The Red Queen

Cover

TITLE: The Red Queen

AUTHOR: KatyBlue

SPOILERS: This is a Virtual Season 8 Episode, written

for I Made This Productions.

RATING: PG-13

DISCLAIMER : In their original forms, these characters

were not created by me, but I have manipulated them for

my own curious whims as well as your reading pleasure.

SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully investigate a thirty year old

cold case involving a once prominent virologist and the

theft of materials from a Department of Defense laboratory.

Finding that the doctor lives in their area, they attempt

to close the case, but discover that the doctor’s viral

research might not have ended after all.

E-MAIL: katy2blue@aol.com Come on, you know you want to!

or visit my web site at http://members.xoom.com/KatyBlue/

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: To three fabulous betas; Fabulous

Monster, Meredith and Toniann. They gave me great

suggestions — any errors still present are all my own.

A huge thanks to the virtual season 8 production crew

for all the hard work they’ve done to put together this

wonderful ‘cyber-season’! You guys rock!

AUTHOR’S NOTES: at end.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

PROLOGUE

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Where do you come from?” said the Red Queen. “And where

are you going? Look up, speak nicely, and don’t twiddle

your fingers all the time.”

~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Monday, December 10

Falls Church, Virginia

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dr. Vincent White drank only to get drunk.

There was no point to the act for him outside of the

pursuit of oblivion. The bottle of wine was half full. He

made it empty.

He felt empty, reclining in the inescapable clutter of his

neglected apartment. The slipcover half hung off the couch

he was sprawled across. The heavy curtains were pulled so

the room was dimmed. The little sunlight that did manage

to intrude spilled through a crack in the grime of the

curtains and highlighted only dust motes swirling in its

alluring but unreachable illumination.

He barely recognized the daylight.

There was a stack of mediocrity next to him. He could

still recognize *that*, thank God. Final exams lay in an

untidy pile at his fingertips, the corrections needed to

fix multiple errors required an effort that Vincent no

longer had the energy for today. And after just barely

starting them, no less.

Given that the final grades for his motley pack of

students were due tomorrow, he should be more concerned,

but he wasn’t. He’d get a call tomorrow from some

administrative assistant, nastily reminding him he was late

again. So what? It would take another three days for the

university to start hounding him in earnest. After that, he

had only the fallout of dealing with a multitude of annoyed

and mediocre students when the grades were sent out and

they started calling the biology department and demanding

to know why they’d received an incomplete for their

hopelessly sub-par work.

He’d been through it all before.

Tomorrow would be soon enough to try and make himself

focus.

He looked at the picture in his hands. He stumbled over

these things from time to time. They gave him pause. The

picture was of Matthew, his small body bent over a sand

castle and his blonde hair tousled by the strong ocean

breeze. Both hands were held out before him, as if

uncertain he liked the sensation of the sand sticking to

them. He’d been a very fastidious little boy. In the photo,

his lips were pursed in fierce concentration of the object

under construction before him.

Olivia, in the background, was beaming at her little boy

from the backlit aura of warm June sunshine. Her dark curls

were unruly in the breeze. Her hand, frozen in that moment

of time, tucked a curl behind her ear.

The picture reminded him of all he’d lost. Dr. Vincent

White took another swig straight from the bottle. He rarely

bothered with a glass anymore. No point, really. He never

had company to entertain. At the time this picture had

been taken, he’d sipped an excellent vintage wine out of a

crystal wineglass. He and Olivia had hosted well-attended

and sought-after dinner parties. They’d resided in the

opulent comfort of a three million dollar, impeccably

decorated home on oceanfront property. Afforded this luxury

mostly from Olivia’s family money, but aided by his status

as a well-known and respected virologist at the prestigious

Yale University and a whopping Department of Defense grant

for his research.

He’d thought he was set for life.

He’d had a beautiful family, he thought sadly.

He rarely took note of his surroundings now. It was too

depressing.

He was glad the girls weren’t in the picture. He couldn’t

take that right now. Elizabeth, with those impossibly long

lashes and light blue eyes, the riot of dark curls just

like her mother. Little Gwennie, a smaller carbon copy of

her older sister. Marissa, next in line, and blonde just

like Matthew. He tipped the bottle up again and the picture

fluttered from his fingers to settle near a stain on the

beaten rug. He reached down to save the treasure from the

filth it had landed in.

It was too much wine all at once. His stomach protested.

He belched and felt the acid sting of it come up his

esophagus and out his nose. Sitting up quickly, he snatched

the photo up, setting it where it was safe. Bending back

over, he put a hand to his nostrils to catch the remaining

liquid as it burned its passage out.

When his hand came away stained with the red of the wine,

he began to cry.

Matthew had a nosebleed on a Sunday night, exactly thirty

years ago. That was the beginning of the end of his son’s

life, as well as what Dr. White had known to be his life.

Colleagues shook their heads and avoided his eyes as they

treated his little boy. They tried every medication they

thought might work as Matthew’s symptoms intensified. The

pieces hadn’t fit any known puzzle at the time.

How could they? No one had known about that particular

puzzle except for Vincent.

His colleagues finally shrank from his impotent rage and

guilt-filled wrath. He cursed them all. He railed at God

and himself as the virus locked into its terrible pattern.

He weakened at the sight of his child’s helplessness.

There was no hope for his son’s survival. And yet he’d

hoped anyway.

In vain.

Matthew labored into the early hours of Monday morning,

December 22nd, while Vincent and his wife stood helplessly

by their son’s bedside. Three days from Christmas,

beautiful little Matthew shuffled in little baby steps

off this mortal coil.

Looking back, he still knew this blow might have been

endured. With his wife and three little girls, they could

have pulled together to mourn and cherish the memory of

Matthew. But shockingly and unexpectedly, little Matthew

was followed within days by Olivia and all three of his

beautiful daughters.

He had no idea how his family had contracted the virus.

But that it had somehow come from him was undeniable.

And in this most perfectly designed hell on earth, Dr.

Vincent White had survived.

He called this life his penance. And he began a downhill

slide into oblivion, self-recrimination and alcoholism

from that day forward.

He knew that he whole-heartedly deserved it.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

ACT I

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I don’t know what you mean by *your* way,” said the Queen:

“all the ways about here belong to me — but why did you

come out here at all?” she added in a kinder tone. “Curtsey

while you’re thinking what to say. It saves time.”

~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Monday, December 10

Hoover Building

Mulder had his back to Scully when she entered the room.

He was bent over a box and she saw a cloud of dust rise in

the spill of sunlight as he pulled a yellowed sheaf of

papers out of it.

“Good morning, Mulder.”

“Morning, Scully. It’s your lucky day…”

With some apprehension, she set her coffee cup down on the

table in the corner and turned back to her partner. By now,

she prided herself on being able to read even the most

subtle hint of sarcasm in his voice, and as a result, she

was certain this was *not* going to be a very lucky day for

her.

“What’s up, Mulder?” she asked cautiously.

“Skinner’s got us on the X-files version of cold-case

detail. I think our report from the last case was too much

for him. So we’ve been detained from further investigation

for the rest of this week. Instead, we have to go through

storage room B and deliver it of any old X-files we can

find in there.”

Storage room B, just down the hall from them, contained

boxes of historical case files for every division of the

FBI, dating back to the creation of the bureau in 1908.

Most of the FBI’s departments had already microfiched their

older cases. But the X-files division, lacking the help of

an administrative assistant, wasn’t up to date with

inputting older files into the database.

At the moment, she wished this particular storage room had

fallen victim to the fire that destroyed the majority of

their original files.

“You’re kidding?” she groaned. He stared back impassively.

“You mean physically go through the files?”

“Yes. And no, I’m not kidding,” he added. At her look, he

said, “Don’t worry. We don’t have to power-lift any boxes,

Scully. All we need to do is go through a few that, over

the years, have been classified by other departments as

‘not fitting their criteria’. And if we’re lucky enough to

find an X-file, we make sure nothing new has come up on the

case before we enter it into our database.”

He pointed to the floor where three boxes were lined up.

“I’ve already got a head start and I’ve taken the liberty

of denoting three categories. This first one is the ‘not

our problem either’ box.” Moving over, he kicked the second

box. “This one is for the files we get to keep, even though

they’re just about as cold as ice pops — X-files dated

within the last fifty years, but ready to be ‘put down.’

I’m calling them the ‘geriatrics.'”

“Mulder…” she admonished.

He nodded at the third box. “And lastly, our ‘live but

cold’ X-files.” The box he indicated already contained a

file, she noted with dismay as he leaned over and held it

up triumphantly. “Don’t worry. So far, this is the only one

even close to being active. And this particular box is

likely to stay pretty empty, since no one’s been in that

room for the past twenty years, I think. We’re talking very

cold cases here, Scully.”

Mulder was attacking the task with his usual enthusiasm,

which, while good to see, was also daunting. Perfect. Was

she supposed to throw herself whole-heartedly into creating

an X-file archive? What Mulder needed right now was not a

partner, but a librarian who knew how to archive.

“Can’t someone else do this?” She hated the whine she

heard creeping into her voice. He gave her a look. “I just

mean, why do we get the pleasure of this detail? Is it

because that storage room borders on our basement hovel?

Why isn’t anyone from the other departments helping to

classify these cases?”

She noted within seconds Mulder’s uncharacteristic silence

as he busied himself perusing another yellowed file in his

hands. “Mulder? Did you have something to do with this

detail?”

He sighed at her lack of enthusiasm and indicated a large

pile of boxes they needed to go through. His eyes were

shining with the excitement reserved only for children at

Christmas. “No one has touched these files for years,

Scully. And I know there are X-files in here. Do you

really think we’d be certain to get them if someone else

looked through these boxes?” he asked pointedly.

He thought someone would keep the cases from them. And as

much as this bordered on paranoia, she knew the statement

also held truth.

“First dibs,” Mulder said, smiling sheepishly at her. “It

isn’t like I want to do this,” he continued. “But I might

remind you we were pulled off any active cases for the next

week anyway after our latest fiasco. Besides,” he shrugged,

“it’ll give us something to do.” And he raised his eyebrows

at her hopefully. It could even be interesting, Scully. I

mean, look at the history here.” He leaned over and pulled

out a folder. The dust came off of it in a cloud and he

waved at the air and coughed.

“Slightly hazardous to your health, I’d say.” At his look,

she finally relented. With a pointed sigh, she sunk down

into her chair and took a long sip of her coffee,

marshalling herself to join him, but content to relax and

watch his movements for a minute. She marveled at him,

already well-advanced into his workday as she was just

beginning. And she prepared herself for the unpleasant

task ahead by allowing a good healthy dose of caffeine to

infuse her system as she made her final protest known.

“I’m not happy about this, Mulder.”

He nodded, unmoved. When she made her displeasure more

obvious with a raised brow he went for the hard sell,

turning that special look in her direction that was

guaranteed to work in swaying her to his side. She waited

with anticipation. There it was — the little push of his

lower lip so it jutted out at her into a much-too-

endearing pout. And his eyes sparkled with such

earnestness that she found herself giving in, though she

knew the ploy too well and had to fight back a smile.

“I’m telling you, Scully, some of it is fascinating,” he

insisted.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” she shot back with the

parting parry of the already defeated.

He grinned. “Here, I want you to look at this one. It’s

right up your alley.” He leaned over and picked out the

sole occupant of the ‘live’ box.

Reluctantly, she took the outstretched folder and set it

on her desk. The manila covering was smeared with grime. It

looked as if someone else had accidentally spilled an

entire cup of coffee onto it at some point in time.

With a put-upon sigh, she opened the folder.

The date was 1970. There was a picture inside. A family. A

middle-aged, blond man with his arm around an attractive

dark-haired woman. There were three little girls in frilly

dresses, arranged by height in front of the two adults. In

the arms of the woman was a little boy. She peered more

closely at the photo.

“Dr. Vincent White…” Mulder began across the room.

“Prominent scientist in his day…”

“A virologist,” Scully finished for him, recognizing the

face. “Wow. I’ve heard of him. Supposedly, he was a

brilliant researcher — I believe he was involved in

research that resulted in the development of a vaccine for

one of the hemmorhagic fevers. I read about him as an

undergrad.”

According to the file, there was a theft of ‘sensitive

materials’ in the lab where Dr. Vincent White had worked.

The nature of the materials stolen was not revealed to the

bureau due to their classification as top secret Department

of Defense Research.

“The date is 1970, Mulder. Doesn’t it seem odd that this

case is stuck in there with a bunch of cases from the

1920s through 40s?”

“Exactly my question. So I looked into it a little. And it

just so happens that Dr. White is actually very close by

and could be easily questioned about the case. I might add

that the Bureau never considered the case solved; in fact,

it never even made it past the preliminary investigation.”

“Mulder, it says here that Dr. White was subsidized by a

grant from the Department of Defense. Maybe the DOD or the

Army dealt with the case.” The paperwork inside the folder

contained tell-tale permanent black magic-marker ink-outs

of whole phrases. Classified material. Information that the

DOD had considered unnecessary for the FBI to know.

“It’s still in the FBI’s cache of unsolved cases, Scully.”

“A theft in a secured government facility sounds like an

inside problem,” she noted, frustrated at her inability to

dampen his enthusiasm. Cold cases were just that — cases

that would probably never be solved. This case was no doubt

further complicated by the involvement of the United States

Government, under the guise of the DOD. It gave her a bad

feeling. “Mulder, what could a thirty-year-old theft of

classified information possibly have to do with anything

current?”

“How can you even ask that, Scully?” he demanded.

She sighed, caught. “Okay…why is it an X-file?” she

tried.

Walking over to where she was reading, he pointed to the

picture she’d been studying. “The same year of that theft,

not long before it, in fact, Dr. Vincent White lost his

entire family to a mysterious and unidentified virus.

Those deaths were never investigated.”

“Mulder,” she groaned. She stared down again at the

picture of an apparently happy family. The children were

smiling in the sunshine, parents beaming proudly.

Seemingly the future stretched ahead of them all, an

endless possibility. She viewed them now with the sense

of poignancy that often struck her when the fate of such

victims was known. “Okay, given that this is a case we can

reopen, how can questioning this poor man about a thirty-

year-old theft and the death of his entire family possibly

have any benefit?” She looked up at Mulder, who was

standing over her now looking entirely too ready to do

just that. “Where did you say he was?”

His eyes were glinting with that particular fervor that

Mulder always brought to an investigation. “This once quite

brilliant researcher,” he pointed down to the picture, “is

now teaching microbiology at a local college, Scully.”

Her eyebrow climbed in disbelief. “Really?”

“Really.”

This did seem like a far cry from Yale University and the

development of a life-saving vaccine under a hefty government

contract. She glanced hesitantly back down at the file. “It

says here that there’s some evidence stored on this case.”

“I know.” Mulder leaned over her shoulder, reading off the

list of catalogued numbers. “I believe it’s in the true

bowels of this building, Scully.” He grinned. “Bet you

didn’t know there was actually a level below this.”

“And here I thought we could lay claim to that

distinction,” she said, looking around them.

“Only psychologically. I’m going to check out whatever it

is while you continue reading. Be right back, Scully.” He

squeezed her shoulder. “Absorb, and be ready for some

action when I get back.”

“We can’t investigate it until we go through the rest of

these boxes, Mulder,” she reminded him. “And Skinner said

we’re banished to the office for the rest of this week,

remember?”

“You got it, Scully. But at least we’ll be ready when

Monday rolls around.”

He was humming as he passed out the door. The air was

still thick with dust from the old boxes littering the

floor. Scully stared at the particles as they whirled in

a shaft of sunlight coming through the basement window.

Taking another long, slow sip of coffee, she let the folder

drift shut on the desk. Reaching out, she flicked on her

computer, content to let the contents of the unfortunate

Dr. White’s file remain unread until she’d finished her

morning ritual of sipping coffee and reading her e-mail.

Digging deep into the past for seemingly no good purpose

could wait until Mulder returned from his errand. And

hopefully even longer after that.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The errand ended up taking Mulder much longer than she

expected. When he came back into the office, she was long

done with her coffee and he was sucking gingerly on his

thumb.

“Mulder? Are you regressing?”

He popped the digit out of his mouth with an audible noise

and peered at it. “Cut myself, good. It finally stopped

bleeding,” he observed.

clip_image002

“How did you manage to cut yourself, and what took you so

long?”

“It took a while to find the particular evidence room

labeled ‘obscure and unobtainable’. You think *these*

boxes haven’t seen the light of day, Scully?” He

shuddered. “You don’t want to go where I’ve just been. I

underestimated when I said bowels. It was more like hell.”

Frowning, she walked casually over to where he was leaning

up against his desk. It took a certain skill to stalk and

corner a wounded Mulder. Reaching out, she latched onto the

thumb in one deft snag and tugged the injured party toward

her in order to inspect it. Mulder was the only man she

knew who could hurt himself in any situation. Just getting

out of bed in the morning was unsafe for him. “You know,

that’s not exactly the best way to treat a wound,” she

scolded.

“What?”

“Sucking on it can introduce pathogens from your oral

cavity into the wound, as well as the other way around…”

He was beginning to smirk at her, though he was patient

with both the scolding and her ministrations, having

learned that once she got her hands on him, it was best

not to struggle. “What was that, Scully?” he murmured.

“You lost me back about the point where you said the

words ‘sucking’ and ‘oral cavity’ in the same sentence.”

She threw him the requisite scowl as she peered closely at

his thumb, finally reassuring herself that it was no more

than a superficial laceration, albeit one deep enough into

the dermis to smart. A drop of blood welled up slowly.

“Did you know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has

a rodent problem?” Mulder remarked.

“What makes you say that?”

He was about to answer when the phone rang and he pulled

the thumb out of her grasp to answer it. She could tell it

was A.D. Skinner on the other end from how Mulder reacted,

a strange combination of annoyance and respect. He rolled

his eyes and mouthed the words, “Budget meeting tomorrow,”

at her. He peered at his thumb and stuck it back in his

mouth.

“Don’t forget we’re due to go over our latest expense

report on Thursday,” she reminded him. She never thought

she’d look forward to the mundane and often unpleasant

task of paperwork, but if it would keep them from running

off on a wild goose chase two weeks before Christmas, she

welcomed the distraction.

Moving back to her makeshift desk, she pushed Dr. White’s

aged folder of misery to the far side as she searched for

a band-aid and listened to Mulder assure Skinner they

could definitely get the necessary reports ready on time.

She knew they would need to strategize in order to slip

their latest expenses through. The Bureau might not

appreciate how running through a junkyard in the process

of preventing a psychopath from killing her partner and

hitting the dirt in the same said junkyard in order to

avoid attracting the attention of a tiger while nursing

her partner’s thankfully superficial gunshot wound to the

leg truly did ruin clothing, but she’d be damned if she’d

start buying disposable suits.

Mulder hung up the phone.

“They’re buying me a new suit, Mulder,” she stated

ominously.

“You read my mind, Scully. Would you believe that Skinner

just told me we’d better figure out a way to justify the

names ‘Anne Klein’ and ‘Giorgio Armani’ to Accounting by

Thursday?”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Just at this moment, somehow or other, they began to run.

Alice never could quite make out, in thinking it over

afterwards, how it was that they began: all she remembers

is, that they were running hand in hand, and the Queen went

so fast that it was all she could do to keep up with her:

and still the Queen kept crying “Faster! Faster!”, but

Alice felt she *could not* go faster, though she had no

breath left to say so.

~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, December 14

George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia

Two days, one budget meeting, an expense report and two

new suits later, Mulder was raring to get going on the

White case. Scully had long since given up trying to

convince him otherwise. And after three days of meetings,

she had to admit that she was just as ready to get out of

the office as Mulder.

“You’re sure Skinner gave us the okay on this, Mulder?”

“Of course, Scully.” He shot her a dirty look.

“Might I also point out that it’s Friday…are you also

sure I can’t convince you to take a few personal hours and

do some Christmas shopping with me instead of starting

this case today?”

“I’m definitely sure on that one, Scully.”

She’d been very careful about her mention of any holiday

plans this year in Mulder’s presence. In a way, his year

had included the loss of the only two remaining members of

his family. And as distant as they may have been from him

in their own respective ways, they were all the family

he’d had left. She’d already made a promise to herself to

stick by him this year, whether he asked her to or not.

She also knew he’d never ask. Mulder always played it as

if he were not big on the holidays in principle, but she

often suspected that his indifference was more a form of

self-preservation than actual dislike of the season.

George Mason University, where Dr. Vincent White now

taught microbiology, was in Alexandria, not very far from

Mulder’s apartment. She’d had no idea there was even a

university there and read the information Mulder had

collected on it as they drove. Small and fairly newly

established, it was mostly a commuter school, spread over

three campuses and attracting a wealth of non-traditional

students. They parked the car in a nearly deserted lot

outside what looked to be the main building.

With a few exceptions, the campus appeared empty of

students. University attendees had completed their final

exams for the fall semester the week before and had been

released from the rigors of academia into the joy of their

respective holidays. The overall effect was a cluster of

brick buildings, deserted of signs of life and devoid of

any form of holiday cheer, but apparently still

functioning in some form over the break. Signs of random

human life were spotted moving from one building to the

next.

Mulder and Scully entered a building pointed out to them

by an older professorial type as that holding the

biology offices. A young dark-haired woman sat at the

front desk, chewing gum and flirting with a rather badly

dressed security guard. Scully idly thought that any

company who dressed their security staff in ill-fitting

polyester should not also be allowed to arm them.

Mulder did the honors of clearing his throat to get their

attention. They performed their routine badge display in

tandem and the two university staffers appeared duly

impressed by the credentials.

“We’re wondering if you could help us find a Dr. Vincent

White?” Mulder inquired. “We’d like to talk to him, if

that’s possible.”

“If you can find him, good luck!” the woman fumed. “He’s

not answering at any of his numbers and his grades were due

in *yesterday*.” Her annoyance was evident. But her

expression gradually changed from irritation to something

more akin to anticipation. “Why? Is he in trouble?”

“If you don’t mind, we’d like to try and find him today.”

Mulder slipped easily into what Scully considered his

‘charming mode.’ Mulder’s attentions alone were enough

to have an marked effect on some women. Scully had also

decided that he wasn’t quite as oblivious to it as he

sometimes pretended to her.

Proving herself one of the susceptible ones, the

receptionist quickly fell under the spell of his eyes,

blinked slowly, and smiled. Then she moved trance-like

behind her desk to do his bidding. Bending over a computer

screen, she called up telephone numbers and Dr. White’s

home address for him.

The beefy security guard first scowled at Mulder for the

intrusion and then turned his attention to Scully. Deciding

turnabout was fair play, he looked her up and down, paying

particular attention to her breasts. Scully sent him a

withering look that was guaranteed to make him think twice

about the attention he was visiting upon a federal officer.

It seemed to work and he dropped his eyes to the floor.

“Here you go.” The woman scribbled the phone numbers down

on a memo pad and tore the pink slip of paper off. She

handed it to Mulder with a wide smile, concentrating her

flirtations solely on him for the moment and forgetting her

conversation with the security guard. Mulder turned his own

attention back to Scully and mouthed the words ‘let’s go.’

“You could try his office,” the woman called as they

turned toward the exit. “Third floor, number 364. His lab

is right beside that. God knows, he could be hiding up

there and just not answering when I knock. He’s done *that*

before,” she added with thinly-veiled contempt.

Mulder turned back and gave her a little smile. “Thanks.”

“Do me a favor,” she said. “If you do get a hold of him,

tell him the damned grades are due and I’m sick and tired

of dealing with the front office. Tell him I’ll do my best

to make his life miserable next semester if he doesn’t get

them to me by today,” she added heatedly.

Mulder gave her a little wave as they climbed the first

flight of stairs. “Will do.”

Scully shot him a look, but he was staring straight ahead,

a little scowl of concentration rested on his face. “What

are you thinking, Mulder?” she asked. “You know this is

going to go nowhere. Not that I’m complaining.”

“Why do you think it’s going nowhere?”

She sighed. “Wishful thinking,” she said, resigned to her

fate. “Christmas is only about two weeks away and I’d just

as soon not get too involved in a new case.”

He turned a contemplative look in her direction. “Are you

going to San Diego this year, Scully?” The question was

casual, but his expression was curious. She could swear he

was anxious about her answer.

“Why do you ask?” she replied carefully.

He shrugged it off. “No reason. Just asking.”

“I haven’t made any definite plans yet,” she admitted. “I

didn’t want to get my Mom’s hopes up and then pull the plug

on her. What about you?” she asked, turning the question

around. “Want to come along?”

Her question was delivered as casually as his inquiry of

her plans. She’d wanted to ask him for a while now. She

admitted once more to herself that she was worried about

him being alone this year. Nevertheless, she doubted he’d

be receptive to her offer.

She was right on that account, but his expression was

worth the effort as it turned from one of brooding to

that of a wide smile. “Is Bill going to be there?”

“Yup.”

He laughed aloud. “Oh, Scully, that’s just asking for

trouble, isn’t it?”

She returned his smile, happy to have amused him about a

holiday that had left neither of them feeling all that

jolly over the past few years. They climbed together to

the third floor.

“Yes, it certainly is, Mulder.”

She resolved to stay in D.C. for the holiday before she

took the next step.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Dr. Vincent White did not deign to answer their knocks on

either the door of his lab or his office, if he were indeed

hiding inside as the receptionist implied. However, a crack

of light spilled out into the hallway from the next door

down as they were making their last attempt. Scully nudged

Mulder and they watched this door glide shut as quietly and

quickly as it had opened. Moving down the hall to stand in

front of it, Scully reached up and rapped firmly as Mulder

joined her.

They waited for what seemed just a tad too long for an

answer. When the door finally opened, a very tall young man

with wire-rimmed glasses, in his mid-twenties and wearing

a pristine white lab coat, was revealed. He stared at the

two of them curiously, with a tinge of nervousness in his

stance. “Can I help you?”

“Possibly,” Mulder said. “We’re looking for Dr. Vincent

White.”

The young man’s face turned into a slight scowl. “I

haven’t seen him,” he answered, with a slight lisp. “I’m

in the middle of an important experiment here, if you

don’t mind.”

Mulder pulled out his badge and Scully, beside him,

followed suit. “Actually, we do mind. Could we talk to

you for a second?”

The young man’s eyes grew quite wide. He opened the door

with a scowl. “Come in — just don’t touch anything.”

“Do you know Dr. White?” Scully asked. As she spoke, she

took the opportunity to glance at her surroundings and note

the contents of the lab. It was average, certainly not

boasting the amenities of a more prestigious location. But

the lab space was clean and very neat and the storage

adequate and well-organized.

“Well, yes…” the young man replied, as if this were

common knowledge and he couldn’t understand why she didn’t

know. “Unfortunately,” he added. He seemed puzzled.

Scully well remembered the insular environment that a

university could sometimes be. One forgot that there was

an outside world where people didn’t live and breathe

everything that was going on within the walls of a

particular academia. “He’s my thesis advisor,” he

finally explained. “This is his lab.”

“Have you seen him recently?” Mulder asked.

The scowl came back. “No, but I’d certainly like to.”

There was irritation on the young man’s face, but also a

trace of condescension as he made his next statement. “I’ve

decided that it’ll take nothing short of a resurgence of

the Bubonic plague to bring him back around,” he announced

darkly, adjusting his glasses by pushing them back up onto

his nose with one finger. “I’m Harold Weaver, Jr. by the

way.”

“Agent Fox Mulder.” Mulder pointed a finger in her

direction. “My partner, Dr. Dana Scully.”

Harold held out a hand to shake both of theirs. His grip

was weak and his palms clammy, making for an unpleasant

exchange overall. She knew Mulder’s usage of her title was

purposeful, having deduced that a fellow scientist might

get more information from Harold than an FBI agent. “What

are you working on, Harold?” she interjected smoothly.

“My thesis research,” he stammered.

She nodded, feigning interest. “And that would be?”

“Viral evolution,” he stated, pushing the glasses up with

one finger and staring at her again as if surprised she

didn’t know this. “I’m looking at host-parasite

interactions.”

“What, specifically, about host-parasite interactions?”

“Uh…well…” He pushed his glasses up again and for a

second, seemed thrown by her question. His nervousness

either meant he was trying to hide something or was

painfully shy of social skills. Scully voted for the

latter. “We, uh…” He seemed to straighten and gain some

sort of confidence as he stated a phrase obviously learned

by rote and practiced more than once. No doubt, it was the

subject of his dissertation. “In this lab, we’re attempting

to look at the parasites that affect a species of mouse in

order to determine whether these parasites are growing more

virulent to their host over time.”

“Ah.”

“Who’s ‘we’?” Mulder interrupted.

He grew nervous again and Scully was almost positive by

this point that a glaring lack of social skills was at the

heart of his difficulty in conversing. “Barbara Cross,” he

stammered. “She’s another grad student working on the same

project. She should be back any second. She just went to

the biology office to get a package.”

“Oh. We’ll wait then,” Mulder said pleasantly, crossing

his arms and leaning back against one of the lab benches.

Harold scowled. “Look out. There are assays right there

behind you.” He rolled his eyes as if Mulder were possibly

the most intellectually-challenged person ever to grace his

presence. “I’ll lose six months of work if you knock

anything over,” he muttered darkly, sprinting over to worry

at the area and check each object while intentionally

crowding Mulder aside. Mulder finally gave up and moved

away, rolling his eyes. Scully shot her partner a sharp

look and found her sympathies resting with the awkward

young man’s fear at losing months of what was probably

painstaking research.

Barbara Cross arrived moments later, walking into the lab

and coming to a dead stop when she saw the two strangers.

She was close to Scully’s height, maybe an inch taller, but

quite a bit wider all the way around. Her dark hair was

straight and hung limply, in a way that almost appeared

unwashed. She might be a mousy blonde on a good day. Large,

heavy-framed glasses gave her an owlish sort of expression

and her face bore the painful scars of a lifelong struggle

with serious acne. Her eyes were hard as she studied them,

and she impaled Harold with a glare, obviously awaiting

his explanation for their presence.

Scully stepped forward and held out her I.D. “We’re from

the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ms. Cross. We’re

actually looking for your advisor in order to ask him a few

questions about an old case. We just wondered if you’d seen

him.”

Barbara appeared to relax somewhat as she laughed, though

the laugh was short and without humor. Scully noticed that

her eyes were flying past them and over to the lab area

behind them, checking for something. She saw Mulder catch

this too. In rare cases, this was all they needed to solve

a case — movement of a suspect’s eyes to damning evidence.

Barbara appeared to be glancing at Harold and then the

alleged assays that Mulder had almost knocked over. But

after identifying the direction of the young woman’s

attention, Scully had to remind herself that there was no

crime here. When she turned back to Barbara, one hundred

percent of the young woman’s attention had returned to

herself and Mulder.

“We see him maybe once a week for our dressing down,” she

said contemptuously. “Other than that, he leaves us alone.

But we’re pretty self-sufficient, right Harold?”

Harold was nodding vigorously when Scully chanced a glance

at him.

“I’m halfway through writing my dissertation,” Barbara

stated. “All I need from that old…” She stopped herself

and stared at them for a moment, narrowing her eyes.

Assessing them. “He only needs to show up for my oral

presentation and sign the paper afterward,” she declared

finally, her voice hard and unforgiving. “And if you think

it’s not going to be stressful enough to get *that* out of

him, you haven’t suffered as his graduate student for the

past four years. And I might add that he’s been riding on

the coattails of *my* publications for most of those years.

Co-author. Ha!” She laughed and there was no humor in the

sound. “I wrote every damn journal article and he couldn’t

even have the decency to concentrate long enough to edit

them.” Her eyes narrowed. “Why are you looking for him?”

she demanded. “He ought to be arrested for that alone.”

Mulder shook his head. “The reason for our interest in

your advisor is information we can’t share with you, Ms.

Cross. But we were wondering a bit about the nature of

the research that you and Mr. Weaver are doing under

his tutelage.”

Scully wanted very badly to call her partner on this line

of questioning. They had no business acting as if Dr.

White had been involved in a crime here or asking the

students to explain their research. The stories that would

fly on campus after this visit could certainly be damaging

to the poor man’s reputation.

“You wouldn’t understand the research.” Barbara said with

disdain.

“My partner here might,” Mulder replied dryly, stepping

aside to indicate Scully. “She has a bachelor’s degree in

physics, as well as being a medical doctor. Currently,

she’s a pathologist for the Federal Bureau of

Investigation. Why don’t you try her?”

A faint gleam of respect came into Barbara’s eyes. In her

gaze was the respect offered a colleague — grudging

entrance to the inner circle of academia. Once accepted,

however, one must play by the same cutthroat rules as

everyone else. “You must be on the clinical side of things

rather than the research side, hmmm?” Barbara asked,

condescension dripping in her tone.

“I’ve done quite a bit of research,” Scully’s replied

cooly, unperturbed at the dig. There was still a dearth of

women in the sciences, and one coping strategy for a woman

who did go into the field was just such a hardening in her

confrontations with other scientists. “I’m sure I’ll be

able to grasp the concepts behind your experiment.”

Barbara shook her head. “I don’t have to tell you

anything. For all I know, you could be spies posing as

FBI agents, out to get to the patent before we do.”

“What patent would that be, Barbara?” Mulder interrupted,

fighting back his grin at the young woman’s wild

allegation. Scully felt herself growing annoyed at her

partner. The girl could have a point. It did happen.

“Look. I have friends who are lawyers,” Barbara said. “And

I know I don’t have to tell you anything. This is my

research. I’m on the verge of a discovery that could assure

me a very good job when I get out of this hell-hole. I’m

not jeopardizing that by giving up my experimental

procedure just because two bonehead strangers ask.”

Mulder persevered, adopting a casual tone to his voice,

despite the insult. “We’re just asking for a general idea

here, Barbara. We don’t need specifics.”

“Evolution,” she snapped. “We’re looking at host-parasite

interactions. But you could have learned that from the

biology office secretary, so why don’t you go down there

and bug her instead of me?”

Behind them, the door to the lab opened once more to admit

a new player into this tense little tableau. When Scully

turned to study the newcomer, she had to blink twice to

convince herself that Brad Pitt hadn’t actually just walked

into the room. There were a few subtle differences between

the actor and this young man. For instance, she’d never

seen Brad Pitt in a white lab coat. And this man’s eyes

might actually be a shade bluer.

He stared at them in confusion for a minute and then smiled

warmly, noticeably addressing his welcome greeting to Scully.

She swore she could feel Mulder tense up beside her. “Hi,”

the Brad Pitt doppleganger said, walking forward with a

cowboy-like swagger to his gait. He stuck out a hand.

“Pleased to meet you. I’m Brad. No relation to the actor,

I swear.” He laughed. “People always ask me that. I tell

them that if we were from the same parental genes, why in

hell would we be named the same thing?”

“I’ve seen stranger things be true,” Mulder said

humorlessly beside her. He stuck out his badge instead of

his hand when Brad turned his attention in his direction.

“We’re from the FBI, Mr…?”

“Palmer,” the young man supplied, slipping his hands into

the pockets of his rather well-fitting jeans, retreating

somewhat in light of Mulder’s less than friendly response

and Scully’s careful reserve when faced with his over-

enthusiastic greeting. “Brad Palmer.”

“Could we ask you a few questions about your research,

Brad?” Mulder asked.

“You don’t have to say anything, Brad,” Barbara

interrupted. “They’re supposedly looking into some old

case that Vince was involved in. But right now, they’re

just being nosy.”

Brad got a pained look on his face. He rocked back on his

heels to catch sight of his fellow graduate student.

“Thanks for the advice, Barb, seeing as how you know I

can’t think for myself.”

“You said it, not me,” she shot back musically, though the

antagonism in her voice was obvious.

Brad stared her down for a second, before turning back to

them. “What would you like to know?” he said with a wide

smile, directed mostly at Scully. “Come on over to my

little corner of this particular hell.”

They followed him to a rather untidy desk that was indeed

shoved tightly into a corner. Like any graduate student,

the desk contained the requisite piles of papers and

volumes of relevant literature and various texts. There

were a few photographs pinned to a bulletin board on the

wall amongst interdepartmental memos about lab procedures

and safety. Scully glanced at the collection of photos and

noticed that each one contained Brad with a different

female companion.

Brad sat down in his chair and rolled backward, kicking

his legs up onto the desk and putting his arms behind his

head. He bestowed another smile on Scully and tilted his

head, studying her with his smile lingering. “So what

brings the FBI to our humble lab?”

“I wouldn’t get excited. It probably isn’t your looks,

Brad,” Barbara sniped from her position in the further

depths of the lab.

Brad rolled his eyes, not appearing to be too bothered by

the heckling of his lab mate. “Why are you interested in

our research?” he asked curiously.

Scully was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the

line of questioning she and Mulder were following. They

really had no business looking into whatever research Dr.

White and his graduate students were working on. That

wasn’t part of the case. In fact, this was distinctly

turning into a one of Mulder’s fishing expeditions and

she didn’t like it one bit.

“We’re not interested in your research, Mr. Palmer.” She

gave Mulder a warning look. “We’re just looking for your

advisor to speak to him about an old case. Have you seen

him lately?”

He shook his head. “He’s not exactly ‘around,’ if you know

what I mean.”

“No. What exactly do you mean, Brad?” Mulder piped up.

Scully shot him another look. He was acting as if these

students were under suspicion. She knew, when investigating

a crime, it often became an automatic response to suspect

everyone, almost unconsciously. Until you suddenly found

yourself treating everyone as guilty by default, even

though the law was specific that the situation was assumed

to be the exact opposite. Mulder didn’t usually fall prey

to this.

Her eyes traveled over to her partner. He was leaning on

the second desk, arms crossed. His face looked mildly

flushed and he moved his eyes to hers when he sensed her

attention. She let a question pass from her eyes to his.

‘What the hell are we doing here, Mulder?’ His return

look was unreadable, his eyes void of a return message.

Brad continued with his explanation, though he watched the

interplay between them with sharp eyes. “To tell you the

truth, I feel bad for the guy. We think he’s going insane.

Right, Barbara?” For their ears only, he whispered, “It

takes one to know one,” and looked pointedly in Barbara’s

direction.

“Shut up, Brad,” she hurled back, obviously lacking

nothing in hearing ability. “And might I add that you’re

looking at insanity every time you gaze narcissistically

into that multitude of mirrors you no doubt have scattered

all over your house.”

“At least I can look in one without breaking it, Barbara,”

he shot back without pause, staring innocently up at the

ceiling.

Barbara moved into the sphere of their conversation.

Scully could almost feel her glowering at Brad. “If you’re

so curious about us,” she said acidly, “Brad here models in

order to put himself through school. Unfortunately, he

hasn’t figured out yet that it’s actually his true calling.”

“Shut up, Barbara.” It was Brad’s turn to appear

flustered. He tipped the chair back onto all fours and shot

an apologetic look in their direction. “I’m getting my

doctorate here,” he explained. “Because I want to and

because I’m qualified to.” He aimed this part of the

statement at Barbara before turning back to them. “Barbara

hasn’t yet accepted the concept that a scientist might be

both smart and attractive.”

Scully sensed the young woman’s frustration and anger

building. The outward insults these two obviously exchanged

in their everyday interactions had to be brutal on their

respective psyches. There definitely seemed to be some sort

of power struggle between Barbara and Brad. No doubt Dr.

White could have been a stabilizing influence here, but his

absence had instead created a ‘Lord of the Flies’ atmosphere

in this lab.

“You know, if I could make myself uglier to stop being

harassed by you, Barb, I’d gladly do it,” Brad drawled.

“But that might give you too much satisfaction. I got into

this school the same way you did. I applied. I was

accepted. I’m here. Deal with it.” Scully noted that he

was finally scowling and his face was flushed with anger

as she studied their exchange with a critical eye.

“That’s what happens when a university lowers the standard

of acceptance for graduate school to a mere 3.0 GPA,”

Barbara said loudly, her own anger barely in check. Scully

idly contemplated that it was a wonder these students

hadn’t killed each other by now. If Mulder and she were not

standing between them right now, she could imagine them

coming to blows.

Instead, Brad craned his neck around them, tilting himself

dangerously back in the seat in order to make insolent and

direct eye contact with his adversary. “Barbara, if I’d

known I was going to have to look at something like you for

the next two years of my life, believe me, I’d have studied

harder,” he rifled back.

Scully turned to see the girl vacillating between

attacking Brad with the nearest blunt object or bursting

into tears. What she chose to do over either option was to

leave the room in a huff, slamming the door on her way out,

obviously upset.

“That wasn’t exactly nice, Brad.” Mulder used his most

formal I’m-not-happy G-man voice; one that Scully

recognized as barely veiling his anger at Brad’s callous

treatment of the woman. Although to give Barbara credit

where it was due, Scully was fairly sure the woman had

proven herself able to fling an equal amount of insults

in the exchange and would probably have scoffed at

Mulder’s more protective instincts.

Brad looked pained. “Yeah, well you don’t have to sit here

everyday with that ogre telling you how stupid you are.”

Mulder shrugged. “If sitting’s all you’re doing, maybe you

deserve it.”

Brad looked at Mulder as if he had just received the most

grievous insult of his life. Seeing no sympathy there, he

turned imploring eyes to Scully for protection. Two against

one is never a good place to be if you’re the one who’s

alone. Brad obviously recognized this.

“Look, I’m just trying to get into med school here,” he

entreated Scully. “This was the only way to do it with my

undergrad grades. That doesn’t mean I deserve to be

insulted at every turn for the next four years of my life.”

Scully took a deep breath, finding herself growing angrier

by the minute at Mulder for dragging them into this lab and

into what was no better than a domestic squabble. Strangely,

she found her sympathies settling with Brad. No one can do

much about the outward manifestation of their physiology.

Scully had been in a similar position to Brad at one point

in time. There seemed to be an unspoken rule in academia that

an attractive person is highly unlikely to also be intelligent.

She’d lived through this prejudice a number of times in her

own career. Although it was more often a problem for women,

she wouldn’t perpetuate the inequality for either sex.

Still, she had no place becoming involved in the student’s

dispute and tried to get the conversation back on track.

“Look, Brad. We’re not here to grade or judge anyone. None

of you are in any kind of trouble here. We’re just looking

for Dr. White. Period.”

Brad set the chair down and his feet hit the floor. “Well,

I can tell you about what we’re working on, if you’re

interested. These two idiots act as if we’re on the verge

of the most ground-breaking discovery of the century.” He

snorted. “As if.”

“Brad, don’t you dare think about telling them the

experimental protocol,” Harold stammered from the lab bench.

“Take a chill pill, Harold. This isn’t Harvard.”

Harold glared through his spectacles at his fellow grad

student. He seemed to draw himself up with an enormous

amount of willpower, but his voice shook when he finally

spoke. “You know, Brad, you’re a bane on this lab,” he said

angrily, poking a stick-like finger in his lab mate’s

direction.

Brad snorted an indignant laugh. “That’s ripe, Harold,

coming from you.”

Scully watched the awkward young man back down from the

insult, curiously flustered by Brad’s words. Having

apparently finished whatever experiment he was doing, he

fumbled to remove his latex gloves and hastily exited

the lab.

“You have a way with your colleagues, don’t you Brad?”

Mulder remarked dryly.

Brad shot a dirty look at Mulder. “They’re no prizes to

work with, believe me. You’re luckier than me in that

respect,” he said, transparent in his flirtations as he

turned to Scully and bestowed her with another dazzling

smile. He addressed his next line of commentary to her,

ignoring Mulder for the most part as he spoke. “The lab

space is where we’re doing our experiments. Dr. White

has an office next door.”

Mulder was quiet beside her as they got a quick tour.

Having been partners for so long now, they could sense

when one was doing better than the other at questioning

a given suspect. The problem was, Brad was not a suspect,

at least not in her mind. Mulder obviously had other

ideas. In the end, Brad was as vague about the experiment

they were working on as his lab mates.

“That dork Harold is right, unfortunately. We’re trying to

beat everyone else to a patent on our results, so I can’t

give you a lot of details,” he admitted. “Did you know that

Vince used to be quite the important virologist back in his

day? Now, he’s mainly intent on destroying the lives of his

students. But when I started, he still had a few tricks up

his sleeve. Lately, however, he’s not too helpful.”

“What do you mean by ‘tricks’, Brad?” Mulder piped up

finally.

Scully turned to scowl at the question, but Brad wasn’t

offended. There seemed to be no loyalty lost to his mentor.

“We’re working on the evolution of viruses,” he stated,

again directing this to Scully, though Mulder had asked.

“Have you ever heard of the Red Queen hypothesis?”

“I’m familiar with it,” she answered. “What’s your opinion

of the phenomenon?”

“Let’s just say that I’ve seen it in action,” he bragged.

“And that’s about all I can reveal.” He made a motion of

zipping his lips that Scully hadn’t seen since she was

about ten and then gave her another grin. “Can you give us

any specifics about the nature of your work here, Brad?”

she asked instead.

“I’m the microbiologist,” he stated. “I have the magic

fingers when it comes to growing those little viruses.” He

wiggled his fingers as if to emphasize the point and gave

her what she was sure must be his most charming smile.

“Propagating viral cultures can be difficult, as you know.

On a side note, I’m also a whiz at growing their host,

Peromyscus leucopus. The little rodent just loves me for

some reason. I’m sure you’d find them quite cute,” he

confessed to her, “but I can’t show them to you. We try

to keep a pretty tight control over the introduction of

contaminants to our subjects.”

Brad lost a majority of the points he gained with her by

thinking she’d be swayed by the cuteness of a rodent. “What

are Barbara and Harold working on for their dissertation?”

she asked idly.

“I call those two losers the ecology geek and the DNA

freak.” He laughed but let it die when neither she nor

Mulder joined in. “They directly benefit from the fruits of

my labors. That’s what they do.” He waved, dismissing their

importance to him. “Why are you two looking for Dr. White

anyway? I mean, we’re all looking for him here, being in

the middle of an important experiment while he’s hiding

somewhere with a fifth of Jack,” Brad drawled. “But is he

in some kind of trouble or something?”

“No,” Scully stated firmly. “Just routine questions on an

old case. Dr. White is not under any suspicion. I want to

make that very clear.” It was time for them to go and

she moved toward the door.

“You said a fifth of Jack,” Mulder commented, moving with

her. “Does Dr. White have a drinking problem?”

Brad snorted and moved ahead, opening the door for them.

“That guy’s three sheets to the wind every time I see him

lately. It sucks. This is most definitely a dysfunctional

lab, and we’re the fucked up children of his pathology,

excuse my French.” He gave Scully puppy-dog eyes that

rivaled Mulder at his best. “If I hadn’t been so

distracted as an undergrad, I would have made the grades

for med school. Right now, I can’t wait to get out of

here,” he said vehemently, kicking the door in emphasis.

Throughout their conversation, Scully couldn’t help but

notice him staring at her with uncomfortably apparent

interest, giving little need to guess at what exactly had

distracted this Brad Pitt look-alike as an undergraduate.

At the door, he put an arm against the frame and leaned

toward her. “If you don’t mind my asking, why does the FBI

need doctors on staff?” His voice took on a smooth timbre

that could easily be hypnotic if a woman cared to listen

to him long enough. “Sounds like an interesting career

opportunity.”

Scully gave him a tight smile and turned to Mulder. “I

think we’ve seen enough. Thank you, Mr. Palmer.”

“No problem,” he murmured, disappointment in his gaze at

her obvious dismissal. He turned to Mulder, looking him

up and down as if sizing up the competition. “Anytime,

Dr. Scully. And I mean any time. Do you have a card or

something that I could take, in case I think of anything?”

Reluctantly, she handed him her card. Beside her, she

could sense Mulder smirking. “By the way,” Brad said as

they were leaving, “he might actually call me. His

Microbiology 101 grades are way overdue and I’m his

teaching assistant this semester. Usually he gives it the

ol’ college try, fails, and then phones me in a drunken

stupor and demands I earn my money by grading all of the

exams in one hellish evening.”

“Call if you hear from him,” Mulder said in parting.

Brad looked down at the card in his hand and then back at

Scully. “Oh, I will,” he said enthusiastically, giving her

the full benefit of his charming smile one last time.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

“I think he was checking you out, Scully.”

“Really?” she remarked dryly. She barely had the energy

to send the requisite daggers in her partner’s general

direction. “Please don’t start, Mulder. I know it may seem

a remote possibility, but that kid might actually have a

brain behind his GQ looks.”

“Really?” He smirked.

“Save it, Mulder. I’m working from experience here. I know

what it’s like to be subjected to that particular prejudice

within the walls of academia. That’s all.”

When she glanced over, Mulder gave her one of his most

contrite looks. However, he spoiled it within seconds by

playfully adding, “Have I told you lately how much I admire

your mind, Scully?”

“Mulder, are you ever serious?”

He gave her a rather sober look. “How can you ask me that,

Scully?”

She felt like a heel when she saw he might be genuinely

hurt by the offhand comment. He was only injecting a little

levity into the often dark morass of their everyday working

lives. “Sorry.”

“Apology most graciously accepted.” He shot her a wicked

grin. “Amount of gray matter aside, Brad was a little

evasive about their work, don’t you think?”

“You’re forgetting, Mulder, there isn’t any crime here.

And scientists are notorious for being close-mouthed about

their research. In fact, they teach you that skill in grad

school or you learn it the hard way by having someone steal

your ideas. As far as I can discern, all that Dr. Vincent

White can be accused of at this point is possibly neglecting

his students. And in my experience, that’s not punishable by

law.”

“What kind of virus do you suppose they’re working on?” he

pondered. “Didn’t you say that Dr. White studied

hemorrhagic fevers?”

“Used to, Mulder,” she emphasized. “Those graduate

students can’t possibly be working on any type of

hemorrhagic fever. There are only six Level-Four hot labs

in the country sanctioned to handle that class of virus.

Your implication that they would be attempting such a

completely illegal act for some unknown personal gain is

not only ludicrous, but unfounded.”

“I don’t know, Scully. I might agree the idea is ‘out

there,’ but I wouldn’t say it’s unfounded.”

“Mulder, no,” she answered too firmly. “You saw that set-up.

It’s simply not possible that they’re doing Bio-safety

Level-4 work there. Do you know the procedures in place

for dealing with infectious diseases in the labs that do

handle them?”

“Not exactly, but I’m sure you’re about to enlighten me,”

he answered dryly.

“First of all, it requires a special containment area that

you’re well aware of from some of our previous cases.” She

shot him a dangerous look. “You remember the CDC’s lovely

disease control and prevention facility — or maybe you

recall the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of

Infectious Diseases Lab in Bethesda.” She paused for

emphasis. “Since both of us have had the distinct pleasure

of being guests at both of these facilities, you know that

you can’t just walk into or around such a place. Viruses

needs to be contained. And from consultations I’ve had with

various doctors at these facilities, due to our

aforementioned stays,” she shot him a look, “I know what

a scientist has to go through to work there. Shall I

describe it?”

“Please do.”

She couldn’t tell if he were seriously interested or just

humoring her, but she went ahead with the description.

“Upon entering a facility, they first make you take off

everything on your body…clothing, jewelry, etc.”

“Ooo, Scully, keep going. I love it when you talk dirty.”

She gave him her best silencing glare and continued

without pause. “Next, you don a completely androgynous,

shapeless and unattractive disposable lab suit.”

He pouted at the spoiling of his fun. “Okay, so they don’t

have the facilities for handling a virus safely. Don’t you

find it curious that a small local college is doing viral

research at all, Scully?”

She scowled. “Yes, I do, Mulder. But I’m sure it’s

perfectly legitimate. You’re trying to create a case out of

nothing. Strike that. Out of some poor man’s misfortune.”

He nodded absently. “Is it correct to say that this would

be a federal case if he and his students were indeed

working on some Bio-safety Level-4 virus?”

“Mulder, it’s unthinkable!” Her voice rose in volume from

sheer annoyance. “Of course it would be a federal case. But

someone would certainly have noticed by now! Never mind

that a highly infectious virus couldn’t be contained in

that setting. The lab we just saw wasn’t set up to handle

that type of work. Besides that, academics *do* have to

justify their particular line of research to their

department.”

She knew she was on the verge of losing it by this point

in her tirade. So she took a deep breath and lowered her

voice to a more acceptable level for the continuation of

this verbal dressing down of Mulder. “Dr. White must have

some kind of grant money for himself and his students to do

the research. Whoever provides that money is surely aware

of the nature of the research, having agreed to fund it.

Never mind, university oversight committees. You heard his

students. They said they were working on the evolution of

viruses. That’s more in the field of ecology than anything

else. It’s likely they’re working with a virus that doesn’t

even infect humans, but rather some lower-order organism.

No doubt, those ‘cute’ mice Brad Palmer was talking about.”

Mulder nodded emphatically while still managing to give

the impression he didn’t agree. And he was smiling, damn

him. “Regardless of its implausibility, Scully, maybe we

should look into who’s funding the research and what

specific virus Dr. White and his students *are* actually

working on.”

She didn’t answer. In truth, she was annoyed and dismayed

with Mulder’s bulldog tactics in this case. His suspicions

seemed completely unfounded. And she wanted to inform him

that even if Dr. White was working with a pathogen, it would

be the responsibility of the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism

division, or the CDC. But she decided to file this little

fact away until their investigation finally exceeded her

tolerance level.

Or, she admitted reluctantly to herself, until Mulder

proved to be correct.

She would have long ago given up on Mulder’s intuitive

leaps of illogic, if they didn’t so often stand up under

her scrutiny. She had many hypotheses to explain this

feat. Her most recent favorite centered around the

‘chaos theory.’ She was beginning to suspect some similar

occurrance of unpredictable processes within the workings

of his beautiful mind. How else to explain the synapses

that allowed him to draw correct conclusions from the

disorder of evidence presented to them?

Regardless, after briefly entertaining the possibility

that the three students were domestic terrorists, she

couldn’t help but conclude that the possibility was

completely ludicrous.

So why did she still feel uneasy?

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

At the wheel, Mulder headed the car toward the western

suburbs of D.C. rather than back into the city.

Specifically, the Falls Church area and Dr. White’s

residence. She stared out at lawns on which any type of

evergreen tree or bush was statistically likely to be

sporting a string of blinking Christmas lights.

Scully sighed as she picked up the piece of paper given to

them and glanced down at it for the correct street address.

Mulder was like a dog with a bone when he was in

investigation mode. Try taking it away and he’d hold on

tighter.

“I might remind you there’s nothing here, Mulder.”

“Tell me about the Red Queen hypothesis, Scully.”

She rubbed at her eyes and resigned herself to finishing

this long, exhausting day with an interview of Dr. White.

In the meantime, she’d humor her partner. “The Red Queen

hypothesis has to do with the host-parasite dynamic.

Specifically, it examines the role of parasites as agents

of evolutionary change.”

Mulder glanced over at her, then back at the road, waiting

for her to give him more information before he spoke. She

watched as he pulled a bag of sunflower seeds from his

pocket, popped one into his mouth and started to work it

over with his tongue.

She brought herself back to the question. “Basically, it

states that any short-lived, parasitic organism, for

example a virus or a bacterium, can reproduce and live

through a number of generations during the lifespan of its

natural host. That would be you or I — humans, mammals,

something longer-lived. The average bacteria lives,

reproduces and dies within a range of hours or days as

opposed to years.”

He held the bag out to her and she shook her head,

refusing the offer. To her, the salty seeds were a waste of

time and effort for such little reward. More tease than

treat. But she was fascinated by her partner’s ability to

separate seed from shell with no more than his lips, teeth

and tongue. A rather intriguing show that had entertained

her for a number of years now. Mulder opened the window a

crack and sent the empty husk hurtling out into the wind

with perfectly blown aim. He turned back to her, licking

the salt from his lips and distracting her again from the

topic.

“In other words,” he stated, “a virus could have any

number of generations during which it could ‘improve’

itself through the natural course of evolution, all while

you and I are just passing the time of day?” Mulder

questioned.

“Something like that.” She had a sudden strange craving

for a handful of the seeds.

“And as humans, we’re completely helpless.”

She shook her head. “Not completely. Long-lived hosts

often have immunologic defenses. For example, lymphocytes

and other immune cells in the human body can change rapidly

to recognize parasites and attack them.”

“So where does the analogy to the Red Queen fit in? Isn’t

that a character in Alice in Wonderland?” Mulder was a

quick study. She also knew he could tell she was eyeing

the sunflower seed bag when he placed it generously

into her hands with a smirk. He thrived on the stranger

quirks in any scientific theory and was waiting

expectantly for her explanation as he swirled some

unspecified number of seeds around in his mouth.

“You’re right, the Red Queen is a character in ‘Through

the Looking Glass.’ The Red Queen chess piece who ran

just to stay in place.”

He spat no less than seven husks into his hand and grinned

at her. She knew he was enjoying the detail.

“You know, that’s a rather disgusting display, Mulder,”

she remarked.

He held his hand out the window and let the wind blow away

his efforts. “Is it?” Pulling his hand back into the car, he

wiped it on his pants. “Back to that Red Queen, running in

place. I’m taking it to mean that we human hosts are the ones

running to stand still? Just barely keeping up with the

evolution of a parasite? Always just one move behind?”

“That’s the idea.” Shaking two seeds into her hand, she

popped them in her mouth and let them lodge against her

cheek while she savored the salt. “An evolutionary arms race,

if you will, with the parasite having the advantage and the

host always playing catch-up. However, the hypothesis isn’t

without its criticisms.”

“Which are?”

“The argument against the Red Queen hypothesis originates

with a long-standing idea among parasitologists. The idea

is that if the host and parasite are co-evolving and

adapting to each other, natural selection should favor the

survival of a less harmful parasite and a more resistant

host.”

He was doing it again. She could see him rolling a seed on

the tip of his tongue somehow. His lips pursed and he blew

two perfect shell halves into his hand then tossed them out

the window. “You mean that if it wasn’t in the best

interest of the organism to kill its host, it wouldn’t?

The two would peacefully co-exist with one another instead?”

“Exactly. A given parasite would choose a strategy in

which it lives in a truce with its host, otherwise known as

mutualism.”

“Virus one point. Host one point. Something like that,

right?” He gently extracted the bag from her hand again and

looked at her suspiciously. “Did you eat the shells,

Scully?” he asked in mock horror.

She grinned. “They’re good, Mulder.”

“You’re a doctor, Scully. Haven’t you ever read the

medical warning on the package?”

“I’m not the one who consumes whole packages of those

things, Mulder. I’ve kept my sodium consumption well

within the recommended serving size.”

He shook his head in mock exasperation. “Spoil a guy’s

fun, why don’t you,” he muttered. “Back to that Red

Queen again…what you’re saying is that most scientists

think that the best strategy for a parasite is to kill off

only a few hosts, or deliver a low-grade infection all

around for everyone?”

She nodded. “The Red Queen camp, however, disagrees. They

say that by default, a parasite should evolve to be as

deadly as possible, even to the point of having no more

hosts left.” She extracted the bag out of his hands and

shook a few more seeds into her palm. He grinned in

triumph. Curiosity peaked, she turned the package over and

examined the fine print, her eyebrows climbing at the

amount of sodium in the seemingly harmless shells.

“Remember, evolution is believed to be a process without

direction or intent, Mulder. Therefore, it isn’t going to

stop and give pause for thought. This ideology is inherent

in the hypothesis. The most ruthless parasite should

therefore be the most successful, to the detriment of

its host.”

“There are flaws in that theory,” Mulder observed.

“That’s the problem, Mulder. Really, you could look at the

arguments as two sides of the same coin. Certainly, there’s

solid evidence that viruses and bacteria can be harmful.

But we’re also still here as a species, so that says

something too.” She paused, noting that Mulder had once

again distracted her from her problems with the case by

piquing her interest in a subject. Their eternal give-and-

take was, once again, rolling along. It dismayed her a bit

and she decided it was time to finish up this discussion so

that she could pin down his reasons for trying to make this

a case at all.

“Each argument has evidence to support it, but there’s no

definitive proof as to which side is ultimately correct. And

it’s probably likely to depend on a given situation anyway.”

Mulder was doing something with his tongue and another

sunflower seed. She forged ahead. “In the final conclusion,

parasites are, without argument, taking resources from

their hosts in order to reproduce. And it’s doubtful

they’re worrying as to whether or not they harm the host.

Conversely, hosts are vigilantly adapting ways to avoid the

more harmful effects of a pathogen, via their immune

response. If both sides are even, it’s the biological

détente. No one’s exactly winning but there’s certainly a

struggle going on. As a result, you can’t prove or

disprove the Red Queen hypothesis.”

“That’s why I love science, Scully. It’s so conclusive.”

She ignored the jab. Mulder frowned and rolled his window

all the way down though the day was chilly. “Is it hot in

here, Scully?”

To her, the bite of the air felt harsh and the wind chill

probably hovered near freezing. She watched him blow a few

more shells into the wind, his cheeks flushed with color.

“It’s cold, Mulder. It’s December, for God’s sake,” she

added as the blast of frigid air hit her. “Close the damn

window.”

Mulder rolled it up with an apologetic look. “Sorry.” But

she noted his discomfort and wondered if he were coming

down with the flu everyone in the office seemed to have

right now. He pulled at his tie, loosening it as he

turned down a street after glancing one more time at

the address scrawled on the slip of paper in her hand.

“This looks like it.”

“Let’s get this over with,” Scully sighed. “Reminding a

man he lost his entire family thirty years ago today is

not my idea of the Christmas spirit.”

“Hey, look on the bright side, Scully. It could be last

year around this time, in which case we’d be looking for

a couple of ghosts.”

“Don’t even remind me, Mulder.” Hopefully, the small brick

house they faced was not haunted by the spirit of malicious

ghostly lovers. The *hallucinations* of such ghosts, she

corrected herself.

“If this is anything like last year, Mulder, I might have

to hurt you bad.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

ACT II

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The most curious part of the thing was, that the trees and

the other things round them never changed their places at

all: however fast they went, they never seemed to pass

anything. “I wonder if all the things move along with us?”

thought poor puzzled Alice. And the Queen seemed to guess

her thoughts, for she cried “Faster! Don’t try to talk!”

~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, December 14

Falls Church, Virginia

Dr. Vincent White’s house was a brick structure that had

definitely seen better days. The brick was discolored and

overgrown with ivy, and the windows were so dusty they

obscured the interior. Dispirited curtains hung limply in

view, and all the windows were shut tight. The front lawn

consisted of long grass and weeds, and behind the house

young pine saplings and bushy secondary growth were

encroaching on what probably used to be a back yard. There

was no sign of Christmas spirit bedecking the trees on this

residence, though next door, two round bushes sported a

frantic blinking display, muted by the daylight. But the

house before them held onto its shadowy exterior, despite

the fact that the sun was attempting to peek out from

behind clouds.

The first thing Scully noticed as they approached was a

rat raiding the garbage bins along the side of the house.

The sight caught her eye due to the striking white

coloration of the rodent. She fought back an instinctive

grimace and found its boldness in the daylight rather odd.

Nudging Mulder, she pointed to the rat just as it leapt

out of the bin and scurried away, disappearing into the

backyard growth.

He gave her a wry grin. “Looks like Dr. White has moved

quite a ways down in the world.” He stared up at the house.

She smiled thinly. “I dare say that building you live in

has been visited by rodents in its day, Mulder — like

today, maybe?”

He grinned. “No doubt.”

She frowned. “However, although I don’t think I need to

point this out to you, Mulder, my greater concern here

is that the species of rat we just saw was a domestic

one, what’s known as the ‘wistar’ strain, I believe.

Only found in captivity — specifically, laboratories.

Not cavorting around in the wild.”

“That one seems to be doing okay in the great big

outdoors.” He gave her a pointed look. “Don’t you find

it rather strange that there are laboratory rats running

around outside the good professor’s house?”

“Well, as a matter of fact, yes I do, Mulder.”

His eyes were laughing at her. “Does this mean you’re

starting to believe that my persistence at this case may

have some merit? That maybe this is actually starting to

look like a case to you?”

“I’m not willing to go that far yet.” Scully reached up

to knock firmly on the front door.

Mulder’s grin widened. “How far are you willing to go,

Scully?” he murmured. The noise of someone approaching the

door distracted them both and Scully traveled the transition

from personal to business with skills she was still in the

process of adjusting to. Slightly off-centered, she poised

with the peculiar balls-of-your-feet anticipation that is

present in any law enforcement investigator during even the

most innocuous of inquiries. You could never be sure if you

were about to meet a pleasantly innocent citizen or an

outright dangerous individual.

The man who opened the door did not look dangerous. Nor

did he look pleasant. Cautiously, he opened the door only a

crack, but appeared to be afraid of them more than anything

else. The door creaked on rusted hinges and dropped a few

errant paint chips onto the stoop, permitting only a small

sliver of access to the interior world of the house.

The man, leaning rather precariously against the door,

glared stormily at them. Though definitely recognizable as

Dr. White, he bore little resemblance to his photo from

younger, more prosperous years. His hair was badly mussed

and now shock-white, lending him an Einstein-like air. His

clothing was disheveled, as if he’d been sleeping in it.

He didn’t open the door further.

“Dr. Vincent White?” Mulder inquired politely, but with a

subtle no-nonsense edge that usually commanded respect.

“Yes. What do you want?” the man demanded. “I’m not buying

anything, and I certainly don’t need conversion to whatever

ridiculous religion you’re purporting to believe in. God

doesn’t exist. How’s that for a revelation?” He stared at

them defiantly with slightly bloodshot eyes, as if waiting

for some argument.

Scully quickly extricated her badge from the pocket of her

jacket during this diatribe. Gently, she presented it to the

unsteady man half hiding behind his door. “We’re neither,

Dr. White. We’re from the FBI and we’d just like to ask you

a few questions.”

Despite the door’s allowance, the light from outside

barely penetrated the gloomy interior. “What for?” he

snapped. “Do I have to talk to you?”

“As a professional courtesy, it is strongly advised that

you take a few minutes to speak to us, Dr. White,” Mulder

answered firmly.

Muttering something unintelligible, Dr. White threw open

the door and disappeared into his house. A blast of warm

air hit them from the interior as they stepped forward into

the foyer. Dr. White continued down the hallway without

waiting for them and disappeared from view.

Following him into what was obviously his living room,

they saw him sink down onto a couch which bore evidence

of his recent occupation.

“You’ll have to forgive me for the state of my house.

But I didn’t ask for company and you seem to have invited

yourself in. So I’m deducing I have no choice but to

display my rather lax cleaning skills to you both.”

‘Lax’ implied some proficiency at a task, albeit poor.

Scully was fairly sure that Dr. White’s cleaning skills

were not anything so generous as half-hearted but rather,

non-existent. The clutter of the living room was

reprehensible. There were stacks of magazines which she

took note of as she passed, noting that they were mostly

medical journals. ‘Virology’ made up the stack to her right

elbow when she settled in the only armchair in the room.

Cups littered the coffee table, half empty and growing

various mold cultures on their dark, liquid surface. The

curtains were drawn and the room smelled musty. She doubted

Dr. White owned a vacuum. If he did, he didn’t use it. The

room was uncomfortably hot.

Dr. White stretched out on the couch as if he couldn’t be

bothered to sit up for the interview. Scully wondered if he

was ill, his lassitude seemed so marked. Mulder glanced

awkwardly around the room for any place to settle and

finally had to make due with perching on the left arm of

the chair Scully was sitting in. It made for an

unconventional setting for the interview process but the

doctor’s defensive stance was markedly evident by that

point. Mulder took the offer, opting for the non-

threatening approach of sitting as opposed to towering

over him for the questioning.

“Dr. White,” Scully began, finding it rather disconcerting

that he remained in his reclining pose as she addressed him.

“We’re looking into a case that involved a theft from the

lab you worked in on December 1 of 1970. It’s just part of

a routine check to see if any new evidence has emerged that

might allow us to solve the case and put it to rest.”

Dr. White gave up any pretense of relaxation at her words.

But his slow return to a sitting position and his

difficulty at speech betrayed the fact that he wasn’t in

full control of his reactive faculties, and it looked

suspiciously as if alcohol was the likely candidate of his

difficulties. Two empty bottles of wine sat on the end

table beside him and there was a red stain on the rug near

his feet.

“There is *nothing* that will put that case to rest,” he

said firmly. “Besides that, it was classified top secret

by the Department of Defense. What right does the FBI have

looking into it at all? Do you two even know what you’re

doing? With a few phone calls, I could probably cost you

your jobs,” he remarked. “The world is full of incompetent

idiots!” His voice was rising, and his contempt for the

greater part of humanity obvious, but the slur to his words

tempered the threat. That and the fact that probably not

many people took him seriously at this point in his life,

Scully concluded. There was something pathetic about his

obviously drunken state.

“Sir, we don’t mean to open up old wounds, here,” she

soothed. “We’re merely trying to close the case

satisfactorily for our files.”

“Here’s how you do that,” he stated, leaning forward to

fix her with an momentarily steady eye. Despite this

attempt at an aggressive stance, his hands shook with

tremors and his head wobbled slightly. “Shut the folder

and put it away. It was Department of Defense research

and no one stole that virus. For all I know, it’s now

an integral part of our biological weapons arsenal. I

don’t know. I don’t care anymore.” He waved at them

dismissively. “I’m trying to work here,” he sputtered,

pointing toward a large stack of papers beside him.

Scully recognized them as exams, but there was very

little red ink visible on the top paper, meaning either

the student had correctly answered all the questions

or Dr. White had not yet corrected it. He answered her

curiosity indirectly with his next diatribe.

“If you don’t mind…” he stated pointedly. When neither

moved, he closed his eyes, internalizing his conflict. When

he opened them again, his voice was defeated. “I can’t help

you,” he insisted. “Why don’t you go question the DOD?” He

laughed then. It was an angry laugh, but also a weak one.

It was followed by a deep sigh as he stared down at the

student papers. A wracking cough suddenly shook his body

terribly. When he finally raised his eyes to Scully, the

fight had gone out of them completely.

He pointed to the exams. “Idiots. They’re all idiots.

‘Define bacterium’ is the first question,” he intoned. He

picked up the one on top. “This one wrote ‘a disease’.

Simplistic moron!” He threw the paper back down on the

pile. “The world is full of incompetent buffoonery,” he

railed at them. “A veritable melting pot of mediocrity. I

would have had these done if the students weren’t so damn

disheartening. Is it too much to ask that even one of them

be worth my time?” He let out another sigh and appeared to

be staring down at the stain at his feet.

“How about your graduate students, Dr. White,” Mulder

began. “Are any of them worth your time?”

Instead of growing angry, Dr. White laughed. “Barely.”

“Could I ask what exactly they’re working on?”

“They’re working on their A.B.D.’s,” he snapped. Scully

had heard the infamous initials before. Innocuous letters

that, put together, struck terror in the heart of every

graduate student toiling away at their research. The

initials stood for ‘all but dissertation.’ It was an

unfortunate and worrisome statistic that many who started

graduate school earned these initials rather than the ‘P,’

‘h’ and ‘D’ they sought at the start. Completing required

coursework, qualifying exams and data collection could seem

easy compared to the self-motivation, diligence, and sheer,

intellectual determination required to complete the

‘dissertation’ part of the process.

“I’m asking about the specific project, Dr. White.”

Mulder’s voice had lost any semblance of friendliness. When

she glanced at him, he was locked in a staring contest with

the man, his gaze hard and unforgiving.

Dr. White’s response was poorly-disguised outrage. “Leave

me alone,” he cried, the tone of his voice gaining a

curious tremor. “I just want to be left alone. If you have

any further questions, you can consult my lawyer. Get out!”

Mulder didn’t make a move. Reluctantly, Scully moved out

from under his shadow and stood, casting a hard eye back at

her partner. “We’re sorry to have bothered you, Dr. White.”

“One more question,” Mulder drawled, though she was glad

to note he was at least rising with her. “Could you explain

why a laboratory rat is raiding your garbage, Dr. White?”

For a second, Scully saw something flicker in the man’s

eyes that looked suspiciously like fear. Just as quickly,

it was gone. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking

about. Now get off my property.” He stood unsteadily and

despite the insistence behind his message, his step ahead

of them to open the door wavered dangerously. Mulder almost

reached out to steady his uncertain passage, but Scully

stopped him with a warning hand on his arm. The last thing

they needed to do to this poor man was charge him with

assault on a federal officer if he decided not to

appreciate Mulder’s well-meaning gesture.

When they were both out on the stoop, the doctor slammed

the door, interrupting Mulder’s thank you for his time

and sending a blast of heat rolling out after them into

the chilly day.

In silence, they moved down the steps. Scully turned to

study the garbage cans beside the house, but the sight of

the white rat was only a memory now. She was struck again

by the general disrepair of what could be an attractive

dwelling place. As she looked back at the house one last

time, a memory from her childhood struck her.

She’d gone through a stage where she’d drawn houses to

look alive, with the windows as eyes and the door as a

mouth. She couldn’t shake the sudden irrational feeling

that this house was watching them leave. Strangely, it

looked sad.

She shook off the thought with a small grimace. Mulder

would be delighted to hear this. But she would chew off her

own arm before she’d give him the satisfaction of her more

unscientific musings.

She didn’t look back again.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Mulder dropped her off at her apartment, having picked her

up that morning on his way in to work. On the ride from

Falls Church to her place, he cracked his window twice,

though the temperature was rapidly dropping. When she shot

him a look and shivered for effect, he shut it. When they

reached her apartment, he pulled the car up in front of her

building and let it idle. “Well, it’s the weekend, Scully.

Any big plans?”

She hated when she was asked this question. It made her

feel as if she should have an agenda to fill her time.

Mulder, of all people, should know better. For her,

weekends were downtime. Their job was stressful enough that

she didn’t feel the need to be overly active. If she did

get an urge for activity, she could usually get it out of

her system with a quick run. “What’s your point, Mulder?”

She turned in the seat to regard him. “Should I have some

big plan?”

He shrugged. “Just asking, Scully,” he replied defensively.

She sighed. “What I plan to do is relax. Don’t think I’m

going to work on this case-that-isn’t-a-case, Mulder, if

that’s what you’re really asking. I know the novelty of

taking the weekend off is disconcerting to you. Just think

of it as my strategy for getting you to drop this case.

That poor man has lost his family and a prestigious job.

He’s working at a modest college and covering up the fact

that he has a serious drinking problem. Come Monday, you’d

better have some hard evidence that there’s something here

besides heartache. Dr. White is looking at an early death

and I, for one, don’t have the stomach to harass him any

further. Not only that, I feel sorry for his graduate

students as well and therefore, don’t feel a need to

bother them any further either.”

“Not even the one that looks like Brad Pitt?”

She scowled darkly at her partner. “Mulder, I hope you

know me better than that. Besides, he’s practically a

child.”

Mulder was grinning by this point. “I’d say he’s well past

the age of consent. There’s nothing illegal there, if

that’s what you’re worried about.”

Scully took a moment to take a deep breath. She knew that

Mulder was only joking with her, but it was annoying. She

prided herself on her professionalism and Mulder’s more

laissez faire approach to their working relationship,

coupled with the blurring lines of their personal

interactions sometimes drove her to distraction. She had no

interest in having a relationship with the young, oversexed

and narcissistic graduate student she’d just met and Mulder

knew it. Strangely, this made the reason for his teasing

the real issue here. She suspected blatant male insecurity.

“Thanks for the advice,” she said dryly. “I’ll keep it in

mind.”

“Did he slip you his number, Scully, when I wasn’t looking?”

She successfully contained her annoyance. “Mulder, I

resent your inference here.” She gave him a look that in no

uncertain terms let him know he was to drop the subject.

Opening the door, she climbed out of the vehicle, but found

herself perversely taking a moment to lean back into the

car and qualify her statement. “Just to let you know, I

don’t always appreciate your baser attempts at humor,

Mulder. They’re often in poor taste.”

He nodded. “Apologies extended, Scully. I’ll try not to

be quite so humorous.” He nullified his contrition by

tilting his head back and grinning at her.

She rolled her eyes. “Watch it, Mulder. Besides, I could

still make you cry. For instance, I could insist you come

over on Saturday and sit through ‘Steel Magnolias’ in its

entirety.”

“Is that an invitation, Scully?”

“It could be, if you play your cards right.”

“I’ll bring the food?” he offered in atonement.

“What kind?”

“Pizza?”

“Make it Chinese and it’s a deal.”

He smiled. “See you then.”

She shut the car door firmly.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Queen propped her up against a tree, and said kindly,

“You may rest a little, now.”

Alice looked round her in great surprise. “Why, I do

believe we’ve been under this tree the whole time!

Everything’s just as it was!”

“Of course it is,” said the Queen. “What would you have it?”

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little,

“you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very

fast for a long time as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, *here*,

you see, it takes all the running *you* can do, to keep in

the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must

run at least twice as fast as that!”

~From ‘Through the Looking Glass’ by Lewis Carroll~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday, December 15

Georgetown, D.C.

Her doorbell rang. She was growing hungry by this point

and was dismayed to find it was only an upstairs neighbor,

asking if it was her laundry that was in the washer. She

noted the time. It was eight o’clock — one hour after

Mulder was supposed to show up. With the departure of the

neighbor, the niggling worry at his lateness finally turned

into its full-fledged counterpart of outright fear. She

picked up the phone and hit the speed dial. It rang exactly

fourteen times before a groggy voice answered, “Hello…?”

“Mulder?” she said hesitantly, surprised to find him still

home.

“Scully?” His voice was slurred. Sleepy.

“Mulder, are you aware that it’s eight o’clock and I’ve

been waiting for that Chinese for a good hour now?”

“Oh, God…Scully.” He said it like he’d just figured out

it was her. “What time is it?”

“Eight o’clock,” she repeated.

“Crap. I’m sorry.” She heard his sigh across the line and

imagined him rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “To tell

you the truth, I don’t feel so well. I laid down for a bit

and I must have fallen asleep…”

“Yeah, right. Anything to get out of ‘Steel Magnolias,’

Mulder.”

She heard a brief chuckle. “Well, there is that, but

seriously, I think I’m coming down with that flu everyone

at the office is getting.”

“What are your symptoms?” she demanded.

“Are we playing doctor here, Scully? Because I’ve never

tried that over the phone.”

“Mulder…” she warned.

He did sound awful. “I don’t know. I feel like I might

have a fever. I’m tired. You know how you ache all over

when you have a cold? But I went for a run today so that

might be the source of some of it. And I hate to say it but

I’m also feeling a wee bit nauseous…it looks like

dinner’s definitely out for me,” he admitted.

“Sounds like the flu,” she agreed. “You’d better not have

given it to me yesterday, dragging me all over nowhere on

that dead case.”

“You really think it’s not worth our time, Scully?”

She tried to be gentle with her answer. “Mulder, there is

no way those students are working with any pathogen in that

setting. And Dr. White just seems pathetic to me. I mean,

how sad was that visit yesterday? That man needs rehab, not

a federal case being reopened. Not to mention one that’s

been censored by the Department of Defense.”

He paused at the other end of the line, but finally

conceded to her point, though he added one last comment.

“The students’ behavior during our visit just seemed a

little odd to me, Scully.”

“They’re three stressed out graduate students with one

very remiss advisor. Would you expect their behavior to

be otherwise?”

“I guess not.”

“Mulder,” she said gently. “Let yourself rest. Treat

yourself to a nice bowl of chicken soup, drink plenty of

fluids, put some pillows on that couch, pull that warm

blanket down over you and call me tomorrow.”

“I don’t have any chicken soup, Scully.” She could almost

hear his pout.

She briefly contemplated going over to his apartment,

bearing a steaming thermos of chicken soup, but dismissed

the idea. Mulder had been taking care of himself for

years on his own. Besides, she didn’t have any soup on

hand either.

“S’okay, Scully. I couldn’t eat anyway.”

“Call me tomorrow, Mulder. I want to make sure you’re

taking care of yourself.”

“Okay…’night, Scully,” he mumbled. She could tell he was

already falling back into a troubled sleep as he hung up.

She’d check on him tomorrow.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Monday, December 18 8:30 a.m.

Hoover Building

Scully was at Mulder’s desk, nursing a cup of coffee and

contemplating the mess the last week had created in their

office when Mulder finally dragged himself in. The hallway

was littered with old boxes and Mulder had to kick one that

had fallen out of the way to get in the door. “Don’t we

have maintenance in this building?” he complained.

“I thought you were going to stay home today?” she

reprimanded, surprised to see him.

He groaned. “What for? I’m much more likely to be able

to entertain my misery here.”

“Are you feeling any better?”

“I think I’m getting worse. But I was bored. Sorry,

Scully.” He made a face at her.

“Workaholic,” she accused. “Rather than spreading your

germs to those of us still healthy, what’s wrong with

staying home and perusing all those entertaining web

sites you say you don’t look at?”

“Scully,” Mulder winced at her words. “I gave those up in

order to win your respect a long time ago.”

“Riiight,” she drawled, noting with concern the lethargic

way her partner dragged himself over to his desk.

“I have you, I don’t need them anymore.” This last

statement was barely audible and she wasn’t sure if it was

an attempt at humor or a sincere sentiment. Maybe both. He

looked tired, dark shadows having crept under his eyes over

the two days she hadn’t seen him. Conversely, his color was

bright. Maybe a little too bright. She would have expected

him to be just a tad pale. Standing up, she approached him

and, before he could move or get the weak protest of her

name out, she locked a hand onto his forehead.

“Scully!”

“You feel hot, Mulder.”

He quieted under her hand. Their eyes locked. “Are you

done?” he asked lackadaisically.

Frowning, she shook her head. “Did you take your

temperature?”

“What’s the point? I have a fever. Big deal. Besides, I

only had a rectal thermometer. Care to try?”

She snorted in exasperation and continued her exam. “Any

congestion?”

He shook his head. “I do have a splitting headache,” he

admitted.

“Muscle aches?”

“My back is killing me. I think a massage might do the

trick,” he suggested hopefully.

She ignored this ploy. “Earache? Sore throat?” He shook

his head at both. Pulling her hand off his forehead, she

picked up his wrist and felt for his pulse. He was scowling

at her now. Mulder had a serious aversion to doctors, due

to his rather checkered medical past. He only suffered her

ministrations with a great amount of personal restraint.

“Scully, why don’t you go upstairs and take an inventory

of all the people who’ve caught this flu over the past

week? Maybe jot down their symptoms for a more

comprehensive diagnosis for me…”

“Quiet, Mulder.” The truth was, as much as Mulder hated

it, to an equal extent she actually enjoyed the opportunity

to put her medical skills to use. This was not to say she

wanted to go into practice, but she did gain a small amount

of satisfaction at the chance to play doctor every once in

a while.

His pulse was slow and steady. Right around 60 beats per

minute, which was actually fairly low, but Mulder was

athletically inclined so it wasn’t that unusual. She

noticed his eyes close during this process. “Tired?”

she asked. He nodded without opening them. They were still

closed when she was done and stayed that way. “Mulder?” she

said finally, finding his prolonged standing rest rather

odd.

Both eyes flew open. “What?” He was annoyed now. He pulled

his wrist back and turned away from her to his desk. “Were

you sitting here?” he inquired on reaching his goal. She

noticed he was rubbing absently at his left shoulder as if

it were sore.

“It’s your desk,” she sighed, moving over to pick up the

folder she’d spread there. “What’s wrong with your

shoulder, Mulder?”

“What were you looking at, Scully?” He tried to glance at

it as she reached out and pulled the folder towards herself.

“Well, I was working on our report so we could shelve this

case back where it belongs.” She slapped the file shut.

“You’ll find this interesting, Mulder. I called the DOD

today, just to check the status of this case with them,

which is what we should have done in the first place. They

told me in no uncertain terms that the FBI has no business

looking into it. In their eyes, the case was actually

officially closed ten years ago.”

She felt only a small surge of triumph at Mulder’s downcast

expression. But instead of coming back at her, he seemed

resigned. “I get your point, Scully. And I don’t feel well

enough to argue with you.” He sank down into his chair.

“Let’s move on then. There are plenty of cases to file.”

He scowled at the box of files to archive and his

enthusiasm from the week before seemed to have vanished

completely.

The lack of a spirited or argumentative response took the

wind out of Scully’s self-satisfied sails. With a worried

glance for her partner’s uncharacteristic lethargy, she

pulled the box over to her corner and wondered if she

should have paid a little more attention to him over the

weekend. Mulder was notorious for neglecting himself.

Remembering at the same time that she hadn’t checked her

voice mail, she picked up the phone and punched in her

code as she flipped idly through the aged case file.

“You have two messages,” the tinny robotic voice droned.

“First message. Placed at 8:02 p.m. Saturday.”

Who would be calling her on a Saturday night, she

wondered, waiting the requisite three seconds for the

annoyingly prolonged beep before the message began playing.

“Hello, Dr. Scully. It’s Brad Palmer. I said I’d let you

know if Dr. White got in touch with me. Well, he did, of

course. In fact, I’m correcting a large pile of

microbiology exams as I’m leaving this message.” His voice

was relaxed and sounded as if he found this humorous and

thought she might too. “Anyway, he was obviously toasted

when I went over to get the exams and he said some pretty

bizarre stuff. If you wanted to talk to me about our

conversation, here are my numbers…” After leaving these,

Brad added that he’d be at home for the evening and more

than happy to talk to her, then finally hung up.

The next message was left approximately one half hour

later. Brad again. “Uh…Dr. Scully? I just got a very

weird message from Dr. White. He called me in the middle

of correcting because he wanted me to make sure his house

was ‘taken care of’ afterward, whatever that means. I

asked him if he was going somewhere over Christmas break

or something and he said ‘nowhere.’ Then he went on about

there being no God before he hung up on me. I don’t know

if it’s relevant to your investigation or anything but

it’s got me spooked. I mean, I need that old man to keep

a tentative hold on sanity — at least until I’m done

with my dissertation. Anyway, I’m going over there to

check on him. I think he sounded crazy enough to off himself

or something. I’ll call you as soon as I get back.” She

heard him clear his throat. “Maybe we could get together

for drinks or something tomorrow night.”

The beep sounded rude and loud in her ear compared to the

young man’s melodious voice. Robot man returned. “You have

no more messages,” it said with finality.

Scully dropped the phone into its cradle with a loud oath.

She picked it up again just as quickly, flipping open the

file resting on her desk to find Dr. White’s home number.

Dialing, she turned to Mulder, who was watching her with

interest.

“What’s up?”

“I’m not sure, but it’s definitely something.”

“Like what?”

She let the phone continue to ring. Still no answer. She

tried the biology department of George Mason next and was

told Dr. White was not in.

“Brad called and left messages Saturday night.” She hated

to even say the next words to Mulder. He’d had a hard year

with a similar event featuring in it. She tried to soften

the blow. “I’m not sure what’s going on. But, according to

Brad, Dr. White was verbalizing suicidal thoughts on

Saturday night. No one’s answering his home phone and the

university hasn’t seen him.” As she gathered up the file,

she wondered why Brad hadn’t called back. The oversight

could have many explanations, some innocent and some very

bad.

“Let’s go.” Mulder picked up his jacket and was handing

hers over as they moved toward the door.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

ACT III

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

How it happened, Alice never knew, but exactly as she came

to the last peg, the Red Queen was gone. Whether she

vanished into the air, or whether she ran quickly into the

wood (“and she *can* run very fast!” thought Alice), there

was no way of guessing, but she was gone, and Alice began

to remember that she was a Pawn, and that it would soon be

time for her to move.

~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

December 18, 9:20 a.m.

Falls Church, Virginia

The house again seemed to be staring at her.

Scully fought back a shiver as she followed Mulder’s

longer strides up to the door. She almost ran into him

when he suddenly stopped dead, bending over as a wracking

cough shook his frame. “Mulder!” she said in alarm,

pausing to place a hand on his back until his coughing

subsided. When he came up for air, his face was red.

“What’s wrong?” she demanded. “Are you okay?”

He shook his head and looked a little dazed. “I don’t

know…” Drawing in a few deep breaths, he let them out

carefully. “I’m fine,” he said finally, pushing at the hand

she was restraining him with as he continued toward the

front stoop.

“Mulder…” she admonished.

He knocked firmly on the door, ignoring her.

Brad opened it, looking distinctly embarrassed when he saw

them. “Dr. Scully…oh God, I’m sorry. I totally forgot to

call you back.”

Scully’s anger rose at the young man’s response and the

realization of her own overreaction to his telephone

messages. “You led me to believe Dr. White was suicidal,

Brad. So how is he doing?” she demanded.

Brad had opened the door only about as far as the doctor

had on their original visit. He glanced behind him in the

direction of the living area before turning back to them.

“He’s sleeping, I think,” he whispered.

“If you don’t mind, we’d like to come in and talk to him,”

Mulder said quietly. His tone didn’t invite argument.

“Well…”

“Let us in, Brad,” Scully was dangerously annoyed by this

point.

Brad stepped back and opened the door. The house was just

as hot as it had been the last time. It appeared that Brad

had not attempted any cleaning in the interim. In fact, he

might have added to it. The same cups cluttered the surface

of the coffee table, along with a few more added to the

collection. Some of the journals had been scattered, as if

someone had searched for an article without finding it.

Dr. White was not sleeping, but reclining again on his

couch. “Brad, get me that coffee now!” he shouted at the

sound of their approaching footsteps. When he realized the

cadence was wrong, his eyes flew up, startled as they

settled on the agents. “What the hell are *you* doing back

here? Why the hell did you let *them* in, you ungrateful,

incompetent idiot?” he shouted at his student.

For his part, Brad seemed unaffected by the insulting

tirade. He just shrugged and smiled aside at Scully, as if

they were sharing a joke. He didn’t make a move to get any

coffee.

To Scully, there seemed to be no reason for them to stay at

this point. Mulder, however, surprised her by sitting down

in the armchair. “Dr. White. We’re just concerned about

you,” he stated. “Your students are concerned about you.”

Dr. White laughed and glowered darkly up at Brad. “Don’t

fool yourself. This boy only cares about his grades and

keeping me alive long enough to get them. He’d prop my

dead body up at his oral presentation if he thought it

would fool people.”

“That’s right,” Brad said too brightly. Having seen a

similar dynamic in the barrage of give-and-take insults

observed in the lab, Scully wondered if the students had

learned their caustic interchange from the older man.

“Well, Dr. White. It seems a concern of everyone right

now is that you might try to hurt yourself.” Mulder’s voice

was at its most mild and served, as it usually did, to calm

rather than excite the man. “Do you ever have any thoughts

of that nature?”

Dr. White raised his eyes to the ceiling and sighed heavily.

“My thoughts of that nature,” he began, “are of the most

existential variety, I assure you. I ponder life, therefore

I also ponder death.” His eyes narrowed at Scully, who stood

beside Mulder. “I ponder the tragedies of love. Note time’s

passage,” he advised darkly. “Be afraid.” He shifted his

malevolent gaze to Brad. “Be very afraid.”

“What do you mean by that?” Mulder asked carefully.

“Stop patronizing me!” he snarled. “Everyone hates to hear

my story,” he pronounced, eyes narrowing as he addressed

them. “So I won’t bore you with it. I’ve held my silence

for a very long time now. I’ve become a shadow of my former

self. A slothful metaphor of what I once was.”

In gesturing with his hand during this speech, he knocked

a bottle to the floor. A few drops of the last dregs of

wine spilled over the neck and dripped onto the rug. “You

know, Olivia used to say at our parties that I drank too

much,” he mused. “And now I’m a drunk. How appropriate, I

say.”

He stared down at the bottle for a second as if he

couldn’t bear to look at the other occupants of the room.

But when he raised his eyes, they were full of a terrible

certainty. “The complete absence of love is a void greater

than you can contemplate,” he said darkly.

His eyes passed over each of them and Scully saw a shine

to them that hadn’t been there before. “A void greater

than I hope either of you ever know.” He turned to Brad,

hovering in the doorway. “A void that my useless Don Juan

graduate student over there will definitely never know.”

He stared down again at the bottle. “Look at me,” he said

in disgust. “I’ve experienced the greatest fall possible.

From the height of success to complete failure. I had a

beautiful family,” he sighed. “Now I have no one. I used

to teach the brightest of young minds. Now, I’m surrounded

by incompetent pseudo-intellectuals. Morons of the lowest

order.”

“Takes one to know one,” Brad shot back hotly.

“See what I mean?” he appealed to Mulder as if he, alone,

might have the capability to understand his terrible

plight. “I’ll say this and then I’ll ask you to leave. I

don’t know why I’m here. And though I may hate where I

wound up, I know where I’m going.” He punched a finger in

Brad’s direction. “You should be so lucky.” He turned his

glare on them next. “And so should you both. But instead,

you won’t even know when your darkest moment arrives. It

will hit you like a wall and your life as you know it will

inexplicably be over. Wait and see how you deal with that

before you judge me.”

Under the old man’s dark glower, Mulder stood rather

quickly. “My apologies for wasting your time. We won’t

bother you any further, Dr. White.”

Scully managed to gain her feet and follow her partner’s

rather rapid exit from the house after getting in a rushed

“Sorry to have bothered you, Dr. White. Please take care

of yourself.” After sending one last scathing look in

Brad’s direction, she quickly followed in Mulder’s

footsteps. By the time she reached the door, he was

already making long strides toward the car.

She wasn’t surprised to feel a hand suddenly fall on her

arm and restrain her. As expected, she turned to see Brad

directly behind her.

“I’m sorry I didn’t call you back, Dr. Scully,” he

apologized. “I was a little embarrassed about my offer,

to be honest with you.”

“Forget it,” she snapped.

She was distracted from the young man’s earnest confession

by Mulder’s rather odd behavior. He’d climbed into the

passenger seat by now and was waiting for her, head bowed.

“So what do you say?” Brad attempted to regain her

attention.

“Excuse me…what?” She turned back and stared at the

young man without comprehension, having missed his words.

“About drinks…say, tomorrow maybe?” he proposed.

It took her a second to realize that, immediately after

apologizing, the young man was actually trying to repeat

his blunder and ask her out again. Talk about nerve! It

reminded her of some of the more arrogant male student’s

overconfident attempts to ask her out during her medical

school days.

“Thanks for the compliment, but I’d advise you to stick

with women your own age, Brad.” She’d almost said “maturity

level” but stopped herself in time. Her focus was on her

partner right now, sitting in the car and looking

distinctly uncomfortable. She gave the annoying young

student a little advice in parting. “If I were you, and if

you truly care about Dr. White staying alive, albeit for

your own selfish reasons, I’d clean up that house a bit and

get him into a rehab clinic, ASAP. He needs professional

help.”

Walking purposely away, she climbed in behind the wheel

and turned to Mulder.

Smiling weakly, he held out the keys. “Just drive, Scully.”

“Mulder…”

“Please, just drive. Unless you’d like to see me lose my

breakfast on the good professor’s lawn.”

She stuck the keys in the ignition and got them out of

there. He wasn’t kidding about the compulsion he was

feeling either. As soon as they were on a stretch of road

that featured a deserted stretch of vegetation, Mulder

asked her a little too desperately to pull over and half

jumped, half stumbled out of the car. Bending over a pile

of scrub brush, he lost whatever he’d managed to get into

his system that morning. It all happened so quickly that

he was half out of the car before she’d completely

stopped its movement. Throwing the gearshift into neutral

and yanking on the emergency brake, Scully sprinted over

to where Mulder crouched miserably, holding his stomach

with one hand and bracing himself against the ground

with the other.

He groaned when she put a hand tentatively on his back.

“I guess I should have taken that sick day,” he offered.

“Oh, Mulder…” She rubbed her hand soothingly over his

back, supporting his weight as he leaned miserably into

her. She could feel the heat of his body radiating against

her. “You’ve got a fever,” she observed. “I’m taking you

to a hospital.”

“No,” he said vehemently, straightening up slowly in order

to turn a fierce glare on her. “No hospital, Scully. It’s

just the damn flu, for God’s sake. Don’t overreact.”

They waited until he was sure he was through emptying the

contents of his stomach before they got back into the car.

Although a number of other vehicles drove by during this

whole ordeal, not one stopped to help or see if they were

okay, a rather sad statement about people’s unwillingness

to get involved in someone else’s troubles these days.

Back behind the wheel, Scully reluctantly pointed the car

in the direction of Mulder’s apartment rather than the

nearest hospital. “My car’s at the office,” he protested.

“I don’t care, Mulder. We’re closer to your place than we

are to the Bureau. You’re going home.”

Something was bothering Scully, but she couldn’t quite put

her finger on it. Mulder’s protests against going to a

hospital were reasonable. The flu was a virus and

therefore, there was really no medicine to treat it.

Antibiotics were only effective on bacterial infections.

And vaccines were only effective in preventing one from

getting a particular virus. But once contracted, there

really wasn’t much to do but wait a virus out.

Secondary supportive therapy to keep the body hydrated and

functioning at a level that allowed your immune system to

fight off the invader was really all that could be

utilized. She’d make him drink some juice once she got him

to bed. Even the strategy of getting a fever down with

analgesics had recently come into question, since fever

actually acted to boost the body’s immune system. But a

few aspirin might help him feel a little better.

She glanced over to see Mulder slumped miserably in the

seat, eyes tightly closed. And she couldn’t fight a sudden

foreboding. Despite her rationalizations that Mulder had

certainly fought off a lot worse than the flu, the feeling

wouldn’t leave her.

Reaching over, she closed her hand over his and squeezed

it. She told herself she meant this as a comfort, rather

than a check to make sure he was still conscious.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Mulder walked unsteadily into the elevator of his

building. She kept a hand on his arm even as he tried to

shake it off. “I feel like crap,” he admitted. He eyed the

briefcase she was bringing up with her. “Plan on working

out of my home for the rest of the day, Scully?”

“I’m certainly not leaving you alone at the moment, Mulder.”

“I see.” He gave her a look. “I didn’t realize the flu

required twenty-four hour supervision by a doctor.”

“Who said anything about twenty-four hours? You’ll be

lucky to get two out of me, Mulder.” she shot back.

“I knew I was pushing my luck,” he grumbled. But his

heart wasn’t in it and his eyes were half-closed.

She got him up to his apartment and settled him on the

couch, covering him with the heavy wool blanket that lay

across the back of it. He promptly pushed that off him,

complaining, “It’s too hot, Scully.”

“Drop your pants then, Mulder,” she ordered on the way to

his bathroom.

“What?” his tone was indignant.

“You said you only had a rectal thermometer…”

“I was kidding!” he called out nervously.

She smiled when she came out, holding up the oral

thermometer she’d ultimately discovered in his medicine

cabinet. “You’re in luck, Mulder. Keep those pants on.”

He blew out a sigh of relief that quickly turned into an

uncontrollable cough. Forgetting about everything else for

the moment, she dropped down beside him in alarm. “Mulder!”

She could do nothing more than put a calming hand on his

back until the disturbing paroxysm was over. Maybe it was

no more than a leftover effect of the beating his lungs

had taken during his brush with the genetically-altered

tobacco beetles, she thought uneasily. But even as she

tried to convince herself of this, she knew she’d been

present at his latest test of pulmonary functioning, and

he’d been at one hundred percent.

He pushed weakly at her when he finally caught his breath

and fell back onto the couch, wincing. “I just need to

sleep for a bit, Scully. I’ll feel better, I promise.”

She went into the kitchen and poured him a glass of juice

with a less than steady hand, finding thankfully that it

was still within the suggested use date. Then she forced

him to drink at least half the glass, until his protests

became too much for her to override. After that, she took

his temperature and found the mercury wavering between 100

and 101 degrees. So she covered him with a sheet instead

of the blanket, which seemed both less offensive to him

and cooler. Mulder was fairly quiet through all this,

losing some of his high color as he relaxed. She finally

forced herself to stop fussing over him and move away from

his side so he might sleep.

Settling down at his desk with her briefcase, she kept a

wary eye on his breathing. Something continued to bother

her. A feeling that she was missing something. That

Mulder’s illness meant something.

“Mulder, when did you start to feel sick?” she asked

quietly.

“Saturday evening I started feeling pretty bad,” he mumbled

without opening his eyes. “After my run.”

She opened her briefcase, flipping past copies of their

latest expense report and the budget report until she got

down to Dr. White’s case file. She found herself lifting

the latter out and opening it. Her notes about the case

lay on top. Mostly information from the interviews with

the doctor and his graduate students.

What if Mulder was right about the students’ possible

activities? Curious, she flicked the on-switch of Mulder’s

computer. “You don’t mind if I use your computer?”

“Just don’t look at any of my bookmarks,” he muttered.

“What will I find? Some of those web sites you don’t look

at?” she asked innocently.

His response was unintelligible.

She felt suddenly compelled to find out more information

on Dr. White. The memory of his early work on one of the

hemorrhagic fevers, coupled with Mulder’s ridiculous

suspicions of the doctor’s students had her spooked. And

beyond the tragedy of Dr. White’s family described in the

file, his past was a mystery to her. It suddenly seemed

like a gross oversight that she hadn’t been serious enough

to research it more thoroughly. She had a horrible feeling

this oversight had been a critical mistake.

Going online, she called up Dr. Vincent White in the

Medarks database, requesting a listing of his past

publications. She quickly found his most prominent

publication, the creation of a successful vaccine. In

collaboration with a number of scientists, Dr. White had

worked on the Yellow Fever vaccine, one of the few

hemorrhagic fevers that now had a vaccine. It was

apparently his greatest lifetime achievement, albeit

shared with a number of other scientists. She continued

to scroll down the page and discovered that after his work

with Yellow Fever, his publications deviated toward a

different hemorrhagic virus, and took a turn into the

realm of ecology rather than the clinical.

Approximately thirty-three years ago, Dr. White had moved

into investigating the evolution of another hemorrhagic

fever known as hantavirus, along with the evolution of its

rodent host, Peromyscus, common name; the deer mouse.

She felt time stand still.

Grabbing up the file in her lap, she flipped back to her

notes. Mice…mice… her finger pointed an accusation at

the page. There it was. The genus of rodent Brad had

indicated to her that they were working with; Peromyscus.

The ‘cute’ little mouse. Her hands fairly flew over the

keyboard after that terrible moment.

The doctor’s first publication on the subject revealed

that he’d had a hand in being one of the first to identify

the various strains of hantavirus while under his DOD

contract. In fact, the rapid advances on the treatment of

the disease upon it’s discovery in the United States, were

due in great part to the strides made by the DOD research

in identifying and thoroughly investigating Old World

strains of the virus after they’d infected American

soldiers overseas.

Scully glanced over to where Mulder lay on the couch. The

students could not possibly be working with hantavirus, she

told herself. Surely, their use of the rodent vector was

due to Dr. White’s familiarity with this particular species

and its complement of species-specific mouse parasites. But

it seemed almost too much of a coincidence. She returned

with dread to her reading.

Hantavirus made a name for itself in a 1993 outbreak in

New Mexico that resulted in several fatalities within a

short period of time. The DOD’s knowledge and full

cooperation with scientists when these New World strains of

the virus were discovered had greatly enhanced the ability

of medical personnel to recognize and react to the danger.

But Dr. White’s research on the virus had stopped back in

1970. His last paper mostly pontificated upon the virus’s

evolution. Hantavirus was not a new virus, he pointed out.

Alleged references to the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome

could even be found in Native American folklore. Ancient

legend warned that if parents let mice live in their

dwelling, they would ‘take away the breath’ of their

children. The incident rate of infection, coupled with its

rather nondescript, flu-like symptoms, had contributed to

its going unidentified for centuries.

Mulder did not have hantavirus, she told herself. The idea

was nonsensical. Where would he have contracted it? She

felt a chill travel down her spine as she left Dr. White’s

publications in order to log on to the CDC website,

calling up the comprehensive fact sheet on hantavirus and

its symptoms. Scrolling frantically through the list, she

felt her terror mounting for each one that fit Mulder’s

profile.

According to the CDC, Mulder’s symptoms matched almost

exactly that of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome — fever,

fatigue, aching muscles in the back, thighs and

shoulders, followed in some portion of the cases by

headaches and gastrointestinal upset. Distinguishing itself

in the later stages with coughing and shortness of breath,

known as the ‘cardiopulmonary phase’ — the body reacted

as the lungs started to fill up with fluid. From there, the

disease progressed very rapidly. The shortness of breath

often led to acute respiratory distress, sometimes within

twenty-four hours, with a mortality rate of anywhere from

forty to eighty percent.

With a sinking feeling in her stomach, she turned to study

her partner. The shortest incubation period would put the

moment of infection back around Monday, when they were just

starting to look at this case. How could he possibly have

contracted it just sitting in the office reading about the

case? With a sinking feeling, she was reminded of Mulder’s

comments after checking the evidence from the case.

“Mulder, you said the Bureau had a rodent problem when you

went to look at that evidence on Monday,” she recalled,

keeping her mounting panic in check. “Why did you say

that?” she asked slowly.

He opened his eyes with apparent difficulty. “Does it

matter?” he muttered groggily. He rubbed at his eyes and

she remembered the bandage she’d put on his thumb.

“What was in the box you looked in for Dr. White’s case,

Mulder?” she repeated.

“Believe it or not, a bunch of dried mouse feces and one

very mummified rodent.” He studied her expression quietly.

“Don’t worry, Scully. I washed my hands afterward. There

were a couple vials at the bottom of the box. That’s what I

cut myself on. Lovely, hmmm?” he muttered. “I’ll let

Skinner know it’s time for a little de-con down there.” He

pushed at the sheet now and coughed again. “Is it hot in

here or what, Scully?”

She remembered the white rat outside Dr. White’s house.

“Did you touch anything in that lab or Dr. White’s house,

Mulder?”

“You were with me Scully. We both did.” He coughed again.

A hacking, wet-sounding cough.

According to the CDC web site, the primary cause of death

from HPS was excessive fluid in the lungs. The fluid leaked

from capillaries into the air sacs of the lungs. Autopsies

of infected patients had found lungs so severely fluid-

filled, they weighed twice as much as normal lungs.

He had opened one eye by this point and was studying her.

“What’s wrong, Scully?”

She couldn’t answer him. She was cold to the core.

Shoving the chair back, she grabbed her address book from

her briefcase and moved quickly over to the phone.

“Who are you calling?”

She heard the apprehension in his voice at her obvious

alarm. “Just hang on, Mulder,” she murmured. “And don’t

hate me. I’m calling the U.S. Army Medical Research

Institute of Infectious diseases in Bethesda. Stay calm.

They’re the closest place to have a BSL-4 lab and a

quarantine facility. One we’ve both visited before, I might

add.” She drummed her fingers impatiently on the desk as

she waited for the dial tone. “I take back everything I

said about the impossibility of something illegal going on

in Dr. White’s lab.” She knew she was babbling in an

attempt to control her fear, but Mulder seemed to be

gaining a fairly good grasp of what was going on. “As

usual, you may be right, Mulder.”

“Why does that not feel very satisfying right now?” he

croaked.

Her fingers punched the numbers frantically. When she’d

finished dialing, she turned to give him a tight smile.

“Okay. You’re always right. How’s that for satisfying?

Where’s the closest place you’ve ever seen anyone land a

helicopter around here, Mulder?” Her eyes locked on his.

The phone was ringing on the other end.

He stared at her. “Tell me you’re kidding.” She couldn’t

keep the truth from him. His eyes turned serious at the

expression in hers. “It’s bad, isn’t it?” When she didn’t

answer, she heard him say the phrase, “It must be bad,”

for the second time that year.

She fought back the tears that threatened and nodded.

“You’re coming with me, right, Scully?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, Mulder,” she said

around the tightness in her throat.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The helicopter blades created a wind tunnel-like effect.

She had never liked flying, and helicopters were a

particularly unpalatable option to her. This one was huge.

It seemed the Army could never make do with a normal-sized

aircraft, and the one sitting on the Alexandria high school

soccer field was mammoth.

There was a crowd of long-distance spectators, held well

back from the vehicle that had delivered them to the field.

One of the MP’s took her arm as she ran alongside Mulder’s

prone form on the stretcher. She would have shaken the man

off, but his assistance was necessary for her to climb up

into the flying bulk and she cursed her height-challenged

genes instead as she accepted the help.

Mulder was ash-pale under the oxygen mask before take-off,

and all she could offer him was eye-contact and the grip of

her hand as she perched near his side. “Just relax, Mulder.

We should be there within half an hour. We’ve got plenty of

time.”

Mulder’s only response was to squeeze her hand, the effort

of which seemed to send him into another paroxysm of

coughing. To her horror, by the time it was over, blood

had sprayed the inside of the oxygen mask with the violence

of his cough. She noted that it was only a nosebleed without

any sense of relief. Nosebleeds brought unpleasant memories

for both herself and Mulder, as well as a mounting sense of

helplessness and terror.

The emergency crew and MPs around them were masked and

gloved, as was she. They changed the oxygen mask and mopped

up the blood, putting everything into biohazard bags and

securing Mulder’s stretcher as the helicopter lifted into

the air. The same MP who’d helped her into the craft

indicated a seat that she could strap herself into before

take-off, but she shook her head vehemently and stayed

beside Mulder, holding tightly to his hand.

It was a very long, unpleasant ride.

Once at USAMRIID, the bustle of uniforms was everywhere

and at some point, despite her reluctance, she was

separated from Mulder while they insisted on testing her

for the virus.

Just as she expected, she was asked to strip down and

shower. Afterward, she was given scrubs and locked in a

bio-containment room. They drew blood and checked her

vitals, despite her insistence that she was fairly certain

she had not contracted the virus. Finally, after numerous

protests, she was delivered into the company of one of the

doctors.

He introduced himself as Dr. Compton. “Just relax, Dr.

Scully,” he said. “If it is hantavirus, the presence of

its RNA is relatively easy for us to detect using reverse-

transcription polymerase chain reaction. As you no doubt

know, it’s a very rapid early detection method and allows

us to get out all our guns and lick the thing before it

does too much damage.”

She didn’t care at the moment how it was detected. She

didn’t care about the Army’s ‘guns’. “How is my partner?”

she demanded.

He assessed her closely. “I’d say you made the right call.

He’s definitely got the full complement of symptoms, but

let’s not get too worried yet. It’s far more likely to be

something much more common. For example, Aspergillosis,

Cytomegalovirus, or even the flu would be a more likely

diagnosis at this point. We’ll know within the hour. Why

don’t we wait for the results before we get too excited?”

“Waiting could be dangerous. There’s a high likelihood

that Dr. Vincent White is experimenting with hantavirus if

my partner has it. And I’d like to see Agent Mulder

immediately to check on his condition myself, if you don’t

mind.”

He gave her a tight smile that was entirely too pacifying.

“If that’s the case, Agent Scully, what you *need* to do

right now is to speak to the officials we have here waiting

to investigate this situation. Don’t worry. We’re taking

good care of your partner.” He was military all the way

through and although Scully didn’t like it, there was

procedure to follow here before she would be allowed to

address the more personal.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

She sat impatiently through the debriefing process while

separated by plexiglass for the safety of the interviewers.

A number of Department of Defense officers — whose wrath

was about to come down via joint cooperation between the

DOD, the Center for Disease Control, the Army and the

National Guard on Dr. Vincent White and his students —

listened soberly to her tale. The DOD had files on Dr.

White that seemed slightly more extensive than the solitary

file she and Mulder had been using. She informed them about

the evidence box at the FBI, which was the most obvious

place for Mulder to have contracted the virus, given the

incubation period of the disease. She urged them to contact

Assistant Director Skinner and contain the threat at that

location as well as Dr. White’s laboratory and house.

They didn’t appear to need much convincing.

“If you don’t mind my asking, did Dr. White have the

technology thirty years ago to preserve a viral specimen

for that a period of time?” she demanded boldly.

“I’m afraid that, yes, he did have access to that

technology,” said a man who’d introduced himself as General

Lowell. “But I can’t discuss that matter any further with

you.”

The group of men conferred in murmurs in the corner for a

bit and finally, one came back to thank her for her time

and wish her the best. They began to file out, obviously

abandoning her to the doctors and her fate.

She interrupted their exit. “Excuse me…”

General Lowell, the man obviously in charge of the group,

as well as being the only one to have given her his name,

turned back to regard her. He reminded her vaguely of her

father, but the resemblance was more due to his military

bearing than to his physical appearance. With a crewcut of

severely shorn white hair, he was thin in a hard sort of

way, with the look of an older man who kept himself in

shape for any form of mortal combat that might arise.

Walking over, he stood tall before the sheet of plexiglass

between them. He had at least a foot on her in height.

“How can I help you, Agent Scully?” The tinny sound of his

voice through the speakers was unnerving. It dehumanized

him and made his voice seem almost robotic.

“I’d just like to know why the case was closed by your

department,” she remarked. “Was it ever solved? And what

virus was it exactly that killed Dr. White’s family?”

He scowled briefly before giving her a curt nod. “The case

was closed because the theft was done *by* Dr. White. And

as for who killed Dr. White’s family, he did, in my

opinion,” he stated coldly, his eyes hard as agate. “And

yes, it was a strain of hantavirus that killed them. I’m

afraid that’s all I can tell you. I’m also going to insist

that you forget about this case. Worry about your partner’s

condition instead. We’ll be handling it from here on

out.”

Was that a threat, she wondered? At something in her

return look, he scowled and added, “That’s an order, Agent

Scully.” Turning on his heel, he walked away from her.

Scully turned abruptly away from the window, forcing her

anger at the situation down to that place where she

contained it for her own sanity. “My partner?” she said

impatiently to the MP at the door.

“This way, Agent Scully,” the young man answered.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The guard, who stood at least 6’4″, and was heavily armed

and in full military uniform, led her down a long hallway.

As she padded beside him on slippered feet, she felt

ineffectual and small. Stripped of her weapon, she was

nearly helpless. To make matters worse, being exhausted

from the ordeal and dressed only in scrubs reminded her

of unpleasant, sleep-deprived nights during her short

stint as a hospital intern. Her discomfort during that

time had been one of the deciding factors in her

unconventional choice of career.

The MP delivered her to a fully functioning, state of

the art ICU area, staffed by nurses who looked more like

soldiers. It was occupied by only one patient.

Mulder.

As she entered the room, Mulder turned his head and,

recognizing his visitor, attempted a smile that looked

more like a grimace to her. Hooked up to every conceivable

monitor, he looked surprisingly healthy.

She approached the bed and took his hand.

They stayed like that for a minute. He took a breath that

sounded like it hurt. “Hantavirus, huh?”

She nodded.

“What have I got to look forward to?” he asked. “It’s good

to be prepared, I always say.” His voice was rough and he

coughed with the effort of his question.

She put a hand on his chest and left it there, trying to

calm him with her presence. “You’re going to be fine,

Mulder.”

“Why is that not very reassuring?” he mused.

She sighed. “You might find it starting to get difficult

to breathe. If it does, just let me know.” She threaded her

fingers through the hand she held onto. “We’ll give you an

oxygen mask. That might help make it a little easier. At

the worst, we may need to put you on respiratory therapy

for a bit,” she offered.

“By respiratory therapy, I’m assuming you mean I could go

into respiratory failure?”

“That’s a remote possibility,” she answered reluctantly.

He stared at her. “Please tell me you’re kidding.”

“I’m sorry, Mulder.” She squeezed his hand. “But you’ve

got very good odds against that.”

“Not again,” he said. “I’m not going to have any lungs

left,” he moaned.

“Mulder…” she said quietly.

“Agent Fox Mulder, the lungless wonder…”

“Mulder…”

“If you pump me full of nicotine again, I swear I’ll shoot

you, Scully.”

She forced a smile and brushed her hand lightly over his

forehead, running her fingers along his hairline and

pushing errant strands back. “You’re right smack in the

middle of the Department of Defense, Mulder. They know more

about hantavirus than anywhere else in the world. And we

caught it early, thanks to you.”

He grinned at her. “Take your share of the credit, Scully.

Believe me, I would *never* have suggested coming here. I’d

have held out for Atlanta.”

She smiled and let her fingers slide down to rest along

his jawline, leaning forward far enough to not be heard

by the nurses. “I would have preferred the CDC myself,

Mulder,” she whispered.

“The nurses are better looking there,” he offered.

“Speak for yourself.”

He closed his eyes and smiled slightly. With the closer

proximity, she could hear the rattle and wheeze of air

moving in and out of his already congested lungs. She

watched him wince as he fought for the next inhalation.

When the brawny military nurse came in next, Scully asked

for a chair and was treated to folding metal at its finest.

She and Mulder both stared at the proffered seating

arrangement for a minute after he left.

“There’s plenty of room up here on the bed, Scully,”

Mulder said finally, patting the space near his hip.

“Thanks.” She was exhausted from the ordeal, but obviously

she wasn’t going to be catching any sleep here. She perched

on the bed beside Mulder and settled in for an extended

period of discomfort. When she saw him smile at her

proximity, it was worth it.

“Aren’t you worried about getting it?” he asked.

“Person-to-person contact is a highly unlikely mode of

transmission.”

“How’d I get it?”

“Well, my theory is that the virus was preserved in the

evidence box for some unconscionable reason,” Scully began.

“Although it seems unlikely it could have been dormant this

long and survived. The drying conditions needed to have

been just right. Anyway, the DOD is currently investigating

the situation without our help, thank you very much.”

“Skinner’s going to love this,” Mulder observed.

“Mulder, never, never, never again stir up a pile of dried

mouse feces and breathe at the same time…promise me.” She

gave him a stern look. “And for God’s sake, try not to ever

again introduce what was probably a vial containing

preserved virions into your bloodstream.” She held up his

hand, which was currently sporting the apparatus to monitor

his pulse as well as an I.V. line, and looked pointedly at

his thumb.

“Point taken,” Mulder sighed. “Just don’t tell me I should

have known better.”

“You should have known better, Mulder.”

He laughed weakly. “That’s what I love about you, Scully.

You never take any crap from me.”

“Mulder,” she said slowly. “Sometimes, I feel like that’s

all I do.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

EPILOGUE

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“That’s right,” said the Queen, patting her on the head,

which Alice didn’t like at all: “though, when you say

‘garden’ – *I’ve* seen gardens, compared with which this

would be a wilderness.”

~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

December 22

Falls Church, Virginia

He’d never suspected his students of stealing his old

research notes. Nor had he imagined them replicating his

old experiments to compare the original strain of the

virus with a current strain to see what course evolution

had taken. Finally, he could not conceive of how they’d

figured out that it had been he who’d stolen the original

strain from the lab in the first place and carefully

preserved it in his own home.

Perhaps he’d told Brad in some drunken stupor. The boy had

always been stopping by, ‘just to check up on him.’

This oversight was a new low for him.

The house he currently resided in had seen more visitors

in the past five days than it had since he’d moved here.

They’d cleaned out half his belongings. His lab and

university job were gone. His three graduate students had

also been dismissed by the university and were now being

‘detained’ by the Department of Defense.

He was unable to be concerned about the fate of the

students. No doubt the DOD would find some use for them.

In fact, they’d probably give the three jobs. Certainly,

they’d proven to have a certain aptitude for viral

research. The government officials had already confiscated

everything having to do with the students’ experiment. And

with the care the DOD took in dismantling the lab, he knew

that the three must have been on to something and was

certain their research would be continued in some form.

All the loose ends were being taken care of.

Including himself.

General Lowell stood uneasily in his living room. Vincent

wasn’t sure why he was still in his home, having lost both

his job and what was left of his reputation. He’d expected

to be arrested along with his students, so he was grateful

for this one last chance his old colleague was giving him

to make things right.

“I’m asking you to cooperate, Vincent,” the General said

soberly. “For the sake of national security.” When Vincent

didn’t answer he made a noise of disgust. “You stole this

virus back when you believed the world should know about

the reality of biological weapons. He grimaced at the

squalor around him, standing tall and aloof from it.

Glaring down at his old colleague. “Was it worth it,

Vincent?” he demanded gruffly. “What exactly did you

accomplish?”

“You tell me, Jack. What did I accomplish?”

His earliest research with Jack Lowell had determined

that hantavirus had an ancient association with its host,

co-evolving and co-speciating with the rodents. In fact,

virus and rodent had been seemingly been living happily

together for thousands of years. Other colleagues had

found evidence that genetic relationships among the

various hantaviruses paralleled the genetic relationships

among their rodent hosts. A mutually beneficial

partnership. Two entities, living together as one.

Then came the Red Queen hypothesis. And the start of his

terrible project.

He had taken a partnership between two creatures and created

a completely different scenario. Under the auspices of the

DOD, he’d showed that while hantavirus had the capacity to

co-evolve with its rodent host, it could also mutate and

evolve against it. These more deadly strains did prove to

have higher survival rates, as well as become more and

more detrimental to their rodent hosts. He’d been able

to decimate whole colonies of mice with these deadlier

strains.

“At one time, Jack, I was actually proud of what I’d

created. At one time, I thought I could control it,” he

stated.

“We were able to control it, Vincent. We are controlling

it.” The General stood staring down at his slump on the

couch disdainfully. “You’re the one out of control.”

“Well, there’s no one left for you to control me with,

Jack. I care about no one.”

“Your students?”

Vincent laughed without humor. “My students were imbeciles

to recreate this monster. Their foolishness has only

repeated my own folly. They’re welcome to pay whatever

price it exacts from them.” He picked up the wine bottle

and took another defiant swig. Jack Lowell grimaced in

disgust.

“As for that FBI agent you’re so worked up about, I have no

idea how he contracted the virus. Nor do I care at this

point.” It could have been a number of scenarios, he knew.

His biologically created strain had a shorter incubation

period than its more well-known counterpart. But his

research had never ended up published so this fact was

virtually unknown.

“You’re a fool, Vincent,” the man before him said

contemptuously.

Yes, he was a fool. He had violated nature. The strain

he’d created hadn’t emerged through any natural mutation,

nor had it come about through the medium of ecological

disturbance that usually served to cause an outbreak by

bringing infected rodents into closer contact with man.

His strain had been manufactured in the labs of the

Department of Defense. The mutation had occurred within

the laboratory. It had never been a natural setting, but

rather Man, altering nature to suit his own purposes.

Ah, but this was never a good idea.

He recalled how angry he’d been when he first learned how

his research was to be used. There’d been a short period

during which he’d talked to one too many people about his

moral quandary. He’d even mentioned his desire to his good

friend, Jack Lowell — a desire to expose his unsuspecting

role in creating one of the first terrible anomalies in

the government’s biological arsenal.

Then came the sudden and stunning loss of Olivia and all

of his beautiful children.

Oh God…

Thirty years later and he was still pleading with a God

he no longer believed in to deliver him from this fate.

He’d been devastated by the deaths of his family. To the

perpetrators, it had been no more than a warning.

A warning that had worked too well. Any incentive to bring

down the project had died with his family. The government’s

culpability could not be proven. He could never determine

how Matthew had contracted the virus. And although he’d

suspected the DOD, they’d held him fully responsible,

blaming him for the deaths of his family and quietly

letting him go from their employ after that.

His mistake…

Had it been his?

The last bit of incentive for revenge had been numbed by

his guilt and an extremely rapid descent into alcoholism

in order to escape the nightmare his life had become. The

loss of his family had weighed him down for thirty years

now. What would their collective weight have been, he

wondered? Somewhere around two hundred and eighty pounds

of flesh altogether. His beloved dead family.

Oh, but his thoughts were morbid and not fit for this

world.

In the end, he’d never had the conviction to expose the

research because he was never able to find himself fully

blameless. He sometimes wondered now if perhaps he *had*

unknowingly infected little Matthew. Some days, he could

almost convince himself of this. On these days, he

considered having the virus serve as the vehicle of his

own death as well, a fitting tribute to his family’s

suffering, but he was never able to infect himself. He

wasn’t brave enough for that and was afraid of

contaminating others.

He’d always been weak. And the worst failing of this

damnable weakness within his character was his dogged

but hopeless persistence in life.

He took a long last swig of wine, feeling drowsy. General

Lowell shook his head in disgust. “I’ll be back in an hour,

Vincent. Pack a bag and be ready. You’re going away for a

while.”

The General left, the sound of the door slamming shut and

the lock snicking into place seemed loud in the silence

that ensued. Opportunity was knocking. Vincent took the

syringe out of the drawer beside him. Carefully, he

injected the lidocaine that Brad Palmer had been kind

and unwitting enough to supply him with. It had been a

request that Brad had readily fulfilled. What harm could

a little local anesthetic do? No doubt that was what the

idiotic boy told himself. What was a little numbness? As

long as his advisor was still able to sign a thesis it

shouldn’t be a problem.

Fool.

They were all fools — including himself.

No one could begin to imagine the terrible guilt he bore.

He injected the drug into the skin of both wrists. Even

now, Vincent still wasn’t brave enough to die in the

painful manner his family had.

After the mistakes he’d made in his too-long life, he had

no illusions that he would be allowed to join his long-lost

family in a better place. He even considered Hell too good

for himself. He’d never fought for anything his entire

life. He had only endured. He was a weak, ineffectual man.

Even his choice of a painless suicide showed his lack of

spine. He had no visions of eternal pardon.

He had nothing.

His wrists were completely numb by the time he took the

scalpel out of its packaging. A picture of his family was

propped on the end table near him. Around him, the house

seemed haunted by the ghosts of his family. Not malicious

apparitions, but sad reminders of his lost soul floating

in the images wavering before him.

Dear Olivia, he thought. My love. My apologies…

He felt as if this were the bravest thing he’d ever done.

And quite possibly the weakest. All his life, he’d shirked

the discomfort of taking a stand. Ironically, this final

stand made that very same ambiguous statement about his

life.

After the cuts, there was a deluge of red. A brighter red

than the two bottles of wine he’d overloaded his system

with in preparation for this moment. Numb all over, he

watched his life flow out, a surreal river of blood

spilling onto the carpet. He deserved pain for what he’d

done. He deserved an awful, tortured death. Not this

numbed and quiet weakening.

He turned his head toward the photograph propped on the

coffee table. Away from painless red spill.

My family, he thought. Lost. My capacity for love. Lost.

The house stood behind them in the picture, a pleasant

sentry. The garden surrounded them, spilling colors over

their feet. Flowers in all the hues of a rainbow. Yellows

to pinks, fushia merging into purple, shades of blue, lush

greens, red…oh, red everywhere… and then white…

So white…

Matthew was laughing, reaching out in the photo for his

father’s hand.

“Dearest Matthew, my apologies…”

His final words in life contained no more than this

eternal plea for forgiveness.

His life, lost.

And out in Dr. Vincent White’s garbage bin, a white

laboratory rat was finishing a free lunch. It took a

minute to carefully wash its whiskers of the refuse with

two tiny pink paws before it leapt out of the bin and

scurried off into the woods behind the house.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Red Queen shook her head. “You may call it ‘nonsense’

if you like,” she said, “but *I’ve* heard nonsense,

compared with which that would be as sensible as a

dictionary!”

~Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

December 22

Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

“Make yourself at home, Mulder.”

She turned to watch her partner shuffle over to her couch

as she set his overnight bag just inside her room. “Are you

hungry?”

“Only if it’s more of that yummy green jello.”

Unbelievably, the USMARIID facility had released Mulder

earlier than they’d planned. After an unprecedented and

fairly rapid recovery, and with Scully’s sign-off on

enforcing his convalescence, the Army washed their hands

of them both.

“Did I call them Scrooges?” Mulder asked in mock horror

when he learned the date. “I take it back.”

It was two days before Christmas Eve. Scully was

determined that they would make the most of the holiday,

despite the events leading up to it and Mulder’s currently

weakened state of health. At the very least, her partner

would enjoy a warm meal and not be alone this Christmas.

He spotted the tree at that moment.

Scully watched as he stopped and stared at it for a

minute, all pinpoint lights and star-shaped ornaments.

Still weak from his ordeal, he lowered himself onto the

couch, his eyes holding the vision even after he’d settled.

She crossed the room and perched beside him. They were

quiet for a second together. “Do you like it?” she finally

asked.

He turned and smiled. “Is this my Christmas present?”

She nodded.

He pointed to the presents visible under the tree and

looked crestfallen. “I didn’t exactly have time to get

you anything, Scully.”

“Yes you did, Mulder,” she said quietly, patting his

thigh. “You’re still here. That’s enough.”

“No, it’s not.”

Yes, it is.”

He took a deep, cleansing breath. “What I want to know

is why I recovered so quickly.”

“Mulder, I wouldn’t call that quick. You were unconscious

and on the respirator for at least twenty-four hours. And

you’ve been hospitalized for five days.”

He looked unconvinced. She didn’t voice her own

suspicions, including the existence of a few drugs the

doctors had given him whose names she’d been unable to

identify.

“According to the doctors there,” she continued, “if

someone survives the cardiopulmonary phase of the disease,

they usually recover quite rapidly.”

“I’d say ‘rapid’ is an understatement. I feel pretty good

for being at death’s door two days ago, Scully.”

How this had happened didn’t matter, she decided. Mulder

was recovering and they were together. What more could they

ask the Fates for this year?

“Well, at least I’m not the lungless wonder,” he mused when

no explanation was forthcoming from her.

“Nope.” She grinned. “No circus sideshows for you.”

He gave voice to the suspicions that mirrored her own.

“All I’ve got to say is that the DOD must have some *very*

good drugs, Scully.”

“Yes, they must have.”

“How about how I contracted it? Did we figure that out?”

She sighed and dampened her frustration with the answer

she was about to give him. “‘We,'” she emphasized the word,

“were not allowed to figure anything out. The DOD said that

the vials found in the evidence box did, in fact, contain

hantavirus. They don’t know how the virus got placed into

the FBI evidence archives. They claim that the FBI must

have originally done so before the DOD took over the case,

not realizing what they’d confiscated.”

“Right. Pretty stupid mistake, don’t you think? What’d

Skinner say?”

“After they found hantavirus in the Hoover Building?” she

asked incredulously. “Take a guess, Mulder.”

He stared at the tree again, his expression turning

contemplative. “Okay. What happened to Dr. White,

Scully? I know you’re not telling me something.”

She wasn’t completely sure why she’d been withholding the

news she’d received that morning. But she knew the topic

of suicide was a sensitive one for Mulder as well as

herself right now. And though there seemed to be few

parallels between the virologist’s end and that of

Mulder’s mother, she also knew Mulder would end up

blaming himself in some small way, no matter how

unreasonable this may be. He took their cases to heart,

sometimes a bit too much so. Suicide was very common

around the holidays and certainly it wasn’t unexpected

in Dr. White’s case. But she felt her own twinges of guilt

for not doing more for the sad professor. And if she felt

that way, certainly Mulder would also. She’d wanted to at

least wait until he was feeling a little stronger before

giving him the news, but he deserved the truth.

“He committed suicide early this morning, Mulder,” she

said quietly. “He left a note, apologizing to his family.

But no details as to what caused their deaths or anything

about the theft his work.”

“Oh.” That was all he said. The silence between them was

palpable. He squinted at the tree. “You know, if you do

this right, the lights really do look like stars.”

“Mulder, I’m sorry.” It seemed a stupid thing to say. He

didn’t reply. Beside him, she followed his example and

squinted at the tree. He was right, she thought with some

wonder. The room sparkled like a sky full of stars. She

opened her eyes wide again. “I do think the DOD is

covering something up about his death, Mulder. In fact,

I’m sure of it.”

“Scully!” His melancholy turned into obvious pleasure at

this statement. He faced to her with a faint grin, but

sobered quickly at her more serious expression. Turning

back to the tree, he tilted his head for a more thoughtful

perusal. “I hate to disrupt your delightful, newfound

paranoia,” he finally remarked, “but in this particular

case, I don’t believe there was any foul play. Just the

last nail in a coffin the good doctor has been building

for himself for a while.” He paused, deep in thought.

“You can’t really blame him for what he did,” he commented

finally. “He lost everyone he cared about.”

The words chilled her. “I disagree. That’s no excuse for

what he did, Mulder.”

Mulder shrugged. “Regardless of whether or not he’s

excused for his actions,” he said slowly, “he was

obviously in a great deal of pain.”

Regretting her impulsive comment immediately, she reached

over and covered his hand with her own. “I didn’t mean to

condemn him for his actions, Mulder. You know that. I just

can’t condone them. And as for whether he’s excused for

them, I don’t think that’s up to me.” She squeezed his hand

and let her fingers tangle with his. The action silenced

both of them, and they stared down at where their hands lay

entwined on his thigh. He rubbed the rough pad of his thumb

over the back of hers. It mesmerized her.

“What happened to his graduate students?” he asked,

electing to change the topic rather than focus on one

that was still a tender, healing wound for them both.

“Supposedly arrested, but I never heard anything after

that. ‘Classified’ is the explanation I was given. And

believe me, that one word is all we’re going to get,

Mulder. The DOD made that pretty clear to me. I have no

idea whether those students are sitting in a jail cell

somewhere or walking away from all this scot free.”

“Or chained to a lab bench somewhere, finishing their

experiments, compliments of the DOD.” Mulder remarked.

“Case closed, huh?” He looked tired suddenly. Leaning

his head back against the couch, he closed his eyes

and sighed. “Looks like the return of our old friend,

lack of closure, Scully.”

“We tried, Mulder. And truly, I think this case was

resolved a long time ago by the Department of Defense.

Albeit unsatisfactorily. As for the current illegal

activities of Dr. White’s students, at least we stopped

those before they got out of hand and caused an epidemic

on campus. Take heart in that.”

“Not a very satisfying resolution,” he remarked.

Her heart ached for this man. But she stood, having

determined that they’d had quite enough of viruses and

suicides. She was ready to erase this case from her

thoughts and attempt to enjoy the holiday. She hoped

she could entice Mulder to do the same.

“You need to eat, Mulder,” she insisted. “And you need to

rest.” She moved around the couch to stand behind him. “And

you need to keep me company for at least an attempt at

Christmas dinner. Not to mention, watch Steel Magnolias at

some point with me.” At his groan, she leaned down and

dropped a light kiss onto his forehead.

He let his head fall back onto the couch and opening his

eyes, stared up at her. And she contemplated with some

wonder the amazing inner strength of this man before her.

Placing the palm of her hand against his forehead where

her lips had just graced, she found his skin warm under her

hand, but not feverish. Sliding her hands around to frame

his face, she held him in place as she studied him. He

returned her gaze openly, showing too much of his soul,

as he always did.

“Right now, you need to eat some chicken soup. How does

that sound?” Giving him a small smile, she started to pull

away, still adjusting to the increasing familiarity within

their relationship. Seemingly of its own volition, one hand

strayed back to idly stroke his cheek until he returned her

smile, closing his eyes under her touch.

“Better than jello,” he murmured.

Reluctantly, she stopped the caress, letting her hand fall

lightly away. In the doorway of the kitchen, she paused to

cast a thoughtful look back at her partner. He was staring

again at the tree with an unreadable expression. She wondered

how long it had been since Mulder had a Christmas tree,

assuming he’d ever had one with his less than nurtured

upbringing.

He must have sensed her watching him because he turned

slightly and grinned. “Thanks, Scully.”

She answered with a smile of her own. “For you,

Mulder…the world.” And of course, the stars, in

whatever earthly form she could find them.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

THE END

AUTHOR’S NOTES: Most of the viral information for this

story was obtained from textbooks, scientific journals,

the CDC website, and my own limited experience. Any

liberties taken with it are my own, although I’ve tried

very hard to stick to facts. However, Dr. Vincent White

had absolutely nothing to do with developing the vaccine

for Yellow Fever or working with the DOD to identify the

first strains of hantavirus — those real life

distinctions belong to other scientists. That said,

Moose and Squirrel don’t really exist either 😉 Okay,

okay…just kidding! *g* I will admit that details about

the George Mason University were mostly fabricated. Though

it does exist, I’ve never been there and apologize for any

errors present in its portrayal.

The Red Queen Hypothesis is a “real live” scientific

hypothesis proposed in 1973 by ecologist Leigh Van Valen

of the University of Chicago, who described host-parasite

interactions as a kind of biological arms race. He named

the hypothesis after the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s

“Through the Looking Glass” who says, “Now, here, you

see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the

same place.”

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