Chapter 16

Three perfect O's formed on Frohike's face as he stared dumbfounded at the
group before him. His eyes strayed around the room, but finally came to
rest upon Scully's face.

"I must be dead," he said in a whisper, "because I see an angel." Then a
beat later he turned his attention to Mulder who stood next to Scully. He pursed
his lips and scratched at the scraggly beard on his face. "And a ghost."

He stood for a moment, unsure of his reality when John finally spoke up.

"You know this furry little man?" He asked, prodding him on the chest over
a filthy, but distinctively Frohike-signature vest. Protectively,
Frohike's hands flew up and knocked John's away disgustedly.

"No respect among the young anymore," he grumbled, ignoring John as he
brushed brusquely past him towards Mulder and Scully. He looked at his old
friends, a wave of amusement as well as relief washing over his familiar
face that almost masked the deep lines of despair and fear that marked his
flesh. He let out a deep breath that he hadn't realized he had been holding.
"Small world."

Mulder reached out and clasped his friend in his arms.

Frohike gasped. "And getting smaller, Mulder. Jeez, let go!" Mulder
released the Lone Gunman from his grasp and chuckled to himself. Frohike
brushed himself off disdainfully. "Hey Scully, don't I get a hug, too?"

Scully smiled, the corners of her mouth turning up slightly. "I think
Mulder gave you enough for both of us," she said dryly, but seeing his face
fall, an exaggerated expression or not, she softened. "Oh, what the hell."
When Scully released him, Frohike smiled dreamily and sunk into a
seat on pile of debris. He sighed happily, oblivious to the seven pairs of
eyes that watched his every move. The others watched in great interest as
they automatically split apart and created a circle.

"Where are your cohorts, Frohike?" Mulder asked as he paced in a circle.
"Are they behind door number two?"

Frohike jerked his head up and gazed evenly at Mulder who shuddered
involuntarily at the ghostly look in his eyes. His arms wrapped around his
small body and he rocked gently in his spot, suddenly very far away.

"Frohike?" Scully's voice was filled with concern. She reached out and
touched him on the shoulder.

"Byers--he's ok, last I saw him. Actually, he's probably still with Suzanne

Modeski. Lucky bastard." A gulp. "Considering..."

"Who--" she began, but Mulder's surprise quickly cut her off.

"Modeski...she's...oh wow!" Mulder exclaimed, pulling on his face, cheeks,
nose and dropped jaw. "Before you and I became partners, Scully..."

Frohike raised his hands and gestured for Mulder to stop. "You've actually
met her, or were in the same building, Scully. Um," he hitched, looking
away from her, "you were a little out of it then. But that was then--this
is now.

"To make a long story short," he continued, "she was a chemist that some
government goons were after a long while ago. Well, after, after the
invasion Byers went batty. Not like you, Mulder, but 'the aliens have
invaded' crazy. Langly," his voice choked on the name, "and I had to tie him down at
one point, and then he began to rant and rave about finding Suzanne. We tried
to dissuade him, but there was no getting around him. He got out of the
restraints and took off. We followed his trail and finally found him in Arizona--and
I'll be damned, he had found her."

He stopped and took a deep breath of the stale underground air. "You guys
got any water? I'm parched." Cassidy pulled out a small flask she had
tucked under her coat and handed it to Frohike. "Thanks." He took a big
gulp and let the liquid trickle slowly down his throat, savoring each

Suspicion crept into her mind and fear crept into her heart. Scully inched
closer. "Frohike, where's Langly?" she asked quietly, afraid to hear
the answer. Frohike glanced up at her, all the light gone from his eyes.
She knew the answer before he said it.

A pregnant pause touched there air and he answered at last in a quick ,
simple tone, "He's dead."

"I'm so sorry, Frohike," Scully said gently. "I'm so sorry."

"What...what happened?" Mulder ventured, the pain apparent in his face,
slack and numb from surprise.

Neither Mulder or Scully had ever seen Frohike so unanimated; so gray and
somber. He was a ghost trapped in a man's body with nothing on his mind but
rest, and the change shook all those in the room.

"We were following a lead up here. Suzanne and some of the people she was
with, they talked about a vaccine that some scientists had been
developing--former members of 'The Project' that had defected when they got
scared by the idea of actual colonization in their lifetimes. The story
goes that by using the data they had on the aliens, they formulated a
vaccine that made it impossible, or at least difficult, for human biology
to be compatible with the alien life--that," he swallowed hard, eyes behind
his dirtied glasses darting nervously around from face to face, "that the
biochemical reaction would kill the invading parasite and make it
impossible for human beings to be used as hosts."

Invictus whistled. "So we were right about that. Damn."

"We're dirt to them," Cassidy said blankly. "Dirt." She shook her
head, still unable to grasp the reality of what they had all known long ago
but never spoke about.

"We heard that the research had been going on at the University of
Wisconsin, so Langly and I headed up here while Byers stayed with Suzanne
on finding more information." Frohike shrugged. "It wasn't anything
concrete at the time, but it was a possible lead, and anything was worth
our time at that point." He looked up, his face pleading for understanding that
they would not have refused him for the world, but the guilt that ate away
inside him, dismantling him like a virus, did not allot him that luxury. He
could not believe that his friend's death was anything short of his fault.
"We were so desperate then."

"We all were," Elspeth said gently. "We all still are, and things will
happen that we can't forecast, and we'll make mistakes that we regret, that we
wish we could go back and fix, but we can't do that. We can only try and
move on and repair the damage. We have to push on. We have to or else . . .
what the hell's the point?" Then sighing, she sunk back against the wall.

Frohike looked at her thankfully and continued on. "We got here a few weeks
later, and um," he paused and chewed on a fingernail. "We got here and this
place was like a wartime encampment. The whole *fucking* place was swarming with
troops day and night. People were either dead or running the hell out of this

"Langly and I hid out in the Oscar Meyer factory for a while." He cringed
as he said this, remembering the stink of stale factory air and rotting meat. "With
all the activity going on it took us a while to get to downtown Madison where most of the
action was going on. We heard some crazy shit--most of it from people we overheard.
Some of them military, some just poor bastards like the rest of us. It was mostly
'aliens!' and hysteria. Lots of blubbering and crying, but when we really listened,
I mean really listened . . ."

"You don't have to tell us all of this now if you don't want to," Scully
said gently. "If you need to rest first or get some food."

"No, no." He shook his head adamantly. "If I don't tell you this now, I
don't think I could do it again later." He glanced around at the group darkly. "And I
don't know if all of you are going to be here later on. So this has to be said now."

Richter, still thus far, suddenly stalked across the room to where Elspeth
sat, propped up against the wall. She gazed up at him and took his rough hand in
hers. They held fast to each other. Then he looked at the others and made
a movement with his head that seemed to tell them to ignore him. Frohike
continued, his tale weaving erratic and emotional until he came to the part
that he had been dreading all along--to the graveyard of his story where he
had to kill and bury his comrade.

"We had been hiding out in the library. Hackers amongst the institutional
green of the library stacks," Frohike snorted. "We couldn't believe it. Those
military idiots were still using computers to process a lot of their data and Langly and I
just used the computers in the library to hack into their database." He
cleared his throat again and begged for another drink of water before he went on.
"Some of the stuff we more or less knew already. It was pretty much set
that vaccine was for real--or at least that something like it existed and it was
being safeguarded here at the capitol building. There were some other files that
we got into that we thought were pretty fascinating."

His voice abruptly dropped, so quiet that many of them had to strain to
hear what he was saying. "We thought they wouldn't notice our hacking. I mean,
who's gonna hack in times like these?" His words were coming faster and
faster, slurring one into another. "Not that we didn't take some safeguards. We
did, but-- but they weren't enough. Not damn enough. They broke through the glass
windows on the first floor and when we saw it we ran, but Langly couldn't find
cover in time."

There was a catch in his throat now and he finished. "I found my way
downstairs somehow and I hid underneath a giant 'Cat in the Hat' paper maché display."
He broke into a small sob. "I was the scardy-cat in the hat and Langly was just

"Oh, Frohike . . ." Scully felt her heart breaking with him as she went to
kneel before him, placing her head on his shoulder and grieving with him. "It's not your

Mulder came up to stand behind her, she turned to him and exchanged a
meaningful look as Frohike's bowed head rested against her shoulder.

The sobs soon subsided and Frohike was calm and a little embarrassed, but
he recovered his composure remarkably, as though finally admitting his
feelings of guilt over his friend's death had removed a huge weight from his heart. He
continued on with his narrative, the deadness fading from his eyes.

"Of the 'other' things we discovered. Mulder, you might know something
about this," he said looking up. "Hybrids."

Scully automatically whipped her head to look over at Elspeth and noticed
with much astoundment, that Invictus had done the same. Elspeth's made no
acknowledgment of them, though. She stared straight ahead, eyes hard and
cold. Next to hear, Richter had bowed his head, a storm brewing in his heart.

"Yeah. Cassandra Spender--"

"And Antioch," Richter chimed in, tonal and haunting like the dying strains
of a church organ.

"Yeah. Well, with what I read of the reports, the facts seem to imply that
the vaccine isn't fool-proof."

"What do you mean?" Invictus queried.

"It seems that human/alien hybrids are immune to the vaccine."

"You mean it doesn't work," Invictus concluded. "Hybrids can't be

"Yes. Which means that colonization could continue and actually speed up if
a hybrid is found."

"But weren't they all destroyed at Antioch?" John asked incredulously.

"Therearen't any left, and if there were, how could colonization actually speed
up? There can't possibly be enough hosts to accommodate--"

"They have the technology to clone," Frohike broke in. "And they can do
that quickly at that."

"And incubation period is short," Mulder said, moving protectively to
Scully's side, remembering the arctic; remembering her face encased behind the glass, her
body floating so helplessly in green ooze. Mulder suddenly started, this memory
triggering a realization that contorted his face in half-shock and half-pain. "Is
that--" he stammered,

"Is that why I . . . why we . . .you guys think . . ."

Invictus clapped his hands together and laughed. Remembering that a loud
noise of any kind might attract the wrong kind of attention, he immediately clamped his
hand over his mouth and chuckled. "He finally remembers!" he smirked.

Mulder frowned. "More like I just figured it out," he mumbled.

"Mulder and I are already immune," Scully said breathlessly, catching on to
the fact that she had also been unaware of until now.

"Bingo," Invictus said. "And you've both have faced off against the aliens
before. You know how to fight them."

"Not exactly," Mulder disagreed.

"Better than we do," John said. "To a lot of us, they're still a faceless

Mulder scratched at his beard and considered the new implications. He shook
his head, the information too much to process at the time. "Frohike, go on," he
finally said with a motion of his head. Leaning up against Scully who held him tightly, he
lapsed into silence along with the others to hear the remainder of what Frohike had to tell

"The vaccine should keep us safe, but the margin for failure is still huge.
The first scenario is that we don't get the vaccine, or, if it doesn't work. Then we're good
as dead. The other scenario is if they military finds a hybrid and is able to harvest
the DNA necessary to begin cloning. Then it's search and destroy--or die."

As his narrative had progressed, Scully had involuntarily found her line of
sight going back to Elspeth. And with each glance, she become only more aware of the
implications, and of how snow-white pale Elspeth was fast becoming.

Since their reunion, Mulder had only become more in synch with Scully, so
it was not more than a few seconds after she had tensed that he became aware of her
discomfort. The others had immediately become engaged in discussion after Frohike had
finished, but amidst the buzz, Mulder had naturally focused in on Scully's every

"What's wrong?" he whispered conspiratorially, trying to keep his tone
light to not darken the situation any further.

Scully opened her lips to answer, but words failed her. She tried to
gesture, her chapped hands reaching up and then down, and then forward but finding no direction
in the end. He reached towards her and put an arm around her reassuringly, but only
frustration and indecision filled her normally pragmatic mind. There was a needed silence
between her and Mulder, and in those brief moments, she let the thousand of thoughts
flitted through her mind. The scene in front of her became mute, and the edges of the image
blurred to where should could only see Elspeth--Elspeth slumped and weary. Elspeth
getting up from Richter's side to speak to Invictus. Inaudible whispers with huge
repercussions, but none that she could hear.

Mulder squeezed her shoulder as she leaned a little more into him, letting
the comfort of his closeness infuse in her some much-needed strength. Strength that she
would need, because regardless of the trust, respect, and faith she had in this strange
woman who had been thrust into their lives what seemed like only a short time ago, there
were things Scully knew--and they were more important than the life of one person when
the rest of the world was at stake. Breathing from what felt like the bottom of her
belly, Scully took a step away from Mulder and let the words form in her mind; let her
tongue loosen, and prepared to speak and strike what could only be a blind-sided blow to
Elspeth Parr. But the words had barely settled enough to even begin processing in her
synapses when Invictus rose his hands in the air to quiet them all down. Yet he said
nothing when quiet was obtained. Instead, he nodded his head towards Elspeth who nervously
stepped to the center of the group, concentrating all her efforts into what she was
going to say next. Scully bit her lip and waited.

"Invictus and I have talked and we've come up with a *suggestion* for a
course of action." She quick shot a glance at him, some private understanding passing that
everyone caught but nobody knew the meaning of. "I think it doesn't even have to be said
how imperative it is that we go get the vaccine as soon as humanly--" her voice caught on
the word, but Scully and Mulder noticed it and cast each other a questioning glance. "As
humanly possible."

Then Elspeth's voice grew stronger, and she straightened herself so she
seemed taller, and something strange and calm flashed in her eyes.
"We have a plan." She then crouched to the ground and used her finger
to begin drawing in the dirty. "And if you'll hear me out--I think we might
just start getting somewhere."


Chapter Seventeen