Light Without Shadows 1: This Is Who We Are
by David Hearne
From: "David Hearne" <email@example.com> Subject: [glass_onion] Light Without Shadows: Part One, This is Who We Are Date: Sunday, June 16, 2002 10:51 AM
TITLE: Light Without Shadows: Part One, This Is Who We Are AUTHOR: David Hearne
CLASSIFICATION: X-Files/Millennium Crossover RATING: R
SPOILERS: Anything up to S9 of XF and S3 of Millennium. TIMELINE: After "Daemonicus."
SUMMARY: Agents Doggett and Reyes team with Frank Black to investigate a secret project of the Millennium Group. They meet a killer whom nobody can stop -- one who has a strange bond with Agent Scully.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: "Light Without Shadows" comes in three parts. "This is Who We Are" is the first, followed by "This is Who You Are" and "This is Who I Am."
One night in Chicago, Officers Joel Risso and Steve Buchanan did something they never thought they would do. Both Risso and Buchanan were experienced policemen, but not hardened ones. They had seen all forms of human meanness and degradation, yet neither of them gave up on other people's capability to do the right thing. That's why they tried to reason first with belligerent suspects; why they gave children time to dance in the spray of broken fire hydrants; why they made friends with the people living in the neighborhoods they patrolled.
The night on which they did something wrong began quietly. Right before the strange event happened, they were driving through a street empty of pedestrians and speculating on which famous actresses they found sexy.
"Heather Graham?" Buchanan suggested as he sat behind the wheel.
"She's cool. I'm for Catherine Zeta-Jones myself."
"Oh, yeah. You know, Michael Douglas must be a really nice guy..."
"He must be real good, that's what it is."
The two officers laughed. Then Risso stopped laughing. He was looking back at an alley which the patrol car had just passed. Buchanan heard his silence and said, "What is it?"
"I don't know. Something I saw in that alley. We better go back."
Buchanan turned the car around and parked in front of the alley. Both policemen could now clearly see what had caught Risso's eye. The alley was lit just enough to expose the figure kneeling behind a dumpster. The left half of his body could be seen; so could the arm of a woman lying under the man.
The man did not look up as the patrol car stopped. Nor did he seem to notice Risso and Buchanan rushing into the alley. He only lifted his head when he heard a shouted command to freeze. By then, however, he was finished.
He looked at the two policemen.
"Get away from her!" Buchanan yelled.
"It's all right," the man said. "Don't worry." The eyes behind his black-rimmed glasses calmly regarded the guns pointing at him.
"Up against the wall!" Risso bellowed.
The man slowly rose. He did nothing else.
"I swear, get up against that wall or you're dead!" Risso warned.
"I've already been dead," the man informed him. "Now I am alive forever more."
The man stepped forward. Risso and Buchanan should have fired their guns; the man's guts should have been splashed across a wall; justice should have been done.
None of these things happened. The policemen knew what to do, but they didn't do it. They just stood there as the man approached them. The tiny reflection of a street light was reflected on his glasses while he spoke to them --
"You are doing the task given to you. You are good men." He stopped with the guns an inch away from his chest.
"I am doing the task given to me," he said, indicating the woman. "This is good as well."
The man reached out and placed one hand each on the trembling guns. With only the slightest pressure, he directed the arms of the police officers toward the ground. Then he touched them both on their faces.
"God be with you," the man told them, making it sound like a promise. He walked past them and kept on walking until he was out of their sight.
Risso and Buchanan couldn't bring themselves to move for a long time. The woman on the ground kept herself still with them.
Three days later, Steve Buchanan was sitting in a diner. A half-empty bottle of beer rested on a table before him. Also with him at the table were Agents John Doggett and Monica Reyes.
"If you tell anybody what I tell you," Buchanan said as he tore white bits from a paper napkin, "then I'll deny it. So will my partner."
"Your partner isn't here," Doggett observed.
Buchanan looked down at his hands. "He couldn't talk...he's having a hard...a hard time..."
Reyes noted the dark circles under Buchanan's eyes and the disorder of his uniform. "Whatever you know is troubling you," she observed. "I also imagine that people might have a hard time believing it."
"Yeah. That's a fair assumption." Buchanan grabbed the bottle and swallowed mouthfuls of beer. When he put down the bottle, he said, "This is what happened..."
When he finished explaining, Reyes had a concerned yet thoughtful expression. Doggett was merely incredulous.
"You caught a murderer," he said slowly, "in the act...and you let him go."
Buchanan nodded. He continued to shred the napkin.
"Can you explain why?"
"Of course I can't explain why!" Buchanan yelled. "That's why I called you two assholes!"
Noticing the customers looking in his direction, Reyes leaned forward and placed her hand on Buchanan's wrist. "We're here to help, Officer Buchanan."
Buchanan yanked his wrist away, but lowered his voice. "You work for the fucking X-Files, right? You're supposed to be able to explain...things like this."
"We're also supposed to report anybody who does not fulfill his duty," Doggett said as he stared at Buchanan. "You just confessed to doin' that big-time."
Buchanan folded his hands together and pressed his forehead against his thumbs. "Go ahead," he muttered. "I mean, what did I expect? Of course, you're going to tell...someone..."
Doggett was ready to leave, but Reyes touched him on the shoulder. He studied the imploring look on her face, then made an ambiguous gesture with his hands indicating that he would be patient, but not for long.
Reyes turned to Buchanan. "We won't tell anyone about this," she assured him. "At least, not until we understand what happened. We need more information..."
"Her name was Ingrid Hill."
"The woman who got killed. Risso and I called it in after...well, after. I mean, we had to, right? So Homicide is looking into it now."
"All right. But they don't know about the man you...saw."
"And saw again."
Reyes' surprise allowed Doggett to speak. "Again?"
Buchanan lowered his hands. He had a strained smile on his face. "I just met him last night. Just...ran into him. I was out...you know..." Buchanan indicated the bottle. "...and I met him as I came out of a bar."
"He smiled at me." Buchanan's breathing quickened. "The bastard just smiled at me. Then he went on his merry way."
"Where did he go?"
"To a soup kitchen." Buchanan laughed briefly and harshly. "The man does charity work. I watched him as he went around giving out food and passing out clothes and talking with homeless people, and they all treated him like he was the nicest guy on the planet."
Buchanan gulped every last drop in his bottle before continuing. "And then...I followed him home. He didn't mind. He just smiled at me again and went inside."
"You know where he lives?" Reyes said.
"I said 'home,' didn't I? He lives in an apartment...that way..." He vaguely indicated a direction. "...I can give you the address."
"That would be nice," Doggett said dryly.
Buchanan looked at Doggett's stern face. "I'm not asking for forgiveness. I don't understand why we did it. I can only tell you what I was thinking as I stood there and let that motherfucker walk away."
"I was thinking...'This is the right thing to do.'"
The man they came to see was Aaron Payne. He lived in a building full of cheap, thin apartments and the smell of dust. After knocking on his apartment's door several times and getting no reply, Doggett and Reyes went to the building manager. He was a man accustomed to scowling at his tenants' behavior, but his face softened at the mention of room one-one-zero's inhabitant.
"Great guy," he said as he walked back with the agents to the apartment. "Always nice, willing to help out with stuff around here, pays on time. Just a decent person, you know? What do you want with him anyway?"
Doggett and Reyes looked at each other. "We think he may be a witness to a crime," she told the manager.
"Well, I'm sure he'll help you with whatever you need."
The manager used his key to unlock the door. Not only couldn't Aaron Payne be found inside the apartment, but he had taken all his possessions with him. Only a scratched dresser and a narrow bed remained in the room.
"Jeez," the manager said. "He just up and left."
"That's not unusual for this business, isn't it?" Doggett said.
"No, but...couldn't he have said good-bye first?"
"Did he mention anyplace where he was thinking of going?"
"Nah. Hell, I don't even know where he came from." The manager frowned slightly. "That's funny. We used to talk a lot. I told him a lot of things about me, even though he never talked about himself." The frown changed to a smile. "But that's just Aaron. People like him."
"So I gather."
"Talk to anybody on this floor. He got to know them all and be friends with them." The manager grimaced at the noise of televisions and loud voices from other apartments. "And it's not easy to be friends with these people."
Reyes' eyes seem to flash just before she asked, "Did an Ingrid Hill live on this floor?"
"Uh, yeah," the manager said. "What do you know about her?"
"That she's dead."
The manager became uneasy. "What...what does this have to do with Payne?"
"We don't know," Doggett said. "Maybe nothin'."
"Well, let me tell you right now -- Payne couldn't have had anything to do with it."
"We're not sayin' he did. Look, could you leave us alone for a moment?"
The manager looked suspiciously at the FBI agents, but nodded and walked away.
"Interesting, no?" Reyes said to Doggett.
"It only goes to confirm Buchanan's story. Too bad for him."
"So what do we do now?"
"We do what we should have done in the beginning. Make Buchanan's superiors aware of what he's done and help them find Payne."
Reyes sighed and sat on the bed's edge. The creaking springs were as loud as an alarm clock. She said, "I don't feel quite right about just throwing Buchanan to the wolves."
"Because he and Risso may not have been responsible for their actions. Maybe Payne exerted some kind of mental influence on them."
"You're sayin' that he used mind-control like that guy Mulder and Scully caught? Robert what's-his-name..."
"It's a possibility."
"Anyway you can prove it?"
Reyes shrugged. "I'm just speculating. Do you have a theory?"
"They froze up."
"It happens. Even in a situation where you have the power, the other guy can still psyche you out."
"You mean, Payne bluffed them?"
"Somethin' like that, yeah."
"How is that different than mind-control?"
Doggett thought about it, then said, "Hell, I don't know. The only thing I do know is that we have to report...what?"
Reyes had spotted something odd at the edge of her vision. She looked straight up, and her face became rigid. Seeing her expression, Doggett looked up with her.
An image had been drawn on the ceiling right above the bed. Whoever slept in the bed could stare at a circle right before he slipped into dreams.
"That looks familiar," Doggett said. "Where have I seen that before?"
"In the old X-Files," Reyes answered softly. "It's from a case investigated by Mulder and Scully a couple of years ago."
"Oh, yeah. The one with the FBI agents who killed themselves. Weren't they all members of..."
"The Millennium Group," Reyes said as the snake above her swallowed its tail.
"What Founding Father said, 'It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no gods?'"
Jordan Black tapped a pencil against a table's edge. She looked for hints to the answer in her father's face. She could only see a kind, expectant look in his craggy features -- a quality of understanding which seemed at odds with the lines around his eyes and mouth.
The phone rang. Frank Black glanced at it, then laid the book cover-up on the table. "Just a moment," he told Jordan, then added with a teasing inflection, "No peeking."
"I won't," she said in annoyance, even though she kept looking between the book and her father's back as he walked across the kitchen floor.
He picked up the receiver. "Frank Black here."
"Mister Black, this is Agent Monica Reyes from the FBI."
Black felt wary. It wasn't just the 'agent' part of Reyes' greeting which put him on his guard. Her name sounded vaguely familiar to him.
"Before you go on, Agent Reyes," he said, "you should know that I don't do consulting work anymore."
"I'm aware of that, Mister Black. And I would be glad to leave you alone. Unfortunately we may have a problem with an old group of yours."
Frank risked a look at Jordan. Her attention was focused on her test preparation. He turned away from her and said in a low voice, "Millennium?"
"Yes, sir. Have you heard of a man called Aaron Payne?"
"Well, Payne was serving a fifty-year sentence for murder. Five years ago, he entered a rehabilitation program run by the Millennium Group. Whatever they did to him, it convinced the state to let Payne out on parole in the summer of 1999. A month after that, Payne vanished. That brings us to now. My partner and I have been investigating a murder. We believe that Payne committed it."
"So the rehabilitation didn't work."
"We're not sure what it did. The records only show that the Millennium Group had this man for awhile. We can't get any more information than that."
"The Group liked to keep secrets."
"I know. This is why we need you."
Frank leaned his shoulder against a wall and sighed, "Agent Reyes..."
"I understand that this is a difficult area for you. I know enough from your involvement with the X-Files..."
"What do you know about that?"
"That you worked with Agents Mulder and Scully on a case. You should know that the X-Files has a new staff now."
"Yes, sir. Myself and Agent John Doggett."
Frank took a few moments of silence. Then he said, "Send me what you have. I'll give you my e-mail address..."
After he finished the conversation, Frank returned to the table. He sat down and asked Jordan if she had an answer.
"No," she grumbled. "History sucks."
"Yeah," Frank said. "Sometimes it does."
For the ninety-sixth day in a row, Emma Hollis didn't tell her boss to take her job and shove it. Instead she spent the day as she usually did -- doing her duties as a clerk, filing, photocopying, having lunch, drinking secretly in the bathroom. It was almost amusing how difficult the alphabet could become after a little alcohol.
With that daily routine over, she took the bus route from the bank to an apartment building. As was also usual, she opened her apartment's door with the comforting knowledge that the day was over, but also with the underlying terror of facing tomorrow.
She entered her apartment and stepped on something. She looked down to see a folder. In her inebriated condition, she briefly imagined that one of the bank's ledgers on retirees had followed her home. She bent over and picked up the folder.
A light in the hallway fell on a snake -- a snake swallowing its own tail.
She almost dropped the folder when a voice paralyzed her. "Where would you file that?" the voice asked.
She slapped on a light switch. A lamp's glow flooded the room. Sitting on a fold-out couch was a man wearing running shoes, blue denim pants, a brown leather jacket, an unmarked white shirt, and a gray brimmed hat. He watched Hollis with eyes which seemed sunk into his long face, and he had a little smile on his thick-lipped mouth.
"I would put it under 'Last Best Chance,'" the man suggested.
"You're one of them," Hollis whispered.
"But we never met, right? I was a person whom they kept in the shadows because he did ugly things. I was someone who could see how it could all fall apart, and fall apart it did. But, more to the point...I'm Sylvester Drury. Nice to meet you, Emma."
Hollis stomped toward the couch and threw the folder into Drury's lap. He didn't move, but he did look over her cheap clothes and bleary eyes. "My God, you are a mess," he said. "But I guess that's what happens when no one can protect you from tainted associations."
"You are one of them," Hollis muttered. "You all love to make speeches."
Drury laughed. "You're right, you're right. Lord knows I heard a few when I was in the Group. Especially from the Old Man." He noticed Hollis' puzzled expression. "Oh, that's right. You never went through that initiation. They had it cut out by the time you came around."
"Look...I don't want to talk about ancient history. I want you..."
Drury grabbed Hollis by the hand and yanked her down. She fell on the couch right next to him, landing on her hip. As she sat crooked, she noticed that there was a piece of black plastic in Drury's right ear. A wire led from the earpiece to a jacket pocket. She heard the muted buzz of voices from the earpiece. They were so low in volume that only Drury could have understood them.
"Don't ever think that you can turn away from history," he warned her in a voice firm yet soft. "Especially not your history."
He pushed the folder over to her and released her hand. "You were never told why the Group disbanded. Read that and find out why."
Hollis slumped her back against the couch. "What does it matter?" she said as she looked sullenly at the folder. "The millennium is over. Nothing happened."
Drury just smiled and tapped the folder. "Read. Then know why we three have to take care of it."
"You, me and...well, you-know-who."
Hollis tightened her face. "No. He wouldn't. Not after I...not after what the Group did."
"I'm hoping you'll change his mind because..." Drury stood up; he was over six feet in height. "...his talents will be needed."
"But why do I have to be the one to change his mind?"
"Because I think he's not without sympathy for you." Drury chuckled. "He's certainly not going to listen to me."
Hollis looked again at the folder. There was a quarter-inch of paper between the manila binding. She snorted and said, "Why don't you just give me the Cliff Notes?"
"All right," Drury said. "The Millennium Group was destroyed by its greatest success. And now we have to deal with the results."
Drury turned and headed for the door. He stopped when he heard Hollis ask, "Why us?"
Drury looked back at her. He was no longer smiling.
"Because this is who we are," he said.
He left the apartment. Hollis spent a long time merely rubbing her finger over the ouroboros symbol printed on the folder. When she finally opened the folder, the first words she read were "TEST SUBJECT: AARON PAYNE."
INTO THE LIGHT
Reyes gave up. After finding the ouroboros symbol in Payne's apartment, it had been easy to track down his involvement with the Millennium Group; a simple trek through the criminal databases had produced that information. Unfortunately that had been all the data she could gather from those sources. Her phone call to Frank Black hadn't given her much encouragement for learning more. There had been reluctance and suspicion in the man's voice. She couldn't blame him.
After she had e-mailed the scant, bewildering information on Ingrid Hill's murder, she had continued her research into the Millennium Group and continued to hit walls. When the Millennium Group had disbanded, they had completely covered their tracks. After finding nothing in the federal databases, Reyes plunged into the rumors discussed in the conspiracy-minded websites. She found much that was fantastic and little that could be proven -- stories about biological experiments, J. Edgar Hoover and the recovery of Christ's cross. (The last made her scoff. "How Indiana Jones.") Several hours of this made her turn off her personal computer and get a cup of coffee from the vending machine. When she returned to the room, she found Doggett waiting for her. He looked as tired as she was.
"Hey," he said.
"Any luck on your end?" she asked.
"Not much. Buchanan turned himself over. I spent a long time listenin' to him bawl to his captain who doesn't know what the hell to do with him. But I didn't get anythin' new about this case. As for Payne's whereabouts, no clues have turned up. And he's not the only one missin'. We can't find Buchanan's partner, either."
"Well," Reyes said and sipped at her bland coffee.
"I guess you haven't been doin' too well, either."
Reyes settled down on a bed. "I'm waiting to hear from Frank Black. Other than that, I've got little to show for my efforts."
Doggett pulled up a chair and straddled it backwards. "But you actually met the Millennium Group. That's one up on me."
"That was awhile ago. And all I did was work a few cases with them in New Orleans."
"What was your impression of them?"
"They were very skilled and intelligent investigators. Of course, at the time, I thought their main purpose was handling crimes related to the millennial craze."
"From what I heard, they actually started to believe the craze."
"And from what I've read, they believed in it long before the nineties; that this group of investigators was just the latest front for the Millennium Group."
"As opposed to when?"
"As opposed to..." Reyes made a circular motion with her finger. "...way back. There are those who believe that the group has its origins in the first decade after Christ's crucifixion."
Doggett tightened his lips and gave Reyes an uncomfortable look.
"In one configuration or another, they've been knights, monks, scientists, and artists. Isaac Newton has been claimed as a member. So has Reverend George Whitefield and Tolstoy."
Reyes shrugged her shoulders. "All I know is what I read on the Internet."
"Well, I for one am not in the mood for more conspiracy crap. Does the Millennium Group really have anythin' to do with this?"
"I would like to know for sure."
"I'll settle for just catchin' this guy. Of course, he shouldn't even be out on the streets." Doggett rolled his eyes. "Once again the parole board screws the pooch."
"What was the exact evaluation they made?"
Doggett threw his hands up in the air. "Oh, they loved him. Just like everybody else. Their report went on about how kind and generous and considerate he was."
Reyes paused, then said, "Maybe that's it."
"Why Buchanan and Risso couldn't arrest this man. He was too nice."
"Monica, what are you talkin' about?"
"I'm not sure. But maybe that's what we should focus on."
"I still don't know what you're talkin' about. What kind of 'nice guy' strangles a woman?"
"Good question. Are we ready for an answer?"
Chicago had been left far behind by the two passengers in the car. They were heading east under a night sky.
"I want to thank you again for this ride," Aaron Payne said. "I know it must be difficult for you to do this."
"No," Joel Risso responded as he steered the car. "Well, it was difficult to accept you at first. But now that I'm here..." He glanced at Payne. "...I have to say it's a honor to help you."
Payne smiled and patted Risso on the shoulder. The police officer looked as if the gesture had made his whole year.
"I can believe that it was difficult," Payne said. "It was hard even for me to accept myself. I couldn't understand what I was and what my purpose was." Payne closed his eyes. "Praise the Lord, I know now."
The car ride passed in silence for a few minutes. Then Payne said --
"He'll probably get my letter tomorrow."
"The next one to be judged."
Risso tingled with pleasure.
(...she had the blood of the innocent on her hands...)
/The snake bites into its tail, but it is never seen in the act of eating. It is always suspended before the act of self-destruction./
(...she was judged in the place where she sinned...)
/He guts a man with a knife, surrounded by images of his wife./
(...he has stepped out of the circle...)
/He is left with his child as the world seems to end.)
(...only one outside of the circle can stop him...)
/He walks away from Mulder and Scully, sensing their happiness but also sensing their doom./
"You have faced true evil, Franklin. Now you must face true goodness."
Frank Black woke with a cry. His panic gradually lessened as he became aware of his surroundings.
He was in his bedroom. The sky seen through the window showed the faint beginnings of dawn. He checked his clock. The time read two minutes after six.
He took a long breath, then left for the kitchen. As he brewed coffee and waited for Jordan to wake up, he considered his dreams. He understood why he had dreamed about Ingrid Hill. The information Agent Reyes had sent him had been certain to enter his subconscious. He could also accept that a mere mention of the Millennium Group could stir thoughts of his own history. Why had Hill's murder and his life been linked together in his dream, though?
And what had been the meaning of Agents Mulder and Scully being in the dream? Was it just because Reyes had mentioned the X-Files?
Then there were the words of the Old Man -- words never said to Frank when the Old Man had been alive. "You must face true goodness."
He stood in the kitchen for a long time, listening to the coffee maker and his thoughts. Finally he picked up the phone and dialed a long-distance number.
"Helllo?" a slurred voice said after the phone stopped ringing.
"Agent Reyes, this is Frank Black."
"Yes?" The voice quickly became crisp and clear.
"I need some more information from you."
"Sure. What do you need?"
"The place where Ingrid Hill was murdered -- were there any other crimes committed there over the past five years?"
"Ah...I don't know. I can connect with the police database and find out."
"Please do. I'll be waiting for your response."
He spent several minutes doing that as the coffee finished brewing and the sun appeared over the horizon. Then the phone rang.
"Two years ago, a baby was found in the dumpster located in that very alley. It had been smothered."
"I suggest that you compare the baby's blood to Ingrid Hill's. I think you'll find that the baby was hers."
"And what does this mean?"
"I don't know. But I'm coming to Chicago."
"That would be greatly appreciated. I'm sure the Bureau can pay you for your time and services."
After he and Reyes arranged a time and place to meet, Frank made other calls which required diplomacy on his part. First he asked Jordan's grandparents to watch after her. Then he cancelled his appointments at the hospital where he did psychiatric work. He hated invoking the name of the FBI, but it clarified the pressing matter which needed him in Chicago.
When he completed those calls, he checked the clock. It was just a few minutes after seven. He decided to wake up Jordan. He turned and found her standing in the doorway.
"I had a dream about this," she said. "It told me you were going away."
Before he could say anything, she added, "I know why you have to go."
Frank suddenly felt quite old before this young girl. He went to a chair and slumped on it. "But can you accept it?" he asked.
Jordan looked down at her feet. "I'm getting older, Dad."
Frank smiled slightly. "You're just starting middle school."
She looked back up. "I'm still getting older."
"Yes. You are."
She climbed onto his lap. Father and daughter held each other.
She said, "You can't fight an angel."
"What? What did you say?"
Jordan pulled back so her father could see her face. "That's what my dream said. You're not the one who can fight the angel."
Frank paused, then said, "Who can?"
"I don't know."
Frank studied the face of her daughter, seeing the first signs of lost childhood. "You better get ready for school," he told her.
She nodded, then left the kitchen for the bathroom. Frank tapped his fingers on his knee, then poured himself a cup of coffee and brought it to the room where he kept his computer.
He accessed the information on a disk marked with an ouroboros symbol. Two columns of data slid down the computer screen. One column was marked "Known Members." Among the names there was "Emma Hollis."
He focused on the other column marked "Possible Members." He scrolled down until he reached 'R.'
The name "Monica Reyes" hovered on the screen.
The killer studied the man in glasses. At first, he had been watching the man because of the penny-sized scar on his right temple. Then he realized that the man in glasses was a hitch-hiker. The killer had learned the attributes indicating hitch-hikers -- wear on the clothes and shoes, a sunburn, a backpack held as if it carried every single object the person owned, and, above all, a quality of dislocation. He judged the man in glasses to be belonging nowhere at the moment. This made him perfect for the killer. Sitting a few stools away from him at a diner's counter, the killer considered ways of putting this stranger where he wanted him.
Then the man in glasses turned toward him. There was a knowing look in his eyes. For a brief moment, the killer panicked. When the man in glasses smiled, the killer not only felt relieved, but even pleased. The smile was more honest than any expression the killer had ever seen before.
"I don't suppose you could give me a ride, could you?" the man in glasses asked.
The killer's pleasure was now mixed with disbelief. A perfect opportunity had just presented itself, but he still had to take it cautiously. "Well," he drawled, "where are you headed?"
"Hmmm. Yeah, that's about where I'm headed." Of course, the killer had no true destination. He drove in any direction which seemed best. A random path had taken him to this diner in Indiana.
"You don't have to take me all the way."
"I wasn't planning to, honestly."
The man in glasses nodded and smiled. "Good." He held out a hand. "I'm Aaron Payne."
The killer introduced himself and shook Payne's hand. "If you don't mind me asking," the killer asked, "how did you get that scar?"
"Somebody drilled a hole in my head."
The killer let out a brief, uncomfortable laugh. "That's supposed to be the thing nobody needs."
"Oh, this I did need. It was an operation."
"I see. I guess it worked."
Doggett only knew Frank Black by his reputation, but it was an impressive reputation. Nobody could put together a better profile than Frank, others said. Frank was practically psychic, they added.
The man entering the airport terminal certainly looked the part. With his ragged face and solemn expression, Frank Black had the appearance of a man who had spent decades of his life contemplating human insanity.
"Mr. Black, it's a pleasure to meet you," Reyes said, holding out a hand to Frank. He shook it in a perfunctory way. There was something in the way he regarded Reyes which bothered Doggett, but he judged it at the time as just reluctance to be in Chicago.
If Reyes noticed Frank's odd behavior, she didn't show it. "This is my partner Agent John Doggett," she said.
The two men exchanged nods. Reyes indicated the direction to the exit. As they headed that way, Frank asked, "Have they compared the blood of Ingrid Hill with the baby's?"
"The tests are not complete," Reyes said, "but so far it looks like that Miss Hill was the mother."
"What does this mean if she is?" Doggett asked. "I mean, for all we know, this could just be a coincidence."
Frank replied, "Judging from the information you've given me, it is possible that Aaron Payne had a close acquaintance with Hill."
"Apparently this guy could make a close acquaintance with anybody."
Frank nodded. "He's a person who can make friends easily. They feel that they can confide in him. I suspect that Hill told Payne about her darkest secret."
"So...Hill just happened to tell him one night that she had smothered her own baby?"
"Not 'just happened.' It was a confession made after a long relationship with him."
"Uh, look, Mr. Black, there are things I wouldn't tell my closest friend, and I never killed my own child. Could Payne really be that trustworthy?"
Frank looked at Doggett. "Can you make two police officers put away their guns as you stand unarmed over a woman you just killed?"
Doggett had no answer to that. "Do you have any explanations for how that happened?" Reyes asked.
Frank glanced at Reyes. Once again, Doggett saw something bothersome in the profiler's face.
"I'm just a profiler," Frank said. "I'll leave the paranormal to the X-Files."
"But you have seen unexplained phenomena yourself, haven't you?"
"The human mind is an unexplained phenomena, Agent Reyes. It's hard enough dealing with that."
"I've met a lot of people who chased after spirits because they were looking for something which could mend their broken lives. I hope you're not one of them."
Reyes looked past Frank to Doggett. They shared a mutual look of unease.
In a forest near the town of Bucksnort, there was a cabin which nobody had visited for over three years. The Elder living there had made little contact with the rest of the world during that time. A delivery man would regularly leave supplies of food at a drop-off point, but he and the Elder had never met.
He was still aware of what was happening in the world, though. His cabin was a warehouse of diverse information. Maps demonstrated the shifting weather patterns. Outbreaks of disease had been catalogued. Essays on groundbreaking new technology covered a table. More information was relayed to him over a fax machine and radio.
Some facts could not be learned through these sources. They required a willingness to listen to the unconventional -- the ranting of madmen on street-corners, the cries of children, the sounds of animals.
The Elder's only companions were dogs. He didn't own the dogs. They prowled the woods, attacking some people yet leaving others alone. They would often pace around his cabin and watch the light flickering in the window.
One night, they did something they had never done before. They howled, but not in the delight of a hunt. They were mourning. Their sad wails drifted toward the cabin. The Elder stopped writing in a journal and listened to the sound.
He tried to write again, but his trembling hand couldn't hold the pen.
"So tell us about the Millennium Group," Doggett said.
Frank looked up from his dinner. He, Doggett and Reyes were gathered in a hotel's restaurant.
"What do you want to know?" Frank asked.
"For starters, why did you leave them?"
"Because they killed my wife."
Doggett and Reyes watched Frank as he paused to eat a spoonful of mashed potatoes. Then the profiler said, "Remember that virus which infected the west coast a few years back?"
"Of course. As I recall, it even popped up in China and Africa."
Frank nodded. "The Group allowed the plague to happen. They were using it to test members and see if they would remain loyal." He paused, then said, "I failed the test, and my wife died from the virus."
"The Group has that kind of power?" Reyes said.
"Had, you mean. They disbanded, remember? At the time, though, they had knowledge, but not necessarily power. They knew where to look and what things to gather in order to prepare for an impending apocalypse."
"Which didn't happen," Doggett said.
Frank swallowed another spoonful of potatoes.
"I mean, two-thousand came and went. Nothing happened. Not even the computer system went blooey."
"Maybe something did happen. Nothing as grand as a nuclear war or the coming of Christ, but..."
(...He shall gather his followers, he shall make himself known to the world...)
"Frank?" Reyes said. "Is something wrong?"
"You got this odd look on your face."
Frank slowly put his spoon down on a plate. "Payne will strike again soon."
"Well, yeah," Doggett said. "We kind of figured that already."
"Next time it will be a public figure. He will kill somebody in full view of the world...and the world will see that nobody can stop him."
Doggett sighed. "Ah, come on. I refuse to believe that this guy has some kind of mojo which can control other people's minds."
"But what about those two police officers?" Reyes argued.
"And it's not 'mojo,'" Frank said. "I don't think this falls under the general pattern of the paranormal events you investigate."
"Oh, so it's something even weirder than mind control?" Doggett said in a sardonic voice. "What is it then?"
"I don't know."
Yet Frank did have an idea. He just didn't dare speak it.
When Payne requested a bathroom break, the killer saw his chance. He hadn't seen another car on the road for a long time. When he pulled the car over to the side, the killer was alone with Payne in a wide unpopulated space.
Payne left the car, walked away a few steps and unzipped his fly. The killer watched Payne for a moment, then pulled out a knife from under his seat. Trying to sound as casual as possible, he left the car. "Gotta take a piss, too," he announced with the knife tucked behind his back.
Payne nodded, still looking away from the killer. He continued to urinate on weeds. The killer walked toward him. Moonlight shined on Payne's neck. When the killer was one step away, he held up the knife.
"You've done this before, haven't you?" Payne asked.
The killer stopped himself.
"How many times?"
Instinct told the killer to strike now, but he still couldn't move. "How many times?" Payne repeated. There was nothing grim and commanding in his voice. In fact, he sounded kind.
"Six," the killer said.
Payne finished urinating and zipped up his fly. Then he turned to the killer. The knife was a foot away from Payne's throat.
"You are a sinner. You know that, don't you?"
The killer nodded. His gaze was absorbed with the soft expression of this physically uninteresting man with the glasses.
"I used to be a sinner as well. I was a killer of kin. That's the oldest sin of all. But then -- " He touched his head. " -- they took the darkness away from me. Now I do good wherever I go." Payne smiled. "You've already figured this out, haven't you?"
The killer looked down at his shoes. "Yes," he said in a cracked voice.
"They all figure it out. That's what makes this easy." Payne pressed his fingers into the fist holding the knife. He took the knife easily from the killer.
"You know what to do now," Payne said.
The killer knelt down in the weeds. He clutched his hands and whispered, "Oh, God forgive me for what I've done..."
"He forgives you," Payne said, going behind the killer. "He always forgives you."
Payne gripped the killer by the hair, pulled back his head and lifted the knife.
"And he always punishes you."
THE HOUR IS COMING
Senator Robert Wetmore had two mail routes connected to his office. One was only known to his personal acquaintances; the other handled the surplus of letters delivered by cranks and the less respectable political groups. This was why he was surprised to see mail from a stranger on his desk. It arrived the day after Payne met the killer in Indiana. Wetmore picked up the envelope out of the 'Important' basket and stared at the address. He tried to recall the name 'Aaron Payne,' but couldn't.
Then he shrugged and opened the envelope. He read the mailed letter.
After he was done, his skin had gone pale. "Jesus God..." he whispered.
He sat quietly behind the desk for a long time. Then he said, "Okay. Okay. Let's deal with it..."
He turned on a computer and began to type a document. He kept looking at the letter as he wrote. After he was done, he pressed the 'Print' button. As the document rose from the printer, he flicked a lighter and set the letter on fire.
They found Joel Risso. He had made it easy for them. At a radio station located near the border of Illinois, he had forced his way into the booth and interrupted a live morning show. It took five people to subdue him, but not before he could shout, "He is coming! Our savior walks among us!" over the microphone.
Doggett, Reyes and Frank drove a few hours from Chicago to the radio station. They found Risso being held by the local police.
"Helluva place for a cop to be," Doggett noted as he faced Risso in the interrogation room.
"Hell doesn't mean anything to me," Risso said with a smile. "Not when you have seen heaven."
"Oh, I know what you've seen," Doggett replied, sitting in a chair. Reyes stood next to him. Frank watched from a corner.
"You saw a murder being committed," Doggett continued. "And not only you allowed the perpetrator to go free, you gave him a ride."
Risso shook his head. "You speak of him as if he was an ordinary criminal."
"Did he come to you for help?" Reyes asked.
"No. I came to his apartment just as he was about to leave. My partner had told me the night before where he lived." Risso sighed. "Poor Steve. He knows what Payne is, but he can't accept it. I understand how he feels, though. I used to be so confused about what to..."
"Where did you see Payne last?"
Risso didn't looked offended at being interrupted. "Near the border here. It wasn't necessary to take him any further. He can always find a ride. I was left behind to spread the word."
"Did he say where he was going?"
"No. But I'm sure he will do what he has always done -- punish the wicked."
"He hasn't always done that." It was Frank who said this in his gravelly voice. He stepped closer to the table. "He was one of the wicked himself."
A pained expression appeared on Risso's face. "Yes, he told me about that. He killed his brother." He cleared his face of his doubt, then said, "But that was before he became who he is now."
"And how did he become this person?"
"He...he never really explained that. He just said that the evil was taken away from him."
"So," Doggett said, "the repo man came for his dark side, is that it?"
Risso turned to Doggett. "You'll understand when you see him. And you will see him. We all will."
Before Doggett could attempt a reply, the cell phone inside his jacket buzzed. He shared a brief look with Reyes before stepping out of the room and allowing her to continue the interrogation.
He pulled out his phone and turned on the speak button. "Doggett here."
Then he heard one of his least favorite introductions in the world. "Agent Doggett, this is Kersh."
After taking a moment to ready himself, Doggett said, "Yes, sir?"
"I understand that you've put out a bulletin for one Aaron Payne."
"That's right, sir."
"This is interesting. You see, the Bureau was about to do the very same thing. Imagine our surprise to learn that you had gotten here first."
"What do you want with Payne?"
"A letter was delivered to the office of Senator Robert Wetmore this morning. The letter was from Aaron Payne. It contained a threat on the Senator's life. He reported this to the FBI, and we began our best efforts to find Mister Payne. This brings me to you. What do you know about it, Agent Doggett?'
Doggett looked at the door to the interrogation room.
"We...Agent Reyes and I have been investigating the murder of a woman here in Chicago. We believe Aaron Payne did it."
"I see. Maybe you and Agent Reyes should come back to Washington."
"Yes, sir. All of us."
Under other circumstances, the waitress wouldn't have even served the homeless man. It didn't matter that he had money. His smell and filthy clothes repulsed her. Yet she gave him a sandwich and bowl of soup as he sat at the counter. She didn't do it for him; she did it for the man in glasses.
After setting down the plate and bowl, she looked to the man in glasses for approval. He nodded and smiled, pleasing her immensely.
Aaron Payne turned to the homeless man. "Enjoy yourself."
"You're a real angel, fella," the homeless man as he chewed on the sandwich with his few remaining teeth.
"I'm just doing what God wants me to do."
The homeless man snorted. "Well, you're just about the only one who does."
Payne folded his hands under his chin. "That will change soon," he said thoughtfully. He looked up at a television. An image of the United States Capitol was on the screen.
The time was seven-forty-five P.M. when Doggett, Reyes and Frank entered the office of Senator Wetmore. The senator was waiting there; so was Deputy Director Alvin Kersh.
"Senator Wetmore, these are Agents John Doggett and Monica Reyes." He frowned when he saw Frank. "And this is...?"
"Frank Black," Frank said.
Kersh's eyes sparked with recognition. "Yes, I remember you. I thought that you weren't doing consulting work for the FBI anymore."
"Doggett and Reyes called me in."
"Hm." Kersh turned to Wetmore with a smile. "Frank Black is the best profiler who ever came out of Quantico. He'll be a valuable asset to our investigation."
Slumped in a chair and holding a glass of whiskey, Wetmore didn't look too pleased. "But what about these two?" he said, indicating Doggett and Reyes.
"I'm sure they'll help us if needed."
"Only because it was our investigation first," Reyes said in an even voice.
Kersh threw her a warning look. "How did you get involved in this?" Wetmore asked.
Before Reyes could answer, Kersh said, "They were looking into a murder we believe was committed by Aaron Payne."
"Well, he's after me now," Wetmore muttered.
"You said that you received a letter from Aaron Payne?" Frank asked.
Kersh opened a folder on Wetmore's desk. He pulled out a sheet of paper encased in plastic. After receiving the letter, Frank read it aloud.
"'Dear Senator Wetmore,
"'I know what you have done. It is time to repent for your sins. I will come soon. At that time, you will confess of your sins to the world before you receive your punishment.
"'This means your death, but do not fear it. God forgives as well as punishes. Your fate contains redemption. Accept it, and know the true face of goodness.
"'Yours in Grace, Aaron Payne.'"
Hearing the letter read aloud in Frank's deep voice chilled the others in the room. Wetmore drained his glass, then refilled it.
Doggett cleared his throat. "I hate to play devil's advocate," he said, "but are we sure this is the same guy Reyes and I are looking for?"
"Well, that letter sounds like him," Reyes said.
"What do you mean?" Kersh asked.
Doggett and Reyes briefly looked at each other. They knew that Kersh did not like having the X-Files involved with this investigation. For the moment, they had to tread carefully.
"From what we've learned," Reyes said, "Payne has a 'religious' element in his personality. He strikes others as being...well, saintly."
"Saintly?" Wetmore said in disbelief.
"I'm sure that's how Charles Manson appeared to his followers," Kersh interjected. "I'm more interested in what you've learned about his current location."
"Headin' east from Illinois," Doggett answered, "from what we've last heard. I would like to know why he has chosen you for a victim, Senator."
Wetmore waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.. "He's crazy."
"Well, even crazy people have their m.o. Accordin' to Black's profile and what we've learned, Payne likes to know his victims personally before he kills them. And you never met him, have you?"
"Then what are the 'sins' that he's referring to?" Frank asked. He was still looking at the letter.
"How should I know?"
"We might...." Frank raised his head and stared at the Senator. "...if we had the real letter."
Nothing was said in the office for a moment.
Then Kersh asked slowly, "Just what are you implying, Mr. Black?"
"This is an edited version of the real letter Senator Wetmore received." Frank glanced at the computer. "It was probably printed here." He pointed at Wetmore. "You destroyed the real letter."
Doggett and Reyes wanted to take Frank aside, but the damage was done. As Wetmore trembled, Kersh said in a raised voice, "That is a grotesque and baseless allegation, Mr. Black."
"Aaron Payne would never send a typed letter," Frank insisted, not blinking an eye. "He would have written it, made it personal. And he would certainly explain why he was coming. He would have named Wetmore's sins."
"I repeat...grotesque and baseless."
"Then why are you here?" Frank snapped at Kersh.
"I'm here to protect a United States Senator. I don't know why the hell you're here."
"Oh, come on!" Frank's voice was rising.
"Frank..." Doggett warned.
"The government gets letters like this all the time! What senator hasn't been threatened?"
"And all those threats are investigated!" Kersh responded.
"And most of them are dismissed after a preliminary investigation! But this was already being treated as serious before you even knew about Chicago!"
"Senator Wetmore personally asked us..."
"Exactly. He called in favors to get special protection." Frank glared at Wetmore. "And that's because you're scared by what Payne knows about you."
Many people had wilted under Frank's stare. To his credit, Wetmore didn't. Instead he said, "Director Kersh...this man is not to be involved in the investigation any longer."
"Already done, Senator," Kersh responded.
Frank tossed the letter onto the desk and marched out of the office. Reyes chased after him, ignoring Kersh's order for her return.
Reyes caught up with Frank in a hallway. "You're not fooling me, you know," she called out.
Frank stopped and turned to her. "What?"
"You didn't have to do that back there."
Frank pointed his finger at the Senator's office. "That man is covering up something."
"Then that's what you should have told me and Doggett in private, instead of just blowing up."
"So you think I'm right."
Reyes sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. "Well, your 'public figure' theory was correct."
"And Payne goes after the guilty." Frank stepped closer to her and lowered his voice. "The last person he killed was a woman who smothered her own baby."
"Are you going to accuse a United States Senator of infanticide now?"
Frank closed his mouth and stepped back.
"But that's besides the point, isn't it?" Reyes said. "You just wanted an excuse to get out of this."
"And you want me to stay in."
Reyes looked surprised at the question. "Because you can help us."
Frank just stood there for a few seconds, examining Reyes more intently than she liked. Then he asked her a question which surprised her even more.
"Where is Agent Scully now?"
"She...why do you need to speak with her?"
Reyes paused before saying, "I can tell you where to go. Later, anyway. I have to go back and get my ass chewed by Kersh."
Frank just nodded. Reyes headed back for the Senator's office, feeling irritated and confused.
And Kersh did chew her ass.
The next day, Emma Hollis was sorting out another batch of files at the bank when an assistant manager approached her. He told her that she had a call waiting for her on his phone. His expression indicated an sour judgment of personal calls on business lines.
She thanked him, then went into his office as the manager waited impatiently outside. She picked up the phone and said, "Hello?"
"Hey, drunk bitch, I gave you something." The tone in Sylvester Drury's voice was jovial. She could also hear the muted buzz of his radio.
"Please...don't call me here."
"Oh, not again, trust me. Your boss sounds like a real dick."
"Look, I don't want..."
"You still have the file, right?"
"But you haven't given it to Frank."
"I don't want to get involved."
"Well, he's involved."
Hollis held her breath.
"That is to say, he was involved. Now he's out again, I think. I'm not sure. Anyway he found out about one of Aaron Payne's takedowns."
"Someone else brought it to his attention. Just a coincidence. Of course, Payne would have probably gotten his attention eventually. Payne's not exactly the kind of guy who stays hidden, especially now."
"Does...Frank suspect what he is?"
Drury laughed. "Maybe. You know Frank. But it would be a nice gesture on your part to give him confirmation."
"You said that he might be out."
"He'll never...be out...Emma." Drury's voice was now stern. "You'll never be out. I'll never be out. This is..."
"...who we are."
"Right. Now go find Frank. And if you can't find him, go to Agents John Doggett and Monica Reyes at the X-Files. Get moving."
Drury hung up. After listening to the phone line for many seconds, Emma hung up as well. Then she rubbed a hand across her face. It felt thick and heavy.
Then she left the office and told the assistant manager that she was quitting. She also expressed several euphemisms for the male anatomy.
When she saw him, she remembered a kiss. She knew that other things should have been more prominent in her memory -- the walking dead, biblical prophecies, tales of a mysterious group. Yet it was a memory of the kiss which Frank Black stirred in Dana Scully; a kiss almost done as a joke, yet still marked with desire and longing.
After looking at him through a peephole, she opened her front door. "Mr. Black?" she said.
"Hello, Agent Scully. May I come in?"
"Oh, of course. Please."
Frank stepped into her apartment. "I suppose I should say 'Professor Scully,'" he said.
She smiled mildly and closed the door. "I needed a change of profession."
"So did I. Unfortunately the old one keeps calling me back."
"How so?" She indicated the sofa. They both sat on it.
"Have you heard about Senator Wetmore?"
"Vaguely. Someone has made threats on his life and now they've got twenty-four-hour security on him."
"Did you know that Agents Doggett and Reyes were involved in this case?"
"No, I didn't. Is this case an X-File?"
"Possibly. It's also related to the Millennium Group which is why I was called in. And why I need your help."
Scully hesitated, then said, "How so?"
"I need someone I can trust."
She frowned. "What do you...?" Her neck tensed. "Are you talking about Doggett and Reyes?"
"Doggett, I know little about him. But he's not the problem. Reyes is."
"She might be a member of the Millennium Group."
THE CASTING OF STONES
Aaron Payne loved Ohio. Then, again, he loved the whole world. There wasn't a location in which he didn't see the wonder of God's creation, no matter how polluted and ugly it was.
He felt the same way about people. No matter how vile their actions, he loved each and every human being. This was why he headed east in a hitched ride with a trucker. He was going to prove the existence of goodness; he would tell everyone that sins could be cleaned away; he would show them God.
Right after he broke Senator Wetmore's neck.
On the following day, two people came to Washington, D.C. One of them was Emma Hollis. The plane trip and D.C. hotel room left her bank account in pain, but she didn't care. She felt good for the first time in over a year. She didn't even want a drink.
When she stepped into the front lobby of FBI headquarters, good and bad memories overwhelmed her. She remembered the day she graduated from Quantico, the first case she helped to solve, a relationship with a mentor who respected her; and then there was Peter Watts, her father's mental decline, and the betrayal she committed. For a moment, she couldn't decide whether to go forward or run away.
She chose the former by walking up to the nearest guard. He hadn't worked here during the time she had been an agent. He watched her politely yet warily. "Yes, miss?"
"I want to speak with Agents Doggett and Reyes. Tell them I have information about Aaron Payne." She paused. "Tell them I used to be with Millennium."
As Hollis was trying to see Doggett and Reyes, Payne was making his way through Virginia. He was a few hours away from D.C. A friendly driver was talking to him, but Payne was only half-listening. He was trying to understand a map of the D.C. area. The country's capitol city promised to be very difficult for navigation.
He dismissed any worries. God would direct him to the right place, as He always would.
Hollis talked about her father first; that story almost felt demanded. When she had arrived at the basement office for the X-Files, she was met by suspicious eyes. One pair belonged to an attractive black-haired woman, but she greeted Hollis and invited her to sit down. The other pair belonged to a man who stayed silent and kept alert for the slightest sign of untrustworthiness on Hollis' part. His grim, rough features reminded her uncomfortably of Frank Black. This was why she talked about her father.
"He had Alzheimer's. Day after day, I watched him get worse. At one point, he even assaulted me." She took a breath, then said, "This was when I was approached by a member of the Group -- Peter Watts. He's dead now."
"So we heard," Doggett said.
"He offered to help my father in exchange for co-operation with the Group on...certain matters. At the time...well, my choice saved my father's life."
"The Group had a cure for Alzheimer's?" Reyes said, stunned.
"They had the inside track on many medical advancements. They performed surgery on my father, and he's fine to this day." As far as she knew, to be precise. She hadn't spoken with her father since he had said, "You shouldn't have done it, Emma."
"This is why I joined the Group," Hollis said.
"Is that the only reason?" Doggett asked.
Reyes looked uncomfortably at Doggett. "Did she need more of a reason?" she said.
"Actually..." Hollis said.
Reyes turned back to Hollis. The latter woman looked down at her feet.
"When I first learned about the Group, I hated them. They just seemed like an out-of-control cult. But...they were onto something. They had access to knowledge that..."
Hollis shook herself and raised her head. "Look, I paid for my associations. After the Group was disbanded by its Elders, some of the bad things about them came out."
"And so your career went down the toilet," Doggett concluded.
"I couldn't get anyone to trust me anymore, Agent Doggett," Reyes said, her voice rising. "That's why I had to leave the FBI. It didn't matter that I wasn't involved in the Group's criminal activities."
"You can prove that?"
Reyes intervened. "Okay, okay. Before we get stuck in the past, I would like to know why you are here now, Miss Hollis."
Hollis took a breath, then held out a folder she had been clutching. "I hadn't yet become a full member of the Group so I wasn't told why the Elders disbanded it. But I know why now."
Reyes took the folder. Doggett looked over her shoulder as she opened it.
"Aaron Payne was something the Millennium Group had been trying to create for some time," Hollis told them. "Only when they understood what they had made...it scared the hell out of them."
Frank Black was packing his bag. He had just finished a phone call with Jordan's grandparents. They had wanted to know if he was coming back soon. "Today," he had said. "Yeah, definitely today." The answer had been made without thinking, but thinking afterwards had made it seem right.
When the phone rang, he resisted answering it. By the fourth ring, though, he let out a grunt and picked up the receiver.
"Frank, this is Agent Doggett. We've just gotten some big information on Aaron Pa..."
"I'm not involved in this case anymore. I'm going back to my daughter."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. I know what Kersh said, but I'll be damned if I just let you go. Especially now."
Frank paused, then asked, "What happened?"
"Reyes and I have just learned what the Millennium Group did to Payne. The information comes from one of their former members. She says that she knew you."
Frank tightened his grip on the receiver. "Emma Hollis..."
"Yeah, and she also said that you wouldn't be too pleased to hear from her. Just between you and me, I don't know what her game is. At the same time, though, you should hear her story."
Frank sat down on the bed and rubbed his forehead.
"It's up to you whether you want to come, of course. But I gotta know now -- are you in or out?"
Frank looked at the open bag.
Dana Scully talked about science and crime; procedures and mysteries; the human body and the human mind, but she was thinking about Frank Black. "I don't even know if I'll stay with this case," he had told her last night, "but you should keep a watch on Agent Reyes."
Scully had told him that Reyes had earned her trust; that she had helped deliver her baby, for God's sake.
"I have given my trust to other people as well," he had replied, "only to have them turn against me. Be careful that the same doesn't happen to you."
Scully remembered these words as she continued her lecture to the class. After all she had experienced, another betrayal would be unbearably painful. Reyes had become a friend over the past year. If she had concealed allegiances...
....then Scully would get very angry.
Frank's distaste for Hollis was apparent as he entered the basement office. As Doggett related the story told in the folder, Frank kept looking at her. She just sat in her chair, trying not to feel his gaze.
When he was done, Doggett placed the folder on his desk and said, "What do you make of that?"
Frank said, "It would seem to fit the evidence we've gathered."
"Is that all you have to..." Doggett frowned. "You don't seem too surprised."
Frank turned to Doggett. "I've suspected that our killer...moves in a different realm than other people."
"What does that mean?"
"He's elevated above us," Reyes explained.
"What the hell do you mean, elevated? He kills people."
"And who does he kill? Sinners."
"Then he's Dirty Harry, but not a freaking saint."
"Maybe he is a saint. And a saint has certain privileges. 'He who is without sin casts the first stone.'" Reyes pressed a finger on the folder. "Think about what the Group was trying to do here. What they did."
Doggett was quiet for a few moments, then shook his head. "No. First of all, I don't see how this works out to Payne being able to kill people without getting caught. Second, I don't think it's even possible to create the kind of man we're talking about."
Frank had been listening to Doggett and Reyes talk, but without looking at her. Now he spoke --
"I've seen it done before. Only in the other direction. They took a man and made him into a killer. Apparently that was the test case before attempting to do the reverse." Frank turned his brooding eyes back to Hollis. "What I don't understand is why you're bringing this to us."
In a small voice, Hollis said, "I want to help you."
"And just how did you get this information?"
"A man...another member of the Millennium Group...he brought it to me. His name is Sylvester Drury."
"Never heard of him."
"Neither did I. Of course, we were never full members, and only they knew the entire roster of the Group."
Frank could feel how close Reyes was to him. "I know," he said. "But that still doesn't explain why you're here. How can we really trust you?"
Before Hollis could answer, Reyes said, "What about her father?"
Frank slowly turned to Reyes. "What about him?"
"Is it true that she joined the group to save his life?"
"Yes. It is."
"Then I would say Miss Hollis is capable of rising above her own self-interest."
"A deal with the devil is still a deal with the devil, no matter who you're trying to save."
"And what was I supposed to do, Frank?" Hollis snapped, her voice suddenly loud. "Watch him die like you watched Catherine die?"
Frank looked back at Hollis with raging eyes. "All right, all right," Doggett said. "Save this for later. I want to know what we plan to do now. How do we stop this guy?"
Frank took a long breath, then said, "We can't."
"Why the hell not?"
"Because...it's a sin."
Payne gave up. He had tried to find his way through D.C., but had only gotten himself lost. When he saw a police officer walking his way, he decided to ask for directions.
"Excuse me, officer, but I'm afraid I've gotten hopelessly lost. Where is the Capitol Building?"
"Glad to help," the officer said and meant it. Payne's smile made him forget his usual exasperation with tourists. "What you have to do is take a..."
Then he recognized Payne. The man's description had been circulated through the D.C. police department.
"I have a better idea," the officer said, putting his hand on his gun. "Why don't you come with me?"
Payne just kept smiling. "You know that wouldn't be right."
The officer pulled his hand away from the gun. His expression was stunned.
"I think I'll find my own directions," Payne said. "As for you...you can tell them about me. Tell them I'm coming. They'll understand."
Then Payne walked away with the officer just standing on the sidewalk. After Payne turned a corner, the officer's shaky hand detached a walkie-talkie from his belt.
NOT OF LIGHT, NOT OF SHADOWS
Scully's cellular phone rang as she taught her third class of the day. She cursed the phone, wishing that she could get out of the habit of carrying it. "Excuse me," she said with embarrassment to her students.
She turned away from them and softly answered her phone. "Yes?"
"It's Frank Black. He's here."
The students saw Scully's back stiffen and looked at each other with worry. "Are you sure?" Scully asked.
"He's headed for the Capitol right now."
"What about Wetmore?"
"He's in his office with a lot of guards around him." Frank paused, then added, "I don't know if they'll be able to help."
"No," Scully said. "This man can't just walk in and..."
"Seen anything strange in your life, Agent Scully?"
Scully took a breath, then said, "What can I do?"
"Just be here."
"What about you? I thought you wanted to get out."
"Is anybody ever out?"
Scully took another long pause, then said, "I'll be there."
There it was.
Payne sighed with relief. His feet were starting to hurt, but he had the United States Capitol in his sights now. He could also see federal agents among the tourists. He waved at them.
They looked back with fear. All of their trained instincts commanded them to take this man down, but it was as if another instinct had risen. They looked at this murderer's kindly face and could not bring themselves to harm him.
He walked past them and placed a foot on the first step leading to the Capitol.
In Senator Wetmore's office, Kersh was yelling. "I am not hearing this!" he bellowed into a phone. "Don't you realize who this man is?...No, Agent, your stuttering does not count as an explanation! Stop Aaron Payne now!"
Kersh hung up the phone. He looked very agitated, but not as much as Senator Wetmore. That one was sitting in his chair, shaky and drained of color.
Doggett and Reyes were also in the room. They were grim, only without Kersh's disorientation. He noticed this and said --
"Agent Doggett...Agent Reyes...a man is entering this building with the expressed intent of killing a Senator...yet nobody is even touching him. How can this be?"
Doggett looked at a woman sitting in a corner. Emma Hollis hadn't said a word on the way to the Senator's office. She now looked back at Doggett, giving no assurances of anything good.
Doggett turned to Kersh. "I can't fully explain it, sir."
"Well, can you, Agent Reyes?"
"What we need now, sir, is a way of protecting Senator Wetmore. I suggest we move him to another location."
"This is the United States Capitol!" Kersh barked. "If he can't be safe here..."
"It doesn't matter." This was Wetmore speaking. He sounded like a man talking from the bottom of a well. "He'll find me anywhere. He..." Wetmore covered his face. "He knows. God, he knows."
Doggett wanted to ask "Knows what?", but his thoughts were now concentrated on Aaron Payne. "Monica, Hollis....come with me."
The two women followed him out of the office. "What's your plan?" Reyes asked.
"I have no fuckin' idea. If nothin' else, I'm goin' to meet this guy face-to-face."
"We need Frank Black," Hollis said. "He's the only one who can figure out how to stop Payne."
"Do you really believe that?"
"I can't think of anybody else," Hollis responded.
She was wrong.
Frank Black waited for Scully in the Rotunda, surrounded by tourists admiring the architecture and paintings. When he first saw her, she was walking briskly toward him under the wide dome.
"All right," she said. "I'm here."
"And I still need a good explanation for why I need to be here."
"I told you. I need a person I can trust."
Scully shook her head. "No. I still can't believe that. Show me real proof before I can accept that Agent Reyes..."
Frank's cellular phone rang. He had a brief conversation which he concluded by saying, "I'll be there."
"Who was that?"
"Agent Doggett. He wants me at the visitor's gallery. Aaron Payne is there."
Payne couldn't resist lingering in the visitor's gallery, even though Senator Wetmore couldn't be seen in the Chambers. He had never seen up close the workings of Congress. He listened to the Senators debate and make speeches. It left him amused. These men were discussing bill appropriations and taxes, but they had no idea of what real power was.
The kind of power that was watching them from above.
He couldn't watch them for long. He needed to get back on Wetmore's trail. The Senator was probably in his office. All Payne had to do was walk over there and...
Payne held back a sigh. He had a great amount of patience, but he was tired of these men with their badges and guns and illusions of authority. They had been trailing him as he had sauntered through the Capitol. Payne felt their desire to capture him and their frustration as that desire was inexplicably thwarted.
He looked up at the man standing over him. Payne studied the man's lean face as well as the faces of the two women with him. They were different than the other federal agents; he could sense it. They understood who was sitting in the chair before them. At least, the two women understood. The man had heard the truth, but was still having trouble accepting it. Like the other men with badges, he wanted to throw Payne to the ground and handcuff him...
....but he couldn't.
"You know who I am," Payne said.
"No, I don't," the man said, clenching his fists at his sides.
"I'm a good man, in the fullest meaning of the term."
"We know what was done to you," the dark-haired woman said.
"Really? Who told you that?
"I did," the black woman said.
"Oh. Were you with the Millennium Group?"
The black woman nodded.
"Hm. Well, they did intend to create a man without sin, but...they never really understood what a man without sin could be."
Payne stood up.
"But you will. Everyone will. Now if you'll excuse me..."
The man with the lean face raised a hand. "I can't let..." he said, but stopped himself. His hand got no further than a foot away from Payne's chest.
And, as always, Payne showed no meanness. "There's nothing you can do to stop me," he promised. "You have to accept that. Now please step aside and..."
The door to the visitor's gallery opened. Everyone looked in that direction and saw a man wearing a gray denim coat enter the gallery. An auburn-haired woman was at his side. The man was vaguely familiar to Payne, but he had never seen the woman before...
He saw her...
He saw her there...
Light and shadows fought together in everyone. The battle was more lopsided in others, but everyone was their own personal war.
There was no war in himself, though. When he looked at his soul, he found nothing but light. Everyone could see this light, just as he perceived the darkness intertwined with light in others.
She was different.
He saw no light in her.
And he saw no darkness.
She walked between the light and the shadows, not being touched by either. The war of light and darkness meant nothing to her. She fought a different kind of war with herself.
He could not touch her.
But she could touch him.
The transformation of Payne startled everyone. In one moment, he was serene. In the next moment, panic had ripped the smile off his face. As Doggett watched Payne's sudden attack of trembling, he knew that an opportunity had been given to him, but he couldn't figure out what it was, much less how to take advantage of it.
Then Payne jumped out of the gallery. He vaulted over the edge and descended the several feet to the Chambers floor. It was a long drop, but he managed to land without hurting himself. The loud clap of his landing made the present Senators jump and guards rush at Payne. "Out of my way!" Payne yelled. His voice was hysterical, not angry.
Of course, the guards obeyed. Nobody touched him as he ran out of the Chambers, out of the building, and down the streets of D.C.
Back in the gallery, people were still in a state of shock.
"Did you see that?" Doggett said. "Did you see that?"
"He was scared," Reyes whispered.
"Yeah, but scared of what?"
"It was you, Frank," Hollis said quietly. "Something about you scared him off."
Doggett strode toward Frank. "Is this true?"
Frank slowly shook his head. "I wasn't the one who scared him."
Frank turned and looked at the bewildered face of Dana Katherine Scully.
This story will be continued in "This is Who You Are." Let me know what you think so far at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to David Hearne
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