Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Situations not mine. Interpretation mine. Deal.
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name and headers.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: To Existence.
CATEGORY: X Files, mythology, Jeremiah Smith POV, Krycek/Marita.
SUMMARY: Four factions. Three species. Two men. One woman.
SUMMARY FOR CRYPTIC-PHOBIC: What if Jeremiah Smith eluded capture in DeadAlive? This story is a response to the Purity Virtual Season "What If?" challenge.
THANKS: To Rachel Anton, who hauled me out of a mid-fic crisis and assured me this was a story worth writing. I'm glad she did; I've enjoyed it.
MORE FIC: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. email@example.com
AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky 2001 Eligible. Recommended by IOHO (June 2001). Second runner-up, "What If?" challenge, Purity Virtual Summer Season, June 2001. This story was featured in the quarterly multi-fandom zine Worlds Away And Time, October 2001.
PROLOGUE: THIS IS NOT HAPPENING
The room is silent.
The far-off cries of the FBI woman recede. The panicked movements of my companions fade. As white light fills the room, I feel, within the fear, a kernel of wonder and longing. My kind...coming to take me home. And though that home is death for me, there is a small, primal part of me that reaches out.
The window splinters, and I don't hear it; but dimly, I feel shards of glass scatter across my feet. I turn, stupidly slow, and I see the hurried movements of an elbow pushing wafers of glass out of the way. It is a woman's elbow, and her pretty blouse is streaked with blood from all the glass. In another lifetime, I would have reached out to heal it. But now, I stand there, looking at her through a sluggish haze.
She clambers in the window. Her mouth is moving, but I can't see what she is saying. It moves too fast, and my mind is slow. She shoves her way through the forcefield, and for a moment, I wonder how that can be; but then I feel the life force emanating from her. She is with child, this one; dark twin to the one carried by the redhead. And because of what she carries, she has been allowed through. Equally, though, she does not share in my paralysis, because the part of her that is affected is not herself. She pulls me, imparting her volition, and I feel myself walking after her, walking free of the forcefield and scrambling out the window after her.
The cool air hits me abruptly, and suddenly, I feel my strength return. She's running, her hand splayed protectively over the life she carries, and I'm running too. I can still feel the immense warmth of the light behind me, and its white glow illuminates the wastelands ahead. Then, suddenly, it vanishes, and I find myself stumbling blindly in the dark, groping for the woman and she for me. Her slender hand slips neatly into mine as the merest sliver of light streaks across the sky, leaving me behind.
The woman slows. Her breaths come in heaving pants. I slow too, but then I hear a scream far behind me, the scream of someone's soul shattering in the night. I risk a look back, but of course all I can see is the house.
"Scully. Damn it. Mulder's dead." Her voice is not accusing; merely dismayed.
I feel an unwarranted flush of defensive anger. "They barged-" I stop, recognising that my unexpected saviour is not to blame; and I breathe out, forcing myself to seem neutral. "They barged in before I could help him."
"We'd hoped to get him out in time for you to finish what you began to do for him."
"That place is crawling with Feds. It's no small task." My eyes are adjusting to the dark now, and I release her hand.
She slows to a walk, and I do likewise. "Tell me about it." She nods to a rundown old truck a short way away. "There's our ride."
That was how I met Marita Krycek.
ONE: PURITY IN RETROSPECT
I surveyed the man at my side.
He stared intently at the wasteland, driving without a road to guide him, following some internal compass. Was that the gift he was left with? It certainly wasn't regeneration - he was missing an arm - but I sensed the faint trickle of my species, diluted through his own. Obviously, the child the woman carried was his; and that meant the woman must have the Purity strain too, but too weakly for me to sense it. How else could she have carried it this far without being consumed?
I turned to her, and I reached for her bloodied arm with an outstretched hand; but she surprised me, pushing me away. "Don't do that," she said curtly. "Conserve your strength."
"You were hurt helping me, Marita. It's the least I can do." I felt bewilderment, and, strangely, a sting that felt like rejection. No-one had ever refused to be healed before.
"Don't be ridiculous. They're minor. They'll heal in a day or two. They don't warrant the use of your strength."
The one-armed man spoke at last. "Listen to her, Jeremiah. Plain old sensible risk management."
"But she's pregnant," I protested.
"Not in her elbow, she isn't," he said dryly, and I waited for her to say something indignant, but instead, she laughed. The sound was vibrant, full and infectious, and the one-armed man and I laughed too.
"What happened with Mulder?" she asked finally.
"I tried to get him out, but the Feds got there before I could get him in the truck. Mulder's gone."
"Dammit!" she burst out. "He could have helped us."
So they were resistance fighters. Well, that much was pretty obvious, anyway; they were undermining the Colonists, just like me. But I didn't think they were with the Purists, either. That made them true resistance - human idealists. Considering neither of them were completely human themselves, that struck me as pretty funny...and intriguing. The woman might have been a test subject, I supposed; but the Purity concentration in the man suggested a time of full possession. I wondered how that had come about - and how he had lived to tell the tale.
"Where are we going?" I said finally.
"Trapper Park, just on the Idaho border. Middle of the Bitterroot Range."
Marita leaned forward, her expression eager. "Alex?"
"It came through on the scanners. Another Bellefleur abductee has turned up. Name of Felicia Derringbar. Usual story." He turned to me. "You still in the game, Jeremiah?"
The fire was warm.
There was a camp stove in the truck, but Marita wanted to stop and rest, and Alex and I wanted to stretch our legs. So we paced while she made a fire and a rudimentary meal for us all.
"She never liked cooking in New York," he said, watching her. His voice was fond. "We were always eating in overpriced restaurants. Now it seems like she does it all the time."
She didn't look up. "I like normalcy a lot more now that I don't have it," she said ruefully, a smile lighting across her features. "Besides. I have hormones now."
He snorted. "You're telling me."
"You want to eat dry bread, Alex?" She was smirking.
He held up his hand in mock surrender. "Far be it from me to criticise any hormone which yields a home-cooked meal."
By unspoken assent, Alex and I sat down, cross-legged like children, watching her. She knelt there, tending the fire, the lines of her elegant and smooth. She wasn't showing, but her hand went protectively to her belly every time she bent forward. She seemed to embody everything that I loved about humanity; everything that made me fiercely protective of these poor relations of ours. It was just another fragment of a moment in a lifetime, but like so many of them, it reinforced in me the value of my mission.
Alex intruded on my thoughts.
"What's your story, Jeremiah? Is that really your name?"
Reluctantly, I turned away from the woman to face him. "My given name is not pronounceable in your vocal range. Jeremiah is my adopted name - it will do."
"Why Jeremiah?" Marita asked, openly curious, her lips curling into a smile. It occurred to me that she smiled a lot - like someone who had only just recently learned how to do so. I was taken aback by the question - I didn't think anyone had asked me a simple, personal question since my days undercover at Social Security. I was certain I had never been asked by anyone who knew what I really was.
I smiled back. There was no way you could look at her and not. "The words of the prophet Jeremiah were my first exposure to human writings during my orientation."
She looked back down at the fire, poking at the wood with a stick. "How old were you?"
"Ten of our years. Eighteen of yours, give or take." At her frown, I explained, "Mars' orbit of the sun takes 686 of your days. Our years - the passage of seasons - are almost twice the length of yours."
Alex rested his chin on his hand. He looked intrigued. "Must have been one hell of an adjustment."
I'd thought the woman would pick up on that before the man, but I supposed an amputee, of all people, would know about adjustment. "It felt like time was speeding up for a while, yes."
"Why did you come here?" he wondered, pouring out hot tea from a thermos. "That's what I don't understand. Why did any of you ever want to come here?"
I am always slightly astounded by the inconsistencies of human insight. How can they be so developed and yet have so many gaps in their collective understanding? Forty of their over-fast years, and they still have the power to surprise me completely.
I took the mug he offered, and I answered his question with a question. "What do you have here that is in short supply on Mars?"
His brow creased. "God, that could be anything. Thanks, Marita," he added, taking two plates and passing me mine. "Water, nitrogen, oxygen..."
"Argon," Marita chimed in. "You name it, we've either got it, polluted it, or destroyed it."
I shrugged. Humans haven't cornered the market on that particular failing.
I turned to Alex, who by now I knew was a one-time Project henchman. "How many aliens have you met, Alex?"
He thought it over. "I don't know...a few dozen, I suppose." Maybe a bit more than a henchman, then.
"Ever met a female?"
Alex was silent for some seconds. "No," he admitted finally. "I haven't."
"Ninety percent of our females were killed in a civil war at the turn of your last century. We're a matriarchal society," I explained. "It is the responsibility of the ruling females to protect the males and the children."
"So the women fought - and they died," Marita said pensively. She began to eat, but her good humour had faded. Her expression was moody.
"That's right. Our population is dwindling - our gestational period is even longer than yours. Nearly two years. Even with the emphasis on repopulation, females bear only six to seven infants in their lifetimes. Meanwhile, they have larger communities to govern. The Colonists believe we must repopulate using other races. The Purists would rather repopulate naturally, even though that runs the risk of extinction. This is good," I added, nodding to Marita. She accepted the compliment with a gloomy nod.
"Damn good," Alex agreed with a winning smile, but it didn't have much effect on her demeanour. "You were a Colonist?"
Was I? I'm not certain, even now. "Of sorts," I said at last. "I don't think I thought very much about it, except that I wanted things to change." I still did - I didn't want our mothers to have to care for such large communities; I didn't want them to have to have so many babies. Our women were tired, and they were our queens, and they shouldn't have had to live like that. But - like this? "When you're young and you can't see the outcomes of your ideals, it's easy to be zealous. But now..." I trailed off.
"So you came here. To help make it happen." She looked vaguely disappointed.
"That was a long time ago, Marita," I said quietly. "Things change. You start to care for the ones you're sent to betray. Loyalties change."
At that, she glanced uncomfortably at Alex, nodded, and said no more.
Phobos is red.
So big and close, moving lazily across the sky like a craft, the light of the sun rebounding from her in golden rays, glittering as she spins idly by. So beautiful. So damn beautiful.
"Women! Bloody women."
I opened my eyes, staring up at the moon. So small and white and still. I tried to imagine Phobos in her place, but the image just wouldn't form.
"Men! Bloody men!"
Annoyed, I turned in the direction of indignant voices. Alex and Marita stood, equidistant from me and from each other, facing in opposite directions. Marita's arms were crossed, and she stared up at the moon. Alex's shoulders were hunched, and he was kicking stones mindlessly. Why the hell did I bother with these stupid, infantile creatures? Was it really worth it?
The air grew cold, bringing up goosebumps on my flesh. Shivering, I pulled my sleeping bag around me. I watched them, each of them braced against the cold, neither of them willing to take shelter from the cold with the other, neither able to do so alone. They were like children, piteously wounded and pathetically needy.
She looked at him over her shoulder, and then the tension in her shoulders eased. Her hands strayed to her belly. Gradually, I felt my irritation whittle away, replaced with bittersweet affection.
His feet stilled, and he pulled himself up purposefully. He turned and went back to her. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I was an idiot."
Her head drooped a little, and she turned to face him. "Me too."
"Baby's paining me a little, that's all." She ran a hand down one side.
"That's not what I-"
"I know what you meant. I'm fine. Don't fuss, Alex."
He cupped her cheek with his hand, and leaned in to kiss her. It felt good, seeing them like that. When, gently, he began to touch her, I rolled over and closed my eyes once more.
Yes, it was worth it. Every moment of it.
I went to sleep.
NOTE: Geographic information about Mars, including air pressure, air composition, orbit, and its moons all obtained from http://seds.lpl.arizona.edu/nineplanets/nineplanets/nineplanets.html.
TWO: FINAL UNIFYING FACTOR (OR: AN OBJECT LESSON IN FOUR FACTIONS)
"Oh, my God."
Marita's eyes were wide with horror; her hands cradled the life within her, fiercely protective. I doubted she was aware of the gesture.
I arrived beside her at the foot of the bed. "You've never seen one like that?"
"I've seen them dead. I've never seen them kept half-alive like that." She swallowed audibly. "Somehow this seems almost worse."
The door snicked shut behind us. "Okay, the coast is clear," Alex said, drawing the curtain over the window. "The ICU nurse is on break. The registrar has her head buried in files. We've got a few minutes." He came over to us, and put his hand on Marita's arm. "I don't want you near her."
Marita turned to him, casting her gaze heavenward in disgust. "Puh-leez."
"No, he's right," I said mildly. "This woman has been in a state of decomposition for God knows how long. Who knows what microorganisms she's got festering in there?"
He shot her a grin. "Plain old sensible risk management."
She rolled her eyes again, but she nodded with a sigh. She went to the window and flicked back the curtain, peering out watchfully. I turned my attention to the woman on the bed. "Felicia," I said, moving closer. I reached out my hand towards her, and then I heard a small, metallic click.
"Don't move, Jeremiah."
Cursing, Alex whirled around, firearm drawn. I turned, more slowly, to the familiar figure in the bathroom doorway. "Theresa?" I said, my jaw slack, my shoulders suddenly slumped in disbelief. Of all the possible obstacles we might have faced, this was one I hadn't bargained on - another abductee; a comparative innocent.
"Theresa Hoese? What the hell is she doing here?" Alex lowered his weapon a little. Clearly, he didn't see her as much of a threat, and with good cause. She was frightened, her eyes haunted, bright spots of pink rising on her cheeks. She gripped the handle of her cheap little pistol with stiff fingers and whitened knuckles, and beads of perspiration were dotted across her brow. One slipped down her cheek like an errant tear, curving delicately around her jaw.
"You can't heal her."
Alex sounded, not so much confused as supremely indignant. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Theresa moved the gun, pointing it to Felicia and then back at us again for emphasis. "She's evil! You can't heal her!"
"What are you talking about?" Alex demanded a second time. The indignance was muted now, tinged with weariness.
Theresa looked at Felicia's prone body without empathy. Her lip curled in unconscious disgust. "She's a whore. She slept with my husband."
Marita made a sound of disgust. "Oh, for crying out loud." I glanced at her as unobtrusively as I could. She was armed, and she had one hand on the door. That was all right, then. If Theresa Hoese took it into her head to shoot Marita in the stomach, Marita's baby would be torn to pieces, harmed beyond even my ability to heal. That was our one weak spot, and I prayed Theresa wouldn't capitalise on it, or even perceive it. Thank God, I thought; thank God she's wearing a coat.
But Theresa's attention was fixed on the comatose woman before us. "Felicia Derringbar isn't worth your time," she spat. "She's a slut and a whore and she's going to die, and I'm going to watch it happen."
I was angry - damn angry - but I resolved not to show it. "Theresa," I said with as much kindness as I could muster, "you can't win here. You can't hurt me, and if you hurt my friends, I can heal them. The only person you're hurting is yourself."
Her features contorted with frustration; her face was red with it. She spoke, but it was the obstinate voice of a child; it was without conviction. "I want her dead."
"And I want her alive."
"Why?" she burst out in anguish. "She was gonna die! She's gonna die someday anyway! Why does it matter to you?"
"You matter to me, Theresa. You all matter." Now that her humanity was coming to the fore, my anger was receding. I held up my hands helplessly. "You ask me to subvert my gift to your judgement - to give it only to those you deem worthy." Theresa dropped her gaze. She looked ashamed. "There's no worth about it. You were dead! I brought you back, just because you needed it and I could give it. Are you really going to use what I gave you like this?"
Alex spoke, with more gentleness than I'd heard from him before. "He's right, Theresa. None of us are blameless."
Marita moved towards Theresa, and I stiffened, but I couldn't warn her of the danger Theresa might pose. "We all need healing, Theresa. Maybe even more than we need love." She put her hand on the distraught woman's shoulder, and turned her to face her. The gun was low, but it was perilously close to her belly. Marita's fingers closed around the handle. "It might be the final unifer." I felt the tightness in my chest loosen when Theresa allowed her to confiscate the weapon.
Theresa broke. She leaned against Marita with shuddering sobs. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she moaned, and Marita held her, uttering nonsense sounds into her hair. With her free hand, she passed the weapon to Alex, who took it grimly, and she led the woman out of the room.
I turned back to the girl, and went to her side. I laid my hands on her too-cool forehead. I felt the warmth gather in my hands, and I sent it out through my palms, willing it to course through her body, willing it to rebuild. I stood there for as long as I dared, giving her as much as I could. Even with what I gave her, her recovery would be a slow one. Finally, I let go, and I turned back to my escort.
"It's done. Let's get out of here."
"Do you think she'll be okay?"
I looked up over the fire as Marita sat down. She did so cautiously, holding out a hand on the ground to steady herself. Her condition wasn't really pronounced, not much more than a small bump in her profile; but her center of gravity spoke volumes.
"She'll be fine. You only lapse into that sort of insanity once," I said, hoping that was true. "She's got her baby to keep her grounded. I think in the light of day Theresa will be happy to leave well enough alone."
She nodded, rubbing her hands together pensively. "I don't think it's just the power of your hands, Jeremiah. I think you heal people just by who you are."
I shook my head ruefully. "I don't know about that."
She shrugged, turning to watch Alex. He was sitting in the truck, pouring over maps with a penlight. "You know, last night, we had this fight. It was stupid. But normally he just comes back and acts like nothing ever happened, you know?" I nodded at her encouragingly. "He actually apologised. He's never done that before. And - and that woman tonight...God! A week ago, he would have shot her - just to get her out of the way."
"Plain old sensible risk management," I quoted humourlessly.
"Yeah. Yet he just stood there and let you talk her down. I've never seen him defer like that - not really, not when it mattered. He responds to you, Jeremiah. Whatever tiny spark of humanity that he has left - it burns brightly when you're around."
That was a more lyrical turn of phrase than I'd have expected from her, but I didn't say so. "That's him, Marita. It isn't me. It isn't new. It's been brewing for a while and it's just hit the surface - and I bet you've got a lot to do with that." She smiled, but shook her head. "You haven't been married long - have you?"
There was that smile again. She had gorgeous eyes, but I thought her smile was probably what Alex had fallen in love with. "Technically, we aren't married at all. We keep saying, next time we're in Vegas...you know, residency is a bitch when you're chasing abductees."
"But you took his name?" It seemed like an oddly sentimental, oddly conventional thing to do. Marita didn't strike me as either.
"Covarrubias - that was my name - it was my stepfather's name. I never liked it, and it doesn't mean anything to me. Then we were having this baby, and I knew we'd name it Krycek, so it just seemed logical." She pulled her jacket around her. "And it seemed to please Alex - like I belonged to him or something. I suppose that should have annoyed me; but you know, I've never belonged to anyone before." There was a wistful undertone to her voice that made me ache.
"But that's what I mean, Marita," I said urgently. "It isn't me. It's you. You're bringing this out. You're making him heal."
She looked doubtful, but she shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe. God knows, I owe him that much. We inflicted a lot of damage on each other."
"Most people do."
"True," she said, looking up as Alex approached. He dropped to his knees at her side. "And we were compromised."
Alex barked out a sardonic laugh. "Marita was a diplomat, Jeremiah, so she says we were compromised. Me, I'm an assassin, so I say I blew innocent people's heads off." He lit a cigarette. "You cold, Marita? You want to go to a motel after all?"
"No. It's harder to track us this way. Besides, this is nice," she said with a winning smile. She nodded to the cigarette. "Take that away, Alex. It's bad for the baby."
"Bloody women. You marry them, and they go from pliant and amenable to nagging harridans in a single breath." Primly, Marita poked out her tongue at him. They were smiling.
"I don't think Marita was ever amenable," I parried, with a repentant smile at the woman in question.
"Touche." She laughed as Alex wandered off with the offending cigarette, but her humour faded as he drifted out of earshot. She quoted in a low, raw voice, "'I'm an assassin, so I say I blew innocent heads off.'" She watched him sadly. "He just showed you more in five minutes than he did me in five years."
I breathed a long, low sigh. "Marita, I worked with damaged people every day when I was undercover at Social Security. I don't think one of them ever became...I don't know...less damaged from being with me." Somehow it seemed important to convince her of this. If she was counting on me to heal all the things wrong with Alex, she was dreaming. Alex was a casualty of war; just one more walking wounded along the way. There was enough left of him for him to be a good husband, a good father; but it was never going to be an easy ride.
"Maybe they just weren't open to you," she mused. I made a noncommittal sound, and she must have decided to let it go, because she changed the subject. "What were you doing at Social Security, anyway?"
I nearly turned the conversation back to its earlier direction, but decided against it. I wasn't her counsellor, damn it. "I was just doing grunt work," I said wryly. "I was monitoring those stupid Smallpox Eradication Program records. I did that for fifteen years."
"You maintained the SEP database? Those hard drives Scully analysed?" Her eyes were vibrant and clear. She was intrigued.
"Me and half a dozen like me. What do you know about those?"
"Not much. My mentor was an informant to Mulder before me. I know Scully quizzed him about the SEP records, but I don't know any more than that. I was strictly need-to-know, and the powers-that-be decided that didn't include the relevance of the SEP."
It was a question, and I answered it. "It was an essential first step in the process of infection. The black oil adheres to the cowpox protein in the smallpox scar. That's the first stage of infection. Then, with time, it gestates in the abdominal cavity and becomes a grey. Without that scar, it can't develop." A fact which probably accounted for Alex's one-armed state.
"Are you telling me the oil is the larval form of the grey?" she said in astonishment.
"That's right. They're the same species."
"But not your species," she said, and I shook my head. "How does that help you?"
"Like you, we're mammals - we gestate our young as you do." We both glanced down at her belly before we were aware of doing it. Our eyes locked on the way back up, and I felt self-conscious; but then a smile spread across her features, and I smiled too. "The greys are less evolved relations - I suppose greys are to us as chimpanzees are to you. They are not mammals, but their cellular structure is similar enough that they can gestate our young in their abdominal cavities. But greys do not exist on our planet - since we are immune, the black oil remains in a permanent state of immaturity, because there is nothing it can latch onto in order to develop."
"So first you use humans to gestate the oil into greys, and then you use the greys to gestate your young."
"Bingo." The fire was dying down, and I added some more wood. "That is the desired outcome for the Colonists, because the Purists would probably accept it if it were presented as a fait accompli. It doesn't involve diluting our species, which is the Purists' main ideological concern." Marita was nodding. "However, that plan has had many setbacks, not least of them being the eradication of smallpox and the subsequent halting of the SEP. Meanwhile, the situation at home has become more dire with each decade."
"So the Colonists have tried other approaches in tandem, and encouraged their human counterparts to do so as well." She shifted a little, settling back into her hips with apparent discomfort. Hard to believe how much the life within her changed her body when it hardly showed.
"That's right. The experiments with hybrids, the experiments with women, the experiments with reviving smallpox, with artificial incubation - it's all been to find ways of either gestating greys or gestating our species directly. The Purists were unhappy with our activities, but they only actively tried to sabotage those programs involving hybridisation."
Marita was very quiet after that; mulling over what I'd told her, I suppose. It was a lot to take in. I went to the truck for sandwiches and a drink for us both, and I found Alex there. He was looking at two ultrasound films, staring from one to the other intently. I couldn't see the names on the top, but I could see that one name was longer than the other. Marita and Scully, most likely.
He shoved them under some papers when he heard my approach. "Everything okay?" he asked hastily.
"Fine. You coming out?"
"Shortly. Just checking the newspapers for possible abductee recoveries." His gaze was steady, but his eyelids flickered.
I went back out to her, and I presented her with the uninspiring meal. "You should eat, Marita."
"I'm not hungry," she protested.
"Eat it anyway. Alex worries," I added with a grin, but in truth, my levity was forced. What good mood I'd had, had drained away at the sight of him comparing ultrasounds. I wanted to reassure him that this baby of theirs would be all right, but I just didn't know that. Not for sure.
She took the sandwich and began to eat, without much enthusiasm. "It's a lot to take in," she said presently. "I thought knowing would help, but it really doesn't. It all seems just as stupid and wasteful as it did before."
"I know." Hesitantly, I voiced the thought that had been nagging at me. "Why don't you know all this, Marita? Some of what I've told you was concealed even from the human conspirators, but Alex would know a lot of it from that disk he was talking about."
"DAT tape," she corrected tonelessly. "You have to understand, Jeremiah. For a long time, Alex and I didn't discuss the work at all, except when we needed each other's help. We thought that if we did that, then we couldn't be used against each other. That turned out not to be the case," she said bitterly, and that piqued my curiosity, but I didn't ask. "Trust and disclosure - that's only developed since our last reconciliation, since the conspirators died. But I got pregnant almost straight away, and we're both carriers. He hasn't wanted to talk about it."
"You haven't asked?"
She shook her head morosely. "He's afraid."
"And so are you." She nodded.
"So am I."
I rolled over, blinking. "If I say no," I growled, "will you go away?"
Alex shot me a crooked grin. "Very funny."
"I was serious," I said grimly, sitting up, pushing the sleeping bag down off me, glancing at the fire. The coals were still flickering a little. I hadn't been asleep long, then. "What's wrong?"
He looked shamefaced. "Nothing...just sitting...thinking."
"Worrying," I supplied.
"That, too." I opened my mouth to speak, but he forestalled me. "Please, no deep and meaningfuls. Save them for Marita. They seem to help."
It was my turn to grin. "So I should shoot for shallow and inane?"
He gave a short, sharp laugh. "No, you should talk about yourself instead of us."
I cocked an eyebrow. "Physician, heal thyself?"
"Something like that."
I looked from him to Marita's sleeping form. The sleeping bag was half thrown back, as though he'd been there at her side, and had gotten up again. I wondered how long he'd been watching me as he cradled her; how long he'd waited after she went to sleep to come to me. What the hell was a one-armed man - a man with a wife and baby whose safety were by no means guaranteed - what was he doing wondering what *I* thought?
I stared at him in indecision. Finally, I burst out, "I don't understand you, Alex. You say you're a mercenary, but you've never asked for healing. You've never asked if I can give you your arm back. You've never used me as a commodity. You're an itinerant assassin who goes around finding people to heal; a nonconformist radical with a wife and baby on the way. You're a mass of contradictions."
He didn't seem in the least offended. He said brightly, "Annoying, isn't it?"
"I can see why Fox Mulder likes to beat you up."
He shot an indulgent look over his shoulder. "Ah - Marita's been telling stories again."
"She talks about your exploits." Then, more soberly, "Not so much about hers."
He shrugged. "Mine, you can laugh about when they're over."
I said pointedly, "What, like the kills? The oil? Your arm?"
The lines that animated his features smoothed out all at once - just for a moment. He laughed a little, but it sounded forced. "I thought we were talking about you."
I wondered just what he was evading talk of. Himself? Or her? I opted for her. "What happened to Marita, Alex?"
What little good humour he'd had left his face. He looked over his shoulder again at her, as though looking for her to supply the words. At last, he said uncertainly, "She - she was a casualty, of sorts, of the Purist attacks on abductees. She had an abductee in her custody, who was also infected with Purity. When the signals started, he gave it to her - so he could get away, I presume. He died in the firestorms, of course." He frowned. "Question. If your species is immune to the parasitical effects of the oil, why did the Purists run around with their eyes and mouths sewn shut to prevent infection?"
I knew he was changing the subject, but it was a good question, so I answered it. "There have been instances of infestation of my species here on Earth. We theorise that the different climate somehow compromises our resistance. Needless to say, the Purists now argue that this makes the oil a potential enemy that should not be cultivated here on Earth."
"Of course," he said dryly. "Why does some oil exert control on the host and other oil doesn't?"
"It comes down to the age of the oil, that's all. Young oil is unconscious and infantile; old oil is sentient and mature." I shook my head. "We never set out to use aged oil. We ourselves always provided the human conspirators with immature oil. But they were working on their secret vaccine, so they sought out natural sources - the ancient oil that exists deep within the earth. That oil not only divined what we planned to do, but understood it, and had the sentience and maturity of purpose to disagree."
He passed a weary hand over the back of his neck. "So where we had the Colonists and the Purists and the human conspirators, we now have the oil - the greys - in the fray, as well."
I nodded. "The fourth faction. And with the human conspirators mostly gone, and their employees under either Colonist or Purist control, they are using our disunity and our disarray against us."
Alex sat bolt upright, his eyes very wide. "Are you saying these people are being taken and dumped as part of the greys' resistance?"
"With the help of some of our people they've managed to control, yes. What did you think they were doing?"
He shook his head helplessly. "I wasn't sure. I thought it was the Colonists. Something to do with Mulder's resistance, I suppose. Trying to undermine it." He met my gaze; said by way of explanation, "All my connections have fallen by the wayside since the fall of the conspirators. I'm working blind, Jeremiah."
That made sense. "I don't think the Colonists care too much about the handful of immunes. The thing is, widespread distribution of a vaccine without their knowledge is impossible. To them, the vaccine comes under the heading of acceptable risk - a nuisance, not a threat. To the greys, though..."
"To the greys, it's a timebomb. One they'll go to any lengths to eradicate."
He was quiet for a while. He smoked, his brow furrowing from time to time. I waited. Whatever was on his mind, he wasn't finished.
"Jeremiah?" he said finally.
He pitched the cigarette into the remains of the fire. "I was wondering. About what Theresa said. Why *do* you care for us?"
"You personally? Or humans in general?"
"Humans in general. I doubt you've had great experiences with us. Let me guess - you've probably been taken hostage? Coerced into healing people sometimes?"
Not for the first time, I thought maybe I'd given him less credit than he deserved. Alex didn't have Marita's forthright empathy, but his capacity to see into the pain of another was real enough. I was silent for a long moment; admitted at last, "A couple of times."
"Well, then? I mean I've got family solidarity, so to speak. What's your excuse?"
I laughed, less out of humour, and more out of an uncertainty of how to proceed. "You're an intriguing lot, you know," I said. If he thought that was a nonsequiter, he didn't show it. My gaze strayed to Marita's sleeping form. "Take love, for instance."
"You don't have love in your world?" he queried, interested.
"Sure. We make family groupings and communities, and we care for each other. But we don't have what you have with Marita. That exclusivity, that binding together - it's just not part of how we interact. It was a long time before I started to make sense of how that worked." I shrugged. "I like it."
"There's our harmonious domesticity rubbing off," he said with a crooked little grin.
"Don't sell yourself short," I said gravely. "You and she have something good together."
He nodded slowly. "Yeah," he conceded. "Yeah, we do."
"I think you undermine it with your silence." He looked away. "You haven't told her that Agent Scully is expecting, have you? Or about what they tried to do to her at that hospital?" He didn't answer, and I persisted, "Have you?"
He met my gaze, his features hard and unmoving. "You disapprove."
I thought about it. I hadn't intended to sound as scathing as I probably had. "I disagree, but I wouldn't say I disapprove," I said after a long moment. "You're doing it for the right reasons."
He nodded, and his expression softened a little. "But you won't go along with it."
I shook my head. I could feel my brow forming ridges as I weighed it up. In my world, after all, Marita would have been leading us; and in a strictly spiritual and ethical sense, I thought she was leading us, anyway. Finally, I made an offer. "I'll answer any question she poses, Alex. But I won't volunteer what I don't have to. Good enough?"
He frowned thoughtfully, then nodded. "Good enough."
"Get some sleep," I said, nodding to his sleeping bag. "We've got a long day ahead."
THREE: THREE SPECIES (DEADALIVE)
How I love the cold.
Forty years of exile on this hot, wet planet, and still I haven't completely adjusted. The heat radiates off my body; the dampness lingers on my flesh like slime. It no longer drives me mad as it did for the first decade; but still I long for the comfort of the cold.
The snow came a week after my first meeting with the Kryceks. I revelled in it, and although the climate was more of a challenge to them than to me, they seemed to enjoy it, too. We stopped sleeping outdoors, and I missed that; but otherwise things progressed as they should.
For four days after we healed Felicia Derringbar, there were no signs of recovered abductees. Nothing on the CB, nothing on the police scanners, nothing in the news. I suggested we might use the time for attending to personal matters, and both were agreeable. We drove south-west to Reno overnight; and on the fifth day, Alex and Marita were married. They both seemed a little lost, as though not quite sure how to deal with the reality of doing something for themselves; but they seemed happy, too. I wondered how long they had been dreaming of things they wanted to do together, all the while convinced they could not be done.
We eschewed the truck and the succession of cheap motels for a pair of luxury suites, and indulged at the finest restaurant we could find. It was a nice change from the rough living we'd been doing. They ate heartily and excused themselves early, and I retired early myself, pleased with the events of the day. Human marriage still mystifies me, but equally, it awes me, and fills me with hope. It felt good, after so long spent rambling from place to place and healing to healing, to do something other than merely survive - to bear witness to a commitment to something more. I felt an optimism that had been missing from my life for some time.
I was awakened by a series of pounding knocks at an unconscionably early hour in the morning. I stumbled to the connecting door and flung it open. Through my sluggish, half-awake haze, I beheld Alex standing there in his track pants, his chest gleaming with droplets of water, hair dishevelled, eyes wide with fear.
Those two words were like a bucket of cold water. Awake now, I pulled on my clothes and followed him into their suite. "What happened?"
"Nothing, as far as I know," he said grimly, picking up his prosthetic limb and strapping it on. I watched him, fascinated by the dexterity with which he accomplished the task. "I went to have a shower. She was sitting there eating breakfast," he said, nodding to the lounge. There was a room service tray with a half-eaten fruit platter on the coffee table, along with an open newspaper. I went and inspected it. "When I came out, she was gone."
He came over. "What is it?"
I pointed to the newspaper splayed out. "Washington Post. There's a piece on Mulder's funeral." At his look of blank incomprehension, I said, "Look at the picture."
He came and stood beside me, buttoning his shirt. "Where?"
I pointed. "Scully. She's got her hand on her side. Ligament pain." He looked down, then back up at me, eyes wide with horror, their colour tinged with dark remorse. "Marita knows what that means - she does it often enough herself."
Alex closed his eyes. "Oh, God. She knows Scully's expecting." He bowed his head; combed his fingers through his hair. It stood up comically. "Go on, Jeremiah - say it."
He sighed. "'I told you so.'"
I laughed then. I couldn't help it, but it was kindly meant. "I would never say that to you." And I wouldn't. Poor, weak humans, I reflected; mistake after mistake after mistake, and only rarely did they learn. It would have been annoying if not for their childlike humility after the fact.
He snorted ruefully. "You'd think it, though."
I laid my hand on his shoulder. "Let's just find her."
We found her three hours later.
I will gloss over the intervening time, if only because I am unsure how to interpret it; how to describe it. Alex was grimly focused, systematically looking over maps and landmarks. His behaviour, once the initial shock had passed, gave no hint of what he might be going through; no hint that this was his wife and his unborn child, all he had in the world. He might have been looking for a lost dog, or a wallet. I came as close as I would ever come to disliking him that day.
When we found her, though, all that changed, and my ill-feeling evaporated, leaving me ashamed. When we saw her, huddled on a park bench across the road from a baby store, all his defences melted away. He went to her and knelt in front of her, whispering to her in Russian, taking her hand in his; and she nodded, and allowed him to kiss her. I hung back a little, but even from a distance, I could see her cheeks were flushed and wet; her eyes were unnaturally bright.
At last, she pulled away, and she lifted her head to include me. I came closer, then sat down beside her. She started to speak, and faltered. She made a little hitching sound in her chest, then started again. "You knew," she said, her voice thick and husky. "Both of you knew."
I nodded. "Yes, Marita. We knew."
"Why didn't you tell me?" It was a whisper, raw and aching.
Alex swallowed visibly. "I didn't want you to worry." His voice was gentle.
She gave a thin laugh, but it came out as a sob. "You didn't want-" she shook her head in dismayed disbelief. She ran a slender hand over her face and sighed. "What else do you know?"
"Not much more than you," he admitted.
I said reluctantly, "We know that she's pregnant, and that her doctor has been experimenting with making women pregnant."
"Pregnant with what?" she said hesitantly.
Alex took her hand once more. "Greys. We think he's working for the Colonists. But we don't think that's what happened to her. She's had a difficult pregnancy, but none of the hallmarks of a Grey pregnancy. This is something different."
She thought on this. "Are they trying to hurt her?"
He shook his head. "If anything, they're trying to keep her safe - at least until she delivers." He went on reluctantly, "They're very interested in this baby of hers."
Marita's brow was lined with worry. "Skinner had his arm around her. It could be Skinner's, couldn't it?" She sounded hopeful, and I understood why. If Scully's baby were Skinner's, then it was probably different to her own.
"No. Not unless Skinner is immune." At her questioning look, I explained, "Immunes can only have children with other immunes."
"You mean they can't conceive with a non-immune?"
"No. They can conceive, but they can't carry to term. The father determines the baby's immunity. An immune mother and a vulnerable father make a vulnerable baby. And a vulnerable baby is consumed by the residual oil in the mother. Since Scully has carried successfully this far, both father and mother must be immune."
"Mulder," Alex said pensively.
"Could be. There aren't many immunes left. The Purists killed most of them along with the hybrids. I don't think they really cared either way about the immunes, but unfortunately, most of the vaccine facilities existed side-by-side with hybridisation ones. The immunes were collateral damage."
"So what does that mean for our baby - and Scully's?"
Alex bowed his head for a long moment. "Well, our baby, and hers, are both children of two immunes - two people who have each been infected. Why that's of interest to the Colonists, I don't really know. But I bet Jeremiah does." They both looked at me expectantly, and he said, "Well?"
I gave a low sigh. "I don't know - not for sure. But I can make a pretty good guess. There's a resistance double, or rather triple who can be trusted - a woman named Reyes. I can probably get more from her."
"Not Monica Reyes?"
"Yes. The FBI woman. She's working for the Colonists, but she's really resistance. Her brief is to protect Scully and her baby."
"Why don't I know her?" Alex demanded.
"Alex, there's a whole body of resistance that worked very hard to stay out of the field of vision of the strictly political interests. You know all the powerbrokers, but you've never even scratched the surface of the grass-roots revolution. Rebel clones like some of the Kurts, abductees, and just plain ordinary people who stumbled across something they weren't supposed to, and couldn't walk away."
That shocked him. "Wow."
Marita said thoughtfully, "I knew there were renegades, but I didn't realise they were so organised." She looked at me with a level gaze. "You said you could make some guesses, Jeremiah. So - guess."
I stared down at my hands. "The Colonists will want to know if an immune mother can bear an immune baby safely, because they feel an immune mother might also gestate one of our own species safely, as well. They don't necessarily want to hurt Scully or her baby, and as far as I know they wouldn't have any reason to take the baby; they only want to know if it can be done. The Kurts are still major players in the Colonist regime, so I'm guessing there will be a push to protect Scully, and Monica Reyes is part of that agenda."
"That's good news," Alex said, but he didn't sound reassured. He went on grimly, "What's the bad news?"
Reluctantly, I said, "The bad news is, these babies are hybrids. Naturally occurring hybrids, almost totally human with traces of Purity in their gene code. They'll still be human," I added hastily, "if anything, more human than human. But the Purists remain opposed to diluting the species. They will want to kill Scully's baby, and preferably Scully too; but they will want it born first so they can use its body in tests on a weapon against the Greys, who I think by now they must recognise as a threat."
Marita held herself very still. She demanded, "And the Greys?"
"The Greys will want to kill Scully's baby immediately because its oil immunity will make it a biothreat to their race. As far as they know, Scully is the only female immune, and she was supposed to be infertile, which is probably why they haven't worried about her. But now, they'll want her sterilised or killed."
"Are you saying they don't know about me?" Marita said urgently.
I shrugged. "I can't say for sure, but I really don't think so. I didn't, and I kept my ear very close to the ground in those days."
Alex spoke. "The Englishman tried very hard to hide you from me, and so did the Smoking Man. They were using your location as leverage." The muscles in his throat contracted. "In the process, maybe they inadvertently hid you from everyone else, too."
"But won't they sense it? Jeremiah did."
I shook my head. "No, I only sensed that you were pregnant. Neither you nor your baby's concentration is high enough for us to detect it. I put together your immune status from Alex's, and the fact that you hadn't died in early pregnancy."
"She can't have that baby," Alex murmured. For an instant, I thought he meant Marita; but he was holding Marita's gaze with his own, and I realised he meant Scully.
Marita was appalled. "Alex!" she burst out in reproach.
"If she doesn't carry to term, they'll assume it can't be done. But if she has that baby, and it lives, they'll see us and our baby and they'll work out that our baby is the same, just like Jeremiah did. You and this baby will be at just as much risk as her and hers." He traced the wedding band on her finger. "You're four months along, Marita. We only just got married. As long as Scully doesn't carry to term and you do, they'll think it isn't mine. And that means they won't know you're both immune."
Marita was very pale. "Alex - you're not going to kill her baby - are you?"
He looked at her steadily. His expression was haunted.
"Alex, promise me you won't kill that baby. Promise me you won't lay a hand on Scully."
He watched her for a long moment, frowning. At last, he said very deliberately, "I promise I won't lay a hand on Scully." He enunciated the words very properly, and I wasn't sure he planned to keep that promise in anything but its most precise form. If he could find a way of taking that baby from the redhead without touching her himself, he would do it - I was certain of it.
Marita didn't look convinced either, but she nodded. She got to her feet, bracing herself with one hand on the bench. "Come on," she said abruptly. She nodded to the shop opposite. "Let's go baby shopping."
Alex looked at her dubiously. "Is that meant to express hope, or invoke guilt?"
Her expression was fond, yet grave. "Both."
She turned away and walked on ahead, leaving us to consider.
I ignored him, pushing the warmth out of me, through my palms, urging it into Mulder's flesh. Touching him, I felt a violent ripple of distaste. He'd been dormant - effectively dead. His flesh was cold and clammy. I had seen many wounds in my life, and I would see many more; but this chilled white thing before more bothered me more than any of them.
"Look at him," Alex whispered with unconcealed awe. "Three months in the grave, and yet he lives. How can that be?"
"The oil," I said grimly. "That's what we didn't take into account."
"The fourth faction," he mused. Funny - those words had only been a throwaway line, but he used them often, like an invocation. He said finally, "How do they fit into all this?"
"I honestly don't know," I said absently, laying my hands on the dimpled scar tissue covering Mulder's cheeks. "But I have my suspicions."
"You gonna share them?" he demanded, stalking over to the door and peering out. "Still clear," he added as an afterthought.
"Well, think about it. You've got this oil, and it can either stay oil or mature into greys within its human hosts. Which is better?"
"They both seem like pretty crappy choices, really. Limited power to act versus the likelihood of being used as breeding stock." He said it with the resigned air of someone who knew about crappy choices.
"What if there were a third option?"
"What if they've found a way to somehow transform the human host into a permanent vessel? With the power of my species, their own near-indestructability, and the use of human faculties-"
Alex's eyes were wide with realisation. "There's nothing they couldn't do."
I looked up from Mulder's prone form, nodding grimly. "The one thing I don't think anyone counted on was the oil's own desire for evolution, for self-actualisation. After survival, it's the most primitive instinct. For millennia, it has been trapped - under the ground on earth; in the wastelands back home. But now-"
"Jesus." He looked down at the man before us, seemed to hesitate, then pulled a stiletto from his pocket. He toyed with it. "Are you saying Mulder is one of them?"
I shook my head hurriedly. "No. I don't sense the oil in him at any great strength. Just a faint trickle, like you." He nodded, and pocketed the stiletto once more. "But it's getting stronger. It's hard to explain, but there's a throb to it that isn't there in you. It's doing something - building something."
"Building itself." He ran his hand over his jaw, sighing. "Can you fix it?"
How the hell should I know? I felt a surge of irritation, but I quelled it. "I can bring Mulder back from his current state, but I don't know if I can give him what he needs to defeat the oil as well. I've never tried." I went on hesitantly, "Presumably this was happening to Theresa and Felicia and all the rest of them, as well, and I healed them; but they weren't this far gone. I just don't know, Alex."
"He already has immunity," he pointed out.
"That might be enough," I conceded. "It might not."
"I've got vaccine with me. Would that help?"
He fumbled in his pocket for a moment, then drew out a vial and a hypodermic needle. He gave a sardonic laugh. "Who knew, when I offered it to Skinner, that it would be of use? Shit, I just wanted to know where the bastard was." He drew up a dose from the vial and moved towards the inside of Mulder's elbow, then stopped short. It was already occupied. "Fucking IV," he muttered. He inspected the man's hands, checking for possible entry points between the fingers, but those were covered with an array of little sensors, taped thoughtfully into place. Alex looked at them doubtfully, then pulled up Mulder's sleeve instead. With a sound of satisfaction, he eased the tip of the needle into the ripples of Mulder's smallpox scar.
"Is placement important?" I asked with interest.
Alex shook his head. "Nah. Normally I'd hide it between the toes or in his scalp, but there are tubes everywhere. I don't want to touch anything I don't have to." He put the used needle neatly into the sharps bin, which inexplicably amused me. He shoved the half-used vial into his pocket. "Come on - let's go." He headed for the door, then stopped short. "God damn it, it just gets better and better. Here's Skinner."
"I'll play doctor," I said, but I wasn't confident of my chances of success.
Alex negated this. "No - he'll know everyone dealing with Mulder's case. Hide in the bathroom - I'll keep him away from you."
"You're going to talk with him?" I said with a ripple of irritation. Honestly, he could be like a schoolyard bully sometimes. I wondered idly whether there'd been some history between Skinner and Marita - I seemed to recall her mentioning that their paths had crossed. If I was right, that might explain a few things.
"Just going to fuck with his head a little, that's all." He laughed at my expression. "Don't worry about it, Jeremiah. I'm not going to hurt him, just scare him a little. Teach him not to hold out on me again. We don't need the delays."
I had my doubts, but I did as he said, going to the bathroom and pulling the door shut behind me. I shot him a baleful look over my shoulder on the way.
I couldn't hear anything for endless moments. I heard hushed voices, but couldn't make out what was said. That worried me. The door was a thin one - they had to be almost whispering for me not to hear. But why would Alex be whispering?
At last, the door was yanked open, and Alex bundled me out. "Come on - now. I go left, you go right. I'll meet you out the front in an hour." He led me to the door between Mulder's room and the corridor.
I made a sound of frustration. "Damn it - what the hell are you up to, Alex?"
"You don't wanna know," he said, peering out the window, left and right.
"No, I'm sure I don't. But what are you up to?"
"Just trust me, all right? We're on the same side, here - remember?"
I sighed, and nodded. "Yeah, all right. But Billy Miles-"
"There's no time! Just go, damn it!"
His urgency finally transmitted itself to me, and I did as he said.
"Sorry about that. I underestimated the strength of Doggett's involvement. He came after me for the stupid vaccine."
I peered out the car window at the misshapen front panels. "Hence the collateral damage." Privately, I wondered whether it was as simple as that, but I decided it didn't matter much. Whatever games Alex was playing on the side, I still had no doubt that he and I were fundamentally playing for the same team.
"Pity about Billy Miles," I said thoughtfully.
Alex made a noncommittal sound. "I spoke to Marita while I was waiting. She got into the hospital records. Whatever change was happening in him had already taken place by the time we got there. There's an entry about a seizure and a brief double-heartbeat." He breathed out in a rush. "We couldn't have prevented it - and we might have showed our hand. Worked out for the best."
"Que sera sera. At least we know to watch him - see exactly how they operate." That didn't seem to cheer him much, so I said brightly, "Hey - the car rental people are going to love you."
That aroused a ghost of a smile. "Not as much as Marita will. We took it on her credit card."
"It's not in her real name, surely?"
"Course not. But she'll object on principle." He laughed with genuine fondness. "Might be just as well. Make her feel part of it. She hates not pulling her weight, as she puts it."
"That's absurd. She's seven months pregnant."
He nodded. "Yes, it is. But she spent a lot of time being powerless. Doing her bit seems important to her."
"She hacked into the FBI to get Mulder's location - and the hospital records," I added as an afterthought. "She's not exactly sitting on her laurels."
He laughed. "I like you, Jeremiah." His expression darkened. "Dragging her into the field - that's not negotiable. Deskwork, fine. But not fieldwork." I wondered if he was conscious of his language, that he still used the vocabulary of his days with the FBI.
"I'm inclined to agree. If Scully's pregnancy is anything to go by, Marita could be at risk. Of course, Scully may just be predisposed to prenatal complications."
He shot me a curious look. "Have you been healing her, Jeremiah? Is there something I should know?"
I shook my head. "No, I haven't. I would, of course; but there hasn't been a need."
"Just as well - you'd have to fight her to be allowed to do it," he grinned. "You don't want to get rumbling with Marita, Jeremiah. She can kill a man more ways than I can." It was a threatening statement, but his voice wasn't predatory - if anything, it was benignly proud.
"Has she ever?" I said thoughtlessly, then instantly wished I hadn't. It didn't particularly matter at this point, and if she had, I didn't want to know.
"Not that I know of, though I imagine she might have to get out of that place."
I shot him a puzzled glance. "I thought you got her out."
He shook his head, looking at the road rather than me, even though we were stopped at traffic lights. "I eased her path," he corrected. "I killed a few guards. Left her an empty corridor. But I didn't do enough."
I looked at him curiously. "She thinks you did."
He did look at me then, but only shook his head with a bitter smile. "No, she *says* I did. Just like I say it's okay that she tried to sell me out to Mulder because it was the safest thing for her to do at the time." I didn't know exactly what that referred to, but I decided not to ask. "Doesn't make it okay," he went on grimly. "It just means we shut the door on the fallout."
I stared at him. "How can you just close the door on something like that so neatly?"
He shrugged. He said mildly, "I dunno. I just love her, man."
I thought it was the most mundanely poignant thing I'd heard anyone say in my life.
"I hate this."
I rested a companionable hand on Marita's shoulder, and as an afterthought, I drew her into the crook of my arm. "He won't be long, Marita. He's doing it for you - and your child."
"He's doing it because he doesn't know how to walk away," she said bitterly. I thought that was probably true.
Alex slammed the trunk of the four-wheel-drive, then came around the vehicle to meet us. "I'm set," he said gently.
Gently, she broke free of me and went to him. "You're not going to hurt Scully's baby, are you?" she whispered. "You promised."
He shook his head, and as much as I had felt it necessary to extract the same promise from him myself the night before, I believed him. "I'm going to protect that baby, Marita. And maybe when it's born, we'll have some answers, too." He kissed her then, fiercely tender, his hand resting over hers on her belly, and whispered to her in Russian. She held on tight to his jacket, holding him close, and nodded, letting go reluctantly when he pulled away.
At last, he turned to me, and shook my hand. "Look after her, Jeremiah."
I nodded. "See you in New York." It was a pathetically inadequate expression of what it meant to me that he entrusted her to me, but it would have to do.
We stepped back, and I drew her against me once more. We watched as he drove away.
"Do you believe him?" she ventured at last. "About Scully?"
"Yes," I said firmly. "The Purists know about her now - we know that from our surveillance of Knowle Rohrer. There's no gain in killing her or her baby. If he did it, they would wonder why. It could lead them straight to you." I didn't tell her about the promise I had extracted from him myself - she was worried enough already.
She nodded thoughtfully. "The Purists have Knowle and Crane, and the Colonists have Reyes. What about the Greys?"
I shrugged my shoulders. That was in the category of the unknowable. "We have to assume, from the actions of Billy Miles, that they know enough to be damn afraid of Agent Scully."
Marita nodded, pulling away from me and leading me back to the motel. "There's something disturbing about how Miles behaves," she said gravely. "Something automatonic. He doesn't seem to have the consciousness of the Purist replicants."
I followed her into our room. "The Greys, as we knew them, no longer exist," I said, sitting down on one of the beds. "By remaining in their larval state, they remain essentially primitive. Their replicants are drones, trained only to kill and to survive."
Marita started pulling clothes out of drawers and laid them out on her bed. "That makes sense. What about the Purists?"
"I don't know what the difference is there. Maybe they're using immature oil. That might allow the replicants to hold onto their own memories and intelligence."
Marita fetched her suitcase from behind the door and laid it out on the bed. She started to put her clothes into it. "Well, if he thinks he's going to a city full of alien drones without backup, he's got another think coming."
I made a sound of frustration when I realised what she meant to do. "Marita, no. Alex is right."
"Alex is protective. He's right to be, but that doesn't change one fundamental fact. Going into something like this without someone watching your back is suicide. We haven't come this far - achieved so much together - to split up now."
"So you'll rise or fall together." She nodded, and I countered fiercely, "I won't let you. I promised him."
"You promised you'd look after me," she argued, quietly implacable. "I'm going to DC, with or without you. You'll find it easier to keep your promise if you choose the former." Unbelievably, she smiled at me with great affection as she issued this ultimatum.
I didn't like it, but she didn't leave me much choice; so I went with her.
FOUR: TWO MEN (EXISTENCE)
"God, how I hate morse code."
Skinner looked positively antagonistic, but he deigned to demonstrate a little curiosity. He nodded to the little black pager-like device in Marita's hand. "What's the range on that thing?"
"No limit. It's a celullar linkup. I just hope he's still fluent."
"Won't other people hear?" he queried.
"No. It's set to vibrate the message." She frowned, still pressing buttons. "'Skinner a replicant. Get out.' Doesn't get much plainer than that."
"Where the hell did you get this?"
"Just a little something from Spies 'R' Us."
I never knew when Marita was joking. "You've got to be kidding."
"Only about the name." She shot me one of those gorgeous smiles. I don't know what it was about her smile, but it got me every time, no matter how many times I saw it. If not for the divides of time and space and race, it might have been love.
"Just how did you two find me?" Skinner's voice was a growl. I'll never understand humans. Personally, if I were a prisoner and someone of dubious loyalties came to rescue me, I'd let bygones be bygones - at least for the duration. Maybe that's what makes people like me and Marita and Alex different from people like Mulder and Scully and Skinner. Skinner would sit there and rot just to spite you.
If Marita was annoyed by his lack of gratitude, she didn't show it. "We were watching Alex's back. We saw you being taken, and decided to follow." She sent the message again, and was rewarded with a rush of vibrations. "He's got it. It's about time." She pressed the buttons again in a new sequence. "'Forgot your Morse, milaya?'" she murmured. She put the device away.
"What did he say?"
"That he's getting out now. And that he's gonna wring my neck for not staying in New York." She turned to Skinner. "The replicant who took you - Knowle Rohrer - he works for the Purists. That's why you're still alive - the Greys kill theirs in the process of replicating, but the Purists seem to use cloning in their modus operandi."
"Skinner's valueable," I pointed out. "He could be bartered down the track. Makes sense that they'd want him alive."
"Where are we?"
"Hartford, Connecticut. About four hours' drive from D.C. Or three, if I drive," she added with a self-deprecating grin.
"She's not kidding," I laughed. "Mr Skinner, there's one thing I haven't worked out. The metallic skeletons. Did they say anything to you about that?"
"Not to me, exactly," he said, unbending a little, "but when I was drifting in and out in the car, I did hear them talking about metallic deposits."
"The oil would have bits of gold and iron ore and copper and stuff in it from being underground," Marita said thoughtfully. "Maybe that's how it makes the skeleton."
"That makes sense." I nodded to Skinner's cuffed hands. "Okay - how are we going to get him out? We can't get him up through the roof like that. You're not strong enough to pull him, and you pushing him from below is too risky."
"Just how fragile do you think I am?" She sounded annoyed.
"I'm not being paternal - well, not totally," I amended at her withering look. "If he fell on you, you could go into labour."
"He's right," Skinner said grimly.
She breathed a sigh of resignation. "All right. Here, let me try those cuffs."
"You don't really think you can pick them, do you?" Skinner demanded, holding out his hands anyway.
She shook her head. "Doubt it, but we seem to be out of options." She took the wire I handed her, but abruptly handed it back again and fished in her coat pocket. She pulled out her vibrating cell phone and opened the flip. "Yeah?" Pause. "Alex, thank God. What happened? No - hold on, tell Jeremiah. I'm working on Skinner." She laughed. "His cuffs, you idiot. Here." She handed the phone over to me.
I took it. "Alex, what's happening?"
"I'm not sure, but Billy Miles just tried to kill the Anti-Skinner, so I'm guessing that they're playing for different teams."
"They are. Skinner is a Purist clone, made with the same sorts of properties as Billy. We're with the real one now. He's in surly temper but otherwise fine." Skinner shot me a glare. I ignored him.
Alex's tone was cautiously hopeful. "That means they can be used against one another - and that they might know how to kill one another." He thought a moment. "Okay - I'm going to cosy up to Knowle. See if I can convince him I'm a sympathiser - and that the Anti-Skinner is a Colonist double. Maybe I can use them against each other somehow."
"Good thinking. Knowle is little in the scheme of things - no-one is going to give Scully's location to him. But Skinner is a risk - Doggett or Mulder could give it to him at any time."
"We have a few hours. Skinner is in hospital from what Billy did to him. He's going to have to stay there at least 'til the end of the day to keep his cover. If I can't get rid of him before Mulder gets the location, I'll have to kill Mulder."
"He'll lead them straight to her."
He cut me off. "No buts. This is endgame, Jeremiah. Winner takes all."
I groaned. "Just don't do anything rash."
"Who? Me?" he said sourly, and rang off.
I closed the phone and handed it back to Marita. She took it with a curious look. "What was that about? The last bit?"
"Nothing important," I lied uneasily. "Just fatherly advice."
"Yeah, right." She looked down at Skinner's wrists. "I can't get these things off."
I felt a ripple of unease wash lazily over me. My breathing suddenly grew faster and shallower, and a faint throb seeped into my consciousness. "Something's wrong," I said abruptly.
"What is it?" Skinner demanded, his features lined with tension.
"I'm not sure. Purists, maybe. Get back up in the roof, Marita." She complied at once, managing the task without help despite her ungainly frame. I followed, shooting Skinner an apologetic look. He either didn't notice or pretended he didn't.
We huddled there in the dark, listening. A few moments after I slotted the vent cover into place, we heard voices. I worked to follow the conversation for a while, and then, deliberately, I tuned out.
Skinner was being interrogated.
"They want to know where Scully is," Marita whispered.
I nodded, and drew her close against me. "We're going to be here a while. Try to sleep, Marita."
"You don't want me to know what they do to him," she accused.
"No, I don't."
She lay her head on my shoulder. "You're very good to us, Jeremiah," she said sadly. "No-one's been good to me before, besides Alex."
"You're good to me, too, you know," I said, partly to distract her from the voices below, and partly because it was true.
"What do you mean?"
"Well - people don't really let me in, Marita. They'll share their pain with me so I'll take it away, but they won't just be with me. They don't share the joy, or the mundane. They want me to heal them so badly, but they can't bring themselves to be my friends. Because if I'm their friend, they have to stop seeing me as a commodity, and they can't afford to do that."
"I never realised," she whispered in awe. "You've been alone, too."
We stayed there silently for a while, huddling closer when the sounds from below grew more insistent. I tried not to let them make sense, but I gathered they were hurting him. Through the narrow slits in the vent cover, I could see streaks of black rising in Skinner's face.
Marita saw it too. "Nanocytes. They have a controller. Bloody hell."
"It'll be over soon. We'll get him out."
We fell silent again, but finally, she spoke. "What's Alex going to do, Jeremiah?" she asked in a low voice.
"If he can't stop the other Skinner before Mulder gets the location, he means to kill Mulder."
She stiffened against me - just for a moment. "It would solve the problem," she admitted, "but I hope it doesn't come to that."
I patted her shoulder in a fairly mediocre imitation of reassurance. "So do I."
Tap. Tap. Tap.
I opened my eyes. Marita was pressed heavily against me. I felt stiff and uncomfortable.
Tap. Tap. Tap. "Jeremiah?"
"Skinner?" I eased Marita off me, and she shifted, slowly coming awake. "Are you okay?"
"More or less. Less, rather than more, to tell you the truth. What about you?"
Marita blinked rapidly, rubbing her eyes like a sleepy child. "We fell asleep. It's cold in here."
"I fell asleep too." Unconscious, more likely, I thought. "I don't know how long I was out. On the upside, though, they took off my cuffs."
I lifted the vent cover and looked down into the locked room. Skinner looked like hell, his pallor pale, his eyes shot with blood; but he was standing steadily enough. Marita moved beside me, ready to drop back down into the room, but suddenly, I heard voices, and I grabbed her arm. The last thing I saw before I slid the cover back into place was Skinner sinking to the floor against the wall, reverting to what I presumed had been his position when they left him.
Out of my line of vision, the door banged open, and there were scuffling sounds. A man was flung across the room, and I clamped a hand over Marita's mouth before I was aware I had done it. I held her there as she choked down a gasp, then let go.
"Mulder," she whispered in horror. "We have to warn Alex." I said with more confidence than I felt:
Marita shook her head. "He isn't answering his cellphone - either that, or he's ditched it. He does that sometimes, if he's doing something dangerous. So they can't use it to connect him to me if he's captured or-" she broke off abruptly, staring out the window. She wiped her eyes.
"That means he's ditched the pager, too - right?"
"Most likely," she whispered. "God damn it, they're going to kill him."
Mulder spoke from the back seat. "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy."
"That's my husband you're talking about," Marita said coldly.
"No accounting for taste."
"Leave it alone, Mulder," Skinner muttered.
She turned in her seat to face him. "You don't know anything about him," she snapped, catching her breath in her throat. "He's got access to more information, more technology, more money than you could dream. We could have walked away years ago. But we didn't. You know why? Because he believed what you believed. He believed in truth. He believed in bringing down those people who abused their power to save themselves at the expense of everyone else. You do it with a badge, so you're the good guy; but he does it all by himself, so he's the bad guy."
I watched them in the rearview mirror. Mulder's expression was one of distaste. He addressed me. "Why you hanging out with these lowlifes, Jeremiah? I pegged you for better taste."
I stared at the road. "All I know, Mr Mulder, is that you came and found me and tried to bully me into healing your mother at great risk to myself. They found me and asked to help me heal others, and never once asked for it themselves. They protected me, and they treated me as a friend. You treated me like a commodity." I finished grimly, "From where I'm sitting, they're the good guys."
We fell silent for a while, but at last, hesitantly, Marita spoke. Her voice husky and raw with pain, she said, "What if they kill him, Jeremiah?"
"I may be able to bring him back if we get there soon enough. As long as his body is more or less intact, as long as he hasn't reached brain death. If they shoot him in the heart or the stomach, he'll be good as new."
"What about the head?" she asked fearfully.
"Depends. I can restore organic brain function, but I can't restore factual knowledge or memories - experiential learning. He could have problems, either with storage or retrieval."
"You said we'd never asked." Her cheeks were suddenly flushed. She sounded ashamed. It hurt to hear her like that.
"You didn't," I declared. "I offered."
"Dear God, dear God, dear God..."
Marita was whispering to herself in time to our footsteps. We ran down the stairs two at a time.
"What if that security guy was wrong? What if they didn't come down here?" Skinner sounded nervous. I cast my gaze heavenward in dismay. That was the last thing Marita needed to hear.
"We'll cross that bridge-" I stopped short as the door at the bottom of the stairwell opened. Skinner walked in; and Skinner - the real Skinner, beside me - went rigid, the tendons in his neck tense and hard.
The other Skinner registered no surprise or emotion at our appearance. He simply walked up the stairs, clearly ready to walk right by us - or kill us where we stood. Suddenly, I felt Marita push her way past me, and I tried to stop her, but she shook me off.
"Where is he?" she demanded, training her gun on him and flicking off the safety. "Where's Alex?"
"You can't hurt me," the other Skinner intoned dispassionately. He didn't even look at her; merely kept on walking, pushing past her with the air of one swatting at an insect.
As he did so, she jabbed her weapon into his upper arm. "Wanna bet?"
He stopped very still, and turned his head to face her with an expression that looked very like fear.
"That's it, isn't it? The lifesource. The smallpox vaccination scar. That's why the vaccine worked on Mulder - because of where they did it." She jabbed it harder, and he flinched. "Tell me where he is."
"The one like him went after the woman," he said, nodding at Mulder. He turned his head, and nodded to the door behind him. "The one-armed man is dead."
Bright spots of pink rose on Marita's cheeks, and she shook with sudden tears. "You bastard!" she wept, and she squeezed the trigger. Sobbing, she pushed past his falling body and fled down the stairs, reaching the door before it even hit the ground.
I scrambled over the replicant's already-disintegrating body, Skinner and Mulder hot on my heels. I raced down the stairs, through the door, out to Alex's prone body, overtaking Marita and shielding him from her view. "Take care of her," I yelled over my shoulder. "Don't let her see!" I heard scuffling as Skinner and Mulder held her back.
"Alex!" she shouted. "Oh, God, Alex..." her voice dissolved into tearful incoherence. Dimly, I registered Skinner making nonsense sounds of comfort.
I tuned her out, kneeling beside the body, my chest aching with apprehension. I touched the wound in the middle of his forehead. The blood there was still lukewarm, and I could still sense my own species within him. I felt the tightness in my chest loosen a little. He wasn't brain-dead, then.
I felt his forehead with my fingertips, detecting the outline of the bullet lodged in his skull. I dug out my pocket-knife and, wincing a little, I extracted it, careful not to chip the flat bone there more than I had to. I flung the bullet away, and then I laid my hands on him, gathering the warmth in my palms and sending it forth.
"Can you heal him?" Marita cried out in anguish.
"Yes," I said. "It was lodged in the skull. There's no penetration of the brain. There's tissue damage from the impact, of course; but it's repairable."
"Oh, God, thank God." I nodded to the men, and they let her go. She ran to us and dropped to her knees beside us. "Oh, Alex," she moaned, bowing her head to his chest, which even now began to rise and fall with renewed vigour. "Oh, Alex."
The men came up behind us. "He's not going to come out scot-free," I cautioned. "It will be a while before everything heals the way it should. He's going to have problems for a couple of months. Headaches, motor dysfunction maybe. It's going to be a long road." I could feel the wound closing beneath my palms, and I lifted them and let her see him. He looked like he was sleeping.
"No longer than we've already come," she said sadly, lifting her head and kissing the little pink mark where the bullet wound had been. Her tears were receding.
After long, agonising moments, Alex stirred. "Marita," he murmured. Then, opening his eyes and blinking rapidly, "Jeremiah. Mulder and Skinner-"
"Both replicants. The real ones are right here. They're fine."
"My head hurts."
"I'm not surprised. You've had inter-cranial bleeding."
He struggled to sit up. "Fuck, that hurts." He turned to Marita, holding out his hand as though for help getting up; but seeing her pregnant state, he seemed to reconsider. I manhandled him up, then held out my hand to Marita. She got up awkwardly, cradling her belly with her free hand.
Alex was wincing. "What now?" he demanded.
I looked from him to Marita for a long moment, and suddenly, I made a decision - a decision I had perhaps reached in my heart far sooner. I laid my hands on his shoulders. "We'll take care of it. You two go now."
He stared at me in utter bewilderment. "But - what about Rohrer and Crane? What about the Mulder replicant?"
"We'll take care of it," I repeated.
He kept on staring, but then his eyes grew wide in slow realisation. "You're cutting me out of the loop?" he said with an air of shocked betrayal.
"I'm setting you free." I nodded to Marita, who stood there beside him, not quite touching him, hugging herself, still shell-shocked by the events of the last few hours. "Take her somewhere safe. Have your baby. Be happy."
He looked unaccountably close to tears. His breaths were fast and shallow. His words came out in a rush. "Jeremiah, I've done things...I've killed people. If I ever had a right to walk away, if anyone has a right to walk away, I - I gave it up-"
"No." I squeezed his shoulders for emphasis. "You've paid, Alex. You've paid in blood and with your arm and with your guilt. And ultimately, you paid with your life. The fact that I brought you back is immaterial." I half-turned and indicated Mulder and Skinner with my hand. "There are other soldiers now - the old players, and the new resistance, people like Monica Reyes." I held those green eyes with mine. "It's all right to walk away."
He stared at me, wracked with indecision. Marita touched his cheek, stroking it with the back of her hand. "Alex, please. He's right. You have to step away. I can't lose you again." She kissed him there tenderly.
He didn't look at her, but he leaned into her kiss; and finally, he nodded. "All right," he breathed shakily. "All right." He looked from me to her and then back again; and then, finally, over to Mulder. "Scully's at Democratic Hot Spring."
Mulder nodded decisively, and he turned and bolted for the stairwell; but then he stopped. Hesitantly, he turned.
"I, uh, don't think I'll ever forgive, but..." he trailed off, looking at Marita. "I think maybe I understand."
Alex nodded. Mulder shot him the ghost of a smile, then turned and ran.
He turned to Skinner. "Locker F31A at Dulles. Use your credentials to get it open. It isn't the only controller, but you can use it to counteract anything done to you. Those Lone Gunmen guys might be able to work out a way to permanently disable the nanocytes for you."
"Locker F31A. Okay."
"You'll, uh, want to go get Agent Doggett. Rohrer and Crane are probably after him for Scully's location."
Skinner nodded. "Will do." He looked to me.
"We'll take care of it," I repeated. "Go now."
Alex frowned, then nodded. Marita came to me, rested her hands on my shoulders, rose up on her toes, and kissed me. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you for setting him free." I gripped her arms, holding her close for a long moment, and then she pulled away with a beatific smile. "You healed him, Jeremiah. You really did." As always, I smiled back; but I felt the salty taste of tears in my throat.
Alex held out his hand. "Good man, Jeremiah."
I took it in my own, smiling, and nodded; and then I turned and led Skinner away. At the door to the stairwell, I turned and caught a glimpse of them, her cradling his head against her shoulder, his hand over her belly. I felt peace.
I closed the door.
CODA: ONE WOMAN
How I came to have it doesn't matter.
Suffice it to say, I was an old, old man. The final showdown had come and gone; what remained of my species continued on its inexorable path to extinction. And I - I was a traitor, a pariah, exiled forever from a dying world. I would die in this strange, unforgiving land, with its strange, beautiful, terrible creatures.
I don't know how she found me. She never said. In fact, she said nothing at all. She simply placed an envelope in front of me, emblazoned with my name - a name I had shed long ago, before the acquisition of this latest roadside diner, before the previous one or the one before that.
When I looked up from the cheap laminate tabletop, through the tangle of patrons I caught a single glimpse of that unforgettable smile; took in her faded silver hair and her ethereal aqua eyes before she disappeared as quickly as she came. But she stayed long enough for me to feel the darkness emanating from within her.
Marita was dying.
I watched the obituaries for a time. I didn't think it would be long, and it wasn't. She died two weeks later, and her funeral was a busy affair. She was well-loved. I counted four young men and women who might have been her children; four achingly beautiful young people with his brown hair and her aqua eyes. There was no sign of Alex.
After I left, I went back to my motel, and packed. I checked out. And then I did something I hadn't done in decades: I slept outdoors.
That night, warming myself by the campfire, I remembered them both. I remembered them fondly, less in our intrigues and more in the fleeting glimpses of their lifetime to which only I had been privy. It had been a long time since I had prayed to either the deities of this world or of my own; but this night, I prayed for them both, and I addressed the prayer To Whom It May Concern. I think Alex would have liked that.
I opened the letter.
Dear Jeremiah I am writing this in the hope that it will reach you, one way or another. I will look for you for as long as I can, but if I don't find you, I pray and trust that my daughter will. It is possible - even probable - that you are already dead, for you were not a young man when first we met. But I pray that you still live. We lost Alex three years ago. His illness was short, inexplicable, and probably related to the thing to which we were exposed. But he died a good death, peaceful and surrounded by those who loved him. I nearly searched for you then, not because you could heal him, but because you were our friend. I think now that you would have healed him if you came, so I am glad I stayed at his side. It was his time. And now it is mine. That fact saddens me, because now I can never come back to you. I will not come to you sick. I will not do that to you. You once said we were your friends because we had never asked anything of you, and I know you would not begrudge me asking now, but it's something I cannot do. Besides...it's time. I wondered for a long time why you didn't give Alex his arm back, but now I think I know. His arm was the price. His arm was justice - literally, pound of flesh for those he harmed. I understand now that he could never have walked away if you had not kept that back. As for me...my price is a shortened life. I don't mind. We were happy, Alex and I, and we raised four beautiful children. I think we got the good end of the bargain. It was more than either of us deserved. I'm not sure why I feel driven to share these things with you now, except that I wanted you to know what you brought us, with your gift, with your friendship, and with who you are. You hated it when I talked about your gift, Jeremiah, and with good reason. It brought you great suffering at times. It is my hope, though, as our lives draw to a close that you can embrace who you are. You are a healer, in every possible way. More than that, though, you are loved by at least two of the ones you healed. I don't know if that makes it worth it...but maybe it can be enough. Thank you for being our friend. All my love, Marita
I folded the letter carefully, and put it into my pocket, close to my chest. I wiped my too-wet eyes, and then I rolled over and closed them.
Yes, I thought, it was worth it. Every minute of it.
I went to sleep.
(1) Geographic information about Mars, including air pressure, air composition, orbit, and its moons Phobos and Deimos were all obtained from http://seds.lpl.arizona.edu/nineplanets/nineplane ts/nineplanets.html.
(2) One thing I loved about writing this story was writing about Alex and Marita from the perspective of someone who knows very little of their history - someone who judges them solely on their behaviour and the things they say in the here and now. I think Jeremiah is very idealistic about them, especially Marita, and it's been interesting to twist their characterisation a little into that light.
(3) BONUS: HEALER BACKSTORY
This support document, which I wrote while I was writing Healer, explains the events of the story from an objective point of view. It is not at all literary or entertaining, but those of you wondering how it all hangs together with the XF canon may find it of interest. In particular, there is a detailed account at the end which ties the story into the larger context of Existence.
APOCRYPHA: Alex survives full possession by the black oil (canon). He is left with trace gifts including the ability to navigate, and the concentration of the species is strong enough to be detected by Colonists, Purists, and Greys. (story).
HERRENVOLK: Jeremiah Smith, an alien shapeshifter, maintains Socials Security records on the Smallpox Eradication Program. He has healing properties, apparently one shared by all shapeshifters. (canon). Jeremiah came to Earth from Mars at about 18 Earth years of age - just on maturity. He was sent to aid in using humans to help gestate the young of his dying species, but after escaping one of his own in an attempted hit, he decided to actively undermine the Colonist cause (story).
TUNGUSKA: Mulder infected with the oil and vaccinated against it (canon). The Russians, and probably the Americans, are working with old, mature oil from within the earth in their work on a vaccine, unlike the immature oil provided by the Colonists. The oil is gradually evolving. It has understanding of its fate and has plans of its own (story).
PATIENT X: Marita infected with the black oil but does not show signs of possession (canon). She is left with a low concentration of the species, not detectable by Colonists, Purists or Greys. She is also not susceptible to mind control directed at those species. The difference between her concentration and Alex's may come down to age of the oil, or to Marita receiving the vaccine. Because CSM and WMM hid Marita (from Alex), the Colonists never discovered that Marita is an immune. (story).
FIGHT THE FUTURE: Scully infected with the oil, but shows no sign of possession. She is vaccinated and recovers. The oil, left unchecked, gestates into a new lifeform in the host (canon). That lifeform is a Grey - ie, the oil is the larval form of the Grey. The Colonists want to cultivate Greys as breeding stock to gestate their young (story).
ONE SON: Human conspirators killed (canon). Their employees come under a mix of Colonist, Purist, and Grey control as these groups regroup (story).
REQUIEM: Alex and Marita reunited. Mulder abducted. Scully pregnant. (canon). Scully's baby is fathered, one way or another, by an immune, probably Mulder; because immune mothers can only carry immune babies to term, and immunity is conferred by the father. Similarly, non-immune mothers die when pregnant with immune babies. Hence, immunes can only have babies with other immunes, and vice versa. (story)
INTERIM: Alex and Marita reconcile, and Marita becomes pregnant. At some point they decide to marry and she takes his name. Alex conceals much of what he knows, including the fact of Scully's pregnancy. He does tell her of the abductee returns, though, and they work with Absolom's group (which includes Jeremiah Smith) from a distance, leaking information to them about abductee recoveries. (story)
PER MANUM: Scully's pregnancy monitored by Dr Parenti, and he convinces her that her baby is normal. However, he is also conducting programs in which greys are born to women and then taken away. Knowle Rohrer is somehow involved (canon). Parenti works for the Colonists in the ongoing work to make Grey breeding stock. Knowle is a replicant already, rescuing Grey babies from the Colonists and returning them to the Greys (story).
THIS IS NOT HAPPENING: A UFO arrives to remove Jeremiah Smith, the alien healer seen in Herrenvolk, before he can heal Mulder, who dies and is buried (canon). The UFO is manned by shapeshifters and humans controlled by the oil, who want Mulder to go on to become a replicant. However, Krycek and Marita arrive, Krycek to try to retrieve Mulder, Marita to try to save Jeremiah. She is able to do so because of her pregnancy. Jeremiah works out that she carries an immune baby and is therefore immune herself, and he senses Alex's immunity. He agrees to go along with them and heal other recovered abductees (story).
DEADALIVE: Alex threatens Skinner and asks him to kill Scully's baby. Mulder recovers (canon). Alex brings Jeremiah to heal Mulder but plays asshole when he's discovered. He also genuinely wants Skinner to kill Scully's baby because he now understands that it is of great interest to all parties, and that its presence might shed light on and therefore endanger the child he is expecting with Marita. He is most concerned about the Purists and Greys at this point, not the Colonists (story).
At this point, pretty much everyone in all factions knows about Scully's baby and its importance. Only Jeremiah knows about Marita and Alex's baby. Before moving on to Essence/Existence, let's look at the factions involved at this point and why they're so interested.
COLONISTS (shapeshifters): Want their race to survive by gestating them in Greys and/or humans, and will resort to hybridisation rather than extinction if necessary. In the current context, they want to know if an immune mother can bear an immune baby safely, because so they feel an immune mother might also gestate one of their own species safely (since the Greys and their own species are related). Colonists do not necessarily want to hurt Scully or her baby, and do not want to take the baby; they only want to know if it can be done. Colonists and their sympathisers include people like Samantha and Kurt, and as such would prefer to protect Scully. They have made their own near-invincible replicants and pioneered a process that makes them as copies (rather than killing the original in the process). Monica Reyes is a secret sympathiser in their goal of protecting women and abductees, though she seeks to undermine the work on using women as breeding stock. As with all groups involved, the Colonists do not know Marita is an immune or that she carries an immune baby, but would work it out if they ever knew Krycek was the father.
PURISTS (shapeshifters): Disagree with hybridisation as a dilution of the species. Would rather face extinction, but would consent to their race being gestated by (but not diluted with) the related Greys. The Purists want to kill Scully's baby, and preferably Scully too, from ideology; but they want it born first so they can use its body in tests on a weapon against the Greys, who they now recognise as a threat. Purists come into replicants pretty late in the game, probably stealing the technology from the Colonists, but their people include the Game Warden, a Mulder replicant, and a Skinner replicant.
GREYS (oil): As the Greys have developed from mature oil, they have come to understand and ultimately disagree with their destiny as breeding stock. Furthermore, they have found that rather than using humans to mature into Greys, they can continue to reside in humans for greater strength, evolution, self-actualisation etc than that available to them as Greys. They want to take over all humans and keep Earth for themselves, and will fight the shapeshifters for it if necessary. The oil adheres to the cowpox protein in the smallpox vaccination scar, and uses its own mineral deposits, iron oxides, etc to form a metal skeleton. The only way of killing a Grey replicant is by separating the oil from the protein to which it adheres - effectively the life source. Greys want to kill Scully's baby, and Scully, immediately because their oil immunity makes them a biothreat to their race. Their replicants, all effectively dead as shown in DeadAlive, include Billy Miles, Knowle Roher, and Agent Crane.
ESSENCE: Pretty much as it appears onscreen. Krycek, now that all factions know about Scully's baby, no longer wants it dead. He is reluctant to kill it anyway, given Marita's pregnancy, and he understands that the conflict will continue to rage now whether Scully's baby lives or dies. He feels the best course now is for Scully to have the baby so they can see what they're up against, and protect it from the factions as best he can. Skinner is still Skinner, Mulder is still Mulder, Monica is still working for the Colonists but her goal is to protect Scully.
EXISTENCE: Between night of Essence and morning of Existence, Skinner is seized by the Purists and replaced with Purist replicants. Jeremiah and Marita see this and follow.
Jeremiah and Marita find Skinner. They page Alex with his communications device (like a pager) in vibrating morse code, and let him know something's wrong. He gets the message while sitting in Skinner's office. He rises, throws the device in the bin so it can't be used to link them to him, and walks out to get away from NotSkinner. NotSkinner follows. Krycek tries to elude him but fails, but NotSkinner is hurt by Billy (who does not yet know that NotSkinner is a Purist replicant). Krycek escapes. He phones Marita and lets her know he's safe and what happened, but not where he is (wanting to keep her and the baby clear of it all). He gets the Colonists' information on the Grey's replicants from her. He then contacts Knowle Rohrer. He claims to be a Grey sympathiser because he is part Grey now, too. He hopes to use them as backup to kill NotSkinner. (In the story, these allegiances wound up being changed a little, but it still hangs together).
Meanwhile, somewhere between Skinner's hospital in the day and Doggett's car in the night, Mulder is nabbed by the Purists and replaced by the replicant. Jeremiah, Marita and Skinner free the original Mulder from the Purist facility. They return to the Hoover building to look for Alex/Rohrer/Skinner/Doggett. Note, because they can't contact Alex, Alex knows NotSkinner is a replicant, but he doesn't know about Mulder.
Alex meets Rohrer and tells him that the Purists have sent replicants to thwart them, and that NotSkinner is one of them. Rohrer takes off to tell Crane and Kersch the news. (Kersch, BTW, is not a replicant, but he is an oil sympathiser. His reasons are unknown and don't really matter for our purposes, but the rationale is that his fear at the end of the episode seemed a little too human for him to be a replicant).
Meanwhile, NotMulder has gotten Scully's approx location from Doggett and is about to take off, while NotSkinner tries to get more details out of Doggett. Krycek hears this (phone tap on Mulder's cell maybe, or a bug in his car), and reluctantly decides to kill both Mulder and Doggett so NotSkinner, Rohrer, etc can't use them to locate Scully. Remember, he doesn't know Mulder isn't Mulder. That accounts for his speech to Mulder. NotMulder wants him to hurry up and get it over with so he can regenerate and keep moving, thus accounting for his behaviour.
NotSkinner arrives and aims at Krycek. Krycek says it will take more bullets that he could fire to win, meaning NotSkinner can't kill the greys and their replicants. He offers NotSkinner a thousand lives - that is, the location of a thousand greys - in exchange for killing Mulder. He prods his own weapon towards NotSkinner to suggest that NotSkinner should frame Alex for Mulder's death, thereby safeguarding NotSkinner's position of power in the FBI in the long term. He does this so that Mulder can't lead NotSkinner to Scully, still unaware that Mulder isn't Mulder. NotSkinner kills Alex, choosing ideology (getting Scully's baby) over self-protection (the location of the enemy Greys).
NotSkinner walks off to get an exact location from Doggett. NotMulder takes off in 'his' car. Skinner, Mulder, Jeremiah, and Marita run into NotSkinner. Skinner and Mulder fire uselessly, but then Marita has an idea. She shoves her gun into his arm at the smallpox vaccination scar point - the lifesource. He tells them that NotMulder took off to whatsit spring and that Krycek is dead. Marita shoots NotSkinner, who dies in the stairwell.
They go out to the carpark, where Jeremiah heals Krycek. He tells Krycek and Marita to walk away, and that he'll handle the rest. They do, thus departing the story. Skinner goes upstairs and helps Doggett get away from Rohrer and Crane, while Mulder takes off to whatsit spring, intercepting NotMulder along the way. Skinner and Doggett get away from Rohrer and Crane and give Mulder Scully's location. Meanwhile, Jeremiah contacts the Colonists and gets them to send reinforcements to protect Scully and the baby. It turns out they have a human sympathiser with her already - Agent Reyes - for exactly that purpose, and that more are on the way.
At the cabin, Reyes protects Scully from Billy and the Greys, who don't want the baby born at all, and the Game Warden and the Purists, who want it born so they can take it. After Scully's baby is born, but before Mulder arrives, the Colonist replicants use force on the ground to herd the other faction replicants together, then remove them on their craft (the craft Monica was watching during the episode). Monica removes the placenta and umbilical cord and gives them to her Colonist conspirators so they can use it to further develop a weapon against the Greys. The Colonists now recognise Greys as a major threat to both themselves and humans, and they believe they no longer need them because they believe they can now use immune human women to gestate their young.
Jeremiah assists the Colonists in defeating the Grays. The final bioweapon against the Greys is spread with herbicides and in other ways over several years, until the Grays are no more, and the species is obliterated on their own planet as well in the same way. Jeremiah continues to undermine the Colonist work on gestating in human women, however, and ultimately breaks away and assists in an all-new human resistance involving Monica, Doggett, and others. Eventually, the Colonists are defeated in a war with the Purists, and the remainder of the species return to Mars to live or die. Jeremiah remains an exile on Earth for his activities against both Purists and Colonists.
Around twenty years after his time with Alex and Marita, Jeremiah, by now an old, old man, receives a farewell letter from Marita. He reads it after her death, and she reveals that she and Alex raised four children and that Alex died a couple of years ago. The implication is that their exposure to Purity may have played a part in their deaths, but that they have lived happily. Jeremiah decides that everything he has done has been worthwhile, and presumably dies peacefully soon after.
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