Scully was the last to arrive in Quonochontaug, on a wild blue night, in a Shelter Harbor cab with a noisy window seal and a chirping roof rack. The driver's sea-swollen hands dabbled the wheel like inflexible claws. She paid him cash at the crossroads on a head of broomy land, a lonely spot lit by a utility pole. The driver, puffing busily, embarked on the errand of twisting around to dispute the location. Having arrived in his half-revolution, he read her face by the meter's light and decided it was better not to ask.
She waited under the misty nimbus of the street light until the cab was out of sight, drawing her lungs full of the wild scents of blueberry barrens and clamming flats. As the vehicle faded, the dark below the bluffs roiled and cracked in cymbal-clashes of sea water. Distantly, harbor lights and beach houses sparkled, and the wind gusted over the headland, and the light from Point Judith came round like a heartbeat. Scully’s latent sea-widow heart thrilled to the core.
She set off down Old West Beach Road against the drag of her suitcase. The mist was salty on her lips. Strips of white sand ribboned the asphalt. In the long stretches between street lights the night was so intensely sable-black she could hardly see the yellow stripes in the center of the road. In a matter of minutes she would be in the same room with Mulder. She had traveled secretly and in the dark stretches she looked over her shoulder like a girl in a fairy tale. The houses along the road were well back in the trees, their properties appointed with boat houses and stone walls, carriage houses, wrought iron, widow's walks. She checked the numbers on a cluster of mail boxes with her penlight, a cedar tree smattering raindrops across her shoulder. The Mulder's old mailbox had a rusty metal box for the Providence Journal slung beneath it, its mouth mashed in. Across the road and down among the trees there were firefly lights in the old beach house, just visible through its overgrown yard. Notably, the last time she’d arrived here was in the company of a Providence detective and the entire Charlestown police department.
She came down through the sword ferns and crossed the deep, soggy lawn, pushing past a wet rhododendron. Drawn up at the side of the house was a hulk, the Volkswagen bus. The front porch was dark, and appeared to be piled with wicker chairs and lobster pots. As she came up the steps someone sprang up with a gasp and Scully froze, balancing on the top step. 'It's me,' she whispered. Light flashed off a pair of glasses. It was Langly, wrapped in a blanket. 'The—the sensor didn't go off,' he blurted. He clapped his hand to his headset. 'Delta, Epsilon. We have a breach. Motion in Sector two. Beta incoming.'
Scully and Langly burst through the kitchen door on a wave of wind. Her colors were turned up and she was flushed and vigorous, the forward-yearn of youth in her eyes, and she was already looking around for Mulder as Langly dropped her suitcase on the floor. Frohike put on the kibosh right there, holding up his burgundy-stained fingers. 'Whoa, guys,' he said. 'The sensor didn't go off.' Scully was trying to edge around him, looking amused.
'Well, they wired this place back in the fifties.' Langly bent over and pulled at a cable. 'Man, you always pull KP.'
'We need military omniscience,' said Frohike. ‘Make sure Scully wasn't followed.'
'I wasn't followed,' said Scully, casting hard for Mulder. In the living room, the French doors were open and a step ladder with a power cord draped over it was visible on the deck. The sea air pouring in off the Block Island Sound sucked into the room, and back out.
'He's worried about his vertical siding,' Frohike said. 'Can I talk to you for a moment, Scully?'
Dana Scully, ceding happiness with a turn of her heel, crossed into the depths of the kitchen to demonstrate her earnest attention, and settled herself against the counter near a pile of chopped cabbage. Without question, she complicated a room by entering it. If she had changed dramatically in the four or five years Frohike had known her, it was mainly the war hardening that both draws your fellows closer and exposes the perils of human love. She had come to consist of a violent concentering of plasma turbulence, magnetic resonance and Vedic tradition, all converging within her quantum device. To Frohike these weren't necessarily objectionable traits, but she was hell on his blood pressure. The soup he was tending grew more robust as she passed. Somewhere, a cloud rolled over a lonely moon.
Frohike let her sweat for a moment, polishing the hot vapor from his glasses on the tea towel apron tucked into his chopper pants. Without his glasses he surely resembled a bookish hobbit lad. He was freshly shaven and his face felt muggy and soft, with a line of clean sweat threading his eyebrows. He repositioned his glasses and studiously shook a dash of red wine vinegar into his Soviet mulligan before saying, over his shoulder, 'I wasn't sure we'd ever see you again.'
'It's been one hell of a summer.' Scully crossed one foot over the other. 'But it's not as dire as Mulder makes it all sound.'
'Scully, with respect to the situation you're in, can you justify the risk in coming up here?'
She had pulled her overcoat close by stiffening her arms, hands in the pockets. Above the sink the black window steamed and trickled below its frilled burlap pelmet. 'There's no risk,' she said. 'I took all the precautions. You think I shouldn't have come up?'
Byers' voice issued from the deck, through the doors in the living room, and Scully's Mulder-radar instantly flicked around the dial, although she did not alter her expression, or take her eyes from Frohike's. He thought he heard Mulder's mumble on the wind. Frohike shrugged unhappily. 'You know we'd do anything for you and Mulder. But I can't put Langly and Byers at risk for careless reasons.'
'I made a comment to Mulder that he may have blown out of proportion.'
'And now he tells me that you don't want an exit strategy.' In the other room came the sound of the pages of a manual flipping over as the wind caught it.
'Frohike, I do want out,' she said. 'I shall want out soon. But there's also something I need to finish, while I have the access. It's a complicated project. Surely you can understand that.'
She lowered her face and looked at him penetratingly from under her brows. He had wanted to address her alone, without Mulder's cocky possessiveness draped around her, and because when she and Mulder were together their gazes issued uniformly from a joint place of experience so unimaginably distant that they exerted an uncomfortable pressure on the object of their gaze. They were probably hellish interrogators.
'We just need to be smart about this, Scully. That's why I need that sensor working,' he said. 'It's not just some silly gadget. By the way,' he added, 'someone made quite an auspicious anonymous donation to the offices of the Lone Gunman.'
Scully hitched her shoulders. 'It's blood money,' she said disconsolately. 'Maybe now it'll do some good.'
There was a sound in the doorway. 'Scully's here!' Byers said.
Scully brought her eyes back to Frohike's. Good, we understand each other a bit better, Frohike thought. She's going to Robin Hood this bitch of a situation, and she needs us in her camp.
Mulder shot across the room in two steps, saying 'I heard we had a perimeter breach!' and she pulled her hands from her pockets, the bulletproof vest of her everyday expression vanishing, and as she looked up at Mulder, Frohike glimpsed the transmutation to her true face, as a sorceress must show her true face when reality catches her up. And all at once, as he watched them, the wild risk that surrounded them was revealed at its quickened, mystic point.
'I hope everybody loves borscht,' Frohike said, carrying in the pot of soup. His little gang made a familial group at one end of the dining room table, passing around the bread, their faces lit by emergency candles adhered to saucers. Langly was parked in an enclave of closed-circuit monitors, watching the yard, and Byers and Scully sat side by side with their cutlery laid out on paper towel napkins. Across the room a TV was on, muted, permanently tuned to the flash and flare of CNN. Frohike began to feel a bit more philosophical about their awful weekend in Rhode Island, and the nagging delay of the next issue of their paper. Their subscribers were few, and apt to be patient.
'I live for borscht,' Mulder said sarcastically but kindly, his hand on Frohike's shoulder as he leaned across the table for Scully's wine glass. He wiped it out with the hem of his t-shirt, his eyes reading hers like a man finally granted access to an important schematic. Frohike had recognized the look of a closed circuit the first time he saw them together, Mulder dropping in with Scully in tow like an apprentice to the apocalypse, advertising to her his ease with underdogs and his anti-authority leanings, and as soon as Scully spoke up that day Frohike saw that she provided the necessary resistor through which Mulder's positive voltage must pass, preventing short-circuit. The Gunmen had been patiently cultivating Mulder's alliance since 1989, for his insider dirt and his gumshoe cool, and they saw immediately that they must accept her as part of the bargain. If they valued in him his voltage, they measured her in ohms.
Byers put his hand over his own glass, smiling cheerfully down at Scully. Frohike pushed forward an empty water glass, and Mulder turned the magnum upside down so that it chugged hard, wine fanning up the sides.
Something had happened to Mulder in the last few months. Frohike had known him since he was a VICAP pup, messy of forelock, soulful of eye, caught in the paranoid pause. But now he had a settled feel. He seemed to be recovering from a delicate illness, a convalescence from which he looked out with the warmth of reprieve in his eyes. He was happy to see everyone. Amid the day's general discussion on how to extract Scully from her dangerous operation he had inserted several asides on fescue and storm windows and during a discussion of the Mermaid Problem he turned aside to check the Yellow Pages to see where he could rent a floor sander. He stood by the mailbox chatting with a neighbor lady about the Great Hurricane of '38. He took a coffee break on the deck with a current tide table, a how-to book on plumbing, and a pair of binoculars for spotting whales. It was hard to know what to think of him. The jet-propelled Mulder they knew and loved seemed to be holding down the other side of the scorched-earth Scully scale. Frohike didn't see how it could last.
'We had to bring Frohike 'cause he's the only one who can cook,' Langly said too loudly, wearing his headphones. He ate quickly, in his keep of monitors, tuned for the primitive radio gods.
Frohike gave him a modifying look, but Langly was intent on shifting a fader up the console. 'I'm a domestic god,' Frohike conceded, pulling out his chair beside Mulder. He doubted any of them had his culinary chops. FBI agents were not known for their cooking; it took a light hand, a bit of adventure in the soul, and the patience to listen to old ladies. 'So, Scully, fill us in on the Navy divers,' Frohike suggested.
'Good soup, Frohike,' Langly called, who had an hour earlier claimed he hated beets. He was wearing, aptly, his Beat Farmers t-shirt.
Scully lifted her tired face. 'It's not anything I've seen before. Six men, all with severe and mounting pressure in the auditory canal. It killed them a couple hours after resurfacing. Literally, their heads exploded.' She sipped her soup.
Byers' eyes widened. He reached down the table to pull the headphone away from Langly's ear. 'I heard that, dude,' Langly said unenthusiastically.
'What would cause something like that?' Mulder asked her. He sat across from her and had fixed all the attention of his spirit upon her, even as he appeared to busy himself with other things. There was some jostling under the table and when his foot apparently found hers in the bundle of wires she glanced up and he mouthed, 'Sorry.' Warmth filled her eyes. Mulder had jarred the table, and there were rings in the surface of Frohike's soup bowl.
'I think there's some kind of experiment going on,' Scully said. 'And I think it has something to do with this sound. They had them at Fort Marlene, Mulder.'
'The Navy uses a high-powered sonar system that may cause whales to beach,' said Byers. 'We've written several articles on the subject.'
'If it hurts whales, what would it do to humans?' Mulder asked her. 'Could you be killed by sonar?'
'It could cause massive hemorrhaging—the inner ear, the lungs. Organ rupture, seizure, death,' Scully said, tearing up a piece of hot French bread and dipping it into her carmine borscht.
'Psychotropic warfare,' said Frohike.
'Internal military intelligence documents known electromagnetic hot spots, areas on the globe where radio frequency and gravitational processes are drastically amplified,' Byers interrupted.
'Warm spots on a Landsat map,' said Frohike.
'And our coasts are monitored by a gnarly underwater antenna assembly,' Langly cut in. 'Who knows who might be tapping into it.'
'We also have a passive system deployed in key places in the ocean,' said Frohike.
'And something's using it to communicate,' Mulder said, his eyes on Scully.
Something strange happened as Frohike was eating his soup. A dollop of sour cream turned it a beautiful rose pink, and it was sweet and strong with horseradish. Borscht was peasant food, something desperate, really, that you could do with a pile of dirty beets and a bit of game. But Frohike had put all his art into it, roasting the beets, carrots and potatoes in the oven with olive oil and sea salt, sauteing the onions, braising the venison in his old Fiestaware pot. The game had been harvested from a tree stand by a Michigan cousin, gently, organically. By the bottom of the bowl he found himself profoundly relating to all these simple things which had combined into something so complexly fierce in flavor and nutrition that it was as rich as the inside of a heart, and seemed to say something about the nature of life itself, and, Frohike suspected, about himself as a parent to these people.
Mulder glanced at him. 'What do we know about the HAARP project?' he asked, one arm hooked around a finial of his chair, a dish towel across his lap. He brushed bread crumbs from the front of his sweater.
'Potentially altered weather patterns via molecular modifications of the atmosphere,' Byers said quickly.
'Another government pork project,' said Langly. 'Black project stuck on the back burner.'
'More government mind control,' Frohike added. 'In the ‘60s we tapped into the Russian undersea phone lines. Six hundred feet of water, freezing temperatures, saturation diving from a submarine. Those Navy divers had some hairy cojones.'
‘More zupa, Borschtmeister,’ called Langly, holding out his bowl.
'The Barents Sea in all weathers. They kept up that tap for almost twenty years,' said Byers.
'Yeah, and prevented World War III,' said Langly, getting up to reach for the bread.
'I saw the terrible way those men died,' Scully said. 'There's something incredibly dangerous out there.'
'Yeah, and we may be the only people who know enough to stop it,' said Mulder.
The Gunmen looked at each other.
'What did they pick up the Call of the Bloop on?' Mulder asked.
'They were using an autonomous hydrophone array.'
'They being the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,' Frohike said. 'Are you familiar with the Call of the Bloop, Scully?'
Scully sighed softly. She closed her eyes briefly. 'Ah... it was a mysterious ultra-low frequency underwater sound detected off of Chile last summer, and it had a range of three thousand miles, and could only have been produced by something many times larger than a blue whale.'
Frohike looked admiringly at Mulder, who was unable to hide his pleasure. A spruce cone popped in the fireplace. Whatever difficulties were between Mulder and Scully seemed worn away by the Friday evening exhaustion and the warm, rather comfortable room with its big fireplace and the familial group that they made together. Scully blinked thoughtfully, her head on her hand. Langly leaned closer to a monitor, headphones on, and she looked uneasily down the table at him.
'Mulder, we have the sound file if you want to hear it sometime. And the spectrograph. We also have the 'Wow Signal,' and some hydrophonics from Loch Ness,' said Byers.
'—Cosmic background noise,' Frohike added. 'Rapping ghosts...'
'The Taos Hum, the Bristol Hum, the Kokomo.'
'You've got the Sierra Bigfoot recordings?' Mulder asked them.
'What is Langly listening to?' Scully asked.
'It cost us forty bucks, but yeah,' Frohike said. 'We got the Samurai Chatter. You gotta hear it, Mulder.'
'I can't wait,' Mulder said.
'Langly,' Scully said.
Langly slapped one of the monitors. ‘Ugly monster raccoon putty tat! Get back to your old lady!’ Frohike got up and went around the table. The neighbor's cat loomed up in a yard monitor.
'Mulder have you watched the footage of the Varginha Incident from Brazil? Major UFO crash?' Frohike asked, as he hovered over Langly's shoulder.
'No, but I watched the Star Wars Holiday Special,' Mulder said distractedly. 'What is it, Scully?'
'Langly!' Scully said.
'I'm gonna kick his furry ass!' Langly pulled at his headphones. 'Yeah?'
'If you pick up the signal, will you be able to hear it on those headphones?'
'Well, that was kind of the idea.'
'Don't.' Scully stood up. 'Take 'em off.'
There was a silence. Langly looked worriedly up at Frohike for instruction. 'What is it, Scully?' Frohike asked.
'I think the sound itself may be dangerous.'
'You think it causes an infection?'
'I think it will make your head explode,' Scully said flatly. 'Believe, me, I've seen the effects.'
Langly gingerly unplugged his headphones and took them off, looking wan. He set them on the table and got to his feet.
'You haven't heard anything, have you Langly?' she asked him.
'What if it wasn't a frequency he could hear?' Mulder said. 'How do you know he's not already infected?'
Langly looked nervously from one to the other.
'Because it's not infectious!' Scully snapped. 'It's a—a—pressure, a cranial tumefaction! Its indicators are terrible pain!'
'You're not feeling any pain, are you, Langly?' Mulder asked. Langly shook his head, uncertain. He held his glasses on his face, as if they were about to fly off. There was a tremor in his chin. Frohike patted him. 'Well, there you have it,' said Mulder.
'You'll be fine, Langly,' Scully said, taking pity on him.
'What about me—I was listening for awhile,' Byers said.
'You're okay, buddy,' Frohike said, patting Byers. 'Scully's just taking precautionary measures, right Scully?'
'Exactly,' said Scully. 'We just have to use common sense here.'
Dinner had devolved. Despite their best efforts, the property was not really secure. He sent Byers to get a little shut-eye while he could, although he knew Byers—the wheels would be turning for a while, and he would spend his free time reading. There was no way Byers would sleep. Mulder, a crust of French bread sticking out of his mouth, began to pick through the clutter on the table and Scully, in a show of diminishing the situation, stacked a couple of bowls. Langly went out to patrol the grounds for cats. Frohike started a sinkful of hot water and came out of the kitchen to find Mulder and Scully on the couch near the fireplace, where driftwood burned with a salty blue flicker. Mulder was talking about something and beyond him, part of Scully’s face was visible, blinking languidly as she faded.
'You're losing your audience there,' said Frohike, putting out the candles.
Mulder looked down at her with the expression of someone discovering a fawn in the grass. He got to his feet and held out his hand. She looked up into his face and let him pull her up. 'How about a hot bath, and then bed?' he asked.
Scully stood with her head drooping. 'I shouldn't have come, Mulder,' she said sadly.
'Oh, now,' he said, rubbing her back and smiling at Frohike.
'These guys have done so much for us. How can I put them at risk?'
'You're just tired, you're falling apart,' he said. 'It wouldn't be the same without you. You're the Lone Gun Girl.' He held her steady. 'I'm so happy you're here,' he said. 'Right, Frohike?'
'He's talked of nothing else,' said Frohike. 'Besides, Scully, you saved Langly's life and you ate my borscht. That kind of generosity doesn’t go unnoticed.'
Mulder herded her down the hall to her room. Frohike saw that, despite their planning and effort, the place was a disaster, strewn with the accouterments of nerddom. Still, Scully had her own room, and, more to the point, her own bathroom. The guys were sharing a bathroom covered in beard stubble and magazines and sandy floor towels. Langly and Byers slept in the loft, and Mulder had the living room couch. Scully's shady presence had torqued their paranoia and they felt it necessary to post a sentry through the night. Frohike would take the first watch, Mulder the midnight one, Byers would do the small hours, and Langly would be on from four to six, when it was time to make coffee. Scully would sleep through it all, unaware. She was secondary to Mulder, but she provided the means to demonstrate this, romanticizing the emprise of all their endeavors. She bore their standard. They’d always had direction, but Mulder and Scully had brought them into the fray on a personal level. Frohike and his boys did the difficult work, the thankless, rough and uncomfortable stuff. They were the pace car, the pit crew, the comitatus. They would watch through the night, and at dawn Frohike would arise to find the beginnings of a flawless day, the tide out, and Langly, eyes closed at his computer, peacefully whispering a techno-doxology.
Scully awoke in a house. There was no sense of the constraining webbing comprising an apartment building, down which other sticky-footed occupants sent their tremors, nor a motel room’s cardboard facsimile of life; but the solidity of a real house with the wind wrapped around it and the primordial ripple of tar paper somewhere above. A raven rattled: drumsticks on a bamboo wind chime. The house had belonged to no one but a complicated bunch of Mulders, and it still felt like them; their stuff was everywhere, as if it were yet the Seventies and they were expected back at any moment.
She felt just slightly intrusive, and just slightly insinuated in among them. Mulder's parents were very different people from her own parents. She knew the little girl by her milk-carton smile and the eternal heartbreak of her brother; she knew the father by the solemn bitterness of his funeral, where she had stood in for Mulder, and the number of chauffeured cars and underworld touch-me-not suits who showed up; and she knew his unreconciled mother from various tense encounters. In the context of Quonochontaug she felt the Mulders drawing together in the defensive privacy of family, but happy enough, in their summerhouse, in the everyday cacophony that elides the bigger, darker picture; the kids on the beach and sandy dogs running in and out and people dropping by for cocktails. Ashtrays and frisbees on the picnic table. 'Bolero' on the record player. What a day for the blessing of the fleet! Flirtations as thick in the air as radiation, random and toxic. Getting dinner going when you’re a couple of sheets to the wind.
The room in which Scully lay was beadboard painted white, with a row of paperbacks so commonplace that they gave no clue to her location, but might have been on the shelf in any cabin or guest accommodation in the country - Elegant's Dynasty; John Jakes; Clavell's Shōgun; A Sand County Almanac; and that eternal sun-scorched orange of The Thorn Birds, which she and her sister had secretly read as teenagers.
She stretched out in the middle of the big bed, getting a feel for the day, and lay, arms above her head, looking up at a window which showed the underside of an eave and a scalene wedge of misty blue sky. A rustling seagull passed over, with its throat-horn yarp. From the kitchen, a joyful, breakfasty crash that gave her a leap of excitement. The nearness of the glittering, windy beach overrode any calm or narrow thought.
The living room was empty when Scully appeared, barefoot, in a t-shirt and jeans. A sweet blue stratum of bacon smoke lay in the air like ectoplasm. In the kitchen she poured herself some coffee and snagged, from the middle of the stack, a flannel-soft blueberry pancake. The French doors were open wide to the Sound. Mulder was reading the paper on the deck.
Scully settled down across from him, her sleep-relaxed back melding with the warm slats of the Adirondack chair. The breeze was both cold and hot, like the edge of a prism. Mulder gave her a soundless, affirming hello-blink. Before him on the lawn, standing on one foot, was a gull, head turned self-consciously and pointedly away. Scully set the roasty coffee to the repair of her soul, her head as airy as a sun-shaft.
She watched the ocean rolling in beyond the edge of the bluff, her mouth full of flapjack, and resigned herself to leaving, despite the exultant promise of the day. Frohike's concerns were valid. She wouldn't have been herself, though, if she hadn't wavered at the thrill and promise of a day at the beach. And not just any beach: this long wild scallop of sand and ledgerock and creeks and cliffs which wandered westward to the salt lagoon of Quonochontaug Pond. She would like to walk barefoot at the edge of the cold foaming salt-sea, and have her heart tighten as she was overtaken by a fast fierce roller, that seventh wave that always gets you. She would like, before she went back to the city and the morgue basement and the disgusting oppressive pungence of the Smoking Man, to sit down on the lovely beach and work her feet and her fingers into sand, through the hot and down into the cold, and not think about anything but the scattering of light that makes a sky so blue. She would like, for even a second, to feel happy and not fear an equivalent repercussion. And, most of all, she would like to walk down to the the breachway with Mulder, and there in the dunes and beach grass around the lagoon find some wild, sheltered spot, and lie under the wind together and look in each other's eyes, without time constraint, without agenda, to repair what was between them, a singular product specific to them alone; which had formed, or evolved, or, yes, mutated out of their job together and become something delicate and fine that they were responsible for and must honor. She was dying to honor it.
Mulder folded up his paper and weighted it with a pair of binoculars and sat pensively patting the arms of his chair. There was a walkie-talkie beside him. It was so heavenly to be alone with him that Scully dropped her head back, eyes closed. When they at last sighed and turned to each other, the wild bone that formed his brow and concentered his eye shaded it ocean-green with intent. 'I don't remember a word I just read,' he confessed shyly.
'I can't think straight, either,' Scully admitted.
'This morning, I was standing here, and without thinking I started making this big throwing gesture. I'd forgotten that's how you call in the seagulls for food, but my arm remembered it.'
'It must be a body memory,' Scully said, '...a procedural memory probably induced by your return to this location.'
'You think you forget things, but you don't,' Mulder said, looking into his cold coffee cup.
'I almost forgot that my favorite thing is sea storms,' said Scully, sipping her coffee. 'Nobody on the beach, the surf booming and the sand stinging your legs. Birds hurling by inside out.'
'Really?' Mulder looked at her cautiously. 'Cause I think it would be fun, if the house was cozy.' He looked away, and lifted the binoculars to check for whales. ‘All we need is cladding. You know, some kind of weatherization that completely seals the north side.'
Scully studied him. 'Are you actually thinking of moving up here? Quitting the FBI?'
'I have the title to the house,' said Mulder. 'It's mine. The estate pays the property taxes. What did you say agent burnout is? Four or five years?'
'People like you don't burn out,' said Scully. 'You're a professional—or unprofessional—force of nature.'
Mulder shrugged nervously, because Langly had appeared at the top of the beach steps, displacing the seagull. He paused to send some kind of semaphore signal to the others on the beach below, then bounced briskly across the yard, his windbreaker puffed with air and his golden rock star hair afloat. He came up the steps between them, banging sand from the toes of his hightops. ‘Mermaid money,' he said, leaving a sand dollar on the arm of Scully's chair. As he went inside, she saw that Mulder was watching her, his focus undiverted, as if he’d asked her a serious question she’d missed.
'It's the middle of nowhere,' she said, startled, beginning to understand what he was actually suggesting.
He nodded as though he'd expected this. 'Providence is less than an hour,' he said. 'Hartford's not much more.'
'...And we'd need cladding,' Scully said, whatever cladding was.
There was a shout, and Mulder, abashed and pleased, turned to watch Frohike emerge slowly at the top of the cliff steps and pause for breath on the edge of the lawn, holding a piece of driftwood. He waved at someone on the beach. 'Bring firewood, Byers!' he shouted. He had a long-lensed, tricky-looking camera around his neck. He settled his pork pie hat on his head and wheeled and came across the yard and up the steps between them with his stick over his shoulder like a Welsh sheep farmer. He touched the brim of his hat at Scully, and, reading the look on Mulder's face, scowled and went inside and closed the French doors.
'We could live here?' Scully asked.
'They say it’s the time of your life in Little Rhodie,’ said Mulder shyly.
Scully put her hand around her knee and looked out to sea.
She was conscious of her self—her soul—lying flat as a plate within her. She saw the house from above, a retiring brown house slouched in its hollow of rhododendrons and hemlock. It rode a great end moraine that comprised the hills behind them and the edge of the coast and ran down under the ocean and protruded far out in the chop as Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, as Block Island, so that they might sit here, she thought, all of a piece with Chilmark, on the Vineyard.
She felt a strong desire to call her sister and closed her eyes reflexively as the grief came whispering up, its fist drawn back, and punched her in the stomach. To validate news like this, it should be hissed fiercely into a phone, as if it were an insult: 'I think he's asking me what I think he's asking me!’
Byers appeared at the top of the cliff stairs, grinning, his trousers rolled up to the knee, suit jacket over his shoulder. 'What a morning!' he called, hailing them with a wave.
The French doors opened behind them, and Scully could hear the Traveling Wilburys in the kitchen. 'Byers, get in here!' Frohike snapped.
The doors closed firmly behind Byers. Mulder lay back in his chair, his eyes on hers: Mulder of the close morning shave and the most beautiful feet she'd ever seen on a man; Mulder, who, during their first rough separation, had sent her bodies, like giant wormy valentines, and found reasons to drop by her office at Quantico; Mulder who had flattered her wistful, crushy hopes that he could no longer work a case without her. Certainly it cropped out as a bond surpassing a romantic relationship. It was a relationship that could share a house and respect the diversity of work and interests therein. It was a house where erstwhile workaholics might flourish in parallel, with nary a lonely night. It was a parallel sempiternal.
The weekend's motif was struck as the Lone Gunmen disembarked from their floating mobile unit and stood stretching in the driveway on a white afternoon, and Frohike, popping up like a demon at a ford, obstructed all, producing from the pocket of his biker vest a cassette tape which he rattled between two fingers until everyone threading around him with armloads of equipment had agreed that the Traveling Wilburys were the best thing ever. By the time Scully arrived on Friday night they were past playing Volume I out of the first energetic joy and were well into a resigned period of superstition. Everything was going right and their security system was in place. Scully arrived safely. The Wilburys had no regrets about anything. By that point, it would have been madness to switch to anything else.
Mulder, attempting to explain this to Scully, did not try long. 'It's a council of war, not a road trip,' she said. Despite her arbitrary career path, he was never sure if she truly saw the strange serendipity of life. For, with absurdist glee, the Wilburys dictated or punctuated the course of events. Mulder and the guys were all out in the yard on Saturday evening as Scully threw open the French doors and splashed upon the scene, and ‘Last Night’ came on, drumsticks skiffled, and everything went in time, nothing contrapuntal, even the windy give in the great arthritic coastal spruce robbing time. Scully moved in slow motion with her chin up and the wind perfecting her hair; she was ostentatious about her dignity but not about her looks, and clearly lost in a sky-held thought. 'She was the queen of them all,' observed the Wilburys. Yes, Mulder believed but did not quite know how to explain that, like a fundamental particle, a solar wind of fortuity washed the world, and was maybe identifiable as the actual essence of life itself.
Something had happened to Scully. At first, she planned to leave after breakfast, although they all argued against it. Breakfast was long over, but she was in the kitchen drinking more coffee, and, while the rest of them were busy, Langly the jester applied himself to amusing her. When Mulder glanced in, Scully had a mouthful of pancake and was trying not to laugh, an effervescence in her eyes, and Langly was leaning against the stove with one high-top stacked on top of the other, telling her a story about a summer he spent working for a moving company. Scully seemed to be in a sort of delirium, but she had lined up a ride to the airport (Mulder’s car, with Byers driving). Then she called the airline, and while she was on the phone Byers and Langly passed through, grabbing their cold drinks; they were dressed in their trunks, with towels around their necks, and carried frisbees and flippers and kites, and were scented with coconut sunblock. Then Mulder, just out of the shower, swanned into the kitchen in shorts and a t-shirt, his wet hair standing on end, a Smithsonian under his arm, a beach towel around his neck. Mulder did not know how to vacation but he knew how to entrap. He halved some limes and gave a bottle of tequila an authoritative twist, his brows raised innocently. He dashed margarita mix into the blender. The Traveling Wilburys had his back, and with their impish old-guy luck hustled straight into the boisterous petition of 'Margarita.’ Mulder gave Scully a casual smile, motiveless as one offered up in their office when they’d both looked up at the tap of rain on the skylight. She had not exactly agreed to live with him but neither had she kiboshed the concept, and there was an enlivened jiggle in her foot as she sat on the kitchen chair, the phone on her shoulder, her eyes containing a stunned look as if he'd told her she could open a door and step out into the universe, a fact so startling that it must be absorbed in starts and stops.
Hold music trickled from the phone. He cracked a tray of ice cubes on the sink. 'She wrote a long letter/On a short piece of paper' observed the Wilburys. Mulder’s fingers were wet with lime juice, and he’d dabbled them in the magical helix of salt and sugar. He wanted to put them in her mouth. It was not something he’d thought of doing before, and the strength of the desire startled him. She looked up at him with addled excitement concealed in a quick blink, and the jiggling foot kicked sharply, dispensing undirected energy. The situation had charmed him until that moment, when it felt uncontrollable, like the time he and Scully were with the logging saboteurs who drove over their own tire spikes.
Throughout that extraordinary Saturday, he thought about the Narragansetts navigating the wild seas in dugout canoes. He thought about a laurel hedge his mother had planted long ago, which had turned the side yard into a tangled haven for grosbeaks. He imagined the intense flamboyance of the tree corridors in the fall, through which he might drive to a job at, say, Brown University, teaching something like advanced criminology; and he thought about the artfully cluttered little office high in the psych building that might be his if he taught at such a university, and the way students would drop in to discuss Lovecraft or Ed Gein; brutalist architecture; the Patriots. He thought about the inevitable day he would be called out of FBI retirement because an isolated science team was in a cryptic bind, bodies piling up and the clock running down. He thought about the group of anthropologists at Idaho State University who were closet Bigfoot hunters. He thought about the UFOlogy gang at Boston University. He thought about the team of Chinese scientist Yeti-hunters he'd been corresponding with for years. He thought of the carapace of a horseshoe crab he'd taken from a dog's soft mouth on the beach during his morning run, while the owner called her thanks. He remembered a beloved dog he and Samantha had watched die of salmon poisoning. He wondered how they got the rubber band on a lobster's claw. He wondered how hard it would be to convert the old boat house into a carport. He wondered how rough it would be to spend a maritime winter in this summer house. He thought about anything and everything to keep from thinking about the admittedly wishfully faint chance that a medical doctor and former FBI agent, his inamorata, his female ideal, might consider moving in with him. He could not allow himself to think about what it would mean if she did. In a history of exercises in extremity it was metempsychosis, a possibility almost unendurably extreme.
And then, because he had already gone too far, he thought of coming home to someone at night, instead of going to work to see them. He thought of reading the paper on the deck with a cup of coffee, and he thought of not being alone in doing so. He thought of walking on the beach in the dark, the last hot streaks in the sky over Long Island, Quonnie Pond's breachway sloshing along the riprap, Scully arguing some point beside him, their fingers knit. He thought of getting a tandem sea kayak and going up the estuaries, sticking a paddle in the mud to glide close to a fishing heron, how he'd complain about doing all the work, and the fine, familiar way the kayak would shoot straight as they dug in their paddles on opposite sides.
In the evening, as he hurried down the cliff steps with a half-rack of Narragansett lager nestled in his arm, Mulder was pulled by an old, old joy—the giddy sense of hurry brought up by the sight of his family spread out along the beach in their various pursuits. He had a new family now, but he missed the old family. Being in Quonochontaug formed a sort of conversation with them.
The sky had a tall opal clarity. Down on the silvery flats Scully walked the edge of the ocean, rollers sliding toward her in foamy necklaces, Langly and Byers twenty yards behind like Secret Service agents.
Frohike was unpacking a cooler beneath the cliff, in a small cove of ledgerock. A fresh pink fire lay flat in the wind and snapped like a banner. Mulder wedged the beer carton in the sand and opened the flap as though arming a foot trap, trading a grim look with Frohike. They had calculated various ways to lessen the sting of their proposal and loosen Scully up; beer was probably the worst, but they were short on time and resources.
‘Have you asked her?’ Frohike screwed his opened can of beer into the sand and wiped his fingers on his henley shirt. Scully and Byers and Langly were coming up the beach.
Mulder had not asked her. He just wanted her to have a vacation, one day of relaxation, but he’d been arguing that point all afternoon. ‘Tonight,’ he promised Frohike. Scully came up breathlessly and stepped around the rippling fire wearing a mackinaw she’d found somewhere, its sleeves falling over her hands. ‘What are we doing tonight?’ she asked.
'Ruining your perfect day,' Mulder said, holding out a stack of paper plates.
'Well, it won't be the first time,' she said. She took a plate and got in the chow line. She turned and shifted her eyes over him and then turned her back and Mulder saw her shoulders hitch slightly as she sighed, and she looked out to sea, letting herself go somewhere distant. Byers was ahead of her, and he turned around and raised his eyebrows at her and smirked in a kindly way through his clipped beard.
‘Keep the line moving, Byers,’ Frohike barked.
Scully whipped around and faced Mulder.
Mulder put his hand sheepishly on the back of his neck. Scully lifted her own hand and touched the salty ruffle at the back of her head. 'You want to see if it's functioning as a transponder,’ she stated, and Mulder nodded.
In his distraction Frohike had dropped his junk food embargo. Langly and Mulder had made the supermarket run, and the picnic consisted of potato salad, lobster tails, buffalo wings, marshmallows, and beer. Scully turned around and Frohike glomped a spoonful of potato salad onto her plate, which half-buckled.
'You don't seem surprised,' Frohike said to her.
'Rationally, I had to expect it,' she said, in her prosaic way.
They stood around the fire with their plates, picnicking despite the foul weather and the growing darkness; hunching their shoulders and attempting to thrive in the cold wind. Mulder remembered doing some maneuvering to catch her alone in her hospital room outside of visiting hours and offer a private, impassioned bid for the implantation of the device. He recalled the painful debate with her resistant family, and his panicky need to save her, and the anxious hours before he could get the chip surgically implanted in her neck, like buckshot under the skin of a warm dead quail.
Stars showed in a cloud break to the east. 'It can't be easy to live with, Scully,' Byers observed, taking the box of hot wings from Mulder.
Scully looked down into the roasting snap of the fire, sparks shooting out along the wind currents. 'The options are, cut it out and die, or be enslaved. But I must get on with my life, so I can't care too much about it. Agent Pendrell said something to me once—' She lifted her firelit face and felt through the transparency between her mind and Mulder’s, glancing into his eyes. 'He said that something like this could directly interface with the cerebral cortex. Am I 'more machine than man'? I find that I must think of it as wearing a second conscience.' Clouds were boiling rapidly overhead, and she tossed her plate in the fire.
She did not seem to expect a response, and drew a lone preparatory breath and chugged lager from the can in a memorable swirl of silver and that raging rutilant hair, the only visibly indecorous element of her being. Mulder felt the awe moving in a ripple around the fire, at imposture beyond the ordinary and the sci-fi transfixion of her slightly mechanized being. She was a science experiment, an advance scouting party. Science functioned purely on truth, but somehow she no longer functioned purely on science. She'd grown more complex, like a cell dividing.
Langly was the only one sitting down, tilted like a test pilot in a folding chair, ankle crossed on his knee. 'It sounds like that one thing that synthesizes all the crazy pathos of your life, like when Nietzsche hugged the horse,' he offered, his nasally whine announcing his misery and his hatred of the elements. The firelight lay flat orange on his Clark Kent glasses.
'You’re exactly right,' Mulder said to him.
Frohike looked around the circle. ‘Instant karma,' he said. 'A sign from the cosmos.’
Scully paused in her hammering of the beer, eructating nonchalantly as a girl raised among brothers, and looked slightly charmed. 'On my first case with Mulder our motel burned to the ground,' she said. 'I probably should have taken that as a sign.'
They struggled together through the deep sand and up the dark cliff stairs, lugging the cooler and toasting forks and beer carton. Langly wore the aluminum frame of the folding chair like a squeaking shield. Frohike’s headlamp wavered wildly. Mulder carried a paper grocery bag with the damp bottom rotting out of it. He did not feel drunk, but he felt hot inside, and he was trying not to rush Scully as she went up the stairs with a blanket over her arm, the wind pushing her sideways. The stairway seemed congested with slow people and an empty beer can sprang from somewhere and resonated junkily down the cliff. Langly called out a complaint. It seemed to Mulder that he had been working his way at a slow trudge through a restrictive churning wormhole for nearly forty years, with an eon yet ahead of him.
In the house they turned on all the lamps and set up for the test. It was a relief to block out the weather and move across flat surfaces, feel the muffled peace inside a house. Mulder knelt and mended the fire and the fireplace became the kindled heart of the house. Scully was close at hand in a kitchen chair, her coat tossed aside. 'Give me one good reason they'd want to track me,’ she said.
'You have a history of mission creep,' Frohike said, coming out of the kitchen with a square bottle of whiskey. He held it up, raising his eyebrows; she shook her head. An unplugged cable rattled across the wooden floor, and there were a few accusing glances.
Frohike's bluntness regarding the subversion of her original assignment surprised Mulder, but it was true. He'd waited for weeks after they informed him he'd been assigned a partner, irritated because she would change the dynamic of his ordered mess. Truthfully, though, he missed working with Reggie and knew that he operated better when stimulated by another mind. A clasp envelope had arrived from her, with a Marine Corps meter strip and his oddball name written experimentally in her girl's handwriting, and her Quantico office listed as her return address, and inside, the preemptive strike of her graduate thesis, a dirty bomb of an opening salvo, accompanied by a terse note, all of it standoffish but the whole gesture, of course, a reaching out. And every moment of their subsequent time together constituted a reaching out and a holding back, and every sentence they spoke contained the subject and assertion of a thesis.
Mulder got up from the hearth, and at this signal they began to close in on her. He touched her coat hanger shoulder, but the Gunmen balked at the magic ring of cussedness that surrounded Scully. She had gone very still and was looking across the room at the wall that still exhibited the bullet holes. Riddled was the word, Mulder thought, as though six rounds formed a conundrum. Six rounds because he didn’t feel safe until he'd emptied the clip. She had saved his life, as she did. He scooped his hand under her crushy soft hair and she dropped her head forward, exposing the back of her neck. 'I feel like we should read you your rights,' he muttered.
Byers shuffled forward with the scanner. 'If there's an integrated circuit device it may be too complex to indicate a simple ID number,' he said. 'It looks encrypted.' As he brought the scanner up and it made its first bleep, they realized that her cross and chain posed a problem, and Mulder unfastened it and dropped it into her waiting hand. Scully did not look up, but poured the chain from hand to hand. Mulder held the back of her head.
'The animal chips have to be scanned to read the ID number.'
The receiver found the signal and beeped before Langly toggled it.
'It's a global positioning chip.'
'Yeah, but it has to be activated to emit a signal.'
Mulder looked up. 'Is this one activated?'
'I think we've got an ID,' Frohike said, looking over Byer's arm. 'It's emitting a signal.'
There was a long silence. Mulder was tuned in to the stillness of Scully under his hands, reminding himself to draw breath.
'In theory, a GPS-enabled chip will be widely used within the next twenty years,' Byers whispered desperately.
'LoJack for humans,' said Langly.
'It may also be able to indicate blood pressure and pulse, hormonal and blood oxygen levels.'
'It's possible the device is powered electromechanically by muscle movement.'
'But an MRI might cause trauma to the chip,' said Frohike.
Byers shut off the device. Mulder reached down and nipped the fine gold chain from her palm, and she held her hair off her neck as he refastened it.
Frohike straddled a chair at the end of the table and poured a couple of shots in juice tumblers and Scully loosed her hand-held pony tail and turned his way as if they were in the middle of a conversation. 'Kid, it's never as bad as it seems,' Frohike said to her as they tapped their glasses together. She huffed out her breath, tossed her head and sank the shot, shuddering.
She found Mulder on the couch. She sank down against him and they looked each other over. The Traveling Wilburys started back up, like life resuming. 'Are you drunk?' he asked her curiously.
'I was until about five minutes ago,' she said. She gave him a mischievous glance and took his hand, even though they were surrounded by Lone Gunmen and spy cameras. The guys looked at Frohike for guidance, and Frohike saluted Mulder and went to put the bottle away in the kitchen.
'Mulder, regarding your suggestion, you know I don't have to think it over,' she said, low, her eyes going back and forth between his, 'but I'm trying to make a show of it.'
He said something, but it registered as a meaningless sound. Her eyes had that saintly flatness.
'You have some of my books,' he said finally.
'I'll bring them,' she said. She looked at him with a newly specific interest, her eyes wandering over his face.
'Thanks for even considering it, Scully.'
'I did not,' said Scully, with a hitched sigh, 'consider long. Although my trepidations are many, of course.'
He nodded his understanding. His thumb caressed the back of her hand. 'What does this all mean to you?' he asked her.
'I asked Dr. Zuckerman if he'd ever witnessed a miracle, and he said he might have, but he was afraid to call them that. I'm pretty sure he added me to his list.'
'Well, you are a miracle,' said Mulder, squeezing her hand.
Scully lay back a little drunkenly, and he nuzzled the side of her head. Her hair smelled like grass hay and her breath like Jack Daniels. 'We all are,' she said. 'Look at us...' She was looking at Byers, who was leaning over Langly's chair, reading something on the monitor. The Wilburys had scratched around in their repertoire, and, smacking the dust off the theory that unlike things complement each other in weird ways, had settled, for once, into gentleness: Harrison's Liverpudlian richness, as familiar as home, segueing into Orbison's dark Texan angel's voice, and both drawn up in the roughshod anodyne of Dylan and Petty, somehow describing everything they'd all endured to get to this point:
Been stuck in airports, terrorized
Sent to meetings, hypnotized
Handle me with care