Into the Woods

Cover

Title: Into the Woods

Author: XScout

Email: xscout@hotmail.com

Classification: MSR, MTA, X,

Rating: R

Spoilers: “Detente” by Xenith (very minor spoilers)

Disclaimer: Agents Mulder and Scully, AD Skinner and any

other names you recognize do not belong to me but to Chris

Carter and 1013 Productions. I can no longer trust them to

make good decisions regarding these characters and must

therefore take over. Feedback: Is a drug — it’s addictive.

I’ll go into withdrawal if you don’t help.

Info: Written for I Made This Productions Virtual Season 8.

Summary: Drawn into the forest to investigate the

disappearance of five hikers in what may be a case of alien

abduction, Mulder and Scully are caught in the middle of a

life and death fight to find the abductees and get out of

the woods — alive.

*************

Bear Head Lake State Park

Minnesota

Thursday

6:49 p.m.

Amanda stopped where she was and let her backpack slide

off her shoulders. She rotated her neck to the left and

then the right, stretching sore muscles. She turned in a

slow circle, taking in the quiet serenity of the snow-laden

forest.

It felt right. She couldn’t be positive, everything looked

different in the winter, but she was sure this was the

spot. Something inside her told her so.

“Mark, don’t you think we should camp here tonight?”

A young man, no more than twenty years old, emerged from

the trees, his panting breath obscuring his face with a

white cloud. He dropped his pack next to hers and pushed

shaggy black forelocks back under his cap. “Yeah, this is

the place all right. Let’s get the tent set up.”

An hour later and they were seated around a small fire in

front of their tent, warming their hands with hot cups of

cocoa. Amanda took a sip from her cup, looking over the rim

at her boyfriend. “Do you think they’ll come tonight?”

Mark licked his chapped lips and looked at the sky.

“Maybe. I dunno. We’re just gonna have to wait and see.”

Setting her mug down on a stump that served as a makeshift

table, Amanda yawned. “God, I’m tired. I didn’t know hiking

took so much out of you. I don’t remember being so tired

last time.” She rubbed her eyes with a gloved hand, getting

cold snow in the face for the effort. Pulling off the

glove, she rubbed again, this time succeeding in clearing

away some of the sleep in her eyes. “How long do you think

we’ll have to wait?”

A high pitched noise and rush of wind startled them both,

causing Mark to drop his cup of cocoa in the fire, the

liquid hissing as it hit the flames. He pointed up at the

sky. “Not long.”

Together they tilted their heads up and gazed at the

object hanging above them, its dark shape silhouetted

against the sky, a few small colored lights casting an

eerie glow on their white surroundings. Wind rushed about

them, the trees creaking as their branches swayed under the

weight of snow. The hikers flinched as a blinding light

suddenly burst forth from the center of the object, shining

directly on the two campers. It grew brighter and more

intense with each second that passed until everything was

indistinguishable in the whiteness.

Then, as suddenly as it had come, it disappeared, leaving

behind a collapsed tent and smoking embers surrounded by

stones.

**********************

Dana Scully’s Residence

Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

Saturday 5:28 a.m.

“Mommy! Daddy! Look at me!” the little girl shouted as

she jumped up and down on the trampoline, her red hair

bouncing about her head.

“We see you, sweetheart! You’re doing wonderfully!” the

tall man laughed, flipping the hamburgers over on the

smoking grill. The woman next to him chuckled indulgently,

a wide smile spread across her oval face. Hair that matched

the child’s crowned her head, but her eyes were blue,

unlike the girl’s own hazel pair.

The woman stepped away from her husband and watched the

playing youth for a moment. “Sarah, be careful!” she called

out.

Long arms encircled her waist. “She’s fine, Dana, stop

worrying.”

“I know, Mulder, but I can’t help it. My maternal instinct

is in overdrive.” She turned around and stood on her toes,

reaching up to kiss her husband. Their lips were mere

centimeters apart…

*Brrriiinnng! Brrriiinnng!*

She sprang up in bed, her heart beating frantically.

Glancing at the clock she sighed heavily and reached for

the phone next to her on the night stand. She picked the

annoying appliance up and spoke groggily into it. “Do you

have any idea what time it is?”

“C’mon Scully, don’t tell me you’re going to waste this

beautiful Saturday morning in bed?” a too cheery voice

asked.

“Mulder, it’s 5:30 in the morning! The sun isn’t

even up yet. If you called to ask me if I want to go for a

run, I am going to make you do the expense reports on the

next five cases.” She wearily rubbed the sleep from her

eyes.

“Actually, a run sounds great right now. But alas, we

don’t have time. We have to go to Minnesota.”

“Did you just say what I think you said? No, don’t answer

that. Mulder, it’s Saturday, can’t this wait?” she lamented.

Completely ignoring his partner’s questions, Mulder

continued. “It has come to my attention that there have

been several disappearances in Bear Head Lake State Park. A

total of five backpackers have vanished over the past

month, each time bright lights were sighted near the area

where the hikers were last seen.”

Scully groaned. “What does this have to do with waking me

up at the crack of dawn?”

A sigh could be heard from the other side. “Scully, I’m

sorry, I know how much your time off means to you, but my

hands are tied. Skinner called me half an hour ago. Seems

the last pair of hikers to disappear were Senator

Huntsacker’s daughter and her boyfriend. He already has us

booked on a 7 a.m. flight to Duluth.”

Her annoyance drained away as she took in this

information. Mulder got called at 5, but he waited until

5:30 to call her. He really *was* sorry to wake her. “All

right, Mulder, it’s not your fault. I’ll get my stuff

together and be ready by 6:30. You had better pick me

up on time, I don’t want to have to run to the gate like

last time.”

“Scout’s honor. Pack something warm, I hear there’s three

feet of snow up there. Just think, it’ll be a nice trip to-

-”

Scully’s voice cut him off, “Don’t! Don’t *even* say it.”

**********

Somewhere over the United States

Flight 1650

8:53 a.m.

Dana Scully took off her glasses and pinched the bridge of

her nose with thumb and forefinger. She closed the file

lying in her lap and reached for the next one, which was

presently in her partner’s lap. He had finished reading all

the files in less than an hour and was now sleeping

peacefully in the window seat. She envied the speed at

which he could absorb information, easily accessing it with

his eidetic memory.

But she also knew that his memory was a constant source of

anguish for him. So while she envied him, she pitied him at

the same time. He could remember the most minute details

from his entire life except for the few times he’d had his

memory “wiped.” And of course, that fateful night twenty-

seven years ago that shaped his entire life thereafter. It

seemed as though he was sentenced to a life of false hopes

and unfulfilled dreams.

Carefully removing the stack of papers from Mulder’s lap,

she thought back to her own dream. She and Mulder were

married, had a child of their own. Was it some sort of

reflection of her unconsciousness? If a dream was an answer

to a question you haven’t yet learned how to ask, what was

this an answer to? They were still testing the waters of

their new relationship and the topic of marriage had never

come up. She smiled softly at the idea of growing old with

her partner, but the smile soon faded as she remembered the

girl in the dream. No matter how much she wanted it, she

couldn’t have children, and that was the end of that.

She exhaled forcefully in frustration. It was all too

complicated, too much to think about while also trying to

concentrate on a case. She would go by Scarlett O’Hara’s

philosophy — “I’ll think about it tomorrow. After all,

tomorrow is another day.”

She yawned loudly and looked despairingly at the papers in

her lap. This was going to be a long flight.

********

Mulder woke up to someone nudging his shoulder. “Huh?”

Opening his eyes, he turned to find a flight attendant

standing over him. “Sir, we are about to begin our descent,

you should wake your wife.”

“Thanks.” He tilted his head to the left, where Scully had

fallen asleep against him. A soft smile graced his lips as

he took in her countenance. Lifting his hand, he gently

brushed away a long strand of hair that had fallen in her

face. “Scully,” he murmured. She let out a tiny sigh and

nestled closer to him. God, he hated to wake her up.

“Scully, we’re about to land.” This time he trailed his

finger up and down her cheek.

Her eyelids flickered open. “Land?”

“Yeah, looks like you dozed off for a bit.”

Finally realizing what he was saying, she sat up, rubbing

her eyes. “We’re here already? I didn’t finish reading the

files.” She sounded angry that her body had so betrayed her.

“Don’t worry about it. This *is* supposed to be your day

off, remember? I think we can let this one slide. Either

that or we can ask the pilot to circle around some more

until you finish your nap.” He started to look around as

though to spot a stewardess.

“No, that’s okay,” Scully said quickly, stamping her left

foot on the floor of the cabin. The sooner she got off this

cramped plane, the better. Her foot had fallen asleep along

with the rest of her and it was on the verge of being

painful.

Mulder chuckled. “Now you know how *I* feel every time we

fly.”

***********

Thunderhead Road

10:28 a.m.

Mulder leaned forward over the dash, his eyes squinted as

he tried to see the road through the veil of snow. “Why

would anybody want to live here?”

“Most of the people here are of Nordic ancestry, they’re

used to it.” Scully turned up the heat and then used her

closed fist to wipe at the windshield so that her partner

could see a bit easier.

“Thanks. Well, the news said that this storm should be

over by tomorrow, so it looks like we’ll have to hold off

on our nature hike. We can have a leisurely lunch and then

stop by the local sheriff’s office to get the details not

in the

files. Of course, at this rate we probably won’t make it

to Ely until dinner.”

“We have to find a motel first. Then we can call the head

ranger of the park and let him know that we won’t be there

until tomorrow.”

“You’re gonna love it, Scully. Tent camping, ice fishing,

canoeing — though not in the winter, of course —

snowmobiling, hiking; I could go on and on. Beautiful

country up here, lots of wildlife. I believe it is a major

preserve for timber wolves or something like that, I didn’t

get to read the brochure.” Mulder dared to turn his head

from the road and flash a smile at his partner.

“Mulder, isn’t it possible that the missing hikers got

lost? Were attacked by wild animals? Fell into a ditch or

ravine that was hidden by all this snow?” she reasoned.

“Certainly. All we need to do is figure out which one of

those, if any, it is.”

“Mulder, what aren’t you telling me?”

“What makes you think I’m not telling you anything?”

“I can tell by the tone of your voice. We’re not up here

looking for Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman, are we?”

“Not at all. The Yeti is most commonly found in Asia,

Scully, not North America. And, while Bigfoot seems to be

an American phenomenon, it doesn’t care much for colder

climates.” His face was serious.

“You’re avoiding my question.”

“Me? Never.” An angry sigh warned him that he should

proceed post haste. “All right, all right. Don’t get your

panties in a bunch. I ju– Ow! Jesus, Scully.” He freed a

hand from the wheel to rub his right shoulder. “You don’t

have to get violent. Maybe the Abominable Snowman *does*

live here.”

Scully pulled back her fist again.

“I’m sorry, okay? Really, I’m sorry.” The fist dropped.

“You know how I said they have lots of wildlife here? Well,

this particular wildlife has a tendency to disappear. Over

the past ten or so years, animals have been vanishing. No,

not poaching, if that’s what you’re thinking. Because most

of the animals are found later on. Some dead, some alive.

The dead ones appear to have been sliced and diced, a few

unidentifiable growths here and there. The ones that come

back alive are different. Bigger, stronger, faster.

“Take a look at page twenty-eight. You’ll see a report

made by Robert Gustaffson, one of the researchers who

worked up here. Natasha, a black bear that went missing for

a month, normally weighed approximately four hundred pounds

and stood five foot ten inches high. She was returned two

hundred pounds heavier and four inches taller. Now, tell me

that isn’t odd.”

“Perhaps it was a different bear?”

“Nope. The bear was tagged and had all the same markings,

she was definitely the same one. Several other examples are

listed. Black bears the size of grizzlies, wolves bigger

than great Danes, even a badger as large as a dog. But

apparently it is only limited to non-herbivorous animals.

You want to know what I think?”

“Not particularly.”

“Tough, I’m going to tell you. I think that these animals

were preliminary tests. Someone has been experimenting on

them like lab rats and now they’ve reached the human trial

stage.”

“And who are these mysterious scientists?”

“C’mon Scully, it’s obviously the Consortium. They’re

trying to come up with the ultimate human, one more easily

hybridized with alien DNA. Stronger and more resistant to

diseases or injury. You know They have been trying for

years.” He stopped at what he thought was an intersection

and looked both ways before pulling ahead.

“Sounds like a B movie on the Sci-Fi Channel to me.” Her

eyes roamed over the map unfolded before her.

“Now that you mention it, I’ve been thinking of selling

some of our case notes to movie companies. We could make a

fortune in the B movie industry.”

“I think there’s a left turn up ahead. Why would the

Consortium kidnap hikers when they have plenty of their own

people to play guinea pigs?”

“Because these kids are special.”

“Special? How?” She waved at a tiny blotch of red against

the white surrounding them. “There’s the stop sign.”

“It’s in the file, but I’ll save you the trouble of having

to read it. All five of the missing hikers claim to be

alien abductees.” He waited a moment. “Well?”

She quirked an eyebrow at him. “Well what?”

“Aren’t you going to tell me that there is no way those

kids were abducted, how ridiculous it sounds, and that

there is no evidence to support my theory?”

“You’re doing a fine job of that yourself, Mulder.

Seriously though, don’t you think it odd that all five of

them were hiking up here recently? Maybe they have a cabin

here that no one knows about.”

“That’s the point, Scully. All of them were drawn here

after their abduction in February of 1998 on a field trip

with the Science and Nature Club. We’ve seen it before.”

Scully couldn’t help but smile as she thought back on

their first case together.

********

Etta’s Diner

Ely, Minnesota

1:09 p.m.

A tiny bell above the door let out a cheerful ring as the

two agents walked into the restaurant. It was as though the

bell signaled their arrival into another time, having been

transported back to the 1950s. The café was small, a long

counter stretching across its length with booths against

the windows. There was a jukebox in the corner to accent

the other fifties décor abounding, as well as to provide the

appropriate music. A woman behind the counter, dressed in a

pink skirt, reading glasses, and wearing a white cap on top

of curly brown hair looked at the two newcomers and smiled

toothily. “Afternoon! What can I get you folks?”

Mulder couldn’t help the grin spreading across his face.

He looked down at Scully, who was similarly affected by the

atmosphere. They stepped up to the counter and took their

seats, Mulder hesitating for just a moment until his

partner sat down before seating himself. “What’s your

special?” he asked the waitress.

“We’ve got Etta’s Specialty Plate, which is a quarter

pound burger with the works, a load of fries, all you can

drink soda, and an ice cream sundae to top it off.” The

waitress, her name tag displaying the name ‘Nadine’, leaned

toward them and whispered conspiratorially, “And since I

can tell you two aren’t from these parts, I’ll have Earl

throw in a cup of hot cocoa to warm you up.”

Scully answered for them. “That would be lovely. We’ll

have two, thank you.”

With that, Nadine gave the pair a wink and bustled off

into the kitchen. Mulder chuckled softly, “Charming.”

“I think she has her eye on you, Mulder,” Scully said with

an eyebrow raised.

“Me?” His brows scrunched together. “Why do you say that?”

Dana feigned a world-weary sigh. “Mulder, don’t you ever

notice how women treat you?”

He looked her directly in the eyes, his hazel orbs gazing

straight inside her. “None of those women are important to

me.”

Their gazes remained locked for several seconds until

Scully averted her eyes, cursing her Irish heritage as she

felt heat rising in her cheeks.

Mulder decided to give her a moment to collect herself and

turned back to the waitress. He smiled warmly at her as he

pulled out his badge. “Nadine, we’re with the FBI and I was

wondering if we could ask you some questions.”

“FBI? I didn’t cheat on my taxes…” Nadine cried.

“No ma’am, I’m sure you didn’t; besides, that’s the IRS,”

Scully reassured her. “We were wondering if you’ve seen any

of these young hikers over the past month.” She pulled out

large glossy photos from her bag and displayed them on the

counter.

Nadine leaned her elbows on the tabletop and peered at

them through her reading glasses. “Can’t say I remember

those three,” she pointed at the first three hikers to

disappear, “But this couple came in just a few days ago…

Wednesday I think. Cute couple, nice for their age.

Surprising considering young folks these days. Once a group

of backpackers came in–”

Mulder interrupted before she could launch into an hour-

long diatribe of the evils of teenagers. “Can you remember

anything strange or suspicious about them? Did they seem

like they were afraid or worried? Anyone follow them?”

Straightening up, Nadine pulled the pencil from behind her

ear and stuck it in her mouth. “No, nobody following them.

They weren’t scared, certainly not, quite the opposite. So

excited about going hiking they could barely wait to eat.”

Mulder cast a meaningful glance at his partner. Scully

pursed her lips and gathered the scattered photos. A bell

chimed and Nadine popped the pencil out of her mouth.

“Speaking of eating, your food’s ready. Be back in a

jiff.”

The agents ate slowly, savoring the home-cooked taste and

letting their minds delve deep into the case. They finished

and stood, not looking forward to going back out into the

formidable weather. Mulder thanks Nadine for her help,

tipped her well and ushered Scully to the door.

“Agent Mulder?”

They stopped and turned back to the counter.

“I don’t know if it has anything to do with those kids

you’re looking for, but there have been a lot of lights

flashing up in the forest.” She shrugged, “If that helps

any.”

Mulder gave her his most winning smile. “Thanks again,

Nadine.”

*************

Ely County Sheriff’s Office

3:57 p.m.

“The lights have been sighted here, here, here and about

here.” Sheriff Dawson pointed to red pins stuck in the

large map on the wall depicting the entire State Park. “We

sent out search parties starting from these points and

working outwards. We found four campsites abandoned but no

sign as to where the kids disappeared.”

Mulder leaned back against a nearby desk, his arms folded

as he contemplated the map. He noticed a small space

surrounded by black hatch marks almost centered in the

forest and pointed to it, “What is this area?”

“Oh, that’s an old wood mill that was here before the park

became protected. It’s been closed for years.”

“Did you search there?”

Dawson blinked at the agent. “No, why would we? It’s

nowhere near the campsites. There is no way those kids

could have made it there in the time between when they were

last seen and when we sent out search parties.”

Scully rummaged in her briefcase and withdrew a map

similar to the one on the wall. “Sheriff, could you show us

the easiest way to the mill?”

“Don’t know why you want to bother with that place, but

okay.” He spread out the map on another desk and stuck his

finger on a square. “This is the Park Information Center;

take this road up along the mountain — be careful,

there are some sharp turns — and take it to the end. Now,

that won’t get you all the way there, there was an

avalanche and the road to the mill was cut off. We never

bothered with clearing it because the mill was closed

anyway. So, you’re going to have to hike the rest of the

way in. It’s only about a mile or so from the road, so it

shouldn’t take you more than half an hour to get there.”

Scully memorized the places the sheriff had indicated and

folded the map back up. “Thank you very much for your time.

We’ll keep you updated if we find anything.”

Sheriff Dawson nodded and watched the FBI agents walk out

the door, shaking his head. “All they’re gonna find up

there is snow, trees, and a broken down building,” he

muttered.

*************

Black Bear Lodge

On the outskirts of Bear Head Lake Park

5:20 p.m.

Mulder and Scully pushed open the large wooden door and

stepped inside quickly as a gust of wind tried to enter

with them. They shook off the snow on their coats and moved

in to the reservation office. The entire place was built

from logs, fake candlelights illuminating the room and

green and brown colored furniture abounded. A fireplace was

set in the far wall, a large fire cheerfully crackling in

it. The required amount of stuffed animal heads adorned the

walls and a large chandelier made from antlers hung from

the center of the high ceiling. An old woman was sitting

behind the reservation desk, reading a magazine.

Mulder cleared his throat to get the woman’s attention.

“Oh, my dears, I’m so sorry. Simply got too involved in my

reading. I’m Audrey Benson. You two must be the FBI agents

Roy was talking about.”

Scully raised an eyebrow. “Roy?”

“Yes, my husband, Roy. He’s the park ranger and he called

to let me know that you two would be on your way. You told

him you couldn’t come up to the park until tomorrow and

that you were going to check into a motel. Well, Black Bear

Lodge is the only motel around here, so we figured you’d be

stopping by. He told me to give you our best cabin, free of

charge.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Scully said, throwing Mulder a

glance that communicated her uneasiness about sharing a

cabin. It wasn’t the first time they’d had to share a room,

but since their relationship had begun to deepen, it made

things a bit more tense.

Mulder simply shrugged and followed the old woman as she

led them out the door, babbling about how much she hoped

they would find the kids safe and sound and how this sort

of thing never happens in Ely and…

Scully plucked the keys out of Audrey’s hand when they

reached the front steps of the cabin, thanking her again

for her hospitality, eager to end the woman’s incessant

chattering. Mulder asked her if she could let her husband

know they’d be by his office around 10, and then

disappeared inside after his partner, leaving the old woman

muttering to herself about what the world was coming to

when kids disappeared in Ely.

*********

The cabin was very cozy; a lower level contained a small

living room with couch and television, kitchenette and

table as well as bathroom. Upstairs was the bed, separated

from the rest of the cabin only by railing.

Mulder looked up at the loft. “If it would make you feel

better, Scully, I could take the couch,” he offered.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she answered. “We are grown adults

and we can certainly behave like it when we’re sharing a

bed.”

Mulder leered. “Adult behavior in bed is my specialty.”

She scowled at him. “That’s not what I meant and you know

it.”

“Spoil sport.” Mulder moved to the table by the kitchen

and set his briefcase down on it, opening it and spreading

its contents all over. He separated the papers into piles

and sat down in the chair, lost in thought as he regarded

one of the piles.

Scully walked up behind him, peering over his shoulder.

“Who are they?”

Mulder held up the photograph he was looking at. It was a

picture of a group of thirteen people composed of eleven

teenagers and two adults. “It’s the Science and Nature

Club: eleven kids and two teachers. What I want to know is

if we are just seeing the beginning of the abductions or if

the five who are missing are different from the others,

specifically chosen?”

“Do they have anything in common?”

“They all participated in sports, three were in ROTC

and that’s about it. They are healthy and strong, making

them good candidates for testing.”

“Do you have medical exam records?”

He handed her one of the piles and she slid into the chair

next to him. “Looks like it’s going to be a long night.”

They studied the case notes for hours, offering and

refuting possibilities, wracking their brains for every

imaginable reason these kids had been chosen. It was almost

midnight when Scully forced Mulder to go to bed, reasoning

that they would be hiking tomorrow and needed their rest.

They changed their clothes and climbed into the large bed,

careful to keep a good distance between them.

“Goodnight, Mulder.”

“G’night, Scully.”

Sleep came quickly and soon morning was upon them. Despite

their efforts to the contrary, they woke up wrapped in each

other’s embrace.

****************

Bear Head Lake Park

Ranger Station/Information Center

10:02 a.m.

“It looks like you expect us to be spending a month in the

wilderness!” Scully exclaimed.

Roy Benson was a friendly old man, his shoulders stooped

and his blond beard sprinkled with white. He wore a cowboy

hat on his balding head and thick glasses made his eyes

appear abnormally large. He spoke with a slight accent and

was deaf in one ear so that you had to make sure you were

standing on his right side in order to be heard. At

Mulder’s request, Roy had supplied the gear they would need

for their trek into the forest — which amounted to two

large backpacks outfitted with everything from canteens to

sleeping bags.

“Storms come up mighty sudden in these parts and you never

know when or where you could get stuck. Better to be

prepared than to be caught in freezing weather without the

proper equipment,” the old man reasoned.

“This is just fine, thank you for the precautions,” Mulder

said as he tossed his smaller backpack in the back of the

Explorer on top of the gear.

“You know where you’re goin’?” The ranger sounded dubious.

“Sheriff Dawson showed us on the map. About how far would

you say it is until the road ends?” Scully asked.

Roy stroked his short beard. “Hmm. I’d say it’s about

nineteen or twenty miles in, though it’ll take about two

hours to get there ’cause the roads are winding and not in

the best condition, ‘specially in this weather.”

“Then we had better get started.” Mulder shook Roy’s hand

and got in the driver’s side of the SUV, tapping his

fingers impatiently on the steering wheel as he waited for

Scully. She hurried over and had to climb into the large

vehicle, throwing Mulder a dirty look that squelched any

snide remark he was about to make regarding her height.

Since she certainly couldn’t wear heels on this case, she

had lost several inches and the top of her head barely

reached her partner’s shoulder.

He just grinned and started the car.

***********

Bear Head Lake Park

11:16 p.m.

“Stop here.”

“You sure?”

“Positive.”

“Only fools are positive.”

“And how many times have you been positive on a case? I

think that sums up to you being one of the most foolish men

in the world.”

Mulder put a hand over his heart. “You wound me to the

quick, woman.”

Scully laughed and pushed open the door, having to jump to

the ground, her boots crunching in the snow. She unfolded

the map in her hand and double-checked her directions. “The

newest crime scene is a few miles hike to the west.”

Mulder was now out and around at the back of the vehicle,

pulling out the backpacks. “Just in case,” he said as

Scully looked at him questioningly.

Once they were ready, they took a good look around them to

place their surroundings firmly in their minds and then

headed off away from the sun. Mulder started out at a fast

pace, forcing Scully to jog to keep up. “Mulder, slow it

down. Remember you’ve just recovered from broken bones; no

need to strain anything.”

“Yes, Mother,” he grumbled.

“Well, I wouldn’t have to treat you like a child if you

took better care of yourself,” she reminded him.

“Oh yeah, it’s all my fault that Casey’s bar blew up,” he

groused, tossing her a sour look.

Scully just returned his look.

The scene looked like a tornado had run through the

campsite. The tent was leaning precariously to one side,

its door flapping in the wind. The remains of a campfire

were partially covered with snow, ashes scattered about in

a gray mush. A tree stump next to it had a coffee mug lying

at its base, any food long eaten as wild animals had most

certainly carried it away. Scraps of yellow crime scene

tape fluttered from where they were tied around trees,

having been broken by the wind, animals, or a combination

of both.

They stood and surveyed the area in silence, making

initial observations. Birds continued to chirp and the

trees creaked in the wind, normal everyday sounds of the

forest. Scully thought it was somehow a violation of the

abnormality of the crime scene. But nature was

indifferent to the plight of humans. She shook herself to

rid her mind of unwanted thoughts and turned to her

partner. “Any sign of aliens?”

“Actually, no. No burn marks on the trees, no disturbances

in the snow. Even if there had been snowfall in between the

time of the abduction and now, there would be some evidence

of tremendous heat.”

“If it wasn’t aliens, what happened to those kids?”

Mulder chewed on his lower lip as he stared blankly at the

tent. “I don’t know.”

***********

They had only stayed for forty-five minutes, searching for

any sign of what tragedy had befallen the campers, but to

no avail. Giving up the investigation as futile, they

headed back to the car. The hike back began in silence,

each agent deep in thoughts of animal attacks, serial

murderers, and cult sacrifices. Anything that might explain

what happened. The quiet was broken by a soft voice.

“Scully?”

“Yeah?”

“Why do you pray?”

“Excuse me?”

“I mean, if God gave us free will, why pray?”

“I don’t follow.”

Mulder paused in his forward trek and turned, placing his

hands on his hips. “People pray to God because they think

that it will in some way have an affect on their lives,

right? That they can ask Him for things in hopes that He

will bestow their wants upon them or influence events in

their lives. But if God gave us free will, then it isn’t up

to Him to decide our fate, but us. So, why pray at all if

it doesn’t matter?”

Scully stood next to her partner, tilting her head

slightly to look up at him. “Why are you asking?”

A white cloud formed briefly in front of Mulder’s face

before it dissipated in the chill wind. “I was just looking

around at the beauty and majesty of nature and our place in

it and I realized how insignificant we really are in the

grand scheme of things. Perhaps people pray because they

want to feel important, they want to feel like they aren’t

at the mercy of uncontrollable forces. God is a safety net

for those who need to believe that things happen to them

for a reason.”

Scully pursed her pale lips, one gloved hand reaching up

to push a damp strand of hair behind her ear. “I suppose

that is one way to look at it. But, Mulder, who’s to say

that things don’t happen for a reason? Yes, we have free

will, therefore things happen because *we* make them

happen.”

“True, but think of all the variables. There are over five

billion people on this Earth, all of them with free will,

interacting with each other and making hundreds of choices

every day. We can’t control what other people do and so we

have no real say in what happens to us that is not

immediately within our own limits. It’s chaos theory — a

butterfly can flap its wings in the Amazon and it rains in

Central Park.”

A bird warbled off to their left and Scully turned her

head in that direction, staring off into the pristine

beauty of the forest. “No, we can’t control what others do,

think, or feel; we can only deal with our own reactions to

them. People pray because they look to God for guidance in

helping them respond to events and to help them make the

right decisions. He isn’t a dictator; He doesn’t want to

reduce us to mere automatons that follow His every word.

He’s a guiding hand whom we turn to for comfort in times of

need and for direction when we are lost.”

“How can anyone receive comfort from a deity who is blind

to the pain and despair of so many lives? Who stands idly

by as horrific crimes are committed every single day? I’m

sorry, Scully, but I can’t find faith in something or

someone that allows the things I’ve seen to happen.”

“He doesn’t allow it to happen, Mulder. It all comes back

to free will, He gave it to us because He loved us enough

to trust that we would make our own choices. Some people

just make the wrong choices.”

“Maybe they should have prayed harder.”

************

4:35 p.m.

It took just under two hours for them to reach the

roadblock. Boulders and dirt had slid down the mountain and

come to rest in pile fifteen feet high at the apex,

directly in the middle of the road. The forest hemmed in

the other side and it was obviously impossible for a car to

get through. Mulder pulled the vehicle around so that it

was facing the open road and put on the brakes. Having

regained their emotional equilibrium on the drive over,

their spirits were buoyed by the hopes of finding an

explanation at the mill. “We’re here.”

“Thank you for clearing that up,” was Scully’s wry response.

“C’mon, Scully, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you

weren’t looking forward to this.”

“Gee, I wonder why. Perhaps it’s because of all the fond

memories of other ‘nice trips to the forest.'” Scully

pushed open her door and exited the car, walking around to

open the trunk.

Mulder followed her, helping her pull up the back door. He

removed his small backpack and slung it over his shoulder

then turned to take the canteens from the larger packs. He

stuffed one in his backpack then handed the other to his

partner. “Well, we’ve learned from our mistakes, haven’t

we?”

“You mean after man-eating ancient bugs tried to devour us

in Olympic National Forest? Or after an enormous alligator

sunk our boat in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Maybe after you

were chased through the Siberian forest by Russian spies?

Perhaps when mothmen sucked us into a pit full of bodies in

Northern Florida? No wait, it was after we spent time

inside a giant goo-spouting fungus in the Brown Mountain

region. Then again, it could be–”

“Okay, okay, I get the point! Jeez, will you ever let me

live it down? It’s not like I knew we would run into so

many problems.” He cringed at the venomous look she was

giving him. “All right! So I did have my suspicions in a

lot of those cases, but that doesn’t mean I expected them

to turn out the way they did.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“And this time is going to be different.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Honest!”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Scully!”

She sighed, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

“Mulder, sometimes I seriously worry about you. Now get

your ass in gear and let’s get moving.”

Mulder jerked in surprise at her command and, relieved at

her improved mood, mock saluted her. “Yes, ma’am!”

They started heading east, circumventing the avalanche

debris and hiking up the slope leading deeper into the

forest. Their footsteps crunched in the snow and birds

chirped happily as the trees closed in around them.

**********

5:11 p.m.

The hike to the mill was uphill, all talking at a halt as

they saved their breath for the exertion. As they neared

the top of the incline, they began to hear sounds that had

no business being in the middle of a national park. There

was a flat voice being emitted through a loudspeaker,

issuing what sounded like commands. The hum of engines and

the chant of many voices in unison were painfully familiar.

“I’d say that sounds more like a military base than an

abandoned wood mill,” Mulder remarked. Scully nodded in

agreement and they crept up to the top of the rise, ducking

down below the edge so as not to be seen by any of the

people in the valley below. Mulder’s observation had been

correct — it was a military base.

It was a low building with fences surrounding it, groups

of men marching across the open fields in front. A

helicopter was positioned off to the side, large

searchlights suspended from its frame. Mulder pointed at

it. “Looks like we found our UFO.”

“What would the military want with the hikers?”

“It could still be the Consortium, they work with the

military, you know. My best guess is that, if it is the

military, they are probably trying to create a superior

soldier. They’ve been trying for years and that would

explain the condition of the animals…” Mulder pulled the

backpack off his shoulder and rummaged around until he

withdrew a pair of binoculars. Peering through them, he was

able to make out the words on one of the doors.

“Biohazardous materials inside — Level 2 Decontamination

Suit required.”

He handed the binoculars to Scully and pulled a camera out

of his pack, using the long lens to capture as many details

on film as possible. Scully, who had also read the signs,

was now scouring the rest of the camp. “No sign of the

hikers, most likely inside. I don’t see any way in except

through the main gate and I doubt they’ll let us just waltz

right in.”

Mulder pondered the implications for a while. “Let’s stay

here and see what we can, get as much information as

possible before we make any decisions. There might be a way

in that we can’t see, or they might bring the kids out. If

nothing else, we’ll have good evidence to get a whole

police force up here.”

Scully accepted this as the best possible plan and scooted

down in the snow, making herself as comfortable as

possible, preparing herself for a long wait.

An hour passed and they had nothing more than photographs

to show for their time. There was no hint as to the

whereabouts of the kids, no clues into the true purpose of

the compound, and no indication of any other entrance. The

light was fading fast, a light snow drifting down and

Scully didn’t want to stay out here in a blizzard at night.

She nudged her partner, whose eyes were glued to the

binoculars. “Mulder.”

“What?”

“It’s getting dark, we should go.”

Prying himself from his search, he turned and looked at

her, then the sky, then back at her. “You’re right, we

should– wait a minute!” Mulder turned to his left where he

had seen something move out of the corner of his eye.

Squinting into the dense forest, he saw it again. He put

the binoculars up to his face and had to move them around a

bit before he pinpointed what he had seen.

It was a troop of men in white jumpers, each one armed

with machine guns. And they were heading straight for the

FBI agents.

******************

“Scully, run!” Mulder sprang to his feet and began

sprinting back the way they had come, pine needles slapping

him in the face as he crashed through branches, dodging

rocks and low hanging limbs. Scully instinctively followed,

not even questioning his sudden command. He glanced behind

him every few seconds to make sure she was keeping up.

Suddenly bullets were flying around them, making little

‘thwack’ sounds as they hit trees and whizzed by their

bodies. Suddenly, Mulder heard an “Oomph!” behind him and

turned his head just in time to see his partner fall.

“Scully!” he cried, skidding to a halt in the muddy snow.

He whirled around and ran back to where she was pulling

herself out of a pile of snow. Mulder grabbed her arms and

hauled her up, frantically asking, “Are you all right?”

She nodded, breathlessly adding, “Snow drift.” Then they

were off again, Mulder holding tightly to Scully’s hand,

pulling her after him at a breakneck pace. He heard several

more ‘thwacks’ to his right and a sharp pain in his side

made him stumble slightly. He ignored the fire quickly

spreading across his abdomen and continued down the path

they had just made a little over an hour and a half ago. He

could see the car, its blue shell standing out starkly

against the whitened wilderness. “Almost there!” he

shouted over his shoulder.

The second he reached the vehicle he pulled open the

driver’s side door, thanking his foresight in leaving it

unlocked, and threw Scully inside. She scrambled across the

gearshift to settle into the passenger seat. The ‘thwacks’

became ‘pings’ as bullets peppered the car, shattering the

back left window. The second Mulder closed the door behind

him, he started the engine and yanked the shift to four

wheel drive. He slammed his foot on the gas pedal and

prayed that the snow chains would work. For a few

terrifying moments, the wheels spun ineffectually, but just

as the white clad figures appeared out of the trees, the

car lurched forward down the slippery road.

They sped through the forest, windshield wipers at full

blast as the snowfall thickened, Mulder calling upon every

ounce of strength he had to control the vehicle. They

almost skidded right off the road around one corner, only to

have Mulder pull them back with a sharp wrench of the

steering wheel. He was starting to believe they’d lost

their pursuers when the sound of a helicopter roared

overhead. “Damn it!” He hit the steering wheel with an

open palm. “We’re not going to lose them like this, we need

to turn off the headlights!” he shouted over the noise.

“We’re on the main road, they’ll be able to follow us no

matter what!” Scully returned as her partner flicked off

the beams of light, using the last few remnants of daylight

filtering through the clouds to drive by.

Mulder’s mouth set in a grim line as he stared at the ever-

increasing snowfall in front of them. All of a sudden, an

idea sprang into his mind. “Wasn’t there a maintenance road

up here somewhere? The trees overhang and the chopper

wouldn’t see us!” He yanked the wheel back to the right to

avoid a fallen tree. More bullets rained down on them,

kicking up sprays of snow and a few decorating the hood

with small holes. It was hard to see without the

headlights, but he could just make out the edge of the

forest, keeping them on the road — barely. So concentrated

on staying on the main road was he, that he almost missed

the turn off onto the maintenance road. Scully hadn’t

though.

“Mulder! There!” She pointed to the dark opening in the

trees that constituted the entrance to their escape route.

Mulder braked, desperately pulling the wheel left to make

the sharp turn. The back of the car slammed into a thick

tree trunk, fishtailing the vehicle slightly, but not

enough to send them off course. Mulder slowed a bit,

carefully navigating through the dark tunnel of trees, not

willing to turn on the headlights for even a second. They

could still see the helicopter circling above, its

searchlight flicking back and forth over the main road.

Mulder continued, wanting to get as far away from the men

in white as possible. It was getting harder to concentrate

though, the pain in his side was growing, persistently

sending shooting pains across his stomach, back, and up his

chest. His eyes were becoming heavy, sounds were muffled,

and breathing was starting to become a chore. But he kept

his foot on the pedal, putting as much distance between

them and the soldiers as he possibly could.

Scully wiped the fogged window beside her and peered into

the darkening sky. The light from the chopper was nothing

but a tiny pinpoint, the only sounds left were her own

heavy breathing and the grumble of the car’s engine. She

looked back at her partner, her eyes wide with appreciation

at his skilled driving and their luck at losing the

helicopter. His eyes, however, were at half-mast, almost

struggling to stay open. His breaths were coming in shallow

gasps, sweat beading his forehead. He blinked several

times, his jaw clenched tight, and his body leaning forward.

“Mulder? What’s wrong?” The clouds had consumed all the

light and she could barely see his face anymore.

She could hear him swallow before answering. “I… I think

I–” he was cut off as the car jerked suddenly, the wheels

sliding on a bad patch of ice, throwing Scully against her

seat belt. “Hold on!” Mulder shouted as he fought with the

steering. They continued to slide, the back end swiveling

around so that they were moving sideways at a frightening

speed. The car slammed into a pile of boulders, glancing

off them right before crashing into the trees, crushing the

hood.

The forest was silent now, as if Mother Nature was holding

her breath. Scully broke the silence by whispering a

heartfelt “Thank God.” She quickly checked herself for

injuries, and finding none, turned to her partner. His head

lolled towards her, his eyes glowing in the dim light. “You

okay?” he asked hoarsely.

“Yeah. You?”

“I think so.” He tried to shift in his seat so that he

could face her fully, but the movement seemed to make his

side explode in agony. He groaned and arrested his

movement, waiting impatiently for the pain to recede.

Scully was frantic with worry, her heart constricting in

her chest at the sound of her partner’s suffering.

“Mulder? What’s wrong?”

“I think one of the bullets might have grazed me,” he

confessed.

“What? Where?” She reached out blindly, finding his hand

in the darkness. “Show me.”

He took her hand and guided it to his side, shuddering

involuntarily when he pressed her palm to the source of

pain. She could feel something thick and warm ooze between

her fingers, soaking the jacket underneath her hand.

“Jesus,” she mumbled. “You call that a graze?”

“You don’t think so?” he asked, his voice quiet.

“I won’t know unless I can look at it. Lie back,” she

ordered. Now that her eyes had become accustomed to the

night, she could see Mulder more clearly, his features

painted a pale gray by the bit of moonlight peering through

the clouds. He reclined his seat and began unbuttoning his

coat, the fabric rustling noisily. He gasped as she peeled

the underlying sweater and wet shirt back to reveal a dark

patch on his skin. Pursing her lips at the thought of such

unsterile methods, she grabbed the Kleenex box from the

back seat and dabbed at the area.

Clearing away enough of the blood, she saw a small, yet

ragged, hole about an inch below his last rib. This was

*not* a graze. She had to check for an exit wound. “Mulder,

I need you to sit up for me now, okay?”

He nodded, complying slowly, hoping it would be less

painful that way. No such luck. Scully lifted up the layers

of clothes on his back, finding a twin to the hole on his

front. “All right, I’m done.” Mulder sighed gratefully and

sank back into the seat.

He looked at her troubled face. “So?”

“It went through, which is a relief. The cold should keep

the bleeding to a minimum but I want you to move as little

as possible.” It had gone through on his left side, maybe

hitting his spleen but more likely cutting through some

intestines. At least there were no major organs hit and she

thanked God for small miracles. He had to get to a hospital

soon, there was no telling what kind of internal damage the

bullet had done. However, it didn’t look to her like there

was any possibility of that in the near future. The car was

useless and the soldiers could still be out there.

“We’ll have to wait until daylight,” Mulder said, as

though reading Scully’s thoughts. “Too dangerous to hike at

night.”

Not to mention the fact that he was probably too injured

to hike. Scully bit her lip in fear. This was a nightmare.

She and her injured partner were stranded in the middle of

the wilderness with a military special ops unit after them,

no help for miles around, cell phones were useless, and

where temperatures dropped below zero at night. There was

no way. Absolutely no fucking way.

Despair threatened to overwhelm her, but suddenly Mulder’s

hand squeezed hers. “We’ll make it. Rest tonight and set

out in the morning.”

Scully smiled, thanking him silently for bringing her

hope, however faint it was. She managed to push away all

the obstacles facing them in the future and focused on the

here and now. First thing first — get Mulder warm. He was

due for a heavy case of shock, and the snow outside

continued to fall. “At least the snow should keep the

helicopter out of commission for a while.”

“It didn’t seem to stop it earlier,” Mulder commented

wryly. “Must be one of those unmarked black ops

helicopters — they can fly in any weather.”

“Great. Reverse engineered from UFOs, I’m sure.” Scully

smiled back at him. Then she climbed into the back seat and

rummaged around in the trunk area, hefting her backpack

over the seat. She untied the sleeping bag and tossed it up

front before removing the metal rods that kept the pack

stable. She unzipped the largest compartment and removed

all the clothing that she felt might come in handy over the

next 24 hours, praying that twenty-four hours was all that

she need plan for. Next, she wadded up the backpack and

shoved it into the gaping hole that was once the left

window, ignoring the sharpness of shattered glass beneath

her knees, making sure that no cold air was leaking in

around the edges of her makeshift insulation.

She returned to her seat and unrolled the sleeping bag she

had deposited a minute ago, scrunching it up slightly so

that there was enough room to completely unfold it. She

unzipped it all the way around, creating a very large

flannel blanket. She laid it over Mulder, whose teeth had

begun to chatter loudly.

“I th-think now would be a g-good time to test that –

naked person in a sleeping b-bag theory.” Mulder said, a

tiny gleam in his eye.

To his surprise, Scully paused and thought it over.

“Actually, I think you may be right.”

He was so shocked that he couldn’t even come up with a

witty reply.

************

“You know, I’m rather disappointed.”

“With what?”

“This wasn’t exactly what I was imagining when I brought

up the idea of sleeping bags.”

Scully lifted her head up from her partner’s chest to look

at his face. “This is as close as you’re gonna get any time

soon, so enjoy it while it lasts.”

Mulder smiled softly. Despite the fact that they weren’t

naked — Scully had insisted they leave on their light layer

of underclothes — he was enjoying himself tremendously. It

wasn’t every day he got to snuggle up to his partner in

such tight confines and on a case. They lay together

quietly for a while, each one immersed in their own

thoughts.

Scully shifted against Mulder’s side, pressing herself

closer to his body. “Mulder?”

“It’s my sidearm, I swear.”

Dana burst into giggles, her body shaking his with her

laughter. He gasped, “Ah, watch it.”

“Sorry.” She stilled and surreptitiously moved her hand

down to feel the bandages she had applied earlier to make

sure they hadn’t soaked through.

“I’m fine.”

Damn, he noticed. “I know, but humor me, it’s for my own

piece of mind.”

“What?”

“I said, it’s for my–”

“No, I mean you were going to ask me something.”

She was silent for a moment. “Do you think those kids are

still alive?”

Mulder considered her question for several minutes. “I

don’t know, I hope so. Some of the animals came back, if a

bit altered, so there is a chance.”

“Isn’t it an awfully big risk to kidnap five teenagers,

one of them a senator’s daughter? It’s like the military

isn’t worried about anyone coming to look for them.”

“Remember, these kids are all abductees from a couple

years ago. Not only do the military have all the samples

from that initial abduction in order to decide which ones

were best suited for mutation, but they also established a

reputation of incredulity concerning the teens’

whereabouts. It would be a waste of time, money, and

manpower to find new subjects. Add to that the fact that

most people think that the kids are nutcases because they

claim to have been abducted by aliens, and you have a

recipe for your own little workshop, with no interruptions.”

Scully pondered this new information. “Well, somebody

obviously didn’t buy it, or we wouldn’t be here.”

“That’s because the senator believes his daughter was

taken the first time by kidnappers who brainwashed her into

believing she was taken by aliens. He was certain that they

were planning on ransoming her but something went wrong and

they had to dump her. He’s been paranoid ever since about

where she goes and what she does. He’s the perfect example

of an overprotective parent.”

Dana thought about how she would feel if one of her

children was taken and came to the conclusion that she

would act very much the same as Senator Huntsacker was. The

little redhead from her dream flashed before her eyes and

she shivered.

“You still cold, Scully? Because I could take off–”

“Mulder.”

“Hmm?”

“Shut up, you need to conserve your energy.”

*************

Bear Head Lake State Park

Sunday 5:45 a.m.

Scully searched for the most stable patch that would hold

her weight and allow her to obtain more water. Finally

finding what appeared to be a snow-covered plot of rocks,

she gingerly stepped onto it, cautious of the slightest

hint that it might give way beneath her. Relief flooded

through her as the ground held and she knelt down to dip

her canteen into the water.

She quickly filled the container and screwed the lid back

on, leaning back on her heels as she did so. As a matter of

course, she checked her surroundings and was taken aback by

the beauty of the snow laden forest. The yellow glow of the

early morning sun glinted off the white blanket, casting

blue and purple shadows throughout the trees. Birds

chattered happily and the constant thrumming of the river

was a melodious backdrop to the serenity before her.

She stood and was about to turn away when a loud splash

caught her attention. She looked straight across the river

and was shocked to find an enormous black bear staring back

at her. The ursine was almost as big as a grizzly, only

lacking the longer hair and silvered tips of the larger

bear. The animal was wading out into the river, heading

right in her direction, its large golden eyes intent on the

motionless woman. Once it had almost reached the middle of

the swift river, it found that the water was too deep to

cross at that point. Frustrated by this obstacle, the brute

let out a tremendous bellow, startling a flock of birds

into flight. Scully was so overwhelmed by the noise that

she forgot the cardinal rule of dealing with bears — never

run. She scrambled backwards, automatically reaching behind

her for her gun as the monstrosity across the river paced

back and forth. In her haste, she wasn’t as mindful of her

steps and as she moved back her left foot slipped on the

icy rocks. With a cry of dismay she tumbled into the frigid

water, losing her gun as she flailed for purchase on

anything and everything within her reach.

“Mulder!” she yelled, cold water splashing into her face.

She had fallen into a deep spot and the fast moving river

was keeping her from getting out. Her numb hands clung to a

branch as she was swept down river and she called again for

her partner, in the slight chance that he might hear her.

But she held out little hope, for he was in no shape to

come to her rescue let alone detect her shouting.

clip_image002

Scully held fast to the wet branch, trembling with cold

and fear. She was trapped in a river that was freezing, was

being hounded by a bear in the middle of the forest, and

her seriously injured partner was far away. This nightmare

was only getting worse.

***********

The car rocked slightly as he

jerked forward violently, his

breath catching in his throat.

A moment passed before the spots dancing across his vision

faded and the fire in his side abated enough for him to think

clearly.

Something was wrong.

He didn’t know what it was but he couldn’t dismiss the

feeling of dread that pulled him from his sleep. Glancing

to his left, he found that he was alone in the vehicle and

his sense of foreboding doubled. Where was Scully? He

closed his eyes and played back recent events until he

reached the few minutes previous to his drifting back to

sleep. She had gone to get water, that was it. She still

must be out, that was all.

But how long ago had she left? Had it been more than five

or ten minutes? What if something had happened? What if the

soldiers had found her? The more he thought about it, the

more concerned he became. The very idea that his partner

was captured was enough to make up his mind — he would

have to find her.

Pushing the thick sleeping bag onto the passenger seat, he

carefully maneuvered himself into a sitting position. He

turned slowly and pulled his sweater and parka from the

back seat, gritting his teeth as the action twisted his

side. Getting his sweater on over his head was a major

endeavor and by the time he was done, he was sweating with

pain. A few deep breaths to gain his equilibrium and he

opened the door, automatically shivering as a cold blast of

air bombarded him. Monumental effort was needed to get from

the car to the ground and to get his leaden arms through

the sleeves of the parka, but he managed with only a

minimal loss of time.

Scanning the new fallen snow, he easily found the tiny

footprints that marked Scully’s passing. Before heading off

in that direction, Mulder made sure to retrieve his gun and

flashlight from the glove compartment and check to see if

he still had an extra clip. Opening the back door, he

snatched his small backpack off the pile of gear, slinging

it onto his shoulder. Armed and as ready as he could be, he

marched off into the wilderness.

Following Scully’s footprints, Mulder traveled fifty yards

or so before his body forced him to stop. Leaning heavily

against a pine tree, he concentrated on breathing and

focused on remaining upright. Finally the pounding in his

ears diminished and he was able to make out the rumbling of

moving water.

The river!

He was close, there was no time to waste. Gathering his

strength, he pushed off the tree and stumbled towards the

sound, keeping Scully’s tracks before him as assurance that

he was heading in the right direction. The crunching of his

feet in the snow and his labored breathing were the only

noises joining the water to penetrate the stillness of the

forest. Those and one of the most terrifying sounds Mulder

had ever heard — his partner screaming his name.

***********

Scully clawed at the branch in an effort to pull herself

from the frigid river but the bark was too wet. Water

splashed into her eyes and she turned her head towards the

forest. The trees and snow were a gray and white blur with

yellow highlights of sunlit ice. Blinking rapidly, she

cleared her vision enough to make out a shape moving among

the trees. Had the bear found a way to cross the rapids?

Peering over her shoulder, Scully saw a large dark brown

blur pacing on the opposite bank. No, not the bear then.

She turned her head back and found that the shape was

closer now, sharpening into the form of a human. Fingers

numb from the cold, Scully clung tighter to the branch and

lowered her head to just above water level, hoping that she

would not be noticed by what she was sure was a soldier.

“Scully!”

Her eyes, which had been shut so that the water splashing

around her face wouldn’t blind her, popped open and she

stared at the man floundering through the snow to reach

her. Shock and relief warred for dominance as she watched

Mulder drop to his knees on the riverbank and hold out a

hand to her.

“Grab my hand, Scully!”

For a moment she couldn’t comprehend the fact that her

partner was there but when he repeated his plea her mind

finally started working again. She strained every muscle,

trying to make her body obey the simplest instructions. Her

wet gloves sliding along the wood, she managed to bring

herself a few inches closer to the bank. She reached out

her hand only to find that she was a good foot from

Mulder’s fingers.

“C’mon, Scully, you can do it! Just a little farther!”

Mulder coaxed, scooting a bit closer to the edge of the

rushing water.

An enormous roar echoed across the water, pulling at their

attention. Mulder looked up at the great monster pacing

along the opposite bank — it was getting ready to plunge

into the river. If that bear reached them they were both as

good as dead. He glanced back down at Scully and then back

at the animal. He had to do something. Now.

Pushing himself up from the bank, he reached into his coat

and pulled out his weapon. Taking careful aim at the bear,

Mulder shoved aside any qualms against killing the animal

and fired. At first it looked as though he had missed, the

only reaction from the bear a slight jerk at the sound of

the shot. Then its pacing began to slow until the huge

animal came to a stop, its drooping head staring vacantly

at the pair of humans. For a few moments nothing but the

racing water moved and then the bear finally turned and

shuffled off into the forest, leaving behind red-stained

footprints in the snow.

Sending up his thanks, Mulder dropped to his chest and

tried once again to reach his partner. Neither of them said

a word, too focused on averting disaster. They strained

their arms and fingers but they were still too far away.

Inching forward further, he placed some of his weight on

the branch Scully was holding on to. They were so close,

their fingertips brushing slightly, when suddenly the

branch gave way, plunging Mulder’s upper torso into the

river. Making a desperate grab for the wood, he managed to

get a grip on the branch. His relief was short-lived

however, because although he had kept Scully from being

swept away, he found himself being dragged into the water.

He dug his knees into the crumbling snow, pulling on the

branch with all his might as he pushed aside everything

else — pain, cold, fear — and focused on getting his

partner safely to shore.

Closing his eyes, he pulled with all his might, letting

out a strangled cry as he put every fiber of his body into

the effort. Then a hand clamped onto his arm and he opened

his eyes to find Scully’s gloved fingers wrapped around his

forearm. He grabbed at her coat, hauling her to the shore.

Then it was all over and they were lying side by side on

the bank, gasping. Mulder allowed himself a few more

seconds to regain his strength and dragged himself upright.

He had to get Scully out of her wet clothes.

He pulled off his wet coat and then stripped off his

sweater and turtleneck, leaving on his undershirt before

replacing his coat. Then he did the same to his partner,

but taking off everything except her bra. She didn’t seem

to notice his manhandling at first and simply allowed him

to dress her in his own garments. Then she let out a

slightly hysterical laugh as he finished buttoning up her

damp coat.

“What’s so funny?”

“This is th-the second t-time that you’ve had t-to do th-

this,” she chattered.

A flash of the Antarctic and an enormous crater ran through

his head. He smiled indulgently at the thought. “We’ll make

it through this too.” He pulled her to her feet, grimacing

as he did so.

“I c-can hardly m-move my legs,” Scully stuttered.

Mulder looked down at her soaked jeans, shaking his head.

There was nothing he could do about that, they would simply

have to dry on their own. “I can’t carry you this time, so

just lean on me as much as you have to.”

Luckily, since his partner didn’t weigh much, Mulder

wasn’t too burdened by her. They stumbled together through

the trees, away from their crashed vehicle. Mulder knew

that the soldiers had heard their shots and would be coming

to investigate. He didn’t know where he was going, but he

knew he had to be anywhere but here.

They hobbled along for an hour, Scully’s weight growing

heavier with each step as Mulder lost strength. He looked

down at her face, her pale skin a deep contrast between the

red tendrils of her hair. Her lips were slightly blue but,

he was relieved to note, not a hypothermic shade. All this

walking was keeping them warm but burning precious energy

in the process. His coat had finally dried and his pants

were damp from the knees down. Scully’s jacket and jeans

were also less wet, though not enough for his peace of

mind. His mind and body warred over whether to keep going

or allow himself a moment of rest. His body made the

decision for him, his left leg collapsing underneath him.

Scully landed on top of him with a startled “Oh!”

He gripped the trunk of a tree about three inches from his

face, glad he hadn’t hit the wood instead, and dragged

himself into a sitting position against it. Scully crawled

up next to him, settling her body as close to his as

humanly possible. “Muld-der?”

“Yeah?”

“You ok-kay?”

“Peachy.” He leaned his head back against the rough bark,

his mind whirling with the desperation of their situation.

Staring off into space, he was startled when a tiny white

ball landed on his nose. He groaned — it was starting to

snow again. At least it would hide their tracks. His head

lolled to the right, looking back at their trail through

the snow. Then something caught his eye. At the bottom of a

rather large snowdrift they had passed there was a hole. It

was small and right next to a tree so that the branches

covered it. It was so well camouflaged that anyone would

miss it unless the light hit it just so. If only it was big

enough for two…

“Scully.”

“Mmm?”

“We need to get up before my butt freezes to the ground.”

She snorted at the comment but started moving. After a few

moments and a lot of effort, they made it to their feet and

Mulder was leading them to the hole. He propped Scully

against the tree and knelt down, feeling his belt cinch

across his wound. He felt little pain, it had been numbed

by the cold a while ago.

Digging at the base of the hole, he discovered that it was

larger than he had first imagined, at least wide enough to

allow someone to crawl through. He looked over his shoulder

at his partner. “Be right back.” Scooting forward on his

hands and knees he was enveloped by darkness and he paused,

waiting for his eyes to adjust. There appeared to be enough

room for two, although it would be cramped. There was a

dark spot just in the corner and he scrambled forward to

investigate. He cried out in surprise as he suddenly

tumbled down a small ladder and landed in a spacious cave.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the flashlight,

clicking it on to give him enough light to see. He was

dumbfounded by what he beheld. There was a cot by one of

the walls, a clay oven against the opposite side that had a

chimney leading up into the ceiling of the cave, and a

crudely-constructed cabinet with one door hanging open to

reveal tools and jars.

“Mulder, where are you?” Scully’s voice from above brought

him out of his amazed stupor. She had crawled into the

first section of the cave looking for him after he had

yelled. Going up the ladder, he almost came up right

underneath her.

“You’ll never believe this, Scully.” He took her arm and

led her down the steps, shining the flashlight around so she

could see everything.

She let out a long breath in appreciation of the

discovery. “Somebody worked hard to make a place that

wasn’t easily seen. Do you think anyone’s been here in a

while?”

“I don’t care. It’s shelter and it’s a good hiding place,

that’s all that matters. We can lay our clothes out to dry

and curl up on the cot to get warmer. We can’t risk a fire

during the daylight.”

Scully nodded. There was no way they were going to make it

much farther today, despite the fact that it wasn’t even

noon. They were both freezing and needed to get warm. After

a night of rest and dressed in dry clothing, they would

make much better progress tomorrow. She looked at her

partner who was breathing heavily as he pulled off his

coat, the bandage underneath soaked red.

They just had to last until tomorrow.

**************

5:26 p.m.

Scully couldn’t sleep. Despite the fact that she was

exhausted, she couldn’t seem to sleep. Pressed up against

Mulder’s body and covered in a blanket of animal fur, she

was careful not to disturb her slumbering partner. After

changing his bandages — she thanked her foresight in

packing his small backpack with the essentials — they had

curled up on the cot and regained the precious body heat

they had lost. When they finally felt like the last bit of

cold had seeped from their bones, they had eaten the simple

meals that she had also stowed in the pack. Then it was

back to the cot, keeping each other as warm as possible

until it was safe to light a fire.

Her mind was too full of questions for her to sleep. Would

the soldiers find them? Would the ranger come looking for

them? Would Mulder last long enough to get out of here? Who

lived here before? What the hell was poking her in the back?

Rolling over slowly, she reached under the small space

below the cot and felt around until her fingers bumped

against something. Feeling around its edges, she recognized

its shape and took a firm grip, pulling it out. Settling

back against Mulder, she looked at the book in her hands,

noticing the layer of dust on it. Whoever had lived here

before certainly hadn’t been here for a very long time.

Opening the cover to the first page, she discovered that it

was a journal by the previous occupant, dated November 7th,

1997.

**I escaped last night. After a month and a half of

planning, of memorizing the guards’ routines and the

doctors’ rounds, I did it. Left two guards dead so they

couldn’t sound the alarm. I feel no guilt, they made me

what I am. I found a small cave that had an outlet into a

larger one that could be made into reasonable living

quarters. I’ve already decided not to return to

civilization. There is no way I would be accepted, not

after what I’ve become.**

Scully flipped through the next few pages and stopped on

one from December 28, 1997.

**A sweeper team came by today. They didn’t find my

hideout but it took all of my willpower to resist the need

to kill. My mutations have been useful, however, in my daily

life in the wilderness. I eat what I kill and hone my

hunting instincts as well. It’s a good thing there are no

campers this far north, I can’t be held responsible for my

actions.**

She turned to an entry on January 19, 1998.

**Something is wrong. My hands shake all the time and

sometimes I black out without warning. I know it has

something to do with what they did to me but I don’t know

if this is a natural side effect of going off the drugs or

if it is a sign of worse things to come. The urge to kill

is almost overpowering now and I have to stay in my cave to

keep from giving myself away.**

February 11, 1998.

**I know now that what is happening to me is not what the

doctors planned. The blackouts have gotten so bad that I

cannot hunt for more than ten minutes without taking the

risk that I might lose consciousness out in the open. I

remember one doctor saying something about cell rejection

and shutdown. I think he was talking about what I’m

feeling. My cells are rejecting my mutation and my body is

shutting down. I am going to die and there is nothing I can

do about it. The only thought that brings me comfort is

that their experiment failed.**

February 16, 1998.

**My moments of lucidity are outnumbered by delirium and

unconsciousness, it won’t be long now until it is all over.

For me at least. Last night the helicopter was out, which

can mean only one thing: New subjects. Obviously the

doctors have given up their attempts to find me and have

now gone in search of fresh guinea pigs. I wish them a

swift and painless death instead of what I’ve had to

endure. At least this is one guinea pig that got away. For

good.**

That was the last entry.

**********

10:13 p.m.

When Mulder woke up, Scully showed him the journal and he

read through it as she cleared the snow from the chimney

and started a fire. Sitting in front of the crackling

flames, they tried to decide on a course of action.

“We’ve got to get those kids out of there.”

Scully raised an eyebrow. “And how do you propose two FBI

agents in less than perfect condition are going to get into

a high security military lab and sneak out with five of

their test subjects who may not be in any shape to help?”

“I don’t know but we have to do something. You read what

happened to this guy,” he held up the journal, “Their

bodies are going to shut down because they can’t handle the

mutations.”

“It’s been over two years since then, the doctors have

probably made adjustments to their experiments.”

“Are you willing to take that chance? Willing to bet the

lives of five innocent people on it?”

Scully pressed her lips into a thin line. “No. You’re

right, we have a responsibility to those kids.”

“Besides, if we face the facts, there is no way we’re

going to be able to hike all the way back to the ranger’s

station. At least the compound is closer and we might be

able to steal a car.”

Nodding in acquiescence, Dana tried to hide the fear in

her eyes by throwing another log on the fire. Her partner

was right — there was no way he could hike very far. The

food they had eaten earlier seemed to cause him no

problems, so she prayed it was a sign that his intestines

weren’t damaged, but he was still bleeding. He was very

tired and had slept almost the entire time they had been in

the cave, blood loss and the cold making him lethargic. He

seemed to be handling the pain well, but she knew that he

was struggling, she could tell by the lines at the corner

of his eyes and mouth. She doubted he was up to anything

resembling a rescue mission but he had surprised her before

and hopefully would again.

She must have given something away in her silence because

Mulder’s hand on her cheek turned her to face him. “We can

do this. Tomorrow morning we’ll start hiking back to the

compound. We can take what we need from here, like some of

the tools in the cabinet. Our clothes are dry and we have

plenty of water and some food left. You can bandage me up

nice and tight, the bleeding is hardly noticeable now and

the cold will work as a painkiller. As long as there’s no

blizzard, we can do this. I promise.”

Reaching down, he squeezed both of her hands, looking her

straight in the eyes. Then he stood up, trying fiercely to

hide his grimace and moved over to the ramshackle cabinet.

He opened one of the doors carefully so it wouldn’t fall

off the hinges and looked inside for anything useful. What

he found were knives, a hatchet, a bow and some arrows, a

Sig Sauer with two extra clips and, of all things, a lock

pick set. Mulder smiled to himself, whoever this man had

been, he had certainly believed in being prepared.

***********

Bear Head Lake State Park

Monday 9:03 a.m.

Scully hefted the backpack over her shoulder despite her

partner’s protests. “If you expect me to go along with this

harebrained scheme of yours, you do what the doctor orders.”

Looking at the stick in his hand with dismay, Mulder

sighed in martyrdom. Scully had demanded he use the long

branch she had cut off a tree with the hatchet as a

makeshift cane. Add to the fact that she also insisted she

carry all the supplies, and he was feeling the blow to his

manly pride. At least he still had his weapon.

After checking their position with the sun, they headed

towards the road, intending to follow it back to the

roadblock and then around to the base. They set a steady if

slow pace, keeping alert for any sign of the soldiers who

had pursued them. It took over four hours for them to reach

the avalanched road and by then Mulder was glad for the

stick he had leaned on for the past three hours. They

decided to take a moment’s rest in a small alcove of the

avalanche debris to gather their strength for the uphill

climb.

“I’m surprised there doesn’t seem to be any activity in

this area. Either they don’t think we’re important enough

to bother with, or they assume we’re dead,” Mulder said in

hushed tones.

“Maybe they think we got away,” Scully whispered hopefully.

Mulder just blinked at her. “Whatever the reason, I still

think we should be as cautious as possible and circle

around to the site instead of straight up to it. Take maybe

another hour.”

Scully shifted her pack. “You ready?”

“As I’ll ever be. Let’s get going.”

They moved out past the roadblock and headed in a wide

circle that would bring them around to what they believed

would be the back of the compound. About fifty minutes

later they had reached the rim of the valley that contained

the base and they ducked below the edge, keeping out of

sight.

“Awfully quiet down there,” Scully commented.

“Maybe the snow shut down activities?” Mulder wondered,

breathing heavily.

“Doubt it.” She peeked over the edge, her eyes scanning

the area. “There’s no sign of anyone. No soldiers, no

vehicles, nothing.”

“I have a bad feeling about this.” Mulder raised his head

next to hers. “You think they decided to evacuate?”

“Maybe. It’s possible they thought there was too much

interest in this site and they needed to move their base of

operations somewhere else.” She removed the binoculars from

the backpack and got a closer look at the building. “Of

course, they could be inside waiting for us to show up and

shoot us the second we reveal ourselves.”

Mulder took a deep breath. “Only one way to find out.” He

stood up suddenly, swaying slightly with dizziness.

“Mulder!” Scully hissed, grabbing at his jeans.

He ignored her and raised his arms, waving them back and

forth. There was no reaction from the building. He looked

down at Scully. “Well, I’m not full of holes.”

“One is enough,” she replied icily as she climbed up next

to him. “It appears the place is deserted.”

“Let’s invite ourselves in.” Mulder started down the

incline, Scully stumbling as she followed him hastily. By

the time they reached the fence, there was still no activity

from inside the compound. Mulder made quick use of the lock

pick set and they were inside the gates, pausing

automatically as they expected an alarm to go off.

Silence.

Mulder shrugged and pointed to the door with a sign that

read “Authorized Personnel Only.” “Let’s see what’s behind

door number one.”

After a moment with the picks they were inside a long

hallway, leading to the right and the left. Everything

seemed as though it had been bleached clean, not a speck of

dust in sight. Mulder sniffed. “Smells like a hospital.”

“You’d know,” Scully huffed, still angry at his foolhardy

stunt.

Mulder ignored it. “Left or right?”

“Right.” They moved down the hall, stopping at each door,

which all opened easily. There was nothing but empty rooms,

the machinery and equipment had been stripped.

“They didn’t leave anything behind , did they.” Mulder

shook his head at the thought, dismayed at the thought of

once again having the evidence disappear right under his

nose.

“Let’s hope they left something,” Scully said evenly. He

knew she was referring to the missing hikers. “They usually

keep the test subjects fairly close to the labs for easy

access. If these are all the experiment rooms, the holding

cells must be back the other way.”

They turned around and headed back down the hallway. After

passing the door they had entered through they had to walk

almost forty yards before reaching another door. This one

was locked and Mulder shot a significant look at Scully

before making quick work of the lock.

Inside was another hallway, much shorter than the last and

lined with three doors on each side. The doors all had

small windows three-quarters of the way up that showed the

contents of each room. And those contents were the

kidnapped hikers.

***********

The cell doors were harder to breach than the others —

code panels opened them. After trying several combinations,

Mulder gave up and simply shot the panel, the door sliding

open a few seconds later.

A young man was standing in the corner, his eyes wide with

fear. “Who are you?” he stammered, noting the gun in

Mulder’s hand.

Scully squeezed between the doorway and her partner. She

held out her hand, “We’re with the FBI, we’re here to bring

you home.”

The youth looked shocked for a moment and then smiled

widely. “Thank God! I thought no one would ever find us!”

Mulder, who recognized the boy as Randy Dettweiler from

his picture, asked about the others. “Have you had any

contact with Mark Schumacher, Amanda Huntsacker, Casey

Ryburg, and Steve Michaels?”

“They’re all here,” Randy answered. “We’ve all helped each

other get through the tests as well as possible.” The young

man shuddered.

Scully put a hand on his shoulder. “Everything’s going to

be okay. Let’s get the others.”

Four destroyed code panels and quick explanations later,

the group of two adults and five hikers were standing in

the middle of Casey’s room. She was the first one of the

kids who had been taken and so had been subjected to more

tests than the rest. At the moment she was huddled on her

bed, not responding to any of the others.

“She’s been like that for the last few days, won’t do

anything but stare off into space,” Steve explained.

“Traumatic shock,” Scully guessed. “Casey? Casey, I’m

Agent Scully and this is Agent Mulder, we’re with the FBI,

we’re here to help you.” She kept her tone soft and

soothing. “We need you to come with us so we can take you

home.”

“C’mon, Case, let’s blow this joint,” Randy cajoled.

Soft words came from cracked lips. “Blow this joint.”

“Did she say something?” Steve asked.

“Yeah, she said ‘blow this joint,'” Randy replied.

In fact, Casey was repeating the three words over and

over. She began to rock back and forth, her head hitting the

wall with a dull thud as she moved.

“We’re going to have to carry her out of here. I don’t

know if anyone is going to come back, but I’d rather not

take the chance and want to be long gone if they do.”

Mulder gestured to Randy and Steve. “Take her by the arms.

Be gentle but firm.”

The two boys took Casey by an arm and hauled her to her

feet. She started to wilt to the floor but they held her.

As the pair stepped forward, she shuffled along with them,

her feet automatically moving. She continued to chant

rhythmically.

Mulder gave her one last look, hoping that the

psychological damage could be undone and then turned,

leading the way out of the building. They were halfway down

the long hall when suddenly the lights went out, plunging

them into darkness.

Casey started screaming, struggling against Randy and

Steve. “Blow this joint! Blow it! Blow!”

Abruptly a red light switched on, bathing the clear hall

in an eerie glow. Scully stared at Casey, wondering why the

girl would suddenly panic. She looked at Mulder and saw

that his lips were moving. It took her a second to realize

that he was saying the same thing as Casey, his mind

deciphering her pointless rambling.

“Jesus Christ,” he murmured. He whirled around to the

others. “We’ve got to get out of here, right now!” He ran

for the door, slamming it open, the bright daylight

blinding him momentarily. “Move, come on, let’s go!”

Not questioning his sudden haste, the group chased after

him, piling out of the doorway as fast as possible. Mulder

cursed under his breath when he saw the small square of

material on the wall to his left that confirmed his

suspicions. “They’ve got the whole place wired with C-4.”

Scully sucked in her breath as she saw the same thing her

partner did. “They didn’t want to leave any evidence

behind.”

“We’ve got to get as far away from here as possible.”

Mulder pointed up to the ridge where he and Scully had fled

from just two nights ago. “Head for those trees, don’t stop

running until you get there!”

Needing no more urging, the group broke into a run, their

feet and hearts pounding. They had almost made it to the

top of the ridge when there was a cry from behind. “Agent

Mulder, we can’t get Casey up any farther!” Randy shouted.

Mulder stopped his ascent and looked down to see the boys

struggling with Casey’s leaden body. He scrambled down to

them. “Steve, go with Agent Scully, I’ll help Randy with

Casey.”

“But…” Steve stammered.

“Go!” Mulder turned away from him, not bothering to see if

he had obeyed, and focused on the task at hand. “I’ll get

her by the arms, you grab her feet,” he instructed Randy.

They picked her up together and started making a slow

ascent. It was a cumbersome way to travel, but there was no

way Mulder was going to let any of these kids down.

Gritting his teeth as the pain in his side flared, he kept

his feet moving, bringing them closer to safety.

He reached the top out of breath and with spots dancing in

front of his eyes. Randy smiled, also breathing heavily,

“We did it.”

Letting out a sigh of relief that they had finally made it

to the top, Mulder automatically turned and looked behind

him. He barely had time to register the explosion before he

was knocked off his feet by the shock wave. He tumbled

forwards, taking the girl with him, he twisted frantically

so as not to land on her. Randy, who had lost his grip on

Casey when the blast hit, was lucky enough to grab onto a

nearby tree with an out-thrown arm.

The other two rolled down the hill, trees and snow

whirling by in a blur as they rolled. Mulder tried to

protect Casey with his body but he could still hear her

grunts of pain as they bounced over rocks.

With a suddenness that knocked the wind out of him, they

hit the level road, sliding to a halt just before they

slammed into the avalanche debris. Uncurling himself from

the girl, Mulder rolled onto his back staring up into the

sky. He could hear his partner calling his name but she

seemed so far away. He thought about trying to fight the

impending darkness but, deciding that their mission was

accomplished, he let himself drift into peaceful

unconsciousness.

**********

Scully hesitated when Steve told her that Mulder had

insisted he go on without him, but she knew that the

lives of civilians were at risk and that was her first

priority. She waved him along and they headed down the

slope as quickly as possible. The explosion that rumbled

through the ground made them stumble and she clutched a

tree to keep herself from toppling over.

The first thought that came to her mind when she steadied

herself was her partner and Casey. She didn’t have to

wonder about their fate for long, because they shot past

her in a tangle of limbs and snow. Randy was hanging onto

a tree and she and Steve pulled him up. Then Scully

scrambled

down the slope after Mulder and Casey, appalled at how fast

they had tumbled. She almost lost sight of them when the

road

opened up before her and she saw the pair had come sliding

to

a stop. Mulder moved enough to separate himself from the

girl

and then he went limp.

“Mulder!” She skidded up next to him, falling to her

knees. She checked his pulse, closing her eyes as she felt

the rapid flutter under her fingers. She was about to check

on Casey as well when the girl moaned, sitting up and

rubbing her head.

“What just happened?”

The rest of the group had made it down the hill by now and

were standing in a semicircle behind Scully. Steve snorted.

“About time you got with the program.”

The girl blinked. “There was a bomb. They were going to

blow us up to make sure that nobody knew what they did to

us. They didn’t think I could hear them but I did. They

didn’t think I could understand anything because I wouldn’t

talk.”

Randy, who was kneeling next to her, gave her a little

shake to stop her rambling. “You’re okay now.”

Casey gave him a slight smile that turned into a frown.

She bent over the prone form lying next to her. “Agent

Mulder? Agent Mulder, are you all right?”

To Scully’s relief, Mulder groaned, his eyes squeezing

tightly shut. “Now I have a headache and about a hundred

bruises to go with all my other aches and pains.”

Everyone laughed in relief as Scully helped Mulder to his

feet but she noticed that he was guarding his left side.

Biting her lip, she knew he was putting up a front for the

others and didn’t call him on it.

“Where do we go from here?” Mark asked.

“That explosion was probably heard all the way back to

town and I bet that anyone at the ranger station can see

that big cloud. They’re going to send someone up to check

on it and they’ll have to use this road. Our best bet is to

stay here until they show up.” Scully pointed at the rubble

caused by the avalanche.

They settled themselves at the base of the roadblock, the

three boys gathering wood to build a fire and Amanda

helping Scully care for Casey. The girl had several dark

bruises forming and some cuts caused by branches or rocks.

Scully still had some antiseptic left and treated the

girl’s scrapes, thankful that she hadn’t broken any bones.

Declaring her as healthy as could be after doing a

precursory head injury test, Scully turned her attention to

her partner.

“Your turn, Mulder.”

He complained jokingly, winking at Casey who grinned back.

Just then the boys returned, dumping their load in a pile

at their feet. Mark had brought a bunch of large rocks with

which to build a fire ring and they began to set it up,

eager to have the warmth and security of the flames. They

had been dressed in fairly thick clothing but nothing that

was meant for being out in the weather for an extended

period of time.

As the kids were preoccupied with getting the fire

started, Scully had Mulder lie back, opening his jacket and

lifting up his layers of clothes. Her eyes narrowed as she

saw the red stained bandage. Any healing that had been

gained by their rest last night had been completely undone.

She pulled off the gauze, noting the color of the wound as

she wiped the blood away. The edges of the wound were

tinged an angry red, infection beginning to set in. Scully

brushed away the panic that threatened, reasoning that they

were lucky that it had taken as long as it did.

A gasp from behind her shook her out of her thoughts. She

looked over her shoulder to see Amanda, her eyes wide and

her hand to her mouth in shock. The others were coming up

next to her to see what had startled her. She swallowed

convulsively and cleared her throat. “Is Agent Mulder okay?”

Mulder propped himself up on his elbows, tilting his head

to the left to see the group of kids. “Nothing a few days

in a nice warm hospital bed won’t cure. Don’t worry, I’m in

good hands.”

Only slightly reassured, they went back to the fire, only

Casey remaining. She sat down next to Mulder, folding her

legs Indian style. “Did you land on a branch or something?”

She felt responsible for any injuries he had acquired

during their trip down the hill.

Mulder chuckled, wincing. “No, just a bullet. One of the

soldiers from the base took a few shots at us the other

night.”

“You’ve been shot?” Casey paled at the thought.

“Yeah and I really should have learned by now that it is

not real fun,” he said sardonically.

Scully snorted. “You? Learn? Like you learned about our

trips to the forest?”

Mulder sighed dramatically. “You’re never going to go

camping with me, are you, Scully?”

She just shook her head and finished applying the new

bandage.

************

4:27 p.m.

Roy Benson kept one hand on the wheel, the other on the

radio he was speaking into. “I’m just coming around the

last turn, should see the end of the road any time now. The

smoke has thinned out a bit but I can still see it. It’s

definitely coming from the old mill. I think — holy shit!”

He slammed on his brakes as he came around the corner and

found seven people just in front of his bumper.

“Roy, what is it?” came the voice of Cliff, his deputy

ranger.

“It’s our FBI agents, it looks like they found those

missing kids.” Roy clicked off the radio and got out of his

truck, putting on his cowboy hat as he went to meet the

group.

Scully reached him first. “Ranger Benson, I can’t tell you

how glad I am to see you. I need you to radio for a medivac

helicopter to transport us to the nearest hospital. These

kids have undergone illegal biological testing and need to

be thoroughly checked out. Agent Mulder is suffering from a

two-day-old bullet wound and the sooner he gets to the

emergency room, the better.”

Experienced enough to know when not to ask questions, Roy

jogged back to his truck, getting on the radio to Cliff. In

the background he could hear the kids cheering.

****************

Agent Scully’s Log

Case #X12759730

After gaining helicopter transportation to Lincoln

Hospital, Agent Mulder was admitted for his injuries and

treated. The bullet passed through him just below the

spleen and managed to miss his intestines, causing

remarkably little internal damage. He is recuperating well

and can be expected to be released within a week. The five

missing hikers were subjected to every test that might

possibly show some evidence of what they had been through.

The only mentionable finding is that their adrenaline

levels were higher than normal. Undergoing a psychological

evaluation, the experts have declared them fit and ready to

return home, with the exception of Casey Ryburg, who has

been referred to a specialist to deal with her traumatic

experience.

Senator Huntsacker has expressed his overwhelming thanks

and Assistant Director Skinner has added a commendation to

our files. Our continuing luck regarding cases that place

us in forested surroundings inevitably creates in me a

sense of foreboding. Though this case had an overall

satisfactory result, the missing hikers being found and

illegal testing of unwilling patients stopped, I still

cannot feel a sense of peace. Perhaps because I cannot be

certain that the group responsible for the abduction of the

hikers will cease their activities. Or perhaps it is

because I know that it is only a matter of time before my

partner again takes me into the woods.

***************

North Sterling State Park Colorado

6:34 p.m.

Russell Napier trudged along the barely discernible path,

breathing in the crisp clean air. This was the life — out

in the country with no pollution, no noise, no office, and

communing with nature. He pushed through some thick

undergrowth and emerged into a small clearing, the trees

forming a circle around him. He stopped and placed his

hands on his hips, turning around to get a good look at the

area. It seemed like the perfect place to set up camp.

Whistling happily as he set up his supplies, he soon had a

small fire going and his sleeping bag unrolled next to it.

Laying back on the thick padding, he gazed up into the sky,

marveling at how many stars you could see without the

lights of the city.

Suddenly a dark form obliterated his view of the stars and

a blazing white light flashed on above him, blinding him

with its intensity. He tried to move but couldn’t seem to

get his muscles to obey him. As his body was lifted up into

that frightening brilliance he couldn’t even scream.

*********

End

I love camping. Honest. But if I ever see bright lights,

I’m getting the hell outta there.

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