TITLE: Through Walls
FEEDBACK: stokes the fires of creativity. Always gratefully received.
DISTRIBUTION: Yes, but please let me know where, and keep my headers attached
RATING: R (for language)
KEYWORDS: M, A, K
DISCLAIMER: The X-Files characters are the creations of Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. No infringement is intended.
SUMMARY: Trapped in a colonist holding pen, Mulder must face the only likely way out.
NOTE: Originally written for the XF Lyric Wheel: War for the World. Lyrics at bottom of page.
MANY THANKS: to Spica, for beta that always goes the distance
...................................................... THROUGH WALLS
At first Mulder's a textbook case: he reacts like a caged dog, jumping at the barriers, full of bark and fury. He doesn't realize he's one of the 'lucky ones'. But that's okay. It gives him free rein to plan, to hope, thinking there could be a way out of this.
If there were, he'd be the one to find it. I've got to give him that. If he's on your trail, nothing's going to stop him.
By the end of the first week he's started a diary. It helps him think of twenty, thirty, fifty years down the road when somebody will find it and realize that it seems like forever since the nightmare occupation was crushed. He's got faith in some kind of unexpected, lucky intervention.
Then things start to get tougher. They get word from Outside, via transferred prisoners, that the whole D.C.- Baltimore area is gone, the victim of a very literal alien feeding frenzy. And Scully was visiting her mother in Baltimore--first time in a couple of years she'd had a way to get there without being watched. Mulder'd encouraged her to go, and now his words eat him hollow, along with the knowledge that she might be gone. Could be gone. He can't bring himself to think 'probably'. Not yet. But when he's tired and his guard drops, his mind toys with how likely it is that Scully, or anybody, would be able to fight off one of those screamers.
He's careful to imagine just one of them.
In the beginning Mulder has Skinner for company, but then in the fifth week Skinner and sixteen other men are caught in a breakout scheme. They're hauled into an interrogation room with a glass wall on one side; everybody's forced to watch while a small pool of the oil slithers, separates and then invades a half-dozen of the guilty. Pretty soon they're on the floor, going through gestation, their bodies inching toward transparency, beginning to reveal the intruders inside. A few hours later the screamers hatch and the remaining eleven men become their first meal.
Mulder can't get the picture out of his head. Back in his barracks, he throws up. Twice. He tries to keep his mind on Scully, who might still be alive, but the associations between what he's just seen and what he's heard about Baltimore eventually force him to focus away--toward memories of summers on the Vineyard, or the green-painted terrain of the wall beside his bunk. Anything but here; any time but now. He wants to die. His only consolation, when he finally edges gingerly around the subject at hand, is that Skinner was one of the first half-dozen. He'd have felt the smothering takeover of the oil, but at least he was spared the terror that came after.
I wasn't there. Call me a coward but my memories are what they are, and I know better than to be around watching when the oil takes a man over--even now, when I'm beyond its reach.
But I get to watch the whole thing replay in Mulder's head. That's the way it is when you're dead. You get a different view, but it doesn't mean you escape things entirely. Nobody gets a free ride.
So Mulder's left trying to come to terms with the nightmare life he and two hundred other men have been dropped into: the full meals, the air conditioning, the movies, the library and fully-equipped workout room. The vitamin supplements, the clone guards, the daily 'deposits' that keep them from becoming screamer food. Doesn't take long for them to put the pieces together. Sometimes Mulder finds himself wondering if stud bulls have any idea what they're doing-- how they might react if they were smart enough to realize they were fathering the destruction of their own species.
He wants to be optimistic. He's worked too hard at believing not to feel like he's betraying himself--or maybe life itself-- with the thoughts that fill his head these days. And God knows Mulder's genetically predisposed to see the glass half-full, to figure there must be a man-size hole in the fences of hell. But the things that happen around him continue to take their toll. More men pick fights with each other. More toss on the bunks at night, gripped by nightmares. Mulder tries to picture Scully but her image drifts apart before he can even piece it together. She wouldn't give up, he tells himself. She'd keep trying.
In the back of his mind he realizes that every day a little piece of himself is falling away. His diary entries become lists of little things from the sane world that he's afraid he might forget.
I know what you're thinking--that I'm sitting here smirking, getting off on watching Mulder squirm: welcome to the real world, Foxy. Yeah, well, maybe I was at first. A little. Do you finally get it, Mulder? Now do you understand what it's like to always be fighting a rising tide?
But mostly, watching him's beginning to feel like... what was that fifties TV show? Where the wife is a ditz and gets herself into all kinds of trouble, and meanwhile Mr. Cool-andCollected goes upstairs to his study over the garage and watches the whole thing play out on his TV?
Except this isn't funny. God knows I've been in shoes like his. I get no satisfaction from watching Mulder slide downhill.
He struggles. He fights with himself, occasionally jostles with one or another of his fellow internees, but he's smart enough not to mess with the guards. No gratuitous death, he thinks. Nothing unless he can make it count. The thought stops him in his tracks. It shakes him--the fact that he'd even think it.
He reminds himself that people escaped the Nazi death camps, that thousands of others walked away at the end, survivors. But after a few more foiled escape attempts and the retribution that comes with them, he finds it hard to think past the ones who didn't. Scully comes to him just this side of REM sleep, but in the morning he never remembers.
No gratuitous death, he reminds himself.
His mind wanders. He configures endless escape attempts, but finds flaws in all of them. He ponders duty and hope and responsibility to species, only to find himself ticking off the stages of grief--denial, anger, bargaining, depression--and wondering whether he's crossed the line to acceptance yet. Acceptance: a clinical term for giving up. He worries that his ability to self-diagnose is sapping what strength he has left. One day he looks down to find his hands shaking uncontrollably.
I can't watch much more of this but the first time I visit, he doesn't even see me. By the second time he's more desperate.
"Wake up, Mulder," I say, settling on the edge of his desk next to the diary he hasn't touched in over a week. He's lying in his bunk, staring into nowhere, but he looks at me now. Blinks.
"I am awake." He scowls. "Or maybe not, if you're here."
"Call me whatever you want--dream, ghost, something you ate for dinner. Doesn't matter." I have to admit I've gotten pretty mellow in my old age. Or maybe it's the fact that I know he can't hit me anymore.
"Go away." Mulder rolls toward the wall. "You're not real, and if you were, why should I trust you?"
"Do I deserve that?" I shrug. "I don't know. Maybe I do. Well, suit yourself."
He's waiting, fist balled in a wad of sheets. When he figures I'm gone, he turns back.
"Don't trust Ames, Mulder," I say, and do my flashiest disappearing act.
So he lies there going through the predictable routine: wondering if he imagined me, whether I was for real, whether his mind had somehow 'summoned' me. Go on, flatter yourself, Mulder. But damned if two days later, as he brushes past Ames, he doesn't stick the fucker with a pin. Bam!--green goo time. Seeing their mole exposed is like watching your team kick a World Cup goal.
Granted, Mulder's got to scramble for a plausible excuse, and three guys are hospitalized for chemical burns. But that's the end of the aliens' free intel feed.
For a while Mulder seems to have more resolve. He gets that knitted-brow look. He puts actual effort into his workouts in the gym and eats more instead of just picking at his food. New escape plans are hatched, but now the participants prick themselves when they meet to prove they're human. Mulder remains cautious, lurking around the edges, waiting. Smart. He knows there's only going to be one chance, and nobody knows how far they'll be able to get once they're on the outside. He tries to think like an alien, but wonders if it's possible to predict anything they might do.
I start a little snooping around of my own. The plan seems solid and I want like anything to see him out of here and working against the alien scum that's raping the planet. I tell him what I know and eventually he decides to go for it. But at the last minute he's hit with food poisoning--undercooked poultry in the lunch entree--and while he's sitting in a john stall with his gut on fire and his pants around his ankles, the freedom party slips outside... and is taken almost immediately by liquid Oil that oozes from the ground.
Fuckers. And now I'm up Shit Creek with Mulder, because he's going to assume I was trying to set him up. What I wouldn't give to be able to punch something right now. But of course that's not the way it works.
I wait until Mulder's made it back to his room and gotten himself settled in his bunk before I manifest. I'll have more credibility if he hears it from me, so sooner's better than later. Poor son of a bitch looks bad--all pale and pasty.
"If it helps any, you're not the only one," I say, settling into my usual spot. "It was that last batch of chicken. A couple dozen other guys are in the same boat."
He closes his eyes--tight--and after a few seconds I see his lashes go all liquidy. His left hand crushes the corner of the pillow. "I missed--"
I clear my throat--or at least, I mimic the old familiar movement. "Ah, actually, no." I wait, but he doesn't open his eyes. "There was oil in the ground. Got 'em before they'd gone fifteen yards." I pause again. No response from the bed. "That's got to be what the cleared area is all about. It's not just this building. The whole complex has had the pavement ripped up. I guess now we know why."
"And you couldn't have figured that out sooner?" He's looking at me now; for a moment there's a hint of the old fire in his eye.
"Give me a break, Mulder. I'm not omniscient, just dead."
"Then you're better off than I am. They can't get you."
"Hey, the afterlife's not all it's cracked up to be. You have no idea how frustrating it is to watch things happen and not be able to step in and do anything about it."
"You did something before." He pulls up from the pillow.
"I didn't do anything. I just suggested. It's as far as we can go."
He doesn't respond, and I've got nothing to add. As far as I can tell, this place is escape-proof, so I'm not exactly in any position to play cheerleader. I fade out slowly, hoping he'll at least get some sleep.
Things go downhill pretty fast after that. There are no more escape attempts. The inmates grow sullen and men who stop exercising or eating are subject to a temporary dose of the black oil to guide them back into the right path. Mulder knows all too well what the oil is like, so he toes the line as far as they can tell, though his eyes are beginning to have that thousand-yard stare and he's quit shaving. He wonders how long it'll take before they get on him about that and realizes he doesn't care. More and more, he returns to his line in the sand--no gratuitous death--and wonders if he's had it wrong all along. Dying is the one sure way out of this nightmare.
And I don't have any logic to refute it. Sometimes life's a bitch.
But watching him lie there gives me the willies. It's just not Mulder. I materialize before I've had a chance to catch myself--not prepared, nothing to say.
His eyes wander over me, not even surprised to see me anymore. It's pretty clear he's just waiting for the hammer to fall. He waits for me to speak.
I shrug. "Just checking in, I guess."
He doesn't say anything. The silence grows until it starts to squeeze against me. I watch the faint rise and fall of Mulder's rib cage, count the silver hairs that spread like a border fence along his jaw line.
"They can't get you," he little more than mouths. He's staring past me again.
"What about Scully?" I say, wondering after the fact where the words came from.
"They can't get her, either."
"So you think she's dead?"
He focuses now, pushes up on one elbow and scowls. "She was in Baltimore. The area's gone. You know what happened."
"Mmm." Still, there's that little detail that sticks in the back of my mind. I pull one leg up in front of me on the desktop. "Do you dream about her?"
He nods, a half-hearted gesture. He'd love to be able to call her up--piece her together and have her come to life, if only in his head--but it's not as easy as that. Something gets in the way: distance, discouragement, the twisted alternate universe that's claimed to be reality these past few months.
"No, not the kind of thing where you force it. I mean when you don't plan to. Like a glimpse you get just before you wake up, and then it melts away."
"I wish." He rolls over and I'm left looking at his back.
"Maybe she's still out there. Alive." No response from the bed. "Because there's this... sense of her, in your mind, just before you hit REM sleep."
"Great." There's a sigh of resignation but he doesn't turn toward me. "So now you can see inside my head, Krycek?"
"Hey, it wasn't my idea--just comes with the territory. Most of the time it's a major pain, like wading through somebody's garbage. Once in a while it comes in handy, though."
The bed creaks. Mulder rolls back, looking momentarily alert. "You really think she's alive?"
"I dunno. Maybe."
"And does she... does she say or do anything--these times when you notice her?"
"She just kind of... comes up behind you, puts her arms around you. Stays there."
For a moment I think I see hope in his eyes, but it fades. I glance down and notice that the diary beside me has grown a fine coat of dust.
"There's still no way out of here," he says.
"Not that I can figure." I pause, picturing Scully as she inadvertently saves my life by shooting Mulder in the shoulder. "You were lucky, Mulder, you know that?"
Another couple of weeks pass. Sure enough, they clamp down on Mulder and make him shave. He does a poor job to spite them. He's growing thinner again and has to buckle his belt on the last notch. But when I stop by, he always asks if I still see Scully in his head at night. 'She, uh, still there?' he'll say, and I tell him I think so.
Actually, I'm not sure. I wonder whether I'm just stringing him along. But there's something there.
Then one morning a chopper lands at the compound. Chinook--one of the big ones. They must be bringing in a fresh group of breeding bodies. I'd forgotten about the roof helipad, so I drift up to take a look. Nothing out of the ordinary--just a couple of navigators waiting for the okay to take off again. But suddenly I see something, clear as day, in my head: Scully, peering out of a thicket, eyes wide, clothes dirty and torn. I don't know where she is but she's alive; that much is crystal clear.
And now I realize there's more of a tie-in here. I head back down to Mulder's room, following a thin, pale-skinned drone in coveralls the last few yards--the third crewman from the chopper. To my surprise he goes straight into the room and marches up to Mulder, who's staring out the window at bluegray clouds.
The sultry voice stops me in my tracks. Mulder turns around, suddenly wide-eyed and alert. I slip past the drone to see his face--her face. Clone. It has to be. Grim, short hair, familiar prominent cheekbones. The same pale skin. If I still had a gut, it would be shot through with nerves right now.
Mulder hasn't missed the voice, either.
Be careful, Mulder. There could be a hundred like her--
She steps closer, lowers her voice, offers her hand, palm up. The pads of her fingers are full of tiny prick marks. "Do you have a pin, Mr. Mulder?" she says in a voice I know as well as my own.
Mulder pulls a pin from his pocket, steadies her outstretched hand, pricks lightly. A small red bead forms and swells above the spot. She looks away, touches the place to her lips and quickly licks away the evidence.
"I know where she is," she says as quietly as she can and takes a step back. Her voice morphs--deeper, harsher. "You'll be coming with us. No need to pack your things. Everything you need will be provided. Should you try to resist, a penalty will be applied..."
How many times he's heard that line, but it sounds entirely different now. Mulder's heart leaps, his blood races and he reminds himself not to look hopeful, alive--not to give himself away.
He purses his lips, slips on his best expressionless face, turns and gives the bed one final glance. Then he follows Marita out the door.
Me, I'm stuck where I am, the scene still echoing in my head. They did clone her; the pieces are starting to fall into place. It's the thing that's given her a chance to play double-agent. She's scared as hell but she's determined, too--fierce--and suddenly I love this woman in a way I never have before.
Eventually I look up and around the empty room--the metal bunks, the green walls. Mulder's diary lays abandoned on the corner of his desk. He won't be needing it anymore. Chapter's over.
I look up, but of course he's not here; he's in the chopper skimming over a stand of trees, heading away from this place.
He owes me, he says; he isn't sure he would have made it these last few weeks on his own.
I start to smile but suddenly find myself choked up. I never thought I'd see a day like this. Seriously, I never figured.
And what I wouldn't give to be able to be out there with them, sweating real sweat, nerves gnawing at me, giving these aliens what they deserve.
But that's not the way it works.
I flash on simple things: wind against your face, the warmth of a good down comforter during a Russian winter, the smells of food. It's been a while.
The sound of footsteps pulls me back to the present. Somebody's in the passageway, heading in this direction. Taking a last glance around the room, I fade completely out.
Give 'em hell, Mulder.
..................................................................... Written for the X-Files Lyric Wheel: War for the World (July 2004)
The lyrics I was sent to work with, and which provided the structure, tone and direction of this story, are to the song 'Hammer to Fall' by Queen:
Here we stand or here we fall
History won't care at all
Make the bed light the light
Lady mercy won't be home tonight yeah
You don't waste no time at all
Don't hear the bell but you answer the call It comes to you as to us all
We're just waiting
For the hammer to fall
Oh ev'ry night and every day
A little piece of you is falling away
But lift your face the western way
Build your muscles as your body decays yeah
Toe your line and play their game yeah Let the anaesthetic cover it all
Till one day they call your name
You know it's time for the hammer to fall
Rich or poor or famous
For your truth it's all the same (oh no oh no) Lock your door the rain is pouring
Through your window pane (oh no)
Baby now your struggle's all in vain
For we who grew up tall and proud
In the shadow of the mushroom cloud
Convinced our voices can't be heard
We just wanna scream it louder and louder louder
What the hell we fighting for?
Just surrender and it won't hurt at all You just got time to say your prayers
While your waiting for the hammer to hammer to fall
It's gonna fall
Hammer..you know..hammer to fall
Waiting for the hammer to fall now baby While you're waiting for the hammer to fall
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