Read Ground Zero (The X-Files) Online

Authors: Kevin Anderson,Chris Carter (Creator)

Tags: #Fiction

Ground Zero (The X-Files) (6 page)

BOOK: Ground Zero (The X-Files)
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“What’s that noise?” Louis asked. “Do you hear voices out there?”

Light and heat rushed in through the cracks in the walls, like a blinding storm from the core of the sun. The last thing Captain Mesta heard was a raging roar like a whirlwind of vengeful whispers.

Then all the seams split in the walls as the last barrier evaporated. A tidal wave of blazing, radioactive fire flooded over them, engulfing the chamber.

41

SIX

Teller Nuclear Research Facility

Tuesday, 3:50 P.M.

With his visitor’s badge firmly clipped to his collar, Mulder felt like a door-to-door salesman. He followed his map of the Teller Facility on which Rosabeth Carrera had circled the building number where Dr. Gregory’s project team was temporarily stationed.

He found the building, a dilapidated, ancient barracks, two stories tall, with windowpanes so old that the glass had begun to ripple with age. The doors and window frames were painted a putrid, yellowish tan that reminded him of the Number 2 pencils given out for standardized tests in public schools. The exterior walls were sided with composite shingles, flexible asphalt sheets slapped on in a repetitive overlapping pattern. They looked like the wings of a freakish mutant moth grown to gargantuan size.

“Nice digs,” Mulder said to himself.

42

GROUND ZERO

From a brochure he had picked up in the Badge Office, Mulder knew that the Teller Nuclear Research Facility occupied the site of an old U.S. Navy weapons station. Looking at the barracks, he decided that these must be a few of the original structures that had just barely held on while others were demolished and replaced with prefabricated modular office buildings.

He tried to guess what groups would be relegated to these forlorn places: projects winding down after losing budget battles, new employees awaiting their security clearances, or administrative staff who didn’t need the high-tech laboratories of the bread-winning nuclear researchers. It looked as if Dr. Gregory’s project had lost a bit of prestige.

Mulder trudged up the old wooden stairs and yanked at the door, which stuck briefly in its frame before opening. He entered, ready to flash his visitor’s badge and his FBI ID

card, even though Rosabeth Carrera had assured him this section of the research facility was open to approved visitors. The building was inside the perimeter fence and therefore remained inaccessible to the general public, but no classified work could be performed in any of these offices. The hall was empty. Mulder saw only a kitchenette with a coffeemaker and a big plastic jug of spring water perched on a cooler. A laser-printed sign on salmon-colored paper was tacked to the wall, and Mulder saw several other copies posted up and down the hall on doors and bulletin boards.
WARNING
, ASBESTOS AREA.

THE HAZARD REMOVAL TEAM WILL BE WORKING

THE FOLLOWING DATES: ________

43

THE X-FILES

Naturally, the dates handwritten on the blank line were precisely the days he and Scully planned to be in the area. Beneath, in a brush-stroke script, as if someone had gotten cute changing fonts on their word-processing program:


Please pardon the inconvenience
.”

Mulder followed the short kitchenette-hall to where it intersected with the main corridor of offices. The ceiling creaked, and he looked up to see water-stained acoustic tiles barely hanging on to a suspended structure around fluorescent lights. Footsteps on the second floor continued; the old support beams groaned with weariness.

He stopped at the end of the hall. The entire area to his left was swathed in plastic wrap, as if some mysterious preservation activity was underway. Workers wearing overalls and heavy, full-facepiece respirators wielded crowbars behind a translucent plastic curtain, tearing the sheetrock off the walls. Others used high-powered shop vacuums to suck away the dust that came out. They made a tremendous racket. Yellow tape blocked the corridor farther on, with another handmade sign dangling from the flimsy X barricade. ASBESTOS REMOVAL OPERATIONS IN PROGRESS.
DANGER!

DO NOT CROSS.

Mulder glanced at the little yellow note of paper on which he had written Bear Dooley’s temporary office number. “I hope it’s not down there,” he said, looking at the asbestos work site. He turned right instead and began checking doorways, most of

44

GROUND ZERO

which were closed—not necessarily because the rooms were empty, but because the people couldn’t work with so much noise in the halls.

He followed the room numbers down the hall, listening to the construction workers batter away, excavating the old asbestos-contaminated insulation, which would be replaced with new approved materials. Asbestos insulation had been considered perfectly safe decades earlier. But now, because of new safety regulations, the workers seemed to be creating an even larger hazard. To fix the problem, they gutted the old building, spending huge amounts of the taxpayer’s money, and quite probably releasing far more broken asbestos fibers into the air than would ever have been released in the natural lifetime of the building during normal use. He wondered if, a decade or two down the road, someone would decide that the
new
material was also hazardous, and the entire process would repeat itself. Mulder remembered a joke from an old
Saturday Night
Live
that he had considered enormously funny while sprawled out on his sofa late one Saturday evening. The Weekend Update commentator proudly announced that scientists had at last discovered that cancer was actually caused by…(drum roll)
white lab rats
!

Now, though, the joke didn’t seem quite as humorous. He wondered how Scully was doing with her autopsy on Dr. Gregory’s body.

He finally reached Bear Dooley’s half-closed office door, which was burdened with numerous layers of thick brown paint. Inside the dim room, a burly man wearing a denim jacket and flannel shirt and jeans stacked boxes onto tall black file cabinets, arranging items hastily retrieved from his old office.

45

THE X-FILES

Mulder rapped on the door with his knuckles and pushed it farther open. “Excuse me. Dr. Dooley?”

The broad-shouldered man turned to look at him. He had long, reddish brown hair and a shaggy beard that looked like it was made of copper wire, except for a striking shot of white down the left side of his chin, as if he had spilled a dribble of milk there. His mouth and nose were covered with a white filter mask.

“Get a mask on—are you crazy?” he said. Dooley moved like a quarterback to the battered temporary desk, where he popped open the top right-hand drawer and snatched out a filter packet. With his meaty hands he tore off the plastic and tossed the mask to Mulder. “You FBI guys are supposed to be so smart—I’d think you could manage a few simple safety precautions.”

Mulder sheepishly fastened the mask around his face with a long elastic band and breathed through the paper-smelling covering. He held his badge in his hand, flipping open his ID to display the photo and badge. “Bear Dooley, I presume?

How did you know I was from the FBI?”

The big man let out a loud laugh. “Are you kidding? A suit and a tie means you’re either with the DOE or the FBI—and with Dr. Gregory’s weird death I assumed you were FBI. We were told to expect you and to cooperate.”

“Thanks,” Mulder said, coming in and sitting in a chair next to the man’s cluttered desk without being invited. “I’ve got only a few questions for you at the moment. I’ll try not to take too long. We’re still at the beginning of our investigation.”

Dooley continued to unload his possessions from cardboard boxes, shoving folders into file-cabinet drawers and dumping pens and notepads into the long center drawer on his desk.

46

GROUND ZERO

“First off,” Mulder said, “can you tell me about the project you and Dr. Gregory were working on?”

“Nope,” Bear Dooley said, turning back to pull out framed photos and some sheaves of what appeared to be weather satellite printouts, technical reports, water temperature maps of the oceans. “Can’t tell you about that. It’s a classified project.”

“I see,” Mulder said. “Well, can you think of any
unclassi-
fied
way that any part of this project might have backfired and killed Dr. Gregory?”

“Nope again,” Dooley said.

Mulder got the impression that Bear Dooley was usually this gruff with newcomers—that he did not suffer fools gladly—but that right now the man was particularly distracted. Perhaps he was more than a little overwhelmed to have the entire project thrust upon him so suddenly. Mulder watched the engineer’s movements, listened to his abrupt answers. He tried to piece together a scenario where Dooley, wanting to become the new big shot, would arrange for the death of the real project head, thereby setting himself up to become the obvious successor….

But it didn’t ring true. Dooley didn’t seem to be enjoying himself.

“Maybe we’d better try a safer area. How long have you worked for Dr. Gregory?” Mulder asked.

Dooley stopped and scratched his head. “Four or five years, I guess. Most of the time as a technician. Thought I was working hard
then
, but now he’s left me with a set of big shoes to fill.”

“How long have you been his deputy project director?”

Dooley answered that one more quickly. “Eleven months, ever since Miriel flaked out on us.”

Outside in the hall a circular saw made a loud racket, followed by a sharp yelp. The clanging sound of metal and dropped pipes, crashed sheetrock and

47

THE X-FILES

wood prompted a brief outburst of cursing and a scurry of frantic efforts to get the hazardous asbestos under control. It made Mulder think of a dentist drilling deep into a patient’s molar, and suddenly whispering “Oops!” under his breath. His stomach knotted.

“What is all this stuff about the South Sea Islands?” he said, gesturing to the photos. “Aerial images and weather patterns.”

Dooley shrugged and hesitated a moment as he concocted an explanation. “Maybe I’m planning a vacation—get away from it all, you know. Besides, that’s the Western Pacific, not the South Seas.”

“Funny. Dr. Gregory had similar photos in his office.”

“Could be we had the same travel agent,” Dooley answered.

Mulder leaned forward. He found it difficult to conduct a serious interrogation while both of them were wearing these absurd filter masks. His breathing made his cheeks and lips hot. His voice was muffled and subdued. “Tell me about Bright Anvil.”

“Never heard of it,” Dooley answered crisply.

“Yes you have.”

“You don’t have a need-to-know,” Dooley countered.

“I have a security clearance,” Mulder said.

“Your FBI clearances don’t mean a damn thing to me, Agent Mulder,” Dooley said. “I’ve signed papers. I’ve gone to my security briefing. I know the level of classification my work falls under. Unlike certain other assistants of Dr. Gregory, I take my oaths seriously.”

Dooley pointed a blunt finger at Mulder. “You might not realize this, Mr. FBI—but you and I are on the same side. I’m fighting for this country, doing what our government deems necessary. If

48

GROUND ZERO

you want a blabbermouth, why don’t you go see Miriel Bremen at her Stop Nuclear Madness! headquarters? You can find the address in any one of the thousand or so leaflets they left scattered in the ditches and along the fence yesterday. Go ask her your questions. Then arrest her for divulging national security information.

“In fact, why don’t you ask her a
lot
of questions. She was around when Emil Gregory died, and she had plenty of motive to mess up our project.”

Mulder looked sharply at him. “Tell me more.”

Bear Dooley’s color deepened as his long-standing resentment boiled to the surface. “She and her protesters were here the whole time. They threatened to stop at nothing—
nothing
, if you take the clear implications of that word—to sabotage our work. Miriel would know how to do it, since she worked here long enough. Maybe she’s the one who planted something in Gregory’s office. Maybe she’s behind it all.”

“We’ll check it out,” Mulder said.

Dooley set a box full of office supplies down heavily on the desk. Pens and pencils and scissors clattered next to his stapler and tape dispenser.

“Now I’ve got a lot of work to do, Agent Mulder. I was already up to my nose in responsibilities, and now it’s gotten even worse. Add to that the fact that I’ve been pulled out of my comfortable offices and stuck in this godawful hole trying to make do, working on a project in a barracks building where I can’t even pull out any of my classified papers.”

Mulder thought of something else as he stepped to the door. “I noticed in Dr. Gregory’s office that some of his reports and papers had been taken away from the death scene. Disturbing the evidence at a crime scene is a serious offense. You didn’t have anything to do with that, did you?”

49

THE X-FILES

Bear Dooley emptied the last items out of a cardboard box, then upended it on the floor and took great pleasure in stomping the cardboard flat. “All of our project reports are controlled documents, Agent Mulder—numbered and assigned to a specific user. Some of Dr. Gregory’s reports were one-of-a-kind. Maybe it was something we needed for our work. Our project takes precedence.”

“Over a murder investigation? Who told you that?”

“Ask the Department of Energy. They might not tell you much about the project, but they will tell you that much.”

“You sound pretty confident,” Mulder said.

“As my old girlfriend used to say, self-confidence isn’t one of my weak points,” Dooley said.

Mulder pressed the issue. “Could I get a list of the documents that you took from Dr. Gregory’s office?”

“No,” Dooley answered. “The titles are classified.”

Mulder kept his cool. He reached into his pocket and removed one of his cards. “This is the main office of the Bureau. You can reach me through the federal telephone system here on your lab phone, or call me on my cellular if you think of anything else you can tell me.”

BOOK: Ground Zero (The X-Files)
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