Down in the Underground
Fun House Arcade
"Attention all patrons, the Fun House will be closing in fifteen minutes. Please redeem all tickets at the front desk. Attention all patrons..."
The voice over the loud speaker could barely be heard among the beeping and blinking of arcade video games, the shuddering of pinball machines, and the crass jokes some teenagers were yelling at each other so they were sure the cute chicks by the snack bar could hear them.
In a shadowy corner of the room, near the back entrance, Sean plunked another quarter into the machine, hoping his dad wouldn't come searching for him yet. Angry words echoed inside his head, louder than the symphonic music of the arcade, the memory of his father's red twisted face forcing itself before his eyes.
Bright yellow lights began to flash, and again, he saw the game before him. He grabbed the giant padded mallet and held it over his head like a mad woodsman would a hatchet. He listened for the shifting of gears, the tiny whir that came just before the first head would pop out of the empty holes in a field of painted green tabletop.
A loud buzz sounded and he was whacking. He whacked at the poor plastic creatures, not seeing them as moles, but as the heads of his classmates from school. He beat them with the mallet like he'd wanted to on the playground, but could not. He'd been taken away by a teacher's aid before he could hardly do any damage. They'd started it, after all, with their antics. He was NOT a geek!
Then all the moles' faces transformed into that of his father's. Scornful red cheeks were shiny on the plastic heads. He hit harder.
Sean was so absorbed in his game that he didn't notice all the other lights were going out. One by one, the games were being shut down, until he was nearly left in the dimness of the emergency lights.
"Closin' up, kid! Wrap it up!" The manager of the arcade called from the front of the room.
Sean threw the mallet at the game, and it bounced off the side, dangling by its rubber cord. He pushed his way violently through the back door and out into the alley.
It was close to the ocean in this part of Brooklyn. One would never know it in an alley like this. Dark, musty wet bricks and the smell of rotting garbage snaked its way up to Sean's nose, blocking out any hint of salty seashore air. He kicked at a shallow puddle, spraying a pile of newspapers with droplets.
He didn't want to go home yet. Out from the pocket of his oversized hoody sweatshirt, he pulled out his cell phone, noticing that he didn't have any messages. It depressed him a little to know that his father hadn't even bothered to find him after being out way past curfew. He shoved the phone back into his shirt and prepared to walk to the nearest subway station.
He started in one direction, but immediately saw that it was a dead end. Funny, he'd never noticed that before. He doubled back to walk in the opposite direction, toward the mouth of the alleyway, carefully stepping around stinking bags of garbage. As he got nearer to the street, the smell began to increase.
"Man, gotta be some bad-ass garbage from this place. Somebody probably puked!" He knocked his foot against a bag accidentally, and noticed that it was not as soft as the garbage he would have expected -- and it was vaguely shaped like a person rolled up into the fetal position.
A chill ran down his spine. The dimness of the alley light had to be playing tricks on him. Sean, although he'd never admit it, was also not quite old enough to feel completely comfortable out alone at night. His anger earlier seemed to make him forget that. Intending now to get the heck out of there, Sean stepped quickly, but watched the ground more carefully for bags leaking unsavory liquids that might contaminate his designer sneakers.
He could see the sidewalk now, even one or two people pass by the mouth of the alley. But as in a dream, he felt that his destination was getting further away as he was fighting to reach it. His feet stopped moving. He felt dizzy. The stench of the alley was overpowering. He heard trickles from sludgy puddles behind him, coming regularly, as if in footsteps. They got louder and closer, and the smell nearly knocked him out. Maybe *he* was the one who was going to die.
He forced his legs to move -- make himself turn around. The streetlights from the sidewalk wavered and blurred as he turned, as if he'd been on one of those Wipe-Out rides over at Coney Island.
Before he could do or say anything, a clawed hand swiped up in front of him, and knocked him backwards, his head hitting the pavement hard. A small shadow sped away down towards the dead end of the alley, the sound of rustling plastic accompanying the sploosh of every wet step, and disappeared like a rabbit down its hole.
Before he slipped into unconsciousness, Sean's last thought was, 'I can't believe I was killed by a garbage bag!'
April 16, 2004
"If it was what you say it was, how did it get all the way over here?"
The spoon dipped into the onions, sprinkled its contents over the foot-long, and was followed by the mustard, then the relish. Masterpiece completed, the hot dog quickly found its way into Mulder's hungry mouth.
"E'en 'ole puppo cake a fubbay," her partner said through the mouthful.
Scully rolled her eyes in disgust. "I'll wait until you're finished." Then to the hot dog vendor, "You don't happen to have any turkey dogs in there, do you?"
"What do you think I am, lady? The freakin' Tofu Palace? I got what I got."
"Fine. I'll take a hot pretzel and a diet Coke."
They walked over to the railing by the East River, a beautiful view of Manhattan stretched across the horizon, the choppy waters between them and the island glistening in the bright April morning sunshine.
Mulder swallowed the last of his hot dog. "Even Mole People take the subway, Scully. And there's always the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, sewage systems..."
"Okay, Mulder," Scully continued as her partner stole a sip from her can, "even if this so- called Mole Person took the subway across to Brooklyn, what was he doing here? Almost all the abandoned underground stations and tunnels are in Manhattan."
"Maybe he's trying to escape something? Or maybe he's trying to adapt? Living underground your whole life can really put a limit on your boundaries."
"You want to know what I think?"
Mulder sighed, anticipating the wrath of Scully's logic squashing his theory out of existence.
"Don't look at me that way, Mulder. You know I only want to help solve this too. A boy was attacked -- and he wasn't the only one. I think this is a string of random attacks by some of New York's poor desperate homeless. One can get to that point where violence seems like it's the only answer."
"But what about the claw marks, Scully? What about the reports of animal-like creatures lurking in the shadows? What about the legends of these creatures going all the way back to when the tunnels were first being built during the Depression?"
Scully broke off a piece of pretzel and gnawed on it thoughtfully. The wind off the river was strong, and it blew her hair so that it was almost horizontal off the back of her head. The gusts soon subsided, and the strands of copper settled again to rest just above her shoulders.
"Maybe he *was* desperate," Mulder commented so quietly Scully almost didn't hear him. "Things have changed a lot in New York lately."
"What, and he decided to take it out an a kid playing Whack-A-Mole? Be reasonable, Mulder. The kid had a cell phone in his sweatshirt, alone in a dark alley. He was a perfect target."
"Hey, if someone was going around whacking little Mulder Voo-Doo dolls, wouldn't you be upset?"
Mulder stepped back a pace, looking abashed.
"I don't believe in Voo-Doo," Scully replied smugly.
Mulder huffed out a chuckle. "Well, belief or not, Voodoo still exists, and thousands of its followers can attest to that."
"So, these sightings confirm, without hard evidence, mind you, that Mole People exist. Because a few people have up-started an old urban legend, we get to go down into the sewers and subways of New York City... for what? Mulder I don't even know why we're going on this hunt!"
"Because a boy was attacked. And we have to prove or disprove that it was the fault of someone. And that includes Mole People."
"Well, then, let me grab my mining cap," she answered, searching her back molar for a piece of pretzel crust, which seemed much more of an appealing excavation.
"Really? You'll be glad you brought it!" Mulder exclaimed cheerfully as he dug into his pocket for another $1.00 for a second hot dog. When she began to protest even owning such an object, he brushed her off with a confirming nod.
"Anyway," he continued, walking toward the red and blue Hebrew National umbrella, "we've got a date with some experts in about half an hour. We can catch the train a few blocks over. Just let me grab one for the ride."
Scully followed her partner away from the brick lined Promenade and into the streets of Brooklyn, tossing her half-eaten pretzel into an overflowing decorative metal garbage can. As they crossed the street, they didn't notice a child-sized shape spring quickly from behind the garbage can and into some nearby bushes, a trail of kosher salt sprinkled in its wake from the redhead's wastefulness of perfectly good food.
Grand Central Terminal
They were to meet the "experts" Mulder had spoken of down near track 11 on the upper level. As they emerged from the subway, they were met by the polished floors and bustling activity of a recently remodeled Grand Central Station.
Gilded metal grating framed each ticket window, the celestial green painted ceiling was as big as the sky, and the Grand Central Market's grocery wafted delicious smells through the air, just as the trains added the subtle smoky odor of diesel fuel. The click of their shoes on the shiny floor were lost in the expansive space, muffled both by the amount of people littering the concourse as well as the sheer size of the terminal.
They passed the South entrance to 42nd Street where a gigantic American flag hung from the ceiling between the digital train schedules for the New Haven and Harlem lines. As they neared the other end of the station, they noticed several men dressed in camouflage fatigues, guns strapped to their shoulders, casually leaning against a wall or an unused ticket window. In true New York fashion, their presence was for the most part ignored, but somehow completely acknowledged by those that passed them by.
Following the numbered portals to each track, Mulder and Scully walked the long distance to track 11. They stood by the dark marquis below the track number, where it would show stops a train would be making, had it been scheduled for a departure. No train was here at this time.
No people fitting the description of 'underground tunnel experts' were hanging about either.
"Maybe they're not meeting us out here. Let's go check down on the platform," Mulder suggested.
The floor was rough concrete here, much more utilitarian than the showpiece of the Grand Concourse. The track was empty except for some puddles and remnants of dusty candy wrappers. The thundering of heavy trains lumbering into the station echoed from their left. They were able to see several tracks over in that direction between the thick steel supports.
Track 11 seemed to be one of the very last public platforms on the upper level -- or the very first depending how you looked at it. As they made their way further down, they could a see only a few more platforms on their right, filled with train equipment, orange cones, and extra newspaper recycling bins that looked more like cages for wild animals than for paper.
As they walked even further, they began to feel more alone. Passing the staircase to the North passageway that exited to street level, the end of the track became dimmer and the smell of diesel exhaust was stronger. Not many people walked this far down the platform.
"I don't see anyone, Mulder," Scully commented impatiently.
Mulder turned in place, searching his surroundings. He stepped close to the edge of the platform and looked down each way, hoping to see something. And he did.
"Look there," he said, pointing toward the dark end, even further down than they had come. There was a yellow painted emergency ladder that led down to the track-level. On the handles a light, as if from a moving flashlight, reflected off the yellow paint. Mulder looked at his partner in triumph, and began walking quickly toward the source of light, Scully following close behind, trying to keep up with him. As they moved closer, they could hear two male voices -- arguing.
"... can't take them there. It's too dangerous."
"Don't be such a wuss. I know these tunnels like that back of my hand."
"Don't be so cliche."
"Greenwich Village know-it-all yuppie fag!"
"Greenwich Village is hardly Up-town, you slimy, dirty, blue-collar street urchin! Why I ever decided to team up with such a--"
The 'slimy street urchin' noticed them first, and shone his flashlight over his partner's shoulder -- straight into Mulder's eyes. The other man stopped his insults abruptly and swung around to glare at their intruders.
'Greenwich Village yuppie' hastily pulled out a clip-on ID tag from behind the lapel of his leather jacket. He also held a clipboard a little higher up to his chest, so he was sure the two people squinting down at him through the glare of flashlight would see it.
"This is a restricted area," he began authoritatively, twitching his mustache, as he spoke. "You should not be here."
Mulder shielded the light with one hand, and with the other pulled out a folded sheet of paper.
"We're also here on official business, gentlemen. My name is Mulder, and this is Dana Scully."
"Mulder?" the yuppie exclaimed and immediately turned to slap the flashlight from his friend's grip. Then apologetically, "Did you say Mulder?"
"Yes," he replied, blinking to expel the dots floating before his eyes, and proceeded to unfold the paper. It was an email he had printed out early this morning before he and Scully had left. He fought to focus on the small printed text. "Are you 'firstname.lastname@example.org?'"
"I am. Michael Massing -- you can call me Michael. And this is my associate, Joseph Rihnald. And had you come here a little earlier, I may have been able to help you out further, Mr. Mulder, but as it is I have a very tight schedule."
"But, you'd specifically said 12:30. It's only now 12:45."
"Exactly so. I must be going."
"I can meet you again at another location tomorrow... perhaps some of the tunnels further downtown. I doubt highly that any of this area will help you in your investigation."
Here, Scully broke in, "I think you ought to let us decide the importance of locations for our investigation. How can you--"
Michael climbed up the emergency ladder and pushed his way past the two agents. "I'm truly very sorry," he pleaded, looking over their shoulders nervously to the dark tunnel beyond the edge of the platform. "I can't help you here today. Tomorrow, 2 p.m. at the South 4th Street station." And he sped off down the platform.
Mulder and Scully stood there dumbfounded, staring after him. Then they turned to Joseph, who still stood below on track-level, fumbling the flashlight into his work belt.
"He's afraid of this area, you know."
"But he agreed to meet with us here. I don't understand," Mulder commented, glancing over the email correspondence, to make sure he hadn't misread.
"Yeah. Said he'd meet ya here. Didn't realize I was going to lead you into the tunnels."
"But he's a tunnel expert, isn't he?"
Joseph puffed up his cheeks and blew the air out slowly, weighing his thoughts carefully before he spoke. "I'm the tunnel expert. He's the history buff and the map-reader. Ask him anything on the transit system, the new, old, and abandoned stations, how much money was spent building the tunnels from here to Bowling Green -- but ask him to set foot in any of them outside of a train car..."
"Chlostrophobic?" Scully offered.
"Nah. Just not a people-person, if ya get me. Don't like the homeless."
"I get by easy enough with 'em. They know me. I patrol these tunnels a lot. Keep the green berets outta here, mostly. It was too bad when they were scanning the place for terrorists two years back. Flushed the whole town out. MTA lets me keep track of things now, mostly. The folks down there don't trust me as much, though," he said, gesturing toward the tunnel behind him.
"The folks down there...?"
"Yeah. So, you two comin' down here or what? We don't want to be hangin' around during rush hour. Makes it harder to move around to where we want to be."
Mulder, excited to be underway so quickly when he thought he'd missed his chance with Michael's disappearance, stuffed the email back into his pocket, and stepped down the ladder to meet their guide.
"Mulder, what are you doing?" Scully reproved.
"What's it look like, Scully? We need information on our suspect. What better way than to question people from the society in which he lives?"
"I..." Scully searched the empty platform for a confidant, anyone who would back up her better sense of judgement. Maybe she would have been better off racing after Michael, coward though he was, in a nice quiet, clean library with flat files of maps and microfiche.
"What have you gotten us into," she grumbled as she followed him down the ladder.
"Follow me." Simply said, Joseph began to lead the two agents down a boardwalk made of extra wooden slats between two railway tracks. "You won't need your flashlights until we reach the Waldorf."
"The Waldorf? Guess the homeless are living in a higher class style than we thought," Scully quipped.
In any case, she felt inside her jacket, and sighed in relief when she found the pen-sized metal cylinder that was her pocket-flashlight. Thank goodness she kept it handy as a general rule. Mulder glanced over his shoulder at her, his eyes bright enough with enthusiasm to light their way into even the deepest cavern. 'Well,' she thought, 'it can't be any worse than the Flukeman.'
"Tickets please. Thank You."
"Tickets? Thank you. Thank you. Thanks."
It was the rhythm of the ticket taker. At each seat he said the same thing. Each ticket was punched with a double hole, just to ensure that it was destroyed enough to be invalid for another ride. He stuck marker cards into the little pockets at the back of each seat so he didn't forget his place, or charge someone twice for a fare they'd already paid.
Fourteen years as a Metro North conductor, and days like this just seemed to never end. Everything was the same--
The train slowed to a crawl, then halted not halfway up the tunnel from the platform they'd just left at Grand Central. It could be anything; another train that had been delayed may be up on the track ahead. They could have had a temporary electrical failure. Everything normal. Nothing to worry about. They'd be back running again in a minute or two. Even so, he thought he'd get over on the 2-way just in case he was needed.
He made his way to the small control closet at the end of the car, picked up the receiver, and hit channel 4. "Everything okay, Jim?"
The receiver beeped, and Jim answered. "Ah, you know, Leo. 'Signal problems.'"
Leo chuckled to himself. After all these years, 'signal problems' could mean anything too. "What's it this time?" he asked.
Oh, man. He could only hope there wasn't some kind of altercation happening down there. He closed the door to the control closet so that the passengers couldn't hear his conversation. "How long?"
"Looks like he's around track 11. Going East, so it'll be short. I'll make the announcement."
Leo hung up the receiver and unlatched the window next to him. He stuck his head out and peered into the dark tunnel, a hundred service- lights like stars glimmering down each track. He saw the distant glow of red signals down several tracks to the right. Patiently he waited, scratching the stubble on his chin, listening to Jim's garbled voice over the intercom, "Ladies and gentlemen, we're experiencing some signal problems. We should be moving shortly. We're sorry for the inconvenience, and we thank you for your patience."
Then he saw it: The tiny flicker of a flashlight -- no wait, three flashlights. He had an entourage with him today, eh? They weren't visible for very long, as the supports for the underground caverns were denser here, like a deep forest of metal and concrete rafters.
One last flicker of light, and they were out of sight.
It was a moment longer before the red glow from the tunnel signals turned to green, one after the other, until the chain reaction reached his track. The brakes on the train released with a hiss and he felt the train slowly beginning to move forward again. It was over.
Leo didn't bother closing the window again. There really wasn't anything to be worried about. He left the closet and his speculations to return to his duties.
Mulder heard a succession of clicks after Joseph threw the manual override switch back to its normal position. The signals to each track turned green again, their previous state having allowed the three explorers to cross otherwise active, and quite dangerous tracks, to reach their destination. They ducked through little cutouts in the high, concrete support walls, stepped over the rails -- careful not to touch any of them, just to be safe -- and finally arrived at the service tracks on the Easternmost end of the underground world.
"So, Joseph, when you say the 'Waldorf,' what do you mean? Is that a nick-name for the area we're going to?" Mulder asked as they turned down a path that was much like a narrow boardwalk, littered with old dusty newspapers and obsolete rusted-out gears.
"No, Mr. Mulder, that's where we're going. The Waldorf Astoria Hotel."
The two agents glanced at each other. Joseph peeked back with a wry grin on his face, enjoying the shock value of his statement. Then continued.
"Back in the early part of the 20th Century, the rich had private train cars. Michael could probably give ya better information than I could, ya know. But the way it went was, a whole slew of tracks was built right under the Waldorf Astoria, so that the rich bitches and their husbands could go straight to their fancy hotel, up through an elevator, so they wouldn't have to go through the Grand Central mess. Avoid the 'commoners,' if ya get me."
"Those tracks ain't used for nothin' anymore. Just storage. We'll have to climb through some of the old cars and around a lot of abandoned equipment before the town actually starts. That's when we'll really need the flashlights. We're almost there."
"A shanty town?" Scully asked a little uneasily.
"Something like that, Miss Scully. You'll see."
The tunnels were becoming darker now, the emergency lights were fewer and further between. It wasn't long before they were pulling out their flashlights again. They followed Joseph up and down more service ladders, through old train cars that had the seats stripped out of them, windows painted over with graffiti, and over platforms that had such narrow walkways it sometimes felt like they were scaling the side of a mountain.
Mulder held out his hand to help Scully jump over a small break in the platform, pulling her close when she almost lost her balance. A few crumbled pieces of concrete fell from the edge and tapped their way down six feet to the bare earth floor, disturbing some small shapes that scurried away into the darkness. Anxious to disregard what those small shapes might be, Scully took the chance to quickly speak with her partner.
"Mulder, I find it very hard to believe that a society of homeless has flourished down here. How could they have escaped unnoticed after 9- 11? The military is rampant throughout the systems. You saw those men in the Grand Concourse. They must have had to sweep through here and get rid of all signs of human settlement, just to appease the standards of the War on Terror."
"I can't believe you're standing this close to me in the pitch blackness and not getting turned on," he grumbled into her ear, and pulled her a little more firmly against him.
"This is NOT the time for romance. Be serious for minute, please."
His attempt at distracting her having failed, he switched gears immediately. "Scully, I don't think it's all that unreasonable. Most New Yorkers can't even conceive that something like this would exist." They began to move ahead after Joseph again, so they didn't lose sight of his light.
"Why would they fear something they never thought would have existed in the first place?" he continued.
"But people like Joseph know about it. Why wouldn't the MTA? Why wouldn't the military? You'd think they would have been more thorough."
"They had the quarantine through here about a month after," Joseph interrupted in a whisper, his face lit from beneath like a troop leader telling a ghost story to his scouts around a campfire. "You'd never seen the Waldorf so abandoned. Probably the way everyone thinks it should have looked anyway. There was nothing. I don't even know where they all went. Some of them still haven't come back." He motioned for them to follow him again, but not before he added, "You might want to keep your voices down for a while. We're here."
They stepped carefully through another abandoned train car, this one seemed very old. Had it not been so rusted through, one would have thought it was a perfect display for a museum. Small details, as they passed through the long body, which was big enough to be considered ample space for a New York City studio apartment, were touched with art deco designs. The older architecture of machinery had always seemed to carry just that slight bit of extra attention to beauty, something that was a work of art, as well as something functional.
Upon emerging, they were presented with a view of about ten to fifteen avenues, of what were originally private tracks, all connected by a common walkway at the end. It looked very much like the setup of Grand Central Station, but on a smaller scale, and what were now utilitarian concrete floors at the end of each track in Grand Central, here they were of a mosaic tile. Of course, the tiles were worn down to the point where the colors were mere shadows of themselves, and the decades of dust upon them had condensed into a film of grime. But the shapes of the tiles were still visible.
Each track was filled with a menagerie of different cars, styles from several eras, and all seemed to be occupied. The smell of garbage fires was apparent, just as a cloud of smoke filled the vaulted ceilings. Between the rafters, from the dim glow of the 'town' below, one could just make out some more tile work, but much of it had fallen from age, leaving large exposed patches of grout that ate away at mosaics of checkerboard and fancy raised edge patterns.
Everything was dirty. As they continued on toward a particular platform that Joseph had his sights set for, the smell was beginning to invade their nostrils -- human waste and sweat and garbage and diesel fuel and rusting metal. Smells that were so uncommon to the cosmopolitan city above had remained here in this primitive society of outcasts. Those that could not survive against the modern demands of the city had accepted the life of inconvenience here. To an outsider it was disgusting, pitiful. To them, it must have seemed like a safe haven -- something for free, that was the result of being free: one had to accept it for what it was, and not expect anything more than what a man or woman with nothing could contribute to it.
Empty windows to the train car 'apartments' revealed piles of cans, magazines, newspapers, found furniture with torn edges, mattresses on the floor -- some five or six to a car. Attempts at decoration with old hubcaps and discarded bedspreads hung from walls and ceilings. Much of it was clutter, but all of it was theirs.
Eyes followed them the whole way, but none were adventurous enough to move from their places. Each sad iris gleamed with possessiveness. They feared being removed from their homes again, humble though they were. Nothing could have been worse for the poor souls behind those eyes.
The last platform was cleaner than the rest. Cleaner meaning less dust and grime, but not the absence of it. They walked toward an archway cut out of a curved wall, which soared as one plane up toward the ceiling. Inside the arch was a staircase that led up half a level, wooden and brass railings polished decades ago were still shiny, as if preserved from disuse. Tile floors were complete, and when they emerged from the stairwell, they entered into a circular lobby, rotunda above, with an iron wagon-wheel styled chandelier. A hundred bare bulbs shone down on them, electricity harsh and too bright for their eyes, as they had adjusted to the dimness of being underground.
An elegantly styled wooden bench sat in the direct center of the floor. Beyond that, on the opposite end of the space, between two bricked- up doorways that must have been elevator shafts at one point -- twin rising-sun dials above each marked off floor numbers above them -- was another staircase leading up. It had been walled off after the twentieth or so step. Here was a man sitting upon them, surrounded by several people, as if subjects to a king. He did not pay attention to them, but stared directly at his three new arrivals. He was waiting for them.
"Alright, you two," Joseph addressed the two agents. "This is Damien. I had to bring you here first. If there's somethin' goin' on in underground NYC, he'll know about it. If there was anyone who could be the mayor of a place like this, well... you talkin' to anyone, you talkin' to him."
Mulder sensed Scully going rigid beside him. He wasn't feeling so free and easy himself. All of a sudden their guide seemed to have ulterior motives, and neither she nor he was comfortable with that. As he scanned their surroundings for a quick escape, should they need it, Damien was walking toward them. How much would they be able to trust this man's opinion if they'd been led straight into his lair? But perhaps, Mulder reasoned to himself, this was the best person in which to derive such information. A leader was a leader. Conspiratorial motives weren't necessarily a mandatory trait.
Damien wore a tattered wool coat, several flannel and t-shirts beneath that, jeans and mismatched sneakers. He could have been as pitiful-looking as the rest of the homeless here, but instead he held a command about him.
"You want to know about it? About all of them?"
His eyes were wide and crazy, so that all the whites could be seen, and he bared his teeth in a greasy smile. His greatest asset was intimidation, and he knew how to use it well. He took fast, long strides up to Joseph, stared him down so hard that Mulder wouldn't have been surprised if he'd shrunken a few inches right there. Without warning, Damien snapped his wild gaze at Mulder, and ran to stand before him, inches away from his face.
Mulder kept his composure, pulled his shoulders back, and inhaled deeply. That was a mistake. He eyes nearly watered with the rotten egg smell of Damien's breath.
"What do you know?" he asked, trying not to choke.
The leathery skin of the homeless man's temples crinkled, softening the insanity of his eyes for a split second before he whipped away and began circling the two agents while telling his tale.
"They exist, you see! *We*," he gestured with his arms held dramatically wide to encompass the expanse of the community, "are the rightful dwellers here. *I* am the Lord of the Underworld!"
Scully coughed lightly under her breath. At least she could maintain her air of skepticism, even through this.
"Some may call us 'moles' because we live underground. But they are the *real* Mole People. Oh, yes! Your Mole-boy there, yes-yes I know all about that, he's the enemy! Yes. Don't believe anything you hear from him. Not from any of them! They are extinct! They are the ones who should go. We are here to stay!"
"The one who attacked Sean Colby? What have you heard? Where has he gone?"
A shooting pain in Mulder's side was the result of his partner jabbing him with her elbow. He was jumping to conclusions, leading the questions to where he wanted them to go, and she was determined to call him out on it. But Mulder continued, caught up in the momentum of this crazy man, enthralled with his mystery.
"How did you find out this information?"
Damien ran back toward Mulder, and grabbed him by the lapel of his trench coat. Scully moved reflexively to grab her Sig, but a hand from Mulder stilled her defense.
"He's a bad name for us, you know," Damien growled in a low, menacing tone. He switched his gaze from one of Mulder's eyes to the other, as if he could see something in one that he was afraid to miss in the other. "He's the last of his kind, and he's fighting back! You've got to stop him. We've taken over here, and damned if I'll let one little mole cretin jeopardize my empire!"
"What do you mean? Does he, uh... answer to you?" Mulder asked, careful not to offend.
"Ha! If it were that easy, he'd not be running around like a mass-murderer. He thinks he can destroy me. Me!"
Damien let go of Mulder and paced the floor, all the time muttering. "Should have walled up all the passages when we'd had the chance. Never should have requested refuge from them. Never. Never. Never."
"Excuse me," Mulder interrupted. The pacing continued. "Where is he? And how does attacking innocent people -- innocent people that are not even homeless..."
"We have a home!" Damien shouted back, his voice booming off the curved walls of the rotunda, quaking with the volume of it.
"All right," Mulder carefully brought his tone down a few notches, "he attacked those that live above-ground. What's he doing out there? Who is he? Where is he?"
"That," Damien pointed an angry finger at Mulder, stopping in his tracks, "is the trick, now, isn't it?" He laughed heartily. "He's a crafty little devil. They used to be everywhere, the Mole-People. Disgusting to look at, really. He knows the tunnels and sewage systems better than any of us. We found a few secrets when we had to hide, after the Towers fell. We found *their* hideouts."
"They still exist?"
"They were not there any longer. We found the secret places -- found them like caves the animals had abandoned. You think the majesty of the Waldorf is something? You haven't seen the network that lies beneath us even now. But don't ask me to go down there. If it was theirs, it is putrid! I'm the Lord of the Underworld, not of hell!"
Pacing back toward his visitors, Damien scratched at his scrabbly shave, most probably done with a very old razor. He appraised them for a long while before continuing, first studying the two agents, then an intense gaze at Joseph, a silent statement Joseph knew all too well it seemed.
"Oh, they exist all right. How much longer, well... Your Mole-boy may be the test of that." He whirled around to return to his subjects at the opposite end of the lobby. Throwing his hand up in a gesture of dismissal, he allowed the echo off the walls do the work of directing his voice instead of turning around.
"I will keep Joseph informed if I hear anything of his whereabouts. But you should know," he resumed his seat at the top of the walled-off staircase, "he is a menace, and needs to be stopped."
At that point, Joseph placed himself between Damien's court and the two agents, and ushered them out.
On their way back through the dusty tunnels, away from the Waldorf, Mulder and Scully were left wondering just what kind of information they'd been given.
Three pairs of feet walked past the low, rough alcove that led back toward the main tracks to Grand Central. From behind tinted plastic goggles, beady eyes watched small furry shadows scatter to avoid the larger intruders. What were they here for? Would they really be coming after him? He ran a long-clawed finger over the smooth plastic shape that glowed blue in his pocket. When the footsteps could no longer be heard, he dashed off into the darkness, out of sight.
Comfort Inn JFK Airport
The subway ride all the way back to Queens was filled with silence. Silence, that is, between Mulder and Scully. Rush hour from Grand Central back to the hotel in which they were forced to stay by Accounting was anything but quiet. The travel expenses were really being scrutinized lately, and the Bureau accounting department had them staying closer to the airport, rather than in the city, because Manhattan hotels were anything but thrifty.
Scully was lucky to find a seat, and even she had to squeeze herself between two other passengers. Mulder was content to stand, strategically so that he could protect Scully's little feet from being trampled, but also secretly because it allowed him to look out the window, into the dark tunnels, and imagine that there might be passageways no one knew of, just waiting to be explored. Somewhere out there, their suspect was hiding.
It was this line of thinking that Scully could decipher by the far-off look in her partner's eyes as he savored a bite from the turkey dinner platter in the hotel restaurant. She'd been determined to change their diet lately from pizza and take-out to something a little easier on the arteries. She'd even limited his gravy use, which explained the reason he'd gone through at least four glasses of water already.
"So you're convinced that Mole-boy is your prime suspect?"
His eyes cleared from his contemplation and focused upon her. "Give me a little credit, Scully. There's a lot more going on here than a few random assaults. There's motive here. Just have to figure out whose motive."
"I don't trust this Damien character one bit. Gives me the creeps."
"But there's no reason yet that we can't trust him. I'm taking his statements at face value."
"They're not even official statements, Mulder! We weren't in an interrogation room. We were on 'his' turf, and if we'd made any kind of false move... I don't even know what would have happened. We were being led around like monkeys on a leash and expected to behave when spoken to in 'his majesty's' court. I thought we were the ones looking for evidence, not having it force- fed to us."
"You're right, Scully. But we've gotta play a little Columbo on them. If we accept the bull they're feeding us, we'll get more information than they realize they're giving."
She considered this, sucking on an ice cube, and shook her head warily. "I don't know, Mulder. I'd like to at least explore other avenues. These people, I don't know how they know about you -- how many emails they exchanged with you - - but they're playing into your fantasy. Are you sure you're not trying to look for something just because you *want* it to be there?"
"Meaning?" he replied shortly.
"Meaning," Scully continued, coating her voice with honey, "are you sure you're not so in love with the romance of a Mole Society thriving beneath the streets of New York, that you're not missing a more obvious, logical explanation?"
"Are you sure you're not so unwilling to believe in something a little fantastic that you're not seeing the obvious, even though it may defy explanation?"
Scully swallowed her ice cube, and smiled at the naked innocence in her partner's face. "Touche."
Mulder grinned widely back at her, and gobbled up the rest of his meal. Between bites, he added, "You'll be proud of me, Scully. Our next stop is Coney Island Hospital to visit Sean Colby, our victim."
"A nice reality-based field trip? And no sewer rats? Mulder, you shouldn't have!"
"I know what my lady likes," he said, winking. Then, flagged the waiter down for their check.
Coney Island Hospital
"We mainly just want to keep him here for observation, Dr. Scully. He suffered a pretty serious concussion and has been having hallucinations ever since. He we go, room 310. If you need me again, just stop by the nurse's station up the hall there."
"Thank you, doctor."
"Uh, doctor, hold on a minute," Mulder navigated his way around Scully to catch the doctor before he had a chance to leave. "Exactly what kind of hallucinations?"
"Well," the doctor folded his arms over his chest and lowered his voice slightly, "since he was attacked in the dark, it's mostly at night. He won't let us turn the lights off. He says he sees dogs, or other amorphous small animals with claws. We assume that it was an animal that had attacked him, but as of yet, we can't identify exactly what it might have been. We assume a dog, even a cat -- it would be the most logical for the area, but it just doesn't seem to match up."
"Match up with what?"
"With what we extracted from the gashes in his face." The doctor pulled a folder from the inside wall of Sean's hospital room and handed it to Scully. "You're the investigators. I'd appreciate it if we had some answers for this poor boy. Then maybe we could combat the psychological, now that the physical has nearly healed."
Scully began leafing through the files while Mulder continued further into the room to see if Sean was up for conversation. The boy was in his early teens, but gray circles around his eyes from lack of sleep made him look ancient. He watched Mulder as he pulled up a chair to sit beside the bed, following his movements one by one.
"Hi, Sean. My name is Mulder. How you feeling today?"
The boy shrugged.
"How'd you get those battle scars, buddy?" he asked, pointing his chin in the general direction of Sean's upper left temple and down the side of his face.
He shrugged again.
"Are you having a hard time trying to remember?" he asked gently, wary that he might be dragging out a memory that in all likelihood was the cause of the boy's dreadful hallucinations.
The boy's eyes ceased being wearily observant, and froze, as if he was envisioning something terrible, just over Mulder's right shoulder.
"They're telling you I'm seeing things, aren't they? They think I'm crazy," Sean said hollowly, neither to Mulder, nor to Scully who now stood on the opposite side if the bed.
"What kinds of things are you seeing, Sean?"
"Not what I *am* seeing," he then focused his eyes onto Mulder, "what I *did* see. They don't believe me. You won't either."
When the boy saw how patiently, and intently Mulder was willing to listen, he felt a little more at ease.
"I saw a... creature. An animal. But it had hands with long claws that hit me. At first I thought the garbage had come alive, but it ran away so fast -- like a dog or a rabbit, or a..."
"Mulder, take a look at this," Scully interrupted, and passed the opened folder over to him. She pointed at a photograph within the folder, of the material that had been extracted from Sean's wounds. "It did have claws, but this was no dog."
Sean became excited and attempted to sit up straight, but his eyes rolled back from the dizziness, and he plopped back onto the pillow supporting him. He took a few deep breaths and a cup of water offered by Scully, then settled down enough to speak again.
"You really think I'm right? You know what it was?" Sean asked, hopeful.
Mulder turned to his partner, searching her face for an answer.
"I can't be sure until I make some comparisons, Mulder. It's difficult to tell from the photo. I wonder if they kept a sample or turned it over to the police?"
Sean plucked at Mulder's sleeve to get his attention. Then he pointed over to a small gym bag on another guest chair. "They gave me a souvenir," he said, and cracked as close to a smile as they'd seen since entering the room. "Kinda like having my appendix out, but no jar."
Mulder reached over to the canvas bag, and sifted through some clean folded clothes and comic books. There was a plain white paper bag at the very bottom with Sean's last name on it. Mulder pulled it out, and removed the contents. It was a Ziploc bag, and what was inside looked like part of a thick yellowish fingernail -- too big to be human, but not the right shape at all to have been from a dog.
"Sean, do you think we can borrow this?"
"You'll give it back?"
"Absolutely. This may be your ticket out of here."
Sean closed his eyes and sighed deeply, a wash of solemnity softened his face. "Cool, man. I just want to go home."
Comfort Inn JFK Airport
Scully tapped her fingernails on the laminate table. She'd exhausted all resources on the Net for information on animal anatomy, from rats to dogs, and even disfiguring human nail diseases. She'd been putting it off all evening, but knew she had to check it out.
Gritting her teeth, she clicked the link for genus Talpinae on the University of Michigan's Animal Diversity web site. She scrolled down the list, clicking on the first species that provided picture references. When she saw the picture at the top of the page, her heart beat a little slower. It was just her luck. She sat back in her chair, rubbed her eyes and wondered if the sneakers she had packed were going to serve her well enough through another trip underground. At least she'd be prepared this time, not like their first experience yesterday.
She picked up the Ziploc bag, fingered the shape inside through the plastic, and checked it against the claws of the animal in the jpeg. It was the closest match she'd found so far.
"You all right, Scully?" Mulder asked from where he sat on the bed.
"You know, I can take over the research for a while if you like. You don't have to curse about it."
She swiveled away from the laptop to face him. "Condylura Cristata. That's the star-nosed mole, and the closest match to this," she explained, holding up the Ziploc so that he could see it.
Mulder sprang from the bed, snapped his glance toward the web page, then the specimen his partner held.
"'The star-nosed mole is often found in colonies that live in damp or muddy soil in which a network of tunnels is constructed,'" he read aloud. He pressed the Page Down button and scrolled down. "Look at this, Scully. Unique appendages, tentacles around the nose, that were believed to be used as electroreceptors to sense electric fields of prey."
He stood up straight, finger to his lips. Then he pointed toward the folder on the bed, a copy of Sean's medical information as well as the initial police report, which contained a printed copy of Sean's initial statements. He thumbed through them quickly, then pulled out the sheet he was looking for.
"Sean said that before he was attacked, there was an incredibly bad smell. What if Mole-boy and his kind have adapted to use their unique physiology, what a normal mole like this would use, into something as a defense mechanism?"
"But this mole uses those appendages to *identify* prey using receptors, not send out signals in order to incapacitate it."
"Yeah, but it sends out signals nonetheless. Like I said, what if it adapted, learned how to use that talent further than its natural capacity. I mean, this isn't just a mole, Scully. It's a mole *person*. If humans have extra sensory capabilities, why not him? And he has an advantage over us already, being a hybrid creature."
"We don't know that he has any such appendages, Mulder. All we have is part of a claw."
"When did we say we were meeting Michael tomorrow?"
"Hope you brought your sneakers, Scully. 'Cause we're going in."
South 4th Street Station
"I don't know, Mulder. Michael seemed to be pretty quick about suggesting this particular station yesterday. Who's to say he's not going to lead us into another Damien-trap like Joseph did?"
"Because Michael likes to research the history of the tunnels, not explore them. I have a feeling, if Michael knows what he's talking about, that we'll be able to call the shots underground."
"Call the shots? Sounds like we're going into Alice's rabbit hole without a safety rope."
Mulder sucked in his cheeks, and tried not to confirm her suspicions. Without uttering a syllable, Scully already knew that they were.
Michael stood waiting for them at one end of the platform, shuffling several sheets of paper on his clipboard, and checking his pockets as if looking for his keys. The time it took the two agents to walk the length of the platform to meet him, he'd repeated this process at least three more times.
The nervous yuppie noticed them only as they were five paces away, and smiled timidly, standing up straighter to hide his excitement. "Mr. Mulder and Miss Scully. It is good to see you again. I uh ... must apologize for running out on you yesterday. If it were up to me..."
"Don't worry Michael. We had quite an experience, but we're fine and in one piece today."
"So far..." Scully murmured under her breath.
"That's good to hear." Michael took a deep breath and let it out slowly. When he was finished it seemed that he was much more relaxed. "Well, you do know that this station is where we've had the most sightings. After this, some went up as far as 54th street, but most recent sightings have been downtown and in Brooklyn. Can't imagine why they'd be travelling to Brooklyn."
"Across a body of water. That's quite a move I'll agree. Any reason you should think there would be a migration out of the city?"
"I really couldn't say, Mr. Mulder. But, I have compiled a good amount of research on this area, branching out from this station. There are plenty of places in this general area where an underground dweller might hide out."
"Really? And what type of person, would you say, is the ideal type to be an underground dweller?"
Michael's eyes bulged ever so slightly. "You mean... but I had thought that... Aren't you here because..."
"Yes, we are here to investigate them," Mulder replied, laying a hand onto Michael's shoulder. "I just wanted to be sure we were on the same page."
A local train could be heard far down the track. It wasn't long before it was racing into the station, forcing a current of hot tunnel air past them, and screeching to a halt. The doors opened with a "bing-bong" and just as quickly, swallowed up its passengers, and hurried on it's way.
The three remained on the platform, watching the brown G symbol on the back of the subway car get smaller and smaller until it finally disappeared in the distance.
"Now that we have some time to ourselves," Michael began, "I'll give you some history on this station, and why I think Mole-boy may be using it as a hub."
He led them to the very end of the station, past the stairs that led up to street level, the ticket booths and even the emergency exit. They walked all the way to the very end, where the platform ended in a white tiled wall. Here, Michael stopped, and pointed across the way.
"If you notice, there's an extra platform on either side of the station. These are generally unused, unless there's congestion or a broken- down train or what have you. The two center tracks are really what's used daily. When the city was still attempting to build a secondary railway system, the IND, this station was intended to be much bigger -- a total of 6 tracks was proposed, and had begun construction. But as you see, that never came to fruition. Hence, the remaining four tracks. But..." Michael faced his two companions with a leering grin, "the other two tracks still exist. They're just hidden behind these walls."
Mulder became excited. "How do we get to them?"
"Uh," Michael shifted his feet and his face turned a bright red. "Well, that is, you -- you can't. They've been sealed off. See there?" He pointed to the platform opposite the track behind them. "See that railing randomly sectioning off a section of the platform? It's nothing but a slab of concrete. That's the old stairway that was meant to go under the tracks and come up in the center, here, to transfer trains."
"Sealed off like a tomb," Mulder commented dejectedly. He stared at it hard, wondering if there was any other way. If Mole-boy could do it...
"How can he use this place, then?" Mulder asked, not to anyone in particular.
"Uck! Look at the size of that thing!" Scully exclaimed.
Just to the left of the railing a huge sewer rat walked, yes walked, for it was too big to scurry anywhere like a normal sized rat, sniffing at one spot or another on the concrete floor. When it had no reason to explore the area any longer, it began to make its way toward the edge, ready to jump. Scully clung to Mulder's elbow, fearing that it was attempting to launch it self across the valley that was the subway tracks. Instead, it tested the edge with its front paw, then gingerly, climbed down to the dusty floor below.
It was then that it happened. The rat disappeared.
"Where did it go?" Scully asked a little too desperately than she'd hoped.
"It went there! Do you see that seam in the wall?"
"Mr. Mulder, it's a rat. A rat can go any number of places that we could not. I wouldn't bother with -- what are you doing?!"
"You said this track was rarely used, didn't you?"
Before anyone could stop him, Mulder hopped down off the edge of the platform, and into the valley between the two platforms. He made a bee- line for the seam in the wall beside the tracks. When he got close enough, so that he was standing beneath the overhang, he looked to his right and exclaimed, "Well, call me squeaky!"
"Mulder, what are you doing?" Scully yelled, glancing up and down the track to be absolutely sure no train was coming. Her ears were tuned for any remotely train-like sound. "There's nothing there! What are you looking at? Muld--"
Mulder took a step forward, and disappeared.
About two hundred feet further down the platform, a shadowy figure peeked around a thick, white-tiled pillar. Leathery skin crinkled to slits around sharp, observant eyes. It wouldn't be long now. Not long at all.
Can *NOT* believe I'm doing this! Cannot believe I'm doing this. Cannot believe I'm doing this.
"I'm doing this."
Scully jumped down to track level against the protest of their paranoid, although quite sensible guide at the moment. It was a little bit of a further jump for Scully, since she didn't have Mulder's height advantage. She landed hard, but stabilized quickly. Stepping carefully over each track, she followed in her partner's footsteps, close up to the opposite platform. When she arrived at the exact same location, she saw it immediately.
It wasn't visible at all from where they'd stood before, just a seam in the concrete. But standing here, she could see perfectly that it was an impressive trick of perspective. There before her was a passage that ran parallel to the tracks, right beneath the lip of the platform above. It was only about two feet wide, but certainly big enough for an average person to fit through. What seemed like a seam in the concrete support of the platform was actually the edge of the entrance. And Michael wouldn't see it because it was perpendicular from where he stood, like a pocket in the wall. Only standing in this exact spot was it visible.
She removed the pen light from her jacket pocket, and went in.
Mulder hadn't gone too far ahead. He was slightly slumped over, since they were actually below the platform now. "Scully, there's an exit over on that side."
They both shone their flashlights in the direction he pointed. As they navigated around support beams, Scully trained her light on the floor for other less obvious obstacles -- intending particularly to avoid those that moved.
They squeezed through what Mulder had identified as their exit, a portion of the wall that looked like it was eaten away, re-bar and bricks jagged on the edges, and came out into a cavern. It was long and about large enough to contain a set of tracks, but it was clearly unfinished. Roughly cut, the bare bedrock of Manhattan was it's walls, and the ground was damp and sludgy. They kept to the edge of the space, where it was dryer, but this was naked earth down here, and unpredictable at least.
Their small beams of light caught glimpses of rock, scattered pieces of metal, and small piles of wooden beams. They found a set of footprints going in a general northward direction. It was an extremely regular path, one that had been traveled quite often and had worn a groove in the dirt. Suddenly it ended and their flashlights lost all detail in the ground... particularly because it wasn't there.
"It leads down," Mulder observed.
Carefully, they tested their footing, and found that the floor of this new passage was solid enough, though slightly slippery with mud. It was however shorter, and Mulder was bent over quite a bit before it opened up to a comfortable height again. They traveled around corners, and noticed more exits that branched off the path they followed, but they decided not to stray for fear of getting lost.
Soon, it appeared that they could distinguish more detail in their surroundings. It was getting brighter. Above them, they noticed a long network of extension chords linked end to end. There were hundreds of them. And at each juncture between the chords, a caged service light was attached, which made the tunnel glow dimly with a yellowish light.
"Somebody's been busy," Mulder commented.
It was difficult to describe at first, but as they progressed further, there was evidence of habitation. The surroundings were not so unfinished, and they didn't completely notice the change until they passed through a sort of entrance hall.
At first, it looked like stucco, but upon closer inspection it could be seen that it was something else entirely. Advertisements plastered the tunnel walls, but they were painted over with some sort of whitewash. One could still make out glimpses of what the posters used to be, but they were nonetheless hidden. And what was painted yet on top of the whitewash base was something they'd never expected to see.
Primitive drawings, a whole story it seemed, beginning from the ceiling and cascading down toward the floor. Shapes of human-like creatures with long claws and abnormally lengthened noses filled curved lines that connected like a maze. It almost looked decorative, but they noticed the shapes and scenes change continuously including modern, recognizable shapes like buildings and cars and trains.
"What do you think this is, Mulder," Scully prompted as she ran her fingers over the uneven surface. "Is this history, or does this still exist?"
"If this still exists, then we're on a much more complicated hunt than we thought."
The walls ceased being painted after several meters, and they came upon a cot, somewhat randomly placed along one side of the tunnel. Beside it, a box of single gloves, shoes and hats, newspapers, a radio and any number of other collected items. Among the folds of a well-loved bedspread was something that made the fabric glow a pale blue color. When Mulder lifted the cloth away, they found that it was a cell phone.
Picking it up, Mulder read aloud, "Sean." The teenager had tagged the back of his cell phone with his name in a fancy stylized script with paint marker. "This has got to be our man."
Scully raised an eyebrow at that.
"You know what I mean. But what is all this? It's almost like this is some sort of an outpost. If he's the last of his kind, like Damien suggests, what's he protecting?"
They decided to explore the space a little more. On the opposite wall were stacks of newspapers and magazines that stood taller than Scully. She picked up one that had fallen to the floor, and noticed that any pages that contained pictures of faces had the bottom halves removed.
"Isn't that strange?" she commented.
"He's removing the parts of humans that don't resemble himself," Mulder's psychoanalytical side explained. "He's trying to make the world we live in something that he can be accepted in. Those drawings on the wall, they must depict at least his profile, if not more. Our differences don't have to be emphasized if he doesn't have to look at them."
Mulder was about to take the magazine from Scully for closer inspection when he heard a scratching from somewhere close by.
"Shh. You hear that?"
They stood as still as carved marble, straining their ears to hear it again. It was faint, but it was there again, and this time it was accompanied by a creaking sound. It was almost too late before they noticed the creaking was from the shifting weight of paper and the tall stacks of magazines were leaning forward.
Mulder was able to leap out of the way in time, but Scully was not so lucky. At once a pile of glossy paper tumbled down to bury her. Mulder scrambled forward to help dig her out when a shape jumped out at him, like it emerged from the wall itself, sprang over the pile and sped down the tunnel.
"Stop!" he called after it.
His partner forgotten, Mulder dashed after the creature. With each pass beneath another service light in the long chain of chords, he could still see it, and follow fairly easily -- but it was fast. As he ran, he vaguely noticed that all the walls were of intricate brickwork. Mere animals did not live here. When the passage curved around and he was met with a choice between two ways, on faith he took the right.
Mulder jogged a good distance hoping that he was travelling in the right direction. When he didn't see any sign of movement for a while, he stopped. The air was dense here and he had to breathe more heavily than when he went out for his regular runs. When he'd caught his breath, he suddenly remembered Scully beneath the pile of magazines.
He immediately turned around and started back, but was unexpectedly blocked by the very creature he sought.
It was much shorter than him and wore a dark green plastic suit that looked like it may have been constructed with lawn bags. No wonder Sean had thought he was attacked by garbage. Large goggles covered its eyes, strapped too tight because the ears were abnormally small, and its nose -- or in this case, snout -- was too big to be comfortable in the human-constructed piece of gear.
It was pasty-white and it smelled of mildew and garbage and something animal-like altogether. Mulder twitched his nose at the offensive odor, and noticed that Mole-boy mimicked his gesture. Only when Mole-boy twitched his snout, it disturbed some tiny nodules surrounding it, just on the edges of his cheekbones, and below, above the upper lip. Mulder thought of Scully's description of the animal on the web, and deduced that these might be evolutionary modifications to the human-mole hybrid physiology.
It began to breathe heavily, with an undertone of a low growl. It was almost like a cat's purring, but Mulder recognized it as more of a defense mechanism and forewarning than any expression of friendliness. It was a stand off.
Mulder slowly raised his hands in surrender, trying to show the creature that he meant no harm. The gravelly breaths slowed, and eventually ceased altogether so that the two adversaries stood silent. Drops of water plinked into puddles. Gasps of air breezed through the long passageways, whistling like specters. Mulder was almost sure at some point he could actually hear his watch ticking, but then the silence was broken.
"Why have you followed me here," Mole-boy began. His voice was like old sandpaper, dry and powdery from disuse.
"I'm..." Mulder was sure he was here for more than discovering that Mole People actually existed. Standing before him was living proof! He lifted his shoulder in a half-shrug, and felt the weight of an extra cell phone in his pocket. He must have shoved it in there before the chase.
"...I'm here because I have to help protect a boy. Someone attacked him. I think it was you."
Mole-boy snuffled his wrist against his snout, careful to keep claws away from his delicate skin. "Don't know what you mean. Don't know no boy." He emphasized 'boy' with a sneering tone.
"Then where did you get this?" Mulder reached for his pocket containing Sean's cell phone. The creature twitched at his sudden movement, but remained to study this stranger's possession.
"I think differently," Mulder accused.
Mole-boy grunted. "So? Just a thing. What is it to the 'boy,' this thing?"
"You attacked him to get it."
"What *is* the truth?"
The creature jerked his head around, looking in all corners of the tunnel they stood in. It seemed like he was afraid to say something, as if others could hear him.
"Been looking for new home. Was going to meet someone. An..." he glanced quickly around again, "... an up-worlder. Like you. Someone above- ground. Boy attacked me first."
"He tripped over you," Mulder informed.
"Never trust up-worlders! Never!" He beat the palm of his hand against his bald forehead. "Never."
Mole-boy slumped to the floor, as if weary from a long couple of days. He sat with his legs sprawled forward, and clawed hands between them on the floor. His head lifted, and Mulder could see his own reflection distort in the dark shaded goggles.
"They all must go. We don't want to leave. Been here longer. Our land. Our home. Why come to underground? Why up-worlders want our home?"
Mulder's shoulders relaxed, less defensive than before. This creature was not out to harm him intentionally. He was working in self-defense. And although he wanted to find the assailant in the crime, maybe simply leaving Mole-boy alone would solve any further attacks.
"Look, I'll leave quietly, and make sure nobody ever comes down here. Will that help?"
"Why?" Mole-boy asked full of distrust.
"Well, let's just say I've always wanted to meet you." Mulder lowered his hands, but held them palm-up so that Mole-boy was sure he wasn't going to try anything as he sidled by. As careful as he was, the creature still scurried as close to the wall as possible, giving this stranger ample room to pass.
As Mulder began the trek back the way he came, satisfied that all had been solved, he heard the scratchy voice behind him.
Mulder turned to listen.
"No up-worlders here anymore? Sure?"
Mulder nodded. "Promise."
Mulder jerked in surprise. "What about him?" His stomach was all of a sudden solidifying uncomfortably.
"Damien takes all our land. This place," he gestured upward with his snout, "the only one left. Please. No Damien. Don't let him take our home again. They all tried to hide with us. After the 'big boom.' We got rid of them. They can't stay! Don't want to leave home."
So that was it. He and Scully *had* been led into Damien's lair for a reason. They were meant to believe that the Mole-People were dangerous - - a threat to all human life. Mulder was beginning to see a clear picture now. There was a feud going on here. He hoped he was making the right decision.
"I'll make sure," he promised.
Mole-boy stood for a moment longer, unmoving. Hesitantly, then more confidently, he nodded in acceptance. A warm feeling came over Mulder. He could save these creatures from extinction. The tunnel even felt like it was getting warmer and brighter. He turned to continue back to Scully, but before he rounded the corner back into the main tunnel, he stole one last quick glance at Mole-boy for remembrance sake.
Mole-boy was surrounded by a brighter, pale yellow glow. Behind him, several timid shadows emerged from the exits off the tunnel. Beady eyes shone in the darkness, watching him. Mole- boy got up from his seated position, and disappeared into one of the portals. Then the lights got dimmer again, and they all disappeared.
"Mulder?" Scully's voice echoed from a distance.
Mulder followed the sound of his partner's voice to find his way back. Strangely, the way back was much easier than he'd thought. The tunnel was a straight-away, when he was sure he'd gone around several corners chasing after the Mole- boy. When he finally arrived, she'd just finished digging herself out of the pile. He was so glad to see her, bursting at the seams with glee over his encounter.
"Scully! Scully, are you... did you..."
"I'm fine. No, I didn't see it. And I don't know -- correction," she held up one finger, "I don't *want* to know."
"Wow, I think that's the first time I've heard your stock answer to everything. I assume you want to get the heck out of here."
"I'd say that's a safe assumption," she said, rolling her eyes and stretching the aches in her back. He grabbed her elbow for support and led her through the long, dark, damp way back.
South 4th Street Station
"Thank God you're all right! No, no, there's a ladder down that way. Why you ever wanted to jump down there in the first place..."
Mulder and Scully emerged from the darkness to find Michael pacing up and down the goose- pimpled yellow edging of the platform. He was ecstatic to see them safe, and for the most part unharmed though quite soiled from their adventure. He pulled them each up to safety, and when they'd seemed more or less ready, he swallowed stiffly and asked, "What did you see?"
"They saw that there's more space being taken up by those devilish creatures! I knew it was there! I've been searching for it for quite some time now."
The three of them whipped around. First, they saw the tattered mismatched sneakers, then the long wool coat, and finally those crazy eyes shining from behind a gleefully crinkled face emerge from behind a white tiled pillar a few feet away.
"Preserving the rights of the Homeless again, I suppose?" Michael spat out, surprising himself with the forcefulness of his own voice.
"Exactly right! The extermination must continue! We're not safe until *they* are all gone! Tell me, did you kill him right away, or did you hurt him and watch the slime suffer before he died?" Damien nearly salivated at the prospect of seeing such a gruesome act.
"Nothing of the sort. He's still alive," Mulder answered.
"WHAT! You let him -- Let me in there! I'll destroy them all!"
Mulder moved quickly, and before anyone could discern what was happening, he had Damien on the floor with his arms pinned behind his back. With the click of his handcuffs, Mulder said, "You're not going anywhere. And you're not ever going to set foot in that tunnel. How does a few nights in custody sound to you? Should give us enough time to have that passage walled up nice and tight."
"You can't do that! We have no place else to go. The number of my subjects is growing larger every day. There's no room anymore!"
"I'm sorry to hear that. Really, I am. Homelessness is not fun. But there are ways, Damien. We're going to help your 'subjects' see the light again. They don't deserve to live under your reign. And taking from others what was never yours is wrong.
"People's sense of recognition gets a little dim when they're attacked in a dark alley or subway station, you know. I can place you at any of those sightings or assaults, and it wouldn't be too far off from the truth. You've managed to falsely accuse all of those underground dwellers, driven them to the point where they don't trust any human anymore. Wiping out a culture that supposedly doesn't exist isn't a crime that we can lock you up for, but it's crime enough."
"Who all? Culture? Mulder--"
"I'll explain later. Grab his arm."
With Scully's help, Mulder hauled Damien up and out to the turnstiles of the station, kicking and screaming. They were met there by several police officers, who had been called on by a pedestrian who had witnessed the skirmish a few minutes ago and reported it to the ticket vendor.
"Officers," Mulder addressed the two men in blue uniform. They apprehended the homeless man, and scowled at the three others until Mulder and Scully pulled out their badges. "We found this one among the inactive South-bound tracks. Put up quite a fight, but he was nearly the victim of a cave-in down there. Seems there's a crawl space beneath the platform. I suggest you have Public Works wall it up before there are some fatalities."
"Thank you, sir. Uh, would you mind coming in with us to make a statement?"
Damien growled at that, but hung his head low in defeat.
Enjoying the sway of his federal status just a little too much, Mulder smirked at Scully and said, "Not at all, officers. Not at all."
MTA Archive Room
"Mulder, you're just not going to find it. We've been here for hours. Would you just let it go?"
"It's got to be here, Scully. A network of tunnels that huge could not be completely uncharted. It's impossible."
Michael came over with another stack he'd retrieved from a flat file, and laid the blueprints on the light table.
"I'm afraid she may be correct, Mr.-- I mean, Agent Mulder. I know these maps better than anyone here does. I've studied them a hundred times. What was not charted just did not matter to the construction of the transit system, nor the sewage systems of New York. I am sorry."
"It didn't matter to them, but that doesn't mean they weren't there."
"Well, we can't have a team of archaeologists come in and study the area, Mulder. New York City is too heavily constructed to attempt such a study. And besides," Scully moved closer to him and rubbed his back, "do you really want anyone going down there again?"
He fingered his upper lip in thought, then flipped the switch to the light table, leaving them all in semi-darkness. Michael sat across from them, hovering above a second light table, watching them for an answer.
"You're right, Scully. I made a promise. I'm going to keep it." He took her hand and squeezed it tightly. Then he turned to the man across from them. "Thank you for all your help, Michael. You've been an unexpected ally in all this."
"You're welcome, agents. Do keep in touch. If there's anything else I can ever help you with. Well, you have my e-mail."
They shook hands firmly, chuckling in understanding, and the two agents left Michael among his precious maps and flat files. He gathered up, organized, and placed all the blueprints carefully back into their respective drawers.
Before he turned off the rest of the lights, Michael pulled out a dark yellow envelope from beneath all the papers on his clip board. He sighed heavily, studying the plain unmarked envelope, thankful that he didn't have to use this to deter any further exploration of the caverns.
He went over to the light tables and switched one on again. He pulled out two sheets of acetate material, smoky gray images burned into them, and laid them out onto the lit surface. The x-rays were old. He hadn't really looked at them in years.
To the left, he placed the first one, a negative depicting the profile of a deformed skull, the bridge of the nose protruding further than normal, making the whole shape of it look oblong, more animal-like. Teeth were also extra long, and fewer than what a normal human would have. To the right, he laid a second negative. This one showed a normal profile of a skull, all aspects just as one would have expected.
In the upper right corner of each x-ray, there was a label identifying the patient to which they belonged. On both negatives it read, "Massing, Michael."
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