The Fast Track
"Anyway, Reno heard he had...."
"Guys...." One of the gaggle of agents by the water cooler had spotted Rose.
"Heard he has pictures of the perp and that Shetland pony? I heard that, too."
"Yeah, but did you hear...."
A wave of silence spread down the hallways of the Hoover building. Rose could almost here the word ripple ahead of them. 'The X Files Team.' Tiny redhead and her tall slim companion. When they'd first been partnered, there had been a pool in the hallway as to how long it would last. The first hour had had to be divided into fifteen second intervals.
That had been twelve days ago. The wags had decided that sanity was descending on the basement. Rose didn't think so. She thought neither wanted to be the one to leave, the one who wouldn't be there when the man they both loved got back. And they both persisted in believing, against all odds, that Spooky Mulder would return.
If Rose were Spooky, she might just stay in the loony bin.
But she wasn't. Across the hall, Vic Hunnicutt met her eyes. Two sets of high heels clicked down the hall, past the elevator and into the stairwell. Rose returned Vic's nod, tucked the file under her arm and followed them.
She tapped on the glass door with the name that wouldn't be erased: "Fox Mulder." It was on the nameplate, too, on the desk where the dark woman sat. It was infused into the very dust on the windowsill. Mulder's dust. Mulder's office. Mulder's world.
"Can we help you?" the redhead asked. The Ice Queen, they called her in the hall. They were wrong, though. This one had a heart. She just kept it in a box.
"Actually I think I can help you. My name is Rosemary Pfister... something wrong, Agent Scully?" Other than a tall blond farm girl in an ultrafeminine suit invading Spooky's domain and disturbing the banshees at their wailing?
"No, I just knew someone with a similar name once."
The other woman rolled her eyes. That one, now. Rose had the impression she could have Fowley's body at lunch if she wanted it. The heart, though, was gone. Ground away to dust long ago.
"Please," Scully said, "go ahead."
"I think I've fallen into a case that may actually belong to you." That got Fowley's attention. She held out a hand, and Rose handed over the file. Yes! That had been easy. Now all she had to do was get out of here....
"Why don't you tell me about it," Scully said. Not 'us.' 'Me.' No, the basement had not become the domain of reason since Spooky's departure.
Scully was smiling. God, the room lit up when she smiled. It almost ran Mulder's ghost out of the corners. Rose should get out while she had the chance, but... well, it wouldn't do any harm to brief the woman.
"It has to do with a group of children who were brought up at a secure federal facility...."
"Do what?" Fowley snapped her glasses off and stared at her.
"This much happened," Rose said. "Nobody's denying it."
"And how does this relate to the X Files?" Scully asked.
"These children--they're young adults, now, of course. They claim to have suffered damage to the reproductive system occasioned by alien abduction."
"I have heard of cases of similar allegations," Scully said carefully.
Rose knew she had. She knew perfectly well that Scully had disappeared and reappeared and was barren. Her research had been thorough.
"Anyway, I didn't want to step on any toes. If it's your case, it's your case."
Fowley snapped the folder closed.
"Agent Pfister. Your belief that this is an X file wouldn't be based on the proximity of this facility to the alpha developement lab at Garland Pharmaceuticals? Or to the accusations that Garland's multinational affiliates have been involved in human rights violations on several occasions? Or the fact that the brother-in-law of Garland's CEO was just named to the Supreme Court?"
Bitch! How dare she hit the nail as squarely as that! "I don't know what you're talking about," Rosemary stammered.
"I think you do." Fowley held out the folder. "The X files may be an unorthodox operation, Agent Kisser, but we are not the depository for everyone else's hot potatoes."
Damn! Now what?
"Why don't you let me look at that?" Scully reached out and snagged the file.
"Dana...." Fowley's teeth were showing, but you could hardly call it a smile.
"It can't hurt just to look," Scully said. "I've read papers out of Garland. Strange stuff. There might be more to this than someone without medical training would notice at first blush."
Fowley's nostrils flared. "Dana, I didn't get this kind of a success rate..." she tapped the row of silvery stars stuck on the filing cabinet behind her, "by taking on other people's problems. I'm sorry, Agent Pis... Pfister, but I can't help you."
"Maybe I can," Scully insisted. "Why don't you give me time to read this over, and we'll talk about some approaches that might yield positive results."
"Sure." Saved by discord. "Lunch tomorrow?" Rose could be out of town tomorrow, if she asked Vic to fix it. That would leave Scully stuck with the case.
"I don't think it'll take that long. Why don't we talk after work?"
They said the Jefferson Memorial had been one of Spooky's favorite places. Rose couldn't figure out about Spooky. He'd been on the fast track, just as she was. Brilliant mind, promising career, good connections. Then in the space of a year it had all gone to hell, and he was in the basement obsessing on his X files. And he had been happy about it! Maybe he'd been crazy for longer than anyone admitted. Or maybe there was something else, something that had driven him into that basement office to hide. Just as something had put him into that padded room. Something no one had any clue about.
And it didn't matter, except that the missing pieces bothered her. It was like one of her grandmother's patchwork quilts, only with a few scraps removed. There was an overwhelming urge to fill in the gaps. Maybe one of the pieces was coming down the walk. Scully in a navy suit and pumps, the setting sun lending a glow to the titian hair.
Scully wasn't smiling.
"Did you come up with anything?" Rose asked.
"Rose, what do you think happened to these people?"
"I... I think there is an element of hysteria at work...."
"How do you account for the very real injuries?"
"I don't know. In a closed community like that, the children might have been abused...."
"Oh, I don't think there's any doubt that they were abused."
"Dana, sit down, please."
She looked at Rose for a moment, then came up the steps and settled beside her.
"You like this place?" Scully asked.
"Nice view. Good ambiance. Do you like it?"
"It has... memories."
"Is that good or bad?"
"A little of both. Have you ever lost someone you loved, Rose?"
"Yes. Last year."
"I'm sorry. How... how do you cope?"
"It's no big deal. We knew it was coming, and I couldn't exactly flaunt the relationship, anyway."
She shouldn't. She was giving this woman a weapon against her, something to use in the interminable status war that plagued the FBI. Dana didn't count, though. She was a basement denizen, her career diverted off the mainstream forever by the raving lunatic she loved. Hell, maybe she'd even understand about discretion.
"She had ovarian cancer."
"Yeah. What did you find out about the case?"
"I found out Diana was right."
"Yeah. Well, it's a career breaker, Scully. I've got to get rid of it some way."
"So you're going to dump it on us?"
"What difference does one more X file make?"
"The difference is that you have a solid case against Garland! You've solved the thing! It can't be an X file if you have the answer!"
"Why not? If you want the credit for this one, you present it."
"But you solved it!"
"Dana, this is not credit anyone with any sense wants. Your partner ducked out of it fast enough."
"It could be handled discreetly...."
"Discreetly enough that the powers that be don't know who blew the whistle? Get real, Scully."
"Your career really matters to you, doesn't it?"
"I'm not going to be like my mother, Scully."
"She depended on a man to take care of her, until he ran out and left her with five kids. She wound up taking in any drifter that would help her with the farm for a while. Some years I had four or five 'Daddys.' I'm not going to throw away my life for a man, or a cause, or for anything else. I don't want any part of this case."
"Then they've already won."
"If you make your decisions on the basis of what a corrupt power structure will allow, you might as well go back to the farm with your mother, 'cause you're not doing anyone any good here."
"I'm doing as much good as you are down in the basement crying into your tea!"
"You have no idea how much good we're doing! The things we've found, and... Mulder...."
"Don't cry, Dana. Please, don't cry. Oh, here." Rose dug a tissue from her pocket. Scully dabbed at her eyes, only worsening the smears of mascara. "Here, let me."
She steadied Dana's face with one hand and wielded the tissue with the other. The tips of her fingers just brushed the other's hairline. When Scully's face was clean Rose dropped the hand with the tissue, but the other lingered, teasing at the auburn hair. Scully looked at her, lips parted, still a bit teary, and stayed absolutely still, as if afraid to break the spell.
This was stupid. This was Mrs. Spooky, the least well connected agent in the FBI. Rose had hidden her relationship with Kathleen, whom she loved, for the sake of her career, and now she was about to kiss a near stranger on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. She was disgusting. She was sick.
She was kissing Dana Scully.
There was a note on Rose's desk the next morning inviting her to Vic Hunnicutt's office for coffee. Vic shouldn't really have rated an office. He was just a Violent Crimes spear carrier, but he was extremely well connected. He had a clique of fasttracked junior agents who looked to him for career guidance, and Rose was the senior of them. He had been a great help to her.
There was no coffee waiting in Vic's office.
"Rose," he said, "what do you think you're doing?"
"What we talked about."
"Did I say anything about making out on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial? With Scully? God, Rose! Did you think everyone out there was stone blind? You're lucky you weren't on CNN!"
Rose felt herself blushing, and didn't know if it was because Vic was talking about it or because he was right.
"We weren't making out."
"Oh, one of you had stopped breathing and the other one was trying to resuscitate her? And your hand in her blouse was just checking for a pulse, right?"
"My hand was not in her blouse!" It hadn't been. Rose was certain of that. She could still feel the satiny fabric sliding over the lace of Dana's bra. Her hand had been outside the blouse at all times.
"Now, Rosie, you know what really happened isn't as important as what people think happened, and you can imagine what the boys in the hall are saying happened. The question now is what we can do about it."
"Why do we have to do anything about it? Isn't there a new policy on this kind of thing?"
"In the White House, maybe. We're talking about in the hall."
"What can they do, Vic?"
"Rose, even if she were a man, she works on the X Files! She's just not an asset."
"She used to be."
"Before Spooky got hold of her."
"What is it about the X Files, Vic? It's supposed to be some kind of ghetto, but look at the people they get. Mulder. Scully. Fowley. People who were tapped for the fifth floor, and they went to the basement instead. The only one I can't figure out is the Spender kid."
"He had connections."
"So it is a plum."
"The basement is not a stop on the way to the fifth floor. None of those people will ever be anything within the FBI power structure."
"Within the FBI?" The final piece dropped. Spooky hadn't gotten sidetracked. He hadn't failed at anything. He'd found a different way to succeed, maybe a better way, a field of endeavor that none of the puerile idiots in the hall suspected. But what was it?
"Where are you going with this, Rose? Because if you want the basement, I can't help you. And you can't come back."
"Scully could. People still talk about what a waste it is that she's chasing figments instead of killers. Think how that would look. The one who brought Scully back into the mainstream."
"She doesn't want to come back. There's something addictive in the X files, something these people get hooked on and then can't get out, except like Spender did, or like Mulder. Rosie, people are saying you're hooked. Have you noticed? Did any of the others, any of our friends, have anything to say to you this morning? They're not about to be associated with one of Spooky's Angels."
"And what about you, Vic?"
"I'm worried about you. I'd hate to lose you."
Why? He had nearly a dozen young people depending on him, plenty to deal with any unofficial problems he might be asked to look into.
"You're not going to lose me, Vic, whatever happens. You'll always have my trust and respect."
"That wasn't exactly what I meant. I mean, my credibility kind of depends on what my people get up to."
It was like ice water.
"You're saying I'd cease to be one of your people if I had anything to do with Scully."
"Or the other one, either. Hell, the other one's worse. And if I were you, Rose, I'd find myself a nice male companion, if you know what I mean. Think of it as someone to take care of you if anything happens."
"If you were I."
"Yeah. But stay out of the basement, okay, Rosie?"
"To tell the truth, Vic, I think I like the company down there better than in here."
She closed the door soundlessly on her way out.
"I wish you wouldn't do that."
"Deliberately mispronounce my name to get under my skin. I never did anything to you."
"You're standing in my office."
"I'm looking for your partner."
"My 'partner?'" She let the word hang in the air for a long moment. "My partner is upstairs with our A.D. presenting your case to some very important people. I'm surprised they haven't paged you, yet."
Of course Rose's cell phone chose that moment to ring. She was wanted in an office several steps further into rarified realms than she'd ever been before. Fowley's eyes never left her face. Rose thumbed the phone's power button without breaking eye contact.
"You know, I'd like to get along with you."
"I can imagine." She turned back to her work. Rose's hand was on the doorknob when Fowley spoke again. "You stay out of here," she said. "You stay away from Scully."
"Why? Prior claim?"
"We'll sort that out when the time comes, but it has nothing to do with you. Don't you come around here horning in on us."
"Don't your superiors have something to say about that?"
"Don't push it, Bitcher. There isn't room for three people in this basement. You keep your sticky fingers off the X files."
Vic Hunnicutt had once told Rose that you could make fine distinctions as to someone's status by the depth of the pile on his carpet. By that standard the occupant was second only to the president. He was a small oriental man of whom Rose had never heard. The body language in the office puzzled her. Scully and her A.D., a hulking man in a starched shirt, were seated together on a love seat. Scully wasn't in any trouble, then. The office's owner sat in a formal position behind his desk. Leaning against the wall opposite the door was an elderly gentleman puffing on a cigarette in spite of FBI policy.
"Agent Pfister?" asked the man behind the desk. Who did he think she was?
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yes, about the Garland case. This was originally your investigation, wasn't it?"
"And who identified Garland Pharmaceuticals as the probable author of these crimes?"
"Sir, I... I must admit that I entertained certain suspicions, but I could see that it was likely to be a sensational case, and so I tried to follow up on every possible alternative, including the possibility that this might be an X File."
"And are you now convinced that some party or parties at Garland are responsible?"
"I... uh...." Scully's eyes met hers. Say it, they begged. Don't let them shut you up. Tell the inconvenient truth, and cease to be part of the lie.
And become part of the basement. Join her mother in another sort of underclass. Better to tell the truth in Hell than lie in Heaven. The smell of smoke brought tears to Rose's eyes.
"Sir, any suggestion of guilt by anyone associated with Garland is entirely Agent Scully's. I was unable to identify a suspect with any degree of certainty."
"You were." The man shuffled the papers on the desk. Scully's chin was trembling. Well, what did it matter if she got the shaft? She was stuck in the basement anyway.
The smoking man looked Rose in the eye for the first time.
"Agent Pfister, do you have any interest in following this matter any further?"
"I think further investigation might better be handled by another division."
"Or any similar matters?"
It hit Rose like one of those cartoon anvils. It wasn't about Garland. It was about the X files. She was being offered a chance to trade her hard won fast track for... for what? For whatever had attracted the most promising of agents before her. Scully. Fowley. Mulder.
Mulder raving in his padded room.
Her mother throwing crockery at one of her boyfriends when she caught him with Rose's brother.
"No, sir," she said. "There are a number of matters in my own area that need my attention."
The man behind the desk nodded.
"Very well, then, Agent. That will be all."
Rose wanted to say something else, to tell Scully... what? There was nothing to say. Dana's eyes were on her lap. The man beside her laid a hand over hers. She looked up at him and forced a smile.
"Was there something else, Agent?" the smoker asked.
The door closed on a discussion of what resources Dana would need to deal with the situation.
Rose took a long lunch. She couldn't remember afterward where she'd gone or what she'd done before she found herself at midafternoon at the door to the basement office. Scully saw her and deflated into her chair.
"I thought you wanted no part of us," Fowley said.
"I came to talk to Dana."
"There's no need," Scully said. "You made yourself perfectly clear upstairs."
"If that's the way you want it."
Scully just nodded. Rose took a deep breath and walked out the door. She heard motion behind her. Diana Fowley took something from her desk and walked down to the other end of the long bank of filing cabinets, the end where Scully sat, and then returned to her seat. On the end of the filing cabinet nearest Scully there was now a single gold star.