‘Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.’ –Woodrow T. Wilson
“Come on, Joel! This isn’t fun anymore – they could shoot us on sight!”
“Don’t be so silly, MB. There are laws against them doing that.”
“But they *are* the law! It’s a military base–”
“Which is why we’re here!”
“And they could shoot us for trespassing!”
Joel Hollins gave a dismissive shake of his head and continued onward through the moonlit brush – not bothered either way if his girlfriend, Marybeth Wooke, followed or not.
Curiosity was getting the better of him, of course. If it hadn’t been for that he wouldn’t have felt compelled and daring enough to drive the fifty-three miles to the outskirts of Andel, New Hampshire in the middle of the chilly April night to
carefully stalk through the wooded area surrounding the top secret naval base, in search of what he’d been promised by some drunken friends was the ultimate spot for watching UFOs. In his own defense, he had been dubious of what they’d said at the time and brushed it off as nothing more than BS – only intending to drive here and drive home again for face sake. But as he weaved his way through the bushes and low-hanging tree branches, there was just something in the air forcing him ahead.
“Seriously, Joel, I wanna go home!” Wooke whined again, crossing both arms across her chest and nervously turning in a circle to check for anybody that may be watching them.
“So go walk back already,” came the hushed, sharp reply from the darkness. “Why d’ you have to bitch so–”
Hollins’ words were cut short by a sudden sonic boom as a blinding shaft of light struck into ground not four feet ahead of him – illuminating the sky for only a second, but long enough for the startled trespasser to see the severed body of a
uniformed man lying where the unknown white object from the heavens had impacted. He stumbled backwards, falling onto his butt as the naval base to his right came to life; sirens wailing and officers running out of the buildings. Everything became a blur and he was paralyzed for a moment before he finally frantically tried to scramble away – Marybeth’s fleeing scream and the image of the dead body embedded firmly in his brain.
“Halt! Stay where you are!”
There was the sound of a gun being cocked and Joel, terror and adrenaline pumping so fiercely through his veins that his heart was finding it difficult to cope, looked up, blinking several times against the flashlight beam before focusing on the soldier
aiming an assault rifle at him.
Only a matter of seconds later there was a large circle of troops surrounding him and he knew all hope was gone. All he could do now was pray that the blood of the mutilated officer would be the only flow staining the soil tonight.
With a deep sigh, Dana Scully folded the dog-eared sheet of paper and cast a dubious glance in her partner’s direction as their rental car crossed the New Hampshire state line. She’d already read the printed e-mail through four times since he’d handed it to her and then hastily ushered her out of their basement office early this morning, but she was still unclear on 1: why Mulder was so eager to investigate this case – eager enough to not even submit a 302 to Skinner before their butts
were on the plane out of Dulles, or 2: …Actually, she didn’t really have a 2 – 1 encompassed pretty much all the questions buzzing around in her head. Over the years, Dana had come to not be too shocked by any trick Mulder chose to pull out of his hat, but this one was a little too vague and unbelievable even for him.
“So, how did we get roped into this again?” she asked, breaking the stretch of companionable silence and crossing both arms across her chest.
A wry smile broke out on Mulder’s face, but he kept his gaze focused on the road ahead of them. This had become a perfunctory dance between them: he whisked them away and she struggled to find the rational reason for their involvement with
the breadcrumb of a case he’d been thrown – that was just the way it always had been and, more than likely, the way it always would be. He was just surprised it had taken her so long to pipe up.
“You’ve read the e-mail, Scully – several times in fact. The abduction of a twenty-four year old male in the woods? Why shouldn’t we be ‘roped’ into this?”
“Outside a ‘top secret’ naval base no one’s ever heard of?”
The fact she’d never even heard of the town Andel was no big surprise as it was just another in a long line of Podunk, no-name places they’d passed through over the years, but her father had literally been a walking, talking encyclopedia on every
naval base in America who’d always been sure to impart some of his knowledge to his four growing children as he’d tucked them into bed each night. Her memory may not be as eidetic as Mulder’s, but Andel Naval Base had definitely not been one Bill
Senior had mentioned.
“And since when do we investigate any old drunken claim of alien abduction? Come on, Mulder, you gotta admit this is a bit hinky sounding, even to you.”
The cautionary tone cut short his snort of laughter and wiped the smile from his face. “My gut, Scully,” he shrugged, “Just an old-fashioned hunch, and when has that ever let us down?”
Scully’s eyebrow lifted and she fought to keep the mirth from her voice as she curtly replied, “You really want me to start counting them off?”
“Okay, okay. But Laura’s a level-headed person and she believes–”
“‘Laura’?” Her brow lifted even higher.
“Agent Balk, who sent the e-mail.”
“Which leads me to my next question: how do you know this woman? Her message seemed very pally – all these women keep crawling out of the woodwork…Is there something I should know?”
The warning lights in his head begun to flash as the palpable level of pissed-offness in her voice hit home, and his mouth frantically moved in silence for a second as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat and tried to think of a way to back-pedal the conversation a little. This would teach him for not just telling her properly about the case from the start instead of waiting for her to query.
“She…She’s an agent from the Boston field office… She likes to dabble in cold cases and stuff with an unexplainable slant… She’s contacted me a couple of times for an opinion on anything she’s been investigating… You know you’re the only woman–”
His voice trailed off at the sound of movement and a sniffle from beside him. With Panic Face firmly in place, his head swiftly snapped around to glance at her, only to find Scully a mere few inches away from him and a smug grin lifting her cheeks.
The eyebrow was still firmly in its raised position, though.
Dana faltered and lingered for an instant – his warm, deep breaths stroking across her skin – as she took in his worried expression. Pulling his leg every now and then was fun, especially considering how much he liked to rib her, but that look of terror and pain chilled her to the bone.
“I had you,” she whispered gleefully, leaning in to place a chaste kiss against his lips and hoping it would be the instant cure to soothe his over-anxious soul. “Big time.” Nodding her head toward the windshield, gesturing for him to return his attention to the road, she rested back down in her seat.
Then again, even if she hadn’t on her own accord, the force of the rush of relieved breath that shot of his mouth would have undoubtedly blown her back.
“Scul-ly…” he groaned, wiping a hand down his face as the other tightly gripped around the steering wheel. “That’s not funny!”
“Oh, come on, Mulder! You usher me out on some pointless case without filling me in on what’s going on and don’t expect me to have a little payback fun?” Scully playfully pouted and shrugged a shoulder. “What side of the bed did you get out this
There was a pause for a moment of contemplative silence, and then – shifting a little yet again in the driver’s seat – wryly smirked, “Your side, rolling off of you after an exhausting-but-wonderful session of great wake-up sex.”
Scully gave an agreeable, affirming nod. At least he remembered the important things in life. “Exactly, so stop acting so guilty. Besides, we’re together pretty much every second of the day: I think I’d know if you were sniffing elsewhere. The only
other place you frequent without me is the Gunmen’s office and… Well, I don’t even think I wanna know if there’s something going on ther–”
At his hurt exclamation they both burst into laughter, and – though it hadn’t been at all heavy before – the atmosphere in the vehicle suddenly felt at least ten times lighter. They remained silent for the next mile or so, enjoying each others’ company, and then Scully reached down to pick up the printed e-mail that had slipped to the floor, giving it yet another cursory glance before placing it safely on the dashboard.
“Soooo,” she sighed, a thin hand reaching up to brush an errant strand of copper hair away from her eyes, “getting back to the question I know you’re trying to avoid: how did we get roped into this?”
“I spoke to Agent Balk just before you got to the office this morning, and she didn’t have much else to say from what she’s put in her message: she was driving back late from the federal building in Portsmouth when this young woman, screaming at the top of her voice, blindly ran out in front of her car. Laura stopped and gave Miss Wooke a ride, listened to her story and tried to calm the woman down. Wooke insists a bright light struck the ground and then she couldn’t find her boyfriend.”
“And your gut is saying that we should investigate this?”
Mulder considered her question for a second, and then – as a hand dipped into his pocket and then pulled out again to slip a sunflower seed between his lips – he gave a slow nod of his head. “Yeah.”
“Well, alright then.”
Double checking the way ahead was clear, Mulder glanced at his partner, who returned the gaze and gave a reassuring nod of her head and quirk of her lips. Yes, he regularly dragged her along without thinking to fill her in on where or why they were going, and – of course – more often than not they were cases she would
have otherwise dismissed as preposterous and a big waste of time… But his gut instinct really had helped a lot in the past, no matter how much the scientist in her tried to argue to the contrary, and if he believed that there was more to this
than met the eye, she would just have to trust him on that.
“What?” Dana shrugged dismissively, as if that was enough to answer the unspoken question creasing his features.
“Mulder, pay attention to the road.”
Pausing only a millisecond, he turned his head back to the tarmac road and smirked, “Well, alright then.”
OUTSIDE ANDEL NAVAL BASE
ANDEL, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Three quarters of an hour later their rental pulled up near the crime scene…
Where a news reporter van and two police cars were parked, and a bunch of curious people were gathered, desperately hoping to see what lay well beyond the line of yellow police tape.
Mulder frowned and slowly stepped out of the vehicle, resting an elbow on the door and examining the unexpected scene. His partner did the same, ending with a glance at the naval base to her right, where she could just make out the figures of six seaman firmly pressing their noses against the chain-link fence surrounding the compound, much to the chagrin of the beckoning Chief Petty Officer approaching from behind.
“When you told me a story of alien abduction, Mulder,” she started, only affording her partner a brief glance over the roof of the car before the congregated mob demanded her attention again, “did you, by chance, leave out any key information?”
“I told you everything I was told, and – from what I could figure – everything Agent Balk was told…” came his hesitant, slightly awed reply as he shook his head.
They approached the crowd, and were about to slip under the tape when the sheriff and deputy quickly moved to step in front of them.
“Sorry, Mister, but you and the missus can turn right ’round and go back in the direction you came from – this, here, is a crime scene and no one’s getting past,” the elder of the two remarked smugly, as if he’d recited the line from his favorite movie.
Judging by the hands-on-hips and lifted chin posture, that was exactly what he’d done.
The misconception of their matrimonial and professional status was an old one that hadn’t phased them for a long time and had actually become a kind of badge of honor since their relationship had become a lot more personal, but Scully was
eagerly vying to wipe the know-it-all grin from Wyatt Earp’s pasty face.
“Actually, Sheriff,” she quickly piped up before a sound managed to pass Mulder’s already opening mouth, pulling out her ID wallet, “we’re Agents Scully and Mulder from the FBI, so how about you and Deputy Dawg here let us do our job?”
The sheriff’s smirk disappeared and he took a step back to let them pass, muttering a barely-audible apology. Mulder struggled to keep the smile from his face as he lifted the tape and let his fiery partner go under it first. As they carefully made
their way down the steep, muddy embankment, the deputy’s laughing, squeaky voice sifted its way through the air they left in their wake.
“Must be a slow day for the feds if they’re all down here! Who’s next? CIA?”
The sheriff’s deep chuckle mingled with Dawg’s, and Scully half-turned to go back and ask what he was talking about, perhaps with the help of her brandished gun, but Mulder rested a gentle, calming hand on her arm and slightly shrugged his shoulders.
“You were saying about wrong sides of the bed to get out of?” he joked, lightly nudging her with his elbow. He knew full well how annoying clueless local law officers could be, so he fully sympathized, but at the moment his curiosity to see what lay just beyond the line of trees ahead of them took precedence over
everything else – even putting dumb deputies in their place.
What actually lay beyond the trees was possibly the last thing either of them had thought to consider: a dead, mutilated body was sprawled unceremoniously on the leafy ground, and half-a-dozen people with NCIS emblazoned on their navy blue jackets and caps were milling about the scene, taking photos, gathering evidence and examining the aforementioned body.
“NCIS?” Mulder queried in a hushed tone, staring at the other team like a dog whose territory has been stolen from him by a smaller mutt.
“Naval Criminal Investi–”
“I know what it stands for. What I mean is ‘What are they doing here?'”
It was Dana’s turn to shrug. “Well, obviously,” she started, pointing toward the top half of the uniformed corpse, where three of the investigators were crouched, “things have gone a lot further from just a drunken–”
“Hey!” a sudden voice called out. They both looked up to see one of the team moving toward them. The stranger was tall, topped by a short crop of dark hair that stuck out from beneath his issued hat, mid-to-late thirties, and carried himself with a
self-confidence that far exceeded anything Mulder had ever shown, even in the very early days of their partnership fourteen years ago – a cockiness that settled naturally
on his features, and Scully figured was kind of endearing.
And then he eyed her up, flashed the cheesiest grin, and she knew she hated him completely.
“Hey, you’re gonna have to turn back,” he continued, once again focusing on her. “This is a closed-off scene.”
“Special Agent Mulder, and this is my partner Special Agent Scully – we’re from the FBI,” Mulder snarked, putting emphasis on the word ‘partner’ that reeked of testosterone. He withdrew his badge for good measure, but Scully was busy watching the smile that had suddenly faded from the younger man’s face.
“FBI?” he frowned. “Did Fornell send you or something?”
Both agents glanced at each other briefly.
“Who’s Fornell?” Mulder queried, re-pocketing his wallet. “We were called in to investigate the disappearance of a male in this very area.”
Dana gave an agreeing nod, but then noticed as the gray-haired man who had been crouching beside the lower half of the torso with what appeared to be a polystyrene cup from Starbucks in his left hand, looked up at them and authoritatively strode over.
“DiNozzo! Get those people out of here immediately and tell the sheriff to get it through his thick skull that no one should be getting down here!”
The NCIS agent turned to face his approaching superior and gestured towards Mulder and Scully. “They say they’re from the Bureau, boss.”
“I don’t care! Get rid of them!” With a dismissive wave of the coffee-cup-filled hand, the much older man turned away again.
Always knowing the best time to stick his foot in the biggest pile of crap, Mulder chose that moment to pipe up. “We’re here investigating a crime and have as much right to be here as you!”
The gray-haired man came to an abrupt stop, and his back straightened. The man only identified as DiNozzo for now pulled a shocked face and then hastily took a couple of steps away from them. The remaining four members of the investigative crew looked up with aghast faces. The older man sharply turned on his heel and pinned Mulder with a deadly stare as he took the four steps required to bring them face to face.
Scully could only watch with worry as the turf war began.
“Why don’t you go back to Fornell and tell him he sent the wrong agent to try stand up to me on the wrong day, Agent–?”
“Mulder. And, as we’ve already told your Agent DiNozzo here, we don’t know a ‘Fornell’. There was a report of someone going missing in these woods after a shaft of light hit the ground. An agent from the Boston field office asked us to find out what happened.”
“And why didn’t your fellow agent investigate himself?”
“Herself. Because my partner and I investigate…strange cases, and there was a slant on this that warranted our attention.”
‘Strange’?” the gray-haired man spat out. “A marine is dead! Does any of this look *strange* to you?” The hand tightly gripping on to the cup, as if drawing life from it, shot out to gesture toward the body.
Straightening his back to gain the extra millimeter that matched the other man’s full six foot height, Mulder cleared his throat and just as vehemently retorted, “Seeing as your marine is laying there in two halves, I’d say that’s pretty strange.”
“Actually, my dear fellow, mutilation is far from strange. Sad, yes, but not strange,” another of the men who had been closely examining the remains sighed, standing up and brushing down his dusty trousers. “And there are so many degrees of it, some
fatal, others not so much. This type of severing through the midsection is not so common as it takes a great deal of arduous work sawing through the meat and…and spinal column.” With every description the medical examiner made demonstrative
gestures with his hands. He paused for a second in thought and then, “Actually, now I think about it, I did once have to autopsy a body that–”
“Ducky!” the team leader quickly cut in, not breaking eye contact with Mulder. “You got everything you need there?”
“What? Oh, oh yes.” The man with the British accent glanced down at his assistant for a supportive agreement – which he received in the form of a slightly nervous nod. “We’ll know more when we get him back, as always.”
“Bag him, then. Ziva, McGee, you go with them. Tony, you and our two friends here can come with me on a little trip to get this smoothed out.”
“You can’t stop us from completing our investigation,” Mulder spluttered, refusing to move his feet from where he’d firmly planted them.
“Mulder,” Scully whispered, gently touching the sleeve of his jacket, “let’s just do what he says and get this sorted out with Skinner. At least then we’ll be able to proceed without any problems.”
He looked down at her, lost himself in the pools of her understanding blue eyes, and let out a deep, resigned sigh.
Sharing one more stare with the older man, both wordlessly yelling at each other ‘we’re not done’, he turned away and guided his partner back toward their parked car.
WASHINGTON NAVAL BASE, WASHINGTON D.C.
Getting things ‘sorted out’ had not worked entirely in anyone’s favor, and much to his chagrin, Skinner had also been roped into the case to ‘keep an eye’ on his agents.
Basically, the final agreement between Director Shepherd of NCIS and Director Gardner of the FBI was that both teams needed to work together – both had jurisdiction, and the melding of the different expertise would help wrap things up a lot quicker.
No one had won the turf war, especially not him, and as Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs sat at his desk mulling that fact over and over, it only made him more determined to get this solved before the Bureau mob returned from the woods in Andel.
Wiping a frustrated hand across the top of his gray, marine crew-cut hair, the team leader glanced at the three of his group who sat at their own desks, either on the phone or tapping away at their computer keyboards. This past year had been tough enough trying to fully regain their trust after he’d retired last Spring, only to return and disturb the new balance that had been found several months later. The last thing he needed right now after a string of cases that had hit each of them on some
personal level was to have to baby-sit some annoying, alien chasing feds – Agent Tobias Fornell was a handful enough, and he was a friend!
“Boss, I managed to track down Commander Kexlar’s work schedule for yesterday,” Agent Tim McGee, the ‘junior’ member of the team (though he’d been a field agent for three years now) started, examining the printed sheet in his hands as he carefully stepped around his desk. “Apparently Commander Kexlar clocked in at
nine-hundred hours and left at eighteen-twenty-two. He was not due in again until tomorrow morning.”
“His wife, who seemed a little hesitant to talk to me, said he arrived home, had some dinner, and then muttered something about having to go out,” Tony DiNozzo added, hanging up the phone but remaining in his seat. “She tried to ask him where he was
going, but he just kissed her and left.”
Gibbs soaked in the information and started trying to recreate Kexlar’s last steps in his head. “Do we know what the commander’s actual station was?” His head turned to look at the Israeli woman to his right, who looked up at his question and quickly covered the mouthpiece of the phone handset.
“The Navy seem to want to stay tight-lipped about that,” Ziva David shrugged. “Apparently they don’t want anybody to know what they’re doing there.” With an irritated shake of her head, she returned to the conversation on the phone.
Slamming his hand on the desk, Gibbs sharply stood and moved round to her. “You tell them I don’t give a damn what petty war games they’re planning behind those walls, I just want to know what Kexlar was in charge of so I can find out if there was a reason for him to be lurking outside the perimeter hours after he’d left for the day!”
David gave a nod, and watched as her superior turned away. His fire for finding the truth had always been this hot, but since his return it had seemed as if he was trying to prove something…To them, to himself or both she couldn’t tell, but she just wished he’d get it through his head that they were working just as hard as him, and that they would still follow him wherever he led.
“You can’t seriously think he was murdered, boss?” McGee slightly chuffed. “The blood at the scene was consistent as if Kexlar’d died from being cut in half…” His voice trailed off as Gibbs fixed him with an icy stare, and the next thing he knew
was the feel of a hand hitting him across the back of the head.
Not from his boss, though.
He turned to see Tony standing right beside him, grinning smugly. “You know better than to dismiss all possibilities before the case is wrapped up, probie!”
Gibbs watched them both and then slapped DiNozzo’s head.
“Ow! What was that for?” came the defensive yelp as the senior agent rubbed the stinging spot on the back of his skull.
“For telling him that before I got back,” Gibbs shrugged, sitting back down in his seat.
Ziva fought to hold back a chuckle.
“Tony, you and McGee go talk to Mrs. Kexlar, find out if there’s any possibility her husband was having an affair, or even if she knows what he was working on at that base.”
“She didn’t exactly seem forthcoming on information over the phone,” Tony remarked, doubtfully, gesturing back toward his desk.
“Well, why don’t you convince her to be more forthcoming – we’re constantly hearing how good you are at winning women over with your charms, so prove it.”
As the afternoon breeze kicked yet another cloud of dirt into his face, Mulder shook his head and continued scraping away at metal object he’d found embedded in the ground right in the middle between where the dead marine’s two halves had been laid. Flat on his belly, pushing the damp soil away from the possible murder weapon, he was in that position when Skinner slowly stepped up alongside him.
“Please say you’re doing something and not just taking a rest.” the assistant director half-joked, removing his spectacles and wiping them clean with the end of his tie.
Mulder looked up and smiled warily then gesturing toward the crevice in the ground. “I think I found treasure,” he quipped.
“Sadly not the type that’ll bring me enough riches to whisk Scully and I away on some exotic vacation, but it may be enough to help us find out what’s happened to our Mr. Hollins.”
“Speaking of Agent Scully, where is she?”
“Oh, she went to help the NCIS M.E. with the autopsy on the seaman.” Mulder paused for a second before adding in a wistful tone as a grin lifted his cheeks, “Something tells me she may take over, though.”
Skinner smiled also and crouched down beside Mulder. He liked being out in the field, especially considering the rarity with which the opportunity arose, but he hated being sent on moderator duty just because his best agent and friend insisted
on working an alien abduction case and getting in the way of those that had full rights to the investigation. He just hoped both team could find a mutual ground to work together on. “So, what you got?”
“I dunno…It looks like a metal plate of some sort. Judging by the trajectory, I’d have to say it came from directly above us.”
The wind picked up again and both men quickly lifted a hand to shield their eyes from the onslaught of dusty debris.
“Do you think this could have killed the commander?” Walter hypothesized, noticing the blood spatter marring the metal that had been revealed.”
Mulder let out a deep sigh and sat up. “Possible, but like I say the way it’s embedded in the ground, it would have had to drop straight down…” He demonstrated using his hand to mimic the metallic disc’s descent. “But to chop Kexlar in half–”
“He would have had to have been lying on the ground already.”
“Probably dead already.”
Both stared at each other for a thoughtful moment, before Mulder reached for his phone to call Scully.
Dana Scully stood next to the metal gurney where Commander Martin Kexlar’s body had been placed, silently but a little impatiently waiting for the NCIS’s medical examiner to arrive. She’d been sorely tempted to go ahead and start the autopsy herself, or at least give the remains a cursory glance, but with the assistant who’d introduced himself as Jimmy Palmer milling around here and there, she’d had to bite her lip and let the body be. Maybe she shouldn’t have trusted Mulder’s gut after all…
Two minutes later the autopsy bay doors slid open and Doctor Mallard briskly walked in.
“Honestly, Mr. Palmer, someone should really see to those bathrooms – the filth–” He trailed off as he finished tying the back of his scrubs and looked up to see her. “Oh! You’re…You’re the lady from this morning, aren’t you? The, uh, FBI agent?”
She smiled and took a step toward him, outstretching her hand.
“Special Agent Dana Scully.”
“I remember pretty faces, but unfortunately I’m not as good with names anymore. The name fits the face, though. Do you know Dana actually means ‘from Denmark’ in old English, and yet it’s become very popularized in Ireland, I believe. I wonder what our ancestors would make of that.”
Scully wasn’t sure what to make of this man. He seemed exceptionally friendly – which was definitely nice considering the cold welcome they’d received from the team leader – but he also seemed a little eccentric, and she feared an autopsy she
couldn’t wait to be done with would take forever. “I’m a medical pathologist – I’m just here to help, not get in your way…” For some reason she couldn’t think of what else to say, as if the M.E. had made her feel so relaxed and welcome in an environment where she’d always had to keep the utmost professionalism that anything she said did not need explanation.
“Fascinating!” Mallard beamed, genuinely interested. “But you’re a field agent, too?”
How to tell a lifetime’s story in the fewest possible words…
“Well, yes. Um, I was assigned to counter Agent Mulder’s ‘out there’ theories due to my medical background – to expose the science shielded behind the otherwise unexplainable. It hasn’t always delivered the answers, but it’s certainly helped us a lot over the last fourteen years.” She couldn’t conceal the wistful smile as she reflected in stark Technicolor on the myriad of cases and emotions over the years.
“You love what you do and your partner very much…”
Dana snapped back to reality and blinked several times at the words.
“I’m….I’m sorry, my dear,” Ducky quickly apologized, waving a dismissive hand in the air. “I took my Masters in Forensic Psychology at the start of the year – seems you really can teach old dogs new tricks. Anyway, I know it’s not the same thing
and, of course, you’re far from dead, but it’s helped me pick up on certain nuances in people… When you were talking, there were just so many emotions washing over your features and your eyes” – again he used his hands by pointing at his own eyes to express what he was saying more demonstratively – “filled with this far-off glint… I’m sorry, I’m rambling again. Jethro keeps–”
“No, you’re very correct,” she quickly but quietly assured – hoping to keep what she was saying as between them as possible without Palmer overhearing too much. “I–…They mean everything to me.”
Mallard smiled, gave a knowing nod and winked. “Good. Just don’t let the work ruin the better things in life for you both.”
“We won’t, Doctor.”
“Oh, my!” he suddenly jumped, as if he’d just remembered that he’d left the oven on at home. “I completely forgot, I haven’t even introduced myself yet! I’m Doctor Mallard, but you can call me Ducky like everyone else, and I take it my assistant has
already–” He paused and turned to frown at Palmer with both hands resting on his hips. “Please say you had the manners to introduce yourself, Mr. Palmer!”
Jimmy looked up at the doctor from what he was doing with a flustered expression and rushed to splutter out, “Yes, Doctor Mallard – when Agent Scully first arrived.”
Ducky turned to face Scully again, an eyebrow lifting to silently ask if Jimmy was indeed telling the truth. At her nod, he moved to his desk and the box of latex gloves. “Excellent! We can get started then!” He snapped on one of the
prophylactics and then hobbled toward the metal gurney. “And hopefully then you can tell us what you were up to, Mr. Kexlar, wandering around the woods late at night.” The second glove slipped on easily and the bespectacled doctor took the offered scalpel from Palmer as he glanced at the Marine’s slack face before leaning in to examine where he had been severed on the top half of the torso. “Maybe you were star gazing, looking up at the night sky and feeling as free as when you were out at sea. Maybe you heard a noise outside the base and went to investigate, lungs filling with breath in short, shallow bursts as you carefully made your way through the brush.”
Bemused, Scully approached the gurney also, listening to the doctor ramble on as if their patient was still alive. She’d always considered Mulder’s approach to work as kooky, but this guy took the cake!
“Or maybe you were secretly in the arms of another lover when she suddenly turned and sliced you in two.”
Scully’s cellphone chose that second to ring to life.
“Hey, Scully, it’s me.”
“Hey there, Me. How’s it going with the boss?”
Mulder smiled at the familiar greeting as he slowly rose to his feet and paced away a little from where Skinner had taken over with the digging. She’d only left his side a couple of hours ago, and yet it felt as if he hadn’t seen her all weekend. “Aw, you know, we’re picking out china patterns and planning to have me moved into his place by next week!”
“I hope he’s ready to fight me for you,” came her mock-stern response over the line.
“Now *that’s* something I’d like to see! …Wonder how much I could sell the tickets to the showdown for…”
“Not enough to buy me back if I lost.”
“Ouch! I felt that one!” He laughed and glanced up at the maze of branches that loomed above him. “Seriously, though, he only got here about five minutes ago, so our love is far from sealed just yet…Maybe if you call me back in an hour–”
“You were the one who called me, Mulder.”
That caught him off guard. He frowned, and then remembered why he had, indeed, called her to start with. “Oh, yeah! First, I gotta know, though: how’s it going with the Navy feds?”
At the other end, Dana shrugged and moved to the far corner of the autopsy bay, casting a brief glance over her shoulder at where Ducky and Palmer were still examining the body. “They’re okay, if not maybe a little eccentric. We’ve just started the autopsy.”
“I found a metal plate of some sort, about forty-inch diameter, buried in the ground right in the middle of where the commander’s body parts were found, and there’s blood on it, but for it to have hit him he would have already had to have been lying on the ground.” Mulder paused and pulled the phone away from his ear a little as he curiously focused his gaze on the broken tree limbs directly above where Skinner was crouched.
Misunderstanding the silence, Scully queried, “You think he was already dead, don’t you?”
“That’s what I need you and your NCIS buddies to find out – you know me, at the moment I’m happy to believe he was abducted along with Joel Hollins and then returned unconscious, only seconds after which the ship that took them was shot down by the military and chopped him in half.”
Dana let out a deep sigh. Only her partner could come up with a theory like that. Then again, in the absence of any other ideas, she knew she had no reason to knock him for it, though. “If that were the case, where’s the elusive Mr. Hollins?”
“That I’m still trying to figure out, as well as where his piece of the puzzle fits in with all of this. Apparently Agent Balk and Hollins’s girlfriend gave statements in at the county sheriff’s office earlier this afternoon. Your beloved friend Sheriff Mayway was supposed to be bringing copies of them to me, but he hasn’t shown up yet – you must have made such an impression on him he’s scared to come by.” His deep chuckle filtered its way down the line and lovingly tickled against the walls of her ear canal. “Look, I’d better let you go. Let us know what you find with the autopsy, okay?”
“When don’t I? You be careful out there – no heroics.”
“No, ma’am! And you be careful of that DiNozzo guy…I saw him checking you out! Slimy bastard…”
“No.” By his tone, it was obvious he really was. “Just ready to pummel his face in if he tries to make the wrong move. Love you.”
And with that they both cut off their ends of the call – as always never ending with a goodbye, as if that would bring fatal fortune their way.
“Aliens, Mulder?” Skinner chided, looking up from where he was carefully shifting the soil away from the metallic object.
Mulder shrugged a shoulder and then moved to climb one of the old trees behind the assistant director. “Why…Why not?” he huffed, hoisting himself up and reaching for the branch above his head. “I didn’t insist on following this lead just because
things were slow in the office.”
Higher and higher he climbed, strong hands gripping expertly at the right holds and branches while athletic feet carefully moved this way and that across the bark to best support and lift the rest of his body. When he reached as far as he could go before the limbs became much denser but more fragile, Mulder carefully diverted to stretch out along the limb that had caught his attention whilst he’d been on the phone to Scully.
Directly below him, Skinner looked up and watched the agent apprehensively. Scully was so gonna kick his ass if her partner came back with a scratch on him. “Mulder, what the hell are you doing up there?” When his question was met by silence, he tried again, becoming more worried. “Mulder?”
The agent stopped moving and looked at the twigs that must have been broken by the falling object…Except their undersides were snapped instead of the tops – as if they’d been attacked from below – and he could just barely see some crystals of ice
resting where the ends were hanging on. Balancing precariously with both legs hooked around the bough, Mulder reached out and broke one of the questionable branches off an inch or so away from where they’d been damaged with one hand whilst the other pulled an evidence bag out of his jacket pocket.
Suddenly, though, a wave of dizziness hit him, and a pressure started to grow inside his ears. “Agh!” he groaned, quickly covering both ears with his hands – the newly-bagged twig fluttering to the ground twenty feet below. “What the–”
Something greater than gravity was pressing against his body, and before he had chance to move back Mulder was plummeting to the ground.
The figure stumbled on a clump of deadwood, but then quickly reasserted his balance as best as possible and forged on ahead.
They were going to get him unless he got away as fast as possible.
Adrenaline pumped through his blood.
‘Nobody’ll believe you, so just remember you saw nothing here.’
Something made a sound in the brush to his left and he quickly veered away – his heart skipping a beat as he struggled to find his breath.
‘You were drunk and seeing things.’
He repeated the phrase over and over in his head like a sacred mantra. He *had* been drunk – his friends had gotten him drunk and then told him some stupid story about aliens and spacecrafts…Just because he’d been out of his head enough to
believe them didn’t mean anyone would listen to what he had really seen there at the base!
‘You saw *nothing*!’
The voice kept shouting in his brain like an abusive, overpowering father, and he nodded, as if that would appease the invisible torturer.
Cold. Tired. Lonely.
As he breathlessly whimpered “I didn’t see anything, honest!”, a cut and bruised Joel Hollins burst through the final barrier of trees and stepped out onto the main road into Andel. He blinked against the blinding, unshielded sunlight and staggered left and right, completely confused as to where he was.
By the time his eyes adjusted to the light and his vision cleared, there was the sound of a loud horn, screeching tires…
And the last thing Hollins knew was the force of a forty-ton Kenworth truck slamming into him.
The door slammed open, closed, and there was the barest sound of the assistant’s protest in between as Agent Gibbs stormed into the director’s office.
Shepherd looked up at him, unsurprised by his unannounced arrival. “I was expecting this outburst earlier, Jethro,” she remarked, resting back in her chair. “You must be getting slower in your old age.”
“This isn’t about the FBI,” came his sharp retort as he quickly approached her desk, “I’ve dealt with enough of them this year alone to know how to play fair every now and then.”
She quirked an eyebrow at that.
“What I want is to know what they’re doing at that base, *now*.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“Yes it is – you go up to MTAC and tell them to spill the beans!”
“I’ve tried that, but they refuse to open video contact with us.”
“I have one dead marine already with Ducky, Jen, and now the missing guy that caused the FBI’s involvement in the first place is dead as well Kexlar’s wife is too scared to talk, and two statements given to the local LEOs have ‘mysteriously’ gone
missing. What more needs to happen before the call of silence is lifted?”
Jenny Shepherd sympathized with Gibbs’s frustration. She’d just spent an hour and a half at the alert center being diverted from video feed to video feed, hoping that she would eventually be hooked up to Andel’s, to no avail, and then a further hour on the phone trying to contact as many officials as possible for information.
The only thing she’d received were threats.
“They want you off this case,” she finally confessed, watching as he frowned and waiting for the volcano to erupt.
“They insist they can handle this themselves and want both NCIS and the FBI away from their base.”
Gibbs stared at his ex-partner long and hard, trying to gauge if there was any trace of a lie in what she’d just said. When he found nothing but truth in her eyes, he wiped a sweaty hand across his mouth. None of this made sense… How had the find
of a body that could have easily been caused by an accident turn into such a dark cover-up scenario? Maybe it really was time to start conversing with those agents after all.
He turned, not willing to let her order him off the case yet, and was slowly making his way back toward the exit when she softly called out his name. With a hand resting on the door handle, Gibbs glanced over his shoulder to see her stand up and
“You know I won’t pull this from you, Jethro,” she assured in a hushed tone, “but you need to work under the radar a little…”
She hesitated and considered for an instant, before finishing,
“Find out what’s going on by…less obvious means.”
After another brief staring match, Gibbs opened the door and left the office.
“Ziva, Tony, you’re with me,” he called, running down the open staircase to meet up with his team. McGee looked up from his computer, waiting for his own orders, and was not disappointed.
“McGee…” Gibbs paused and waited until he was face-to-face with the MIT graduate before continuing in a conspiratorial whisper, “I want you down with Abs finding a way to confirm what Kexlar was paid to do.”
“Probably something to do with this.”
The four NCIS members sharply turned at the unfamiliar voice to see Skinner and Mulder (whose legs had managed to save him from truly falling from the tree, though only just), both holding onto something that was concealed by a large, thick blanket.
“Is that what I think it is?”
Their heads snapped round in the opposite direction as Scully and Ducky entered the bullpen to join the group. Dana gestured toward the covered object and Mulder gave an acknowledging nod of his head.
Gibbs frowned in complete confusion. “Somebody wanna tell me what’s going on here?”
“Our inter-planetary visitors may be covering up for human attacks,” Mulder wryly joked. He carefully placed his end of the heavy disc onto the carpeted floor and took an awkward step back (something his partner picked up on but would wait until later to scold him about) to pull off the blanket. “Either that or they’re training for the next Olympics and this just happened to coincidentally hit a dead body.”
“Wow, there actually is somebody weirder than you, probie!” Tony snorted over McGee’s shoulder.
“The commander was dead before whatever that is hit the ground,” Scully cut in, overhearing the remark but ignoring it.
“He was slowly and methodically smothered,” Mallard elaborated.
“With a large hand covering his mouth and nose, and a steady knee used to pin his chest…It’s an old method known as ‘burking’, but I haven’t seen it used since the early Nineties… Whoever did it didn’t want there to be too many external signs. That” – pointing toward the metal object – “must have hit just seconds after his heart stopped beating, or at least after he lost consciousness, because the sudden loss of blood stopped there being much bruising. Thanks to the lovely, observant Agent Scully here, we found faint marks around the mouth and across the sternum.” The doctor paused and smiled at Dana, letting her reveal their final finding.
Mulder watched the exchange and couldn’t stop that ever-present doubt wriggling its way to the forefront of his brain. Scully’s past was riddled with older men, father figures…Surely she wouldn’t–
He quickly gave himself a mental slap. Fourteen years together and more declarations of love than anyone else would say in a whole lifetime…How long would it take for his tumultuous past to let him be and that doubting self-loathing to disappear forever?
“We managed to lift a thumb print.” Scully’s voice cut through his thoughts and Mulder quickly re-focused his attention on his partner. “He wore a glove on the hand he used to kill Kexlar, but he must have stumbled and had to steady himself when he quickly moved away because we found the print on the body’s wrist.”
“There’s an OJ Simpson joke in there somewhere,” Mulder and DiNozzo cracked at exactly the same time. Surprised by both the identical joke and timing, they glanced at each other – unsure if the mutual ground was a good thing or another reason for them to hate each other.
“Mulder…” Skinner cautioned in his low, deep voice.
Gibbs shot a sharp stare in Tony’s direction and nodded in approval as the senior agent slapped his own head.
Skinner watched, curiously fascinated by the team leader’s discipline tactics.
Ziva frowned. “How do you know it was a man?” As a trained Mossad agent she knew how to inflict as much damage as a well-built six-foot-five male soldier, if not more.
“The spread of the fingers used and size of the bruises were undeniably male,” Dana explained.
“There were boot prints by the body, but they matched Kexlar’s,” DiNozzo suddenly started, remembering the photographs he had taken earlier. “If they’re Navy issue, there could be fifty people with exactly the same size and track impressions there.”
“It would help if we knew who his divisional colleagues were,” Ziva shrugged.
It was McGee’s turn to look confused. “But there were no signs of struggle at the scene…”
“Ahh, good question, Timothy,” Ducky interrupted, stepping forward, “except our commander had been given a paralytic drug to render his limbs useless – Mr. Palmer’s taken a sample to Abby to find out exactly what that was.”
“Smart really is sexy…” Tony mused, flashing a seductive grin in Scully’s direction – much to her disgust and Mulder’s annoyance.
Soaking in all the information, Jethro crouched down to closely examine the silver plate. “You dug this out of the ground by the base?” he queried, glancing up at Mulder and then back at the blood spatter on the surface. “You removed evidence from a crime scene?”
Mulder shifted uncomfortably, suddenly afraid of giving the wrong answer. “Umm… Yes, sir.”
Gibbs stood, stared at the FBI agent long and hard for ten seconds, and then a wide smile broke on his face. “Excellent work!” he grinned, patting Mulder’s cheek affectionately.
Before the younger man had chance to reply, though, he started to walk away, calling out over his shoulder, “Everyone down to Abby’s lab. DiNozzo, you can give the assistant director a break and help Agent Mulder bring that thing down.”
Music filled the forensics lab and enveloped Abby Sciuto as she carefully placed the vial Palmer had delivered into her spectrometer machine. She was zipping back to her computer workstation on her wheelie-chair when the Magnificent Seven walked in, one after the other. She lifted an eyebrow, but Gibbs shook his head and pulled a large Caf-Pow! cup from behind his back to offer her – which she instantly accepted.
“Are we having a party?” Sciuto smirked, taking a sip of the beverage. “If I’d known I would have worn my other collar!”
“Abby, these are Agents Scully, Skinner and Mulder from the FBI,” Gibbs introduced, pointing to each as their name was said.
“FBI? Really? Haven’t we had our quota of them for the year?”
Tony lowered his head to try to muffle the chuckle that escaped past his lips. Mulder shot a sharp glare over his shoulder, but was waved off by DiNozzo before anything could be said.
“Agents, this is Abigail Sciuto, our forensic specialist extraordinaire.”
Abby eyed Gibbs skeptically, wondering what he could be about to ask of her. It was getting late, and Late was when Jethro’s outlandish attempts to get as many answers as possible came out to play. “Wow, who you trying to impress?” she snickered, reclining in her seat and looking from one member of the group to the next – their bodies blocking her view of the thing draped by an old dusty blanket. “Not even my priest calls me Abigail!” She paused and glanced down at the plastic cup in her hand. “You want something badly…” she finally surmised.
“Have you got that tox analysis back yet?” he asked, concealing his own smile with military precision.
“Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs! I’ve only just put the sample in – you have to let my baby do its work and percolate, like a good coffee.” She paused and cocked her head to the side. “That’s what it is! You haven’t had a coffee in the last five minutes, have you?” At his head shake, she outstretched the cup of Caf-Pow!. “Here, you can have mine.”
“I wanna keep my brain alert, not freeze it,” came his slightly impatient response.
Mulder and Scully watched the chatter in awe. These people were like a big family – work colleagues, but much, much more than that as well. They’d been so used to only relying on each other for so long, with only the occasional help of Skinner, the Gunmen and Danny, that the idea of anything greater than just two working well had slipped them by.
“So, what’s this?” the Goth scientist finally asked, standing and weaving past everyone to get to the mystery object. She pulled back the cover, her eyes and mouth going wide and the sight that befell her. “You dug up a flying saucer?” she gasped in wonder, looking up at Mulder quickly before gazing at the metal surface again. “That is *so* cool – so War Of The Worlds-ish!”
“Not quite,” Tony objected. “Technically they weren’t ‘dug up’ – they rose–” The rest of his sentence became nothing more than a string of muffled unintelligible words as Abby stood and covered his mouth with her hand.
“I’m not even going to begin going through the list of why this isn’t a spaceship, Abs,” Gibbs groaned, shuffling his feet a little. “But I do need you to find out what it is, and how it was programmed to slice a marine in half.”
The word ‘programmed’ triggered a memory in Mulder’s brain and his head snapped upright as he started searching through his pockets. Finally his left hand snagged out the bagged tree branch he’d collected in the woods before his near-fall. “I also found this directly above where that was,” he started, stepping forward and holding the bag out for the tall, dark-haired tech geek to take. “All the branches that fell in this thing’s path were the same, except they’re broken on the bottom instead of the top.”
Everyone’s eyes fell on the polythene-wrapped item.
“That makes no sense,” Scully abhorred, resting both hands on her hips. “Are you sure you didn’t get confused when you were hanging upside-down from that tree?” Time to start sliding in those reproaches now.
“Get on it, Abs,” Gibbs sighed, turning to leave.
“Yes, sir!” Sciuto replied, military style. “A fingerprint, strange substance, tree twig and UFO all in two hours…Did someone forget to tell me it’s my birthday?”
“Answer the questions they pose and it might just be!”
“Boss, what…what should we do?” McGee stammered, nodding his head toward the other team members.
Gibbs stopped in his tracks. “You’re gonna track down Kexlar’s personnel file like we discussed before,” he asserted. “AD Skinner and I are going to go grab a cup of coffee–”
Skinner perked up at that.
“Agent Scully and I are gonna fly back out to Andel and keep an eye on that base,” Mulder quickly added in.
Dana definitely didn’t perk up at that.
“I have an autopsy on Mr. Hollins to do,” Ducky proclaimed, quickly making himself scarce.
“Ziva is gonna contact the eyewitness to find out what she put in her statement, and Abby has her stuff to do here,” Gibbs finished.
Tony looked between McGee and his boss, waiting for his own orders. When his name wasn’t said he suddenly became worried that there was something he should be remembering to do but couldn’t. It was Friday night and he was supposed to have had plans with Jeanne. He had no doubt those were now out the window, but he hoped somebody would tell him what he was supposed to be doing instead…
“B-but what about Tony?”
‘Ah, bless you, probie!’
“Tony…” Jethro paused, looked at DiNozzo, and smiled enigmatically. “Tony’ll do what he needs to do to help solve this case – he knows what that is.” With that, he left.
ANDEL, NEW HAMPSHIRE
It was well past ten that night when Mulder and Scully arrived back outside the naval base in the deepest, darkest dwells of the Granite State. Turning the rental’s ignition off, Mulder glanced lovingly at the form of his sleeping partner beside him and then carefully reached to lift the cumbersome night-vision goggles he’d ‘forgotten’ to give back to the Gunmen the last time he’d borrowed them off of the back seat. Over a thousand miles worth of traveling to-and-fro in one day was beginning to take its toll on his body, but he was just clinging to the last of his stamina – hoping he could hold out, at least, until Scully woke up.
He blinked back the sleep beginning to blur his vision, and slipped on the goggles.
“They’re really not much of a fashion statement or turn on, Mulder,” Dana sighed, yawning and stretching her muscles as best as possible in the small confines of the vehicle.
He smiled, turning back to face her but not lifting the equipment from his face. “If I thought that were the case I’d never let them, you and Frohike be alone in the same room for more than a couple minutes.”
Comfortable, friendly silence fell between them as Scully wiped at her eyes and Mulder vigilantly surveyed the tree line bordering the base.
“Just like old times, huh?” he cracked, not diverting his attention. “Could probably do with some iced tea, though.”
“Holed up in a car at god-only-knows what time, chasing aliens and men that wish to keep their secrets secret? When isn’t it like old times?” she grumbled.
Mulder fought the urge to glance at her – he knew what she was working up to.
And she didn’t disappoint.
“And what stupid-ass trick were you trying to pull climbing that tree?”
There it was! At least she’d waited until they were on their own instead of erupting in front of the NCIS crew.
“I saw something that needed investigating, Agent Scully, so that’s what I did,” he rejoined, still not looking at her.
Scully considered her next words carefully, shifting in her seat until her spine was upright against the seat’s back. “Skinner said you blacked out…That for no reason you just lost your balance…” Hard swallow. “Did…Did you have a relapse?”
The extra activity in his brain had been pretty much dormant since last summer… Why, whenever he came over queasy did she think–
That train of thought swiftly came to a halt as he remembered the overpowering pressure that had wracked his body as he’d clung on to the limb directly above the unidentified metallic dish – as if he’d been trapped in some kind of vortex like the one in Oregon at the start of their partnership…The faint but undeniably-present dissonance just milliseconds before he’d started to fall…
“No…” he replied, a little distantly before, snapping out of his thoughts.
“I just worry,” the small voice beside him sighed. “It’s like a ticking bomb, and I’m scared if it fires up again we won’t be there to help you.”
Now he did turn to face her and lifted the goggles so that he could see her properly. It still amazed him that such a strong woman like his Scully could be so fragile when she let her guard down, specifically over any threats to his health. He stared at her for a long while, his eyes silently conveying as much comfort as she needed to draw from them, and then he lifted a hand to gently stroke her cheek. No words were spoken, but the gesture and look spoke volumes, and after another minute Dana gave a grateful nod.
“I can’t and won’t deny that I felt something because I did,” he confessed, “but I don’t want us jumping to any conclusions until we know what that thing is for definite, okay?”
She gave a small smile. “You mean you’re actually conceding that it might not be extraterrestrial?”
“I wouldn’t go that far…” His head shook and then turned away as he lowered the goggles yet again.
“But why kill Kexlar?”
“You mean besides the fact he sounds like a Klingon soldier?”
Mulder chuckled almost to himself. “I can just see all his colleagues calling ‘Qapla’!’ as they walked past. …What the–” His voice died in his throat. There was someone running, staggering toward their rental with a hand frantically waving in the air.
“What is it?” Scully queried, unsure what her partner could see.
The running marine tripped and fell to the ground.
And then the chasing figure came into view.
“Time to move,” he quickly exclaimed, jumping out of the car, throwing the expensive night-vision equipment onto the back seat and drawing his gun.
‘RESTRICTED – YOU DO NOT HAVE THE CORRECT
LEVEL OF AUTHORIZATION TO ACCESS THIS CONTENT.’
McGee slammed his head against the keyboard as the flashing window appeared on the screen for the hundredth time to stop him getting any further in his search for Martin Kexlar’s details. Abby looked up at the sound, but then returned to her studious examination of the spaceship.
“Gibbs is gonna hate me unless I can hack into this information,” he groaned, tapping blindly at the computer keys.
“Aw, he won’t hate you, McGee – who could ever hate you?”
The junior agent felt hopeful at that and lifted his head enough to glance at her.
“No guaranteeing that he won’t kill you, though.”
“Ohhh, Abby! How can he expect me to do this?”
“Because he has faith in you.”
“But I’ve never seen these codes before…”
The lab door unexpectedly slid open and three strange men strolled in.
“That’s because the government doesn’t like coming up with firewalls that any average hacker can knock down,” the tall, long-haired one remarked coolly, marching purposely to the console McGee had been slaving at in vain for the past four hours.
The male agent jumped to his feet. “Who are you?” he demanded, trying to sound as authoritative as possible.
Frohike cast a glance around the whole area before letting his eyes fall on Sciuto. “You must be the chick…Mulder didn’t say you were hot!”
“My name’s John Byers, and these are my two associates Melvin Frohike and Richard Langly,” the tall, well-groomed member of the Lone Gunmen introduced, outstretching a hand. “We’re friends of Agent Mulder; he said you might need our help.”
Abby considered the new people for a second, and then, “Frohike? Byers? Langly? Are you…Are you the Lone Gunmen?” she asked.
“That’s us,” Melvin grinned.
Suddenly the forensic specialist pulled the leather-clad dwarf into a bear hug – almost lifting him off the ground. “You guys *so* rock! I read all your issues!” She promptly let Frohike go and ran over to a filing cabinet in the corner of the room.
“See?” she smiled, pulling a newspaper out of one of the drawers and waving it in the air for them to see.
McGee stared doubtfully at Langly.
“We’re computer geeks – hackers…Send us to any government site and we can get in,” Ringo shrugged. “How do you think we got our security passes for here?”
Ecstatic the gods had been kind enough to deliver him a possible reprieve from the wrath of Gibbs, Tim turned back to the keyboard without asking any further questions and moved aside a little so that there was room for Langly to sit beside him at the workstation. Frohike shuffled up behind them, whilst Byers oversaw Abby’s inspection area.
Scully followed behind Mulder as fast as she could, both of them keeping low with their weapons tightly clasped at their sides.
In the darkness it was practically impossible to see anything, but the crescent moon provided enough of a glow to highlight the shapes of the towering trees so that they didn’t run into any of them, and the figure that was still charging toward the fallen marine.
They reached the man on the ground first and helped him to his feet.
“We’re FBI, it’s okay,” Scully assured.
The marine shook his head. “I know – *they* know – but that…won’t…s-stop them…” he choked out.
Mulder glanced over his shoulder in time to see the chasing figure suddenly draw a gun. He quickly shifted the weight of the body clinging to him and raised his own weapon. “FBI! Freeze!”
“We’re all dead.”
Dana frowned at the marine’s words and looked over at the chain fence surrounding the base, where she could just barely see the silhouettes of armed men beginning to gather.
“Mul-der…” she started, her heartbeat thumping in her ears but not enough to block out the sound of multiple SMGs being lifted and aimed. “*Run*!”
“He was drunk, and…and you just sent him out there?”
Tony watched from the dark side of the two-way mirror as Ziva interrogated the woman the New Hampshire police had flown to them at the late hour as some kind of apology gesture for ‘losing’ the witness statements. He’d give anything to be the one in there doing the questioning right now, but at the same time he just couldn’t resist the opportunity to appease the perverse enjoyment he got out of watching Agent David reaming people a new one.
Gibbs was good, but Ziva just had that edge.
On the other side of the glass, she silently paced the room as Shelley Callahan – one of the group that had encouraged Joel Hollins to go to the woods in Andel – struggled to put together a coherent reply.
“We were all drunk,” Callahan croaked, combing a shaky hand through her bleached hair. “It was just a bit of fun…Joel was always so gullible, and such a sucker for UFO stories – we didn’t think the guy’d kill him!”
Ziva instantly stopped pacing, and Tony’s head sharply lifted to attention from the notebook he’d been perusing.
“What ‘guy’?” David sniped, sitting back down at the table in the middle of the room and resting a hand on the folder she’d brought in with her – prepared to use it if the woman didn’t spill.
All Shelley could do was wash her hands over and over and mutter nonsensically to herself, though.
“Your friend is dead,” the female NCIS agent barked, pulling autopsy photos of Joel Hollins out of the manila file and laying them in front of the weeping woman. “He was captured, drugged and then let loose to run in front of a truck. The most you can do is help us find out why and by who.”
Shelley tentatively picked up one of the pictures with her left hand as the other quickly lifted to cover her mouth. “Oh, my God, Joel…” She closed her eyes, but the grill marks of the truck that had ended his life slashed through the darkness and burnt the image of his mangled body onto the backs of her eyelids. The photo fluttered out of her grasp and onto the black tabletop.
DiNozzo waited patiently. This was it – the move that would either draw the answers out or drive them away forever.
“Just one name and Joel will be able to rest in peace.”
“I do–…It…” Callahan shook her head. Last night had been pretty wild – Hollins leaving the bar with his girlfriend was the last lucid memory she had before the drinks had really started to flow. Anything that had happened during the day had
been mixed and diluted by the alcoholic shower. “I think–…No, I c-can’t remember…”
“*Remember*!” Palms slammed down on the table as Ziva sharply stood up and leant over so that her face was close to the other woman’s when she shouted the order.
Shelley’s sniveling stopped and she looked up at the agent, the command jogging her memory enough to bring yesterday afternoon’s events into focus a little. “He was tall…Local accent…D-David Ten–…No…David Townshend… He asked if we knew anyone trustworthy, preferably someone who’d believe the most outrageous of tales. We said we knew someone who worked for the Andel Enquirer and wouldn’t be surprised if he bumped into an alien down the street. The guy said that was more than he could hope for, that he had some classified information that he wanted to leak, and asked us to tell Joel to go the this spot outside some base I can’t remember at ‘twenty-three hundred hours’…I figured he must be someone out of the Corps or something to be using military time, so I didn’t find anything too strange or dangerous in it. Ray – my boyfriend – is the one who told Joel some spiel about a good viewpoint for spaceships last night…”
“David Tonwshend?” Ziva frowned. “Definitely David Townshend?”
Callahan ran the name over her in head several times and then nodded.
“Not Martin Kexlar?”
“No, definitely not that. It was David Townshend.”
Tony quickly pocketed his notepad and left the observation room.
Mulder implicitly trusted Scully’s radar (which he secretly thought of as ‘Scullydar’) for danger, so when she yelled ‘Run!’ with every ounce of emotion and energy pumping through her body, you can bet he twisted his body, re-holstered his weapon and steadied his hold on the marine he was supporting as fast as humanly possible, following his partner as she ran toward their parked rental.
Before they were even halfway back, though, a dozen semi-automatic submachine guns opened fire in their direction.
One bullet came too close for comfort to Mulder’s head, and as he was still letting out a sigh of relief at that Dana stumbled – both arms instinctively going out to balance herself as she tried to forge on ahead.
“Scully!” There was an almost-unconscious dead weight impeding his ability to move too fast or particularly well, there were bullets whizzing past him, hitting the ground right in front and behind him…And yet the only thing he knew to worry about was if his partner was hurt.
“I-I’m okay,” she panted.
But she was limping, and had he had the energy to force anymore air into his lungs he would have asked her again. All he could do was focus everything he had into making it back to the car – which was also now beginning to take some hits by the gunfire.
Scully finally made it to the car and quickly flung open the driver’s side front and back doors before running around to the other side to get in. Three more steps and Mulder would be there.
He carefully shoved the marine into the vehicle along the back seat, slammed the door shut and then quickly jumped into the front, not bothering to fumble with the seatbelt as his foot stamped down on the accelerator pedal and he turned the steering wheel as far as it would go right – both partners ducking their heads down out of the way of the ammunition continuing to pepper the rental’s bodywork.
“What the hell are they doing?” Mulder yelled as one of the bullets penetrated the windshield and hit the seat’s headrest just a few inches above where he was hunched.
Dust and stones kicked into the air as the wheels frantically spun, trying to find purchase of the ground. When the car finally lurched onto the road at high-speed,
Suddenly everything went quiet.
Mulder lifted his head first to see the clear road that opened up ahead. Scully followed suit, and was about to open her mouth to say something when there was an almighty crash and the car slammed forward – careening almost out of control as the male FBI agent fought with the steering wheel to keep it on the road. When it righted, both shot a brief glance over their shoulders to see the large Humvee following and preparing to ram them again.
“I think the question should be ‘what are we going to do?'” Dana nervously gasped out, reaching across the console to pull and fasten Mulder’s seatbelt over him before doing her own.
“Ford Sedan versus armor-plated Humvee?” came his panted, tired reply. “I don’t think there’s much we can do except drive.”
And so they did, with the military vehicle making countless attempts to bash and PIT maneuver them off the road, which Mulder managed to successfully steady every time the car fishtailed.
Five miles later, for no apparent reason, the Humvee disappeared without a trace.
“They want me dead…They won’t stop there…” the whispered statement groaned from the back seat.
McGee jumped up off seat as the computer easily logged into Andel Naval Base’s database. What had taken him four hours to fail at had taken the new visitors ten minutes to crack. He glanced at Langly in awe.
“You actually did it!”
“See, I said these guys rock,” Abby grinned, carefully removing what appeared to be a mini onboard computer from the flying dish.
Just seconds after the system logged on, the large plasma screen on the wall that had been displaying the constant search for a match to the print that had been lifted from Kexlar’s flashed up a ‘Positive Match’ message.
“We have a problem,” DiNozzo’s voice suddenly filled the lab as he walked in. He faltered at the sight of the three strangers, but then added, “Kexlar wasn’t the one who called Hollins out to the woods.”
“Oh, no…” McGee choked out, stepping away from the keyboard and hesitantly glancing at each of the people in the room. “We…We could h-have an even bigger problem than that…”
All eyes fell on him.
“The print Agent Scully found on the body matches Commander Kexlar’s…And his picture doesn’t match the one of our dead marine.”
ANDEL NAVAL BASE
ANDEL, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Spotless black shoes came to a halt in the underground corridor, waited as their owner used the retinal scanner to gain entrance to the control center, and then continued on their path as the large two-inch thick steel doors slid open.
The room was large, cavernous, like something out of a James Bond movie. One whole wall was devoted to a massive screen displaying a global map with submarine co-ordinates marked on it, in front of which was a wide control station for communication, navigation etcetera. An assortment of communication electricians and specialists, maintenance and electronics technicians, engineers, controlmen milled around, not seeming to notice the new figure’s arrival.
…At least not until a systems tech looked up from his workstation in the center of the area and jogged over to him.
“Commander,” the technician started, saluting, “are we still go for Project Bullet this afternoon?”
Returning the salute, the taller figure pulled the Top Secret-stamped folder from under his arm and handed it to his colleague. “Yes, we are. We’ve had enough delays.”
With that, Commander Martin Kexlar turned and left.
Abby started awake from her position on the floor to see McGee curled up fast asleep on the bean bag beside her. She smiled, watched him for a moment longer and then shifted to sit up, but as she did Bert the Hippo – her ever-present beloved toy and handy pillow – trumpeted to life.
“Oh, dude, please say that wasn’t you!”
“Come on, did that actually *sound* like one of mine?”
“Well, it definitely didn’t smell like one of Byers’s!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That must mean it was you, then.”
“I didn’t do anything!”
The three Gunmen stopped squabbling and slowly looked over toward the NCIS agents, to see Abby curiously staring back.
She stood, dusted down her lab coat and then snatched up Bert, who once again let out a rip-roaring fart. Realization dawned on the men’s faces, and they visibly relaxed.
“Even hippos need to let loose sometimes, too,” she remarked matter-of-factly, hugging the stuffed animal to her chest and squeezing him a few more times to accentuate the point.
“Yeah, we hear Frohike every morning, so we know that,” Langly snarked, turning back to the keyboard.
Sciuto smiled at the insult and then approached, circling behind them to get a better view of what they were doing with her computer. “What’s that?” she queried, gesturing toward the screen filled with fluctuating line patterns and text.
“We found a microchip inside the control board you took out of that dish last night,” Byers explained. “and there’s definitely some kind of programming on it…We’re just trying to make sense of it.”
“You didn’t sleep?”
“How can we, with a pretty lady like you around?” Frohike smiled flirtatiously..
“Man, leave the lady alone” Langly groaned. “The last thing she needs is some dirty pervert stalking her!”
“Oh, go cry to your mommy – you sound like a jealous husband!”
The blonde-haired geek balked and silently lowered his head.
“We’ll sleep later,” Byers shyly assured.
Abby regarded them for a moment longer and then moved to pick up the print-out of Kexlar’s personnel file. “Why the misdirection, though?” she mused. “Why make us believe that that was the commander?”
“Why even let the body be found at all?” Gibbs’s voice suddenly questioned from behind them as he and AD Skinner walked into the lab – both with a cup of coffee in their left hand. “Unless they wanted to cause enough of a diversion to give the very undead Kexlar enough room to do whatever they’re doing at that base.”
“Gibbs!” Abby exclaimed, running up to the superior and throwing her arms around him. “Where have you been?”
“The assistant director and I went for a chat and then we tracked down an old marine buddy who actually worked at Andel a few years back,” Gibbs casually relayed, stepping out of the hug. “Sadly he couldn’t help, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from Walter, here, it’s that the twists are used to cover what’s hiding in plain sight. There’s something we’re missing, but it’s nothing to do with IDs or spaceships or strange trees or whatever else.”
The forensic scientist’s face suddenly lit up and she disappeared into the back half of the lab for a second. “I did an analysis on the branch Agent Mulder brought back,” she started, skipping back with the bagged twig held up. “And he was right – the UFO–”
“Spoilsport. Okay, the *dish* didn’t cut through these…But they were sucked upwards – like in a vacuum.”
“Right, you *do* know what a vacuum cleaner is, don’t you Gibbs? Or do you still use just a broom?” At his silent stoic glare (which, for some reason, gave Frohike the impression the agent was constipated), Abby let out a deep sigh and shake of
her head. “Imagine dangling a vacuum nozzle over a slab of turf that’s at a ninety-degree angle–”
“So, you’re saying we’re looking for a massive vacuum?”
The Lone Gunmen glanced accusatorily at the metallic plate for a second.
“Mulder said something made him feel extremely ill up there,” Skinner suddenly cut in, noting the three hackers’ point of brief focus and eyeing it also.
On cue, Gibbs’s phone beeped to life, which he promptly answered.
“Yeah?…Okay.” He hung up and about-turned to leave. “We’re off to autopsy. That includes you McGee.”
McGee shot upright out of sleep and blinked several times in a daze from his position on the floor, much to Gibbs’s and Abby’s amusement. “Wh-wh-what?”
Somehow the conversation had digressed to the topic of the quirkiness of parents.
Mulder and Scully sat on the edge of an autopsy table whilst Ensign Paul Grace, the marine they’d narrowly saved from outside the base in Andel, sat on another. To put as much distance between themselves and their pursuers, the agents had kept on driving through the night all the way back to DC, the weeping cuts and swelling bruises riddling their bodies sapping the energy out of them but ignored until it was safe.
“I’m sure your mother would be a fascinating woman to meet,” Mallard smiled, finishing the stitching on Dana’s ankle where a bullet had just nicked the skin. “What about your parents, Agent Mulder?” He stood, grabbing another disinfectant-soaked cotton ball.
The two agents shared an uneasy glance, before Mulder finally relayed, “Both my parents are dead.”
Ducky froze, suddenly feeling out of place and like the biggest fool on the Eastern seaboard. “Ohhh…” he hesitated, moving to clean one of the major glass wounds on Mulder’s arm but not making eye contact. “I’m sorry.”
Palmer, who was tending to the marine, yawned and lowered his own head in embarrassment.
“It’s okay,” the male agent assured, sharply wincing at the stinging sensation caused by Ducky’s cleansing ministration.
“It was a long time ago.”
The pathologist brightened a little and gave a shrug. “My mother’s ninety-eight and still kicking, though her mind went wandering years ago – Dementia, corgis and me are the only things she has left. I think it was Henry Miller who once said….Now, what was it again?…’Madness is tonic – it makes the sane more sane. The only ones who cannot profit by it are the insane’? Something like that. I guess that must make me the sanest person in the world…Or the maddest…I’ve never really considered the full implications of the quote, but my reason for saying it is if we could profit from Mother’s insanity, we’d be millionaires.” He let out a small chuckle and Mulder smiled, despite the pain tearing up his arm. Scully’d been right when she’d used the word ‘eccentric’ earlier, but the fact she got on so well with Mallard gave him hope that she would never tire of his own eccentricities. “I don’t know what I’d do without her, though. I’ve lived with her so long and been subjected to her wandering aimlessly out of the house with no clothes on after getting out of the shower too many times. It’s experiences like that that define us, and I’m pretty happy with who I am, so I should be grateful for those little…quirks.”
“Amen to that,” both agents beamed together.
Jimmy Palmer looked up and dared to join the conversation. “My mother onc–”
The autopsy bay doors slid open to give entrance to Jethro Gibbs, Walter Skinner and Timothy McGee, and any further words died in Palmer’s throat as he hurriedly returned his attention to checking Grace’s vitals.
“What we got, Ducky?” Gibbs asked as he moved up alongside Mallard.
“Three very unusual patients,” the doctor cracked, crossing both arms across his chest.
Skinner frowned in puzzlement. “What do you mean?”
“He means they’re alive.”
“Really, Jethro, must you always spoil my fun?” Ducky pouted, shaking his head in mock despair.
“What have we got?”
The repeated question let Mallard know his friend was far from in the mood for jokes right now, so he quickly swung into doctor mode. “Multiple lacerations from broken glass, some bruises and mild cases of whiplash from the impact of the chasing vehicle, and Agent Scully took a flesh wound just above her left ankle, but doing okay nevertheless. Just as–…What was the word again?”
“‘Spooky’,” Mulder provided.
“Ah, yes! Just as spooky as ever.”
A smile lifted Skinner’s cheeks and he quickly lowered his head to conceal it.
Gibbs nodded and then gestured toward the perplexed marine.
“What about him?” The question was almost a snarl. His voice had been fractionally tinged with concern when he’d asked about the FBI agents’ condition, but now he sounded genuinely pissed.
“Ensign Grace had a much smaller dose of the Pancuronium we identified in our Lieutenant Townshend running through his system,” Ducky explained, turning to look at the marine.
“Townshend?” Mulder questioned, his features creasing in confusion.
“It turns out the man we thought was Commander Kexlar is actually somebody else, and Kexlar was the actual killer,” McGee quickly explained.
“The ensign seems to have slept off the effects of the poison, though,” Palmer told Gibbs.
“Good. That means he can start answering a damn lot of questions!” the head agent barked, turning and storming toward the exit. “McGee, I want him in Interrogation as soon as he’s cleared here, you got me?”
“Do you think you can do that without falling asleep?”
With that the autopsy bay’s doors slipped shut.
“Does he hate you, or something?” Mulder half-joked, flashing a brief glance at his own boss who he’d numerous similar run-ins with over the years.
“There’s no medium with Jethro,” Ducky sighed, ambling toward the hazardous waste bin to dispose of his latex gloves. “The thing to remember is that he either hates you or likes you, and even then he shows it in his own masked kind of way. He’s a very complex man.”
McGee stepped toward the marine and helped him to his feet.
“And when he says ‘as soon as he’s cleared here’, he means ‘Now’, doesn’t he, Ducky?” he asked, hesitantly.
“Oh, most definitely!”
Ducky watched as the younger agent hurriedly escorted Grace out of the room and then moved to lean against the gurney opposite Mulder, Scully and Skinner.
“So, Mr. Skinner,” be smiled, lifting an eyebrow with interest, “what about your mother? Any stories of embarrassing forgetfulness, nakedness or incontinence problems to share?”
From the darkness of the observation room, DiNozzo and David watched as the marine twitched nervously in his seat, waiting for Gibbs to arrive. When the interrogation room door swung open, Grace almost literally went through the ceiling.
“He’s going to kill him,” Ziva remarked, seeing the fire burning in the boss’s eyes.
Tony grinned. “Like you almost did with that woman last night?”
“I did what I needed to get the information.”
“By the way, it’s ‘the least you can do’, not ‘the most’.” At her defiant stare he quickly speculated, “…Unless you were meant to say that…?”
“My English is not that bad, Tony,” she nodded, “but I needed her like potty in my hands.”
He wasn’t even going to try correct her on that one.
“What’s going on at that base?” Gibbs started on the other side of the mirror.
“You wouldn’t even be able to comprehend the technology if I explained it to you,” Grace sighed, shaking his head.
Jethro felt his temper rising even further, but bit on his lip and attempted the calmer approach as he sat down opposite the sailor. “I know an overzealous lab technician who uses nothing but scientific jargon to explain things, so try me.”
“I don’t mean the terms used – I mean the technology itself,” Grace snorted. “For years the US has tried to find a way of making more powerful, faster military machines, specifically underwater…When we heard the Russians had developed a torpedo that could travel almost three times faster than the normal missile by using supercavitation, you can bet your ass we wanted to use it in our own favor. The base in Andel was built to handle trials and tests to develop a fully-manned submarine using the technology after a remote-controlled prototype commissioned by the Pentagon crashed into and almost sunk the USS San Francisco, south of Guam.”
“The San Francisco ran aground,” Gibbs retorted, shaking his head.
“That’s the official story. Go online and you’ll read a lot more interesting ones. None of them come close to the truth, though.”
“Nothing like a little conspiracy-loving Navy scout,” Tony chuckled, leaning in close to Ziva’s ear. “Believes every shadow’s out to get him, that everyone in the government has a darker agenda…Though that one I can kind of understand and empathize with, especially when the medical bills arrive…
Sounds like that show that used to be on the TV…”Oh, damn, what was it called again? It had aliens and this guy with a sexually explicit name, and it was so cool, but…”
Skinner quietly stepped into the dimly lit room, closing the door after him and bringing Tony’s rambling to an end – much to Ziva’s gratitude
“Where are Agents Mulder and Scully?” she asked, glancing at the balding man.
The assistant director glanced at her and then through the glass panel to watch the interrogation. He got on well with Gibbs and it had turned out they were very alike, both on professional and personal levels – though Walter had to admit he still had no plans on building a boat of his own (…not that he was ruling it out completely, but for the time being the idea was not in consideration). Maybe it was because they were both ex-marines, but it was just nice to be able to have a decent chat with someone other than Mulder and Scully or the directors at the Bureau for a change. “Scully went down to see how the Gunmen and Abby were doing. And Mulder…” His voice trailed off, and he let the scene that was about to unfold in front them say the rest.
“The premise is that the sub uses an air bubble around itself to propel forward easier through the water…Everything went fine on that early test until the San Francisco came too close, half its bow was sucked off in the vacuum of air surrounding the prototype and debris from that caused the vessel to explode.” Grace continued.
Suddenly the interrogation room door opened and Mulder casually strolled in – a little worse for wear and tired, but ready to work nevertheless.
Both Tony and Ziva’s eyes went wide.
“Did he just…Did he just walk in on Gibbs’s interrogation?” DiNozzo choked.
“Why?” Skinner quizzically enquired.
“This is very, very bad,” Agent David spluttered. “Nobody does that and comes out alive – ask McGee, he’ll tell you.”
“Let’s say it’s like taking, depriving or spilling Gibbs’s coffee,” Tony added. “It’s just not done.”
In the other room, the gray-haired agent stared long and hard at the other agent with so much contempt any court would have immediately locked him behind bars. The instinctive urge to instantly escort the other man out of the room pushed him out of his seat and forward a step, but then he saw the cuts on Mulder’s head and arms and softened
“The base was built and we had all the equipment and technology we needed, but then… Then we got this lot of extra stuff – ‘new’ technology, they said, to test and incorporate into the designs we were making,” the Ensign continued, becoming more nervous as the depth of his story deepened. “We weren’t allowed to question what it actually was or where it came from, but some of the crew on the primary test team did start sniffing around for answers, and that’s when the bodies started disappearing.”
“You mean Townshend,” Mulder sighed.
“No, well before then! Since last year.”
Gibbs sat back down. “If that’s the case, why have no bodies turned up until now?” he asked.
Grace hesitated, wiping a sweaty hand down his face. “Because Project Bullet has been completed and it’s ready for test launch. Dave got cold feet and wanted to spill the story, but the Commander found out somehow and disposed of the problem.
They captured the civilian and were going to use him as the test subject in the vessel, but for some reason – I don’t know what, that’s not my area – he wasn’t viable, so they let him go.”
“That still doesn’t explain why Lieutenant Townshend’s body was left for us to find,” Jethro noted, impatiently.
“*You* weren’t supposed to find it,” Grace ground out. “*He* was.” His head nodded in Mulder’s direction. “It was supposed to be a simple little paranormal case scenario to rope him and his partner in…I don’t know who tipped NCIS, but you were never supposed to be in the picture, that’s why nobody’s been in contact with you – why there have been attempts to get you pulled from the case. The commander’s ID wasn’t slipped onto the body until you pulled up in your truck – the thinking being that you would never find out he was anybody but Marty and…I don’t know…” His head lowered and solemnly shook.
Mulder ran what he’d heard of the story over and over in his head and kept coming back to the same question: why was and Scully’s involvement so integral that what was going on at the base?
“Because you’re both perfect candidates for test subjects,” the younger man replied as if it had been the stupidest question imaginable when the agent gave it voice. “Your exposure to the black oil, the chip in her neck… To put two people with alien technology and DNA in their bodies inside a part-alien driven vessel? It’s ideal!”
“They shot at us – they wanted us dead!” Mulder stated dryly.
Gibbs remained silent, the description of the technology used to propel the experimental submarine niggling at him.
“If they’d really wanted you dead, we wouldn’t have gotten away at all – nobody’s *that* good at driving. When NCIS became involved and showed no signs of budging, countermeasures had to be put in place, and that’s when I started to get cold feet too…When I overheard them talking about your car surveilling the base, I saw my chance to get out.”
Confused, perplexed and unsettled silence ensconced the three figures behind the mirror.
“What…What were the countermeasures?” Mulder finally asked after two minutes, swallowing hard to moisten his very dry throat.
Grace glanced up at the agent and then, closing his eyes in defeat, whispered, “To collect any civilian off the street to use for when Project Bullet is launched this afternoon.”
“It’s still going ahead?” Gibbs exclaimed, standing up.
“Why not use one of their own crew? A technician?” Mulder queried.
“You’re kidding, right?” Grace snorted, looking at the FBI agent in disgust. “We’re not the Corps, but ‘Semper fidelis’! They’d never do that to one of their own!”
Mulder returned his own look of disgust as he pulled open the door, growling, “What a shame they didn’t think that when killing off anyone who objected.”
Agent Gibbs left the room also and chased Mulder down the hall, calling out his name. The younger man kept walking until he felt a hand suddenly land on his shoulder and turn him around.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Jethro snapped, frowning.
“To stop that sub launching.”
“It’s a trap.”
“No, it’s no–”
“It’s a *trap*!” Gibbs shook his head and his expression filled with something akin to assurance, understanding, and determination.
Mulder shifted, unwillingly to stand around and debate this when an innocent life was in danger. “H-how can you be sure?”
“My gut,” came the simple, un-hesitant reply. “My gut instinct, which AD Skinner tells me you know a little about. Your gut got you out here, and now my gut is saying there’s no way you’re going alone.”
The two stared at each other – unsure of what the other would do next. Mulder felt his wall of stubbornness beginning to crumble. “What?”
“He said it himself in there – ‘semper fidelis’. Whether he chickens out or not, that sailor is loyal to the men he worked with to the end. They want you in that sub, and they’ll do anything to get you there.” Gibbs paused as he heard the observation room door click open and the shuffle of feet as DiNozzo, David and Skinner also stepped out into the hallway, but he never broke eye-contact. “Well, I say ‘screw him’ and ‘semper fi!’ ten times louder – I’m there to be loyal to those men that really don’t want to be at that base, and the members of my team who are under threat, and right now you’re a member of that team. You got me?”
Scully rounded the corner to see the stand-off in the passageway and looked on in concern.
“You got me, agent?”
Mulder opened his mouth in protest, still stunned by what the NCIS agent had said, but nothing came out.
“Maybe you didn’t hear clearly after all that gunfire last night,” Gibbs shrugged, reaching up and quickly slapping the back of the other man’s head. “That better?”
“Yes, sir,” Mulder coughed out, standing bolt upright.
Even though she wasn’t clear on what had transpired, just the image of somebody so easily knocking Mulder into submission brought out the largest unavoidable smile on her face.
“Now, come on – we’ve got a sub to stop,” the gray-haired ex-marine ordered, brushing past Dana and leading the way back through the bullpen and to the elevator.
“Uh, what about Grace, boss?” Tony called out after him.
“Leave him there to boil and wonder what we’re doing.”
The mixed team of seven arrived in Andel in two sedans – Mulder, Scully and McGee in the lead vehicle, and Skinner, Gibbs, David and DiNozzo in the one not far behind.
All of them in Navy uniforms.
They didn’t have much of a plan beyond getting inside the base with the fake cards the Gunmen had made for them and finding some way of at least delaying the launch until Jenny was able to find someone high enough in the chain of command to pull the plug completely, but it was all they had after all other methods had failed them.
It wasn’t until they approached the front gate, though, that they realized they weren’t even going to make it inside the perimeter.
“Welcome back, agents,” Commander Kexlar smiled smarmily, one hand casually resting on the chain-link fence whilst the other was strategically placed on top of his holstered pistol. “This must be your…What? Fourth visit in the past thirty-six
hours? Is there something interesting about our surrounding wilderness we should know about?”
“You mean besides the dead bodies?” Mulder asked, Kexlar’s grin widened and he focused his stare of the FBI agent. “Ah, our Ensign Grace has been talking…And yet you’re not here on your own, Agent Mulder…” His eyes regarded the rest of the group. “Chief Harlan said you seemed a little more mellow than he remembered you, Gunny Gibbs, but I doubt even he would be able to conceive the idea of you depending on others.”
Both Skinner and Gibbs froze at the mention of Jakob Harlen’s name; he’d been the friend they’d visited late last night to talk the case over with. Surely…
“Surely you know the phrase ‘Trust no one’ by now, assistant director?” the commander finished, shaking his head in shame.
“It’s okay, though – you won’t need to worry about the deceptive Chief much longer…he booked a one-way seat on the new revolution in Navy vessels. If you look over there” — he pointed to the gap in the tree line directly opposite the base, beyond which was the sea — “you should see it hitting the horizon very shortly.”
“Gibbs, he’s telling the truth,” Abby called into the earpiece her boss was wearing. “The sub launched ninety seconds ago, and it’s heading directly for Rockport.”
Mulder had had enough and stepped toward the taller man.
“You’re under arrest for murder an–”
“I don’t think so,” Kexlar ground out, quickly drawing his weapon and aiming it at Mulder’s head.
Within a heartbeat, Scully, Tony, Ziva and McGee all had their weapons drawn also and aimed back at the commander – each in their ready-to-shoot stances.
“I’d say you’re outnumbered,” Skinner pointed out in the same sarcastic tone Kexlar had been using.
Suddenly, at least fifty men ran out of the nearby barracks and up to the gate, behind the commander, with guns cocked.
“I’d rethink what you’re saying,” was the only retort necessary as fifty machine guns were aimed at the group of federal agents.
At the other end of Gibbs’s line of communication, in her lab at the headquarters, Abby listened to the sound of safety catches being lifted and started to pace the room in panic. Langly looked up at her in concern from where he and his two colleagues were fruitlessly trying to hack into the supersonic submarine’s navigational computer, but quickly returned to work when Director Shepherd rushed into the room.
“I heard,” she simply stated, gently touching Abby’s arm in comfort. “Are they en route?”
Sciuto stopped pacing and looked from Jenny to the large plasma screen. “They are, but…but–”
“Don’t worry, Gibbs’ll be fine.” The director paused, wondering briefly if she was trying to reassure the scientist or herself, before quickly slipping back into her authoritative persona and asking, “What about the sub?”
“It’s on it’s way to Rockport, and…Wait…” Abby took a step toward her workstation, gazing at the computer display in disbelief. “Did you get in?” she breathed, only affording the Gunmen a brief glance.
“Nada,” Frohike sighed.
“We can’t get in at all,” Langly affirmed.
Jenny frowned in confusion and stepped up behind the geeks. “What is it?”
“The submarine. It’s changing direction!” Abby exclaimed excitedly.
Except then she saw where its new destination was.
And her face fell.
Scully and the NCIS agents kept their guns drawn and aimed, unwavering.
“Drop it, or I will shoot him,” Kexlar insisted, his finger slowly beginning to add fractional pressure to the trigger as he kept the gun pointing at Mulder’s head.
Gibbs waited, waited for the right instant, and when that came thirty seconds later he drew his gun at light speed and fired, directly hitting the commander’s raised arm and causing him to drop his weapon.
“Agghhh! Sh-shoot them!” the fallen man yelled. “Sh–” His voice trailed off as the air was filled with the sound of quickly approaching sirens and car engines.
Thirty seconds later half a dozen black fleet sedans pulled up in front of the base and FBI agents poured out of each one with their guns drawn.
“I think that settles that,” Gibbs shrugged, sliding his sig sauer back into its holster and turning to approach the short gray-haired agent that was watching him. “You took your time, Tobias,” he joked. “Were you hoping I’d get shot?”
Special Agent Fornell smiled and watched as his men moved to disarm the sailors. “No, I was just trying to time it so that we were here as that bullet hit,” he returned playfully. “You know, it’s not exactly a short stroll for us. That and Director Shepherd had difficulty deciding if she should really authorize the squad arrest or not.”
“That wouldn’t surprise me.”
“Gibbs, you’ve got to get out of there!” Abby’s voice yelled into Jethro’s ear. “The submarine’s turned and heading directly back towards you!”
The supervisory agent pressed a hand to his ear and turned away from his friend. “What was that, Abs?”
“The supersonic whadyamacallit is heading straight for you!”
Gibbs took several quick steps toward the road, saw the approaching white streamline on the watery horizon and turned back as fast as he could, yelling at the top of his voice, “Everybody get away from the base!”
“What is it, boss?” DiNozzo called out over the din. Fornell looked worried also.
“The sub’s coming back at full speed!”
A large claxon-like alarm started blaring behind the base’s border, and bodies started charging out of the buildings. On their side of the fence, all the FBI’s tactical team members rushed back to their cars, while Tony and Mulder lifted Kexlar’s unrelentlessly kicking form into the back of their car.
Before either Mulder and Scully or the NCIS crew were able to put their cars into reverse and skid away, the submarine impacted the cliff face fifty feet below them. The ground shook, making it difficult to remain standing, and several of the gas cylinders at the base erupted into large balls of fire -causing a violent chain reaction that engulfed all the above-ground buildings.
TWO DAYS LATER
“You mean my spaceship’s nothing more than an airborne version of their submarine prototypes?” Abby Sciuto pouted, sitting back in Gibbs’s chair and glaring at McGee as if he were the biggest liar in the world.
Thanks to wind direction and the location of the gas tanks, enough distance had remained between the erupting inferno and the fleeing agents for long enough to give them chance to escape. Commander Kexlar had been in NCIS’s custody for only
one hour before Lieutenant Commander Coleman from JAG and two military police had arrived to take over.
Mulder and Scully had immediately gone home to sleep for fifteen hours straight.
Today they, and Skinner, were back to hand in copies of their reports to Director Shepherd and say their goodbyes.
“I’m afraid so, Abs,” Tim sighed.
“Oh, well… Nobody else has to know that – it’s still pretty cool,” the Goth shrugged, not completely beaten. “It’ll look great in my bedroom.”
“Are you sure the military well let you keep such a sensitive piece of equipment?” Ziva piped up, frowning dubiously over the top of her computer monitor.
“They didn’t,” Gibbs’s voice boomed from the top of the large open staircase. “They just took it away.”
Abby banged her head against the desk’s edge, but then looked up with a smile on her face again a second later. “At least I have photos.”
Gibbs, Mulder, Scully, Skinner and Shepherd made their way to the bottom of the stairs, and then Dana made her way over to where Ducky stood, whilst Mulder headed for Sciuto.
“The guys apologized for not being back,” he started, “but they did want me to give you this…” He paused, reached into his bag and pulled out an issue of the Lone Gunmen’s newspaper with the headline ‘NCIS SCIENTIST HANDLES FALLEN UFO’ and color picture of her on the front page. “They also made sure to put their e-mail addresses on a card that’s in there somewhere – especially Langly.”
The fake spaceship long-forgotten, Abby jumped out of the chair and pulled the FBI agent into a grateful hug. She saw Gibbs sign a message to her over Mulder’s shoulder, and signed back her response without hesitation.
“What was that about?” Jen asked, leaning in to Jethro a little.
“She knows,” he replied, enigmatically. “That’s all that matters.”
“It’s been such a pleasure working with you, Agent Scully, no matter how short the experience was,” Mallard sighed, holding out a courteous hand.
“The same with you, Ducky,” Dana smiled, accepting the hand and shaking it. “Hopefully our paths will cross again sometime.”
He fumbled and then pulled a small bag from his jacket pocket, in which was a ballpoint pen. “I accidentally stumbled across this in an auction house yesterday…It made me think of you for some reason, I can’t remember why, and I’d like you to have it. It belonged to Dr Stephen Lynn and was used by him to sign John Lennon’s death certificate in 1980…Maybe it was the talk of dead family members the other day, but it just reminded me that even the greatest stars die and need someone to sign their death certificates, but they’ll always live on within us.”
Tears streaming down her face as the memory of something similar her father had once said flashed to the forefront of her mind, Scully accepted the gift and then shook the doctor’s hand again.
“Any news on what remains of the base?” Skinner asked, looking fro Gibbs to Shepherd.
Jenny shook her head. “No, they won’t say.”
“You know they’ll just continue the testing elsewhere.”
“Then we’ll just have to do this all over again there,” Gibbs replied off-handedly.
“If you ever need anything, just give us a call,” the assistant director said, suddenly very serious.
Jethro stared at the taller man for a moment, studied him and the depth of his promise, and then nodded, “And the same from us to you.”
Tony walked over and tapped Mulder on the back as the FBI agent stepped out of Abby’s embrace. “Hey.”
Mulder turned on his heel, surprised by DiNozzo’s closeness.
“How hot is Tea Leoni in person?”
“Tea Leoni, you’ve met her – how hot is she in real-life?”
Mulder shifted from foot to foot, suddenly feeling very awkward. “How–… Who told you I met Tea Leoni?”
“Oh, come on, man! The Lazurus Bowl! It’s a classic!”
Skinner quickly turned at the sound of the infamous movie name from many moons ago.
“I thought I recognized your names when you introduced yourselves, and it kept bugging me through the whole case until I went on IMDB and typed in your names and that movie popped up!”
“Wait,” McGee started, leaning across his desk. “Are you saying they were in a movie?”
Tony shook his head in exasperation. “Don’t be stupid, probie – does this man actually look like a film star?”
“No. So, shut up. Garry Shandling and Tea Leoni were in a movie *about* Mulder and Scully’s work.”
Skinner slowly made his way toward the agents, with Gibbs in tow, like predators crawling up on their prey.
“Well, I actually wanted to be played by Richard Gere,” Mulder pouted, wanting to get off the subject but knowing the only way to do so was to laugh it off. “But they cast him as Skinner.”
“He doesn’t even look like your boss!”
Both voices abruptly stopped as AD Skinner and Agent Gibbs slapped their agents across the back of the head and then walked away inwardly smiling.
AUTHOR’S NOTES: Hugs and thanks to Lisa and Keith for the wonderful encouragement and for checking this over/betaing when it was finally done, and Vickie for the extra beta. This is my first ever crossover and writing of any other TV characters besides XF, so please be gentle with feedback LOL