Chapter 12

The country they encountered wasn't as devoid of life as had been the
islands of Northern Michigan.

They hadn't sailed north along the shoreline long when they came across a
harbor. They had sent out numerous calls to the harbormaster on the hailing
frequency to no avail. But, just as they were about to give up and dock
there anyway, an answer came through on the VHF.

"Vessel hailing the harbormaster, vessel hailing the harbormaster, this is
Seas The Day KRF-315, switch and answer on seventy-one, skipper if you read
me, that's 7-1."

Cass grabbed at the handset and immediately switched to channel 71. There
was already a voice talking on the frequency.

"Dave said to go to the third step," it said, "I can't believe he fell on
the third step."

Then it repeated itself.

Cass looked up to the other members crowded around the radio, confused. She
wasn't alone.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Mulder and Invictus simply shrugged. John looked down at his feet, shaking
his head.

Alan, still somewhat sulky, mumbled something quietly.

John bent his head toward the smaller man and asked him what he said.

"I said, he's trying to tell you to go down three channels. To channel 68."

When they all simply looked at him, he explained further.

"It was something we came across in Lansing," he said. "They were saying
the same thing when we switched channels to try to talk to the resistance.
They say a name, and tell you how many channels you either have to go up or
down by counting on the steps, and then whether *to* go up or down by
either saying that he fell on the third step, meaning down, or he tripped,
meaning up."

"Fancy that," said Invictus.

XxXxXxXxXxX

They had hit land in a small town just north of Racine.

A group of about 20 individuals had been passing through the area and had
been carrying a VHF radio when they heard Cass' hails. As luck would have
it, three of them had had some sort of dealings with the resistance, and
knew what was safe to say over the airways and what wasn't.

Some members of the large group met with Cass, Mulder, Invictus, John and
Alan and helped them to dock the boat and even supplied them with a car for
their further journey to the state's formal capitol.

They were fleeing from Chicago, they had said. The Windy City was on fire,
and they had fled.

They hadn't known why, but suspected that it was the colonists way of
eliminating both the human and architectural elements of the city so they
could put it to their own uses. The group, only about five strong at
first, had managed to pick up people along on their way north, and
eventually caravan along the shores of Lake Michigan. They were headed,
they said, to the Porcupine Mountains. They had heard that there was a
village there, a sort of safe house community where many survivors had gone
to. Many of the group had lost family, and hoped to find them there, near
Lake in the Clouds.

None of the group had offered to go with Mulder's small party, but had told
them what to expect when they got there, and where to, and where not to go.

They had told of secret tunnels that the government and colonists had built
underneath the city and University where the vaccine had been created,
transported and, was apparently being held.

They gave the small group all the information they could, some supplies,
well wishes and then were on their way. Their need to find and reconnect
with their families, intense.

And so Mulder, Invictus and their co-conspirators from Mackinac Island
found themselves in one of the arcane tunnels of Madison, Wisconsin, near
the shores of Lake Mendota planning their next move.

"Listen, Pike said that when we found the tunnels, that we should go to the
Capitol building. That's where they think the vaccine is, right?" Invictus
asked.

"Yes," Cass said. "But he also said that it could be pure speculation.
Rumor."

"Right," Mulder added. "But the fact that the tunnels are here at all I
think, gives credence to the fact that the rumors that the resistance has
been gathering are all true. And you yourself, Cass, said that you'd heard
over the resistance grapevine that the vaccine was in Madison and all of
that."

"True, but I hadn't heard about the tunnels. It could just be a story.
Hyperbole."

"Do I need to mention again that we're still standing in the tunnels,"
Mulder piped in. "Or would that be overkill?"

Cass sighed and nodded. He had a hell of a point. But she was wary of
moving or taking action until they had a little more information. On the
other hand, Mulder and Invictus wanted to move as soon as possible. They
were afraid that what was happening in Chicago was happening in the rest of
the world and that they needed to stop it at any cost.

They were at something of an impasse.

When they had arrived in the city, their helpers told them, they had to be
careful. Helicopters supposedly flew around like nobodies business and much
of the city had been leveled. There were very few locals left, as was the
rumor, and those that were there took pot shots at just about anything that
moved.

They found that just about everything they had been told so far was
accurate.

And still Cass was against doing anything.

And that was starting to get to Mulder.

He was still sore emotionally from missing Scully, and his memory and the
world he'd lived in, and he was on a short rope that was beginning to fray.

He took a deep breath and tried not to let his emotions consume him.

Fat chance, he thought to himself. Like that had ever worked before. It
certainly wasn't going to work now.

It was beginning to be to much, and he was ready to pop.

"That's it!" Mulder burst, nearly out of nowhere. "I need some air. I'll be
back."

"Do you want some company?" Invictus asked quietly as Mulder made his way
out of the temporary headquarters they had made. They'd found a room with a
table, a few chairs, and an empty file cabinet and claimed it for their
own.

"No," he said shortly, and disappeared.

"Was it something I said?" Cass asked, half joking.

Invictus turned to her when he was sure Mulder was out of earshot.

"Partly," he said, "but that man's mind is an emotional battlefield right
now, I think, and I don't even think *he* knows what side he's on."

"Getting his memory back was that hard on him?" John asked, "I would think
that it'd be a relief."

"I suppose it depends on what you have to remember," Invictus said, "when
he couldn't remember, he didn't know what he'd lost. He'd gotten everything
back, and then instantly realized that most of it was probably gone. We've
all had some time to deal with losing our families and homes and
lifestyles. He hasn't."

"Do you think it's too much for him?" Cass asked timidly, not really
wanting to know.

"I can't tell," he answered morbidly.

XxXxXxXxXxX

When Mulder reached the entrance to the tunnel, he retrieved his gun from
it's holster and held it at the ready.

He opened the door slowly and scanned the white horizon, looking for
anything that might be a threat.

Seeing nothing, he stepped cautiously out and took a deep, cleansing
breath.

The air had gotten much colder in the past couple of days, and had a crisp,
biting quality to it. More snow was on the way.

Mulder hadn't had much time to digest any of the events that had happened
since he awoke in a bunk, fathoms underwater, next to a man who's name
meant "Unconquered."

Only Mulder's focus on the goal of getting the vaccine and staying alive to
do so kept his mind off of all that he'd lost.

But when he did let himself think, he felt most licentious when he thought
of Scully.

And he let himself think a little too often.

What had she gone through? Where was she? Was she even alive? What would
have happened if he'd took her along to with him to meet with Curtis
McCloud on that fateful day?

Mulder shook his head and tried to clear it of any such thoughts. They
didn't help, and he had other things to concentrate on at the moment. He
would be with Scully again, but he'd have to save the world first.

Small task, he thought to himself sarcastically, easily done.

Deep in the background he began to hear the beating rotary blades of
another chopper.

Mulder again scanned the sky for the source of the sound. He didn't see any
helicopter and didn't really worry. They had been flying all over the city
on a near constant basis. But they seemed to avoid the lakes, and
concentrate mostly on the university and surrounding area buildings.

He walked down to the edge of the lake, crunching through the blanket of
snow and on to where the lake lapped gently at the shore. A thin layer of
ice bordered the chilly water and it's crystallized cousin. He surveyed
what lay before him.

The sun had just set and the sky was getting more and more dusky. He felt
like he hadn't seen the sun in days. Then he realized that he hadn't.
They'd stayed in the tunnels during the daylight hours, and when they had
emerged when the sun was still burning overhead, it had been masked by
billowy gray clouds spitting a constant haze of white.

An early November snowfall had fit, somehow. The gray clouds of cold vapor,
dust and ash moving in with the clouds of destruction and despair, as if
the Earth sought to purify herself once more. To cover what had happened on
her surface and begin anew.

Movement caught his attention out of the corner of his eye and twirled to
his right. Three people were ducking into a nearby building, not far from
the entrance to the tunnel that he had just come out of.

He was reaching behind his back to draw his gun as a precaution when he
focused on the last of the three. The figure was small, definitely female,
with a bright, red hair that matched Scully's color exactly. Her hair was a
bit longer than he remembered Scully's being, but from the back it looked
almost just like her.

He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself and convince himself that it
wasn't, couldn't be her. He was only projecting and unconsciously trying to
make himself feel better, after his deep, longing ruminations. But he
couldn't help the feeling that maybe, just maybe.

She had just made it to the doorway when the woman paused. She tensed a bit
and slowly turned around, as though she felt his eyes on her.

And their eyes met.

And it *was* her.

For a split second, neither moved, staring unbelieving into each others
eyes. Obscured only by the fluctuating puffs of steamy breaths. They
neither heard nor saw nor felt anything but one another.

The second of inaction and reconnection ended, and Mulder moved to run to
her, their matching gaze still held. Just as he did so, a white-hot light
blinded him.

He blinked and looked away and his other senses hit him again with blunt
force. Momentarily blinded, he staggered to the side just as the roaring of
helicopter blades hit his ears, and the force of wind created by it swirled
around him, sending sharp crystals of snow into his eyes and mouth. He
looked up to the source and the chopper flew by above him, close to the
ground, keeping it's light trained on him, turning almost immediately to
make another pass.

Then, the search light from the chopper swung around to where Scully was
standing.

Mulder seized the opportunity presented him and dove headlong into the
frigid lake, disappearing beneath it's surface. He swam as far as he could
underwater until he couldn't hold his breath anymore.

He broke the surface with his head just enough to take a deep breath and
look to Scully.

The helicopter's light was shining full-force on the doorway where she had
been standing.

But Scully was gone.

XxXxXxXxXxX

The chopper quickly moved it's search to the water, but Mulder easily
eluded their detection, and soon, the helicopter gave up and headed back
towards the Capitol building.

Mulder stayed for a moment in the freezing water, then emerged and ran,
dripping wet to the door that Scully had disappeared into.

He should have been freezing and stiff, standing there in the snow, but he
was-finally-on fire. Something he hadn't been in far too long.

It was locked.

Mulder pounded on it, and considered shooting the lock off, but thought
better of it.

Better, he thought, to go and tell the others and employ their help.

He paused for a moment looking at the door, willing her to open it, then
whirled and headed back into the tunnels, water flying behind and around
him. Frosting over his path.

He navigated the twisting maze of concrete quickly and nearly burst into
the room where he'd left the others.

"Whoa, Mulder!" Cass nearly yelped when he burst in.

"What the hell happened to you?" Invictus asked right after her.

"Nothing," he said, dripping his way to the table they were sitting around,
"but..."

"But what?" Invictus asked, catching onto the keyed-up, excited energy
Mulder was all but oozing.

"Scully's here," he said excitedly, "I saw her. But then a chopper came
and."

"Whoa there, hold up!" Invictus said, trying to calm him.

Mulder took a deep breath, barely able to contain his anxious, almost
joyful excitement. It wasn't a face he wore often, but it fit him well.

Invictus was loathe to upset it.

"Huh?" John piped in, "I'm lost, why are you wet? And you actually *saw*
Scully? She's here?"

"Yes!"

They all exchanged worried glances as Mulder nearly beamed around them.

Invictus was getting more worried. Mulder had been through hell and back,
and it was beginning to show. He doubted Dana Scully was even alive, much
less in Madison, Wisconsin. He feared the younger man was seeing things to
make himself feel better or stop hurting. He didn't want his delusions to
go any further.

"Mulder," he broke in, "I know you want it to be her, but-"

"It was!" Mulder said loudly, his excitement gone, replaced by an anxious
rage. "She's here!"

He slammed his fist down on the table fiercely in emphasis with his last
word.

Cass shot a worried look to John who threw her back a matching one. He held
her gaze a moment and shook his head.

Mulder was losing it.

END CHAPTER

Chapter Thirteen