Faith

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Faith

by Daydreamer

Author’s Notes: Andrew Nam Thuong is one of the 117

Vietnamese martyrs canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

He was the mayor of his village, lived a holy life, served

as a catechist, and did indeed die of exhaustion and

dehydration on a forced march into exile.

In the Catholic faith, martyrdom is sufficient for

canonization. For others who are proposed for sainthood,

such as Mother Theresa, miracles are required before

canonization can occur. Saints DO NOT work miracles;

God works miracles. We believe that God may work

miracles through the intercession of our friends,

the saints. In the case of the Martyrs of Vietnam,

no miracles were documented nor is there any record

of supernatural powers on the part of these saints.

Any reference to such abilities on the part of Saint

Andrew is literary license on my part.

Summary: A plea for help from an old friend drags Skinner

into the heart of a modern day conspiracy.

Feedback to: Daydream59@aol.com

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Teaser

July, 1985

Research Laboratory

Tap, tap, tap.

The sound echoed off the sterile walls.

Tap, tap, tap.

Long legs strode purposefully forward – to business, to business,

to business.

Tap, tap, tap.

The stride was smooth, the steps curiously graceful, even as the

man moved ever forward, single-mindedly pursuing his objective.

Hard tile repeated and amplified the sound each shod foot made

as it connected with the corridor floor.

Light, bright and unyielding, glared down on the man as he moved

through the halls, unblinking and unforgiving.

Tap, tap, tap.

White was usually the color of innocence, of purity. But this

white stared unseeing as the man marched swiftly on. This

white was hard, and cold, and had a cruel glint to it. Light

so white, so sharp, it hurt the eyes to look and the mind to

think.

And yet the man moved on, untouched by the cold, cruel glare.

Tap, tap, tap.

The air itself seemed braced for the man – cold and sterile. It

smelled of disinfectant and cleanser, but nothing would erase

the smell of fear that lurked beneath it all. Refrigerated air,

mechanical air, it oozed slowly through the air ducts,

trickling out almost stingily into the bright, white hall.

Tap, tap, tap.

Dr. Nicholas Braden.

*The* Dr. Nicholas Braden.

The *renowned* Dr. Nicholas Braden.

He tasted the name soundlessly on his lips, savoring its

feel, its flavor.

He’d walked this plane many times, borne many names.

Judas.

Ghengis Khan.

Alexander the Great.

And most recently, Dr. Joseph Mengele.

Oddly enough, it was as a doctor, a supposed *healer,* that he

had realized the power in chemistry, in physics, in biology.

The power in cold, cruel steel.

The way it glinted in the light, the way it reflected a

subject’s fears, mirroring and multiplying them until

the emotion itself was a palpable blanket, warm and wet

and festering as he wrapped it round himself.

The man walked on, his shoes against the tile the only sound

to be heard. Others walked on soft-shod feet, scurrying quickly

by, head down, eyes averted, inaudible sighs of relief as they

escaped his notice. As he moved relentlessly forward, the

others braced themselves, one straightening a blouse, another

nervously polishing a stethoscope, each keeping still or

scuttling back to avoid the man’s attention.

But he had no time for any of them. It had come to him in

the night, calling him in from the warmth of his lair, pulling

him down to the lab. It was ever-hungry, ever-needy, and

now – it needed him. He smiled grimly – such was the price

for the comfort and prestige of his life. He chanced a look

around, almost tittering at the looks of horror and fear and

disgust that flitted across the faces that dared to meet his

gaze.

This was what it was all about. This was what he craved.

The ability to control, to manipulate, to condemn all the

weak and frightened little people that walked this plane.

This was power.

To walk blindly forward – tap, tap, tap – to feel the cold

light glare at him, the people fear him, the walls echo his

presence. This was power.

He pressed a hand against a plate, watched as a reading was

taken, then slid into the room as the door rolled back. He walked

quickly between two rows of cabinets, a cruel smile on his

lips as animals screeched or howled in fear. He passed

several experiments, each holding some*thing* that lived,

and breathed, but had no being beyond soundless cries of

pain and terror.

This was power.

He moved past the animals, past the unnamed creations, into

the back of the room where the cold light shifted into dark

heat. He glanced around, then quickly prepared himself to

wait.

He had the power.

And soon, very soon, his power would grow.

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

Act I

An Ho, Vietnam

August 1972

It was the poverty that got to him.

There were other things that bothered him — the

untreated diseases, the unsanitary practices, the

stealing and lying and cheating. There were the

things that sickened him, too. The handicapped babies

left to die in the elements, the fathers who abused their

daughters and then sold them into a life of slavery – some

as young as eight or ten.

But still, it was the poverty that struck him most.

All the other sins seemed to come from that one root

cause.

Would babies be left to die if there were enough for all?

Would fathers sell their daughters if they could feed and

care for all the children they had?

Would mothers leave diseases untreated and uncared for

if there were money for the doctor?

It opened his eyes in ways nothing else ever had.

Twelve years of Catholic school, moral theology and

social justice, liberation theology and ethics, he’d heard

it all, taken notes in all the classes, even led the debates

at times.

But this, this made it all real.

Here he was, eighteen years old and away from home

for the first time for any length of time. Here in

this awful hell of a war, brother killing brother,

women and children dying daily as collateral damage,

and it was still the poverty that got to him.

He glanced around the churchyard, watched the children

play, even as he cradled his rifle in his arms. How

did Father Madden function in the middle of a war like

this?

He shook his head and brushed his dark hair back from his

face. His cheeks were wet again, and he stared unseeingly

at his damp palm. He’d cried a lot when he’d first arrived,

surprising himself with the depth of his homesickness and

the sudden, gut-wrenching desires he’d have for Mom to

“make it all better.”

But the sin and sickness he saw here was nothing his mother,

or any mother, could cure with a kiss and a cuddle and a

kind word.

He shuddered as a baby wailed, then went back to munching

his single lunchtime sandwich in the dilapidated entryway

to the old church.

It was the poverty. It all came back to that.

In America, people had no understanding of poverty.

Even the poor kids in his school — the ones who

were there on grants and scholarships and other

programs — even they didn’t really understand

poverty. They all had clothes to wear and shoes

on their feet, food in their belly and a roof over

their heads. Almost all of them had televisions

and radios and telephones and a lot even had cars.

And those were the *poor* kids in America.

There was a tug at his pant leg and he looked down,

smiling gently at the dirty face and wide eyes that

looked up at him. A pat on the ground and a small

form was soon seated next to him in expectation.

He sighed, staring greedily at the sandwich. He

hadn’t eaten breakfast this morning, and he was

due to be out when supper was served so this would be

his only meal of the day.

Still …

He glanced down again, then broke a small piece of the

bread and cheese off, popped it in his mouth, and

passed the rest to the little girl. She grinned happily,

then began to stuff the food into her mouth. It stretched

her cheeks and distorted her features and she took on the

look of a chipmunk — a very dirty chipmunk.

“Water?” he asked.

“Mmmm — yeah,” she mumbled around the food. Her eyes

came up and something close to fear flittered through as

she hastily added, “Sir. Tank you.”

He laughed sadly as he rose, filling a tin cup and wetting

a rag at the same time. There were two uses for water, after

all.

He passed the cup, watched as the child gulped, then waited

for her to finish. It was not a long wait — the food seemed

to have been inhaled — but a closer look told him that she

had tucked the remainder of the sandwich away, probably to

take to a small sibling or to someone sick.

“Tank you, mis’er,” she murmured again, her voice soft, with

the slightest hint of a baby lisp remaining on the sibilants.

He nodded, then reached out with the rag, washing her hands,

and then her face. He sighed as the dirt came away; there

were bruises on her cheek and chin. A heavy hand had

struck there. He sighed again, then wiped once more,

tenderly, and smiled.

“OK, little one. You are beautiful!” he said in mock

exclamation, laughing softly as she giggled and her skin

darkened in a blush. “Very pretty.”

She giggled again, then rose and smiled at him, dancing

away before he could find out who she was or try to entice

her to tell him about the bruises.

That was the way it was. They came in unending droves,

the children of the war. Battered, abused, dirty, unfed,

and often diseased, yet beneath the grime and the tattered

clothing, the serious demeanor, the beseeching eyes, their

hearts were those of children. They would laugh in an

instant, turn work into play, give hugs and hold hands,

and offer their trust to people as if they had never been

betrayed.

This was what he would do with his life. It had come to

him, first as a whisper, then as a command, and finally

as a shout that would not be denied. He was destined to

spend his life in service to those in need. How, he

wasn’t sure, but he would serve. That, he knew.

Twelve years of Catholic school, moral theology and

social justice, liberation theology and ethics. A lifetime

of privilege and comfort. A life full of blessings he had

no right to, yet had been given freely.

It was past time to give back.

He wiped his eyes again, offered a quick prayer of thanks

for his own loving home, and then rose to face the hike

back to his squad.

“Ah, Walter, there you are. I was looking for you.”

It was Father Madden, the man who ran this church. The

priest was in his early forties, tall and vigorous, with

a startling shock of prematurely white hair that always

seemed in need of a good trim. The children loved him,

the adults respected him, and he had taken an immediate

liking to the peaceful, prayerful man.

“Yes, Father? How may I help you?”

The courtesy that was so much a part of the culture

of this country seemed to come to him naturally now,

even when he spoke in his native tongue.

“I am going out to the grave.” Father Madden nodded at

the rake and shovel in his hands. “Would you like to

help me care for the resting place of the holy one?”

The holy one.

Andrew Nam Thuong.

It was a common enough expression here in the Mekong Delta.

There was no need to use the name of Andrew Nam Thuong —

everyone knew who *the holy one* was.

Born into a wealthy family, he had eventually become the

mayor of his village. A lifelong Catholic, he served as

a catechist to others and was taken in the persecutions

of the early 1800s. After months of confinement and

torture, including being put on display in a small bamboo

cage, he was forced into exile. On the forced march to

My-Tho, he had died from exhaustion and dehydration.

His body had been left on the roadside for insects and

animals, but a group of the faithful had slipped in

under cover of darkness and retrieved it, honored to

be able to offer their martyr a place in consecrated

ground.

Beatified in 1909 by Pope Leo, there were rumors that

Blessed Andrew had interceded for people in peril, actually

appearing in physical form to guide and assist those in

need. There was a cause before the Church for his full

canonization, along with many others who had died for the

faith in the persecutions of Minh-Mang.

Walter nodded to the older priest, then reached out and

took the tools, rifle slung behind his back. He fell

briskly into step as they headed out to the cemetery

behind the low-roofed building. The graves were old,

many unmarked, and it was only through oral history and

the few records that had survived that there was any

idea of which grave belonged to *the holy one.*

Since there was no definitive record, and since it was only

proper, all the graves were tended with the same care and

respect, but through the centuries legend had arisen and

one site was looked upon as the final earthly resting

place of the holy one.

Walter handed the rake to the older man, then dropped

wordlessly to his knees to begin to pull the few weeds

that had dared to show their heads since the last time

the graves had been cared for. From the courtyard of

the church he could hear the sound of children laughing,

shrieks of merriment as they chased one another, safe

in the church’s embrace.

It was rumored that Blessed Andrew had been a truly devout

servant of God, devoted to the Eucharist. Despite his

wealth and political advantages, he had lived austerely,

fasted continuously, and spent much time in prayer and

meditation.

Walter sighed. Prayer and meditation. It had become more

important to him since he’d arrived in Viet Nam some six

months ago. Searching for comfort, blindly seeking relief

in something other than the ever-present sex and drugs

favored by so many over here, he had finally found this

small church. Depending on where his unit was at any

given time, and what they were called upon to do, Walter

made the two to four hour trek to the church as often as

he could — depending on the goodness of his CO for

permission to get away from the death and destruction

of the war.

It tore at him — this twin pull in his life. Patriot.

Soldier — following the orders his country had given

him. Bringing wreckage and ruin to this already severely

damaged land and its people.

Catholic. Servant. A young man who only wanted to know

what God was calling him to do with his life. He glanced

down in awe as he realized he was at *the* grave, his

hands resting on the soil that covered a martyr — a man

who could someday be a saint.

Maybe the holy one could work a small miracle — help

poor Walter Skinner figure out what to do with his life

once he got back to the World. That would be a small

miracle indeed, from a man who was rumored to have

been able to be in two places at one time.

“Give me guidance,” Walter murmured. Maybe that was how

the holy one found time for prayer and meditation. One

self could be out working for the poor, teaching and

guiding them, while the other self was locked away in

prayer, restoring the soul, seeking the strength to deal

with the atrocities that arose daily.

“I could use a little of that ability,” he said under

his breath. “A little strength, please, Lord.”

“Pardon?” Father Madden paused in his raking, elbow resting

on the handle as a trickle of sweat made its way down his

face. “Did you say something?”

Walter smiled. “I was just saying, Father, that I needed …”

He broke off as the air was rent with a woman’s terrible

screech. He looked around in confusion, then as children’s

wails joined in, he leapt to his feet and raced after the

priest, back to the church.

What the hell was going on?

Walter followed Father Madden around a corner, then slammed

to a sudden halt as a wall suddenly seemed to materialize in

front of him. Through blurry eyes and ringing ears, he

could vaguely see it wasn’t a wall, but a fist — a really

*huge* fist — that had stopped him. He began to fold up,

like a mangled board book, with one limb going in one

direction, another going the opposite and the most

frustrating feeling that none of them were under his

control.

He fell sideways, into a door, then somehow twisted and

slipped to his knees on the tiled floor of the church

vestibule. The world was growing dark. He tried to lift

his head to see what was wrong with the sun, but his neck

would not cooperate. An eclipse, maybe. It was the only

thing that would explain the sudden darkness.

He felt wetness on his face and managed to make a hand

obey him, dragging it upward to wipe his cheek. Wet,

yes, but sticky, too. That was odd. He tried to look down

at his hand, but his eyes had grown heavy and were shut

now, refusing to open again.

Something was very wrong and the thought of his mother’s

face crashed across his remaining consciousness. He felt

very bad and it occurred to him he’d been hurt and she

would not like that at all. This was a church, a place

of safety. If he was going to be hurt, it shouldn’t be

here, in the church.

The rest of his body folded up on the ground and his

head dropped back to lie on the cool tiles. He lay

quietly now, still confused, still not well, but no longer

fighting his recalcitrant limbs.

What the hell had happened?

It was the last question that crossed his mind and there

seemed to be an answer this time. It was a sound, as if

someone were trying to tell him something. He strained

to listen.

Tap, tap, tap.

It made him shudder.

Tap, tap, tap.

It grew closer and he willed himself to lay still as the

sound stopped near him.

There was an immeasurable time of silence, and then it began

again.

Tap, tap, tap.

Moving away, receding into the distance.

Tap, tap, tap.

It filled him with dread and overwhelmed the pain in his

head.

Tap, tap, tap.

Walter groaned softly, exhausted, and let the sound and

the pain and the confusion and fear fade away as he finally

gave in to the darkness.

And in the courtyard, one last sound echoed.

Tap.

Tap.

Tap.

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

Crystal City, Virginia

November 5, 2002 11:17 p.m.

He’d gone to the gym and worked out this evening.

It put him behind on the never-ending flow of

documents that required his perusal, notes, and

signature, but it was a necessity. He couldn’t

function if he didn’t work out on a regular basis.

The shower at the gym had been low on hot water,

so he’d cut it short there, and come home to luxuriate

in his own flow of steamy water. He was dressed again,

albeit only in a pair of sweats and a T-shirt, but he

was comfortable. He’d warmed up a single lasagna,

fixed a couple of pieces of garlic bread, and opened

a lovely cabernet from a local Virginia winery. It

hadn’t been a bad meal. He’d been busy with the

work he’d brought home ever since. It always amazed

him how petty so many of the memos were that crossed

his desk.

He had looked at his empty wine glass and risen, intent

on a refill, when the phone rang. He answered without

thinking. “Skinner.” He glanced at the clock as he

spoke. It was late — past 11:00 — and he still had

paperwork to do before he went to bed. Who the hell

was calling at this hour?

“Walter Skinner?” the voice asked. “Walter Skinner

who was in country in ’72?”

“Yes …” he answered cautiously.

“I need your help, Walter.”

“Who the hell is this?”

“Father Madden, from the church. You remember me,

don’t you?” The man spoke in a hushed, yet intense

tone, and sounded out of breath.

“Father Madden?” Skinner shook his head. He hadn’t

thought about Father Madden in — Good Lord! — at

least 30 years. “I, uh, don’t know what to say.” He

paused, swallowing hard. “Your call comes as a big

surprise to say the least.”

“Walter,” the priest lowered his voice again, urgency

creeping in. “I know it’s an imposition, but I must

see you. Immediately.”

Skinner’s senses were on alert — the hair on the back

of his neck was erect. “You do know I’m in Washington,

right, Father?”

“So am I,” the man hissed. “Please meet me at the

Basilica. How soon can you be here?”

“What’s going on, Father?”

“I don’t know who to trust, Walter. I need help.

I’m in trouble …” The urgency in the priest’s

voice ratcheted up another few notches. “Walter —

I’ve kept up with your career. I know what you do.

You can help me.”

There was a shuffling sound in the background, as

if someone were moving around, shifting their weight,

and the priest spoke to someone else. “Andrew — wait.

Just give me a minute — I told you he can help us.”

“Who’s with you, Father? Tell me what’s happening.

Are you in danger?” Skinner had a shirt on over his

T-shirt now, and was strapping on his holster.

“Just come, Walter,” the priest said wearily. “We’ll

be here — we don’t have anywhere else to go.” He

laughed shakily and the line went dead.

He pulled on a hooded sweatshirt, zipping it far enough

to keep his gun out of sight. Cell phone in one pocket,

badge and ID in another, he grabbed his wallet and keys

and was out the door.

It took him fifteen minutes to make the drive back into

the heart of the city. No problem with parking at this

hour. He slipped the car into the curb, clicked the

remote to lock it as he got out and went to stand before

the Basilica.

It was huge — an enormous stone edifice with a tower

sweeping up over 350 feet into the air. Composed of

many different chapels as well as the large central

sanctuary, Skinner was unsure of where to go. As he

stood undecided, a side door opened and a figure beckoned

to him.

“Father?” he called softly as he stepped quietly to the

door. The priest was older now, his hair still a bright

white, though it had thinned some in the ensuing years.

He was still tall, almost as tall as Skinner’s 6’2″, and

he carried himself well for a man who had to be in his

seventies.

“Walter, please, come in.” The priest darted fearful

eyes around the barren sidewalk and reached out, taking

hold of Skinner’s arm and leading him inside. “There’s

not much time.”

Skinner stepped into the vestibule, blinking as his eyes

adjusted to the light. For some reason, the priest’s

distressed tone and sense of urgency had him prepared to

be meeting in shadows, instead of here, in a brightly

lit church vestibule.

“What’s going on, Father?” The priest’s hand was still

pulling him forward, but Skinner stopped, crossed his

arms, and waited for an answer.

“Please, Walter. Come sit with us in the chapel. Let

me tell you what I need.”

Skinner moved slowly forward, following as Father Madden

slid quietly into a pew in the back of the Crypt Chapel,

one of the smaller chapels in the church. “Who’s with

you, Father? Why are you here? Are you in danger? From

whom? Why do you need my help?” He spoke quietly as

well, in deference to their surroundings, but his voice

was hard, and his tone insistent.

The old priest nodded. He was calmer now, less agitated

than he had been on the phone, and seemed more comfortable

just being in the church. He reached out with his left

arm, beckoning toward the far wall.

As Skinner watched, a shadow detached itself and moved

forward, into the light. As the figure moved forward,

Skinner could see that it was a boy, a young teen, with

dark hair. His vision must have been playing tricks on

him because as the boy stepped toward them, it appeared

as if he were bathed in the light. Skinner reached up

and rubbed his eyes behind his glasses, then looked again.

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Just a boy — young, skinny, slightly hesitant.

The boy kept his head down until he reached the priest,

then looked up and smiled tentatively, and Skinner added

to his mental description. It was a young Asian boy.

And given that this meeting was called by a priest he’d

known in Vietnam, he was betting the boy was Vietnamese.

“Andrew, this is Walter.” The priest pushed the boy

forward slightly, nudging him until his hand reached.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said quietly, with a quick

look back at Father Madden. The boy’s voice was soft

but sure, and there was no trace of an accent. Pure,

corn-fed American.

Skinner shook the small hand, nodding, then looked at

the priest again. “Father, please — would you just

tell me what’s going on?”

“I want you to take Andrew — keep him safe.” Something

echoed quietly in the church, and the priest grew

agitated, his head darting back and forth.

Skinner shook his head. “I’m not social services,

Father, I’m FBI. If you have a problem, you have to

explain it to me …”

“Walter, please.” The priest laid his hand beseechingly

on Skinner’s arm as he rose, looking nervously around

again. “Come. Walk with me now and I will tell you

why you have to take Andrew, and why you need to keep

him safe.”

They walked slowly toward the front of the church,

passing various altars and statues in alcoves along

the way. Immaculate Heart of Mary, Saint Anthony

Mary Claret, Our Lady of Brezje. It had been a while

since Skinner worshipped here, but the names were

still familiar.

“Andrew is special, Walter. He’s not like you or me.”

Skinner raised an eyebrow as he studied the priest.

“Remember the attack on the church — the desecration

of the grave?” The priest shuddered slightly and

Skinner nodded.

“You never knew — you had to get back to your unit.

Remember? They were moving out, and you wanted to

stay and help with …” The priest fluttered his

hands helplessly. “…help with everything — the

rebuilding, burying the ones they killed, restoring

the grave.” He shook his head, sighing wearily.

“There was just so much to do.”

They walked on in silence, past the Eastern Rite Chapel

and Skinner fought an unconscious urge to cross himself

as he looked at the icons on the walls. “There was

always so much to do.”

“I made you leave, Walter. You were so upset …”

Skinner shook his head angrily. “I didn’t understand

any of it. I was 18, I was killing people I didn’t know,

for reasons I didn’t understand. I was searching for

a pocket of peace in an enormous unpeacefulness, and

instead, there was just more evil …” Skinner shook

his head again. “God, Father, I haven’t thought about

this in years.”

“I know, Walter, and I’m sorry. Andrew comes from there.”

“From Viet Nam?”

“From the church — more specifically, from the holy one.”

Skinner stopped moving and turned to the priest, confusion

on his face. “From the church?” He looked behind him,

studying the boy who followed them. “He’s too young,

Father.” He reached up and rubbed at his forehead. “How

old are you, Andrew?”

“Fifteen.”

The priest moved forward again, just as the lights went

out and the church grew dark. Two shots rang out.

Skinner whirled, throwing the boy to the ground, covering

him with his body as he pulled his own weapon. He rolled

toward the pews, shoving the boy underneath one. He rolled

again, this time toward the priest, slithering under the

pews until he could reach out and drag the old man toward

him.

He left a trail of blood, glistening in the candlelight

of the many votives that lit the racks before the altars.

A pool where the priest had fallen stretched into a line

of bright red that followed the priest toward Skinner.

“Stop,” Father Madden commanded. “Take Andrew and run.

Run as fast as you can.”

Another shot rang out and chips of marble flew from the

walkway where the bullet hit — barely two inches from

the priest’s feet. Skinner was crouched, gun pointed

upward, but there was nothing to point at. The first

two shots had come from the side, the last one from the

front.

“The boy knows …” the priest gasped. “You have to

get him out.”

“I can’t leave you,” Skinner hissed, gun still at the

ready. “Andrew, grab my cell phone and call 911. Tell

them you’re with a Federal Agent and I need help. Now!”

he ordered, tensing only slightly when he felt fingers

fumbling at his pocket. He could hear the boy

whispering into the phone.

“Gone,” the priest coughed. “You can’t save me and

you can’t protect him alone.”

Skinner could finally see something. There were at

least three figures advancing on them, sliding between

the chapels, the pews, and the shadows. He fired

twice, but missed both times and only elicited an

eruption of gunshots in their direction.

“Go!” The priest coughed again, blood flying from his

lips. “Save the b…” His chest rattled and he went

limp.

Skinner laid two fingers over the man’s throat, shook

his head and fired again. He reached back and grabbed

the boy’s wrist, pulling him backwards. They scuttled

crablike from the center aisle, huddling against the

far end of the pews.

“Father?” Andrew whispered.

“Shhh. C’mon. We’re gonna run.” Holding the boy

tightly, Skinner leapt to his feet and raced forward.

Past Our Mother of Africa. Past Our Lady of Peace.

Something whizzed by his head and he ducked further,

yanking Andrew along now as the boy struggled to

keep up with Skinner’s longer legs. He skidded left

at Our Lady of Hope and found the exit he was looking

for. With a wall between him and his pursuers, he

shoved the panic bar, and flew into the night. He

could hear sirens coming closer and he ran in their

direction.

He never saw the child turn and stare at their pursuer.

He never saw the man drop his gun and turn away.

He never saw the light that seemed to bathe the boy

and then, gently, fade away.

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

Act II

Hoover Bldg

Washington, DC

November 6, 2002 3:34 a.m.

Skinner looked over at the boy. He was sleeping on the

couch in his office, on his side with one arm curled

under his head to make a pillow. He looked younger

in his sleep, and very vulnerable. Skinner shook his

head and removed his glasses, pinching the bridge of his

nose out of habit as he tried to beat back the headache

that threatened to explode his head. He opened his

desk drawer, pulled out a bottle of aspirin and dry-

swallowed three.

The boy curled more tightly on the couch and Skinner

took his raincoat from the rack, and laid it gently

over him. The kid’s clothes had blood on them. He

looked down at himself. So did his, for that matter.

He checked the clock again — after 3:30 — and he

was lucky he wasn’t still at the church. It was only

because of his position that he had been able to leave

and take the boy with him. He reached up and rubbed

his neck with both hands, then began to pace. He’d

put the boy in protective custody, but he wouldn’t

be able to keep him at the FBI. He still had to work

in — he looked at his watch this time — about 4 hours.

He needed clothes, the boy needed clothes. He needed

information. Hell — he needed help.

He went to his desk, thumbed through the rolodex and

dialed a number. It rang twice, then a muffled voice

answered.

“Mulder.”

“This is Skinner.” He could hear the man straighten up,

even through the phone.

“Yes, Sir?”

“I need you to come on in to work. Something’s come

up and I need some help.” He could hear Mulder mumble

to someone, and he shifted uncomfortably when he

realized it was Scully. Their relationship was still

a different concept to him, and while he approved, it

was still a bit awkward. “Can you bring me a clean set

of clothes — maybe you have a sweatsuit I can borrow?”

“What happened?” In his mind, he could see Mulder

getting up, starting to get dressed even as he spoke.

The sounds of feet hitting the floor, drawers opening

and closing, confirmed his mental vision. “Are you

all right?”

“I’m fine. I just — well, there was a shooting and

I … I’ll explain when you get here. He looked

over at the boy — he needed new clothes as well.

“And ask Scully if I can borrow a sweatsuit from her

also.”

Mulder’s voice was muffled again, but Skinner could

still make out the words. “Get your blue sweatsuit,

Scully.” There was a pause, then, “I don’t know.

Just get it and we’ll go.” Then clear in his ear,

Mulder spoke to him again. “We’re on our way. Are

you sure you’re OK?”

“Just get here,” Skinner said gruffly. “And thanks.”

He hung up the phone then walked over and checked on

the boy. Still sleeping.

He moved to the window and stared out over the city.

The streetlights cast a pale glow on the area and he

was struck by the beauty of the nation’s capital.

A city designed for one purpose — to serve as the

seat of the nation’s government. And with that lofty

purpose in mind, there had still been a concerted

effort to make the city one of beauty. Most cities

of this size were strewn with skyscraping buildings

jetting non-scenically into the sky above. But there

was none of that in DC. There was a city ordinance

that prohibited such Goliath structures, and because

of that, the scene resembled more of a rural theme

park than an industrial state.

Supposedly, when L’EnFant laid the plans for Washington

DC, he designed it in the mold of Paris, complete with

grassy fields, long reflecting pools, and a sense of

beauty that would be lost in an urbanized relative.

That vision of a French architect lived today in the

clean lines of white stone that faced the buildings,

the trees that lined the streets, and the pockets

of grass and shrubs that peeked up on every corner.

Now, as he waited he looked out at the serenity of

the city as it slept. He was surrounded by history

— past history, living history, history yet to be

written. The trees had shed their leaves for the

winter and yet the sidewalks were clear. Without

turning his head, he could see the Old Post Office

to his right, the National Archives to his left.

Across the street lay the Justice Department, and

he laughed softly at the thought that anyone could

think true justice could be established by a department

of its own.

Justice.

Thought turned his mind to the priest — it was up to

him to see to it that an old priest received justice.

He began to catalog what he knew.

The priest and boy were in trouble of some kind.

The boy was special. He had only the priest’s word

on that and nothing else to back it up. What was it

the old man had said? He came from the church.

Skinner looked over at the boy again. He certainly

appeared to be Vietnamese. But his accent was pure

American, so he had to have been raised here. And

he was far too young to be the offspring of someone

at the church at the time of the attack. Too young

by half. The priest had also said the boy knew, the

boy could explain. Well, when he woke up, that was

exactly what Skinner would expect. Explanations.

The elevator beeped and Skinner pulled back from

the window. He could hear soft voices in the hall,

then a quiet knock on his door heralded the arrival

of his agents.

It was time to get everyone up to speed and figure

out what to do next.

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

Hoover Building

Washington DC

November 6, 2002 7:10 a.m.

“It’s at the bank.” Andrew finished toweling his

hair and stood abruptly, droplets of water flinging

across Skinner’s chest. He glanced over as Skinner

brushed the front of his shirt. “Sorry.” Scully’s

sweatshirt went over the boy’s head next and he reached

up and began to run his fingers through his hair,

trying in vain to remove the snarls.

“Scully’s waiting in the office,” Mulder reminded them.

“If you two are done, I’m sure she’d like to know

what’s going on.” He studied the boy a moment longer

then added, “She’s probably got a comb or something.”

Skinner followed Mulder and the boy from the men’s

locker room back through the FBI’s basketball court

and into the elevator. They had let the boy sleep

while Skinner updated his agents. Several hours of

discussion and speculation later and they had only

been able to conclude that they needed more information

about the priest, and that they needed to talk to

the boy.

A short ride later and they were in the basement.

Scully sat at the desk, pulling what information she

could find on Father Richard Madden. It wasn’t much,

and she said so as the men entered.

“All right, then,” Skinner said in acknowledgement,

“back to you, Andrew. Father Madden said you knew

what it was.”

“And you said it was at the bank,” Mulder prompted.

“Can I have one of these?” The boy had his hand on

one of the danish Scully had produced while the males

were cleaning up. She nodded and he took a huge bite,

then mumbled, “Stuff ‘sat da bank.” He swallowed

and took another bite. “Father had the key to the

box.”

“What stuff?” Scully asked as the boy finished one

danish and reached out hesitantly for the last one.

“Go ahead.”

“Papers.” The boy’s mouth was full and he was looking

around. “Do you have anything to drink?”

“Just coffee.” Mulder started to pour a cup but the

boy stopped him.

“Never mind. I’m not allowed to have coffee.”

“We’ll get you something to drink in a minute.”

Skinner looked at the boy. “How long have you been

with Father Madden?”

“Long as I can remember.” Andrew looked longingly

at the half danish Scully hadn’t finished and she

pushed it over to him. He smiled his thanks and

went back to eating, ducking his head in mild

embarrassment as he saw the looks he was being given.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “I’m hungry all the time.

Father said it was ’cause I’m growing.”

“How did you end up with Father Madden?” Skinner

pulled a chair around to the front of the desk and

gently nudged the boy into it. “I mean, he’s not

your real father …”

“No.” The boy shrugged. “He told me my mother was

from An Ho, and she brought me to him when I was

just a baby.” He looked mournfully at the empty box

that held the danish, then turned to Skinner. “I

don’t remember my mom. Father says all we know is

in the papers.”

“Why were you running?” Skinner asked. “And from

whom?”

The boy shrugged again. “I don’t know. We lived in

South Carolina until I was eight. Father adopted me

and he had a parish there in Summerville — Saint

John the Beloved.” The boy frowned as he spoke.

“Then something happened. We left and Father wasn’t

a priest anymore. He told everyone I was his grandson.

We moved a lot. About a year ago, he showed me the

papers and told me they were all about me.” The boy

rose and took a few steps, then stood still as if he

didn’t know where to go. “He started talking about

how I was special.” He shrugged again. “I didn’t

understand. The papers were all full of things I

didn’t understand. Medical stuff, I think. Anyway,

I didn’t feel any different. I was just tired of

moving around.”

“So what happened?” Scully poured coffee for herself

and took a sip.

“I told Father I was tired of moving. He’d been home-

schooling me for years, and I wanted to go to a real

school. You know, play ball, make friends, maybe have

a girlfriend, go to the prom in a couple years.” He

sighed. “Graduate.” He took a few more aimless steps,

kicking at the floor with one toe, then looking up to

fix Skinner with a determined look. “I just wanted to

be a regular kid for a while.” He dropped his head.

“I don’t feel special — I’m just me.” He moved back

to the chair and sat, slumping down into its embrace.

Dark eyes lifted to look at the three adults in the

room. “What’s going to happen to me now?”

“I don’t know, Andrew,” Skinner answered honestly.

“I’ve got you in protective custody, because of what

happened to Father Madden last night. But I won’t be

able to keep you indefinitely. Child Welfare will

get involved eventually. In the meantime, we need to

figure out what’s going on and I think those papers

are the place to start. Do you know what bank?”

The boy nodded. “Bank of America, in Richmond. The

one on East Main St.” He kicked his feet out even

further, sliding deeper into the chair. “The key is

at the Basilica. Father hid it in the confessional,

while we waited for you.”

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

Bank of America

Richmond, Virginia

November 6, 2002 1:06 p.m.

It had taken two hours to drive down from DC. The

rest of the time had been spent getting the key,

getting the warrant, and getting the kid fed. He

really did eat all the time, and was still thin

as a rail. Skinner glanced over at the boy as they

waited for the woman to open the gate to the vault.

He looked over his shoulder to the right, to where

Mulder and Scully sat, talking quietly as Scully

pointed to something on the paper in the folder she

held. The boy moved forward then, and he followed,

waiting as the woman pulled a box from the wall and

set it on the table.

“Can we get lunch when we’re done here, Mr. Skinner?”

Andrew sat at the table, and Skinner could see he

was trying hard not to look bored. He’d been asked

the same questions in slightly different forms during

the whole drive down and it was a tribute to the boy’s

upbringing that he hadn’t told them all where to stuff

it.

“Mmmm-hmmmm” Skinner mumbled affirmatively. He had the

box open and was scanning the few pages there. He

was savvy enough to recognize “cloning” and “in-vitro”

but the rest of it was beyond him. He read a little

further, then gazed at the boy speculatively. If part

of these papers really did pertain to the boy, then he

was not only special, he was a medical miracle. He

gathered the papers together, closed and locked the box

and nodded at the boy’s eager look. “We’re done here.

Let’s go feed you. Again.”

The boy jumped up and raced out of the vault, heading

for the doors to the bank. Skinner followed quickly,

calling, “Wait for us, Andrew.” In the waiting area,

he saw Mulder and Scully rise, begin to move for the

doors and then everything seemed to shift into slow

motion.

A look of shock crossed Mulder’s face and he and

Scully both reached for their weapons. Skinner turned

to look at the doors just as Andrew cried out in pain.

Directly in front of him, standing by the double glass

doors, a man had the boy by the arm, yanking him hard

toward the door. Skinner pulled his weapon, crying,

“Federal Agent! Release the boy!”

People were screaming, an alarm had been set off and

its shrill cry echoed in the air. There were civilians

in the way, standing frozen in shock or laying on the

floor. Chairs were overturned, and as he stared at

the man holding Andrew, someone knocked a computer

off a desk, as if that would help anything. Scully was

on her phone, tucked in behind a desk, and Mulder

still stood with his gun pointed at the man who held

the boy.

The man produced a gun and began to fire and he could

see Mulder duck and roll and take cover behind Scully’s

desk. Skinner jumped over a woman laying on the floor,

making his way to another desk. In the middle of his

leap, another gunshot rang out and he felt something

hit him in the chest. He landed near the desk, rolled

behind it and lost sight of Mulder and Scully. He

looked down to see the entire front of his shirt was

covered in blood.

“Oh, God,” he breathed out, and it was as much prayer

as it was exclamation. He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t

move, and he couldn’t breathe. He saw the red on his

shirt growing larger and larger and he knew this was

it. It hurt. Oh, God, it hurt so much! He closed

his eyes because it was too hard to keep them open.

‘I blew it, I blew it, I blew it. Father Madden trusted

me with the boy and I blew it. I’m so sorry. Dear God,

I don’t want to die. I’m not ready to die. I don’t even

know who the boy is — what he is. Hail Mary, full of

grace, the Lord is with you. I want to see another day.

I want to walk in the park. I want to see the summer.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Please don’t let me die. I haven’t got anything to

offer — but please don’t let me die. Bless me, Father,

for I have sinned …’

“Shhhh — Walter. It’s all right.”

He pried his eyes open to find Andrew kneeling beside

him. The room was strangely quiet and the kid was

glowing. “What’s all right?” he mumbled.

He felt a warmth hover over his chest, then slide

inside his chest and the pain was gone. He could

breathe again and the fear disappeared. He reached

out a hand and touched the boy. “Andrew? How?”

“Shhh, Walter. This is not the time. Close your

eyes and rest.”

He was suddenly very, very tired, and all he wanted

to do was sleep. His eyes slid shut and he forced

them open. “Andrew, stay with Scully and Mulder.”

The boy nodded obediently.

“They’ll take care of you.”

“You’re doing that just fine, Walter. Things happen

the way they are supposed to.” Andrew reached out

and touched his forehead and he couldn’t stay awake

any longer. “Sleep now,” the boy murmured.

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

Medical College of Virginia Hospital

Richmond, Virginia

November 6, 2002 10:49 p.m.

“I think he’s waking up.”

Skinner recognized Scully’s voice and felt a soft hand

on his forehead.

“Call his doctor.”

He could hear a chair scrape against the floor as someone

stood and then footsteps sounded as the person moved

to the door.

“Nurse. Please get Dr. Mateo.”

Mulder. He should have known. But what did they do

with the kid? Was he here too?

“He’s waking up.”

He floated for a time, no light, no pain, not even

thinking. Then softer steps moved into the room and

someone lifted his eyelid and shone a light in. It

hurt, and he moaned.

A voice he didn’t recognize called his name. “Mr.

Skinner? Can you hear me?”

Well, hell, as tired as he was he’d be damned if he

was going to waste energy talking to someone he didn’t

know. He’d just go on back to sleep.

But before he could drift away completely, Scully

started speaking again. “He’s more likely to respond

to someone he knows.” Her hand was on his head again.

“Sir? Sir, it’s time for you to wake up.” When he

didn’t move, she ordered, “Open your eyes.”

He groaned, but pried his eyes open obediently. The

light hurt and he slammed them shut again. “Light,”

he croaked.

“Mulder.” Scully spoke softly, but the lights went

down almost immediately, and he risked opening his

eyes again.

“Wha’ happened?” He swallowed hard; his throat was dry.

Mulder appeared with a cup of water and placed the

straw between his lips. He took a couple sips and the

dryness was eased.

The woman he didn’t know, presumably his doctor, was

back at his side now, fussing with something on his

head. The penlight was out and she was heading back

toward his eyes, but he closed them obstinately and

barked, “No.”

“I need to check your reactions,” she said.

“I’m reacting.” He batted the hand that was fussing

with his IV away. “Leave me alone.”

The woman started to say something, then he heard

Mulder interrupt. The voices faded as his agent

walked the doctor out of the room. Good. Now maybe

he could figure out what was going on. But damn!

The hand was back at the IV. This was confusing.

Didn’t Mulder just get rid of that doctor? He started

to push it away again, but met resistance.

“Not this time, Sir. Put your hand down and behave.”

He opened his eyes in time to see Scully smoothing a

piece of tape over the needle in his hand. Mulder came

back in and moved to his partner, his hand coming to

rest on her shoulder. She looked up and smiled, then

returned her attention to him. “What do you remember?”

“The bank.” His eyes grew wide as he scanned the

room. “Where’s the boy?” He began to cough and Scully

had the water there for him again.

Mulder’s voice was hard. “They got him.”

“What?” Skinner sputtered, water spraying out of his

mouth. “That’s impossible.” He started to pull himself

upright in the bed, then stopped, shocked when there

wasn’t any pain from his chest wound. He looked

down. Hospital gown. He sat up. Still no pain.

He looked up in confusion. “I was shot?”

Mulder and Scully exchanged confused looks of their

own. “Yes, Sir,” Scully replied.

Skinner clawed at the front of the gown, but it wouldn’t

give. He reached up to untie the back, but couldn’t

with just one hand. So he reached over, pulled the IV

loose. Now he could get to the ties. Scully was

fussing about the IV, but he tuned her out. He ripped

the gown loose. There was silence in the room as he

stared at his own unmarked chest. Slowly, he lifted

his head and repeated, “I was shot?”

Mulder nodded, looking at him quizzically.

“In the chest?”

“No, Sir.” Scully was speaking now, as she held a bit

of tissue over the small wound on his hand. “In the

head.” She looked at her partner. “And I’m beginning

to wonder if it was more serious than we thought.”

“In the head?” Skinner lifted a hand and touched the

bandage on his left temple. “But … I remember. My

shirt was covered in blood. Here.” He touched his

chest, over his heart.

“Head wounds bleed like a son of a bitch,” Mulder

replied. “I know.”

“No, Mulder,” Skinner spoke emphatically. “I was

shot — here.” His finger jabbed at his chest. “My

shirt was covered in blood. I felt the bullet when it

hit. I couldn’t breathe.”

“We saw you fall, Sir.” Scully touched his head briefly.

“The bullet hit here and you dropped like a log.” She

shook her head. “No chest wound.”

“The boy was there.” Skinner looked around again.

“They couldn’t have taken him. He was there — with

me.” Skinner rubbed his chest again. “He touched

me. He said something.” Skinner closed his eyes,

rubbed his nose. “Where the hell are my glasses?”

Mulder produced them and he put them on, his headache

receding as the room snapped into focus.

“The boy was nowhere near you, Sir.” Scully was

looking at Mulder again, concern evident in her face.

“I’m telling you, Agent, that boy was right there

next to me. He touched me. He spoke to me. He.

Was. There.” He reached over, fumbled at the rail

on his left, and then grunted approvingly when it

went down. He swung his legs over and then stopped

abruptly when Mulder grabbed his arm. He looked

back over his shoulder, puzzled to see Scully standing

with her back to him. “What?” he grumbled at Mulder

as he tried to shake his hand off.

“Uh, Sir? That gown you just ripped off was the

only thing you were wearing.”

Skinner froze. “Oh. I see.” He pulled his legs

back into the bed and tucked the blankets back

around himself. He was blushing from head to toe.

” ‘sall right, Scully.” Mulder laughed and Skinner

scowled at him. “He’s back in the bed.”

Scully turned around. She was blushing too, and there

was an awkward silence, then Skinner said, “Well. I’ll

need to use the facilities at some point, so if someone

could …”

“I’m on it, Sir.” Scully headed for the door, relief

apparent on her face. “I’ll get another gown.”

“Get me some clothes,” Skinner commanded. “And get

me released.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Look, Mulder, while we wait, bring me up to speed

on the boy.” He was suddenly self-conscious of his

bare chest and he pulled the blankets higher.

Mulder snorted.

“Cold,” Skinner said shortly, daring Mulder to make

a comment. When the younger man remained silent, and

managed not to smile, Skinner nodded approvingly.

“You were saying?”

“We don’t know who took him, but we have a pretty good

idea of why. We’ve got it narrowed down to two things.”

Skinner raised an eyebrow in question.

“The papers you took out of the box. Scully read

through them while we were waiting for you to wake

up. They detail in vitro and cloning experiments from

the mid-eighties.”

“About the time the boy would have been born.”

“Yeah.” Mulder began to pace, one hand running

through his hair. “The source of the clone DNA is

weird though. It’s never really specified, just

indicated that the donor wasn’t living.”

“The Holy One.” Skinner murmured.

“What?” Mulder stopped, turning to look at Skinner.

“The Holy One. The boy said his mother was from

An Ho. That’s where the holy one was buried.”

Skinner cleared his throat and Mulder passed him

the water.

“I don’t understand.” His agent pulled the chair

by the bed and took a seat.

“When I was in Vietnam, there was a martyr buried

at this church I used to help out with. Andrew

Nam Thuong. The Holy One. I was there one day and

the church was attacked. They killed just about

everyone.” He reached up and touched the bandage

on his head. “I was hit in the head and passed out.

They must’ve thought I was dead.” He shook his head.

“The priest — Father Madden — escaped into the

surrounding fields with several of the children and

hid.”

“What does this have to do with the boy?” Mulder

studied Skinner carefully. “Are you implying what I

think?

“They dug up the grave — the grave of the holy one.”

Skinner leaned back in the bed, closing his eyes.

“They took the body.”

Mulder shook his head. “When did this martyr die?”

“Eighteen thirty something.”

Mulder smiled. “Then it wouldn’t matter. There

wouldn’t be any viable DNA.”

“You’ve never heard of the incorruptibles?” Skinner

relaxed against his pillow. “I know the religious

aspects of your work aren’t what interests you most,

but I’m sure you’re fairly well-versed on the more

well-known aspects of hagiography.”

“Incorruptibles are saints whose bodies don’t decay.”

Mulder gave him a smart-ass look. “Are you saying

this Saint Andrew was one of those?”

“Not saying. No one knew. He’d been buried for close

to 150 years.” Skinner shrugged. “I’m just saying,

don’t discount viable DNA. We don’t know.”

“There wasn’t anything to indicate the boy was a clone.

Nothing clear. Cloning technology didn’t exist when

he was born.” Mulder seemed uncomfortable in his new

role as skeptic.

“True,” Skinner mused. “But then, most people think

there’s no such thing as nanite technology, either,

don’t they?” He stared at Mulder until the other

man looked away.

“OK — so you think the boy is a clone of this —

this holy one.” Mulder turned back to look at him.

“Why?”

Skinner ticked off points on his fingers. “The papers

seem to indicate the boy is the result of some type of

experimentation — cloning of something, right?”

Mulder nodded.

“I swear to you, Mulder. I was shot in the chest.”

Skinner saw the skepticism on his agent’s face.

“I felt the bullet go in; I was dying.” Skinner

laughed as he remembered how the boy had seemed to

glow. “I saw the light.”

“Head injuries can do that, Sir.”

“The boy was with me.”

“He never left my sight, Sir. The man by the door

had him firmly in his grip. I watched as he was

pulled through the door and yanked into a car.”

Mulder fixed him with a firm look. “That boy was

never anywhere near you.”

“Bi-location, Mulder.”

“Hagiography again, Sir? The ability to be in two

places at one time?”

Skinner just cocked his head and stared at Mulder.

“That’s not all, Mulder.” Skinner touched his chest,

gently running two fingers across the sculpted pec

that covered his heart. He looked up at his agent,

calmly meeting his gaze.

“I was dying.” Skinner took a deep breath, still

holding Mulder’s eyes. “That boy healed me.”

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

Act III

Hoover Bldg

Washington DC

November 7, 2002 10:42 a.m.

“Any luck on the name? Dr. Nicholas Braden?” Skinner

was sitting on a chair procured from who knew where

down in the basement office of his agents.

“His name is actually well-known in scientific circles.”

Scully took her glasses off and looked over at Mulder

and Skinner.

“So you think he could have done this?” Skinner rose

and moved to stand behind her, reading over her shoulder.

Scully shrugged. “The technology didn’t exist when

Andrew was conceived. IVF — in vitro fertilization

— was just becoming a reality around that time.

Louise Brown was born in England in 1977 — she was

the first IVF baby. America’s first was born in Norfolk

in 1981 — also a girl. Nobody was even thinking

about cloning at that point.”

“But could he have done it?” Skinner was pacing now,

one hand massaging the small of his back. He may not

have any chest pain left, but he sure as hell ached

from the fall he took — whatever caused it.

Scully shrugged again. “I can’t give you any answers

that are certain.” She lifted the papers that had

been in the safety deposit box. “There’s mention of

transgenic research, adult bone marrow being used to

produce totipotent stem cells, recombinant DNA being

used to produce a genetic line with Mendelian traits …”

“Whoa!” Skinner stopped in front of Scully’s desk.

“English, please, for the rest of us?”

“Well, the donor is unspecified. It could be multiple

donors — it’s just not clear.” Scully picked up a

sheet and waved it at Skinner. “It looks like these

pages were torn at random out of some sort of a journal.

They’re not consecutive — each starts and ends in the

middle. The few dates I found are all over the place —

from 1972 to 1985. No consistency there, either.”

“The priest’s note said that Andrew’s mother brought

the pages with her when she brought him the baby.”

Mulder was leaned back in his chair, both arms

behind his head as he watched the interaction between

his boss and his partner.

Skinner picked up a page and began reading. “This one

talks about MAPCs –” He looked up. “Start there.

What are they?”

“Mesenchymal Adult Progenitor Cells. Those are stem

cells derived from adult bone marrow that have been

shown to multiply almost indefinitely in culture.” She

pursed her lips as she tried to work out the best

laymen’s explanation. “With the proper stimulus, these

cells could, theoretically, develop into any type of

cell in the body.”

“So you could grow a baby from these?”

Scully gave a semi-shrug. “Possibly. There’s current

research into using these cells to help treat Parkinson’s

and some other neurological disorders.” She sipped

her coffee and looked over at Mulder for a moment before

returning her attention to the AD. “We’re not at the

point of growing babies yet.”

“Not that we know of, anyway.” Mulder finally joined

the conversation and Skinner was glad the man seemed

to have found his open mind again.

Skinner put the page down and picked up another.

“What about this? Transgenic germline?”

“That involves identifying a specific genetic trait

in one strand of DNA, pulling it from the original

and splicing it into a new strand. The recombinant

DNA is integrated into the chromosome of the germline

cell and can be passed on to offspring as a Mendelian

trait.”

Skinner stared at her. “Again?”

Scully rose and moved toward the door. “Mendelian

traits? Remember your high school biology? Brown

eyes dominant, blue eyes recessive? Those are

Mendelian traits.”

“So our guy wanted to be able to pass on a specific

trait?” Skinner took Scully’s seat at the desk

and sat, waiting.

“It appears that way. Germline cells are the ones

that allow that kind of — inheritance, shall we say?

Somatic cells are the ones used for gene therapy — go

in, snip out the bad stuff, slip in the new, and voila!”

She waved her hand in a large circle. “No more Tay

Sachs.” She leaned up against the door, crossing her

legs at the ankle. “That’s not even possible now.”

“So what was our guy trying to isolate?” Mulder had

moved to the desk and taken the paper from Skinner.

“Does it say?”

Scully and Skinner both shook their heads, then Skinner

spoke. “No. But I have an idea.” He looked up as

Scully moved back to the desk and both his agents

stared down at him. “Let’s assume that I’m right, and

this guy was working with DNA from the saint. What if

he thought the ability to work miracles was something

that was determined at the genetic level?”

“Oh, please …” Scully snorted softly. “The whole

definition of miracle is something that happens that

surpasses natural powers and is ascribed to the

divine or to supernatural causes.” She shook her

head. “Wouldn’t a miracle gene shoot that whole

concept down?”

Mulder shrugged. “He’s not saying that the gene

exists, just that Braden may have believed it did.”

“And he may have thought he had identified it.”

Skinner rolled his shoulders and leaned back.

He shuffled through the remaining pages and pulled

one out. “Here, at the bottom, he talks about pulling

samples from the marrow of the … Damn! It stops

there. That’s the closest we have to an identity

of the donor.”

“He details failures on this page.” Scully lifted

another sheet. “Cells that wouldn’t divide. Embryos

that were deformed. Spontaneous miscarriages.” She

looked up. “This almost looks like a summary of time

put in and attempts made prior to a success. Like

‘see how hard I had to work to make it all come out

all right.'”

“He talks about one success.” Skinner lifted the page.

“‘With this power, I will rule the world.'” He shook

his head. “What kind of insanity is that?”

Mulder shrugged and backed away from the desk. He poured

a cup of coffee and carried it back to Skinner.

“You think the man was trying to clone a saint — to

identify a genetic ability to work miracles.” He looked

at Skinner. “I’m not sure you should be inquiring

about someone else’s sanity.” He grinned to soften

his words.

“This from the man who believes in aliens.” Skinner

rose and began to gather the papers together. “Sane

or not, we need to find this man Braden. He’s the

only lead we have to the boy — and I am, by God,

going to find that boy.”

“He worked at the Jones Institute in Norfolk in the

early eighties. Maybe we should start there.” Mulder

pulled Scully’s coat from the rack and held it for her,

then handed Skinner his before putting on his own.

“Norfolk’s only 4 hours away.”

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

Unknown Research Facility

November 7, 2002 1:15 p.m.

Andrew sat on the floor, his legs pulled up to his

chest and his arms wrapped around them. It was cold

and he was hungry. He missed Father Madden. He

needed to go to the bathroom. He was scared. He

didn’t want to be here anymore. He tried praying,

like Father had always told him to do, but it all

just seemed so pointless. It hadn’t helped so

far.

Tap, tap, tap.

His body stiffened at the sound and he began to cry

again. He hated this. The man was coming for him

and there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

Tap, tap, tap.

Andrew closed his eyes and pulled his legs tighter.

He dropped his head, forehead resting on his knees

and rubbed his face back and forth, trying to stop

the tears.

Tap, tap, tap.

The man had killed puppies. Little baby puppies.

Right there in front of him. And then ordered him

to fix them. Andrew sniffed and wiped his nose on

his pants. What kind of insanity was that?

Tap, tap, tap.

His arm hurt where the big man had dragged him out

of the bank. He wondered if Mr. Skinner was looking

for him. Would he even know where to look? Andrew

had tried to read the papers Father had put in the box,

but they hadn’t made sense. He couldn’t remember if

there had been any names in there. If there were, maybe

Mr. Skinner could find him from the names. He snuffled

into his pants. Mr. Skinner had to find him. He didn’t

have anyone else.

Tap, tap, tap.

The door opened and Andrew looked up, staring at the

man’s eyes. They were cold and black, and the boy

cringed back, trying to crawl into the wall.

“Ah, Andrew. You’re awake.” The man smiled but it

never reached his cold, black eyes.

“Please let me go. I won’t tell.” Andrew’s voice

was soft, pleading, and he inched away as the man

stepped forward.

“Andrew,” the man said softly, “I’ve been looking

for you for 15 years. I’m not about to let you go

now.” He reached out, grasping the boy’s arm and

Andrew shrank from the cold touch. “You are the

culmination of this life’s work.” He pulled the

boy to his feet roughly, fingers biting into his skin.

The doctor dragged the boy down the hall, no longer

speaking. Andrew closed his eyes, tears trickling out

beneath the long lashes. He offered up a silent prayer.

‘Please, Father, no more puppies.’ His breath caught

and he swallowed a small cry. ‘I don’t want to see

more puppies die.’

The man opened a door to another room and tugged him

through. It was a small room, with a long window

in one wall. Through the wall, Andrew could see people

standing in a line. There were about ten of them, and

they all looked scared. Most of them stared at the

ground but there were two, a tall black man and a teenage

girl, about his age, who were staring up, over the

window, looking at something he couldn’t see.

The man looked at Andrew, then pointed at the window.

“You have the power, boy,” he said. “And I gave it to

you.” He touched the window three times — tap, tap,

tap — and Andrew shuddered. “You will do my bidding.”

A shot rang out and Andrew jumped, watching in horror

as the girl cried out, then fell over, her chest

exploding in crimson. Andrew leaned into the window

staring in disbelief, then began to slide to the floor

as his legs gave out.

“You can save her, boy,” the man said. “You have the

power.”

Andrew covered his face with his hands and cried.

He wanted the puppies.

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

Jones Institute

Norfolk, Virginia

November 7, 2002 3:20 p.m.

“Do you have any idea where he might have gone when

he left here?” Skinner sighed softly and rubbed his

eyes beneath the glasses as he listened to Mulder

questioning the fourth person. A little browbeating

and heavy use of “FBI” had elicited a list of seven

names — people who had worked with Braden in the

eighties who were still employed by the Institute.

The local office was working on tracking down people

who had worked with the man but had moved on to other

positions.

The woman shook her head, but she cast a furtive

look about the room as she did so. Her hands were

clenched together before her, and she was sweating.

Mulder smiled up at Skinner — sure they were thinking

the same thing.

This one has something she’s trying to hide.

“Ms. Giametti,” Mulder began, “this is very important.

What can you tell us about Dr. Braden?”

The woman shuddered slightly, and clasped her hands

even more tightly. “He was a genius. An excellent

doctor — one of the best, if not the best.”

“But?” Mulder prodded gently.

It was all Skinner could do to hold his place and

his tongue, and let Mulder work the woman.

Her eyes cast about the room, almost as if she were

seeking a way out. She refused to meet Skinner or

Scully’s eyes, and she only glanced briefly at Mulder

before she dropped her head and studied her white-

knuckled hands. “He was — difficult — to work for.”

She cleared her throat and swallowed hard. “He was

a genius — he really was.” Her eyes rose now, to

meet Mulder’s. “His theoretical work was years ahead

of anyone else’s.”

“But he was difficult?”

“All brilliant men are.”

Mulder looked up to find Skinner smirking and he

turned away quickly, flushing. He shook his head

slightly, refocusing on the woman before him and

asked, “Ms. Giametti, do you know where we can

find Dr. Braden?”

Her eyes stayed glued to her hands and she shook

her head.

Frustrated, Mulder rose and removed his coat, holding

out one hand to keep Skinner from moving closer. He

sat at the table again, and scratched the back of his

neck. “Ma’am? We believe that Dr. Braden has kidnapped

a young boy and we need to know how much danger this

young man is in.”

The nurse’s head came up and she lifted one hand to

cover her mouth. Her eyes looked haunted.

Mulder narrowed his eyes as he studied the nurse.

“Is Dr. Braden going to hurt this boy? Has he done

this before?”

“I — I don’t …” The woman was pale, and her hands

were shaking slightly. “He, uh, well, it wasn’t known

at the Institute, but, he, uh, used human subjects.”

Skinner moved forward. “Human subjects? For what?”

The woman seemed to shrink into herself. She avoided

making eye contact with the AD, and began to fidget.

“You know what we do here, right?” She looked up

briefly at Mulder, then dropped her eyes again. “Dr.

Braden — he was working on various advancements in

reproductive medicine.”

“And that means?” Skinner tapped his foot on the floor,

a staccato sound — tap, tap, tap.

The woman jumped, her eyes skittering wildly around

the room. It took her a minute to place the sound,

and she relaxed marginally, lifting one hand to scrub

at her face.

Skinner and Mulder exchanged a puzzled glance.

“Reproductive medicine, Ms Giametti.” Skinner pulled

a chair out and joined his agent and the woman at the

table. “I’m afraid I don’t have time to pull this

out of you one word at a time. Tell me what you know

about this man Braden. Tell me what this man wants

with the boy. Tell me why talking about Braden is

making you so nervous.”

Mulder pushed back from the table and folded his

arms. Skinner got the message loud and clear. If

you’re going to screw up my interrogation technique,

then you do it. If the situation hadn’t been so

critical, he might have apologized — or laughed.

As it was he gave Mulder an ‘I’m sorry — what else

could I do?’ look and then fixed the woman with a

steely glare. “I’m waiting.”

“The Joneses — Dr Howard and Dr Georgeanna — were

still practicing then. They found out Dr. Braden

was, well, skipping some of the protocols.”

“And?” Skinner’s foot was itching to tap again, but

he forced himself to be still.

“He was allowed to resign. He, uh, left.” She clasped

her hands again, wringing them together.

One side of Skinner’s mouth pulled down as he stared

at the woman. She was lying again — he didn’t need

Mulder’s gift of interpretation to see that. But why?

“How do you know he left? How do you know any of this?”

Skinner pulled the folder over that Mulder had been

working from. It held the list of current employees,

and the positions they had held twenty years ago.

His brow furrowed as he found Linda Giametti’s name,

then his eyebrows shot up as he looked at the woman

again. “You were his nurse. You worked directly

for him.”

The woman nodded miserably. “He rushed things. He

made these incredible leaps. He didn’t follow the

rules, but he got things done.”

“Why are you so reluctant to talk to us about this?”

Skinner nodded toward Mulder. “If you aren’t

forthcoming — immediately — I am going to start

an investigation into your life that will make

Watergate look like a couple questions asked by

your friends.”

The woman covered her face with her hands and began to

cry. Mulder and Skinner exchanged looks that shifted

from puzzled to completely baffled. Mulder left briefly

and returned with a box of tissues, which he placed

in front of the woman. She grabbed a handful and

continued to weep into them. After several minutes,

the tears slowed, and then stopped. Skinner poured

a glass of water from the pitcher on the table, and

pushed it toward her.

“What the hell did that man do to you?” he asked in

astonishment.

“He gave me a child.”

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

Customer Service Zone – Central

Richmond, Virginia

November 7, 2002 5:27 p.m.

“The man kidnapped a boy from right here in Richmond.

It just happened yesterday. All the proper forms were

filed. Your people were involved from the get-go.”

Mulder stopped a moment and scrubbed his face in

exasperation, then turned his back to the Precinct

Captain. Or the ‘Customer Service Zone’ Captain,

as they were so politically correctly called here

in Richmond. He took two steps towards Skinner then

stopped.

The older man was standing by the door to the room

they were using, both arms folded across his chest

in as clear a message of closed body language as Mulder

had ever seen. He watched the local police captain

through narrowed eyes, and his brow was furrowed in

what Mulder thought was pain from his head injury.

He reached out tentatively and lightly touched the

other man’s arm, waiting until he had Skinner’s

attention. “You need to take something for the pain,”

he said softly. “Take a few minutes, get something

to drink. Take a couple of aspirin.” Skinner looked

past him and Mulder turned to see what had caught his

attention again. Scully was still talking to the

Captain. “Go on, get out of here for a bit,” he

reiterated. “Scully and I will have the warrant and

backup organized before you get back.”

Skinner stared at Mulder, then nodded slowly. He

reached over to the chair, pulled his coat from it,

then slid into it. Without a word, he walked out

and disappeared down the hall.

It took about fifteen more minutes to convince the

locals to approach a judge about a warrant. Given

that there was federal involvement and a big push

to get into the site they had identified as Braden’s,

Mulder felt confident that it would come through

within the hour.

“I’ll stay on this, Mulder.” They had the room to

themselves for a moment and Scully took advantage

of it to walk over to her partner and lean against

his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and rested

his chin on her hair. “You need to go find Skinner

and tell him we’ll be good to go. He needs to be in

on how many people we take and how we approach.”

Mulder stroked her back idly, but made no attempt to

move. “Does he seem OK to you, Scully?”

She shrugged within his embrace. “More on edge than

I’m used to seeing him.” She pulled back and looked

up to meet his eyes. “This is all very personal to

him. The priest being killed. You know he feels he

should have done something.”

clip_image006

“I understand that.” Mulder nodded and she leaned

back into him, tightening her arms around him.

“I still think he’s having an unusually hard time

maintaining his objectivity.”

“There’ve been some unusual things occurring. Whatever

he thought happened when he banged his head, I think

it shook him up more than he’s admitting.” Scully

reluctantly pulled away from Mulder. “And he probably

doesn’t need to be left alone any longer.” She stretched

up on tiptoes and met Mulder’s lips halfway, indulging

in a long comfort kiss. “Go. Find him.” She pushed

him gently toward the door, then sat and opened her

briefcase. “I’ll wait here.”

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

AAA Self Storage Facility

Richmond, Virginia

November 7, 2002 6:02 p.m.

“His car’s here all right, Scully.” Mulder looked

up at the five-story building. “I don’t see the idiot

at the moment, but I do see a piece of plywood that has

been pulled loose.” He shook his head in disgust.

“Captain Albertini said that we should have the warrant

within the next half hour.” Scully’s voice was worried

through the phone. “Just try and find him and get him

out. Convince him a coordinated effort to track down

Braden will be more effective than Lone Wolf McQuaid.”

Mulder snorted. “Not sure I’m the best person to try

and sell that story.”

“Do the best you can,” Scully said, laughing. “As

soon as I have the paper, I’ll be there.”

Mulder shined his flashlight at the door of the

facility. Down in the warehouse district, on the

James River, it was a run-down building in the midst

of other run-down buildings. More than half of the

area was vacant with boarded up windows or broken

ones. This building bore a weathered sign identifying

it as the AAA Self Storage facility. The front office

had a plate glass window, covered with iron bars that

cast eerie shadows as he flashed the light around the

interior. No sign of his wayward boss, and why wasn’t

he surprised? He didn’t expect it to be this easy.

The nurse in Norfolk had told them that she had been

desperate for a child — and she and her husband had

no means of raising the exorbitant fees in vitro cost

in the early days. Braden had offered her the procedure

for free — in exchange for help with his projects.

She’d been with him as he converted the upper stories

of this old storage facility into a state of the art

research facility.

And now Skinner, in probably the rashest move of his

career, had broken in and was somewhere in the building,

looking for Braden and the boy. Despite the fact that

they had nothing substantial to indicate Braden would

be here.

Mulder pried the plywood out from the wall and entered

through the broken window — assuming he was following

in the AD’s footsteps. Once inside, he shifted the

flashlight to his left hand and drew his weapon. The

first floor seemed to be what was advertised — a self-

storage facility. Doors lined the parallel corridors

leading into small 6×6 and 8×8 spaces. He moved

carefully through the entire first floor, finding stairs

leading up in the east, west and north corners. The

elevator — a large freight model — sat unmoving in the

office and he elected not to try it.

He pulled his phone once more and tried Skinner’s

cell. Still not turned on. Hell, the man probably

didn’t even have it with him. Mulder rubbed at his

forehead in frustration then decided on the east

stairwell. It was dark and dusty — dusty enough

to annoy, but not to help. The dirt tickled his

sinuses and made him want to sneeze, but it wasn’t

thick enough on the floor to give him tracks. He

still didn’t know where Skinner was.

The exit to the second floor was unlocked, and Mulder

moved on stealthily upward. Third floor — also unlocked.

Skinner had probably gone to the top and was working

his way down. Mulder entered the third floor and looked

around. From his vantage, it appeared as if the whole

floor had been opened up and then bisected. The room

before him was huge. A worktable ran along the back

wall, and empty animal cages were stacked on the other

two. In the center were larger cages, several work

stations, and an exam table. Mulder shuddered as he

thought of what these animals had been subjected to in

the name of research.

He moved back to the stairwell and went up another floor.

This door was also unlocked and he entered into a maze

of small rooms. It reminded him of a hospital — or a

prison. He moved to the first door and tried the knob.

Locked. He peered through the grimy window, then reached

up and scrubbed at the dirt with his shirtsleeve. A

second look through the window, and he took an inadvertent

step backwards, bile rising in his throat. A skeleton

lay on the bed, a rotting hospital gown still clinging

to its form.

The next door revealed much the same, only these bones

lay on the floor, and in the third room, the bones were

a puddled mass, barely visible beneath the window, as

if the person had been clinging to the door when death

overtook them. Mulder fought back the nausea, standing

bent over with his head between his knees. If Braden,

or anyone else *was* here, he was totally vulnerable

for the moment. He just couldn’t escape the fact that

this so-called doctor had apparently abandoned his

research, and left his subjects behind to die from

thirst and hunger.

Mulder went back to the stairwell and headed up to

the top floor. The door was locked. He frowned, then

studied the door. It was solid, steel-jambed, and

looked newer than the doors below. With his gun held

out to the right, he pushed against it with his left

shoulder — and then fell through when it opened

suddenly. Rolling onto his back he raised the gun up

to point at — Skinner!

The older man had his weapon trained on Mulder, and

stood unmoving for a long moment. Then he lowered

the gun, and reached down to pull his agent from the

floor. “God, Mulder! You make enough noise to wake

the dead!”

clip_image008

Mulder laughed shakily. “There’s plenty of them to

wake.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Did

you tour the fourth floor?”

Skinner folded his arms over his chest. “What the

hell are you doing here, Mulder?”

Mulder drew himself up to his full height and met the

AD’s glare. “I might ask you the same thing, Sir.

You are aware we don’t have the warrant yet.”

Skinner turned his back and started to step away.

“Get out of here, Mulder. You get in enough trouble

on your own. You don’t need to be here with me.”

Mulder took a couple of quick steps and grabbed the

older man, pulling him back around. “*You* don’t

belong here,” he hissed. “You’re going to do more

harm than good.”

Skinner shook his agent off. “You’re a fine one to

talk.” He took a step backwards, then stopped. “Look,

Mulder, I found signs that someone’s been here —

recently.”

Mulder shrugged. “Homeless people — coming in the

same way you did.”

“No.” Skinner reached behind him and pulled something

out of the waistband of his pants, holding it up for

Mulder to see. Scully’s blue sweatshirt. “Andrew

was here. He may still be somewhere in this building.”

He tucked the shirt back into his pants, one arm hanging

down behind him in an almost comical parody of a tail.

“All right,” Mulder said softly, “where do we start?”

“There’s another locked room over here.” Skinner nodded

to his left and began to move. “I was about to open it

when you, uh, made your presence known.”

Mulder trailed Skinner, then stopped at the door he

indicated. “Any suggestions as to how we open it?”

“What floors did you check?”

“Third and fourth. Why?”

“No sign of anyone?” Skinner was standing stiff before

the door, speaking in a hushed tone.

“No — just the ones he left behind on four.” Mulder

shrugged. “You think there might be keys or something?”

Mulder moved to an open area a short distance away.

“Did you search? Maybe we can find something to

force …”

He was interrupted by the sound of wood smashing and

looked back to see the door broken down and Skinner

standing on top of it — inside the formerly locked

room.

“Or we could just knock the thing down and make sure

everyone knows we’re here,” he muttered, moving back

quickly to stand beside Skinner.

The room was full of equipment — most of it

unrecognizable. There was a medical feel to it, and

Mulder was willing to bet that Scully would be able

to identify some of it — if she ever arrived with

the warrant. One of the machines was humming, a

soft, almost subliminal sound that made his jaw hurt,

and he reached out to touch it.

“Don’t!” Skinner cried as his hand connected with the

metal casing. A gauge on the faceplate shot into the

red and stayed there, and he could see the electricity

arc through the air as he tried to pull back.

The pain was immediate. He was blown back across the

room and it felt as if every nerve in his body was on

fire. He hit the wall, crumpled, and didn’t move.

Skinner raced across the room, dropping to his knees.

His gun fell to his side, forgotten. Mulder’s hand

was burned where the current had connected. He

straightened the younger man’s akimbo limbs and gently

laid his head flat on the floor. Two fingers at the

carotid in his neck revealed no pulse. Skinner laid

his head on Mulder’s chest — no heart sounds. He

studied the man’s torso — he wasn’t breathing.

The hairs on Skinner’s body were standing erect from

the electricity that bled off Mulder. His skin tingled.

He lifted Mulder’s chin to open the airway, then gave

two big breaths into the unmoving man’s mouth.

No response.

The rules of CPR were fuzzy in his head. Was it five

compressions or fifteen? Did five go with one man or

two man CPR? Did he use his whole hand or just

the heel? He studied his agent, realizing he didn’t

have time to debate the intricacies of proper rescue

breathing with himself. The man was dead. He gave

a couple of compressions, another breath, then pulled

back to observe and listen.

Still nothing.

Skinner could feel the panic overtaking him. He slammed

his fist down on Mulder’s chest — wincing at the

strain. This couldn’t be the right way to give CPR!

But he couldn’t remember, and he didn’t know what

else to do. Holding Mulder’s nose closed, he breathed

into his mouth again, two more breaths. His knees

were beginning to hurt and his own chest was tight

with the effort he was making.

And still Mulder did not move.

Skinner leaned over and placed his head against Mulder’s

chest again.

Silent.

Still.

No heartbeat.

No breath.

He was kneeling back, ready to resume compressions,

when he felt it.

Small.

Round.

Cold.

Pressed hard against his neck.

He froze, raising the other arm in surrender and

turned slowly.

“You’re a doctor, Braden,” he breathed, pointing

in desperation to the man on the floor. “Do something.”

Braden shrugged and nodded toward Andrew, who was

huddled against the wall, bare-chested, his face

fear-stricken. “Ask him. He can do something.”

He reached down and plucked the sweatshirt from

Skinner’s pants and tossed it toward the boy.

“Andrew …” Skinner pleaded. “Please …”

The boy’s face scrunched in pain and he began to

cry. “I can’t! Why won’t anyone believe me when

I tell you I can’t?!”

Braden looked at Mulder, sniffed disinterestedly,

and kicked at his leg. When Skinner leapt to his

feet, the doctor stepped back two steps and pointed

the gun at his face. “You’re coming with me,”

he announced.

“No.” Skinner said shortly and dropped back beside

Mulder. He administered two more compressions.

“C’mon, Mulder,” he begged softly. “Help me out

here.” As he leaned over to breathe into the man’s

mouth again, a shot rang out.

With no further sound, Skinner collapsed on top

of his dead agent.

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

Act IV

AAA Self Storage Facility

Richmond, Virginia

November 7, 2002 6:40 p.m.

There was something warm on his chest. Mulder forced

his eyes open and looked up into Andrew’s face.

“Are you OK now, Agent Mulder?” the boy asked.

Mulder nodded slowly. His chest hurt. His hand hurt.

He lifted the hand in question and looked at it. Burned.

“Wha’ happened?” he murmured groggily.

The boy shrugged. “I don’t know. I was locked up in

one of the rooms on the floor under here. I’d been

working on a way to get out and I finally did. I heard

a loud cracking sound — and when I got up here, I saw

you on the floor.”

“Skinner?” Mulder croaked.

Tears filled the boy’s eyes. “The doctor shot him.

He dragged him off to the elevator.” Andrew dropped

his head and his voice was a mere whisper. “I was

too afraid to try and do anything.” A sob caught in

his throat. “I didn’t want him to catch me again.”

Mulder reached up, touching the boy’s arm. “You

weren’t supposed to do anything. Not your job.”

He paused, breathing heavily, then repeated, “It’s

not your job. Our job. We’re supposed to keep you

safe.”

“But what about Mr. Skinner?” The boy’s face was a

mask of worry and despair.

“Skinner can take care of himself. He’s surprisingly

resilient.” Mulder smiled at the boy. “You’d be

amazed at what he’s been through and lived to tell

the tale.”

“The doctor is mean,” Andrew announced. “He’s scary.

I, uh, I think he’s insane.”

Mulder laughed. “No surprise there. I think we can

all agree on that point.” He tried to pull himself

up, failing when his legs refused to cooperate. “Look,

Andrew, do you think you can help me up?”

The boy shook his head slowly. “I don’t think you

should get up. You were hurt pretty bad.”

Mulder’s eyes narrowed as he studied the boy. “I

thought you were downstairs when it happened.”

“I was. I, uh, I mean, it just looks like you were

hurt pretty bad.” The boy slid back from Mulder,

composing himself. “Anyway, Agent Scully is almost

here. She’ll know what to do.”

Mulder twisted his head, craning to look at the doorway.

“How do you know she’s here?”

“I can hear them, can’t you?” The boy smiled and cocked

his head, pointing at the east stairwell.

Mulder focused and sure enough, he could hear steps,

and then, whispered conversation, and then Scully and

another man were shoving open the door and coming

through — she went low and the other man went high.

Mulder nodded approvingly. Scully preferred to come

in low.

“Over here!” he called, waving. “Braden’s gone.”

Scully holstered her weapon and raced to his side.

Her hands began a frantic journey over his body, first

at the wound on his hand, then across his torso, checking

for broken bones. She traced his arms and legs and then

held his face gently, looking into his eyes. “Hey, you,”

she whispered. “You all right?”

Mulder nodded. “Something knocked me back from the

wall over there.” He nodded in the direction of the

bank of machinery. “It was shocking.” He smirked

up at her, the smirk turning into a full-blown

smile when she rolled her eyes and smacked him — oh

so carefully — on the arm.

“You’ll live,” she said, rising. She reached down

and offered him a hand and this time his legs were

willing to work. Seeing him steady on his feet, she

turned to the boy. “How about you, Andrew? Did he

hurt you?”

The boy shook his head, then turned his back to them,

wrapping his arms around himself. They watched as his

thin shoulders began to shake. Scully moved to him,

wrapping her arms around him and pulling his head to

her shoulder. She stood there, just holding him while

he cried, making soothing little nonsense sounds and

rubbing his back.

Mulder watched, confused by the emotions this scene

was creating for him. He felt proud watching Scully

comfort this child, and proprietary as he observed

*his woman* being the nurturer. He shook his head.

Scully would not approve — but he couldn’t stop the

feelings. He also felt a little at a loss. Scully

had seemed to know right away what to do, and he hadn’t

even thought to ask the boy if he was all right.

Around them, the Richmond PD was beginning to take the

place apart. Doors were being opened, papers and

instruments were bagged and tagged, cameras flashed.

Braden wouldn’t be able to come back to this place

again.

He stepped closer to Scully and the boy, reaching out

tentatively to stroke the boy’s head, and was rewarded

when Andrew pulled from Scully’s embrace and looked up

at him.

” ‘m sorry,” Andrew said softly, sniffling. “I’m not

always such a crybaby.” He sniffed again and Mulder

gave him his handkerchief. “Thanks.”

There was a cry from the stairwell. “There’s a bunch

of dead dogs down here,” an unknown voice called.

“How do you want to bag them?”

Andrew started crying again, softly this time, and

he pulled away when Scully tried to embrace him.

“They were puppies …”

Mulder and Scully exchanged a confused glance. “Can

you tell us what happened to the puppies?” Mulder

asked gently.

The boy shook, an all over body shudder, then blew his

nose loudly. “He killed them.” Andrew swiped at his

eyes. “He killed them all and told me to fix them.”

Andrew looked up, anger warring with confusion in his

eyes. “It doesn’t work that way!” He hands trembled

at his side, and this time, when Scully pulled him into

her arms, he let her.

“Thrwrpplto,” he mumbled into her shoulder.

“What was that?” Mulder asked. He had one hand on

Scully’s back, the other, injured one rested lightly

on the boy’s back.

Andrew lifted his head. “There were people, too.”

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

Charlottesville, Virginia

November 7, 2002 6:40 p.m.

Skinner lay in the back of a van. It was dark, inside

and out, and he hurt. His hands were cuffed behind

his back — with his own cuffs, he felt sure — and

his ankles were wrapped with duct tape. His glasses

were gone so everything was out of focus, and already

his head ached. His left arm hurt, a sharp burning

pain across the bicep, and the cloth of his shirt

was sticky. He smelled blood.

The van stopped suddenly, and he jerked. Using the

momentum, he tried to roll up to a sitting position,

but was immediately overcome with nausea. Eyes closed,

he breathed slowly through his mouth, working to keep

the bile from rising in his throat.

“Shhh, Walter. Be still.”

Skinner’s eyes popped open to a fuzzy Andrew, shrouded

in the shadows of the van. “Are you all right?” he

asked the boy.

Andrew nodded. “Be quiet, please.” He cast a fearful

glance toward the front of the van.

“Can you undo my feet?” Skinner scooted toward Andrew

but the boy drew further into the shadows.

“I can’t,” he whispered.

Skinner lay still. It was both painful and awkward to

lay on your own arms and hands. It arched the back and

made your head fall at an uncomfortable angle no matter

how you moved. He closed his eyes, fighting both the

nausea and headache. “You need to help me get loose,

Andrew. Then when he comes to get us out, I can

take him.”

“I don’t think you can,” Andrew replied, still

whispering. “Your arm is hurt and I know you don’t

feel good.” He stared at Skinner from his dark corner.

“Shouldn’t you just rest, or something?”

As if Andrew’s words were a reminder of his own reality,

Skinner felt the exhaustion of the past few days steal

over him. His eyes slid shut and he struggled to

open them again. “Andrew,” he murmured softly, “if

you can’t get me loose, then you have to be ready to

run.” He rolled onto his side, moving inches closer

to the boy, but still not able to touch him. “Do

you hear me? When Braden opens the door, I’m going to

jump on him — and you run. Run as far and as fast

as you can, got it?” Skinner paused, drawing in a

deep breath as he fought to stay awake. “Don’t look

back. And no matter what happens — keep running.”

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

Customer Service Zone – Central

Richmond, Virginia

November 7, 2002 10:15 p.m.

Mulder looked at his hand. It hurt. The white

gauze bandage stood out in stark contrast to his

darker skin. The tape covering it itched. He

absently used one finger of his other hand and

began to pick at it. “I honestly don’t know where

to begin to look, Scully,” he murmured. “Braden’s

got Skinner — we’ve got Andrew. You know that

bastard is gonna wanna make a trade.”

Scully reached out and took his hand. “Stop picking

at the tape.” Her smile softened the words.

He turned her hand in his, bringing it up to his

lips and gently kissed her palm. “It itches,” he

said, his eyes staring into hers.

“I know.” She pulled her hand from his and carefully

stroked his stubble-covered cheek as he leaned into

her touch.

They broke apart at the sound of steps, and looked

at the door to see Andrew standing there, smiling.

“I thought you were hungry again,” Mulder said, looking

at his empty hands.

“The machine didn’t have any more chips.” The boy

shrugged. “Maybe we can go to Burger King before

they close?” he asked hopefully.

“You eat enough to feed a horse!” Scully walked over

and nudged him playfully as she spoke. “I can’t

imagine why you aren’t 7 feet tall and weigh 400

pounds!”

“A horse!” The boy bounced excitedly over to Mulder.

“He said something about horses.” Andrew was vibrating

with excitement. “I remember him talking about taking

me to the farm, to see the horses.” His excitement

quickly calmed as he dropped his head and added, “I

didn’t want to go.” He looked up to meet Mulder’s

eyes. “I thought it would be like the puppies.”

Scully looked at Mulder. “We’re practically in the

heart of Virginia horse country. Could be he has

something else around here.”

“Won’t be in his own name though.” Mulder paused,

thinking. “I’ll try and come up with some variants

on his name. Get someone to find out Braden’s relative’s

names, his mother and grandmother’s maiden name.”

Scully was nodding as she walked out of the door of

the small interrogation room they were using as their

office.

“What about that nurse? Giametti? Check that as well,”

Mulder called to her back, accepting the little wave

she gave over her shoulder as acknowledgement. He turned

and gave the boy a big hug. “That’s great, Andrew!

Thanks! You’ve been a huge help — you gave us a place

to start.”

The boy beamed and then sobered. “Do you think Mr. Skinner

will be all right?”

Mulder nodded. “I think Dr. Braden will want to take

care of him. He knows that Skinner is the only thing

he has to trade.”

“He wants me, you know.” Andrew’s head was down and he

dragged one foot in a circle on the tile floor.

Mulder bent slightly, placing both hands on the boy’s

shoulders. “He’s not going to get you, Andrew.

Scully — Dana and I — we’re not going to let him

get you.” He tightened his grip slightly. “You have

to trust me on this.”

Andrew winced slightly and Mulder released him. “I’m

sorry. Did I hurt you?”

The boy shook his head. “No.” When Mulder still

looked at him worriedly, he repeated. “Really, you

didn’t hurt me. I just, uh, have this feeling that

something bad is happening.”

“It’s been a rough couple of days for you, Andrew.”

Mulder rubbed the boy’s back. “I know this has been

like a nightmare. But it’s going to end soon. We’ll

find Braden and it’ll all be over.”

“How are you going to get Mr. Skinner then?” The

boy’s head was cocked at an angle as he met Mulder’s

gaze.

“Well, I may not be quite as big and brawny as the

AD, but I have been known to kick some butt in my

day,” Mulder said with a smile. “Don’t you worry.

When the time comes, we’ll get Skinner out.”

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

Rolling Hills Horse Farm

Charlottesville, Virginia

November 8, 2002 1:13 a.m.

“No more!” The agonized shriek was ripped from his

lips as the cattle prod hit him again. His knees buckled

and he hung from his wrists once more. He’d long

since lost control of his bladder and bowels, and

the smell of his incontinence and blood mingled with

the other odors in the night air.

His own cries echoed in his ears as he struggled

to get his feet under him and take his weight off his

overtaxed wrists. He had no idea of how long he had

been here. He’d lost track of time in the van, falling

asleep — or unconscious — somewhere along the line.

When the van stopped, and he came to, the boy was gone.

Distracted by concern for the child, and hobbled by

the tape at his ankles, he’d half-stumbled, half-

fallen out of the van, knocking Braden to the ground

but not doing any real damage. And certainly not

doing anything to win his freedom. Skinner sighed

and sucked at his lip. He’d bitten it at some point

and it was still bleeding.

Arguments and demands to see the boy had been useless.

Braden insisted the boy was still in Richmond. The

doctor claimed the boy had been left behind, locked in

a room on the fourth floor of the facility. But Skinner

knew better than that. The boy had been there when

Mulder died, watching with a horrified expression on

his face. And the boy had also been in the van, talking

to him while they traveled to this farm in the Virginia

countryside.

Skinner had fought as Braden held an ether-soaked cloth

to his face, trying not to breathe, but with his hands

cuffed and feet secured, it had been a losing battle.

He’d finally drawn a breath, and succumbed to the

chemical’s sleep-inducing properties. It was the second

time in a short period he’d been unconscious — first

in the van and then, here. He’d come to tied up in

this old horse barn, this particular stall having been

pre-established to hold a human being tied with arms

raised and legs spread. Skinner shuddered to think

of what Braden had used this setup for.

Three times since he’d been here, Braden had come in,

announced to the air, “You can save him,” and then

hit him with the cattle prod. The first hit had been

on his abdomen, and his bladder had released, but he’d

managed not to scream. Braden had left then, turning

off the light and plunging him into darkness. He stood

gasping, panting hard as he prayed for the pain to wear

off.

The second time, it had been on his arm. Braden had

torn the sleeve off his shirt and Skinner could see

that he’d been shot — grazed really. His arm had a

deep crease across the bicep, and the blood had dried.

Or it had, before Braden laid the cattle prod in the wound

and pulled the trigger. He’d screamed that time,

and lost his footing, falling forward to hang heavily

from his wrists. Braden had waited, as if expecting

someone to magically appear, then turned on his heel

and left. Once more, he’d been left in darkness — and

agony.

The last time was the worst. The point of the prod

had been placed firmly against his groin and held there

for an eternity. The front of his pants began to smoke

as the electrical current threatened to start a fire.

Braden had only stopped when Skinner had collapsed,

screaming, hanging heavy from his arms, slack-jawed from

pain.

The doctor looked around, as if there were someone

there that Skinner could not see and said, “You can

end all this.”

“Who? Can end? This?” The words dribbled from Skinner’s

lips in little drops of pain. Every breath was agony.

His crotch felt on fire. In some far recess of his

brain, he was almost thankful he’d already wet himself

because he had serious doubts as to whether he’d ever

be able to perform that function again. Or any other

function that required that particular body part rising

to the occasion. He moaned slightly and tried not to

cry out.

“Andrew.”

“He’s just…” Skinner twitched in his bonds, pulling

himself upright until his feet were beneath him and

his weight was off his arms, “… a boy.”

“He is far more than that.” Braden’s eyes glittered

madly in the dull light of the yellow bulb on the

rafter. “He is power — complete and total power.”

Skinner sucked in air, willing his heart to calm

and his body to cease to ache. No chance of that

he realized as even the slightest movement relit

the flames of agony in his groin.

“The boy is capable of anything.” Braden wasn’t

even looking at Skinner now. He paced across the

double stall, speaking to himself. “He can be

anywhere, do anything. He can heal — or he can

destroy.” Braden paused and stared at Skinner.

“He is the greatest weapon ever made — and he

is mine! The man jabbed a thumb at his chest.

“I gave him life!”

“God gives life, Braden.” Skinner coughed weakly.

“Not you.”

“I made him!” the man howled, furious at being

contradicted as he bragged of his accomplishments.

“I teased the vital components of that child right

out of a dead man.” He strode to Skinner, made a

fist, and punched the big man in the gut.

Skinner ‘whuffed’ as his body reacted. Air forced

from his lungs and he instinctively tried to bend

to protect himself, but his bonds prevented it. He

swallowed hard, trying to force back the sudden wave

of nausea that swept over him.

“I made life out of death,” Braden crowed. “Powerful

life!” He calmed suddenly and began to study Skinner

and the big man felt the first real tendrils of fear

seep like ice through his belly. Braden reached out and

touched Skinner’s crotch. The doctor’s fingers lingered,

assessing size and, perhaps condition. He looked up at

the AD. “I am always looking for good candidates for

my reproductive studies.”

Skinner stopped fighting the nausea and threw up.

It had the desired effect.

Braden pulled back his hand as if he’d been burned and

jumped back, glaring at the bound man. “You’ll regret

that,” he said, then he marched out, slamming the stall

door behind him.

Skinner looked up as Braden left the barn, the light

from the single bulb above his head going out as the

doctor denied him even sight. His feet still under him,

Skinner stood, swaying slightly, and tried to determine

how he was going to get out of this one.

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

Rolling Hills Horse Farm

Charlottesville, Virginia

November 8, 2002 4:10 a.m.

“God!” Scully breathed the exclamation softly into the

cold night air. “There must be twenty buildings out there!”

“Twenty-three,” Mulder muttered, the night vision glasses

stuck firmly to his face.

“He could be in any of them.” Scully rearranged her arms

to push down a particularly long piece of grass that persisted

in tickling her face as she lay beside her partner.

Mulder dropped the glasses and turned to look at Scully.

“The team’s in place. I think our best bet is going to

be a quiet but direct assault.”

“Two people for the smaller buildings? Three or four for

the larger ones?”

Mulder nodded and began to crawl backwards, down from the

crest of the hill they had used as their lookout point.

Below them, in a curve of the road, local officials and

FBI from the Richmond Bureau waited for instructions.

As Officer-in-Charge of this little operation, Mulder

quickly made the team assignments. “No radio contact,

unless you find the suspect or the AD. Anyone else you

pick up is a bonus. Take ’em down, secure ’em, do what

you have to do, but finding the Assistant Director is

our primary objective here.” He looked around at the grim

faces of his team. “Any questions?” Mulder waited a beat,

then said, “Let’s move.”

Agents in jackets emblazoned with ‘FBI’ and officers whose

jackets read ‘Police’ began to move. Pairs and small groups

spread up and down the road and began creeping across the

rolling hills and through the fields, all heading for the

loose cluster of buildings spread across several acres of

farm. Mulder and Scully and three others from the Richmond

Bureau slipped through tall grass toward a large barn off

to the left and farthest from the house.

As they made their way forward, they could see others

entering their assigned buildings like shadows disappearing

in the night. Before they reached their objective, the

radio at Mulder’s belt crackled. “Mulder.”

“We’ve got Braden!” The man’s voice was excited, nervous,

tense. “He swears he’s rigged the whole place to blow,

says we tripped an alarm on the perimeter and he’s already

pushed …”

There was a violent ‘BOOM’ and the barn before them was

suddenly engulfed in flame. The night shifted into day

as other buildings went up and the flames lit the dark.

People scrambled away from the burning buildings. Horses

reared, their frightened cries echoing in the night as

people scrambled to avoid their thundering hooves. Screams

filled the air. Mulder could see two people dragging a

man from a smaller stable, and when he looked behind him,

he saw someone else carrying a woman from the remains of

a small shed.

Everywhere he looked, there was fire. Two agents were

manhandling Braden out of the house — the only structure

not blazing.

He had set off at a trot toward the man, determined to

make him reveal Skinner’s location, when Scully’s cry

halted him. He turned to see her pointing at the large

barn.

Skinner was coming out, walking through the fire. He

moved steadily toward them, seeming to slip *between* the

flames. The AD had one hand extended, out to the front and

slightly to the left, and he wore a dazed expression.

Skinner cleared the barn doorway just as the overhead rafter

collapsed. Mulder darted over, catching the exhausted

man as he fell forward, dragging him away from the fire.

In the distance, he could hear the sirens as the fire trucks

finally responded.

Other hands were there, helping him lift and carry Skinner

out of the fire’s path. They hauled him far into the field,

and laid him in the soft grass. Scully was examining him,

but he lifted a hand and pulled Mulder down. “Andrew,”

Skinner gasped. “Did the boy get out, too?”

Mulder shook his head. “Andrew’s back in Richmond, Sir.

He’s still at the police station. I didn’t want to risk

putting him with Child Services until we knew this situation

was contained.”

Skinner was shaking his head violently. “No, no, no! He

was here. He’s the one that untied me — he led me out.”

The AD began to struggle, trying to get back to his feet.

“Shhh,” Scully soothed as Mulder and several others held

the man down. “Sir, the boy is not here.”

Skinner pushed upward one more time, then collapsed back

into the soft ground. “I saw him,” he cried. He lay

back, closing his eyes and whispered again, “I saw him.”

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

Epilogue

Georgetown Preparatory School

Bethesda, Maryland

November 13, 2002 7:45 p.m.

“Are you getting settled OK, Andrew?” Skinner asked

from his seat on the boy’s bed.

“All right, I guess.” The boy was standing by the

window, gazing out into the night.

“Classes OK? Having trouble with anything?” Skinner

rose and moved to stand behind the boy.

Andrew shrugged. “I’m a little behind, but the teachers

here — they said they’d help me in the evenings.”

“It’s not going to be all school, I hope?” Skinner

reached out and tentatively laid a hand on the boy’s

shoulder. When his touch was not rejected, he squeezed

gently.

“Not all.” The boy turned beneath Skinner’s hand and

looked up. “They’ve got a pretty good soccer team, and

Father Brian said I can work out with them for now,

maybe try out in the spring.”

“Sounds good, kiddo.” Skinner led the boy back to the

bed, sitting beside him. Andrew fidgeted uncomfortably,

his face revealing worry. “What’s bothering you?”

“Who, uh, how …” He flushed and looked away, fighting

some inner battle with himself, then met Skinner’s

eyes again. “This place isn’t cheap, Mr. Skinner.” He

swallowed hard. “They told me you were paying for me.”

Skinner nodded slowly. “It’s OK, Andrew. It’s no big

deal for me.”

The boy’s eyes were wide as he looked up at the older

man. “It’s a very big deal for me, Sir.” He rose and

walked back to the window. “I, uh, I don’t really have

anywhere else to go.”

“You’ll be safe here, son. Braden’s going to be locked

up for the rest of his life. No one’s going to bother

you here. You can have that normal life you were talking

about.” Skinner watched quietly as the young man moved

through the room, touching things without conscious

thought. It was as if he were reminding himself that

this place was real, it was here, he was safe. “I’ve,

uh, set up a small allowance for you, too. Father Michael

will give it to you however you like — weekly, monthly,

whatever works for you.”

The boy flushed again and dropped his head. His

voice was soft. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know I didn’t have to.” Skinner cleared his throat.

“I wanted to. It’s, uh, 80 bucks a month. Is that

enough?”

The boy shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s way more than

I’ve ever had before.” He rubbed one toe back and forth

across the rug, staring downward at its path. “You

don’t have to,” he repeated.

The room was silent for a moment, neither one looking

at the other, then Andrew moved. He came to stand

in front of Skinner, waiting for the man to look up

and meet his eyes. “I can’t give you what you want.”

He spread his hands helplessly. “I can’t give you

anything.”

Skinner shook his head. “I don’t want anything, Andrew.”

He reached up and took the boy’s hand, bringing it to

his heart. “You already gave me my life.”

The boy pulled back slowly, breaking contact with the

AD, and then stepped back. “I didn’t do anything.”

“You were there. You healed me. You healed Mulder.”

Andrew shook his head. “You’re talking miracles.

You sound like Dr. Braden.” It was an accusation.

“No,” Skinner corrected him gently. “Not like him

at all. I don’t want to *use* you, Andrew. I’m just

privileged to know you. And I’m more grateful than

you can know for what’s been given to me.”

Andrew turned, facing away from Skinner and the big

man waited patiently. As he watched, the moon moved

across the window and the boy was bathed in its

silvery light. “Don’t you understand, Walter?” the

boy asked. “I’m not him — I’m not your saint. I

don’t care how I was made — I’m just me. Andrew

Madden. Nothing special, nothing unique. Just a boy.”

A cloud blew before the moon and the light faded.

“Father Madden was the only one who wanted me for me.”

His voice broke and Skinner took his arm, turning him

gently and then pulling him into a hug. He stroked

the black hair and rubbed the thin back as the boy

sobbed. “Shhh,” he soothed. “It doesn’t matter.”

Skinner pushed him away, holding him with two hands

as he waited for the boy to lift his head and look

at him. “You are special, Andrew. Just you. Andrew

Madden. As special and unique as they come.” He

reached out and wiped tears from the boy’s face. “You’ve

been through more in your short life than most would face

in ten lifetimes. You’re strong and good, capable of

great love and great deeds.” He shook his head. “And

you don’t have to work miracles to be worthy of my

respect and love.”

Andrew stared gravely into Skinner’s eyes. “Will you

come and see me sometime?”

The older man nodded. “And between visits, you call me

if you need anything. Money, clothes, whatever. You

can ask me for anything.”

The boy fell into his arms again and Skinner held him,

soft shushing noises flowing from his lips. When

the boy was cried out, he murmured, ” ‘m tired.”

“I know.” Skinner stood and pulled the covers back

on the boy’s bed. “Go put your pajamas on. It’s

early, but it won’t hurt you to turn in. You’ve had

a busy couple of weeks.”

Skinner fussed with the bed, then pulled a card from

his wallet and added his home and cell phone numbers

to it. When Andrew came back from the bathroom, he

handed it to him. “Call me — anytime, from anywhere.

I’ll come.” He stared at the boy. “You understand?”

“Yes, Sir.” Andrew climbed into the bed, and Skinner

awkwardly pulled the covers up.

“I’m not very good at this,” he said.

The boy smiled. “You’re doing fine.”

Skinner stood staring down at the boy in the bed.

“Well, then.” His voice was suddenly gruff. “I

should go.” But he didn’t move.

The boy lay quietly, waiting.

“You’ll call me? If you need anything?”

Andrew nodded.

“Well. I should go.” Skinner cleared his throat,

then leaned down and swiftly kissed the boy’s forehead.

He turned and stepped quickly to the door.

“Walter?” Andrew’s voice was soft.

Skinner stopped and looked back at the bed. The moon

was clear again and Andrew glowed in its light.

“You believe in God?”

Skinner nodded.

“Remember — people don’t work miracles. God does.”

One thought on “Faith”

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