Archive: Yes to CKoS, others please ask--I rarely say no.
Title: Eye of the Storm, part four of Precipitation Author: Merri-Todd Webster
Series/Fandom: The X-Files
Rating: R for language & stuff, no smut
Feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Warnings & Spoilers: No specific spoilers, I think, but assumes a general knowledge of the series up through the end of season six. My only warning is that this is *dark*, for me, but only in comparison to most of my work.
Comments & Thank-yous: Thanks to WitchQueen for the unexpected but *right* suggestion to split this segment into two parts (you'll be seeing part five next week), and to JiM for ongoing brainstorming, beta, evil grins, and all useful forms of encouragement.
Eye of the Storm
Precipitation part four
by Merri-Todd Webster
(29 October 1999)
"I don't know how I let you talk me into these things."
Mulder's reply was immediate and smug. "Yes, you do."
"Shut up." There was no emotion in Krycek's voice, only tension.
After a moment, Krycek moved forward, one step at a time, followed by Mulder, Skinner, and Scully. This was the fifth installation they had hit, in as many months, but the first time all four of them had gone out. Mulder and Krycek had gone on the first mission, Skinner and Krycek on the second; two others had required only a brief visit by Krycek and the long-distance help of the Lone Gunmen, hackers extraordinaire. Krycek had requested Scully's help as well as the Gunmen's to take out this last, largest installation; the Gunmen were at the deserted base camp which camouflaged the underground installation. Scully had hesitated only a moment before nodding assent, even though it meant going back to Antarctica.
Antarctica in spring. No surprise, perhaps, that the largest clone lab would be located there. Scully had smiled with a grim joy as the tiny plane headed in over the featureless grey landscape--happy to be resolving a piece of the past? or, more than that, to be taking
revenge for past violations? Skinner didn't know. He had wanted only to get it over with from the moment it all started.
A sickly green glow washed over Krycek's black hair, jacket, pistol. The same unearthly glow was everywhere, making Skinner feel vaguely queasy. Mulder followed Krycek and Scully followed Mulder; Skinner brought up the rear, feeling like there was someone else behind him. It was as if the four of them were teenagers in a bad horror film, drunk on cheap beer and singing old rock songs as they walked, heedless, into the embrace of the monster lurking right around the corner.... Not for the first time, he thought he was following Fox Mulder into a place where they might not get out.
Krycek led them deeper and deeper into the complex, through one identical corridor after another. He had a floorplan provided by Langly, who had coaxed the information out of the mainframe after over eight hours of courtship; otherwise, they would have been as lost as the Theban youths sent into the labyrinth. Skinner grunted softly at the turn his thoughts were taking:
Teenagers in a horror movie; sacrifices thrown into the labyrinth. He moved his flashlight from side to side, scanning the territory; the most horrible thing about it, at the moment, was its sterile plainness. Yes, it would be so easy to get lost here....
He shook his head and willed the hair at the back of his neck to lie down. His hands were so clammy he had to shift the Sig to his left hand and wipe his sweaty palm on his thigh. Clones. He had seen the clones. Lots and lots of clones, of lots and lots of people. He had wanted never to dream again so as to escape his nightmares about the clones--the faces he knew on the bodies in the vats, not dead, not living, the primal horror, something that caressed his animal brain and made him want to run screaming. The red-haired men that Mulder
called "Kurt Crawfords," formed partly from Dana Scully's DNA. The curly-haired Samanthas, faintly pathetic frowns on their waxen faces, a pleading expression. Mulder had looked at them with cold indifference. A clone of poor Agent Pendrell, its body warped, deformed, but its face identical to the dead man's, with even a trace of his habitual sweet shyness. Mulder had gone into a corner and vomited after seeing the clone of Pendrell. "I used to tease Scully that he was in love with her," was all he said. Krycek had looked at the red-haired, white-faced simulacrum of the young agent/scientist, with a brooding tenderness that made Skinner wonder, and then smashed the vat himself with a feral fury that recalled his long-ago attack on Skinner in a Hoover building stairwell.
Around a corner, through a door, down the steps. Down, down, down. He started to feel dizzy as they spiralled down and downward. Virgil and Dante, spiralling to the
bottom of hell--an icy marsh not unlike the plain they had crossed to get here. Would they ever come up again to see the stars? Clones of the smoker, of his son, Jeffrey--a good agent, he would have been a great agent someday--the smoker's wife, Cassandra. Clones of people Skinner didn't know and never would--he only hoped they would rest in peace. But so far, they had not found the Mulder clone which Krycek had told them about, the clone that was their reason for wiping out all these hidden laboratories. That clone had to be here.
Krycek pointed with his gun. "Up ahead." He sounded even hoarser than usual. "That's the entrance."
Mulder nodded and whispered into his headset. Somewhere out in the Antarctic wilderness, Langly, Frohike, and Byers heard and responded. Electronic signals raced; Skinner listened to the rough, irregular breathing of four primates high on adrenalin and to the wild thumping of his own heart.
Into that harsh silence came a tiny click. The door up ahead, barely visible in the subdued greenish lighting, withdrew into the wall like the door of an elevator.
Mulder sprang forward like a hound released from the leash, but Krycek put a restraining hand on his shoulder. "No. Let me go first."
Krycek looked ten years older in the green glow; Skinner could see every line in the younger man's face, imagine how it would deepen and spread with age. He realized that he was seeing fear on the face of Alex Krycek, and that he had never seen that particular emotion before. It was not the wild fear he had seen on the face of the Krycek clone who had crouched on his balcony,
handcuffed to the rail; it was not fear for himself. For Mulder, then? Not for the first time, Skinner thought of all that Krycek might not have told them, and ground his
teeth. If anything went wrong, he was ready to use his gun.
Krycek walked toward the open door like a man walking toward his own funeral. Mulder followed, then Scully, then Skinner still at the rear. Ahead of them the green glow was brighter, and Skinner's nostrils filled with the sickly odor he remembered from the other missions. It reminded him, suddenly, of 'Nam, of the smell of wounds going bad under mildewing bandages, the smell of slow death. Against his will, he gagged sharply.
Scully turned around and looked up at her former supervisor. Skinner looked green, and it wasn't just the light. She swallowed hard herself and steeled her face to a calm visor that betrayed nothing. She'd almost forgotten how to do that, in her time away from the Bureau; amazing how easy it was to forget the knack of something she'd once done every day, and in every circumstance. But it wasn't necessary, no, it was a liability, as a pediatrician. Doctoring children had taught her how to smile again.
She wondered if she would remember how to smile once this mission was over.
Scully went into the room but saw nothing until the two tall men ahead of her moved aside to left and to right. Then she saw the vats. Rows upon rows of vats.
They looked to her like nothing so much as fish tanks--very large, very dirty fish tanks, filled with cloudy
greenish water. So many aquariums that hadn't been cleaned in years... each one containing a potential human being. Could she do this? Could she carry out this mass abortion? Scully searched her heart and found there the keen edge of a surgeon's blade. These were the distorted products of rape and violation; they were not innocent human lives but illicit copies of persons whose DNA had been used without their consent. She would make an end of it. Finally, an end.
The first row of vats she came to contained bodies with her own face.
"Jesus God in heaven!"
Scully dropped her gun and cringed away, hands shaking. Yet she mastered herself before Krycek could complete his movement to pick up the gun and hand it to her. She retrieved it herself, her glance crossing Krycek's. For the first time that she could recall, there was nothing mocking in the dark green eyes.
"I know," was all he said.
She walked up and down the row, driven by a compulsion to look. To see it all. Herself, repeated over and over. Here a group of three tanks which, oh Lord, held duplicates of Missy. Missy, dead so many years.... And there, clones of Emily, oh, God, Emily.
Some of the clones like Snow White, whole and perfect, floating peacefully; some of them deformed, like thalidomide babies, their faces as grotesquely twisted as their bodies.
She made it to the corner before throwing up. The familiar touch on her back, supporting her, was Mulder's.
"We never knew it was this bad, did we?" He wasn't smiling.
She pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her mouth. "No." She looked at the gun, still clutched in her hand. "Things would have been different if we had."
She walked back to where Krycek stood. "Now what do we do?"
He licked his lips. "In the other installations, we smashed the individual tanks, but there are too many of them here. That's why we brought explosives. Radio-controlled. We plant 'em, get out, and then the Gunmen blow them."
"Not yet." Mulder was walking forward, between the rows of vats. "I want to see. I want to be sure that my clone is here. That's why we're here, right, Krycek?"
"Mulder, wait--" Krycek began, but it was obviously hopeless. Like a child's toy that has been wound up, Mulder stalked off into the distance, into the darkness between the rows of vats.
Scully drew close to Krycek. "What is it? What is it you don't want him to see?"
He looked down at her and licked his lips again. "You don't want to know." He stared after Mulder. "But if he does see it... he's going to need you."
Krycek set off after Mulder, and Scully followed them, feeling her stomach gather into a knot. Krycek was afraid, and that made *her* afraid--to try to imagine what it was Krycek feared. The man had many faults, but she did not think cowardice had ever been one of them; he took too many risks. Krycek had said Mulder would need her, but thank God Walter was here; his heavy footsteps behind her were the only comfort she had at the moment.
Mulder strode through the rows of vats as if he knew where he was going. He felt like he did know, like some sort of homing device was pulling him toward resolution. It was going to end here--the quest for his sister, the tortured history of his family, the long entanglement with the Consortium. Somehow, he knew it was all going to end here, at the bottom of the world.
He stopped at a row of vats that caught his eye. Alex Krycek. Clones of Alex Krycek. Scully had run tests that proved the man behind him was *not* a clone; his DNA showed none of the alien markers incorporated into the clones, nor any of the errors that had crept in, a deviation of one molecule here or there. And here, in these tanks, were more clones of the original. Some of them children, some of them adolescents, and one of them ancient as Einstein, with the same wild grey-white hair. They all had the same eyelashes, long and black and feathery against their pallid cheekbones.
Mulder wanted nothing so much as to smash the vats and feel the green liquid run out over his feet. It was disgustingly warm, like blood, like amniotic fluid, like tears. That was what they had done in the other installations. A dozen clones here, a half dozen there; only once had there been anybody manning the lab. Krycek had killed the man, a Kurt Crawford, before Mulder could speak in his defense. But there were too many here; there was no time. He felt a hand brush his shoulder, but without looking, he pressed forward.
The rows thinned out and the light grew dimmer as he pressed deeper into the room. He passed tank after tank containing nameless bodies that would never know life; he felt only satisfaction that they would be released into a real death, a purifying death by fire like a Viking chieftain on his ship.
Without noticing how he'd gotten there, Mulder saw he had come to the back of the room. There was another barely visible door in the wall.
"Mulder, wait," he heard Krycek say, but it was too late. Mulder touched the door, seeking a knob or a button or a keypad, and it opened under his hand, withdrawing into the wall like the outer door.
For the first time it occurred to Alex Krycek that he had had a Bad Idea. It was a new thought for him. It occurred to him that he didn't know Mulder well enough to predict his reactions; it occurred to him that he could, perhaps, have foreseen the horror that awaited them and what Mulder's reaction would be. One wrong move, and Mulder might just eat that gun he was carrying. That had always been Krycek's weakness, and he knew it: an inability to see more than a few steps down the road. He'd always been sure of his next move and always able to improvise when the next move led to a really lousy long-term plan.
He turned around to see Scully and Skinner right behind him, both staring at Mulder. Mulder was inside the back room and the three of them were still outside it. Krycek muttered to Skinner, "Be prepared to grab him, okay? I'm not sure how he's gonna take this."
"You should have thought of that sooner," Skinner growled.
"Yes, I should have," he murmured, and turned around and walked into the room where Mulder was. But at least he'll know, he thought stubbornly. At least he'll finally know the truth. Isn't that what he's always wanted?
The two tanks in the little back room that had opened to Mulder's handprint were not the dirty fish tanks that had held the other clones. They were cryogenic units, Mulder realized, freezers, not unlike the units he had seen in the ship in Antarctica where Scully was held--not identical, but very similar. Less alien, he thought, more like standard human technology.
In one unit was a boy of about twelve, a lanky boy with dark brown hair, his bones just beginning to show through the baby fat. He was going to have a big nose someday. He wasn't naked, unlike the clones in the dirty fish tanks; he was wearing ripped jeans and a shirt with blue and white horizontal stripes. There was a smear of mud on one knee, dark brown stains that might have been mud or perhaps blood on the shirt, and the mark of a blow on his forehead, a bloody-looking cut in the midst of a bruise.
A purple bruise. Red blood. Dark, wet-looking mud stains.
In the other unit was a girl of about eight, a slender girl with long dark brown hair. It lay in two smooth braids over her chest, over a denim jumper with a long-sleeved pink shirt under it. There were no signs of injury on her, but her pretty face was knotted up with emotion--pain? fear? anger? Idiotically, Mulder recalled something his mother had used to say, something all mothers said: Don't make such a face, what if it freezes that way? The little girl's face had frozen, permanently, in the last emotions she'd felt before she died.
Long dark braids. A pretty face. A pink shirt. Why couldn't he remember?
"She was my best friend." Krycek's hoarse voice echoed hollowly in the tiny room. He moved slowly toward Mulder, as if he feared Mulder might bolt, or might attack. "We roamed the neighborhood together and lent each other books. I read _Harriet the Spy_ and _A Wrinkle in Time_ because she lent them to me. I gave her _Have Space Suit, Will Travel_ one Christmas. She was so pretty and so smart, and she stood up to the other kids who made fun of me because I had a foreign name and my parents talked funny. Samantha Mulder was the best friend little Alexander Protopopov ever had."
Mulder stared at the little girl in the cryo unit. No, it couldn't be. Please God, if there was a god, surely God wouldn't let it be this way. Her soft, full mouth, the lower lip a little bit fuller than the upper, just like his own.
Krycek came closer, Scully and Skinner behind him, and laid his hand, for a moment, on the icy surface of the cryogenic unit. "My name is Alexander Protopopov. Krycek is my father's mother's maiden name; we used it as an alias. Samantha Mulder called me Sascha, the way my parents did, not Alex, like everybody else. Her brother called me Sascha, too, but I didn't like the way he said it. From around my second birthday until the year I turned eight, my parents and I lived across the street from Bill and Tina Mulder and their two children, Fox and Samantha."
Mulder shook his head. "I don't remember. Why don't I remember?"
Krycek swallowed, hard, licked his lips. His eyes rolled like a frightened horse's, glowing agate-green in the green light. "Because you weren't there. Because, in a
way, you're not Fox Mulder."
Krycek came a little closer--Skinner and Scully hung back, whispering to each other--and Mulder backed away. On Krycek's face was an emotion Mulder had never seen there: sadness. The tracks of tears glittered silver on his cheeks. The younger man pointed to the cryogenic tank containing the teenaged boy. He didn't touch it.
"That thing there, that's Fox Mulder. The Fox Mulder Bill Mulder fathered and Tina Mulder gave birth to." Krycek's lips lifted away from his teeth in what might have been a snarl. "Fox Mulder, son of one of the highest-placed men in the American branch of the Consortium, heir to the throne--and a precocious little psychopath."
Mulder backed away, until his shoulders hit the wall. Krycek was staring down at the boy in the freezer, his lips still curled in disgust. "It's ironic, you know. Every rotten thing you've thought about me, that I'm a killer, a sadist, I get off on hurting people--all that was true of him. I've hurt people for a living--and a lot of them deserved it, believe me--but he did it for fun. As a kid. He hurt animals, too, the little bastard."
Mulder forced a whisper through his sandpapered throat. "Krycek, who am I?"
Krycek looked up, and the hatred, the disgust, dropped away from his face, leaving only the sadness behind. "Okay, I lied," he said simply. He gestured to the frozen boy. "He isn't the clone--you are."
Mulder was not aware that he was dizzy until his ass hit the floor. He had slid down the wall, apparently, and now Scully was hovering over him, saying his name and doing doctorly kinds of things involving his eyes, his pulse.
"You idiot," was Skinner talking to him? "how could you do this to him? what are you trying to do, kill him?"
"I'm trying to give him the truth." Huge green eyes swam into Mulder's view, angry and sad and electric; he tried to focus on them. A long hand gripped his shoulder. "For as long as you can remember, you've felt responsible for Sam's disappearance. You've searched for her. They dangled clones in front of you and snatched them away. In trying to find her, you ripped the cheap fabric of your own artificial memories and exposed the web of lies underneath. *But what happened to Sam was never your fault.*"
"How... why...?" Nothing else would come out of his numb mouth.
"You are the clone, Mulder. You are a genetically enhanced clone, brought to life to replace the original Fox Mulder when he raped and killed his little sister."