"Chermera" by Mary Ruth Keller Part 36 of 45

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"Chermera" by Mary Ruth Keller Part 36 of 45
E-mail: mrke...@eclipse.net, mrkel...@gmail.com
PG-13 X-File: Myth-arc Disclaimed in Part I
Already sent to Gossamer
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Dulles Airport
Dulles, Virginia
Wednesday. July 15, 1998
4:03 pm

"Still no luck?" Sandra Miller turned to Mulder. After passing through Customs, they were waiting at her departure gate.

Lowering the black unit from his ear, he shook his head. "I've left her more voice-mails than I should admit." He stared out the window at the red and blue tail of the waiting jet. "This isn't like her. She had said she wanted to see you again before you took off."

The chestnut-haired woman found herself smiling. Her brother, as an adult, was more of a fussbudget about many things than she hazily remembered from their childhood, but, it was generally for a good reason. "It could just be the traffic, Fox. Jerry warned me it could be excruciatingly bad, even in comparison with the Los Angeles area."

He bit his lower lip. "Yeah, maybe." He focused on her canted eyebrows, then grasped her arm. "No, you're probably right, Sandie, it's the traffic. One fender-bender on the Access Road and, blam!, gridlock." His arm around her shoulders, he guided her to a nearby bank of seats. "I hope the past couple of weeks didn't put you too far behind in your research." After they sat, he slid his duffel bag under the bench.

She twisted her curls around her hand, then flipped them free. "No, having to get these papers out the door did that, so, no worries. As hot as Santorini could get in the afternoon, it was a break, which I've needed, after Tom's death." She reached for his fingers. "Hey, big brother, don't worry. Dana can handle herself."

His forehead was deeply creased. "I know, but, with - " He fiddled with the phone again, then lifted his hips off the plastic to slide the unit into his jeans pocket. "No, no. If she were here, she'd be giving me her Look right now." He turned to his sister to offer a shaky grin. "Ah, I'm still not used to having you back, you know, Sandie."

She nodded. "I'm still not used to a brother and a mom and a stepdad, so, we're even." The flight attendant called the arrival of the shuttle bus in ten minutes, disrupting their quiet conversation momentarily. "We should have spent more time together, you and I, but, maybe for Christmas, you and Dana can come visit, hum?"

"Yeah. Scully would like that. She hates the cold." His hazel eyes began scrutinizing her face, trying to memorize all her features.

She burst out laughing. "Fox, I'm not going anywhere, at least not for another fifteen minutes. Don't look so deadly somber."

He let out a bark. "Sorry. Bad habit." They lapsed into silence, he clutching her hand.

When boarding was called, she reached out to hug him. "Okay, that's me. I'm going to leave you to your John Drake existence, Fox. I'll call you when I'm home, right?"

He wrapped his arms around her tightly. "Yeah. Sure." One final clutch, then he stepped back to take her face in his hands. "Take care, Sandra. I love you." He gently kissed her forehead, prompting a lop-sided grin from the chestnut-haired woman as she stepped clear. He watched until she disappeared around the turn of the jet way, his eyebrows doing a complicated dance as his face alternately reddened and softened. With a sigh, he punched the first speed dial button again, but, after the automated commands to voicemail began, terminated the call.

"Sir, would you step back please? We need to leave the gateway clear for late passengers." The boarding attendant, a stack of passes in her hand, had moved into his view.

"Yeah, sure." He used the disruption to return to his bag before sliding a flip book out of one pocket. He punched out a number from a taped-in slip of paper, then waited. "Jerry? It's Mulder. Did I catch you at a bad time?"

The surprise in the detective's voice had the tall man's forehead crinkling as he heard, "Agent Mulder? No, you didn't. Is there a problem with Sandie's flight?"

"Ah, no. She just boarded. I wanted to be sure you were meeting her, that's all."

"Of course. Are you okay?" The words emanating from the speaker conveyed a degree of anxiety that surprised the dark-haired man.

He flopped on the bench. "Yeah, I am. I'm just waiting for Scully."

"Ah, then, my best to you both. I'll be there. Don't go all big brother on me, okay?"

Finally picking up the glint of humor in his caller's phrases, Mulder grinned. "Yeah. Sure." He terminated the connection. His thumb hovered over the first speed dial button, before he tapped in the operator for the Hoover Building. "Second floor Evidence Lab, please." {Scully has all these numbers in her phone, of course.}

After one ring, he heard, "FBI Evidence Lab, Agent Arthur Pendrell speaking."

"Pendrell? Is Cynthia there?"

"Agent Mulder, ah, no, she's gone back to your offices." The tall agent caught an undertone of discomfort in the red-haired man's voice.

{Not this. I thought a month of wedded bliss would have fixed this.} "Pendrell?" The tenor dropped into a growl.

"Um, Agent Mulder, have you seen any news?"

His breath hitched. "No, I just landed. Pendrell?" The growl morphed into a command.

"Agent Mulder, there was an attack at the British Embassy today, a gas attack. Director Skinner is there right now. Cynthia went back to your offices to try to help coordinate the search."

Now, the dark-haired man was on his feet. "Search? Pendrell? What are you telling me?"

"Cynthia knew Dana had a meeting there at ten, which is about the time of the gas attack. Apparently, someone flooded the air handling system with anesthetic, and the entire staff was knocked unconscious. They're trying to ascertain how many people were there, or if some of them went home, or were on leave. It's been all over the local news. No deaths, just minor injuries from falls, cuts and abrasions. But, no one's found Agent Scully."

Mulder felt like the entire terminal had turned upside down, that he was falling from the floor to the glass ceiling.

"Agent Mulder? Agent Mulder? Are you still there?"

He closed his eyes. "Yeah, I'm still here. I have to go." He grabbed his duffel, then began running, flat out. A security guard called to him to halt, but he waved his FBI badge in the air without breaking stride, not caring whether it registered with the uniformed man.

--o-0-o--

Islamic Center of Washington, DC
2551 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC
Wednesday, 5:47 pm

Its brakes squeaking, the cab had ground to a stop, since a cluster of DC police vehicles was blocking all access closer to the embassy. "Sir, this is-"

"I know." Mulder handed the taxi driver five twenties. "Thanks." With a slam of the rear door, he was barreling down the street, duffel in one hand, FBI badge aloft in the other.

"Sir!" A uniform stepped into his path. "Sir, we can't let anyone in."

Mulder was waving his identification. "You don't understand. My partner - " He shook his head. {That won't work.} "I'm with Assistant Director Skinner. I need to get through."

The uniform returned to his vehicle, shouted into a shortwave radio, then poked his head out of the car. "He'll be here in a minute for you. He's been expecting you." The officer pointed to the duffel. "What's in the bag, Sir?"

Mulder looked down, then back at the sunglasses above a blond mustache. "I just arrived from Greece. I took a cab directly from Dulles. Sir!" He began hopping at the sight of a bald head weaving a path through the clusters of vans and sedans.

"Agent Mulder, come with me, please." Skinner was grimly focused as he took the younger man's arm. "I have the official she was here to meet waiting for you. Keep calm, Mulder, he's just as worried as you are about Agent Scully. What is this Riata business?"

The dark-haired man spoke through gritted teeth. "It's a long story, Sir. They must think she's one of them, apparently."

A black glance shot through round spectacles. "No one thought to inform me of this?"

"Sir!" Mulder yanked his arm free. "We barely understand what this group is about! Where is he?"

"Agent Mulder, calm down." The bald Director glared back. "Do not attack this man. He has diplomatic immunity. Do you understand?" The words of the question were growled individually from a motionless face.

"Sir!" The agent's chest was heaving. "He knows where Scully is. Now, where is he?"

"I'm here, Atrebates." Dafydd ap Morgan ap Gwinn was lifting the strap of the oxygen mask over his head as he walked up to the two men.

A plop as the duffel hit the concrete before Mulder grabbed ap Gwinn by the shoulders. "Where is she! Tell me!"

"Agent Mulder!" Skinner was attempting to disentangle the two. "Calm down. Just listen."

The dark-haired man began prowling circles around ap Gwinn. "I swear to you, if any - "

The Cymru stepped into his face. "The Riata is safe, for now. She is alive. We have seven days to find her. Atrebates, think of her, not yourself. Think of Our Sister first. That is your task."

"She's not your sister!"

"Agent Mulder!" Skinner was pulling at him.

Ap Gwinn held up both hands. "No, Atrebates, you are right. She is not Our Sister, not yet. In seven days, she will be."

Mulder's fingers rounded into fists. "Or, she will be dead. Is that it? The ritual of Gradus Absoluta? The Initiation of an Unwilling Candidate?"

The red-haired man stared in surprise. "How did you know? The ceremony was recorded in only one codex, which Brother Suebi has kept safe. How did you know?"

Skinner glared at them both in turn, finally facing the tall Section Head. "Agent Mulder, will you *please* tell me what you two are talking about?"

Mulder turned to his superior. "It was in my Father's documents, the ones we found in Chilmark. You probably didn't have the time to read that far. There was a brief unencrypted discussion, and a detailed encrypted one. My Father was spying on this group-" He waved a finger at ap Gwinn. "-for the Shadows, and he found it. That's why we only have seven days. They'll try to indoctrinate her by putting her through the seven ages of man."

Skinner rounded on the Cymru. "Is this true?"

Curly red hair bobbed. "The Council of Ten voted, but, I was instructed to lay out a choice for the Riata before any precipitate action was taken."

"Stop calling her that! She has a name! Dana Katherine Scully!" Mulder was dancing angrily around the two beside him.

Skinner grasped the younger man by the shoulder. "Not now, Agent Mulder." The bald Director turned back to the Cymru. "What is this choice?"

The red-haired man closed his eyes momentarily, knowing he was about to break the silence that protected the Ekklesia, but, this was for the Riata. "We normally have several meetings with a potential candidate for the Fellowship, to gauge their interest. But, the Tribuno, who knows her from her life in the Bureau, has called for Gradus Absoluta. I never had the chance to offer her a choice, which may make any outcome illegitimate. We must live by our rules."

Mulder crossed his arms. "What do you mean, the Tribuno knew her here?" His rage was subsiding as a horrible possibility formed in his mind.

Ap Gwinn patted his shoulder. "We do not ask members the names used on the outside. He had worked with you, and with her, he said. He had a tape of the actions of our joint enemies he gave the Suebi as the price of his admittance. He had it translated before he came to us. It was in Dine code talk."

"Krycek." Skinner and Mulder concluded simultaneously.

The tall agent's hands were over his face. "Krycek has her. He can finish what the old men wanted three years ago."

The red-haired man shook his head. "They have eight hours head-start on us, but, even if the Tribuno has a secret agenda-"

"He does." Skinner touched his neck as he remembered a painful confrontation in a hospital stairwell.

"-she is surrounded by our allies, who will follow the ritual exactly. That is why we have seven days, Atrebates." Ap Gwinn took an arm of each man. "Gather your forces. Rally all your best people. I shall attempt to speak with my Brothers and Sisters, who will be observing from the Suola. Perhaps I can reach them before they go into Conclave." He sighed. "It is our way. We must feel all that the candidate feels. The Ekklesia will be in session for the duration of the Initiation. There is an Embassy plane I can charter for tonight."

His cell in his hand, Mulder spun to face the Assistant Director. "I'll call Nichols and Rosen, you inform Pendrell, Phillips, and Stickle."

The Director nodded. "Agreed. He's ready. He knows the stakes."

The dark-haired agent turned to ap Gwinn. "Where is this plane? Some of our people are in San Diego, some are here in DC."

The Cymru reached for Mulder's phone. "Let me call our allies. They can charter a jet so your people can fly as soon as they are prepared."

Once the black unit was back in his hands, he tapped out the number for X-Files West. {Hang on, Scully, just hang on.}

--o-0-o--

Unknown Place
Unknown Time

The first sensation Dana Scully felt was the cold. Not the bleak perception she was familiar with from being in the Arctic, nor the deprivation of warmth she remembered from being on the streets, but a wet drainage that chilled her bones. The second was of confinement. She was lying in a comfortable bed, but blankets had been rolled around her, like a cocoon. How she could be cold while swaddled up like this she would work out shortly. She peered to her left. There was a wooden door, painted green, with two varnished oak chairs on one side of it. To her right were two windows, a bright yellow dresser between them. The view through the bars over the panes was of lush rolling green hills, dotted with oaks and heather.

She tried to sit up, but the tight blankets prevented it. After some twisting, she worked her right arm free, then her left. (That was something, at least.} With those, she could push herself upright, possibly work out of the cocoon. Her left hand landed on something silky, so she looked down. A strand of ginger curls lay underneath. In fact, the mattress was covered with auburn ringlets. She touched her head. {Mine. My hair. That's why I'm cold.} She wiggled until the blankets were down to her hips, then gasped. She was unclothed from the waist up. Almost instinctively, she reached back inside the blankets. Whoever had stripped her of her garments had left her underwear on, so there was that.

She checked the room again. The chairs, dresser, and bed were all painted with bright blocks of colors: blue, green, yellow, pink. The blankets were festooned with green dolphins, purple cows, red elephants. Toys were hung from the tall rails, higher than her head, on three sides of the bed. As she pulled her feet free to drop them to the mattress, she heard something squeak, like a child's stuffed animal. She looked down. That was exactly what it was, a pink lion with a bright pink mane, silver wings, and a long tail, a pink ball at the end. In fact, there were stuffed toys on the dresser, the chairs, as well as staring at her from the foot of the bed. I wonder. She pulled the underwear away in the front. Bare, there, too. She hoped whoever had done that to her had been a woman.

{Oh, no.} It struck her, then, what had happened. She had been worried about traffic, but had reached Dafydd ap Gwinn's tasteful office right at ten am. He made a joke about Americans and their punctuality, led her to a comfortable chair, then they started chatting politely about his estate in Wales. He had called her something, before correcting himself. {Riata.} That brought back memories of her Mother telling her stories of the Lords of the Isles, as if she had been descended from the women and men who sailed from Ireland to Scotland to the Hebrides, where they had fought the Northmen, centuries ago. He had just offered her a selection of teas. As she had pointed out the Earl Grey, they had made a joke about Picard. But, then, nothing. If he truly was one of the Forty, if she was here in a child's bedroom, no, an infant's room, then she knew what was happening. She was being initiated as an unwilling candidate into the Forty. They would walk her through the seven stages of man, all the while trying to convince her that the Forty were her family, were her Brothers and Sisters. She was the infant now, no hair, just coverings of her private parts, but only such as an infant possessed.

{Seven days.} She had to survive for seven days. Her Bureau training started to kick in. For all the froth and ceremony, she was a hostage. She knew she had but two goals: survival and escape. First, she needed to take stock of her prison cell, to see what might help her accomplish either. She stood on the mattress, before grasping the railing on the right firmly. She hauled herself up, threw a leg over, then heard a crack. After the shock of the impact wore off, she realized she was on the floor, the fractured spokes and bars crumpled around her. She checked herself over carefully. No cuts, nothing broken. Bruises, but they seemed to almost be a fact of her life anymore. She yanked the tube of blankets off the bed, then unrolled them. She might have to be barefoot for the day, but that would be all. She suspected there were hidden cameras, only, no one was entitled to a peep show. She tore one covering in two, splitting a line of orange giraffes down their middles, then coiled and tied one half around her chest, the other encasing her waist. Despite her situation, she found herself smiling. She was dressed like a bizarro Jane. If only there were vines to swing out of this prison.

{Speaking of looking.} Four steps, then she was beside the windows. There were bars on both sides of the glass. She tried them, shaking any she could reach, but all were bolted tightly in place. She surveyed the room again, looking for something she might use to loosen them. It was then she noticed the second door, so she walked over to try it. It was a fully-equipped modern bathroom, so that was something. A flick of the light switch, followed by a gasp at her reflection. Whoever had shaved her head had not been gentle about it. She had gouges behind her ears, scrapes on her forehead. No matter. If the toilet worked, she would use it. Although they wanted her to think of herself as an infant, there was only so far they were willing to take the charade, apparently. Perhaps there were cameras here, too, but, at this point, the pressure in her abdomen overrode those concerns.

Once relieved, she cleaned and dried her hands, then cupped them under the tap to gather enough liquid to drink. She considered, briefly, whether the water might have hallucinogens, but decided probably not. Just to be safe, she checked the plumbing under the sink. There was no evidence of tampering there, just standard pipes running in from the wall, then out the drain. If the water to the room had been drugged, as Mulder's had, then they would have had to contaminate all of it coming into the house. Since she suspected the people who were performing the indoctrination were in other spaces of this building, so would be using it as well, probably not. She cupped her hands to drink freely. Thirst would not be a problem, but hunger might. She could not trust any food presented to her. Because that would be specially prepared, it could be laced with any number of substances, so would only affect her. Given that the entire point of this monstrous procedure was to make her pliant and cooperative, she would have to avoid consuming anything that was not raw or unprocessed.

She heard footsteps approaching the door. She scrambled back to the bed, grabbed a shattered rail, the split giving her a rudimentary point, then rushed over to flatten herself a doors-width beyond the hinges. Once the feet stopped moving, the knob rotated.

"Now, dearie-o, we're watching. We know you have a stake. Why would you use it on your family? We just want to look out for you, little thing." The voice oozed kindness, tender matronly care.

But Scully knew that was the last thing the woman on the other side intended. Normally, she would have challenged her captor verbally, but, after an instant's thought, she kept silent. The initiation was supposed to end with the candidate either dead or a member of the Forty, but she had to find a way out between those two choices. {One way out between two worlds.} She had to give them neither assent nor dissent, nothing that would allow them to claim victory or her submission.

"So, not speaking, are we? Well, we're a little thing, so probably that's as it should be."

Scully's forehead wrinkled. {They've never done this before. They don't know what to expect either}. Suddenly, the odds no longer seemed so insurmountable. She raised the stake. The woman who trundled through the door was bearing a tray, three small bowls arranged in a triangle on it. As Scully had expected, the contents were processed scoops of brightly-colored pablum. She darted in front of the woman to knock the tray from her arms, being careful to contact only the steel plate, not the person. {Survival, at all costs.} She rushed out into the hall. She suspected the windows of her room were the only ones with bars, that she might make her way outside through a different exit. She chose the second door on her right. As she predicted, light shone in through simple panes of glass, so she pushed one open, tossed out her makeshift weapon, then dropped down onto a bed of heather, rolling to lessen the impact. Scully picked up the stake before starting to run, flat out. She heard voices calling behind her. The words, "They've found us, we have to move," floated out to her. {Mulder. Who else would be on them so fast? He would bring all the rest of their group, one way or another. Stay alive, Dana.} Then, she heard, "There she is, get the jeeps!" She searched around for cover, but she was in a valley, a stream only a few inches wide sinuously connecting the lowest points. She pushed herself harder, running from one lengthening shadow to the next. Perhaps, around the next hill would be a road, so she could escape along it. But, the whining of the jeeps was getting louder, as several voices were shouting now. "There she is!" "Get in front of her!" No matter how fast she could run, or feint, she found herself surrounded by six vehicles, their engines gunning.

"Stop there, Scully." The voice sent chills up her spine as she turned to face it. Alex Krycek was wearing a grey hooded robe, his Bureau SIG emerging from the over-sized sleeve to the gasps of the others. "Give it up. There's nowhere to go. Survival, Scully, that's the first thing, right?"

She silently raised her hands. {One day down, six to go.} Four of the men jumped from the jeep, each grabbing an arm or a leg. After swabbing a cloth with liquid from a brown bottle until it dripped on the grass, Krycek clamped it over her mouth and nose. She heard, "Tie her up. Watch for the legs. She's a trained fighter," then nothing more.

--o-0-o--

Over the Atlantic
Thursday, July 16, 1998
11:57 pm

Andrea Rosen nodded to Arthur Pendrell and Terry Phillips, who were quietly holding hands, as she passed them along the short central aisle of the Gulfstream III. On their laps were the cell phones all had been issued for the trip, European units set to the same seven digits as the devices they used in the States. She was headed toward the front, where Mulder was standing, arms crossed, glowering at the passing cumulus. She had no idea how to offer him any comfort, just that she wanted him to know he was not alone. She reached for his elbow. "Mulder, we'll find her."

His chin dropped to his chest. "We must." He sighed. "We will." He raised his hazel eyes to hers. "Thanks for coming. You didn't have to. You're not in the Bureau anymore, at least officially." He jerked his head toward the interior of the plane. "None of you had to, but, all of you did. Without hesitation or thought." Sighing, he went back to staring at the clouds.

"Hey, this is Scully. Dana. She'd walk over shattered glass on lava for any of us, then wave away our gratitude while you fussed over her feet." She watched his lips quirk. She knew, from having observed the two of them together, that, at this point, Scully would try to pull him out of his dolor by getting him to engage his analytical brain. She took a deep breath. "This group, the Forty. How many of them do you think are actively involved in what's happening, and how many are just watching?"

His shoulders slumped. "I think they're all just watching, like it's some great game, and Scully's their prey." He flicked a finger at the red-haired man in the brown suit. "Except for him." He turned to face her fully. "He's done nothing but cooperate. Maybe there are some of them who actually believe all the nonsense they spew about rules and laws and protecting humanity."

She nodded. "He briefed us extensively on where it's likely she's being kept, how many people to expect on the ground. But, since they double-crossed him and gassed him along with everyone else, he has a reason not to trust them anymore. Do you think this Krycek will be there?"

The tall agent’s face contorted involuntarily, then he shoved the past away with a shrug as his features returned to those the brunette astronomer recognized. "I know he will be. This is the start of his revenge, Rosen. I knew it when he took the MJ tape from Skinner. He wants to bring all the organizations he sees as having hurt him down: the Shadows, the Bureau, and, now, these Forty, who ap Gwinn tells me rejected him as a candidate." He slumped into a nearby swiveling airplane seat. "From Krycek's viewpoint, if Scully joins the Forty, then he's weakened us. Weakened me." He pushed at his right cheek with the palm of his hand. "If we go down, then the Shadows and the Forty will be at each other, and he'll have his revenge. If she dies..." His voice dropped to a whisper as he rubbed his eyes slowly. "If she dies, that all just happens faster. For him, it's a win-win." He went back to staring out at the towering white. "In five hours, we land in Northumbria, and it starts." He looked over at her. "Take a break, Rosen, get a couple of hours sleep. We don't really know what to expect."

She patted his arm once, as she had seen his partner do, so often. "I'd tell you to do the same, Mulder, but I don't expect you'll sleep until she's safe, will you?"

A quiet snort was the only agreement he offered, so she headed back to sit beside her former partner, who, with Walter Skinner, was gently tutoring William Stickle in what was most likely to come.

--o-0-o--

End – Chermera – Part 36 of 45
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