Welcome To The Harem
Not My Lover by Deslea R. Judd Part 5 of 9
Summary: In a world of changing allegiances, only Alex and Marita will have the strength and permanence with which to lead the Russian project. But will they have strength to survive the American agenda? Tells S3-7 from Alex and Marita's perspective. There is a prequel, Not My Lover: Enigma (in progress) but the stories can be read independently.
THIS SEGMENT IS PART OF CHAPTER 4.
There was a firestorm raging in New York.
There was great debate when I reported back to the group. Not only debate, but conflict. And it was explosive. It was as though the rebels had set off another flare, this one in the factions of the Consortium.
Donovan wanted to side with the rebels. He argued bitterly for it. Resistance was in our grasp, he proclaimed in an increasingly gravelly voice, the death knell of a man weakening but not yet aware of the fact. The others, afraid for their lives and their loved ones, wanted to hand over a rebel they captured at an American firestorm.
But Donovan was no longer convinced that co-operation would save their families. His son had been killed the previous year in a scuffle with an alien bounty hunter. I didn't know the details, but I knew that his widow, Diana, was on the warpath, determined to join forces with Mulder and undermine the hybridisation project. To that end, she had aligned herself with Spender just before the latter's death, with Donovan's blessing. There were plans to place her and Spender Jr in the X Files by the end of the year.
Now, Donovan found himself more and more alienated from the group - pardon the turn of phrase. He had become the sole advocate for the vaccine in a group that had discarded long-term strategy for short-term appeasement. I could see even now that his time was short. Continued dissent was a recipe for a hit. I gave him six months, and I thought even that was being generous.
But this was not what alarmed me. Squabbling about hybridisation and vaccines was not an unusual occurrence among the group. Even their plans to hand over the rebel didn't worry me especially, though we could well have used his help in thwarting colonisation; because normally, Mulder could have been manipulated into engineering the his rescue. What worried me was Mulder's recent outburst at a paranormal convention, during which he disavowed any belief in the alien agenda. He no longer believed in the colonisation threat; rather, he believed the threat to be purely human, thanks to Spender and Michael Kritschgau. Thanks a lot, guys.
But it wasn't just a matter of the help the rebel could give - we could live without that. What I feared was that the rebel had knowledge of the work on the vaccine, either in Russia or Stateside. If so, and he was handed over to his own kind, he might give up that information, either on pain of torture or by way of trade for his life. In that case, the hybridisation deal with the Consortium would almost certainly be cancelled, and colonisation would begin.
I shuddered at the thought. Now that the Russian operation had fallen, the only immune we knew of was Mulder, and, if we used our stocks, Alex and I. The spare stock could possibly be split between Skinner and Scully, assuming she survived the firestorms; though in purely Darwinian terms that was pretty pointless, given her infertility. The difficulties survival posed in that case were bad enough; the genetic quality of a race with Alex and I - or, at most, myself and three different fathers - as its sole progenitors wasn't something I liked to think about.
No, colonisation now would leave the human race nonviable. Extinction would necessarily follow. We had to get that rebel out before he was handed over - and only Mulder could do it.
But Mulder didn't believe.
I had a plan.
It hit me all at once, and the adrenaline of relief and anticipation surged through me. Despite my fears, the sense of limbo of the last two years - the fear, the struggle, the sacrifice that seemed to be without end - that sense was lifting. Things were moving.
I went to meet Alex on an exhilarated high. Soon, we would be in a new land, living a new life, working without hindrance. We would be far from the Consortium, living together as a family...maybe even able to add to it. We would be able to take the vaccine and recover without fear of our weakness being used against us, and we could survive the holocaust. The idea of being free of those odious men, able to live something approaching a normal life left me breathless with anticipation and relief.
I watched Donovan squirm when Alex telephoned, demanding all their work on the vaccine in exchange for the boy. I watched the men debating what to do, watched their fear and their disunity, and I felt just a glimmer of restitution...for the dark man, for my mother, for my child, for my husband, for myself. It wasn't enough - nothing would ever be enough - but it was something. And in watching them, power, normally so insignificant to me, ran darkly through my veins like a drug. These men had killed almost everyone I loved, and we had them on their knees.
It was bitter...but it was intoxicating.
When I reached Alexi at New York Harbour, he was as hot as I was, and we stumbled blindly from the bowels of the ship, to the wharf, to my car in the loading dock, clinging to each other all the way. Neither of us was fit to drive, though, so he took me there against a wall, urgently, heedless of those who might have come across us. It was fast and frenzied and wanton, so different from anything I'd ever known. I craved him - intensely, aggressively - always; but this was different: we were drunk on power, on freedom, on each other. It was pure celebration of a future that was finally in our grasp.
When it was over, we sat there on the wharf, our legs hanging over the side, me leaning into his shoulder, holding hands like a couple of kids. I remember it seemed strange that we could be so dark together, and then so damn cute in the space of minutes. It was as though the bond between us had purged the darkness. Come to think of it, that was pretty much the story of our life.
I told him of the alien rebel and my fears about Mulder, and he reluctantly concurred with my assessment. That Mulder should believe, and intervene in the handing over of the rebel, was paramount - even more so than extracting information from the group. He entrusted me with the task of delivering the boy to Mulder and convincing him of the alien agenda once more. Meanwhile, he would stall the group until I could get the boy back. That shouldn't have been a problem; we expected the group would argue about the deal for a while at any rate. I left him, our kiss tender, and I returned to the boat.
I retrieved the boy without incident, and led him to the car and belted him in like a child. I frowned, angry with myself, when I realised my error: in staying with Alex at the harbour, I had missed the bank. I had planned to get Skinner's oil stock and CDs from the safety deposit box and send them, in case either Alex or I met a nasty fate with the rebels or the group. That danger seemed more acute now that I had the boy.
I thought it over as I drove, and it seemed to me that my danger that day was more from the rebels; and neither the oil stock nor the CDs could save me from that. So, at last, I decided to send my own personal supplies to Skinner, the ones I carried on my person. If all went well, I would retrieve the other supplies from the bank the following day; if not, then Alex and Skinner would have to go on with the work. But I didn't really think it would come to that. Neither the rebels nor the group had any way of knowing I had the boy; the boy was infected, but he was infected with the dormant virus, not the sentient one, and his mouth and eyes were secured. So I packed the precious supplies in the prepaid courier envelope I'd had on hand for the purpose, and left it at the dispatch office along the way.
I stopped at a payphone on the I-90 and contacted Mulder. I had picked the location for its desolateness, but it occurred to me that there was a lot of traffic on the road. I watched the steady stream of sole drivers, staring at the road intently; and I had a sense of deja vu, a flash of memory, but it was gone before I could identify it. I felt distinctly nervous, though; I looked over my shoulder at the boy the whole time. And when I looked up and saw him before me, his stitches free, the oil leaving him, I suddenly realised what I had been struggling to recall.
It was the bodies in the cars in Kazakhstan.
And then everything went black.
COMING IN PART FIVE: THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO LOSE A WIFE
Not My Lover *NC17* 5/7
Deslea R. Judd
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name on it.
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
RATING: NC17 for sex and language.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Mytharc Ascension to Requiem.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: romance, angst, mytharc, Krycek/Covarrubias.
SUMMARY: In a world of changing allegiances, only Alex and Marita will have the strength and permanence with which to lead the Russian project. But will they have strength to survive the American agenda? Tells the mytharc from Alex and Marita's perspective.
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. firstname.lastname@example.org
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Top 3 Finalist, Spooky Awards 2000, Outstanding Krycek Characterisation and Outstanding Other Series Character Romance. Commended in the B.I.T.T. Awards 2001. Cover Art was a finalist in the 2000 F.O.X. Awards (Outstanding Krycek Story Cover Art)
Story so far: After stealing the digital tape (Paper Clip), Alex and Marita are working on a vaccine for the alien pathogen, the so-called Black Cancer. Their 1996 marriage (after Apocrypha) has protected them from Spender's wrath so far; but their clandestine operation in Tunguska has cost the lives of her mother, Larissa, the dark man, X (Herrenvolk), and their accomplice, Benita Charne-Sayrre (Terma). They made Mulder immune with their new vaccine, believing that he would be pivotal to the resistance (Tunguska); but he reacted differently to the other subjects. The vaccine generally renders the subject seriously ill in the aftermath and is therefore not currently suitable for distribution.
After Spender exposed Marita to smallpox (Zero Sum), she miscarried; but was befriended by Skinner while under forced quarantine. Shortly afterwards, the alien rebels destroyed the Russian operation, but the Russians believe Alex is responsible. The couple - and an unwitting Skinner - now possess the only stocks of the pathogen and vaccine. They want to exchange the boy and the pathogen for the surviving American research in order to continue their work, but first, Marita takes the boy to Mulder - with Alex's blessing - to convince him of the alien threat. Before she reaches him, she is infected with the pathogen. Now, Alex picks up the tale.
I blame myself.
Looking at her, so white and still, a mess of tubes and leads, I feel the searing heat of shame and the stunning shock of grief. This is not the first time she has lain in a sickbed in this place, but it is the first time she has been truly at their mercy. And I blame myself, because her illness - her frailty, her brokenness - and most of all, the evil possession that makes her a prisoner in her own body could have been prevented.
My mistakes were twofold. The first was in acquiescing to her demand that I leave the boy's implant in place. What she insisted was, certainly, the right thing. But it was not the safe thing - for the boy or for us. Marita has a history of choosing what is right over what is safe, necessary counterpart to my ruthlessness. But I knew that in the wake of the firestorms, it was ruthlessness that would keep us alive. If I had overruled her, she would have submitted to my judgement, just as I sometimes submitted to hers. But instead, I did as she asked; and ultimately, the boy died regardless.
I don't feel so bad about that. He'd been living on borrowed time from the moment he saw the firestorms in Kazakhstan anyway.
My second mistake, far greater, was in allowing her to take the boy to Mulder, unaccompanied. We were fooled by his harmlessly docile demeanour, fruit of the inactive pathogen. But the greater force of the implant could overcome that docility. It was something I had never considered: we had never tested the pathogen on an abductee. And when confronted with the irresistible draw of the rebels, the boy blindly, instinctively sought to remove that which prevented his compliance: the pathogen, and my wife.
Would you have made the same choices if you had foreseen this, Mare? When you held his sobbing face to you like a mother and let him fall asleep with his head in your lap, when you found the telltale mark of the abductee, would you have still argued for his life? Knowing that your choice would leave you helpless, your eyes coated with delicately trailing oil, your veins blue-black with it? Knowing that your choice would leave you at their mercy?
Damn it, I think you would.
I really think you would.
I returned to the ship in a good mood.
I was exhilarated by the prospect of freedom, of something approaching a normal life; but the compelling frenzy of it had been tamed. Mare and I had spent our urgency and our tense excitement in each other; and there was peace in the aftermath. When she left me there on the wharf, I felt great hope, and a pervading sense of calm. For the first time in a long time, I felt genuinely good.
That was until I reached the cell.
The smell assaulted my senses as soon as I walked in, its weight washing over me. It was a civilised smell, a cultured smell, so distinct amid the filth of this place. I looked around me in alarm, because I identified it at once. It was the sort of scent a man used as his signature.
A man like Donovan.
"Well?" came a gravelly voice behind me. "Where's the boy?"
"Donovan," I said in a hiss, turning to face him. I swallowed a little at his firearm; there was a good possibility that he knew I'd ordered the hit on his beloved Benita. I already knew he'd ordered the death of the hitter, Vassily Peskow; Peskow had died badly. Did he want the vaccine badly enough to keep his need for revenge in check?
"Where is he?" he demanded again.
"Somewhere safe," I said angrily.
"Is that right?" he said mockingly. "It's good that you think so highly of your accomplice." He came to me, pulling out a pair of handcuffs. "We'll soon see if your faith is warranted."
So saying, he cuffed me to a pipe, and he left me.
"You're probably thirsty."
I looked up at Donovan coldly. "Remind me to complain to the captain about the service."
He dipped a cloth into a bucket of water. "You may have that opportunity. This ship is bound back to Vladivostok tomorrow. I gather there'll be quite an enthusiastic homecoming." He wrung out the cloth over my mouth; I moved my head, struggling to drink, then spat the liquid out, disgusted. It was vinegar.
"Do you have the boy?" I demanded. I'd had all night to stew about the fate of the boy. As for Mare - I hadn't dared contemplate her. After this, would they let her live?
"No. Ms Covarrubias took him," he said, and I felt a rush of relief wash over me. They hadn't caught her, then. "Your alliance with her was as misguided as ours, but it appears she was unaware of the consequences of her deception." My eyes opened very wide as I realised that he believed she had double-crossed me. Hot on the heels of that, I realised that Benita had never told him we were married. If that were true, and I could convince him that Marita was acting in their interests-
"You were clever," Donovan went on. "Infect the boy to ensure infection of anyone who tried to learn what he knows, who would cheat you." His words hit me like a slap. I felt a chill of panic, from my stomach, spiralling out.
Mare was infected.
"Then where's the boy?" I snapped, stalling for time. How could I get her back without letting him know he had me over a barrel? Without revealing that she was to me as Benita had been to him? I needed to think.
"Dead. Victim of another mysterious holocaust. Unable now to tell what he knew or saw."
"Then you got no choice but to deal with me," I insisted. If I could deal with him - if I could convince him I wanted to kill her myself -
"I'm afraid there's no deal to be made."
"I'm the only one who knows what those incidents are," I argued, my heart hammering in my chest. "What they mean. I know what that boy saw."
Donovan said scornfully, "You've as much as told me what I need to know."
"You know nothing," I snapped, my fury a poor camouflage for fear. It was beginning to overtake me; I could feel it in my stomach and my chest. The adrenaline was pumping through my veins; and, given no release, it was painful. My capture made fight/flight a torturous little instinct to have.
"If the boy was your trump card, why infect him unless you could also cure him with a vaccine developed by the Russians? One that works," he amended, and I realised in a flash that he knew nothing of the Russian pathogen - that its properties made it valuable in its own right. "It would mean that the resistance to the alien colonists is now possible."
"You're dreaming!" I spat. What did this mean? Could I deal with just the pathogen? Could I keep something back for us to continue the work, and still get her out alive?
"Do you have the vaccine?" he demanded furiously.
"You need what I know," I insisted. If I could only think - but there was no time; Mare had been gone twenty hours, and the vaccine had to be administered within twenty-six.
His face was working, contorted with desperate urgency. "Do you have the vaccine!" He kicked the bucket into me, furiously, and began to walk away; and I felt a great swell of relief. His need was not for revenge - it was for the vaccine. That meant there could be a deal.
"Give you the means to save Covarrubias after what she did?"
He turned, still shaking. "The means to save yourself."
He stalked out, and I panicked; because when push came to shove, the work meant nothing. She was everything.
There was a moment of dead silence as his footsteps came to a halt. I called out, "I'm going to give you what you want, Donovan."
Slow, satisfied steps. "Is that right?" he enquired, appearing in the doorway once more.
"One condition," I warned sharply.
Donovan shook his head. "You're not in a position to make conditions, Mr Krycek."
"I'm in a position to make this one," I countered in a low voice, "because if you don't meet it, I'll take my chances in Vladivostock."
He opened his mouth, probably to argue, but decided against it. He started again. "What is it?"
I watched him steadily; said with a mildly interested calm that I didn't feel, "You use it to save Marita." I held his gaze, unblinking, hoping against hope that he would not perceive my desperation. I prayed it seemed idiosyncratic - an indulgence to a man accustomed to having his number one babe at his beck and call - and not heaven and earth to a man utterly, irrevocably in love.
"Save Covarrubias? After what she did?" he mimicked, his brow creasing.
I made a gesture of concession. "You got me. I knew she was taking the boy to Mulder," I admitted easily.
That shocked him. "Why?" he asked, genuinely puzzled. I said in confusion, "To convince him again of the alien threat. To get him to stop the handover of the captured rebel." At his look of horror, I said in realisation, "You didn't know, did you? You didn't know they were going to give him up."
"Give me that vaccine," he insisted; but his face was flushed with anger and dismay. I had hit a nerve. I shook my head, demanded:
"Take me to her."
She seemed so still.
I walked to her, feeling every footstep like a heartbeat. I touched her face for a long, lingering moment, then opened one of her eyes, catching my breath at the telltale sheen of oil over the iris. I looked into its emerald depths, searching for any sign of the Mare I knew; but it was absent. Only one person had ever seen me shed tears in adulthood - Mare - but on that day, Donovan came close to being the second. I fought them, and won - just.
The older man's voice came from behind me, dimly, implacably. "Give me the vaccine." Still watching her numbly, I nodded, reaching into my jacket. I removed the oil stock, unscrewed the bottom segment, and turned to him, holding it out. He took it, but I didn't let go.
"Save her," I insisted, staring at him, eyes blazing.
He tugged on it uselessly, his hand closing over mine. "What is she to you, Krycek? You wouldn't do this for a business partn-" he stopped short, his grip loosening, and I felt his forefinger moving over my hand curiously. He looked down, and I followed his gaze to my ring finger; saw the realisation spread over his face at the white-gold band with the yellow sapphires, so incongruous with my casual garb. And I remembered that Mare's would have been on her chain around her neck when they found her.
"She's your wife," he said in disbelief.
"Save her," I hissed, my voice thick and harsh with pain.
He nodded slowly. "All right." I let the stock go.
"And one more thing." At his questioning expression, I insisted, "I'm not leaving her side."
That was how I came to live at Fort Marlene.
I came out of the anteroom, passing Donovan blindly. I went to Mare's side and stood, looking at her morosely.
"She's comatose. There's no radiation, no dominance." Nodding, I lifted her arms, one at a time, rearranging the sheet so that she was covered to the neck. It was a cold room. Behind me, Donovan went on in a worried voice, "Is it a different strain?"
I shook my head absently. "No. Biochemically it's identical." Reaching up, I tilted the overhead light away from her eyes. "Benita believed it was injured, for want of a better term, in the Tunguska crash. She thought it was roughly analogous to what we would call brain damage. Basic survival functions - infection and propagation - but no higher or conscious activity."
Donovan was watching me with interest - whether at my ministrations or because of my information, I didn't know, and didn't much care. "That's why you were able to create a vaccine. Why you were able to test successfully."
I nodded. "We could test without the lifeform being aware of it, without risk of retaliation." I turned to face him.
"Did any survive the holocaust?"
I nodded. "I have a sample. I'm going to give you that, too," I revealed, surprising myself. "No deals - just direct co-operation."
"Why?" He seemed genuinely interested.
I shrugged. "My operation has fallen to the rebels. I can't do it alone, and I won't do it with anyone who would use it for money or power." He caught the inference, that I knew enough of him to know that he wouldn't do that, and nodded, frowning. "The work must continue. The politics are secondary. Agreed?"
"Agreed." He looked at me piercingly; said in his gravelly voice, "Do you want to be part of it?"
I stared at him, demanded, "What kind of a question is that?"
"A real one. If you say no, you and your wife can have a normal life," he pointed out. "Say yes, though-"
I shook my head. "We can't have a normal life. Not til the vaccine is in circulation. Ideology aside, Mare is the only immune female - maybe the only immune, full stop. Think about it." His eyes widened, and then he nodded.
We were silent for a long moment. "Your aims and mine are more aligned than I'd thought, Alex," Donovan said at last. At my enquiring look, he said in a low voice, "You were right about Mulder."
"I don't understand," I said, confused.
"The group are going to hand over the rebel," he revealed; and his level voice couldn't totally disguise his anger and defeat at the fact.
I stared at him in shock. "Despite the vaccine?" I demanded in disbelief.
Sight nod. "Despite the vaccine."
I frowned, turning away, pacing. Those stupid, stupid men! I turned to face him once more. "What can I do?"
"Don't let it happen."
I went to Mulder, and I convinced him of the alien threat. He went to the exchange, but the rebel was handed over regardless. However, because of his intervention, the rebel was killed outright, without revealing what he knew. The immediate threat had been averted.
The next three months passed in a blur. Mare regained consciousness in April, just in time for her birthday; but she was terribly, terribly weak. We remained at Fort Marlene, my days spent keeping her company - reading to her, talking to her, involving myself in her rehabilitation. I worked in the adjacent vaccine lab with two trusted scientists when she slept.
Donovan turned out to be, not exactly a friend, but certainly a companionable ally. He proved surprisingly sensitive, arranging a more comfortable bed/sitting room for her after she woke, and - after walking in on us asleep together on her cramped bed - even arranging for a double bed. There was no question of making love - she was far too weak for that - but being able to hold each other as we slept was an incredible comfort to both of us. She was not exactly a prisoner; but nor was she free to come and go, even if she had been able. He understood, as I did, the danger. It was something that had not yet occurred to Mare.
"Alexi?" she said tentatively in May.
I pressed her bent leg firmly against her body with my hand, and her foot up with my prosthesis. She winced slightly, but bore the pain stoically. I looked at her, holding it. "Yeah?"
Her face relaxed and she breathed out in a rush when I let go. "I want to get out of here."
I straightened her leg, massaging the joint of her knee with my thumb. I was very conscious of having only one hand to work with. "You're not well enough."
"I can walk when I really have to, I can wash myself, I can toilet myself," she protested impatiently. I flexed her foot back and forth, rolling it at the ankle. "So what's the problem?"
I rotated each of her toes in turn. "You're not well enough," I repeated implacably. I was frowning, but I don't think she could see it.
"That feels good," she sighed. "It's so good to feel the blood moving." I shot her a smile. She went on, "I am well enough, Alexi. You can help me, and I can make do for myself at home when you're out. You care for me pretty much full-time here anyway."
I went to her side, and she put her arm around my shoulder. I lifted her so that she sat up. "You can make do for yourself," I conceded, putting the cover over her to the waist. I handed her book to her and, grabbing my own, sat at her side. "But can you keep yourself safe?"
She was starting to open hers, but she stopped, frowning. "What do you mean?"
I shifted to face her, my gaze locking on hers. "Do you have any idea how valuable a commodity you are?" I demanded, piercingly.
"What are you talking about?" she said in bewilderment.
"Marita, don't you understand? You're Eve," I said urgently. "The first woman!" Her jaw dropped a little, her brow creasing. "You think being under Donovan's nose is bad? Wait 'til someone like Saddam Hussein finds out there's a fertile, immune woman!"
She stared at me - stared at me for a long moment in utter stupefaction. At last, she protested in a low voice, "We don't even know if the immunity is hereditary yet."
"No, we don't," I agreed. "And I can think of a dozen tinpot dictators who would love to find out." I smoothed back her hair, tucking it behind her ear like a parent, and she smiled faintly; but it was a weak, worried smile. "They could take you. They could demand ransom. Or they might just make you pregnant and see what happened." I didn't use the word rape, but the slight catch in her chest told me that she understood the implication.
"God," she said in a whisper.
I stroked her cheek with the back of my hand. She leant into it a little. "I don't want you scared, Mare, but I want you safe. We're not leaving here until you can take me down from ambush. And I'll fight you harder than I've ever fought you before. I'll fight you as hard as I'd fight to get you back."
She nodded slowly. She was very white. "All right." I leaned in and kissed her forehead. Pulling away, she said, "But will you talk to the occupational therapist? Tell her I want to work more intensively?" I nodded, looking up as Donovan appeared behind her in the doorway. I made a vague greeting gesture. He returned it, but didn't enter. "I want to be well, Alexi," she said insistently. Then, thickly, "I hate this place."
I took her hand in mine. "I know. I'll talk to her." I squeezed it a second, then let go.
Donovan cleared his throat, and Mare turned, composing herself. "Hello, Maxwell."
"Good afternoon, Marita. How are you feeling today?" he asked, not unkindly.
"Strong," she said firmly. "I walked up the corridor this morning. No walker."
He smiled, almost paternally. One thing I had to say for Donovan: his closeness with his grandchildren meant he had the fatherly thing down pat. "That's excellent, Marita. I'm very pleased." He turned to me. "Alex, can I borrow you for a few minutes?"
"Sure. I'll be back," I said to Mare. She nodded, shooting me a smile, and settled down with her book; but she still look troubled. Frowning, I rose, and followed Donovan into the corridor.
"What was that all about?" he asked me in a low voice, nodding towards the room. He asked with genuine solicitude, "Is there something I can do to make her more comfortable?"
I shook my head. "It's nothing like that. Mare has some bad memories of this place. We both do." At his querying look, I explained quietly, "We were pregnant last year. Spender knew." I swallowed hard, fighting to keep the awful, overwhelming sadness of that time out of my voice, but not quite succeeding. "He sent her into the smallpox test zone in Payson. They kept her quarantined here until she lost the child."
He stared at me, slack-jawed with horror. "Dear God."
I could feel my hand clenching with anger. "Controlling, murdering son-of-a-bitch. I'm glad he's gone." My voice was bitter.
Donovan looked worried. "Then you're not going to like what I'm about to ask you to do."
"What do you mean?" I demanded. Donovan looked uncomfortable.
"It's Spender - he's alive."
I didn't like it, but I went along with it.
Spender was indeed alive, and I was sent to his hideout to bring him back. Bring him back? When I'd have happily sent him to hell?
I damn near did it, too.
I had an accomplice, of course; but he was inept, and he paid for his ineptitude with his life. Spender and I were alone, and when I had him at gunpoint, I held him for a long moment - one of the longest moments of my life. I thought of Mare, weeping for her mother. I thought of her at the dark man's side, begging his forgiveness. I thought of her, exposed to radiation rescuing me from the missile silo. I thought of her buried in my arms, our child dying within her. And I wished - vehemently, bitterly, I wished that I could squeeze my finger around the trigger.
But I didn't do it, because Donovan was our ally, our protector; and if he wanted Spender back, then I would do it.
So I brought him back.
To this day, I don't understand why the group wanted him. I wasn't privy to that information: as far as the group was concerned, I was Donovan's right hand. A senior lackey, but still just a lackey. They knew nothing of my work on the vaccine. They believed I had stolen it and surrendered it in exchange for my life, nothing more. Donovan feared that if they knew I had been responsible for its development, I could be in danger. He believed my apparent insignificance would keep Marita and I safe.
As far as Spender went, while it's true that we had little control over the FBI without him, it seemed to me that the recovery of a child, even a child gifted with precognition - and especially a child guarded by a Consortium plant - should have been simple. But then, perhaps the plant was the problem. Diana Donovan - Diana Fowley, I corrected myself - was a mother of three. Her eldest was only a little younger than Gibson Praise. I don't think she would willingly have handed him over. Whatever the case, Spender retrieved the boy. He and Donovan exchanged words, and Donovan bundled the boy into the car, and got in himself.
"I've got a nice, straight shot," I said in a low voice.
"No. He's useful," Donovan countered. He looked at me meaningfully. "And you may need him in the future." I frowned - we had discussed the danger to him more than once. Donovan's days were numbered, and we both knew it.
We drove on, and in the rearview mirror I saw the boy's face darken as we passed Spender. "What's the matter, kid?" I asked, interested. The boy apparently didn't like him, which meant he probably had good instincts.
"That man hurt the lady," he said reproachfully.
"The redhead?" I said curiously. Scully had been guarding him too, I remembered. It didn't occur to me that he might mean Diana - I thought Spender was smarter than that. She and Donovan were thick as thieves.
"No, the other one. Agent Fowley."
Donovan said nothing, but I saw his hands tighten in his lap. I thought sympathetically that he was thinking of his grandchildren. "That's disgusting," I said with feeling. "You don't take women with little kids. Not if there's another way."
The older man looked at me curiously. "A more antiquated sentiment than I'd have expected from you, Alex."
"I know where to draw the line," I retorted. "Mothers are usually off-limits. So are kids, always," I added pointedly. "So if you want this kid dead, you're going to have to find someone else." I went on grimly, "Apart from anything else, Marita would kill me."
Donovan shot me a look, then laughed. "You're a fraud, Alex. You act so tough-"
"I love my wife, and I'm proud of it," I snapped. "You got something to say about that?" He remained silent. I insisted, "I don't kill kids." He looked at me with interest, then revealed:
"I have no intention of killing Gibson Praise."
"Why are you sad, Alex?"
I stared at the screen intently. "What?" He waited while I zapped a few aliens. Silly-looking green things. Don't these people read alien lore? One of them took out my avatar effortlessly, and I gave the boy the joystick in disgust. "You're in my head - don't you know?"
Gibson shook his head, his face blue-green in the light of the screen. "In your head isn't the same as in your heart."
I nodded slowly. That made sense. "My wife is very sick - I suppose you knew that part," I hazarded, and he nodded. "I just miss the things she used to do. She always used to sing in the shower, and she's an awful singer - just awful," I added with a grin. A flicker of amusement passed over the boy's features. "But she doesn't sing anymore, and I miss that. She had a birthday a little while back and I got her this gold bracelet, because she was too tired to enjoy anything else, you know?" He nodded, and I went on, mostly to myself, "She's too tired to laugh or smile or joke or make lo-" I bit off the end of that, but he knew what I was going to say, of course. "Sorry. This is nothing to tell a kid."
He shrugged. "When you see into grown up heads, you don't stay a kid for very long." On-screen, his avatar exploded in flames, and he handed me the joystick once more.
"No, I guess you don't."
"They're very dark," he said presently. "Why are grown ups so dark?"
I shifted, trying to manoeuvre the joystick the way I wanted, without success. I frowned. "I don't know," I said at last, handing over to him. He took it, but didn't play. "But not all of them are like that."
"You mean like your wife."
I glared at him. "Get the fuck out of my head, kid. Yeah, like my wife." I watched him for a moment, then relented. "You're a good kid, Gibson. You don't deserve to be dragged into this." He looked up at me, his expression oddly adult.
"Neither do you."
The next few weeks passed without incident. Gibson was ensconced in quarters at Fort Marlene, and I made an effort to settle him in. Donovan received my suggestion of a tutor for him with favour. In time, we hoped, the boy could be persuaded to take a role in the project - in which case, the group might allow him to live. But that would not be on the agenda for several years. Meantime, we endeavoured to keep him happy and stimulated, and to ease his separation from his family.
Mare and I talked about the boy at some length. I was aware of his value as a commodity, but both Mare and I believed he could not be used. The boy was strong: he would only be used if he allowed himself to be used out of his own ideology. But we both agreed that he should be protected, on both strategic and humane grounds.
I brought him to meet her, and they got along well. Mare thought so much about the baby we'd lost, living in that place; and it was good for her to be able to take an interest in another child. I wouldn't call her relationship with Gibson maternal, exactly, and certainly I wasn't paternal; but we both enjoyed him, both felt fiercely protective of him.
It seems odd to think of those days as domestic bliss, but in a way, they were. For me, it was a welcome interlude of stability after four years of chaos. I usually knew where I would spend my days and my nights, and those places were clean and civilised. I wasn't called upon to undertake unsavoury work. Mare and I slept together and read together and ate together - things we had never been able to do for more than a few weeks at a time before. We had a loose network of associates - my scientists and assistant, and Donovan and Gibson - and we had an identity as husband and wife. It was something loosely resembling a normal life.
Mare said once that there were certain things that only normal people could have - things that didn't happen for people like us. I'd told her, a lifetime ago, that they could happen - that we could make them happen.
But I was wrong.
I looked up, my brow creasing. My assistant looked to me for my approval, and I nodded. "That's fine, Georgia." I looked at Donovan. He was pacing, fidgeting. I had never seen him so shaken. "Sit down, Maxwell," I said quietly. "You're making me nervous."
"You should be nervous," he said in a low voice, but he complied. He waited until the door snicked shut, then spoke. But his words were ones I could never have predicted.
I blinked, staring at him in bewilderment. "What?"
"Fossilised pathogen has turned up in Texas," he said gravely. Then, deliberately, "An infected man grew an extraterrestrial biological entity in his abdominal cavity."
My eyes opened very wide, and I sat back in my chair, stunned. "Oh, God." I brought my hand to my mouth, breathing deeply; I could feel the blood draining from my face.
"It gets worse," Donovan went on implacably. "The EBE disembowels the host in the course of being born. It goes on to perpetuate itself by infecting whomever it finds." He looked at me piercingly; said in a low voice, "You know what this means?"
I could feel the bile rising in my chest - anger, fear, and betrayal all at once. I said in mounting horror, "It means infection isn't just slavery - it's digestion and elimination. They've lied to us all along!" Donovan was nodding, his expression a grimace of fear. I got to my feet and paced; then turned back to him at last. "What now?" I demanded. "Are there plans in place to fight?"
Donovan said in a controlled voice, "My colleagues do not yet understand the need to fight the future." At my stunned look, he said tightly, "They're going to turn over the man and demand an explanation."
I stared at him in utter disbelief. "You're kidding."
"I only wish I were, Alex."
I breathed out heavily, thinking fast. I started pacing again. "All right," I said decisively. "We'll get Mulder and Scully on board. You can get Diana and Senator Sorenson. I can probably get Skinner - he hates me, but he's fond of Mare. We'll have a crisis meeting - see if between us we can't dig up enough skeletons to pressure the group. The X Files have been shut down. They don't have anything to lose. With them on board, we could take it to the Senate - make them justify their decision and formulate a defence strategy." I could feel the blood pumping, my sense of control returning - but Donovan was shaking his head.
"It's not as simple as that."
"What do you mean?" I demanded fearfully.
Donovan was grimacing again. An insane voice in my mind remarked that if the wind changed he'd stay like that. "They fear Mulder will expose them in exactly the way you suggest. To prevent that, they've taken Scully. She's infected." I closed my eyes for a long moment, dismayed.
"God. Where is she?"
"The installation in Antarctica."
I stared at him. "We have to give Mulder the vaccine - there's no other way." I was starting to feel a bit like a caged rat.
He protested, "There's a UFO on anchor there. If the vaccine gets into the treatment system, it will also get into the craft. It could alert the alien race to our work." His voice was rising: he was close to raw panic, and coming from such a controlled man, that fact frightened me more than anything else.
"We might have to risk that. We can't go public, even just to Congress, without her - Mulder's seen as a crank. Skinner won't back him without her, and I'm betting your buddy Sorenson won't come to the party without Skinner. Losing Scully will destroy everything." I looked at him. "You think a resistance of eight is bad? A resistance of a man who doesn't exist, a man wanted for murder and treason, and a single immune - that's worse."
He sighed heavily, pondering my words, and he saw that I was right. With three feds, an FBI executive, and a senator, we could achieve what we needed to achieve. We could fight the future, and there was even a small chance we might come out alive. But without-
"Where are we up to on lag times for the vaccine?" he said at last.
"It can be successfully administered within ninety-six hours now. Maybe a hundred for Scully," I added. "She'll seroconvert more slowly in the cold." I went to a locked cabinet, and opened it, removing five vials. I separated one and put it in a pouch with a needle, and put the other four in a second. I handed them to him. He looked at the second pouch questioningly. "For Diana and the kids," I explained. "Once you've given Mulder the vaccine, get them somewhere safe and make them immune. I'm going to do the same for Gibson. There's no guarantee we're going to be able to stop this."
He nodded slowly. "Thank you, Alex."
I held out my hand. "Go safely, old man." He shook it.
I never saw him again.
My labs were empty.
The doors to the five anterooms were open. No Georgia at the desk. No scientists in either of the two laboratories. No Gibson.
I raced into our room, took in at once the empty bed. There was no sign of a struggle, but there was a hypodermic needle on the floor. With rising panic, I crouched to pick it up, and saw traces of clear fluid in the barrel. I doubted it was pure saline.
Diana Donovan's voice came from behind me. It was gentle. "Alex."
I looked up, my heart pounding. "Diana," I said in a husky voice. "What happened?"
She came into the room, a little awkwardly, and I remembered she hadn't been out of the hospital very long. "Max is gone. Car bombing." She said sadly, "He was very good to me. Like a father."
"I'm sorry," I said hollowly. I felt like leaping to my feet, lunging at her, pushing her against the wall by her slender white neck, screaming at her to tell me what happened to Mare. I didn't do it, partly because I didn't have that kind of energy in me, and partly because I already knew she was gone.
Diana said quietly, "The alien rebels found out about the vaccine when Mulder used it in Antarctica. They demanded the handover of the scientists and the immunes. If we hadn't complied, they would have given their information to the colonists. Colonisation would have begun at once." She sat down on the bed in front of me.
"We?" I echoed angrily, rising from a crouch to my feet, my face dark with rage.
She should have looked afraid, but she didn't. She just looked up at me with that odd empathy in her eyes, and I remembered that she had lost a spouse not so long before. "I didn't do this," she said softly. "I found out about it after the fact." Oddly, I believed her.
"What will they do to her?" I demanded harshly.
She bowed her head. "They killed her, Alex."
I sank into the chair and closed my eyes in agony. "How?" I whispered.
She said reluctantly, "They burnt her." I flinched.
"You saw?" I whispered at last.
She shook her head. "One of my men did - my right hand man. I don't have any reason to suspect his account." She reached down, took my hand in hers and held it out, and put something into my palm. I stared down at it numbly.
Mare's wedding ring.
It was covered in soot, stained in delicate ebony trails where it had been licked by flames. The yellow sapphires were dulled, their settings littered with ash. Staring at it, I couldn't breathe.
Diana's voice was gentle. "She's gone, Alex."
And then suddenly I could breathe, but the breaths were deep and laboured. "Leave me," I burst out, gesturing blindly.
Her hands were on my shoulders. "Alex, I've been widowed, I know what this is like. I don't think you should be alone-"
I shook her off. "Leave me!" I roared. "Leave me!"
Nodding wordlessly, she rose and left the room; and when I heard the double doors close behind her, I screamed in pain. I kept screaming, cries of a mortally wounded animal, until I was hoarse; and then I was silent.
But still I screamed in my heart.
I was still there when Spender came the following day.
I heard him come into the labs, heard him quietly giving orders to his men to continue the work. I heard him introducing scientists to one another, telling them where to find things, and telling them that they were to report to me. He instructed them not to enter the bed-sitting room nearest the door - those were Mr Krycek's quarters. I ignored it all; he would come to me if he wanted to. If he dared.
At last, he appeared in the doorway. "Alex?"
I didn't look at him. "What do you want?" I asked morosely.
His voice was surprisingly level - no arrogance, no cynicism. He said simply, "I want to give you something."
"What is it?" I said dully.
"It's your wife."
I turned to face him, and stared at the box he held out. "Her ashes, Alex. I thought you might like to bury them, or scatter them."
I tried to scatter them. I took them to the plains of Ateni, her birthplace, place of our marriage. Such a grey place, and yet it had given us so much. I shook the box, and let the wind take her; but then I screamed in pain, and I ran after her, scooping up whatever ash I could find on the ground, holding it to myself. In the extremity of it I collapsed to the ground on my knees, holding what fragments of her I could, and I wept, begging her to stretch out her hand to comfort me from wherever she might be.
But she was silent.
I continued to work on the vaccine.
I didn't really know what else to do. Spender had given me continued control of the operation, so I stayed there more or less by default. I had nowhere else to go, except for Mare's apartment - mine, I supposed now - but that was much too painful to bear. Co-operating with Spender wasn't something that sat easily with me, but I had no reason to hate anymore. Everything that gave my life the layers of meaning that hate required was gone.
Not that my co-operation was total: I was passing intelligence to the Tunisians. There was no real method to my madness - I was just hedging my bets. I had the vague idea of eventually working on the vaccine away from Spender; but I couldn't seriously contemplate it for the time being. It all seemed too hard. I remained an American at heart, and I was choosy about the intelligence I passed on.
Before his death, Donovan had delivered the vaccine to Mulder in time to save Scully - she was ill, but nowhere near as ill as Mare had been, and that puzzled me. The Antarctic installation collapsed when the anchored UFO broke free, decimating a good part of the polar environment; the Australian government - with the backing of adjacent stakeholder Norway - pressured for ongoing investigation into the incident, and as a consequence the X Files were reopened. That was largely political appeasement, however: we had major conflicts with Australia already over wheat export concessions. The Bureau was quite happy for the X Files to be non-productive; so Spender was able to displace Mulder and Scully, replacing them with Diana Donovan and an unwitting Spender Jr.
With the X Files in his pocket, only Skinner remained as a wildcard, and Spender was anxious that he be controlled. I won't belabour the details of how I took him. It was all very political and technological, and I have little patience for either. The short version is this: Spender had been playing with nanotechnology - microscopic machines that behaved as pathogens. He had agreed to give the technology to the Tunisians; in exchange, he got the Tunisian vote for control of the vaccine project after Donovan's death. Once the vote was cast, Spender privately decreed that the deal should not proceed, and in any case I was determined to stop it. But neither Spender nor I could be seen to be the ones who prevented it.
The work on the technology was comparatively open, approved and funded in top-secret congressional sittings, and as a consequence the handover of the technology had to be more or less by the book. Spender had arranged for a senate resolution, SR819, which would allow the granting of money and medical technology to third world countries as a humanitarian measure. The technology was to be handed over under the provisions of that bill; if we stopped the bill, we could stop the handover.
In the end, I killed two birds with one stone. I infected Skinner with the nanocytes, manipulated he and Mulder into exposing the bill, damn near killed him, then brought him back. No more bill, and Skinner was under my control. I have to admit that I felt a little pride about that operation: it was clean and efficient, had a low body count, and I had my desired results in less than thirty-six hours. Mare would have praised me - and then she'd probably have slapped me, for Skinner. I never really got the friendship between those two, but it was strong.
But I felt something; that was the thing. Seven long months without her, and while I wasn't healing - I would never heal - perhaps the flow of blood was finally ebbing. The agony was losing some of its bite - or so I thought.
It had only just begun.
I stared down at my lab table, strewn with facsimile copies and folders and medical charts. I remembered that fog just after Mare died, when my world fell apart. In a way, this was not much different. It hurt less, but it was just as shocking.
Diana Donovan came and peered over my shoulder. "What's the matter?"
I picked up a picture of Cassandra and waved it at her. It was an old picture - she'd still been married to Spender then. "She's the matter," I snapped, flinging it down again. I laid three charts side-by-side, and pointed. "Look at the dates and then look at the metabolic readings."
She did as I asked, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear in a way that reminded me eerily of Mare. Her eyes widened, and she froze. For long, long moments, she stared, her body still, her face deathly white, her strong, chiselled features lined with horror. "They've done it," she said harshly. "They've really done it."
I nodded. "A successful alien-human hybrid." I said quietly, "As soon as the alien colonists find out about this, she'll be handed over, and it will begin."
She looked at me squarely. "My husband died to prevent this," she said fiercely. "So did Max. I'm not letting it happen now."
"So did my wife," I said gravely. "What did you have in mind?"
She answered my question with a question. "Where are we on the vaccine?"
"Nowhere," I said wearily. "Even if we piggy-back it off another vaccine, people will stop complying as soon as the first lots of after-effects are reported. It's just not a viable candidate for mass vaccination."
Diana made a sound of frustration. "What about the water supply?"
I shook my head. "The dosage is too precise. It's not the sort of thing you can take in small quantities over time for a cumulative effect. We might get twenty percent of the population immune, but we'd also have forty percent unaffected and forty percent mortality."
"Forty percent mortality?" Diana repeated, horrified.
I nodded grimly. "Mostly the very young, the very old, and the infirm. Might be a good thing in Darwinian terms, of course," I added wryly.
She shook her head. "No, that's not acceptable."
"No, it isn't," I agreed. We were silent for some time, but at last, I suggested, "What about killing Cassandra? I know it's unpalatable-"
She cut me off. "She's protected. Spender will never kill her. She's the mother of his child." At my doubtful look, she insisted, "I know you think of him as heartless - you have reason to - but I'm telling you, Alex; that is one thing he will never allow."
"So what will he do?" I demanded. "Hand her over and take his chances on colonisation?"
"I think so," Diana said softly. "I know they never really intended to succeed on a hybrid - it was to buy time - but once they realise they could see their families again-" she broke off. "Think about it, Alex. If it were you, and letting it happen meant you could have Marita back. What would you do?"
"I don't know," I said harshly, but it was a lie.
Diana wasn't fooled. "Yes, you do," she asserted. "The same as I'd do for my husband. You'd say damn the world. Because you want her back, and you'd give up the world to do it."
I nodded slowly; admitted, "Yeah." I looked at her, pinned her down with my gaze. "How long do you think we've got?"
"Until Spender has the same intelligence we have?" I nodded. "A couple of hours, maybe. Openshaw won't tell him until they've tested - he'll want to be sure. The group will probably meet overnight. It could be in motion as soon as tomorrow evening." She spoke clinically, her eyes dull, her voice dead. I thought a part of her had already given up.
I watched her reflectively; at last, said, "Diana?" At her glance, I asked in a low voice, "Do you want the vaccine?"
She shook her head morosely. "You're going to need me, Alex." She looked very tired. "I think you should offer it to the scientists, though."
"Yeah." My cellphone rang, and I removed it from my pocket, opening the flip. "Krycek." I listened, hanging my head at the message being conveyed. I made vague sounds of thanks, then hung up, my face very white. I looked at Diana once more. "That was Spender."
"He knows?" she said fearfully.
I shook my head. "No, it isn't that." At her querying look, I said softly, "There's been another firestorm."
She did a double take at that. "Rebels?"
I shrugged. "Apparently. Openshaw is dead. They're all dead."
"Including Cassandra?" she said hopefully.
I shook my head. "They killed everyone but her."
Diana's jaw dropped a little. She demanded, perplexed, "Why? Their whole ideology is that the hybrids are a dilution of their race! Why let her live?"
"To lead them to the group?" I hazarded.
She nodded slowly. "That's a point. Kill the group to make sure the hybridisation stops."
I frowned - that didn't fit together. "But they know we're working on a vaccine. Surely they know we never really planned to go through with the hybridisation," I argued, trying to make sense of it.
Diana thought on this, but then she shook her head slowly. "Alex, I don't think they want to stop colonisation. They still want to colonise - just without hybridisation. If they can somehow cancel the deal, they will have the power among their own kind to take control of the invasion. They don't want us to have a vaccine any more than the colonists do." I nodded slowly. I hadn't thought of it that way. "Besides," she said hesitantly. "They don't know about the vaccine."
"What do you mean?" I demanded. "They demanded the immunes! That's why they wanted Mare-" I stopped suddenly, staring at her accusingly.
"I only found out a few days ago, Alex. I didn't think it would achieve anything to tell you," she said apologetically. "Gibson, Marita - it was just Spender clearing the board. But he wanted you to keep working on the vaccine for him, so he blamed the rebels. He convinced me, and that convinced you."
I felt the horror rise in my chest. "Son of a-"
Long, white hands on my arm. "Don't do this, Alex. He can't know you're against him. We have to try to stop this thing. Agreed?" Breathing deeply, I got control of myself. I nodded, my gaze locked on hers.
I waited for Jeffrey.
The group's offices at New York were deserted. The smell of cigarette smoke and aged liqueur was already lifting. A fine layer of dust seemed to have settled. The musty smell of marching decay was already gaining ascendancy, marking the passing of an age. Testosterone seeped through the leather and embedded itself in the wood panelling. It hung in the air like a vapour. It was a very male room, and as far as I knew, Mare had been the only woman ever admitted, besides domestic staff. The thought filled me with both pride and disgust. Feminists the elders were not.
Where the hell was Jeffrey?
I held him in my mind's eye, appraisingly. A weak, weaselly creature, not at all cut out for the work, and best left to a life of puckering up for his paycheck; but just recently Spender had insisted on his initiation. He could be groomed, the proud father had proclaimed, and I was just the one to do it. The irony that he entrusted me with his child when he had killed mine was not lost on me.
But Jeffrey had shown surprising mettle, disavowing his father when he learned of the experiments on his mother. He was the only person left who knew enough to help, but not enough to think to sell out. Perhaps - just perhaps - if I could get him to Fort Marlene, between us we could prevent his mother from being handed over.
I would give him five more minutes.
I frowned, thinking of Diana. She was pursuing her own path, pretending to help the older Spender as they prepared to surrender Cassandra. Or was she really helping him? Had she decided to give up the fight to save herself and Mulder? I didn't know, and I didn't much care. If she had, I couldn't blame her, in the circumstances.
There was a noise, and I rose, watching the door expectantly. "Jeff?" I called. He came in, closing it softly behind him. He was green. Some of that was the reflection of the light from the bottle green leather chairs. Most of it, though, was just Jeffrey being green.
"You're looking for your father," I said quietly. "He's gone. They've all gone."
"What do you mean?" he demanded, his face working. It was the look of a man who was in over his head, and sinking fast. The question now was whether he could swim. He had done it before when I'd thought it beyond him; perhaps he would again.
"Well, they've abandoned these offices," I said, waiting for it all to fall into place for him. I was careful to keep my voice even: Jeff was a bit like a rabbit sometimes, easily startled.
"But they've been here for fifty years!" he protested. Dammit, Gibson was less trouble than this. "Where did they go?"
"To West Virginia," I replied. "They'll begin medical preparations to receive the hybrid genes." Then, pointedly, "Except for your father. He's gone to get your mother."
He looked startled. He'd gone from rabbit to deer-in-the-headlights. "No one can get to her. I've got her secured away."
"Secured away?" I said, in disbelief at his naivete. "He's already had his doctors looking at her."
He protested, "I've got her under guard!"
"She's probably being prepared as we speak, Jeffrey."
I'll say this for Jeffrey: he took a while to latch on, but when he did, he was okay at putting things into action. I had a van waiting, and we drove to Fort Marlene, exchanging intelligence along the way. He knew a lot more than I'd expected, and it occurred to me that he might be worth cultivating as an ally, if by some miracle this catastrophe could be averted.
We parted company at the installation; him to try to find his mother, me to salvage whatever work and vaccine I could. If I couldn't save the world, I could sure as hell save myself, and whatever unfortunates I happened to find along the way. I threw him the keys to the van and told him to use it if he found Cassandra. I didn't really think he'd find her, and he didn't.
He found Mare.
CHAPTER 5 CONTINUES IN PART 6