JUNE 19, 2015
CDC RESEARCH FACILITY
“It should be right here,” Scully says, turning onto a narrow street lined with cars, double-checking the map. A delivery van hangs open, cardboard boxes spilling out into the street, and she guides the rattling truck around them.
She’s been nervous since they crossed the city limits, expecting the creatures to sense their presence, but so far, there’s no activity. Her hands are slick on the wheel. Isaac is quiet, his blue eyes revealing nothing.
“There,” Isaac says, pointing at a nondescript gray-white building, shimmering in the thick heat of morning.
Not even nine and Scully’s t-shirt is damp with sweat; it feels like 85 in the shade, of which there isn’t much to be found. The sun beats down on the brick building, relentless, heat reflected in shimmering waves off the wide glass windows.
“Hey look, free sauna,” Mulder mutters under his breath.
“Let’s make this quick,” she sighs, irritable. She’d tossed and turned, crammed into the truck bed with Mulder, who hadn’t gotten much sleep, either.
He’s right about the facility; the heat is oppressive, and they open the door to a sour-smelling brick oven whose air conditioning hasn’t worked for weeks. Mulder and Isaac gag, while Scully merely winces, drawing the collar of her shirt over her mouth and nose. They take her cue and do the same.
“Nothing here except dead air. Literally,” he coughs, words muffled by his t-shirt.
“Good. If anything comes—“
“I know, I got it, I’ll tell you,” he sighs.
“We need a computer,” Mulder says.
“Not just any computer,” Scully reminds him as they proceed down the hall, making a left off the main entrance, passing offices and labs. “They’ll be close to the labs; connected to the network. That’s the only way to guarantee they’ll have access to the database.”
“Like this?” asks Isaac, stopping in front of a window overlooking a research lab. At the back, workstations.
“Yeah…exactly like that,” Scully says, testing the door, finding it open. Her senses have begun to acclimate to the smell, although sweat tickles as it slips down the back of her neck. It’s at least 100 degrees inside the building, and the stale air isn’t helping.
Isaac reads her mind, heading straight for the windows, relieved to find they open with ease. It’s not much, there’s barely a breeze coming through, but it’s better than nothing.
Mulder is already at one of the computers, pulling something out of a black bag.
“How are you going to—“
He holds up the bag. “Battery backup. Should be able to run this thing for thirty minutes if we’re lucky.”
“But we don’t have Internet access,” she reminds him.
“No,” he says, fumbling underneath the table for the computer’s cord, plugging it into the black box. “But they would have kept cached system files. I just hope they’re not encrypted.”
“If nothing else, we can swipe the hard drive and bring it with us,” Isaac says, coming up behind them.
“Good thinking,” Mulder says as the screen flickers to life.
As they work, Scully walks around the lab, scavenging for anything that might be useful. Alcohol wipes and syringes go into her backpack. “I’m going to check the kitchen,” she says, but the guys are too deep into the computer’s inner workings to hear her.
There’s a kitchenette off the hall, the smell within rank. She pulls her shirt up over her mouth and nose again, deciding to avoid the refrigerator. It’s unlikely anything within is edible.
Instead, she paws through the cupboards, finding very little; instant coffee and tea packets. The tea has limited medicinal properties, and instant coffee, while stale, is better than nothing. There are sugar and salt packets, and she empties these into her bag in case they need to replace lost electrolytes due to the heat.
She skims the shelves under the sink but comes up short; no canned goods, few dry goods, little in the way of food. Some expired crackers, probably left over from an office meeting. She pauses, running her fingers over the crinkling wax paper, thinking about how she had once taken such things for granted; her morning cup of coffee, the tray of bagels in the break room at the hospital, coming home to a warm meal.
They’ll have to stop for supplies again soon, and she shudders at the thought of pawing through boxes of food in the dark.
When she returns to the lab, Mulder and Isaac are scrolling through something onscreen, but their faces are pinched.
“It’s protected,” Isaac explains when she looks over his shoulder.
“Dammit,” Mulder says, sucking in a sharp breath. “We have about ten minutes left on the battery; no way we’re going to get in.”
“Let’s get the hard drive, then.”
Isaac helps to dismantle the computer.
“I hope you know something about these things, kid,” Mulder murmurs, and Scully shoots him a sympathetic look. He’s thinking of the Gunmen again; they’d be able to crack it in a matter of hours. Without them, the drive could take days—more like weeks, or even months—to access.
Scully sighs. “Let’s sweep the rest of the building for supplies.”
Isaac takes the lead, testing doors, while his parents hang back.
Mulder rubs at the growing stubble on his chin, a sign of frustration. “I don’t know where we go from here, Scully. I’m out of ideas.”
“We’ll figure something out,” she says, but her words are hollow.
A supply closet holds more lab equipment, some of which Scully takes—extra sample collection kits, gloves, and gauze.
“Rats,” Isaac says, stopping in front of a door.
“No, look—rats,” he says, gesturing to the narrow window. Scully peeks through; inside the lab, narrow cages sit in tidy rows on a bench. Small white and brown bodies lay motionless within, killed by the heat or the infection, it’s impossible to tell.
We’re no different from them.
“We’re not going to find anything else here,” she says. “Let’s go.”
The air is fresher outside, but the afternoon temperature has risen to a thick, oppressive blanket. The delivery van is still there, and as Scully pulls up alongside it, she gets a closer look. Her heart lightens.
Some good luck, finally, she thinks, shifting into park next to the vending supply company van.
“What are you stopping for?”
“It’s time for lunch,” she says, climbing out of the truck’s cab.
The spilled goods are better than anything they’d find at a grocery store. They throw the abandoned chips, dried fruit, trail mix, and melted candy bars into their packs.
“Now if only this thing had AC,” Mulder grins, tossing his overflowing bag into the back of the pickup.
Crammed together in the truck’s cab once again, the open windows only serve to blow warm air across their sticky, overheated bodies as Scully pulls out of the surrounding neighborhood. Their moment of lighthearted gathering is replaced by somber watchfulness. Mulder keeps the gun out, resting on his knee, and his index finger doesn’t venture far from the trigger.
Isaac is equally quiet as they pass rows of empty houses. There’s another stray dog, and Isaac counts three cats, but nothing human or inhuman alike.
Scully relaxes a fraction as they leave the city, the suburbs, entering rolling fields of rural farmland. When the pavement gives way to gravel, she feels her shoulders unwind, her grip on the wheel loosening. Though they’re pushing their luck staying in the woods without cover, being surrounded by empty corpses, blocked in by buildings and abandoned cars, is even less appealing.
Tonight they’ll stay deep in the woods on the forested back road. The stolen hard drive rests heavy in Mulder’s pocket, a useless hunk of metal until they can find a working computer.
We need a power source, Scully thinks, reminded once again of how much easier it would be if there were others, a community…
She stops the thought in its tracks. They still haven’t talked about Isaac’s outburst—“We need to find others”— and today has only brought further disappointment. There’s no point in drudging up hard feelings.
They set up camp in the truck that night with defeated silence, punctuated by the sounds of opening cellophane wrappers. Scully excuses herself after dinner—crackers and cheese substitute, with trail mix for dessert—to study her notes on the DNA tests she ran back in Massachusetts, leaving Mulder and Isaac to sit by the fire. It’s too hot to enjoy, but the smoke keeps the gnats and mosquitos away.
An entomology course might have come in handy, she thinks, smacking another of the pesky bugs off the side of her neck as she frowns at the papers in her lap. We could study the damn bugs, find out why they got off lucky…
She blinks, looking up, watching another bloodthirsty, whining gnat alight on her forearm, watching in a fog as it bites, the sting that coincides with a sudden thought…
Study the bugs…stings…
“The bees,” she whispers to herself, wondering why the thought is so perfect, so…exciting. “Bees,” she repeats, scrambling out of the back of the truck, where Mulder and Isaac are peering at her over their shoulders. “Bees!”
“Need the bug spray?” Mulder asks, but Scully ignores him, too excited.
“How did the virus spread, Mulder? How were they able to replicate it?”
He shakes his head slowly, confused. “I don’t know. You said it was probably airborne, given the rate of infection—”
“No, that’s not what I mean. The first time, Mulder, the black oil virus. They used bees. Bees in genetically modified crops.”
“Yeah,” he says, drawing out the word, but it’s clear from his expression he doesn’t understand. “But we don’t know this is the same virus, Scully, it’s not—”
“It doesn’t matter! The bugs appear to be immune, and so do the animals; we’ve seen scores of them. What if they acted as carriers?”
She pauses, thinking out loud. “A vaccine? A…a deterrent, maybe? Something that could weaken them, possibly even kill them.”
Mulder gives her an encouraging nod over the campfire, the glow lighting his face with an aura of hope. “You think you could do that?”
“I…I don’t even know where we would begin, but…”
“You can’t do research from the back of a pickup truck,” Isaac interrupts, echoing Scully’s thoughts aloud.
Scully huffs a sigh, hands on her hips, pacing. They’d need to venture into the city again. Procuring the right tools would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
“I have an idea,” Mulder interrupts, but he looks uncertain.
She waits, finally prompts him. “And?”
“There were facilities in New Mexico…but you’re not going to find them on a map. Gibson and I did some exploring while I was in hiding, after you were born,” he says, nodding at Isaac. “I don’t know if these places are still active…that was years ago, we never got very far in,” he murmurs. “They were safe, though. The rocks—”
Scully’s eyes widen. “Magnetite.”
“Yeah, that,” he says. “It keeps them away. Kills them.”
“That’s it, then,” she says, heart thrumming hopefully in her chest. “God, I wish I’d thought of it before! Do you think we can get in? Do you think you’ll know where to go?”
“It’s a long shot, but—”
Her eyes blaze. “But what?”
“When have we ever had anything but a long shot?” he smiles slyly.
Her smile is fainter. “If these facilities are secure, protected, we’d have somewhere to stay…”
“Power?” Isaac says, skeptical.
“They’ll have something,” Mulder says. “Easier to fly under the radar if you’re not sucking off the public supply.”
Isaac shrugs in response, though his face seems to lighten at the prospect of a purpose, a direction. “I say we do it.”
Children thrive on stability, security, and routine, Scully thinks, an errant snippet of wisdom from a parenting book, read long before William had been reborn as Isaac, and she once again feels a tug of regret. What kind of life is this?
If anything, this strengthens her resolve, and she folds her arms across her chest, eyes blazing. “Then let’s do it.”