"Chermera" by Mary Ruth Keller Part 37 of 45

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"Chermera" by Mary Ruth Keller Part 37 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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Unknown place
Unknown time

Dana Scully pulled in a deep breath, then opened her eyes. {This is the second day.} Today, she knew, there would be some simulacrum of her school years, all intended to bring her further into line. She checked her surroundings. This was a different room from the previous day. Gone was the bright conglomerate of colors. In their place, were pink walls, salmon taffeta bows on the corners of the bed. The pink lion with silver wings stared at her from down by her feet, the only part of her 'bedroom' from the previous day still in place. If she was being monitored, it was probably by a camera inside. She lifted the covers, a normal sheet and blanket, stubby-legged unicorn ponies leaping random rainbows on the threads. Her forehead creased again. They really had to do better than generic girl room, but, she should be thankful they had so little knowledge of her tomboy childhood. She sat up, surprised to see blonde bangs falling into her eyes. She reached up to feel her head, then tug hard at the long hair. Someone had glued a wig in place, ringlets of curls that were not her own. She looked down. {Clothes, at least.} A little girl's navy blue sailor uniform, with, she noted as she grunted, white knee socks in blue patent leather shoes, a half-size too small, cramping her toes. Someone, at least, was attempting to keep her from running today.

{Today.} She felt her stomach rumble. Yesterday, she had not felt hungry, but, today would be more of a challenge. Just in case she consumed something hallucinogenic, she needed a marker of days. Her gaze fell on the patent leather shoes, a sparkly gold pin stuck through the outermost hole of the strap. That would do. She backed the strap out, slid the shoe off, then drew two parallel lines on her left forearm, deep enough to bleed slightly. Those would be marks that would heal, but could not be washed away.

{That would do.} She needed to leave behind some indication to her partner that she knew he was coming. She shifted to her side, knocked the lion to the floor with her sock-clad foot, then scratched several letters on the head of the bed. Once finished, she positioned the pillows neatly to cover them. She knew Mulder would tear the room apart, that he would find them. She slipped the patent leather back over her toes before buckling the strap.

There was a door at the end of the bedroom, so she padded over to it, noting as she did the beach she could see through the barred windows. She was in a different house, another story up. As with the shoes, whoever was running this was making it more difficult for her to escape. She could also hear feet approaching, so, if this room was a bathroom, best to take care of necessities, consume some water now. She turned the faceted crystal knob, then gave it a push. It was indeed a bathroom, decorated with sparkles, so, with a grimace, she relieved and cleaned herself and drank.

"Don't want to be late for school, little sweetness!" It was the same matronly voice as before, with a hint of panic underneath. If Krycek was in charge, no doubt he had raged at them all for several hours for yesterday's failure.

Scully had to refrain from calling back. {Neither positive nor negative, remember.} She wiped her hands, then, with a carefully neutral expression, waited in front of the door.

The 'Matron' entered. She was in a grey skirted suit and sensible black shoes, not carrying food. They had obviously learned that lesson as well. "Ah, there you are. All ready and pretty, my dear." The woman's blue eyes scanned the room. "But, look, you forgot to make up your bed. Let me do that."

{They can't see my message.} The diminutive agent stepped into the older woman's path, then offered her a tiny smile, before starting to smooth down the covers. As she plumped the bolsters before tucking them under the spread, she checked the waiting woman out of the corner of her eye. The lined face was cocked to the left, puzzlement written on her features. The bed finished, the lion perched in the depression between pillows, Scully returned to the 'Matron''s side.

"Ah. Very good, my dear." The comment was offered without inflection.

Scully considered skipping along beside her, but, that would be too much. They walked together down two flights of stairs. The main level was an open, high space, where four rows of four old-fashioned wooden school desks stood. All but the left desk in the front was occupied, so Scully took it. There were notepads and four yellow pencils lined up on the dark oak surface. As she looked up, a different older woman stood at a wheeled chalkboard, rows of single-variable polynomials written out, all first and second order. {Really?} She reminded herself not to gloat that this was almost too easy. There must be more than algebra to the game.

The tall, thin 'Teacher' was glaring down a long, bony nose that had half-spectacles perched on it. Dressed in a severe tweed skirted suit, she held a wooden pointer that she rapped on the blackboard chalk tray three times. "One problem for each student, starting with you." The 'Teacher' aimed the plastic-capped tip at the right rear seat. "Solve number one, using your pad, then tell me the answer."

Scully solved the equation in her head as she waited.

"X equals twelve." The speaker was in a grey robe, the cowl pulled over the face, but the voice was unmistakably male.

"Very good!" The 'Teacher' rewarded the 'student' with a smile and a cheerful chirp.

Scully's forehead wrinkled. The answer was eleven, obvious since the equation was 2x=22.

Noting her expression, the 'Teacher' issued a nasal humph.

Scully schooled her face to a mask.

The other students all offered erroneous solutions to their problems, each being rewarded with praise, until it was Scully's turn. She had been considering her options. No doubt, this was a rudimentary attempt at applying peer pressure. She decided it was time to test her keepers. She stood, walked to the chalkboard, picked up a yellow cylinder, then wrote down "x = -2" on the blackboard. Since the second-order polynomial was x2 + 4x + 4 = 0, both roots were the same value. She finished by substituting the solution to show the equation balanced.

"Wrong!" The 'Teacher' added a decisive thwack on her knuckles. "Do it again, and show all your work this time."

Scully wrote out the binomial theorem, positioned ax2 + bx + c = 0 above the original equation, substituted numbers for A, B, and C, then worked out the solution.

"Wrong again!" The 'Teacher' rapped her fingers this time. "Class, what should the answer be?"

"Minus three!" Fifteen male voices boomed.

"We'll need to try this again." The 'Teacher' extended a long, bony digit toward Scully's desk. "Go back to your seat, little girl."

The entire exercise was repeated, but as before, Scully chose to silently countermand the errors. She refused to conform to the behavior of the group, regardless of the punishment. Nor would she complain. Either would be expected.

The 'Matron' appeared in the back of the classroom, bearing another tray, this time covered with round shortbread cookies. "Treats for all the good little girls and boys!" She carried the tray up and down the rows, giving one cookie to each of the 'children,' all of whom consumed the offerings with smacking lips and noisy sighs of pleasure.

Scully realized the shortbread was freshly baked, still warm. It smelled delicious. As the 'Matron' approached her, she found it hard not to reach for the golden round. But, the pointer snapped down on the tray, smashing the treat to crumbs.

"Bad little girls don't get cookies." The 'Teacher' glared over her glasses.

--o-0-o--

Fenleyding, Northumbria
Friday, July 17, 1998
7:21 pm

"Okay! It's go time, people!" Walter Skinner bellowed as the menacing black SUV rolled to a halt at the end of the long, yew-lined drive. Mulder had stopped speaking with anyone almost three hours earlier, so the Assistant Director had stepped up, organizing the raid with ap Gwinn's guidance.

Weapons drawn, the X-team agents in their black FBI field jackets rolled out of all the doors. Rosen and Nichols headed to the basement, although, the silent drive, the locked entrances, the darkened windows, all appeared to indicate an unoccupied structure. Pendrell and Phillips pounded up the stairs, covering the third and fourth floors quickly. Mulder and Skinner cased the second level, while Stickle and ap Gwinn worked through the ground floor common areas.

As Mulder pushed open the last bedroom door, the one with the sweeping view of the moors through barred windows, he gasped as he staggered to a halt. The bright panoply of color on the walls and furniture was garish, almost sickening. But, what had him motionless were the strands of red curls strewn over the grey mattress and bare pillows, twisted in the animal blankets, poking through the slats of the rails. He forced himself to hobble toward the bed, to search the covers for blood, urine, or other bodily fluids he could not bring himself to name.

"Agent Mulder!" Skinner was in the doorway, his weapon still drawn.

The dark-haired man was clutching a coil of auburn. "She was here, Sir." His forehead creased deeply. "This is the infant stage. We need to treat this as coercive persuasion. She knows what to expect, so she'll be mentally prepared. But no one can hold out forever." His fist still closed, he walked around the bed to point with his gun. "There's a spoke missing out of the broken rail on this side." He let himself sag against the foot board. "She was arming herself to attempt to escape. She was conscious and planning ahead. Good, Scully, good." He spun to face his superior. "We need to sweep the grounds, Sir, to see how far she got."

"All in good time, Agent Mulder." He lifted the portable radio to call the others to him. Once they were assembled, he set the eight of them in widening searches out from the sides and rear of the house.

Mulder was by the back door when he spotted the jeep tracks. "There were six of them, all in parallel. They must have been after her." He started running, faster than Skinner could keep up. When he was almost to the road, he spotted the bright stake, green and yellow. "Here! She got to here! Scully! Scully!" He ran to the top of the next hillock, watching the trucks rolling past. "Almost. You almost made it. Good, Scully, good."

Ap Gwinn, along with the rest of the X-team, joined the two. "Okay. Then they must have relocated. Since this is a daily indoctrination, I know which of the Suebi's estates they've likely taken over right now. It's only a couple of hours away, up close to the Border."

"This is the member of your organization Krycek was cooperating with?" Rosen had stepped up beside him as she asked.

As the Cymru's single nod, Stickle shook his blond head. "How do you know all this? How?" It was his first question since the Gulfstream had landed.

Nichols patted his arm. "Remember, if Krycek is calling the shots, he's going to take the show to the places he knows, which helps limit our search. Just relax, son, you'll be okay."

Phillips gasped at the curls, still in Mulder's grip. "They cut off her beautiful hair!"

Pendrell wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Don't dwell on it, Terry. It'll just eat you up inside."

Skinner eyed the dark-haired agent's hand. "We'll need to collect what trace evidence we can from the scene, including that, Agent Mulder."

"Yeah, sure." The younger man's eyes darted around the group anxiously. But, his long fingers simply closed more tightly on the ginger strands.

--o-0-o--

Unknown place
Unknown time

So it had gone the rest of the morning. The subject had switched to history, asking for significant dates. As before, Scully had written out '878' for the Battle of Edington, countermanded as 787 by the 'Teacher'. She had carefully stenciled '1066' on her pad as the answer to the question of the Norman Invasion, only to have the fifteen 'boys' around her point and laugh before calling out '1166' in unison. Her offer of '1649' for the death of Charles I was corrected as '1659,' with a rap for good measure on her knuckles that left them cracked and bleeding. She noticed the questions all had a significantly British locus, not surprising for where she was obviously being held.

The beak-nosed 'Teacher' wrote the date '1688' on the blackboard, the ovals in the 6 and the 8's perfectly identical. "Alright, class, who was king that year?"

"James the Second!" the grey cowls belted.

"But?"

Scully raised her hand.

"So, bad little girl, ready to get it wrong again? What do they teach in those American schools anyway, hum?" A long grimace accompanied the hoots bouncing off the high oak ceiling.

The diminutive agent stepped to the blackboard to write precisely, 'William of Orange and Mary Stuart.' Underneath, she added, 'William III and Mary II.'

"Hah!" The ash rod rapped the top of the 'Teacher''s desk. "You know nothing! Parliament formally offered them the crown in February 1689! So, you are wrong, as always."

Scully released a long breath before turning to the board to scribe in yellow, 'The king is dead, long live the king.' She held herself erect.

The only answer was a whistle of the pointer before it burned across her cheek and ear, leaving her head ringing and buzzing.

"Now, now, dearies, it's lunchtime." The 'Matron', pushing a wooden cart, was trundling to the 'Teacher''s side. The tray on the top was laden with sandwiches: cheese, turkey, chicken, ham, and roast beef, all on freshly-baked thick brown bread, the warm yeasty scent wafting from the still-soft slices. A second tray rested on the lower shelf, bearing seventeen glasses and a clear pitcher of frothy white milk, waiting to be distributed. The cart was positioned between 'Student' and 'Teacher.' As Scully watched, a protruding thick corner of orange cheddar softened, folding down against the crust of the sandwich closest to her.

"One last question, and you children can eat." The 'Teacher' turned to the blackboard to write out, 'Which king died at the Battle of Bosworth Field?'

Scully's stomach rumbled audibly, but she kept still.

"Henry the Seventh!" The male voices were unified.

Once again, the pressure to join was nearly tangible, but, Scully walked past the 'Matron' to write in yellow proudly, 'Richard III.' For good measure, she added, 'A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!' in her best cursive lettering.

Seventeen faces stared at her in silence.

"No lunch for wicked little girls!" The 'Teacher' clapped her hands twice, prompting the 'Matron' to carry the sandwiches around to each, including the 'Teacher,' bypassing Scully with a shake of her grey head and a sigh.

Do the unexpected. Scully reached to the bottom shelf to lift the tray of glasses before placing it on the 'Teacher''s desk.

From her position in the back of the room, the 'Matron' eyed her frantically.

With a flourish, Scully dispensed the milk evenly among the seventeen glasses, then held out the first to the 'Teacher,' who took it in silence. She wove a path among the sixteen desks, until she was standing in front of the 'Matron,' one tall glass of white remaining. She pushed the silver metal forward.

The grey-haired woman was blinking rapidly. "Oh, you little dear. Little dear. You-"

"No!" The 'Teacher' had joined them. "Take it! Take it from the wicked, wicked creature. Take it now!"

The 'Matron' backed away. "I can't. The little dear. She hasn't eaten in-"

A tinkling crash as glass and tray were driven to the floor by the pointer, leaving the milk pooling over the oak boards amid clear shards. "Then no one gets it." The tall woman stomped back to the desk in the front of the space.

The meal consumed, the 'Teacher' pointed to a door at the side of the 'classroom.' "Good boys, go out and play." She bent over Scully, who had returned to her desk to wait, one hand resting on the other. "Wicked girls stay here and clean the room." The 'Teacher' stomped to a hall closet, yanked out a green-handled straw broom and silver metal dustbin, then shoved them toward her.

As the 'boys' filed out, the diminutive agent sighed, rose, then took both implements. Do the unexpected. She crossed to the rear corner of the tall space to begin sweeping the walls and windows for cobwebs. The repeated motions gave her the time to study the wide green lawn beyond. To her surprise, she saw trucks passing in both directions on the road at the end of the yard, their rumble drowning the sound of the waves breaking on the beach.

She had survived, so now, escape was the uppermost in her mind. Since it was just the two of them, she would lull the 'Teacher' with her apparent cooperation, break out through the single glass panes, then run for freedom. She continued sweeping, moving from one clear expanse to the next. Eventually, the 'Teacher,' her attention wandering, looked away, giving Scully the opening to shove the tip of the handle through the frame in front of her. With the metal pan, she swept the broken shards onto the ground beyond, threw herself outside, then ran, still carrying the broom.

"Get her!" The 'Teacher' was shouting and pointing.

The fifteen 'boys' attempted to converge on Scully as she bolted.

Swinging the broom in circles around her head, she kept the cowled figures at bay, but eventually, her slick flat leather soles hit a smooth patch of flagstone, so her pinched feet flew out from under her. The men were on her in a pile, some punching, some throwing their weight on top of her. She saw the rag approaching her face, realizing, as Alex Krycek's cackle rattled in her ears, today would not be the day for escape. She thought she heard, 'They're coming! We have to move her! Get the vans!' before she sensed nothing more.

--o-0-o--

Skoldromi, Northumbria
Sunday, July 19, 1998
2:47 am

"Freeze!" Mulder had his SIG aimed at the hood of a grey-cowled man sitting at one of the rear desks in the high main room.

Walter Skinner assumed a firing stance at his agent's left shoulder. "Both hands in the air."

The wide grey sleeves fell as the arms elevated, exposing pale bare skin.

"Now." The Assistant Director's voice was level. "Stand up slowly."

The figure rose. "Please, don't shoot. I've seen enough. I just want this to be over."

"Agent Stickle, search the suspect." Skinner knew better than to let Mulder anywhere near the man enshrouded in grey.

His own SIG leveled, Stickle approached cautiously. He drew a deep breath. "I have my weapon aimed at your head. I want you to lower your right arm, unfasten the robe, and slide it off your right arm." He drew back the hammer. "Try anything, any sudden moves, and I *will* fire. We just want to talk to you, but any aggression will be answered with force."

As the right side of the robe fell loose, it exposed a white t-shirt and tan trousers underneath. "I understand. I only want to help." The man's voice quavered as he pleaded.

By this time, the other agents and the Cymru had entered through the front door.

Putting his Bureau training into practice for the first time, Stickle wagged his SIG. "Okay, raise your right arm again." Once the hand was elevated, he pointed the muzzle downward. "Now, just lower your left arm and let the robe fall off completely."

With the grey wool piled on the floor, Stickle kicked it away with his foot. "Both hands in the air, spread your legs. I'm lowering my weapon, but there are six other officers with theirs ready. I'm going to search you."

The thin, pale face checked the figures in a wide circle around him. When his dark eyes landed on ap Gwinn, he gasped. "Mighty Cymru, I want no harm to come to the Riata."

The red-haired man made no move to approach him. "Then, just follow the orders you are being given. These agents are here to recover the Riata. We will speak shortly, Quaestor."

With the pat-down complete, ap Gwinn turned to Mulder. "I know this man, Atrebates. We have worked together many times in the service of the Ekklesia."

The dark-haired agent only glared. "Will he help us find Scully?"

"Of course I will." The Quaestor extended both his arms. "We were told that this was the only way to bring the Riata into the Fellowship, but if that is so, than we have fallen into error."

Ap Gwinn moved slowly to stand nose-to-nose with the pale face. "What do you mean?"

The man's shoulders drooped as his arms fell to his sides. "We were told she had rejected the choice of persuasion, Mighty Cymru, so an unwilling initiation was our only option."

"Then, Brother, you were told a lie. I was never permitted to offer her a choice. I, too, was attacked without mercy. She was taken before we could speak of her admittance."

Turning to Mulder, the Quaestor fell to his knees, then clasped his hands together in supplication. "Atrebates, we have done you and your office a great wrong. At your approach, they have taken the Riata to TyrGleipnir, near Forestburn Gate. If you leave now, there you will find her before the installation for tomorrow's activities is complete. There will be disorder you can exploit."

Mulder engaged the safety before holstering his weapon. "Then, we go."

The Cymru held up his hand. "Agents, we must not act precipitately. If this initiation is proceeding under Gradus Absoluta, then, the Quaestores will attempt to block your access to the Riata. You have weapons; they do not."

As she secured her SIG, Rosen nodded. "They've been Milgramed. They think they're following consensual orders, not a lie."

Nichols shook his head. "But, this Alex Krycek. He will have his weapon."

"Ah." Ap Gwinn released a long sigh. "I had not considered that. You are right. He is an American; he will, of course, be armed." The green eyes focused on each agent in turn. "The Tribuno will not surrender easily, and one or more of your lives may be lost."

The Assistant Director holstered his SIG. "Then, how do we end this quickly?"

His composure regained, the pale, thin Quaestor rose. "We go to the Suola to tell them the truth that has been concealed from them."

The red-haired Cymru nodded. "The Ekklesia has been observing the Initiation."

The brunette astronomer crossed her arms. "Are they still monitoring us now? Could we speak to them directly and end this?" She sighed at the shaking heads. "That would have been too simple."

"No." The pale Quaestor turned to her. "We have been moving the surveillance cameras along with the Riata. I helped pack them up myself before I hid. We will need to be physically present."

Phillips gasped. "You mean, you have no electronic communications in your Suola?"

"No." Ap Gwinn looked over at her. "It is Cambridge. It is a chamber of thought, deliberation, and reasoned discourse. We have a computer-controlled display system, but it is disconnected from the outside to eliminate distractions. It will take several hours to drive there, and by the time the decision is debated and taken, it will be the fourth day."

"Then we fly." Pendrell's voice was flat and firm. "There is a helicopter on the roof of this building. If it's fueled, I have a US license, and I've spent a lot of time in the air the past month or so, flying around mountains in Hawaii."

Phillips took his hand. "Never felt safer."

The red-haired agent squeezed her fingers gratefully. "I've flown light aircraft for almost twenty years. I can get us to Cambridge in three hours once we're cleared."

Mulder found himself wearing a shaky grin. "That's a ride I'll take, Pendrell."

Ap Gwinn turned to Skinner. "We will need to bring back the Suebi and the Pict. They can help me persuade the others to abandon the Tribuno's plan for revenge. You should send along your agents to wait for us just beyond the view from TyrGleipnir. The Quaestor will drive, so your people don't have an accident on the wrong side of the road. When we return, we will go in together. The Chief Executive of the Civil Aviation Authority is a personal friend of mine; I've had him to my estate many times. I can have your clearance with a phone call. This is the fastest way to reach the Riata." He rested a hand on Mulder's shoulder. "It is good you are coming with us, Atrebates. Perhaps we can offer you some answers you have long sought."

Skinner closed his eyes for a moment. "Alright, people, we have a plan." His gaze met that of each of his agents in turn. "While Agent Pendrell familiarizes himself with the helicopter, we need to collect what physical evidence we can from the rest of the house."

Phillips stepped up to the Quaestor. "Which bedroom was hers? That's the first place to start."

He turned to the stairs. "Let me show you."

The other agents scattered to search.

Once they reached the upper floor, the blond man pushed a door open. "She was kept here."

Phillips grimaced at the sparkles and pink, then headed directly to the bed to begin stripping the covers. She frowned at the scratches on the walnut headboard, before turning to race to the open entrance. "I've found something! Up here!"

Mulder was through the doorway first. "What? What did you see?" He could only imagine countless horrors, but waited for her to point out her discovery. "Good, Phillips." He patted her arm before he crossed the room to crouch on the bare mattress. He let out a short bark as Skinner stepped to his side. "Scully." The invocation was unvoiced.

The bald Director stared down, then grasped his agent's shoulder. "She's sent us a message."

Mulder sat cross-legged on the bed, tracing the letters with a long finger. "Good. This is good." He looked up at his AD. "We can get her back."

Rosen and Nichols joined them, then started laughing outright.

Phillips and Stickle exchanged a glance before the brunette agent frowned. "What does it mean?"

The letters were: MIAMOKS.

Rosen snorted one last time. "She's written, 'Mulder, I am okay, Scully."

One last brush of the marks on the walnut, then the tall agent was on his feet. "Let's go. I have a faculty meeting to attend."

--o-0-o--

End – Chermera – Part 37 of 45
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