"We have visitors!" the young girl burst into the room where the women were working. "Two men."
"Where's Wills?" Scully asked quickly.
"Cassie took him to her quarters."
Scully relaxed slightly. Cassie loved Wills as though he were her own. She'd keep him safe. "Did they give their names, where they're from?"
"I didn't hang around to find out. I thought you should know."
Scully nodded and rose from her seat. She didn't enjoy her role as head of this community but lived with it as a fact. At least it was a community and others helped her now. It hadn't been that way at first. She descended the stairs to the courtyard and wished again for an increase in height. Men didn't respect her in the beginning. If they stayed around long enough they would learn what she could do, the first impression was always lacking though. She squared her shoulders and stepped outside.
The two visitors were obvious; they were just now putting down their packs, which looked well worn. How far had they traveled? She looked up into the nearest one's face and the world froze.
Skinner had accompanied Mulder back to Bellfleur. Mulder had refused to let Scully return and she in turn had refused to let him go alone. Skinner had the definite impression that Scully wasn't that confident in him either. They had been on the way to the forest, the forest where Scully's involvement in the X-Files had first begun years ago. They hadn't made it. It had happened then, what Mulder had been warning him about for years. Colonization.
Oh they hadn't known what it was at the time. Their car had died. Mulder had been amused at first, apparently that happened to him often here. They had waited a little while, and Mulder had shared the story of the first time with Skinner. But it had lasted so long that even Mulder had become concerned. They had headed back toward town, walking and wondering why no one had passed them. Then they found other cars abandoned along the way. All humor was gone now as they hurried their steps.
They were on the outskirts of town when they heard it. A vibration, a hum that seemed to come from everywhere at once. Skinner stopped in the middle of the road, looking around. A few other people began coming out of buildings and heading for the intersections and open spaces, looking up at the sky. Skinner started to join them but Mulder grabbed his arm pulling him toward a clump of trees.
Skinner struggled against him, the compunction to go after the others pulling at him. "What's going on? We need to go over . . . "
"No, I'm not sure, but - " Before he could finish the sentence others began pouring out of buildings, looking up. Mulder scanned the skies, keeping one hand clamped on Skinner's shoulder though his movements to escape had lessened.
"Muld - " Light stabbed down from the sky, blinding painful light that seared through the eyelids. Both men turned away and Mulder's arm came up shielding his eyes as well. Then it was gone.
They turned back toward the street, but it was empty. How long had they been blinded?
"Mulder, what happened? Where . . . "
"I don't know, but I think we better get out of here." Mulder pulled him away.
They headed out away from town at a run, keeping under the trees. Twice more they heard the hum and stopped, staying out of sight. Skinner no longer tried to see what was going on, following Mulder's example. They were running now, away from town and heading out toward the country. Mulder tried twice to get a signal on his cell phone, but 'no service' was all he could get.
The sound seemed to stay ahead of them regardless of their direction, so they slowed. They'd seen no one since the intersection of town.
After a couple of hours they took the chance to approach a gas station that looked empty of people but had several cars abandoned in the lot. They hurried inside and looked around. The power was on but no one was in evidence.
"Let's eat," Skinner suggested. "We don't know when we might get our next chance." He pulled a map of Washington State from the rack and spread it out as they cobbled a meal together from the pre-made sandwiches and chips. Mulder tried the phone behind the counter but couldn't make a connection on it either.
They ate in silence and made use of the facilities, then both went outside to try to start the cars that had been abandoned. None worked, so they retreated back to the convenience store and settled far from the windows.
"Now what?" Skinner asked rhetorically.
"Good question. It's already dusk. Let's stay here tonight," Mulder suggested. "We're inside and there's food."
Skinner nodded. Neither seemed to have much to say, for now at least. He wasn't sure what questions he wanted to ask. He took back up the map to study while Mulder checked his cell phone yet again.
Finally they settled for the night, with Mulder taking first watch. He had too many thoughts racing through his head to sleep anyway. When Skinner relieved him, Mulder stretched out behind the counter. He needed to rest if they were going to be walking to DC.
// He was in the hall of the Bureau. "You're not going back out there. I'm not going to let you go back out there."
"What are you talking about?"
"It has to end sometime. That time is now."
" Scully, you have to understand that they're taking abductees. You're an abductee. I'm not going to risk losing you."
"I won't be here when you get back. It'll be too late. I won't be here, no one will be here. You will have failed again, like you always do. //
"Mulder! Mulder, wake up." Skinner had his hand on Mulder's shoulder.
Mulder blinked awake, relieved to be out of the dream.
"Sorry. A lot on my mind." Skinner nodded, not commenting on the nightmare. They both knew Scully wasn't here and there was no way he could fix that.
Mulder rolled over, deciding to only rest his body. Sleep wouldn't be welcome now. He pulled the small golden cross from beneath his shirt and held it.
She was on edge; she had been since Mulder and Skinner had left. Something wasn't right and it wasn't just that she wasn't feeling well. She'd promised Mulder she would get checked out while he was gone, but right now it wasn't the most important thing.
She was at the guys' place. Langly had hacked into a weather satellite that oversaw Washington and Oregon. Frohike was watching Google Earth. She was mainly pacing. Skinner would do his best, she knew that, but she covered Mulder's back. She should be there with him. They were four hours behind out there so they should still have daylight to set up the equipment the guys had lent them.
Byers joined her. "Can I get you some tea or something?"
"No, thanks." She smiled up at him, then they both jumped at Langly's cry.
"What the hell!" Langly exploded.
Frohike reached him first but they were all staring at the screen. "What? What are we looking at?" Scully asked anxiously.
"Those ain't clouds. Look at the activity. What is that?"
Frohike turned back to his computer and began tapping quickly on his keyboard. When he looked up, Byers met his eyes and paled at his expression.
"What?" Scully had grabbed Byers' sleeve but he didn't respond. No one said a word. She looked down at Frohike's screen and gasped. Then the screen went dark.
"That, that wasn't . . . "
"Spaceships? I - " then he scrambled to catch Scully as she lost conscious.
She turned her head away, not opening her eyes.
"We need you to wake up. Come on, Scully."
Reluctantly she opened her eyes. Memory flooded her and tears formed in her eyes. "What happened?"
"No, what happened to the satellite feed?"
Byers shook his head. "It's gone. They're all gone."
"All?" She sat up and Byers' hand came to rest on her shoulder.
"Take it easy."
"But something's happened, something . . . "
She stopped, listening to a sound that was growing louder.
"What - " Langly rose and started for the window.
"Don't!" Scully grabbed his arm, suddenly panicked. "In here, away from the windows, hurry!"
Startled, they obeyed her, turning away from the window and following her into the small inner room where they kept their supplies. The hum grew louder and then light leaked into the room even with the door shut.
The light cut off and the hum disappeared simultaneously. "What was that?"
Langly asked staring at the door but not approaching it.
"I don't know," Scully responded. The question had seemed to be directed to her.
"But you didn't want to go check."
"Wait, has it started again?"
"Yeah, I think so. But it sounds farther away."
"What the hell is it?" Langly demanded of her, as though she should know.
Her hand was on the back of her neck, rubbing it lightly. "I, I don't know. Just wait." The fact that her voice trembled seemed to scare him the most.
They sat there in the dark for the better part of half an hour. They heard the hum twice more, each time farther away, the vibration less each time.
"We need to check, Scully," Byers finally said.
She reluctantly nodded and they left the inner room. "Keep an eye out. If you even think it's coming back, get inside, don't be out there." She drew her gun and led them down the stairs.
The sight they were greeted with caused even Frohike to go silent. Everywhere empty cars and abandoned bikes littered the streets.
"Do, do you see anyone?" Langly asked this in a whisper.
Scully shook her head and approached the nearest car. The keys were in the ignition in the 'on' position but the motor was quiet and the car was empty. They checked all of the cars on the block, but found no one.
"What do we do now?" Byers looked at Scully.
"Where's the nearest grocery and pharmacy?" All three blinked at her. "We need to get in all of the supplies we can, the ones that don't need refrigeration."
"But everyone's going to be returned, right?"
"I was gone three months, Samantha twenty-five years so far."
"Right, let's go."
They were approaching a farm outside of the town they had just bypassed, when they heard it again. Mulder pulled Skinner behind the barn. They heard footsteps running out of the house. Mulder started in that direction, maybe he could save . . . but Skinner stopped him and they hid their eyes as the light stabbed down again. This was the closest they'd come since yesterday and the hum seemed to continue in the atmosphere as they slowly uncovered their eyes.
Skinner looked over at Mulder who shrugged. "Let's check it out."
Cautiously they approached the house, but no one seemed to be anywhere around. The front door was open where the inhabitants had rushed outside at the disturbance. They entered with guns drawn but down at their sides.
They both jumped violently at the sound from the back of the house. They moved in that direction when it didn't end. Skinner gave Mulder a rueful glance when they recognized the sound as the oven timer. There was fried chicken draining on paper towels, vegetables simmering, mashed potatoes already in the bowl and biscuits in the oven.
"I thought this was southern cuisine," Mulder said looking around the kitchen.
"Maybe it's farm cuisine," Skinner mused.
Instead of answering him, Mulder moved to the phone on the wall. Once again only static greeted him. When he turned back, Skinner had a plate full of food. Silently Mulder joined him and they sat at the table. After their first hunger was slaked, Skinner leaned back and looked at Mulder.
"We've waited long enough. We need to talk about this. Tell me what's happening?"
"How the hell should I - " Mulder stopped at the look in Skinner's eye.
"Okay, I'll say it. Aliens are abducting the citizens of Washington State." Mulder just stared at him. "Give me another explanation for a light from the clouds causing people to disappear."
"I don't know. I need to get in touch with Scully."
"You've been trying for two days. Let's face it, if I were going to take over a planet, the first thing I'd do is disrupt communication. I'd say that's happened. At first I denied what I saw, then I just walked, trying not to think. Today I have to face the fact that something has happened and it's a lot more widespread than I wanted to believe."
Mulder looked down at his plate and Skinner sighed. "Mulder, it's what you've been waiting for. You've known about this for years. Why aren't you - "
"Scully's not here."
Skinner had no answer for that. After a moment he faced Mulder again. "We need to check out the barn. Come on." Skinner led Mulder back outside.
They found four horses, which they watered and fed. "Mulder, do you ride?"
"I have, why?"
"Well cars aren't working and if we want to get anywhere faster than walking . . . "
"You, uh, you're not what I imagined in the field," Mulder responded as he looked over the tack.
Skinner's eyes narrowed. "I've been your supervisor for years now. Do you think I've not listened to you at all?"
"Well, I . . . Sorry." He looked around the barn for a moment. "I just need to get in touch with . . ."
"I know. Let's see what these people have that can get us on the way."
Mulder took a deep breath, centering himself. She was okay, she knew about this stuff and she'd be okay. She had to know he was trying to get home to her. The nightmares about her illness were just dreams, she was okay.
They headed back inside and started going through the house. They found camping equipment in the attic and checked it out. It was well used, but they'd need it if they still couldn't get a car to start.
They sat at the kitchen table taking a break. "We need to think about changing our route," Skinner said, opening the map again. "Now that we have 'transportation', I think we should head due east. If we move, we can get over the mountains before the weather breaks."
"There's already snow," Mulder observed.
"There almost always is at that elevation. We could take Interstate 90 over the mountains. An interstate should take the most direct route. We can drop down into Wyoming when it gets cold."
Mulder nodded. "And with horses we shouldn't have to worry about traffic jams."
"True. We'll need to check out a ski shop, make sure we're outfitted for that weather."
// She was cold, shivering. He couldn't warm her. He was curled around her but she seemed smaller, insubstantial somehow. She was crying, quietly, but not turning to him. He tried to turn her to face him and his hand seemed to pass through her. Panic flooded him and tried to grip her shoulder.
"You left me. I was ill, dying and you wouldn't stay. Now it's too late. You can't save me. //
Skinner didn't comment on the number of times Mulder had pulled out his cell phone, hoping that some connection could be made. Mulder probably didn't even realize he was still doing it; the battery was long dead. He had no doubt that Scully would be his preferred companion at this time. No need to remind Mulder why he had ordered her to stay behind.
No one returned to the house, which didn't surprise either of them. The truck in the yard wouldn't start, though Mulder tried it as Skinner made decisions on what to pack up. Skinner was the one with military experience; he'd do better on what was necessary for them to carry.
After a full night's sleep, for Skinner anyway, shower and hot breakfast, they packed the horses, saddling two of them and heading out.
They made good time, not having to worry about traffic jams. They found a ski shop and loaded up on extreme winter gear. They also took some blankets from a moving truck and fashioned blankets for the four horses.
The hum seemed to have moved well ahead of them now and they no longer encountered it in their travels. They found no one and felt sure by now that the phenomena was not limited to Washington state. They began breaking into homes with garages for shelter each night, stabling the horses in the empty garages and scavenging for food and clothing that they could carry with ease.
The altitude was the main reason for the decline in temperature, but it was drastic. Mulder was more than happy to pull on the long underwear they had taken from the ski shop. Layers, lots of layers but he was still chilled.
Scully had been cold that last night in Bellfleur, unable to get warm. He had held her in his arms that night. She'd been ill, not, not the cancer but something had been wrong. Maybe she really didn't know what it was; she hadn't told him at any rate. Was she well now? Was she okay? He couldn't shake the feeling that whatever had been wrong with her was significant, a precursor to what had happened?
He had felt no compunction to step out and investigate when he'd first heard the hum. Skinner had, all the other people had, but not him. Was it because he knew, he recognized what was happening? Scully would know as well. They hadn't taken her again; she was home waiting for him and she had to know he was trying to get home to her.
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Mulder, Scully, the Lone Gunmen and Skinner all belong to Chris Carter, 10-13
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