One Moment In Time Part 2

One Moment In Time Part II

(Continued from Part 1)

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Mulder & Scully’s Townhouse

2:30 a.m.

Next Day

The front door makes a loud snick as I open it. I tromp across the foyer and unceremoniously dump my keys under the little welcome light on the sofa table.

Thankfully, Scully is nowhere in sight.

The unnerving sound of our alarm suddenly fills the house and it’s then that I realize Scully has set a trap for me.

This isn’t like me. I haven’t gone on a drunk since OPR tried to break us up after Dallas.

She set the alarm so she would know when I finally got home. In my drunken haze, I hadn’t even noticed the red ‘armed’ light on the keypad when I walked in the door. The keypad beeps as I key in the access code.

I’m not in the mood for a confrontation with her at 2:30 on a Sunday morning, so I kick off my shoes, and deposit myself in the chair by the fireplace in the hope I’ll pass out.

I know she’s awake. It’s just a matter of time before she gives up waiting and comes looking for me.

Silence fills the house, and I drop my throbbing head back against the chair.

“Are you hungry?”

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Her voice startles me in the darkness. It’s not the question I expected her to ask.

*Do I look hungry?*

I can hardly keep my head up. I lean forward and rest my elbows on my splayed knees and drop my head into my hands.

The mantle clock chimes three times. It took her thirty minutes to give up on me.

I guess I expected a ‘Where the hell have you been?’ type of question, and in the dim light of the room, all I can do is shake my head in reply to the one she actually asked me.

A wave of nausea follows the movement and I swallow the bile that rises in my throat.

What the hell was I thinking?

“What happened to your tie?”

The tie I’d gotten for Christmas. She’s more worried about what happened to the damn tie than what happened to *me*?

No, she knows what happened to me.

I reek of bar smoke, my shirt tail is hanging out, and the stubble on my face is way beyond a five o’clock shadow.

I reach into my pants pocket and pull out the neatly folded tie and hand it to her. It earns me a hint of a smile.

“You want some coffee?”

“God, no,” I answer, raising my head to meet her eyes.

She winces at my appearance as I slouch back into the chair, my arms resting on its big armrests.

I let my head roll back and close my eyes again.

“Just shoot me now — it’ll put both of us out of our misery.” I reach up to rub my forehead with my right hand. God, if only this pounding would stop.

“Mulder, don’t ever talk like that.” Even through the fog in my head, I can detect the anger in her voice. She hates it when I make those self-deprecating comments.

“Sorry.”

“No you’re not.” She says that with too much conviction, and I want to kick myself for being such an ass. “What have you been drinking?”

“Scotch, I think. You know,” I open my eyes again and look at her. “My Father’s poison of choice. You know what they say, ‘like father, like son’.”

“At least your Father did it in the privacy of his own home. You look like shit, Mulder. How many did you have?”

*Ouch.*

I decide from the tone of her voice that it’s probably a good thing I can’t see her face clearly in the dim light.

“I lost count after the third one, but I must have reached my limit, because Casey called me a cab and sent me home.”

“It’s good to know you have friends in the right places, Mulder.”

Yep, I know all the right people. Fact is, I’d spent the better part of the early evening watching the news channel they’d had on in the bar.

The event made the national news, but only to the extent that it was credited to a disgruntled student who called in a fake threat. Nothing about any deaths was mentioned.

Imagine that.

It had only made me drink heavier. “I didn’t hear anything about Georgetown crumbling to the ground.” I let my eyes drift shut again. “What happened out there?”

“The tactical team did find a timed device. It was located in the computer room outside the lab. Kelley thinks Jason must have discovered it when he went to retrieve the back-up on his files. It would have heavily damaged the building.”

“How long…”

“Four minutes, 16 seconds.”

I hear her step away and pad into the kitchen on bare feet. A few moments later she’s back, grabbing my right hand and thrusting something into it.

When I open my eyes, my fingers are wrapped around my black leather wallet, the one with my badge in it. The one I’d thrown at Skinner.

“Skinner thought you might want this back. The Bureau and local law still need your statement.”

I flip it open with that practiced movement gained over the years and stare at its polished gold face.

There are scratches on the surface that I momentarily compare to notches on a gun, as if they would somehow add to its value.

This thing gives me no authority whatsoever.

“As if what I say will make any difference, Scully. Two minutes, Skinner couldn’t give me TWO MORE DAMN MINUTES? Jason was about to hand his gun to Kelley. The three of us would have walked out of there together!”

“I know, Mulder,” she consoles, meeting my eyes when I look up and see the anger brewing within hers. “Kelley told me everything. Skinner was just going by the book. Something I sometimes wonder if you’ve ever read.”

“Fuck the book, Scully!” She steps back when I toss the badge onto the coffee table with a satisfying thunk. “The damn gun wasn’t even loaded! Did anybody happen to notice that? Sometimes you have to be smart, down here,” I tap myself over my heart.

“Yes, I know the gun wasn’t loaded, Mulder.” Scully tells me. “And this probably isn’t a good time to say this, but since you picked up Jason’s weapon, there’s some question as to whether or not it was loaded before he was shot. It was suggested that *you* could have removed the clip yourself.”

“Oh, and let me guess where that astute observation came from, Christ!” I have an uncontrollable urge to rip something apart, preferably Glitz, but he’s not here and Scully doesn’t deserve the brunt of my frustration. “What is it with this guy that everyone believes his story? That could have been Gibson… hell, it could have been *me*! Would you still want Skinner to follow the book?”

“Skinner had to go on the information he had.” She folds her arms over her chest once again in that unconscious defensive manner of hers. “I was in a meeting with Skinner when the call came in. He wanted to address some accusations by Agent Giltner that Jason was actually involved in the deaths of these people, and your possible complicity.”

I want to explode with that little tidbit of information, but I don’t say anything; I just glare at her.

In fact, I think I’m dumbfounded that Skinner would even address the absurdity of the idea.

“Mulder, Skinner doesn’t believe you’d be involved in what Gil is accusing you of, but nobody could reach you. In fact, you’ve been evasive and uncooperative about this whole investigation.” She pauses, as if she expects me to deny what she is saying.

I would, but my brain is having trouble keeping up with her as it is.

“The purpose of the Bureau sending Agent Giltner here from Frisco,” she continues, “was because he was the one who started to make the connections between the case out there, in Delta Glen and here in Arlington.

“People are dying, Mulder — and you’re all wrapped up in some pissing contest over authority…”

I close my eyes again and grit my teeth, I will *not* confront her on this.

“People are *dying*, Scully; and I think it’s pretty damned obvious, by what happened yesterday, that there’s more to those deaths than ‘stress in the workplace’. This is a full-course X-File.” She looks away at my sarcastic comment. “Jason was onto something, and they killed him. You know it as well as I do.”

She turns to face me again. “You know I didn’t have a choice,” she sighs. “What was I supposed to do, Mulder? Skinner was calling the shots, he’s my superior, too. Nobody wanted this to go down the way it did.”

“Are you sure about that? When push came to shove, who did he believe? You or Gil?”

I can tell she’s not sure, but she won’t admit it.

A leads to B, leads to C, which leads to that one moment in time I thought about as the glass shattered around me, when either everything goes perfectly right or gets totally fucked up.

She’s looking at me, posed in this chair like some sort of demented Abraham Lincoln, only I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.

I still believe in the concept of free choice. That the course of our lives is not predetermined, but instead filled with twists and turns determined by the choices we make along the way, all of which are eventually leading us to any one specific moment.

My life, to this point, has been filled with a series of events engineered and influenced by the acts of others.

My moment in time lurks somewhere out there ahead of me, in the future.

It’s time I took control of it.

“Mulder?” I realize, at the sound of my name, that I’ve been sitting here conversing only with myself. “Go take a shower, you’re not getting into our bed like that; you stink.”

At the sound of those wonderful words, I push myself up from the chair, teetering just a little. Scully, bless her heart, reaches out for me as if she could stop me from hitting the floor.

When I make it to the stairs I look over and meet her gaze with a lopsided grin, “I love you, too.”

* * *

1:20 p.m.

Same Day

I wake up to an empty bed and a head like a balloon. Light filters through the drawn blinds but I have no idea what time it is.

I need another shower so I stagger into the bathroom and prop myself in the shower stall and let the water just beat on my head for several minutes.

Doesn’t help much.

When I finally manage to make myself presentable, I find Scully curled on the couch downstairs watching some old black and white movie. She doesn’t say a word as I head for the kitchen and hopefully some coffee.

Like the angel that she is, there’s a fresh pot already brewed and I grab one of the industrial size mugs we have and fill it.

“Your breakfast is in the microwave, if you’re hungry.” Her voice comes from behind me, but I don’t turn around.

The thought of food suddenly makes me gag.

When I do turn to face her, my expression must convey that feeling because she doesn’t hesitate to give me some motherly, or should I say, doctorly advice.

“When was the last time you ate?” She doesn’t wait for me to answer, deliberately punching in the time on the microwave. “Something on your stomach would probably make you feel better, Mulder.”

I want to say “yes, mom”, but I can tell by her attitude that would just piss her off more. So, I graciously accept the plate of sausage and eggs she hands me and plunk myself down at our kitchen table.

I’m hoping she goes back to her movie so I can push the food around on my plate and then dump it down the drain but I hear her pouring coffee into another mug.

A bottle of ketchup materializes on the table and then she sits down in the chair across from me to watch me eat.

Shit.

“Skinner called a little while ago.”

“Let me guess, thirty day suspension for decking that son-of-a-bitch.” I shove a forkful of ketchup-covered eggs into my mouth and wait for her to deny it.

“His exact words were ‘If Mulder hadn’t done it, I would have.’ But he also said that if half the D.C. police force hadn’t seen you do it, he would have looked the other way, despite any claim of a second assault from Gil.

“Second, Mulder, I don’t think I want to know about the first. What is this vendetta you have against him?”

“You mean aside from the fact that he called you ‘ravishing’ and Jason Arman is lying in the Georgetown morgue now because of him? The guy is not who he claims to be, Scully. I don’t give a shit what his jacket says, he’s not FBI.”

I wash another bite of eggs down with the rest of my coffee and get up for another cup, somewhat surprised that she didn’t jump on the ‘ravishing’ comment. “The guys are certain someone doctored his file. We just need to figure out who he really is, and who he is really working for.”

“Well,” she offers me her cup so I can refill hers as well. “You may have to do that from somewhere besides the Bureau.”

I set the pot down on the edge of the table as the sudden thought that decking Glitz was, indeed, the last straw, spreads across my brain.

Did I just earn myself membership in the ranks of the unemployed?

“Here’s the deal,” Scully tells me with a soft smile that eases my panic face. “Skinner’s going to talk with OPR, see if he can get them to agree to waive a hearing in exchange for you voluntarily taking a two week suspension to cool off.”

“Two weeks?” I sit back down and pick up my fork, poking it through the remains of my breakfast like a sulking child.

“I think it’s a good idea, Mulder. Pack a bag and go up to the summer house and fight it out with yourself instead of everyone around you.”

“Including you.” My fork clinks against the plate, I can’t force another bite of food down my throat without the risk of it all coming back up the way it went down.

At first, it surprises me that she even suggests I go up there alone, but then it dawns on me that she knows this is exactly what I need from her — and everyone else.

Trust.

We sit there for several minutes, eyes locked until I finally break the connection.

“This isn’t over Scully, you and I both know it. I don’t know if this has been a set-up from the beginning, or the pieces just fell into place that way, but Jason’s dead and I’m off the case.” I get up and dump my plate in the sink with a satisfying clink. “It all just seems a little too convenient to me.”

I know what she’s thinking — my paranoia has returned with a vengeance, but she doesn’t say anything.

I hope that’s because she knows I’m right.

There are still twenty one names left on Jason’s list. I feel like I’m walking out on them.

I turn the faucet on and rinse the plate. “I want to talk to Skinner and then I need you to do something while I’m gone.” Her shoulders drop at my request and I hear her soft sigh. “Humor me, okay, Scully?

“We need as many DNA samples as we can get from Church members, living or deceased. I know we don’t have the Secare files anymore, but you know enough about what Dr. Carpenter found in that substance to make a connection if there is one.

“There’s something, besides the fact that they were all members of this Church, that makes them a target for whomever I believe Glitz is working for. I need you to find it.”

“His name is Giltner, Mulder.” She informs me again. “What makes you so sure he’s involved in this?”

“I just know, Scully…” I bite my tongue. It’s not her I’m angry with. “Think about it, there was no reason for him to show up at the college yesterday, unless you or Skinner called him, and I don’t believe you did.

“So the question is — how did he find out about it unless he was already there?”

She studies me for a moment, attempting to ascertain how I’ve come upon this reasoning with such certainty and whether or not to call me on it. “You think he was there because he set the bomb.”

“See?” Relieved, I lean over and give her a quick kiss. “That’s why we’re such a good team, Scully. We think the same way.”

* * *

Jefferson Memorial

Washington D.C.

7:12 p.m.

Skinner is reading the inscription on Jefferson’s statue as we climb the stairs.

Either that or he’s hoping if he ignores me, I’ll go away. He hasn’t acknowledged our presence.

“Sir?”

He turns around slowly at the sound of my voice, his hands in his pockets. He always looks the sportsman when I see him in street clothes. Either way he’s always impeccably dressed. The man is built like a rock.

“Mulder — Agent Scully,” his eyes glance over me and come to rest on my partner with a stern look.

Yep, I’m definitely on his shit list now.

“You sure you want me to keep this?” I ask him, pulling my wallet he’d given back to Scully from my jacket pocket.

His face doesn’t change with the question. “You keep this up and that might not be up to me, Agent Mulder.”

Message received.

“I realize that, Sir.” I hand him the report I’d worked on all afternoon. “This is my account of what happened yesterday at the college.”

Neither Scully nor I say anything as he skims over it, his eyes going wide I assume when he gets to the part about Giltner.

“You’re implicating Giltner in this?”

“Yes, Sir,” I tell him with conviction. “Scully talked to Kelley; someone hollowed out all of Jason’s research files. I think Giltner is responsible for that — and the bomb.”

“Well you damn well better have something to back that up,” he glares at me. “You already know he’s come to me with much the same accusation about you.”

“That’s what I hear.” I flash a glance at my partner.

He glances at Scully and looks back at me.

“I asked Agent Giltner not to file a formal complaint about what happened in your office the other day, Mulder, and his accusations against you in the Arman case haven’t gone any further than my office. But I guarantee you, once this report becomes official, things will get ugly.” Skinner stops to glance down at the report, then back up at me, pausing for a moment before his final query. “Are you sure about this?”

Once again Skinner is just trying to cover my ass.

But you know what? I’m pretty damn proud of my ass, and it’s about time everyone else got to see it, too.

“Sir, this Giltner is not who he claims to be. Now, I don’t have any proof of that yet…”

Scully touches my arm. “Mulder, you ran a background check on him, maybe you should…”

I glare at her, “Scully, I have no doubt that Mark Giltner is an FBI agent. Everything in his file is all neat and clean, and that’s the problem. Somebody fucked with the file.”

“So, you’re saying that this man is not Mark Giltner, Mulder? — I don’t have to remind you he came right from the Frisco Bureau…” Skinner acts none too pleased with the look I give him. “So what? A double? Planted by whom?”

I look past him, my eyes focusing on the obelisk of the Washington Monument across the basin, its pyramid top pointing to the heavens, as if trying to tell me where my answers will be found.

“I’m not sure about that either right now.” I look from Scully to Skinner. “The bomb was just a decoy. I don’t think there was any intent to do damage. They knew Jason’s nationality would make him the immediate suspect and what would eventually happen. It was the perfect crime.”

* * *

Quonochautaug, R.I.

Monday, 5:19 p.m.

It’s after five when I pull into the gravel drive of the summer house.

It started to rain when I hit New York and the fine drizzle has followed me all the way here.

Several months ago, this family relic welcomed me home. Now in the fading daylight it looks almost foreboding.

I sit in the warm car for several minutes wondering why I’m here.

After carrying in my suitcase and several bags of groceries, I open a beer and amble through the empty rooms.

In the early days of our childhood, this place made the summer pass all too quickly for Sam and me.

Then, after one unforgettable night in November, it became an albatross.

My Mother would never step foot in here from that day on.

The first time I had come here as an adult was the day after she had suffered her stroke.

I don’t know why I kept this property and dumped the others.

Dad’s house on the vineyard had that beautiful wrap-around porch. There was a time when I had thought it would’ve been a great place to retire, too — should I live that long.

That idea died the same night he did.

As I walk through the cottage and admire all the changes that were done last fall, I can’t help but feel there are still some demons that linger here.

Even with a fresh coat of paint, the memories are still strong.

It’s time to make some new ones.

I wander into my Father’s den and lift from the wall the watercolor I hung here several years ago. It covers the splintered panels from the slugs I fired into the family portrait that used to hang here one horrible night in a Ketamine haze.

God, what an awful time that was in our partnership.

The thought gives me a chill and I look out the back door for some firewood. The old furnace never did a very good job of heating this place.

I need to check in with the missus.

The phone rings several times before she picks up.

I hated the thought of her going into the office with Gil still lurking about, but my G-woman can take care of herself and Skinman and I had a conversation early this morning about where I thought Gil’s talents would best serve the Bureau.

“Scully.”

“Hey, Scully, it’s me.” I can almost see her smile at the phrase. I think that has always been our ‘I’m okay’ signal to each other.

“I was beginning to worry about you, Mulder. You made it okay?”

“Yeah, sorry. I’ve been here awhile, talking to the ghosts.”

“Mulder,” she replies after an uncomfortable silence. “Maybe going up there wasn’t such a good idea after all.”

“No, no. I’m okay, Scully.” I watch a couple of squirrels romp across the yard and think that maybe there’s enough room out back to add on a porch or something. “I’ve actually been sitting here envisioning what else we can do with the place…”

“Please let me know before you do anything,” she says after another uncomfortable silence.

“Don’t worry,” I chuckle. “I just want you to know everything’s okay here. How about you? Any sign of Glitz?”

I hear her sigh heavily into the receiver. She knows I call him that because it irks her.

“No. I didn’t see him today.”

“Hmm, maybe he’s smarter than I thought.”

Later, after we finish our call, I watch the Knicks lose and then fall asleep watching one of SciFi Channel’s awful movies.

It’s after ten in the morning before the sound of thunder wakes me. And it takes another ten minutes for me to struggle off the couch and stand upright.

I can’t believe I slept on one of those for the better part of my thirties.

I make some coffee and dig out my laptop hoping the guys have found something more on Katsuhiru.

When my email opens up there are several messages from the boys, one from Fro with a link to ‘Leggy Ladies’, damn him. And another titled ‘To your good health’ from Byers. Somehow I manage to steer my pointer to the second one.

Did a little more digging for you, G-Man. One of the data SOURCES, INTERMEDIA, is using is a company called ‘Nature’s BEST’. They produce Natural fiber cereal, nutra-grain health bars and cooking oils like safflower and corn oil.

Seems your survivor out in California said Mr. Renford was really hooked on their ‘Natural energy Power Bar’. So we did a little digging into Nature’s BEST. THEIR HQ used to be located just outside of Dallas…

*Can’t be…*

The final email contains a back door link into the Bureau’s mainframe.

*Langly, your kung fu is the best.*

* * *

8:10 p.m.

The sound of my phone makes me jump.

I’ve been glued to my laptop for the better part of a day trying to find out all I can on Nature’s Best.

Funny thing is, just about everything I find on them in the Dallas area comes to a screeching halt in the summer of 1998.

Their processing and packaging plants then moved to Canada.

*Big Japanese population up there,* I think to myself.

“Mulder, it’s me.”

“Tell me you’re on your way up here, Scully.”

She chuckles into the phone. “I can’t find that information you wanted up there, Mulder. And, I think I might be on to something. Do you know what Mitochondrial DNA is?”

“Biology was not one of my better subjects. You know that.”

“It’s a haploid gene. Passed to offspring only through the egg — in which case it only has one dose of chromosomes, mtDNA only shows the female lineage of a person.”

I have no idea how this relates to our case. My mind has been back in Dallas all day and the possible connection between the Church and what we saw back there in 1998.

Scully keeps rambling in my ear.

“Every cell in our bodies contains thousands of these tiny organelles.

“The mitochondria process glucose into a useable form of energy for all body functions. They are believed to be an evolutional form of bacteria that adapted into a symbiotic relationship with multi-celled life forms.”

“What kind of bacteria?” Something clicks in my brain and pieces of a phone conversation I had with this woman years ago flash like the slides in my projector —

— ‘Some kind of bacteria, each containing a virus’ … ‘they’ve never seen anything like it here’ … ‘the only reason why you clone a virus inside a bacteria — is in order to inject it into something living. It’s called gene therapy and it’s still highly experimental’ …’Bacteria like this — it may have existed, but not for millions of years, not since before our ancestors first crawled out of the sea.’

“Therefore, the mitochondria have their own unique DNA, which is much simpler and easier to analyze than the DNA found in the nucleus.” It dawns on me that she ignored my question and is still trying to answer the question she asked me. “mtDNA is categorized into types and groups.”

I blink, thinking. “You’re talking about haplogroups.”

“Yes, see, you’re smarter than you thought, Mulder,” she chuckles. “There are approximately 39 groups and variations of those groups into which all humans fit. It’s enabled researchers to trace the lineage of specific racial groups.”

“This is how they were able to confirm the migratory legends of many Native peoples,” I add. “How they traced modern humans back to Eve, the first woman who walked out of Africa.”

“Basically, yes. Are you familiar with A.R.E.?” Scully asks.

“The Association for Research and Enlightenment? Edgar Cayce’s group?” I respond. “They’re highly involved in the search for Atlantis? Scully — what have you been reading while I’ve been gone?”

“Kelley’s research,” she says matter-of-factly. “Kelley tells me that Cayce hypothesized that large groups of Atlanteans migrated from their homeland prior to the demise of their civilization somewhere around ten thousand B.C.

“He specifically stated that these survivors went to places like Central America and Egypt, and even parts of Europe; Ireland for one.

“All areas where there were unexplainable advancements in human evolution about that time.”

“Scully? What are you wearing?” We chuckle at each other. “The idea being — that these remarkable advancements came about because of the knowledge brought to these areas by refugees from Atlantis. I’m familiar with Cayce’s theories. Where are you going with this?”

“I’m not sure yet, Mulder,” Scully admits. “Kelley tells me that genetic research on excavated remains in these areas indicates a high presence of haplogroup X. This is the group Cayce is trying to prove originated in Atlantis.

“Mulder, she’s already done some genetic research on some of the Church members. They can all be traced to this haplogroup X.”

I realize almost immediately what she’s getting at, but I don’t believe my Scully is even suggesting it. “Are you suggesting that the Church members could be descendents of the people of Atlantis? Dear Diary.”

“Well, the problem being that, while the geographical origin of haplogroup X is unknown, there’s also no proof that Atlantis or its people ever existed,” she chuckles into the phone.

An eerie feeling passes over me, “Scully you said Ireland right? You didn’t by any chance check…”

“No, Mulder, I did not,” she interrupts.

My mind starts to wander down a different path. “Scully imagine for a moment if you could prove… What if everyone we’ve encountered in the X-Files could be traced to this haplogroup? It would explain everything.”

“The operative word being IF, Mulder — but I understand what you’re saying.”

“You know it’s also hypothesized that the people from Atlantis were not exactly ‘native’ to this planet,” I kid her.

“And you’re suggesting that the members of the Church were also aliens?” she asks.

“You know the name ‘Odin’ comes from Norse mythology, Scully. One of his attributes was his ability to shapeshift…”

“Don’t even go there, Mulder. I think what we’d be more likely to prove is that this food additive Jason was trying to break down is somehow lethal to members of this haplogroup — why, I don’t know.”

I think back to Jason’s tirade in the lobby of the Reiss building, “Jason seemed to think these people’s violent actions were caused by some sort of food additive.”

“Yes, I know. Kelley mentioned that he thought he had narrowed it down to some health bars his father was hooked on. It’s very possible this was caused by something as simple as an allergic reaction…”

“Scully, this unidentified toxin in the autopsy reports…”

“Is the more likely cause — but without his research and samples, it’s going to be difficult to prove anything at this point.”

“Natural Energy Power Bar.”

“What?”

“I think I might have an idea on that, and it just might go back to a cornfield in Texas.”

* * *

5:43 a.m.

Next Day

I kept thinking about this Mark Giltner wannabe all night.

Somehow, he is the key to all of this.

The picture in Giltner’s file is at least five years old, and whoever this guy is, he looks enough like him not to question the likeness.

Someone went to a lot of trouble to try and weave him into our confidence.

The question is — what was the agenda?

Right now, my mind is struggling to fit the pieces together.

The kids back in Delta Glen had been treated by a doctor who was injecting them with what I believed to be alien DNA to test their reactions.

If my mind stills serves me correctly, the results then had been of a violent nature also.

One of the few things Scully and I did agree on back then was that we thought the Church members were the control group — only now I’m beginning to think it was for a different reason then we originally surmised.

Scully would be abhorred to hear me say this, and I respect her faith in God as much as anyone else’s, but would it really make that much difference in the whole scheme of things if we were to find the proof that life did not originate here on this one little world, but elsewhere?

I mean, if God created the universe, then he certainly must have created *other* life in the universe as well.

I have to believe that.

I read an article in Newsweek not too long ago about the science of human evolution. How it’s undergoing an evolution in its own right.

It seems that the story of our species is not only more complicated than the Bible would have us believe, but also more complex than science ever suspected.

New research is beginning to show that what we call ‘progress’ and ‘evolution’ are only occasionally combined.

Our species has traveled through time not in a steady level march, but rather through calm valleys followed by mountainous ‘eruptions,’ the cause of which has yet to be determined.

Which leads me back to the question I’ve been asking for the past decade and a half of my life — what is the truth?

I start to think about this mtDNA link Scully was rambling on about yesterday and its theoretical link to Atlantis.

Maybe science and archaeology are getting too close to actually proving its existence, and if this group of people are a direct link, and that link points to an extraterrestrial origin, then it stands to reason that said extraterrestrials may not wish to have themselves discovered.

Especially if their agenda is to take over the planet.

There has to be millions of people linked to this haplogroup. What I don’t understand is why only these Church members have been affected.

Unless they, themselves, are the subject of another experiment.

For years I have fought for every scrap of evidence I could find on a program I believed was created to engineer a human-alien hybrid.

A new form of human who could survive the coming apocalypse that I still feel is coming.

Kelley seems to believe that, through some sort of bizarre gene therapy, I am one of the products of that program — I’d prefer to believe the jury is still out on that one.

The brain, more than any other organ, seems to reap the advantages of genetic manipulation.

Depending on what ingredients are introduced, changes can be made in the neurochemicals that underlie perception, behavior and memory.

Considering what I’ve been through in the past year or so, I’m afraid to admit that the evidence might be stacked in Kelley’s favor.

Scully and I are fairly certain we know the players on this side of the game, one of them being my own Father.

In the long run, what they were attempting to accomplish was a way to preserve the human race, which would have been a good thing if not for the heinous way they went about it.

This — this I feel is something else.

There are always two sides to any conflict. And while the Consortium seems to have been dissolved, there now appears to be something else taking its place.

I’m still faced with too many questions and one thing is certain, I’m not going to find the answers sitting up here.

What we’re looking for is not only the evidence of a murder that someone is trying to cover up, but also the possible evidence of one of the biggest clean-up operations in human history.

I have to expose Giltner.

He’s involved in this far more than that stooge Thomas ever was, and I refuse to have him end up dead in a meat locker like that nameless assassin.

I want answers.

While the coffee perks, I do a little more digging into Agent Giltner’s file and discover that young Mr. Giltner graduated from, of all places, San Diego High School.

Well, at least the real Mark Giltner had.

I must have glossed over that the first time around, and, if memory serves me well, my partner has spent some time in the halls of that establishment in her youth.

What the hell did I do with my phone?

“Mulder, this better be good.” Her sleepy voice comes through my cell and I look at my watch to see it’s only ten after six.

Oops.

“Hey, Scully, you went to high school in San Diego, right?”

There’s nothing but dead air on the other end of the connection and I wonder for a moment if she’s hung up on me. Maybe I should have at least led into the question with at least a “Good morning, sunshine”.

“I think you just asked what high school I went to,” she finally comments. “Why are you asking me that at six o’clock in the morning?”

“Because I need you to answer me.”

She sighs in my ear, “My dad was stationed in San Diego then, Mulder. Yes, I graduated from San Diego High School.”

Well, it’s nice to know some brain cells are still intact.

“So did our friend, Gil, from San Francisco.”

“So did a lot of other people, Mulder.” Her voice has an irritated quality to it. “What are you getting at?”

“Is it safe to ask what year you graduated?”

“No, but you ought to be able to figure that out yourself.” I hear the bedding rustle as she probably sits up and I find myself wishing I was wrapped around her. “1982, why?”

“Well, lookie here,” I stare at the number in front of me. “So did Mark Giltner.”

“You’re kidding.” I hear the covers rustle again and then she sounds like she’s walking across the room.

“It’s right here in black and white. You don’t remember him?”

“Did you know everyone in your graduating class, Mulder?”

I fight the urge to brag, “I went to a very small school.”

“And you were the star of the basketball team.” I can hear water running and the clanking of glass through the phone. She must be making coffee. Lucky for her she doesn’t have to drink mine this morning.

“I was the class geek, Scully. You don’t have an old yearbook handy do you?”

I hear nothing but silence in my ear.

“You’re serious about this, aren’t you?” she finally asks. “I don’t even know if my mother still has it. They must have a website. See if you can do a search on the class of ’82. You still haven’t answered my question, Mulder.”

I’m Googling San Diego High School as I listen to the coffee perk through the phone.

“What question?”

I hear another heavy sigh in my ear, “What brought this on at six in the morning?”

“This guy is not Mark Giltner, Scully. And if there’s something in his past that I can catch this imposter on…”

“Mulder, don’t…”

“Just hang on a minute, Scully.”

I’m scrolling frantically through the school’s web links.

“What are you doing, Mulder?” She finally snaps after some heavy irritated breathing into the phone. “Might I remind you again that you are off the case?

“Based on his file, Giltner’s had an exemplary record with the Bureau for the last five years. If you think you have something that contradicts that, Mulder, give it to me and let me work on it. We can’t go to Skinner on a hunch…”

“Damnit, Scully, will you just give me a minute?” I have the immense urge to beat on my laptop as if that would make it search any faster.

“If there’s anything bogus about his file, Skinner will find it,” she continues to ramble into my ear. “If you insist on pursuing this, you need to let him go by the book on this.”

“Skinner’s too busy covering my ass.”

My search complete I discover that Mark Giltner was quite the athlete in his school days, Varsity football and wrestling. Probably explains why Scully never heard of him. I don’t expect she was much of a sports fan back then.

“I’m sure Mr. Giltner is doing his job, Scully,” I tell her. “I’d just like some clarification as to what that job is.

“Doesn’t it bother you in the least that he showed up at just the same time as Kelley contacted us? He conveniently stops in the office when neither of us is present and then suddenly runs off to question Jason — someone he shouldn’t even have known was involved.

“He also seems to have the uncanny ability to show up in places he has no business being in at the most convenient times. When’s the last time you saw him?”

“Saturday, at the crime scene. He handed me your jacket.”

“You haven’t seen him and he hasn’t been in touch with you since then? Well, then, you can add the convenient way he can disappear to that list, too.”

Shit, the contact list for Jason was in my jacket pocket.

“Scully, where’s my jacket?”

“It went to the cleaners with that raunchy pair of bar-smelling slacks. Why?”

“The list, did you check the pockets? The list for Jason was in my breast pocket.”

“I ALWAYS check the pockets, Mulder. There wasn’t anything in them.”

“Damnit, Gil took it. He’s probably crawled back into the woodwork with it by now…”

“Mulder, please stop this!” Scully snaps at me. “I’m willing to believe that this man is not who he claims to be, but we need more proof that he’s involved in this. I am not going to let you lose your job over this!”

“Like hell! You don’t get it, do you?” I yell at her. “He used me, Scully. And I’ll get you your proof. Whomever he’s working for sent him in because they knew working with us would be the fastest way to get the information they needed.

“I think they fed Kelley my files so she would contact us. They were looking for Jason and I handed him over on a silver platter.

“If you won’t believe me, Scully, then go back and look at the evidence for yourself. Look at what’s happened over the past few days. I’ll prove it to all of you.”

* * *

Office of The Lone Gunman

Washington, D.C.

“Hey, Mulder,” Frohike hails, ushering me into the Gunmen’s sanctum. “Heard you pulled a Harry Callahan on old Skinner.”

I smile despite my own black mood and the gravity of the situation. Leave it to Frohike to inject an irreverent note of sanity into the proceedings.

“Not sure it took. Besides, Clint tossed his badge into the river after ventilating Andrew Robinson. I threw mine at Skinner with a not-ungirl-like flourish, and it boomeranged back to Scully.”

“Gotta love that crazy crypto-fascist. Dirty Harry, I mean, not Skinner. C’mon in, think we got a few slices of jalapeno-and-anchovy left.”

“Youch, thanks for the heads up,” I tell him, wincing at the thought. “I’ll call the EPA SWAT squad. Got anything new?”

Langly’s straggly locks appear from behind his monitor. “Guess who’s been feeding Nature’s Best some organic, sustainable UPC data? Intel about Natural Energy bar sales?”

I frown. “I had a private lab I trust — Chuck Burks recommended it — run a couple dozen bars through the mill. Nothing but good, wholesome grain, vitamins and micronutrients.”

“Ugh,” Frohike grunts, snagging a slice of rapidly desiccating pizza from a box nearby.

Then it hits home.

“Unless Renford and the other fitness freaks got into the special reserve,” I suggest. “Intermedia IDs Nature’s Best’s preferred customers — the real power bar addicts — and Nature’s Best solicits them to try something new and improved.

“Ponce de Leon’s fountain in one dry block of forage. Of course, they jump on it like Minutemen on an illegal.”

Langly nods as if I’m not nearly the moron he’d presumed. “I told you I couldn’t get past Intermedia’s firewalls. Same was true for Nature’s Best.

“But I managed to hack into a few of the ‘preferred customers” hard drives and plant a trojan. Their mail was protected, but one cautious consumer in Maine cut-and-pasted an e-mail from Nature’s Best into Word, probably to check out the company, the offer.

“This new and improved bar was supposed to contain 10 times the antioxidant power of the original, boost metabolism three times, and promote healthy ‘gut flora,’ whatever that is.

“They wanted a sampling of ‘exceptionally physically educated consumers’ to test-drive the product before it hit the market. I checked the return addy on the invitation, traced it back into a black hole.”

The clouds are reforming over my mood. “Gut flora help the human digestive tract break down carbohydrates and other compounds. They’re bacteria.

“And I’m gonna guess the good folks at Nature’s Best — i.e., Katsuhiru — planted their own little trojan.”

* * *

Georgetown

3:40 p.m.

As I pull down the alley, I notice a black SUV parked behind our townhouse that I don’t recognize.

Driving on by, I notice the back gate is also unlatched and wage a silent war with myself on the intelligence of investigating this on my own.

As usual, my reckless side prevails and I pull into the first available space I can find and start to get out of my car.

As I turn towards the house, I see Gil come back through the gate and carefully throw the latch. I draw my weapon. “Hold it right there, Gil!”

He freezes and looks in my direction and then makes a beeline for the SUV before I’m even two steps from my car, firing it up and pulling out.

The idiot barely misses me, forcing me to jump back as he flies past.

Dammit!

It takes me a second or two to get back in my car and peel off after him, frantically dialing Scully’s cell in the process.

I catch up with him at the end of the alley when he stops for traffic but he pulls out to the right almost immediately.

I follow him, not even stopping to check for oncoming traffic myself. Tires screech behind me and I can almost hear the driver cursing at me.

“Scully.” The sound of her voice is music to my ears.

“Where are you?!”

“In Skinner’s office — I’m about to confess to him that I think you’re right about Gil. What was that?” She must hear the tires screech.

“Shit!”

“Mulder?”

Gil takes an unexpected hard left at the next intersection just as the light turns red. I stay on his tail swerving around a group of college students as they step off the curb in front of me.

I can’t do this one-handed and hit the speaker button and drop the phone on the seat beside me.

Why don’t FBI agents have those neat little magnetic flashing lights like Starsky and Hutch used to have?

“Scully! Can you still hear me?”

“Mulder! Yes, what the hell is going on?”

“I just caught Gil making an unexpected stop at our house. Have Skinner send a team over there and check it out!”

“Our house? Where are you?”

“Pretending I’m Steve McQueen. Chasing Gil through Georgetown!”

I get air at the top of the hill and when the car bottoms out my head hits the roof liner and I feel the impact travel all the way down my spine.

I’ve probably blown the shocks but I don’t give a damn. I want this son of a bitch so bad I don’t care if I’m driving on the rims.

We make another turn and head across the Key Bridge and on to GW.

“Mulder! Mulder, answer me!”

“We’re on GW heading south Scully. I could use some back-up here!”

“Mulder! Are you insane?”

More like lucky.

It’s the middle of the afternoon and most of the governments’ finest are still surfing You-Tube from the comfort of their own cubicles.

He takes the ramp to I 395 and I have to cut off some gray-haired woman in her Beemer to follow him.

It takes a few minutes for me to pick him up again as I watch his over-sized load of tin from Detroit weaves through traffic ahead of me.

It’s got government plates but I’m sure, just like him, they’re bogus.

I keep on his tail until we get ahead of the congestion and then I accelerate until I’m almost door to door with him. He might be bigger but I guarantee you, I’m faster.

The muzzle of a gun in his open window registers in my brain just a second too late. My passenger window shatters as I try and swerve away from him and I actually hear the bullet whiz past my head before it shatters the window behind me on its way out.

My phone has grown silent and I hope that’s an indication that Scully and Skinner and a host of Virginia’s finest are lurking somewhere back there behind us and not that I forgot to charge it again.

I wonder what the possibility is that I could blow out a tire or two on this urban assault vehicle Gil is driving?

If I remember correctly, that didn’t work too well on an RV a few years back, and that thing was traveling in a circle. I never was very good at moving targets.

My next car is going to be big and black so I blend in with all the other government types who use these roads.

He can’t miss me in this damn little yellow car and it’s ruining my element of surprise.

We hit 95 and, once again, Gil takes the south ramp.

Civilization has thinned out a little bit here and it occurs to me that I need to put this chase to an end before we’re back in suburbia and I end up chasing him down residential streets again.

We’re already going 80 and I ease down on the accelerator until the needle is just on the high side of 90 and pull up along side him. The whole car shakes underneath me, so much for the alignment.

The back end of a Yellow Freight truck looms into view in front of me and I’m quickly running out of time as we gain on it.

I do the only thing I can think of to do at the moment and swerve into Gil’s lane between the back end of the truck and the front end of his SUV.

I flash my lights hoping he’ll fall for the old trick and slow down but the next thing I know, my left rear tire explodes and the steering wheel jerks out of my hands.

I squeeze the wheel and try and turn the car back in the other direction but, at this speed, everything is happening too fast.

Before I know it, I’m face to face with the grill of a Peterbilt and trying to keep myself from wetting my pants.

I hear the air brakes and crunching gears and then my rack and pinion responds and I’m spinning in the other direction, back into Gil’s lane, off the front of the SUV and on into the guard rail.

As I pry my face from the exploded air bag and cough out the dust, I see the back end of Gil’s SUV backing towards me on the shoulder — fast.

He can’t possibly be coming to see if I’m okay. He stops a few feet from the crumpled front end of my car and sits.

It’s hard to see through the lingering dust and the SUV’s tinted windows, but I think he’s on the phone. I’m certain he’s not calling the police either, but I hear sirens in the distance.

I don’t even wait to stop shaking before I get out of the car. With my gun drawn I walk up along side the SUV, hoping to stay in Gil’s blind spot.

His window is still open.

Without even thinking, I reach in and grab the collar of his jacket and shove the muzzle of my gun under his chin. “Who are you, you son of a bitch?! Who sent you?” I thrust him back against the headrest, “What were you doing in my house? I want to know who you’re working for and I want to know it now!”

He doesn’t answer, lashing out for my gun and forcing me to let go of him.

We wrestle through the window until I begin to feel the vehicle moving away from me.

He’s trying to pull back out into traffic. “It’s about time you figured out who you’re working for, Mulder!”

It’s at this moment that I do possibly the dumbest thing I have ever done. I reach up and grab the roof rack and climb onto the running board, my gun flying from my hand and bouncing onto the blacktop behind us as he accelerates back onto the road.

Shit!

I grab the doorframe with my left hand as he swerves back and forth into the outside lane in an attempt to throw me off.

If I let go now, I’m dead.

I hope he doesn’t decide to open his door, in which case I’ll be a hood ornament on the car behind us, whose driver is frantically blowing their horn.

Yes, Scully, I am insane.

The wind whips at my jacket and my hair is plastered to my head. I try and reach through the open window to grab the wheel but he thrusts his elbow out and catches me in the cheekbone.

Tears fill my right eye from the pain. A moment later he swerves in front of another semi, across two lanes and down the ramp into Woodbridge and onto Richmond Highway.

I lose my grip on the roof rack when we make the turn and grab frantically for the doorframe with my left hand.

With all my weight on my left arm, I feel a pop.

Pain radiates across my chest and back and down my arm. It takes my breath away with the intensity.

He opens the door in a final attempt to dislodge his unwanted cargo but I swing back and then somehow vault through the opening and into the seat with him.

My foot catches him in the face, but without the use of my left arm, I can’t out-wrestle him. He pins me against the steering wheel with his hand shoved under my chin, I gasp for air.

The vehicle veers hard to the right and bounces several times over the curb before the front end goes straight up in the air as we hit the concrete bridge abutment.

With nothing to grab onto on the way down, I’m thrown from the open door when the vehicle lands hard on the slope on the other side.

It careens down the hill on two wheels until the front end makes contact with a fallen tree, launching it into the air once again until if finally comes to rest, with a resounding boom, against a huge tree.

Pulling myself upright, I stagger down the hill after it. I can hear sirens growing louder in the distance but there isn’t time to wait for help.

I need Gil.

There doesn’t appear to be any movement from inside the vehicle, but the smell of gasoline is overpowering.

When I get within a few feet I can see Gil slumped over the steering wheel.

The engine is no longer running, but I can hear a clicking sound coming from under what is left of the hood. I’m acutely aware that at any moment the whole thing could burst into flames.

I try yelling at him but there is no response.

I yank my jacket off and toss it behind me. Pain radiates from my shoulder across my back taking my breath away.

Just as I’m about to open the door, the inevitable happens.

Flames erupt from the crumpled engine and lap up from the wheel well. I jump back; the overwhelming fear from my childhood paralyzes me once again.

The sirens I hear won’t be the fire department.

As the flames spread underneath the vehicle, I realize that the only way to get him out before the entire vehicle is consumed is if *I* pull him out.

I feel myself holding my breath. The heat is incredibly intense.

The sirens have gone silent and I can hear car doors slamming from the road above me.

As I attempt to get closer again I can see flames start to lick from under the dash.

“Mulder, STOP!!” Scully’s voice bellows from the bridge above.

“Mulder! Get the hell out of there! That’s an order!” Skinner’s voice booms from the hillside behind me.

“NO! Giltner’s the answer to this! We need him!”

“It’s not worth your life!” He yells back to me.

“It’s not just MY life!”

I watch him corral Scully with both arms as she tries to charge towards me.

Suddenly, the left front tire explodes from the heat and the SUV lurches; the heat scorches my arms and face. I pace back and forth, trying to find a way to get to Gil through the flames.

Unexpectedly, something strong and solid wraps itself around my midsection.

“Mulder! What the hell are you doing?” Skinner yells angrily into my right ear. “Get the hell away from there!”

I try and wrestle myself from his grasp. “Dammit, let me go! Giltner’s a key in all this!”

“And you can’t prove that if you’re dead!”

As I finally pull away from him, he grabs my left arm in an attempt to pull me back.

I feel the bones in my shoulder grate together and pain shoots through my shoulder and across my chest so intense it drops me to the ground. Tears fill my eyes.

Next thing I know, I’m being hauled backwards and away from the flames.

Skinner dumps me on the ground. I’m coughing and gasping for air. My exposed skin suddenly feels chilled and I shiver uncontrollably.

As my vision clears, two large polished shoes come into my view, and I look up at a seething Walter Skinner.

Scully is at my side then, I see the compassion in her face as she helps me into a sitting position. But then her demeanor changes almost instantly. “Jesus, Mulder!”

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Her hands are on my shoulders as she wraps a blanket around me and she shakes me hard. “You could have died!”

I want to scream from the pain that radiates through my left arm with the action, and I pull it tightly against my side shaking from the cold and probably shock.

The SUV is still in flames. “Gil, where’s Gil?” I yell at no one in particular.

“They’ll get him out of the car Mulder, let it go.”

“No, dammit! Who? Where’s the fucking fire department?”

The SUV is wracked by another explosion. This one envelopes the whole vehicle in an enormous ball of flame.

I close my eyes.

Fuck.

Someone wraps another blanket around me and I open my eyes again to find Scully fussing over me with shaking hands.

“How — did — you find….?”

“Everyone on I95 was calling the Highway Patrol, it wasn’t hard. What the hell were you thinking?”

She is livid but her eyes are filled with tears and I find I can’t meet her accusing gaze. I’m shivering harder now. I try and pull the blanket tighter around me.

“No, Mulder, let me see.” I let her ease the blanket away from my arms and I can’t stop the shaking as she gently examines the reddened skin on my forearms. I know my face must be just as red.

“Christ!” I hiss when she moves my left arm. “I think it’s dislocated.” I tell her in apology at her startled look.

“We need some help down here!” I hear Skinner yell behind us.

A few minutes later, the EMTs are swarming all over me. I search out Skinner in a vain attempt to distract myself from their ministrations.

“Where the hell is the fire department?”

* * *

X-Files Office

3 Days Later

I don’t know what drugs they gave Scully at the hospital Friday morning when they finally booted me out of there, but whatever they were kept me oblivious to the happenings of the past two days.

I have the sneaking suspicion Scully wanted it that way.

I won’t say our house had an unusual chill to it, but I do know that I have been on her shit list since this whole affair with Jason started.

I awakened this morning a new man — or at least one that has the desire to approach things in a more — civil manner.

Thanks to Skinner, my attempt to fry myself in the car fire didn’t amount to anything more than a few scorch marks.

My shoulder however, has left me on desk duty for a few weeks.

So far, Scully hasn’t chastised me for depositing that ever-fashionable blue sling on top of the desk as soon as we walked into the office. I’ve only been checking email, how strenuous can that be?

This is my ‘official’ email, the one that’s filled with messages from Uncle Sam on his latest plan for fucking up my retirement. I give up on that in short order and log into an account I hope will be a little more interesting.

When the page opens up I’m faced with something that takes me right back to where this all started over a week ago, an email from Kelley.

By the headers I can tell the message has been forwarded several times which makes me suspicious of its origin.

Neither Scully nor I have been able to contact Kelley for over three days.

Considering the circumstances, we’re both worried. “Scully, come here…”

As she leans over my shoulder, I read the text out loud.

AGENT MULDER,

I KNOW YOU PUT YOUR JOB AND EVEN YOUR LIFE IN JEOPARDY TO HELP JASON AND ME, AND FOR THAT I AM GRATEFUL. I DON’T THINK ANY OF US ANTICIPATED THE OUTCOME OF THE EVENTS I PUT INTO MOTION THE DAY I MET YOU.

I MISS JASON TERRIBLY BUT PLEASE DON’T FEEL THAT I HOLD YOU IN ANY WAY RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS DEATH. I REALIZE NOW THAT WE WERE DEALING WITH FORCES BEYOND ANY OF OUR CONTROL.

JASON BELIEVED HE WAS DOING THE RIGHT THING, MR. MULDER. HE WAS ONE OF THESE RARE IDEALISTIC SOULS WHO FEEL THE NEED TO TAKE IT UPON THEMSELVES TO RIGHT THE WRONGS OF THE WORLD.

I THINK YOU AND HE ARE A LOT ALIKE. PLEASE BE CAREFUL MR. MULDER AND TAKE CARE OF AGENT SCULLY, TOO.

It sounds too much like a warning. Scully squeezes my shoulder. “Do you want to file a missing person’s report on her?”

“We don’t really know that she’s missing,” I answer her with a sigh. “I don’t dare contact the Senator…”

“Mind if I come in?” We both jump at Skinner’s deep voice and the accompanying knock.

Oh boy, here it comes.

“Good morning, Sir.” Scully has the sense to invite the man in as he makes his way across the floor to stand right in front of my desk.

I just sit here, dumbfounded that we’ve only been here an hour, and he’s wasted no time in coming down here to warn me not to let the door hit me in the ass on the way out.

“I — ah, I came down here to tell you that I owe you an apology.” He reaches into his pocket for a handkerchief, removing his glasses with the other hand and begins to clean them in what I take is an effort to find something to do with his hands.

It reminds me of the time he came down here in response to that resignation letter I sent him while Scully lay comatose in Northeast Georgetown’s ICU.

“For what?” I don’t know what else to say to the man, he’s caught me completely off-guard.

“I suppose you know that there was no trace of a body in the wreckage of the SUV. There were reports that Giltner was seen being helped from the vehicle, but no one seems to know how he left the area, and a search of local morgue and hospital records didn’t turn up anything.”

“Imagine that,” I respond blandly. “I don’t suppose anything else was recovered?”

Skinner just bites his lower lip and shakes his head with a ‘no’. Of course not, even if there were something, we’d never see it.

“Mulder, the fire burned so hot there would have been nothing left to find,” Scully says, the exasperation evident in her voice, her tone having that ‘here we go again’ ring to it.

“Something’s not right. I think someone ignited that vehicle, Scully,” I tell my partner, not really surprised. “To cover up or destroy whatever he took from the lab. Dead or alive, either way, I’ll guarantee you, you won’t find him.”

“Actually Mulder, we did find him.” Skinner’s comment is followed by a noticeable wince. “I almost called you last night. I was working on the information you gave me and contacted Giltner’s AIC at the Frisco office.

“He called late yesterday to tell me that the body of the *real* Agent Giltner was found in the trunk of his car in the parking garage at Frisco International.

“The coroner estimated he’d been dead about a week.” Skinner studies my face as I return the wince. “I think it’s safe to assume that you were right about the identity of the agent working here…”

“He was murdered before he left the city?” Scully asks.

“There was obviously a plan in place here, agents. This man *wasn’t* Giltner.”

Skinner turns away from us and surveys the office, as if he’s hoping the answers to life’s deepest mysteries will be found here.

*Trust me Skinman,*, I think to myself. *They’re not here.*

They weren’t in my apartment either despite the number 42 on the door.

To this day, I wonder if that was some cruel twist of fate that the only apartment vacant in my building at the time I went looking matched Deep Thought’s answer to the Great Question — of Life, the Universe and Everything.

Maybe I was hoping my answers would be painted all over the walls.

“What I’m trying to tell you is that I’m sorry for not trusting your judgment, Mulder.” Skinner glances at Scully and then back at me. “I’m sure you’re aware your actions since you’ve returned to the field have been under some intense scrutiny.

“I’m sorry for being a part of that, but I’m sure you also understand that I have to continue to take a neutral stand or I can’t be of any help to either of you.”

“‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.'” I tell him thoughtfully. “A very smart man once told me that if I kept digging through these files,” I motion to the cabinets behind Scully and me. “That the powers that be would bury me.

“The fact that I’m still here is evidence of that friendship. You were just following orders, Sir.” Scully has made that point to me on several occasions and she’s right. “Something I don’t do very well. Jason’s death was my fault as much as it was yours.”

He doesn’t know it, but I’m staring at a screen full of names and adding an ‘X’ next to Jason’s name. “I guess the question is — at what point do the casualties of war get to be too many?”

And no one has more blood on their hands than myself.

“One is too many, Agent Mulder. There has to be a way to stop this.” He turns and takes a few steps towards the door and then stops, turning back around to face me. “And as for that stunt you pulled on I95 — what the hell were you thinking?” His expression is that of utter disbelief.

I don’t believe I did it either, but I had my reasons.

Something Marita said to me as she lay dying on the floor of a cold Arizona laboratory two summers ago sits at the edge of my consciousness.

She insisted then that I was the one man who could change the future.

There might have been a time in my life when I thought that myself, that I could save the world, one person at a time.

In fact, I spent the better part of my first few years on the X-Files digging through the past in hopes that it would change my own future.

It almost killed me.

What I uncovered in that search led me to understand that I wasn’t the only one who had been the victim of some unearthly plot, and I selfishly made it my job to put to an end to the elaborate conspiracy against the American people I was certain existed.

But, if there is anything I’ve learned in my partnership with Scully, it’s just the opposite.

The fate of the world is *not* in my hands.

What happened to Jason in the lobby of a Georgetown University science building is proof of that.

*Mulder my man, you have been a fool.*

And if a fool who believes in his folly does, indeed, become wise, I am a genius.

The conspiracy is out there.

Scully and I have been reluctant participants in it more times than I care to remember, and if we step back and let fate or whatever unknown force one cares to believe in guide our course, then we continue to be as much a part of it as those who are behind it.

Faith can bring a person to move mountains but it can also be a crutch.

We all need to take responsibility for our own actions, and my exemption from that is no greater than anyone else’s.

Man must save man.

Skinner is still standing in front of the desk, courteous enough to let me finish this debate within myself before I answer his question.

I glance at Scully as if asking for approval. Her eyes tell me to go on…

“What I’ve always been thinking, Sir.” I get up from my chair to meet him eye to eye. “I just want it all to stop.” I glance away from him for a moment and my eyes meet Scully’s again before I turn back to Skinner to finish my thought.

“Only I’m tired, tired of chasing my tail for the past ten years. I’m tired of the bullshit and the deceit and obfuscation.

“And I’m tired of taking the risks and always coming up with nothing. I may not have the faith in God that Scully has,” I flash a glance in my partner’s direction again. “But I’m pretty damn sure that the final objective of creation was not so we could evolve into beings that have no greater purpose than to find ways to eliminate one another. And I’m also pretty damn sure I’m not the only one who feels that way.

“All I need is one little ounce of proof. One fucking little piece of tangible evidence…” I shake my fist in front of Skinner’s face, my fingers barely an inch apart. “That ties everything Scully and I have witnessed or been an unwilling part of…

“There’s got to be a way to make it all stop. To find a way to get to these men and make them accountable for what they’ve done — to me — to Scully — to these people…” I wave at my monitor. “To everyone who’s been an unwilling participant in a war they don’t even know exists.”

I watch him mull over my words. Yep, Skinman, even God-like possession hasn’t changed me.

“Three years ago, I stood before a Senate subcommittee and testified in an investigation into allegations that the government was involved in the manufacturing and testing of a vaccine designed to treat a virus they wouldn’t even acknowledge existed.

“That investigation came to a stand still because of lack of evidence. I think what we had here was evidence of the same thing but with an altogether different agenda.”

I turn to look at Scully again and am momentarily struck by the way time has changed her. I remember her child-like appearance when we first met and admire the beautiful woman I’ve watched her turn into.

Those years should mean something for both of us.

“I’d just like to think that some day when you and I walk out of here we’ve actually accomplished something.”

Skinner nods ever so slightly then turns to Scully after a long pause. “There’s something else I want you to know. Nature’s Best has begun a silent recall of all lots of their Natural Energy bars. They’re telling the media the product’s being discontinued — that they’re looking at ‘newer and improved health delivery systems’.”

I shudder slightly at what I imagine to be a bit of pointed irony on Katsuhiru’s part.

I’d think twice before I snarfed another soy-and-alfalfa bar or chugged another jug of grape-flavored electrolyte-enhancing horse piss.

As it is, I try not to ponder why Nature’s Best didn’t simply let their “regular” bars languish on the clearance shelf with the past-its-date whey protein…

I start to protest, to map out our next move, whatever that might be.

Frohike and the guys have established a trail, or at least the markers indicating that trail.

With time, resources, certainly they could illuminate the black hole where the trail ended…

This DNA link Scully uncovered makes me wonder how far whoever is behind this will go to achieve their goal. She made a point to mention Ireland in the conversation and yet she refuses to find out if either of us could be at risk.

I could find out myself, a few strands of red hair from the brush on the bathroom sink…

I have spent years looking for the proof of alien life on this planet. And now with this information I’m beginning to think that we won’t find it in the discovery of my little gray men but instead in ourselves, locked inside the tiniest of cells.

“Ah,” I falter instead. “Thanks. I mean, for having my back with Giltner and everything. I know sometimes, I may seem kind of…”

“Impulsive?” Skinner interjects. His expression is unreadable. “Impetuous? Perhaps a little reckless at times? I’m sure you’ll sort that out, Agent Mulder. In the meantime, this is something that I should have expressed months ago. It’s good to have you back on board.”

I start to add something. I don’t know what. To explain? To seek counsel? Help?

“That’s all, Agent,” Skinner murmurs with a curt nod before he turns and leaves the office.

Summarily dismissed, I return to the world — the world as it is.

Another dead end, another trail terminating in a 40-foot granite wall.

Again, I feel disoriented, struggling for direction.

I need a compass.

She’s standing right beside me.

* * *

Sedona, Arizona

6 Months Later

Sweat running in rivulets down her high, chiseled cheekbones, Katie marveled as Ted, dry and seemingly unfatigued, rested his spine against the face of the mesa, staring meditatively out over the desert landscape.

He’d always been fit — it’s what had first attracted her to the young grad student — but somehow, he’d found a deep new wellspring of health and vigor.

Ted had slowed the pace of his ascent only to accommodate her, and he’d seemed slightly impatient at her panting and grunting as she navigated the rock façade.

“Here,” Ted called, breaking suddenly into a broad grin and extending a bottle of fluorescent energy juice. Katie guzzled greedily as he burrowed into his pack and pulled out a small white parcel.

“Got one for me?” she inquired.

He ripped the package open with his teeth. “Last one, babe. You want it?”

Katie eyed the conglomeration of grain and nuts. “Nah. Just make me thirstier. I’ll hold out for those organic fish tacos you told me about.”

“Best in town,” Ted pledged through a mouthful of the bar. He slowed down, savoring it.

There apparently wouldn’t be any more where it had come from, not with Nature’s Best getting out of the power bar line.

They hadn’t returned his e-mails asking where he might buy more of this, well, this miracle. Ted had never felt quicker, smarter, more alive, more immortal.

He rose, adjusting his pack. “Ready to do it?”

Katie puffed her cheeks. “Jesus, already?”

Yeah, I’m ready to do it, she thought, inspecting his sculpted biceps, the tanned abs. Just wait ’til we get back to the hotel.

Ted laughed harshly. “I don’t know — think you can keep up with me?”

One look at the shock on her face and he realized she hadn’t said it aloud.

-End-

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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