He entered the restaurant and waited for the hostess to approach. “I’m meeting someone. I’m Dr. Mulder.”
“Of course, sir; this way.” She led him toward the back. “This is for you.” She handed him a box, then led him to another door. “There’s an elevator through there sir. Go to the fifth floor.”
"What do I owe - "
"It's taken care of, sir."
“Thank you.” He nodded to her and let himself out the back door. If anyone noticed, it wasn’t going to concern him.
Once he reached the fifth floor, he spotted the apartment and moved to the door. His knock was answered swiftly. “Ah, I see you brought dinner this time.” She took the box from him and led him toward the kitchen.
He glanced around. “This place is great. I didn’t even realize there were apartments up here.”
“That’s part of the charm. It’s my ‘Fortress of Solitude’.”
His eyes lit up. “You know Superman?”
“Of course. I read him as a kid. Want the tour?”
“Well this is most of it. The kitchen and great room make it open, which I really like.”
He nodded, agreeing.
“The master suite is back here.” She led the way to a spacious bedroom with seating area, decorated in tones of green and lavender with dark cherry furniture. It was a large enough room not to be overwhelmed by the four poster bed. “You’re not going to see the closet. Don’t ask.”
He chuckled. “Fair enough. I wouldn’t want you to see mine either; but probably for different reasons.”
She grinned and led him back to the short hall. “I turned the second bedroom into an office. It makes me feel like a grown up to have a place to keep my life organized. It doesn’t really work, but it gives me hope.”
He followed her into the office. He’s expected delicate furniture in here, a lady’s desk or something, but he was surprised to see a large desk and a wall of bookcases. He stepped closer to see the books. Not what he was expecting either. She had an eclectic collection of well-worn classics, best sellers, and more surprising, science fiction novels and psychic phenomena studies.
“You have a wide variety of interests,” he mused.
“I guess I do. I’m not sure why these appeal to me, maybe it’s because Mother didn’t want me to read them, like the Superman comics, but I couldn’t stay away.”
“What about fantasy novels, swords and dragons?”
“I’ve read them, some of them are quite good, but I’m drawn to the hard sciences like Niven.”
“End of the world novels?” He pulled On the Beach from the shelf.
“Yes, end of the world and the day after, The Hammer of God and Dies the Fire.”
“Okay, I admit that surprises me.”
“You expected me to read romance novels or maybe just fashion magazines?” But she didn’t sound offended.
“Hardly. You’re not your reputation or your press clippings. It took me less than five minutes to recognize that.”
“Thank you.” She looked away from him, though he could see the color in her cheeks. “Well, I need to heat up dinner. They told me 45 seconds in the microwave and everything would be perfect. No cracks about my cooking.”
“Forty-five seconds in the microwave is exactly like my cooking, so you’ll get no cracks from me.” He followed her into the kitchen.
He set the table as she heated their meal, filet with asparagus and bliss potatoes. “Okay, I take it back. My microwave has never seen anything like this and would probably short out if I put it in there.” He admired the plate she sat before him.
“I have wine, but since we’re going to be working . . . “
“Probably not a good idea.”
“I have a variety of waters and iced tea.”
“Tea would be great. You know you’re spoiling me,” he called after her as she headed for the refrigerator.
“Spoiling myself too. You’re the first person I’ve ever invited here.”
He stopped with the fork halfway to his mouth. “I’m - “
“Fortress of Solitude, remember?”
“Do you live here or . . . “
“Both. This is my private space and the house with Mother and Father is my ‘social’ setting. I stay over there a couple of nights a week; more if Father’s out of town. I don’t like Mother to be alone.”
“She . . . she takes medication,” Dana looked down at her plate. “Sometimes too much medication and she forgets and . . . “
She shrugged. “It’s normal to me, like so many things.”
“Well, I’m honored to be the first to visit the Fortress.”
“Go ahead and eat. You don’t want it to get cold and have to be re-nuked.”
“Yes ma’am.” He cut into his steak and took a bite. His smile grew and she took a bite herself.
She made coffee after dinner and they moved into the living room section of the great room. “I guess we need to get down to business.”
Mulder nodded and drew a chair closer to the couch. He placed a cushion on the coffee table and she slipped off her shoes and put her feet on it. “This is just like at the office. We’re going to do the same relaxing and return to that night, okay? May I touch you?”
“Your hands, may I hold your hands during the session? I don’t want you to be frightened by these memories.”
“I . . . thank you.”
He nodded and repeated the post-hypnotic trigger they used, taking her back to that night. “Dana, I want you to watch this memory clinically this time, in slow motion. I want you to stay calm, nothing here can hurt you.”
“The lights are out. Charlie is screaming my name. The room, it’s starting to shake. Things on the shelves are falling over; books are falling to the floor.”
“What can you see?”
“The light, the light outside of the balcony doors. The doors, they’re flying open. The light hurts it’s so bright.”
“Do you see anything else?”
“The creature. It’s, it’s coming inside.”
“Can you describe it to me?”
Her hands twitched and he took hold of one of them. “It’s tall and too thin. I don’t know how it’s walking, the joints are wrong. It should topple over. The head is oversize with no hair anywhere; it’s nude but it has no genitalia. Its eyes are huge and black. It doesn’t blink.”
“Charlie!” She grabbed for Mulder with her other hand as well.
“This is a memory, Dana. Just relax.” Her grip loosened, but she didn’t let go.
“He’s, he’s floating. It’s impossible but he’s just hovering. Now, now he’s moving slowly toward the window. I feel, it’s strange, I’m light, like I’m going to float too.”
The word weightless was on his lips, but he stopped himself. That was leading, besides none of this was what really happened. This was a memory, a metaphor. Otherwise he’d have to believe in aliens.
“I can hear it, but it isn’t speaking.”
“What do you hear?”
“It’s talking to me, in my mind.”
“What is it saying?”
“Not to be afraid. He’ll be returned. Now it’s holding out its hand. It, he only has four fingers and his skin is, is leathery, pebbly and gray.” Her grip tightened again. “He’s going to touch - cold!“
She jerked back and the trance was broken; her wide blue eyes met his in fear. “It’s black, blank.” She was hyperventilating and he pulled her to him again. She came willingly, holding him tightly.
His hand caressed her back and after a few minutes she began to relax.
“Slow your breathing, Dana. You’re safe.”
She buried her face in his neck for a moment, then seemed to realize it and straightened up, moving back to the couch. “I’m sorry.”
“Do you remember what happened when the housekeeper got there?”
She shook her head. “Apparently I was unconscious. I woke up in the hospital three days later.”
“Were you okay?”
“I was in an unexplained coma. Everyone said it was trauma, from seeing my brother taken.” She finally met his eyes. “Little did they know, huh?” Her voice was bitter now.
“Dana - “
“I think I know what my nightmare is now.”
He squeezed her hand and let her sit clutching it for a long moment. Suddenly her head came up, her eyes wide. “Father! He was; he was involved!”
Mulder had already reached that conclusion after the last session, but the horror in her eyes was unfeigned. “Dana - “
“That’s what they were fighting about. It’s what the smoking man was there about. And he still sees him!”
“Dana, please - “
“How could he do that? No wonder there was no ransom note. Father knew all along what had happened. And Mother’s pills and drinking. Oh god! How stupid could I be?”
“You’re not stupid, Dana. You were a child.”
“I haven’t been a ‘child’ for far too long. You should go now. I’ll be fine.” Her voice was distant, detached.
“Why don’t you put your feet up for a little while? I’m not in a hurry.” He wasn’t sure she heard him. “Do you have any brandy?”
She waved in the direction of the kitchen. He rose from his seat and headed that way. He found the liquor cabinet and a snifter, pouring her a generous amount. She wouldn’t be going anywhere tonight. “Here, sip this.”
“Will it help?” she sounded brittle.
“In the long run, no. It’s for shock.”
She made no comment to that, but took the glass from him and took a sip.
“Put your feet up; close your eyes for a few minutes.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Uh, I’ll clean up the kitchen.”
Her eyebrow rose.
“That looked like a challenge. Go ahead, close your eyes for a few minutes.”
“You really don’t have to - “
“I know I don’t. Think about it; I would never let you leave my office so upset, so I’ll stay here until you feel a little better.”
After a moment she nodded and stretched out on the couch. He draped the throw from the back of the couch over her and headed for the kitchen. He was aware she was watching him for a few minutes, but eventually he noted that her eyes had closed. He carried the plates to the sink and loaded the dishwasher after putting the few leftovers away.
When he had finished in the kitchen he moved quietly to the office in order not to disturb her. He looked over the books again. Her description of the, the alien was so detailed. He wasn’t used to that in hypnosis unless it was a true description. Right, an alien had taken Charlie Scully. That caused a grim smile. On the other hand, she hadn’t read these books before she was ten and the ‘aliens’ in Superman were more human looking than humans. He had personally enjoyed Supergirl’s costume quite a bit when he was younger.
He was jolted by the cry from the great room.
“No! No, Charlie, no!”
He rushed to her side. She was crying and shaking under the light afghan. “Dana, wake up.” She didn’t hear him, so he placed his hand on her shoulder.
She jerked upright, panicked.
“You’re safe, Dana, you’re safe.”
She still didn’t seem to hear him, so he drew her to him. That seemed to get through to her and she clutched at him. He held her against him, massaging her back as she calmed slightly.
After a few minutes she pulled back and he searched her face. She wouldn’t meet his eyes. “You can go now.”
“I’m in no hurry.”
“I have to leave.”
“You’re not going anywhere.”
She rose from the couch then and stared up at him with all the haughtiness of her millions behind her. “I beg your pardon?”
“I gave you a generous dose of brandy, you shouldn’t - “
“According to the tabloids, I have a prodigious capacity for alcohol - “
“Fuck the tabloids, Dana!”
She jerked back startled at his venomous retort.
“You are not that woman. You know it, I know it, so stop it. What you want to do is go confront your father.”
She looked away but didn’t dispute it.
“You can’t. Dana, look at me. That’s the last thing you should do right now. You’re upset and confused and angry. You can’t go to him.”
“Why the hell not! Finally I know and - “
“You don’t know, neither of us does. And if we are right, it’s a secret that they’ve kept for fifteen years. It could be dangerous to go to them, demand information and accuse them.”
“What do you mean, dangerous?” At least he had her attention now.
“I mean ‘dangerous’, as in not safe. I don’t want to think your father would harm you, but that smoking man; what about him if he finds out you’re having these memories?”
“He, he wouldn’t - “
“How can you be sure? Tonight is just not a good time to do this. Can you hear me? Right now the only thing you should do it go to bed.”
“And have another nightmare.”
“You should try anyway. Go on.” He watched her shoulders slump.
“Let me lock up.”
“No, go on to bed.”
“What about you?”
“I, I can crash here.” Had he really said that? He could lose his license. All she had to say was that he had been inappropriate. He shouldn’t even be in her home. What was wrong with him?
“You want to sleep on my couch?” She sounded confused.
He could back out now, no harm, no foul. Instead he heard himself say, “Yeah. It’ll be okay. Go on.”
“Don’t you trust me?”
“I trust you, I wouldn’t think of sleeping on your couch if I didn’t, but I want to be here in case you change your mind. Go on.”
She stared at him for a long moment. “There’s, there’s stuff in the second bathroom.”
She hesitated a moment longer, then turned away. “I, I . . . thank you. I’ll get you a robe.”
“One of yours? Pink?” he decided to try for a lighter note. The tone of her whispered thank you had caught him off guard.
She did turn back then, disdain dripping from her demeanor. “I’m a natural red head. I don’t do pink.”
He couldn’t hold back the chuckle. “Thank you; I’d be honor to borrow a robe.”
The night was surprisingly calm after that. If she did have another nightmare, she didn’t wake herself or him.
He joined her in the kitchen the next morning and she waved for him to take a seat at the bar while she poured coffee. “I don’t have a lot here, but I do have bagels.”
“That would be great. I usually only have coffee on the way to the office.”
“You’re worse than I am. Listen, I need to know how to find out more about these things that took Charlie.”
He looked up, startled. “Wha- I uh . . . “
She stopped on her way to refill her cup. “The aliens. Do you know where I can research - “
“Dana, that was a metaphor.”
“I don’t think you should take the, the ‘aliens’ as - “
“You don’t believe me.”
“I believe when you were regressed, you saw something that covered the evil of the situation,” he replied carefully.
“That level of detail? I saw that.”
“I know you did, but - “
“But you think I imagined it because I couldn’t face the truth,” her voice filled with a tinge of coolness.
“Not imagined, exactly. Dana . . . “
“That’s okay. I get it. You think I’ve been reading too many science fiction novels.”
He blinked then; yeah that was exactly what he’d been thinking. “Dana - “
“I understand. Thank you for your help in getting to my past. I’ll send you a check for your time.”
“That’s not - “
“You better get going if you’re going to get to work on time,” her voice was cool, business-like.
Damn, had he handled that wrong. “I think we need to - “
“No thank you.” She moved to the door and opened it. “The elevator goes to the parking garage when you go to the lower level, beneath the restaurant.”
“Dana - “ She was focused on his chest and wouldn’t meet his eyes.
He took a deep breath and allowed her to see him out. The door closed firmly behind him.
His patient gone, Mulder headed for the reception desk. “Any calls?” he asked, hopefully casually.
“Calls? Uh, no.”
“No calls? All morning?”
“Well, yes, we’ve had calls. Two from insurance companies, a couple for appointments, but no personal calls. Is that what you meant?”
“Yeah. So, how’s the week looking?”
She eyed him suspiciously.
“Pretty good. Besides the regulars, you have two newbies; one on Thursday and
one on Friday.”
He nodded. “Let’s see.”
Without a word, she turned the book around. If he wanted to act oddly, he was the boss.
“Yeah, that looks good. Thanks. You going to lunch now?”
“Unless you need something . . . “
“No, I’m fine. Have a good one.” He turned away, missing her appraisal before pulling her purse from the drawer.
He let himself back into his private office. She hadn’t called; hadn’t returned his calls. He’d really blown it this morning. He’d been caught off guard. No, he didn’t believe in aliens from outer space. On the other hand, he’d never given it all that much thought. On impulse he grabbed up the phone and dialed.
“John? You got a minute?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Are you still in touch with those geeky friends of yours - the conspiracy nuts.”
“Langly and Frohike? Sure, why? You drumming up business?”
He forced a laugh. “I just wanted to ask them a couple of questions.”
“Okay. You free tonight?”
“I’ve been kicked out of the house. Sam has some friends coming over.”
“Something like that. Let me give them a call.”
Mulder smiled as he and John waited for the locks on the door to be disengaged. He wouldn’t have gotten in alone, even carrying the beer.
The blond one stood in front of them when the door finally opened. “So the stiff wants an audience.”
“Be nice, Langly,” John cautioned him. “He paid for the pizza and beer.”
Langly smirked and opened the door wider to let them enter.
Author's note: I fudged on the date in mentioning "Dies the Fire" by S. M. Stirling. It wasn't written back then, but an excellent 'end of the world' novel recommended to me by Jay. I pass along the highest rec!
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Mulder, Scully, the Lone Gunman and Skinner all belong to Chris Carter, 10-13 and Fox. No infringement intended.