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Chess and Roses

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Maple Grounds Private School for the Precocious, October 14th

 

Melanie looked in disgust at the brat clutching the fence of the school in his eagerness to speak with her. She hated stuck-up kids. She hated not being unique. <So what do you want?> she sent.

Gibson Praise regarded her seriously. <I know you don't like me>, he sent back, <but we've got to stick together. You're like me. They'll hunt you down too, and experiment on you. And then they'll kill us both. If there are any more like us, they'll do the same to them.>

<Then we should have nothing to do with each other at all>, Melanie shot back. <We'll all last that much longer.>

<You don't understand>, he sent, looking desperately over his shoulder. His fifteen-minute break was almost up. If he did not show up in time for class, Ms Wight would come for him. He could see her on the walk right now, just outside the main building. A tall, middle-aged woman, kind but strict. She was thinking of him. Worrying a bit. <We haven't got a chance alone. They'll hunt us down. Together, we could be strong - a force to reckon with.> He liked the phrase. He had picked up many good phrases lately.

Melanie caught some of his urgency, but she could not agree with it. <That's assuming there really are more than the two of us>, she sent.

They had both been blocking their associative thought processes ferociously, only letting that through which they consciously sent. But now she caught something - just a glimpse, as if past a door, closing.

He nodded in affirmation. <I'm pretty sure there are others>, he sent. <I think I sense them sometimes, but the distance is great. I don't think they know about me. No one has contacted me yet.>

Melanie shrugged. <Call me again when they do.>

She turned to go, at the same time as the school bell started ringing.

<WAIT!> he mindshouted, and she turned around, her eyes black with rage.

<Don't ever do that again, or I'll let those old men of yours know where you are!>

<They already know>, he sent, sadly.

She eyed him suspiciously. <That's not how it looks.>

<Some of them know. Not all. They're cheating each other. That's what you caught from me.> He glanced over his shoulder again. Ms Wight was approaching. <I can talk with the aliens! They'll protect us!>

Melanie's lip quirked. "They don't seem to have done a very good job of it with you", she said aloud, not wanting to give him the privilege of mindtalk any longer. "But you're not the only one can talk with them", she added importantly. "This is alien. Doesn't keep very well after it's been exposed to open air, but.." Quickly, she pressed something into his hand and left before she could see a clear picture of herself in the mind of the approaching teacher.

Gibson stared morosely at the black rose in his hand. The thorns had stung him.

* * * *

Maple Grounds Private School for the Precocious, October 14th

 

The day was still windy, but the afternoon sun was now warming the school and its countryside surroundings. Afternoon sun rays were also falling pleasantly through the tall windows of Ms Wight's office. She was seated at her antique desk at the moment, looking over her visitors through blue-rimmed glasses, and trying not to show her disapproval. She had seen many ominous people in connection with the Praise boy, but none quite so blatantly prepared for the worst as these two. The man looked like a hired thug - which she had no doubt he was - and the woman.. was that a bullet proof vest? Ms Wight had no experience of such things, but the garment looked somehow designed for combat, she thought. She did not doubt that the Russian mafia was interested in the Praise boy - possibly because of his reputation as a chess prodigy - and now this woman.. could the Triads be after him too? It certainly looked no better.

Li Ann sighed, seeing suspicion all over the school mistress' face. The poor woman probably thought she was doing a good job of hiding her reaction. "We understand your concern, Ms Wight", Li Ann said sweetly, "but all we want is to have a talk with Gibson Praise. To see how he's doing."

"I can tell you that", Ms Wight said with some emphasis. "He's doing fine."

Li Ann smiled politely, while inwardly cursing the stubborn bitch. "I'm sure he is. But you must realize we can't just take your word for it - even if I'm absolutely certain you're right", she added quickly. "The - Foundation will want to know what Gibson himself has to say about it. The Chairman will ask me specifically if I talked with the child in person."

Ms Wight stiffened. "What foundation? He was placed here by an organization working for Save the Children, after all the trouble surrounding the death of the Russian chess player, and some subsequent events that only the Principal has all the details on. I gather they were quite traumatic for the poor boy."

"Of course", Li Ann covered, "But Save the Children couldn't have afforded your fee alone.. that is, they could not have motivated the expense on behalf of just one child, had not the Foundation stepped in and offered to pay for his care and schooling."

Ms Wight was looking more and more dubious. "And what is the name of this foundation? I'm sure the Principal has it, but I must say I've never heard of it."

"The Foundation for Protection of Elite Children", Li Ann improvised.

Krycek decided this had gone on long enough. He could hear the faint traces of desperation in Li Ann's voice, even if he was pretty sure Ms Wight could not. He took a step forward, into the light. "Look, all we want is talk with the kid", he said.

Ms Wight stared at him. Taking in the scars on his face which she thought handsome in a brutal fashion. Very light scars, invisible except in direct lighting. One running from the corner of his eye, along his nose, the other a light slash obliquely across his lips. She was sure they must be the marks of a knife fight. Actually, the implement in question had been a telephone handset wielded by a murderously upset FBI agent, but Ms Wight had no way of knowing that. "Very well then", she said, "but I'll come with you."

Resolutely, as if expecting to be challenged, she stood and stepped around her desk, pushing her way between her two visitors as if to show them she was not easily intimidated. She got her coat in good order, putting it on and buttoning it carefully before she finally deigned to lead the way.

* * * *

Gibson was sitting listlessly in the school playground. He had seen them coming, known what they were about, and he was resigned as always. What was the point in dealing with liars? They all thought they could fool him, even when they had every reason to believe it impossible. He sighed. Even that nice lady, Dana, had tried to hide her thoughts from him although she didn't know the first thing about blocking. He had had some fun though, playing her and the other one, Diana, against each other. He knew that whatever he said about grown-up relations was dynamite. He was good with thought patterns. He only wished he could get emotions too, that way he might actually wield some power over the adults. But he was no empath. He didn't understand how his dynamite worked, he could only calculate from the pathways of people's thoughts when it would. He did not know what their situation was like, he could only use it.

The Asian lady did not crouch down to his level, he was grateful for that. Instead, she stood towering over him as if he had been an adult. To his surprise, she introduced herself by thinking her name at him. But she was no telepath. She was just trying to show him a courtesy.

"I'm Gibson", he said aloud in reply, letting her understand that he had got her message and that he also understood that she was not like him.

"Alex Krycek", the man said, holding out his hand. Gibson did not take it. The woman seemed friendlier, he decided to address her. He wished Ms Wight were not listening though, but he knew that she thought she was protecting him. Ms Wight was friendly too, even if she usually overdid it.

"You want to ask about a redheaded girl who is like me", he told Li Ann.

She nodded. "Have you seen her?"

Gibson realized that he himself was - for once - in a position where he could lie. But he despised lying. That was for the others, not for such as he. Melanie would be all right. She preferred fending for herself. Besides, she had not wanted to join up with him.

He nodded earnestly. "I called her. She came. We talked some, and then she left. She didn't want to stay."

"You mean she was here?" Krycek asked.

The boy looked up at him with clear, disillusioned eyes. "You want to kill her", he said calmly.

Damn. Krycek could feel Li Ann's eyes on him, along with the sharp daggers glared at him by Ms Wight. He knew better than to try and hide anything from a telepath, but for some reason he had not expected the kid to be such a blabbermouth.

"I think you had both better leave", Ms Wight said sharply. "Before I call the authorities." She had been about to say the police but decided to leave that vague, as she strongly suspected that people like these owned a great portion of the force.

Li Ann nodded. "We will", she said contritely. "Thank you for your time, Ms Wight."

Gibson was still staring at Krycek. "You want to kill me too", he announced helpfully.

Krycek glared back at him. "Yeah, we can't always have what we want."

* * * *

Kesnich's Packaging Plant, October 14th

 

"Do you think he touched her?"

Mulder shook his head. "Not Willard, Scully. He was just being chivalrous. Besides, from what we know of her, do you think it likely she could be touched by anyone unless she consented?"

"No, I guess not. I just thought, she might have consented. She's rather too street wise for her age, but she's still a minor. She's dangerous, but she really shouldn't be running around like this."

"I think you can trust Willard, Scully. He only wanted to help her hide from her enemies. And from officious, over-protective people like us.."

Scully nodded thoughtfully. "He's quite a character. Where did he get his obsession about organ mongers?"

Mulder gave her a long, sad look. "They got his cousin", he said.

"Seriously?"

Mulder nodded. "One Lothar Fuchs. German citizen - West German in those days. 1978. Apparently he came over to visit Willard who had a steady job back then. They never met though. The cousin was an artist, quite the bohemian type, I gather. When he was found comatose after a mugging, the hospital assumed he was homeless. His identity papers were gone along with his wallet, they had no way of knowing he was foreign. They did a perfunctory search but only nationally. Then they decided he wouldn't wake up."

"Mulder, even the homeless have rights!"

Mulder looked steadily into her eyes. "Do they?"

Scully sighed. Sometimes her partner was every bit as paranoid as their excentric informant. "Where did you get this information?"

"Gunmen", he shrugged. "I needed to find out who my informant was." He turned away as if unwilling to pursue the matter. Scully decided to let it go for the time being. It was after all irrelevant to their present case.

Mulder walked around a wall of crates, neatly piled on the concrete area inside the dilapidated gates. It was nearly dark now, though not yet enough to warrant a flashlight, at least not outdoors. The plant was quiet, almost otherworldly, as the grounds were abandoned for the night, with not even a guard in sight. Apparently, Kesnich's was one of those companies which settled for the cheaper alternative of having patrolling guards check in at regular intervals, rather than employing a nightwatch of their own.

"Well", he said, "Doesn't look like we'll find anything here. What did the hospital say?"

"I haven't been there yet", Scully said.

"I thought you found out which one the boy was taken to."

"Yes, the Presbyterian Sanatorium, but it was way after visiting hours when I found out, and I didn't want to charge in there, flashing a badge. After all, we're not on an official case. The girl hasn't been accused of anything."

Mulder nodded in agreement. "I'm sure Skinner would appreciate all the discretion he can get on this."

Scully brought out the half wilted flower she was still carrying. "I wonder why Willard didn't want this back. He really seemed to care for the girl."

Mulder briefly considered telling her how good she looked holding a black rose, but at the last minute he decided against it. "I think he felt it was bad luck, Scully", he said instead.

She arched an eyebrow. "So he gave it to me? Some gentleman, our Willard."

Mulder smiled. "Maybe he thought you'd be better equipped to handle some bad luck, Scully. After all, you're coping with me.."

He was rewarded with exactly the kind of look he had been fishing for.

* * * *

In the woods around Maple Grounds Private School for the Precocious, October 15th

 

Krycek awoke at dawn, his leather jacket not quite sufficient to keep out the morning chill presently insinuating itself into his bones. He had a crick in the neck and his legs felt cramped. The back seat of a sedan wasn't the best place to sleep, particularly in October, but it could have been worse. In fact, it quite often had been worse..

Li Ann had the front seat and was showing no signs of discomfort, although her legs were long enough that she ought to have had the same problem as he. Maybe she was good at yoga. Tantric convolutions.. He hastily decided not to go there. At the moment, she was calmly rummaging through the bags of somewhat stale sandwiches that they had barely remembered to bring and later forgotten, as they went searching the woodlands on foot. It wasn't a big area; it ought to have been possible for two people to locate a third. Except that the third was a telepath, who presumably did not want to be found.

"You lied to me", Li Ann said, matter-of-factly.

She has stopped rummaging and was calmly eating her makeshift breakfast as if she had just dropped a remark about the weather. She looked wonderfully composed, sleek as a well-brushed cat.

Krycek opened the door behind him with an awkwardly backhanded grip, and wriggled out of the back seat.

"Took you long enough to complain", he said, uncertain of whether that was really what she was doing. He got out and closed the door behind him. She was a hard one to figure.

He made his way into the woods to take a leak. Afterwards he decided he might as well go all the way down to the river for a wash - give her some time to leave. She would probably thwart him at every step now, but he really did not want to have to kill her. He'd have to think up some excuse for mislaying the car though..

But she was still there as he got back, and he remarked on it. "I thought you'd be long gone by now."

"Likewise", she said, packing up what was left of her breakfast.

He found what sandwiches she had left, and started in on them. "You don't want to know?" he asked.

"Oh, I don't think the kid would lie", she said. "I got the impression he has great contempt for those who do. I think you would, though. So what's the point in asking? Besides, he only confirmed my suspicions. You weren't very convincing when you said you were out to protect the girl, same as me."

"So why are you still here? And why didn't you say anything yesterday?"

"I wanted time to think."

"About whether to steal the car at once or shoot me in my sleep first?"

Li Ann shook her head slowly, pretending to consider her options. "I don't think I could do that."

It was evidently not the answer he had expected. "Why not?"

"I told you, you remind me of someone I - used to know." Used to. Had she really given up hope already? Had she come to believe herself trapped here for all her remaining days?

"Obviously someone who means something to you", he said. "Should I feel flattered?"

She doubted it, but saw no need to tell him. "I think he's had better luck than you", she said honestly. "There but for fortune, he could be you."

He made a face, exactly as Vic would have. "Thanks. I didn't know I was doing that badly."

She did not answer that, but she stared pointedly at his arm. He got her message; she could see the hurt in his eyes. Maybe they really were green, after all.

"So what did you need to think about?" he asked.

"Whether or not it matters", she said with sublime practicality. "We both want to find the girl, and we both know she was last seen at the school. Why not keep looking together, she's a hard quarry to catch. When we find her, all I have to do is keep you from killing her."

He grinned. "Pragmatic Chinese. I think I'd like working with you. Especially as you've already admitted you can't kill me."

"Don't be too sure", she said. "You might find me too pragmatic. Things might change. My mind for instance."

He gave her one of Vic's earnest looks, and her heart flipped over, though she'd be damned if she'd let it show.

"I'll risk it", he said.

* * * *

A chess game on neutral ground

 

"Are you just going to sit there, pushing your pawns about?" The Director knew she sounded impatient, but after all, this was chess, not poker.

Her opponent lit another Morley and squinted at the board, as if really considering her words. Then he moved his black knight again, keeping a steady tail on her queen. "It's all about control, you know", he informed her, almost apologetically. His smug face belied his tone.

"You're right, John", she said decisively. "I shall have to do something about that.." She reached for her own knights.