Chapter 5

"What," Mulder asked, tugging on Invictus' pant leg, "what is it?"

Invictus hauled himself the rest of the way up slowly, and turned, facing
to the left of the pod, looking out over the water. He blew out a deep
breath and stood akimbo.

"Just get up here," he said distantly.

Mulder climbed up the ladder, and stood on the deck of the sub, before
looking up.

"Oh my God," he said, upon raising his eyes.

He had seen destruction of this magnitude before, but never in person. What
lay before him now, brought out a sick feeling of fear, and dread.

What had once been the longest suspension bridge in the world, if Mulder's
questionable memory served him, now lay before him in ruins.

The middle section of it, in between the two towers had been blown almost
entirely away. What remained of the middle was held together by only a
crumbling slab of concrete, and a few taunt cables. The southern tower had
collapsed into the straits, only a small portion of it remained above
water; like a huge white steel gravestone, reaching toward the heavens and
calling out it's mourning in the sickening groans of steel, twisting in the
harsh autumn wind.

The northern tower had fared better, and was still intact. What had been
the roadway had fallen to the waterline, hundreds of feet below. The cables
that had once held it up, were broken and ripped in all directions, like
the head of Medusa.

"What the hell happened, here?" Mulder asked in a low tone, quietly, as if
to not reawaken chaos in its deadly aftermath.

"I don't know," Invictus said. "I can't think of any explanation for this.
Why would they. I don't understand."

At that moment, the porthole on the sub hissed shut, grabbing both men's
attention. Bubbles began to come up from the sides of the pod, and it
hummed to life beneath them.

"Oh shit!" cried Invictus, suddenly alert and turning in all directions
looking around the top of the sub. "It's going back down!"

Mulder turned a couple of times, unsure of what to do, and then he stopped
and looked at Invictus. "Where's the boat?" He said, more calmly than he felt.

"I don't know," Invictus snapped back, looking about him and seeing no
craft.

"WHERE'S THE BOAT!?" Mulder shouted.

"I DON'T KNOW!" Invictus yelled, becoming slightly panic-stricken himself.

As the craft lurched to life beneath them, and started to descend, Mulder
began to hear the sound of a motor growing louder in his ears.

He grabbed Invictus' shoulder and pointed southward, toward the lower
peninsula, "Shit," he said. "Look."

There was a hard-bottomed inflatable speeding at them from shore. It was
still almost a mile away, but it was making its way towards them at an
alarming speed. Invictus looked to the north and swore under his breath.

"There's two of them," he said. "Get in the water. Swim for the bridge."

Mulder opened his mouth to protest, but as he was about to do so, the pod
completely submerged, and he was in the water anyway. He stepped off of the
surface of the pod, and the temperature of the water hit him like a ton of
bricks.

"It's fucking cold," he managed to get out, the chill of the straits
knocking the breath out of his chest, as Invictus dove in next to him.

"And it's going to get colder. Come on," Invictus answered. "We don't have
far to go. Those HBI's are going to be here in a minute. Swim like the
Army's on your ass."

"They are," Mulder replied, trying to adjust his strokes to accommodate the
pack strapped to his back, and the clothing he was wearing.

"All the more reason to go faster," Invictus replied, gliding past him like
a merman.

XxXxXxXxXxX

They reached the partially submerged wreckage of the bridge, near the
middle. The part that had once been I-75, now lay in the water, a line of
asphalt running up to the remaining bridge like a highway to heaven,
supported by a few taunt cables and the concrete itself.

The two men heaved their weary bodies partially onto the decayed roadway,
thoroughly winded.

"I didn't think," panted Mulder, "that we'd make it."

"Then next time," replied Invictus, letting his forehead fall wearily to
his forearms, "don't think."

They rested for a few minutes, catching their breaths, and watching the men
in the HBI's cast back and forth in the water for them, searching for the
escaped prisoner's in the early morning light. The sun was coming up behind
Mulder and Invictus in the east, over Lake Huron. Mulder hoped the glare
from the sun helped shield them somewhat. Until they made it up to the
surface of the bridge, they'd be sitting ducks.

"Come on," said Mulder, slowly pulling his way up onto the highway. "We've
gotta get up there. We're going to have to climb up to the top."

"You mean you don't want to swim?" Invictus smiled wearily at him as he
worked his way onto the surface. The structure creaked a little, but held
their weight.

Invictus laid himself flat against the roadway, the water lapping at his
sides. He looked up toward the top, gauging the distance and the terrain.

"That's gotta be 200 feet," he said, "at an almost 90 degree angle. Prepare
to wear your fingertips bloody. This," he looked pointedly at Mulder, "is
going to be a bitch."

He started to pull himself up the incline, finding the cracks and chunks
that were missing in the asphalt in plenty, and scaling the wall like a
pro.

Mulder followed suit, glancing up at Invictus with a slightly annoyed glare.

"Are you," he grunted out, "good at *everything* you do?"

"Well," said Invictus, pausing to consider the question, "yes. But if it
makes you feel any better, I can't fish worth shit and dogs hate me."

XxXxXxXxXxX

Twenty-five minutes and 150 feet later, Invictus paused above a
much-fatigued Mulder, and swore softly.

"What is it?" Mulder asked quietly.

"I think," Invictus panted, "I think they see us."

"Shit."

"They're coming this way. Fuck. Okay, flatten yourself out, and see if you
can shimmy over to the side here, get around to the edge, near me, maybe
they won't see us."

Mulder nodded, saving his energy, and started to slowly make his way to the
edge of the roadway, flattening himself to the asphalt, praying to remain
undetected.

"Alright," Invictus whispered above him. "They're right underneath us.
Don't. Move."

Mulder waited about two minutes, until he finally hazarded a look for
himself. The HBI was slowly motoring itself away from them, south, toward
the other tower of the bridge that sticking up out of the water. Invictus
finally spoke up.

"They must have thought that we thought this was too risky, and went to the
other tower. They didn't spend much effort looking. If they would have,
they would have seen us."

Mulder again nodded, and heaved a sigh of relief. Just as he did, the crack
in the asphalt he was standing on widened, sending chunks of concrete down
to splash in the water far below them.

"Fuck!" Mulder cursed harshly as he lost his footing and flailed blindly
with his right hand, barely holding on with his left. His hand hit a cable
that was hanging down, and he clamped onto it like a vice, swinging onto it
just as his grip with his left hand slipped. The cable bit into his flesh,
ripping chunks of skin from his palm as he slid down the cable. His slide
began to gain momentum until his feet found the metal cord, slowing him to
a stop. He gripped it painfully with his left hand, bringing in his injured
right to his chest.

"Mulder!" Invictus nearly shouted, he strained to keep his voice down a
second time and said, "Shit! Shit, shit, shit! Mulder! Mulder are you okay?!"

Mulder remained quiet.

"Mulder?" Invictus whispered, panic beginning to taint the edge of his
voice, "are you okay, man?"

He waited several heartbeats before Mulder quietly croaked, "No. I'm not.
I'm. I'm not going to make it."

"Bullshit," Invictus said more confidently. "You're not quitting now. Not
if I can help it you're not. You're going to make it. We both are."

Just as he finished talking, the gentle breeze that had started when the
sun had risen just above the waterline picked up a little, gusting slightly
through the straits. The cable Mulder was hanging from started to swing a
little, and the bridge itself groaned.

XxXxXxXxXxX

Scully felt the chill run like lightening up her spine as the scene
unfolded before her.

"Marin?" Elspeth's voice threatened, almost animal-like. Poised like a
mercenary, her eyes dark with betrayal as she held out the slender stiletto
against the curve on Richter's neck. "Do you have any other names?
Any other secrets you're keeping from me? From us?"

Scully reached for a gun that was not there, and realizing that,
frantically tried to recall every bit of hostage training she had
ever had.

"Elspeth . . . . Elspeth, please." Her voice wavered slightly, the
weapon shatteringly familiar.

The car continued to roll on the asphalt, the roar of the wind the
only sound slicing the tension. Richter continued to drive without
showing an iota of emotion at the situation.

"It's just a name. It means nothing, Elspeth, at least nothing anymore."

"I've heard of you, you know," she said coldly. "You did seem
familiar--did you somehow recognize me then?" Her voice grew bitter.
"You seemed to hate me pretty readily back when we first met. Hasn't
changed has it, Marin? Marin Laine, right? The man who helped slaughter
hundreds of innocents at Antioch? The butcher--"

"The baker, the candlestick maker. What," an edge gaining to his
baritone, "do you hope to gain from killing me? Drive us into a
ditch? Kill us all? I'm controlling the car now." Scully noticed
his knuckles turning white. Tense. "Don't do something stupid."

"No, we seem to have enough of stupidity in this car to get us through
purgatory and then straight on through to the gates of Hell." Elspeth was
seething. The rage had transformed her into a monster.

Overload. It was neural overload. What was happening now--in past
situations Scully had handled them with the cool, steely demeanor of
a professional, but she realized now how her life had been on a
continuous spiral out of control since the colonists had arrived.
Suddenly, she became livid at her audacity--her utter failure in the
face of adversity, and then it came like a sonic boom, hot and full
of madness--the red-faced feeling of shame.

"Innocent men, women and children!" Elspeth cried. "Did you know any of
them? Did you eve care what you were doing?"

"They were not innocents!" he barked. "They were unnatural. Hybrids.
Part of the race that came here to destroy us! Am I suppose to have some
sort of mercy for butchers? Would you?"

"In your case, no."

"We need to stop now, and talk this out. Put that thing away, Elspeth!"

At the intrusion of her voice, Elspeth and Richter both turned to
look at Scully in surprise.

"And the tank is empty." At that, the red light flashed on, the sound of
gravel hitting the car's paint job clicking through the dense fog of
the tension as the car rolled gently to the side of the road. "Put
it down, Elspeth." Control. She felt its sweetness surge back into
her body. "You are a rational, intelligent woman. Put the weapon
down. This can be talked out." Scully said a silent prayer of
thanks to God, hoping there was still a god out there to hear her.

Elspeth remained where she was, though, the cool, needle-like tip of
the stiletto pressed tightly against Richter's goose-prickled flesh.

"Please." There was gentleness in her voice, a soothing quality
Mulder had loved, but never revealed to her. "Please, Elspeth." The
humanity and fullness of her former-self was returning, a tidal wave
crashing against her, and Scully embraced each explosion as it broke
against her.

The blade of the weapon slid back in, a metallic scrape signifying a
new connection made, but there were still many bridges to cross. Or
to burn.

The car came to a halt, sputtering dead.

"I'll let you talk, Richter--or Marin. I don't care what your name
is anymore. Give me a reason not to kill you, or make your peace
with this world before I do." Scully noticed as Elspeth shot
her a glance, a definite weariness in her eyes, as well as hesitation
and fear. But her voice seemed to betray nothing. "Make it good. I have
a bad memory when it comes to mercy."

XxXxXxXxXxX

How did it come to this?

"Where do you come off thinking that you have the right to play God?"

How did once allies become enemies? Twisted fate turned into twisted
cruelty?

"God is dead."

In this darkest of places was it possible to ever be found? Could
they ever find their way out? Was there another world out there--or
was it just an illusion? Just a place meant to exist in imagination?

"Did you always have a complete lack of regard for life? Do you
think yourself a higher being? A life greater than the rest? Do you
believe that somehow because you think that you are just and good,
that you will be saved?" Elspeth crouched down and looked Richter
in the eyes.

Here, beneath the sky; beneath the soulless stars, were they destined
for failure? Loneliness? Had their goals been too great--too full
of hope to be allowed to interfere with the chaos of the universe?

"Do you think yourself a hero? Admired for your atrocities? Do you
live under the pretense that somehow, you are kind? That you are
loved?

Now, staring into the face of Elspeth Parr, Scully could now clearly
see layers upon layers of this woman, that she had never seen
before. Streaked mad like doomsday with rage and pain, Elspeth was
about to collapse mentally. There was more than anger to her,
though. Something in her eye--a line curved like a scythe.
Something had broken inside. Her eyes were wounded.

"Know this: They too were loved. Those hundreds of people. Loved.
Do you understand that word?" She walked in short steps in an arc
like the swing of a pendulum. Her voice dropped, gravelly and
quiet. "Loved. That the anguish of their death . . . can still be
felt.

Elspeth sunk to her knees, slow and swaying. Her head bobbed
slightly, hair dipping into the mud.

"It's your chance now. Tell us your side." She stood up slowly,
little snaps exploding as the vertebrae in her back cracked.
"Justify your existence." All traces of vulnerability vanished. "I
dare you."

Darkness was falling. From where she stood, Scully could still see
Elspeth's and Richter's faces, both strangely contorted like painted
marionettes. Both rouged with anger. Richter had his head turned
away, his left leg nervously carving patterns into the dirt. He
remained silent still.

Scully could not help but find herself confused. She was agitated,
nervous, and jumpy. In her acquaintance with both of them, she had
never known this side to exist--the complete coldness and indifference
to any sort of relationship they had once had before. Although she
was not sure, she had sensed that Elspeth and Richter had, in the
months and weeks before their flight from Rhode Island, gotten closer
to each other. They had let each other into places that Scully was
certain, no one had reached before--or had not for a long time. It
was a place that she and Mulder had not even yet reached, in their
many years together. She bit her lip, unconscious of the action.
Would she ever be given the option to work things out with Mulder?
The thought came and went quickly.

"Do you think I'm evil?"

"I don't need to tell you. You should be full well aware of what I
think about you."

"I'm not so sure anymore, Elspeth. There was one point where I . . ."

"Don't fuck with me. That has nothing to do with this. Pull that
manipulative shit on me again and I won't even hesitate to kill you."

"Have you ," his voice began gaining a dreamlike quality, "ever done
something--something that you knew others would find strange or
harsh--even cruel, but you knew in your heart that it was for the
greater good? That whatever the immediate consequences of it, that
the end would justify the means?"

"So this is your excuse? Your rationalization? Tell me, Richter,
did you even feel an ounce of remorse as you watched all those
people die? What kind of monster are you?"

"I am not a monster! Stop twisting things around!"

"Do you have any inkling of what you did? You don't--" Elspeth lunged
forward, hurtling her full body weight towards Richter. On the
defensive, he planted himself and drew out a knife he had had hidden
away, and poised it, ready to strike back.

But they were both to be surprised. As quickly as she was capable
of, Scully reacted. She kicked out her left leg and sent Richter
falling to the ground and out of the path of Elspeth's murderous
rage. The momentum propelling her forward, Elspeth found herself
stabbing at empty air and then sprawled out on the mossy ground. As
they both recovered and prepared for a counter attack, they looked up
to come face to face with a determined looking Dana Scully and the
barrel of a gun aimed at their heads.

They fell silent. Feeling the adrenaline rushing through her, Scully
took control.

She had noticed during their escape that the car that they had taken had
not been one that had been for sale on the lot. As they had exited the car
after the tank had run dry, she had bided her time, leaving the passenger's
side as slowly as possible in order to search for something--anything that
could give her an advantage. She had been more thankful than surprised
when she had found the gun sitting inside the glove compartment. Hiding it in
the waistband of her pants she almost laughed as she thanked her good
fortune for living in a country so deep-rooted in fear and paranoia that
her chances as finding a weapon were in her favor.

"Now you two listen to me. I've been standing here watching you two
argue. But this," she gestured, jabbing the gun forward, "is drawing
the line. Whatever past atrocities, they are the past. However
horrible they were, there are more important things at hand. If
either of you can remember what we came out here to do." She
glanced at Richter. "But I do understand the difficulties. Trust is
a hard thing to gain in the first place. Regaining it may be more
than impossible." Scully drew in a deep breath. "I could have left
you two back in the woods in Rhode Island to kill each other or
whatever other madness you are capable of, but I came along. I left
my mother--the last of my family and the last link to my old life, to
come and find this cure for this dying world. To find this vaccine,
that god dammit, I don't even know really even exists, but I'm here,
and I want to believe that it does exist, and that it works. God, how
much I want to believe it."

Her eyes fell to the ground as she tried to regain her composure. "I
want the both of you to get up now. Back away from each other--I
still don't trust you two to be near one another, and I'm sure
neither trusts the other either." Scully lowered her gun. "Now
there is something I want from you. I want you to put your trust
back into the objective. Our mission. If you don't think we can do
this, then we might as well just kill each other right now. What
will it be? How do you foresee this ending?"

Scully placed the gun on the ground now and kicked it away out of all
of their reaches.

Elspeth spoke first, her voice growing stronger with each word. "I would
give my life for this. Anything to make things right again."

They both then turned to look at Richter. He nodded faintly. "I'm
in." He was quiet for another moment, but then he spoke again. This
time, though, his eyes were only on Elspeth. "But only if you can
give me a chance to explain myself and to somehow regain all of which
has been lost. If you can open your heart and your mind and let
yourself understand who I am and what I've done, then I will."

A long silence followed and Scully feared that everything that they
had arrived at was suddenly about to be lost. But Elspeth erased all
doubt as she struggled to shake the reluctance from her voice. She
agreed and allowed them to enter into the next round of what would be
the longest and hardest battle of their lives.


END CHAPTER

Chapter Six