o-0-o-

Dana Scully had taken one of the red-cushioned seats in front of a grey metal desk, like many she had seen when visiting Ahab in his various Navy offices. Her partner was pacing in the back of the room, silent still, so she leaned forward. "Chief Howard, has there been any unusual activity around Bill Mulder's grave? Either at the time of burial or since?"

The Chief's brown eyes followed the dark-haired agent's restless motion for a few strides before meeting hers. He had never understood why two funerals, two graves, but it was just one more piece of strangeness from the Mulder family. "No, Agent Scully." A creak of steel against steel as he leaned back. "The only thing I've had to deal with in regards to any of the Mulders since then has been that explosion that leveled Bill Mulder's place, around the same time as the Chilmark residence was demolished."

Now, the dark-haired man stepped forward. "We know who's responsible for that." He looked down at his partner, who tucked her chin as she waited. They would not, especially here, reveal all they knew about his family's past.

Chief Howard studied, first, the tall agent's lined face, then, the firm set of his partner's jaw, before he locked his gaze with the hazel. "Fox, we all knew your family had troubles." He turned to the ginger-haired pathologist. "My Father was Chief of Police before me, and he'd tell us, over dinner, about the trips past their places, just to check in." The dark-haired policeman waggled his fingers toward Mulder. "Sometimes, if he was at his Dad's, our track star here would be out jogging the back roads, but if he was at his Mom's, he'd be huddled on the porch, actually doing that studying he boasted he never did when we were both in high school."

The diminutive agent let her cheek twitch.

Howard was shaking his head. "But sometimes..." He let remain unspoken the facts she knew from a walk beside the waves with Caroline.

She sighed. Her partner was withdrawing again, slipping back against the glass. They would speak soon about the damage this was doing, either at her prompting, or when a nightmare rattled it out of him. With all they had to face together, an emotional shutdown on Mulder's part was not an option.

He appeared to have come to the same conclusion. As she watched, he squared his shoulders, returned to her side in two loping steps, then leaned down over the scraped edge of the desk. "John, I'd like to request an exhumation order for my Dad."

Scully saw his long fingers trembling, even as they were balled into fists on the black surface.

Having caught the motion himself, one dark eyebrow began working upward on Chief Howard's forehead. "We can do that, Fox. But we don't have a pathologist on staff. The few times we've needed one, we've brought one over from the mainland."

Scully rose to stand shoulder to shoulder with her partner. "I'm a forensic pathologist, Chief. The autopsy will be my responsibility."

Howard nodded. "Then let me have the paperwork drawn up. You're family, so we won't have to call Falmouth and get Judge Thugpin."

-o-0-o-

Suola di Atene
Cambridge, England
Thursday, 2:58 pm

The black cushioned ebony chairs of the Ecclesia were all empty, save two, along the back, well away from the Aborigine's rough stone.

The Pict had his cane resting across his knees while he considered the words of the younger man to his right. "We are many, we are one. So that is what became of the Slav." His green eyes closed. "We are too few, my friend. We cannot oppose the will of the Pure if they force this issue." His shoulders sagged. "We will have to elevate the Atrebates. While they are not full members of the Forty, they might provide enough of a counterbalance that we may, just may, be able to keep us moving forward on the path of the Enlightened." There. The sound has gone out, and it shall be.

The ginger-haired man touched the ruby dragon on the pin holding his tie. The coiling beast, one paw upright, was set in the center of the circle surrounded by the forty wavy rays he had adopted eagerly when the Riata had presented them to him upon his induction. "We are many, we are one. We must try. Who will stand against them if not we? The Riata, of blessed memory, would be with us, no, she would be leading the charge." His pale green eyes flicked toward a silver urn, set in a freshly carved niche in the deep panels of oak. "You know it."

The older man rubbed his face. "I do, Cymru, I do. Better than you ever shall, my youngest friend." His gaze turned to the red cobble, resting on the marble Ionic column that served as a stand. "If only we had some idea of where the current Riata was, how we could reach her, to bring her to us." A long sigh punctured the silence in the Suola. "I do not trust Suebi. He lives too much in the Past, seeking to recover lost glories that were never meant to be earned."

"We are many, we are one. Then let me show you." The Aborigine had been approaching the two stealthily while they conversed, but, now, he reached a hand to the Pict, waiting while the older man leaned against his lion to push himself erect.

The Cymru followed along behind them as they crossed the room to stand before the face of stone. "What will this show us?" Dropping the honorific in his frustration, he frowned.

The Aborigine turned his back to both men. "Take hold of my shoulder, each of you." After they complied, he held his gnarled digits above the ochre. "Close your eyes, open your minds, see the Wide and the Deep." The long hands descended.

Silence fell across the room. Three bodies were erect, motionless. The Now fell away as, in their minds, at the speed of thought, they flew across distances, passing through centuries in mere seconds, all the while retaining the swirling currents of history they had experienced. Slowly, the three returned mentally to the Suola, where the Cymru found himself suppressing a shout.

The Aborigine lifted his hands away; three pairs of eyes popped open. "Now, you see her, as do I. We have all seen the Riata."

"Beautiful. So beautiful." The red-haired man was blinking in awe.

The Pict hooked his cane over the ebony back of one of the nearby seats. "That is the inner light you see, Cymru, not its outward form. Count yourself fortunate. Not all, even of the Forty, can see the Within." He turned to the eldest. "Thank you, my friend. You have given me hope. We are many, we are one." He reached out to grasp the forearm of the Aborigine, as the lean, grizzled man gripped his in return. Each extended an arm to the other, until they were joined in a triangle, all equals, all warriors bound into their new cause.

-o-0-o-

Abel's Hill Cemetery
Chilmark, MA
Thursday, 5:17 pm

Her arms crossed, Dana Scully paced in front of Bill Mulder's grave. After checking in at the Hook and Whale, they had changed from jeans and sweats to their dark Bureau suits. Still wired, they had headed out at noon, then idled at the cemetery's gates, waiting for the caretaker's arrival to grant them admittance. Now, they were on hold again. The tiny man in what were once white coveralls had trotted off to his garage for a hose to replace a broken hydraulic line on the rusted backhoe the three of them had pushed across the lawn. If it had not been the smallest piece of construction equipment she had ever encountered, she knew it would never have fitted into the narrow, ragged rows between headstones in this historic cemetery.

Scully looked down at her partner. Normally, he would have been the one bouncing over the grass, muttering about delays and incompetence. Instead, he had collapsed on a small rise, where he appeared to be shrinking with every passing moment. She rested her hand on his shoulder, relieved when his long fingers lifted from his knee to brush hers. Given the punishments she knew Bill Mulder had administered to this gentle, sensitive man, the silence he had wrapped himself in was expected, almost normal. Compared to the new torment his sister's name seemed to now unleash, it had provided a respite for her as well. But retreat was no longer an option, for either of them.

He looked up when she called him softly. "Sorry." The tenor was rough. "Not exactly breaking records in the conversation department, am I?"

She knelt beside him. "Before he starts digging, would you like to say a few words to your Father, Mulder?'

He rubbed his face with both hands, then climbed to his feet. "Yeah, I guess."

She took a few steps away to give him this time to himself as he headed over to the gravestone.

He glanced back over his shoulder at her, then, crossed his arms before he looked down. "I found her, Dad. I found her. I know, now, it wasn't what you intended. It was supposed to be me, and I wish it had been." He bit his lip. "But, she's okay. So is Mom. She's happy." The tall agent felt a shudder run through him. If I had said any of that to his face... Suddenly feeling wretchedly alone, and still, after so many years, a little afraid, he held his hand out behind him. At the slight brushing of her feet against the grass, his chin dropped to his chest. Feeling her fingers slide along and close on his palm, he turned to gaze down at her auburn hair, a few strands bending against the thick threads of his suit jacket. She had settled against his side, rubbing circles under his forearm with the thumb of her free hand.

They remained close, in silence, their hazel and green-blue eyes pointed toward the initials on the red granite, without consciously registering the information.

Then, shifting away from him slightly, Scully frowned at an engraving at the bottom, partially covered by long grass and black lichen. It was a semi-circle, with long, straight rays extending from it, all above a horizon. "Mulder?"

"Hum?" He half turned toward her, still holding her palm against his.

She canted a ginger eyebrow at him. "What was your Dad's religion, again?" She pointed at what she assumed was a setting sun.

He was frowning as well. "He was an Episcopalian, or, he was when he suited him." Releasing her fingers, he knelt. "This looks almost Zoroastrian." He ran his thumb along the incised lines, shook the digit, then began cleaning away black fungus with his pen. "Twenty rays." He glanced back over his shoulder. "Scully?"

She had been trotting toward the Toyota. He sat on his heels while she dug through her black evidence bag, which had been tucked on the carpet behind the front passenger seat. When she returned, she had two large sheets of tracing paper, a wide, flat, green drawing pencil, and a short-handled stiff-bristled brush. She knelt beside him, taking care not to damage the surface, but, with a few precise swipes, finishing the job he had started, then pulled out the longest blades of grass covering the symbol.

Shifting to crouch on the far side of the low stone so she would have the space to make a tracing of the surface without standing directly on his Father's grave, he spread the crackling paper across the polished surface. "My Dad had the headstones prepared in advance, and he talked about them, but he would never let Mom or me actually see them." He bent forward to try to catch her eye. "Do you remember this on the one in Boston?"

Without looking up, she began her methodical rocking of the wide graphite tip. "No, Mulder, I don't. But, I wasn't thinking that much about it." Now, she met his gaze. "A republic, if you can keep it." Unconsciously, one corner of her mouth tweaked as she began thinking of the intelligence and wit of the scientist and author who had spoken those famous words.

He nodded. "The rising sun on the back of Washington's chair." Content to watch her working, he slid his fingers to the edge so she could darken a corner of the paper. "My Dad wasn't interested in history, at least I don't think he was. We didn't talk about anything that really mattered, not until the end, anyway." As she sat back, shaking her wrist to relieve a cramp, they held each other's gaze, she sending what voiceless sympathy she could, he accepting it with unfathomed gratitude.

"Almost there." She bent over again.

When she was finished, he reached across the tombstone for the second sheet in the pocket of her grey jacket, spread it on the charcoaled surface, then carefully curled both into a scroll together.

They rose together before he leaned into her face. "One for the Guys?"

She nodded. "I'm sure there's a fax back at the West Tisbury police station, Mulder. You'll just have to convince them it's safe to turn theirs on." One corner of her mouth twitched as she recalled a debate she had interrupted between Byers and Langly on this very subject back on Santorini. After replacing the tools, she began sliding the roll into a short cardboard tube she took from the black bag as she heard, finally, the approach of the caretaker.

-o-0-o-

A click, then a blue stream rose from a white cylinder. The old man narrowed his eyes at the back-hoe biting into the green. The Agents had caught the scent, were beginning the hunt. His visit to Margaret Scully with the stolen Mossad photograph had been a feint at the partners, a wide swipe at the pair, the only stratagem he could devise when 'Charlie,' completely agitated, informed him of their precipitous return. But Margaret's time with Caroline had given her back her wits, an intelligence he had assumed wrung out of her by the conformity demanded of a military wife, so the blow had gone awry. More effort in that direction was a waste of resources, which he knew he could not afford. The US arm of the Organization was in far worse shape than he had realized only a few weeks prior. It would take time and careful planning to build it back up again. Until then, they would remain vulnerable to exposure and dissolution.

A long inhale, then he let the smoke out through his nostrils, like a dragon. What had Mulder called his partner in Director Skinner's office, the space where they had thought themselves safe? Ah, yes, Pallas. Caroline's son had his Goddess of Wisdom, his Lady of Justice, but now, so did he. Amanda Edwards was not in Dana Scully's league, he knew, but, time, and, especially, the decades-old minefield laid out for the agents, he hoped, would level out the difference. When that happened, there would be an opportunity, finally, to recover what had been lost to a bomb in a high-rise in New York.

He began walking toward the cemetery gates, keeping a line of overgrown pines between himself and the sputtering backhoe. Could he misdirect the agents with the resources at his disposal, as he had more than two years in the past, when their renewed bond had given them the strength to rebuild from his interference through the unwitting Guiliano D'Amato? No. This was not a job for Luther, nor for 'Charlie.' Neither would have the presence of mind to react, should the partners sense either. Luther saw himself as the heir-apparent. But, he was not, since he was intoxicated with procedure, rather than strategy, despite the hours of careful tutelage. 'Charlie.' He shook his head. The younger man had potential, certainly, or he would not have kept him alive as well. He was devoted to Amanda, as if he knew how fortunate he was she had chosen him to be her Consort. But she was consuming all his thought, all his planning. Such would be a long-term disaster, if it continued.

Yet, here, his old friend Bill was serving unwittingly to protect all they had built up, over so many years, offering a two-pronged defense, when he had thought only of one. He stepped onto the sidewalk, then checked behind him. The backhoe had belched a pulse of soot into the air before falling silent.

He concealed himself behind the pines, only, on the street side of the cemetery fence to watch. The tiny man in the coveralls was exclaiming and apologizing in his flat speech. Words about 'have to pick up a replacement part on the mainland in the morning' floated across the green to the old spy, who was waiting for Caroline's son to exhibit his famous impatience in the face of an obstruction. He pressed leather down on ash that had fallen onto the concrete.

But, it was not to be. His partner had her hand on his arm, pointing to the rickety flatbed truck backing up toward them. Pallas, indeed. Despite the diligent efforts of Dana Scully to clear Caroline's son of his Father's murder, he himself had taken Bill Mulder's body back, before a postmortem could be performed, or any evidence removed. He had presented a substitute projectile to the busybodies of the Bureau to complete the ruse. At the time, his action had served two purposes: first, to protect his young operative; second, to honor a promise to his old friend. He had then delivered the remains to Caroline, as whole and intact as the horror of that death would have allowed. He had tried to stand by her as she wept on the unadorned coffin, the only two mourners as he was buried under the cover of darkness in this tiny cemetery, but the sight of her grief had driven him away. He had consoled himself that he was removing the temptation of her presence. But, if he were honest, he could no longer endure that Bill had stolen away the one woman he had ever loved from him, nor, that she had been Bill's, completely and without reservation. So, his old friend had taken the last of his many secrets into the cold, stony ground of the Vineyard with him. Dana Scully would retrieve it; it would eventually point, into the past, which his young associates kept telling him no longer mattered. Their astonishing ignorance pulled a sneer across his features.

The expression fading, he thought, again, of the most disappointing of his charges. He had no idea where Alex Krycek had secreted himself, nor, he realized, did he particularly care. The boy had been an irritation, forever ignoring his advice and his mentor-ship, choosing, instead, to run to the ends of the Earth with the MJ tape. A snort escaped him. As if that would protect him, should one of the Organizations around the world decide to make an example of him. He began walking away from the entrance, toward his black sedan.

His gaze fell on the square impression left in the front passenger seat as he stepped around the hood to the driver's door. Here, again, Bill's penchant for secrecy and documentation would serve as a separate distraction. He had expected the agents to remain in DC, to begin to rebuild their little band, which would have given him the time he needed to set a different plan in motion. But, they had barreled northward in the dark of night, forcing him to roust one of the Consortium's pilots from his bed to fly him to the small airport in West Tisbury. Very well, I have planted this different set of clues, so I can wait. Eventually the pieces would lay out in his favor on the board, then he would strike.

-o-0-o-

End - Chermera - Arrival