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05 November 2009 @ 04:07 pm
Machines of Freedom: Chapter 8  


December 15, 2012
7:28 PM Mountain Time
Stark, Montana

The dining room was quieter than Scully had expected when she entered it. Meals, even with only ten or fifteen people in the room, were a loud affair; the lab was full of shouting and talking at all hours. But now, as they gathered for this meeting, the junior staff were quiet. Solemn, almost. Perhaps this was the day it all became real to them. This wasn't a joke. It was the revolution.

She had never thought herself a revolutionary. Her teen years had been rebellion-free, and even her decision to join the Bureau, though a radical enough deviation from her life-plan, had been nothing but measured. Her politics were reliably centrist and not terrible vociferous. But this was where life had brought her: some strange Molly Pitcher of the new age, loading cannons and binding wounds and, in the end, hoisting the flag. She wants to blame Mulder, but she can't. It's life that's done this. He was just there to point it out.

John was standing on a table at the front of the room. Monica was beside him, sitting on the table, with her ever-present clipboard. They were a good team, and she was glad they'd kept the work going when she and Mulder had been in hiding. But they'd lost the files, too, in the end. This was what was left now, for all of them. She tried to shake off the nagging sense of anxiety that had been haunting her all day. Focus on the work, Dana, she told herself, but it was hard to focus on anything.

Mulder brushed his hand across her shoulder in greeting. "You ready for this?"

She shook her head to clear it. "My part is fairly small. Actually, I don't think John's letting anyone else talk."

"I meant in a more gestalt sense." He gestured around. "You know, shit getting real."

She realized she was reaching for the faint scar on her neck and stopped herself. "It's been real for some time, Mulder."

His hand slipped down her back, and he squeezed her waist before pulling away. "I suppose." He slid his hands into his pockets.

"Where's Will?"

"In the back over there," he said, nodding towards the door. Will was standing awkwardly next to a table. Mulder gestured him over. Will shook his head, and Mulder sighed. "I think he's embarrassed."

"That was fast."

"Yeah, well, we're pretty awful, when you think about it."

John cleared his throat, and the room hushed almost too quickly. A whole room full of young soldiers, dedicated faces and hope in their eyes. God, she was getting melodramatic in her old age.

"Good to see you all here," John said, loudly and with a tone of distinct authority. "Ladies and gentlemen, as of this moment, this base is operational 24 hours a day. If you open the shared files folder on your computers or phones after this meeting, you will see the schedule for your division, with your assignments and instructions. But let me give you the general rundown. Lab staff, you will finish your current projects as quickly as you can. When you do, see Wendy over there for reassignment. Dr Scully and Matt and Isabel have worked up a priority list of projects. These are not requests. These are assignments. I hope you are all clear on this." Scully suppressed a smile. The lab staff were not a very compliant bunch, but John was putting the fear of God into them.

"Security. We're setting up the bunker. There will be daily supply runs, some by helicopter. Everyone's pulling at least one control shift, but we're keeping it to one staff member on deck at a time. That means you gotta be extra vigilant, because you're the eyes and the ears of this whole place."

He flipped over the page of his notebook. "International and communications staff. We're keeping up our monitoring, but you're going to be skimming more. Don't prepare translations, just read and note anything that matters. If you run out of work, report to the shelter. There's plenty of work to be done there. This goes for everyone. We're not trying to take away your R&R. But if anyone's ever off-duty and bored, come down, we'll put you to work."

"The shelter." His face didn't move, but everyone in the room tensed when he said it. "Refugees are going to begin to arrive on December 18, starting pretty early. Staff out on the ground are going to start rounding them up late on the 17th. Security will be organizing it. I know everyone is going to want to see their people. As long as you aren't on a control shift, or doing something critical, you can come down and say hi."

He cleared his throat. "On the shared folder is the list of scheduled transports to Montana, when they're arriving, and who's on them. You can search by name. We got everyone marked high priority in, but there are about 75 people who are on our secondary list. That means we don't know if we'll have time or space to get them. Look, I don't like this any more than you do. But we're going to need to prioritize that list. If you've got people on it, I need you to go through and mark if anyone has engineering or medical or military experience--" his voice broke for a second. "Or any families with kids under 14."

Scully shuddered. She'd heard the conversation. Get the whole family if they could. Get the kids if they couldn't. Mulder was right, as usual: this was when shit got real.

"Now, we're gonna get everyone we can inside. But that means it's gonna be crowded. If we can move any of the staff coming in onto 2 and 3, that'll mean we can fit more civilians in the shelter." He cleared his throat again. "I know there's been some informal doubling up." There was a collective half-giggle, and three or four awkward glances. "If you want to make that formal, it'd be useful. Or if you've got some friends, we've got two two-bedroom units on 3 that we don't need for families, and we could put three folks in them if someone'll sleep on the couch. Let me or Bill know if you're clearing a room."

John let the pages of his notebook fall closed again, and focused on the crowd. "As of 1730 on December 20th, we are running full on, ready for combat. We don't have predictions yet for when the fighting will start, but our best guess now is somewhere after 0500 our time. We'll need everyone at stations from three hours ahead. You'll get those assignments on the nineteenth."

He took a deep breath. "That's it for the formal stuff. Last thing. We've got another trip out to religious services tomorrow, this time just in Missoula." It had been a surprise at first, when there had been quiet requests if anyone knew if there were churches and synagogues around. Scully had insisted they get it together for everyone, no matter how far it was. Jamila and Ismail from the lab had actually flown out to Spokane yesterday to find a mosque; they'd coupled it with a run to the medical supplies store to justify it, but she didn't care, and she thought the rest of the senior staff agreed. People needed what they needed right now. "Dr. Scully's leaving at 9:45 sharp with as many people as want to come. We've organized transport to St. Anthony's Catholic Church and First Lutheran, but if there are other requests, we'll see if we can find them. Go talk to her after the meeting, and she'll keep the list."

Finally, John straightened, and the room stilled again. He spoke in a calm voice, but there was a confidence there that resonated. "I know most of you have never been in combat before. I know none of us have ever fought anything like this. There's no one in this room who isn't scared shitless by the idea of this right now. But the fear is good. Reminds you to fight. We are a team. We can do this."

Scully fought the temptation to clap. It would have been overkill, and, anyway, it might have seemed ironic. But as she looked around the room, everyone else seemed to be fighting the same impulse.

It was forty-five minutes before she had finished dealing with questions from lab staff. Wendy stood next to her with notebook, watching negotiations over project needs and staff preferences, and finally making a note only when Scully told her to. Wendy had arrived at the compound yesterday, terrified, as if she were an Argentine desaparecido, but had been visibly relieved when Scully had greeted her. "They really were taking me to you," she said with a deep sigh.

"I've got a lab for you to manage, if you're up to it." Scully had smiled as kindly as she could. This was one of those offers you don't refuse, and she was pretty sure that Wendy had guessed that from the big black helicopter that had flown her here.

Wendy's back had straightened immediately. "Absolutely." And since that moment, she hadn't stopped working. It was a relief, to say the least.

Now, Wendy ripped the notebook page with the list of churchgoers off her pad. "Do you want to keep this, Dr. Scully?"

Her head was starting to ache; all she wanted was to go do some grown-up version of hiding under the covers. "No, actually. I want you to cross check it against the schedules for Sunday, and then notify department heads if people are going to be missing. And figure out what we need for transport, clear it with security, then plan out a route and timings for drop off points near all the churches, ok?"

"Got it. I'll finish that and the project priority list once I unload the next round of canisters from the vaccine synthesizer."

Scully nodded. "I'll see you in the morning. I think I'm calling it a night after this."

"Sleep well." Wendy marched off with her notebook. Scully couldn't help but smile after her. She deserves a raise, she thought, and tried to quash the voice that added if we ever make it out of here.

Mulder, Monica, and John were sitting together at the table behind her. John was negotiating with Jeff, who was coordinating the shelter, on how many blankets they needed and how many supply runs that meant. As Jeff walked away, John ran his hand over his face. "Never expected to put interior decorator on my resume."

"You did really well," Monica said. "I think they're the right mix of scared and energized."

"Yeah, well, I'm just hoping this all goes without too many disasters." John put his feet up on the table. "The logistics of transport for the refugees are insane. Not to mention how hard it's going to be to get them all here without becoming too noticeable. I'm having to land planes as far out as Elk River, just to keep suspicion down."

"It's only a few days," Mulder said. "Even if someone notices, it's four hundred people spread out over the whole country. That's not enough to find a pattern that fast."

"Suppose you're right," John said, sounding resigned. "Just don't like it. That's all."

"Do we have anything to talk through?" Scully asked. She'd been in the lab late the last two nights, and the prospect of an evening with Will and Mulder was all that was keeping her on her feet at the moment.

"Not much. Have you updated the supply list?"

"As much as I can. At this point, we either need things too complex for a run to Missoula, or just basic medical supplies. We'll send requests out to the staff members coming in, have them bring most of what we need in their luggage."

"When do you need control available for tests?"

She suppressed her immediate shudder at the idea of the test runs. God, she didn't know what she'd do if it fried tomorrow. "Tomorrow Isabel's running at 3:30 AM. Then it's 5:30 PM the next day, and that's me. I can't remember past that. Ask Wendy."

"Got it." Monica flipped through her notes. "Oh. There's one more thing." She set the clipboard down and folded her hands over it. "I'm wondering if we can give Casey back her control clearance. If it were anyone else, I might not bother. But she's our sole translator for all of her languages, and having her out of control is really cutting down on efficiency, now that she's done the backlog. Plus, she wrote the first draft of the prioritization software, and Ramon wants to debug the new version with her." She sighed and cracked her neck. "But, do we think she's a security threat? My instincts are telling me she's fine, but I'm not sure I want to trust them."

"Do you honestly believe she infiltrated the Consortium just because she could?" Scully had read that part of her report with amusement. She had thought only Mulder was that stupid.

Monica rolled her eyes. "That's fifty percent bravado, fifty percent obfuscation, which is basically her MO. But it's the closest thing to an honest answer were going to get."

"Honestly, if she's a double agent, she's pretty terrible at it," John said. "We know she's not transmitting anything or wired, and she did manage to trash the tracking mechanism on that helicopter, though I wouldn't normally suggest shooting holes in an aircraft you then intend to fly. Either she's clean, or keep your enemies close, right? At control, we can watch her."

"What do you think, Mulder?" Monica asked.

He shrugged. "She didn't seem openly deceptive when we talked, but I'm not in top form these days. And it's hard to judge by her actions. I don't think I have much of an assessment."

"But what about from before?" Monica pressed.

Mulder sat up a little, and Scully felt a sudden cold knot in her stomach. "What?" he said.

"I mean, you're the one who referred her. What was she like out there?"

"I didn't refer her," Mulder said.

"What?" Monica said.

"I haven't referred any one to the compound." He glanced over at Scully.

"But she had your code," John said. "Both of yours, actually, which I thought was odd, but they cleared."

Oh, shit. "I've only referred lab staff," she said.

"Maybe I'm remembering wrong," Monica said, and pulled her laptop out of her bag. Mulder and Scully stood behind her as she pulled up Casey's personnel file. It began:

Casey Suzanne Murray
CSM-2125
DOB: 11/21/82
Referrals: 820110, 467123

"That's us," Scully said. "But how did she get them?"

"Where is she?" Mulder said. "Where is she right now?" His hands were clenching, and she could feel him coiling like a spring.

Monica pulled up the locator program on the laptop, typed in CSM-2125. "She's in your quarters."

"Oh my god, Will," Scully said. She turned to look at Mulder, but he was already out the door. She followed him without looking back.

***

Mulder wasn't thinking very well as he found the stairs and ran down them two at a time. Part of his brain was trying to figure out why she had wanted Will here, what she wanted to get from him, what her possible motives were. But mostly he was just red with rage. That little bitch had his son.

He threw open the door the moment it swiped. Will and Casey were at the table, sitting without speaking. Momentum carried him towards her, and she saw it coming, because she stood and started backing up. He was within arm's distance in just a few steps, and didn't really process the decision to hit her until his fist connected with her shoulder. "What the hell do you want with him?" he roared.

She kept moving backward, tripping with the force of his blow, but got her hands up to swing at his head. He dodged, kept her moving backward, and landed another punch, to her face this time, just as she hit the wall. She brought up her knee into his stomach, hard, and he doubled over. Then her elbows came down on his shoulder, and he staggered, but straightened and pinned her with a forearm across her chest.

He pulled back his arm to punch her again, but something grabbed his elbow. He turned. Will had was holding his arm with both hands. "Stop, Dad, please, stop," he was saying, the words tumbling out of him.


He pulled back his arm to punch her again, but something grabbed his elbow.



Mulder stopped, though he didn't release Casey, and began to see clearly again. Scully was standing behind Will, her hands on his shoulders, as if she were trying to hold him back. Monica and John were standing in the doorway, watching, ready to spring into action.

He turned back to Casey. Her nose was bleeding, just a little, and she was breathing in little gasps under the pressure of his arm. He let her go, but she stayed against the wall, catching her breath, and brought one hand up to wipe the blood from her face.

Will was still talking. "It's just Casey, she's, she's fine, she's not--I mean, we were just playing chess."

Mulder looked back at him, then at the table. The small magnetic chess set he and Will had bought in Missoula the other day was set up, mid-game.

Casey shoved him, and he stumbled back. She pushed off the wall, and he watched her as she crossed to the table. She picked up one of the white knights, made a move, and looked up at him, eerily calm with blood on her face.

"Stay away from my family," he growled.

"You don't have to like me, Mr. Mulder," she said. "You don't even have to trust me. You just have to let me do my job."

"Get out," he said.

She walked to the door. Monica reached for her arm, but Casey yanked it away and walked past her, down the hall.

Mulder looked back at Will. This time, he could see the tears on his cheeks. "I'm fine," he said, and Mulder had no idea what to say.

***

Casey slammed the door of the empty staircase behind her, and hoped to hell Monica wasn't following. She started up the stairs to 2, but stopped at the landing, paced for a second, and then kicked the wall a few times. "Motherfucker," she said, and pressed her hands into the wall, resting her weight against the cool concrete.

"At least you're wearing steel toed boots," a voice said over her shoulder.

She exhaled against the wall. "Shut up, Alex."

"I'm just saying. You could have broken something."

She snorted, and turned to face him. "I think the nose survived, though." She gave it a delicate poke.

He leaned back against the railing, arms folded across his leather jacket. She hated his creepy ghost ass, she really did. "You know what you're doing. This isn't even a bump."

"You sure about that? Because it's feeling bumpy right about now."

"You were the one who wanted the mission."

"Yeah, OK." She started up the stairs again. "You know, I haven't even figured out what's wrong with the space-time continuum that you're here, but sure, you're the boss, whatever you say, Alex."

"I'm just covering your ass, Casey," he said.

"Somehow, I don't think it's my ass you're interested in," she bit, and slammed the door on the empty stairway behind her.

***

Monica and John had left after a few minutes, without much to say, except that, no, Casey probably shouldn't get clearance. Now Scully was sitting on the couch, her arm around Will, who was more anxious than he'd seen him in this whole past week. "It's okay," Scully was saying. "You didn't do anything wrong."

"I'm sorry," he said, glancing over at Mulder, who was leaning against the bedroom doorframe, and then back at Scully. "I didn't ask."

"It's fine," she said, softly and soothingly, and Mulder was bitterly glad he had her to play good cop right now, because he was not in the mood. "William, why were you and Casey playing chess?"

"She came up to me after the meeting. I mean, she just wanted to see how I was. She hadn't seen me since she had gotten here because she was busy working, she said." Also being under house arrest, and being interrogated, but she apparently left that part out. "So she asked me what I was doing, and I said I was playing chess. And she just offered to play me. That's all. We were just talking about, I don't know, nothing."

"We're just worried," Scully said calmly. "We found out she gave us some false information, and we don't know why, or if she means to hurt you."

"It's ok, really," he said quickly. "I mean, Casey, she's ok. She's not--" He struggled for a minute. "She's human, I mean."

Scully glanced up at him. Gibson, he thought, and guessed she was thinking the same thing. Gibson could find the aliens. She turned back to Will. "Can you tell when people aren't human?"

Will took a deep breath. "I think, maybe, that's what it is. I don't know. When those FBI agents came to the house, they were, I don't know, wrong somehow. And I think, maybe--" He sniffled a little. "I think maybe that's what they were. Aliens."

Or supersoldiers, or robots controlled with chips in their necks, or anything, really. Because there was just a fuckton of evil shit out there, and they were standing right on the bullseye.

Scully's ability to keep calm was just inhuman. "Will, since you got here, have you seen anyone who was wrong? In the compound, or out on supply runs, or anywhere?"

"It's not, I mean--" Will took a deep breath and shook his head. "We're fine here. You don't have to worry. It's safe here."

Scully rubbed his shoulder gently. "Okay." Mulder wondered whether to point out that he hadn't answered the question.

Will glanced up at him nervously, and the turned back to Scully. "Um. Are my parents coming here?"

Mulder crossed his arms and tried to keep his shit together. He made himself a little puppet-Scully in his head to tell him that they're the only parents Will's ever known, he's feeling insecure, he doesn't have any good reason to love us, what safety and comfort have we ever brought him? But that wasn't a very pleasant voice.

"Of course they are," the real Scully said. "Here, get out your phone, we'll figure out when they'll get here." She stroked his hair. "I know they'll be happy to see you."

Yeah, because it's so hard being separated from your kid for two weeks. Those poor suffering Van de Kamps, how would they manage. He shifted his weight from foot to foot.

Will turned his phone over in his hands. "I'm just worried about them."

That was it. He had to get out of here before he broke something worse than Casey's face. He stood up straight and headed for the door.

"Mulder," Scully said behind him. It was her get-back-in-line voice, and he was in no mood.

"I'm going for a run," he said. Sliding doors don't slam well, but he thought she got the message.

***

Scully heard the door shut and rolled to her back. Three hours he'd been out, and it's not like there's anywhere to go, considering they're in an underground bunker, so that meant he'd been hiding from them this whole time.

Will's face had crumpled as Mulder had stormed out. "He's mad at me," he had whispered.

"No, not at you," she had said, pulling Will against her body. "He's mad at me."

"You didn't do anything," Will said.

"I did eleven years ago," she said, and kissed the top of his head. "It's okay. Don't worry."

Will had finally gone to sleep at eleven, watching the door until the minute he went in his room. Now she lay in their bed, bracing for the fight when he came to bed.

He didn't. She heard the distant hiss of the shower. So that was how they were going to play it. He'd shower, he'd sleep on the couch, and they'd just let this fester until it blew up. No, she decided, that was not happening again. She kicked off the blankets and went to find him.

The bathroom was already full of steam when she got there. His clothes were on the floor, and the cuffs of his jeans were wet, which meant he'd been up on the surface, in the cold, at night. She fought back the urge to choke him with her bare hands as she stripped off her pajamas, pushed back the curtain and climbed in.

He kept his back to her. "I think we're full."

"What the hell, Mulder." She crossed her arms and stared at his shoulder blades. "Where were you?"

"Running. Like I said." He turned around but didn't make eye contact.

"I was worried about you. Will was worried about you."

He scoffed. "Sure."

He reached around her to try to grab the shampoo, but she stopped his hand. "He was," she said fiercely. "He wanted to know what he'd done wrong. He knows you're hurt and angry and he thinks it's his fault, which is something I'd expect you to have some sympathy for. " She felt the tension in his wrist muscles wilt a little. "He loves you," she said with as much sympathy as she could muster. "He's overwhelmed, and he's more than a little scared, and he needs reassurance right now. And you're not being very reassuring, Mulder."

The fight went out of him, and she let go of his wrist. He leaned his forehead against the shower wall. They were quiet for a long moment, and she watched the water run down his face, listened to him breathe. "I don't want them here," he said quietly.

"There's nowhere else for them to go," she said.

He shook his head. "I want them out there. I want the fucking ship to land in Wyoming." He slapped the wall, voice rising. "I want Casey to have blown up their house. I want him to come home with us at the end of this." And he slapped the wall again, and then tipped his head back into the shower spray.

"We can't do that," she said. "It's not fair to him. It's not fair to them."

"Tell me what the fuck is fair in all of this," he said. He turned, and leaned his back against the wall.

None of it. None of it was fair, and she couldn't tell him otherwise. She closed her eyes, and tried to get out the little speech she'd been half-preparing since they left Baltimore. "Mulder, if Emily had lived--" She saw him twitch at the statement. "If she'd lived, and they'd let me have custody. Would you have loved her?"

The look he gave her was angry and offended. "I did love her."

She couldn't process that right now. She kept going. "Or if after the IVF had failed, if we'd kept trying with donor eggs, and had a child that way. Would that have been our child?" He looked away from her again. "Or if we'd adopted? Mulder, they're his parents. As much as he's ours, he's theirs, too. I'm not saying we have to give him up again on the 23rd. I couldn't. You couldn't. I know that. But that doesn't change who they are to him."

He stared emptily at the shower curtain. "I know that. Really, intellectually, I do. But I can't...." He trailed off and turned his palms, face up, into the water. "I can't stop hating them."

She couldn't stand up any more, not to all this, and leaned her forehead against his arm. Water ran down from his shoulder into her hair, trickled warmly down her cheek. "Don't hate them," she said quietly. "They're the wrong ones. Hate me."

"I can't do that."

"Yes, you can. It's okay. I understand." Of course she does; she hasn't really stopped hating herself yet.

"No. I can't." She felt his head rocking back and forth.

She tiled her face up to look at him so close. There was a lostness to him that she hadn't seen in years, and, as much as she dreaded it, it was familiar. "Why not? Why can't you hate me?"

"Because I need you," he said quietly. "You're the reason I'm alive."

She snorted. "Walter Skinner and a backhoe is the reason you're alive."

He shook his head. "You're the reason I'm human."

She leaned back into his side. She loves him, has loved him for so long, and she just can't take this fight. "We need to keep it together."

"Not my forte." But his arm slipped around her waist, pulled her in against his body.

She let him take her weight for a moment, then straightened up. "Come on. You need sleep."

"Yeah," he said. He reached out with his other hand and turned off the water.

The towels she had sent here were crap, but there were three of them, at least. Mulder dried his hair, then hers, with the third, before hanging it up. She ran her fingers through it as she walked to the bedroom behind him, her pajamas, slightly damp, tucked under one arm. She watched him as he dressed and then crawled over to the middle of the bed. This was a bad sign; he only slept on her side of the bed for non-sex-related reasons when things were really wrong. Much as she wanted to lay on her side to actually get to sleep, she couldn't turn her back to him, so she lay on her back; he wrapped one arm around her waist, hand splayed up her ribs, and put his head on her shoulder. God, he must be curled like a C to fit on the bed like this, but she wrapped one arm around his back and rested the other hand on his elbow.

"We're not going to give him away again, you said," he said, and she marveled that he remembered the we.

"I don't want to," she said into his hair. "I don't know if they'll let us see him. But maybe. I don't know."

"He likes us," he said. "I think I'll want to see us."

He loves us, she wanted to say; he loves you, because you are exactly the kind of badass every adolescent boy wants for a father. And he barely knows me, because I'm at work all the time, and besides I'm just not that interesting, but he's willing to tolerate the mothering. But you, you he loves. She stroked his elbow. "I think so too. We'll work it out."

They lay there, in the dark of their room, and neither of them slept.



Click here for Chapter 9
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All the letters I can write: beautiful Mulderwendelah1 on September 16th, 2010 05:14 pm (UTC)
John is great here. He is really in his element.

Rereading this, it was horrible seeing Mulder hit Casey. His anger is real and he is one scary dude.

The anger he is feeling toward William's parents is understandable in a way (he is standing in for the more irrational subset of fans) but scary, too. And as much as I get it, I really dislike it. Not his finest moment here. I do like that you let your characters be flawed. It makes them just that much more real.
a dull creatureheartequals on November 11th, 2010 11:57 pm (UTC)
"Because I need you," he said quietly. "You're the reason I'm alive."

She snorted. "Walter Skinner and a backhoe is the reason you're alive."


I am an expert in the field of amazingness and I have just determined that this is the most amazing.