Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Cathedral - Part Two

December 20th 2012
C17 test sortie
En route to New York City
11:53 p.m.


They were sitting in two of the foldable seats that lined the darkened cargo hold, secured with nylon belts around their waists.  The powerful engines of the C17 military transport rumbled as Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were bathed in the faint red glow of the security lights.  The plane was flying at over thirty-thousand feet.
     Just before arriving at Andrews Air Base they had been forced to abandon their sidearms and Father Jacobs’ modified laptop.  Scully had felt a spasm of dread when their car rolled up to the security gate – knowing that if the personnel at the base realized something was wrong their last chance at stopping colonization would be snatched away.  But the guards at the front gate said they were expecting them, that the C17 Globemaster was minutes from take-off.  Their Vigil IDs were authenticated and verified.  Scully glanced at Mulder and exhaled slowly once the guard handed back their IDs.  They were immediately escorted by truck across the base to the waiting military transport, boarded the cargo hold and were told by the pilots over the intercom to secure themselves for take-off.  Minutes later the C17 began taxiing down the runway.  It had been the most nerve-wracking take-off Scully had ever experienced, expecting to be found out at any moment, but Taskforce-Leader Janet Lessinger had apparently done an efficient job before ODNI pulled the plug on Vigil.
     Now, Scully glanced at Mulder in the red-lit darkness of the cargo hold.  They were less than twenty minutes from JFK International, but they hadn’t had time to call ASAC John Doggett at FBI New York Division and beg him for his help.
     “This feels like we’re flying into God knows what,” Mulder said gravely.
     “Doggett will help us,” Scully told him, gripping his hand.
     “You sure about that?  Even if he finds out that all Vigil members are being interrogated as potential terrorists by Homeland Security?”
     “He won’t believe that, Mulder.  He’s a brilliant investigator and a good man.  He’ll figure out something is wrong.  He has to help us.  He has to.”
     “I hope you’re right,” Mulder told her.  “Because if NYPD or FBI is waiting to arrest us when we land at JFK...then we’re screwed.  We might not even get the chance to ask for Doggett’s help.  Even if everything goes smoothly I’m not even sure if our IDs will get us past airport security.”
     The thought made them silent for a while.  They sat listening to the engine-rumble of the C17 Globemaster.  Scully was thinking about the awful shadow-apparition she’d seen standing over the dead body of Rachel Marx.  She was still trying to summon the courage to tell Mulder about it.  She didn’t quite know why she was finding it so difficult.
     She exhaled sharply and said, “I saw something, Mulder.  Just after Rachel let herself get hit by the bus...”
     Mulder peered at her in the red-lit darkness.  “What did you see?”
     “I’m not sure, but it was some kind of shadow.”
     “A shadow?”
     “Some kind of...shadow-entity.  I know it sounds crazy, Mulder.  But I saw it.  It was really thin, at least eight feet tall, and hooded.  It seemed to be flickering in and out of sight, but...nobody could see it but me.  It wasn’t my imagination.  This thing was real.  I...I got this ancient, almost religious feeling from it.  It felt evil, Mulder...”
     She could see Mulder frowning at her in the semidarkness.  “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
     “I don’t know.  I didn’t want to accept it, I guess.  Or even consider it.”
     “Scully, what are you saying to me?  You’re saying you saw some kind of demon standing over Rachel’s body?”
     “I don’t know what I saw.  It felt almost religious...really, really dark.  But it also had this incomprehensible quality that felt...I don’t know....alien?  I don’t know what it means, but I’m sure it’s connected to everything that’s happened today...and to whatever’s coming.”
     “I’m sure it is,” Mulder said, his voice grim.
     “You believe me?”
     “Of course I believe you, Scully.”
     She wasn’t sure why she felt so surprised by his attitude.  He may have had a number of problems with religion and religious interpretations of the paranormal, but closed-minded was the last thing he was.  He had even prayed with her for the victims of Hurricane Sandy back in October, and done it earnestly.
     “Dana,” he said, “All we can do is take this piece by piece.  I know it’s overwhelming, but once we land – if we’re not arrested – we need to find this Dr Ryan Cohen and learn everything he knows about Pellucid.  Hopefully it’ll lead us to this key that everyone’s      looking for – this Key of Ages.”    
     “You think this key is even real, Mulder?”
     “The insider said it has the power to stop colonization, so I’m damn well praying it’s real.”
     Beside him in the darkened cargo hold, she placed her head on his shoulder.
     “But back at the church, before he shot himself, Father Jacobs said this key was supposed to unlock something that DOD calls Triskelion.  Whatever the hell that is, I’m thinking it’s not good.  It seems like Diego Roberto Cielo’s murder was in retaliation for something.  For this CIA Bedtime operation?  Someone carved a Triskelion symbol into his chest....and then those bees came pouring out of his mouth at NBACC.  I think you were right, Mulder.  Science and magic are blurring somehow.  And it really, really scares me.  It’s going to be December 21st in less than ten minutes.  Colonization is almost here, and we’re running out of time.”
     Mulder didn’t say anything.  He simply squeezed her hand in an attempt to comfort her.


*


December 21st 2012
John F Kennedy International Airport
New York City
12:18 a.m.


As the aft ramp of the C17 transport was finally lowered, they didn’t know what they were going to find.  Mulder half expected to see an armed tactical unit waiting for them on the darkened runway.  But there was nobody.  He glanced uncertainly at Scully, and the two of them made their way down the ramp and onto solid ground.  It was colder here than in D.C.  The coastal air had a biting chill to it.  Off in the distance they could see a commercial airliner taxiing down another runway.  Beyond it the lights of the terminal and control tower were glowing against the night sky.
     “Ok,” said Mulder, confused, “I was at least expecting some airport security…”
     He realized he could hear a low throbbing sound nearby, like the idling rotors of a helicopter.  Scully tugged the sleeve of his suit-jacket and pointed to their right.  About a hundred feet away a helicopter was indeed sitting on the tarmac.  Mulder saw that it had the letters FBI stencilled on the side in orange.  A back-lit figure was already striding away from the chopper towards them, tie and jacket flapping in the downwash of the spinning rotors. 
     A few moments later Mulder realized they were being approached by John Doggett.           
     Mulder was surprised and a little unsettled.  They hadn’t been able to contact him before arriving at Andrews Air Base.  How did he even know they were here?  Neither of them had seen Doggett face to face since the night he and Monica helped to break Mulder out of federal custody.  Even in the darkness of the night Mulder could see that the grizzled FBI agent was looking a decade older, but he still seemed lean and fit and capable, dressed like Mulder in a black suit and tie.  Scully glanced at Mulder with a relieved smile.  She ran towards Doggett and threw her arms around him.
     “It’s good to see you, Agent Scully,” Mulder heard him say, with a tentative laugh in his gravelly voice.  “It’s been a long time.  Too long.” 
     Mulder closed the gap, watching as Scully kissed Doggett’s cheek and glanced back with another relieved smile, her red hair whipping around in the downwash.
     “How did you even know we’d be here, John?” she asked.  “We didn’t get a chance to contact you before we boarded.”
     Doggett glanced at Mulder before answering, his expression immediately growing serious.  “It was Monica.  She and Janet Lessinger managed to call me from Vigil Headquarters, gave me the flight details and said it was really, really bad…”
     Mulder looked back at the idling chopper and saw the faces of two other agents peering at them from the rear of the cabin.  Mulder appraised the now senior FBI agent and said frostily, “For a second I thought you were here to arrest us, Agent Doggett.”
     But Doggett ignored him and returned his attention to Scully, his expression fierce.
     “Dana, you need to explain to me what the hell is going on.  The line went dead while I was talking to Monica.  I tried calling back and I couldn’t get through.  Her cell phone was blocked.  The last thing she said to me was that it was imperative that I met the military transport when it landed – that six men had their throats cut at Vigil Headquarters, and now all Vigil’s members are gonna be interrogated by Homeland Security as potential terrorists, including Monica…”
     “It’s Labyrinth, John,” Scully said quickly.  “Labyrinth engineered this whole thing.”
     “I don’t even know what Labyrinth is, Scully,” Doggett replied with narrowed eyes.  “All I know is what you and Monica told me; that Vigil is some kind of NSA-CIA taskforce.  If you want my help you need to tell me what the hell is really going on; what you and Mulder have really been doing for the last eight months.”  He waited a moment and then added, “And please don’t say this has anything to do with the X Files…”
     “It has everything to do with the X Files, Agent Doggett,” Mulder told him.  “But you knew that already.”
     Doggett grimaced and said, “I’m already breaking protocol by being out here.  I spoke to airport security.  They eventually agreed to let me meet you right here.  I convinced them that this military flight was a matter of National Security, part of a crucial inter-agency counterterrorism operation.  So, we’re going to take the chopper directly back to the offices, and then you’re both going explain every single detail of this to me. Ok?”
     “We don’t have a lot of time,” Mulder said.
     Doggett glared at him.  “And I don’t have a lot of patience, Mulder.  I managed to salvage my career in the last ten years after the X Files.  I’m the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of New York’s Counterterrorism Division.  I’m not some renegade D.C. agent with a death-wish.  What Monica said on the phone, it frightened the hell outta me.  She was crying.  She sounded terrified.  So we’re going back to HQ and you’re gonna find the time.”
     Scully looked up into his eyes and nodded.  “Ok, John.  Ok.”
     Mulder gritted his teeth but said nothing. 
     He had an awful feeling of paranoia, a sense that Doggett might actually have him and Scully both arrested the moment they arrived at the New York field-office.  He tried to shake off the feeling, telling himself that Doggett had met them here on the runway of JFK International because he genuinely wanted to help them.  But ten years had passed since they last met face to face, and Mulder had no guarantee that Doggett was still the same man.  Mulder tried to ignore his fear.  He followed a few steps behind as Doggett hustled Scully through the downwash of the spinning rotors towards the waiting FBI helicopter.


*


Jacob K. Javits Federal Building
Manhattan, New York City
12:42 a.m.


The chopper took them high above the night-time city.  Down below the city’s lights glinted like thousands of jewels scattered across darkness.  They passed the edifice of the Brooklyn Bridge stretching across the East River, and carried on above the maze of the Manhattan skyline.  The chopper pilots eventually landed on the helipad on the roof of 26 Federal Plaza, where a small team of agents were waiting.  Over forty storeys above the city, the helicopter’s passengers exited the chopper as it powered down.  Mulder glanced nervously at Scully and then at Doggett as they were surrounded by the team of blank-faced FBI agents.
     Mulder wondered if this would be the moment the full force of the federal government came crashing down on them, thwarting their final chance to stop an imminent apocalypse.
     But it seemed his paranoia was just that, for now.
     Visitor-passes were clipped to Mulder and Scully’s jackets and they were quickly escorted into the building, into an elevator and down to the twenty-third floor.  When the elevator doors opened they were greeted with a plush reception area, and the FBI seal on the wall behind the counter.  Mulder glanced again at Scully.  The entire floor of the building was occupied by the FBI New York field-office.  Mulder was worried because the Department of Homeland Security might already be looking for them, and they happened to have their field-offices in the exact same building.  So despite Scully putting her trust in John Doggett, Mulder felt like at the very least they were seriously tempting fate. 
     But they didn’t have any other options. 
     They were led through the main bullpen and a series of corridors, into Doggett’s well-appointed office.  He didn’t bother to turn on the main lights.  He simply switched on the desk lamp, casting the office in a dim half-light, and turned to peer at them both.
     “So,” Doggett said quietly, “we’re alone now.  Please tell me that I haven’t just aided and abetted two terrorists.  Because that’s kinda the antithesis of my job description.”
     “Of course not, John,” Scully muttered.
     “Well, I didn’t think so.  So what the hell is going on?  You haven’t told me much about Vigil since July, Scully, but I’m betting Monica knows more than I do. So, Vigil is an NSA-CIA taskforce…but I need to know more.  Make what Monica told me on the phone make actual sense.  Because I’m very, very worried right now.”
     Mulder was about to speak when Scully touched his arm and peered at him.  Mulder realized that a censored version of the truth would sound better coming from her.  He nodded at her intention.
     “Ok, listen,” Scully began, “the Vigil Intelligence Taskforce was created by a Presidential Executive Order.  It’s comprised of around fifty members including analysts and field operatives.  Most of them are ex NSA and CIA, and the work is extremely classified.  Or it was until a few hours ago.  The Office of the Director of National Intelligence just had Vigil officially dissolved because of two major security-breaches.”
     “The men with their throats cut?” Doggett asked.
     Scully nodded.  “Since April we’ve been gathering information on a rogue faction hidden within US military-intelligence.  This faction refers to themselves as Labyrinth.  They seem to be a domestic terror network with huge influence and resources.  And the Oval Office believes they may have infiltrated almost every government agency in the United States.  They’re planning to completely cripple this country, John.  And they don’t care who they kill.  Taskforce-Leader Janet Lessinger believes they’re planning a massive terrorist attack on US soil in the next twenty-four hours…something that could potentially kill millions of American citizens.  The dissolution of Vigil is some kind of set-up.  A preamble to whatever they’re planning.”
     Doggett’s expression was darker and fiercer than Mulder had ever seen it before.  For a few moments he didn’t speak.  Eventually, in an almost trembling voice, he said, “That sounds made up, Agent Scully.  That sounds like…like a boogieman that DOD would cook up for some kind of war-game scenario, not an actual terrorist threat…”
     But the quiver in his voice told them that he didn’t actually think they were joking.  Mulder could clearly see the horror in the ASACs eyes.
     “Listen to me, John,” Scully told him, gripping his hands.  “I of all people know how crazy this sounds, but Labyrinth is real.  They almost killed me and Mulder on more than one occasion.  They tried to mastermind a bombing at FBI headquarters in D.C. last Christmas.  They hung me out of the side of a moving helicopter in Wyoming, for Christ’s sake.  These people are cold-blooded sociopaths, and they’ve infiltrated most of our  military-intelligence infrastructure.  This boogieman is real, John.”
     “Jesus,” Doggett murmured.  “Monica told me about the bombing attempt at Christmas, but she said it was the work of a Christian militia.  The Scythe of St John.”
     “The Scythe were created and controlled by Labyrinth,” Scully told him.  “Apparently they’ve created or funded a whole bunch of extremist groups and militias and cults.”
     “But…for the love of God, we’re FBI counterterrorism.  If this is true, how…how come the Bureau doesn’t know anything about this entire situation?”
     Mulder finally spoke.  “Because the FBI has probably been compromised along with everyone else.  The Oval Office is trying to minimize the damage that’s already been done.  Or so they claim.  Apart from the White House only a handful of people within NSA, CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence know about Vigil’s true mandate.  Or what kind of threat Labyrinth really poses to the United States.”  
     Doggett peered darkly at him.  “And how does the X Files fit into all this?  You gonna tell me that aliens and Bounty Hunters are a part of this too?”
    “Yes,” said Scully, before Mulder could answer.  “John, you know I wouldn’t lie to you.  I know it’s been over ten years.  But we both saw things on the X Files.  You saw things you couldn’t explain.  And as much as you might not want to admit it, you know there’s truth to what we’re saying.  Truth to everything we had to deal with back then.”
     Doggett sighed deeply and shook his head.  “I’m not an idiot, Agent Scully.  Just because I wasn’t ready to jump on the alien bandwagon doesn’t mean I was ready to ignore my own experiences.”
     “You’re a gifted investigator, John.  I wouldn’t have got Mulder back without you.  I wouldn’t have got through my own grief without you.  You saved me.  And you saved Mulder.”
     Doggett turned his fierce attention to Mulder.  “This potential terrorist attack…it wouldn’t have anything to do with what you used to call colonization, would it?  With the substance you and I encountered on the Galpex-Orpheus?  What you called Purity?”
     Mulder stared back at him.  “We think it does, John.  No matter how ludicrous and nonsensical that might sound to you.  This is all somehow connected to a faction within the Guatemalan D-2 that was running a child-snatching operation in league with elements within the CIA.  Something they called ‘Bedtime’ – recruitment for a larger black project within DOD that was named Pellucid…which is some kind of MK-Ultra experiment into lucid dreaming.”
     “MK-Ultra?  Just slow down for a second, Mulder.” 
     Doggett sat on the edge of his desk, pressed his eyes shut and ran a hand through his hair.  Mulder could sense his desperation and fear. 
     “So, what you’re basically asking me to believe is that all of this – Labyrinth and D-2 and MK-Ultra and kidnapped kids – it’s all somehow connected to some kind of alien invasion?  That alien colonists are gonna reveal themselves to the world and begin taking over the Earth? Right?  I mean, that’s what you’re basically saying to me.”
     “Yes,” said Mulder.  “A full-scale invasion that’s going to begin in twenty-four hours, unless we find a way to stop it.”
     Doggett glared at Mulder, his expression full of fear, anger and helplessness.  Mulder could see Doggett’s mind working furiously behind his pale blue eyes. 
    “Fox,” he said quietly, “do you have any…any idea how bat-shit insane that sounds?  How ridiculous?  Since Hurricane Sandy this whole city’s been a disaster zone.  Parts of Queens and Brooklyn are still strewn with garbage and rubble.  Some areas are still flooded.  We lost over a hundred homes to a fire in Breezy Point.  All kinds of damage throughout the city.  We’ve got almost ten thousand residents still without heat and electricity.  And you come in here and want to talk to me about an alien invasion?  Do you have any idea how insulting that is to me?  This city just suffered a tragedy.  A real tragedy.  New York won’t fully recover for a while yet, and what you’re saying makes a mockery of everything these people went through.  It makes a mockery of all those folks who’ve had their lives ruined.”
    Scully frowned, stepping between Mulder and Doggett.  “You know it’s more complicated than that,” she said quietly.  “We’re not here to mock anyone.  We’re here to try and save lives.  You really think Mulder and I have come all this way just to spin you a tall tale?  Damn it, John, you know me better than that.  Something really, really bad is about to happen.  I need you to put your skepticism aside and really listen to us.”
     Doggett grimaced and ran both hands through his hair with a careful exhalation of breath.
     He muttered, “I listened to you before, Dana.  And it nearly got me killed.  Bounty Hunters and supersoldiers and alien replacements…Jesus.”  He stared hard at Scully.  “I’m…I’m guessing Monica believes every goddamn word that’s come out of your mouths about this Labyrinth faction, huh?”
     “She trusts that we’re not liars, John.  She trusts her friends.”
     “I don’t think you’re liars, Dana.”
     “So what do you think we are now?” asked Mulder.  “Just completely delusional?”
     Doggett chuckled humourlessly.  “I think…I think you’re lightning rods for weirdness.  I think you’re both living, breathing X Files.  And that scares the crap outta me.”
     Scully gripped his hands again, pleading with him.  “Does that mean you’ll help us, John?  I’m begging you, as a friend.”
     Doggett seemed to be studying Scully’s face, and Mulder could suddenly sense his deep affection for her.  That affection was still there all these years later.  It made Mulder bristle a little despite there being much bigger things to worry about.
     Doggett swallowed and said, “Of course I’m gonna help you, Agent Scully.  I don’t abandon my friends.  Ever.”  He glanced over at Mulder.  “Even the ones that kinda piss me off.”
     Mulder couldn’t imagine that John Doggett had ever seen him as an actual friend.  He was saying it for Scully’s benefit, but it still gave Mulder a little flare of hope.
     “Thank you, John,” said Scully.  “I…I need to use the restroom, but I’ll be back in a minute and we’ll go through everything we know, ok?”
     Doggett nodded and gestured at the door.  “Right, then left, at the end of the second corridor.”
     Scully gave Mulder a pointed glance before hurrying from the office.  Mulder knew what the look meant.  Be honest with him.  Connect with him.  Mulder already knew that wouldn’t be as easy as Scully wanted it to be.  Doggett stared blankly at Mulder.  He waited a beat and said, “The only reason you’re both in my office and not in an interrogation room right now is because of her.”
     “I kind of figured that, John.  You’ve taken us right into the lion’s den.”
     Doggett fixed him with a cold, uncompromising stare. “If Homeland is really looking for both of you, then I’m putting my career on the line with every passing minute that I don’t arrest you.  Do you have any idea how serious this could be?” 
     Mulder nodded and said quietly, “Of course I do.  I love this country.  I’ve risked my life to protect it.  And now Labyrinth might be trying to set us up.  As terrorists.  That makes me feel sick to my stomach, John.  But I’m praying that Homeland Security is going to realize its error once they finish questioning everyone at Vigil.”
     “If they don’t…I could go to jail for what I’m doing right now,” Doggett muttered, and then almost as an afterthought he added, “You know…after William was born…you just upped and left, Mulder.  You just left her.”
     Mulder was quiet for a few moments, trying to control the flush of guilt at Doggett’s sudden change in the topic of conversation.  “Are you remarried, John?” Mulder asked eventually, a little flare of self-hate in his gut.
     Doggett peered angrily at him, thrown by his question.  “No.  I’ve…I’ve been seeing someone for the last seven years, but we’re not married exactly.”
     Mulder nodded with mock sympathy.  “Sometimes it’s hard to put out the old torches.”
     “What the hell does that mean?” Doggett practically snarled at him.
     Mulder shrugged, knowing it was a low blow.  He hadn’t come here to argue with Doggett like some possessive adolescent.  It was insane to bait and rile the man when he so desperately needed his help.  He sighed heavily and forced himself to mutter, “Agent Doggett…I’m…I’m really sorry for saying that.  I’m an asshole.”
     “Mulder, I never tried to…”
     “I should thank you,” Mulder said quickly, before he lost his nerve.  “No games, no ego.  In the chopper I told myself that I honestly wanted to thank you.”
     Doggett stared at him.  “For what?  For helping you?  Did you really think I’d just let Homeland tear you both to pieces?  That I’d look the other way because I want to protect my career?  Then you really never knew me, Fox.”
     “No,” Mulder told him quietly, “I mean I want to thank you for helping her.  After my funeral…when…when I was in the ground.  That night with the gun, when Scully asked you to kill her.  She thought she tried to kill our unborn child that night.  But she didn’t.  You took care of her.  You saved her when I couldn’t.  When she called you from Boston back in July, and you told her the truth about that night…she was able to let go of a lot of pain she’d been carrying for a long time.  The truth is…neither of us would be here if it wasn’t for you.  I owe you my life, John.  And I owe you Scully’s life too.  That’s what a brave guy would say, because it’s the truth. So…I’m…I’m really trying to be brave right now.”
     Doggett stared at him, clearly emotional at what Mulder had just said.  “Did she ask you to say all that?”
     “No.  I’m saying it because it’s honest.  It’s the truth.  And I’ll die before the truth stops counting for something.”
     Eventually Doggett let out an awkward sigh and muttered reluctantly, “You don’t owe me anything, Fox.”
     “Listen,” said Mulder, unable to look the FBI agent in the eye, “Scully begged me to go underground when the supersoldiers were threatening my life.  But I left because I was afraid, ok?  Afraid of not uncovering the truth…afraid of failing them both.  It was a mistake, John.  And I regret it.  I’ve regretted it every single day for twelve years.”
     Doggett nodded.  In a conspiratorial murmur he said, “The X Files…all that craziness – it would’ve destroyed most people.  But you’re still kicking.  It’s impressive.”
     Mulder just smiled sadly at the look of relent in Doggett’s eyes.  It was the closest thing to a peace-making that either of them were comfortable with.
     “Mulder, listen to me…December 22nd is going to be just another day.  It’s not some Roland Emmerich movie.  I know you’re afraid, and I get it.  I get why you’re afraid, but it’ll be a day like any other.  The sun will rise, everything will still be here.  Just as shitty and broken as ever.  No apocalypse, no alien invasion.”
     “Are you really so sure about that, John?  Seeing what you’ve seen on the X Files unit?”
     “I’m not willing to consider the alternative,” Doggett said quietly.
     There in the lamp-lit office Mulder crossed the gap between them and gently gripped Doggett’s shoulder. 
     “When you and Barbara found out Luke was dead, you realized that an apocalypse had occurred, didn’t you?  And you spent every day after that stumbling through the ruins, trying to make sense of that apocalypse.  The world seemed the same to everyone else, but not to you.  You knew the world had changed.  You knew the End had come.  You couldn’t save Luke.  I couldn’t save Samantha.  Scully couldn’t save Emily.  The three of us, we’re same underneath.  We’ve all walked in the real darkness, you know?  We’ve all seen the devil take away the things that mattered most to us.  There has…there has to be at least one child we can save.  I know that William is somehow tied to all this…and if I fail, he dies.  Apocalypses are real.  You know that because you already lived through one.  And this time if I sit back and do nothing…I…I don’t think the sun will rise again.  I want to be the father that William deserved, John.”
     Doggett’s eyes were wet with tears now, but so were Mulder’s.  He nodded sadly and muttered, “I dreamt about him a few nights ago, Mulder.  About Luke...”  His hushed words had the tone of a tentative, dangerous confession.
     “Tell me,” Mulder said simply.
     Doggett couldn’t make eye contact now.  He peered at the office floor.  “In the dream he...uh...he said that bad spirits were coming....and that he’d come to tell me about it to make me stronger.  He said...ah…Christ...”
     “What?” Mulder urged gently.  “What did Luke tell you in the dream?”
     “He said...that the bad spirits were coming to eat the whole world.  He told me not to be afraid...”
     Mulder stared into Doggett’s pale blue eyes and could feel the pain and fear and uncertainty behind them.  “And do you honestly think that was just a dream?”
     Doggett glanced away, wiped his eyes and shrugged.  “I don’t know what the hell it was.”
     “I think maybe you do.  I think maybe we both do, John.” 
     Doggett sniffed and took a deep breath.  “What do you need?” he asked simply.
     “I need you to run a name through the system.  Dr Ryan Cohen.  We’ve already got an address but I want any other information we can find on him.  Hopefully he’s got a criminal record.”
     “What’s the address?”
     “306c Malachi Street, in Brooklyn Heights.”
     Doggett glanced sharply at Mulder.  “Jesus…that’s…that’s my neighbourhood.  That’s only three blocks from my house.”
     There was silence in the office for a few moments.
     Finally Doggett said, “I’m needed here.  Take Scully and find this guy.  I wish I could give you an escort, one of my agents, but–”
     “I understand,” Mulder said immediately.  “No escorts, John.  You’ve already put everything on the line just by meeting us at JFK.  I just need one more favour, and then your hands are clean from here on in.  Let me requisition a Bureau vehicle…and a sidearm.  Scully and I need to do this alone, but we need you to cover our tracks.”
     Mulder realized that he was asking a lot from Doggett; access to not only a car but also a handgun that could theoretically be traced back to this field-office.
     Doggett grimaced and glanced away.  “Listen to me very carefully, Mulder.  If what Monica said on the phone is true…then Vigil is being set up to take a very bad fall.  If Homeland decides that Vigil operatives are a genuine threat to National Security…and if they learn that you and Scully are here in New York…if ODNI learns that FBI Counterterrorism had both of you here in the building…and armed you before letting you both go……my…my team might be given orders to hunt down the two of you.”
     “I know, John.  But I’m praying that doesn’t happen.  We’re not terrorists.  Hopefully they’ll figure that out before Scully and I lose our last shot at stopping this.”
     Doggett sighed, unbuttoned his suit jacket, unclipped his holster and placed his own handgun on the desktop.  “Take it.”
     “I didn’t mean your own…”
     Doggett waved away his inhibition.  “If I’m gonna arm two fugitives who are also two old friends of mine…then I’m gonna do it the right way, if such a thing is possible.  You and Scully are gonna have to share.  But file off the goddamn serial number.”  He took a long breath and then added quietly, “There’s something else I have to tell you, Mulder.”
     “What?”
     “In the dream…when Luke told me that bad spirits were coming to eat the world…I…I saw his eyes go black.  I saw his eyes go black, Mulder.”
     Mulder peered across the desk at the senior FBI agent and saw his fearful, haunted expression – and saw the tears that had begun welling in his eyes.  Mulder didn’t know what to tell him.
     The chirp of a cell phone broke the awkward silence.  For a moment Mulder thought it was his own, before recalling that he and Scully had destroyed their phones back in D.C. after receiving the disturbing call from Janet Lessinger detailing Vigil’s security breach and the brutal murder of six analysts. 
     It was Doggett’s cell that was ringing.  He pulled the phone from his suit jacket, glanced at the screen and frowned.  He answered the call, listened for a moment before peering over at Mulder. 
     In a low, worried voice he said, “It’s for you.”
     “Is it Monica?” Mulder asked quickly.  “Did Homeland release her?”  Doggett shook his head and offered the phone.  Mulder took it warily, pressed it to his ear and said, “Yeah?”
     “I’ve been trying to reach you for the last hour, Agent Mulder.”  It was the voice of the DOD insider that Mulder had met at the Lincoln Memorial, the man who had given them information on the ritual-suicides at El Mirador and Father Jacobs’ location at the church in Michigan Park.
     Mulder growled into the phone, “You gave us some dangerous intel, and it could’ve got us killed.  You told me that Benjamin Jacobs was a member of the Resistance, but he was a sick pervert who shot himself after we questioned him.  A goddamn child molester.”
     Doggett looked horrified at Mulder’s words but said nothing.
     The insider’s voice was firm and unwavering.  “I also told you he was a dangerous man.  You asked for intel and I gave you the best I could gather.  Now you need to shut up and listen to me, Fox.  You and Dana are being hunted.”
     The way the insider said it deepened the sense of dread.  “You mean by Homeland Security?  We already–”
     “No,” the insider cut in.  “Not Homeland.  You’re being hunted by something exceptionally dangerous…a man who’s no longer a man.  His name is Lucien Farrow.  He’s an ex special-forces soldier who was recruited by the black-intel community within DARPA during the late nineties.  He was their most valued field-operative, but was supposedly killed three months ago when he was hit by lightning during a black-op somewhere in Canada.  Agent Mulder, my contacts within DARPA claim that Farrow is somehow back from the dead…a rogue operative…that he’s become exceptionally powerful and virtually invulnerable.  They said he recently survived an explosion in England that should have ripped apart a normal man.  He’s acquired the Key that I told you about.  The Clavem Saeculorum.  Labyrinth and the Apostles are both looking for him.  And now he’s coming for you.”
     What the insider was telling him was absolutely terrifying, but Mulder still found himself asking, “Why?  Why is this man hunting us?  And how did you found out about all this?  How did you know I’d be here in New York with Agent Doggett?”
     Immediately the insider replied, “I’ve been tracking you through the US Defense Department’s OSIRIS  - an Artificial Intelligence network of twelve Top Secret weapons-satellites in geosynchronous orbit.” 
     “OSIRIS?” muttered Mulder, aware of the historical significance of the name.  Osiris was the ancient Egyptian god of death and the underworld.
     “It’s an acronym,” replied the insider.  “Orbital Synthetic Intelligence Reconnaissance and Information System.  But it doesn’t matter how I discovered information about this man Farrow.  All that matters is that you realize he’s coming for you and your partner.  I don’t know why he’s hunting you.  All I know is that he may already be in NYC, and when he finds you he’ll kill both of you.  If these rumors about his strength and his resurrection are true, then you’re in unimaginable danger.”
     Mulder swallowed.  He could hear the genuine fear in the insider’s tone.  With apparent trepidation the man on the other end of the line added, “My contacts also told me that this rogue operative has taken to calling himself Abaddon.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with that name…”
     “Yeah,” was all Mulder could manage in response. 
     He immediately recalled what Father Jacobs had mentioned a few hours ago – that the Angel of the Abyss was hunting them.  In Christian mythology the Angel of the Abyss was an entity named Abaddon.  The Destroyer, according to Scully.
     Mulder couldn’t pretend that he wasn’t utterly chilled by what the DOD insider was telling him.  The insider’s final words were, “Don’t…don’t let this thing find you, Agent Mulder.  I’m deeply afraid for you.  I’ll contact you again when I can.  Good luck and Godspeed.”  
     Once the call was over Mulder gently placed the cell phone on the desk.  He glanced at Doggett’s worried gaze before closing his eyes.  He was completely shaken by what he’d just been told.         
        
In the women’s restroom Scully was standing before the mirrors, her hands gripping the sides of one of the sinks.  Her reflection looked intense and fearful.  She was trying to gather her strength, but it felt like she was trembling inside.  She couldn’t stop thinking about the shadow-thing she had seen a few hours ago, standing over the corpse of Rachel Marx, and the bees that swarmed her in the biolab at NBACC earlier in the day.  She didn’t know what it meant.
     She didn’t know what any of it meant. 
     “Keep it together, Dana,” she warned herself.  “Keep it together.”
     She took a long, tremulous breath as she peered at her reflection.  She turned on the taps, leaned forward and repeatedly splashed cold water onto her face.  It helped a little.  She couldn’t afford to burn out now, so early in the fight.


*

  
Brooklyn Heights
1:27 a.m.


Doggett had found nothing on Dr Ryan Cohen.  The address they acquired from Father Jacobs’ laptop was registered under another name.  There were several men named Ryan Cohen in the State of New York, and a handful of them had doctorates, but the man they were looking for could have been any or none of them.  They had no further way to narrow it down.  Despite this failure Mulder was still willing to hope that the address’s registered name would turn out to be counterfeit – that the guy they were looking for was trying to conceal his identity.  Doggett had secured a Bureau vehicle for them; a nondescript silver Ford.  They had crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, travelled up Old Fulton Street and into the heart of the affluent neighbourhood.  Mulder was driving as they finally pulled onto Malachi Street.  He glanced at Scully in the passenger seat.  The street was practically deserted at such a late hour.  Like much of the area the street was lined with brownstones and elegant redbrick row houses.  It was picturesque even in the darkness of the night.
     They parked near a particular building. 
     “Do you think Homeland Security is interrogating Monica right now?” Scully asked quietly as she peered through the passenger window.
     “I think Homeland will be interrogating everyone in the building, Scully.  Monica included.”
     “How in the hell did Labyrinth engineer this whole thing?  How did they get an assassin inside our building?” 
     But from the tone of Scully’s voice Mulder knew it was a rhetorical question.  It was the work of Rachel Marx, or Rosa Maria Santos – Vigil’s chief programmer.  Their supposed former friend had been an infiltrator the entire time, and had obviously compromised Vigil’s systems and security-protocols in ways the other analysts could barely fathom.
     And now six analysts had been murdered inside Vigil Headquarters, Rachel was dead and the Taskforce had been shut down.  He and Scully were fugitives.
     Mulder was well aware that Doggett was risking his career by not arresting them.  In fact, by giving them an FBI vehicle and sidearm Mulder knew that Doggett was wilfully aiding and abetting two potential enemies of the state.
     But worst of all was the insider’s confirmation of what Benjamin Jacobs had told them just before his death – that an ‘Angel of the Abyss’ was hunting them; an ex special-forces soldier who was apparently back from the dead.  Mulder had already told Scully about the call and what the insider said.  Scully was also deeply unsettled by the news, and had touched her little gold cross for comfort.
     Now she asked, “This man Lucien Farrow – Abaddon – he’s going to find us, Mulder, isn’t he?”
     Mulder winced at the almost childlike fear in Scully’s tone, yet he was feeling it too.  The religious resonances of everything that was happening had already begun crawling under his skin like something malevolent.
     Instead of answering his partner’s question he reached across to the passenger seat and caressed her cheek.  She closed her eyes at his touch, thankful for the brief comfort.  She seemed to understand why Mulder hadn’t answered the question.  Things seemed to be getting darker and darker with each passing hour.
     When they got out of the car and climbed the small flight of steps to the row house's entrance they realized the building had been converted into three separate apartments.  306c was the top-floor apartment.  They buzzed the intercom repeatedly but there was no answer.
     “Do we break in?” asked Scully, matter-of-fact.
     “We don’t have a reason,” Mulder told her, “Or probable cause.”
     “Does the extinction of all mankind count as probable cause?”
     Mulder forced a smile at her grim little joke.  He gazed beneath the intercom and saw a row of three mail compartments.  He grabbed the façade of the third one and tugged repeatedly until the cheap lock finally snapped open.  Inside were dozens of flyers; junk mail for local businesses.  Several of them were for a local all-night diner called The Night Owl.
     As Mulder peered at the flyers he said, “If this guy Ryan Cohen knows things about colonization…then maybe he’s having trouble sleeping, right?  We haven’t exactly had it easy recently either.”
     “Yeah,” said Scully.  “So…?”
     He raised a couple of flyers for her to see.  “Worth a shot?” he asked.
     She glanced at the flyers and nodded.  “Always.  Now more than ever.”


*

1:46 a.m.


The Night Owl was a small contemporary diner on an intersection.  When Mulder and Scully stepped into the establishment the two waitresses behind the counter glanced up briefly from the magazines they were reading and smiled cordially at them.  The place was decorated in dark wood and steel.  Atmospheric black & white photos of Brooklyn hung on its walls.  There were only four customers.  Two of them were women sitting at a table as they drank coffee, chuckled and watched YouTube videos on a shared laptop.  The other two customers were a grizzled old man in his late sixties, with a newspaper and pot of tea in front of him – and in a window booth a man in a zippered brown hooded sweatshirt. 
     He had his hood up, his profile concealed from where Mulder and Scully were standing.  But they could see that his table was filled with several plates and glasses, all of them filled with half-eaten food.
     Mulder glanced at Scully, who nodded.
     They approached his booth and Scully said, “Dr Cohen?  Dr Ryan Cohen?”
     His gaze shot up to meet hers immediately.  Both Mulder and Scully saw that despite the gluttony of food at his table, the bearded guy in the brown hoodie was sallow-faced and unhealthy-looking.  He seemed to be in his mid-forties, maybe older.  It was hard to tell because of his scraggly beard and because he was so thin.  His eyes were slightly bloodshot, and filled with sadness.
     He glanced back down at the table, tore off a chunk of bread from one of the many plates and stuffed it into his mouth.
     “Yes ma’am, Dr Ryan Cohen.”  He waited a beat and then added, “You don’t seem like mercenaries.  I guess that’s the idea though, right?”  Mulder could hear the mingled fear and disgust in his voice.  He gestured at the oblivious waitresses.  “Don’t hurt them.  No more blood than is necessary, ok?”
     Mulder frowned and told him, “We’re not here to hurt you, Dr Cohen.  We just want to talk to you.”
     Mulder could sense the nervous, jittery energy emanating from this guy.  He really seemed to think they were here to kill him.
     “How’d you find me?” he asked bluntly, snatching a half-filled glass of Pepsi and gulping it down.  He wiped his mouth and forced himself to peer up at Mulder and then at Scully.
     “Well,” he muttered bitterly as he looked at the redhead, “assassins are getting prettier every day, aren’t they?  Are you going to shoot up the place, now that the consequences don’t really matter?”
     Mulder glanced worriedly at Scully and sat down in the booth opposite the sallow-faced man.  “Just who the hell do you think we are?” Mulder asked him.
     “Black baggers,” he replied immediately without holding Mulder’s gaze.  “DOD, CIA, NSA, or privately contracted mercs.  Either way, you work for Labyrinth or the Apostles.  Nobody else would know my real name.  You know, I really thought I was gonna just slide right under your radar.”  He grimaced and chuckled, peering down at his own hands.  “You get so used to running and hiding, you think it’ll always be that way.”
     His gaze snapped up, fixing Mulder with an almost psychotic intensity.  “But I outwitted you sick sons of bitches for twenty-two years, didn’t I?  And you come to me now, you finally find me now…on the Eve of Occupation?  What kind of victory is that?  You don’t get what you’re looking for, and you don’t get my soul.”  He smiled triumphantly, hatefully, and muttered, “You can kill me now.”
     Mulder shook his head.  “Listen to me very carefully, Dr Cohen.  We’re not black-baggers.  We’re ex FBI agents working for something called the Vigil Intelligence Taskforce.  We’re trying to upset plans for Occupation.  We got your name and address from a priest in Washington D.C.; a man calling himself Father Benjamin Jacobs, who shot himself after we interrogated him.  He said that he’d known you were in NYC the whole time, but he enjoyed watching you suffer.”
     The man in the brown hoodie just peered wildly at Mulder until tears began to roll silently down his face.
     “Ben is dead?” he muttered finally.  “That sick, degenerate pervert is dead?  Then there is a God.”  He continued to peer tearfully at Mulder, as though trying to intuit his true motivations.
     Eventually Ryan Cohen tilted his head and smiled vaguely at Mulder, then up at Scully.
     “If you’re not mercenaries here to kill me, then what are you here for?”
     “We need your help,” Scully told him.  “We need to know what you know.”
     He narrowed his eyes as he stared at her.  “Why?”
     “So we might have one last shot at stopping it.”
     “You can’t stop it.  Nobody can stop it.  Even the Rebels couldn’t stop it.  It’s already happening.”
     Mulder glanced at Scully, then back at the man on the opposite side of the table.  “What do you mean it’s already happening?”
     “Occupation has already started.  Several of the major cities already have ships present in their skies.  They’re cloaked, but they’re waiting.  DOD knows it’s already begun.  That’s why they initiated the Eidolon Covenant.”  He smiled darkly at Mulder.  “So, if you’re not going to kill me, then go away and let me enjoy my banquet.  I suggest you take the redhead, find a hotel room, and screw each other’s brains out, while you still can.”
     Scully sneered at Cohen and asked him, “What is the Eidolon Covenant?”
     “You know what it is.”
     “No, Dr Cohen, we don’t.  We’re not who you think we are.”
     “The Eidolon Covenant is total military-intelligence inaction with regards to Occupation.  Up until yesterday certain groups within the US government have been trying to stop what’s coming, for over sixty years.  But now…everyone’s standing down.  The occupation of this planet by a superior alien race is now a mathematical certainty.”
     “I don’t believe that,” Mulder said sharply.
     Cohen shrugged.  “Then you’re either a liar or a fool.  And you don’t look like a fool.  You want to know what I know, but I’m not going to tell you jack shit.  So this elaborate ruse is pointless.  You may as well kill me.”
     “We’re trying to stop Occupation, Dr Cohen.  We don’t work for Labyrinth or the Apostles.  They’ve been our mortal enemies for the last eight months.  We’re allies, Ryan, not enemies.”
     He chuckled darkly again.  “And unless you can somehow prove that to me, why on Earth would I believe you?”
    “How can we prove it?” asked Scully.
    Cohen chuckled and shrugged.  He tore off another chunk of bread from one of his plates and stuffed it in his mouth.  For a few moments Mulder peered at him, trying to intuit the psychological terrain this man had been inhabiting for the last several years.
     “My name is Fox Mulder, Ryan.  Do you recognize that name?”
     Cohen’s gaze shot upwards again, his eyes wide with disbelief.  He clearly did recognize the name.  “It’s…it’s a trick,” he faltered.
     “No, it’s no trick,” Mulder said quickly.  “But you know that name, don’t you?  You know who I am?”
     In a sudden furious gesture, Cohen swept all the plates off the table with a swipe of his arm.  They went crashing to the floor at Scully’s feet, eliciting a startled cry from her as she jumped back.  The staff and other patrons were now peering at the three of them with shock and fear.
     “Don’t screw around with me!” Cohen growled at Mulder, rising to his feet in the booth.    “Death I can accept, but I’m so goddamn tired of mind-games!”
     Mulder stood up on the other side of the booth, glancing at Scully before returning his gaze to the ill-looking bearded guy in the brown hoodie.
     “No games, Ryan.  I’m Fox Mulder.  And this is Dana Scully.”
     Cohen narrowed his eyes and tilted his head.  “If you’re Fox Mulder, then you can tell me some things, can’t you?  Who’s the mechanical angel?”
     Mulder frowned.  “I don’t understand…”
     Cohen sneered and chuckled.  “Tell me the angel’s name.”
     After a few moments of silent thought Mulder said quietly, “Gabriel.  An Archangel drone-prototype designed to protect US military infrastructure once the invasion begins.”
     Cohen seemed taken aback by his answer.  “And…and who’s the elder man?”
     “What elder man?” asked Mulder.
     “The elder man who calls himself your guardian, and lives on the edges of your dreams.”
     “What in the hell are you talking about?” Mulder hissed.
     But to Mulder’s surprise Scully said, “Albert.  Albert Hosteen.  A Navajo Elder.”
     Dr Ryan Cohen frowned again, visibly shaken by her answer.  Mulder felt a flash of surprise and admiration at his lover before the guy in the hoodie fixed him with a piercing stare. 
     “And…and what did you carve into the tree on your sister’s eighteenth birthday?”
     Mulder inhaled sharply, a flood of emotions rushing up from the pit of his stomach.  He could suddenly feel the tears in his eyes and glanced uncertainly at Scully.  Somehow this guy Cohen knew a secret that Mulder had never shared with another living soul.
     “How could…how could you possibly know about that?” Mulder murmured.  “Nobody but me knows about that…not even Scully.”
     “Answer the question.  What did you carve into the tree on Samantha’s eighteenth birthday?”
     In little more than a whisper Mulder closed his eyes and said, “Never Stop Looking.”
     “Oh God,” muttered Cohen, shaking his head.  “Ok.  Ok, we need…we need to get back to my apartment.  I need to tell you everything.”


*


The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington D.C.
2:04 a.m.


He didn’t think the end would come like this.  Not like this, with dread and horror twisting his guts – his body slick with sweat beneath his suit, his heart screaming beneath his ribs.  Garrett Moss was standing in the opulent Red Room on the State Floor of the Executive Residence of the White House Complex, its parlour walls decorated in a lavish shade of carmine.  The Oval Office was less than a hundred yards away from where he was standing, along the colonnade and into the West Wing. 
     He couldn’t quite believe he was doing it, but Special Agent Garrett Moss was now aiming his trembling sidearm at something that appeared to be his  mentor and best friend of almost twenty-five years.  The senior agent had also immediately drawn his weapon, pointing it incredulously at the younger man.
     For a disturbing moment the stand-off was completely silent, and then the older man said carefully, “For the love of God, Garrett…what the hell are you doing…?  Listen to me…I don’t know what’s happening, but you’ve just crossed a very dangerous line.  But we can still…we can still make this right…”
     But Special Agent Moss knew there was no making anything right again.  He had drawn his weapon inside the White House Complex, and trained it on a fellow United States Secret Service agent.  There was no coming back from that.  Even if he survived this encounter he would be painted as a rogue agent who suffered an aberrant psychotic break.
     It felt like his mind was indeed beginning to fracture, but Garrett Moss knew he wasn’t suffering from some strange psychosis.  He knew the sky really was falling.  A hidden unholy reality had been revealed to him, darker and more terrifying than any piece of science-fiction.  Several months ago an associate in the Counter Sniper Team had whispered a bizarre, impossible rumour, and later a contact inside Arlington had confirmed that rumour.  The contact revealed that he was part of something that DOD referred to as Blackflame; some kind of highly-classified Special Operations annexe.  For some reason the contact had taken pity on Garrett, and had shown him a piece of the hidden reality.
     His friends were no longer his friends.
     Their faces had been stolen, by things made of oil and smoke and fire.
     Monsters were secretly walking the Earth, walking the halls of power inside Washington.  Things that belonged in nightmares had traversed some kind of veil, and had made themselves as gods.  They had been secretly ruling our world for a very, very long time.  He wouldn’t have believed such madness if he hadn’t seen it for himself.
     Special Agent Garrett Moss was convinced that the thing pretending to be his friend had somehow sensed that he knew, and had broken their detail and brought him into the Red Room to kill him.  What did such an ostentatious high-risk execution matter, now that the sky was falling?  The Blackflame contact from Arlington had shown him irrefutable evidence of the unimaginable – that in less than twenty-four hours a demonic alien race was going to begin a full-scale invasion of the entire planet.  It sounded like the ravings of a lunatic, but it wasn’t.  Garrett swallowed his terror and tightened his grip on his drawn sidearm.
     “You think I won’t do it?” he hissed, his voice shaking with violence.  “You brought me in here to kill me, but you think I won’t pull this trigger?  I know about Blackflame, and the ships, and the Chameleons.  I know about all of it.  I…I love my country.  I know what’s coming.  I won’t let you do this.  YOU HEAR ME?”
     The senior agent looked genuinely afraid, but Garrett wasn’t fooled.
     “For Christ’s sake, Garrett, it’s me.  It’s Mitch.”
     “MITCH IS DEAD!” screamed Garrett, terror and fury making his aim tremble. 
     Special Agent Mitchell Casey was his mentor and best friend.  They had first served on close protection together in the mid-nineties during the Clinton Presidency, when Garrett was eager to hone his craft and earn the respect of the older men.  Mitch Casey had taught him true humility and true professionalism.
     But Mitch was dead.  Garrett’s DOD Blackflame contact had shown him the corpse, stuffed like garbage into an oil drum and tossed into the Potomac River.  Garrett had seen it with his own eyes, and now the thing wearing his best friend’s face was trying to get inside his head – trying to convince him that the nightmare wasn’t real.
     “ERT is gonna be through these doors less than thirty seconds, Garrett.  I’m begging you, please don’t make me do–”
     Special Agent Garrett Moss fired three times in rapid succession, directly into the center of mass.  The older man flinched and stumbled backwards, blinking and staring in disbelief at his protégé for a few moments before collapsing to the floor.  A pool of blood as red as the walls of the room began to spread around him, immediately soaking into the antique rug.  Garrett had the vague realisation that it was arterial blood, that one of the bullets must have pierced the imposter’s heart.  Shocked at his own actions, oddly numb, Garrett took a few steps towards the body, half expecting it to revert back to its true form.
     It didn’t.
     And suddenly Special Agent Garrett Moss felt his stomach clutch with a different kind of dread.  A new horror began to roll through his insides like sickening damnation, as the hideous truth began to dawn.
     The thing lying dead at his feet was not a Chameleon.  It wasn’t a shapeshifter.
     His DOD contact had staged an elaborate set-up, and he had been taken in by it like a fool.  He had just murdered his best friend in cold blood within the most symbolic and powerful building in the entire United States.
     “Oh Christ,” he murmured as a fist of ice seemed to close around his heart, “Oh Jesus Christ….forgive me…
     The doors to the Cross Hall burst open as the first wave of the Emergency Response Team flanked the doorway, weapons aimed.
     But Special Agent Garrett Moss had already pressed his SIG P229 against his own right temple.  For a split-second he locked gazes with one of the ERT framed in the doorway before pulling the trigger.  The self-inflicted gunshot blew apart the left side of his skull in a burst of crimson and bone fragments as he collapsed.
     For a few moments the members of the Emergency Response Team in the doorway peered incredulously at the two Secret Service agents lying dead on the floor of the Red Room of the White House Complex.  It was nothing they had ever expected to witness, but their elite training quickly reasserted itself.
     The team-leader on the right-hand side of the doorway tapped his throat-mic and said shakily, “This is Kessler on the State Floor, Red Room.  We have a Code Black security-situ.  Immediate SecDef contact.  POTUS advise.  Initiate immediate lockdown.  I repeat: We have a Code Black security-situ.  This is not a drill.  Standing-by…”
     As the ERT leader peered at the two dead Secret Service agents he couldn’t even begin to fathom what had occurred here, or why, but he knew one thing with chilling certainty.  Knowledge of the events that transpired in this room would never leave the walls of the Executive Residence.  Efforts to covertly neutralise the scene were already in motion.    


*

Brooklyn Heights
New York City
2:46 a.m.


The top-floor apartment of the converted row house was luxurious and spacious, or it had been once.  But Dr Ryan Cohen possessed very little furniture.  Instead, countless little stacks of books filled the open-plan space.  There were dozens upon dozens of books in small piles all across the floor.  And the far wall of exposed brickwork was covered with hundreds of newspaper cuttings, magazine articles and printed images.  UFOs, crop circles, geometric patterns, structural blueprints and engineering schematics covered the wall from floor to ceiling.  At first glance it looked like the externalised imagination of a delusional psychotic.
    Neither Mulder nor Scully had expected what Dr Ryan Cohen did next, but now as they watched him they weren’t too surprised.  They sat with him at the little dining table as he cooked the heroin in a citric acid solution, holding the spoon over the open flame of a Zippo lighter – preparing it for injection.  Scully watched with a faint look of distaste on her face.  As a medical doctor she had seen what kind of terrible damage heroin addiction could do to the human body, both inside and out. 
     Cohen glanced at her, seeing her expression and said, “You judge me, but you have no idea.”
     “I’m not judging you.”
     “Don’t pity me either.  I don’t need your pity.  Look around you.  It’s literally the end of the world.” 
     Mulder gestured at the wall of clippings and images.  “What is all that?”
     Cohen kept his eyes on his task but said, “That’s over twenty years of research and contextualization and paranoia.  That wall kept me alive.  I guess you think it looks demented, huh?”
     “Actually,” Mulder said quietly, “My office used to look just like it.”
     The thin bearded doctor smiled darkly as he continued heating the heroin.  Scully glanced at Mulder and then told Cohen, “Look, we’re running out of time.  You said you were going to tell us everything.”
     He nodded.  “Over by the wall.  One of the floorboards is loose.”
     Scully shot Mulder a quizzical look.  He got up and navigated his way through the stacks of books on the floor.
     “You’re gonna have to move some stuff,” Cohen told him.
     Mulder crouched by the wall and moved some of the book piles.  He realized which floor board Cohen had been talking about and eventually pried it up with his fingernails.  He reached into the dark gap in the floor, his fingers found something, and he removed a thick manila folder coated with dust.
     But he could still read what was printed across the folder’s front.
     TOP SECRET//SAR-PELLUCID – TEC-2971-3011-B6149.
     Scully could see that Mulder felt the thrill of anticipation and unease before he’d even opened what he held in his hands.  He glanced over at her and then Cohen.  “How did you manage to get a hold of this?”
     Dr Ryan Cohen grimly held his gaze for a few moments before answering. “Because men who were far, far braver than I sacrificed their lives to protect it.  That’s the only file I was able to bring above ground.  They sanitised everything and everyone…made it like it never happened.  What you’re holding in your hands are some of the most dangerous documents on this Earth.  And believe me, that’s not hyperbole.  You have…you have no idea how exhausting that burden was…to be the guardian of those pages…to live every day of your life in absolute terror because it.  It was terrifying to bring even a fraction of those pages to the surface.”
      “What do you mean to the surface?” asked Mulder, weighing the folder in his hands.
     The thin bearded doctor glanced away from Mulder, fear in his eyes.  “I have a lot more documentation, on DOD’s Triskelion, but I didn’t dare bring it to the surface.  It’s locked away, hidden in a safe place underground.”
     “You know about Triskelion?” asked Scully, recalling the strange symbol that had been carved into the chest of Diego Roberto Cielo – the three interlocking spirals in a triangular configuration that she’d witnessed on his corpse at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center.  She added, “We’ve been told about a key…the Key of Ages…a piece of ancient alien technology that’s supposed to unlock this thing that the Department of Defense calls Triskelion.”
     “That’s right,” muttered Cohen.  “Triskelion is the US military-intelligence elite’s most closely-guarded secret.  They will kill anyone who presents a threat to its secrecy.  The fact that you even know the name Triskelion in this context means your lives are already in danger.  But you need to focus on what’s right in front of you, or none of this will make sense.  Don’t get ahead of yourself, Miss Scully.” 
     Scully shared a look of worry with Mulder, who brought the dusty folder back to the table and sat down with it.  She didn’t bother to tell the bearded doctor that a DOD insider had told them that a man named Lucien Farrow now possessed this Key of Ages.  Scully realized that Mulder was afraid to open the folder now.  She suspected the thrill of anticipation was gone, replaced with the nagging intuition that what he would discover in its pages would be just more saddening horror.    
     The bearded doctor in the brown hoodie let the heroin cool for minute before sucking it up with a syringe.  He gestured at the unopened folder on the tabletop.  “You’re not actually scared of the truth, are you, Spooky?”
     “Just how the hell do you know so much about me anyway?” Mulder asked him, eyes narrowed. 
     “Well…I’ve never actually seen your photo but I’m friends with some truly gifted psychics and remote viewers.  It keeps me alive.  And you’re something of a celebrity within the black-intel community, Agent Mulder.  Seeker of the Crossroads, they call you.”  Cohen smiled sadly, stood up from the table and began casually unbuttoning his jeans.
     Scully frowned.  “Uh…what the hell are you doing?”
     “Finding a vein,” he murmured.  He pulled his jeans down to his knees, sat back down and searched his skin before injecting the syringe into his thigh.  He closed his eyes and let out an exhalation of breath that sounded almost erotic.
     When he opened his eyes again, instead of the dreamy, drugged expression that Scully had been expecting Cohen’s eyes were suddenly sharper and clearer.  He got up again from the chair just enough to button up his jeans.  He then unzipped the front of his brown hoodie, reached inside and casually placed a black semiautomatic pistol onto the table. 
     Its barrel was pointing directly at Mulder who tensed immediately, glancing uncertainly at Cohen and then at Scully.  The atmosphere in the apartment was suddenly as heavy as lead.  Scully swallowed at this sudden development.
     “You’re running out of time,” Cohen muttered.
     “What are you doing, Ryan?” Mulder asked carefully, his eyes flitting from Cohen’s face to the gun resting menacingly on the tabletop. 
     The thin bearded doctor wasn’t even touching the gun now, but Mulder instantly knew that Cohen could grab it and pull the trigger incredibly quickly if he wanted to – much faster than the time it would take for he or Scully to try snatching the weapon away, or for Mulder to reach into his suit jacket for the sidearm Doggett had given him.
     Cohen leaned forward slightly and said, “I don’t really know who you are, do I?  I mean, I learned about you from psychics and remote viewers.  How do I know you haven’t done the same?  Hell, the real Fox Mulder might already be dead.  You might’ve killed him.”   
     Mulder took a breath and said, “Ryan, I can assure you…I am who I say I am.”
     Cohen nodded.  “I hope so, otherwise I’m going to have to kill you.  I don’t really think you’re faking, otherwise I wouldn’t have invited you up here, would I?  But you can’t be too careful.  Least not on the Eve of Occupation.  So, start reading the file, ok?  But if you try anything dumb…or I get the feeling you’re not who you say you are…I’m going to shoot Miss Scully in the face while you watch, and then I’m going to shoot you.”
     “You don’t need to shoot anyone, Ryan,” Scully told him in as measured and calm a tone as she could manage.
     Cohen gently placed his right hand on the black handgun.  “That remains to be seen, really, doesn’t it?”
     Mulder shared a nervous glance with Scully and opened the folder as she leaned in beside him.  He attempted to focus on the task at hand and ignore the gun that lay on the table.  In the folder there were pages and pages of lists and names and seemingly meaningless statistical data, followed by photographs of the interior of some kind of research facility.  One of the photographs made Mulder almost gasp.  It was an image of several rows of children standing in a large white medical bay.  There must have been at least sixty or seventy kids in the photo, all of them with sad, haunted expressions.  Mulder felt a twisting in his guts and a lump in his throat.  He swallowed immediately.  The utter hopelessness in those children’s eyes…it reminded him of certain images he’d seen of Auschwitz or Dachau.  Some were crying, some were glaring defiantly at the camera.  But none of them were smiling.
     “Oh God,” Scully murmured over his shoulder.
     The next photo was filled with different children but the same darkness, and the next, and the next.  In the last image Mulder finally realized that the kids were all standing on a large pattern that had been stencilled or painted onto the floor – three interlocking spirals.
     It was another Triskelion symbol, identical to the one that had been carved into the chest of Diego Roberto Cielo.
     “You were a part of this?” Mulder muttered with barely veiled contempt, unable to look away from the photos.  “Are you going to start talking, Dr Cohen?”
     The bearded doctor nodded sheepishly, taking his hand off the black handgun and resting it beside the weapon.  He glanced away as though humbled by the raw emotion in the eyes of the photographed children.
     “Pellucid,” Cohen began, “was just the modern form of an agenda that’s been a part of this country’s power-elite since at least the late 1700s, from the time this country was first created – ‘the aggressive utilization of man’s occult powers’, as they called it back then.  Today the military-intelligence community call it ‘the weaponization of human consciousness’.  But it doesn’t matter what you call it.  For over two hundred years the most powerful people in this country have wanted to unlock and control the secrets of the human mind – telepathy, telekinesis, remote viewing, astral projection.  The list goes on and on.  But it wasn’t until the twentieth century that they developed the technology to make that kind of control feasible – reverse-engineered alien technology, Mr Mulder.  Do you want to know why the FBI kept extensive records of unexplainable cases?  Do you want to know what the X-Files really is?”
     Mulder glanced quickly at the gun resting on the table, and waited impatiently for an answer.
     “It’s the most acceptable face of a vast and covert data-gathering operation that’s been going on in this country since Majestic and Seraph during the Second World War – the extensive mapping of every quirk and detail concerning the mysteries of human consciousness, how that consciousness interfaces with ‘unexplained phenomena’ and the alien presence that’s been influencing human development since the very beginning.  All the data-points locked away in the X-Files since the forties…it all fed into their magnum opus; The Eight Configuration.  It’s an MK-Ultra masterwork, Mr Mulder, orchestrated by factions within NSA, CIA, and other alphabet agencies including your beloved FBI.” 
     Mulder sneered.  “Beloved?  The FBI and I were never exactly on great terms.”
     Cohen shrugged and continued, “Either way, it’s what these elites have spilled so much blood to protect.  High Weirdness meets hard science, the place where theoretical physics and the human psyche interconnect – theoretical time-travel, advanced telekinesis, enhanced PSI. This was a program with an infinite budget and no oversight.  These people literally invented money to fund this thing.  Pellucid was the central project of the entire T.E.C program.”
     “Lucid dreaming?” asked Scully, still unconvinced.
     The emaciated doctor chuckled emptily at the disbelief in her tone.  He put his hand on the semiautomatic again, gripping it and sliding his finger around the trigger ever so gently. 
     “Not just lucid dreaming,” he went on casually.  “Pellucid was about creating a weaponized lucid dreamer…a consciousness that could bridge the gap between dreams and the real world, creating entire dreamscapes down to the smallest detail, and potentially gaining access and similar influence to other people’s dreams.  Think of the incredible power that could give someone.”
     Mulder just listened quietly, aware that Cohen now had his finger on the trigger of the gun that was laying sideways in his direction.  He was afraid, but was desperately trying not to show it. 
     Scully said angrily, “You’re telling us this is all because of some Inception nonsense?”
     “No, no.  That movie was about using dreams to plant ideas for the purposes of corporate power.  Pellucid was about using dream-consciousness to potentially alter the very fabric of material reality.”
     “Wait,” said Mulder, forcing himself to look away from Cohen’s trigger-finger.  “I don’t understand. What the hell do you mean alter the fabric of material reality?”
     The sallow-faced doctor laughed again, but there was still no humor in it.  “Pellucid wanted to know just how powerful human consciousness really is.  And we…we accidentally gave birth to a god.”
     A chill gripped Mulder at Ryan Cohen’s words, deeper than the chill of having a gun on the table with this man’s finger resting on the trigger.  He glanced uncertainly at Scully.
     “What do you mean a god?” she asked, appalled.  “Are you talking about the Sleeper?  This thing that Labyrinth thinks is the Antichrist?”
     Cohen smiled, wide-eyed.  “There’s something I need to show you.”
     He kept his right hand on the gun, reached under the table and brought out a modified laptop.  From the Apple logo Mulder could see it had once been a MacBook, but it was now augmented with various pieces of technology, much like Father Jacobs’ laptop back in D.C.  
     Cohen powered up the hybridized MacBook, opened a particular file, turned the device round to face them and slid it across the table.  A video-file was already playing.
     Mulder shared a knowing, fearful glance with Scully and then looked at Cohen again.  The bearded doctor in the brown hoodie had picked up the gun from the table and was now pressing its length to his lips as though it were a toy.
      He took the length of gun away from his lips and told Mulder, “Look at the computer screen, not me.”
     Mulder immediately did as he was told.  A young boy, no older than eleven or twelve, was sitting on a chrome chair in a white medical bay whilst peering dejectedly at the camera.
     Scully inhaled sharply at the boy on the screen.  Although he didn’t look exactly like William – like the photo the Van De Kamps had given her – the boy was also dark-haired and about the same age as their son, with the same sad, soulful eyes.  The boy reminded her enough of William to unsettle her more deeply than she was already.
     From somewhere off-camera a male voice said coldly, “Subject MK8C-247, please state your name for the camera.”
     “Caleb,” the boy said quietly.  “Caleb Altman.”  His head was bowed slightly and he didn’t raise his eyes to meet the camera.
     “How is it that you’re still alive, Caleb?”
     “I don’t know.”
     “Please tell the camera where you lived before you were brought here to Pellucid.”
     A pause.  “The Bell-Ferrier Orphanage in Redhill, Oregon.”  There was a trembling kind of longing in the boy’s words that made Scully’s stomach clench.  She glanced at Mulder and saw the sadness and horror in his expression.
     “You’re a very special boy, Caleb.  I hope you’re finally beginning to realize that.  None of the other dreamers survived this kind of repeated exposure.  Somehow you have survived the process.  Somehow you’ve thrived.  I told you that you were different to the other children, didn’t I?”
     “Yes, Dr Abrams,” the boy said softly.
     “We all think that you’re going to change the world, Caleb.”
     The young boy finally lifted his head, fixing his haunting eyes on the camera.  There was a brief moment of distortion as the boy’s image glitched and flickered, and then Scully and Mulder were peering at nothing but static.
     They both turned to Cohen, deeply unsettled and waiting for an explanation.
     Cohen kept the gun in his right hand but dropped it out of sight below the table.  He sighed and said, “In November of 1989, nearly ten months after that video was taken, something happened at Pellucid – a miracle.  We succeeded far, far beyond anything we’d hoped for.  The CIA and Guatemala’s D-2 used an operation called ‘Bedtime’ to secretly recruit children for Pellucid, but– ”
     “Recruit?” sneered Scully.  “No more goddamn euphemisms.  You mean kidnap…you mean snatch from their families.  The Guatemalan and United States intelligence services were running a child-snatching operation, and you were a part of it.”
     “Yes,” Cohen admitted quietly after a moment.  He brought the gun back into sight and slammed it down onto the tabletop.  Mulder and Scully both flinched at the action and glanced at one another. 
     “But all the other dreamers died,” Cohen went on as if he had done nothing dramatic.  “One of the many goals of Pellucid was to massively augment and weaponize the children’s PSI abilities, to enhance their lucid dreaming capabilities.  But we quickly realized the program was too ambitious.   The children couldn’t withstand the clinical conditioning; the repeated exposure to what many of us believed to be an alien energy-source taken from a crashed UFO.  But twelve-year-old Caleb Altman was an anomaly.  His central nervous-system didn’t completely collapse.  He didn’t die.  He was changed.  Somehow Caleb achieved what DOD referred to as zero-point.  The ramifications sent absolute terror through Washington’s military-intelligence elites when they learned of our initial findings.  They weren’t prepared for such a staggering success.  Neither were we.  I quickly realized that what occurred with Caleb was in some way connected to DOD’s Triskelion secret.  Rumors started flying that day.  They were afraid of what little Caleb had apparently become.  They realized they wouldn’t be able to control him.  So they tried to kill him.”
     Suddenly Cohen picked up the gun from the tabletop again and dropped it into his lap, as though the threat of the weapon was no longer necessary.
     Mulder felt himself relax only slightly. 
     “That same night,” Cohen went on, “they ordered that Pellucid be immediately shut down and dissolved.  But they knew that the medical and tech teams running Pellucid were going to refuse.  They were counting on it.  We knew that we’d inadvertently stumbled across perhaps the most significant discovery in all of human history.  We thought that little Caleb was going to eventually revolutionize not just physics and biology, but our philosophical understanding of religion and spirituality.  We thought that what happened to Caleb Altman in November of 1989 was going to transform every single paradigm in human existence.  But we were fools.  We knew that DOD would never allow such an unmediated truth out into the open for public knowledge…at least not initially…but we didn’t realize the full implications of that fact, and what it meant for our own survival.” 
     The emaciated doctor in the brown hoodie glanced with wet eyes at Mulder.  Tears rolled down his sallow cheeks and into his scraggly beard.   
     “We ignored the dissolution order, as they knew we would.  Like idiots we thought that if enough of us stuck together they couldn’t charge us all with treason for defying them.  We had literally no idea how far they were willing to go.  They knew we weren’t about to destroy our own work – destroy a living miracle.  An external containment order was issued.  Several units of mercenaries were activated.  They had orders to neutralize the entire site and everyone in it.  But their massacre didn’t…didn’t go according to plan.  That little boy…he, uh…he slaughtered every single member of the kill-teams that DOD sent that night…and then almost the entire staff of Pellucid.  He razed the entire facility to the ground.  Nearly two hundred men and women died that night.  Only six of us escaped…and now Ben is dead that means I’m one of the last.  Three hours after the facility came down DOD had the entire site buried and sealed, including the bodies.  Today it’s just snow and ice.  You’d never even know it had been there.”
     Scully was extremely shaken and disturbed by what the junkie doctor had just told them.  She didn’t want to believe it.  And she was well aware that he still had a loaded gun in his lap, though he seemed less inclined to use it now. 
     Scully narrowed her eyes and snarled in fear, “Ryan, how is anything you’ve just described even remotely possible?”
     Cohen shook his head ruefully.  “Because Pellucid gave birth to a god.  One moment that little boy was dreaming, and then the next moment he was awake.  But, impossibly, his electroencephalograph and neuro-imaging data showed that he was still sleeping.  Awake and dreaming at the same time.  Lucid dreaming.  Do you understand?  Listen to me, I think Labyrinth believes that Caleb Altman is still alive…that he didn’t perish that night in 1989 like DOD believed.  I think Labyrinth believes Altman is the entity described in their Sleeper prophecy; their interpretation of an obscure legend concerning the return of the ancient Mayan serpent-deity Kukulkan.  The War Serpent.”
     A cold black chill seemed to flood through Scully’s entire system as she finally began to understand the context and implications of what Cohen was saying.  She glanced nervously at Mulder, whose face was unreadable, and then back at the ravaged doctor.
    “What the hell are you saying?” she muttered.  “You’re…you’re saying that Pellucid managed to unleash some incredibly destructive telekinetic power in this child’s mind?  And because of that Labyrinth actually believed that this boy Caleb Altman was the Mayan serpent-god Kukulkan…the biblical Antichrist?”
     Cohen said quietly, “Not just the power of destruction…the power of creation.  The power to alter reality on an atomic level, through an act of will.  The power of a god, Miss Scully.  The power to reshape and rebuild the world in his own image.”
     “That’s impossible,” Scully murmured, utterly horrified.
     Mulder decided to finally speak, his voice quiet, thoughtful and afraid.  “The ritual-suicides at El Mirador, Scully; those Mayan peasants were chanting about the waking of the one who sleeps.  It makes a kind of sense. The cult must have believed that Kukulkan was returning to lead the Mayan sky-gods to rule in a new baktun of time upon the Earth.  And Labyrinth must believe a Christian interpretation of something similar.” 
     Scully was still speechless and horrified. 
     Mulder focused his attention on Ryan Cohen.  Quietly he asked, “So you’re saying a powerful military-intelligence cult began to form around the legend of this telekinetic child?  A fusion of Mayan folklore and Christian extremism?”  Cohen nodded.  Mulder continued, “But a schism eventually formed between Labyrinth and the Apostles, right?  A civil war.  So the Apostles must believe…”
     “Yes,” said Cohen, intuiting Mulder’s thoughts.  “The Apostles have come to believe the opposite of Labyrinth – that Caleb Altman is the physical incarnation of Christ himself.”
     “This is insane,” murmured Scully.  “This is completely insane.”  She glanced wide-eyed at Mulder for confirmation, but Mulder’s eyes were now lit with frightening new thoughts and deductions. 
     Scully snapped her gaze back to Ryan Cohen and exclaimed, “No.  No!  I refuse to accept this!  Labyrinth and the Apostles are high-ranking members of the military-industrial complex – part of the intelligence community!  They cannot honestly believe any of this, can they?  That this kid Caleb is some kind of Mayan serpent-god – the Antichrist or the Second Coming?  It’s absolute lunacy!”
     It was only then that Scully realized she was fiercely gripping the little gold cross at her throat, clutching it in her fist as though for protection against what the bearded doctor was telling them.
     “You don’t understand,” Cohen said quietly.  “My father was Jewish and my mother was Protestant Christian, but they were both non-practicing.  We never really accepted religion. To my family they were all fairytales.  My parents never forced me to believe anything in particular.  Judaism, Christianity, Islam – it’s all the same to me.  But I was there.  I saw what Caleb did that night.  He did things that only a god can do.  I don’t know how else to explain it…” 
     “Are you saying you agree with Labyrinth?” Scully balked incredulously.
     “No, of course not!  I knew Caleb.  I talked with him countless times.  He was incredibly intelligent…a prodigy, really…but he was still just a kid.  A lonely, terrified kid who was trapped in an unholy experiment he could barely understand.  But I can understand why DOD would think that little boy was some kind of god…some kind of messiah.  I mean, he took those mercenaries apart on a molecular level.  He began to reshape everything.  He began to imagine things, and those things came to pass.  He was so angry at what we’d done to him.  He took his revenge on all of us.  I saw him literally walk through walls, Miss Scully.  I saw him teleport and levitate, and fuse flesh with steel and concrete.  I saw him disassemble and reassemble reality on a whim.  He eventually pulled the whole facility in on itself.  Our reality became his dream.  I ran.  I just ran.  I barely escaped with my life.  Even before the change, that little boy was the most powerful lucid dreamer we’d ever encountered.  I guess that’s why he managed to survive the conditioning process.  Only six of us got out alive.  He collapsed the entire facility.  When Caleb was done the whole place was nothing but a heap of smoking ruins in the snow.” 
     Scully glanced at Mulder.  She was terrified.  He looked very frightened too, in truth.  Scully pulled her fearful gaze away and peered at Dr Ryan Cohen once more.  He was about to speak again when the lights in the apartment suddenly dimmed and began flickering strangely.  The flickering was enough to terrify the emaciated doctor as he glanced wildly at the lights above them.
     “Oh God,” he murmured, “It’s happening…they’re listening to us.”
     Mulder shot a worried glance at Scully and then peered up at the flickering apartment lights.  “Who?  Who’s listening?”
     Cohen didn’t answer him.  After a few moments the lights stopped flickering, returning to normal.  But Cohen pulled his gaze away from the ceiling and suddenly lunged across the table, grabbing Mulder by the lapel of his suit jacket with one hand, and shoving the black semiautomatic into his palm with the other. 
    “Take this!”  Mulder could only glance down uncomprehendingly at the gun that Cohen had suddenly forced into his grasp.  “Listen to me, if you want to know the truth about DOD’s Triskelion you need to go underground.  I hid all the surviving files and my journals in a steel lockbox fourteen years ago.  You just better pray that nobody’s found it yet.”
     Mulder shoved the doctor in the brown hoodie away from him with a scowl, and looked down at the gun now clasped in his own hand.  Mulder had to fight the urge to immediately point the gun at Cohen in retaliation for making him and Scully think their lives were in danger. 
     “What the hell are you talking about, Ryan…?” he muttered, glancing at Scully as she looked on with baffled surprise.
    Cohen glanced up at the apartment lights that had been flickering only moments ago, and then fixed Mulder with an almost psychotic stare.  For a while he didn’t bother speaking.  Mulder simply glanced at Scully again and let the tension hang in the air.
     Eventually Cohen began, “For…for the first nine years after Pellucid was destroyed I went…I went literally underground.  I lived among a specific subset of New York City’s homeless community; what surface-dwellers called the mole people.  We…we lived in underground spaces beneath the city, in abandoned tunnels and subway stations.  People wrote newspaper articles and made documentaries about us.  Amtrak evicted us from the Freedom Tunnel beneath Riverside Park in 1991.  After that many of us moved on to other underground places, but the Transit Authority kept trying to kick us out whenever they found us…smashing up the shantytowns we’d built for ourselves, making it hard for us to live our lives, such as they were.  A handful of my friends eventually settled in the lower levels of Bergen Street Station, just ten minutes away from here on Boerum Hill.  The lower levels of Bergen Street have been abandoned and closed to the public since the mid-seventies.  We eventually stumbled upon a series of hidden rooms down there – storage rooms for construction equipment that had been walled off just after the station was built.  We called them the Nest.  We made the Nest our home for many years, hidden from the Transit Authority…until the shapeshifters found me in 1998.”
      A particular kind of heaviness settled in the air at Cohen’s mention of shapeshifters.  Mulder gave Scully a quick look.
     “They posed as some of us, obviously…and then they began murdering everybody.  They…they set my friends…on fire.  Can you imagine?  I can still remember the screaming…and the smell.  You never forget the smell of burning flesh.  They were looking for the Triskelion files.  But I’d already sealed the lockbox in one of the hidden cavities down there.  They murdered all my friends that night, but they never found what they were looking for.  I barely escaped.  They thought I’d taken the files with me to the surface.”    
     “The lockbox is still down there, in this Nest?” Scully asked tentatively, still shaken by his bizarre account of Pellucid and Caleb Altman and by the gun he’d been toying with.  Cohen nodded.  “Why haven’t you tried retrieving it since then?” she added.
     “Those files are just…too dangerous…and frankly I was too scared.  I saw all my friends get butchered down there.  I can’t…I can’t ever go back.  If you want to stop colonization you’ll need those DOD files on Triskelion.  But I can’t go back down there with you.  I can give you a map…I can guide you to the lockbox, but that’s it.  It got my friends killed.”
     “You want us to go traipsing through abandoned subway tunnels for DOD files that you hid down there over fourteen years ago?” asked Mulder, with an angry scowl.  “Just tell me what the hell is in those files and save us the trouble.”
     But Mulder already knew that a second-hand account of the files wouldn’t suffice.  He already sensed that he would need to physically possess the originals if he wanted even the slightest chance of stopping colonization.
     The bearded doctor grimaced and shook his head.  “The truth is…I only read a fraction of what we stole from the Defense Department.  And most of that was utterly terrifying, what I did read.  I didn’t…I didn’t want to know any more, so I just sealed the files, and kept them as insurance if I ever needed it.  In the end I just wanted to forget about Bedtime and Pellucid, all of it.  All I could figure out from what I did read is that our government believes Triskelion is the ultimate source of power…some kind of tangible spiritual power.  Look…I’ve already said too much.  They’re listening.”  He raised a finger and pointed at the ceiling, at the lights that had been flickering just minutes ago. 
     “The colonists are going to reveal themselves to the entire planet – in less than twenty-four hours.  The invasion is going to begin, and most of the human race will be dead within the first six months.  If you want even the faintest chance of stopping them, then you’ll need those files.  If you have the courage to read them all, then you’re a braver man than me, Mr Mulder.”
     Cohen forced a self-deprecating smile onto his face, but Mulder saw more tears roll down his cheeks and into his beard.  Suddenly Mulder got the sense that Cohen didn’t want them to realize just how wounded and emotionally scarred he really was.  But it wasn’t something the sallow-faced junkie doctor could easily conceal anymore.
      Mulder stared at him for a few moments and said, “Benjamin Jacobs told us something before he shot himself.  He said you couldn’t protect the children from him, or from DOD.  And that you’ll fail to protect the Vessel as well.  What is this ‘Vessel’?”
     A flash of panic played across Cohen’s face and he averted his eyes.  “The Vessel is the last goddamn bit of hope that we have to keep Triskelion away from the bad guys...”  For a while he didn’t speak, his eyes full of guilt, and then he said sharply, “Wait here.”  He got up from the table and hurried away into what Mulder assumed was the bedroom.
     Mulder gazed at the gun in his hand and then looked over at Scully.  “This guy knows things he’s not telling us, Scully.  Whatever the hell he went through, it seriously messed him up.”
     Scully shrugged tiredly.  “I…I know he’s holding something back…and that frightens me.  But I have this horrible feeling that the stuff he is telling us is true.”
     “Yeah,” Mulder conceded.  “Me too.  I don’t think threatening him is going to make much of a difference.  We might have to go looking for this lockbox.”
     Scully nodded.  “If he’s telling the truth about these Triskelion files then we need to find them.  If this…this man ‘Abaddon’ doesn’t find us first.”
     Her voice was shaking at the mention of Abaddon.  Beneath the table Mulder took her hand and squeezed it.  She squeezed back.
     “We’re not giving up, are we?” he asked sternly.
    “No, we’re not,” she replied, forcing steel into her tone.  “Whatever it takes.  To the ends of the Earth, right?”
     “Right,” he replied and gave her hand another squeeze.
     Dr Ryan Cohen returned clutching a collection of items to his chest, and dumped them on the table.  An expensive-looking LED flashlight, a cell phone and a hand-drawn map in a clear plastic sleeve.  Scully ignored the items and instead gestured for the gun in Mulder’s hand.  He gave it to her.  Mulder was already carrying Doggett’s sidearm in a shoulder-holster beneath his suit jacket.  They were both armed now.  She immediately assessed the gun’s sights and weight and briefly unloaded the magazine to check it was full. 
     “Sig Sauer P250,” she muttered.  Mulder nodded.  It was a weapon they were both familiar with.
     “You got a permit for that handgun?” Mulder asked with a dark smile.
     Cohen shrugged.  “Not exactly.  Don’t worry, I’m not leaving myself unarmed by letting you have that.  Sorry about that whole thing, by the way.  I had to be sure.”  Mulder raised his eyebrows cynically.  Cohen glanced away and tapped the cell phone on the tabletop.  “After you retrieve the lockbox and get back to the surface…if you want to call me it needs to be from only this phone.  My cell number is the only number on the SIM card.  From there we can organize a new place to meet, if you want.”
     “We’re not sure we entirely trust you, Ryan,” Scully told him gravely.
     Cohen just shrugged.  “The world is ending.  But I’m offering you one of my guns.  I’m offering to help you even though it’ll probably get me killed.  If you don’t trust me then shoot me…because I want this to be over.”
     Scully didn’t reply.
     Cohen fixed Mulder with another intense stare.  “There’s just one thing I must ask of you, Agent Mulder.”
     “Yeah?  What’s that?”
     “I’m not sure if ghosts are real or just symbolic concepts, but…when you’re down there…tell my friends that Ryan says he’s sorry.  Tell them I’m truly sorry that I got them killed.”  Mulder saw tears in the junkie doctor’s eyes again.  “Will…will you do that for me, Agent Mulder?”
     Mulder had to look away from the pain in Cohen’s eyes.  He swallowed and nodded.


*


Bergen Street Station
Brooklyn
3:34 a.m.


The station was less than ten minutes walk from Cohen’s apartment, on the border of Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill.  The walk was brief and they encountered almost no-one on the streets at such a late hour.  Tension, fear and a strange sense of expectation were all swirling within Scully.  They were about to take drastic action, in a day filled with drastic actions.  An entire career filled with them, she thought ruefully. 
     Unlike the mass-transit systems of many major cities, the New York Subway was open twenty-four hours a day.  But as she and Mulder hurried down the steps into the underground station they found the space to be practically deserted.  The token booth at their end was apparently unmanned, its little windows dark.  There were no security guards; only nearby full-length turnstiles to make fare evasion virtually impossible.  Above them harsh fluorescent lights cast an unearthly glare on the white and green tiled walls. 
     Scully glanced uncertainly at Mulder.  “Shouldn’t the booth be manned at all times?”
     He shrugged.  “Hurricane Sandy knocked this city for six, Scully.  That was just eight weeks ago.  Who knows what the hell is going on.”  He glanced around and added, “We’re going to have to buy some Metrocards.” 
     He hurried over to a Metrocard Vending Machine, Scully at his side, and began tapping away at the touchscreen.  A few moments later he fished his wallet from his suit jacket, pulled out a debit card and inserted it into the machine.
     While Mulder finished the transaction Scully glanced around nervously.  She noticed a young black guy in a Nike hoodie emerge from the stairwell and stroll across the harshly-lit space towards the turnstiles.  He was busy with the phone in his hands but glanced up and caught Scully eyeing him.  He grinned, winked and blew her a kiss – but it was a gesture more humorous than sleazy, and Scully glanced away with a half-smile as he swiped his card and disappeared through the turnstiles.
     Mulder pulled their newly credited Metrocards from the machine, retrieved his debit card and muttered,  “Ok, we’re good to go.”
     Once they passed through the turnstiles and made their way onto the platform they realized the station wasn’t entirely deserted.  There were three other people waiting for trains, including the young black guy Scully had just seen.  The other two were a young couple on the opposite platform, standing close together with their hands around each other’s waists as they smiled and kissed and whispered things to one another. 
     Scully tried to take in the surroundings.  The platform walls were decorated in white tile with a dark green trim running along the top and bottom, and large name tablets that read BERGEN ST.  Dark green I-beam columns ran the length of both platforms.  The station was relatively clean and well-lit, but the general lack of commuters still gave Scully an eerie feeling.
     The young black guy in the Nike hoodie was leaning casually against one of the I-beams, apparently playing a game on his phone.  He glanced up, noticed that Scully was with someone and quickly returned his attention to his phone  The sound of an approaching train reached the platform, swelling quickly in volume as twin points of light finally appeared in the mouth of the tunnel.
     Scully glanced over at Mulder and found him studying the hand-drawn map that Ryan Cohen had given them.  A few seconds later the train pulled into the subway station on the opposite platform.  The couple got on but nobody got off.  The doors hissed closed.  As the train began pulling out of the station and back into the blackness of the tunnel Mulder started walking a little further along the length of the platform.  Scully followed a few steps behind him until they came to a set of stainless steel doors in the tiled wall.  Scully could see electric light spilling from beneath them.
     “This is it,” said Mulder.  “This is the old access to the abandoned lower levels.”  He glanced over his shoulder at Scully and then up at the platform ceiling.  “Tell me which way the cameras are pointing.”
     Scully studied their surroundings.  “There’s several cameras.  One of them is pointing right in this direction.”
     “Well,” he muttered, “We better be quick then, huh?”  He unholstered the sidearm that Doggett had given him and quickly slammed the butt of the handgun against the protruding lock on one of the doors.  The metallic clang resounded through the underground space, causing the young black guy further down the platform to glance up from his phone.  He was peering curiously at them, a look of vague amusement on his face.  He shook his head and returned to his phone like he couldn’t care less.
     Mulder struck the lock a second time and the stainless steel door suddenly popped open slightly.  The young black guy didn’t even look up this time.  Mulder pulled open the door, gesturing for Scully to move.  She slipped through, immediately followed by Mulder.  The door still managed to close behind him but the actual lock was ruined.
     They found themselves in a dimly-lit stairwell; graffiti covering the damp and peeling walls.  Low-wattage security lights were spaced through the stairwell, down into what appeared to be pitch darkness.  But around them the graffiti tags adorned the walls, some of them quite detailed and artistic. 
     “Who did these, Mulder?” asked Scully, “If these levels have been closed since the seventies?”
     “Urban explorers,” was Mulder’s reply.  “People who explore derelict and abandoned places for a hobby.  It’s all illegal, obviously, but there’s an entire subculture online dedicated to it.  Come on.”
     They began descending the damp, graffiti-covered winding stairwell, moving further and further down towards where the light of the security lamps didn’t seem to reach.
     As they made their way down Scully muttered, “I shudder to think how many of these urban explorers disappeared without a trace.”
     “What do you mean?” asked Mulder.
     “Well, you and I have explored more abandoned and derelict places than I care to remember…and a lot of the time we found things living in those places.  Things that were pretty unfriendly.”
     Mulder looked at her with a faint smile on his lips but said nothing.
     “If we find a clan of flukemen living down here, Mulder, you’re on your own.” 
     He smiled a little wider at her grim attempt at levity, but Scully knew that Mulder understood her humour was a little forced.  She was trying to make them both smile, to give them strength.  The last eighteen hours had been exhausting, and they were both well aware that the chase was far from over.  When they finally stepped out of the stairwell and into the abandoned depths of the station they found it was not a complete darkness.  A handful of security lamps were aglow along the length of the stripped-down platform, casting the barest illumination.  But these were different to the ones in the stairwell.  These lights had a bluish hue.  There was only enough faint blue light to make out the most basic details.  Everything was still shrouded in darkness.
     “Ok,” muttered Scully, “this is officially creepy as hell.”
     Mulder pulled the LED flashlight that Cohen had given them from the rucksack, switched it on and pointed the powerful beam of light at the ceiling.  He moved his face towards the beam and squinted, making his features appear ghastly. 
     “Just like old times, Agent Scully,” he muttered with a smile.
     She returned the smile even though she wasn’t comforted.  She appreciated the effort though.  “So,” she said softly, “we’ve got to find this hidden Nest that Cohen mentioned…and pray that urban explorers or the Metropolitan Transit Authority hasn’t found it first, right?”
     “Yeah.”  Mulder pointed the flashlight at the hand-drawn map in his hand.  “This way.”
     They moved along the darkened platform.  As Mulder swept the flashlight beam ahead of them Scully noticed that all the tiles and signage along the platform had been stripped away, leaving behind damp cement-colored walls adorned with more graffiti.  Among the usual street-handles and urban slang Scully noticed a spray-painted inverted pentagram on one of the I-beams.  Although she knew it was most likely done by some inane death-metal fan with little regard for its occult significance the image still set a feeling of dread in her stomach.  She didn’t bother to point out the satanic symbol to Mulder.
     “We’ve got to get down onto the tracks and head into the tunnels,” Mulder told her quietly.  Scully had no idea why they felt the urge to keep their voices lowered since there was nobody to hear them, and yet it seemed like the right thing to do.
     They went to the platform’s edge and Mulder shone the flashlight onto the tracks.  An inch of water had collected in the center indentation between the rails.
     “This whole place is damp, Mulder,” Scully said nervously.  “You don’t think the rails are still electrified do you?  Because that doesn’t look safe at all.”
     “I don’t know.  It might be partial flooding from Hurricane Sandy.  But even if these tunnels have been abandoned for over thirty years…Cohen’s map says they still eventually connect to Carrol Street Station.  I’m thinking the rails are probably still live.”
     “Then I’m not going down there.”
     “I don’t think we have a choice, Scully.”
     She knew Mulder was right, but the dread was still slowly gathering in her stomach.  “I’ve…I’ve got a really bad feeling about this, Mulder.  I’m not even kidding this time.”
     Mulder looked at her in the darkness and she could just about make out his profile in the ambient illumination from the flashlight.
     “I feel it too, Scully, but this is our only lead.  We’re running out of time.  If there are US Defense Department files on Triskelion stashed down here, then we need to find them.”
     Scully tried to swallow her dread, as she had done countless times in the past. 
     “I know, Mulder,” she muttered, “I know.  Ok, ok, let’s just go.”
     Mulder climbed down first, and wasn’t immediately electrocuted.  He helped her down beside him onto the tracks.  For now they were unharmed.  Mulder was still wearing his suit and leather shoes.  She was still clad in the blazer, skirt and heels she had been wearing all day.  And now she was about to go traipsing through dark underground tunnels in the most inappropriate footwear possible.  But it was either that or walk barefoot, which with the potential combination of water and electricity at her feet was out of the question.
     “You ok?” muttered Mulder, sensing her discomfort.
     “Just wish I was wearing sneakers,” she told him.
     “If you can’t walk I’ll carry you myself, Scully.”
     “My hero,” she said softly, although she knew that Mulder would actually do just that if he had to.  He had once travelled to the Arctic Circle – to literally the edge of the world – in order to rescue her.  “I love you, Fox,” she told him suddenly, determination in her tone.
     “Where did that come from?”
     “Because you actually would just pick me up and carry me through the darkness, wouldn’t you?  Even at the end of the world.”
     “Of course,” he muttered boyishly, as though he was almost embarrassed by the question.
     “That’s why I love you.  Let’s find this lockbox.”
     They trudged into the mouth of the wide tunnel, with Mulder holding the flashlight like a spear of illumination ahead of them.  They heard the sounds of a train passing in the tunnels above them, but kept moving.  Occasionally Mulder shone the flashlight at the plastic-sleeved map he was clutching in his other hand. 
     “Should be about a hundred feet up ahead.”
     They kept moving through the blackness of the tunnel that was punctuated only occasionally by dim electric lights on the wall.  They stopped when they heard the sound of another train passing in the tunnels overhead. 
     This one sounded conspicuously louder.
     “Is that…?” Scully began, but the growing rumble of the train immediately answered her question.  A train was coming through this tunnel, despite the lower platforms being abandoned.
     “Christ,” said Mulder, alarm in his tone, “it must be one of the express trains.  Move it!”
     They broke into a run as terror and adrenaline immediately surged through Scully’s system.  They had no idea which direction the train was coming from.  They didn’t know whether to keep racing ahead or turn back, or leap onto the right-hand set of tracks instead –and they wouldn’t know until it was too late.  The rumble of the train swelled into a roar.
     “Run, Scully!” 
     Like a moment from a nightmare Scully suddenly lost her footing as the heel of her left shoe twisted on the uneven ground between the rails and she almost fell.  She cried out.  Mulder caught her arm, arresting her fall.  The roar of the train was almost deafening, almost upon them.  Light spilled all around, illuminating the tunnel walls.  Scully only had time to glance over her shoulder at lights like eyes right behind them – before Mulder grabbed her waist and dragged her into a brick alcove, thrusting an arm across her chest as he shoved her flat against the wall.  
     A split-second later the train blasted past them with a sound like shrieking thunder.
     The slipstream forced their eyes closed as over a hundred feet of screaming metal swept by, mere inches from their faces.
     The moment seemed to last forever, but then it was gone as fast as it had come.  Scully’s heart was slamming in her heaving chest.  Her ears were ringing as she stood pressed into the tunnel alcove, held in place by Mulder’s forearm.  She opened her eyes, peered down at his arm, his clenched fist, and then over at his face.
     “Jesus Christ,” she panted in disbelief, but she could barely hear her own words above the ringing in her ears.
     He was peering at her in equal shock, pressed beside her against the wall in the alcove.  Suddenly Mulder was in front of her, his hands in her hair as he cupped the back of her head and pressed a palm to the side of her face.
     “Are…are you ok?”
     The ringing in her ears was already subsiding.  She nodded and swallowed, shaken but relieved that they were both still in one piece.  He kneeled and retrieved the still-lit flashlight he had dropped at their feet in the alcove.
     “Behind you,” he said breathlessly.
     She turned in the alcove and realized her back had been pressed against a rusted metal door.  Because of the curved alcove the door was at a slight angle, but it had no lock.  Mulder grabbed the handle.  Scully did a moment later and the two of them grit their teeth as they strained to pull the door open.  It moved slightly, but years of rust and inactivity and made it seize in its frame.  They kept pulling and tugging until it finally came open with a metallic squeal.  It was pitch black inside.  Mulder shone the flashlight.  It was a single passage that stopped after ten feet.  There were skeins of rotted cables and junction boxes all along both sides of the passage. 
     Mulder hustled Scully inside and then dragged the rusted door closed behind them.
     They stood in the narrow passage as Mulder shone the flashlight at the far wall, where Scully had hoped another door would be.  Mulder turned the flashlight on the map again. 
     “Ok…ok, it says here that the Nest is beyond that wall; old storage rooms that were built when the station was first being designed.  It says those rooms aren’t even on most of the old blueprints…that they found them by accident, by knocking through that wall.  Says here that some of Cohen’s homeless friends were former engineers, and they built a hidden door for easier access so they could hide the Nest from the MTA.”
     “I don’t…see anything…that could be a secret door, Mulder,” said Scully, her voice shaking.  She was still trembling with adrenaline from their encounter with the train just moments ago, but Mulder was already forging ahead.  She took a long breath in an attempt to balance her equilibrium.
     “It says here the last junction box.”  Mulder went to the box in question and pried open its cover.  Scully followed.  Inside were a mess of rotted fuses, switches and cables – and tucked behind them a lever.  In the flashlight beam Scully could see that while the lever was somewhat rusted it appeared far newer than everything else in the derelict junction box.  Mulder grabbed the lever and with enough force he managed to pull it all the way down.
     A series of heavy clicks and thuds seemed to come from behind the wall to their left, and Scully realized that the entire narrow wall at the end of the passage was a cleverly disguised door, made to almost perfectly match the surrounding brickwork.  It was now standing ajar, blackness beyond the threshold.
     “Come on,” said Mulder, “we can do this.  We need those files.”
     Scully caught the distinct note of resolve in his voice.  She knew that tone all too well.  It was a tone that belied something dangerous and unstoppable within him – a seeker that would never ever quit until he held the truth in his hands.  Scully realized she was both afraid and grateful for the immediate presence of that part of Mulder.  It meant they might actually find what they were searching for, regardless of the cost they might be forced to pay. 
     Scully took another deep breath as she followed Mulder through the disguised door and into the blackness beyond.
     It felt as though they had entered a tomb, which considering the massacre that Cohen claimed had occurred down here wasn’t entirely inappropriate.
     Scully said quietly, “Are you getting a kind of bad juju feeling in here, Mulder?”
     “Little bit,” he admitted.
     “Mulder…you realize what we’re doing is insane, right?  Traipsing around in the darkness, underground, on the vaguest of leads.  I mean, we were given Dr Cohen’s name by Father Jacobs…a goddamn child molester.  This whole day has been psychotic.”
     Scully knew that her partner could sense she was just trying to talk herself down from the unsettling fear that had gripped her.
     “We’ve broken cases on far, far less,” Mulder told her, trying to inject a soothing quality into his voice.  “Me and you, we’re the King and Queen of tenuous connections…and improbable successes.”  He glanced at her in the flashlight glare and added, “You think?”
     Scully tried to smile.  “I guess.”
     What Ryan Cohen had referred to as the Nest appeared to be a warren of passages and adjacent rooms with arched doorways, all of them with doors still in place.  The entire forgotten cavity seemed to be built from a kind of brutalist concrete architecture unlike the brick subway tunnels back the way they had come.  Scully was reminded that the space was intended to be purely functional ; temporary storage for tools and construction equipment, sealed and forgotten as soon as the station was completed.  She noticed deep groove marks in the floor, presumably from where heavy equipment had been repeatedly dragged back and forth.
     As Mulder swept the flashlight around Scully half expected the light to fall upon bones or the desiccated remains of a human corpse; whatever was left of Cohen’s homeless friends who he claimed had perished down here.  Scully realized she was holding her breath in anticipation of something ghastly.  She exhaled gently, but what Mulder’s flashlight found a moment later was unsettling in an entirely unexpected way.
     On one of the dark cement walls a series of words had been daubed in black paint.  The phrase was faded but still entirely legible:
           
AND NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP
            I PRAY THE LORD MY SOUL TO KEEP
            IF I  SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE
            I PRAY THE LORD MY SOUL TO TAKE

Scully glanced apprehensively at Mulder in the spill of the flashlight and saw that he looked just unnerved as she was feeling.  The phrase on the wall was a famous children’s bedtime prayer dating back to the 1700s.  Most people were familiar with it from one source or another.  But its presence here was chilling.  They knew from Special Agent Owen Cameron’s archived files that he had uncovered a CIA kidnapping-operation of Guatemalan and American children, referred to as ‘Bedtime’ – recruitment for Pellucid, the most highly classified MK-Ultra project in existence, according to Ryan Cohen.
     “Whatever they were trying to keep at bay,” Scully said quietly, touching the little gold cross at her throat, “I guess they failed.”
      “The Bounty Hunters,” Mulder replied grimly.  “Cohen said that shapeshifters infiltrated their group and burned everyone alive down here.  We need to keep looking.  We need to try some of these rooms.”
     They turned their attention to the adjacent rooms, which were more numerous than they expected. None of the doors were fitted with locks, and they immediately found evidence that the Nest had once been inhabited.  Scully was taken aback at the sophistication and orderliness of what they found.  There was actual furniture in most of these rooms; beds and cabinets and dressers and shelves, all apparently manufactured from scrap and discarded pieces of wood.  Incredibly detailed hand-crafted quilts were lying on the empty beds, and equality intricate rugs lay on the concrete floors – items that had been stitched with obvious passion and care.  The people who had lived down here had built themselves household essentials that were functional but also surprisingly elegant.  There were framed paintings and poems that hung on the walls too.  Scully was forced to fully recognize that real people with real lives and real passions had been living down here in the dark.  The remains of candles sat in plates beside beds and on dressers, and other candleholders had been affixed to the walls of the various rooms. This had once been a thriving underground community, living in candlelight like some Victorian colony existing outside of time.
     Scully felt the pang of genuine sadness.  She could now feel a touch of the horror that must have swept through this little community when they realized monsters had found a way into their midst.  The horror and pain they must have felt when those monsters decided to burn them all to death.
     “Damn, Mulder,” Scully muttered sadly.  “I wasn’t expecting this…”   
    Mulder swallowed and nodded.  “This was a real home.  You can feel the warmth and the camaraderie that was down here.”
     “Yeah,” was all Scully could say.
     “Let’s keep looking,” urged Mulder.
     They navigated the warren of tight-knit passages, finding rooms filled with more of the same.  Several of the passages connected into a wide central hallway, and when Mulder shone his flashlight at the floor they saw it had been scorched completely black.  Scully glanced at Mulder and knew exactly what he was thinking.  This was where the Bounty Hunters had rounded up Cohen’s homeless friends.  This was where they had burned them. Cohen had been telling the truth.  Based on the number of rooms in the Nest, and the number of beds in each room, there could have been up to thirty people living down here.  Thirty lost souls.
     Scully wanted to say something, but she was overcome at the thought of the massacre that had occurred down here.  Instead, Mulder tried another door and wordlessly ushered her inside.  What they found within this particular room was enough to make them both inhale sharply.  Mulder’s flashlight picked out writing scrawled all over the walls.  But not just writing, there seemed to be images too.  Without saying it aloud they both realized this had been Cohen’s room.  Mulder entered the space, his flashlight searching the walls, but Scully remained motionless in the doorway.
     The vibe in here was palpably stronger than anywhere else in the Nest.  She wasn’t sure what that meant, but she didn’t like it. 
     In the darkness Mulder made his way to the bed.  He dropped the flashlight on the handcrafted quilt and picked up a box of matches sitting on the bedside cabinet, next to a plate containing the stub of a red candle.  The box of matches was at least fourteen years old, but he took one out and struck it anyway.  It sparked briefly before fizzling out.  But the second match sparked and caught aflame.   Mulder lit the candle stub beside the bed.  A faint flickering illumination grew in the room.  He noticed two candleholders on the wall, containing similar stubs.  He went over and lit those too.  Dim candlelight finally banished the darkness and brought the room’s features into focus.
     “Mulder…” Scully said warily.
     He turned at the sound of her voice and saw what had drawn her attention.  All of the walls were covered with scribbled text, much of it chaotic and illegible.  But there was also an image that was instantly recognizable. 
     The spindly body, oversized head and almond-shaped eyes of an alien Grey peered out at them from the wall.  The image of the Grey was crude but evocative.  Scully then realized that the writing which covered every available inch of wall space was actually just one word repeated over and over again.
     CATHEDRAL.
     “Whoa,” Mulder said quietly, “This is hardcore crazy-town.”
     But it wasn’t the image of the alien Grey or the word ‘cathedral’ repeated over and over that was most unsettling.  It was the fact that on the right-hand wall opposite the bed there was an image that stood over eight feet tall, dominating everything else in the room.
     A tall and thin figure in some kind of hooded black cloak.
     The drawing was composed of scratchy black lines and scribbles, but the overall effect was deeply atmospheric.  Scully could even make out the vaguest suggestion of facial features in the shadows beneath the hood, except that those features seemed inhuman and disturbing somehow.
     “Jesus,” said Mulder in obvious shock, “that’s…that’s what you told me you saw standing over Rachel Marx’s dead body…”
     The evocative image of the cloaked, hooded figure seemed to exude a presence that was both demonic and strangely alien.  Scully couldn’t bear the thought of staring at it for too long, and yet she couldn’t pull her eyes away.
     “That’s what you saw, isn’t it?” asked Mulder, fear in his voice.
     “Yeah,” Scully managed weakly.
     “Dana,” muttered Mulder, unable to take his eyes of the image either, “I can see why you were so freaked out.”  He added tentatively, “Do you…do you think this is one of the things that Cohen said was listening to us back at his apartment?  When the lights started flickering?”
     “I think so, Mulder,” Scully told him gravely.  She recalled how malevolent and ancient the shadow-entity had felt when she saw it standing over Rachel Marx’s dead body back in D.C.  Even this image of the thing seemed to exude the same touch of evil.  Just looking at it made Scully feel nervous and superstitious, like a frightened Catholic schoolgirl.  Like how she used to feel as child when she first realized the world was a dark and foreboding place – before Science and God had found an equilibrium to banish the shadows from her imagination.
     “The lockbox,” said Mulder, trying to refocus on the task at hand, “it must be in here somewhere.”
     He set about searching for it; hunting through the bedside cabinet, under the bed and in the chest of drawers, while Scully stood transfixed by the image of the tall hooded figure that dominated the room.
     “It’s not here,” Mulder finally hissed through clenched teeth.  Suddenly he slammed a fist into the wall and cried, “GOD DAMN IT!”  He cried out again in frustration and kicked over the bedside cabinet. 
     Scully was startled by his sudden outburst but immediately went to him, and tried to hug him.  Mulder was resistant at first before relenting and softening into the embrace.
     “We’re going to find it, Mulder,” she told him, trying to soothe him.  “We just have to keep looking.  Ok?”
     “We’re running out of time, Scully,” he murmured.  “And I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.  Colonization is just hours away and I still have no goddamn idea how to stop it…”
     Scully held him.  “I believe in you, Fox.  I believe in us.”
     “That might not be enough.”
     “It has to be.”
     “Ok, ok,” said Mulder, trying to inject some optimism into his voice.  “Let’s…let’s keep looking.  I guess we’ll need to try the other rooms.  I really thought it’d be in here…”
     Scully pulled away and found herself peering again at the image of the tall hooded entity on the wall.  She frowned, wondering.  She left Mulder’s side and tentatively approached the image, and found herself reaching out to touch it.  As her hand touched the wall her stomach tightened suddenly and she recoiled.
     “You ok?” Mulder asked immediately.
     “Yeah,” she told him, “but…”
     She dug her fingernails into the black paint that formed the chest of the hooded entity, and found the wall yielding to her touch.  At least part of the wall wasn’t solid, she realized.
     “I think I’ve got something here, Mulder,” she said with surprise and sudden anticipation. 
     She began clawing handfuls of what appeared to be soft black clay from the center of the image, from the place where the figure’s heart would have been.  Mulder hurried over and began to help.  They quickly excavated the cavity in the wall that had been disguised to appear solid like its surroundings.  Scully’s fingers brushed something cold and metallic within the cavity.  She shot Mulder a hopeful smile.  A moment later Mulder felt it too.  Together they both slid the rectangular lockbox out of its hiding place inside the wall.    
      It was made of steel and was roughly the size of a garage toolbox, but weighed a little less than Scully had been expecting.  It had a hinged carry-handle on its top.  There were metallic Department of Defense seals in full color on both of its sides.  Scully glanced briefly at the familiar depiction of the United States eagle-shield clutching three arrows in its talons, wreathed by laurels and stars.  It was a symbol very familiar to all Americans, but especially to US federal employees.  Mulder took the box by the carry-handle and briefly weighed it in his grip.  It wouldn’t be much trouble to carry back to the surface.  Scully saw that Mulder’s eyes were lit with relief and gratitude.  He smiled at her.       
     She returned the smile and said, “Shall we break it open right now, or….?”
     “We’ve got what we came for,” Mulder said.  “Let’s just get topside again.  Then we can sort through whatever we…”
     Mulder’s words trailed off, as though he had heard something.
     Scully felt her awareness sharpen immediately.  “What?” she murmured.
     “I thought I heard…some kind of…”
     “What?” Scully urged again.
     “Some kind of low growling sound,” Mulder said quietly.
     And then Scully heard it too.  It was faint but there.  A low, bassy growl.  Scully was immediately afraid.
     Both of their gazes fell upon the image of the tall hooded entity on the wall, now with a large hole in its heart.  In the candlelight it almost appeared as if tiny flecks of paint were pulling themselves away from the wall and drifting lazily in the air like dust.  The growling came again, much louder this time.  Scully gasped and took a few steps backwards, her stomach clutching in utter dread.  She glanced incredulously at Mulder, and saw a look of fearful incomprehension in his eyes.
     Flecks of paint were indeed pulling themselves away from the image, in odd spirals that seemed to begin taking shape in mid-air right in front of them.
     “What the–” Scully began, her words choked off by sheer disbelief at what they were witnessing.
     “Oh my God,” murmured Mulder.  “Scully…we need to get the hell out of here. Right now.”
     Although Scully could barely comprehend it, the image of the hooded shadow-entity seemed to be actually pulling itself away from the wall and reassembling itself in the room with them.  The low bass-like growling was growing in volume.  They could feel it in the floor through their feet, as though the entire room trembled with it.  The flames of the candles that Mulder had lit began to dance and waver dangerously.  Then, as one, all three of the candles went out, plunging the room into darkness again.
     “Run, Scully.”
     Mulder’s command seemed to break them free from their horrified paralysis.  He grabbed her by the arm and they both bolted towards the door, abandoning the lit flashlight on the bed.  For a terrifying moment Scully expected the door to be sealed shut by some act of dark magic, but it opened easily and they ran through.  Behind them the deep, bassy growling was quickly growing in pitch, resolving itself into a monstrous shrieking sound.
     That inhuman sound put the fear of God in Scully as they raced through the tight warren of passages, towards the door that would lead them back into the subway tunnel.  Mulder was running at her side, the lockbox clenched in his grip.  The hideous shriek was swelling behind them like something unholy, and neither of them dared to turn around for fear of what they might see coming up behind them.
     “DON’T STOP!” barked Mulder, but Scully had no intention of stopping.  
     A moment later the awful shrieking ended abruptly, as though contained somehow, but still neither of them dared look back.  They hustled through the hidden door, out of the Nest and into the narrow passage lined with junction boxes and skeins of dead cables – and then through the outer door and back into the subway tunnel.  Mulder slammed shut the rusted metal door in the brick alcove.  Both of them were heaving for breath but gave each other only a brief glance before turning left and hurrying back towards the abandoned lower levels of Bergen Street Station.
     Scully could barely process what had just occurred back there, and yet she knew what both of them had seen.  It was as though the image of the hooded shadow-entity on the wall had begun to come to life.  Her stomach was still tight with dread, disbelief and confusion.
     Suddenly Mulder grabbed her arm, halting her immediately.  They both stood there in the space between the two tracks in the center of the wide tunnel, and Scully knew her partner had seen something.  She squinted and tried to focus on what was up ahead – half expecting to see a real-life manifestation of the frightening hooded figure.  But instead Scully recognised the silhouette of a man.  He was standing perhaps sixty feet up ahead, where the mouth of the tunnel opened onto the abandoned platforms.  He was standing side-on, but then turned to face them.  He began walking casually towards them, with no sense of urgency at all.
     “Transit cop?” Scully muttered, unconvinced of her own words.
     “I doubt it,” Mulder said quickly.
     They could both feel that something was very wrong here.  As the slowly approaching silhouette passed a low-wattage security light on the tunnel wall they saw his eyes suddenly flash green and reflective, like the eyes of a cat.
    A new fear skittered across Scully’s shoulders.  She realized whatever was casually approaching them was not entirely human.  She sensed that Mulder recognized the truth at almost the same moment.
     The approaching figure called out to them in a voice that was deep and resonant and frighteningly calm.  “Hello again, Fox and Dana.  You don’t remember me, do you?  I held your whispering hearts in my hands before either you were even born…and I put a promise inside each of them.”
     “Oh God…” Scully murmured involuntarily.
     The figure in the tunnel up ahead was the man their DOD insider had warned them about.  An ex special-forces DARPA operative named Lucien Farrow – a man who had apparently died from a lightning-strike and yet achieved some form of resurrection.  It was the man that Father Jacobs claimed had taken to calling himself Abaddon.
     Scully tried to hold back a wave of cold black terror.
     The Angel of the Abyss had found them.
     “And so we meet here now,” the figure continued, “at the nexus of a billion worlds.  And you presume you can finally bind the truth?”  He chuckled.  “Such vanity.”
     Something in his words made Scully sick with dread.  She immediately backed up a few steps, clutching at Mulder’s arm.  “What…what do we do?”
     “Run,” was Mulder’s immediate reply.
     Scully was suddenly, horrifyingly aware that she was wearing heels, but she spun round and began pounding along the track as fast as possible into the depths of the tunnel.  Mulder did the same, cradling the lockbox against his chest.
     “Where are you going, little weeping gods?” Farrow called out to them.
       Scully knew the thing behind them was incredibly dangerous.  If they allowed it to get anywhere near them it would all be over.  She could feel it in her bones like a sixth sense.  She was frightened now in a primal, elemental way.  She knew in her gut that the entity in the tunnel with them was more than something disturbingly inhuman.  It was something almost biblical.  That knowledge sent a cold black fear through her entire system, bypassing all reason and logic.  Her heart was already slamming against her ribs as she ran, and she risked a glance back.
     The silhouette was now sprinting along the subway track with almost impossible speed, his eyes repeatedly flashing green in the almost-darkness.  Scully felt her guts twisting with sheer dread at the image.
     He was gaining on them.
     There was no way she and Mulder were going to outrun him.
     “STARBUCK!” he suddenly roared in fury.  “DON’T RUN FROM ME!”
     “Don’t look back, Dana!” Mulder cried.
     Like a nightmare Scully felt the heel of her right shoe suddenly snap as she ran, and with a sickening lurch she realized she was falling.  Her right arm hit the track inches from the live rail, cushioning her fall, but pain still surged through her shoulder as she grunted through gritted teeth.  She could sense the faint hum of the electrical current as it passed through the rail only inches from her.
     Above her Mulder skidded to a stop, turning and catching sight of how quickly their pursuer was gaining.  He made a split-second calculation and instead of reaching for Scully he unholstered the sidearm that Doggett had given him and immediately fired three shots into the central mass of the rapidly advancing DARPA agent.  Each impact made Farrow jerk back with concussive force but barely slowed him.  Mulder couldn’t even tell if the bullets had drawn blood.
     He didn’t bother to waste more ammunition, instead hauling Scully to her feet again as she kicked off her useless heels.  And then she was running again beside Mulder, barefoot now, the soles of her feet slapping against the damp and grimy subway track.
     She wasn’t concerned about the possibility of electrocution from the live rail.  All she cared about was making sure this man calling himself Abaddon didn’t catch up with them.  Sweat was already spreading across her forehead and neck, spilling down the small of her back.
     “We’re not gonna make it!” Scully gasped as they ran.  She dared not glance back this time for fear of seeing their pursuer right behind them.
    “Just don’t stop!” Mulder managed beside her, the terror naked in his voice.
     The darkened tunnel seemed endless.  Scully had no idea how far the next station was.  It was perhaps only moments before the thing behind them finally caught up.  She couldn’t take the horror of that thought and glanced back instinctively.  The sprinting silhouette with the flashing catlike eyes was only twenty feet behind them, and closing.
     The sight squeezed Scully’s heart with dread.  Her chest was heaving, her thigh and calf muscles burning from the strain.
     “Oh God,” she gasped, realising there was literally nowhere to go.  Gruesome images of being physically torn apart flashed through her mind as she ran.
     Up ahead illumination and noise began to fill the tunnel.
     Another express train.
     “Mulder…” Scully gasped in warning.
     The swelling illumination resolved itself into the lights like eyes at the front of the train.  It was heading right for them.  Mulder was about to snatch Scully’s arm to pull her towards the other set of tracks on the right-hand side of the tunnel when he recognized another metallic roar.  Horrified, he snapped his gaze round and saw the approaching lights of a second train surging through the tunnel behind them, backlighting their pursuer.
     They were trapped.
     Both sets of track were about to be filled with screaming metal.
     Mulder snatched Scully’s hand, mentally urging her onward and willing her not to break her stride yet.  He tried to judge the width of the gap between the tracks.  He had an idea.  A dangerous, insane idea.  And he had literally moments to execute it.
     Scully didn’t need to glance back to recognize the fact that two trains were coming at them from opposite directions.  “We’re dead,” she gasped mid-stride.
      Mulder glanced to his left and saw what he was looking for.  An alcove, much smaller than the one that had protected them earlier.  Both trains were howling through the tunnel, almost upon them.
     “Get flat in the alcove, Dana!” he cried.
     “I’m not leav–”
     “JUST DO IT!” he screamed above the approaching roar.
     The sheer violence in his voice made Scully suddenly lunge to her left and throw herself flat against the alcove.
     Mulder was surrounded by the monstrous roar and bathed in light from both directions.  He had one shot.  If he messed this up he was dead.  He slowed for just a moment, before spinning round to find his inhuman pursuer within arm’s reach.  Mulder’s adversary made a striking motion with his hand flat like a blade, but Mulder was already lunging – the full force of the steel lockbox crashing into the side of Farrow’s head, causing him to stumble sideways for just a moment.
     It was enough.
     Mulder stepped side-on into the gap between the tracks and threw up his arms in a crucifixion pose.  A fraction of a second later the first train shrieked past less than an inch from Mulder’s face – slamming into his disoriented adversary and instantly sucking him out of sight.  A moment after that the second train screamed past in the opposite direction, less than an inch from Mulder’s back.  For a few horrifying seconds he was caught in the slipstream between the two metal behemoths.  The noise was unholy and the wind forced his eyes closed.  Mulder felt the edge of the lockbox in his raised right hand clip one of the trains, as it was almost wrenched from his grasp by the sheer force.
     And then both trains had passed, shrieking away into the distance, apparently unaware that there were people in the tunnel, that they had hit someone.
     Mulder’s ears were ringing badly.  He could feel himself trembling in shock.  He forced his eyes open, finally lowering his arms and letting go of the lockbox’s carry-handle.  It landed in the gap between the tracks with a heavy clunk.  In the semidarkness he finally took a huge inhalation of breath and saw Scully wedged into the alcove, peering at him with incredulous eyes.  She opened her mouth to say something, but she was lost for words.  She continued to stare wide-eyed at him for a few moments before lunging from the alcove, stumbling towards him and throwing her arms around him.  She was breathing heavily and began kissing his face over and over again.
     “Mulder, I…I thought…I thought that second train hit you…”
     Her voice was slightly distorted and muffled from the ringing in his ears but he took another deep breath and tried to smile for her.  Mulder could feel himself shaking.  His heart was still hammering in his chest, his hands literally quivering with fear and the rush of adrenaline.  He pressed his face into the curve of Scully’s neck.  For a few moments she held him, trying to soothe him.  Despite his shaken state Mulder knew a few soothing moments were all they could afford. 
     “The trains,” murmured Scully in his ear, “Why…why didn’t they stop?  Didn’t they see us?”
     Mulder had no answer for her.  Instead he pulled away from the embrace and gestured shakily back down the track.
     Scully followed his gaze.
     In the scant illumination from the low-wattage security lights on the walls they could see the subway tracks were strewn with a mess of spilled blood and splintered bone and ragged chunks of ruined flesh.  The express train had completely taken Lucien Farrow apart.  Mulder grimaced at the sight and the new coppery scent of blood in the tunnel.
     He stumbled along the trail of gore and began shakily scanning the tracks for something in particular.  He saw shredded bits of clothes amongst the pungent viscera, and had to glance away when he spotted Farrow’s head over by the wall, the left side of his skull completely crushed and missing his lower jaw.  It was a hideous sight, strands of flesh still attached to the ragged stump of their pursuer’s neck.  Mulder swallowed and tried to keep searching despite the adrenaline still racing through his system.
     “What…what’re you looking for?” muttered Scully, and instinctively retrieved the DOD loxbox that Mulder had dropped.
     “The Key.  Clavem Saeculorum.  Our insider said…said this man Farrow possessed it.”
     In the darkness it was difficult to see, but Mulder finally came across a ripped and bloodied section of a suit-jacket with the inner pocket still attached.  He crouched and carefully prodded it with the tip of his little finger.  There was something inside the pocket.  Mulder carefully pulled it free in trembling anticipation.  He wasn’t sure what he’d actually been expecting, but this legendary key that Labyrinth and the Apostles had been warring to find for the last seventy years – it appeared almost ordinary. 
     It was a metallic circular disc about an inch thick and slightly bigger than his hand.  Its center was inscribed with a Triskelion symbol, identical to the one they had seen on the biohazardous corpse of Diego Roberto Cielo.
     As Mulder held the disc in his palm its edges seemed to soften impossibly for a moment, creating indentations to more comfortably accommodate the grip of his fingers.  He inhaled sharply at the sensation of the shapeshifting metal.  A strange energy was radiating from the disc, through his hand and up through his forearm.  It felt like the disc was thinking, adapting to him.  It felt like this thing was somehow alive.
     Scully was behind him, barefoot, peering down at his discovery.  “You found it,” she muttered, a note of hope in her voice.
     Farrow had unwittingly brought the thing they were seeking right to them.
     But Mulder knew there was no time for celebration.  They had to get out of the tunnel and back to the surface.  The clock was still ticking.  Colonization was drawing ever nearer and they were literally still groping blindly in the dark.  They had no idea how to utilise this legendary Key they had found.  Mulder carefully rose to his feet and slipped the strange metallic disc into the inner pocket of his own scuffed suit jacket.
     “Scully –” he began, before his words were cut off by an odd sound.  The sound of metal violently clinking against metal.  For some reason the sound was deeply unsettling.
     “What is that?” murmured Scully.
     They followed the trail of gore along the subway tracks for another ten feet or so.  There on the ground was what appeared to be an odd, spiky-looking piece of metal.  As Mulder crouched he realized what it actually looked like.  It looked like two fused metallic vertebrae.  Mulder frowned, trying to understand what he was actually looking at, when suddenly the chunk of metal began to spin on its axis.
     Mulder flinched and heard Scully gasp just behind him.
     There was another loud metallic clink.  The spinning abruptly stopped and Mulder found himself peering at a third fused vertebrae.
     “Oh,” muttered Mulder as the horrifying truth began to dawn, “Oh no no no…”
     He was peering at a regenerating spinal column.  He felt Scully clutch his shoulder.
     “Mulder…we need to get out of here.  NOW.”
     The section of metallic spine began a cycle of spinning and stopping, getting longer with each revolution.  Mulder stared in horror, unable to tear his gaze away from the impossible sight.
     “Mulder, come on!” cried Scully.
     He came to his senses and they both launched into a terrified run back the way they had come, towards the abandoned lower levels of Bergen Street Station.  They had to get back to the surface.




(To Be Continued...)

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