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05 November 2009 @ 04:05 pm
Machines of Freedom: Chapter 10  


December 19, 2012
1:30 PM Mountain Time
Stark, Montana

"What about there?" Isabel said, from underneath the console.

Scully pressed the loading button again. It stayed dark. "No luck."

"Jesus. Who built these things?" There were a series of thumps. "OK, what about now?"

This time, the button lit up. "OK, the loading button is working. But the screen is still dark."

"You don't mind having to shoot down alien spaceships without a monitor, do you, Dana?"

"Sadly, I am not Luke Skywalker," Scully said.

"Well, work on that." Isabel crawled out from under the console, and Scully moved her legs to let her get out. "So I think what we need is a new set of wires. They're just burnt out. I want to make sure you've got as much processing power up here as possible, in case the connection to the servers up in the lab goes down."

"Are you sure you don't want to move the servers into here?" Scully bit into her sandwich. "They'd be more protected. And it would mean less work cabling between there and here."

Isabel shrugged and kept digging through her tool box. "There won't be any loss of speed, if that's what you're worried about. And I think the risks of breaking something moving the servers are too great. I think we should assume that the mountain's going to hold. They don't know where we are, which means they can't fire back until they position us, and that's going to take a while, to trace the signals from the satellites back to here."

"I know." Scully sighed and ate her crust. "I'm being paranoid."

"Well, you're just going to be in charge of running the guns for the entire world's defense system against the John Hurt Moment. Why would that scare a person?"

She was trying not to think of it like that. The decision that she would run the program from control hadn't been hers. She'd started a conversation about it two days ago, asking who had been training, and Matt and Isabel had exchanged looks. They had just assumed that she was going to be running it. Her hands were steady; she knew the system better than anyone; she was going to be the fastest at modulating the frequency of the disruptors to prevent the virus from disbursing, and to stop ships from breaking the atmosphere. "Plus," Matt had said, as tactfully as possible, "we actually built the console for your wingspan. And I think you're the only person in the compound who could fit their knees under it."

There was no way to argue against it, not when they put it like that. There was just the stupid fact that she'd much rather be in the bunker with Mulder and Sadie and William and an AK-47 full of anti-alien bullets. She's much better at fighting one-on-one than this business.

Isabel was back under the console. Scully stared at her booted feet, the frayed cuffs of her jeans. "Are you going to be OK in the lab?" she asked, involuntarily.

There was a long pause, filled with metal-on-metal noises, before she answered. "Someone's got to monitor the servers."

"You're going to be so close to the top."

"Not that close. They've got to get through the military guys first, and they're kinda badass. Can you hand me the needle-nose pliers?" Scully handed them over. "Matt's talking about staying, but I don't think he'll need to."

She didn't need to translate that. Isabel didn't have any family in the shelter. Matt did. Too close for comfort, all of this.

"Anyway, like I said, I trust the mountain. Who are you going to have in here with you?"

"Mulder. And Doggett's got some kid from security picked out to run the communications system. Bill, I think, not that I can really tell them apart."

The large screen at the front of the room flickered and came to life. Superimposed over the map of the earth--Peters projection, Monica had insisted--small red lights flashed, indicating the position of the twenty-eight satellites they had managed to hijack and start running on their own network. Once the red lights had all come online, the twelve blue lights, for the satellites they had sent up themselves, the ones that actually were going to do the wave disturbance patterns, lit up one by one. Finally, the yellow lights; the classified US military missile defense system, the one she hadn't even known about until eighteen months ago, when its designer had slipped Skinner a note at a DC cocktail party: "I want to defect. 12/21/2012." The designer and his family were in the bunker in Buenos Aires right now, and she had a bunch of space lasers at her command.

"We got everything?" Isabel asked.

"Everything that's actually up there. Should we run the model, and see how it's running after your last edit?"

"I haven't sent it the latest specs from Canaveral, but we can try." She crawled up, leaned over the console, and pulled a thumb drive out of her jeans pocket. "Here we go."

On screen, a mass of green spots began to materialize over the map; these were the ships, appearing as the refraction of ultraviolet light, since that was the only reliable way to detect them. Once they coalesced into a steady phalanx of four ships, the sensors on the hijacked satellites began to detect what looked like purple clouds. These were the viral dispersion clouds. Mulder had managed to find research that suggested that apiary colony collapse disorder was an outcome of breeding bees for viral infection and the attempts to control the colonies with sound waves. The new plan involved simply dumping the virus into the atmosphere; the newest versions they had, smuggled out of the Consortium, were highly infectious, and traveled at unheard of speeds through populations. Scully hit the right sequence of buttons, and the satellites rotated towards the green blobs. "It's clunky," she said, and kept going. Two of the northernmost satellites weren't moving right, but she managed to get them to point at their nearest purple clouds. "How's my time?" she asked.

"Don't worry about that yet," Isabel said. Her hands were folded across her chest.

Scully released the first clouds of viral neutralizer. As they slid out to meet the purple clouds, there were small explosions of white. "That's just showing off," she said. The green blobs began moving. She brought up the lasers and started shooting. They shot back.

"I'm taking you to the arcade when we get out of here," Isabel said.

"Somehow I think I'll have lost my taste for it by then," Scully said, as one of the green blobs dissolved. "That's optimistic of you, that you think we could actually take one out with the weapons."

"I didn't program that in, actually." The ships began shooting new clouds of virus, followed by their own weapons striking towards the surface. Scully sped up, and began targeting the one that seemed to always lead. It exploded, and she targeted another one after that. More virus, more neutralizer. There was too much information to handle here, but she just kept going, treating it as an elaborate stimulus-response problem. At some point, she came back to consciousness, and the sky was blank above the earth in front of her.

She exhaled. "How did I do?"

Isabel leaned over, hit a few buttons, and stared at the code. "About two hundred seconds between when the virus was released and the first contact with the neutralizer."

"Shit. That's not fast enough." By two hundred seconds, you'd have ambient virus in the breathable atmosphere. If it was over India? China? Or anywhere that was far enough from one of their sites? They'd have millions of casualties. There were limits to what they could do once it got below a certain altitude: once they had to fight at surface level, there were too many variables, and they didn't have nearly the person-power to mount an effective fight against it in more than one or two limited locations..

"I think the slowness was the system, not the user, if that makes sense. But it was pretty impressive, nonetheless. You also managed to take out the ships much faster than I expected. Granted, the data feed from Canaveral includes some new information about size and shape and reflectivity, but you seemed to be moving fast enough and hard enough to break them open."

"Which gives us infected shrapnel hitting the atmosphere."

Isabel waved her hand in the air. "Virus can't handle the heat of entry. Remember? Matt went after the fuckers once with a blowtorch just to check. The real problem is with how long it's taking you to reposition and aim the satellites that are further away from the center of the network. We're going to have to jack up our processing power as far as possible."

"Can we get that done by tomorrow night?"

Isabel shrugged. "It's not like we have a choice. I might need to steal equipment from elsewhere in the lab."

"Whatever you want, take it. We could also appropriate personal computers. I know there are a dozen or so laptops circulating; you could wire them into the system."

She shrugged. "Actually, I might take them and use them to run our own systems, free up our house server. Would you mind getting John to organize that ASAP?"

Scully shook her head. "Not John. He's too deep in the military stuff. I don't want to distract him. I'll get Monica to do it." She picked up her phone. "DKS-4671 to MGR-1807." There was a long pause. She tried again. "DKS-4671 to MGR-1807, please pick up."

"Uh, yeah," said a voice that was very distinctly not Monica's. "She's asleep. Is it actually urgent?"

Scully couldn't help the eyebrow. Isabel chuckled. "Is she getting up soon?"

"At three-thirty. I don't know. Is that soon?" Casey didn't sound particularly awake either.

"Why don't I just call back?"

"Yeah, OK." There was a clattering noise over the line. Scully rolled her eyes. "Maybe Mulder's free." She shook her head. "DKS-4671 to FWM-8201."

"Yeah?" There was screaming in the background.

"Probably not a good time?"

"Lunch-related meltdown."

"It's 2:45."

"Well, that might be part of the problem. What do you need me to do?"

"Steal people's computers."

"Yeah, OK. Call you back in fifteen."

Scully set her phone down. "Hey, do you have more than one scenario on that thing?"

Isabel shrugged. "It's randomly generated. You could run it forever."

"Leave me the drive? I'll send Mulder to you with computers."

"Don't obsess. Or strain your thumbs." Isabel plugged the thumb drive back in.

Scully stared at the screen for a long minute, then hit the button to start the simulation again. Practice makes perfect. This is it.


***

December 20, 2009
5:30 PM Mountain Time
Stark, Montana Compound

"It is colder," Skinner said, shaking the snow off his coat, "than balls out there. Is there any reason we couldn't have had our compound in Arizona, or California, or somewhere that is habitable in December?"

"Yeah, real estate prices," Mulder said. "Welcome to Stark."

"Apparently." He dropped his coat over his chair. "Well, that's it. I just came in with the last of the refugees. We're full, folks."

"And just in time for a staff meeting," Matt said. "How fun."

"Do you have anything?" Scully didn't see any reason for beating around the bush here. Skinner had just come from DC, which meant he had the latest information from official sources.

"They're here," he said, pulling out a chair and sitting down. "Right now, they're keeping it highly classified. Our report went to the Oval this morning, but I haven't seen any change in the networks I've been monitoring. I've been out of touch for a few hours, though. If someone can get me a computer?"

"Go to the lab," Isabel said. "Every ounce of processing power in this place is wired into the servers right now."

"Including half of our phones, and the Wii," Mulder said. "It just got really boring around here." She kicked him under the table. He smiled at her in the corner of his mouth; she rubbed her foot on top of his gently, and he curled his toes up to brush the sole of her shoe.

"In any case, they should be in position at some point around six AM compound time. We need to get that out to everyone in the network."

"I'll send it out right after this," Monica said. "How many?"

"That's the problem--none of the telescopes or radar equipment that the US government has control over can see them very well. One reading says three. One says eight. It looks like somewhere between four and six, but it's just impossible to tell with conventional technology."

"Our satellites can't do much better," Isabel said. "We just didn't have the time to build good enough optics into them, since they had to go up over a year ago. Up close, we do better, but not at a distance."

"It doesn't matter," John said. "The tactics are the same no matter how many they are. Dana blows them out of the sky, and whatever survives, we fight with everything we've got."

She was trying not to let it show, but Scully was beginning to get a little pissed off at everyone's assumption that it was that easy. "How are we managing this? We need everyone involved in the military side of this to be as synchronized as possible, in case internal communications get cut off. Not just here, but network-wide. If one area is slower than another, or if we start working against each other, not to be overly frank, but we're just fucked." She shrugged.

"The thing about battle plans is they fall apart," John said. "Dana, you've got the ability to run the whole network in control, but that's for backup purposes. Everyone's going to be monitoring the feeds, and knows what to do when virus hits breathable atmosphere. Monica is going to be running intra-network communication, and monitoring what's happening in the outside world, too. If we need to send orders, we do it through her. We're anticipating that, at some point, each of the sites will become targets, so we've got ground-based weapons."

"Plus the space lasers," Mulder said. "I don't think we're talking about space lasers nearly enough."

"I do," Scully said. He kicked her back, gently, and ran his foot up her leg. She sighed. Yes, she was being petulant, and she knew it, thanks very much.

"And, really, that's just it. We're fighting them off, and we're as secure as we can be. I just don't think there's any need to obsess." John shrugged. "At this point, let Monica send out the memo, and then we all need to do our own thing, you know, get prepped."

"You're right," Scully said, with a sigh. "When are we sealing the shelter? We've got to take Sadie down."

John checked his watch. "Around midnight. We're putting all nonessential personnel down there. We'll wait to seal up the top until the morning, maybe four-ish. When are you all going to be in control?"

"Five," Mulder said.

"Four-thirty," she said, and shot him a look. He shrugged.

"I'll have Bill there waiting for you. He's a good kid. I think he'll keep it together," John said. "Monica, you need anyone in the comm room with you?"

"No, I've got it covered," Monica said, with a defensive little hand gesture. Which, thankfully, Mulder missed, because she was 75% sure that gesture meant Casey. Monica's phone rang, and she pulled it out. "Hold on, let me just get this." She stood and walked away from the table, and began speaking in rapid-fire Spanish.

"Is there anything else?" Skinner was rubbing his hands together. "I need to get to a computer. If anything has changed, I'll let you know, but let's assume going forward that this is all set."

"I suppose," Scully said.

"Up and at 'em," Matt said. "Dana, I'm going to go make sure that the antiviral distributors are loaded on the surface. Hopefully the cold isn't causing us problems."

"I think we build in enough fail-safes," she said. "But thank you."

"If you need me after the shelter's sealed, I'll keep my phone on me. Iz, you sure you don't want back up in the lab?"

"I got it, dude," she said. "But if you've got ten minutes to help me debug one last time before you turn into a pumpkin?"

"On it." Matt smiled and held out his hand to Scully. "See you on the other side, doc, ok?"

"Yeah," she said, and shook his hand, trying not to think of this as the last time she'd see him. They'd make it. She was reasonably sure of this.

"Isabel, if you're going to the lab?" Skinner stood.

"Yeah, I'll take you. You're not going to the shelter, are you?"

"No. I'll be up with the military command, though I'm not sure I've got anything to add there."

"Just puttin' everyone with relevant experience where they need to be," John said, ruffling through papers.

"You know, Scully's got this brother?" Mulder said.

"Very funny," she said.

"Claro. OK, besitos, bye." Monica came back to the table. "That was DF. They're locked up. Dana, your brother and his family are accounted for. Also, Gibson's there. He said to say hi."

"At least everyone's in." Mulder stood up. "So, see you all after the apocalypse?"

"Sounds like a plan. We'll check in over radio around five; how does that sound?" John stood and put his papers down. "Don't forget to eat. And sleep. No going into this without resources."

"Easy for you to say, soldier boy," Matt said. "OK. Come on, Walt, we'll take you up."

Skinner sighed and stood. "See you in the morning."

Scully couldn't stand being with people any more, and left the room without waiting to see if anyone wanted to talk to her. Without even thinking about it, she walked by their quarters and headed for the stairs.

She heard Mulder's steps behind her once she was on the landing between the third and second floors. She stopped and turned to face him. He was coming down slowly, watching her. "I'm fine, Mulder," she said.

"Well, OK, I haven't believed you saying that for fifteen years, so I'm not starting now." He got as close to her as he could, but didn't touch her. "Talk," he said.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "All these years. We haven't been thinking, really, about what would happen if we don't win tomorrow. We couldn't, we had to focus on how to win; I understand that. But suddenly it's tomorrow, and there are millions of people out there who don't know what's going to happen, and it's--" She felt the anger welling up in her. "And it's me! Me with a stupid video game and three years of really poorly directed research and space lasers run with a server we cobbled together. We aren't the government. We aren't anything. Mulder, why do we even think we stand a chance?"

His hands came up to caress her shoulders. "Because we do. You know how good our research is. And we've got good people, everywhere, people who are going to fight as hard as they can."

"That's not good enough," she said, and stepped away from him and headed down the stairs.

"I believe we can do this, Scully," he said, following her. "I do."

"Why? What possible reason could you have to believe that?"

He grabbed her shoulder just before she hit the landing for the control level. She stopped and turned around. "Because I believe in you." He swallowed, and did that thing he did, he'd done it for years, where he just bent his knees enough that he wasn't looming when he looked her in the eye. "I believe in us. I believe in everyone in here, and out there. We're going to fight. And if we're going to lose, it's not going to be because we were too chickenshit to do it right."

It's them, it's always them at the end of the world, it was always going to be. She took a ragged breath, reached out, and pulled him down to her. He backed her into the wall, hands grasping for her waist, his mouth pressing hers open, and she curled one hand around his neck, the other to his waist. Their lips separated, and he pressed his forehead to hers. "I love you," he said. "We can do this."

"It's all on me, Mulder," she said. "This was your game all along. Why is it all me, now?"

"Because that's how it was always going to be. You always were the answer. I just kept getting the question wrong."

She pressed her face into his arm. "I have to go practice again."

"No, you don't. Come home." He stroked her hair away from her ears. "We know what's coming. We can just wait for it now."

She exhaled sharply. "Okay." He kept his hand on her waist the whole way up the stairs.

***

11:37 PM

Sadie rolled over and kneed him. It wasn't often that she slept in the bed with them, but somehow, tonight, they hadn't been able to put her to sleep in her room. So they had all crawled into the big bed together, and read stories until Sadie had fallen asleep. Neither of them had slept; his head was buzzing, like on the edge of a migraine, with what he was guessing was impending panic over tomorrow, while Scully was just watching Sadie, giving him the occasional glance.

"Mulder," she whispered. He opened his eyes and rolled over to face her. "We've got to take her down," she said.

"I know," he said, and reached across Sadie's body to stroke Scully's hair. She kissed his palm, then turned and rolled out of bed. He sat up and slid on his shoes, and then bent over and picked up his little girl. He stood in the doorway, rocking her slumped form, until Scully emerged from the kids' room with Sadie's suitcase. Together, they went down to the shelter. A few people were still awake--must be the west coasters not dealing with the time change--but most of the refugees were asleep, and the space was hushed and prone to echoes. He followed Scully through the rows of cots until they found where her family had staked out their little territory. Scully bent next to her mother's cot. "Mom? Mom? I need you to take Sadie." Maggie stirred, but didn't wake.

"I can take her," said a quiet voice. Mulder turned. Will was in a cot a few over, the Van de Kamps on either side of him. He pushed over to the edge of his cot. "I'll take care of her."

He looked at Scully, who nodded. Mulder bent down, and set Sadie in Will's bed. He pulled up the blanket around his sister. "OK," he said, and closed his eyes.

Mulder bent, and kissed both of them. Scully kissed her sleeping mother, and then the children. When they left, Mulder took her hand. Back in their quarters, he peeled her clothes off and traced his way around her skin in the half-light of their bedroom. He wasn't shocked that he cried; he was that she did, silently, curling her fingers tighter into his back. After, he stroked the smooth damp line of her spine as she dozed, and let his eyes close and his brain buzz and drift.

Around four, he couldn't take waiting anymore. Scully was dozing, but he kissed her shoulder blades and got out of bed, got dressed, and headed up to the surface. The kid at the security desk just nodded at him, and he wondered if he was the only person who needed to see the sky right now. Outside, it was cold enough to make everything feel fragile and shockingly dark. There were innumerable stars spread out across the sky, and no telltale dark spots to suggest that doom hung there, too.

He closed his eyes, and took another deep breath. The air froze his lungs, calmed him, and he relaxed for a brief moment. Time, it was time. He turned his back on the open empty night and walked back into the mountain.

He was just stepping into the elevator when he heard someone calling him, "Hey, hold that, please." He turned. Casey was running in through the entry. He hadn't seen her since--the incident, he decided was the best term for it. She jogged through security and climbed into the elevator next to him. "Thanks," she said, and swiped her card for the lab level.

He examined her as they began to move. A wave of fresh smoke-scent came off her as she peeled off her leather jacket. Beneath it, she was wearing a red t-shirt. He didn't want to smile, but it was funny.

She glanced over at him. "What?"

"Nice shirt."

She began digging in the pocket of her jeans. "I know my place."

Might as well make nice. "Last cigarette?"

"Yeah. I'm in with Monica in the routing room, and got a nice long lecture about not poisoning the air in a three-by-five closet last night." She pulled a nicotine patch out of her pocket, held it up in triumph. "There we go." She stuck it to her arm and dropped the backing on the floor.

So young, he thought. He couldn't quite explain it, but he looked at Casey, possibly the traitor in their midst, and all he could see was a young woman preparing to fight to the death. Her face was set and excited and hopeful and terrified, all at the same time. How many would they kill today? How many would they save? How would it end?

The elevator stopped at the lab, and she started to leave. "Hey," he said suddenly. She turned to face him. "Try not to die," he said. Well, that was a little pathetic.

Her eyes narrowed, and she considered him. "You too." And she turned and walked away to the routing room.

Back in their quarters, he found Scully dressed, sitting on the edge of the bed with her rosary in her hands. For a moment he thought of leaving her alone, but he didn't want to be too far from her, for reasons he wasn't going to bother to analyze. So he sat on the bed, far enough away not to be intruding, and watched her fingers move over the beads, pause and hold them while her lips moved, just barely. You can believe in anything but this, she had said to him as they sat in the little church in Columbia the day of Sadie's baptism, watching him hold his daughter in her absurd white gown. And he hadn't known what to say, hadn't known how to explain that what he wanted to believe was that nothing was ever settled, that there was always another chance, and the idea of judgment day made that all seem moot. As he watched her pray, he thought, I believe in you. More than anything else in the world.

She finished contemplating her mysteries, crossed herself, and turned to look at him. "We should go."

He stood and held out his hand. "Let's get it on."

"Honestly, Mulder," she said, and took it. He pulled her to her feet. She gathered up her gun from the nightstand, slid it into her holster. Then she took her hairclip, and wound her hair up into a bun at her nape. She pinned the tail in place and tucked her phone into her pocket. "OK," she said, and walked past him. He fell into step behind her, and they headed out into the fray.


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