Lady of the Rings

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TITLE: “The Lady of the Rings”

INFO: Written for I Made This Productions

Virtual Season 10

VS10 website is at:

http://imtpvs10.tripod.com/

AUTHOR: Ten

EMAIL: kristena@ocean.com.au

RATING: PG-13 for aftereffects of violence

CLASSIFICATION: S, Casefile, Angst, MT & ST,

MSR

SPOILERS: The Virtual Seasons branch off

from the show after “Je Souhaite”.

Minor references to “Dod Kalm”, “Kill

Switch” and the “Pusher” episodes.

Also references to Vickie Moseley’s Virtual

Season 9 story “Psi Time for

Skeptics”, and Vickie & Susan Proto’s story

Mirror Mirror“.

SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully are kidnapped by

someone from their past, who is

determined to have revenge.

NOTE: I made up a few places in Florida so I

could put various elements in them

to serve the plot.

ARCHIVING: IMTP has a two week exclusivity

to all Virtual Season 10 stories

from the day each first appears on the

website. After that, please drop me a

note if you’d like to archive this.

My website for my stories is at:

http://bitter-moon.com/tenxffic/index2.html

DISCLAIMER: The X-Files, the episodes

referred to, Mulder and Scully and all

other characters from the show belong to

Chris Carter and his team of writers,

Ten Thirteen Productions and Fox

Broadcasting, and are used without

permission.

No copyright infringement is intended, no

profit will be gained. Characters not

recognized from the show are either mine, or

from previous VS10 stories.

THANKS TO: Debbie, Suzanne, Gerry, Mac,

Vickie and Judie – all for showing

wonderful patience, help and willingness.

Each went above and beyond the call

of duty with this story.

FEEDBACK: Yes, please! I like to know who’s

out there in the ether.

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TEASER:

Late December 2002

Xavier, Florida:

Mulder stepped onto the beach and took in

the view.

Scully came up beside him and grasped his

hand. “Getting out of the unpacking,

Mulder?” she asked with affection.

“Look, Scully,” he said with contentment.

“Our beach and sea.”

“For the next week, anyway. Let’s hope that

Florida decides to let us have a

proper vacation this time.” This holiday

season was the perfect chance to try

again. A peaceful and happy Christmas had

been spent in D.C., then the agents

flew down here to the beach house they were

renting. They certainly appreciated

the change in temperature.

Scully leaned against Mulder’s side. “No

cases or recuperation or hurricanes or

humbug or psychic conventions or ‘magic’ ri-

He stopped her list by kissing her. Then he

said, “I’m glad that you decided to

tell your mom about us.”

“So was she. Well, she was ecstatic,

actually!”

“Bill wasn’t,” Mulder said with a grin.

“It’s not his life. It’s mine. And I am

going to live it how I want to.”

At the suggestive look that accompanied her

words, he said, “Hmm, anything

particular in mind?”

“Come inside, and I’ll explain…”

For their vacation, Mulder and Scully had

wanted someplace isolated – just the

two of them, with no neighbors close by

after what had happened on their last

‘relaxing break’ in Florida… So while they

were going over options, by chance

Scully had mentioned their search to her

friend Ellen, who happened to have a

friend who owned just such a place at

Xavier. The agents were able to rent it

for a lot cheaper than usual thanks to that

connection.

Mulder and Scully had booked this vacation a

while ago and looked forward to it

for just as long. The owners of the beach

house even gave them some leeway with

the timing, on the chance that a case might

prevent them from coming exactly

when scheduled. But it had all worked out

well.

The weather behaved itself beautifully.

Quickly the partners fell into a

routine of sorts. The morning started off

with a walk or jog along the beach.

They wore their swimwear under their clothes

so they could jump into the water

whenever they wanted. A few times they met

or saw other people along the way,

but it was mainly just the two of them.

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During the day there was all the time they

desired to spend in bed if they

wished. There was also shopping and

sightseeing, the choice of eating out if

they wanted. A few movies, either at the

cinema or on video for the evening.

Even though the partners could sleep late if

they chose, they found that they

were going to bed early – for undercover

activities – then sleeping well, and

getting up early. Their surroundings were

invigorating them and they were

invigorating each other.

xXx

Monday morning

After dawn:

Mulder and Scully had walked down to a good

spot on the beach to have a game of

volleyball. A line in the sand was their

net. If they got tired of it they

could just keep strolling along, carrying

the ball, but for now they were

having fun.

Eventually the ball ended up in the surf

thanks to a wild spike by Scully.

“Good thing you’re better with a gun,”

Mulder teased, wading in to get it. Then

he turned, hearing Scully give a cry of

pain. She was holding her shoulder.

Abandoning the ball, Mulder hurried towards

her. “Scully, what’s wrong? What -”

He gave similar cry of pain as something hit

him in the shoulder. A dart.

Poison or tranquilizer? He couldn’t tell.

But either would have them at

somebody’s mercy…

By this stage he had reached Scully and

could see the dart that she had plucked

from her flesh. Quickly they looked around

them, but there was no sign of the

shooter or shooters.

“They must be in those rocks over there and

just ducked down… Did you see

anyone?” Mulder asked urgently.

“No. Mulder, we haven’t got our guns, our

phones…” Since they went into the

water every morning on these walks, they had

been leaving their cellulars in

the house.

His mind raced. The house. Their beach house

was about five minutes away. There

was nowhere else and no one else closer.

Could they reach the house in time

before the effects of the drug or poison set

in?

Mulder knew he could try a mad sprint, but

that would send whatever the dart

contained more quickly through his system –

though the adrenaline response to

being attacked had already set his heart

racing – and he’d also be leaving

Scully… He wouldn’t make it.

“Come on.” Scully was tugging at his arm.

“We have to try to get to the house.

Now!”

As they hurried along, they looked around

for their assailants. Two people – a

man and a woman – appeared from behind the

rocks and started following them,

albeit unhurriedly. “Pacing us like we’re

animals…” Mulder muttered. The man

was carrying a large sportsbag, which was

most likely concealing the weapons

used to fire the darts.

“Know who…they are?” Scully asked Mulder.

“No. Can’t…see…” The sun and distance

and the drug were conspiring against

him. And it was getting worse. Mulder

inwardly raged. There was nothing they

could use to defend themselves. If he

grabbed a rock to try to use as a weapon,

their assailants would simply wait out of

range until they became unconscious.

Mulder thought that the man and woman had

probably both fired – one aiming for

Scully, the other for him. Then the darts

could have different dosages to

compensate for their different sizes,

because if Scully had gotten the same

amount as he had, with her smaller frame she

would have been out cold by now,

no matter how she tried to fight it. Or

perhaps a single gun with time to

reload…

Mulder wished that his brain would stop

spinning its wheels in over-analyzing

the situation. The little details didn’t

matter – they were toast. And a

terrible feeling of loss and regret hit him

as he labored along.

Supporting each other as best they could,

they had almost reached the beach

house steps when Scully staggered then

collapsed, unconscious.

Trying to hold onto her, Mulder looked back

and finally got a good view of

their attackers.

The man was unfamiliar. But the woman who

was staring at them in triumph was a

blast from their Florida past. Another time,

another vacation.

Mulder found his mind flashing back, even as

he blacked out…

END TEASER

xXx

ACT ONE

Early April 2002

Beckwell, Florida

Day 1

Afternoon:

Mulder could not believe it. Thanks to a

suggestion from Skinner, he and Scully

were on an extra week of vacation.

In the first week the agents had checked

into a lovely suite at the Sheraton

Hotel in Kissimmee – of all places – and set

about doing Disney World in the

times when they had enough willpower to

leave their bed.

Then the Gunmen had arrived, in town to

attend a psi experiment at a

convention. And naturally they enticed

Mulder to check it out. Scully

reluctantly tagged along. Soon they found

themselves knee deep in an X-File,

with a psychic killer picking people off and

trying to take Mulder out at the

same time. The killer had come close to

doing so before being ‘de-powered’

thanks to a ruse from Scully and the

combined effort of a team of psychics.

So all that had cut into their vacation

time. With not long left to go of the

remainder of their one week, Mulder had

received a phone call from Skinner,

saying that some renovation work was being

done in the FBI basement area, due

to water damage which had started in one of

the bathrooms. The A.D. assured

Mulder that the X-Files office was undamaged

and would not be touched, but:

“Considering the noise and inconvenience and

no new cases, perhaps extending

your leave for another week would be

appropriate under the circumstances?”

Mulder tried not to agree ‘too’ readily, not

wanting Skinner to get suspicious.

Their boss didn’t know he and Scully were

‘together’ and the partners wanted to

keep it that way. So he had replied, “I’ll

phone Agent Scully and discuss it

with her. I’ll let you know.”

So, here they were. The agents finished with

Disney World and came to Beckwell,

near Tampa, to enjoy most of their bonus

week. At the end of it they were going

to get back to D.C. in enough time for

Scully to catch up with her mother on

the Sunday before they started work. Like

their boss, Maggie did not know they

were lovers. Having two whole weeks of

vacation and not seeing her at some

stage of it was not something Dana wanted to

achieve. Not to mention how hard

it would be to explain just how she had

spent the break…

The place they were renting was a house that

the Gunmen had found for them, an

‘apology’ for dragging them into the psi

convention and causing Mulder to be

hospitalized three times in thirty-six

hours…

Langly said about the house, “You’ll love

it. It’s right on the beach, and in a

nice neighborhood. We’ve checked out the

neighbors. A retired couple live on

one side, and a single guy on the other.”

Scully grinned. “Sounds good to me,” she

said teasingly.

“Don’t get any ideas!” Mulder warned her in

the same tone.

Langly continued, “The people who live there

have gone away for a month, so

they’re quite happy for someone to stay and

keep an eye on the place for

however long.”

The Gunmen were right about the property.

Scully loved it from the moment they

arrived.

While in the bedroom, Mulder looked out one

of the windows. It gave a good view

of the back yard, the beach, and some of the

neighboring property on the right.

Of the latter, Mulder could see a blonde man

in his twenties sitting on a

sundeck next to a bungalow. He was having

his photo taken by another man while

a woman sat nearby, writing in a notepad.

While the photographer changed

lenses, his subject gave the woman a

dazzling smile.

When Mulder went downstairs, Scully was

talking to an elderly man whom she

introduced as Adam, one of the retirees who

lived on the other side. He had

popped in to say hello and see if they

needed anything.

After exchanging greetings, Mulder said,

“Looks like the guy next door is being

interviewed for something. There’s a

photographer and reporter there.”

“Oh, probably the local paper. That’s Joseph

Stevens. He’s one of triplets –

the only boy. Helps his father with the

family business. Turned it around, in

fact, and saved it from going under. The

Stevens trio are always in the paper

for various achievements. Very close-knit

family too. And Joseph is quite the

eligible bachelor. More girls than I’ve had

hot dinners.” Adam gave a grin.

A few hours later the agents went for a

walk, to stretch their legs before

dinner. Mulder saw a man approaching from

the opposite direction, jogging. He

recognized the face of the man he had seen

having his picture taken earlier in

the day. “Scully, that’s our next-door

neighbor.”

When they met up, the muscular young man

stopped and smiled. “Hi, I’m Joseph

Stevens.”

“Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.”

They shook hands. A gold ring gleamed on

Joseph’s right hand. It looked like

there was a pattern on it, but Mulder didn’t

get a good look.

“Adam tells me you’re both federal agents.

Cool,” he said at their affirmative

nods. “I’d love to hear about it sometime.

Do you both jog?”

“Yes,” Scully answered.

Joseph said, “Well, if you’d like to use my

exercise equipment, just let me

know. I’ve got a set up – converted the

bungalow.” He pointed back at his

property.

“That’s very nice of you to offer,” Scully

said.

“Well, I might get some great stories out of

it. I can lend you the spare key.

If I can’t trust federal agents…” He

grinned.

Mulder could see from Joseph’s expression

that he was also doing it out of a

generous and friendly nature, and not out of

any noticeable desire to make

moves on Scully. The guy could see that she

was a beautiful woman, but also a

beautiful, taken woman.

Joseph continued, “I usually do my workout

at two in the morning. So I made

sure the bungalow is pretty soundproof.”

“Are you an insomniac?” Mulder asked.

“No. I’ve always been able to get by on four

or so hours of sleep, and I help

my father run a factory that has extensive

shift work, so I keep weird hours.

My sisters wish they only needed that much

sleep too. Lets me get a lot done.”

xXx

That evening Mulder finished up in the

bathroom and went into the bedroom,

where Scully was waiting for him in bed. “I

like that look in your eyes,” he

remarked.

She smiled. “I’ve been thinking about that

‘magic tickle spot’ you’re purported

to have, according to Zelda of Armenia.”

Zelda was a psychic who had given them

advice and help at the psi convention,

playing a part in the capture of the killer.

She told Scully: “Next time you’re

feelin’ frisky, try for the spot right

behind his knee. It’s his most sensitive

tickle spot and sweetie, you will not be

sorry.”

Mulder got into bed. “I do have it, and it

is provable, and Zelda must be a

psychic, because that’s the only way she

could possibly know about it!”

“But you’ve never mentioned it, and we’ve

been lovers since -”

“Scully, yes, that spot does fire my

rockets, but I had no complaints about how

you’ve been igniting them, and I still

don’t. I’ve been too busy enjoying

everything you’ve brought to the launch pad,

as it were, to get around to

saying ‘try here’. Hell, you’ve found places

I never even knew were erogenous

zones! I think because it’s you touching me,

any place feels good.”

“Well, it is high time I gave your knee some

attention. Let’s see what sort of

lift-off we can achieve.”

To the moon…

Several hours later Mulder woke up in need

of water. Scully was definitely on a

mission to dehydrate him – as pleasurably as

possible, of course. Perhaps that

was subconsciously why he hadn’t told her

about that tickle spot, he mused. As

he went to turn on the lamp, he saw a strip

of light coming in the window. Once

he was out of bed, he quietly crossed the

room and peered out the curtains. The

light was coming from Joseph’s bungalow.

Mulder looked at his watch. Their

neighbor had not been kidding about

exercising at 2.00 am….

xXx

Day 2:

The agents shared the newspaper at

breakfast, finding and reading an article on

Joseph Stevens. It was in the Tampa edition,

which everyone considered the

local paper.

The article was about Joseph’s opinions on

where Beckwell should be expanding

its business community in the future. There

was a picture of him accompanying

the piece, a close up with his chin resting

on his right hand. The gold ring

was clearly visible. It had a zig-zag

pattern etched into it.

There was a section of the article where the

journalist gave a rundown of his

achievements. It also stated: ‘Joseph is a

golden boy in many senses of the

word. When I admired his ring (pictured) he

explained that it is actually one

of three. Each of the Stevens triplets has

one. They came from the Hercules

nugget found by a prospector in California

in 1970. No ordinary baubles for

this family.’

After enjoying breakfast, Mulder and Scully

drove to Tampa and spent the day

enjoying some of the popular sights. When

they returned to Beckwell in the late

afternoon, Mulder went for another beach

walk, this time in the opposite

direction, to give Scully some time alone

and so he could have some time

himself.

Joseph was sitting on his sundeck when

Mulder returned past his property.

“Good article in the paper,” Mulder said in

greeting.

“Yeah, I actually got some phone calls today

at work asking if I’d sell my

ring. Dad bought them especially for us and

would kill any of us kids if we

dared think about selling, whether it was in

single or as a set! Dad said that

when he saw that two of the rings were for

women and the other was man’s size

it was like they were meant to be ours.”

“That’s an interesting pattern on it. Does

it have any particular meaning?”

“It’s the outline of the mountain range

where the Hercules nugget was found.”

Joseph invited him to sit and they talked

about sports for a while before

Scully came outside and saw them. She came

over and joined in.

At one point in the conversation Joseph made

an ‘I’d forgotten’ noise, then

said to Mulder, “I meant to ask – I hope the

lights from my bungalow didn’t

annoy you last night. I saw your light go

on.”

“No, I just needed to get some water.”

Mulder saw Scully give him a searching

look, probably making sure he was telling

the truth and not covering up a

nightmare that she had slept through. Mulder

said to Joseph, “Exercising at two

in the morning… You really do that every

day?” He occasionally went for runs

at odd hours himself, but that was when he

really had to burn off energy or

emotions. Usually he waited until daybreak,

at least.

“Yep. I feel really cranky and irritable

when I don’t have my workout, so I

make sure I always do. Like a drug, but a

good one. Then I get my sleep. Then I

go to work.” He gave them a spare key to the

bungalow before they went back to

their place.

That night, Mulder and Scully went out for

dinner. Scully had said she would be

perfectly happy to rustle something up in

the bungalow, but Mulder would not

hear of it. “It’s our vacation. Let’s go out

and enjoy it!”

As they were coming back from a delicious

and very filling meal, Mulder saw a

woman getting out of a car in front of

Joseph’s house. “I think that’s the

reporter who interviewed him. Think she’s

back to do a follow up article?” he

asked. “Or an exclusive?” he added with a

chuckle.

“Not so exclusive from what we’ve heard

about him!” Scully commented.

xXx

Day 3:

“I think I’m getting the hang of relaxing,”

Mulder commented to Scully. They

had gone over and used the exercise room,

enjoying the workout. While they were

doing so, Joseph came home from work and

took the opportunity to use the

equipment instead of going for his late

afternoon jog, so he could ask about

life as an FBI agent. When Scully went back

to their place to shower, Mulder

found out that Joseph still kept up his

fitness routine no matter what.

“When I bring a girl home, it’s only for the

evening,” Joseph said. “Then I get

them a cab or take them home or they come in

their car. Otherwise with my sleep

patterns it’s too disruptive, and ladies

seem to get very grumpy when I leave

them for an hour or so to go do weights. So

it’s easier this way.”

xXx

That night:

Mulder jolted awake. Two things he was

immediately aware of were Scully’s warm

presence against him and the fear from the

nightmare he’d just pulled himself

out of. He lay there, all keyed up and

doubtful of returning to sleep any time

soon. He couldn’t remember any specifics,

but his pounding heart and straining

lungs told him all he needed to know about

the fright factor.

Scully shifted against him, brow furrowing,

mumbling in her sleep. Mulder had a

feeling she was sensing his distress and

reacting to it. So he stroked her

gently and reassuringly and tried to get his

breathing under control, hoping it

would be enough to keep her from waking up.

Damn. His nightmares were a lot rarer these

days, thanks to Scully, but he

could not avoid them entirely.

It looked like Joseph’s bungalow light was

on, unless the light Mulder could

see coming in the bedroom window was

moonlight. He wasn’t sure, but was tempted

to get up and check. A burst on an exercise

machine or hefting weights would be

ideal. He could get rid of all this energy

and wear himself out in safety.

He sighed, toying with the idea. Daytime was

one thing, but at night…

“Mulder?” Scully’s voice was sleepy, but

concerned.

“I had a nightmare. It’s okay.” He explained

his idea of going to the bungalow.

“G-man, I’ve got another idea to get rid of

the energy and wear you out. Come

here,” she said tenderly.

Afterwards she held him and whispered to

him. He no longer felt the need to go

pump iron. He knew he was now okay to get

some more sleep.

And he did.

xXx

Day 4:

When Mulder saw Joseph, their neighbor said,

“I’m going to my usual bar tonight

– it’s called Troy’s. Actually, have you and

your partner been there? The

food’s great.”

And you usually manage to pick up some take

out too… Mulder thought, but kept

that to himself.

Sure enough, that evening Mulder and Scully

were involved in a frenetic card

game at the dining room table when Joseph’s

car drove past and turned into his

driveway.

Dana looked up as the car passed by. “A

blonde this time,” she remarked, then

she went back to counting her money, which

at that stage was a lot. It was

eleven by the time they turned in.

xXx

Day 5

Early morning:

Mulder woke up from a very nice sleep when

he heard a car engine nearby. The

cab for Joseph’s blonde, he thought, and

spooned closer to Scully without

bothering to check the time. Nightmare-free

sleep welcomed him back easily.

When he opened his eyes again, it was still

dark. He’d shifted in his sleep and

could now see the alarm clock. The luminous

figures burned into his eyes, even

though he quickly shut them. After two in

the morning. Damn. Why did he have to

wake up now? He wasn’t even having a

nightmare! Even the sun was still asleep.

Joseph would be up; however, this morning he

could keep his exercise routine to

himself. Mulder was determined to recapture

his sleep status. He blinked his

eyes, trying to rid himself of the flash

burn figures more easily, but then saw

something that woke him up properly. Or

rather it was something that he didn’t

see.

There was no strip of light coming in the

window to intrude on the darkness

like there should be at this hour.

Mulder turned on his lamp and sat up. His

‘spooky sense’ was sounding a few

bells.

“Mulder? Another nightmare?” Scully sat up

beside him, blinking.

“No.” Getting out of bed, Mulder went to the

window. He could see through the

gap between window and curtain that their

neighbor’s bungalow was completely

dark.

When he told Scully, she pointed out that

there could be a lot of reasons why.

Mulder explained his unease. “We haven’t

known Joseph for very long, but the

guy is a creature of habit. He’s usually

well into his bungalow exercise

routine by now. I want to go downstairs and

see if his car is there.”

“What if he’s found a woman to do an all-

nighter with? She could still be

there. Or he could have had to go to the

factory.”

“True. I’ll just go have a look out the

living room window. Won’t be long.”

Mulder went downstairs. Joseph’s car was in

the driveway. Slipping out the back

door, Mulder looked over at the man’s house

and could not see any lights in any

of the windows. The agent pursed his lips

and stood tapping his foot,

considering what to do.

A minute later Mulder was back in the living

room, looking through the phone

book. There were two taxi companies in

Beckwell. Mulder decided to try the one

that was a well-known national company

first. He dialed, identified himself and

gave his badge number, then asked some

questions. The dispatcher immediately

recognized the address. “One of our best

customers.” Yes, a cab had been

ordered to go to that address to pick up a

female tonight. “Actually, Joseph

always phones up himself but this time it

wasn’t him. It was his date.”

The dispatcher radioed the cabbie, who was

still on duty. Yes, a blonde woman

had been picked up. Only her. Then taken to

a nearby motel.

There was still no light on in the bungalow

or any sign of life that he could

see from here in the house. Mulder tried

phoning, but there was no answer. He

decided he might as well go check. If he

ended up looking like an idiot, what

else was new?

Scully had appeared in the doorway by this

stage, dressed. She was carrying his

sneakers and a bundle of his clothes. He

smiled at her. She had probably come

down while he was on the phone, heard what

he was up to, and knew what his next

move would be. Good thing she was a quick

dresser.

Clothed and armed with a flashlight, they

exited the house. Scully shone the

light across the fence onto Joseph’s

bungalow door. Its padlock was still in

place.

They went up the side of the rental house

and through Joseph’s front gate. The

automatic security light went on when Mulder

reached the porch, but that was

the only light visible. He rang the

doorbell. Nothing. Again. Nothing.

“Something’s not right…”

“He could have gone for a jog,” Scully said.

“No moon. He’d be risking life and limb on

the beach. Even with streetlights to

see by, pounding the pavement wouldn’t make

him popular with the locals at this

hour of the morning. Exercising in the

bungalow is a different story. That’s

why he set all his equipment up in there.”

Mulder tried the door. It was unlocked. At

this, even Scully looked worried.

Joseph kept his bungalow secure, so it was

logical to think he would do the

same with his house.

“Mulder, we don’t have our guns.” Since they

were on vacation, they had left

them in D.C.

“If he’s been robbed, the thief has probably

already come and gone.”

Scully had brought along her phone and used

it to summon help. She tried to

make Mulder wait until the law arrived, but

he knew that she knew it was a lost

cause.

Within a few minutes they found Joseph in an

upstairs bedroom. The young man

was on the floor next to the bed, naked,

with a head wound. Lifeless eyes

stared upwards.

END ACT ONE

xXx

ACT TWO:

Early April 2002

Beckwell, Florida

Day 5

Early morning:

It was hard to believe that someone so full

of life and energy was now no more.

Mulder and Scully were subdued, but

determined to find out who had done this to

Joseph and why. The agents had not heard

anything of the attack, since Joseph’s

bedroom was on the other side of the house.

Deputies were checking with his

other set of neighbors.

Scully could not give a good description of

the woman she had seen as Joseph’s

car had passed the house. She had only

glanced up and not gotten a good look.

Mulder and Scully went over the crime scene

with the local law enforcement, who

on the whole were just tolerating these FBI

intruders on their turf. Mulder

knew the attitude wouldn’t be as bad if he

and Scully were willing to do only

what was required of them as witnesses then

go back to their place and leave

the rest with the locals.

No way.

The local sheriff, Ben Helton, surveyed the

room and shook his head. “Looks

like the poor guy brought home the wrong one

this time. That nugget ring of his

is gone. Unless it’s in a box or drawer

somewhere or has been knocked out of

sight.”

“Possible, though as far as I know, Joseph

wore it all the time,” Mulder said.

“It probably has been taken. But his watch

is still on his wrist and it looks

pretty expensive. His wallet was in the back

pocket of his jeans. There’s still

money in it and credit cards.”

“Some might be missing. He probably caught

her in the act and she clubbed him,”

replied the sheriff. A baseball bat had been

lying on the floor nearby and they

were pretty sure it was the murder weapon.

“Since things didn’t go the way she

planned, she might have fled without taking

anything else. Unless someone came

in after the blonde left.”

“The cab dispatcher said that a female

called for a cab, not Joseph. And that

that was out of the ordinary,” Mulder said.

“When the family is able to go through his

possessions, there will probably be

other things that have been stolen, like

jewelry from drawers, that we wouldn’t

know about otherwise.”

Scully nodded at this and said, “Items that

were quick and easy to walk out

with. At least the nugget ring is very

distinctive. Easy to trace.”

“We’ve got people checking out the motel the

cab driver says he dropped the

blonde off at,” the sheriff said as he moved

off to confer with a deputy.

Mulder had been getting a distinct ‘you’re

muscling in where you aren’t wanted’

vibe from the sheriff, but that was the

least of his concerns at the moment. He

looked at Scully. “I should have gotten here

sooner.”

“Mulder, even without doing the autopsy, I’m

pretty certain that Joseph died

soon after he received that injury. It

wasn’t from a fall. He was deliberately

struck and was probably dead before his

assailant left.” She touched Mulder’s

arm and he gave her a nod, swallowing.

A deputy entered the room. His name was

Powell and he had interacted with the

agents without any sign of ‘cold shoulder

syndrome’ before moving off to try

contacting Joseph’s parents. Mulder and

Scully and the sheriff went up to

Powell, the sheriff asking, “Any luck with

the Stevens?”

“No.” Mr and Mrs Stevens were on vacation in

Africa at the moment and were

going to be hard to catch. “I tried Joseph’s

older sister, Alice. The girl who

shares a house with her – Linda Hayridge –

was just about to call us herself

when I phoned. Linda and Alice Stevens had

been out nightclubbing in Tampa but

the housemate didn’t feel well and came home

early. She found that the place

had been robbed.”

“Alice is one of the triplets?” Mulder

asked.

“Yes. Alice is older. Jemma is younger. No

other siblings,” the sheriff said.

He and Mulder asked, “What was taken?”

almost simultaneously.

The deputy said, “Nothing in the housemate’s

room as far as she can make out.

The only place that seems to be touched was

Alice’s bedroom.”

Mulder raised an eyebrow at Scully. “Joseph

and Alice robbed in the same

night… Where does Jemma Stevens live?” he

asked the deputy.

“Locally, in a house with her boyfriend. No

answer on the phone. We’re

dispatching someone to go there and check

that all’s okay. And if she’s there,

to break the news. We’re also trying to

track down Alice in the clubs.”

Mulder said to the deputy, “I need to speak

with Alice’s housemate.” Soon he

was on the phone with the young woman.

“Linda, do you know if Alice was wearing

her ring tonight? The one from the nugget?”

Since it was the only known thing

missing from Joseph’s possessions, Mulder

was curious to see if Alice’s ring

had disappeared too.

“She never wears it out to the clubs,” came

the answer. “She leaves it at home

on those nights because she thinks it’s too

showy. Guys kept coming up to her

and giving pick up lines like, ‘I’d offer to

buy you a drink, but from the

looks of that, you can get me one’.”

“Do you know if it was taken by the thief?

Can you go with one of the deputies

who’s there, to make sure you don’t disturb

any evidence, and show them where

to look?”

The housemate and deputy were able to find

Alice’s jewelry box, where the ring

was always kept when not worn. Linda said,

“The ring is gone. But as far as I

can tell, everything else is there. You’d

need Alice to say for sure though.”

“But can you think of anything else that

might be missing?” Mulder pressed.

“No. Everything seems to be here, just

tossed out of drawers.”

“Like someone was looking for something.”

“I guess…”

Mulder thought for a moment then asked,

“Where does Alice usually keep her

jewelry box? In sight?”

“No. In a desk drawer, under some things.”

That explained the search.

When he got off the phone he told Scully,

Sheriff Helton and Deputy Powell what

Linda Hayridge had said, then: “Someone –

and it seems like it’s this mystery

woman – is stealing the rings that came from

the Hercules nugget. That’s all

she’s focused on, leaving everything else

she could have easily taken, even in

an attempt to deflect attention. Admittedly,

we’re onto her earlier than she

would have been counting on, but let’s hope

we can catch up with Jemma Stevens

in time.”

He thought the sheriff might pour scorn on

this theory, but Helton had to admit

that both rings being stolen exclusively was

something to follow up, especially

since there was one left. Hopefully a chance

to capture the thief.

Mulder thought for a moment then told them

what Joseph had mentioned about

people phoning up wanting to buy the ring.

“They were told he wasn’t interested

in selling. His secretary might have kept a

record of who called though…”

The sheriff gave the task of checking that

to one of his men, then answered a

call on his cellular. When the conversation

was over, he told Mulder, Scully

and his team: “The motel the blonde asked to

be dropped off at has no one

booked in matching her description. Looks

like she went there to lay a false

trail.”

Another deputy reported back that Joseph’s

neighbors on the other side had not

heard anything suspicious during the night.

Mulder asked Sheriff Helton if there were

any legends or powers attributed to

the rings or the nugget they came from. The

sheriff gave him a look. “They’re

expensive enough in their own right without

needing ‘special powers’, but I

suppose that would be added motive for theft

if someone *thought* they were.

There may be something about the rings being

lucky but that’s all I can think

of. Lucky to be able to afford them, more

like.”

“But the triplets were successful,” Mulder

said.

“Yeah. Until this happened anyway…” The

sheriff’s tone had an ‘I’ve been more

than accommodating with you but this is not

an FBI matter’ sound to it. “You

two have been very helpful, thank you. We

have your statements and will let you

know if we need anything else. But for now,

if you’ll excuse me…”

Mulder and Scully watched him walk off.

Scully said, “Since this is a local case,

they probably won’t let me do the

autopsy. I’ll volunteer anyway and see. Or

they might let me observe.”

He nodded. “I should go with Deputy Powell

or one of the others to use the

computers at the station – do some

checking.” He hesitated. “Or stick around

here in case something comes up… There had

to be some way to track down the

Stevens girls. And to get information on the

Hercules nugget.”

Before Scully could comment, Deputy Powell

had more news, and the agents

hurried over to hear while he told the

sheriff. “I was able to reach Jemma’s

boyfriend. Jemma is staying overnight with a

friend in an apartment building

downtown.”

“Is she wearing her ring?” Mulder asked.

“Yes. Her boyfriend said it’s on a chain

around her neck. No answer at her

friend’s apartment. Same with Jemma’s

cellular.”

“Call the building’s security and let them

know what’s going on. Let’s go,” the

sheriff said before Mulder could say

anything. But apart from a look, he made

no verbal objection to the agents joining

Powell to head for the apartment

building. Finding Jemma was the priority.

On the way over, Powell was telling them

that his father had been an FBI agent,

but the deputy stopped talking when he

received a radio message at the same

time as they heard fire sirens. A fire alarm

had been set off in the apartment

building in question.

Mulder couldn’t see any smoke or flames as

they approached. It looked like

everyone had been evacuated and was waiting

outside for the all clear. People

were also appearing from other buildings to

watch.

“This fire could be why we couldn’t reach

Jemma. Her cellular might be still up

there,” Scully said.

Upon pulling up as close as they could to

the activity surrounding the

building, the agents and Deputy Powell

looked around for the nearest person in

charge, whether building security or from

the fire department. The sheriff and

other deputies pulled up as they did so.

“Has everyone been evacuated?” Deputy Powell

asked the first fireman he could

find.

“As far as we can tell. We’re checking now.”

“I bet that’s a false alarm courtesy of our

thief. She probably set off a

hand-pull alarm in one of the hallways,”

Mulder said.

“All this for three rings?” Scully asked in

disbelief.

“There’s got to be something to them. Or

somebody thinks there is.” Again

Mulder wished he’d had time to do some

checking first. Or that he’d asked

Joseph more about the rings when he had the

chance. “The thief could have set

off the alarm to get everyone outside,”

Mulder said. It made sense. As the

residents and neighbors and gawkers milled

around, the thief could search

through them and find the unsuspecting Jemma

Stevens. Easier than trying to get

to her in the building itself. Then it would

be a matter of knocking Jemma down

– in all the confusion it could easily be

staged as an accident. Or getting

close enough to make one quick tug and the

ring would be gone and the thief had

an excellent chance of getting away in this

crowd.

“Find Jemma and we’ve got a good chance of

finding the killer too,” Mulder said

urgently. He hoped that building security

had found Jemma or were looking for

her too, but with this unexpected

development and complication…

There had been family photos in Joseph’s

house and on a wall of his bungalow,

so Mulder and Scully knew what his sisters

looked like. The agents hurried

along together, scanning faces, while Powell

gave orders to other deputies to

do the same.

With people weaving their way around each

other, craning to spot friends and

catch up with people and watch the unfolding

drama, everyone ‘looked’ suspect

to a degree. It seemed like all of Beckwell

had arisen from their beds to find

out what was going on and then watch.

Too bad we couldn’t use a megaphone, Mulder

thought. But that could draw Jemma

to the killer’s attention at the same time

as to theirs.

Suddenly Scully had to stop to help one of

the bystanders, a middle-aged man

who was having trouble breathing. Mulder

could hear an ambulance coming and

Scully indicated that it was all right for

him to keep up the search while she

helped the man. Mulder moved off.

Then Powell was at his elbow and said,

“There she is. Jemma!”

A strawberry-blonde young woman stared at

Mulder and the uniformed Powell in

confusion as they made their way over to

her. “What’s wrong? What’s going on?”

she asked in a scared voice. The ring was

dangling from a long chain around her

neck.

They hurried up to her, Powell saying, “You

may be in danger. We need to get

you somewhere safe.”

And tell her the bad news, Mulder thought.

He looked around while the deputy

said this and while Jemma was asking why.

Suddenly Mulder froze, his attention caught

by a woman who was standing on the

edge of a group of people about ten yards

away. She wasn’t blonde, but she did

have two rings on her right hand, very

familiar-looking rings. One was on her

thumb, the other on her index finger. She

wasn’t staring at the building or at

any of the bustle. She was staring at Jemma.

“Deputy,” Mulder whispered, “I think the

suspect is in sight. No sudden moves

or we might lose her. I don’t know if she’s

armed.” He gave a quick description

of where she was and what she was wearing,

while cautioning Jemma not to turn

and look. “She’s not even concerned that

you’re here, Deputy. All she sees is

the ring. She’s waiting for her chance. If I

have the ring, she’ll focus on me,

not Jemma, and not you slipping away to

alert the others. Jemma, give me the

ring. We’ll explain soon.”

The confused and frightened girl stared at

him, then at the deputy.

“He’s an FBI agent, Jemma, do as he says and

come with me. It’ll be okay,”

Powell said quietly.

Jemma pulled the chain off over her head and

handed it and the ring over, then

the deputy ushered her away, whispering to

her to act ‘normal’.

Mulder’s theory proved correct. The woman

made no move to follow Jemma. Her

eyes were now fixed on Mulder’s hand. He

held the necklace and ring up, then

put them in his pocket and began moving

away, trying to get her away from

everyone else, which was going to be a

difficult task. But he had no idea if

she had any weapons.

He certainly didn’t have his gun. Though

pulling it on her at the moment would

be very risky anyway. He needed to keep her

distracted until the deputies could

cut her off.

She kept coming toward him, eerily not

speaking. She looked to be in her early

thirties and had an odd intensity about her.

Mulder continued to back away,

trying to buy time. He wanted to keep her in

sight and see what she was going

to do. He couldn’t risk losing her. People

continued to mill about and chat and

look at the building, unaware of the

unfolding drama nearer to them.

The pavement abruptly disappeared during one

of Mulder’s steps and he stumbled

backwards. He had unknowingly reached the

gutter. He managed not to fall, but

his foot had landed awkwardly and pain shot

up his right leg. He grit his

teeth, stumbling backwards.

“Give me my ring,” the woman said. It was

stated as a simple, straightforward

order.

“Why?”

She frowned, then held up her right hand,

palm out. The two rings gleamed in

the streetlights. Mulder at first thought

that was her way of answering his

question, but then realized she was

concentrating. Like she was expecting a

burst of power to fly from her hand and zap

him. He had seen a lot of strange

things in his time, so a ring that allowed

its owner to wield power would not

surprise him. And he’d had no time to

attempt to duck or leap out of the way.

He didn’t feel anything though, apart from

the pain in his ankle.

The woman stared in confusion. It was

obviously not what she expected to

happen. She shoved her palm out forcefully

towards him again. Nothing, apart

from a few passing odd looks from people in

the vicinity. Fortunately the

number of people was thinner in this area.

With a noise of fury, the woman looked

around. She was right next to a public

trashcan. With a quick movement she snatched

something from it and began

advancing towards him once more. He saw that

she was holding a broken bottle

firmly by the neck.

Great.

Mulder called out to people to stay back –

some had seen the woman grab the

bottle and hastily retreated even before he

started to speak. The woman ignored

them all. One man hesitated, looking like he

was considering jumping the woman

from behind, but Mulder called out to him to

keep back. He obeyed. The agent

kept shuffling away painfully, facing the

woman. Help was bound to arrive at

any moment –

“Don’t move! Put the weapon down!” Scully

yelled. The woman froze then looked

over at her. So did Mulder, since there was

still a distance between himself

and the woman. Scully was holding what he

assumed was a borrowed gun, training

it on the woman.

“You’re surrounded. Put down the bottle, get

down on the ground and put your

hands behind your back.”

Deputies were moving around into position as

she spoke.

The woman dropped the bottle, fury on her

face. “You have no right,” she said

coldly. She held her hands up. As the law

moved in, she made another of the

palm thrusts, this time towards Scully.

Scully didn’t fire in response, since

the woman clearly had no weapon. Yet the

woman seemed confused when her gesture

had no effect, just like when she had tried

it on Mulder.

As the woman was being handcuffed and read

her rights, Scully handed the gun

back to the deputy she had appropriated it

from, and hurried to Mulder, who had

hobbled back to the curb. Scully waved off

assistance from others and helped

him to a nearby bench. She clearing it of

spectators, and knelt down to check

out his ankle.

“Mulder…” She sighed in both relief and

exasperation. “We were supposed to be

on vacation to get away from cases *and*

away from you getting injured!”

“Scully, I honestly wasn’t even *trying* on

either count.” Their eyes met when

she raised her head from her inspection of

yet another injured Mulder body part.

“Well, it looks like you just gave it a good

twist instead of a sprain.

Amazing.”

“Yeah, it doesn’t feel too bad now.”

They were trying to keep their professional

masks down, but their eyes conveyed

a lot more than any words.

A deputy came over and got the ring from

Mulder. As he carried the jewelry

away, Mulder noticed the woman, as she stood

between two deputies. She wasn’t

watching the ring anymore, she was watching

him and Scully. She kept watching,

even as she was being led off to a squad

car.

The fire alarm had been a false alarm, so

people were being allowed back into

the building. Mulder and Scully were feeling

the effects of being shortchanged

on sleep, but pushed that aside and

accompanied Powell to the station.

There Sheriff Helton produced a thin file of

information, which was all that

his people had been able to gather in the

interim about the rings and the

nugget. As Mulder sped-read through it, the

sheriff announced that the mystery

woman they had arrested had no ID on her.

She was refusing a lawyer, for now.

“And, she said she’d only talk to the two of

you.” From the sheriff’s

expression, it was clear the woman had meant

what she said and he had no choice.

Mulder and Scully looked at him in surprise.

Mulder handed Scully the folder.

“We’ll be there in a few minutes.”

xXx

The tape recorders had been started. “Please

state your name and address for

the record,” Mulder said.

“Tara Josephine Keating,” the woman replied.

She was sitting calmly in her

seat. She gave an address in New York.

Her surname sounded a bell from the file.

“Are you any relation to the Simon

Keating who discovered the ‘Hercules’ nugget

in 1970?” Mulder asked.

“Yes.”

“And that relationship would be…?”

“I’m his daughter.”

Mulder opened his mouth to ask another

question, but Tara cut in. “They took my

rings off me.” She held up her now bare

right hand. “I want them back. Tell

them to bring them back to me now.” She

directed her instructions to the

sheriff, as if he was her servant.

He raised his eyebrows. “Well, Ms Keating,

those rings are actually stolen

property.”

“They’re mine!”

“How did you get them?” Scully asked.

Tara returned her attention to the agents.

“The nugget revealed itself to my

father.”

“No, I mean in your possession now -” But

Mulder made a signal that halted

Scully.

He asked, “The nugget – you’re saying that

your father didn’t find it? It found

*him*?”

“Yes. Now when can I have my rings?” she

replied as if that explained

everything.

“Tell me more about the nugget first.”

“Why?”

“If you tell us why those rings are yours

and what happened last night -”

“Oh, you’ll understand that they’re mine and

give them back to me.” Tara gave a

smile.

“Perhaps. I can’t guarantee that. But saying

nothing is definitely not going to

get them back.”

“Well, once I explain, you’ll see that I

need them.” With that reasoning, Tara

leaned forward earnestly. “My parents were

told that they couldn’t have

children. They had been married for a while,

and nothing had happened. Then one

day my father was prospecting and the nugget

let itself be found. That night I

was created. Dad said that the nugget bought

them good luck. He called it

‘Hercules’ because it was so big. He had it

melted down into rings. One for

himself, one for Mom, and one for me.”

“Nuggets are worth more if they’re *not*

melted down,” Scully said. “He didn’t

want to sell the nugget?”

“My family was wealthy then. There was no

need. Dad wanted to keep his special

find in the family.”

“‘His special find’. So he believed he found

the nugget, not the other way

around, like you think?” Mulder asked.

“Yes. But I knew the truth. There was a link

between me and the gold. There

still is.” Tara smiled.

“A link strong enough to steal them? To kill

to get them?”

“I didn’t steal them.” Tara was explaining

patiently, as if to children.

“They’re rightfully mine. And I *will* have

them back. Mom shouldn’t have sold

them in the first place. Dad would never

have let her.”

“Why did she sell them?” Scully asked.

Sheriff Helton was keeping quiet and

listening, since they were able to get

information out of the young woman.

Tara’s face clouded over. “Dad made some bad

deals and lost heaps of money.

Then he had a stroke and needed constant

care. Mom panicked and sold a lot of

stuff. She sold the rings. I didn’t know who

to. I was only nine. She told me

she didn’t want to hear another word about

the rings, that she had no choice

but to sell them and that was that. She

convinced me that I was being silly

about how special they were. When Dad died,

Mom and I struggled on, then I had

to look after her until she died.”

“So you wanted the rings back because they

had great sentimental value to you?”

Mulder asked.

“For the powers they have.”

“Powers?” came from Mulder and Scully at the

same time.

“The ring for me was made adult-sized, so

when I was grown up I could wear it

properly. I was allowed to wear it on a

necklace on special occasions when I

was little. Sometimes I would slip it onto

my finger. It was loose, but I could

feel its power.”

“You say power, but can you be more

specific?” Mulder asked.

“It made me smarter. If Mom had let me wear

it to school, I would have done

much better on tests. When I had two of the

rings on, I could hear them talking

to me, telling me things. And I could feel

energy coming out of my hands. With

the third ring I’ll be able to understand

more and be the genius I was always

meant to be and be able to do special

things. Mom and Dad never felt that power

when they wore their rings, because the

rings were tied to me, not them. The

gold made me. The rings will guide me. I

will be whole again.”

Mulder and Scully exchanged looks. Tara

truly believed what she was saying.

“The rings wanted me to find them,” she

continued. “When I saw the photo in the

paper of Joseph Stevens wearing one of my

rings, I knew. It was a sign. I was

visiting Tampa while on vacation and saw the

article. That did not and could

not happen by chance. The rings were guiding

me, probably because I was near

them again and they sensed me.”

“And what did you do then?” Mulder asked.

“I phoned his office and said I wanted to

speak with him about the rings. But

his secretary told me that none of them were

for sale.”

“Did you tell his secretary who you were?

That your family originally owned the

rings?”

“No. I knew it wouldn’t make any difference

if I did.”

“And then?”

“I wanted to see one of the rings and try it

on to find out if I was

remembering correctly from when I was

little. I went to the Tampa Public

Library and read up about the Stevens

triplets from the newspaper archives,

which was easy enough because they were in

the papers so much. Talked to some

of their friends in the nightly hangouts.”

“And decided that Joseph would be the

easiest one to approach?” came from

Scully.

“After a few days here, he was easy enough

to find and flirt with.”

“You were wearing a blonde wig?”

“Yes.”

“So you could then ‘change looks’ to go

after the next ring?”

“Yes. Joseph let me try the ring on while we

were at the bar. It was Dad’s

ring, so it would only fit properly on my

thumb. And I felt a change in myself.

I knew then I hadn’t been dreaming or making

it up when I was little.”

“So you went with Joseph back to his beach

house?”

“I know you have evidence that I did, so why

would I deny it?” Tara was still

speaking calmly.

“You went back there so you could steal the

ring,” Scully continued.

“Not steal. Reclaim what is rightfully

mine.”

“By seducing Joseph Stevens and then killing

him.”

At this Tara showed some emotion. “No! I was

not trying to kill him. Just knock

him out. He was trying to hurt me.”

“Before or after he caught you trying to

take the ring?” the sheriff asked.

“I wasn’t -”

Mulder had been silent, absorbing her

replies. But now he jumped in and

rephrased the question. “Caught you

reappropriating the ring then?”

“He became violent before that. I was

defending myself. He was alive when I

left.”

“Ms Keating,” Scully said, “when the autopsy

is done I’m fairly sure it will

indicate that Joseph Stevens was not alive

for very long after you hit him.”

Tara remained silent.

Mulder said, “That would make sense, because

otherwise you most likely would

have tied him up and gagged him, so the

alarm wouldn’t be raised until you’d

had the chance to get the other rings. You

couldn’t risk trying to take it

while he slept.” Tara kept looking at him.

“Time was of the essence, with two

more to go in the one night in the same

family, seeing as how it would be

quickly put together that they were gone.

How did you know where to find the

other rings? Did you get it out of Joseph

under the guise of small talk or

through talking to the triplets’ friends?”

He and Scully knew how open and

friendly Joseph was. And if friends had been

plied with alcohol in clubs and

queried…who knew what they had unwittingly

revealed.

“Some from him,” Tara answered. “Like that

his sister Alice didn’t often wear

her ring. But the ring I got back from him

told me where the others were. They

were calling to each other. And once I had

my father’s ring on again, I could

hear them.”

Scully regarded her skeptically. “Those

three rings are very distinctive. They

all have that matching pattern of the

mountain range. Did you really think

you’d be able to get away with taking all

three and keeping them?”

“Once I wear the three, I will have access

to such power… Police and laws

will be insignificant. They are

insignificant,” Tara said.

“They’d never be able to catch you?” Mulder

was making connections. “So that’s

why you were wearing two of the rings when

you were caught. You thought their

combined power would protect and help you.”

Instead of being a dead giveaway.

“I thought they would help me.” Tara

regarded Mulder and Scully closely. “There

are two possibilities why they didn’t work

when I was arrested. Something about

the two of you or between the two of you

rendered the power useless against

you, or it is *all* three rings that make

the power come completely together

under my control. You must let me have them.

Without them, I’m nothing. A

mediocre nobody in a dead-end job. But I can

do such good in this world with

them.”

“Like you did to Joseph Stevens?” the

sheriff asked.

“I only knocked him out!”

“Even if you hadn’t meant to kill him, you

did so during a crime. That makes it

aggravated manslaughter,” the sheriff said.

“I can make up for it a thousandfold with

those rings. They are mine, by

literal birthright. Why can’t you see that?”

“Those rings are just rings, that’s all,”

Scully said.

“Then it won’t hurt for me to hold them,

would it? For old time’s sake.” There

was a silence. Mulder knew that Scully was

thinking the same as him. For Joseph

to die for this…

The sheriff started asking questions about

the fire alarm being set off in the

apartment building. Tara answered that she

had started the alarm – as Mulder

had thought, because it was easier that way

to reach Jemma Stevens – but Tara

was now acting distracted, looking at Mulder

and Scully again.

She pointed to Scully. “It’s obvious that

you don’t believe.” Then her finger

shifted to Mulder. “But you’re more open to

the mystical.”

“I must admit that in this case, even I have

my doubts,” Mulder said. If that

statement made her clam up, they had more

than enough of a confession for now

anyway.

But Tara wasn’t finished. “A skeptic and a

believer as partners… That could

be why the rings didn’t work… You had a

canceling effect.” She sat back in

her chair, a thoughtful look on her face.

So that’s why she wanted to see us, Mulder

thought. She wanted answers too.

Then Tara asked where the rings were now.

“They’re in a safe place,” Mulder said.

“The rings are all together? Then they will

tell you to bring them back to me.

Or perhaps not you, since you seem to be

immune to their effects.”

“Lucky me. They’ll tell someone? How – like

hypnosis?”

“In a way.” She sat there, smiling, as if

convinced that at any minute a

glazed-eyed deputy would walk in and hand

over the trio.

xXx

A few minutes later, out in the corridor,

Mulder and Scully conferred with the

sheriff.

“Well, I know Tara Keating was caught red-

handed – or gold-handed as it were –

but for her to just confess like that is

very odd,” Scully said. “Where will it

get her, apart from a place in a psychiatric

ward? She won’t get those rings,

which is all she wants.”

“She’s convinced that she’ll get to put all

the rings on at some stage,” Mulder

explained. “That they will be ‘brought’ to

her. Even if during a session with a

shrink or in court with the defense trying

to prove that she’s delusional. An

insanity plea. She thinks that’s all that

she needs. Those three rings on her

fingers and she’ll be able to escape.”

“By turning invisible in the middle of the

courtroom?” Sheriff Helton asked in

a very Scully-like voice.

“I don’t think she’s putting anything past

the capabilities of those rings. At

the apartment building she was so focused on

them. Law enforcement being around

or how she was going to get away were

secondary matters. Or she thought that

the rings would ‘provide’ the answer or

protect her.”

The sheriff shook his head, more as if to

clear it than disagreeing with

Mulder’s theory about Tara’s method of

logic. He had seen how convinced she was

of her beliefs, of the powers of the rings.

Then Helton was called away to a

nearby desk.

Scully turned back to Mulder and said, “It

sounds to me like a classic placebo

scenario. All those times in movies and

sitcoms and books… Like for example

when the young hero keeps striking out in

baseball, so his father gives him a

magic keyring to have in his pocket to bring

him good luck. The kid, more

confident, goes on to crack the baseball all

over the field. Then comes the big

game, bases loaded, his turn at bat… And

he realizes he’s lost the keyring.

‘I can’t do it! I don’t have the magic

keyring!’ The father says, ‘It wasn’t

the ring! It was just a cheap toy. It was

you all along!’ So the boy goes out

there and hits the home run.”

Mulder smiled. “Ever thought of being a

storyteller, Scully?”

“The point is, Tara Keating kept referring

to herself as a mediocre person. Her

school results will probably show average to

below-average grades. She’s

blaming all that on the loss of those

rings.” His partner looked him squarely

in the eyes. “Do you think the rings are

magical?”

“Perhaps in Middle Earth. I’m not getting an

X-File ‘feeling’ or a paranormal

smell to this one. The normal answers all

feel right.”

Scully gave him a look of mock shock. “The

Florida air must really be having an

effect on you.”

“I think Tara Keating is a victim of her own

delusions, yes, but it wouldn’t

hurt to get all three rings analyzed. She’s

certainly extremely confident that

we will decide that the rings are rightfully

hers and that we’ll hand them

over, despite everything. Sociopathic

behavior. Anything required to get what

they want is acceptable to a sociopath.”

xXx

Jemma Stevens did not recognize the woman

who had killed her brother. The cab

driver who had gone to Joseph’s house did

identify her in a line up as the

woman he had collected and dropped off at

the motel. “She was a blonde when I

picked her up, but yeah, that’s her. Wasn’t

talkative.”

And some friends of the Stevens triplets

identified Tara as well, from her

talking with them in the nightspots when

trying to get information on the trio

and the rings.

The autopsy of Joseph showed that the blow

to his head had been

almost-immediately fatal.

The rings were analyzed in a lab. There was

nothing special about them

whatsoever. No mysterious energy emanating

from them. No strange metals in

their make up.

A sanity hearing was held. Tara did get to

try the rings on and then as Mulder

expected she promptly tried to vanish or zap

out with the power. But to her

obvious distress and amazement, nothing of

the sort happened. She started

yelling at Mulder and Scully, as if they had

neutralized the rings either

permanently or by them simply being in the

room with the jewelry. She demanded

that the agents be removed from the hearing,

from the building, the state even.

She saw absolutely nothing wrong with what

she had done in Beckwell: Joseph’s

death, the thefts, starting the fire alarm

and threatening Mulder. The rings

were her property and whatever she did to

reclaim them was therefore all right.

She did understand that killing in itself

was wrong but didn’t see that the

rules applied to her in this case because

she had been trying to get the rings

back.

Tara ended up being committed to a mental

hospital where she would stay until

she could convince the authorities to

declare her sane. If she could. Mulder

doubted that would happen. “She believes in

those rings too much to recant how

special she thinks they are, or to see the

error of her ways.”

END ACT TWO

xXx

ACT THREE:

Late December 2002

Present day:

Dizzy… Nauseous… Thoughts scattered to

the wind.

Scully groaned.

Mulder. The beach. Something had happened to

them both. Darts! she remembered

in a flash. But she wasn’t lying on sand.

She was lying on her side on…

Scully opened her eyes and managed to focus.

A concrete floor. And a few feet

away was…

“Mulder! Mulder?” She pushed herself up then

promptly went back down,

everything spinning. Some deep breaths and

she tried again. This time Scully

was successful, pushing herself up enough to

scramble over to her partner,

looking him up and down on the way. Her

partner was also lying on his side,

facing her, eyes closed.

Don’t be dead.

“Mulder?” He gave no response. There were no

visible signs of wounds or trauma

that she could see, but… Scully checked

his vitals as she started to look

around them, checking for danger or some

clue as to where they were. Neither of

them was tied up.

Scully felt hung-over from the tranquilizer

dart, but did her best to force

that to one side. She located a slow, steady

pulse on Mulder’s wrist while

scanning the area. It looked like they were

in a deserted warehouse. So far, so

good, on both counts. She felt Mulder’s

chest rising and falling under her hand

– thank you God – as she kept looking.

A doorway. An open doorway in the wall of

the structure. One of those large

doors you could get a truck in through. She

couldn’t tell how far away it was –

her vision was now okay but the tranquilizer

or whatever else she had been

given after it was making her thinking

fuzzy. Bright sunlight was visible

through the door.

And leading up to the door, spaced out at

intervals, were entertainment unit

set ups. A TV and VCR on a pedestal. Four

times. And each TV was displaying a

figure. 40. Power and extension cords snaked

away from them across the floor.

Scully quickly finished her scan, now

looking at the area that had been behind

her.

And what she saw nearly stopped her own

breathing and heart.

About seven feet away from the agents was a

bomb.

The device was secured around a steel

support post. It looked like it encircled

it. A digital screen facing Scully

displayed: 40.

Scully shook her comatose partner. They were

still in their beachwear. No

phones. No guns. She began backing away from

the bomb while grabbing Mulder

under the arms and pulling him with her,

getting ready to stand and haul him.

Her mind was analyzing the bomb and the

danger as best it could while fighting

the after-effects of the drugs. The sight of

the explosives certainly helped

her focus her thoughts. She knew enough from

her brief time in domestic

terrorism that she could not disarm the

bomb.

The count stayed on 40.

“Mulder!” She looked around desperately. No

one in sight. Apart from the bomb

and the TV equipment there was nothing –

Then she looked further up on the post that

the bomb was attached to and saw a

cluster of things high up out of reach. A

loudspeaker, a microphone, and

surveillance cameras.

Suddenly the loudspeaker crackled to life

and a voice came out of it. Female.

Scully tried to place it. “Hello, Special

Agent Scully.” The voice started out

cheerful then became forceful. “Stop moving

right now, unless you want me to

detonate that bomb. Have a ‘seat’. We have

things to discuss.”

Scully hesitated.

“I mean it, Agent Scully. That’s as far as

I’ll let you go, for now at least. I

have the power to blow you to bits within

seconds if you disobey. Don’t make me

have to detonate before time. A lot of work

has been put into this.”

Scully sank down, ending up with Mulder’s

head resting against her abdomen,

holding his upper torso in her lap. She

remained ready to spring up and drag

again – if the opportunity presented itself.

“Who are you?” The voice was

familiar in some way…

“This is Tara Keating. Remember me? Doesn’t

my name have a familiar ‘ring’ to

it?” the woman asked mockingly.

Uh-oh.

“It’s been a while. You’re both still

together. I see you haven’t got a ring

either, Agent Scully. Something we both have

in common. Well, perhaps the

‘suffer-ring’ part.” Her voice was hard.

Bile rose in Scully’s throat but she managed

to force it down. She had to stay

focused. “Tara -”

The woman pressed on. “Thank you for your

valiant efforts in reaching the house

after we darted you. I knew you’d try to.

This means we didn’t have to haul you

very far at all. That wouldn’t have been

good for our backs.” She laughed. “And

don’t bother trying to wake Agent Mulder. We

made sure he won’t be waking up

any time soon.”

“Why? What have you done?”

Another laugh. “He’s out for the count.

Literally. Plenty of sedative in his

system to ensure that his contribution stays

at being unconscious and

decorative. I wanted this to be between you

and me. Us girls. It’s more

interesting this way.”

“How so?” Scully’s mind was racing, trying

to remember what had happened to

Tara. Mental hospital. She couldn’t have

been released, surely? The last the

agents had heard about her was a few months

ago. Mulder’s prediction had held –

the killer could not give up her delusions

about the rings, not even to be

declared sane. And if she’d tried to pretend

she had seen the error of her

ways, it had been quickly seen through in

the interim.

Scully could not help the wry thought that

she and Mulder were NOT proving to

have a good track record when it came to

Florida and vacations…

Tara’s voice continued over the speaker,

“I’m a safe distance from this little

scenario. But we spent so much time cooking

it up, that I had to make sure that

I could see the drama unfold. So I’ve got

audio, both ways, and video. Multiple

angles on video, actually, to ensure I don’t

miss anything. And the remote

control to detonate that bomb whenever I

choose. All under my power. So make

sure you don’t make me decide to speed the

schedule up.”

To detonate the bomb? Then why the countdown

screens? Scully wondered. Unless

Tara had misspoken in her gloating and

excitement. And why a countdown at all?

Scully tried to speak, but Tara cut her off.

“My rings may not be with me at

the moment, but they sent me messengers to

help me get them back. They sent me

Brian. He worked at the hospital you got me

locked up in. He fell in love with

me and the rings. He wants to reunite us.”

And share in that ‘power’ too, no doubt,

Scully thought. How reassuring that a

mental hospital worker was just as capable

of being sucked into such a delusion

as one of the patients was!

“I have wanted revenge on the two of you for

what you did to me. I spent so

many nights coming up with scenarios. I told

Brian, and he promised to help me.

He’s organized everything. He’s so clever.

What he doesn’t know, he finds out

about. He knows so much about computers. And

he found an interview with Joseph

Stevens’ father. Daddy Stevens was moving to

Seattle, not wanting to stay in

Beckwell.”

No wonder, after what happened, Scully

thought.

Tara continued, “His daughters didn’t want

to wear the rings anymore, so he was

keeping all three, as a reminder. Very handy

for us. So it is time I reclaimed

them. And through the wonders of computers

Brian was able to find out about

your planned trip back here too, Agent

Scully. We couldn’t let that opportunity

pass, could we? I’m sure the rings brought

you here to be dealt with. So when

the time was right, Brian helped me get out

of that place -”

Escape, Scully translated mentally. He must

have stolen the explosives and the

drugs…

“And now we can deal with you two, then be

free to go reclaim what is

rightfully mine. It has all fallen into

place perfectly.”

“Tara -”

“You kept me from my birthright. If I had

those rings, I would have been

somebody. But you wouldn’t let me. So why

should I let you have each other?”

“Tara, we didn’t -” But the woman was not in

a mood to discuss, and Scully knew

that she would not be able to convince Tara

that the rings had no power.

“You also blocked me from using the rings

properly. Once you’re out of the way,

I can go get the rings and this time

succeed.”

Scully thought about the possibilities of

rescue. How many places like this

could there be in the area? Hopefully

someone had seen something and help was

on the way… She and Mulder had been

staying on a fairly isolated section of

beach – a mistake she was not going to

repeat if they lived to be able to take

another vacation. They had been kidnapped

about half an hour after dawn, but it

still took time for them to stumble up the

beach and then be loaded into a

vehicle. If there had been a passerby at any

stage of that, even from a

distance, it would have been an out of the

ordinary sight and therefore

noticed.

Tara had run a risk in grabbing them like

this, but with the isolation and

timing, Scully assumed it had been the best

‘chance’ the woman had. And she had

certainly taken it. Like with the rings, the

end result was worth whatever it

took.

Anyway, the more she kept Tara talking, the

more chance of help arriving in

time.

“Tara, we can help you find your rings again

and get them back. You don’t need

to do all this.” Whatever ‘this’ was.

“Agent Scully, there’s one thing this all

boils down to. Just a choice.”

“A choice?”

“Yes. I got the idea from a movie I saw

once. ‘Sophie’s Choice’. It was set in

World War II and the heroine was begging a

Nazi not to kill her two children.

He said he would spare one, but she would

have to choose which.”

Scully felt a shudder go through her. The

thought alone was horrific enough,

but now if Tara was going to put it into

reality…

Tara continued, “I think *you* should have

to make a decision like that. Once

the countdown is started, *you* have enough

time to get out, if you run.”

Me. If I abandon Mulder.

“If you try getting him out, you’ll never

make it. You’ll die.”

I abandon Mulder and he dies. I try to get

him out and we both die. My choice

is no choice. Either way, she ‘wins’, Scully

thought, staring down at her

partner’s face.

Tara laughed. “So, you see why Agent Mulder

had to be unconscious to make this

more fun and interesting. I promise that

I’ll wait the full 40 seconds before

detonating the bomb. Leave him, Dana. I’m

sure you’ll be able to live with

yourself.” She sounded smug.

It won’t be living, and you know that.

“That’s not a choice!” Scully yelled.

“You’re the one deciding that, not me. See

how you like being without the most

important thing in your life. Being

incomplete.”

“Tara -”

“Time to make your choice. Bombs away! Or

rather, countdown commencing!”

The ’40’ on the counter changed to ’39’.

Scully reacted, her hands under Mulder’s

arms to lift his upper body and drag

him backwards towards the opening. As she

got her feet under her, she stumbled

and swayed slightly from the effects of the

drugs. She could hear Tara’s

laughter.

“How sentimental! Dump him and run, Scully!

He’s just going to get you killed!”

“You’re the one that’s getting me killed,

not him!” Scully yelled back as she

hauled Mulder along. “But you can stop this,

right now!”

“Why would I want to do that?”

Scully looked around. There were other

exits, but they were further away than

the one that Tara had set up and they

weren’t open, so she couldn’t tell if

they were unlocked or boarded up or what.

The steel support posts were too

narrow and at distances – they would afford

no protection even if she did

manage to get Mulder over to one and attempt

to hide behind it.

If there had been time and if she wasn’t in

light beach gear, Scully would have

used something like a trenchcoat to hook

around and over Mulder’s shoulders and

use it to drag him with. Instead she

struggled along, pulling him as best she

could.

Scully cursed her small frame and Mulder’s

large one. Tara really had picked a

perfect ‘Sophie’s choice’ scenario for them.

There had been situations over the

years where Mulder had been injured and they

had needed to get out of danger as

quickly as possible. On those occasions

Scully had been relieved that there had

been others around to aid them or her

partner had been conscious enough to help

get himself to safety. Even if he was so

dazed at the time that he wasn’t fully

aware of what was going on, like when she

had rescued him from torture at the

‘hands’ of an artificial intelligence just

before it blew up the trailer its

hardware was housed in.

This time they weren’t going to make it, but

it wouldn’t be through lack of

trying. Adrenalin was Scully’s best friend

at the moment.

Mulder’s head hung limply as she backpedaled

them past the first of the TV set

ups, making sure she didn’t run into it.

Vaguely she noted that there were

other tracks on the floor – probably from

Tara and her accomplice setting up

the equipment and the van or transport that

must have brought the agents in

here and dumped them next to the bomb.

Muscles that were already abused or sluggish

were protesting, but Scully

disregarded them. And even though Mulder was

unconscious, his body was still

getting punished by being a dead weight and

having his limbs pulled every which

way and dragged along the floor. But she

figured that if by miracle they got

out of this alive, he would forgive her the

pain. Getting a teasing or

complaint would be worth it anyway. And God

only knew how ‘gentle’ Tara and her

partner-in-crime had been in the process of

kidnapping them and dumping them

here.

Scully considered that even if she and

Mulder did get out by miracle, would

that be far enough? The bomb could be strong

enough for the blast to follow

them through the door – or walls – and still

get them.

It occurred to her that Tara had taken a

huge chance. If Scully had chosen to

save herself, then her first act would be to

hunt the killer down. And she knew

Tara’s plans – though with the woman’s

history, as soon as Tara escaped the

authorities would know there was a good

chance of her trying to find the rings

again. And perhaps Tara had found out enough

about the partners to know Scully

would not abandon Mulder. Scully thought

that if she did get out, Tara’s

boyfriend might be there waiting, just in

case, to hold her hostage… Or

finish her off, since Tara believed that she

was able to block the power of the

rings…

Seconds raced by.

So this is how it will end, Scully thought,

glancing at Mulder again as she

kept hurrying and dragging. No dying

together of old age. The closest we got to

that was on the Ardent. At least it will be

together, at once. Neither of us

will have to exist without the other. Exist

is all it would be.

I’m glad he’s unconscious for this.

We know how we feel about each other and we

acted on it. Otherwise that is one

thing I’d go to my grave regretting. But if

only there were more time…

Time – she glanced back at the readout that

was next to the bomb, though she

had been keeping a mental count as well in

one part of her mind as the rest of

it raced with other thoughts. Six seconds

left. Still too far… Impossible.

Scully twisted them around so that her body

was now the one nearer to the bomb

instead of Mulder, and she pulled them

behind the closest TV setup. Hopefully

it would provide some protection. She

dropped down, throwing her arms around

Mulder, tucking her head in against his,

shielding him as best she could.

Braced herself.

And waited.

And waited.

Nothing.

Did the last seconds of a person’s life

stretch out like infinity? Was Tara

toying with them – making Scully think that

she was safe, then she would

detonate the bomb?

Scully raised her head and sought out a

display. There were still two in front

of her, before the open door. The screens

were on ‘0’. But the countdown had

not been linked to the bomb’s detonation, it

had just been Tara’s fiendish idea

of a ‘grace period’. Tara had been going to

detonate the bomb herself. Yet the

loudspeaker was silent.

Scully got up again, raising Mulder into

position at the same time, and got

moving. Her muscles were screaming, but her

spirit and determination were

screaming louder. Whatever was going on, she

had to take advantage of it.

Though Tara and her boyfriend could be just

outside the door, waiting for them,

enjoying their ‘efforts’ just like at the

beach.

She heard noises outside. Raised voices.

Then a voice came through the speakers. A

male voice. “Agent Scully, this is

Deputy Reade. We’ve got Keating and her

friend. No one will be detonating that

bomb.”

Scully inwardly cheered over her jangling

nerves and pounding heart, but she

and Mulder were still in too close a

proximity to the bomb regardless. You

could never be too careful when it came to

explosives.

“Sit tight. We’re coming,” Reade continued.

“I don’t intend to sit, not yet, thank you.”

She kept hauling Mulder the hell

out of there as fast as she could.

END ACT THREE

xXx

EPILOGUE

Xavier, Florida

December 2002

The effects of the tranquilizer had worn off

on both agents, but it was going

to take longer for the soreness of their

muscles to abate. They were lying on

the bed at their beach house, Scully feeling

the effects of dragging Mulder,

and Mulder feeling the effects of being the

dragee.

He shifted and winced. “Have you found a

comfortable position yet?”

“No.”

“Let me know if you do.” They were managing

to hold hands, not just because

they needed the contact after their close

call.

A member of the public had witnessed Mulder

and Scully’s abduction from a

distance on the beach. “It could have looked

like a couple were helping another

sick or drunk couple, but you don’t load

sick people into your car trunk to

take them to a hospital…”

The man had hurried to the nearest phone and

immediately an all points bulletin

went out on the car. The man hadn’t been

able to see the license number, but

gave make, model and color. He was able to

give general descriptions of the

people he had seen. News bulletins were

issued. Law enforcement combed the area

and beyond. They knew that the victims were

FBI agents and that there was a

chance that one of the kidnappers was the

killer who had escaped recently from

a Florida mental hospital who had links to

the agents.

Finally a woman heard a description of the

car on the radio and realized she

had seen one being driven on her way to her

factory shift earlier. Her

information on where she saw the car

narrowed down the search and saved

valuable time. Fortunately the law had found

Tara in a building near the

warehouse. She had been so focused on

watching her scenario play out that they

were able to take her by surprise, not

giving her time to detonate the bomb.

Her boyfriend had been taken into custody

near the warehouse itself.

And here Mulder and Scully were now. Alive.

They were going to live to see the

New Year after all.

“Sorry I wasn’t a lightweight, Scully,” he

said.

She managed a laugh. “I can’t believe our

luck. We came to Florida for a

vacation. Where do we go to have a vacation

from our vacation?”

Mulder gave her a look. “Well, we thought

we’d gotten off cheap instead of

paying plenty for an isolated beach house.

Now we’re definitely paying for

it… Ouch. So much for our romantic

vacation.”

“At least we’re alive.”

“Every part of me is reminding me of that

fact!” His wry look became more

serious. “It’s worth it.”

“We did get some good days in before

everything hit the fan,” Scully reminded

him. “All right, they were better than

‘good’. Spectacular! But we can be very

romantic and meaningful without the sexual

side of things. We’ll just have to

use the remaining time as a refresher on

just how we managed before we started

sleeping together.”

“We can still sleep together, it’s just the

bang and the -”

“Mulder, I’m in enough pain without the pain

from a bad joke.”

“Hmmph.” Then the insulted look changed to a

sheepish one. “Oops. I didn’t even

think about the bomb when I said ‘bang’.

Sorry. Typical me.”

“That’s okay.” At least he hadn’t done any

‘haul ass’ jokes or ring jokes.

But even as she thought that, he grinned and

said, “How long do you think until

we’re right to go to the movies again? I

really want to see the next ‘Lord of

the Rings’ installment.”

Whacking Mulder with a pillow was worth the

aches it set off. Then she said,

“Why see it? We just lived it!”

There was silence for a little, then Scully

said, “When Tara told me her ‘great

choice’, I wondered if she’d been taking

lessons at the Modell/Bowman School of

Diabolical Scenarios.”

Mulder opened his mouth and then hesitated.

Scully knew that he was about to

refer to the choice that she had made, but

she also knew that he knew he would

have done exactly the same in her place and

why she did. There was no argument

to be had or statement of ‘you really

shouldn’t have done that, you should have

saved yourself, I’m not worth it’. They were

past that sort of introspection in

their relationship.

So when Mulder spoke, it was simply to say a

heartfelt, “Thank you.”

Scully caressed his fingers with her own.

“Anytime.”

THE END.

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