The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part V -- Riding the Wave
The Revised Version
by Henry Wyckoff
December 1995

Chapter 11

Coleen's nerves were strangling her guts as she felt Nat's furious gaze aiming at her like a rifle. It was momentary, because Mulder was drilling her with some rather good questions, such as, "Where is he now?"

Everyone sprang into action, except for Coleen, who felt as if Nat had given her a silent threat: "You're dead." Or at least it felt like that given the violence in that gaze.

To be honest with herself, Coleen had positively enjoyed that session in the back room, shooting her full of a very specialized drug that left Nat breathless and waiting for more. She'd felt an intense thrill when Nat's mind clouded over, and all she'd known was that Coleen was the center of her world. When Nat's mind began to uncloud -- but the conditioning remained -- and she'd dumped Nick, Coleen felt as if the whole world had been given to her on a silver platter.

Although Nat knew what happened and why it happened, what she didn't know was that the drug only lifted inhibitions, and that everything she had said and done were things that she'd *wanted* to say and do. Everything. The problem now was that the part of Nat which was the conscience and the inhibitor had surfaced and taken over. Nat had returned to her original self, plus some. And she wanted revenge.

Coleen was also honest enough to admit that she deserved whatever Nat did to her.

While everyone else was peering out of the windows, trying to find the blackboxman, Coleen silently left the room, exiting out the back door. Nobody seemed to notice her leaving, not even Nat. Coleen knew what those black boxes could do, but she went outside regardless. Maybe she had a death wish: she wished that she could die in the mindless haze that death would produce. She had died before, and she remembered the absolute nothingness that the death had produced. Absolute nothingness -- a soothing substance more effective than even amnesia.

The sun was almost down by now, but even so, it was still bright outside. The alleyway was just like any other -- an occasional trash dumpster, a lot of litter, nameless scum -- similar to the crud you find on the inner walls and bottom of any dumpster, and a dead cat that had been so for a few days. A closer inspection revealed a few corpses left from the riots -- hidden in all the nooks and crevices.

Her scan of the alley didn't produce any blackboxman, so she moved closer to the main street, leaving her sword undrawn.

She'd nearly reached the street when she caught some movement with the side of her eye. Looking towards the source, she found a blackboxman walking openly towards the Raven. It looked as if he hadn't noticed her, but she wasn't one to tempt fate -- she silently and smoothly fell into a sideways roll behind a dumpster.

Brushing her fine hair out of her eyes -- nearly cursing aloud at its inconsiderate behavior -- she waited and observed.

The man waited there, in the open and apparently unconcerned as to his visibility. Moments passed, and he remained there, a dead smile on his face -- a totally dead expression on his face.

What Coleen couldn't know was that the atmosphere inside the Raven had completely changed.

* * *

..."It's all crazy!" yelled Scully, stomping around the room. Her words and eyes were directed at Mulder, but she might as well have been screaming at everyone else in the room -- or even at the world in general. "I can't believe that you're putting any credence in this! Black boxes that can fry nerves?! It's impossible!"

Mulder was infamous for his emotionless exterior, but he had lost it. He was yelling right back at Scully, "And I can't believe you're blind to what's right in front of your face!"

Kermit had also lost his cool. "Stop it, the both of you!" He moved in between them, "You're behaving like a couple of kids!" But his voice was even louder than Mulder's and Scully's voices.

Methos, Joe, Bill, and Richie were screaming about a lot of different things at once, none of it intelligible, because they were all babbling at the same time.

Only Halscombe, still sitting in the corner like a madman, seemed to be unaffected. After all those hours in his own mental world, he snapped back into the real one. Or was it the real world? What he saw reminded him of a dream -- and an unlikely one at that -- everyone had become frothing lunatics, screaming things at one another that they'd always wanted to scream, but never had.

It was so chaotic that Halscombe nodded. It made sense, they were acting so out of control because they weren't in control. And there was only one thing that could do that, and he was damned if he was going to let himself suffer the same fate. He walked out of the room and attempted to exit through the same door as Coleen, but this time, everyone was more vigilant.


"And where do you think you're going, Cancerman?"

Mulder was right behind him, and had his gun aimed right at Halscombe's head. His eyes were wilder than a rabid dog's.

* * *

No, Coleen couldn't know that everyone was acting uncharacteristically violent.

The moments passed, and she realized that she wasn't going to gain anymore information this way, so she went to Plan B: she drew a boot knife and threw it at the man's shoulder.

He was a good fifteen feet away, and she was a bad throw to begin with, but hitting him wasn't her point: it was distraction. As it was, she hit him in the leg -- it stuck into his right thigh.

Rather than scream or yell, the man looked down at his leg with an expression of curiosity and pulled it out, muttering, "That's odd. I don't remember that being there before..." There was no hint of pain as he pulled it out, looking at it intently. There was no blood squirting out of his leg, which happened with this kind of wound for a few moments at least.

Coleen's eyes widened at that, but she didn't freeze. Her muscles and nerves already coiled, she sprang into action. She was of the stocky variety, so it was quite easy for her to charge at the man without attracting too much visual attention to herself, as much as a tall and wiry individual would.

Her boots were soft, with rubber soles, so she was able to reach more than half-way before he heard the rustling of her clothes, and looked her way. He managed to slap a button on the box that sent waves of pain through her, sending her to her knees.

* * *

The room became suddenly silent, and everyone was shaking their heads in confusion.

"Was I saying something?" Kermit asked.

"I don't know," muttered Joe. He had a splitting headache. He looked at the clock, "I think we lost about five minutes somewhere."

They heard a loud, piercing scream from outside.

"What the hell was that?" Scully ran to the window closest to the source of the sound, pulling the shutters open. Coleen was on the ground, scratching at herself furiously, as if she were trying to scrape off bugs or acid, screaming incoherently.

Through the thick glass -- one of the few windows that hadn't been smashed during the riot -- Scully could hear a faint, "Get 'em off me! GET 'EM OFF!"

The blackboxman stood there with a calm expression, as if he was doing a lab experiment.

Kermit reached the door, assessed the situation in a split- second, and pulled out a monster-handgun in a flash. Several bullets smashed through the window -- cutting a clean hole in it -- and hit the blackboxman dead-on in the right and left shoulders. This box happened to be strapped to the man at the shoulders, so it didn't fall to the ground as they did with all of the other blackboxmen.

The blackboxman sank to his knees, unable to move his limp arms, his face devoid of any expected pain. Through the open hole in the window, they could hear him say, "Fascinating."

Coleen had collapsed on the asphalt by now, moaning in pain, with a dentist's office quality to it. She almost looked like a near-dead traveller in the desert, sprawled out, but crawling onward with intention towards a definite goal. Though Coleen must have been feeling unspeakable agony, she hadn't quit yet. She was crawling slowly towards the blackboxman.

Kermit smashed the large window with a chair and leaped through it, running over to the blackboxman. He made a big mistake by running head-on towards him, because when the box faced him, he felt an incapacitating wave of pain that froze his muscles. It was more intense than anything he had ever experienced in his life -- and he'd felt more pain than most men should by his age.

There were two down now. Nat reached the window. Seeing the two in such pain, something snapped inside. She was no longer blind-furious -- that had left her as suddenly as the general chaos in the room -- but the adrenaline was still pumping through her blood, and made her thoughts a bit muddled and panicky.

Scully's thoughts were just as adrenaline-muddled, but she'd long-since developed her reflexes to pull out a gun in these situations, and that's exactly what she did. But it wasn't just a reflex -- it was a calculated move.

She really didn't want to do this -- Kermit must have thought along similar lines when he made his decisions -- but Scully just had to be practical. She fired at the box, destroying both it and the blackboxman with the explosion of sparks that erupted.

Both Kermit's and Coleen's screaming were abruptly cut off. Kermit's eyes met Coleen's for a brief moment before he passed out -- Coleen's were on Nat's as she fell into nothingness.

* * *

Axer touched the force field blocking their entrance to the basement of the Raven. After feeling the expected shock of pain, snapping it in the air for a few moments, he turned around to face Kate and LaCroix. "It appears that the Invisible Ones are highly intelligent, efficient, and have technologies that are beyond our control." He pointed at the force field. "There's no chance in hell of getting through that -- and if we tamper with the field generators, who knows what'll happen."

LaCroix frowned, "Then we're trapped?"

Axer smiled, shaking his head, "You don't get it, do you? The more advanced a civilization, the more dense it becomes. It never occurred to them to shield the wall *surrounding* it. All we have to do is punch a hole in the wall *next* to the door!"

Kate was always the practical one. She shook her head as well, frowning, "And how do you propose to do *that*, love?"

Axer smiled even wider, looking at both of them now.

LaCroix looked indignant. "You presume too much!"

"Do you want to get out of here?"

* * *

Mulder felt a sharp headache, but he still kept his gun on Halscombe.

"So it comes to this," Halscombe leaned against the wall, looking saner than he had in weeks. "What are you going to do? You've had me for hours, but you can't keep me here forever." He looked a little closer at Mulder, "*Can* you do it?"

A loud bang erupted from the basement. The sound of falling bricks, pounding, and cracking concrete distracted Mulder for just long enough for Halscombe to slip Mulder a punch to the nose, breaking it cleanly and nearly knocking him out.

While Mulder lay stunned for a few moments, holding his bleeding nose, Halscombe escaped with Mulder's gun. A few moments later, Mulder's mind was a little clearer. "Damn it! How come they *always* go for the nose?"

Axer, Kate, and LaCroix emerged from downstairs -- exhausted and ragged. When they saw Mulder on the floor, Axer was the first to run over. "What happened?"

Mulder looked resentful, "You happened. Thanks to you, I just lost Cancerman!"

"Which way did he go?"

"I don't know!"

Swearing, his second wind still with him, Axer ran out the side door. He hoped there was still a chance that he could catch Halscombe. It couldn't have been *that* long since he'd escaped, and the man was an immortal now. Axer smiled as he scanned the alleyway, //And to top it off, a nice fox hunt on a blinking red carpet...//

Kate knelt beside Mulder, "Hold still. This won't take long." She grabbed his nose and snapped it back into place. It didn't take long, but the pain sure did.

* * *

Nat stood over Coleen's dead body. Somehow, all the rage that she had felt for the last few hours was as long gone a memory as a fever dream. She remembered the events, but they were remote to her. Almost meaningless.

Coleen's body spasmed, and her eyes opened. At first they were unfocused and aimless, but that soon changed. The eyes looked upward, finding Nat. She tried to say something, but it came out only as a dry croak.

Nat now felt pity, because she didn't see a monster anymore, but rather some confused kid in need of help. She sank down to her knees beside Coleen, holding her hand as life came back into her, "I'm here."

Coleen's eyes closed again. Maybe they were a little less strained now.

Kermit started to come to -- he had only been exposed to the black box for a few moments, so all he got was a painful nerve squeeze. At first, he lay in semi-consciousness, then gradually came to full consciousness. Groaning, he rolled over a little bit, and saw the way Coleen was looking at Nat.

Grimacing, he stopped fighting the exhaustion and let everything fade to black, and then to dreams. Dreams about Coleen...

* * * *

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