Author: Martin Ross
Spoilers: Kill Switch
Summary: A senator is targeted by a would-be assassin with
more powerful connections than the politician’s and,
possibly, an accomplice from Mulder and Scully’s past.
Written for Virtual Season 12 with exclusive rights for two
Rating: PG-13 — adult language
Disclaimer: Mr. Carter and the gang own it; I just visit.
National Cybernetics and Informatics Laboratory
Dr. Witthauer leaned back in the plush swivel chair her
director recently had had installed in her clean room, an
uncharacteristic smile imbuing her face with the modest
beauty she had worked years to suppress.
Felicia Witthauer wasn’t given to mirth: She once had been
induced to watch some inane television farce dubbed
“Three’s Company” with her husband — himself no font of
good cheer — and as a result had banished the set to the
basement rec room. She did not appreciate movies: The
logical holes distracted her beyond comprehension or
enjoyment. Novels were an unnecessary abstraction, a
distortion of real life where the dice of fortune and
reason were loaded in favor of improbable heroes.
The object of Dr. Witthauer’s warm sense of triumph was an
algorithm — quite possibly, the algorithm. Dry palms
resting on her abdomen, she regarded the equation on her
computer screen with an almost maternal love. People were
unstable; code and mathematics, always reliable. Perhaps
only God could make a tree, although her colleagues in the
biotechnology field were challenging the premise, but only
science could make something this perfect, this true, and
She grasped the arm of her chair as her smile curled with
another spasm in her temple. Proof of the essential bugs
hardwired into organic life, Dr. Witthauer reflected.
Nearly daily nausea and migraines periodically interrupted
her crucial work, although she tuned out her husband’s
urgings to consult their family physician, a competent
enough applied scientist who nonetheless insisted on
injecting an annoying note of pathos into her visits.
Witthauer placed her hand on the case of her PC, sighing
inaudibly as its muted electronic vibrations tingled
through her fingers. She surveyed the supercomputers
flanking her — a cybernetic Stonehenge, holding the
secrets of a more perfect world only she could unlock.
The room gave her comfort, or what others might think of as
comfort. Here, there was precision unmarred by human
foibles and emotional excesses.
Now content, she turned back to her perfect algorithm,
ignoring the restless vibration in her own swollen abdomen…
As much thought had gone into Sen. Clark Farriman’s
wardrobe as had been put into his remarks to the assembled
management and crew of Avalon Hydro-Components
and the metro, regional, and Washington press corps
recording the campaign event.
A suit was out: This was East Coast, hard-core union
territory, and fine tailoring tended to boil the red,
white, and blue-collared blood of this group. The labor
crowd also was wary of candidates who pretended toward the
proletariat, and a Chambray work shirt, jeans, a Carhartt
jacket would more likely generate snickers and snorts than
fervent feelings of kinship or admiration.
Sports shirt and khakis seemed the best bet. Nothing pastel
— Clark prided himself on as manly an image as anyone on
Capitol Hill could muster without pissing off the Left. No
polo players or animals embroidered onto his chest, no
effete designer labels stitched on his ass — labels
(except on beer) bred class hatred, and half this shit
probably was made in China or Honduras, anyway.
Clark thus entered the plant in a campaign uniform closer
to Eddie Bauer than K-Mart. Plausable but not elitist — he
was dressed like most of the foremen and mid-level execs
now applauding his entrance. And it was reasonably
unprompted applause: Clark’s Senate district included plant
workers, dockworkers, and other patriotic types who might
follow union voting mandates but who brooked little
bullshit when it came to the type of apple pie issues Clark
dealt in and, most of the time, believed in.
“Aw, c’mon,” the senator “protested,” waving off the whoops
and cheers. “You’re just happy to get an extra break
Self-effacement — that was the key. Let the rank-and-file
know you have a sense of humor, that you know that they
know politicians essentially amount to little more than a
warm bucket of spit in the scheme of their blood-and-sweat
lives. Clark beamed as he joined the plant manager and an
ethnically diverse, carefully selected delegation of line
workers. He could afford to be nonchalant — after the last
two mishaps, the staff had beefed up security, and the
factory’s workers had been subjected to discreet background
“I know you want to get back to work,” he winked, drawing a
gentle ripple of mock derision from the coveralled crew
and, hopefully, a warm moment on the six o’clock
broadcasts. “But I wanted to come out today and ask you to
join me in helping keep plants like this at full production
and jobs like yours here in America.”
A wild burst of applause followed his carefully formulated
remarks. Clark ducked his head as if he had no idea his
humble thoughts could spark such emotion.
“That’s why, this summer, I voted to give hard-working
families like yours’ a break on their taxes and companies
like yours’ the ability to build the best facilities and
capitalize the best equipment right here in the U.S.”
This was potentially delicate ground: Blue-collar America
remained somewhat wary of automation and robotics and the
other high-tech trappings that had made many manufacturing
jobs obsolete. But Clark’s people had done their homework.
“I continue to push for not only free trade, but also fair
trade. And I’ve supported technology research and
development that can help workers work more productively
and more safely. We buy your services, not your souls.”
Another explosion of applause. It was a guaranteed
CNN/FOX/MSNBC byte, one that identified Clark as a
compassionate conservative deeply concerned about labor
“I only regret that some in the Senate do not share my
vision,” Clark lamented. “My attempts at returning more of
your tax dollars to your pockets were torpedoed on the
floor, and my opponents have tried to frighten good people
with wild speculation and innuendo about trade and the
economy. I’m here to ask you to allow me another six years
to persuade my colleagues that government is indeed for the
people, not for the chosen few on Capitol Hill. Thank you!”
Clark greeted the thundering applause with a one-handed
wave. Early in his second campaign, one of the political
wonks noted the two-handed salute he’d cultivated as a
state representative stirred echoes of Nixon.
“Sen. Farriman,” the plant foreman finally announced, voice
cracking over the popular adulation. “Sen. Farriman, we’d
like to thank you for taking the time to speak with us
today, and we’d like you to see some of the state-of-the-
art technology you helped make possible through the
American Investment and Development Act. This robotic
assembly system has helped boost productivity an estimated
12 percent over the last six months alone, while
significantly reducing workplace injuries.”
The huge, articulated monstrosity that towered above Sen.
Farriman came to life as if on cue — one robotic arm
seemed to wave to the crowd. Clark jumped, and joined with
the media and laborers in nervous laughter. The foreman
glanced sharply at a lab-coated man at a computer console a
few yards away. The operator shrugged, a surprised look on
his face, and the foreman pasted his grin back on.
“Without the tax incentives the AID bill provided, Avalon
might have been forced to downsize as part of its retooling
program,” he continued. Both robotic arms rose and fell, as
if performing The Wave, and the crowd cracked up.
“Hey, I thought this was my show,” Clark ad-libbed as the
foreman and the operator exchanged confused looks.
As if in response, the arms mimed applause. Then they rose
like wings, freezing in mid-air.
“Senator,” the operator began, nervously eyeing the press
And the arms swooped in a downward arc. The assembled
network, affiliate, cable, and print media gasped as well,
in unison with the workers. Clark froze, paralyzed by
terror, as the two mechanical appendages closed in on him.
And stopping precisely 11 inches from his skull. A group
exclamation of relief broke through Clark’s shroud of
impending death, and he removed his hands from his face,
opened his eyes slowly, and tried not to look down at the
spreading dampness that would spur numerous digs on the
talk radio circuit…
When the judge ordered me to sever all ties with
cyberspace, I’d very seriously considered having him offed.
It was as if he’d condemned me to some rock in the middle
of the ocean, with neither decent human company nor
My very ‘crime’ was testament of my devotion to the one
world where I was accepted and understood, and I could see
the smug satisfaction plastered on His Honor’s face as he
looked down at me and banished me to a life with the
Undocked. He’d done this in other cases, and the media had
applauded his “creative sentencing.” A creative man would
have recognized the grandness of what I’d managed to
accomplish, found a way to channel and apply my abilities.
Instead, I was dubbed some kind of sociopathic misfit, a
dangerous outcast, a threat to all the Undocked.
After analyzing the situation, my rage gave way to
rationalism. He was a federal judge, and his murder, even
by cleverly arranged accident, would simply draw too much
high-powered attention. I knew enough of the system he
perverted to recognize I’d be on the short list of
suspects. Hiring his death was equally impractical: I
didn’t hang in that company, and I doubted I could raise
the funds necessary to employ someone competent, loyal, and
So I tried living with the Undocked. But after a few weeks
of non-stop face-time, listening to droning, endless
dialogues of interminable detail and insipid emotion,
breathing in waves of dragon breath and microbes, I was
ready to off the rest of humanity – at least this race of
prohominid knuckle-draggers. I now understood some measure
of the fiery agony of those crackheads down in Southeast
who were cut off from their suppliers by poverty or the
law. Each evening was an eternity: TV was 125 channels of
contrived “reality” and cultural sludge; books were
cumbersome tools of a primitive society, spending pages to
convey what a few well-chosen emoticons could communicate
with significantly less energy and exploring the boring and
repulsive “psyche” of Undocked.
So I tried to cheat. But because of my past record, I
already was living on a short leash, and I found it
increasingly more difficult to slip the leash for a few
moments at an Internet café or for a chat at the Public
Library. Out among the Others, on public machines, I lacked
the tools to go where I needed, and chatting exposed this
way, with potentially dozens of eyes watching me, was
almost a form of reverse masturbation, without any of the
satisfaction. Not that I’d ever found sex to be such hot
shit, anyway. Now, hacking past a half-dozen firewalls and
taking down a bank or an agency, that was a multiple orgasm
smothered in Belgian chocolate.
In the end, I had considered offing myself. But then, I
started listening to the voices in my skull. Not voices,
precisely – it was like undecrypted code that had hummed
somewhere beneath my conscious thoughts since I had been 12
or 13. As I perfected my abilities, learned intuitively how
to troubleshoot and write my own code, the meandering
whisperings in my head began to make sense. But only in the
way isolated foreign phrases emerge from the unsubtitled
chatter in an arthouse movie. Bits of data familiar and
alien ebbed and flowed through my brain. But I couldn’t
defrag any of it, and I wondered from time to time if I
might not be just slightly insane.
My salvation came one late afternoon at the Starbucks in
Union Station. I’d scratched together enough for a latte
and was sitting a few tables away from some suit – probably
a federal peon or somebody with one of the D.C. law or
consulting firms. His back was to the wall, his Thinkpad
open close to the edge of the table, screen slightly
inclined. I watched him with growing hunger and frank envy.
And then the whispering began. Evil, depraved whispers. And
images – nightmarish images of innocence defiled and
innocents degraded. Like a Powerpoint from Hell, the images
flashed through my mind and I knocked by Grand Latte to the
floor. The guy glanced up from the Thinkpad, and his eyes
met mine. For a moment he froze, and I realized what I was
seeing, hearing. As a busboy hustled to my table with a
towel, time froze between us – I staring in shock at him,
the perv paralyzed in shame and dread and disbelief.
The busboy offered me a fresh latte, and the spell was
broken. The man in the corner slammed his laptop shut,
jammed it in his canvas case, and flung the bag over his
shoulder. His eyes were locked on me as he fled,
questioning, pleading. The images of violation and
defilement – some blurred, some grainy, some crystalline in
their sick clarity – faded off as he rushed into the
crowded mall beyond, and I slumped back in my seat.
I thought about giving chase, siccing Security or DCPD on
the perv. But what would I tell the cops? They couldn’t
very well search his hard drive, especially not on the say-
so of somebody like me.
Then it hit me, and all at once, everything made sense.
My almost supernatural grasp of code, my affinity for
programming and apps, the increasingly risky and alluring
hacking expeditions that had led to my exile.
I spent the rest of the day at the Starbucks honing my
craft, capturing megabytes of dry bureaucratese and
business-speak, awkward and badly punctuated professions of
love and anger, some really shitty fanfic and amateur
poetry (LOFL), and some diverse and occasionally
stimulating sexual perversions. This time, I was more low-
key, surfing from laptop to laptop as I sipped my cooling
WHO R U?
I jumped, nearly upsetting my latte again. Unlike the
third-person data I’d scanned that afternoon, this was
direct, demanding, sexless and ageless but somehow human. I
glanced anxiously around for the source of the
transmission. It had come either from the Dell in front of
the fat guy who looked like Penn Gillette or the sticker-
plastered Apple wired to the young, heavily pierced woman
at the table beyond him. The coffee shop had gone wireless
a few months ago, like a lot of the more yuppified D.C.
joints, and I could see her portable was WI-FI’ed.
R U ONLINE?
Heart pounding, I thought, No? Are YOU online?, I asked,
mentally. Nada. Helloooo….?
The cybervoice faded off, leaving me with the pathetic
Buffy the Vampire slash the fat guy was composing and the
anime chat the perforated girl was now into. I scanned the
room for any other machines, and caught the curious eye of
the busboy, who’d been refilling the nutmeg at the
condiment bar. He glanced at the fat loser and the pierced
woman and then back at me, one half of his black unibrow
I shoved my chair back and grabbed my stuff. I could feel
his eyes on my back all the way to the street. But by the
time I reached my Metro stop, my heart had slowed down to
an excited roar as I contemplated my first move…
Office of Sen. Clark J. Farriman
Longworth Building, Capitol Hill
“How long do you believe this ‘plot’ has been underway,
Senator?” Special Agent Fox Mulder asked with a serious
expression meant to conceal his amusement.
Despite his expensively razor-cut hair and his expansively
telegenic public persona, Clark Farriman was far from a
stupid man. He intercepted the irony in Mulder’s voice, and
frowned at his legislative director, who was seated to his
right next to Mulder’s partner, the attractive redhead.
Farriman had nearly been dragged into a mess with an intern
the summer before, and he had scrupulously “ignored” the
“I know it sounds kind of ludicrous, Agent,” the L.D.
shrugged with a consciously self-effacing grin. “But the
senator has had three near-fatal encounters on campaign
stops over the last month. And, to be frank, Sen. Matheson
told us you and Agent Scully sort of specialize in, well,
Mulder smiled, wondering how he’d gotten back on Sen.
Matheson’s referral list after their last, rather terse
encounter. The legislator had been one of Mulder’s few
official patrons, spurring him to investigate the Truth
with the promise of unlimited federal resources, but Mulder
had distanced himself after an incident involving A.D.
Skinner had revealed Matheson’s complicity in some shadowy
doings he couldn’t condone.
“I wasn’t aware you and Sen. Matheson had such a healthy
rapport,” Mulder said, turning back to Farriman. “I thought
you two were going to come to blows last week on C-SPAN
over that health care amendment.”
Farriman replaced the Capitol Hill paperwork with which
he’d been fidgeting. “We may sit on opposite sides of the
aisle, and we may occasionally become zealous in pursuit of
our disparate ideologies, but the senator and I remain good
personal friends from our days together on the House
Intelligence Committee. He assured me that while your
methods are unconventional, you function in an objective
and unbiased manner.”
“Senator, I don’t care whether you’re a leftie, a rightie,
or a tightie whitey,” Mulder said. “I don’t know what Sen.
Matheson said about my love of conspiracies, but even for
me, this is reaching. An equipment malfunction at a plant
in Baltimore, a car crash in Bethesda, and a hotel fire in
Cincinnati. The agents you ‘requested’ investigated all
three incidents thoroughly, and could find no connection
“The Baltimore factory worker on the robotic arm was a
Persian Gulf veteran who’s campaigned for you your last
three races. Your driver in Bethesda tested negative for
alcohol or criminal connections, and a forensics crew ruled
your Lexus had had a simple mechanical failure. As for the
hotel fire, well, the Des Moines arson unit’s still
investigating. But offhand, I’d say you’ve just had a
string of bad luck. Unless you have some specific idea who
might want to harm you.”
“Here’s a start,” the L.D. said, pulling a thick folder
from the corner of Farriman’s desk. “These are more than 50
threats the senator has received since before the Baltimore
incident. And they’re just the serious ones. The whacko
environmentalists who don’t care for the senator’s stance
on clear-cutting. The whacko supremacists who were pissed
off by Farriman’s support for a black female Cabinet
secretary. Radical liberals who think he’s Hitler. Radical
neo-conservatives who think he’s Castro. Iraqi and Qumari
nationals who think he’s the Great Satan. Atheists who feel
he’s playing God with the Constitution. Folks all the way
from rural Arkansas and Harlem to Idaho and Brooklyn.”
“You must’ve taken the Carnegie course,” Mulder marveled.
Farriman shrugged, it seemed to Mulder with a trace of
pride. “I stand on my values, even if those around me are
falling right and left, and I don’t back the party line if
it goes off track. I’m hard on criminals and terrorists,
both foreign and domestic. And I don’t care if they blow up
a logging crew or bomb an abortion clinic, regardless of my
personal or legislative feelings toward abortion.”
Mulder held up a hand. “Whoa, Senator – this isn’t New
“Sorry,” Farriman smiled sheepishly. “Force of habit these
days. Look, who would’ve predicted Al Quaeda could’ve
brought down the Twin Towers with a couple of airliners or
that crazie a few years ago could almost have killed a few
hundred people with a shoe bomb? I remember working out of
a hotel room downtown after 9-11, while they swept the Hill
for anthrax. We live in insane times, and the more insane
they become, the more insanely brilliant these crazies
become. I was told you’re open to any possibility, Agent
Mulder, no matter how strange. I’m asking you, personally,
if you’ll just look into this possibility.”
“Assistant Director Skinner already authorized us to fly to
Cincinnati,” Agent Scully informed him, speaking for the
first time since the introductions in the senator’s
reception area. Mulder glanced over at her; Scully stared
“Excellent,” Farriman said, planting his hands on his
blotter and looking to the L.D. His aide rose, signaling
the agents to do likewise.
“Are we independently wealthy, Mulder?” Scully asked as
they reached the Longworth steps. It was a warm spring day,
and the scent of cherry blossoms wafted over the bustle of
laws being made, futures being forged, and staffers
hustling coffee and legislation. “Since when are you so
picky about the cases we accept. Note my use of pronouns.
You don’t like Farriman’s politics?”
Mulder glanced across the street at the Capitol Dome. “Ah,
he’s no different than any of the rest of them – just a
different flavor. Snaps his fingers, and there we are.”
“Mulder, I know you have a basic issue with authority, but
you’re not usually so petulant about it. I didn’t hear the
man snapping too many fingers in there. And, I might remind
you, if someone somehow is attempting to harm a U.S.
senator, that does fall within our purview.”
“C’mon, Scully; you read the file. The security for each of
Farriman’s campaign stops has been airtight. I wouldn’t be
surprised if this wasn’t some kind of media ploy. You saw
that stack of hate mail Farriman’s lackey had – maybe the
good senator’s developing a paranoid streak.”
Scully snorted as she dodged a fast-moving lobbyist. “And
you would be the authority in that area, wouldn’t you?” She
held up a hand. “Sorry. Let’s put it this way: For once,
I’m willing to go along with one of these longshot wild
goose chases. You have me in a vulnerable position – take
advantage of my moment of weakness.”
“You put it that way,” Mulder replied dryly, “you in the
mood for a long, very Atkins-friendly lunch?”
“Now, that’s the Mulder I know. And, by the way, in your
Arson Investigation Unit, Cincinnati Fire Department
“Who decorated your office?” Mulder asked Lt. Yancy
Cleland, glancing at the blankened knick-knacks, toys, and
unrecognizable lumps that lined the shelves and wall.
“Have to remember that one,” the stocky black arson
investigator murmured in a way that assured Mulder it would
be thoroughly and gratefully forgotten by the end of shift.
“Few little accessories I’ve collected over the years.
Reminds me and maybe some of the rookies what we’re up
against on a daily basis, what it can do. Maybe it helps me
connect with the folks who owned these things, remember
whose asses we’re protecting.” Cleland sank into his
antiquated office chair, which protested loudly. “Now,
whose ass are you two looking out for today?”
Scully replaced a scorched, deformed doll she’d been
inspecting. “Sen. Farriman is concerned there may have been
some possibility of foul play in the fire at the Omni Queen
Cleland picked up a mug with the common post-911 acronym
F.D.N.Y stenciled across its glazed surface. He peered at
the cold black liquid inside it, and shoved it away. “You
wasted a trip, Agents. You can tell your boy none of the
tree-huggers tried to barbecue his ass.”
Mulder perked. “You found the source of the fire.”
“Electrical,” Cleland grunted. “Well, electronic, I suppose
I oughtta say.” He opened a drawer, withdrew a manila
folder, and extended it to Mulder.
The agent examined a black-and-white closeup of a flat,
charred box that had begun to melt and run at the edges.
The casing had warped from the heat, and Mulder instantly
recognized the motherboard.
“This the senator’s PC?” he asked. Cleland nodded. “What
was it – a short or something?”
“Our guess. Though…”
“Yes?” Scully prompted.
“Just kinda curious is all,” the investigator said. “Look
at that other shot – the one of the hotel desk.”
Mulder squinted at the stark department photo of the
blackened desk and the damaged computer on it. The wall
beside the desk had been licked by flames, but a nearby
plug-in appeared untouched.
“It wasn’t even plugged in?” he challenged.
“Found the adapter cord in the senator’s computer bag, in
the suite’s foyer. This ain’t exactly my area of expertise,
but I’m thinking maybe the battery might’ve leaked, caused
some kind of electrochemical reaction or something.
Checking with some of the cybergeeks down at the CPD lab.”
Mulder lined up the photos. “We get copies of these,
please? I know a few cybergeeks of my own. By the way, if
this was deliberate, who would you look at?”
Cleland shrugged. “Man’s a congressman — suspect we might
have a few candidates, pardon the pun. Myself, I don’t care
for the man’s views on affirmative action, but he did get
us a few million more in fire grant money. Well, him and a
few dozen others, I guess, causa the 911. I don’t know,
this’d be such a freaky way of torching the place, but
given the security around that room, I would say inside
job. But you want my opinion, I’d say have a bowl of chili,
take a riverboat tour, and take a morning jet home. Less
you can prove Bill Gates had a hard-on for your senator.”
“You guys are barkin’ up the wrong tree,” Jack Kreevich
said loudly, striding purposefully between two lines of
workers. “Hey, get that headgear on, FBI – your girlfriends
at OSHA’d have our asses for breakfast.”
“That’d be an all-you-can-eat,” Mulder murmured to Scully
as the troll-like shop foreman barked a hello to some
laborers. He wedged the hardhat onto his head. “Scully,
you’re going to have a case of hat hair Paul Michel
His partner said something, but it was drowned out by the
clamor of hydraulic wrenches and welding equipment, and
Mulder was forced to read her lips.
“Same to you,” he responded.
“Here she is,” Kreevich announced, halting before a large
computer monitor and keyboard dwarfed by the mechanism next
to it. The “robot” arms looked like they’d been ripped from
the shoulder sockets of some alien monstrosity, with cables
and tubes replacing the tendons and ligaments. “Totally
computerized.” Kreevich tapped a few buttons, and the
robotic arms deftly swooped, grasped an engine assembly on
the belt below, and turned it 180 degrees. “Every safeguard
some pencil-necked engineer at the home office could dream
“So what do you think happened with Sen. Farriman? Computer
malfunction? Pilot error.”
“No, sir.” Kreevich’s voice was tense and firm. “Albert –
Albert Weller – could operate this thing in his sleep.
Always sober; always on his game. He’d’ve never let
anything like what happened that day happen. Hell, this is
a union shop – Al’s the only one in the plant with a
Farriman bumper sticker on his pickup. I don’t give a red
rat’s ass what the safety guys say – it was some kind of
computer screwup. These things are the second coming until
something goes wrong.”
Albert Weller may have been intimidated by the two FBI
agents across the table, but he didn’t let it dampen his
appetite. The sallow, rail-thin man put away a bag of
Fritos and a BLT while Mulder was introducing himself, and
continued to silently chew his apple as the agent asked his
questions. The lunch crowd had thinned, and the few
stragglers in the Avalon cafeteria glanced with impassive
curiosity at the suits grilling their coworker.
“Never had a second’s trouble with the thing ’til that day,
and they haven’t been able to find anything either in the
mechanics or the brain – the computer,” Weller said, wiping
juice from his chin. “I ain’t had any computer training
outside the job, but I had to say, I’d guess it was all
that TV shit. CNN, FOX, everybody but the Food Network was
here to cover the senator’s visit. All those cameras,
microphones, and shit must’ve caused some kinda
electromagnetic interference, or some such shit.”
“Your foreman says you’re a big Farriman backer,” Mulder
“Yeah, he’s a good man, don’t take shit from the terrorists
or the gays. Even more reason I wouldn’t try to rip him a
new one the hard way.”
Mulder grinned. “I dunno – love hath no fury like a
taxpayer scorned. Your boss said there’s been some talk of
moving your unit to Malaysia. Farriman’s not exactly a big
man with organized labor.”
Weller’s jaws stopped chewing. “Wait a minute, man. You
don’t think I’d try to waste the man? In front of God and
everybody like that? That’s freakin’ crazy!”
“You could say it was an accident,” Scully suggested,
picking up Mulder’s rhythm. “Like you are right now.”
“No, man, no, no,” the worker murmured, his fingers tearing
nervously through his thinning hair. He glanced nervously
at the two agents, and leaned forward. “Look, I don’t
expect you to believe me, but can I tell you something?”
Mulder looked to Scully, who shrugged.
“Reason I didn’t tell the cops before was cause I was
scared they’d think I was a whack job. But when the senator
was looking over the equipment up close, well, it was like
the computer took over. All of a sudden, it just started
chunking out commands, like it was thinking for itself. For
a minute or so there, it was like I couldn’t control the
Scully gave Mulder a second, genuine look of puzzlement.
Mulder’s eyes lit with curiosity.
“Swear to God,” Weller pled. “I didn’t override the thing,
Farriman’d be Kibbles and Bits right now. Hell, I saved his
life.” He paused. “I need a lawyer or something?”
“Not right now,” Mulder smiled. “Just make yourself
available in case we need a few more answers.”
“Sure, man.” Weller frantically wiped crumbs and an apple
seed from his mustache, and scurried from the cafeteria.
Scully sat back, crossing her arms. “You think he’s telling
“It should be no surprise to you,” Mulder said, “but I do.”
“That the computer just commandeered the robot and tried to
kill Sen. Farriman? Mulder, I will agree it’s unlikely
Weller would’ve tried to murder the senator, but it makes
far more sense that he hit the wrong keys at the wrong
time, slipped, something like that. He was probably nervous
– he was 20 feet from his hero, and surrounded by cameras.
Or maybe there’s something to what he said, about all the
electronics in the vicinity somehow interfering with the
Mulder shook his head. “It makes as much sense to say your
blow dryer could cause your toaster to go on the fritz. No,
I think any interference was internal.”
“Within the computer? Remote control? You mean someone else
took over the controls to kill Farriman?”
“The forensics people virtually took that computer apart.
It was a self-contained system – no network connection, no
modem, and the BPD found no software apps that would allow
for remote operation. And besides, Farriman’s toadie said
the plant tour was spontaneous – the senator was there to
talk to a group of workers , but he saw a good photo op
with the robot. Probably got it from Dave, you know, Kevin
Kline? No way anyone could have anticipated he’d be up
close and personal with Weller and his boy toy.”
Scully braced herself. “OK. Give.”
Mulder rose with a half-grin. “Not yet, not ’til we visit
Frohike and the gang. Fella’s got to have a few secrets.
Hey, look – he left a Rice Krispie Treat behind.”
“C’mon,” Scully breathed, grabbing his elbow. “And by the
way, I don’t happen to use a blow-dryer.”
Office of The Lone Gunman
“Mulder,” Byers beamed, swinging open the warehouse’s
“Scully,” Frohike exclaimed, his face materializing behind
his co-editor’s elbow.
“Do I have to spray Bitter Apple on my partner, Frohike?”
Mulder sighed, brushing past the gnomish conspiracy
theorist. “Any good dish lately, boys?”
“Source in the Democrat National Committee told us John
Kerry had been replaced with a robot,” Byers reported
earnestly, “but it was impossible to verify.”
“Closet neocon,” Frohike grumbled, moving into the
cluttered “newsroom”/data collection center. “Coffee,
agents? I think we still have some from yesterday.”
“Tuesday,” his suited compatriot corrected. “I can scrape
the skin off.”
“No, thank you,” Scully sighed. “Mulder, maybe now you can
remove the shroud from your mysterious theory?”
“Where’s Langly?” Mulder asked, peering into the murk of
the warehouse The Lone Gunmen called home. “I need a
cybergeek, and I need him now.”
“Cybergeek at your service, dude.” A long-haired,
spectacled refugee from a 1978 Metallica concert emerged
from beneath a wobbly workstation. “What’s up?”
Mulder extended the envelope from the Cincinnati PD. “Want
you should look at some photos and tell me how this laptop
might’ve spontaneously combusted.”
“Jeez, you think I’m the Amazing Maleeni or something?”
Langly moaned, leafing through photos of an incinerated
PC. “I can tell you a few ways this might’ve happened,
mainly with lighter fluid, but unless I can commune mano-a-
“That’s only part of the equation. I’d also like to know
how somebody could tinker with the on-board computer of a
tightly guarded limo and sabotage the computer controls for
an assembly line robot.”
“We’re not the Pep Boys, so you’ll have to ask Mr.
Goodwrench about the limo. But it would be too tough to
fool with the hard drive on that robot, if you had the
“They didn’t. The hard drive was inspected immediately
after the accident, and there was no modem or external
connection to the robot PC, so I can’t see how anybody
would’ve been able to establish a remote link. And nobody
knew the almost-victim was going to use the robot the day
it went kerflooey. Same with the limo – the rental company
suddenly had to switch the victim’s limo for one that had
just been driven a few hundred miles. Even if somebody
could’ve switched mother boards while they cleaned the car
up for the victim, we couldn’t find any evidence of
tampering. Lemme me hit you with a concept, and you tell me
what you think. Cyberkinesis.”
The Gunmen glanced at each other. “You just make that up?”
Mulder smiled. “What’s the possibility a person could forge
a mental link with a computer hard drive? A telepathic
“Mulder,” Scully sighed.
“C’mon, Scully – we have ample documented evidence of human
telepathy and telekinesis. If brainwaves, thoughts, are
merely bioelectrical impulses, and psychic transference is
merely the transmission or reception of those signals, then
why is it impossible to believe we could psychically read
the electronic information stored in a computer?”
“Well, first of all,” Scully drawled, “I’m not aware of
such definitive documentation of psychic phenomena, but
even so, to make the leap that a human and a machine could
become psychically linked…”
Mulder nodded eagerly. “And think of the advances that have
been made in bringing human and cybernetic thought
processes into line. MS Word intuitively corrects
misspellings and suggests grammatical changes as you type.
True artificial intelligence is probably only a few years
away, if it’s not already here.”
“NASA’s looking at software that would enable computers to
understand words that haven’t yet been spoken,” Langly
noted. “The software would analyze nerve commands to the
throat – lots of times, a person thinks of phrases and
talks to himself so quietly they can’t be heard, but the
tongue and vocal cords nonetheless receive speech signals
from the brain. It’s the first step toward truly telepathic
Scully crossed her arms in a familiar and unyielding
stance. “Those are technological changes based on training
computers to anticipate common individual thoughts or
activities or to read sub-vocal but nonetheless palpable
Mulder threw an arm around her shoulder. “And you wonder
why I love this gal, boys.”
Scully’s elbow dug into his intercostals ribs. “Mulder,
would you like a non-telepathic signal that I assure you
will resonate throughout your inner being?”
The arm retreated.
“Why isn’t it possible, Agent Scully?” Byers murmured. “Man
has adapted – in some cases, mutated — to environmental,
climatic, and even social stimuli over the eons. Maybe, as
our civilization becomes more dependent on digital
information and less dependent on human interaction,
psychic capabilities are evolving into cyberspace. There’s
an entire agoraphobic generation out there that has trouble
interrelating without cell phones, emoticons, or a chat
“Sandra Bullock, The Net,” Frohike cited.
“Dude,” Langley snorted. “Angelina Jolie, Hackers. Cooler
flick, hotter chick.”
“Siskel, Ebert,” Mulder sighed. “Let me hit you with
something – it may be totally off the rails, but this whole
AI thing kind of brought it back to me. Esther Nairn?”
Langley’s pointed jaw fell, and Byers’ already somber brow
furrowed. “Hoochie mama,” Frohike simply murmured.
“Esther Nairn?” Scully mouthed. Then, awareness dawned in
her eyes. “Mulder, are you suggesting there’s any validity
to that cybernerd urban legend?”
“Hey,” the Lone Gunmen protested in unison. They had been
the recipient of the programmer extraordinaire’s purported
first contact from beyond the digital divide, more than six
years ago. Esther Nairn had been the companion of a
missing software pioneer, whose shell had been found
hardwired into a complex computer network in a heavily
fortified mobile home. He – it had tried to make Mulder a
similar human server, and in rescuing the agent, Esther had
misguidedly tried to become one with the World Wide Web.
The disincorporated soul of Esther Nairn was said by
hackers and crackers worldwide to be surfing the depths of
the Internet, occasionally making her presence known
through some fabulously complex virus or worm or a
mischievous e-mail left inside an “impenetrable” corporate
or government firewall.
“Present company excepted,” Scully relented. “Esther Nairn
died when that trailer blew, Mulder. She didn’t uplink, she
didn’t digitize, she didn’t metamorphasize – she just
vaporized. The Internet community has tried to keep her
alive in spirit – very likely wish-fulfillment by a group
of undersexed, hardwired geeks. Present company excepted.”
The Gunmen shrugged graciously.
“And besides, Mulder,” Scully added, “if you had
successfully linked to the world’s most extensive
informational entity, recreating yourself as a new life
form, why would you want to off some two-bit politician.”
“Was Esther particularly political, guys?” Mulder asked.
Byers shook her head. “Except for a hatred of digital
capitalism, she never seemed especially interested in
social causes. The only thing is…”
“Well, I assume you’re talking about these attacks on Clark
Farriman?” Byers shrugged humbly. “A computerized robot, a
luxury rental car I assume to be equipped with a
sophisticated on-board computer, and a hotel fire linked to
Scully’s brow rose. “How did you know about the fire?
That’s still under investi-”
“The discussion boards have been all lit up about it,”
Langley provided. “What I heard, the hotel maid who
reported the fire leaked. I’m a love-and-peace guy myself,
but there are those in our little community who wouldn’t
mind seeing Farriman fricasseed.”
“The Internet Security and Decency Act of 2004,” Frohike
pronounced gravely. “Introduced in the Senate three weeks
ago. Harsher criminal penalties for hackers and spammers,
mandatory firewall and filter systems for all U.S. service
providers, an FCC-style agency to enforce new decency
standards. Sponsor, Clark Farriman.”
Mulder laughed, disbelievingly. “That’s ridiculous. There’s
no conceivable way to regulate an interstate, international
system with millions of cyberspace on- and off-ramps.”
“Like I said, I hold no animus toward the man, other than
that he’s a neocon clown. People want to protect the kids
from predators and crack down on the spammers – Farriman’s
just giving the folks what they want. The bill won’t go
anywhere. Even if she took an interest, Esther would
Scully nodded, and grabbed Mulder’s sleeve. “There. See?
The goth ghost lady didn’t do it. You’ll have to get your
hard drive off some other way.”
“Hoochie mama,” Frohike breathed.
Gessner Institute for Neuromuscular Research
The girl at the monitor studiously ignored Mulder and
Scully as Dr. Karin Lenz escorted them into the lab. She
could have been anywhere from 10 to 18 – disease had
twisted her arms and legs into uselessness, and her
expression beneath the elaborate headband was slack and
asymmetrical, beyond some flitting eye movement. The
Gessner Institute’s hallways and workrooms were populated
by victims of cerebral palsy, final stage MS, and a host of
nervous disorders that had locked them into a life of
But the screen before the girl continued to fill with
characters, the cursor stopping occasionally to delete a
word or phrase. Mulder leaned in to get a look, and the
“Heather’s rather shy about strangers reading her work,
Agent,” Dr. Lenz chided.
“Sorry,” Mulder murmured, backing away. The girl resumed
“writing,” and Lenz ushered her guests toward the far end
of the lab.
“We discovered Heather had an astounding aptitude for
writing after her parents brought her here,” the scientist
told Mulder and Scully, glancing proudly at the girl.
“We’ve been able to unlock that marvelous mind of hers, and
I have every hope we can integrate her into an advanced
“The headband,” Mulder said. “That’s a Cyberlink device?”
Lens looked up with a surprised smile. “Yes, Andrew Junker
over at Brain Actuated Technologies developed the Cyberlink
Interface, and we’ve added some refinements that enable
even severely impaired individuals like Heather to clearly
communicate hands-free via PC.
“The system combines eye and facial muscle movement and
brainwave bio-potentials to generate computer inputs – the
signals detected by plastic sensors in the headband are
sent to a Cyberlink interface box that contains a bio-
amplifier and signal processor, and the interface box
connects to the PC computer’s serial port. The forehead
signals then are amplified, digitized, and translated by a
decoding algorithm into multiple command signals, creating
an intuitive and, we’ve found, easily learned hands-free
“So the computer ‘reads’ Heather’s thoughts?” Scully
“Essentially. The signals gather by the headband receiver
are translated into three basic types of control signals.
The first relates primarily to eye movements, and can be
mapped to left and right cursor motion or on/off switch
control, like a TV remote. The second reflects internal
brainwave and subtle facial muscle activity: Users can
control their environment through subtle tensing and
relaxing of various muscles including the forehead, eye,
and jaw muscles. Typically, that’s used for vertical or
horizontal cursor movement. The third type of control is
primarily facial muscle activity, and it’s typically used
for on/off control program commands, switch closures,
keyboard commands, and the functions of the left and right
“We’ve just landed a federal grant to expand our system to
accommodate a living environment equipped with a highly
sensitized infrared/radio monitoring system. Instead of
being encumbered with the headband and accompanying
apparatus, Heather could feed eye and muscular signals into
the monitoring system to turn on lights and appliances and
perform a variety of other functions. We’re aiming toward
helping people like Heather gain both professional and
“Is Heather one of your more advanced subjects, Dr. Lenz?”
The scientist crossed her arms and regarded the agent.
“Could I ask what your interest is here, Agent Mulder? You
weren’t very precise on the phone this morning.”
“Nothing to do with the institute, doctor,” he assured her.
“Just a little deep background on AI and assistive
technologies. We’re working a case where someone appears to
have established some kind of remote link with random
computer systems. Hands-free, modem-free, cross-platform.”
Lenz frowned. “Well, as you can see, as far as we’ve come
with Heather, we still have to rely on a battery of
interface devices and receiving systems. What you’re
describing, well, that’s decades beyond any development
I’ve heard of. It sounds more like some kind of military or
“God help us,” Mulder grinned grimly.
Deep down, The Judge was a relic of his generation – in
affect, the cyberspace equivalent of a playuh hater. He
viewed the Information Age as some kind of Decline and Fall
of the Global Empire and the Internet as the domain of the
perverted and the pierced.
“Someday, you will realize the tremendous favor I am doing
you,” he’d said before he’d undocked me. He always talked
that way, no contractions, like a white James Earl Jones
without the kickass modulation. “If I have an addict before
my bench, I make every attempt to sever him from his
dealer, even if that means prison. In your case, less
extreme but no less stringent measures appear necessary.”
I had accepted the “measures” without whining. The Judge
was immune to human emotion, and I was certain someone of
my unique technical abilities could find a backdoor out.
So far, I hadn’t. He was killing me slowly — I should have
had him offed before sentencing. However, with that out of
the question, I could at least keep him from undocking all
of us, which appeared to be his long-term goal.
But even that was proving more difficult than I had
imagined: Farriman was still among the living, and it was
only a matter of time before he went public. The accidents,
the fire had been lame-ass failures. I had to figure out
something bigger, more surefire. Maybe create a little
collateral damage if I had to. I actually kind of liked
that idea – it would confuse the cops, divert attention.
Everybody would assume it was a little post-9/11 havoc.
I’d undock both of them – Farriman permanently.
J. Edgar Hoover Building
“You interested in something mundane and non-
preternatural?” Scully inquired as Mulder returned from
Skinner’s office. “Granted, we’re unlikely to solve this
case using rational earthly logic, but–”
“Scully, please – your sarcasm sucks. What’ve you got?”
His partner spread a sheaf of photos on the desk before
her. “I got some photos from the Post and the Cincinnati
and Baltimore papers and vidcaps from Farriman’s near-fatal
campaign stops. If some kind of serial stalker is at work
here, he or she might well want to be around for the
fireworks. Aside from the senator’s staff, I’ve IDed two
people who were at the scenes of the limo and robot
accidents and at the hotel at the time of the laptop fire.
They’re both reporters – one for Farriman’s hometown paper,
the other for his state’s major daily.”
“What do we know about this hometown guy?”
“Squeaky. More interesting from the standpoint of your
crackpot theory was who was near the scenes of the crime.
As you’ve pointed out repeatedly, Sen. Farriman is a
controversially figure. There were dozens of protestors at
each of his appearances – anti-war and pro-choice groups in
Bethesda, anti-trade protestors outside the Baltimore
plant, and gay rights marchers in Ohio. Another group was
in attendance at all three locations. FREENET ring a bell?”
Mulder’s eyes lit up. “FREENET – the voice of Free
Cyberspace. They started up a few years back, about the
time Congress started pushing to tax Internet sales and
clamp down on cyberfraud. They’re the PETA of the Web – let
no man abridge the rights of hackers, crackers, spammers,
or porno slackers. The group’s mostly a bunch of media-
grabbers – the most violent they ever get is crashing The
Man’s hard drive.”
Scully leaned back. “Well, maybe they’ve graduated. Most of
the FREENET protestors at the Farriman stops were local
chapter people, except for Raymond Kelch.”
“Rabid Ray Kelch,” Mulder sighed. “The living
personification of the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy, without
the sparkling personality. Larry Flynt’s a more lovable
press bunny.” He picked up a photo and smiled at Ray, a
350-pound, thirtysomething man with a sharp goatee and an
elevated right middle finger. “Suppose it does fit – Ray
was a reputed repeat cyberterrorist until he got caught six
months ago trying to break into Bill Gates’ home PC.
Federal judge slapped a boot on him.”
Mulder flopped into a chair. “Best way to describe it. It’s
like one of those electronic anklets they put on paroled
molesters to keep tabs on them, except this one goes off
like a Brinks alarm if the offender gets within two feet of
a computer. Some enterprising company came out with them a
while back to capitalize on the growing cybercrime
industry. If our friend Ray even reached for a mouse, some
guy at a console sends the dogs after him.
“So Ray not only would be one of a handful of people with
the technical expertise to pull this off in a – yawn –
plausible way: He would have had to work out a way to get
into those computers without physical contact. Which,
according to the Dynamic Trio, is probably impossible.”
Scully blinked, once. “Probably. So, anyway, this Kelch
lives here in D.C. – runs FREENET out of his apartment.”
“Rabid Ray,” Mulder murmured. “To the Fedmobile, my
Residence of Raymond Kelch/FREENET headquarters
“Shit,” Raymond Kelch grunted, beefy fingers wrapped around
his scabby second-floor door. “Thought you were the kung pao
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Mulder said cheerfully. “You
know, there is a Chinese restaurant downstairs.”
“They don’t deliver,” Kelch stated.
“They’re downstairs,” Scully repeated.
“Yeah? You said that,” the obese cyberspace radical
“I’m Special Agent Scully, this is Special Agent Mulder,”
she breathed, badging Kelch.
“Ja, mein herr,” Kelch sighed. “Mi casa your casa, unless I
wanna get hauled downtown, right?” He moved aside, but his
huge belly, draped in a T-shirt depicting a boy urinating
on an IBM, still encompassed half the doorway. Scully edged
past, and Mulder gestured their host inside.
Kelch’s apartment was a clutter of pizza boxes, Chinese
food cartons, and boxes of pamphlets. Mulder pulled one
from a stack and read the blaring headline. “‘Fight the
police stat?’ Police STAT?”
“Yeah, our printer sucks,” Kelch said sourly, dropping onto
an abused couch. “I’d’ve done it myself, but you storm
troopers undocked me.”
“Undocked?” Scully inquired, standing over the shaggy
“Yeah, you want to undock us from our ideas, from our
planet, from your comfortable little society. We’ve got
something important to say, and it scares you.”
Mulder grinned. “If I remember right, what you had to say
was, ‘Gates blows,’ and you’d planned to send him three
million anonymous e-mails telling him so, along with the
muthah of all Trojan horses. Guess it doesn’t sound like
“Yeah,” Kelch glowered. He held up his wrist, which bore a
snug, thick bracelet with a small LCD display. Mulder eyed
the UnBoot alarm device. “My point is, historical relics
like that judge who had me fitted for this charming piece
of jewelry, like those Moral Majority jokers up on the
Hill, are terrified of the potential of cyberspace, of a
universe no petty despot can control…”
“Speaking of which, Clark Farriman says hi.”
“Farriman? The Goebbels of the Great Undocked? That what
you’re here about? That accident at the widget plant down
“And the auto mishap in Bethesda and the Cincinnati hotel
fire,” Scully prompted.
Kelch emitted a single chortle, a sort of still-born belch
of derision. “God, you got a higher opinion of me than I
do, and that ain’t easy. You don’t really believe Farriman
is the target of some hacker hitsquad, do you? You don’t
think I hacked into an on-board automotive computer? LOFL,
man. My personal theory is that this is some kind of
cyberspace karma coming home to roost.”
“Maybe Esther Nairn?” Mulder ventured.
The hacker extraordinaire looked to Scully. “Your partner’s
hard drive needs a little defragging, I think.”
Scully didn’t comment. Mulder glared at her.
Kelch sighed. “Look, even if I had the expertise to do what
you said, I wouldn’t waste a nanosecond on Clark Farriman.
He’s just some right-wing jerkwad who’s trying to trade on
the public’s fear of technology to score a few votes.
Farriman’s no threat, man – Congress’ll never pass that
manifesto of his. The courts, man – that’s where the real
danger is. The guys in dresses who think they’re gods.
That’s who we have to worry about shutting us down.
Farriman’s just a trained monkey. You gotta watch out for
the judges, The Man.”
“All right,” Mulder nodded. “If not you, then who? Who’d
want to yank the senator’s ticket?”
The Che Guevera of Cyberspace nestled back in his cushion
and considered. “Maybe some hot, nubile little
congressional intern could suck the graphics card out of a
CPU. Maybe Farriman kissed off some sweet little poli-sci
android with a nice rack.”
“Really miss that computer, huh?” Mulder sympathized.
“You can’t beat the boot,” Paul Trangh stated, shaking his
head vigorously. “You like that? We go consumer, that’s
what I’m going to suggest to Marketing. You can’t beat the
“Wouldn’t it be the ‘You can’t beat the UnBoot?'” Scully
asked the engineer. Trangh and Mulder exchanged the
universal geek’s eyeroll. “So in your opinion, it would be
impossible for Mr. Kelch to have overridden this device?”
“Well, impossible,” Trangh breathed. “Nothing’s absolutely
foolproof, especially with a guy like Rabid Ray. But we
built this baby precisely for a guy like Ray, for the
criminal justice system. Once secured, you can’t open the
wrist piece without breaking it, and once you break it, it
sends an impulse to our system administrator, kinds like
how OnStar can tell if your engine’s going to blow. The
UnBoot has a satellite-controlled tracker that records the
user’s movements anywhere on the planet. Just in case
somebody was clever enough to slip the boot, the user’s
biometric signal is carried on the tracking impulse. Also
works nice as a medical alert signal, ‘case the user ODs on
one too many Big Macs.”
“So you’ve met Ray,” Mulder mused.
Trangh’s bespectacled eyes lit up. “He’s like my
underground hero, dude. Power to the System. Kind of hate
to think we’re responsible for clipping Ray’s wings.”
“How many of these things you guys got out there right
“Four,” Trangh responded automatically. He blinked. “Three,
I mean. Sorry, dude, must need a Dew. Yeah, three. See, we
got some Justice Department funds to try the UnBoot out in
Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. Let’s see – Ray’s got one, and
some kiddie porn collector in Arlington got another, part
of a plea bargain along with the other members of his e-
mail file-swapping buddies. And the third one got clapped
on some junior high kid in Southeast was using the school
lab computer to cook up some virus code.”
“Sounds like it’s catching on,” Scully said.
“Cybercrime’s ‘way up – you can look at the DOJ stats.
‘Sides, all three boots were ordered by the same judge.
Hardass with the D.C. district court, got a thing about
hackers and crackers. Messimore, yeah – Judge Wesley
Messimore. Guy’s single-handedly keeping our grant funding
alive. Dude, what’s wrong?”
It was Mulder’s turn to blink. He smiled at the tech.
“Sorry. I could do a Dew myself.”
Mulder hung in the driver’s doorway as he pulled the
Rauxton Technologies visitor’s pass from the dashboard
inside. “The tone of mutual reverence and regard for the
exchange of ideas is inspiring, Scully. I mean, if you want
to drive, I’ll get the booster seat out of the trunk.”
His partner looked over the top of her shades. “You went
off into cyberspace when Trangh mentioned the judge. What
are you thinking?”
He slid in behind the wheel, and Scully bent into the car’s
interior. “OK. Rabid Ray doesn’t seem to have a real
problem with Clark Farriman, right? He’s just a mosquito, a
political pest. The courts are the real threat to a free
and open Internet.”
“So what if all of this is aimed at Wesley Messimore
instead of the congressman?”
“Rather convoluted route, don’t you think? What’s the
Mulder leaned back in his seat. “I’ve read some stuff about
this Messimore. He’s a real hardcore, right-wing Cotton
Mather type. If he’d been around at the Salem Witch Trials,
he’d have been considered one ba-a-a-ad muthah.”
“Shut your mouth,” Scully sighed, playing along with her
partner’s pop culture reference to expedite things.
“Well, ever since Justice Mason keeled over last fall, the
administration’s been looking for a new Supreme Court
justice the Senate would be willing to confirm without a
public circus or a filibuster. Messimore’s tough on
criminal justice issues and some First Amendment stuff, but
he tends to be hard on corporate defendants in pollution
cases. He’s an old-style Audubon Society guy, kind of
grassroots enviro the libs could get behind, maybe given
the right support on a few strategic bills.”
Scully frowned for a second, and then it dawned. “You think
Farriman’s thinking of nominating Messimore for that seat?
And, what, Ray is trying to kill Farriman before he can put
Cyberspace’s Most Wanted on the high court?”
Mulder beamed. “Now, that’s the Scully I enjoy playing IRS
auditor-and-white collar felon with.”
“I wonder if they make an UnBoot for horny UFO nuts,”
Scully grumbled. “One in a special size.”
“Youch,” Mulder gasped with horror and just a trace of
Wesley Messimore residence
“Wow,” the ponytailed girl breathed, her large blue eyes
popping. “You guys are like really FBI agents? That is so
Mulder smiled at the flawless young blonde poised in the
colonial-style doorway, and pocketed his ID. The
neighborhood was all sprawling, flawlessly green lawns
flourishing despite an ongoing drought, flawlessly white
columns and flawlessly constructed masonry, and flawless
avenues free of the gulches and crevasses of most of D.C.’s
streets. The agent had begun to feel he’d stepped into
Stepford, and the fresh-scrubbed debutante before him
seemed to confirm it. “Your dad home, uh…?”
“Oh, Syd, sir – Sydney,” she bubbled, beaming, eager to
please. Mulder beamed back
“Syd,” Scully inquired patiently, “is Judge Messimore home
“Oh, Jeez,” the tall, athletically built girl laughed.
“Duh. Sure, come on in. DADDY?”
Mulder and Scully jumped, but followed her into the marble
foyer of Judge Wesley Messimore’s Tudor-style Georgetown
home. His daughter disappeared into a hallway beyond the
“Nice place,” Mulder finally commented, studying an old oil
of New England sailing ships. “Can’t wait to see the
“Yeah,” Scully responded, drily. “Where’s the Bigmouth
“Hey, it went with the décor.”
Syd reappeared, pulling a rubber band from her ponytail and
swishing her shiny hair free. “C’mon, guys – he’s in the
library. Y’know, I think maybe we’ve still got some
lemonade Sandra – the housekeeper – made this morning. You
want some? It’s really yummy.”
“Sounds yummy,” Mulder said.
“No thanks,” Scully answered for both of them.
“You go to Georgetown, Syd?” Mulder asked as they moved
down a wainscoted corridor lined with more vintage nautical
paintings. He was beginning to feel the need for some
Syd stopped and turned, confusion lining her brow. Then the
perfect white teeth re-emerged, and she plucked at her T-
shirt. “Cause of this? Oh, no – I’m at Wellesington, it’s a
private college in Maryland. I, uh, was dating some guy
from G.U. last year, and, oh, you don’t want to hear it.”
Scully suppressed a sigh of relief. Syd stopped at the last
doorway, and the trio peeked inside to see a sturdy man
with salt-and-pepper hair and a long Roman nose setting a
thick volume on an antique end table next to his wine-
colored leather wing chair. He was dressed as though he’d
just closeted his judicial robe, in a white pinpoint oxford
shirt, gray flannel slacks, and oxblood oxfords. Judge
Messimore was surrounded by clusters of uniform volumes of
varying color – the accumulated statutes, codes, acts, and
codicils of a nation.
“Here they are, Daddy,” Syd announced, rubbing her neck
“Yes,” he answered drily, eyes growing narrow seemingly not
at the agents but at his daughter. Syd beamed expectantly.
“Sydney, why don’t you see what’s keeping dinner, eh? You
two, please, have a seat. Thank you, dear.”
The judge leaned back and steepled his fingers over his
stomach. “Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Your
father was William Scully, am I right, Agent? Impressive
man – met him at a White House function, Reagan White
House,” he added as if the point were somehow crucial. “I
understand you two are investigating some matter for Clark
“A matter involving Sen. Farriman,” Mulder said with a calm
The judge nodded approvingly. “I stand corrected. “Clark
has been a good friend, and if there’s anything I can do to
assist him, well, I’m at your disposal. My guess is you
have reason to suspect Clark’s recent series of
“You seem to know a lot, sir,” Scully murmured.
Judge Messimore shrugged. “I knew Jerry Ford very well –
well before his presidency — and even he couldn’t rack up
the record of mishaps Clark’s managed to compile in the
past month or so. No public servant who does his job
adequately escapes office without a solid list of enemies.
Clark and I frequently compare lists, and lately it’s been
heavy with computer-literate, societally inept individuals
who take exception to our efforts to curb the excesses of
the technology. I assume you’ve called on Raymond Kelch, or
is he next on the agenda?”
Now, Mulder nodded approvingly. “No wonder the senator
wants you as power-forward for O’Connor and Scalia.”
The judge’s expression froze, and he regarded the bemused
agent neutrally. “May I ask where you heard this piece of
intelligence? We’ve managed to keep the Post and CNN in the
dark about my pending nomination – and I do emphasize
‘pending.’ Either there’s a leak somewhere, or you’re both
very good at your jobs.”
“Your taxpayer dollars at work. Don’t worry – it was just
conjecture on our part. So, have you had any threats from
Mr. Kelch or any other cyberactivists?”
“Cyberterrorists, Agent Mulder,” Judge Messimore amended
pointedly. “Activism implies civil disobedience in the name
of some greater good. These people are thugs who’ve
conspired to exploit an essentially lawless system. The
Internet is one of the greatest achievements of our
military R&D effort, but in opening an international,
public on-ramp to the Information Superhighway, we’ve also
opened a Pandora’s box. Criminals, pornographers, and
conmen have found a lawless new territory in which to prey
on the innocent, and any disgruntled or disenfranchised
soul with a detailed knowledge of program code could bring
down a major corporation or a federal agency.
“Don’t get me wrong: We live in a land of protected speech
and expression, and I wouldn’t presume to change that. But
just as we’re prohibited from shouting fire in a crowded
theater or instigating a riot through our unfettered
political or religious expression, I believe we have to
draw a line somewhere. That’s what the courts are for, and
I’ll unapologetically bring the full force of the law down
on anyone who’d use technology to victimize society or
corrupt the young. New technology creates new law.”
“So, in other words, the answer is yes,” Mulder concluded.
The judge’s smile was steely, but the heat drained from his
face. “Yes. Mr. Kelch is too practiced to openly threaten
violence against a federal judge, but even after his
conviction, he’s continued to regale me with strident – and
badly phrased, I might add – invective against my ‘Gestapo
tactics.’ With the media coverage of my ‘creative
sentencing,’ I’ve received at least 50 more far less
“Any mention Sen. Farriman, as well?” Scully inquired.
“None, as I recall, or I’d have notified Clark. My clerk
will give you complete access to every piece of
correspondence. In exchange, I’ll trust in your discretion
about my nomination. I don’t mind a little media heat, but
this is an election year, and during what we call the silly
season, timing is everything.”
“We’ll do our best,” Scully murmured, rising.
Judge Messimore didn’t appear pleased, but he nodded
curtly. “Very good. You remember your way out?”
“Your Honor, you mind if I use your, uh…” Mulder grinned
“Certainly. Guest lavatory’s off the foyer.”
“Thanks.” The agent disappeared, and Scully coughed in a
“Agent Scully,” the judge rumbled thoughtfully. “When your
partner called me, I asked around a bit about you two and
this obscure little branch of the Bureau you work out of. I
understand Agent Mulder is inclined toward taking the most
circuitous route to solving a case. Does he have some
rational reason to believe Clark and myself are the targets
of some mad ‘cyberactivist’?”
Scully stared at him for a second while formulating a
response. None came.
“Ah,” Messimore said, reaching for his book.
“Thanks for coming, guys!” Syd sang from an Adirondack
chair on the wide porch, as if the pair had delivered a
casserole. “Hope you solve your case!”
“Nancy Drew needs to kick it down a notch,” Scully
muttered, beaming a return greeting.
“Or perhaps someone could kick their dosage up a notch,”
Mulder suggested, waving to the judge’s daughter. “I
thought she was nice – kind of a sororitized Darryl
Scully’s eyes rolled toward the cloudless sky. “Mulder, I
hope you’re not working up to some kind of kinky
roleplaying game. Law and Order’s on tonight.”
“Too bad, young lady, ’cause your mid-terms are right on
the edge between a D and an F. Seriously, though, Barbie
back there did give me an idea. On the case, that is.”
Scully stopped before the passenger door of their sedan.
“Mulder, if that girl ever had an idea of her own, I’d urge
her to hold onto it like grim death.”
She was interrupted by the trill of Mulder’s cell phone.
“Yeah,” her partner responded. “Sen. Farriman? Yeah, we can
talk. C’mon…No shit?” He looked up at Scully. “Wow, and
they’re sure? No shit? You got it right now? Scully and I
will be right over to take a look, OK? Thanks – owe you.”
Mulder folded the cell phone and slipped it back into his
pocket with a frown spreading across his face. He leaned
back against the car.
“What?” Scully demanded.
“It looks like our Sen. Farriman may be in some deep do-do.
Couple of the guys in Cybercrimes got a tip and paid a
routine visit to Capitol Hill. Farriman voluntarily
surrendered his private laptop and guess what they found?”
Scully leaned over the hood. “Mulder…”
“Roughly 500 megabytes of porn. Teen porn. Junior high,
high school stuff. Apparently, a female aide came in with a
file while the senator was out on a vote and saw a
particularly graphic sample.”
“My God,” Scully breathed, shaking her head. “Well, Mulder,
I guess our work here is done – the senator should be safe
in federal custody.”
Mulder nodded slowly. “I don’t know, Scully. We have good
circumstantial evidence of computer tampering in this case
– maybe remote tampering. Farriman might not be a lot of my
favorite things, but wouldn’t you like to know we got the
University of Maryland Imaging Lab
“Extraordinary,” Chuck Burks murmured, eyes aglow with
scientific excitement. He turned from his PC. “Mulder, this
is sheer genius.”
Scully bent down and peered at the single window the
imaging specialist had opened in Photoshop. The girl in the
.jpg was pleasuring herself with an appliance the
sporadically devout Catholic had never before seen.
“Disgusting, appalling, yeah. Genius is one term I wouldn’t
have come up with.”
Chuck blushed. “No, Agent. Geez. No, I meant the quality of
the manipulation here.”
Mulder, who had began to fade during his friend’s discourse
on digital imaging, now perked. He jumped from his lab
stool. “They’re fakes.”
“Not in the standard sense,” the doughy scientist murmured,
zooming in until the nude teen degenerated into a mosaic of
multicolored pixels. “Every sample you brought me from the
senator’s hard drive had almost identical sharpness,
curves, and levels – uh, lightness, contrast, and the like.
That in itself was unusual enough, if these files were
supposed to be from a variety of sources. And the uh,
girls, in the hundred or so photos I examined, well, they
were strangely similar.”
“Probably a lot of them feature the same girls,” Scully
Burks shook his head. “They were different girls, but they
all shared many of the same facial features. One girl’s
slightly crooked nose pops up with another’s hairstyle and
a third girl’s triangular chin, and the chin turns up on 15
other girls. It’s like Mr. Potatohead – it’s like parts of
10 or 12 girls have been mixed or matched. But there aren’t
any artifacts – the mattes, mismatched light patterns, or
other digital blemishes you’d see if these photos had been
even professionally manipulated.”
Scully looked at Mulder, who shrugged. “What are you
telling us, Chuck?”
“That these images — what did you say, 500 megabytes of
them? – weren’t shot or scanned or downloaded from
anywhere. They were created.”
“Created?” Scully gasped. “That’s incredible.”
Burks nodded almost cheerfully, having gained his
audience’s attention. “And I don’t mean they were drawn,
colored, and scanned. I mean they were assembled, pixel by
pixel, with photo-like precision. You’d have to be an
expert to spot it. But I’d testify to it, if you need me
Scully glanced at the pornographic mosaic on Burks’
monitor. “We’ll need you to.”
As part of my sentence, the judge had ordered me into
counseling “to help develop sane and healthy outlets for
your pathological rage.” I almost preferred the UnBoot: The
court-ordered shrink was a condescending bitch who believed
she’d gained some handle on my psychosis from the moment my
ass hit her bomber leather couch. We’d sparred a few dozen
rounds over a half-dozen sessions before she threw in the
The only things of merit Dr. Welkin was able to contribute
to me were a few stress relief exercises, which I now
After the Dynamic Duo from the FBI showed up (LOFL), I’d
decided a more rational, subtle approach was needed with
“Clark.” I remembered the job the media had done on that
Illinois guy just because he’d suggested a few kinky moves
to his Star Trek babe wife. If I’ve learned anything about
the hypocrisy of public life, it’s that sex kills, at least
in politics. If I couldn’t off Farriman physically, I could
bury his career.
When CNN reported the porn on Clark’s hard drive was phony
and probably planted, I nearly shit a brick. I thought I’d
done an artful job, but somebody – maybe the FBI geek and
his redheaded girlfriend – had seen right through it. I’d
have to watch my ass from now on.
MULDER AND SCULLY.
E’s sexless, ageless voice had popped into my brain like a
telepathic IM pop-up. What?, I thought. You know them or
THE GEEK AND HIS GIRLFRIEND. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THEM.
At first, I was terrified I’d gone schizo or something, or
worse, that “God” had started talking to me like that Joan
of Arcadia nerd. But then I connected it up with my
recently acquired cyberskills – I’d made first contact with
some kind of artificial intelligence, maybe some
Supercomputer at the Pentagon or somebody’s mutant virus
that had grown an attitude.
They’ll never figure it out, I assured E. They’re a couple
of bureaucratic dweebs.
So what do I do, O Great AI?
I already tried to waste the guy. What’s bigger than that?
CRASH THE SYSTEM.
Speak English, dude…whatever you are.
A knock at the door interrupted E’s reply. Come on, what do
you mean?, I demanded.
The knock turned into closed-fisted pounding. I sighed
loudly, and went to answer it.
Wesley Messimore residence
“Clear case of self-defense,” Lt. Stewart Hedger grunted,
displaying a Ziploc evidence bag sagging under the weight
of a .38 revolver. “Homeowner went to investigate a
suspicious sound about the time Capitol Security received
an alert the house security system had been breached. The
deceased came at him with a hunting knife, and Judge
Messimore dropped him with a single shot. Clean shoot, far
as I’m concerned.”
“Charlton Heston’d be proud,” Mulder mumbled, regarding the
sweat-suited corpse crumpled against the upstairs hallway
wall. “You got an ID yet?”
“Got a couple guys out scouting any suspicious vehicles in
a five- or six-block radius. Nothing on the block here –
would’ve stood out like a sore thumb. Look, I called you
guys cause the judge said you’d been by today asking all
kinds of questions. You got anything can help me, I’d
appreciate it, but otherwise, you know where the door is.”
Scully kneeled beside the intruder’s body, prodding gently
at his sweats and examining his hands. “Lieutenant, have
you taken a close look at this man yet?”
“Leave that to the M.E.”
“Well, he doesn’t exactly fit the profile of your typical
burglar,” she murmured, turning the waistband of his
sweatpants inside out. “Designer jogging wear, and these
cross-trainers he’s wearing must cost at least $300. And
look at his hands – the only heavy work he’s ever done is
draft a quarterly statement. Your perp’s even had a high-
“Stalker by Ralph Lauren,” Mulder suggested. “Why would a
guy like this go housebreaking in the middle of the night?
Not a thief, obviously – no bag, and that sweatsuit
wouldn’t hold much more than the judge’s weekend green
fees. Think he was targeting Messimore, Scully?”
“Whoa, whoa,” Hedger breathed exasperatedly. “We got
jurisdiction here, unless this guy turns out to be Jimmy
Hoffa. Why don’t you two cool your jets, and I’ll meet you
downstairs, maybe let you have a peek. That’s not an
invitation to tea, either, by the way.”
“Where’s the love, Scully?” Mulder posed, taking the stairs
two at a time.
Scully shrugged. “At the risk of encouraging your boyish
fervor, Messimore is a federal judge – you could have
pushed it. Why didn’t you?”
“All in good time.” Mulder halted near the doorway of the
Messimore living room, waving Scully back. The judge, deep
in discourse with a young detective, bore his pajamas and
robe like judicial trappings. Sydney Messimore, showcasing
a Dave Matthews T-shirt, boxers, and a cable-knit cardigan
sweater, was more rumpled and contemplative on the sofa
across from her father. Mulder quietly sidled over and
lowered himself onto the cushion beside her.
“Well, hey, Agent Muller, right?” Sydney brightened,
tugging distractedly at her right sweater sleeve. “Boy, I’m
glad you’re here. These cops are so grim, you know?”
“Harshed my mellow, that’s for sure. You OK?”
“God, it’s like some kind of bad TV movie. My dad wasting
some guy. Too weird. I mean, it was a burglar, but still…”
“I know,” Mulder assured her. “So you think this guy was a
prowler or something?”
Sydney glanced at her father, worrying her sweater cuff.
“Well, sure. I mean, I don’t know the guy and I’m sure the
judge – Dad, I mean — doesn’t.”
“You think maybe this guy could have been here to hurt your
She frowned, then began to nod vigorously. “God, I bet
you’re right. Dad pisses people off all the time. I mean,
he’s sent a lot of people to jail and like that.”
Mulder looked toward Judge Messimore, who was staring at
the agent even as he continued to talk to the detective.
Mulder nodded, and the judge returned to the cop.
“Well, the important thing is you two are OK,” Mulder said,
smiling, pushing off the couch. “Oh, hey, you know what
time it is?”
Sydney’s eyes widened as she reached for her sweater cuff.
She scratched her wrist and grinned. “Sorry. There’s a
grandfather clock in the hall.”
“And what, may I ask, was that all about?” inquired Scully,
leaning against the corridor wall.
“I’ll save that for pillow talk, later,” her partner
murmured. He perked as the front door opened and a uniform
materialized. Mulder approached the cop rapidly, peeking
into the living room to ensure the detective was still
occupied with Judge Messimore.
“You find that vehicle yet?” he demanded, flashing his FBI
ID. “Hedger’s getting antsy.”
The patrolman composed himself. “Two blocks away – I told
the lab guys already. 2003 Lexus – not exactly your typical
lowlife ride. But we found a wallet tucked under the front
driver’s seat. Driver’s license photo matches the perp.”
Mulder arched an eyebrow, Scullylike. “And?”
“Oh, yeah,” the cop stammered. “Carl Phelan, D.C., Capitol
Hill address. Probably a townhouse, given the sweet ride.”
“Assume nothing, Mister,” Mulder scowled. “You gonna let
Hedger know all this by FAX, officer?”
“Oh, yeah.” The cop started to salute, caught himself, and
scurried past Scully and up the stairs.
Scully was shaking her head as she strode into the foyer.
“You’re a real bastard sometimes, you know.”
“Tell your friends, Babe. C’mon, gotta see a man about a
Carl Phelan residence
“Sweet mother of Peewee Herman,” Langly gasped, shoving
back from the laptop with an expression of utter shock.
“This is some effed-up shit, Mulder.”
Mulder emerged from Carl Phelan’s bedroom, Scully from the
deceased’s kitchen, converging behind the Gunman’s bony
shoulders. Scully inhaled sharply. “Oh, my God,” she
whispered, fingering the cross around her neck.
Langly punched a key, and the .jpg vanished. “Dudes, there
are hundreds of these files on this cockroach’s drive.”
“Probably part of some kind of ring,” Mulder said. “We’ll
want to get this machine to Sex Crimes.”
Scully lowered herself into Phelan’s expensive recliner.
“But what’s the connection between a pedophile and the
Messimores? From the high-rent digs, I’m going to assume
Phelan never came before Messimore’s bench.”
Mulder turned from the laptop. “I don’t think it was the
judge Phelan was after.”
J. Edgar Hoover Building
FBI Special Agent Phil Creighton looked up from the Compaq
he’d confiscated from a suspected ID theft wizard as
“Spooky” Mulder peeked into the Computer Crimes’ analysis
lab. Ordinarily, he was somewhat wary of the oddball agent,
as if his eccentrically destructive manner or weird ideas
about aliens and the supernatural might be contagious.
But today, Creighton was feeling magnanimous. Mulder and
Scully had delivered a key linkage in a man-boy love ring
that extended from Washington to Portland, Ore. He loved
taking down short-eyes, molesters, and other child
exploiters, and, more than that, getting Bureau accolades
and maybe a leg up for doing it.
“Hey, Fox, thanks again for the lead,” Creighton said with
false camraderie, swiveling around to greet the ghost-
chasing geek. “The Phelan guy’s gonna lead us to a whole
nest of scumbags. It’s amazing how safe these guys think
they are on a laptop.”
Mulder smiled. “Probably didn’t count on getting blown away
by a homeowner.”
“Yeah,” Creighton chuckled, turning quickly back to the
monitor. “Some big-time law-and-order judge or something
with an NRA card, right? Dirty Harry in a robe.”
“Aw, c’mon, Phil. You remember Judge Messimore, don’t you?
It’s only been six months or so.”
“You know,” Mulder prodded, holding up a manila folder.
“You investigated a case at his daughter’s school,
Wellesington. Somebody erased the college’s student records
for the previous five years, sent a worm through the staff
mail system that scorched every faculty member’s home PC,
and broadcast the Pam and Tommy Lee video on the school’s
website. My understanding is you and your partner even
interviewed Judge Messimore.”
Creighton placed his palms on his desk to either side of
the confiscated keyboard. “Oh, yeah. Case went nowhere.
Some of these hackers are like phantoms, you know?”
“You spent three days on the case, and then suddenly tossed
it into the unsolved file. Why? Because Messimore asked you
Creighton didn’t move.
“Let me help you here, Phil,” Mulder continued, opening the
file. “Sydney Messimore was a computer prodigy at age 13 –
won a national science prize for some standardized student
testing software she developed. High school Computer Club
president and webpage developer, 4.0 GPA, until she started
hanging with the wrong crowd. After she was suspended for
drinking and assault at a mixer, the high school’s system
“Syd managed to squirm out of at least two DUIs and a pot
charge during her first year at Yale, before she was
expelled. At Wellesington, she’s proved a brilliant student
with a bad temper. Who’d she piss off at the school, Phil?”
Creighton sighed, and turned, palms out in a plea for
forbearance. “Look, Mulder. The judge, he’s had his hands
full with the girl, and he’s one of the good guys. We can
always count on him to work with us, come through with a
warrant when we need one. You know how it is with some of
these pussy ACLU judges, always more concerned about the
rights of hackers and molesters than their victims.”
“So you fixed things for him.”
“Wasn’t like that, Mulder, Fox. I told him he had to sit on
the girl, get her into counseling, away from the
temptation. He said he knew a way to control her.”
Mulder nodded with satisfaction.
“So,” Creighton started awkwardly. “You gonna squeal? I was
just cutting the guy and his kid a break. She seemed like a
basically good kid.”
“Oh, yeah,” Mulder said. “Reese Witherspoon Meets
Creighton sighed. “All right, so maybe I was watching my
ass. You think I’m gonna tangle with some high-powered
judge and his buddy, the senator…”
“Senator,” Mulder said, his blood dropping a few degrees.
“A Senate intern?” Scully squeaked, nearly upending her
office chair. “Clark Farriman’s intern, yet? And I didn’t
think this could get any worse.”
Mulder leaned on a file cabinet stuffed with EBEs,
lycanthropes, and poltergeists. “What the good judge failed
to mention was that Clark Farriman is Sydney’s godfather,
and that she’s been working in his office part-time for
about a year. She helps out with campaign PR, and I’m
guessing with school out, she’s been on the road with the
senator’s entourage. I’ll call Farriman’s L.D., check it
“But why, Mulder? Why sabotage her father’s nomination? Why
try to kill Farriman? And what’s the connection with
“Taking your questions in order, I’m guessing her
motivation for screwing over dear old Dad is mired in
adolescent complexities,” Mulder suggested, slipping on his
profiler’s cap. “Just the judge and Sydney — the mother
died of brain cancer when Syd was five – and the judge is a
very busy and, if I may observe, frosty sumbitch. All of
her acting out in school, with her friends? I wouldn’t be
surprised if it were a bid for Daddy’s attention.
“Then, Daddy announces he’s up for Supreme Court, or worse
yet, Sydney finds out through one of Farriman’s staffers.
Suddenly, her whole life, her father’s life, are about to
irrevocably change. Then add in the Oedipal love-hate
element – Judge Messimore’s an avowed enemy of the
Internet; his daughter’s become an accomplished hacker. The
one’s fed off the other probably for years. And that
probably gives her a motive to target Farriman, as well.
When she failed three times, Syd realized she could more
effectively take out her father’s partner in cyberspace
censorship and benefactor by killing his political career.”
Scully inhaled sharply. “Farriman’s computer. It was
printed. If Sydney was in the office that day, we might be
able to prove…”
“That she tampered with it, Scully?” Mulder shook his head.
“My guess is we won’t find any tell-tale prints, that she
either never went into Farriman’s office or called in sick
the day the porno popped up.”
“Are you still sticking to this cyber-telepathy theory? You
said she was a computer prodigy…”
“I don’t think Sydney could even have gotten near the
senator’s laptop. You notice anything strange about our
little judicial princess last night or when we first met
“The teeth were a little too straight,” Scully mumbled.
“And I’ll bet she had those boobs-”
“Scully,” Mulder admonished. “It’s the middle of summer – a
particularly hot summer even by Washington standards – and
she dresses like a frumpy housewife. Sweatshirts around the
house on a blistering July day and cardigans for evening
wear with her pajamas.”
“So she has questionable fashion taste,” Scully shrugged.
Then she caught Mulder’s eye, and a gleam of realization
formed in hers’. “The way she tugged at her sleeve last
“You learn quickly, grasshopper,” Mulder murmured.
Office of Sen. Clark J. Farriman
Scully knew something was up as soon as she asked the
legislative director about Sydney.
“What about her?” the aide asked, smiling a bit too
brightly. He’d held up his 1 p.m. for the agent out of
gratitude for her role in clearing his boss of the teen
porn charges, but it had been clear to her her visit was no
cause for celebration.
When Scully didn’t speak, he chuckled unnecessarily. “I
mean, it’s not an uncommon practice on the Hill to offer a
helping hand to promising young people. In this case, the
senator thought he could also help a friend. Sydney
Messimore’s an exceptionally bright young woman, but her
father felt she could use some focus, some direction. Hell,
we’ve had her running around so much, we hardly notice
she’s around any more.”
Scully decided to remain silent.
“Look,” the L.D. said, leaning over his blotter. “Why don’t
you just tell me what you’re getting at?”
“Well, my partner and I have been curious about Ms.
Messimore’s presence at all three of the recent incidents
involving Sen. Farriman,” she finally murmured. “Is it
common practice for congressional interns to go on the
campaign trail? I thought she worked on legislative
“Other work as assigned,” the aide explained coolly. “Clark
wanted the judge’s daughter to get as rounded an education
in the process as possible.”
Scully artfully arched an eyebrow, improvising. Hell, it
wasn’t as if she could be demoted any further than the X-
Files. “And then there’s the specificity of the accusations
our alleged computer hacker leveled at the senator. That he
had an unhealthy interest in under aged women. Why not
boys, children? It’s almost as if he or she was trying to
tell us something.”
The L.D.’s palms gripped the blotter. He hastily jumped up,
closed the door onto the senator’s staff work area, and
took the guest chair next to Scully’s. “What did she say?
Because I swear to you, it was only the once, and the
senator promised it would never happen again.”
Jackpot, Scully thought glumly.
“Hey, Syd!” Mulder called from his side of the Longworth
Building metal detectors.
Sydney Messimore looked up, juggling her armful of reports.
Mulder thought he saw frost form around the edges of her
abrupt grin, and her eyes quickly became vacant. “Mr.
Mulder! Wow. I mean Agent.”
“Hold up,” he directed, dumping his keys and coins into a
plastic bowl as he passed through the electronic gate.
Mulder repocketed his effects and joined the girl at the
elevator bank. “So, you holding up OK?”
“Ye-e-e-a-eah,” Sydney sighed uncertainly. “Sweet of you to
“Well, that’s our motto at the FBI,” Mulder beamed.
“Sweetness and justice.”
Syd blinked, then grinned reprovingly. “You are sooo full
of shit, aren’t you. Gee, I wish I had time to grab a Coke
or something with you, but I gotta get these up to the
“What’ve you got there, anyway?” Mulder inquired, reaching
for the precariously balanced top folder. It slipped, and
Sydney dipped to save it. She came up with a faintly
irritated smile, but not before the agent caught a gleam of
“That’s an unusual piece,” Mulder remarked.
Sydney’s eyes widened.
“Of jewelry,” he added, hastily. “What is that, some kind
of tennis bracelet.”
The judge’s daughter had tugged her sleeve down, as she had
the night before, but now she raised it reluctantly. “Just
a gift,” she mumbled.
“No, I’ve seen one like that before. Hey, I remember. You
know a Ray Kelch?” If Mulder’s theory was correct, Syd
would worship Kelch like her peers probably worshipped
Her face was by Mattel, locked in a plastic smile. “Gosh,
Mulder leaned in, eyes now serious. “It must be hell for
you. Better than a federal record, though, huh?”
Sydney clutched her reports as if she were strangling a kitten.
Her eyes sharpened into focus, and her candied lips
hardened into steel. “You know, they’ve got an Unboot chip
now – they can inject it wherever you want, and nobody
knows you’ve got it. When you’ve served your time, they
deactivate it and it eventually biodegrades. Harmless, and
impossible to get rid of.
“They offered the Judge the option — the chip or the
bracelet. They thought it might be less embarrassing for
him. And me. But no, he wanted me to wear this out in the
open, like some kind of badge of shame. Wanted me to see it
every morning when I got up, think about what I’d done.”
“That why you went after Farriman? To screw up your dad’s
shot at the bench? To get back at him for shackling you
with that thing?” Mulder paused. “Couldn’t have hurt that
Farriman took advantage of you. Or was it even more basic
than that? All this hacking, this acting out of yours’, it
was to get the judge’s attention, wasn’t it? Then, just as
you got it, he gets the nod for the Supreme Court
nomination. This is nothing more than a high-tech teenage
tantrum, isn’t it?”
It was the right button to push – Syd’s eyes turned to
fire, and she started to lash out at the agent. Then she
caught herself, glaring silently, jaw tight.
Mulder forged ahead. “The intruder in your home. He was an
Internet pedophile. Somehow, you got a peek inside his hard
drive, and he sensed it somehow. He came after you, but
fortunately, your dad and his .38 intervened.”
“He’s real big on gun rights,” Syd grunted. “You know you
sound seriously demented, don’t you?”
Mulder nodded in acknowledgement. “Tell a friend. You know,
I used to be a profiler with the FBI, used to chase some of
the most frighteningly intelligent, violent sociopaths
you’d ever dream of.”
“So you’re not scared of some little Yuppie chick, right?”
“No, you scare me plenty, Sydney. My point is, I never met
one of these geniuses who didn’t leave behind some trace,
some clue. A lot of times, I think they do it on purpose:
They need to prove how brilliant they are, to take credit.
I think you were just sloppy.”
Syd waited, forearms tensing.
“The teen porn they found on Congressman Farriman’s laptop,
the manufactured teen porn, well, our digital expert
figured out all the ‘models’ were essentially permutations
of five girls. Switch a nose here, transpose a mole there.
But it’s awfully difficult to paint a subject from
imagination. Our artist had to have drawn on memory. I got
to thinking, who would’ve been able to recreate these girls
in the, ah, clinical detail we found in those files. Who
would’ve had such prolonged exposure to these girls in
their natural state?”
“Put a lot of thought into this, didn’t you?” Syd leered,
“On a hunch, my partner, Agent Scully, located your
freshman yearbook and subpoenaed the records for your dorm
floor. Bingo, five perfect matches. The girls you shared a
shower with every day of your second semester.”
“You ever hear of diminished capacity, Agent Mulder?” she
“Yeah, I know. I don’t have anything I could take to a
prosecutor, without winding up in a cushioned room.” Mulder
leaned forward. “But you’ve already slipped up, and it’s
only a matter of time ’til you drop some physical evidence.
Big brains and adolescent hormones – a dangerous
combination. And I’m willing to bet your dad might just
take me more seriously than the police would.”
Syd’s eyes narrowed to a rodential slit, her breathing
accelerating as she stared murderously at Mulder. He
jumped, along with everyone in the corridor, as the twin
metal detectors in the lobby suddenly began to drone
without provocation. A dozen cell phones trilled, sang, and
shrieked. Beeps and buzzes sounded from within a dozen
A swarm of guards descended on the lobby, barking orders
and ushering lawmakers, aides, lobbyists, and tourists away
from the elevator bank. Mulder stood transfixed, gawking at
the chaos erupting around him. Then he glanced at Syd
Who no longer was there.
It wasn’t until he was back behind the driver’s seat,
checking for Judge Messimore’s work phone, that he
discovered his PDA’s memory had been wiped clean.
J. Edgar Hoover Building
“So what’s our next move?” Skinner demanded. Mulder and
Scully’s story had silenced the assistant director, but
he’d long since quit wasting time trying to debunk Mulder’s
theories. “We’ve got nothing on the girl, and she knows it.
You think she’ll take another run at Farriman?”
Mulder shrugged. “Or her father. Her motive’s out of the
bag, so there isn’t much to gain from killing or
discrediting the congressman except personal revenge. She
may just back off now, hope things go away.”
“Or she could kick things up another notch,” Scully
murmured beside him. “Sydney Messimore’s a very angry girl
who’s been subjugated in two very different ways by two
male authority figures. She’s also smart and arrogant, and
doesn’t necessarily have the emotional maturity to act in
her own best interests.”
“Which also makes predicting her next move nearly
impossible,” Skinner moaned. “We could ask DCPD to put a
unit outside the judge’s house, maybe put a couple of guys
in Farriman’s office. But we can’t put a wealthy teenaged
girl with a 4.0 GPA and a judge for a father under
permanent surveillance without cause.”
Mulder chewed his bottom lip, tapping the arm of his chair.
Scully and Skinner waited.
“Well?” Scully finally asked.
He frowned. “Trying to remember if I had any of that mu shu
pork left in the fridge.”
Chambers of Judge Wesley Messimore
Federal Court of the District of Columbia
“You’re both insane,” Judge Messimore concluded, his robes
underlining the hanging judge expression on his
After a particularly frenzied day’s docket, he had allowed
the agents into his chambers on the assumption they had
fresh information on Carl Phelan and his attempted home
invasion. The judge then listened silently and neutrally as
Mulder outlined the steps and reasoning that had led him to
Sydney as a potential political assassin, Clark Farriman’s
ex-paramour/victim, and sociopathic cyberspace manipulator.
Scully took a breath. “I realize how far-fetched this must
sound, your honor. But at the least, your daughter is
somehow implicated in the attempts on Sen. Farriman and the
break-in at your home. And Agent Mulder and I have some
reason to believe your own life could be in danger.”
Messimore’s eyes darkened. “Agents, it hasn’t been easy
raising an intelligent and willful daughter alone — God
knows, I recognize my failures as a father. But what you’re
telling me is not only ludicrous — it’s monstrous.
“And to believe Clark Farriman would betray a friendship
that goes back 20 years just to, what, satisfy some mid-
life yearning? Well, I’m tempted to alert both his office
and your superiors about your defamatory allegations.”
“I saw it myself,” Mulder said, leaning forward. “I saw
what she can do.”
“You saw what?” Messimore laughed mirthlessly. He looked
up, irritated, as his door opened and his clerk, a
fiftysomething matron, popped in.
“The tuxedo’s here,” she said, ignoring Messimore’s
annoyance, Mulder, and Scully. “The car’s coming around at
6 on the dot.”
“Yes, yes,” the judge growled, and she slipped out the
door. He turned back to his guests. “I know the Director
well, and I intend to have a talk with him Monday. Now, I’d
suggest you be on your way.”
Mulder opened his mouth, but Scully shook her head, and the
pair rose reluctantly.
“Look,” Mulder said, turning at the judge’s elaborately
carved door. “Let me give you my number, in case anything
happens. Or give me your cell number.”
Messimore turned back to his desk. “I don’t have a cell
phone. I can’t. Now, good day.”
Fox Mulder/Dana Scully Apartment
“Mulder,” Scully said. “You aren’t inhaling your pizza.”
She looked down at the table. “And, and you appear to have
eaten your salad. Look, we did our best. Syd’s not going to
make a move now that she knows we’re onto her.”
Mulder leaned back in his chair. “It’s a game, Scully.
She’s an intelligent girl who’s been exploited and
effectively muzzled. Now, she feels empowered for maybe the
first time in her life. You had to have seen her at the
Capitol today. Sydney made a public presentation of her
abilities – she was challenging me.”
“So, what do you think? Is she going to go after her
father or the senator?”
“I don’t-” Mulder stopped dead, and his chair tipped back
on all fours.
Scully followed his gaze to the muted TV in the living
room. And to Judge Messimore being surrounded by reporters
outside the federal court building. Mulder leapt from the
table and cranked up the volume.
“…disclosed today that Messimore has been on the
president’s short list to fill the retiring judge’s slot.
It’s expected Sen. Clark Farriman, a member of the
Judiciary Committee, may publicly endorse the Georgetown
jurist’s nomination at tonight’s fundraising banquet at the
Hayes Plaza ballroom. Meanwhile, Messimore was surprisingly
reticent about the potential post, and some Senate
Democrats questioned the judge’s conservative stance on
free speech issues and noted his serious cardiac episode
only three years ago…”
Mulder turned from the set, anxiety etched onto his face.
“Farriman and Messimore together in a public place. Of
course, Sydney would know about it. It’s too good, Scully –
she can’t pass it up.”
Scully frowned. “But if remote control attacks are her
M.O., how’s she going to pull this off in a public venue
like the Hayes. Remember that security detail we worked
there a few months ago? It’s a historic landmark, and all
the systems are outdated – no automated controls, no
computerized systems. Unless Sydney has a rocket launcher,
I can’t see how she could pull it off.”
Mulder stared at her.
“Mulder,” she sighed. His face remained impassive, and
Scully flopped the pizza box shut. “Guess I can dust off my
little black dress and holster ensemble.”
The Hayes Plaza
“If you’ve finished stuffing your face with pigs-in-a-
blanket, why don’t we say our adieus and blow this joint?”
Scully suggested, yanking again at the hem of the little
black dress. Across the banquet hall, she spotted Clark
Farriman’s L.D. studying her. Scully knew it wasn’t because
of the diminutive outfit.
Mulder scanned the tables loaded with peach melba and
Washington’s political and social elite. “I just feel like
we’re in the right place at the right time. Syd wants
visibility, and with both of her targets here at the same
“People,” Clark Farriman’s voice echoed across the lavish
space. “I don’t want to spoil this lovely evening with
political rhetoric and backslapping, but, well, that’s my
Polite tittering, none of the raucous caterwauling the
senator had encountered at Avalon Hydro-Components.
“First of all, I want to thank you all from the bottom of
my heart for supporting me in what I deem a campaign to
reshape America. We’ve lost jobs, we’ve lost global
prestige, and, worst, folks, we’ve lost the essential
American character. We sacrifice moral substance for
liberal tolerance. We compromise ethics for the
satisfaction of the moment. We pervert science and
technology to accommodate our personal comfort and
pleasure. Well, not on my watch, people. Not on my watch.
“But a strong legislative branch is only as effective as a
resolute executive branch. And as we sadly have come to
acknowledge, in today’s society, laws are only as effective
as the courts that enforce them. That’s part of why I come
here tonight, besides the money, of course. The White House
has given me the green light to announce tonight what I
believe many of you have been eagerly anticipating. Monday,
a great and good friend of the Farriman family and a
supporter of my campaign to reshape America, His Honor
Judge Wesley Messimore, will be placed into nomination to
fill the currently vacant seat on the nation’s high court.
And I will be standing at his side in the Senate to help
ensure the confirmation of this great American. Your
Three hundred chairs squeaked on marble as Washington’s
finest rose to applaud the judge. Messimore, a thoughtful
frown on his face, finally rose, crossed the banquet room
floor, and ascended the podium. Clark clapped him on the
shoulder; Messimore appeared to Mulder to flinch.
“Well, I’ll be–” Mulder murmured.
“Please,” Judge Messimore requested over the enthusiastic
ovation. “Sit down, please. Thank you.
“First of all, I’d like you all to know I’m heartened
deeply by the obvious vote of faith and confidence you all
have shown me. The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of
law in America. The buck stops at its bench, without
prejudice or partisanship. It has long been my dream to sit
with those scions of justice and democracy.
“But tonight, I hear a greater calling, one that resonates
with me as a father, as an interpreter of laws, as an
American deeply concerned about that essential American
character. Predation has become the dark theme of our
society. It exists on street corners and projects in
Southeast, in corporate boardrooms across this nation, and
even in the once-hallowed halls of government. And the most
insidious predation practiced at all economic and social
strata today is the corruption of the young.”
Clark Farriman lost his vivid smile, this time forgetting
to recapture it. The senator began to step forward, but his
eye caught the CNN camera positioned between the lead
“I recognize, perhaps belatedly, that I and my colleagues
are what stand between prey and predator. And so, with
regret, I must decline the president’s kind invitation. I’m
needed out here in the jungle. Ah, thank you.”
Messimore unceremoniously left the microphone without
acknowledging his old friend and started back for his
table. Before Clark could regroup, a few tables erupted in
wild applause. Others, taken unaware by Messimore’s
remarks, glanced nervously around, then leapt to their
feet. The judge returned to his seat amid an ovation that
persisted by Mulder’s count for two minutes.
“I will be damned,” Mulder breathed as the thunder died.
Scully, smiling, squeezed his arm. “Perhaps not. Looks like
you got through.”
That was when he heard it – a cacophonous symphony of
warblings, chimes, and electronic music. Several guests
hastily unholstered their whining cell phones, pagers, and
Blackberries. Others who obviously had set their appliances
on vibrate reached inside handbags and suit jackets.
“Mulder,” Scully whispered. “What’s going on?”
Her partner glanced anxiously around as more cell phones
came out. The room now sounded like a telemarketer’s loft
during peak activity. And, Mulder noticed, there seemed to
be no staunching the noise: People were punching buttons,
even banging phones against the tables.
“Oh, God,” Mulder gasped. “Scully, we have to get Messimore
out of here. Now!”
“Remember, this afternoon, the judge said he couldn’t have
a cell phone. Not just that he didn’t want one or disdained
the technology, but that he couldn’t have one. Scully, who
can’t have a cell phone? The woman on the news said
Messimore had had a heart attack a few years ago.”
Scully frowned, then looked sharply up at her partner, who
was already moving toward Messimore. “But Mulder, the link
between pacemakers and cell phones is far from
“Yeah, but what if someone could concentrate digital cell
signals, maybe even amplify them? It could be like putting
Messimore inside an operating microwave.” Mulder elbowed
his way past alarmed diners to the judge, who was breathing
heavily, face ashen. “Your Honor, do you have a pacemaker?”
Messimore’s face contorted as he flexed his left hand. “Y-
yes.” His eyes widened in a dawning horror. “Did she…?
“C’mon, quickly,” Scully urged, seizing his arm.
Their exit went virtually unnoticed as the banquet guests
attacked their high-tech toys. Then, the chirps and warbles
and themes were overridden by an ear-numbing bell.
“The fire alarm!” Mulder shouted as a large woman tried to
scramble from her chair. Other chairs fell, and the agents
and Messimore were buffeted by shoulders, elbows, hips.
“She set it off somehow. Hey! Stop! It’s a false alarm!”
“They can’t hear you, Mulder!” Scully cried. She threw her
purse onto a table, drew out her Glock, and took aim at an
isolated corner of the ceiling.
An explosion rocked the room, and suddenly, time froze. The
panicked herd stopped dead in its tracks, and only the echo
of Scully’s weapon and dozens of cell phones could be
“FBI!” she shouted. “This man could die if we can’t get him
out of this room now! Everyone else, leave this room
through the fire exits in an orderly and calm fashion. Or,
I guarantee, I will not be responsible for the
The crowd, wide-eyed and chastened, parted like the Red
Sea, clearing a path for Mulder, Scully, and Messimore
before flowing in the opposite direction. Mulder tried to
call 911 on his own cell, but it was dead. When they
reached the lobby, well away from the banquet room, Scully
cleared the area while Mulder ordered the desk clerks to
As they waited for an ambulance for the judge, who was
beginning to regain color, Mulder used the pay phone to put
out an APB for Syd Messimore.
“You really think they’ll find her?” Scully asked her
partner as the EMTs rolled the jurist off. “You said she
wanted to be caught.”
Mulder watched Messimore, broken and hanging onto what life
he might have left after the revelations of the evening.
“No, Scully. She wanted to be discovered.”
Three days later
What the hell?, Sydney thought, rechecking the detailed e-
mailed directions E. had transmitted. The numbers on the
mailbox matched the note, but she was vaguely disappointed
by the battered silver trailer and its rusting chainlink
fence. A dozen scuffed baseballs and discolored Frisbees
littered the scabby grass inside the tall fence.
“What an effing dump,” Syd sneered. She had expected
something more sinister, more macabre from E. After she’d
looted everything the Judge had left loose around the
house, she’d cabbed it down to that rest home/hotel, done
her thing, and, according to instructions, hit 20 ATMs
within the greater D.C. metro area.
She’d been astonished to find her stringently regulated
checking account had been enriched to the tune of $300,000
(secreted in her knapsack, minus the $400 she’d spent on
the rental car E. had reserved for her under the name
Tetris Pacman. She’d switched off to a Greyhound in Albany,
after rinsing her hair to a totally gross walnut brown in
the bus station john.
She still hoped E. wasn’t a dyke or something, even though
Syd had sexually experimented a little at Wellesington.
After the experience with Clark, she wasn’t currently big
The Judge had survived, probably out of sheer evil, Syd
supposed. At least Clark was toast – the teen porn charge
was dismissed but not forgotten, and the press had taken a
hard look at him after Dad’s rejection speech and
discovered he’d screwed a couple of other female staffers.
As for Fox and his bitch, she was sure E.’s little plan had
bought her ample time for their next move. She glanced
around – a redneck down the block was under the hood of a
souped-up pickup, an old lady was walking a graying weiner
dog. Syd pulled out the bolt-cutters she’d purchased at the
local Ace, crept up to the gate and, with an effort that
had broken a nail.
The trailer door was unlocked, as E. had said. Syd pushed
in, and gasped/
It looked like the dumpster at Best Buy. Wires and cables
and big metal boxes whirring and clicking and flashing red
and green. It was frigid within the aluminum box – Syd’s
breath formed clouds before her face. She hugged herself
and peered through the darkness.
“Hey, E.!” Syd called, growing increasingly pissed. “Where
the F are you?”
She jumped as she heard the familiar Windows signature
theme. Then she spotted the monitor at the far end of the
trailer. Lines of text filled the DOS screen, and Syd
yawned as she edged through the Bill Gates yard sale toward
The screen went blank.
“What the hell?” Syd repeated.
The message suddenly popped up on the screen. TOOK YOU LONG
“Oh, my God,” Syd laughed. “Hey, quit screwing around!”
WELCOME TO MY WORLD.
Syd looked around. Where was E.? This was like that stupid
old goody movie the Judge had made her watch as a kid, with
the scarecrow and the dweeb with the red shoes and the old
fart hiding behind the screen trying to freak everybody
She felt something brush her calf, and jumped back.
Freaking rats, of course. “Hey, Martha Stewart, buy some
mousetraps,” Syd muttered.
I’VE ALREADY SNARED MY LITTLE PET.
“What the-” Syd got out before a hundred snaking wires
seized her, penetrating skin, muscle, nerves, and, as she
tried to scream, the soft spot at the base of her skull…
North Carolina State Police Post
Four months later
“Found her catching some Zs at a roadside park on I-95,”
the North Carolina trooper drawled, a corner of his mouth
quirking most likely at the terminal stupidity and hubris
of civilians. “Had an APB out on the Chevy — GTA, after
she screwed the owner’s brains out at some hotsheets motel
near Fayetteville. District manager for some dollar store
chain, wife, three kids. Took his clothes and the car while
he was basking in the afterburn.”
“Afterglow,” Mulder murmured, peering through the two-way
glass at the lanky blonde seated serenely at one end of the
NCSP interview table. Sydney Messimore was smiling
seraphically, hands clasped before her — the model Sunday
school student. The angelic image was sullied, however, by
the flame-red midi tank top, the micro jersey skirt, and
the glitter of metal affixed to her right nostril, left
eyebrow, and navel. And the trained behaviorist and horndog
in Mulder tuned in on the glint of lascivious mischief in
the former Washington deb’s eye as she glanced at the
transparently opaque window.
“What the fella told me, I think ‘afterburn’s more
accurate,” the smokey murmured, a grin wriggling under his
State Police-mandated brush.
Sydney had cut quite a swath along the Eastern Seaboard in
the four months since her abortive assassination attempt.
She had managed somehow to evade police in five states, the
FBI, and Homeland Security, while financing her adventures
on the road with a series of computer piracies, cheap
scams, and post-coital pilferages similar to the one in
Fayetteville. In fact, Syd had made Heidi Fleiss seem like
a novitiate with The Benevolent Sisters of St. Mary’s,
although she appeared to display little discretion or
aesthetic judgment in her sexual exploits.
Almost as if… Mulder shook his head, banishing the
He wished Scully were along. But his partner was tied up in
the autopsies of five NSA agents discovered in a locked
armored car, riddled with each others’ bullets.
“Shoulda seen the backseat of the stolen Chevy,” the
trooper mused. “Two pizza boxes, three Hardees bags, and
enough Hershey wrappers to get her elected the governor of
Pennsylvania. Look at her — girl must have the metabolism
of a thoroughbred. Though from the reports, I can imagine
she burns off quite a few of them carbs, know what I mean?”
“Down, Trigger,” Mulder murmured, opening the door to the
“Agent Mulder!” Sydney breathed ecstatically, as if she’d
encountered him outside the Gap during a post-Christmas
clearance orgy. “God, it’s like so great to see you.”
“As if,” Mulder grinned, dropping into the chair at the
opposite end of the scarred table. “Somebody’s been a very
Syd arched an eyebrow in a very unScullylike manner. “I
probably deserve a good spanking. Go ahead, Agent Mulder —
I brought the cuffs.” She held up her manacled wrists.
“What’d they think, 130-pound chick’s gonna pull a Hannibal
Lecter in the middle of a state police barracks?”
“You have shown an unusual level of sociopathic
resourcefulness,” Mulder noted.
“Yeow, speak English,” Syd gasped, eyes suddenly free of
The FBI agent leaned back, smiling. “You know, that little
electronic diversion of funds you pulled in Maryland
surprised even me. No one would ever have been able to
track that money back to you if we didn’t know you were
probably the only person in the world who could’ve pulled
it off. You got any idea how you came by these very special
abilities of yours?”
“Clean living?” she suggested, licking her lower lip.
Mulder slid a manila folder toward the girl. Syd caught it
with black-painted talons and flipped it open.
“Witthau–” the girl began. “Mom.”
Mulder leaned forward, curiously, but continued. “Felicia
Witthauer, your mother, was one of the nation’s top
computer researchers — helped refine the National
Supercomputer Project, was on the short list for the Nobel
science prize three years running. If she hadn’t died of
brain cancer a few years after you were born, the guys at
the Pentagon believe she would’ve found the key to true
“The judge, your dad, said she spent nearly every waking
moment of her last few years in the computer lab,
constantly searching for the right algorithm, the right
code that would unlock the secrets. Felicia was surrounded
14 to 18 hours a day by supercomputers and electromagnetic
impulses — some of the doctors believe that’s what may
have killed her.”
Something flashed across Syd’s cerulean blue eyes. Or
someone, Mulder contemplated. Then the navel-pierced party
girl was back.
“Genetics versus environment, the eternal debate,” he
murmured. “What makes a Bush twin or a Kennedy cousin truly
tick – beautiful people and trust funds, or a chromosome
looking for trouble? But every once in a while, genetics
and environment come together. Adaptation and mutation. I
think you fall into the latter category, X-Girl. Your
mother was bombarded all day by intense electromagnetic
impulses, like living under a high-power line in an X-ray
machine. In her, it caused the cellular mutation we call
cancer. You were a developing fetus at the time, and I
think, somehow, your neurological impulses fell into rhythm
with the electromagnetic pulses around you. Your brain fell
into synch with the machines. You could represent the next
step in human evolution.”
“You’re more cut than Bill Nye the Science Guy, but you’re
also a little more boring,” Syd yawned.
“Sorry – I’m sure none of this is new information to you.
Tell me: You were never after Judge Messimore or Sen.
Farriman, were you? It was all about a little girl-on-girl
action, wasn’t it?”
For the first time, Mulder saw a familiar set of eyes
behind Syd’s glittering ultraviolet lids. She smiled
warily. “I’m not into the babes, Agent Mulder. Want me to
Mulder smiled back. “I don’t mean anything sexual, Esther.”
The smile widened into a predatory invitation. “Who?”
“It must have been like a voice in the wilderness out there
in cyberspace, when you picked up on Sydney’s vibe. Being
one with the cosmos, possessing all the secrets of the
human race, isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be if
you can’t scarf the occasional Quarter Pounder or enjoy the
sweaty company of others every once in a while, is it? You
got tired of living in virtual Alcatraz, and you realized
Syd Messimore was your off-ramp on the Information
Superhighway. That’s the reason for the current Courtney
“You keep a souvenir from your last meth raid?” she
“You’ve become intimately familiar with Internet predation
out there in the ether, Esther. Syd was a lonely, troubled
girl under her father’s thumb and under the influence of a
powerful older man. It probably wasn’t hard to gain her
confidence and trust. Then, all you had to do was use her
alienation from her father and her hatred for Farrimore to
push her into a corner where she’d have nowhere to escape.
Except you. You talked her into making her grand play, then
pulled the plug. You couldn’t physically snag her in your
web, so you made her come to you. To your ‘server,’ or
whatever you call it. You hardwired her – I remember my
own little close encounter with your ex – and uploaded
yourself into her memory. Overwrote her programming, as it
were. She is gone, isn’t she?”
“Sydney Messimore” hooked an arm over the back of her chair
and recrossed her legs in a Sharon Stone recreation. “Yeah,
I’m guessing meth. You honestly got the co-hones to take
this into court? That I tried to kill Clark by remote
control? That the body snatchers performed a mind meld on
me? You go, boy.”
Mulder sighed and pushed his chair back. “She was a
vulnerable, emotionally battered kid, Esther. You stalked,
used, and destroyed Syd Messimore like a pedophile in a
chatroom. Congratulations – you may represent the next step
in human evolution. The first true cyber-parasite.”
The girl across the table grasped the arms of her wooden
chair, eyes blazing. “She was a blank disk, a brainless
little slut who’d never accomplish anything greater than
servicing some buff Ivy League lawyer. Now, Syd Messimore
is in the upper 1 percentile of human intelligence, ‘Fox.'”
“And what do you plan to accomplish with that intelligence,
‘Syd’?” Mulder asked. “Teach the lifers in Cell Block B to
get their GEDs online? Hey, gotta run. Keep it real,
Esther. ‘Cause that’s all you’ve got now.”
He heard her screamed obscenities all the way to the
“So this is what they learn on the Internet?” Mulder
muttered, sliding his key into the ignition.