One Moment In Time Part 1

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One Moment In Time

AUTHOR: Traveler & Martin Ross
FEEDBACK: Always appre-ciated.
RATING: PG-13 for a few bad words.
ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusive to VS 14, anywhere thereafter.
SUMMARY: A series of unrelated deaths become the focal point for an investi-gation
that links a case from Mulder and Scully’s past to a possible conspiracy involving a
food contaminant. This story is told from Mulder’s POV.

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TEASER

McGarry and Tate Advertising

San Francisco, California

9:08 a.m.

Bryan Renford ripped the plain white plastic wrapper from his third bar of the day. He tore into its blend of grains, nuts, and micronutrients, and a cool sensation seeped into every crevice of his 31-year-old brain.

Bryan washed the first bite down with an enervating shot of steaming green tea.

Like everything else he put into his body, the antioxidant brew was organic, functional, and directed at staving off his too-imminent death. Without intervention, Bryan Renford expected a mere five, six decades at most. The daily run along the lakeshore, the pre- and post-work sessions at Gold’s, the rigid dietary regime…

What he didn’t know, of course, was that someone was compiling gigabytes of data on virtually every move Bryan made, every meal he prepared, every new grail he pursued in the quest for immortality.

The approach was plotted with military precision, the psychology unerring. Bryan’s single-minded focus on his every heartbeat, his every ache and pain, had made monitoring his progress effortless.

“Dude.”

An earthy stench wafted into Bryan’s workspace, and he turned instinctively.

Matt Jurasik grinned, his paunch sloshing disgustingly against the cubicle entryway. A Krispy Kreme hung from his coworker’s meaty paw, contributing a cloying saccharine sickness to the growing perfume of institutional office coffee. The pastry shit greasy crumbs onto Bryan’s oatmeal carpet.

“Hey, donuts in the breakroom,” Matt drawled. It was a joke — Bryan knew because Matt repeated it at least a few Mondays every month, and Matt knew Bryan was unwilling to subject his digestive bifidobacteria to the horrors of fried, laminated dough.

Matt affected a loose, friendly air around Bryan, but Bryan realized the puffy copy editor envied his health, his vitality, and sought every opportunity to taunt him.

Bryan hated birthdays, especially at the office. Each celebration brought another bloated layer cake, another stained box of these dough rings into his universe.

“Thanks, Matt,” Bryan chirped in his standard response. “I’ll see if I can’t break away before they’re all gone.”

“No prob.” Matt shifted, and an 11-by-17 sheet materialized in his clean hand. “You really want to run this past McGarry? ‘Cause I’m guessing this isn’t quite what he was looking for.”

Bryan spread the layout he’d finished the afternoon before on his blotter. A juicy burger, draped in bacon and American cheese, dripping with mustard and ketchup, was impaled on a tall granite gravestone. The stone was emblazoned with the legend “3.99.”

“‘You’re going to die someday,'” Matt read over Bryan’s shoulder, in a tone of incredulous amusement. “‘Why not go out with a bang and three strips of pepper bacon?’ Cute.”

“It’s in-your-face,” Bryan muttered. “The people who’d inject this wad of cholesterol into their system don’t care about their mortality. It’s like a fraternity dare — they’ll buy a bagful of this shit just to show the rest of us who’s the boss.”

“I’m misting up here, Bry,” Matt said dryly. “But despite your acute, and, frankly, misanthropic evaluation of our client’s major demographic, McGarry’s gonna blow an embolism when he sees this.”

“You don’t blow an embolism. Jesus, you’re a copy writer?”

Matt perched his flabby ass on the edge of Bryan’s desk. The graphic artist’s bifidobacteria rumbled. “Look, Bryan, buddy, I’m trying to do you a solid here. This whole health thing of yours is becoming an obsession. It’s like, you know, ODC.”

“OCD. And, no, it’s not. I’m simply trying to live long enough to see the Bush sisters in the White House.”

Matt sighed and waved his donut at the burger layout. “Worship your little religion on your day off. We all have to shake our moneymakers every once in a while, sell our soul for a few dinero.” Bryan batted a crumb from his creation; a gray stain remained. Matt sprayed sour coffee odor over Bryan’s neck. “Just suck it in and come up with something appropriate. And grab a fucking donut, OK? — be a human being for a change. I mean, look at this.”

Matt plucked the remains of Bryan’s snack bar from the desk and eyed it. “I mean, c’mon, this looks like one of those things my grandma used to hang on the side of her bird’s cage. Petey. Petey the Parakeet. Pecked at his little seed thingie all day. That’s what you remind me o… AAAAAUGGGHH…..”

Matt’s observation was cut short as Bryan’s arm arced abruptly up and his Xacto knife pierced the tender skin of Matt’s throat, puncturing his trachea. The huge man slid from the desk, fingers flailing toward his gushing wound. His eyes bulged, and his face turned cyanotic.

“Let’s see,” Bryan smiled, oblivious to the blood spraying onto his shirt. He re-rolled his layout and stood, stepping over his dying compatriot. “Let’s see what McGarry thinks. I think he’ll go for it. And if he doesn’t…”

He didn’t.

* * *

“Fuck,” Lt. Gordy Turman breathed as he staggered back against the break table. A chocolate donut jumped from the half-empty Krispy Kreme box and rolled across the beige carpet into a puddle of mingled O, A, and AB blood. The receptionist’s mangled hand seemed to reach for the cruller. “Al-Qaeda go on maneuvers here?”

The responding detective tore his eyes from McGarry, who lay on his stomach beside a potted palm his head severed in such a way as to allow him to stare blankly up at the ceiling. “The survivor – sales guy out in the hall – says it was one guy, artist named Bryan Renford.”

“Temperamental artist, I guess,” Turman swallowed, wiping a bead of sweat from his brow. He glanced around. “No APB, no sirens, so I assume he did himself?”

The detective looked away, then nodded soberly. “In here.”

Turman stepped gingerly over blood, fingers, organs, following the cop into McGarry and Tate’s staff workroom. Framed posters for past campaigns hung on the wall, spattered with crimson streaks. A man’s body was crumpled next to the worktable, his blonde head a few feet away next to a water cooler. The clotted blade of the paper cutter bolted to the edge of the table told the story.

Turman stepped around the room, glancing behind the table, next to the file cabinets. He frowned at the detective. “Ok, I give? We got the invisible man here?”

“I, um, I checked his wallet,” the detective mumbled. “And I asked them to print the handle.”

“The handle…?” The lieutenant stopped, his eyes widening. Turman turned slowly back to the paper cutter and the decapitated man. “He, he couldn’t. He didn’t…”

“He did.”

* * *

X-Files Office

8:32 a.m.

I hear the click of her heels as she leaves the elevator and when she steps into the office laden with breakfast peace offerings I can’t resist telling her that she’s late.

“I suppose you want to write me up on that.” She lays her laptop case on the corner of our work table and then turns around to offer me the coffee carrier and a paper sack that dangles precariously from her fingers. “Keep this up and I won’t stop for breakfast anymore.”

“Saving me from my own poison again?” She’s always hated my coffee. Not that she ever told me that face to face but I could tell by the pained looks I’ve gotten over the years when she’s been forced to gag it down.

I’ve survived on that coffee, Scully. Before I met you it was the only thing that kept me going when my body was way past the point of exhaustion. I think it kept me alive on more than one occasion.

Now as I watch her pop the lid off her latté and savor the rich flavor, I decide a decent cup of coffee is the least I owe her.

“No Mulder, I’m saving myself from YOUR poison. I keep thinking I can teach you to make a decent pot of coffee…” Her voice trails off as she suddenly realizes I’m not paying attention. “Why did you need to come in so early?”

I’d rolled out of our bed a little after 5:00 this morning with the excuse that I’d neglected some things from the day before that needed to get done before we had our monthly progress meeting with the Skinman. She knows I could care less about those damn meetings but she let it drop.

I’ve noticed her doing that a lot lately. She used to call me on everything, now she tends to cut me a little more slack. Either she’s softening in her ‘old age’ or she’s decided I’ve lost my mind and she might as well live with what’s left of me.

She knows I’m still having ‘issues’, things I haven’t been able to come to terms with from my trip to the dark side of the force last summer.

I still can’t shake the realization that it wasn’t me she found in that laboratory. I’d become something else and there are still times when I look in the mirror when I’m not really sure about the man I see looking back at me. I find myself wanting to keep things from her again.

Psychologist, heal thyself. I know it isn’t working, but on the other hand, it’s better than the Bureau’s alternative. I need something of my old life to pull me back, which brings me to the real reason I came in here so early this morning. When I look up, Scully is still sipping her latté waiting for an answer.

I got an email last night in one of my Hotmail accounts. One I leave attached to message boards I often frequent.

Well, I got one last night that lit the fire again, a fire that’s been nothing more than dying embers since I was returned to field duty. A hard copy lies on the desk in front of me. I’ve been running a background check on the author. I used to be good at that.

Dear Agent Mulder,

My name is Kelley Matheson. I believe you know my father’s uncle, Senator Matheson. I’ve been reading the series of articles you’ve written on the possibility of alien influence in human evolution. As a geneticist, I have found your theories fascinating. But that’s not why I am writing you.

I’m writing for a much more personal reason because, I feel you are the only one who can help.

I have a friend, his name is Jason Arman. We’re both graduate students at Georgetown. He’s a very troubled young man. Since the death of his parents several months ago, he’s become obsessed with a correlation he believes exists between their deaths and other unrelated incidents across the country.

The scary thing is, is that he’s starting to convince me of the possibility. I know how ridiculous that might sound, but I also know that you understand that it could be anything but ridiculous.

Jason doesn’t know I’ve contacted you, but if there’s any way we could get together, I’m sure I could convince him to let you look at the evidence he has gathered.

Kelley

555-887-1013

I hand Scully the paper. “Kelley’s father is Robert J. Matheson, Jr. Esq., a prominent attorney here in D.C. His father was Robert J. Matheson, Sr., brother of someone you know I once considered a confidant and friend.”

“Did you call her?”

She surprises me with the question. I’d expected to get one of her patented “Mul — der…” comments.

“Not yet,” I look up to meet her eyes and find them remarkably understanding.

“But you’re going to.”

“Of course I am. This has that certain ‘conspiracy’ flavor to it and I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”

I watch as her eyes scan the copy of the email with a somber expression. She knows that the articles are just another method I’ve been using to purge the past from my brain.

I let her read each one before it goes to publication but she doesn’t exactly approve of the idea. I’m not exactly sure she approves of this one either.

“I don’t get the impression you’re very hungry, though.”

“I guess it depends what’s on the menu, Mulder,” she says it with a hint of a smile, but I can tell there’s a hidden meaning to her words.

“It’s very easy to get into your head, when it comes to food, Scully.” It comes out before I realize what I’ve just said. She sets the email down and then comes around the desk and leans against it, crossing her arms across her chest in a challenge.

“You say that like you’re speaking from experience, Mulder.”

We both know we’re not talking about dinner plans here, “I can’t read minds, Scully,” I look up and meet her eyes again, trying to determine if she believes me. “You don’t think, after all these years, I’ve learned to read every nuance of your body language. It’s what they pay me to do, you know.”

I don’t say anything more as she searches my face.

“I just want you to be honest with me, Mulder,” she says when she evidently accepts what she sees there. “I know what it means for you to be back here and you’ve worked so hard to be cleared for field duty. I just want to know you’ll confide in me if any of your — symptoms come back.”

“I *am* being honest with you.” Our eyes meet again.

Oh Scully, if you only knew. I hope for our sakes they never do, but if I subscribe to Scully’s theory that everything happens for a reason, I have to believe there had to be a reason for what happened to me over the past year or so. I still need to know what that is.

I suddenly notice that Scully is staring at me, waiting for me to finish the thought I’d started. I lean forward in the chair and put my hands on her hips. She’s still leaning against the desk with her arms folded across her chest. I wonder if she realizes how often she goes into that defensive posture during our conversations. “I assure you, there are nobody’s thoughts in this head anymore but mine and if that doesn’t frighten you then we’re okay.”

She pries her arms loose, reaching for me and running her fingers through the hair at my temples as I lean into her. I close my eyes and tilt my head up, rejoicing in the feel of her nails as they gently massage my scalp.

“You, I can handle,” she tells me softly. When I open my eyes I find her grinning at me.

“If I can get ahold of this gal,” I tap the copy of the email sitting on the desk. “You want to come with me?”

I watch her search my face again and then glance at the email. “Not just yet. She’s asking you, not us. If we show up together that might scare her off. If you think there’s something to this then we’ll take it to Skinner.”

I want to let out a sigh of relief. Since my return to the field, I’ve had this disturbing feeling that every agent in the Bureau is keeping an eye on me, even Scully, though for much more personal reasons.

Most would label that paranoia; I prefer to think of them as a school of shark waiting for the wise old fish to make a mistake so they can eat it. I’ve never felt the need to prove myself, until now.

* * *

Starbucks Coffee

1:40 p.m.

I realize now, as I sit here with probably fifteen or so pairs of eyes glued to the back of my skull, that walking in here in my designer suit was probably not a good thing. In this neighborhood my attire and neatly cropped hair are screaming ‘government issue.’ This Starbucks sits on a corner just opposite the college and most of its customers spend their day in classes there. I should have gone home and gotten comfortable.

A young, dark-haired woman stops to glance up and down the street before she enters the coffee shop. Stepping inside, she scans the shop and, after a few seconds, her eyes catch mine and she makes her way through the tables. “Agent Mulder?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” I give her a weak smile acknowledging my stupidity and rise, motioning for her to sit down. Right now I wish we’d met in a bar because I could use something stronger than coffee.

“Can I get you something to drink?”

She plops her bag and purse on the floor and glances quickly at the list of coffees on the board above the counter. “A White Chocolate Mocha would be fine.”

I wince and make my way to the counter. While I wait for the drinks I watch her out of the corner of my eye. She looks uncomfortable, like she’s about to bolt.

Thankfully, the wait isn’t long and when I sit back down across from her she eyes the Venti that’s sitting in front of me. It’s a perfect match for the empty one already on the table. “I missed breakfast.” I tell her with a shrug.

“And lunch evidently…”

“So,” I acknowledge with a closed-lipped grin. “Tell me about your friend.”

“I met Jason when he transferred to Georgetown to complete his masters in Biotechnology,” she begins to tell me, glancing nervously around the coffee shop. “He moved here from Wisconsin when both his parents and several co-workers died in a terrible incident at a meat processing plant in Delta Glen. A place I think you may be familiar with, Mr. Mulder.” She takes a sip of her mocha and gives me a meaningful look.

The only case I can remember that involved a processing plant was in Dudley, Arkansas. To this day I still won’t eat anything from the Colonel.

And then it dawns on me, it was in Delta Glen that Scully and I shared probably the best ribs I’ve ever had. It sounds to me like she should be contacting the FDA instead of us. “What kind of incident? How many workers were involved?”

“Five. The witnesses said that Jason’s father killed his mother and then three other co-workers with a bone saw before using it on himself. Jason doesn’t believe it. His parents were anti-violent, in fact, they lived a very — what you would call, natural lifestyle. He couldn’t get the local police to look into it and they closed the case, labeling it a murder-suicide.

Paula Gray attacked her supervisor with a knife the day we arrived in Dudley. Scully later attributed her actions to something called Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. I get the feeling this could be something similar.

“But Jason believes otherwise?”

“Yes, all the incidents that Jason feels are related to his parents’ deaths involve people who used to be members of an organization called the Church of the Red Museum.”

My pulse starts to race a little faster when she mentions the Church. “But the Church no longer exists.”

“No, not in an organized sense it doesn’t. After it was disbanded at the end of your investigation, many of the members left the area. These five members were the only ones who had remained. Jason’s been trying to convince me that these deaths were not accidental, that for some reason, someone is targeting the former members.”

“You sound like you don’t agree, and yet you stated in your email that he’s starting to convince you.”

“I’m sure you know about this horrific incident in California where a man murdered several of his co-workers before killing himself?”

“Happens all the time at the Post Office; what makes him think there’s a correlation?”

“Jason knew Bryan Renford,” she says with a sigh.” Both Jason’s family and Bryan’s family were members of the Church.”

She doesn’t have to say anything more and she knows it. As we’ve been sitting here I’ve been mentally paging through the case notes.

The case back in ’94 revolved around the deaths of local teens that had been used as test subjects in what turned out to be the beginning of a bizarre experiment to create human-alien hybrids.

At the time, Scully and I believed that the members of the Church were the control group, but what if that wasn’t the case?

“Why would Jason believe the members of the Church are being targeted?”

She doesn’t answer me directly, momentarily playing with the stirrer from her coffee while she glances out the window. “These articles you’ve written, where did the research for them come from?”

The question catches me off-guard as she turns back to face me.

“I mean there has been a lot of information published on the subject of human evolution, very little of which mentions alien intervention. You were speaking from experience in your articles, weren’t you?”

I frown at her assumptions and she wraps her fingers around her cup as if she were trying to warm them.

“Plato, Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, and a myriad of other visionary philosophers were thought of as freaks by their peers…” She pauses momentarily and it takes a minute for what she is implying to sink in.

“Wait a minute, Kelley.” I put my hands up in a ‘stop the presses’ motion. “I haven’t made any predictions about anything.”

“No, but you’re plagued by one; so is Jason.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I snap. Kelley is starting to irritate me with this suddenly cryptic conversation.

Aside from the fact that her comment is a little too personal, I just wish she’d get to the point of all this, because the two gallons of coffee I’ve consumed have made their way through my system and are begging for release.

“This information isn’t something you’ve spent months, even years, researching is it? It’s something you just know — because you’ve experienced it all yourself. You don’t think you’re the only one, do you?” When she asks me the question I find I already know the answer. Scully and I have been investigating the others for years.

I pull my eyes away from her intense gaze and study the surface of my coffee. “You — you mentioned in your email that you study genetics…” Suddenly, what she just asked me sinks in, “One what?”

“Hybridized human.”

I unconsciously raise my eyebrows. It’s an interesting term and I let it roll around in my brain for a second or two. It’s beneficial when you’re talking about flowers or tomatoes, but I’m not sure I like the idea in humans, especially when I’m the human.

“It’s been going on for decades, Mr. Mulder,” is her answer to my somewhat bewildered look. “Hitler and his quest for a Master Race, our country’s search for a superior soldier through the Litchfield experiments. You know all this, so why do you look at me like that?”

Because I wasn’t aware that my genetics were common knowledge, and I find it very disturbing that my PCR scans might be floating around on the web.

I glance around the coffee shop and lower my voice, “Look, I thought we were discussing your friend here. You said he had evidence…” Before I realize what I’m doing, I reach across the table and grab her left wrist.

“But first — I’d like to know — what you know about me,” I hiss, meeting her gaze once again.

She studies my hand wrapped around her wrist and I let her go. “To answer your question, yes, I’m working on my Doctorate at Georgetown. Several years ago, some encrypted data was sent to the National Institute of Health that described advanced human genetics.

It got filed away because at the time no one even understood what it was — until someone brought the files to my attention. You see, my grandmother is Navajo so it didn’t take me long to recognize the characters. It’s taken some time to decipher it, but I’m beginning to understand that the information in those files relates to you.”

“Recently brought to your attention?” I don’t know whether to be worried or furious that she has gained access to this information.

Scully was never certain that she had deleted the files she found on Kritschgau’s laptop. This makes me very uncomfortable. “By whom?” I ask her, unable to keep the fury out of my voice.

“I know how you must feel.” She flattens her palm against her chest. “And I’m sorry, but it was Jason. He was the one who showed me the articles. He said your theories were similar to those of the man who founded the Church, a man named Richard Odin. You knew my father’s uncle, Senator Matheson?”

I nod almost imperceptivity.

“There was a time when he was a great help to your investigations into the paranormal and — other things, am I right?”

“Go on.”

“‘They,’ whomever THEY are, got to him eventually; they get to everyone who draws objection or questions the reasoning behind this madness. He can’t help you directly without drawing attention to himself, Agent Mulder; but there are ways he can be of help to the situation.”

“What ‘situation’ are you referring to here?” The conversation has turned a complete one-eighty and I’m not sure if she’s talking about the deaths or this hybridization project that she seems to know so much about.

“A life-and-death situation, Agent Mulder. Jason has started to compile a directory of the Church members. Besides Bryan, his parents and the other three co-workers at the plant, there have been other deaths in the last five months. Jason’s afraid he’s on the list.”

Five months ago — about the time I returned to the human race I think to myself. I really have no way of knowing if one event led to the other.

I search her face, trying to determine if I’m being conned. I can verify this information myself when I get back to the Bureau.

“When Jason told me about the Red Museum and what happened back in Delta Glen, I started to wonder if there was any connection between those experiments and the information I was pulling from those encrypted files. Mr. Mulder.” Her eyes scan the shop again. “You’re familiar with the term ‘gene therapy’?”

“Yes, I’m following you, go on.”

“The gene codes I’ve been examining contain proteins that are not known to exist here on earth — in other words they’re extraterrestrial…”

She pauses to study my face for any hint of disbelief. “I think what’s been happening here is an attempt to create a human-alien hybrid. And I think they’ve been successful,” she finishes her statement by looking pointedly at me.

I must be as white as a sheet because I certainly feel as cold as ice. It isn’t that the idea hasn’t been bantered around, but it’s the thought that someone outside my little circle of friends has come up with the possibility…

“Agent Mulder?” A warm hand on my arm draws me back. “The Senator admires you. For your tenacity and for the risks you’re willing to take that his position has always prevented him from doing himself. I’m sure by now you’ve probably realized that it was he who funneled those encrypted files to me, and I’m sure from your past association with him you know he had a very good reason for doing so.”

“He was a great help to me in my early investigations into the paranormal, Kelley, but I think you know his continued association with me probably would have led to his death.”

Actually, the last contact I had with the Senator turned out to be a very unpleasant one. He warned me then that my continued pursuit of the men who created these projects would probably get me killed.

Ah, hell, what else is new? It was Skinner’s unwillingness to allow Scully and me to continue the investigation at the time that probably saved both our lives.

Her expression goes from earnest to sadness. “Jason and I don’t want anymore people to die. We need your help, Agent Mulder.”

I lean back in the chair and glance quickly out the window. “I don’t understand what you want from me.”

“I told you about this directory that we’ve compiled. We need help in locating these people. With your Bureau resources it would go much faster.”

I toss the thought around in my head. I’ve been used in the past. The possibility exists that locating these people would have just the opposite result. It could turn out to be a hit list. “What happens when you find them?”

“We’re not entirely sure, something like a witness protection program perhaps,” she looks at me hopefully. “There has to be a way to protect them.”

“I want to meet Jason.” It occurs to me that there might not even be a Jason and that all this is just an elaborate setup. First, I want to know the reason Jason feels the Church members are being targeted.

Kelley’s relationship to Matheson gives me pause. The last time I saw the Senator, we didn’t exactly agree over the merits of questionable Senate resolution. In the end, I realized Senator Matheson was no longer my friend.

“I — I don’t know if he would agree to that.” Kelley suddenly becomes very distant.

“Well then, you’re going to have to go find another government stooge you can con into working with you.” I get up from the table and grab my two empty coffee cups. The caffeine is now racing through my bloodstream and I need to move.

I push the chair back with a little more zeal than I’d intended and it makes a loud noise as the legs scrape on the tiled floor. Kelley jumps at the noise. I can feel all those eyes on me once again.

“Look, you know how to get ahold of me,” I tell her, taking out a business card and my pen and jotting our home phone number on the back of it. “Talk to your friend. I understand his reluctance, but if he wants to meet me and discuss this, my partner and I will make some arrangements.”

* * *

My phone rings as soon as I hit the pavement. I don’t even have to look at the caller ID to know it’s Scully. I swear the woman is psychic.

“Mulder, where are you?” The question has a slightly annoyed tone to it. Now what did I do?

“Walking off the caffeine high, what’s up?”

“Skinner was here looking for you,” she sighs. “He just came back from the annual budget meeting.”

“And?” The wind has picked up and I have to press the phone close to my ear to hear her. I cross the street almost without looking, heading for home.

“He said he had some news that concerned both of us and he wanted to know where the hell you were.”

“Well, that could be good news or bad news, I guess. Tell him — never mind. I’ll call him, you’ve done your dirty work for today.”

“You haven’t answered my question.”

“Home — walking up our front steps actually, I was going change and head over to the guys’. I need them to dig up some information for me. I think I might be on to something.” There’s a silence on the other end of the line for longer than I would like before she finally speaks.

“I know, don’t wait up…” She sighs in resignation.

I stop before I slip the key into the lock and turn around, leaning against our front door. She has no idea how good it feels to have someplace to call home, someplace warm and cozy and full of life — a place that, in reality, I haven’t had since I was twelve.

My apartment was never a home to me. I lived in my office if for no other reason than because Scully was there. My phone beeps in my ear and I glance at it to see that damn little battery signal flashing at me, dammit.

“Well, if you insist on going to bed before I get home, just promise me you won’t fall asleep. I won’t be late, Scully. I’ll grab us something to eat. This involves something I think you’re uniquely familiar with…”

“OK, I’ll bite, and that would be?”

“Purity Control.”

* * *

Mulder & Scully’s Townhouse

7:50 p.m.

I open the back door and dump the bags from Chen’s on the table. The kitchen is dark except for the light over the sink and it’s unusually quiet in the house. I wonder for a moment if Scully really has gone to bed without me.

When I get to the living room, I find her propped against the sofa shuffling through what appears to be a case file spread across the coffee table. Her hair is tied back in a ponytail and she’s given up her work clothes for some cozy yellow sweats.

“That better be from Chen’s Gourmet,” she warns me.

“Is there anyplace else?” She gives me ‘the look’. “What are you doing?”

“This is a case file that Skinner gave me on my way out the door this evening,” she replies, glaring at me from under her hair as I walk over to see what she is so involved in. “Evidently he was going to give it to you, but you never showed up.”

Busted.

“Yeah, I called him, told him I’d be in to talk to him, but I sort of got wrapped up in something with the guys.”

“You’re only giving them fuel for the fire, Mulder.” I watch her toss the pile of papers she has been reading onto a file at the end of the coffee table and glare up at me. “You could have at least called him.”

I ignore her first comment and shoot for the second, “No, I couldn’t. Just like I couldn’t call you or Chen’s to have the order ready when I got there; cell phone’s dead. What are you looking at anyway?”

“Police and autopsy reports on a murder-suicide case on the west coast he would like us to look into. There’s an agent coming in from the San Francisco office to work with us on this.”

“The case is on the west coast and an agent is coming here to assist us? Pardon me if I’m a little confused by that piece of information.” I hear the little alarm bells starting to ring and toss the files I brought home from the Gunmen’s down on the table with the other.

Scully picks up the folders and flips through them before looking up to catch my eye.

“What are these?”

“Autopsy reports, on Jason Arman’s parents and a police report indicating his father was the perp in a murder-suicide case involving his mother and five other co-workers from a meat processing plant in Delta Glen, Wisconsin,” I reply as I slip out of my coat and wait for her to make the connection.

“Clay’s Barbeque?”

“That’s the place. Why are they sending an agent in here from Frisco?”

“Because the latest case is local,” she informs me as she paws through the papers for several minutes obviously looking for something. “Why didn’t you go through the Bureau to get these?”

I loosen my tie and start to pull it off. “Because it’s not a Bureau matter.” At least not yet, I think to myself.

“Evidently this agent from Frisco believes these cases are all related somehow. This could be an opportunity for Skinner to appoint you SAC in this…”

“Yeah, right.” Who is she kidding? More than likely he’s another in a series of watchdogs that have been assigned to shadow me under the guise of something else since I returned to work. Scully catches my sarcasm and looks up.

“Mulder.” Her face changes from concern to what I take as sympathy and I don’t think I like it. “I know you feel like Skinner has you on a short leash…”

“More like a choke chain and it’s starting to cut off my air.” I wrap both hands around my own throat and pretend to gag myself. She doesn’t laugh so I turn away from her and take a few steps towards the stairs.

I’m tired; I want to change into comfy clothes like she has on and share the dinner I brought home with her.

“Skinner’s your friend. He’s only looking out for your well-being.”

“Skinner’s our boss, Scully. He has to answer to someone just like we do,” I turn back to face her and toss my trench coat over the end of the couch. “I’ve passed every fuckin’ psych test they’ve thrown at me. The Bureau physicians and YOU, I might add, have certified that I’m physically fit for field duty. Why can’t they just let me do my damn job?” I shake my head and start up the stairs. “Dinner’s in the kitchen.”

* * *

Casey’s Bar

11:21 p.m.

I finish my beer and set it on the table with an unconsciously loud thump. The sound makes Scully jump involuntarily. We’re both tired and just a little on edge.

While she and I were going over the notes from the Delta Glen case, between bites of Chen’s, the phone rang. Kelley wanted us to meet her and Jason immediately.

As I sit and watch Scully doze in the seat across from me, the image of her sitting across from me in that rib joint in Delta Glen with BBQ sauce on her face suddenly makes an appearance in my mind and a smile she doesn’t see spreads across my face.

I had rather boldly wiped the sauce from her lip that night and had gotten the impression she was about to make a comment on my actions when we were interrupted by that bunch of morons out on the street.

It was during my interrogation of Gerd Thomas that she had come in with the bombshell that the substance found in the vials from Dr. Larson’s case had been the same substance or a substance containing the same chemical makeup as what she found in the Erlenmeyer flask.

Something we both came to know as ‘Purity Control.’

Our evidence from the Secare case, like that of many others, has long since disappeared, or so we’d believed.

The Church of the Red Museum had forty-two members back in 1994. From what the guys were able to dig up so far, seven members have passed away due to ‘natural causes’ while another twelve deaths have been attributed to ‘unexplained causes’. This included Jason’s parents, their five co-workers, this Bryan Renford and the entire Garrett family who had also been members.

Scully and I both agree, those are rather alarming statistics and definitely worthy of some sort of investigation.

It’s late, well after eleven, when I see Kelley come into the bar with a dark haired, dark skinned young man about her height. She spots me and I get up to slide onto the bench next to Scully, but before I can sit down Kelley touches my arm.

“Agent Mulder, this is Jason Arman. Jason, this is Agent Mulder.”

“Agent Scully,” I offer as I shake Jason’s hand and motion to my partner who, at the moment, is struggling to return to conscious awareness. “And you can drop the ‘Agent’ for both of us. Can I get you something to drink?”

We’re sitting in a bar, the crew at Casey’s knows Scully and me and they know we often come in here for something other than a drink after work, so it’s very rare that anyone comes over to take our order. I feel the need to make this meeting appear as casual as possible; therefore, somebody should be drinking something.

Kelley slides in across from Scully. Jason has a canvas briefcase slung over his shoulder that he sets between himself and Kelley before he sits down.

“I’ll have what you’re having.” Jason informs me, motioning to the empty Sam Adams sitting on the table in front of me.

“Is that coffee?” Kelley asks, nodding to Scully.

I come back a few minutes later with two beers and a basket of popcorn and Linda in tow with another coffee cup and a fresh pot. “Help yourself,” she motions with the pot after she fills two mugs and sets it on a warmer a few tables away.

I take a few moments to study Jason. His complexion suggests he’s of Middle-Eastern descent, something that is probably working against him in this day and age.

I try and go through the faces I remember from Delta Glen, but it’s been twelve years and a lot of scrambled brain cells ago. There were three Armans listed in the files I got from the guys.

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea that I’m talking to you, Agent Mulder.” I watch him slide his fingers up and down the condensation on the beer bottle. He’s extremely nervous. “Kelley told you about my connection to the Church. You probably don’t remember my Father but my Mother was the woman who would read Odin’s messages to his congregation, I’m sure you both remember her.”

I catch Scully out of the corner of my eye turning to look at me and flash her a quick glance. Yes, we both remember. The woman’s words skip across my memory.

“Today is a blessing from our lord and master, who awaits his flock in this time, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius…”

This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius — the lyrics play in my head.

I wonder how many people actually know that through a rather elaborate explanation of the constellations of the zodiac and backward celestial movement called “procession of the equinoxes,” the earth actually is about to pass from the age of Pisces into the age of Aquarius.

One has to wonder what that might mean. And here everyone just thought it was funky song from the ’70s.

“Even though Odin and his Church were cleared of any wrong-doing in your case,” Jason continues. “The Church disbanded shortly thereafter and Odin disappeared. I don’t know what your investigation uncovered about the Church or anything else, but I think that whatever it was, it is somehow related to all this.”

“Kelley told me about your parents,” I try and keep my voice neutral. Jason’s body language gives me the impression that he’d up and run given the opportunity. “You don’t believe he was responsible for what happened up there?”

“My Father would never hurt anyone, Agent Mulder, especially my Mother. Someone or something made him do what he did.”

“I understand you’ve been conducting your own investigation into their deaths,” Scully finally joins the conversation. “We were able to pull the police and autopsy reports on the incident. There’s no indication that another party was involved.”

“Did you look at the toxicological on my Father?” Jason blurts out. His eyes keep flashing over my right shoulder every time the door behind us opens and a new customer walks into the bar. “I think you’ll find that it lists an unidentifiable substance. I think it was a toxin of some sort.

“I’m a biochemical engineer, Agent Scully; we –” he glances quickly at Kelley. “Kelley and I managed to get a copy of the report, but the breakdown of the substance doesn’t make any sense. It contains some sort of synthetic corticosteroids that, without an actual sample, make it impossible to analyze. I think if I can find out what that was and where it came from, it will lead me to who killed him and the others.”

It’s something I’d already thought about, but I wanted to hear him say it. “You’re suggesting they were murdered.”

“Yeah, them and a lot of other people. How else do you explain the deaths of nineteen people from the same town in just five months? It’s fucking impossible and what’s even more fucking impossible is that nobody is looking into it!” His eyes flash back and forth between Scully and me.

“Here,” he says, reaching into his canvas bag, pulling out a piece of paper. He slides it across the table. “This is a list of everyone who was a member of the Church back in 1994. Those are the dates of death next to those nineteen names. I’ve only been able to locate six others.

“Joel Martin pushed three people off a commuter platform in Arlington yesterday and then stepped in front of the train himself. You already know about Bryan. We need to find out who or what killed them and why, and more importantly, we need to find the rest of the members and warn them — or — or something!”

Joel Martin, the local case. I look at the list. All of them, even the seven who apparently died of natural causes postdate my abduction. Not that there’s any correlation there, but it still bothers me. I guess the kid has a right to be paranoid. “Alright, look, you let Scully and I do the investigating…”

“Like hell, you remember what happened back in the ’50s? This is some kind of government thing and you work for the government.” Jason grabs Kelley’s hand and pulls her to her feet. “Just because I’m asking for your help doesn’t mean I trust you.”

“Hey, how can I reach you?” I yell after them as they head for the door.

“Email Kelley!”

Dammit! I get up from beside Scully, grab the pot of coffee and another cup and slide back into the seat across from her.

“What did you make of that?” she asks as I fill our cups.

“I think he’s scared and more paranoid than I ever was,” I tell her with a hint of a grin. “And I think they’re right. Whatever was going on in Delta Glen is still going on somewhere, only now, over ten years later, someone is trying their best to cover that up. You heard what he said, the tox screen contained some sort of synthetic substance. Where have we heard that before?”

“I agree with you, but what I don’t understand is why now?”

“Five month ago Scully, do you remember what happened five months ago?”

“I’d rather not, Mulder.”

I watch her expression darken a little and reach across the table to take her hand.

“We’re okay, Scully. And wherever this journey we’re on eventually leads us, this is something you and I are meant to do together. That’s why you found me last summer, it’s why you brought me back to who I’m supposed to be, it’s who I want to be.”

Please believe me Scully.

When she squeezes my hand I smile at her.

She holds my hand for longer than necessary and then apparently comes to the decision I’d hoped for.

“You’re suggesting there’s a connection — between what happened to you and this hybridization project that Kelley seems to feel has been going on?”

We both know what’s been going on, but I keep my mouth shut for once. Scully had nearly hit the roof when I told her about my conversation with Kelley in Starbucks.

If Kelley was able to obtain the information in those files, God only knew who else was using it. I’m sure we both had the same idea.

“What if she’s right, Scully?”

“Right about what, Mulder?” She sighs.

“Cassandra was the result of hideous experiments. I’m not really sure what my excuse might be, but what it if certain segments of the earth’s population have been hybridized through nothing more than inherited genes?”

Her head cocks slightly to the left and she looks at me for a long time before I watch her eyebrows rise and she finally looks heavenward as if asking for divine intervention.

“What about Gibson?” I ask.

“Mulder,” her eyes return to mine. “Gibson is an anomaly, just like math wizards or two-year-olds that can play concertos. You can’t surmise that everyone who has an unusual ability is genetically alien. Besides, if I remember correctly, I told you a few years ago that, in a way, we’re all genetically alien.”

Her hands come away from massaging the coffee cup in a ‘listen to me’ motion.

“What Kelley explained to you is an experimental program that you and I both know has indeed been going on for years. If the former members of the Church are being singled out, the question we should be asking is ‘why’?”

I scratch the stubble on my chin for a moment and then finally acknowledge her. “You’re right, Scully. But first we need to find out what killed these people. I think that will give us the ‘why.'” I swig the rest of my coffee. “I think the boys need to do a little kung fu on some government files.”

“I don’t know that I’m comfortable with you working outside the Bureau like this, just be careful…” She touches my arm, “I’m going to see if this man in Baltimore has been autopsied yet. If I can get a look at the body, maybe it will give us some answers.”

* * *

Office of The Lone Gunmen

3:20 p.m.

When I can’t reach Scully on her cell, I dial the office. The phone rings several times before a male voice I don’t recognize fills my ear. “Agent Giltner.”

I look at the LED display on the guys’ phone in disbelief and see that I definitely didn’t punch the wrong number.

My cell is currently sitting where I left it, in the charger on the kitchen counter. “Who did you say you were?”

Fro turns to look at me with a puzzled expression.

“This is Agent Mark Giltner, who am I talking to?”

“You’re answering my phone Agent Giltner, this is Agent Mulder.”

“Ah, Agent Mulder, I’m looking forward to meeting you, but I already gotta tell ya, I think you’re in the wrong profession.”

“How’s that?” How the hell did this guy get in our office and where the hell is Scully?

“I’ve been doing some homework waiting for you. These case files you have down here are a piece of work, Mulder. You could certainly give Steven King a run for his money. Some of this is damn good science fiction.”

I decide this jerk is not worthy of an answer and the silence on the line lasts a little longer than it should. “Have you seen Agent Scully?” I finally ask.

“No, I’m afraid she’s not in the office at the moment. Can I take a message?”

Thank God for that and no you can’t.

Fuck, Skinner, who is this asshole? And then it dawns on me that this is probably the jerk that Skinner said the Frisco office was sending in to work with us.

Who let him in my office?

“No thanks, Glitz, I’m on my way in.”

“What the heck was that all about?” Langly asks after I slam the receiver down.

“And then there were three,” I tell him gathering up the autopsy files they’ve pilfered and heading for the door. “Keep digging guys, I’ll be back later.” I use my back to push the door open and wave, “Thanks.”

* * *

4:53 p.m.

When I finally reach Scully, I discover she’s been at the morgue slicing and dicing Joel Martin. That’s my girl.

“What did he die from?”

“Mulder, he was hit by a train…”

“Ouch.”

She snorts into the phone, “I won’t be able to tell you anything until I get the blood and tissues samples back, but I’m reasonably sure his death can’t be attributed to natural causes. Joel Martin was the picture of health.”

“How long will that be?”

“I’m going to send them to our lab, put a rush on them; I should have some answers tomorrow. Where are you now?”

“Heading for the office to check on a few things, you want to meet me there?”

“Mulder, it’s almost five…”

I glance at my watch. Yeah it is, but I’d still like to catch this Glitz character. Find out how the hell he got access to my office. “Our contact from the Frisco office is here; thought maybe we could touch base with him.”

“How do you know?” I can hear the sound of clinking utensils and a drawer or two slamming.

“I tried to reach you in the office, he answered the phone.”

“I’m on my way.”

* * *

X-Files Office

5:50 p.m.

The office seems empty when I enter until I see Scully glued to a monitor in the back room.

“Where’s Glitz?” I lay my coat across the desk and head back to give her a quick kiss. “You already send the new student home for the day?”

“He evidently thought class was over,” she reaches up to brush her finger across my lips to wipe the moisture away. “You can’t do that when he’s in the office, Mulder,” she tells me with a seductive smile. “I caught him turning out the light and closing the door when I got here.” She flashes me a concerned look. “He said he had a few leads of his own he wanted to chase down before we got together. And by the way, his name is Giltner, Mark Giltner, not Glitz. He says to call him ‘Gil’.”

I can tell by her evasiveness that she’s irritated about something. “But you’d like to call him something else…”

“No, it’s nothing Mulder; he was just a little presumptuous. Asked me to dinner so we could get better acquainted…”

I’d like to call him a few other things myself, but instead I just purse my lips and nod. “So, no introduction from Skinner, he just shows up?”

“I asked Skinner; he didn’t know he was here either, which leads me to believe that Agent Giltner has a problem with procedure. The two of you should get along just fine.” Her tongue flicks across her lower lip and the she bites it rather provocatively. “I tried to call you to see how much longer you were going to be but you didn’t answer. Where’s your phone?”

“Sitting in the charger in the kitchen.” I turn away from her and walk back toward the desk.

“I’m going to make you wear it on a chain around your neck, Mulder.”

I toss my coat over the chair in front of the desk and sit down. “Wouldn’t help, most of the time I don’t know where my head is either. He couldn’t wait?”

“Evidently these were important leads or…” When she doesn’t finish her line of thinking, I look over and notice she’s pawing through the stack of files I dumped on the corner of the table.

“Those are autopsy reports on Renford, the three other victims from the packing plant and the Garretts.” I inform her. “If you look at the toxicological results on Bryan and David Garrett, you’ll see basically the same information that was in Mr. Arman’s report — an unidentified toxin in the bloodstream. But you’ll also notice that the same toxin was also found in their digestive tracts indicating that whatever it was probably ingested.”

“Well, you’ve learned how to read autopsy reports, Mulder. You evidently don’t need me,” she stops flipping pages and turns to look at me with a smile.

I smile back and then ask, “Wouldn’t that have suggested poisoning?”

“It should have…” I watch her open the first report again. “Unless whoever did the autopsy was also involved.”

“I like how you think.”

“But — the reports on Bryan and David Garrett also show decreased serotonin levels. Decreased serotonin levels have been associated with violent behavior, Mulder. We’ve seen that before.”

“Drugs?”

“Or a chemical imbalance.” She logs off her computer and gathers up what she’s been working on and then comes over and sets it on the corner of my desk. “Come on, lets go home,” she grabs my coat and hands it to me. “We can work on this just as well from there — without any interruption.”

I wag my eyebrows at her and log off the computer on the desk, noticing too late that it was logged on with another ID. “Gil have a key?” I ask pulling the door shut tightly behind us.

“I hope not.”

* * *

X-Files Office

10:13 a.m.

When Jason called last night asking why I sent another agent over to talk with him, I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about until he informed me it was this Agent Giltner.

He then proceeded to burn my ear with obscenities and accusations that Scully and I were more intent on proving that he was somehow involved in these deaths than finding out who was really responsible.

Scully got on the line and somehow managed to calm him down enough to convince him that Giltner came to see him with no authority from either of us. She told him that I would have the contact information for the rest of the Church members today.

Scully headed off to Quantico to see if she could push the reports on Martin a little faster.

She thinks I have a meeting with John McKinley and some investment dudes this morning to talk over some new stock options. Our stash was severely depleted with the withdrawal she took to mount my rescue operation last summer.

She just shook her head when I came down to the kitchen this morning wearing the tie I’d gotten for Christmas with the little green alien heads on it. No way in hell will she let me wear it to work so I have to get some use out of it. I love the thing.

It wasn’t really a lie. John went to meet the investors. I’m about to head over to the Gunmen’s to see what they have for me, but first I need to confirm a suspicion I have about the elusive Agent Glitz.

I figure if I’m being watched, then somebody will know I came into the office and if this Giltner is somehow connected to that somebody, and they’re dumb enough to send him in here, it’s a sure way to tell.

I’ve been surfing through Gil’s personnel file. He’s been with the Bureau five years; transferred to Frisco from Denver two years ago. He’s divorced, no surprise there…smart woman. No children. He’s 42.

About half past 11:00, I hear the elevator doors slide open. A few moments later, a man I assume is Gil saunters into the office and feigns surprise at seeing me here.

“The workaholic himself, you’ve got to be Agent Mulder.” He extends his hand and I feel a Krycek moment coming on. “I’m Mark Giltner from the San Francisco office.”

“But I can call you ‘Gil’,” I reply standing to accept his handshake. Gil smiles at the response. He’s a few inches shorter than I am but he probably outweighs me. Doesn’t mean I couldn’t take him in a fight. He has short reddish brown hair that has a tight wave to it and blue eyes.

“I understand you just go by ‘Mulder’.”

I have a sudden dislike for the way he says my name but Scully’s conscience in my head tells me to play nice. Doing otherwise will only get me in trouble. “Works for everyone else.”

I walk around the desk and pretend to look like I’m after something in the back office. “It’s Saturday Gil, Scully and I won’t have anything to work with on this latest death until Monday.” Gil follows me so I start digging through old photos that are piled in a file basket on the shelf giving him my back.

“Ah yes, the ravishing Agent Scully. I met her yesterday. Unfortunately, it was only briefly. You got a real looker there, Mulder.”

I bite my tongue almost to the point of drawing blood and glare at him. “You didn’t come all the way in here just to make my acquaintance did you?”

“Actually, I was hoping I’d find you here, Mulder. I’m kind of excited about working with the ‘legend’.” He makes those annoying little quote marks in the air around the word ‘legend’. “Thought maybe you could give me some advice.”

“On what?” The man’s been in my face for less than five minutes and I already have a strong dislike for him. He’s a little old for the dumb rookie routine.

“You know, on how I can develop the magic touch like you have. Pull those wild theories out of thin air and solve the case just like that.” He starts to finger through some files on the corner of the table. “If we’re going to be working as a team on this case, I don’t want to get left on the bench.”

Technically, I’m the senior agent in this department but I’ve never pulled rank on Scully; she and I have always been a team. Gil on the other hand, is about to learn why they say three’s a crowd.

“You want some advice?” I throw the photos on the table and turn around. When our eyes meet I realize by his emotionless expression that he’s accomplished his goal. He’s gotten under my skin.

“You may have been assigned to this case but it wasn’t because there was any request from me for assistance. And to be honest with you, I don’t think Scully and I need any. If you think that makes you unwelcome here, you’re right. Bureau policy dictates that I play nice, and I’m willing to do that, but only if you and I come to an understanding.”

“And what would that be, Agent Mulder?” He takes a few steps closer and crosses his arms over his chest.

“That you understand that I’m the SAC on this. And being such, I make the assignments. You went to see a grad student named Jason Arman at Georgetown yesterday. I don’t remember giving you that assignment.” I take a few steps closer to him myself. We’re standing almost toe-to-toe. “I want to know why.”

“Because I looked through the background check you did on him. I think he’s playing you for a fool, Agent Mulder.”

I resist the urge to deck him for calling me a fool and glance around him to the computer on my desk, suddenly remembering that someone else had been using it yesterday when I shut it down.

I can feel my temperature rising. “That information was password protected.”

“Oh come on, Mulder, you use the dumbest passwords. Anyone can figure them out.”

I bite my tongue again and swallow the words I was about to say.

“This kid Arman is doing research on food additives, did you know that?” He sneers. “The autopsy reports you brought back from your ‘informants’ showed a toxin was found in the victims’ bloodstreams and digestive tracts. Did it ever occur to you that he’s the one who might have poisoned them and that this list that your friends are putting together for him will lead him right to the rest of his victims?”

Christ! I lose all semblance of control and push him hard against the glass partition between the rooms and hold him there. He passively splays his arms against the wall, making no attempt to fight me off.

“Who sent you here?” I demand, getting right in his face. “Who are you working for?”

“I work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Perhaps the proper question, Agent Mulder,” he says coolly. “Is who are YOU working for?”

I feel my hand curl into a fist almost involuntarily. I want to slug him so bad it hurts, but I don’t and I step away from him trying to control my breathing.

“I could file assault charges on you, Mulder,” he informs me as he straightens his ugly sweater. “This isn’t over.”

“No, you’re wrong, it *is* over,” I unconsciously shake my fist at him. “I hope you won’t have a problem getting a flight back because you could be going right back where you came from.”

“I think you over-estimate your authority here, Agent Mulder. You had nothing to do with my assignment,” he throws over his shoulder as he heads for the door.

I want to throw something at him or, better yet, I want to hit myself with something for losing control like that. Instead, I grab my jacket, turn off the lights and lock the door.

I hope the guys have lots of beer.

* * *

Office of The Lone Gunmen

Washington, D.C.

12:37 p.m.

Byers hands me a printout with about ten names on it. “Those are the only ones we could locate.”

“But we think someone else might be lookin’ for love in all the same places,” Langly adds.

“Three words, Mulder,” Frohike offers.

I study my three pasty friends. “Not enough sex?”

“UPC scanner data, dude,” Langly amends. “Barcodes, lasers, overweight checkout babes data-entering our asses into capitalistic indenture.”

“Orwell meets Walmart,” Byers intones somberly.

“Seriously, I mean it,” I respond. “Not enough sex, guys.”

Frohike snorts. “USDA’s used retail grocery scanner data for years to track domestic red meat and poultry prices, you know, make sure the mega-slaughterers aren’t screwing over the farmers? Every time you buy a bag of Cornnuts or a roll of Charmin or a copy of ‘Juicy Jugs’, somebody out there knows it.”

Byers leans on the PC. “A.C. Nielsen – the TV ratings people? – sell household level scanner data that links UPC data from individual customers to retailers and manufacturers. It helps them determine consumer preferences, shelf space allocation.”

I signal for silence. “Before you three savvy marketing geniuses roll out your Powerpoints, could we–”

“Katsuhiru,” Langly states.

“That’s a showstopper,” Byers continues. “For decades, the Japanese corporate dynasty has had its hands wrist-deep into pharmaceuticals, electronics, robotics, nanotechnology, and, quite possibly, genetic manipulation and extraterrestrial experimentation.”

“Katsuhiru,” I echo.

“They’ve been buying up butt loads of scanner data through a U.S. subsidiary, Intermedia Demographics Ltd. I red-flagged everything Katsuhiru after, you know, Devil’s Fork?

“Melvin had some theory about the Republican Party and Nielsen, so I was, uh, exploring the flow of scanner data, who was buying it. Intermedia’s been hitting major metro centers across the U.S. — L.A., New York, Chicago, Seattle, Albuquerque, Portland, San Francisco. Katsuhiru’s got a whole marketing arm, makes Madison Avenue look like Darren Stevens. The dorky Dick York one. Ask yourself, why do they need scanner data?”

I mull the possibilities. “To shop for guinea pigs. They wanted a certain type, a certain demographic, for what?”

A flicker of dark anxiety crosses Frohike’s face. “You remember your guy out in San Francisco, the one that made stir fry out of a bunch of ad people? Redford, Renfro…”

“Yeah. Dismembered six coworkers, then somehow managed to decapitate himself. Kinda stood out from the rest of the workplace massacres that day, why?”

Byers steps in. “Well, we were curious about the Katsuhiru thing, and Langly sort of…”

I smile. “I’m gonna have to move you boys into the living room where Scully and I can monitor your surfing. You hacked into Intermedia’s data?”

“Actually, the company that sold Intermedia the data — Katsuhiru’s got some fierce firewalls up around Intermedia, which is kind of a red flag in itself, you know? We wanted to see if there were any outstanding patterns, anything that stood out.”

“Was there?”

“Das herrenvolk,” Frohike grunts. My head snaps around. “Not the real Master Race.” He explains. “The fitness fascists — no smoking, no caffeine, no pesticides, no red meat, no refined sugar, that whole bit. We noticed the datasets were heavy on whole food markets, GMCs, sporting goods joints. Katsuhiru was tracking health food, organics, nutritional supplements, running gear, books on diet and physical culture. And guess whose ‘household’ we ran across?”

“Bryan Renford,” I breathe.

“The name stuck from CNN. Guy made Lance Armstrong look like Louis Anderson. Everything he swallowed was raised or cooked under a microscope, he bought a palette of spring water a week, and Renford read everything written by every whack-job fitness guru out there. Turns out he did every marathon and charity 10K in the city.”

“Guess he had a good head on his shoulders, least ’til he lopped it off. So you think Katsuhiru somehow spiked Renford’s wheat germ? Why him?” I ask.

“I’m not sure it was Katsuhiru,” Langly murmurs. “My guess is someone is using their data to locate dudes like him across the country. You know, health food nuts, people that are living ‘nature’s way’ — more guinea pigs.”

“Or congregation members,” I suggest. “You guys are going to need to do some more guinea pig hunting.”

* * *

Georgetown University

4:20 p.m.

My call to Kelley was met with a rather icy response. Evidently Jason had already told her about his visit from that asshole Glitz.

It isn’t bad enough when they’ve electronically bugged our office in the past, now we have a living one crawling around in there.

To say I’ll get rid of that jerk if it’s the last thing I do is probably all too true.

There are too many holes in his file not to suspect that he really isn’t FBI. I left the information I had on him with the guys. They’re better at background checks than I ever was.

Kelley finally agreed to meet me outside the Starbucks where we had originally met. She said Jason was at the lab and probably wouldn’t let me in without her.

She must recognize a Bureau car when she sees one because she steps to the curb when I turn the corner. She sizes up my G-man attire when she slides into the front seat. “You’re a little overdressed for a Saturday, aren’t you?”

“Is that a compliment?”

“Actually, I was thinking that you probably wanted to make a good impression on whomever else you were giving this information to.” Her voice drips with sarcasm and I’m not in the mood for it.

“Actually,” I flash an angry glare in her direction. “Jason is the only person I was planning on giving this information to, only some things have come to light that make me wonder it that’s really a good idea. What do you know about a company called ‘Katsuhiru’?”

“Nothing, who are they?”

“A corporate giant out of Japan. They seem to be interested in the same information we are.”

She turns to look at me with eyes wide, “The Church members?”

“Not specifically, but people living that life style. Kelley, we’re going to need Jason’s research. I think this could all be an elaborate setup and he very well could be the next victim…”

“What the Hell?” Kelley asks as we turn the corner, throwing open the door and exiting the car before I have a chance to finish.

I look in the direction she’s headed and see what appears to be some sort of commotion in front of Reiss Science Building. I slam the car into park, yank the keys from the ignition and go after her.

She’s running up the steps like a fish swimming upstream against the students who are exiting the building. “What’s going on?” I hear her ask worriedly when she grabs the arm of one young man.

“That crazy Arab friend of yours is running around in there with a gun!”

“Kelley wait!” I yell after her as she throws a frightened glance back in my direction and grabs the door. I catch up with her by the elevators where she’s frantically beating on the UP button as if it will make the car arrive any sooner.

“Something’s wrong! Jason wouldn’t have a gun, he hates guns!”

I can hear sirens already and grab my cell. I don’t know how many people are still in the building and right now a swarm of locals might only escalate the situation. Scully answers on the second ring.

“Dammit Mulder, where are you? Something’s happening at the college.”

“I know, I’m — I’m here. It’s chaos here. Kelley and I are trying to find Jason…”

“The police are responding to what they believe is a terrorist situation. You have to get out of there, Giltner went to Skinner with some wild accusation that you’re involved in this somehow,” her voice starts to quiver towards the end of the sentence and I grind my teeth with the realization that once again I’ve made her a bystander to one of my random acts of unpredictability. “You could be considered an accomplice!” She yells in my ear.

Something doesn’t make sense. Why would I be… “Skinner would never believe…”

“No, Skinner wouldn’t…” She leaves the rest of her thought hanging in the air.

“Look Scully, someone called the locals. Tell Skinner to give me some time on this, Jason has nothing to do with… Shit, hang on…” Kelley darts for the stairs and I make a break to try and grab her.

“Mulder! Jason called in a bomb threat…” I don’t hear the rest of what she was about to tell me.

The door to the stairwell bursts open and someone charges though it colliding with Kelley and me and sending my phone airborne until it collides with the brick wall across the hall and pieces of it rain down and slide across the polished floor.

When we untangle ourselves I realize it’s Jason and he does have a gun. “You! This is all your fault!” he yells pointing the gun at me as I stagger backwards towards the foyer of the building.

“Jason — wait!” Kelley tries to reach out for him but he pulls back.

“You!” He waves the gun at her and I reach for her, grabbing her arm and pulling her towards me. “You got me involved with this guy!” he yells, flashing the gun at me again. “Look what happens! He sends one of his goons over here to destroy everything. There’s a bomb in the lab, Kelley!”

“Jason, I didn’t send anyone over here, I told you that. Look, I have the information you wanted…” I raise my right hand and point towards my jacket pocket.

“Throw it here,” he commands. As I start to reach into my jacket he takes a step towards me. “No, your jacket! Take off the jacket and throw it here!”

I wriggle out of my jacket and toss it at him thinking that when he goes to grab it I can pull my own gun. But he makes no attempt to catch it and it slides past him on the floor. “I want the gun too,” he demands when he sees my gun clipped to my belt.

“I can’t do that, Jason.” I raise both my arms in an attempt to get him to understand that he’s already in charge of this situation.

It’s not a good move. I know there’s an army of police in the street behind us now and if they see me standing like this they’re going to assume I’m being taken hostage.

“The list doesn’t mean anything now, don’t you understand?!”

I drop my arms, “Jason, all I understand is that there’s a bomb in this building and we need to get everyone out of here. You have to help me do that.”

“Everyone is out. I got them out!”

“Then we need to get out of here too, Jason,” I look deliberately at Kelley and then extend my hand towards the trembling young man. “Give me the gun so we can just walk out of here.” If this is a timed device, we may only have minutes to get out of here. “There are men out there behind me who can take care of the device. No one has to die here,” I glance at Kelley again. “Do the right thing.”

“No way! I walk out of here with you and they’re going to arrest me!” He motions with his head to the army on the street behind us. “You’ve got them thinking I’m responsible for all these deaths!”

“That’s not true, Jason!” Kelley pleads desperately with her friend obviously having a change of heart from our earlier conversation. “Mulder just wants to help you.”

“No! You don’t understand, Kelley! He’s part of it.” Jason waves his gun towards the force behind us. “They all are. They masquerade under the cover of law enforcement so no one will know what their real agenda is!”

“Jason, please, I’m scared,” Kelley reaches a shaky hand towards her friend. “Give Mulder the gun so we can get out of here!”

Kelley’s pleas aren’t helping to talk Jason down. Even though my heart is trying to beat its way out of my chest, I have to try and get control of this situation. I have to stay calm. “What is the real agenda, Jason?” He turns to me with a bewildered look.

“To cover up what you don’t want us to know! But I do know. I figured it out! I know what killed them. It was in something they ate. Some kind of food additive! The proof is up in the lab!”

Shit.

“Then you don’t want that bomb destroying it.” I wave at Kelley trying to get her to step back. “Agent Scully and I have evidence that may help you to prove that your parents and the other Church members were murdered. I think your research may help to substantiate that. But we need you, too. You can stop this.”

Something like acceptance washes across Jason’s features and I relax for just a moment to glance over my shoulder.

Scully is standing next to A.D. Skinner who appears to be in a heated conversation with one of the locals. He’s pulling rank, letting them know that the nutcase currently engaged in these negotiations is one of his own.

Give me some time Skinman, I’ve earned Jason’s trust now let me earn yours.

Sweat trickles down the center of my back. Jason’s hair is sticking to his forehead and perspiration has soaked through his T-shirt. It’s fear sweat and I watch him shiver with it.

Being Saturday, nobody has any idea how many people were or could still be in this building. Any moment those fools in the parking lot could decide to come charging in here and we’ll all go down.

“Jason, listen to me, don’t put Kelley through this,” I glance in her direction, she’s crying silent tears. I want to reach for her but I need both hands free.

“Those men out there are trained for these situations,” I point to the men lining the parking lot behind me, trying to keep myself between them and Jason. “They don’t know what’s going on in here. One wrong move from you and no one will hear your story.”

“It doesn’t matter!” Jason yells. “You know no one will believe me. Nobody believes you either, isn’t that why you’re here? Trying to ease your own conscience — it’s not a crazy story if someone else is telling the same one!”

“Jason stop it!” Kelley screams to my left. “If there’s a bomb in this building, we have to get out of here!”

Behind me, out on street the FBI has amassed a multitude of SWAT and tactical personnel. It’s an obscene gesture but I understand it considering recent events.

But this young man is no terrorist.

I turn my back on him, acknowledging my trust and observe the mass of officers outside. Scully is still standing with Skinner, but she’s been joined by the jackass, Giltner.

Where the hell did he come from? He and Skinner are talking with the head of the F.B.I. tactical team and I suddenly don’t like the look I see on Skinman’s face. The team won’t act without his consent but he knows he’s running out of time here.

“Jason, give me the gun, or set it down and step away,” I turn back and plead with him. “They’re assuming this is a hostage situation and they’re going to proceed accordingly.”

“You don’t get it. I’m one of them, they want me dead, too!” Jason screams, continuing to wave his gun around erratically. “It doesn’t matter what you do!”

“Jason, give me the gun, lay it down and step back,” I glance at my watch and then back over my shoulder again. Jason keeps dancing about in front of me as he speaks. I try my best to stay in his line of fire.

Even though I can feel the sight of a weapon trained on my back, I’m fairly certain they won’t shoot through me to get to him, but I also know Skinner can’t wait forever.

Kelley must realize it too because her voice is the next voice I hear.

“Jason, give it to me.” Out of the corner of my eye I see Kelley step forward, extending her right hand.

“Agent Mulder is telling the truth, he cares about you, I care about you. You know that. We can all walk out of here alive if you just put down the gun”.

“Kelley, no!” I yell at her as she takes another step towards her friend. Jason hesitates, his gaze flashing wide eyed between both of us and then he moves, slightly towards his right, extending the gun toward Kelley.

With a sickening feeling, I know how this looks from the street.

Instinct makes me cringe even before the glass shatters behind me … and it’s at this one moment in time that I’m suddenly stuck with the realization that despite what I want to believe, we may really have no control over our own lives.

Kelley screams and Jason’s body jolts with the impact of the bullet. It knocks him from his feet and then he lands with a sickening thud on the polished floor in front of us.

I turn back around, an incredulous look on my face, and see Scully rushing toward me through the mayhem of officers.

Kelley is still screaming as she kneels over Jason’s body. I stand here, frozen, watching Scully press her fingers against the boy’s throat. She looks up at me and shakes her head.

It hits me then with the same impact as the slug had hit Jason: I never had any control over any of this.

The anger at that realization begins to boil within me as I walk over broken glass and pick up Jason’s gun that came to rest at the base of the window frame.

“He’s dead,” I hear Scully inform the other officers, rising to her feet, her gaze then falling on me, standing lethargically between them and the shattered window of the building’s lobby.

“Mulder, come on, let’s get you out of here,” she touches my arm, trying to get me to look at her but I still can’t take my eyes off the scene in front of me. Jason’s chest is covered in blood.

As the bomb disposal unit thunders past us, I watch a female SWAT officer trying desperately to pull Kelley away from him.

“Leave me alone, Scully!” I erupt, pulling violently away from her and turning towards the door. “Leave me the fuck alone!”

I know her, the urge to follow me must be strong but she hesitates, watching me head out the door and bolt down the stairs to where Skinner and that damn Glitz are standing with the head of the tactical team.

I hand Skinner Jason’s gun and turn to face Gil.

“Agent Mulder, are you alright?”

You talk about stupid passwords… I don’t even think, I just act and my fist connects with Gil’s jaw so hard it goes numb. Gil goes down in a satisfying heap.

While Gil is gathering himself up off the ground and trying to shake the stars from his brain I hand Skinner my own weapon, even though it hasn’t been fired, and fix him with a bitter look.

I hope that answers the question.

No, dammit, I’m not alright. Why the hell couldn’t they let me do my job? I turn to walk and away from them.

“Agent Mulder!” I hear Skinner yell after me. “We’re going to need your report on this!”

I stop dead in my tracks, fury I can’t control building within me.

How dare he!

He refuses to give me control of the situation and now he wants my report?

I don’t need this!

I turn back to Skinner and pull my badge out of my right back pocket and hurl it at him. He catches it with surprise in his left hand but says nothing.

Message received.

I turn and walk away.

TO BE CONTINUED in Part 2!

Notes: References are made in this story to past episodes of The X-Files and to the Virtual Season mythology. This story arose from my occasional need to get into Mulder’s head. My thanks to Chuck, Vickie and Nubie for all their wonderful beta assistance and especially to Martin for sticking with me on this.

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