Chapter 6

Mulder stole a glance down at the water, hundreds of feet below. He cradled
his right hand to his chest, and barely hung onto the cable with his left.
The force of the wind had started the cable he was hanging from to gently
sway in the wind. The backpack was beginning to feel more like an anvil
hanging from his shoulders than the lightweight pouch that it really was,
and his arm began to cramp. He began to calculate altitude, velocity, the
probability of hitting part of the devastated roadway before hitting the
water, and just what impact would do to a human body, when he felt a
tugging at his waist.

He looked up to see Invictus attaching a carabiner to his belt.

"Hi there," the man said. He had managed to climb back down to Mulder's
level, all the while rigging a rope that Mulder had never seen to somewhere
on the intact surface of the bridge, and now seemed to be attaching it to
Mulder's newly issued leather belt.

"Hold tight for *two* more seconds," he continued, smiling a little in
spite of the situation, "let me just get a good knot on here, and you can
let go."

Mulder grunted his understanding.

"Okay," Invictus said, patting Mulder's shoulder and beginning to climb up
to the surface of the bridge. "You can let go now."

Mulder did, fell a few feet, and was wrenched up quickly by his trousers.

"Hoo!" He heard Invictus yelp from up above him. "Gravity works!!"

Mulder started catching his breath back as he was being slowly inched up
the side of the wrecked highway. Before he knew it, he was being helped
over the edge on to the remaining highway.

He rolled onto his side, and glanced over at Invictus who was huffing and
puffing, kneeling over the edge, contemplating just how they'd made it. He
stole a glimpse at Mulder, and gestured over Mulder's head to the other
side of the bridge.

"Watch the side there. Hell of a drop."

Mulder rolled his head to look, and discovered they were on only a few
meters of asphalt. There was a large gap, held together by only cables
before the highway started up again, and the bridge continued south. He
looked the other way at the line of asphalt that ran north dotted by only a
few cars, trucks, a state police cruiser, an occasional semi, and one
school bus.

"I'll give 'em one thing."

Mulder looked up, questioningly.

"When they went to burn their bridges.they weren't kiddin'."

Mulder gave him a small, exhausted smile.

Invictus began to wrap up the rope and said without looking up. "Looks like
we're headed north."

Mulder shoved himself up on his elbows and began to examine his right hand.

"Yeah," he said absently, looking more closely at his shredded palm. "Fuck."

Invictus crawled up and stripped the pack off of his back and grabbed the
first aid kit out of it. He made quick work of bandaging Mulder's hand.
Mulder thanked him, and unattached the carabiner from his belt. He tossed
it at the older man.

"Thanks, MacGuyver."

Invictus smiled. "Anytime."

XxXxXxXxXxX

They had walked about a mile north on the bridge, and had another to go
before they reached the end, when Mulder grabbed Invictus' arm, and paused.
They had passed the remains of some of the cars, and the school bus, some
of them charred, some of them spared. He glanced back at the school bus,
and took a breath.

"Shouldn't we start to be careful? I mean, they're sure to be patrolling
the end of the bridge aren't they? We'll be sitting ducks just moseying up
on land, like we're just out for a stroll."

Invictus seemed to consider it for a moment.

"Nope," he finally said. "They won't be patrolling. They probably won't
even be looking. For one thing, they probably think we're still somewhere
in the water. For another, why *would* they be guarding this bridge? I
mean, its not as if someone is actually going to *cross* it."

Mulder licked his lips and started walking again.

"Good point."

XxXxXxXxXxX

Invictus popped his head inside another shattered car window.

"Nobody in this one either."

He turned back to Mulder as they continued walking north on the massive
structure.

"I wonder where they all are. burned probably."

"Burned?" Mulder piped in, confused.

Invictus opened his mouth to say something, then sighed, closing it. "It's
probably not information that's relevant anymore. I'll spare you the
details."

"But-" Mulder began.

"No," Invictus interrupted him. "Let's just. let's not."

Mulder nodded, not pressing the issue. They approached the police cruiser,
and Mulder took his turn looking inside. Again, they saw nothing. Neither a
survivor, nor the remains of one.

Instead of continuing on though, Invictus stood back and turned to Mulder.
"Pop the trunk."

Mulder did so and they rounded the car, looking in the trunk.

"Jackpot," Invictus said, looking over the veritable cornucopia of hidden
reserves they found there.

There were several shotguns, two handguns, blankets, two sets of protective
armor, and a teddy bear.

Mulder immediately went for the shotguns, but Invictus grabbed his arm,
telling him to wait.

"Mulder," he said, "the only things we're going to be able to carry safely
are the two sidearms, and maybe a blanket."

Mulder thought for a moment. "You're right," he said, "the shotguns don't
exactly impress 'incognito,' do they?"

"No," Invictus replied, "they don't. But you can take the teddy bear if you
want it."

Mulder gave him a ill-humored grin and shoved the other gun into the pack,
starting once again northward. His other gun was miraculously still tucked
into its holster, as was the sheathed hunting knife and his compass.

The bridge met land, but only a small jutting peninsula, and the bridge and
roadway continued on along the water.

"So," Mulder said, strolling along the Huron side of the bridge on the
other side of the guard rail, "what now?"

"Well," began Invictus, but he wasn't allowed to finish what he was going
to say, as he opened his mouth to speak, a barrage of gunfire erupted, and
peppered the railing four feet in front of them. Both of them hit the
ground, sliding as far down along the rocky bank as they could get.

Another wave of bullets went flying above their heads and around them,
scattering rock and dirt in all directions.

Mulder threw a disgusted look at Invictus and shook his head a little.
"They won't be *patrolling* it, he said," he sneered at Invictus, "they
probably think we're still in the *water*, he said. Why *would* they be
guarding the bridge, he said. Fucking *perfect*." Another round of gunfire
hit the railing above them, effectively cutting off any further cursing on
his part.

Invictus looked at Mulder under the arms he had thrown above his head.
"I'm detecting a little sarcasm."

"I should fucking hope so," Mulder grumbled. "As I was saying before,
*now* what??"

Invictus, keeping his head low, looked out over the water. His forehead
knitted together in thought. He pressed his lips together and continued
looking east.

"Now," he said, "we go to the Island."

XxXxXxXxXxX

"I didn't kill all those people," he told her quietly when he saw Elspeth
disappear into the brush. Richter did not attempt to gain her sympathy with
sad, large eyes or with a slight tremble to his voice. Scully took a
moment to look at him. He looked tired. Dark circles were carved under his
eyes like charcoal crescents and too little sleep. Eyes which seemed to
have grown more gray and lifeless with each passing day. He seemed sincere,
as did his confession to her which may have seemed to come too easily,
perhaps even too convenient, but it both of them felt it was a necessary thing.

Scully tilted her head to look at him, her lips pressed together, although
not so tightly as to make a line, and waited for him to continue.

He shook his head, his eyes downcast. "But I didn't do anything to stop
it." Richter cleared his throat, trying to find more confidence in his
voice. "I actually encouraged it. Helped out." He laughed, a strange,
sarcastic-toned laugh. "They gave me the credit for orchestrating it all,
too. 'The Butcher of Antioch.'" He tasted the name for a moment and
laughed curtly. "I was proud. Still am in a way." He stopped short,
looked away from her.

She kept her voice soft. "Then why are you telling me all of this then?
Why don't you tell . . ." she hesitated, then spoke again. "Why is it
bothering you so much?"

"They killed my family, you know," he said as though she had not spoken.
"Mother, wife, little boy. Mother blew her brains out when she found out
about the colonists. Splattered all over the stained-glass windows. My
wife, Dorothy--she was eight months pregnant with our son. We were gonna
name him Daniel after my father." He pulled at his jaw, stopping a moment.

"Dot lasted a week more. They wanted our baby for their hybridization
project." Suddenly he seemed very far away. Scully placed a hand on his
shoulder, trying to pull him back away from his memories. "Middle of the
night they came after her. She tried to run . . . cracked her head when
she fell. Died . . ." He grew silent and knelt to the ground. Grabbing a
fistful of soil, he crumbled the clump to its smaller, finer grains. He
flung it, some of the soil flying back into his face. "Gone like that.
You know what it's like losing a child you never got to know?"

She grew somber and responded slowly. Sadly. "Yes, I do, actually."

Richter didn't seem to be too surprised, or at least didn't show it.
"Horrible feeling, isn't it?" He gave another, short, harsh laugh.

"That's an understatement," she answered dryly. "C'mon, Richter," she said
after a brief silence, "we should start setting up camp for the night.
It's getting dark and we really don't know this area."

"You're right," he agreed almost reluctantly. He stood up and began to
walk over to gather some firewood. "I can build the fire if you want to start
on a shelter." She nodded in compliance and began back to the car to search
for possible supplies to use for bedding or cover. "Dana?" he called
suddenly.

She turned around. "Yes?"

"I really thought what I did was for the best. From the information I've
gathered, it seems like the hybrids are the important factor here. They
are somehow the key aspect to the success of colonization. It was the right
thing to do. I firmly believe that."

She nodded. "If that's what you believe . . ." She walked off, a slight
jab of pain radiating from her chest. I wish I knew what to tell him, she
thought as she left him standing, a look of helplessness on his face. Then
again, she thought, I wish a lot of things.

XxXxXxXxXxX

Elspeth had returned with better than a few "supplies" that she had gone in
search of. She came back in a teal-green mini-van loaded with food,
blankets, and other little necessities.

"Not exactly the glamorous escape vehicle I was hoping for," she said
wryly, hands on hips with a discerning look on her face as Scully looked through
the stash, "but it works."

It was a short and very silent meal that they sat through, a few carefully
selected words here and there about the plans come morning but not much
more than that. Scully spoke the most, the unacknowledged leader by fact of her
skills and ability, but more so by default as the other two could not be
asked to implicitly put their trust in the other. When she was not
speaking though, Scully was observing. Richter, emotionally drained hung his head
as he ate, a can of corned-beef hash, the sole object of his focus. Elspeth,
sitting to Scully's right, seemed to be making a conscious, although a
failing effort, to ignore Richter's existence. She would give quick
glances in his direction when she thought no one was looking, a mixture of
distrust, curiosity, and tentative sadness etched on her face.

They slept in the van that night, leaving the last few embers of their
dinner fire to die out on their own. The other two didn't take too long to
fall asleep, or at least put up the front that they were. Scully made no
attempt--she was wide awake.

Propped up on the passenger side seat she concentrated on watching the
remnants of the fire still alive with tiny firefly bursts of warm orange
color.

Shifting to make herself more comfortable, she turned to face the window
and saw in it her reflection. She was surprised at what she saw. She looked
terrible.

"What are we doing?" she muttered shaking her head slightly. Exactly what
were they trying to accomplish, she thought. If there was a vaccine, why
were they the ones to find it? Would there not be people who knew about it
already? What would their purpose be? As important as the objective
seemed, it was beginning to feel like an empty purpose being pursued in vain. They
would likely die in this venture, she imagined grimly. But, she thought
again, there was Mulder. Scully signed and closed her eyes once more,
trying to fight the demons and find a little peace in the darkened world of
sleep.

XxXxXxXxXxX

They left at Dawn, Elspeth at the wheel of the mini-van. Richter handed
Scully a map of the Midwest and the Appalachian country that was mixed
amongst the rest of their supplies.

Their tank full, they drove on in silence watching as the scenery whipped
by in a blur of autumn colors and a few stretches of nature still clinging
onto summer. It seemed to Scully that many parts of the country still seemed
untouched by the effects of colonization. There was a gracefulness and
peace to many of the roads they drove on, though occasionally they would
slow as they passed an area littered with burnt vehicles. Somehow
everything seemed a starker shade of gray.

"Awfully mournful, isn't it?" Elspeth said as she maneuvered around the
corpses of the cars.

"Like a cemetery," Richter muttered from the back of the car.

Scully turned immediately to look at Elspeth's response, and to her
surprise, saw her bite her lip and suppress a retort. She wondered what
was going on.

Their tank started running low somewhere around mid-Pennsylvania. After
driving for a good 8 hours, they were all in need of stretching out their
legs some. Elspeth pulled off into a ramp into a small town. Harmony,
Pennsylvania, population 356. Somewhere in their minds, they all doubted
that was true anymore.

They pulled into the middle of the town which was never much to begin with
anyway. Elspeth parked the van in the Bobby's Gas and Food and began
pumping. Scully headed inside to check for people, gun securely in hand.
They weren't about to take any unnecessary risks. It was dark inside, so
any doubts that the station was open for business was immediately pushed
aside. Inside was dusty, the register forced open and the cash long gone.

"Like cash is any good now," Scully muttered as she continued her scan of
the building. She found it clear though, and went outside to tell the
others.

"The rest of the town looks deserted, too," Elspeth said as she screwed the
knob back on the tank. "The town where I got the van looked like this too.

Dead." She paused and walked out toward the sidewalk. "What really
bothers me though, is that never did I once see any bodies. Not even a trace. I
mean, if there had been suicides or if the colonists had maybe massacred
the people, you would think that there would have been some sort of physical
evidence. But nothing." She shook her head, clumps of her hair shaking in
her face. "It's more than a little disconcerting, Dana."

"Maybe they were burned to death . . ."

"There would be bodies still...charred, but bodies." Richter appeared out
from inside the story, a bag of food gathered in his arms. He ducked into
the car.

Elspeth made a very visible gulp. "We should get going. Staying in one
area too long isn't safe, regardless."

Scully didn't hesitate. "Let's go."

XxXxXxXxXxX

The drive was uneventful and quiet, and peaceful to say the least. Scully
was now at the helm. It was getting late, but they were taking turns
resting so they would not have to make any unnecessary stops. Elspeth
rested in the back and Richter was riding shotgun.

"We don't know too much about her," he brought up when it was around 1AM.

"We're all basically strangers still," she replied. "But we can't really
afford to be that distrustful of one another right now."

"I . . . don't mean it that way. Not anymore." He rolled down his window
slightly and took in some night air. It smelled of burnt leaves, though
Scully couldn't fathom that anyone would be left to even care that the
autumn leaves were piling up. "Shit, I don't know what . . . Oh my god."
His words dropped like an anvil falling on her heart.

"What is it?" But she saw it before he could answer her. Helicopters.
Coming their way. No, she corrected herself. Swooping in their way, guns
blazing.

"Fuck!" Scully swerved the car around, tires squealing. Elspeth, sleeping
in the back seat, was rudely awaken, her body slammed into the side of the
door. There was a roar of expletives.

"What are you doing, Dana?" Richter screamed over the roar of the
helicopter blades.

"No time to stop! They've seen us already. We have to get out of here!"
She pressed hard against the accelerator and the van stuttered for a
moment, then exploded with speed.

Again, without her seatbelt on, Elspeth slammed into the back of Richter's
chair.

"Jesus Christ, what is this? The fucking Indianapolis 500?"

"Close. We are in Indiana." Scully gritted her teeth. "So when in Rome..."
She pressed the accelerator down again, the mini-van jerking back
before it exploded forward again. The roar of the chase was inundating her ears.

So much for peace and quiet.


END CHAPTER

Chapter Seven