Chapter 20: Preparations

     BONNERS FERRY, IDAHO

     They pull into the small town on the outskirts of the Canadian border, aching from the long hours in the car.

     “Isaac?” Scully tries to rouse the boy, reaching over to touch his shoulder; he comes awake with a start. “It’s OK, it’s…it’s just me, Dana,” she soothes. “We’re stopping to pick up supplies.”

     “Supplies…for what?” His voice is hoarse.

     “We’re going camping,” Mulder chimes in from outside the car.

     The boy doesn’t react at first, staring mutely at Scully before unwrapping himself from the blanket and easing out of the back seat. He stumbles on the curb, Mulder reaches out to steady him. “Take it easy.” Isaac shakes him off, but his legs are trembling.

     “You’re weak,” Scully says, coming up beside him. “You were vomiting, you’ve lost fluids, electrolytes. You need to eat.” She glances over at the market across the street, the sporting shop next door. “We’ll get started there. Mulder?”

     He’s looking down the street, toward the town square. “I need to find a computer…an internet café, something. I’ll meet you back here in thirty. Only buy what we can carry,” he finishes, looking at Scully. “Think warm, but pack light.”

     She makes as if to answer, but he’s already jogging down the street.

     Scully sighs and purses her lips, but her partner’s sudden disappearance is nothing new, the irritation is fleeting. She turns to Isaac. “Can you walk?” He jerks his head in a tight nod. “Good. I’m going to need your help.” She holds up her crudely wrapped hand, still throbbing. “You can push the cart. But first…you need food. Think you can keep down juice?” She eyes a coffee shop on the corner, and the boy nods again.

     A few minutes later, Isaac sips an apple juice as they walk through the camping store. They’ve hit the jackpot, considering the size of this town; its proximity to the national park works in their favor, the selection is better than she would have expected.

     At least something is working for us, Scully thinks.

     She’s eyeing the dehydrated foods without enthusiasm when Isaac speaks. “Scully? Err…Dana?”

     “Either, or,” she responds, arching an eyebrow in the boy’s direction.

     “Dana,” he says, settling on her first name. “Did you…did you talk to my mom? Before she…”

     “Yes…I did.” Her heart quickens, wondering if this is it, if she’ll have to explain everything under the sickly green fluorescent lights of the department store. What did she tell him?

     He nods, looks down at his feet. “I hoped…I wondered if maybe…maybe she said something to you. About me.”

     “Ah.” She remembers how she’d asked her own mother a similar question after her father passed away, many years ago now. She’d been in her thirties, new to the X-files, but her father’s approval was always paramount. She supposes the pain of losing a parent doesn’t discriminate by age. Looking down, she can see the boy is close to tears, though trying hard to hide it.

     “She did, actually,” Scully replies at last. “She told me…you were a miracle.” She smiles faintly. He’d been a miracle to both of them, for different reasons. “Isaac, your mom loved you, very much. She gave me no reason to doubt that. Neither should you.”

     He sniffs. “I guess.”

     They’re quiet. Scully picks through the selection, but she’s not really paying attention.

     “Fish or chicken?” she says, holding up two unappetizing packets in her good hand.

     The boy wrinkles his nose. “Uh. Do we have to?”

     “Unfortunately, yes, if we want to eat.” She throws both packets into the cart, alongside a carton of oatmeal and the rest of their gear.

     He grimaces. “So…what’s the plan, anyway? Aside from stupid camping,” he scoffs, wiping at his nose, trying to recover some of his former indifference.

     “We’ll hike north, across the border into British Columbia; after that…I don’t know,” she says honestly. “We need to find out how to stop these attacks and make sure you’re safe before you can go home.”

     “I don’t have a home now,” he mumbles.

     She nods, remembering her earlier conversation with Mulder. “Do you have other family, Isaac? Maybe…family friends? It’s possible your parents left a will.”

     The boy shakes his head. “I dunno. I don’t think so.”

     “Well…we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” she sighs. Now is not the time to mention foster care or social workers. “Look, Isaac…I know this is hard. But we’re going to do our best to look out for you. You can trust us.”

     The corner of his mouth turns up in a sneer. “I’m not a little kid. I can fend for myself.”

     “You’ve shown us that much,” Scully agrees.

     “So…what do you care?”

     She pauses, searching for the best answer, hoping her apprehension doesn’t show on her face. “We have our reasons, Isaac,” she says, ashamed at her own weakness, her inability to admit the simple but painful truth.

     The boy snorts but doesn’t say anything.

     “Let’s go. Mulder should be back by now.”

#

     Mulder’s search finds him at a print shop about a quarter mile from where Scully and Isaac are shopping.

     “Can I…help you?” The cashier at the counter looks nervous, causing Mulder to take stock of his appearance, glancing at his reflection in the shop window. What was once two-day stubble is fast becoming a scruffy beard, his white t-shirt is stained with coffee and dust, and ripped from their earlier encounter with the safe house’s floor. He hasn’t slept in 48 hours, and the bags under his eyes show it.

     He looks more like an escaped convict than a former FBI agent.

     “Uhh, hi.” He glances at the man’s name tag. “Dan. Hi Dan. You wouldn’t happen to have a computer, would you? I’m camping with the family. Need to tie up some loose ends at work…check my email, maybe print something…for work,” he repeats, hoping he sounds more professional than he looks.

     The cashier’s eyebrows knit together in suspicion, but business must be slow; he points to the back of the store. “Internet’s back there. 5 bucks an hour, ten cents a page.”

     “Thanks,” Mulder hands him a ten and heads toward the computer workstations.

     After hearing about Doggett’s investigation, Mulder is certain the answers to their questions lie within the Project Ultimam files. Hopefully Byers, Langly, and Frohicke were able to get something.

     Mulder checks his email—he keeps multiple random accounts, rarely using the same address for more than a month at a time—and on the third, he finds the message, not from Byers, but Frohicke. The note is simple, straightforward:

     M,

     See attached. It’s encrypted. Check your other account for the key.

     Give D my love.

     P.S. If you get your fool ass killed this time, I’ll take good care of her.

     He smirks at the postscript, downloads the first attachment, then checks his other accounts for the encryption key; he almost doesn’t find it in the first email account, it’s flagged as spam—an unlabeled message with a text attachment.

     Bingo, he thinks, glancing over his shoulder, where the cashier makes no effort to hide his distrust. He’s watching Mulder like a hawk.

     Hope he doesn’t get it in his head to call someone.

     The last page of the document is still warm from the printer when Mulder flies past the front counter and out of the shop.

     “Hey! You forgot your change,” calls the cashier, who jogs out to the street, brandishing the leftover bills, but his suspicious-looking customer is already gone.

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