Brides of Arachnia
Walter Skinner was ready to go home. His quarry was penned in an isolated house with no escape. The local sheriff was the brother-in-law of the suspect. The entire county considered the FBI agents to be intruders harassing a good man being falsely accused. In the good man's barn they had found the graves of eleven teenagers missing from other states, all with the good man's bodily fluids on their clothing. The sheriff said the FBI had planted them. On top of which Scully and Fowley were taking more shots at each other than at the kidnapper. He'd left the older woman at the roadblock where the highway crossed the dam, ostensibly as liason with the locals. She probably needed to call her other employers. She certainly needed to stay out of Skinner's sight, or she might wind up in a shallow grave of her own.
Scully he couldn't stay mad at. Certainly her behavior merited censure. Equally certainly he'd never deliver it. Scully had been through too much. He just wished she'd be more objective about Diana. Not that he could have been objective, if his late wife had been in an asylum and Diana had been her lover. Not that he was exceptionally objective about Diana himself. The woman was not just a Consortium operative. Fowley had an agenda of her own, and Skinner wasn't sure what it embraced.
He was sure, though, that Wayne Kenneth McGuire was in the house below him with a family from Farmington who had been moving to Tuscaloosa, where the wife had found work. He was sure that McGuire had an automatic rifle that had been stolen from county evidence storage. Well, he wasn't totally convinced about the stolen part.
Scully touched his arm. Down below the garage door was opening.
They followed Wayne McGuire at a discreet distance. He held the youngest Harrison girl in his lap with a pistol against her blond curls while her mother sobbed and drove. Skinner whispered into his cell phone. Where was the father?
They found out all too soon. He came running down the rutted road from the house, far faster than the car could manage the switchbacks. He had a shotgun. Blindly, or perhaps not, he fired. The car swerved madly.
"Stop it!" Scully screamed. "Your children are in that car!"
He fired again, and the back window exploded. The car made it around the last switchback and plunged down the steep road, not toward the roadblock, but directly at the precipice that overhung the stream below the dam.
Fowley might be a bitch, but she wasn't an idiot. She opened the door of the lead car in the roadblock, then got in. Must have been a five speed. When it began to roll, she climbed back out and slammed the door. The two vehicles reached the guardrail at the same time and crunched together, killing each other's momentum. The bright yellow rail crumpled under them, but both stopped, teetering on the edge.
The locals must have been in shock. They just stood while Skinner and Scully walked the handcuffed Michael Harrison down to the cars. His wife had been hit by the shotgun blast. Scully shook her head. Massive head trauma. The good man who had started all this had hit the windshield. His neck bent in a very strange way, and he wasn't moving. The gun in his hand had gone off. The little girl wasn't moving, either. Only the two boys in the back seat were crying. A young deputy opened the door and lifted them out. Their father snorted and looked away from them.
"She was messin' with that fool," he told Skinner. "Right there with the kids in the house. They tied me up and locked the kids in the one bedroom and she went with him."
"She was probably trying to save all your lives," Scully said.
"She ain't had no respect for me, not since she's been working and I ain't. A woman's supposed to respect her man."
Skinner delivered his prisoner to the sheriff and looked around. Scully was looking at the bodies and taking notes. Diana... Diana was nowhere to be seen.
"Agent Fowley?" No answer. Scully looked at him and shrugged. He caught the sheriff's eye. "What happened to my other agent?"
"The one that was trying to be a hero? You tell me. Ain't a whole lot of places she could have gone."
That was true. A sick feeling grew just under Skinner's diaphragm. He made himself pace calmly to the edge of the precipice. Then he took off his suit coat and laid it aside.
"I could use some help down here, people!"
Diana Fowley was hanging beneath the police car she'd started on its downhill roll, dangling in a supremely undignified position from her suit jacket, which was caught in the car door. Every time she moved the car teetered a little further over the edge.
Scully and the deputy parked the sheriff's car behind a forked tree, ran the cable from its winch through the fork and attached the business end to the car.
"Okay, it's safe!" Scully called.
"Sez you," Skinner muttered. His own safety line ran only to another police car, and the one on the brink still teetered madly if he touched it. He slid past the overhang and felt his way along to the woman. "Agent Fowley, how did you manage to get yourself into this position?"
There was no anwer, although Skinner could hear her sobbing. He snaked one long arm out and caught her by the waist.
"Okay, I've got you. Come on, just slip out of the jacket. Come on, I won't let you fall." She freed one arm, and screamed as her weight tore the other one out of its sleeve and she fell against Skinner. "There, now. That's better. Are you okay?"
"Talk to me, Agent. Can you hang on while I pull us back up?"
Her head shook.
"Arm won't work."
"Okay. Uh, no problem, we'll just, uh..."
The deputy's face appeared at the edge.
"You two all right down there?"
"She's injured. Can you drop me another line?"
Should have had it in the first place. He wasn't thinking straight. These women did that to him. He'd never have thought he'd see the day when he missed Fox Mulder.
Skinner must have heard them come in. The connecting door to his room open, and he smiled at Scully. Then he saw her companion.
"Agent Fowley? Why aren't you in the hospital?"
"They gave her some good painkillers," Scully told him, sitting the other woman down on the bed. "She has the expected abrasions and such from being dragged beside the car and some nasty bruises from the railing. Apparently her left shoulder was dislocated for a while, but it seems to have reseated itself." She stopped when Skinner turned a little green. Remembering the scream that had risen over the cliff, she could guess when the shoulder had popped back in. "Right now she just needs a lot of sleep."
"Shouldn't she be under observation?"
"I'm going to stay with her tonight."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, sir. I'll take care of her."
"Okay. Agent Fowley, you go to bed and stay there, you hear?"
Skinner looked at Scully. A shower wouldn't do the woman any harm. She nodded her approval.
"All right, but bed after that, okay? And you do what Scully tells you. Tonight she's your doctor. All right?"
Fowley nodded. Skinner looked at Scully.
"Will you be all right?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," she answered. "I'm fine."
Scully might have been fine, but she couldn't sleep. She laid in bed for an hour counting the dimples in the motel ceiling, and then got up and watched television with the sound turned down so as not to disturb her companion. She was going to do this. Fowley might be a Consortium drone who had most likely helped Mulder into the psychiatric ward, but she was FBI. To outsiders, the FBI had to be undivided. Diana was one of their own, and Scully would take care of her.
Scully would have liked to take care of her. Just after Mulder's breakdown she'd gone to his apartment to feed the fish and found a trail of the other woman's clothing from the kitchen to the bedroom. On top of which, the fish were dead. Probably died of shock.
That particular train of thought was not going to help Scully's insomnia. Her partner... Mulder was probably going to spend the rest of his life in benign confinement, sobbing Scully's name. She squelched that thought, too. It was time to get over Mulder. It was time to get over hating her new partner for doing what Scully had never had the courage to do. She wiped away the tears and tiptoed over to the bed. Still asleep. It would be so easy to press a pillow to her face....
Scully whirled away. She had never considered murdering anyone before. Not even Krycek--she'd shot Mulder to stop him hurting Alex Murderous Krycek! Diana hadn't done anything. Yes, she had. But she hadn't done anything to deserve to die. Scully forced her attention back to the TV. Star Trek. Kate Mulgrew was strutting around in her Spider Queen costume. Scully loved this episode. Pure camp from start to finish. 'Destructo Ray,' indeed! A little volume surely wouldn't bother Fowley. Scully settled into a comfortable chair to watch. Of course, now that she wanted to stay awake, she found herself nodding off. Each time she brought her attention back to Janeway vamping Chaotica. She knew this one almost by heart.
Or she thought she did. Scully must have missed this scene the first time around. Janeway alone in the dark throne room, in costume... no, in another costume, all sleek deadly glamour, with black leather gloves to her elbows. Her hair was light, but slicked back out of the way. This had definately not been part of the show. Scully hadn't had this impression of intense cold. The floor hadn't been so chill under her feet.
Scully's feet were touching the throne room floor.
Scully was in the throne room.
"Computer, begin simulation."
A scream rent the air. Constance Goodheart. Hadn't that bimbo died early on? Apparently she didn't get dead enough. God, she was loud. Of course, if Scully had been strapped to the cold steel frame of the Cradle of... Pain? No, Persuasion. The Cradle of Persuasion. If Scully had been strapped to that thing, she'd have been making noise, too. Janeway--no, Arachnia crossed the polished marble floor and inspected the restraints.
"Scream if you like, my dear," she told Constance. "It won't do you any good, but it does wonders for me. I could tell you this isn't going to hurt, but we both know better than that." She caught one of Constance's pinkies between thumb and forefinger and twisted. "Don't we?"
Constance howled. When the noise tapered into sobs, Arachnia reached to the tray beside her and took up a suspicious instrument.
Scully stepped back and banged into something. A tube. A glass tube frosted with condensation. Scully was in a tube. Across the room Arachnia turned toward her.
"Well, what have we here?" Arachnia tugged an emormous lever, and the barrier slid toward the ceiling. Scully's knees wouldn't hold her. She hit the chilled marble hard, tangled in a bright white garment that resembled nothing so much as a bedsheet secured at one shoulder. Beside her landed another body, identically clad. Fowley. When Diana didn't move, Scully lifted her hand and felt for a pulse.
"My, aren't we close friends? I don't recall programming either of you. Has someone been trespassing in my little playground?"
"Oh, so this is someone's little joke."
"No, we're real."
"Whatever gave you that idea?"
Another scream. Arachnia rolled her eyes.
"Computer, delete character Constance Goodheart." The scream ended midway through. "I think I'd rather play with my new toys, anyway."
Diana took a shuddering breath and sat up.
"Right here. It's okay."
"Could I interest you in a wager about that?"
Scully looked into Arachnia's eyes.
"Captain Janeway, what is this all about?"
"What is what all about?"
"This... this place, and what you're doing here. It's like a private torture chamber, or something."
"Exactly. It's a place where I don't have to be the letter perfect starship captain, a place where no one is disappointed if I yield to my baser instincts. A place where I don't need to worry what my crew will think. And that is why I'm so concerned about the two of you."
"We didn't do anything," Diana said.
"Oh, didn't you? Isn't someone who was in your care lost now?"
"And I'm still looking for him, but do you know how many missing eight year olds there are in this country? I've found three lost ones that I wasn't looking for!"
"I was thinking of a grown man." Arachnia turned to Scully. "That was her fault, wasn't it?"
"I don't know that." Not for a fact.
"She didn't have any business in his apartment. Especially not taking off her clothes in his apartment."
"Someone had to look after him, and I wasn't there."
"No, you weren't. So is it her fault or yours?"
"It's no one's fault! Will you just stop talking about fault!"
"Because if we're going to punish your friend deliciously, we have to have something to punish her for. That's how if we play this game. I'm not certain it's a good idea, though."
"Why not?" Scully asked. "We can't do anything to you."
"No, but whoever programmed you knows what I do in here. As enticing as the two of you are, I'm not sure I want to play with him."
"Presumably he or she already knows about your prediliction."
"That doesn't mean he... he or she has spread it around yet. Think about it. Have you never had an impulse you weren't proud of? Isn't there anyone that you wouldn't want to know your darkest thoughts?"
The Spider Queen paced a circle around them.
"Or perhaps you don't have any dark thoughts? Perhaps you're someone's idea of the perfect innocents, the perfect victims."
"I'm having a pretty dark thought right now," Scully said.
"An aspiring top, then? What about your friend? I'll bet she's an innocent."
Scully snorted and looked down at Diana, then gasped. The other woman's gown, previously as white as Scully's own, was now the red of old blood. Dana touched a finger to it. It was damp. It was blood! What could cause that much bleeding? She pushed the garment off Diana's body. Not a mark on her. Even the blood from the dress hadn't stuck. Scully drew her away from the horrible gown. Fowley cringed against her.
"That one's a sub, anyway." A gloved hand reached for Fowley's chin. Scully knocked it away.
"Leave her out of this."
"As you wish. Computer, delete character Diana."
"You can't do that. I told you we're real."
"Then where is she?"
Fowley had vanished.
"Bring her back!"
"Computer, restore character Diana." Nothing happened.
"That only works if your voice print is on file." Arachnia grinned. "Only if you're real. Besides, you really don't want her back."
"I don't dislike her that much."
"Who said anything about dislike? We're talking fear, here."
"I am not afraid of Diana Fowley."
"No, you're afraid of what you might do to her."
"You bring her back!"
That was a question. Scully thought she had an inch or so on the woman, and a decade or two as well. This was the holodeck, though. Arachnia couldn't be hurt. Scully could.
"What is it you want from me?"
"That's better." Arachnia's hand trailed down Scully's face, until Scully stepped away.
"Uh-uh. First you bring Diana back."
"Still pretending you're in a position to bargain?"
"Maybe that's the way I'm programmed."
"Computer, control-z." Fowley reappeared, halfway between the other two women. Arachnia beckoned to her. "Come here, my dear." Scully stepped between them.
"Doesn't she get a say in that?"
"It's all right, Dana." Diana's hands squeezed Scully's.
"Do you know what she's going to do to you?"
Clear gray eyes met hers. Fowley's chin trembled.
"Don't I deserve it?"
Scully put her arms around the other woman. God, she had goosebumps. She was going to catch her death wandering around without her clothes.
"That's not the point. Here, sit down." Fowley sank down on Arachnia's throne. "I don't exactly know how to say this. What you do... I don't know why you do what you do. With Cancerman, I mean. But what you did today was wonderful. And you don't deserve what she wants to do to you. Not unless...unless it's what you want. Diana, what is it that you want?"
"Does it matter to you?"
"Isn't that what I said?"
Fowley looked up at her, her eyes brimming.
"I just want you to let me like you." Scully couldn't help herself. She drew Diana against her and brushed her lips against the dark hair. She was about to apologize when Fowley kissed her on the lips. For a moment Scully just stood there while Arachnia circled, drawing closer and closer until she was standing over her prey. But it wasn't Arachnia. It was Cancerman, standing in the open motel room door letting in a cold draft.
"Agent Scully? What are you doing here?" He tucked away a pair of picks and fished out a packet of Morleys. Scully stood up and faced him.
"What am I doing here? What are you doing here?"
"Checking on your partner. I was... concerned."
"You stay away from her."
"That's for Agent Fowley to decide."
"Not right now it isn't. She's traumatized, and she needs to rest."
"What happened? Is she injured?"
"Not badly. She was almost killed today, and she's shaken up and she needs time to recover, so if you don't mind...."
"I never thought of her as the type who'd be afraid to die."
"Dying is one thing. Dangling over a precipice is another."
"I still need to speak to her."
"In the morning, if that's what she wants." The door to Skinner's room cracked.
"Agent Scully? Is everything all right in there?"
"Yes, sir. This gentleman was just leaving." And for a wonder, he did. Scully walked over to the bed. Skinner came up behind her.
"Did she really sleep through that?" he asked.
"Uh-uh." Fowley's eyelids fluttered. "I jus' din' wan' fool with 'im right now." Scully sat down beside her.
"You don't have to." She tucked the blanket around her patient and smoothed the dark hair. "You don't ever have to speak to him again if you don't want to."
Fowley started to say something, but it trailed into monosyllables as her eyes closed. Skinner's fingers trailed across Scully's shoulders.
"Are you two going to be all right, now?"
Scully luxuriated in the warmth rising through the bedclothes.
"Yes, sir," she said. "We're fine."