An Alex Krycek backstory for the Sanctuary universe
The Cigarette Smoking Man keeps Krycek on a short leash and begins to use him in a campaign to break Mulder's spirit.
There was some talk about alien rebels. Well, the topic under discussion was the hybrid program. They were finally starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, and with the approach of success comes paranoia. There hadn't been any recent signs of rebels or rebel activity, but that didn't stop the speculation. What stuck with me was a look I caught on the old man's face--not the same as the rest of the old men, worried and speculating, but a sudden blanched look and then a quick effort to smooth it over. I kept an eye on him after that. For the rest of the meeting he looked like he'd bitten into something bitter and couldn't get the taste out of his mouth.
"So what do you think the threat is from the aliens?" I asked as the elevator carried us toward the lobby and our limousine.
He stopped short. "What are you asking, Alex?"
I shrugged. "You stay three steps ahead of the rest of them. You think the Rebels are likely to come screaming in if somebody tips 'em about Cassandra?"
"We've spent fifty years working to assure the project's secrecy." He lit a Morley and took a long drag. "Screaming in? No. Anyone--even an alien--with that kind of capability would find a more subtle way to reach that sort of objective. You"--he waved the cigarette at me--"what would you do if you wanted to infiltrate an enemy project?"
"Make myself look like someone who belonged there," I said, before it suddenly hit me that he might take it as an admission of how I'd managed to access the Russian vaccine.
Luckily, the elevator settled just then and the door opened. The old man moved ahead of me, mumbled something about having an appointment, and headed for the curb. Which was fine with me; I had no desire to get into a conversation about how I'd managed to tap into the Russian vaccine, or what I might have done with it afterward.
In the back of the taxi, though, I had a thought that chilled me. There were clones. Not just the kids at the Alberta facility, but others the Colonists or their splinter groups had managed to produce over the years. Cloning just one researcher close to the work would be all it took.
Great. One more thing to keep me awake at night.
After that he shipped me off to D.C., saying he had 'a purpose' for me there. Part of which had to be keeping me off the Elders' radar, though he never would have admitted it.
It had been a while since I'd actually spent more than passing time in Washington. My gut feeling about the place was a big negative: It's where I'd partnered with Mulder, and we all know how that turned out. It's also where I was on assignment with that stupid fuck Cardenal when he shot Scully's sister. Looking back, I could have handled the aftermath of that a lot better than I did, but realizing it doesn't change the outcome.
The old man tried to blow me up here.
On the other hand, Mulder'd found my tiny little shoebox of a place here the last time I was in town, and that had been... I don't know. A one-time truce is no guarantee of a turnaround, but when your life's been a series of down elevators, just one trip that carries you up a floor is a nice pause in the madness. And Ché was here. I hadn't had contact with the guy in months, hadn't seen him in nearly a year; he was probably wondering whether I was still alive. I'd have to meet with him once I'd figured out a way to do it without the old man finding out.
Life being full of twists and turns, though, there was no telling what this stint in D. C. would bring.
One thing was for sure: I was going to have to find new digs. While the old man was dragging me halfway around the world, the lease on my little hole-in-the-wall place had expired. Number one on my wish list would have been to get a place the old man would never be able to find, but there was no way it was going to be practical at this point. I started looking, found myself a room in a tired building in Adams Morgan and moved in.
The old man was busy going through the hybrid program research staff one by one, calling them in for 'interviews' about the progress of their work and then slipping in questions about stuff only a true insider could know. Of course, it didn't mean the rebels hadn't been lurking around for decades and infiltrated the group years ago; if they had, a rebel clone could know as much as any of the other scientists there. I wondered if he'd thought about that.
Mulder and Scully were in and out of town, on pathetic make-work assignments designed to wear Mulder down. Or maybe Scully'd break first, get frustrated enough to transfer to another field office, or head out to practice medicine in the civilian sector. Just as good for the old man; it would make Mulder crumble even faster.
The old man had me break into both their places while they were out of town, just to have a look around. Nothing of interest at Scully's place. If she was thinking about moving on to another area or some other type of job, she'd left no evidence of it around her apartment or on her computer. Mulder's place was the usual mess--scattered file folders, lists of contacts, a half-empty carton of orange juice in the fridge along with a couple of takeout boxes and a jar of mustard. The cupboard held a few cans of soup, some dead crackers and most of a bottle of whiskey. A shirt and a sweater were tossed on the leather chair in the corner of the living room. The trash can was knocked over, but there was no way to tell whether it had been an accident or whether he'd kicked it out of frustration. Apparently he was still sleeping on his couch, because the bedroom was full of file boxes, like it had always been. Hell, I could never figure why he did it; if I had a nice bed like that, I sure as hell wouldn't have wasted it by sacking out on the couch every night. Besides, if someone were coming after you, being in the bedroom could give you a little advantage.
The old man seemed less than enthusiastic about what I'd found, but then what did he expect? Mulder's as stubborn as they come, and trying to tear him away from the job he'd hitched himself to body and soul was only going to make him hold on tighter. Until he hit some kind of real breaking point. No matter how devoted you think you are to something, those points come. Believe me, I knew.
I asked the old man how his interviews were going; he said he hadn't come across anything suspicious so far, but they were time-consuming and he needed to make sure he'd checked out every single person working on the project. He mentioned what a great job Diana was doing keeping tabs on stuff at the FBI. His pride in her showed, but good old Jeff didn't fare nearly as well. Besides the obvious, he wasn't a carbon copy of the old man. Well, you have a kid, you roll the dice. No telling what you'll get, especially if you push the kid out and leave him to make his own way through the world.
At first there wasn't much to do day-to-day since they kept sending Mulder out of town on assignment. I think the old man liked that, knowing it left me floating. He knew it would give me plenty of time to speculate on what was coming, unable to do a damn thing about it. I needed to make some contacts, get some sort of a foothold for myself, but it was obvious he had somebody watching me, to make me feel the pressure of his thumb on me. I'd expected that, and though I knew it'd be temporary, for the moment my hands were tied. Maybe it was the frustration that brought the dreams on.
They'd started in Antarctica, me walking through the door of that Tunguska cell and catching site of Andrei swinging from an electrical cord. It burned me up, just like it had when it actually happened. Sure, I'd made him fill the kid with Oil and stitch him up, but the hanging--that was his own work. Granted, once Lev found out Andrei'd followed orders that hadn't come from him, he probably would have shot Andrei on the spot anyway. But the hanging was more than an escape: It was Andrei's way of leaving me with a big "Fuck you" on his way out: After all he'd done for me, how could I treat him that way?
He knew it would get to me. Well, the message came through loud and clear.
After that first time, I'd walk through any door--random doors--in my dreams, and Andrei would be dangling there, his body just barely swinging, the room silent except for the low squeak of the weighted cord. At first I only saw him from behind. Now when it happened, he was facing me. He was dead but his eyes weren't; they'd follow me until I'd either turn and walk out or wake up gasping. So I wasn't getting as nearly as much sleep as I would have liked.
Maybe ten days after the first time I'd gone to Mulder's apartment, the old man decided I should be checking it regularly. He must have figured Mulder was on the ropes, or close to it. I was supposed to check his computer, phone messages, any paperwork I found, the contents of the fridge, the whiskey bottle, the medicine cabinet. I wasn't seeing any big changes. But I was upping the chances Mulder'd walk in on me while I was there, and I had no desire for another phone in the face, or Mulder's fists, or whatever he'd end up going at me with if he found me there.
It was nearly Christmas, not that the holiday had ever been on my radar. The old man had gone out of town for a week or so, and I was pretty sure he'd dropped the tail he'd had on me in the beginning, though I couldn't verify it, so I was still putting off meeting with Ché. One day, in a local Ecuadorian bar, I ran across Raul Cisneros, the guy I'd trained to infiltrate FarmaCol in an attempt to get hold of the vaccine piling up in Cali. He'd sworn off trying to play secret agent, he said. He was looking around for better opportunities, but for the moment he was getting by working in a machine shop in Silver Spring. At least it was safe... aside from having caught his finger in a press the week before. He showed me a purple and black fingernail as proof. I said I was doing odd jobs and biding my time. I asked if he were interested in maybe doing a job or two on the side--minor stuff, nothing like we'd trained for before--and he said he might be. I told him I didn't have anything at the moment, but I'd be in touch when something came up. He gave me his phone number and an e-mail address. I memorized them both and flushed the piece of paper they were scrawled on before I left the place.
A single contact. It was pathetic, when I thought about it later that night. No plan, no real playing pieces on the big board. No leverage. Just one lone guy who might be able to help me if it were exactly the right assignment.
Seeing Raul had taken me back to a time when I'd still had possibilities, when there was a chance to get at the Cali vaccine and distribute it, and I'd still had a contact in the board room. The good old days when I'd been working on the assumption that the old man was gradually rotting away below the neatly-mowed lawn of a cemetery over in Edgewood.
On the way home I bought a bottle of vodka and went back to my place. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I took a good look at myself. I was getting old. Mussed hair, an assortment of scars here and there. The slight lean to the left that I hated to see, compensation for having taken off the fake arm.
I punched the mirror and watched it shatter.
And Armageddon waiting for us just above the clouds.
Stepping around the broken pieces, I went out, found a glass and tossed back a drink.
[The following section, expanded, forms part of the Christmas fic The Night Before.]
The dreams got worse. The day before Christmas, I woke up to the sound of liquid pouring and thought I saw Andrei sitting on the desk chair with a glass in his hand. Worse, he was talking to me. Once I got hold of myself, the dream finally disappeared, but I found a little puddle of something wet on the chair. It smelled like orange Stoli.
It was nearly two in the afternoon. I'd drunk myself to sleep the night before--and the night before that--which was only going to play into the old man's hand if he came back and found me this way. I had to get a grip somehow. I got up, took a piss, dressed, made myself eat something and went out walking. The clouds were low--the kind just waiting to drop a load of snow. Good news for the neghborhood kids, if nothing else. I walked through Rock Creek Park and out as far as the old cemetery on the Georgetown side, anything to keep moving and clear my head. By the time I made it back through the park it was getting dark. I was tired and hungry, and the walking hadn't taken me nearly far enough from my problems. And I was in no hurry to go to sleep again and give Andrei another chance at me. Coming to a park bench, I sat down and watched the first few falling flakes and tried not to think.
Gradually my mind drifted to the snow that used to pile up against our building when I was a kid, the way it would build up until the downstairs windows were covered and only gave off a dull gray glow. Must've been really out of it, because when a running shoe settled on the bench beside me, I nearly jumped. Hands reached out and started tying the shoe laces. When I looked up, I could hardly believe it. It was Mulder.
He said he was out for a run before the snow hit, but that didn't explain what he'd be doing in this neighborhood. Maybe he'd tracked me, but how would he have gotten a lead on me? If he'd been at Scully's and started from there, it wouldn't be a stretch to have ended up here. Or--third possibility--he could be a figment of my imagination, like Andrei that morning. I'd been in a crazy head space for hours; maybe it was all in my mind.
Whatever the reality, our little encounter didn't last long. Mulder took off jogging a few minutes later, headed toward the park. I started back to my place, still wondering whether the whole thing had been real or not. He'd been decent to me; that made it twice in a row. Then again, Andrei had been his old encouraging self this morning, too, and if my head was making all this up, what did it mean? What kind of game was my subconscious playing? Whatever it was, Andrei didn't visit me that night. Or the next.
When the old man got back into town a few days later, something had changed. I wasn't sure what it was, and he wasn't about to tell me, but he was wound a lot tighter than before. His voice was more clipped and he was more standoffish than usual. He asked how long it had been since I'd been to a practice range, and set me up to go to an indoor range in Rockville.
The prospect of having to take weekly trips that far made me realize it was time to get a car of my own. It was also my chance to finally connect with Ché. I bought a newspaper from a vending machine, went into a bar I'd never been in before, where the old man wouldn't have any convenient ears listening in, and spent some time looking like I was studying the classifieds. Then I called Ché from the pay phone. I told him what I wanted: something maybe three or four years old, as common as possible, the kind of car that would never stand out in anybody's mind, but dependable and maybe with a little extra power in case I needed it. He'd find me what I wanted and then we'd meet, with him posing as the seller. My 'test drive' would give us a chance to catch up.
It took nearly a week before I got a call back. We set up a meeting, but I couldn't shake my underlying jitters: Ché was the one guy I could count on, a source who'd been with me for years, and I couldn't afford to have the old man or his minions find out about him and put the kid in jeopardy. I hadn't saved him from a long prison sentence--or worse--in Prague only to lead the vultures to his doorstep here in the U.S.
We met in Hyattsville because it was nowhere either of us would go otherwise. Besides, Ché was planning on shadowing me on my way home to see whether the old man still had a tail on me, so I wanted the trip to last long enough to be sure. I almost didn't recognize the kid at first because he'd tied back all that frizzy hair of his and had it tucked under a cap. We both played our parts--shook hands like the strangers we were supposed to be, walked around the car, poked around under the hood, checked the wheel wells for rust. Finally I got into the driver's seat, Ché went around to the passenger side and we pulled away.
Out of the parking lot and finally headed north, Ché heaved a sigh.
"I don't think I'm cut out for this sort of thing," he said. "In the planning stages, it seemed viable enough, but--"
I glanced over at him, and for the first time, I grinned. "You're sweating."
"I work better from behind the screen of a computer; you know that as well as anyone, Aleksei."
I nodded behind us. "Take a look. Anyone back there?"
Ché pulled a mirror from his pocket, angling it until he had a view of the traffic following us. Nice. I made a turn, went two blocks and turned again and kept going, almost holding my breath until finally Ché gave the all-clear. Relief washed over me. I made one final turn, pulled over and parked. We still shouldn't take too much time.
"So, how is the world with you, Aleksei?"
My mouth opened but nothing came out. This wasn't where I wanted to start. And how could I sum up the last ten months? I shrugged. "Three steps forward, two back, the last one right down a manhole into the sewer," I glanced into the rear view mirror. "Still there."
"You look thin, my friend."
"There's more bed news." I turned back to him. "The old man's alive. And he's got his hooks in me. For now, anyway." A pause. "Vaccine's gone."
He looked blindsided. Pained.
There were the rebel attacks, too, and the possibility they might be on the verge of coming back to incinerate us... but I wasn't going to lay that on him and have it hanging over his head from here on out. I shrugged. "Sorry. Not exactly your ray of sunshine, am I?"
"Ray of sunshine?" His expression changed suddenly, like he'd eaten something bitter, and the next thing I knew we were both laughing--him at what I'd said, me at the look on his face. Crazy, but it was an icebreaker we probably both needed. "Aleksei Dmitrievich, no one could ever accuse you of being a ray of sunshine!"
"I guess." I cleared my throat, fighting back the grin that had taken over my face. Time to get back to business.
Ché followed suit. "Seriously, nothing is over until it's over, my friend. We'll find a way to make some progress. And"--he wagged a finger at me--"when it is safe, you must come over and let me feed you. You need more meat on your bones, and my stove would be happy to have a good Czech meal cooking on it. When you eat alone, you know, you don't put so much effort into it."
"You're a babushka at heart, you know that?"
"A benefit sometimes, no?" A smile showed and then faded. "But the car--we must do this. What do you think?"
I nodded. "Seems like a good fit."
Actually, it was pretty much ideal. I thought about that as I drove it back toward D.C.: a white Nissan sedan, five years old but garaged so it hadn't rusted, one there'd be hundreds of in the area. Automatic transmission, an advantage with the dead arm, especially if things got hot--if I had to make a run for it. Not torn up, but not immaculate. In other words, practically invisible.
So, one item checked off my list. The next would be to find out whether the old man still had a tail on me. Within an hour an e-mail came in from Ché: He hadn't seen anyone following me on my way home. Two items checked off.
My little taste of freedom didn't last long. On my first trip to the Rockville range, sighting down the barrel of my Beretta, two questions hit me: 1) Why me? There were a half-dozen two-armed guys the old man could call on to do his dirty work--guys who could handle a weapon a lot more easily than I could these days, when loading a magazine was a major project and racking the slide could be damn awkward. Question #2: Who was my target? Someone on the research staff? A low-level pencil-pusher who'd stumbled across something he wasn't supposed to know? Some unlucky bastard who the old man had decided wasn't pulling his weight?
Or maybe somebody not caving to calculated pressure.
The thought made my gut go cold. Granted, the old man's line about the dangers of turning Mulder's religion into a crusade had always made Mulder pretty much untouchable. But now I couldn't help but wonder. Maybe the old man had finally had it with Mulder not caving. It couldn't be that hard to stage a scene that looked like it had absolutely nothing to do with Mulder's agenda or his enemies.
It might be smart to keep a closer eye on what Mulder was up to, so I could head him off if he started down some crazy path. On one of my regular trips to check out Mulder's apartment, I set up recording equipment in the cleaning closet in the hallway outside. Well, new equipment; there was an old audio set-up still there that the Brit had put in at one point. I pulled it out and put in my new stuff--a step up this time, with video--drilled a few holes and set the mini-camera to show the living room.
The recordings gave me a clearer picture than just checking Mulder's cabinets and drawers. He was losing it--at least, he was going to be losing something he valued, and soon, if he didn't wake up. He had every reason to be frustrated at the way he was being played, but he was reacting like a teenager, playing the cool guy who doesn't care... about anything. When Scully'd come over to compare notes, instead of helping her hammer out their reports, he'd wisecrack about Kersh or their stupid assignments, or try to convince her they should go out and shoot some hoops instead. Which was leaving Scully to carry more than her share of the load. The fact that Scully was starting to bend under her burdens--both the general pointlessness and having to pick up Mulder's slack--well, I'm pretty damn sure he wasn't picking up on that at all.
What I couldn't figure out what why he wasn't talking about leaving. Hell, if it were me, I'd have been out of there as soon as they tried to hand me over to Kersh. But then having to switch directions at the drop of a hat was something I'd learned the hard way. Mulder'd spent his whole career in one place. Maybe he couldn't see himself doing anything else. Or maybe it was just that he was mule-stubborn, determined not to let go. After all, twenty years on and with no real evidence to light the way, he was still searching for his sister.
I wasn't sharing any of this with the old man, and it was possible I'd been filtering my reports to him more than I realized, because over dinner a week or so later he asked me which I thought would make Mulder jump higher: a lead on Samantha or some sort of tip about the Colonists. You could tip him about the new ginseng grow out in Alberta, I said, not for any strategic reason but because it was the first thing that fell out of my mouth. The old bee operation had been cleared out, but finding out there was another one might prick his interest without exposing anything critical.
I wasn't suggesting; I was just trying to get through a meal so I could leave the old man and his stench behind. But a week later, in Mulder's apartment, I was checking his messages when the voice on a new message nailed me to the spot. It was Marita.
"I have some information about a new settlement in Alberta, much like the one you saw two years ago..."
Our little meeting on the freighter came flooding back in: the set-up, the lies, the bitter shock of Marita's betrayal. The way it had torn apart everything we'd been working for.
"... If you receive this after Friday, respond only to this number--"
I jabbed at the 'erase' button. She'd sold out our plan, destroyed the secret vaccine program--the one real hope we'd had of fighting colonization--and this call was a set-up anyway, not anything Mulder needed to hear.
Of course, Mulder was supposed to take the bait, and now I'd dumped it.
Well, it was too late now. I'd bought Mulder a little more time.
How much, though, was anybody's guess.
Much as I tried to fight it, the thought of Marita stuck in my head like cobwebs. I had no idea what had happened to her after the freighter, beyond the fact that Miguel Ansbach and his team had eventually managed to get the black oil out of her, and I didn't care. Obviously she'd recovered enough to leave Mulder that message. I hadn't heard the old men in the board room mention her at all. Had they given her back her old position? It would be like Marita to be able to just waltz back in and pick up right where she'd left off.
I wondered how she'd reacted when she found out the Cali vaccine, the sum of all her secret work for years, was gone.
I was still thinking about her a few nights later while Ché put the finishing touches on a home-cooked dinner. The smells were great--a pork stew with knedliky, his homemade Czech dumplings. One of the best meals ever set out on a plate.
"Perhaps I can distract you with my own sad story," Ché said when we'd finally sat down to eat.
I glanced up briefly. "What, is my personal storm cloud showing?" I downed another mouthful of stew. "What's up?"
"A few weeks ago I was backed into by this"--he frowns and almost sputters--"this idiot in a red Buick."
"On your bike?"
"Yes. He wasn't looking, and when I collided with the bumper--not very hard at all--he got out and accused me of running into him. He works for D.C. metro police, a little man but puffed up; he's after me to pay for a dent that was already in his bumper, saying that if I don't pay, he'll pull strings at the police department and--" Ché was almost shaking. He stopped to compose himself and frowned. "Aleksei, you know I can't get mixed up in this. I have no papers. Well, no official papers"--a quick grin--"though my forged ones are, of course, of the highest quality."
"You weren't hurt?" I said, remembering the time I'd taken care of him with broken ribs after a car had smacked into him.
"No, no. But he's around me like a mosquito, calling and calling."
"You know where he lives?"
"He didn't tell me, but of course I tracked down the address." A glint of satisfaction showed in his eye.
"Good," I said. I had a plan.
Having someone in my pocket inside Metro PD could come in handy, and besides, nobody was going to get away with harrassing Ché. This jerk was going to regret what he'd done.
With the address Ché'd found, and after a couple of days to figure out our target's schedule, I spent an hour or so getting to know Charles "Buzz" McCarthy through his computer, his wastebasket, his video collection, his refrigerator, his closets and his phone records. I tailed him a few times before and after work. He was a custodian at the station house in the fifth district, not even an officer, a little weazel of a guy with a receding hairline and a need to find someone he could push around.
The Buick was obviously his baby. It wasn't any status car, but except for the dent in the back that Ché couldn't possibly have made, the car was immaculate inside and out. Which made me want to make a few modifications to it with a sledge hammer. Or maybe my Beretta. But satisfying as that would have been, it wouldn't get me what I really needed.
Going through McCarthy's computer, I found parallel spread sheets showing he was cooking the books for somebody's business. Question was, why would a guy who could do that have to work as a janitor? It didn't make sense... unless he was using his access at the station to do something more profitable than cleaning floors. I didn't have any proof of that, but what was on his computer would do fine. I copied the files and contacted Raul. I wasn't going to make any mistakes here. McCarthy would never see or know enough to identify me; Raul would be my go-between, keeping me anonymous.
The way Raul told it, I missed quite the scene when he approached McCarthy at the bar where he was a regular. Raul didn't mess around. He told the little fucker he had something that might interest him; then he laid the printouts of the cooked files on the table. Evidently McCarthy's jaw dropped open at that point and stayed there while Raul laid everything out: Nobody was going to find out what he was up to as long as McCarthy stopped trying to contact the bicyclist he'd hit. Immediately. Cease and desist. And there might be a favor or three we'd be needing down the road.
There was the momentary surge of the win; to tell the truth, it was the best I'd felt in a hell of a long time. On a small scale it was like having delivered a batch of the secret vaccine, or the moment when I knew I'd won Lev's trust at the camp. Then came the let-down: Looking at the bigger picture, it was like gaining a fly swatter to help you fight an army. It showed how far my world, not to mention my ability to influence, had shrunk.
I kept up my trips to the Rockville range every week, like the old man had told me to. There was no telling who my target would end up being, or what sort of scenario the old man had in mind, but my instinct was rumbling louder and louder that I'd done more than enough of this short-range shit, that I should really be practicing with a rifle. Logically, who'd trade away the obvious advantages--anonymity at distance, and greater accuracy--for the potential of getting caught working at close range with a handgun? Unless that was the old man's plan: I get rid of someone who annoys him and he gets rid of me when I get caught. Well, thanks, but I wasn't going to be spending time in anybody's prison.
I did some asking around and found out about an outdoor range in a little Maryland town about two hours outside of D.C. in the middle of nowhere. It was right around freezing, a gray day in late February with a scattering of snow on the fields, but the quiet, the cold and the emptiness suited my mood just fine, and the range itself was more than adequate. I took my time putting 50 rounds through a half-dozen targets and was relieved to find I hadn't lost my touch; at 100 yards, the handful of shots outside the bulls-eye were off by less than half an inch. Still, every time I'd be sighting down that scope, exhaling just enough to ease the crosshairs into the middle of the red circle, the questions would be right there: What was I preparing for? And was the old man planning on giving me up with this job? Or was this whole prep thing just a bluff, a way to keep me off-balance so I couldn't get a foothold and build myself into any kind of threat to him?
At this point, I had no idea what he had in mind; he'd been doing a good cop/bad cop thing on me ever since we gotten to D.C. and yeah, it had left me off-balance.
So, what if my target were Mulder? What would I do then? Cutting and running at this point would mean giving up any chance I might still have to tap into whatever the old man or the group knew and potentially influence the future; I might as well just welcome the invading hordes in from the sky and wait to go up in flames.
All this was running through my head as I stood afterward, looking out over the Chesapeake from the edge of the range property, feet and fingers aching with cold. Toward the south, a long slit of pale yellow had melted through the blue-gray of the clouds a foot or so above the horizon. There was something about the openness--maybe the total lack of people and the constant backstabbing that comes with them--that held me there until I was shivering. Finally I turned back, stopped to warm myself in front of the wood stove in the range building, then headed back toward D.C. When I got there, my phone was beeping with a message from the old man, pissed, wondering where I was since I'd been out of range for most of the day and hadn't told him where I'd gone. "No more of this," he said when we met a couple of hours later. I mumbled some kind of reply but it grated on me; I wasn't his dog or his chauffeur.
The old man seemed pleased about me going to the outdoor range, though. There was no hesitation in his delivery, as if I'd caught him planning to set me up. My rifle practice could "very well prove useful", he said. I never could anticipate how he'd react to anything I did. He was getting impatient with Mulder, though; he couldn't figure out why Mulder hadn't responded to the planted phone message. Maybe he's just stubborn, I said, and doesn't want to give you the satisfaction. It was no mystery to Mulder who was behind the efforts to boot him out of the Bureau.
The old man had decided it was time to tighten the screws a little. Now when I went to Mulder's I was supposed to move a few things around, make him wonder whether someone had been in his apartment; after all, look how he'd reacted when he found Ostelhoff spying on him from upstairs. Or maybe it was supposed to make him wonder whether he was going crazy--feed his paranoia.
"Why not just get it over with?" I said. "Hell, do it the old-fashioned way; find some poison that won't show up in a tox screen. You could get ahold of something like that."
But he was in love with his damn cat-and-mouse game. My part should have been easy enough, but I couldn't move a file folder without thinking of the way the old man would get off on the results, and god knows I had no interest in tearing Mulder down. The old man's sick little game was starting to really piss me off, especially given what I saw on Mulder's video feed: He wasn't noticing the things I did. Which meant he was definitely off his game, farther gone than even the old man had realized.
"If I may say so, Aleksei, I think he's doing it to both of you," Ché said one afternoon after I'd ended up bitching about the old man's assignment without thinking. "This tearing down he so delights in--what would he enjoy more than using you to destroy this man who is your own flesh and blood, and at the same time grinding you out, slowly, like one of his cigarette butts."
"Then what's his payoff?"
"Did he not send you to kill Mulder's father? Why did he choose you?"
"Bill Mulder was about to expose us. It was strategic. He had to go."
"But would it not have been just as strategic if someone else had done the job?"
I shrugged. I hadn't thought about it at the time; there'd just been the urgency of shutting old Bill up before he could spill the beans to his kid.
"I believe the old vulture plans this. It may be an in-joke known only to him... but he likes that kind of thing, does he not, Aleksei? Think: the irony of using one of Mrs. Mulder's sons, a woman who stubbornly stays with her husband even after the old man has claimed her, to take apart the other. And then crushing the survivor--wiping his hands of all of you."
"A big 'fuck you' to the family."
I shook my head, thinking about it. It sounded crazy. But it was like the old man, too. In fact, it fit like a glove. If that was what he had in mind, then I wasn't going to play along and collapse like a good lackey. But in the end, how would that make me different from Mulder, hanging on even when the ship was sinking? How often had I thought Mulder was playing the fool by not just cutting his loses and getting out of there.
I looked up. Ché was back at his computer. "What?"
"Someone is trying to contact you."
"Orwell. Who is that?"
"Ansbach. Miguel Ansbach, the researcher. What's he want?"
"To meet with you."
I'd deliberately steered clear of Ansbach since the freighter incident. He was Marita's fairy godfather; there was no way he was going to be looking at what happened from my side. But in the message he sounded desperate. He needed to see me, he said. There were papers they needed delivered to the old man and he'd volunteered to drive them down so he'd have a solid cover story. Could I meet him at the medical library at George Washington University? He could arrange for a study room for privacy.
"What shall I tell him, Aleksei?"
I couldn't think of any reason it would be a set-up, unless the old man had arranged it to test my eagerness to make outside connections. If that's what this was, though, it wouldn't prove much; the old man already knew I wouldn't be playing his errand boy if I had any kind of choice.
But if Ansbach was on the level... "Yeah. Tell him yes. Find out when, and any details."
Sleep didn't come easy that night. The street light didn't usually keep me awake, but I must have spent a good hour staring at the ceiling above my bed, mapping the shadowed cracks in the paint and wondering what this meeting with Ansbach would bring. Why would he need to see me now, when the vaccine production we'd been counting on had had a stake shoved through its heart months ago?
Unless it had something to do with Marita. Believe me, I wasn't looking forward to that kind of conversation. What she'd done still didn't make a shred of sense. I went back over our week in Mallorca, the last time we'd spent together before the rebels hit in Kazakhstan, and even now, a year after everything went to hell, when hindsight should have made it easier to pick out the red flags, I still wasn't seeing any signs of her planning to turn on me, or break away like she did. There was no logic to it. The vaccine program had been her life, her mission. She had nothing to gain by putting it in jeopardy. Nothing. And there was everything to lose.
Four days. I had four days to stew over what Ansbach's visit might bring. Finally the day came. I took the Red Line downtown and got off at Foggy Bottom. The medical library was just across the street. Ansbach had sent instructions, and I followed them up to a study room on the second floor.
"Hello, Alex," he said, looking up from a magazine he'd been reading.
What I saw surprised me. Ché had been telling me I looked like I'd lost some weight, but I had nothing on Ansbach. The fullness in his face was gone, his hair seemed more gray and his clothes were definitely loose.
He stood and after a split-second delay, offered his hand.
"What's up?" I said.
"I won't keep you long since I'm sure you're busy and I, too, need to get back on the road so as not to raise suspicions about where my time has gone." A pause. "Things have been difficult recently, with the vaccine supply gone and"--he cleared his throat--"well, other things to attend to, in addition to my professional responsibilities. However, I've continued to dedicate myself to the topical vaccine we discussed some time ago, and last week... I believe I've had a breakthrough, Alex. Now I need to do testing... But the fact is, I've run out of money. I was wondering if you might possibly--"
My mouth hung open. A half dozen things shot through my head--hope, strategies. Then reality hit. "What, Marita tell you I might be your cash cow?"
"She had the gall to lie to me, steal that kid and bring the whole damn project crashing down on our heads--"
"And you had the gall to make a unilateral decision without the input of the woman who'd presented you with the most valuable opportunity in the world--to get the Russian vaccine out into the general population, where it would actually begin saving lives and giving us a chance to fight back." He was red in the face, angry now, which wasn't his style. After a few beats he started again, quieter. "Look, don't think each of us hasn't gone over every step of what happened a hundred times, wishing we could turn back the clock. And if everything had gone exactly as you planned, then what? Would it have stopped the bullet that killed our man in Cali five months later, ending production of the vaccine entirely? The fact is, nobody can foresee every eventuality; no one can script the moves that are completely out of our control, and there are all too many of them. It's the way life is, Alex."
"Yeah, well, some of us didn't get to go right back to what we were doing before, as if nothing had happened."
Ansbach looked shocked.
"You think this has been easy for her, Alex? Do you think she waltzed right back into her old assignments?"
"I heard the message she left on Mulder's answering machine."
"They made her do that." His eyes were hard; they would've cut into me if they could have. "There were compllications to her recovery, a series of seizures. She's in a wheelchair now." He sighed. "The reason I've spent so much time on the topical vaccine has been, as much as anything, to give Marita something to do--a focus, a reason to hope. And to keep her from falling completely into a deep depression." He shook his head. "You wouldn't know her these days, Alex."
"That's fine with me." I turned to go.
"We thought of you only because we believed that ultimately you were as committed to the idea of resistance as we are, no matter how things turned out last year."
His voice faded off as I pushed the door open and went out into the hallway, my head full of static. Two flights of stairs down, it wasn't getting any better. I started toward the Metro stop but then kept going, heading toward Washington Circle on foot. I wasn't in any shape to be stuck in a crowded car with a bunch of other people. At the circle I headed down Pennsylvania Avenue to Rock Creek Park and ended up following it all the way home. I needed the time to think, to cool off.
Halfway there I knew I'd been a fool. Yeah, it was like a knife in my gut that had never been pulled out, what Marita'd done and how things had gone because of it. But here was Ansbach dangling real, genuine hope in my face and I was throwing it away for what? Because I couldn't get over something I couldn't change that was dead and buried now? I'd been hoping for options, hadn't I? Contacts who could make a difference?
Back at my place, I contacted Ché to check my bank accounts and get in contact with Ansbach about what he needed. Luckily, the investments I'd made with the money from the DAT tape had paid off pretty well, and though I'd used a good portion of the original amount supporting the Russian research, my earnings since then had made up for some of the loss. Within a few days the money was on its way to Ansbach.
Finally there was, if not exactly light at the end of the tunnel, at least a candle showing the shapes of things around me in the gloom. It got a little easier to launch myself out of bed in the morning. I'd go over to Mulder's and mess around with things a little and try not to dwell on the fact that he never even noticed my efforts. What would I have to do to actually register on his radar? Move the TV? Take his computer? The couch he slept on? Whatever it was, there was no use pushing things to find out. Every day Mulder stayed in a holding pattern was better than the alternative.
At night, staring a the ceiling above my bed, I'd think about Anbach's vaccine and potential ways to distribute it. After all, people would only have to touch the stuff. Soap dispensers in public bathrooms? Sunscreen? Some guy stationed by a high-traffic door--say, on a university campus--pretending to clean it but instead keeping the handle greased with the vaccine, so that every person who pushed on that handle would end up with immunity to the Oil? Just how much vaccine would it take to protect someone? How could you cover the most people with the least effort? I'd have to get in contact with Ansbach sometime and ask him about this stuff.
What I tried not to think about was Marita. Damn--a wheelchair. I didn't want to picture her at all, though my mind wouldn't let go of it, like a puzzle I had to figure out before I could put it down. She'd always been such a powerhouse, mentally and physically, and to be confined like that, especially knowing everything you'd worked for had gone down the drain... Hell, even at the camp hospital, after I lost the arm, I'd at least been able to remind myself that Mulder had gotten away, that he was immune from the Oil, which had been my main goal.
I was at the old man's when the phone call came. He looked surprised. He frowned. He got that steely-eyed gaze.
"What?" I said when he finally hung up.
The old man reached for a cigarette, lit it and took a puff. "It seems I've been looking in the wrong place for a turncoat," he said. "They've just discovered that one of our New York researchers, a man who's been part of the project almost since the beginning, recently received quite a large influx of money"--he took another puff--"not related to his income from us."
I clamped my jaw shut so my mouth wouldn't drop open.
"They're questioning Dr. Ansbach now, though so far he hasn't told them anything." He let out a stream of smoke. "There's a chance he wasn't alone in whatever he was up to. He's been taking care of Ms. Covarrubias... or so we've been led to believe. He was the one who came up with the treatment that saved her, but perhaps more than just science or loyalty to us was motivating him. It does point to some interesting questions about Ms. Covarrubias herself."
God, I hated that casual tone he'd use when he was thinking about picking somebody apart. Back at Ché's, I found out the funds hadn't been transferred directly to Anbach's account; Ché'd been smart enough to put the money in an account that Ansbach could draw from, one without any obvious connection to me. So there should be no way for the fallout from this to come home to roost.
Still, it was piss-poor comfort. Ansbach and his vaccine efforts would be history now, and I was back to square one, my chance for influencing the future gone up like the smoke from one of the old man's Morleys.
And he still had his hooks in me. Maybe it was time to come to a decision. Stick around and wait for some piece of strategic information or a new contact to drop into my lap? Cut my losses, admit that a single human was never going to be enough to fight off an alien invasion and head off to relax on a warm beach somewhere in whatever time was left? Stick around and wait for a chance to take out the old man, who'd set me up in this nightmare game in the first place? It might not save the world, but getting my own revenge would be something at least.
And what about Mulder? I'd invested a hell of a lot of time and effort into him. He was immune from the Oil--at the cost of my arm. Could I just walk away from the possibility there? Was I willing to buy into the idea that the two of us could realistically do anything to change the course this planet was on? Would Mulder ever trust me enough for the two of us to collaborate?
Back to the day-to-day, what if Mulder were the target the old man seemed to be prepping me for?
Resist or serve: the classic dilemma. What would I do? How far would I go? And where was the line?
Maybe I wouldn't know until I'd crossed it.
End of A Rat's Life
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