3 MILES OUTSIDE VILLAGE
VILLAGE OF HANDARI, PAKISTAN
FRIDAY, JULY 2nd, 2010
"Alam! Get the ball!" Eight-year-old Alam Taymur turned at the sound of his name. He wore an old t-shirt that had once belonged to his brother, Sabir, and a pair of pants that were much too short for him. He had brand new shoes, however. The lime green Crocs had come in with a shipment of relief supplies for their tiny village of Handari, which was roughly around ten miles from Hangu and fifty miles from Peshawar, but surrounded by mountainous terrain.
At their current high altitude, they could see Handari three miles away, and could see the tiny dot that was Peshawar, just over the horizon.
Alam was with five other boys playing football while two of the boys' fathers had a meeting of some sort. An old, rusty Jeep Cherokee sat about a quarter mile away from the boys, where the two men were discussing something important. Their expressions looked intense, and Alam had been staring in their direction, concerned.
"Alam!" an older boy yelled, and walked over. Alam turned to face him. "Get the ball," Hafid said forcefully.
"What do you think they're talking about?" Alam asked, and watched as one of the fathers looked at his watch, and glanced in their direction.
"Nothing that concerns you," the older boy told him, getting annoyed that Alam wouldn't go get the ball.
"The last time they took us out here, there was a bomb," Alam stated, undercurrents of worry in his tone.
"Alam, just get the ball," Hafid implored him, and Alam faced his older friend. He saw the same worry on his Hafid's face as he imagined was on his own. Hafid had lost his mother in that bombing, Alam had lost his brother. They shared something of a bond. For now, though, there was nothing they could do. And it was the youngest boy's job to retrieve the ball. Alam resigned to his duty with a nod, and ran after the wayward football. As he kicked it back, he felt a rumble deep within in the earth. He stopped, placing one foot on the ball. He nearly lost his balance as the rumbling grew, and he spotted a cloud of dust in the distance. It was moving right toward him and the others. He looked back at his friends' fathers, who were now shouting for the boys to get back in the Jeep. But Barr, one of the other boys, was standing stock-still, apparently frozen. Hafid had started running back with the others but when Barr didn't move, the thirteen-year-old turned back and ran back to grab him.
"Hafid! No!" Alam yelled, and started running toward his friends. "Come on, Barr!" he shouted, the wind from the cloud starting to whirl the sand around. He coughed and squinted, pulling his shirt up to block his nose and mouth. He could barely see now, but he could make out Hafid's larger form plucking Barr's smaller one from the sand and starting to run back toward them. Suddenly, he was lifted off his feet and hauled backward in the arms of someone much larger than himself. It was one of the fathers. "Hafid!" he yelled, and saw the shadow of Hafid and Barr lose their footing and suddenly become airborne. He heard a tremendous scream, and then lost sight of his older friend. "Hafid!" he cried.
The wind whipped around them, and he was thrown into the crowded Jeep. They huddled together, pulling the shirts over their faces to filter the dust and sand.
Only moments later, the gale-force winds stopped. There was dust everywhere. It stung Alam's eyes as he cried, staring into the manila-colored cloud where his friend had been. They couldn't see anything. "You children stay in the car," one of the fathers said, and he got out of the Jeep. Alam didn't listen. He followed the man, keeping him in sight so he wouldn't get lost. He stared into the area where his friend was, but still could see nothing. The man looked down, and saw Alam. Alam backed away, momentarily frightened, until his friend's father said, "I have an idea—come with me."
Alam followed the man back to the Jeep, where they both climbed on top of the roof. "Climb on my shoulders," his friend's father ordered him, and the boy complied. When the man stood, Alam gasped, and promptly coughed from inhaling the dust.
"What, what do you see?"
Alam squinted. "Nothing. There's nothing but a cloud. As far as you can see." A tear rolled down his cheek. "Just a cloud…" No Barr. No Hafid. No Handari.
SATURDAY, JULY 3rd, 2010
"You're not done yet?"
"They haven't even gotten to my car." Mulder sat in the drab waiting area of a local Pep Boys, glancing out the window casually at the parking lot filled with cars of customers in similar predicaments to his own. The waiting area was packed, and many of the drivers' cars sat untouched. The shop was full, and the Pep Boys was backed up. Scully had called a few moments ago to check on his ETA. They were due at Maggie's house in two hours for dinner.
Scully sighed. "It's a holiday weekend," she said, offering some explanation.
His expression dissatisfied, he nodded. "But we just want the snow tires taken off."
"Well, you're the one who put it off till July, Mulder. If it takes too long, you'll just have to wait for another weekend."
"Yeah, we don't want to miss dinner," he said absently, distracted by the 'Breaking News' segment interrupting the game on the waiting area's TV.
"We interrupt this program to bring you breaking news from India, where four major terrorist attacks have been launched and are now in progress. Ted Kusak is in Mumbai, where one of the largest attacks took place. Ted?"
"Thank you, Kelly. Three hours ago, approximately ten heavily armed, self-proclaimed 'Pakistani defenders' entered the Central Bank of India just as twenty other armed men with the same self-identification entered the Mumbai Airport. They immediately began shooting, and it is estimated that four hundred people may have been killed from those attacks alone. At the same time, a total of eight suicide bombers successfully set off bombs in hotels, popular shopping malls, and apartment buildings. A thousand people may have been killed in this city alone, and similar attacks are occurring in three other cities. The most gruesome of the attacks is undoubtedly the Indian Military Hospital massacre. It is reported that thirty armed terrorists entered the hospital and began shooting, slaughtering every patient and worker on two floors before an elite tactical team was finally able to enter the building. At this time, they set off a suicide bomb and demolished half of the hospital."
"Scully, are you watching this?"
"No, I'm in the car headed to Target to get candy for Matt and Claire. What? What's going on?"
"There was a terrorist attack—there were several terrorist attacks in India. They're estimating a thousand people were killed in Mumbai alone, and there are three similar attacks in India as we speak."
"That's horrible," Scully said, her tone concerned. "This can't be unrelated to the attack in Pakistan yesterday."
"That's what I'm thinking, too. I know Pakistan isn't all that fond of India but I didn't realize they thought India was responsible."
"It was on the news last night. Some commentator was saying that the Pakistani government had traced the hit to a military complex in India, but that the Indian government had responded that they had no idea where the attack had come from and that they were willing to offer aid if Pakistan was willing to accept."
Mulder snorted. "Right. I think they'd rather have us in there than India, and that's really saying something."
"Well, is there any indication that the government is responsible for these attacks?"
"The Pakistani government? Not that I can see. The news seems to be referring to them as 'terrorists'. They've got feed from a Pakistani news channel and an Indian one, and they're both condemning the attacks."
"I don't think anyone wants an all-out war," Scully said. "Especially not with India. There'd be no contest against them."
"But that doesn't mean the Pakistani government isn't responsible. Hiring terrorists to do your fighting for you can't be hard when they're a rupee a dozen."
They had been following the conflict since it started the previous day, with an enormously powerful weapon strike hitting a small village in Pakistan and flattening three square miles of land. There was less left of the village than there was of Hiroshima after the bomb, and the weapon had been powerful enough to cave in a small portion of a mountain, causing a rockslide that buried any microbe that had managed to survive the initial blast.
The reason why this catastrophe was interesting to them was because the weapon left no apparent energy signature and seemed to simply vaporize everything in its path. The only thing it left behind was a detectable 'tunnel' of wind, similar to a tornado, traveling from the apparent source. It was nearly identical to the Bari Trasadi, an ancient Indian weapon Mulder had given a lecture on two months ago for Georgetown University's archaeology department. Mulder believed the archaic weapon's calamitous results were due to alien technology.
Evidence of the existence of such a weapon were only mentioned in a few Indian texts, but Mulder had reason to believe the Indian government had recently discovered the device in an archaeological dig around a year ago. He also had sources that told him there had since been questionable communications between the Indian government and possible extraterrestrials.
"Anyway, let me know when you're done at Pep Boys. And call me if anything else happens in India."
"Will do. Love you," Mulder said just as his phone beeped.
"Love you, bye."
He switched the call and spotted Skinner's name on the CID. "Hello, Sir," he greeted his boss.
"Mulder, I'm sorry to bother you on a weekend. I need you and Scully in my office as soon as possible."
Mulder frowned. "Sir, it's the day before July 4th. Can't this wait till Monday?"
"No, Mulder, it can't," he said forcefully. "I've got a representative from the Indian military on video chat and he doesn't have all day. We need both of you here, within the hour if you can. Where are you?"
"Pep Boys," Mulder said, and stood up as he saw a man walk toward his car. Now they decide to change the tires.
He started out the door, as Skinner said, "It's about the attacks in India. I take it you've been following the news?"
"Hey! Hey, don't take the car yet! Sorry, Sir, hold on a minute." Mulder waved his arm and tried to get the single-minded mechanic's attention. "Hey, don't take the car yet—I need my keys back. I need to leave."
"I'll see you soon, then, Mulder," Skinner said.
Mulder shook his head, and said into the phone, "No, wait, Sir, I want to know what this is abou—" Skinner hung up, and Mulder sighed. He turned back to the mechanic. "I need my keys back. Is there any way I can take a raincheck for the tires?"
"You already paid?" the man asked.
"Yeah, when would be a good day to come in? When aren't you this crowded?"
The mechanic snorted. "When we're closed."
J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING
SATURDAY, JULY 3rd, 2010
"So let me get this straight. You think the weapon design from the legend was copied by the terrorists, used against one of their own villages from a location close to the military base in India, and then the attack was used as an excuse to launch this complicated series of attacks they've been planning for months?" Mulder leaned back in his seat and folded his hands against Skinner's desk. "Forgive me for asking, but are you familiar with Occam's Razor, General?"
The Indian Army General looked relatively insulted, and US Army General Bill Hager gave Mulder a sharp look over the video chat screen. Mulder looked to Scully, who was now leaning to one side of her chair, rubbing her eyes with her thumb and forefinger. Mulder looked back at the Indian General and shrugged. "It just seems overly complicated," he said. "A much simpler explanation is that someone in India has found the real Bari Trasadi, didn't understand how to control it, accidentally hit Pakistan, and instantly created about two thousand terrorists who were told where to go and what to do."
"We have no evidence either way, Agent Mulder. That's why we're talking to you," General Himmat said with a slight Indian accent. His English was impeccable. "You were recommended to us by American intelligence as someone who may be able to track this weapon down and stop it before it causes any more terrorist attacks. Whether someone has built the weapon to align perfectly with our legend of the Bari Trasadi, or whether the 4,000-year-old weapon somehow exists and is now in use, it doesn't matter. Although, admittedly," he said with a small smirk that Hager matched, "we are leaning toward the former explanation."
"We would be happy to help in any way we can, General," Scully answered for Mulder, hoping to smooth over the public relations. Mulder was notorious for pissing off people in high places and Scully didn't want to spar with two generals on a holiday weekend. With luck, she thought, they'd be out of there by midnight and still get to spend Sunday with her mom, Tara, and the kids.
"Good," Himmat said with a nod, and glanced at Skinner. "How soon can they be in Pakistan?"
Mulder and Scully's eyebrows shot up. Simultaneously, they said, "Whoa, what?" and "Wait a minute—"
Skinner ignored them. "They can be on a plane by this afternoon. They'll arrive tomorrow. I'll brief them on the specifics. Do you want to send any material for them to read on the way over?"
"We'd rather not," General Hager stated. "This is sensitive information and we have concerns that releasing specifics over the phone or Internet might result in a breach in national security, for both our countries." General Himmat nodded his agreement.
"Very well. Is there anything else, gentlemen? My agents deserve an explanation and I'd like to be able to give one to them." He didn't seem entirely happy with this plan, but he was acting like grudging acceptance of it was the only appropriate course of action.
"That will be all for now, Assistant Director. Thank you for your time," Himmat said gratefully. He turned to Mulder and Scully. "I will see both of you in Pakistan."
Himmat cut off his video, and Hager turned to the AD. "Assistant Director, I want to make myself perfectly clear," the general explained. "The Army does not want this to turn into an investigation into alien technology, a hunt to find ET in Pakistan, or some kind of twisted Stargate episode." He glanced at Mulder. "You're not looking for the Bari Trasadi. You're looking for a weapon that was built to terrorize the people in this region, that manages to copy the supposed characteristics of the weapon from the legend."
"Your point was well-understood, General," Skinner said, and then added, "Before, after, and during our conversations with General Himmat."
"Thank you, AD Skinner. I trust you'll relay that point to your agents," Hager said, and cut his video off. Himmat shortly followed, and Skinner deactivated the line altogether.
The AD turned to Mulder and Scully who looked ready to throw in about a hundred protests. He held up his hand. "I know it's a holiday, and I know you had plans."
"It's not even that," Mulder started, and glanced at Scully. "Sir, we can't go to Pakistan. It's a warzone. We're two Federal agents, not—"
"You've received the proper training, Mulder, and this is important to national security. Who do you think the terrorists are going to attack next? They tend to lash out at their enemies and any allies their enemies collect. When they learn we're giving India humanitarian aid, they're going to take it as a military presence. Look at Haiti."
Scully shook her head. "Isn't there any way we can analyze this without going to Pakistan?"
"No, not if we want to keep the weapon classified. The last thing we need is the world knowing that someone has a weapon of mass destruction on their hands. Half the population in the US will be calling for a military operation in India to find out who it is, and everyone else will be panicking that the Apocalypse is coming. Many people in India would think it's the actual Bari Trasadi. It would add vulnerability to the infrastructure of the Western world that could lead directly to a terrorist attack."
Mulder looked dissatisfied with this explanation.
"You'll be protected by a contingent of US military officers permitted to enter the country for the express purpose of examining ground zero. It shouldn't take more than a day or two, and then you'll head to India in protective custody, where you'll visit the archaeological dig site where it's suspected that an object of similar appearance to the Bari Trasadi was unearthed."
"Suspected, huh?" Mulder said wryly.
Skinner went on as if Mulder hadn't spoken. "And I expect you to be on your best behavior, Mulder. I don't have to tell you international relations are at stake here, and it isn't time to be accusing the Indian government of conspiring with extraterrestrials."
"My sources indicate that the Indian government has been contacted by extraterrestrials, but there's no evidence here that extraterrestrials are playing any role in the use of the weapon. The Bari Trasadi was never intended to destroy three square miles of land, Sir," Mulder said, ignoring the tired expression on Skinner's face. "It was intended to target multiple locations at once with precision 'beams'. Though the 'beams' are more like massive, concentrated gusts of wind that utilize the elements already in the atmosphere, destabilizing any structure, including living beings, in the area targeted."
Skinner was getting impatient, and Mulder quickly concluded with, "So it's fairly obvious that whoever is using the Bari Trasadi was not trained how to properly fire it."
"Your job," Skinner continued, "is to get in there, give the Indian and Pakistani governments any information they need on the Bari Trasadi in order to track the people who have built this weapon, and then you are to leave. You are not to attempt to expose any conspiracies overseas. It's doubtful Secretary Clinton wants another Beijing on her hands."
"I'll make sure that's all we do, Sir," Scully jumped in. "Trust me, I want to get home as fast as possible."
"Good." Skinner stood. "Then I wish you good luck." His features softened somewhat, and he glanced at his two agents. "You two watch yourselves over there."
With that, Mulder gave his boss a definitive nod and led Scully out of the room.
C-17 CARGO AIRCRAFT
SOMEWHERE OVER EASTERN EUROPE
SUNDAY, JULY 4th, 2010
"We shouldn't have told them," Scully said with a sigh. She thumped back into her seat, a printout of Mulder's lecture on the Bari Trasadi half-read in her lap. They were sitting in two of the only open seats on the cargo plane, the rest of the space taken up by bulky cargo going to Pakistan and then India for the relief effort.
They were the only passengers on the massive utilitarian plane, and their seats were padded but not intended to make the ride comfortable. Tired of looking at the side of an enormous package of hygiene supplies, Mulder and Scully had long ago turned to the materials they brought with them.
Mulder looked up from his file and glanced at Scully. "Hm?"
"My mother and Tara. We shouldn't have told them."
"Well, what were we supposed to do?" Mulder asked rhetorically. "Not show up for dinner and then not show up for the 4th? If you were missing from mass this morning," he glanced at his watch, "or 'tomorrow', their time, your mom would've had her neighborhood watch group marching through the city with guns and dogs."
"I'm not saying we shouldn't have told them we weren't going to be there. I'm saying we shouldn't have told them we're going to Pakistan. My mother had that look on her face like she did after Bill's funeral." She shifted her glance to Mulder, her expression painful. "I don't want to put her through anything else, especially not during a holiday."
Mulder slipped his hand into hers. "I know. I'm sorry, Scully. She was going to find out, though. This isn't a three hour tour."
Scully smiled slightly, and shook her head. "I just wish we could've lied and told her it was some mission in Hawaii."
Mulder chuckled. "Then she'd expect us to call."
Scully was about to reply when the plane veered sharply off-course and began a steep climb. Mulder and Scully were nearly thrown into the cargo containers, and as they scrambled back into their seats and reached for their seatbelts, they saw Air Force Colonel Brown making his way back from the cockpit.
"What's going on?" Scully asked as she fastened her seatbelt.
"There was just another attack, this time in Afghanistan. It's a big one. And it took out a US Army base. We've been ordered to get out of the strike zone and wait until we receive the OK to land. It's gonna be another five, maybe even ten hours, folks."
Scully gave Mulder a worried expression, and Mulder asked Brown, "Any trace on where this one originated?"
"Not yet, but as soon as I know anything, I'll let you know." Suddenly, he tapped the radio in his ear and listened intently. Then he nodded. Turning back to the FBI agents, he said, "We've got the source. It was India again. And the Indian government has just launched an offensive to figure out who's doing this. They've closed off their borders—no one in or out. Looks like we're gonna be stuck in Pakistan for a while."
Scully looked down, and shook her head. "That's just wonderful," she muttered.
"Try to get some sleep. You're gonna need it," Brown said as he turned and made his way back toward the cockpit.