JUNE 16, 2015
WOODS HOLE, MASSACHUSETTS
They depart early the next morning. Scully carries the toolbox, with a few modifications—she’s performed enough autopsies in her strange career to know how to make do. Pliers and a sharp kitchen knife will work in a pinch.
Won’t have to worry about the Y-incision, she thinks darkly.
The house is unchanged, but the door was left ajar in their rushed escape. It hangs open, beckoning. They stand at the end of the driveway, time stretching out, until Scully finally takes a step toward the house.
“Don’t,” Isaac says finally, pleading. “Don’t go in there. You’re going to lie again,” he whispers, and her heart sinks, because he’s right.
“I’ll be fine,” she assures him. “I did this all the time, before.”
“It’s not the same,” he fires back immediately, eyes shining. “It’s not the same as before.”
“I know. ‘You have to.’” He sighs, an angry, disheartened sound.
The boy turns his back in frustration. She looks to Mulder, but all he offers is a weak shrug.
“You have the gun?”
Mulder nods. “If anything happens in there, Scully—“
She gives a terse shake of her head. “If anything happens, you take Isaac, and you run. Take the boat and go. I’ll be fine.”
She walks away before he can argue, knowing he will if given the chance.
“She’ll be OK,” she hears Mulder mutter under his breath as she turns her back.
The inside is as they left it; silent, the air thick, thicker still at the top of the stairs. The bedroom door at the end of the hall is open now. She hears the haphazard buzzing of flies, smells the cloying stench of decay.
The back of her neck tingles as she enters the bedroom, taking in the scene, noticing the details she hadn’t before. The closet to her left, the door open, revealing a row of shirts and shoes and storage containers. There’s an open book on the floor, bookmark tucked in the crease of the binding, never to be finished. On the nightstand are a handful of tissues, several of them bloody, and a window on the far side of the room is partly open, curtains swaying slightly.
Doesn’t explain the lack of air in here, she thinks, each breath more foul than the next.
Blood on the floor. On the sill, the curtains. It went outside…
A glance out the window reveals a smaller bloody pool on the porch roof, but no prints, no sign of direction. The frame is splintered around the edges, and as she gets close, she notices the window is cracked. There’s less than twelve inches’ clearance.
It’s small. Still young.
She turns back to the subject of her investigation, grabbing a rag from her pocket to tie around her nose and mouth. She pushes aside her disgust to get a closer look at the body, the cavern from which the creature escaped.
Ragged edges around the wound…postmortem lacerations…claws…
The man’s face remains frozen in horror, blackened veins running down his face and neck. His chest has been all but eaten away, the ribs folded outward, his chest cracked down the middle. The abdomen is completely missing.
She snaps on her gloves, reaching in to pull up on the rib cage, and the bones crack like twigs with the light pressure.
The flesh is slimy from the heat and decay, and she frowns as she examines the interior cavity, gloved fingers skating along the surface of the man’s inner spine.
No organs. Partial lower intestine, but everything else is gone.
She quickly realizes the rate of decay is too difficult to determine, given the surrounding temperature.
Damn. Get samples anyway.
She squints into the body cavity, using the dull edge of a knife to scrape small pieces of flesh from the bones, depositing them in plastic sandwich bags, dating the seals with a black marker.
I’ll grab a cooler from the store…
There’s a scratching sound to her left.
She whirls around, heart thudding a terrible echo in her chest, her tongue suddenly thick, stuck to the roof of her mouth.
What if it came back? What if it’s watching? You didn’t even bring the gun.
The closet is still open, still tidy. No blood, she thinks wildly. There was no trail, it can’t be here.
Her heart’s rhythm remains unconvinced.
“Who is it?” she demands, approaching the closet. Its contents are partly obscured by the sliding doors, the darkness beckoning her in.
Curiosity is a powerful mistress. She reaches out with an uncertain hand and pushes at the sliding door. It screams along its metal track and lands at the opposite side with an angry thunk of metal on wood.
She jumps, letting out a scream that sounds more like a strangled whistle. Mulder is standing in the doorway with the gun, wide eyed, taking in the sight of her. She realizes her breathing is erratic, her hands are cold and damp.
“Yeah,” she breathes, glancing over her shoulder at the body. “Yeah…got spooked for a second there.”
She nods tersely, pushing past her partner in search of fresh air and light, desperate to feel the sun on her face and the wind in her hair, to wash off the moment like a bad stain.
“Did you find anything?” he persists, following her out to where Isaac is waiting for them.
“Very little,” she mutters, stripping off the bloody gloves.
Isaac is standing at the edge of the driveway, and she gives him a reassuring smile, the best she can muster under the circumstances. She turns to Mulder. “I’m going to need access to a lab.”
He doesn’t ask what she needs, or why. “The hospital is probably ten miles from here. Might be a little crowded, though.”
“Bodies,” Isaac says, finishing Mulder’s thought for him. “Lots of them.”
“No good,” Scully says, then has an idea. “What about research centers? Is there a university in town…maybe a medical lab?”
Mulder shakes his head. “The only lab is connected to the hospital if I remember…but there’s a private college on the other side of town. Barton, I think.”
“Do they have a pre-med facility?”
“Yeah, but they won’t have power. The emergency backups for those places only last so long, they’ll be dead by now. Isaac and I might be able to hook up a generator…”
“Better than nothing,” she says. “How far?”
“Fifteen miles, maybe twenty. School was in session when the infection hit, the campus will be crawling with the virus,” he points out.
“I think we have to take that chance,” she says. Isaac, listening to their conversation, doesn’t look convinced.
“Alright,” Mulder says. “But this time we’re coming with you.”
They unearth her car from its hiding place, relieved to find it untouched. It’s been a matter of weeks, but already the car feels foreign to her. The interior smells stale and sweet when she opens the door.
From a different world.
Mulder drives, navigating the streets by way of memory and intuition, and Scully watches the empty landscape. The only sign of life is a stray dog, pawing through a trash bin at the edge of the suburb. It doesn’t even look up at the sound of the passing car.
As they pull up the winding, tree-lined campus entrance, Isaac fidgets, looking around, becoming more agitated. Scully reaches back over the seat, finds his hand, squeezing it for reassurance—hers or his, she’s not sure.
“Not that one,” he says, looking out the window at what must be one of the dorms. “There are tons in there.”
Scully glances over to her partner, questioning, and he pulls away, taking a right toward the campus center.
“Think this is the science building,” Mulder says, pulling up to a large, modern structure, all windows and shining steel beams. It stands out from the rest of the older New England brick like a sore thumb. “If there’s a lab, it’ll be in here.”
“I think it’s clear,” Isaac says, squinting. “It’s getting harder to tell.”
“We’ll just have to be careful,” Mulder says, eyeing his partner. “Stick together.”
The building is new; despite recent neglect, the interior gleams, smelling of fresh paint with an undertone of stale dust. The directory on the wall next to the entrance reads MED SCI LAB in white block letters.
“Fourth floor,” Scully murmurs, looking for a stairwell door. “Isaac? You OK?”
“Yeah,” he says. “But let me go first.”
“I don’t think—“
“Let him,” Mulder says, cutting Scully off. “Kid’s better armed than we are,” he says, gesturing to the gun held loosely in his hand.
The lab is located at the far end of the second-floor hall, a generous corner room with three long benches and tables, research littering each surface in various stages of completion.
“It’s a forensics lab,” she says, eyes shining as she surveys the room. “It’s basic, but…I can do a viral analysis and compare tissue samples, run a PCR.”
“They must have been connected with the local PD,” Mulder muses. He looks around, running his finger along the dusty surface of a work table. “These places usually have a back-up generator to keep stuff cold in the event of an outage. It probably ran out of gas weeks ago…but if we can refuel it, you’ll have a few hours.”
He’s right; they find the generator at the back of the building behind a padlocked enclosure, the fuel indicator pointing to E.
“Just needs gas,” Mulder says, examining the panel. “Isaac? Grab the can from the car. We should have enough to start this thing.”
Isaac nods, his footsteps quickly retreating across the pavement. He returns with the red container, gasoline sloshing, as Mulder finds the generator’s input line.
“I’m going back up,” Scully says. “We should unplug the equipment so it doesn’t drain the supply.”
In the lab, she ties back her long hair in a messy bun, donning a pair of gloves. Within minutes, there’s a whirring as the generator kicks in, and the lights flicker on. Mulder and Isaac are soon crowded in the doorway, pleased with their progress, but Scully has only just started.
“I need blood samples.” She holds up two empty vials, waggling them at Mulder and Isaac.
Mulder raises an eyebrow. “That wasn’t part of the deal, Doc.”
She ignores this. “You first.”
“And why am I letting you play vampire again?” he asks as she wraps his arm with a rubber tourniquet, prodding at his inner elbow until she finds a vein.
“I need healthy samples. If I’m going to find out why we’re immune, I need to compare the infected tissue samples I collected with our blood.”
“Me, too?” Isaac asks, visibly reluctant.
She nods, then turns back to Mulder, who looks equally uncomfortable.
“Phlebotomy wasn’t your best subject,” he teases.
“It wasn’t,” she agrees, still focused on finding the right vein. “But I had a ninety-five percent success rate. I think you’ll survive.”
“Do I get a sticker when I’m done?” he asks with a smirk, then a soft hiss as the needle pierces the skin.
Blood snakes along the plastic tubing, and she looks up at her partner with a mischievous smile. “First try.”
When the vial is full, she labels the sample with Mulder’s name, the date, then turns to their son. “Isaac? You’re next.”
“Alright,” he sighs, jumping up onto one of the benches, long legs dangling over the side.
“Just going to put the tourniquet on so—“
“Yeah, I know the drill,” he says, frowning, and Scully remembers that he’d spent most of his early childhood being poked and prodded by doctors. Remorse, like the needle, stings for a second.
“My right arm’s better,” he says, flexing to show her, pointing at a pinprick of scar tissue tucked in the crease of his inner elbow. The vein lies right beneath the scar.
Marked like a grave.
She swallows hard. “Thanks,” she says, apologetic, swabbing the pinprick with an alcohol pad.
“You did better than most of the nurses used to,” he remarks, pressing a piece of gauze to the draw site when she’s done. “Do I get a sticker, too?” he asks, a cautious twinkle in his blue eyes, and Scully can’t help but smile.
“No, but you can help me.”
She shows him how to wrap and tie the tourniquet around her upper arm, tight enough to pinch. It takes three tries to get the needle in her own arm.
“I’ll get better,” she sighs, letting Isaac unwrap the tourniquet as the blood spurts into the vial. “I’d like to stay here tonight,” she continues, surveying the room. “It will take a few hours for the tests to complete.”
Mulder nods. “Isaac and I can grab some supplies for the night. We’ll stay up—“
“You don’t have to,” Scully interrupts, then smiles half-heartedly. “You can sleep; I’ll need to be awake to watch the equipment anyway.”
He tilts his head up. “You be OK here for a few?”
She nods. “Yeah, I think if there were anything here, we’d have seen it by now. Leave the gun, though.”
He does, and she tucks the weapon into her back pocket.
The coolers are full of old samples, and she cleans them out, dumping everything into bio-hazard bags, replacing them with her own bagged tissue and blood samples.
She’s looking for supplies in the rear closet when the hair on the back of her neck stands up. Her hand freezes over a new box of microscope slides, her heart pounds with an extreme sense of deja vu.
They’re watching us.
She turns, hand going for the gun on instinct, but the lab is empty. There’s no sound, only the cold prickle of fear. She backs out of the closet, scanning the open room, but there’s nothing to see except the long tables, a desk in the corner, a sheaf of papers spilling out from one drawer. She checks the hallway outside the lab, but there’s no one; just the silence of an empty world.
“Mulder? That you?”
Her imagination doesn’t have to travel far; the proof is sitting in the cooler, samples crawling with it. She waits, standing perfectly still for a good five minutes, but nothing changes, and eventually her heart resumes its normal rhythm.
The work is methodical, a welcome distraction. She prepares the slides, blood and tissue smeared across the glass, and labels them with tape and a marker. Combined under the microscope, the infected blood samples mingle with the uninfected, leaving black streaks in swirls of red and pink.
She grabs a nearby notebook, ripping out the first six pages of research, replacing it with her notes. Mulder’s sample is the same; she watches as the red cells seem to repel the blackened ones, forcing them to the outer edges in a jerky cellular dance.
She watches with a mixture of awe and sadness. Anger rises swiftly within her; anger at the people who knew what was coming and did nothing to stop it. Rage at those who had the cure and kept it for their own selfish devices. She takes a breath, realizes she’s clenching the pen in her hand, staring blankly at her notes without seeing them. Her vision is blurred with hot tears.
She fumbles to her right for Isaac’s slide, about to put it under the microscope when she hears Mulder’s familiar voice carry through the open window, their footsteps in the hall.
“We got mats and sleeping bags,” Isaac announces, throwing two dark green rolls onto the floor.
“See anything out there?” she asks, brushing her eyes with the back of her hand, hoping her voice doesn’t betray her unease.
“It’s nothing.” Mulder gives her a curious look, but doesn’t press her. She glances down to find him carrying a black bag. “Your laptop?”
“Yeah, the building has a dedicated connection. We may be able to get online. If nothing else, it’s a Minesweeper tournament to the death,” he smirks.
Scully smiles back, the vise grip around her chest lessening. “Glad you’re finally putting all those years in the bullpen to good use.”
Mulder and Isaac set up the computer on one of the lab benches, connecting it to the jack in the wall, while Scully turns back to the microscope, peering at Isaac’s sample, but the slide’s contents are black.
That’s not right. Must have mixed the wrong blood.
A new slide reveals the same thing, however, and her brow furrows in concern, wondering if this means the infection is dormant, or getting stronger.
But what if it’s neither? What if it’s part of him now? her mind whispers.
In the background, Mulder and Isaac go back and forth over the laptop.
“Here, you need to put in an IP address to bypass the proxy,” Isaac says, fingers tapping at the keyboard.
“Are you sure you didn’t take lessons from Frohicke?”
Isaac snorts, “Nah, this is kids’ stuff. I did it at school when I wanted to get around the filter in the computer lab.”
“I don’t think I’m supposed to condone that kind of behavior.”
The boy shrugs, still typing. “We need to find a proxy that’s still running…”
Scully shakes her head, and begins preparing the solution for a PCR.
An hour later, there’s an exuberant, “Yes!” from their corner of the room, and Scully looks up through her goggles.
“We’re online,” Mulder says. “And so is Google.”
“Their servers must not be affected. Facebook is still up,” Isaac mutters after a pause, squinting at the screen.
Mulder frowns. “Since when do you have Facebook?”
“Everyone does,” the boy scoffs, and Mulder catches Scully’s eye, questioning. She shrugs.
“Twitter is, too,” Isaac continues fingers swift on the keys. “Looks like there are a few people talking,” he says.
“You have a Twitter account,” Mulder says, still in disbelief.
“Of course,” Isaac sighs impatiently. “Look, someone posted three days ago.”
The boy points at the screen. “See the timestamp? Three days ago. Talking about the virus.”
“Can you tell where they are?”
“London, looks like.”
Sure enough, Isaac clicks a link, and the screen is flooded with messages from around the globe.
Other people, Scully thinks, unsure if the thought is comforting or distressing. She walks to the computer, looking over Mulder’s shoulder.
“That’s from Japan,” Mulder says, pointing, “There’s another report from Texas. There should be thousands of messages like this.”
“Not many survivors,” Scully says quietly. “Or they’re like us, and don’t have access.”
“Should I post something?” Isaac asks, glancing up at Mulder.
Her partner doesn’t miss a beat. “No.”
Mulder bites the inside of his cheek. “We don’t know who’s monitoring these networks,” he says in a low voice. “For all we know, they’re keeping the servers running as bait.”
Isaac looks disappointed. “But—“
“He’s right,” Scully interrupts. “Too risky.”
“We should contact the Gunmen,” Mulder says.
“Don’t you think they would have tried to contact us by now, Mulder?”
He doesn’t respond, turning back to the computer, this time looking more forlorn than excited about the prospect. Reaching behind the table, he unplugs the computer from the wall.
“We can’t take the chance they’re monitoring these networks,” Mulder sighs, tossing the cable aside with more force than is necessary. “Let the Minesweeper tournament commence.”
Scully leaves them to their game and turns back to her work, the routine coming back to her slowly. The PCR is almost comforting in its predictability, one thing that hasn’t changed. She separates the materials into vials with careful concentration, swearing under her breath when she messes up the ratio of enzymes and tissue.
It’s late by the time she removes the first set of samples from the thermocycler. Isaac is already curled up on the floor in his sleeping bag, and Mulder sits alone, his face drawn in the glow of the laptop.
“You OK?” she says quietly, resting a tentative hand on his shoulder.
He spins around on the lab stool, rubbing at his face. “Yeah…I…yeah, I’m OK,” he says. If Isaac were awake, he could hear the lie in his thoughts, but Scully hears it in his voice. She reaches out, ruffling Mulder’s hair, and he closes his eyes at the contact, simple and intimate.
“You should get some rest.”
Mulder nods and stands, stretching, the same distant look on his face.
“Wake me if anything comes up. I mean it,” he adds, rolling his sleeping back out next to Isaac’s.
“I will, promise. Night, Mulder.”
Within minutes, Mulder’s quiet snores drift from the front of the lab. The room is dark, save for a dim light over her workbench, and Scully dozes to the hum of the equipment at her elbow. She can’t shake the feeling of being watched, and each time she drifts off, she snaps awake with the uncomfortable sensation that they are not alone. The gun is within reach, but she doesn’t pick it up, refusing to succumb to her own paranoia.
There’s a groan from the floor, Isaac tossing fitfully in his sleeping bag. She creeps past Mulder to kneel beside the boy, and places her hand on his forehead, finding it cool but clammy.
“Isaac,” she whispers, stroking her thumb across his brow. “Isaac, hon, wake up.”
His eyes flutter open, staring blankly, and she pulls back with a gasp. They’re black, murky, clouded with ink.
Oh, oh no—
She reaches out to look more closely, but he flinches, blinking, and his eyes are clear. He frowns at her sleepily, not yet awake, and turns over.
It’s just the shadows.
She shudders, fixated on his eyes, but they don’t open again, and soon his breathing evens.
She compares the results of the DNA sequences, the films muddy in the weak morning light. Isaac wakes first, rubbing at his eyes, squinting in her direction. “Doc?”
“Morning,” she says, distracted. “Sleep well?”
“Floor’s hard,” he mumbles, yawning. “Did your test work?”
“It confirms my suspicions. The virus is part of us, but inactive.” She frowns, switching to a different sheet.
“But the blood samples didn’t turn out. Specifically yours, Isaac. Either I did something wrong, or I’m not understanding the results, but there should be two unique DNA strands—the virus and the human base.”
“But there’s not?” Isaac asks, looking over her shoulder at the films.
“No,” Scully sighs. “There’s only one. It’s possible the samples were tainted during the procedure somehow.”
Mulder’s voice rumbles from the floor, where he’s been listening. “Unless the virus merged with the DNA,” he finishes for her.
Scully raises a skeptical eyebrow in her partner’s direction. “That would mean the virus doesn’t just attack DNA, but fundamentally changes it. That’s not unheard of, but it’s very, very rare in nature…and even then, it doesn’t happen to the entire DNA structure, only small parts of it.”
“I think we’re outside the realm of natural here, Scully.”
She purses her lips. “Mulder—“
He looks more amused than contrary. “You’ve seen what those things can do, you’ve seen how advanced they are. Maybe they alter the DNA to make the environment more hospitable.”
“Mulder, if that’s true…” she trails off, stealing a glance at Isaac.
“Then I’ve…changed?” the boy says. “You mean it…changed me?”
“We don’t know that for sure,” Scully says, the words coming out too fast to be true.
“It’s what you’re thinking, though,” he says weakly.
“I know, I know,” she sighs. “But…but I’m tired,” she admits, sagging a bit, suddenly feeling every moment of missed sleep. “We should go back. I need some time to make sense of this.”
There’s a tense pause, and for a moment she thinks Isaac will object, will demand answers she doesn’t yet have.
But he doesn’t, and instead turns, gathering his sleeping bag into a tight roll.
As their boat pulls away from shore, Scully feels a tug at her subconscious, anxiety replaced by relief as they get further from the mainland.
At the house, she collapses on the couch, intending to close her eyes for few minutes, but she sleeps until the light has left the sky. She wakes with a blanket draped across her legs, her hair pressing sleep lines into her cheek.
Groaning, she sits up, squinting. Mulder is in the kitchen, clicking away on his laptop; her notebook sits in front of him, closed. His hair is wet, freshly showered, and she catches a whiff of his shampoo.
“How long have I been out?” she says, yawning, leaning in the doorway.
“Hey, sleepyhead. ‘Bout nine hours, give or take.”
“Mmm. What are you doing?”
He looks up with a wry smile. “The book isn’t going to write itself.”
She returns his smile. The invisible book had been a running joke between them for years. “There’s an X-File if there ever was one. You’re actually writing it?”
“Uh huh. Turns out I’m pretty good, too. Too bad there’s no one around to read it,” he mutters.
“I’ll read it,” she says.
“You lived it,” he points out. “Most of it, anyway.”
“All the more reason for me to read it…make sure you’re telling the truth.”
“Ahh. The truth,” he sighs.
“The ever-constant pursuit,” she murmurs, watching him stretch and shift uncomfortably in his seat.
“Closer than that.”
She goes quiet, letting the weight of the day’s discoveries settle around her. Mulder is watching her, waiting for a reaction, but there’s too much to process.
“Isaac?” she asks, lowering her eyes, signaling the change of subject.
“Upstairs, I think,” Mulder says after a pause.
“Ah, of course,” she says lightly, reaching for the notebook. “I’m going to go over this with a fresh eye.”
He nods, still watching her closely, teasing a little. “Let me know if you need someone to tell you you’re wrong.”
“Thought that was my job,” she mutters, flipping the wire-bound pages as she makes her way up the stairs.
Half an hour later, she sits cross-legged on the bed, examining the films from Isaac’s blood work.
This can’t be right…
She counts the segments one by one, but no matter how hard she tries, she can’t make the printouts make sense.
I would have noticed if—
Isaac stands in the doorway, a dark, expectant look on his face.
She takes off her reading glasses, forcing a smile. “What is it, Isaac?”
“You were thinking about me.”
Her smile falters a little. “Yeah…I was. Have a seat.”
He does, climbing onto the end of the bed, mirroring her pose.
“You think the vaccine changed me,” he says somberly.
“I don’t…we don’t know that for sure.”
“That’s not what you’re thinking.”
She swallows. “I think…I think regardless of what the tests show, you’re still alive, and that’s what’s important right now.”
“You’re worried, though. You’re worried the vaccine hurt me.”
She blinks. “I’m always worried about you,” she whispers, a careful confession directed at her paperwork.
“You don’t hide it as well as he does,” the boy says, nodding downward, to where they can hear Mulder working in the kitchen. “So what do we do now?”
“I need to go back again,” she says. “I can’t trust these results. If I can replicate them, that will give us more evidence.”
“I thought you’d say that,” Isaac sighs.
“It’s getting dangerous,” she prompts, watching his face, the way it goes dark, watching as his mind turns inward.
“I don’t think we should stay here, but I don’t know where we can go,” he admits.
“That seems to be the question,” she agrees.
“Do you think you’ll find a cure?”
“For the virus? No, I think we’re past that point.”
“Then what are we looking for?”
She sighs, pressing her lips together. “A clue,” she says finally. “Something we can use to our advantage, I guess. Something we can use to…to save ourselves.”
“There are people still out there,” Isaac says, hopefully. “People like us. We saw that at the lab.”
“But you’re worried about that, too,” he says, frowning, picking at something on his palm.
She softens, pinches the bridge of her nose, where a headache is brewing behind her eyes. “We can’t trust anyone, Isaac. It’s safer this way. You understand?”
“I don’t,” he says. “I don’t understand.”
She waits a beat, lips pressed together in a line, softly. “I know, but you have to trust us. Can you do that, at least?”
He nods slowly, disappointment creasing his brow as his hands continue to fidget in his lap.
“Thank you,” she sighs, hesitating. “Is there something you wanted to ask me?”
For a moment she thinks she sees a flicker of pain in his eyes, but before she can say something, he hops off the bed.
“Nope, I’m OK.”
Even after she returns to her work, that flicker plants the seed of doubt that takes root in the back of her mind, bringing her back to the lab, to the inky darkness of his eyes in his sleep—shadows, she scolds herself, swallowing hard. Nothing more than shadows.