The Anubis Phylogeny

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VIRTUAL SEASON X – 15

SEASON PREMIERE

AUTHOR: Virtual Season X Producers CATEGORY: X-File RATING: PG-13 ARTWORK: VS Producers DISCLAIMER: Characters herein owned by Twentieth Century FOX, 1013 Productions &  Chris Carter. No copyright infringement intended. SUMMARY: Mulder & Scully investigate bee attacks.

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THE ANUBIS PHYLOGENY

by The Virtual Season X Producers

PROLOGUE

Egypt, Thebes

West Bank of the Nile

Mortuary Temple of King Hatshepsut

Deir el-Bahri, “The Holy of Holies”

1469 B.C.

“Yes, *Mother*,” the young, dark man-child sneeringly answered the woman who was standing with her back to him.  He watched expectantly as her back tensed visibly through her gauzy shirt. Her hand slid from its place on the newly inscribed passages on a cool granite wall in the Hall of Annals.  It was, to his dislike, her ever-growing Mortuary Temple, Deir el-Bahri, in the cliffs overlooking the Temple of Amun-Ra.

She turned to look down at her young nephew, stepson and stepbrother, co-regent and lesser Pharaoh. She noted the spark of defiance in his eyes yet again.  Her kohl-darkened eyes widened slightly and blazed in anger at him, as they had done so many times before in his short lifetime.

The boy, Thutmose III, held the gaze defiantly for a moment, then cast his eyes down, in obeisance of his co-regent and “rightfully” crowned Pharaoh.

“You continue to question *MY* right to the Throne?” she hissed quietly, like a deadly spitting cobra; her tone was angry, her eyes never blinking. “*I* am King and Pharaoh of the North and South; the Horus of Gold; Conqueror of All Lands; the Mighty One!”

The woman was dressed in traditional opulent Egyptian Royal regalia with the pharaohnic nemes headdress, which gently draped her feminine shoulders. The entire effect was finished by a pleated kilt, beaded belt and a bull’s tail between her legs, all of which were clearly emblems of *male* Egyptian Royalty.

Lapis, carnelian, faience, ebony and other precious gems adorned and glittered from the large, heavy gold collar of honeybees she favored so and stroked with her other hand, as she was wont to do.

Hatshepsut composed herself, took a step toward Thutmose, raised her free hand and laid it gently upon his dark cheek.

“Why do you continue to question, My son?” Hatshepsut asked of the man who would have been King.

Thutmose almost had to bite his tongue to keep from speaking words she would find heretical in the extreme.

When her Father, Thutmose I had journeyed to the Underworld, the Temple priests of Amun-Ra had demanded that she, Hatshepsitu, step aside and allow her half-brother, Thutmose II to rule as Pharaoh.  Hatshepsitu had mightily attempted to discredit her half-brother by announcing that Thutmose II was only the son of Mutnefert, a concubine, and therefore Royal Blood was passed through *only* to her.

She had known that all societies, including Egypt, were matrilineal, meaning any inheritances, including the power of the Throne of Both Lands, was passed through the *female* line.

There was *no* disputing Hatshepsitu’s female ancestral line to her Ethiopian grandmother, Queen Nefertari-Aahmes.  However, when faced with either compromise or probable civil war, she chose compromise… and had agreed, instead, to marry her half-brother, Thutmose II.

Her then husband had let Hatshepsitu handle all the businesses of the Two Lands, and she obviously had grown to crave power.  His aunt/stepmother/step-sister, upon the death 13 years later, of her weak and sickly husband and half-brother, had surprised the Temple priests by her proclamation shortly following.

She had stunned all of Upper and Lower Egypt by announcing that she, Hatshepsitu, had *not*, after all, been the daughter of Thutmose I, but had ascended the throne as Pharaoh.

Thutmose had been a babe, still at his wet nurse’s breast, when his Father had begun his own journey to the Underworld. He had, therefore, necessarily grown up under his aunt/stepmother’s tutelage … and gradual deception.  Despite Hatshepsut’s exceedingly successful reign, a reign that had brought peace and prosperity to the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt, Thutmose was resentful. The Temple priests of Amun-Ra had gradually fueled the fire of his resentment.

But, Thutmose had not suffered; in fact, he had thrived.  He had been carefully tutored in all the arts of writing, mathematics, painting papyrus scenes, games and strategy, weaponry and war, and even bee keeping, by Royal teachers, scribes, Temple Priests, generals and others who had been appointed to look after him.

When he had come of age, Hatshepsitu should have stepped aside as regent, and Thutmose would have then rightfully ascended the Throne. He was, after all, the direct descendant of his splendid, almighty and powerful Grandfather, Thutmose the First, the Living Horus, who was now, in the Underworld with his Father, ruling as the Great Osiris.

Hatshepsitu, however, had stopped such ascension, declared herself a *man*, by direction and adoration of her Father, Thutmose I and changed her name to its male equivalent, “Hatshepsut”.

For all intents and purposes, she had taken away the young man’s Throne.

Thutmose knew *he* was the rightful heir, though his aunt/stepmother had “convinced” the Priests otherwise.  As there were no other male heirs, Hatshepsitu had simply and strategically moved into position herself, and when the time came, she took that position.

“You are still young, My son; you do not understand the ways of our Lands; our traditions.”  Hatshepsut looked him in the eye. “Have you forgotten? I am of virgin birth, the Son of God Amun and My Mother, Ahmose. The great God Amun appeared to My Mother in a flood of light and perfume, and by Immaculate Conception, this great union produced a baby boy …Myself.”

Hatshepsut’s hand slipped down to take his and, gently, she lead the all but mute young man further into the as-yet unfinished Hall of Annals in her Mortuary Temple. “Do you not see the Truth in the words written here, immortalized for all to see? They speak of My greatness and My deeds?” she demanded of him.

Thutmose’s eyes were still downcast and she gently ordered him to look to the exquisiteinscriptions carved and painted into the walls around them.

“There!” Hatshepsut pointed to a mural, depicting her birth, showing her glorious and Godly conception and birth in intricate and painstaking detail. “Does that not tell the Truth to you, My son? And there!” She pointed to another scene, showing Hatshepsut with her coronation name, “Ma’at-ka-Ra,” and the title “King of Upper and Lower Egypt” in Royal cartouches.

“Yes, my … *King*,” Thutmose looked, not for the first time, considering the scenes both blasphemous and obscene. For no woman could be Pharaoh, yet his aunt/stepmother had attained just that Crown.  She had usurped him from his rightful Throne. She never called him by his coronation name, but insisted that even he call her, in public and in private, “King,” her coronation name of “Ma’at-ka-Ra”, which meant “Truth is the genius of the Sun-God,” or “Hatshepsut” … never Queen Hatshepsitu or God’s Wife.  Rarely did she allow him to call her “Mother.”

The priests could do nothing about it; the Lands had thrived and grown rich under her rule.  Grain stores were full, cattle and livestock were fat, the Royal hives were heavier than ever with honey, items were exported and imported, and, frankly, taken when needed.  The Pharaoh had also seemed unusually concerned as to the welfare of the slaves under her reign, and, as such, life was easier for all concerned.  Tributes of gold to King Hatshepsut were measured by bushels, not ingots. Silver, an even more precious metal, also came to her in tributes of almost incalculable proportions.

The peoples of Both Lands, Upper and Lower Egypt, and the land of Punt, were happy, well fed and lacked for nothing.  Yes, there had been few campaigns against minor enemies’ encroachments, and Hatshepsut herself had lead Egypt’s armies as Supreme Lord Horus, Pharaoh Hatshepsut, and had been completely successful.

Yet, Thutmose seethed inwardly, as did many of the Temple priests of Amun-Ra, who could not, in truth, abide a woman as Pharaoh.  Unfortunately, as Hatshepsut had been so crowned, there was no rescinding the Double Crown. It was her title for life and it had become clear that she who was truly his aunt, stepsister and stepmother, would never willingly give up the Throne to him, even though he had been given the title of co-regent or co-Pharaoh.

Thutmose had absolutely no say in matters of state or even of his own future.  Not seeing the anger in Thutmose’s eyes, Hatshepshut gazed lovingly at Deir el-Bahri, her splendid Mortuary Temple in the cliffs looking down upon the less colossal Temple of Amun-Ra.

Reading one of the inscriptions, she reminded him, “I am the Living Horus, My son. I am HE. I am Pharaoh.” Again, she pointed to a lavishly decorated colonnade and read it to him, not for the first time.  “‘One sails upstream on the great green river, starting the journey well to God’s land.  Putting to land in peace in the land of Punt. By order spoken by the Lord of the Gods, Amun, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, foremost of the temple of Karnak, to bring Him marvels from all foreign lands.’ *I* have done these things, My son; none other!”

Hatshepsut continued reading of her own accomplishments to the internal displeasure of Thutmose. Even at his young age, he had begun to learn the arts of deception himself; he pretended to listen to his stepmother, the King/Pharaoh.  Thutmose stood straight, pretending to listen, eyes watchful under the flickering oil lamps.  This was nothing more than another intentional impression upon him of her power over Both Lands, Upper and Lower Egypt, and, more importantly, a reminder of where *he* stood in the scheme of things: As long as King Hatshepsut lived Thutmose would never ascend the throne, as rightly he should have.

To the boy, the two of them seemed to stand there for a millennia, however, her pointed lessons were finished not soon enough.  Thutmose’s expression changed to one of intense interest as he heard her begin reciting, as she had so many times before, how wondrous she, King Hatshepsut, in fact was.  This invariably heralded the end of his lesson, at least for now.

“This is … the great temple of million of years, the temple of Amun of Djeser-Djeseru at His outstanding place of the first time.” Hatshupset turned to look at the boy. “My name is Ma’at-ka-Ra meaning ‘Truth is the Life Force of the Sun-God.’ I *am* the Living Horus; I *am* the She-Horus of fine gold. *I* am the Sun-God who rules, and that Truth is within Me.” Hatshepsut again stroked the honeybees on her collar with one hand and reached out to stroke his face. “Now, go on. Your tutors await, do they not?”

“Yes, my *King*,” Thutmose knelt, bowed his head, and kissed her gold ring with her Royal cartouches on the feminine hand held out to him.  Daringly, he glanced up at her; she smiled faintly then nodded dismissively at him.  Thutmose took to his sandaled feet and hurried out of the Temple.  The boy almost ran down the Avenue of Sphinxes. He could not bear to look at them, for they all bore the image of the false Living God and Pharaoh, Hatshepsut.  He was nearly blinded by the flash of electrum that shone so brightly under the midday sun.  Electrum crowned the pyramidal tops of the two tallest granite obelisks in the Two Lands and the Land of Punt. They were of beautiful rose granite and had been commissioned and dedicated to the Temple of Amun-Ra.

As they were taller than the Temple, the ceiling had to be removed and reshaped to accommodate them.  Anyone looking up at the Temple of Amun-Ra would see the obelisks’ glorious righteousness, which pointed directly above them, to the Mortuary Temple of Ma’at-ka-Ra Hatshepsut.

Thutmose hated the obelisks as he hated his aunt. They were a constant reminder of his aunt’s usurped power.  He hurried to the boat that would carry him across the Nile to the Royal tent past the reeds on the East bank, where his tutors awaited.  Today he would learn the secrets of *bity*, the Royal honeybees.

The new Chief Priest of the Temple of Amun-Ra was said to have added some magic, perhaps an incantation, but something of great import to the honeybees.  Whatever the magic, it was said to make them infinitely more important than merely for their honey and wax.  The new Chief Priest was also said to know new and secret incantations and terrifying curses and spells learned from one particularly clever alien priest.  The alien priest had been a slave brought to them from somewhere in the Land of Punt. The Chief Priest was said to have absorbed the *ka*, the soul of the alien priest and that the two became one.

Thutmose smiled. Perhaps something of the new honeybees would make him Pharaoh.  Having dismissed her nephew/stepson, Hatshepsut continued to examine the fine work created by her architect. “The boy is trouble,” a familiar, deep voice spoke to Hatshepsut and she turned to see the shadow of her dark, sun-favored architect, Senemut approaching in the flickering light of the oil lamps.

He knelt in front of his Pharaoh, took the hand offered, kissed it and caught the scent of her perfumed dark skin. Glancing up at her, he turned her hand gently and let his tongue taste the skin of her wrist.

Hatshepsut took a deep breath and pulled him to his feet, allowing him to wrap his arms around her.  “He can do nothing; he has no power. I am the Truth. I am the Power.”

Senemut buried his face in her neck, enjoying her scent. “I worry for You. I do not trust Thutmose … nor do I trust many of the priests of Amun-Ra, of which he curries constant favor.”

Hatshepsut leaned her head to accommodate his attentions. “You worry needlessly, My Beloved,” Hatshepsut kissed him deeply. “He can do nothing.”  Her hand, grasped in his, lay against the glittering gold collar of honeybees as they kissed.

Thutankhamen

West Bank of the Nile

Secret Unknown

Somewhere Near the Valley of the

Kings and the Valley of the Queens

1458 B.C.

The screams continued for sometime from within as Thutmose watched his stonemasons seal the remote and secretive tomb.  Sweat rolled from their bodies in the midst of their hurried toil; fear fueled their work.  They had witnessed their Pharaoh Hatshepsut and *his* consort, Senemut, mummified alive. Their heads, however, had not been wrapped.

They had watched in horror as the Anubis Priest of Amun-Ra, who was said to be an amalgam of a priest alien to Upper and Lower Egypt, strange and frightening with spells and incantations never seen before, had performed an obscene parody of the holy Opening Of The Mouth Ceremony.

They knew their King and “His” consort’s *ka*, or soul, would never reach the Underworld, and they would forever be damned.  Wearing the ceremonial black and gold Anubis headdress, God of the Death and the Underworld, he *was* the Anubis.  He had then leaned over the two tightly bound forms and poured, from the Anubis’ Own Mouth, unfamiliar black oil onto their faces.

The horror was magnified when an incantation, spoken by the Anubis, caused the oil to take on the form of vermin and then crawl  into the Pharaoh’s and her Chief Steward’s eyes, nose and mouth.

Before the last stone was placed, Thutmose Himself stepped forward with a small mud-lined basket. He removed the lid and placed the top of the basket carefully into the hole, then slapped the basket several times.

All heard the obvious buzzing of angry bees as they flew into the tomb. Thutmose then pushed the entire basket through the hole. The screaming from within was renewed with an overwhelmingly frightening intensity that caused a chill of overwhelming fear amidst the stonemasons under the hot Egyptian sun.  Thutmose turned and called to the head stonemason. The man looked into Thutmose’s eyes and recoiled in horror as he witnessed the same black, oily film, as had poured forth from the Anubis, swimming madly in the new Pharaoh’s eyes.

“Let it be done!” Thutmose exclaimed, and the man looked away, hurriedly instructing his men in placing the final stone.  As it was levered into place, they heard a distinctly female scream of sheer terror, more chilling than anything they had ever before heard. However, they knew they dared not hesitate and so continued with their labors.  When finished to Thutmose’s satisfaction, the former Pharaoh and her consort had been hidden for all time.

The sounds within the tomb, masked by solid rock had ceased, and the stonemasons knelt in obeisance to their new Pharaoh, the Living Horus of Gold, Thutmose III. Their eyes were downcast, as proscribed in the presence of the Living Horus, and so they did not see Thutmose, eyes swirling with the black oil, turn to the Anubis and nod to him, then walk away.

A crunching in the gravel near him made the chief stonemason look up in time to see the Anubis remove from his robe a sparkling wand of electrum. As the Anubis spake a curse and an incantation, fire like lightning leapt from the wand. One after another of his stonemasons caught fire as easily as incense offerings in the Temple.  Their screams were horrible and terrifying to hear. The chief stonemason took to his feet to escape, but the Anubis was much faster. The stonemason found himself taken by the throat, hoisted into the air where his feet dangled far from the ground.  The Anubis held him up for a moment, and then carelessly tossed him onto the pyre of burning, writhing and screaming bodies.

To the stonemason’s eternal horror, the Anubis leaned over him, removed his ceremonial headdress … and the stonemason saw honeybees angrily swarming on his face. The Priest, however, smiled and touched him with his wand of electrum. A spark of fire and agony shot through his body as first his clothing caught flame and then his skin.

The stonemason’s last view, as he writhed and screamed in agony, was that of the Priest’s eyes as they filled with the black oil and swirled, as a purely evil and more than alien smile pulled at his face.

“The Truth is in *me*!” he laughed and walked away from the stench of burning flesh.

Pharoah

Grand Prairie, Texas

Interstate 30

East of the South Entrance of D/FW Airport,

Heading Toward Dallas

8:45 a.m., CST

July 8, 2005

“Fucking ass jerkwad airlines.” The mumbled invectives had come naturally and often from the mouth of Benjamin F. Cearley, III, J.D. He’d been an attorney, a fucking card-carrying Dallas and Texas Bar Association Member, and he’d been fucking well entitled to swear all he damned fucking well wanted. Regardless of which fucking judge cited him for stupid jerkass contempt.

He hadn’t been called “Benjamin Fucking Cearley” by his peers, clients and opposing counsel for nothing.  As if the flight hadn’t been bad enough. God, his fucking law firm had gotten so damned friggin’ cheap, they wouldn’t let their senior partners — oh, no! Sorry, *NOW* the “name” jerk-off partners had gone Polically Cor-fucking-rect! The senior SHAREHOLDERS had to fly shitty BUSINESS class instead of First. Hell.

He had been better than Business Class and he’d known it.  “Fucking coach class no ones!” Cearley snarled under his breath, furious at those who’d upgraded to Business. He hadn’t been able to finish his damned brief due to all the fucking jerkwad morons around him talking incessantly. He’d been driving 85 mph, and even faster, in his brand new Onyx Black Lexus, trying to get back to Dallas to get the fucking brief filed with the shithead court clerk before the Fucking Honorable Judge Joseph Kendle had a fucking bench warrant served on him.

Cearley did NOT give a single flying flip if he got pulled over. *LET* the fucking Texas State Troopers, the jerkbutt Arlington cops, the pansy-ass Grand Prairie “POH-leece” and the totally inept and corrupt crappy Dallas pigs fucking stop him. He hadn’t cared if they’d given him a ticket! He’d been a litigator for 24 years, by fuck and he’d always gotten out of every ticket.  Enough money and the wheel was greased with shit. On the damned Delta flight, he’d had the everlasting, overwhelming fucking joy of an annoying asshole of a flight attendant.  Naturally. Cearley barely ever noticed anyone beneath him, unless it was a stacked fuckable secretary — or a stacked fuckable flight attendant — upon whom he could make moves. Let ’em fuckin’ sue him. He’d been sued before for sexual harassment. Seven times, in fact. It was always settled out of fucking court by the Firm on his behalf.

Ha!

Cearley had known after the second time he could get away with freakin’ hell! Unfortunately for him, *his* flight attendant wasn’t stacked at all. *His* flight attendant was *male.* And a weird-ass looking male at that. He’d had a fucking insincere, oily smile (which had been unnerving, if Cearley had been honest with himself), fucking Bozo red hair and shocking blue eyes. And a cute little Delta nametag identifying him as “Charles”; a sure sign to Cearley the guy had been fucking gay. The guy had creeped Cearley out, the way he’d stared, but he’d also needed his usual booze for the flight, so he’d tipped the jerkshit weirdo heavily to bring him double-malt scotch and stay the hell out of his fucking face.

Besides, he’d known he could bury the hefty tip in some other poor fucking client’s “miscellaneous” bills.  At the luggage carousel, naturally, only *his* suitcases had come up missing! He’d nearly burst an aneurysm over that.  Cearley had smiled remembering how he’d raised bloody fucking hell with Delta’s Lost and Found. No way was he leaving fucking D/FW without his damned luggage! So, Cearley had stood around, bellowed at the top of his lungs, repeatedly flashed his bar card and handed out dozens of business cards — and cheerfully threatened lawsuits up everyone’s privates and then some.

The lawyer continued with that until some *big* higher-up fucker from Delta had come to escort him to their cutesy Executive Lounge — fucking food and drink on the house — while that *big* someone had gone to sort out the fucking problem. He’d ordered everything available to eat, hadn’t touched it — intentionally wasting it, but had boozed it up even more. He’d then checked in with and chewed out his fucking secretary’s shapely ass until she’d cried.  He’d smiled again thinking of that.  Cearley had taken the redeye so he could be back *in* the fucking office *before* rush hour, but he’d still been in the Executive Lounge three hours later … outlining on a legal pad, with his Mont Blanc pen, exactly how he’d sue fucking Delta for all his fucking mental distress and his expensive fucking clothing.

He’d smiled his own oily smile at that, then the smile had disappeared when he’d remembered the fucking Delta employee who had appeared out of freakin’ nowhere with his bags.

He’d done a double-take because the guy, in a regular Delta employee uniform, had appeared in the shitty Executive Lounge, with an unnerving smile on his face, fucking Bozo red hair, startling blue eyes and “Charlie” emblazoned on his Delta nametag.

Cearley had almost asked the guy if he had a fucking twin brother, but then it had occurred to him, what kind of fucking moron mother would name twin boys “Charles” and “Charlie”– unless she was a fucking stupid East Texas redneck?  He’d just grabbed his bags and took off, leaving this other also obviously gay Charlie standing there smiling weirdly and eating his fucking dust. Cearley had blown past the Grand Prairie city limits and into Dallas when it had hit him. “Oh fucking shit hell!” he screamed at no one and everyone around him.

Cearley had remembered he had to stop at Southern Gas & Oxygen Supply Company, one of his Firm’s more lucrative clients, to have papers signed by the owners. Southern Gas had been planning, for quite a while, to move out of the I-30/I-35 downtown Dallas industrial corridor, where they could expand their business. And Cearley had been working with one of the Firm’s younger “baby” dirt lawyers to get all the fucking filings ready for Southern’s real estate acquisitions and move. “Crap! Shit! Fuck! I don’t have fucking time for this jerk-off shit!” Cearley had been red-faced by this time and had barely remembered to exit onto I-35 instead of taking I-30 through the Canyon into downtown Dallas, where his Firm, Wenford Segram & Menck P.C., was located.

The green Mercury Sable he’d nearly sideswiped had swerved onto the shoulder, nearly hitting the guard rail, horn blaring all the way, as Cearley had shot the driver a most definitive middle finger.  At the same time, he was thinking about what a dipwad jerkbutt of a laugh Wenford was, what a bizarro Segram was — always off in Tibet communing with fucking monks — and Menck, who’d retired to London but kindly *allowed* the Firm to keep his name — for a hefty fee.

One day, one of those names would be gone and the Firm’s name would fucking start with “Cearley.”

While thinking about that, he’d watched the road with one eye and dug through the papers in his briefcase in the passenger seat next to him. Cearley had been swerving all over the interstate, alternately barely correcting his driving and shooting the bird to everyone else who’d had the fucking nerve to honk at him.

“Shit! There it is!” Cearley had yelled in satisfaction, grabbing the papers in his right hand as he zipped around in front of and barely missed clipping the front end of a Peterbilt carrying a tanker full of some highly flammable liquid.  He shot the long-hauler the finger when the driver’s air horns blasted him, and made his exit.

“Aw fuck!” He’d been ready to pull out what was left of his bad comb-over when he’d hit the red light at the end of the exit ramp.  Cearley had looked both ways, intending to run the light when he heard it: a mechanical- like buzzing that had caused him to stomp on the brakes. He’d just sat and listened for a moment. “What the hairy freakin’ fuck now?” he cursed, looking at the dashboard of his brand new Lexus, as if it held the key to the mysteries of the universe. It had been a brand new fucking Lexus! Nothing should’ve been wrong with it! Like any moron who knew nothing about cars and what makes them run, Cearley had hit the dash — hard — with both fists and the buzzing had stopped. Cearley’s nasty, lawyerish smile returned.

*Nothing* — not even a lemon Lexus would stop Benjamin Fucking Cearley, III. He’d already instantly decided to sue the dealership over that using the “Texas Lemon Law” statutes.

The light had turned green, and, without looking either way, Cearley hit the gas and, a few moments later, was pulling into Southern Gas’s parking lot, stopping excruciatingly close to a palette of several hundred tanks full of whatever the fuck it was they sold there. “Sir!” a voice had called to him as he’d gotten out of his Lexus, a handful of legal papers clutched in his right hand. The lawyer had whirled around to find a guy in a mechanic’s jumpsuit, greasy and dirty, approaching him from behind his car. “What the fuck do *you* want, shithead?”

The young man, who couldn’t have been more than 18 years old, had stopped momentarily and blinked at the words and the sour face in front of him before stuttering on. “S-sir, y-you’re parked too c-close to the p-palettes,” he’d motioned to the tanks that had been located less than a foot from where he’d parked his Lexus.

“S-so th-the h-hell wh-what?” Cearley had snarled, clearly making fun of his disability.

“W-well, sir,” the young man had tried again, “th-those are acet-acetylene t-tanks … and th-they’re highly fl-flammable. It w-would b-be b-better if you’d m-move your c-car f- further b-back.”

Cearley had then smiled threateningly and approached the kid like Santa Anna’s troops on the Alamo. “I’m *not* moving my fucking Lexus for fucking *anyone*! Sure the hell *NOT* the fuck *you*! And if there’s a fucking mark on it when I come back,” he’d stopped to notice the kid’s name patch–”Bob”– clearly sewn on his uniform, “‘Bubba,’ there’ll be fucking hell to pay!”

The boy had taken a few steps back from him as he’d slammed the papers onto the trunk of the expensive, fully equipped black  Lexus, and Cearley’s attention had then been instantly drawn away from the annoying employee and back to his vehicular status symbol.  That mechanical buzzing had come back — but the fucking ignition had been turned off!  “Oh what the fucking hell now?!” he’d screamed, grabbed the papers and had used his remote to open the trunk.

Cearley had leaned in to look around, as if he’d known what the hell he was looking for, and had been surprised when something flew into his face.  He’d jerked back from the open trunk as another few things flew out at him. “FUCKING BEES?” He’d yelled in disbelief. He’d already automatically started deciding about billable hours in suing shitty Delta *and* fucking D/FW Airport for this when he’d seen the first bee.

Thomas & Kitt represented Delta and he’d been turned down for his first job there.  Benjamin Fucking Cearley, III, J.D. *always* remembered a grudge, and he’d recognized this as his chance.  Unfortunately for Benjamin Fucking Cearley, one of those bees had chosen that exact moment to fly up his nose, and another into his mouth. Hundreds of others had suddenly swarmed out of his trunk and onto him.  Cearley had dropped the papers, which had scattered with the wind, and he had been twisting and turning, batting madly at the furry little fucking things that were invading his clothing and bodily orifices, and began stinging him in a mad flurry. “FUCKING HELP ME, YOU ASSHOLE!” he’d managed to get out, one eye still barely clear enough to see that “Bubba,” wide-eyed, had run away at the exact moment that Cearley had fallen to the side, knocking a large, fully-charged acetylene tank into another.

The domino effect had been instantaneous, but Cearley hadn’t noticed. He’d been too involved in smashing bees and hurling invectives into the hot Texas July morning.  Bubba had run directly for the gas company’s office when he saw the spark of tank hitting tank and, moments later, a loud speaker on the lot came to life, a voice loudly and stringently advising *everyone* to evacuate the premises *immediately*. Cearley, however, hadn’t heard *that* over the buzzing that had been, quite literally, in his ears. He wouldn’t have been able to evacuate anywhere anyway, other than in his pants, which he had.

He’d been caught up in his own fucking drama and had fallen on top of some large but squat acetylene tanks that had been fully-charged only hours before and were on the burning and exploding palette.  Blood, bees and stingers clogging his throat, he had been skyrocketed in a ball of flame, gas and black smoke over a thousand feet into the blue skies of Dallas, Texas by several dozen acetylene tanks which had exploded all at once, taking his brand new Onyx Black Lexus with them.

The final thoughts that had gone through Benjamin Fucking Cearley, III’s fucking disbelieving mind as he and his brand new Armani suit, his bad comb-over and flesh caught fire and burned, was figuring out to which fucking client/matter number he’d fucking charge and fucking pad his fucking jerkwad billable hours for this fucking shit-ass disaster.

Delta Flight 1013

In Route to JFK International Airport

March 6, 2006

Two vaporous streams followed in the wake of the mighty white Boeing 767 as it soared thirty-five thousand feet above land through the bluer than blue sky. A thing of beauty, it was mankind’s answer to the birds in the sky, and statistically the safest mode of transport.

Having flown her life’s maximum mileage quota, this was Delta flight 1013’s final trip before being retired.  All she had to do was make it the final few miles to JFK International Airport in good ol’ rainy New York City. Of course the two hundred and ten passengers inside the fuselage of the metallic bird had no way of appreciating its splendor, even if they’d cared enough to be remotely interested.  However, one person in particular, sat alone in silence at the back of the plane, and was even less enthralled than everyone else…In fact, her constant fidgeting and nervous glances toward the “underfloor” cargo bay door were enough to give away the apprehension and unhappiness she felt at being on this flight at all.

*Just breathe, Glynder — nothing’s gonna happen. Besides, this is your last one with them, remember!*

The air stewardess closed her eyes as the mantra repeated itself over and over in her mind, and then reached a hand up to comb through her curly hair.  Just as it was 1013’s retiring journey, this was Glynder Innamo’s last day working for Delta.  She’d been trying to get a transfer to a different airline for months due to the grueling hours she was expected to work and her general dissatisfaction at the unsanitary (if not unsafe) conditions of a majority of the airplanes, but no available vacancies had been offered in her direction.

And then the large unmarked, undocumented crates had started to appear several weeks ago, which in turn had become her sole responsibility to keep guard over; crates that no one except the pilot and herself should know of, nor should any living soul ask questions about.

Innamo had kept watch of more than a dozen of the mysterious cargo boxes in that time, but there was something about this particular one that made her more agitated than normal.

Then again, the encounter with the red-haired man before boarding had commenced probably hadn’t helped put her mind at ease.

“Today’s ‘package’ is a *very* special one, Mrs. Innamo,” the man she knew only as ‘The Client’ had huffed out, handing over the white envelope that customarily contained her under-the-counter payment (though usually delivered by the Captain).

She’d been divorced for four years this Christmas, but she hadn’t dared to correct the guy as he’d cast a cautious glance over his shoulder and then turned back, pushing his sunglasses back up onto the bridge of his nose.

“You *must* protect it at all costs — no one can get near it or disturb it,” he’d continued in a much firmer tone. “I don’t think I need to elaborate on how imperative it is that it reaches its destination, do I, Mrs. Innamo?”

She snapped out of her thoughts with an involuntary shudder as the image of the holstered Glock he’d gestured toward underneath the left side flap of his jacket remained in her memory.

*One more and then they can stick their crates up in an even darker and smaller crevice than the cargo bay,* Glynder muttered to herself, pulling the envelope from her uniform pocket and reading the paper that had been inside instead of a bundle of fifty-dollar bills.

Transfer papers for guaranteed employment with American Airlines. “One more.”

A hum, deep and low, charged the air with an incomprehensible electrical pulse as it increased in intensity and slowly neared the aircraft.

Plane

Slowly closed in on its target.

“Michael! Stop bouncing about in your seat!” one of the flight-fearing passengers scolded, checking for the billionth time that her seatbelt was secured before turning to grab her young son’s arm.

“But I wanna watch the black cloud, Mommy — it’s dancing!” came the whined response.

“‘Black cloud’? Honestly, how many times do I have to tell you to stop telling such tall tales? Now sit still and be quiet until we land.”

The bespectacled six year old stared longingly at the small window for a moment longer before bucking the courage up to try convince his mother that he wasn’t lying. “There is a black cloud though, Mommy…” he sniffed, tugging at her arm. “It keeps gettin’ bigger an’ bigger an’ swaying left and right…I think it wants us to watch it cos it’s coming up to us…”

Flustered and desperate for the landing gear to hit tarmac as soon as humanly possible, the woman shook her head and leaned over her son’s lap to look out through the porthole. “Honestly, when your father hears what’s been coming out of your…” Her voice died in her throat as her mouth fell agape. “What in hell…”

“Jim, we’re picking up some strange activity on our radar.”

Lifting his gaze from the control panel, Captain James Koombs glanced at the flashing green blip the co-pilot was pointing to. “How far away?”

“Two hundred feet directly below us and climbing.”

Koombs frowned in confusion and concentration briefly before shifting back in his seat and adjusting his headset.

Something dark deep down in his gut knew exactly what that was, but he was fighting desperately not to imagine it or let the fear take him over. “JFK Tower, this is Delta-1013. We’re reading an abnormal object in very close proximity to us. Can you please confirm?  Over.”

There was silence and then a long burst of static, but no voices of air traffic controllers replying to the request.

Several switches were flipped and then Koombs tried again, “JFK, this is Delta Airlines flight ten-thirteen. Do you read?”

More static.

Before either man had chance to speak, the cockpit began to resonate with a low hum, just barely audible above the noise of the plane’s engines.  The co-pilot, Nathan White, searched the instruments in front of him for any indication of what the disturbance might be, while his friend in the pilot’s seat fumbled with the radio. “This is Delta 10–”

Suddenly, something hit against the windshield. Koombs looked up sharply and then slowly rose to his feet to closely examine the small black mark splattered on the glass. “Oh God…” he choked to himself, wiping a hand across his suddenly dry mouth. “They’re … They’re here to save their queen and brothers…”

As the deep noise grew in volume, Glynder Innamo frowned and quickly stood up. She’d never heard anything like this before, and the way her seat had started to furiously vibrate was a little unnerving (well, maybe just a tad arousing as well, but now really wasn’t the time to be feeling that, and that fact alone added to her nervousness).

After shooting a brief, cursory glance at the cargo hold door yet again, the stewardess turned to face the small window on her left. When she looked out, all she could see was a thick, waving sea of black rising toward the underside of the plane and, more importantly, the wing-mounted engines.

And then Innamo remembered that she actually *had* heard something like this sound, oscillating the thick atmosphere on one of those shows about swarms of killer bees attacking people that they kept repeating on the Discovery Channel. Like an arm of a drowning person breaking the surface and reaching for the heavens, a long chain of bees shot out from the tide and up toward the window — completely blanketing it to obstruct her view.

Innamo quickly backed away in sheer terror, but the plane violently tilted to one side at the same time, and she lost her footing, hitting her head against the seat behind her on the way down.

As her world faded to black, the sound of panicking fellow crew members in the galley and screaming passengers further down the plane echoed in her ears, only slightly superseded by that of thousands of bee stingers frantically chipping away at the window.

Plane2

Co-Pilot White struggled, hands shaking, to buckle his safety belt as the aircraft rolled from side to side and back again. Despite the fact that there was something outside trying to force them down, he couldn’t stop thinking about Koombs’s cryptic comment and if it meant the Captain had any involvement in the events that were now unfurling.

“Sir, what–”

“I don’t…” Koombs paused momentarily to consider the depths and complexity of the lie he was weaving. Clearing his throat, hoping that would be enough to mask the slight tremor in his voice, he quickly finished, “I don’t know. “All I *do* know is that there’s something flying far too close for comfort to our engines and… and either we get out of its path or it fucks off … otherwise I don’t think we’re gonna be able to keep this bird in the sky.”

As if on cue, one of the large turbine engines sputtered to a stop for ninety seconds, jerking the aircraft with a knee-jarring jolt before rendering it completely out of control. In the cargo hold, the mounting desperation of the entrapped insects in the unmarked crate (which had reached fever pitch by now) had been enough to rattle the box free from the straps securing it in place. But, the tailspin the plane had suddenly pitched downward and nose-dived into caused it and a dozen other freight cases to slam against each other and release their contents in an explosion of clothes, countless unimportant accessories … and at least a thousand angry bees — the latter of which immediately headed for the ventilation ducts.

The fight to control the plane was futile as the pilot and co-pilot tried frantically to regain command of the nearly-tumbling aircraft, until the dead engine inexplicably choked back to life, waging its own war against the bugs that were insistent on clogging the compressor’s fan blades.

“Tower, dammit, answer! May day! May day! We’re going down! I repeat, we’re going down!”

Mocking static echoed over the radio. About one hundred lights flashed and alarms beeped to indicate that they were in trouble, just in case they weren’t aware already.

Meanwhile, at the rear of the jet, Innamo was regaining consciousness as the second engine kicked in, sending the craft spinning in the opposite direction. Unable to grasp her bearings, she instinctively crawled on her stomach to the seat behind her. She was about to hoist herself up onto it when she heard the tapping at the window. Her head turned and she paused in mid-rise. She snatched in a breath.

Time slowed almost to a halt.

The cracks in the double plexiglass panes grew longer, snaking purposefully toward all sides of the frame under the pressure of the bees’ relentless attack. A droplet of blood from Innamo’s head injury plopped onto the upholstery of the chair. And before even a split second had passed, the window gave way, sucking shattered plexiglass and anything else not secured throughout the entire cabin into the blue wilderness….

Including the air stewardess.

Long, varnished nails clawed hopelessly at the cushion and armrests as time spiraled back at break-neck speed to normal with a sonic boom. No struggle could win against the vacuum created by the different air pressure, though, and Innamo’s body flew at the hole where the window had been. Her head and slender shoulders went through with ease, but her stomach stopped her from going any further.

Icier than arctic cold wind tore at her skin. Tiny shards of sharp plexiglass burrowed into her abdomen. Legs kicked desperately for only a handful of heartbeats, and then before the barrage of bee stings had time to register or her silent scream was able to catch up with the plummeting plane, Glynder Innamo lost consciousness again, but this time forever, as air had been sucked from her lungs.

Without a real understanding as to what was happening behind them, passengers screamed as papers, iPods and other objects flew past and impacted them, frantically fumbled with their safety belts and clung tightly to whoever was in the seat next to them — whether they knew that person or not.

Overhead compartments randomly popped open, spewing out their contents and causing numerous bags to strike some of the panicking passengers. The sudden change in cabin pressure caused the automatic release of the oxygen masks, and corybantic hands reached to put them on — some not noticing the insects concealed inside the airlines until it was too late.

It didn’t take long for the bees outside to break through more of the failing windows along both sides of the fuselage. And just four minutes after the anomaly had appeared on 1013’s radar, the plane impacted with the ground eleven miles short of its destination, instantly killing anyone who hadn’t already died slowly and painfully at the mercy of the Africanized bees.

ACT I

Ada, Iowa

October 1, 2007

1:32 p.m.

Todd Grossbeck took a deep breath, and suddenly was transported 15 years into the past, into the Wisconsin countryside. The day was hot, humid, dusty, and sweat dripped from Todd’s long, narrow nose. He was in heaven. He rose to his feet beside the shoulder-high corn, corking the seemingly empty vial as he surveyed the ridged waves of green extending nearly to the horizon.

The Ada elevators rose from the emerald sea like a trio of steel ships. This was Todd’s element — he’d been confined in Washington more and more since 9/11 and the “takeover,” as he thought of it. He’d leapt at the opportunity to return to the Heartland, to a life lived slower, among straightforward people. Even so, Todd had been in public service long enough to know no place, no Eden, was safe from the darkness. He’d kept his suspicions to himself, perhaps out of reluctance to tarnish this Eden. Besides, Dr. Berenbaum had been through enough without being dragged into his thus far ungrounded theorizing. Todd was uncertain what his next step would be. His research at the Extension office had intensified his conviction that what had been happening was no natural occurrence. But the only solid evidence he had were some slight chemical anomalies and some Internet printouts.

The insistent buzzing prompted the scientist to scan first the azure skies and then the gravel ribbon of road bordering the fields. The buzzing intensified, and he felt a slight breeze as a dark shape orbited his ear lobe. “What the–?” Todd mumbled. Then he felt a sharp pain at the juncture of his neck and collarbone, and he slapped at the source of his torment.

It was all wrong — the sound, the feel. He dropped to his knee, rubbing his inflamed skin. He found the body a few feet away, but as he carefully plucked it from the grass and examined it, his eyes widened. Then his throat slammed shut and he rolled onto the grass, gasping for oxygen. Todd knew the symptoms of anaphylaxis only too well, but this was impossible. As his eyes blurred with tears, he heard the crunch of gravel that hopefully signaled salvation. Stat, Shelley, Todd willed.

From the blocky silhouette against the Iowa sky, Todd knew instantly it wasn’t his assistant. His fingers stretched toward the man, but the stranger ignored him, instead inspecting the ground around him. Todd emitted an animal plea as the man bent, retrieved the object he’d been studying only a minute earlier, and marched briskly back to his vehicle. The sound of flying gravel was the last thing Todd heard as the Darkness descended…

“Hold on, Todd,” Shelley Bluth begged as the ambulance sped past farmhouses and equipment dealerships. She was covered in her colleague’s blood — after the epinephrine kicked in, she’d been forced to perform a field tracheotomy with a Bic pen. The EMTs showed up moments later, and the regional hospital was 20 minutes away.

The USDA technician jumped as iron fingers grasped her wrists. “Oh, God, Todd, just lay back,” she whimpered.

The hole in Todd’s windpipe bubbled as he gurgled. “Catsssss…”

“Please, Todd, please…”

His nails dug in. Shelley yelped.

“Catssssoooooo…”

“I can’t…”

Todd’s eyes suddenly lost focus, and he fell back on the gurney. The med tech set to work on him, ignoring Shelley’s anguished sobs.

Superior Court

Fairfax County, Virginia

October 1, 2007

2:42 a.m.

F.B.I. Special Agent Dana Scully took her seat in the second row, right behind the defense counsel’s table. Assistant Director Walter Skinner glanced over at her and nodded. Her partner, Special Agent Fox Mulder must have heard her shoes on the highly polished wooden floor, or smelled her perfume because he turned just enough to flash her a smile from his seat next to his attorney.

Her only thought was of a bumper sticker she’d recently seen on a beat up antique VW Beetle — ‘Where are we going and why are we in this hand basket?’ They had been working quietly through the afternoon just two days previous when a call came down from Skinner’s assistant, requesting their immediate presence.

They’d arrived at their superior’s office to find the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Deputy with a subpoena, which he promptly handed to Mulder before tipping his hat and leaving the room. Mulder was being sued. Not only sued, but was facing possible criminal charges resulting from his high speed chase of Agent Mark Giltner through the streets of Georgetown and on both the I-395 and I-95 expressways. His court appearance was set for two days hence because it was to be determined if Agent Mulder was a danger to himself and others.

Mulder had joked about it at home that night. He even suggested that this time she could save them the trouble and just tie him to their bed, but she had seen the haunted look in his eyes.

Mulder wasn’t much for proving his sanity on his best days and he’d just come off a pretty horrendous case. They’d managed to sort out the hurt feelings between them, but he was still slightly raw around the edges and she hated to see him saddled with more stress he didn’t need.

Besides, it was his turn to write up the quarterly reports and she was not going to let him use the ‘locked up in an insane asylum’ excuse again. He’d used up his one time pass several years ago.

The hearing — at least Scully was pleased to see it was not being called an “arraignment”–was to determine what, if anything, the court should do to ensure the safety of the citizens of Fairfax County around and in dealings with Agent Fox Mulder.

Among the witnesses was Mrs. Helen Wertmer, the owner of the BMW that Mulder cut off as he pursued Giltner onto the on ramp of the I-395. Her car ended up ‘t-boning’ another vehicle resulting in minor injuries to herself and the other driver.

Mr. Clarence ‘Bud’ Gaston, the owner/operator of the Yellow Freight truck maintained that his rig sustained damage when Mulder’s car forced him off the road and into the cement barriers along the side of the expressway. There were three Fairfax County Deputies also present who had pursued Agents Mulder and Giltner for their approximately 20 mile chase, at speeds far exceeding the posted 65 miles per hour.

When all the witnesses had testified, the judge, an imposing white haired woman with a look of pure steel, called upon Mulder.

“Mr. Mulder, what do you have to say for yourself?” Judge Crowder asked sternly.

At a nod from his attorney, Mulder rose from his chair. “Your Honor, I was merely performing my duties as a sworn officer with the U.S. Department of Justice,” he said evenly.

Judge Crowder peered at him from over her wire rimmed glasses. “Mr. Mulder, according to the deposition taken of your superior, Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner, you were officially suspended from you duties at the time the chase took place.”

Mulder drew in a breath. “Your Honor, I was under suspension at the time. But the suspect–”

“That would be Agent Giltner?” Crowder interrupted.

“Yes, ma’am, Giltner, the suspect had just been seen leaving my place of residence and I believe he was directly related to the death of a Georgetown University student–”

“Yes, I see by your initial statement that you believe Mr. Giltner played some part in the ‘suicide by police’ of a hostage taker and possible bomber, a young man named Jason Arman.”

“He was not a bomber,” Mulder growled. “He was a young man with information about a possible conspiracy–”

“Would that be the global conspiracy that you refer to repeatedly in your statement, Mr. Mulder? Something about health food additives and murder?” the Judge asked.

“Look, I know it sounds crazy, but there was a conspiracy to poison health food products. It goes back to a church, the Church of the Red Museum–”

“Mr. Mulder,” the Judge tapped her gavel to get his attention. “We are not here to listen to conspiracy theories about granola bars and power water. We are here to determine if you are fit to carry a loaded weapon and interact with society. And from what I’ve just heard, I believe I need outside expertise to help me make my decision. I am hereby remanding you over for psychiatric evaluation. I further order that you be placed on administrative leave from your position with the Federal Bureau of Investigation until such time as I have made a final determination of your fitness for duty.”

“You can’t do that!” Mulder shouted, slamming his fist on the table.

“I can, Mr. Mulder, and I just did,” Crowder hissed, her face a stone mask. “You will report to Dr. Wallace Manville tomorrow for your initial assessment. I expect Dr. Manville’s evaluation to take no more than two weeks time–”

“Two weeks!” Mulder howled, all the while his attorney was pulling on his arm to get him to settle down. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever–”

“Two weeks!” Crowder shouted over Mulder’s tirade, pounding her gavel again. “And Counselor, I suggest you subdue your client before I order in-patient involuntary evaluation!”

Scully pushed past Mulder’s attorney to stand by his side. “Mulder, don’t make it worse,” she pleaded, her hand on his arm. He deflated like a spent balloon and fell back, landing in his chair.

“Two weeks, Scully. What the hell am I going to do for two weeks?” he whispered, anguish looming in his eyes.

“Prove that you’re as sane as any of us,” she said softly. “But you’ll have to do that from home.”

“This hearing is adjourned,” the Judge called out, slamming her gavel once.

Denver International Airport

Denver, Colorado

October 1, 2007

3:54 p.m.

Spender could’ve killed for a smoke.

The Russian mother on the aisle (Spender had romantically dubbed her Natasha) had stolidly studied her Cyrillic romance novel for the entire trip from Los Angeles as her tyke babbled in some bolshevik dialect and periodically craned across Spender for a view of the cumulus cloud cover.

Spender hadn’t killed a Russian for more than 22 years — that had taken nearly nine months, and Yuri Andropov’s death had gone down publicly as renal failure — and he’d calmly pretended to watch “The Office” on the overhead monitor as he savored the memory.

As Spender headed for the connecting gate, buffeted by tourists and businessmen making love to their Blackberries, he caressed the half-empty pack of Morleys in his jacket pocket. The corners of his lips twitched into a beatific Giaconda smile as he spotted the glass enclosure beyond McDonald’s. He and his nicotine “addicted” ilk had been relegated to these airtight cells, like anachronistic exhibits for the scornful passing masses. He was amused by their disdain — his true sins would keep an entire monastery of confessors busy until the end of recorded time.

“OUT OF ORDER.” Spender stared blankly at the placard.

“Air system.” Spender turned. A huge, cueball-bald security guard shrugged. “Sorry, Chief,” the sentry rasped. “Air system went down a couple days ago, and the guy hasn’t been out yet to service it.

The Cigarette-Smoking Man forced a mournful smile. “That’s all right. I have plenty of time. There’s one on Concourse F, right?”

“Whole freakin’ system’s down. I’m dyin’ for a Morley myself, you know.” The guard peered around for someone to take it out on, then wandered off.

Spender sighed, then spotted the airport bar across the way. “Cheers”– the breezy retro script beckoned. Where everybody knew your name.

The irony was irresistible, and he negotiated a group of Japanese sightseers and an obese mother haranguing her offspring. Good old Yankee capitalist guilt mongering — no wonder Communism crumbled, given the likes of Natasha and her babbling babushka.

Spender’s irritation began to subside as he settled three stools away from a fiberglass simulacron of Norm Peterson, frozen perpetually in his request for a fresh head on his beer.

Two seats away, a rumpled businessman meditated over a clean, no-bullshit highball half-filled with amber liquid. On the monitors above the rectangular bar, Ted Danson bantered inaudibly with an incredulous Shelly Long.

Spender had seen the franchised watering hole many times coming through numerous terminals, silently lamenting a society that was rapidly deteriorating into a pop culture amusement park.

Then, one long Sunday night at The Watergate, as he waited for a particularly crucial call from a compatriot at the UN, he ordered up a New York strip, stretched out, and, for lack of alternative entertainment, channel-surfed his way up the dial. Spender bypassed CNN and MSNBC — fairy tales concocted to mask global machinations that would loosen the bowels of most common men.

Contemporary sports left Spender cold, reality programming made him despair for the future of the planet, and Tony Soprano was a sentimentalized amateur who wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in any efficient criminal operation.

He was on the verge of opting for brooding silence when raucous canned laughter erupted from the set. It was a “Cheers” marathon, and although Spender’d always viewed this kind of sitcom drivel as one of the lower achievements of his species, it seemed a tolerable enough alternative to the hum of the air conditioning.

By the time he’d reduced his meal to a potato husk and a pool of blood and broth (Spender fancied a special circle of Hell for those who left their fat for the busboy and calibrated their carbs by an atomic clock), he had been sucked into Sam and Diane’s universe of proletarian camaraderie and Dostoyevskian tomfoolery.

It made no difference that this was fiction, played out on a soundstage by performers who likely would never deign to dive into a bowl of picked-over peanuts in some congested Beantown bar. Spender had been touched by something fundamental, something that flickered within the dead coals of his soul, something revelatory and bracing and poignant. The mailman Cliff’s incessantly ludicrous trivia, the waitress Carla’s razor-honed jibes at her friends and patrons, innkeeper Sam’s lunkheadedly loving counsel to all who entered his bar — such things had no place in the cold, faithless vacuum of Spender’s universe.

And for the first time, Spender suspected his existence was all the more empty for the absence of banal chatter and wasted moments of trivial reflection. He had decades ago cast his lot, and left his life’s path littered with bodies and ashes. There was no returning to a world where other tired souls might trumpet his name as he entered the room or inquire after his daily trials and tribulations. But Spender’s spirit lightened slightly when the call came and he was informed his mission had temporarily been scrubbed (he found the high-profile pyrotechnics of the princess’ later Parisian “accident” garish and excessive). And he soon thereafter bought the entire “Cheers” oeuvre on VHS — and subsequently, on DVD.

Spender ordered a Scotch. As the alcohol burned pleasantly down his ravaged esophagus, his fingers closed around his Morleys and the cool metal of his lighter.

“Whoa, don’t even think about it.”

The cigarette stopped an inch from Spender’s lips, and he turned to the rumpled man two stools away.

“Not that I care,” the middle-aged traveler grinned, waving toward the “Thanks For Not Smoking” sign bolted to a post behind the bar. “Gave ’em up myself a year ago — wife forced the issue. But sometimes when I’m on the road like this, I find some little bar near the tracks and just soak up all the secondhand fumes I can get. Joints like that are getting tougher to find, though, with all these smoking ordinances and statutes and everything, I mean, New York City Council’s outlawed trans fats, for God’s sake. Chicago, it’s illegal to serve goose liver pate.” The stranger held up his glass. “Next thing you know, they’ll be coming after this. Damned Nazis.”

Spender laughed harshly, and the man regarded him strangely. “I’m sorry,” Spender smiled. “It’s just, well…” He displayed the lighter, and his fellow traveler gasped. Engraved on the silver case was an eagle, wings spread, roosting atop a wreath of oak leaves. The wreath encircled a familiar, insidious symbol. A broken cross, its arms bent at right angles.

CSM

“Jesus,” the rumpled man whispered. “That thing real?”

Spender turned the lighter.

“‘Zum Herr Wolff — Mein mutiger adler. Liebe, Eva,'” the man stumbled.

“‘To Herr Wolff — My courageous eagle. Love, Eva,'” Spender supplied. “An inside joke. He often used the alias Herr Wolff in the ’20s for security reasons, and she adopted it as a term of endearment.”

“Who–? Oh, shit, Eva. Eva Braun? That thing didn’t belong to–?”

Spender smiled. Until a few months ago, he’d kept this little icebreaker at the cabin, in a lockbox with other souvenirs of his travels. But some impulse — perhaps the recklessness that came with age and resignation, perhaps pride in the deed that had led to its acquisition, perhaps a mere reminder of the influence he once had yielded — had led him to keep the lighter close to him.

This was, however, the first time he’d shared its existence with others.

It had been nearly 30 years ago.

The Frenchman himself had dispatched Spender to the old monster’s compound in Paraguay. The Austrian had been a paranoid madman in the ’40s; the intervening decades and enforced idleness reportedly had loosened his tongue, and the Consortium’s members feared what might roll from it in a weak moment.

The Austrian’s mind may have been fading, but his memory was long, and the old Nazi had never entirely trusted the disfigured ex-Resistance fighter. But he seemed inexplicably fond of Spender, to the Cigarette Smoking Man’s well-concealed horror.

True to Internet legend, the former chancellor was a vegetarian, a virtual teetotaler, and an avid non-smoker — he had launched a fervent anti-tobacco campaign across Germany, and had awarded gold watches to several associates who had quit.

After an evening sans meat, liquor, and nicotine and replete with demented ramblings about the Jew Conspiracy and the prospective Fourth Reich’s impending role in purging “the mongrels from the stars,” Spender was all too happy to carry out his assignment.

As he prepared to flee The Austrian’s compound for a local tavern and a pack of Morleys, Spender as an afterthought returned to the parlor where the Nazi lay dead of an apparent embolism and helped himself to the silver lighter the clean-living old swine had kept solely out of love for his wartime mistress.

“Where in the hell did you get this thing?”

The rumpled man’s voice was tinged with disgust and, Spender thought, a tinge of fear. He was amused by the man’s reaction to this inanimate object, this curiously useless keepsake of a genocidal beast, but he’d already overindulged his dark sense of humor, at potentially significant risk.

“Ebay,” Spender murmured. “May I buy you another drink, friend?”

Lambert-St. Louis International Airport

St. Louis, Missouri

6:31 p.m.

“No, no, no,” the cabbie, a stout African, insisted. “This is a smoking-free environment. You cannot do this in here.”

Spender nodded as the Arch came into view, and, again, pocketed Hitler’s lighter. The cigarette, he left between his lips. Angry eyes flashed in the rearview mirror, and the cabbie goosed the gas.

Adam’s Mark Hotel

20 Minutes Later

The downtown Adam’s Mark was teeming with suits and polo shirts emblazoned with the names of pharmaceutical firms, agricultural conglomerates, and government agencies. Spender caught snatches of English, French, German, Japanese, Chinese, and a dozen Arabic and African dialects as he wove through the lobby.

He glanced at the banner hung behind the registration desk–”BIO/07: The Structure of Tomorrow”– and wondered why The Frenchman had selected such a mob scene for their meeting.

The wait at the elevator bank was interminable, and on the way to 23, Spender endured an animated dialogue between two biotech lawyers about “proof of concept” and FDA approvals. Again, he massaged the crumpled pack in his jacket. The door to 2318 opened before Spender could rap a second time. Krycek smirked. “They’ve been waiting for you,” the younger man murmured. “I need a drink.”

Spender took a breath as Krycek receded down the hall and quietly closed the door behind him.

The Frenchman nodded, smiling dryly as he warmed his omnipresent brandy with both hands. A bespectacled Asian rose from an armchair next to the Scarred Man, eyeing Spender anxiously and, the Cigarette Smoking Man noted, with apparent  disappointment. “Hello, my friend,” The Frenchman called warmly. “Mr. Arai, this is our friend, Mr. Spender.”

Arai’s head bobbed quickly, and Spender bowed slightly. The man clearly was nervous, perhaps desperate. Spender looked to The Frenchman.

“Please help yourself to some palinka, Mr. Spender. It’s a bracing Romanian plum brandy — I was delighted to find it available here in, how do they say, the Heartland?”

“I’m fine,” Spender murmured.

The Scarred Man shrugged. “Mr. Arai is the senior vice president of agricultural products with Katsuhiru. He is attending the biotechnology conference downstairs, in fact is delivering a key address on some subject of acute scientific interest, I am sure.”

Spender dropped onto the couch at the mention of the corporate dynasty. Arai stared unbelievingly at the seemingly serene Frenchman. The Scarred Man glanced at his pensive guests and sighed.

“Yes,” he breathed. “Well. My friend, we once again require your inestimable services. I will allow Mr. Arai to apprise you of the unpleasantries that have arisen.”

Spender looked up at the Japanese executive.

“It is bad,” Arai announced. “It is very bad.”

Spender leaned back into the cushions, his hand seeking the comfort of the cool vintage lighter and his Morleys.

“Please sir,” Arai grunted apologetically. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t.”

Spender hesitated, his eyes never leaving Arai. After a minute, he left the pack of Morleys in his pocket, let his hand drop and leaned back in an intentionally casual attitude, waiting to hear the “very bad” news.

ACT II

Office of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C.

October 2, 2007

10:25 a.m.

The creature was roughly the size of a border collie, its thorax was covered with downy bristles, its abdomen encircled by ebony stripes, its wings incongruously delicate and veined. Two out-sized compound eyes shone with an inky intensity. The agent stared into the alien orbs with something akin to affection.

“Apis mellifera,” the Fed announced, lingering a second over the image projected onto the wall of the basement office. “The Western honeybee. Subspecies have emerged across the globe, and they are perhaps the world’s most economically crucial organisms.”

The insect disappeared, to be replaced with rolling fields of corn. In quick succession, the agent displayed slides of Midwest wheat fields, Chinese apple orchards, French rapeseed plots, and Colombian coffee plantations.

The agent’s eyes glinted with the passion of science — a passion that had pushed colleagues away, which had led to this virtual exile to the hinterlands of the agency.

“The Western honeybee is essential to pollination — an important step in the reproduction of seed plants. The insect transfers pollen grains — the plant’s male gametes — to the plant carpel, the structure that contains the ovule — the female gamete.”

“Whew, and you haven’t even bought me dinner yet,” Agent Mulder murmured before his host could continue. Agent Berenbaum tapped the projector remote against her chin with a faintly disapproving smile.

“The bottom line,” the former USDA entomologist sighed, “Is that the Western honeybee is key to global agriculture and food production. New York’s apple crop alone requires roughly 30,000 hives of bees for pollination per year; Maine’s blueberry crop uses nearly 50,000 hives.  Bees are also brought to commercial plantings of cucumbers, squash, melons, strawberries, and many other crops. Close to a million bees are trucked to California’s almond orchards every season. Altogether, bee pollination is important to at least 90 flowering crops.  And, as I’m sure you’ve read, Fox, something is killing Apis mellifera. Tens of thousands of colonies have been lost in 35 states — it’s a very real threat to commercial U.S. beekeepers and fruit, grain, and oilseed producers.”

Mulder leaned back in Dr. Berenbaum’s chair, appraising the scientist/investigator. “And why, if I may ask, does this concern Homeland Security?”

He’d met Bambi Berenbaum more than a decade ago, during the investigation of an inexplicable — and to date, unexplained — cockroach infestation in Massachusetts. Mulder had instantly been mesmerized by Bambi’s physical charms and her unflappable intellectual curiosity (well, maybe a bit more by the former than the latter). But it wasn’t to be: At the conclusion of the case, Bambi wound up with, and eventually wed, internationally renowned roboticist Alexander Ivanov.

Then 9/11 happened. Dr. Berenbaum was shipped off with most of her colleagues at Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services to Homeland Security. The APHIS folk suddenly found themselves in some fairly intense company, but while most simply retreated into the lab, Bambi attacked her new duties with a renewed zeal and an iron will.

That zeal produced a 435-page guidance document on the potential use of invasive invertebrate species by terrorist factions bent on bringing down a major U.S. economic/trade sector.

Bambi asked some hard questions about several recent incidents such as the Asian longhorn beetle’s Midwest bingefest and the varroa mite’s intensified assault on the Western honeybee population.

While she drove home the point that her theories about infestation as a terrorist weapon were strictly speculative, a Washington Post writer having a slow news day fell onto a copy of her treatise and published selected excerpts under the banner “Bush’s war on terror gone buggy?”

Dr. Berenbaum consequently became the Jerry McGuire of DHS, albeit in classic D.C. fashion: She was shipped downstairs to larger quarters with a promotion that would virtually guarantee her future invisibility. Once again, Bambi adapted like a predatory diving beetle to her lucrative “setback,” and when the economic dynamics of “colony collapse disorder” began to sink in, her bosses sent her back into the field to solve the mystery of the imperiled pollinators.

Bambi sighed. “The department publicly minimized my paper on invasive agroterrorism, but some of the black helicopter types — no offense, Fox.”

“None taken,” Mulder grinned weakly.

“Some of my colleagues on the investigative side believe there’s something more to colony collapse than some new viral strain, varroa mite gone wild, or some kind of environmental mutagen. I guess I’m beginning to think there may be some basis for their concerns.”

Mulder studied her wordlessly. Bambi misinterpreted his silent appraisal as an invitation to amplify her suspicions.

“One of my team, an environmental scientist named Todd Grossbeck, has been analyzing soil, water, and air quality across the Western Corn Belt, looking at possible environmental factors affecting native mellifera populations. A week ago, Todd told me he’d detected what he called ‘a nearly insignificant anomaly’ in a couple of the ambient air samples. He’d wouldn’t go into any details — said he wanted to do a little more testing and research first.”

“Research? He give you any hints?”

Bambi’s expression darkened. “Nothing. He was very tightlipped, very adamant. As if he didn’t want to put his neck out until he knew he was on solid ground. These DHS types don’t exactly worship us pure science types, and he saw what happened to me.”

“You think he may be onto something. But what do you want me to do? Lean on him, threaten him with a long weekend at Guantanamo if he doesn’t spill?”

“He’s dead.”

Mulder sat up, Bambi’s stricken expression now registering fully.

“Todd and his crew were in Eastern Iowa, sampling some soybean plots. One of the technicians ran into town to buy fresh batteries for some of his gear. When she came back, she found Todd seizing. He was flushed, and there was a puddle of vomitus nearby, so Shelley — the tech — guessed anaphylaxis. She had an epi pen, and she administered it while she called 911. But it was too late — he coded in the ambulance before they could get him to the closest regional hospital. They found what appears to be a small sting wound on his forearm.”

“What appears to be–”

“That’s why I called you. They’re shipping Todd’s body back in a day or two, and I want a full, detailed autopsy. Not the superficial P.M. the local coroner did.”

Then it dawned. “Scully.”

“And you,” Bambi emphasized. “There may be some elements to this that require your unorthodox perspective.”

“Ah. I knew crazy would pay off someday.” Mulder grew serious. “Look, Bambi, I’m happy to help any way I can, but, really, this is a stretch even for me. Anaphylactic shock, in a field probably chock full of hymenoptera? Not exactly an exotic Malaysian blowgun dart tipped with curare.”

Bambi nodded calmly, then moved around her desk, slipped the top drawer open, and pulled out what appeared to be a portrait-sized photo. “Todd was a former student of mine, a Minnesota farm kid with a fascination for bugs. When he was nine, in fact, he went exploring on a neighbor’s farm. The neighbor was a custom pollinator, couple hundred hives on his place. Well, Todd got a little overexuberant in his explorations and knocked over a colony. He told me he sustained at least three dozen stings and came out with ‘a red face and a redder ass after his dad got done with him.’  This is Todd — it was his favorite photo.”

The thin, auburn-haired boy was grinning from ear to ear. In fact, the grin was nearly all that could be seen on Todd Grossbeck’s face. The rest was covered with a thick, yellow-and-black swarm of what Mulder could only surmise to be Western honeybees.

FBI Headquarters

Basement Office

X-Files Division

Scully strode into the office to find her partner rifling through the file drawers. “Mulder? What are you doing here?”

Mulder turned abruptly at the sound of her voice, pulling the file he’d been looking for from the drawer and slamming it shut. “Research,” was the only word he could come up with as he faced her.

Her radar indicated he was up to something, “Research on what?” she asked him hesitantly.

“Bees,” he told her as he stepped over to the desk and picked up a folder, handing it to her.

Scully gave him another skeptical look and flipped open the folder wincing immediately at the autopsy photo of Todd’s face.

“That’s Todd Grossbeck, environmental scientist, he worked for Homeland Security,” Mulder told her.

She glanced through the preliminary findings attached to the photo and then looked up at her partner. “Says here he died from anaphylactic shock. That’s not uncommon, Mulder. What’s your interest in this?”

“Just something a friend asked me to look into.”

Always wary of Mulder’s ‘friends,’ she questioned him, “A friend?”

“An entomologist, Dr. Berenbaum…”

Scully ran the name through her memory, “Bambi?” she exclaimed before he could utter another word.

Mulder gave her a sheepish grin. He’d been quite taken by the attractive brunette back then. Bambi, on the other hand evidently didn’t feel the same way. “She married Ivanov by the way,” he admitted.

“Her loss,” she replied straight-faced. Mulder chuckled.

“Todd had no allergy,” Mulder told her, growing serious again. “Grossbeck headed a team investigating this “colony collapse” in the honeybee population. They were working fields out in Iowa when he was ‘attacked’. He never made it to the hospital. In her last conversation with him, Bambi said he thought he might be on to something but wouldn’t give her the details until he was certain.”

“She thinks someone killed him?” Scully surmised.

Mulder studied his partner, “She thinks, and I quote, ‘There may be some elements to this that require my unorthodox perspective.'”

“And you, of course, agree.”

Mulder handed her the X-File he had extracted from the drawer and motioned for her to sit down. “That is a case I investigated back in 1997,” he started to tell her as she flipped open the folder. “It started out as an investigation in the death of a postal worker, one Jane Brody who was stung to death by a swarm of bees in an employee bathroom and whose body later disappeared from the morgue. It turned into what I believe was a cover-up of some sort of experiment gone wrong. You can add the death of an entomologist, a teacher, and several children at J.F.K. Elementary School in Payson, South Carolina who were also attacked by bees to the list as well as the murder of a Desmond, Virginia detective,” he finished. He wasn’t about to add the part about Skinner’s involvement and his own debauchery in covering that up.

“Where was…? She started to ask why she had no recollection of the case until the date on the folder caught her eye. Dying from cancer, she answered for herself. Mulder watched the recognition spread across her face but said nothing. “You think this might be related?” she finally ascertained.

“It has the same buzz to it, yes,” he concurred watching the subtle grin spread across his partner’s lips. “But I’m washing my hands of it. Bambi’s having Todd’s body sent down here. She asked if you would do a full, detailed autopsy — and go from there.”

Scully was puzzled by his about-face, “You sound like you’re passing the buck, Mulder.”

“I have the feeling this is gonna require some field work,” Mulder made a motion like his arm was chained to the desk. “I desperately want to get back in the field and if that doesn’t happen soon I’m gonna gnaw my arm off. So for now I need to be a good dog. You don’t need me to work this case, Scully. Do the preliminary, Skinner will okay the 302.”

Office of Wallace Manville, Ph.D.

Avenue W.

Washington, D.C.

11:00 a.m.

“Agent Mulder?”

Mulder looked up at the towering psychologist poised in the inner office doorway, tossing the Architectural Digest onto the doctor’s otherwise immaculate reception room table.

“Thank God. Your magazine selection sucks. I’d think neurotics and narcissists would like People.”

Dr. Manville nodded soberly. “Less Bauhaus, more Brangelina. Duly noted. Please, come in, Agent.”

Manville’s office was spare. A selection of psychological texts and journals lined the wall behind an outsized mahogany desk clear of either work or personal paraphernalia.

A pair of caramel leather club chairs were centered with mathematical precision in the center of a mirror-buffed hardwood floor, and a quartet of framed degrees were the only adornments on the doctor’s matte burgundy walls.

Manville

“Have a seat,” Manville invited.

Mulder smirked, glanced at both chairs, and settled into the soft leather. Manville lowered himself gracefully, positioning a yellow legal pad in his lap. The doctor’s mineral eyes nearly matched his close-cropped gray hair and mustache, and his lips were molded into a superficially pleasant smile.

“Did I choose correctly?” Mulder asked dryly.

Manville’s smile expanded a micrometer, and he nodded curtly. “I suppose. That is my customary chair, as I assume you’ve deduced. There is only one clock in the office, and it can be seen only from my chair — clockwatching tends to inhibit the therapeutic process.”

Mulder arched an eyebrow in an acquired gesture. “And here I always thought it was a post-doctoral control trip. Yeah, I saw the clock, but I also see you’re a southpaw — the right arm of the chair is more worn than the left, because you’re constantly jotting perceptive little observations and Freudian scribbles on your Pad of Secrets. Plus, I think I spot some sweat stains on the other chair there.”

Manville’s colorless eyes narrowed even as his smile held. “You sound almost like… well, no matter.” The therapist settled back in the patient chair. “I was told you work in Behavioral Sciences — you’re what, a profiler, they call it on TV? Oxford, I understand. Very facile deductive and intuitive sense. I met one of your colleagues years ago — same agile facilities. I also understand you have some strong issues with authority. So, yes, I suppose you made the correct choice.”

Mulder feigned a pained expression. “Want me to let you know when our fifty minutes is up?”

“Thirty — this is merely an intake session. And thanks, but I’ll manage.” Manville nodded to a point behind Mulder. The agent grinned questioningly and craned around the back of the chair. A stylish clock face was reflected in the glass encasing Manville’s Stanford doctoral diploma.

Mulder’s grin widened, then vanished as he turned back to the psychologist. Manville shrugged. “I can’t very well label the ‘shrink’s throne,’ can I? And, as you know, I field many Bureau referrals, so I’m certainly used to relinquishing my chair on occasion.”

“Touche’. So I’m not even a particularly special prick.”

Manville’s smile ratcheted back to its default setting. “I cited your authority issues. Possessing a strong force of will, a critical worldview — that doesn’t define one as a prick. The exercise of that will, the extent to which cynicism obscures that worldview — I think you’ll find that that’s what separates the pricks from the pack. And, actually, I believe we’ve established your particularly specialized pedigree and abilities.”

Mulder crossed his leg. “Everybody’s special, so, therefore, nobody’s special.”

“We keep this up,” Manville mused, “and we won’t have time for perceptive observations and Freudian jottings. I assume you’ve had a few personal encounters with the psychiatric profession.”

Mulder’s grin froze. “You’ve got my dossier, right? Spooky Mulder? Babbles on about extraterrestrial abductions, global conspiracies, boogeymen under every bed and monsters among us? Obsessed with resurrecting his ‘dead’ baby sister? I’ve been having close encounters with your compatriots since I was 12 — survivor’s guilt because Samantha was taken and I wasn’t; repressed memories about the night she was taken; traumatic delusions about the true nature of my sister’s disappearance. One guy kept asking me about my ‘relationship’ with Samantha: What kind of ‘games’ did we play? Did my Mom or Dad ever ‘interact’ with me in an ‘appropriate’ manner? Luckily, I had a solid alibi, and Dad quickly shipped me off to another shaman. I’ve been hypnotized, had disco lights flashed in my face, been shot up with ketamine, and even had one guy try to drain some demons from my brain with an electric drill.”

“Charlie Goldstein,” Manville murmured. “I read his papers on regression therapy. Posthumously, of course. Goldstein had some fascinating, if flawed, theories.”

“He actually wasn’t such a bad guy. I liked him a lot better than the one who kept telling me I needed a cathartic cry.” Mulder responded. “In short, don’t expect many Judd Hirsch-Timothy Hutton moments from our time together. I’m sure there are folks out there who need to be fucked up far worse than me, so why don’t we just make a new hole in your schedule?”

“If it aids at all in our therapeutic relationship,” Manville told him coolly, “I might remind you your director insists I sign off on your emotional and mental soundness if you’re to remain on active Bureau duty.”

Mulder was silent for a moment. “Perceptive observation. Remind me later to draw a little Freudian jotting for you. By the way, who was the profiler? The other disturbed fibbie? Guess that’s probably classified, right?”

“Not at all,” Manville smiled. “She wasn’t a patient. I was, ah, consulted, in the investigation of a former associate. But no matter. For your own amusement, why don’t you tell me a little about your work. What do you do with the Bureau?”

Mulder glanced at the clock behind Manville’s head. “Sorry, Doc, but I believe our time’s about up.”

ACT III

Katsuhiru Inc.

Yokohama, Japan

1951

Humility was a concept foreign to Shindo Katsuhiru. He had captained one of the most feared and respected of Japan’s Zaibatsu — the huge family conglomerates that had virtually controlled the nation’s economy until the Occupation. Shindo was as a god to his underlings and a demon to those who dared challenge his dominance.

After the Zaibatsu were dismantled, Katsuhiru was one of the first of the major public corporations to emerge amid Japan’s “economic miracle” of the post-Occupation era. Shindo and his oldest son Endo — a prewar Oxford graduate who had embraced the Western business model — had recognized in the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the raw power science offered, and acquired with ruthless efficiency new holdings in pharmaceuticals, electronics, agriculture, and electrical generation.

Shindo Katsuhiru bowed only with his hips, his peers and enemies alike said (outside Shindo’s presence). Humility was anathema — a despised weakness, a superfluous emotion. But today, Shindo was humble in the presence of his diminutive, seemingly unassuming guest. The man bowed gravely to Shindo and his son, and Shindo dipped deeply, eyes momentarily closed.

This modest, bespectacled man, like Shindo, was a survivor, a modern ronin who looked only forward. After the war, the Americans sought to try him as a war criminal, but MacArthur intervened on his behalf, understanding he was an essential symbol of Japan’s cohesion and continuity.

Further, Shindo’s guest was a man of science. In his special laboratory in Tokyo, he continued to indulge his love of marine biology and, in fact, had described dozens of species of jellyfish previously unknown to zoologists.

He had published numerous scholarly papers under his personal name — a name only a select few used in his presence.

“Hirohito-san, you honor us,” Shindo murmured, ushering the Emperor into a lush office that could have belonged to a Madison Avenue executive if not for his sumi-e paintings and Kotaro Takamura sculptures. This had been Endo’s influence — the younger man had wisely understood commercial dominance would be Japan’s ultimate victory over the West.

“My good friend,” Hirohito smiled, “you honor me with your indulgence.”

“We are your servants, my son and I,” Shindo nodded. “Please, sit. I ordered a lovely plum wine for your visit. Would you join me?”

“It would be my pleasure.” Endo nodded to his father and stepped into the hallway. Shindo nodded to his son who bowed and stepped into the hallway.

“He is a reflection of his father,” Hirohito noted. “Katsuhiru is a major force in restoring our global power, and that is what brings me here. The fate of Japan, perhaps of this world, may rest in your hands.”

Shindo’s brows rose. His friend was not given to melodrama.

“Please,” the corporate magnate entreated. “Tell me how I may be of service to you, to my country.”

Emperor Hirohito placed his hands on his knees and sighed. “My friend, you may think I am a madman by the time I have completed my tale.”

Once plum brandy had been served, with all the traditional Japanese customs observed, Hirohito began.

Sometime later, Shindo and his son glanced at each other as Hirohito concluded his fantastic account.

“We have documentation, tissue samples — you are to have access to all, if, of course, you agree to assist us.”

Endo began to speak. This arcane tale of Nazis, otherworldly creatures, and Hitler’s bizarre experimentation…

His father’s hand stayed his skepticism. “There is no question of our loyalty, Hirohito-san,” Shindo said. “But how can Katsuhiru assist you?”

The Emperor templed his fingers. “Adolph Hitler was an insane monster, and his efforts to deal with this threat were equally insane and monstrous. Sound science is the key to safeguarding our planet. Our new American ‘friends’ agree — they are working with some of Hitler’s more, shall we say, rational scientists? Meanwhile, I am placing my faith in Katsuhiru’s considerable scientific acumen. I have been authorized to provide you with virtually unlimited resources.”

“To what?” Endo inquired, suppressing the incredulity in his voice. “To develop a weapon?”

Hirohito smiled gravely. “Ah, yes. In a manner.”

Adam’s Mark Hotel

St. Louis, Missouri

Present Day

Mr. Arai drained his brandy thirstily. “They named it ‘Project Anubis,'” he whispered.

“The Egyptian God of the Dead,” Spender murmured. The Japanese scientist turned to him, eyes wide. “Anubis was, more precisely, the guardian of the dead, before Osiris, in the Old Kingdom, who was the Conductor of Souls in the Underworld and protected them on their journey to the Afterlife in the West.”

“I am told it was their joke,” Mr. Arai nodded. “They meant to guide … them, all of them … to the underworld, to hell. And because the Egyptians were masters of apiculture.”

“Bees?”

Mr. Arai jumped at Spender’s inquiry. “Bees, yes, Mr. Spender.”

The Cigarette Smoking Man’s brow rose. “What’s happening now, the disappearance of the bees. This is your doing?”

Mr. Arai looked to the silent, immobile Frenchman, who nodded once. He poured himself another healthy dose of palinka. “The Emperor asked Mr. Katsuhiru to devise a weapon. More specifically, to make the Earth itself a weapon. To make it an inhospitable environment for … for them.”

Spender hooked an arm over the back of the hotel couch, and his lined face suddenly broke into a broad, grim smile that might have chilled the marrow of the jackal-headed Anubis. It all came home now — Strughold and his massive colonies along the Nile, the smallpox incident nearly a decade ago, the dead bee he had delivered to the Elders.

He laughed — a nicotine-scarred rasp. “Brilliant. Your honorable predecessor fell upon the perfect Trojan horse, the ideal vehicle for his biological weapon.”

“Yes, yes.” Mr. Arai’s dark expression brightened. The irony in Spender’s voice was totally lost on him. “Subspecies of the Western honeybee have developed on nearly every continent. They are virtually omnipresent. Originally, they were to be bred with Africanized species to bring out their aggressive tendencies, and genetically modified with a DNA- specific virus fatal only to … the others.”

“But that would be merely the start,” the Frenchman spoke up. “The magnificent minds at Katsuhiru postulated a virus that could be incorporated into and alter the genetic structure of any organism, flora or fauna. These bees were to be the ‘Anubites’ — the servants of Anubis, the emissaries of death.”

“Through pollination, they would inoculate the planet’s crops, the world’s vegetation. Meat, eggs, milk — all would become deadly. Earth would become a virtual Rappaccini’s garden of death.”

Spender finally sipped his brandy. “Very ambitious. And you’ve perfected this virus?”

“We believe so,” Mr. Arai said. “We’ve worked for decades, eliminated hundreds of possibilities. The transgenics team finished years ago — Katsuhiru actually completed mapping the bee genome 10 years before the Honey Bee Genome Sequencing Consortium was formed in 2001. Of course, we were unable to seek the Nobel Prize.” The scientist laughed nervously.

The Frenchman smiled indulgently; Spender peered curiously over his brandy.

“Yes, well,” Mr. Arai continued, “We have successfully bred several generations of transgenic carrier bees, and our field tests of inoculated corn, orchard fruit, and almonds have been highly gratifying.”

“I assume, of course,” Spender drawled, “that you have anticipated the possibility of viral mutation, of foodborne allergies within the general populace. We wouldn’t want any collateral deaths, would we?”

The Frenchman sighed, shaking his broad, bald head with amusement. Mr. Arai glanced at the carpet, guilt etched into every facial feature. “We have developed a vaccine,” he mumbled. “And an antidote.”

Spender smiled darkly, his faith in humanity intact. “As a gift to the world, of course.”

The Frenchman spared Mr. Arai. “Please, continue, my friend.”

“Yes. We are, of course, several generations, perhaps a few years, away from producing a ‘manageable’ population of the ‘Anubites,’ as you call them,” Arai continued. “Until this time comes, we are replicating strictly sterile bees with a self-terminating gene. The average worker bee lives one to four months. Our Anubites have a lifespan of less than 20 days, to minimize potential damage in the inconceivable event of an accidental environmental release.”

“Owing to the urgency with which I was summoned, I assume the inconceivable has occurred ?” Spender mused.

Mr. Arai was silent for a moment. “Several colonies disappeared seven months ago. They were being transported by truck from our labs near Nagano to the port at Yokohama, for shipment to Africa, per Mr. Strughold’s orders. The truck — which was camouflaged as an electronic supply vehicle — was ambushed and the driver and our three-man security crew murdered. The colonies — several hundred thousand bees — simply vanished.”

“An insider,” Spender grunted.

“It would seem so, but every member of the Anubis team has been thoroughly investigated and exonerated. We began to hope that perhaps the theft was merely a coincidence — a brutal hijacking — and that the hijackers would destroy the bees as worthless. At the worst, we were hopeful the Anubites would terminate before they could do any true harm. But then, two very disturbing developments emerged,” Arai stated grimly.

“The first was the outbreak in Kentucky, five months ago. We had an agent within your CDC. The symptomology, it was identical to that of the strain we had incorporated into the stolen Anubites. The outbreak appeared to be isolated, but it was clear that at least some of the bees had survived despite their genetic reprogramming.”

“Clearly,” Spender sighed. “And this second development?”

Mr. Arai looked at this moment as though he would gladly have taken the honorable exit preferred by many of his Japanese ancestors. “Despite this … setback, we had continued our research. But then, a few weeks ago, one of our scientists discovered … something in one of the colonies.”

“Allow me to venture a guess,” Spender requested pleasantly. “The innate biological imperative to survive kicked in, overriding your technology. The will of nature, the obstinacy of life, whatever you wish to call it. You found eggs.”

Somewhere, far below, an angry cab horn sounded, breaking the silence that descended on the plush hotel room. Mr. Arai snapped back to Earth as he heard a metallic snap, like a shell dropping into a chamber.

Spender fired Hitler’s lighter, and applied the flame to the Morley between his withered lips. The lines about his eyes and mouth relaxed as he took in the first foul, lethal fumes that always served to reassure of him of some measure of free will.

Office of Wallace Manville, Ph.D.

Avenue W.

Washington, D.C.

11:00 a.m.

Manville eased into the guest chair without acknowledging the inverted clock superimposed over his Stanford credentials.

Mulder dropped into Manville’s chair without spilling a drop of the Grande Caramel Macchiato that had made him a fashionable — and premeditative — five minutes late. If the therapist had noted his tardiness, he failed to acknowledge it, as well.

“Being as it’s our first full session, why don’t you begin?” Manville invited. “Maybe you can offer me some insight into what you’d like to get out of all this. Plus, I’m fairly certain it’ll prove infinitely more fascinating.”

Mulder nodded, squinting at the vaulted ceiling. “Hmm, so you want to know what? What’s eating me?”

Manville waited, pen hand at ease over his pad.

“Where to start…” Mulder murmured. “My relationship with Dad? Little clichéd, right? Mom? Little too Freudian, huh? How about my strong issues with authority? Whoops, sorry — now I’m just cannibalizing you.”

“Ah.” The psychiatrist’s eyes smiled. “Obviously, you’ve seen my ‘dossier,’ as well. While I’m frankly curious to plumb the depths of your anthropophagic wordplay, we’re not here to amuse me. That’s merely a fortunate byproduct. If I may ask, when did you start the background check? After our first session? Or before?”

“Let’s say I narrowed the parameters after our initial discussion. I already knew you were a honcho in the trade — top of your class, a half-dozen reasonably scholarly books to your credit. Of course, the few of your tight, uh, mouthed colleagues I could talk to wouldn’t say much about you. Professional curtseying. Sorry, courtesy.”

Manville’s mustache crimped at the corners, not out of vanity but in the fortunate byproduct of amusement.

Mulder nestled into supple leather. “But when you told me you’d worked with another BSU agent on a case involving a professional cohort, it rang a bell. I found out you’d done a psych residency in Baltimore back in the ’80s.”

“And that I was on staff with the estimable Dr. Hannibal Lecter, thus the subtle references to cannibalism.”

“Braise and snarf a coworker’s liver, you kinda get labeled for life. The tipoff is when you mentioned the investigating agent was a ‘she.'” Mulder smiled disingenuously. “Glass ceiling’s a little higher today, but back when Buffalo Bill was grinnin’ and skinnin’ and Hannibal the Cannibal was chewing up the scenery, there weren’t too many equal opportunity profilers.  The Buffalo Bill case put Special Agent Clarice Starling on the map, and when she disappeared a few years ago, nobody was sure whether Lecter sliced and diced her or whether she and Hannibal the Cannibal had registered at Bloomingdale’s. What do you think?”

Manville shrugged casually. “I talked to her for a half-hour two decades ago. I recall she was driven, intense, definitely a Type A. I remember detecting a distinctly southern patois and a blue-collar sensibility and servility. Agent Starling was intent on inspecting the seams of that glass ceiling until she found an entry point.   At least that was my impression. At the same time, I could sense her empathy with Dr. Lecter’s alleged victims as well as a grudging admiration for the doctor’s intelligence and intuition.”

“But you don’t remember anything much about her, huh? And ‘alleged’? Sounds almost like you’re a member of the Lecter Fan Club, yourself.” Mulder deadpanned.

“He was a brilliant man with brilliant insights. From what I remember, of course. Baltimore General was a huge institution, and Dr. Lecter and I were part of a huge psych staff. We interacted, of course,” Manville shrugged imperceptibly, “but no more than any other doctor and resident. I recall he was charming, tactful when the situation warranted, reverting to near savagery when someone screwed up. But I really spent very little time in his personal company. I told Agent Starling as much. But I’m assuming you already know that. You share many traits with Agent Starling.”

Mulder frowned, glanced at the clock behind Manville’s head. In fact, he had sought out Starling’s field report, only to find it had been sealed along with most of her subsequent casefiles after she’d dropped off the face of the earth. He couldn’t very well have pushed Skinner for access under the current circumstances. But for some reason, Manville had practically waved Lecter in front of his nose.

“Any further inquiries?” Manville smiled solicitously, glancing at his Stanford diploma. He nodded at Mulder’s silence. “Lecter’s a fascinating character. Sorry I couldn’t provide you with any intriguing insights. Let’s talk about you for awhile, Agent Mulder. I understand you and your partner — Agent Scully? -– share a very unusual bond. For the Bureau, that is. How would you say that dynamic affects your professional rapport?”

Mulder froze. The paper cup in his fingers crimped slightly — the sole giveaway that Manville had hit a nerve. His fingers relaxed, and he smiled tightly.

“This ain’t about Scully,” the agent drawled in his best ‘Dr. Phil.’ Manville smiled back, indulgently, and Mulder flushed. “Look, Doc, any perceived quirks in my recent behavior aren’t the product of sexual tension or romantic angst.”

“Interesting, though, that you’d raise the topic. You are experiencing some? Angst?”

“Agent Scully does not figure into this.” Mulder’s eyes were pure, unblinking steel. “You wanna get into my fucked-up childhood or my latent UFOria or whatever demented delusions they’ve told you I suffer from, knock yourself out. Leave Scully out of it.”

Manville didn’t break eye contact, but he shifted deliberately into a more laconic pose in his chair, one side of his mustache quirking into a bit of a smirk. The condescending reaction hit its mark, as intended — Mulder’s hand was now shaking slightly as he reigned in his growing temper.

“If there are issues in your relationship with Agent Scully — and, given your history, your recent violence, your past, your sister and your parents’ lack of support and love, I suspect there is — then a certain, ah, lack of function wouldn’t be out of the realm,” Manville suggested in a perfectly even voice, nodding meaningfully at Mulder’s lap. “I could prescribe something to help, well, allay any symptoms that may distract us from addressing root issues. Something potent, something blue?”

“WHAT?” Mulder roared, his macchiato dropping to the hardwood, his other hand white- knuckling the arm of the chair. Manville appeared not to notice the mocha tributary trickling toward his loafered foot.

“If you don’t care for the pharmaceutical approach, I often recommend that clients whose needs aren’t being met interpersonally by their partners to take matters into their own hands, if you catch my drift. Self-pleasure could help take the edge off, or at least take it down a few notches. Or, even better, I could recommend some manual exercises for Agent Scully…”

Mulder, red-faced and miles beyond furious, exploded from his chair, splattering his spilled latte onto Manville’s cuff.

The doctor looked up dispassionately as Mulder thundered across the few feet between them. His critical composure stopped Mulder short inches away. The agent blinked, struggling to control his rage, then slumped back into Manville’s chair.

“Well,” Manville murmured. “We can come back to this later. Meanwhile, could you tell me who you believe to be discussing your ‘demented delusions’ with me? This ‘they’ you mentioned…?”

Avenue W.

Washington, D.C.

12:10 p.m.

Ironically, after swabbing Mulder’s spilled macchiato — he’d allowed it to pool like a moat between himself and his patient for the remainder of the session — Manville quickly polished his notes, checked his office e-mail, locked up, and set out for his own Grande Macchiato. The day outside his brownstone advertised everything that was great about living in D.C., or at least in Northwest. A gentle Mid-Atlantic breeze swept unseasonably warm currents about him as he negotiated joggers, browsers, tourists, and suits momentarily suspending their pursuit of dollars and power.

The cherry trees lining the avenue left a colorful fall dandruff on the narrow sidewalks. Somewhere down the way, Manville could hear the sounds of cool jazz wafting from a bistro or boutique.

Manville had his choice of three neighborhood Starbucks; like flukes, they appeared to proliferate wherever the environment was suitable. His associate had specified the one wedged between a feminist bookshop and a Moroccan café. A half-block up, he could see him at a curbside table, consulting his watch. A smile played at Manville’s lips. “Evan,” Manville murmured, lightly touching his “friend”‘s shoulder. Evan Pym looked up before the psychologist’s fingers reached the lightweight gabardine; a lifetime of stealth and suspicion had honed his senses and reflexes.

“Wally. You’re looking good.”

“As do you,” Manville mused. “Be right back.”

“No worries,” Evan smiled tightly, nodding toward a cup of steaming night-black expresso.

“Two sugars, I recalled.”

Manville sighed, and pulled out a chair. “I was thinking of being a bit more adventurous today, but no matter. How is Rachael?”

“As obstreperous as ever. Jen?”

“She’s well,” Manville said, sipping his robust brew as he maintained eye contact over the rim.

Evan laughed, shaking his head. “So much for the small-talk, eh? All right, then.” He swished his own half-cup. “Productive morning?”

“Reasonably.”

“Good,” Pym said. “How is our boy Mulder?”

**

Mulder likely couldn’t have explained, even to himself, why he’d abruptly made the decision to stalk his counselor. He’d left the session angry and disoriented, and he’d stopped into a nearby comic book shop to cool off over some Spidey and Ghost Rider. He emerged to see Wallace Manville strolling in the opposite direction.

Manville’s past relationship with the ravenous Dr. Lecter had intrigued Mulder’s interest, but as the agent considered his fencing match with the therapist, a more fascinating picture began to form. He found himself profiling his counselor before he realized it.

Glib and superficially charming, manipulative, grandiose. A lack of shame or empathy. Classic sociopathy. Control was an essential cover for the sociopath’s pathological lies and repressed rage. That rage had been Lecter’s initial undoing, until he regained the upper hand.

Mulder followed, until, three blocks later, the doctor turned into one of D.C.’s ubiquitous Starbucks. The dapper man seated on the sidewalk obviously was waiting for Manville — a steaming cup awaited the sociopathic shrink. The man turned as Manville placed a hand on his shoulder, and Mulder froze.

“Shit,” Mulder whispered.

  1. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. Building

Washington, D.C.

2:14 p.m.

Skinner glanced at the clock on his militarily ordered desk.

“It’s been roughly 72 hours,” the assistant director informed Mulder. “I commend you for hanging in.”

“This guy’s seriously twisted,” Mulder insisted. “Manville’s practically a textbook sociopath — he studied under Hannibal Lecter, for God’s sake. He was morbidly interested in my sex life. Or Scully’s sex life. Well, I guess, our sex life. He actually suggested I should, Scully should, you know…”

Skinner grimaced at Mulder’s attempted gesture. “Agent Mulder, I understand counseling isn’t a pleasant experience. No one enjoys plumbing their psyche with a stranger. I’d suggest you suck it up, expose your soft underbelly, and put this behind you. Or, in the alternative, use this as constructive opportunity.”

“C’mon, this is horseshit, and you know it!” Mulder snapped.

Skinner’s fist came down on the blotter, and his eyes suddenly blazed. The deputy director then blinked, took a deep breath, and leaned back in his leather chair. He patted a sheaf of folders on the corner of his desk.

“Since last year’s little ‘episode’ in Egypt, you’ve nearly gotten yourself sliced and diced trying to single-handedly apprehend a serial killer while on disability leave. Without consulting the NYPD detective you were supposed to be working with, you chased an armed suspect through a busy tourist area and almost got your head blown off. And then you assaulted a fellow agent and walked off the job. If it hasn’t yet penetrated, Agent, we have a problem here.”

“I’m fine,” Mulder muttered. “You don’t need to worry about me.”

“You assume it’s you I’m worried about,” Skinner sighed. “Look, bottom line, Agent Mulder: If you ever want back in the field — and I mean *ever* — you’re going to have to poke around in whatever dark holes Dr. Manville digs for you. Forget about the court — I’m not putting Scully and everyone else in your orbit in jeopardy. Pull it together, Agent. That’s all.”

Mulder’s mouth moved, then closed.

“That’s all,” Skinner repeated.

Mulder stumbled out of the office, slumping against the hallway wall. He’d effed it up royally — Manville was universally revered among his colleagues and without access to Starling’s files, there was little chance of Mulder confirming his suspicions about his true relationship with Lecter.

But if those suspicions were valid, where did Evan Pym fit in? Mulder had withheld that tidbit from Skinner for the deputy director’s own protection.

At least until he could figure out how Manville was connected to the National Security Agency’s head of covert operations…

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

Georgetown

The darkened house at first gave her pause until she noticed the lamp glow coming from the study upstairs that in the end was where she found her partner. He was seated at the desk, glaring viciously at the screen of his laptop. Two beer bottles sat in a pool of perspiration on the top of the desk off to his right. Aside from the flash of a glance when she entered the room he gave no acknowledgement to her presence. His body language told her everything. It had not been a pleasant day.

Scully slipped out of her shoes and walked silently behind her partner. Leaning over him, she hefted the lager that still glistened with sweat and took a healthy swallow somewhat enjoying the beer’s bitter taste and allowing the cold liquid to recharge her.

“You could have gotten your own,” Mulder commented, not taking his eyes off the screen of the laptop.

Scully set the beer back down and put her hands on his shoulders. She could feel the tension radiate off him. His shoulder muscles were as tight as knots. He wasn’t handling the suspension well, he wasn’t handling the court mandated therapy well and most of all, he wasn’t handling what he perceived was the opinion of everyone around him that all this was for his own good. She started to knead his tight muscles gently and leaned down to give him a gentle kiss on the cheek. “Bad day?”

“You have no fucking idea…”

“Mulder, whether you approve of it or not,” she tried to console him, continuing to massage his shoulders. “If you want to keep your job, you have to give Manville a chance.”

He started to relax into her ministrations. “Your hands are wasted on dead people, Scully. God, that feels good.”

Scully continued to work at the tension radiating from her partner. He tilted his head from side to side as her slender fingers eased up his neck.

“You know, I’d really like to know who recommended this crackpot,” he told her, clicking enter as Scully watched a site for the infamous Hannibal Lecter materialize on the screen. “Would you believe Manville was on the staff with Lecter? And they think *I* need therapy. I followed him after our session, Scully.”

“Mulder…”

“The man met Evan Pym for coffee, there’s something seriously twisted in that relationship.”

“Mulder, he was recommended by the Bureau,” she replied despite the chill that information he just mentioned gave her. She worked her hands up his neck as he bent his head forward to allow her access. “I don’t think at this point you have much choice.”

“Of course I have no choice. Don’t you get it? I’ve never had a choice. I feel like I’ve regressed a decade. Nothing’s really changed.”

“They’re still out to get you,” Scully surmised. “What happened today?”

Mulder pulled away from her and swiveled the chair around to face his partner. “My shrink had the audacity to suggest that my violent tendencies could be due to some ‘sexual tension’. That there could be some unresolved issues between us that are resulting in my inability to get it up.  He even suggested a little Viagra and if that didn’t help, maybe I should take matters into my own hands…” Mulder reached over and slammed the lid down on the laptop. “He has no idea that in my ‘younger days’ I was a pro at that.”

Scully bit her lip. She could understand her partner’s irritation at the question of his manhood, but it was really, really hard for her to keep a straight face as he rambled on. It didn’t take Mulder long to catch on.

“What?”

“I’m sorry…” she told him, covering her smirk with the fingers of her right hand.

“You think it’s funny?” Mulder asked, starting to smirk along with her.

“I just think you’re blowing it out of proportion,” she answered, not realizing what she had said until the grin spread across her partner’s face.

“You want me to answer that or not?”

“I don’t think so, no.”

“You know, Manville also said he could recommend some ‘techniques’ for you to try…” he then told her with a suggestive wiggle of eyebrows.

“Mulder, stop,” Scully stepped toward her partner and squatted down as the grin faded from his face. She took his hands into hers and looked up at him. “There’s nothing wrong with your manhood,” she reassured him. “But I do think there’s some truth in what you just said, about feeling like you’ve regressed a decade. You’re beginning to remind me of that impulsive, reckless, somewhat paranoid man I worked with back then. And it frightens me because I don’t understand why you feel you need to resort to those tactics again. Skinner’s worried about you, I’m worried about you. You’re not alone in this Mulder, not anymore,” she finished with a squeeze of his hand.

Mulder did know what was causing his rash behavior of late. An urgency he couldn’t explain was growing within him, gnawing away at his sanity. It was more than a hunch; the incident on the plane, Todd Grossbeck’s death, both brought back memories of something he’d seen before.

Was this the beginnings of a new threat or the end of something that had been playing out since then?

For now he’d keep it to himself.

“I’m okay, Scully,” Mulder reassured her, pulling his hand from hers and gently reaching out to tuck her hair behind her right ear. “And I don’t need this Hannibal wannabe to certify that,” he finished.

Scully studied her partner for a moment as she stood up. She knew he hated the impersonalization of going through therapy and then an idea stuck her. “Mulder, when was the last time you did something impulsive…?” When a puzzled looked crossed her partner’s face, she corrected herself. “I mean for yourself? Did you find a car yet?”

“I hear Ford is bringing back the Taurus…” he answered jokingly.

“Will you do me a favor? Just take a day for yourself, go car shopping.” She had a feeling she would hate herself later for what she was about to say but she made the commitment anyway. “Buy whatever you heart desires.”

Stunned by what she had just suggested, Mulder studied his practical partner for a long moment. Grabbing her wrists he raised her arms slightly and turned her to the right, feigning a look behind her. “You — look like my partner, what’s the catch?” He finally asked.

Not surprised by his summation, a soft grin spread across Scully’s face. “There is no catch, Mulder. I booked myself on a flight out to Iowa tomorrow and I’ll probably stop in Kentucky too. I spoke to a Deputy Warren earlier today about another incident involving bees there several months ago. He has someone he thinks I should talk to.”

Mulder’s eyes lit up, “Another death?”

“Yes, but you’ve taught me well, I need to be able to put the pieces together.”

Mulder gave her a pursed-lipped smile in acknowledgement. “But you’re gonna leave the nut case at home…”

A look of compassion spread across Scully’s face, “You’re off the clock, remember?” she told him, softly running her fingers through the hair above his left ear as he leaned into the caress.

“Never stopped me before…”

“Mulder,” she sighed. “Despite your suspicions about the man, give Manville a chance, if not for the Bureau, if not for the family, then for yourself.” Their eyes met as she grabbed his cold beer from the top of the desk and turned away; bending over to pick up the shoes she had kicked off when she’d entered the room. “And if he questions your manhood again,” she continued, raising and turning to meet his eyes with a subtle smirk. Scully’s voice dropped to an even deeper, more sultry alto. “You tell him I can assure him, there’s *NO* problem there.”

The innuendo and expression on her face were not lost on him — far from it -– but he couldn’t stop over-analyzing everything that had happened since the court hearing. He didn’t think Scully was able to fully appreciate how much not being able to be out in the field, or watch her back was killing him… how much being talked down to like an impotent puppy, by somebody who had a shady connection to a psychopathic cannibal, was slowly driving him insane.

He gave the laptop another cursory glance, listening to his partner’s footfalls echo down the hall as she made her way downstairs to the kitchen. Mulder thought back to the outburst he’d had at Manville’s office.

Had the therapist jotted *that* down in his little report? Had he noted that bringing up the subject of the partners’ relationship had seemingly been the trigger for it?

Skinner had inferred that Scully was in danger unless he got his act together… was that what they *all* thought? That he would hurt Scully?

Did she think that, too?

“Dammit…”

She was standing at the sink with her head lowered when he quietly entered the kitchen. The tap was needlessly running water into the sink; the empty beer bottles deposited and forgotten on one of the countertops instead of in the trash receptacle. He took a step closer, outstretching a hand to touch her shoulder but then letting it fall back down by his side.

*If not for the Bureau, if not for the family, then for yourself.*

As she’d said the words upstairs he could’ve sworn he’d seen the plea in her eyes, heard the need in her voice: ‘Please, do this for me…’ but he hadn’t pulled her up on it -– too busily wrapped up in his own world of secret theories, hunches and anger. Dana sensed her partner’s presence but remained silent and refused to turn around. He was shutting her out, and she couldn’t stop feeling that the light-hearted banter they’d shared upstairs and been a little strained.

After all they’d been through over the years, that was the scariest thing about all of this, and if the sessions with Manville were only worsening his mood swings, she didn’t know what else there was left to help. Part of her dreaded what he might have regressed to by the time she returned from Kentucky.

“Scully…” His voice was hesitant and low as he began to speak and nervously moved his weight from one foot to the other. “I just don’t see why I should have to share our private business with a guy who could turn out to be even crazier than me, for all anyone knows, just because the FBI thinks it’ll cure me of whatever delusions I may have. I don’t like some stranger trying to pick holes in our relationship that don’t even exist.”

“…Maybe they do…” she sighed, almost to herself.

Mulder’s mouth fell open and he was about to ask what the hell that was supposed to mean when she slowly turned to face him, her eyes boring into his very soul.

“I know how helpless you feel and I understand why you feel so unwilling to let anyone in, but you can’t keep locking *me* out, Mulder,” she continued, folding both arms across her chest.

“When I was ill and was advised to see Karen Kosseff at the Bureau, she brought up about how much I relied on you, or asked if I felt the need to prove myself to you in some way … if I had a fear of failing you for some reason … and I shied away from the questions — scared to explore how you or our partnership was influencing my decisions every day myself, let alone with a stranger. Of course, I came to realize how much I depended on you and the rest is history,” Scully smiled, “But my point is that *that’s* what therapists are employed to do — to make you talk about every contributing factor in your life, especially the ones you don’t feel comfortable discussing, so that the root of your problem can be unearthed. You *do* have a choice in this, Mulder, to co-operate with this guy and stop yourself regressing another ten years or spiral out of control.”

That caught his attention. “I’d…I’d never hurt you…”

She frowned, puzzled, as if he’d just said the most ludicrous thing she’d ever heard. “I know that. Who told you — ?”

“Everybody’s treating me like a volcano that’s about to erupt, and with Manville surmising that I might be suffering from some form of sexual tension…”

“Mulder, my only concern is that you’re holding back. I know when you’re up to something and when you’re lying, and I know as I look in your eyes now that there’s something you’re not telling me,” she told him. “Manville’s there to push you for as much  information as he feels necessary, but I’m here to just listen and I need to know that you can still trust me enough to share without the need for coaxing.” One of her hands reached to cup his cheek once again.

He let out a resigned sigh and rested against her palm. The fact she didn’t fear him was enough to help him relax, and he felt whatever was feasting on his sanity melt away a little. “Make the most of this free time,” Scully finished, stepping closer so that their bodies were almost pressed together, her caress never leaving his face. “Buy a car or whatever floats your boat, get some chores done around here, watch some of those videos that aren’t yours while I’m not here … have fun and prove the FBI wrong. If you hold back from Manville, he’s gonna have no choice but to report that you’re not fit to be carrying a gun, so talk to him…” Scully felt the bulge in his pants begin to press insistently against her abdomen, and she couldn’t hide the smile from her face.

Her fingers danced down his neck and then gently stroked across his covered chest.

“Humor him. If he brings up about your manhood again, jokingly ask if he’s propositioning you.”

“Then he’ll think I’m gay!” Mulder protested with a pseudo-pout.

Dana let out a snort of laughter and rested her head against Mulder’s shoulder for a moment as she struggled to get her composure back in check. “Okay, okay … so maybe not that, but you know what I mean,” she smiled, looking back up into his eyes. This was more like it. This was the ground and atmosphere they were more familiar with. It hadn’t been like this, truly, between them for longer than they’d let themselves believe, but there was that electricity that they needed to survive, and, as Mulder smiled, he felt himself drawn toward his partner’s lips.

The feeling was mutual, and with both hands possessively covering his chest, Scully lifted up onto tiptoe so that their mouths could lock in a passionate kiss. They didn’t part for several minutes, lost so deeply in the fire and desire of each other that time had become a non-existent entity and instinct had taken over.

Mulder’s t-shirt fell onto the floor before either of them knew what was happening; neither consciously realizing that they had to have broken the kiss at some point to lift it over his head.

Scully took a step back and hungrily studied his toned abs, and stunned herself with the next words that rolled out of her mouth:

“I need to get some paperwork sorted before my flight out from Dulles tomorrow, Mulder…”

Her tall partner half-naked and clearly highly aroused in front of her stood silent for several minutes, his eyes examining her from head to toe from behind hooded eyes, before lunging forward to scoop her up into his strong arms.

“I may be ‘off the clock’, but this is *my* time and *you’re* on it,” he stated matter-of- factly as he turned and made his way to the staircase, not letting go of Scully for an instant.  “Iowa and Bambi and whoever the fuck else needs your expertise can wait until I’m — I mean *we’re* done.”

“Mul-der,” she intoned in the familiar cautionary tone, despite knowing full well that she could never deprive this from either of them, her body promising that if she cut this short now before it had been satisfied it would definitely hate her for an eternity.

When he glanced down at her with a longing that would drive anyone insane, all other words of rationalism died in her throat.

“Please don’t say you’re trying to stop me from proving my manhood’s still in working order,” he groaned, a flicker of doubt passing across his features.

“No,” Scully assured with a nod of her head. “I … I just wanted to ask a question that’s more important than anything Dr. Manville will put to you.”

Mulder paused in his tracks, just five feet away from the bedroom door. “I love you more than words or therapy will ever be able to express,” he vowed sincerely.

“Well, thank you and ditto, but that wasn’t it.”

“What — ?”

“Her name is ‘Bambi’?”

He let out an animalistic growl and set her down on her feet in the hallway, unable to wait the ten seconds it would take to carry her to their bed before devouring her mouth again and caressing every square inch of her.

Once up the stairs, every part of his hard, half-naked body pushed Scully against the wall, and, as their lips met yet again, four frenzied hands rushed to tear off her clothing and — finally! — his tight, confining jeans and boxers.

Suddenly he paused, and pulled his mouth away from hers, looking down at her with that haunted look back in his eyes.

“Mulder?” When he didn’t reply, she tried again. “Mulder?”

“I don’t wanna lose you,” he confessed, resting his sweaty forehead against hers. “I know we’ve had a rough patch lately and there’s been all this shit with the hearing, but … I’m not crazy and … and I’m trying to work this out, honestly. I just wish they’d let me get back to working with you.”

Stroking her hands up his muscular back and then down along his arms, Scully shook her head and promised, “You’ll never lose me, no matter how crazy you might get. I’ve put up with you this long, haven’t I?”

They both chuckled in unison.

“Just be you, jump through whatever mind-numbing hoops they put in front of you, and remember that I’m always here for you … or at least try to be good when I’m not.” At his smile, they made the rest of the way to the large bed and fell onto it in a pile of twisted, sweaty limbs, bees and creepy therapists and unfair judges far from their minds until much, much later.

ACT IV

Dulles International Airport

Washington, D.C.

October 3, 2007

Scully sat in the lounge area, reading through the file folders yet again. Her flight to Des Moines was delayed and that gave her plenty to time to go over her autopsy findings. Unfortunately, it didn’t ensure that she would understand completely everything she’d discovered.

She thought about what she did know. Dr. Berenbaum’s assertion that Todd Grossbeck had not died of anaphylactic shock was incorrect. After going over the body with a fine tooth comb and sending a small lake of samples down to the lab, it was determined that Mr. Grossbeck had indeed died of anaphylactic shock — but not of bee venom. Scully had found no trace of bee venom anywhere in the body. However, she found near overdose levels of the drug Omalizumab — an asthma medicine recently given a black box warning by the FDA because of the incidence of anaphylactic shock in first time users. Mr. Grossbeck’s medical history showed no sign of asthma, nor had his doctor ever prescribed an asthma drug for him.

In short, Mr. Grossbeck was murdered. But the question remained, why would a field researcher studying insects in Iowa cornfields be targeted for murder? Unless, Dr. Bambi was on to something — something big. When Mulder had first mentioned her name, Scully’s immediate reaction was to sniff the air for possible foul odors.

The onslaught of olfactory memories from that time was so strong — but then so were the original odors themselves.

She could remember Dr. Bambi, as Scully would always think of her — holding the golf umbrella and talking dialogue from The Planet of the Apes with the wheel-chair bound robotics researcher.

Smart might be sexy, but more often than not it was just plain weird.

Shaking her head, she read over the files again and prepared herself to enter the Hawkeye State.

National Agricultural Statistic Service

  1. S. Department of Agriculture

Des Moines, Iowa

Shelley Bluth nervously crumpled the napkin in her hand. “I don’t know what else I can tell you,” she sighed. “I mean, I did everything I could to save him. We were just too far out in the field.”

Scully looked up at the middle-aged woman and gave her a faint smile. “From what I was able to determine, there really was nothing you could have done to save him, Ms. Bluth. I understand you were the one who performed the tracheotomy,” she added gently. “You did everything humanly possible.”

“But he still died,” Shelley said, wiping at her eye with the napkin. “Todd was — he was one of a kind, ya know. We really miss him around here. He was always telling bee jokes.” She chuffed a brief laugh.

“I know there wasn’t much time, but did Mr. Grossbeck — Todd — say anything to you about what he was looking for in that field?”

“That’s the thing. I don’t know. Todd has been doing all kinds of field samples and such — but he hasn’t really said. He’s been real secretive about it. I figured he was looking into colony collapse at first. Bees are just — well, dying. And we don’t really know the cause.”

She sat there, her eyes focusing on something in the distance. “I’m almost positive cats aren’t involved,” she said, more to herself than to Scully.

“Excuse me?” Scully asked, trying to get the woman’s attention.

“Cats. I’m pretty sure cats have nothing to do with colony collapse.” Shelley shrugged. “It’s just something Todd said in the ambulance. Cats suing.”

“Cats suing?” Scully repeated.

“Yeah. As in a legal proceeding. But to tell the truth, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a case. I mean sometimes old people make their pets their sole beneficiaries, but I don’t think the cats can sue anyone.”

“No, I’m not sure they can, either,” Scully said, straining to keep from shaking the woman by her shoulders. “Did Todd leave any notes, reports … a field journal, maybe, that might give us some clues?”

“His laptop. He took it with him to the field that day. I think it’s here somewhere. Give me a minute.”

Shelley returned to the conference room with a soft-sided laptop computer case. “It was his baby. I found it in the car when we went back — after Todd … ” She teared up again and looked away before regaining her composure. “I just packed it up and brought it back here. We’ll probably do a data dump, scrub the hard drive and pass it along to the next researcher.”

Scully booted the computer up, noticing it was password protected. “Would you know his password?” she asked.

Shelley smiled. “We sort of share a password in this office. Here, allow me.” She pulled the computer toward her and typed a few keystrokes. “Most of us keep our research on the network, but Todd always said he preferred to keep it on the C drive. Whoa — this is weird.”

“Something wrong?” Scully asked.

“I guess the IT guys got to it already. The hard drive has been wiped clean.” Shelley sighed. “But that’s kind of weird since I found it right where I put it, under his desk. You’d think they would have put it in the store room so that someone else could use it.”

Scully tired very hard to hide her disappointment.

“Of course, he probably kept backups at the Extension Office,” Shelley mused.

“The Extension Office?” Scully repeated.

“Yes. The University of Iowa Extension Office. It’s just a couple of blocks from here. Todd had an office there with a desktop computer. He would have kept back up files for everything on his laptop. One of our researchers had a fatal crash with his data and after that, everyone kept backups squirreled away. You can’t be too careful!”

University of Iowa Extension Office

Des Moines, Iowa

By the time she got to the Extension Office, Scully was almost shaking with excitement. If Todd Grossbeck’s research had been cleaned off his hard drive in one place, would they have already wiped it clean from his backup? It was what they usually found, when she and Mulder came this close to finding the truth.

Mulder.

She had called him from the Des Moines airport to tell him that she arrived safely. The blue funk he’d been in after the court hearing had been lifting. She missed him terribly. She missed him on this case, she missed his teasing and she missed the closeness. Until recently, in the privacy of their bedroom, he’d been so wrapped up in himself lately that she’d felt shut out.

Before, they’d still talked, they’d still touched, they occasionally made love, but not as often and she’d missed that.

*Good Lord,* she mused, *I sound like a wife of 25 years.*

But the memory of his sweet, tender loving the night before she left had brought them closer together, in more than just the physical sense. There was something about him the next morning … it was as if his blue funk was floating away and he seemed to want to *actively* seek ways to be rid of it. Scully smiled. He’d sure forgotten about it that night!

Forcibly, she turned her mind away from the sweaty sheen on her partner’s gorgeous skin. The Extension Office was a busy place. A Four-H group was meeting after school to get ready for an upcoming bake sale. A seniors group was in the auditorium listening to someone from the state securities regulator tell them how to avoid investment and financial fraud.

By the time she got to the suite of offices that Todd Grossbeck frequented it was nearing 4:30 p.m. — quitting time.

“I guess it’s okay if you look. I mean, you’re the guys we’re supposed to call if we suspect terrorist activity, right?” asked the office manager, who had introduced herself as Myona. “Todd used the back office when he was here.”

She led the way through a maze of half walls forming cubicles until she came to a barren area, devoid of all personal effects. It contained a desktop computer, a battered HP 800 Series Deskjet printer, a telephone and one desk chair.

“Thank you, Myona. I’ll call you if I need anything else.” Scully set to work, booting up the computer. Unfortunately, this one was password protected.

She was ready to call for the office manager when she noticed a small flip style desk calendar from a local printing store. Scribbled in pencil in one of the empty squares for the month of October was the word ‘colony’.

Biting her lip, she typed the word into the computer. The screen changed, showing a field of sunflowers with hundreds of bees flying around. All the requisite icons were now showing as well.

“Bingo,” she smiled. Quickly finding the icon for ‘Documents,’ she pulled up his files.

After an hour of searching through various reports to the higher ups in D.C., she was beginning to get frustrated. Then inspiration hit. Knowing how her own partner did his research, she logged onto the internet and pulled up Todd’s recent history. After a short Google search she discovered a treasure trove of sites – – including an advanced search for the words ‘hymenoptera,’ ‘insecticide’ and ‘Katsuhiru.’

“Cat sue,” Scully murmured to herself. Quickly, she printed off what she found and stuffed it in her briefcase. Firing off a quick email from her own account to Chuck Burks, to ask him to look into the Japanese company, she logged off the computer and headed out to catch a cab to the airport and Kentucky.

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

Georgetown

October 3, 2007

With the Starling Files secured in the Bureau’s vault, Mulder was forced to merge onto the Lakeshore Drive of the Information Superhighway. Three hours of Googling later, he’d depleted nearly a full color cartridge, developed a throbbing headache, and compiled hundreds of pages on the life and times of Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Hannibal the Cannibal’s former associate, Wallace Manville.

Manville had surfaced only twice in the media coverage of Lecter’s 12 Baltimore-era victims during the ’70s.

In 1975, after FBI Special Investigator Will Graham apprehended Lecter, before becoming No. 13, Manville was among several physicians and staffers at Baltimore City Hospital interviewed about the discovery that their colleague had a taste for yet the ‘other white meat.’

“The few times I interacted with Dr. Lecter, I found him an acutely brilliant diagnostician with somewhat passive-aggressive people skills,” Mulder’s counselor told The Baltimore Sun. “But our interaction was minimal.”

Manville’s other appearance in the spotlight was a few weeks later, when it was reported that the psychologist had once counseled Benjamin Raspail, a mediocre flautist with the Baltimore Philharmonic and Lecter’s final victim (found in two installments, minus pancreas and thymus).

Manville declined comment on ethical grounds, except to characterize his acquaintance with Raspail as brief and unproductive, and the sidebar apparently ended there.

Manville left Baltimore City in 1976. His next web reference, in 1984, was a paper in the American Journal of Psychology, on the correlation between sociopolitical orientation and social alienation.

As a profiler, Mulder found the article — which dissected the terrorist psyche — fascinating. But it offered little insight into what Mulder was certain would prove Manville’s psychopathy. The doctor had set up shop in D.C., where, according to a 2002 feature in Newsweek, he was specializing in addressing federal burnout — the mental and emotional ravages of military leadership, law enforcement, and international diplomacy. Manville also contributed his share of pro bono psychotherapy — the Sunday Post profiled his work with the city’s recovering addicts and the homeless. Manville was a brilliant and compassionate caregiver, a humanitarian.

Mulder surfed into deeper waters.

An hour later, it bobbed to the surface like a bloated, amorphous cadaver. Manville was a volunteer counselor with Soul Support, a non-profit rehab center based in the Southeast. Soul Support had popped up twice in the headlines recently — two clients, both repeat customers at the center, had been found strangled and partially disfigured in their homes.

“What’s the Bureau’s interest in this?” Lt. Stewart Hedger demanded five seconds into Mulder’s call. The cop had surrendered jurisdiction to Mulder and Scully on a few previous occasions and, as a result, was not the moderator of the X-Files’ fan blog.

“You might’ve heard I got a little smackdown from the Bureau a few weeks ago,” Mulder murmured, offering Hedger a little gratification. Hedger grunted once, Mulder thought cheerfully, and he proceeded. “They’ve got me tracking cold files, potential interstate serial stuff, and I came across your druggie murders. They sound a little like three homicides in Oregon a year ago. A lot of these hardcore addicts, they’re transients, and I just wanted to see if the M.O. fits.”

Of course, the M.O. wouldn’t fit. Mulder wouldn’t send a fellow cop sniffing down a cold trail, especially when a double-murderer was out there. And if Manville was implicated, he didn’t want Hedger poking around in the Northwest.

Hedger described the two crimes: Both victims, systems full of crack, garroted from behind. Both apartment doors unlocked, no sign of a struggle. At first, the DCPD had suspected a disgruntled dealer, but the 22-year-old prostitute and the 36-year-old fast food purveyor shopped their rock from different suppliers.

“So no leads?” Mulder asked finally.

Hedger was defensive. “Second murder was only four days ago. We’re working with the shrink at the rehab center the vics frequented — if the tight-assed director there’ll ease up on her ‘professional ethics’ a little.”

“Got a friend does a little volunteer work down there,” Mulder lied. “The shrink — would that be Wally Manville?”

Hedger grunted. Twice. “Wally. Didn’t seem much like a Wally to me.”

“Oh, there’s a lot more to Wally than meets the eye.”

Soul Support

Washington, D.C.

3:47 p.m.

“I don’t care if you’re John Himmler Ashcroft himself,” Francine Roeburt growled across the counter. The volunteer who’d summoned Soul Support’s executive director scowled in solidarity.

“Look, I’m just helping the DCPD out on this,” Mulder implored, holstering his ID. “Two of your clients are dead. I just want to help get to the truth.”

Roeburt’s nostrils flared. “Right. Two dead addicts are at the top of your list. Look, Agent Mulder … I work with these people every day with shoestring resources and nearly non-existent public support. These people have learned to trust no one — not even themselves. I’ve managed to win some of that trust, and I’m not betraying it for the sake of whatever your agenda really is. Good day.”

“Please,” Mulder stammered, feeling the last shreds of control slipping away. “I just want to know what Dr. Manville may have learned about the victims.”

“He is finishing up–” the volunteer began.

Roeburt fixed her with a glare.  “Dr. Manville has another client in a few minutes, and I’d appreciate your not disrupting them. Now, unless you’ve got some kind of warrant or you’re invoking the Patriot Act or something, I’ll ask you to leave us to our work.” Roeburt pivoted and disappeared into a hallway beyond the reception area.

The volunteer glanced after her, then nervously eyed Mulder, and then returned to her PC. The agent sighed and turned. The waiting room was desolate and untidy, with magazines scattered over several mismatched tables. A single person — clearly Manville’s four o’clock – – was seated at the far end of the former dress shop showroom, absorbed in a People.

Mulder smiled at Roeburt’s inadvertent breach and crossed the worn carpet.

“Hey,” he greeted the rail-thin blonde. Two blue-rimmed eyes peered up, then returned to the magazine. “You don’t have a smoke on you?”

“Go fuck yourself,” the woman muttered without breaking eye contact with Tom and Katie.

“Wow,” Mulder grinned. “You’re the second person in three days who’s recommended that to me. Seriously, got that smoke?”

The blonde sighed, shook her head, and foraged into her battered denim purse. She tamped out a Morley and handed it to the agent.

“Thanks. Fox.”

She looked up incredulously. “What, you stuck back in the disco era, or is it just the coke?”

“No, no — my name is Fox.”

“No shit. Gwen.”

“You here to see Wally?” Mulder jerked his head toward the closed door on the opposite wall.

“No, I’m waiting for a pedicure.”

“I’ve been seeing him for a couple months. Weird dude.”

“He’s okay,” Gwen shrugged. “For a shrink, at lea–”

“Ms. Huffman? Dr. Manville’s ready for you.” Roebert’s voice was terse, slightly shrill.

Mulder turned; the director’s face was stone, her eyes blazing.

“Thanks for the smoke, Gwen,” he murmured, rising. “Remember — just say no.”

The gaunt girl surrendered a dry, sad smile. “Ain’t worked so far.”

Meador, Kentucky

October 4, 2007

10:07 a.m.

“Gotta warn you,” Deputy Warren Hostedt grunted as he steered his unit over the rocks and ruts beyond Esther Paterson’s rakishly angled mailbox. “Essie’s just a touch, umm, enthusiastic in her faith.”

Scully nearly jumped. The puddle-jump from Iowa to Kentucky had seemed like a transcontinental odyssey, and she felt gritty, fuzzy, and off her game. Further, these were the first words the Woodridge County deputy had spoken during the 20 minute ride, and Scully pondered why he only now was sharing this insight into the Widow Paterson’s psyche.

A pride of barn cats swarmed from the scabrous porch, which hung precariously from the scabrous Paterson homestead. Rather than caressing Scully’s calves, the felines padded warily around her shoes, a feral gleam in their eyes.

A screen door opened plaintively, and Scully could see Hostedt’s profile was on the mark. Esther Paterson was wardrobe by K-Mart, attitude and demeanor straight out of the darker reaches of the Old Testament. She could have been anywhere between 35 and 55.

Patterson

The widow nodded to Hostedt, then inspected her redheaded visitor, Scully perceived with non-too-vague disapproval. “I don’t understand this, Deputy,” Paterson said tonelessly.

“Ray was taken home, along with the rest. That’s what those federal doctors–” she regarded Scully, “– your people — said. What’s this got to do with the law?” Scully stepped forward. “Mrs. Paterson, we have some reason to believe your husband, your neighbors, may have been the victims of, well, of suspicious activity.”

Paterson smiled. It was a scornful, pitying thing. “You mean terrorists or something? Here in Woodridge County? Deputy, you and this young lady are barking right up the wrong tree. It was God’s work. His way. Not for me to question, much less you two.”

Scully frowned. “Mrs. Paterson, why do you say that? That it was God’s work?”

Paterson looked beyond the pair, at the harvested rows that extended to the rural horizon. Then her eyes locked onto Scully’s. “They compassed me about like bees: they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.”

“Psalms,” Scully murmured after a beat. Paterson blinked, and she reexamined her visitor. The agent’s heart was pounding.

“Haven’t seen a wild bee for months in these parts,” Paterson related as a matted tabby rumbled at her feet. “‘Cept the ones they trucked in to pollinate the crops, and even they were dying off. That’s how I knew it was God’s hand at work.”

“You saw bees?”

“Heard ’em. I was in the kitchen, fixing Ray’s lunch for the field, when I heard it. The buzzing. Thousands of them, must’ve been. I looked out the window, and I saw a dark cloud. Except it wasn’t a cloud.”

Scully’s heart was now pounding, but she kept her peace. Paterson looked to the now-clear Kentucky sky. “It was a sign, for sure. And it was foretold.”

“Foretold?” the deputy drawled.

“By God’s messenger,” Paterson nodded. “Missionary stopped by that morning — nice, good-looking young fellow. Was worried about the farmers, about the bees. Told me it was a sign of the coming darkness. We talked about the Egyptians and the Hebrews — how they tended the bees. How honey was the precious food of God. How the ancients compared the bees to the swarming pagan armies. That Psalms, he quoted that to me. He knew.”

Scully glanced at the deputy, who chewed the inside of his mouth. “This man. Do you think you could identify him? What was his name?”

Paterson snapped back to Earth. “That was months ago, Miss. Scruggs, maybe, Stubbs?”

She smiled, knowingly at a spot below Scully’s collarbone. “You think he was one of your terrorists? A messenger from Allah? You go ahead, see you can track him down. You might be surprised to find who his Master truly is.”

The cross around Scully’s neck suddenly felt hot, heavy…

Louisville International Airport

Louisville, Kentucky

4:21 p.m.

“Oceanic Air Flight 3256, with service to Washington, D.C., has been delayed by technical problems,” a honeyed Kentucky voice rippled over the terminal PA. “A crew is checking out the jet now, and we hope we’ll be able to announce a new time of departure soon…”

The delay barely registered with Scully, whose manicured fingertips played over the keys of her laptop. The businessman two seats away had quit trying to chat her up and was now focused on a group of giggling coeds at the next gate, and she finally was able to plug in the Interpol Database password and satisfy the gnawing intuition that had bothered her all the way to the airport.

Her memory of the press surrounding the Japanese heist was vague — it had been a one-day wonder. But in the post-9/11 era, any armed hijacking of a seemingly innocuous computer parts shipment on a public highway sparked a flurry of inter-jurisdictional inquiry and speculation, and one small detail of the Japanese investigatory report rung a bell. Scully now scanned the full, translated report, and exhaled. The man who’d rented the car left inexplicably at the scene of the hijacking, clean of prints or other forensic evidence, had used what had turned out to be a bogus credit card under the name ‘William Stubb.’

Feeling mingled exhilaration and dread, Scully opened a second window and pulled up the Google engine.

Stubb’s team had commandeered a Sumitasha Electronics truck — Scully typed ‘Sumitasha’ and a second name into the search window. Only a few dozen results materialized, as Scully had expected.

If what she suspected was true, this wouldn’t be a widely-known piece of data. The first entry was a blog maintained by a self-proclaimed “anarchist” who decried continued corporate consolidation and monopoly in the industrialized nations.

He railed at the merger of U.S. biotech and crop companies, EU food conglomerates, and Japanese tech firms. The activist’s chief Pacific Rim target had over the past 20 years consumed dozens of smaller companies in genetics, pharmaceuticals, food processing, and consumer electronics.

Dedicated, nay, fanatical, research had revealed Sumitasha was a subsidiary of a holding company of yet another subsidiary of an LLC owned by one of Japan’s largest megacorps, Katsuhiru.

Seconds later, Scully stared at a Google map of Nagano, Japan — home to Sumitasha’s distribution center. As well as to Katsuhiru’s major research “campus.” It couldn’t be a coincidence.

Scully pulled her cell-phone from her handbag, consulted the directory, and punched in a number known only to law enforcement. She was spared the usual litany of electronic prompts, transfers, and banal hold music.

“Federal Bureau of Investigation Dana Scully, badge number JTTO331613. I need to trace a possible series of charges made in Japan. Cardholder name S-T-U-B-B, first name William…”

ACT V

Dulles International Airport

Washington, D.C.

Scully was searching for her keys while juggling both her laptop and suitcase when her phone rang. Dropping the suitcase, she reached in her pocket. “Yes, I am home, Mulder and this better be good,” she growled.

“Agent Scully?” came the responding voice.

“Oh, sorry. Yes, this is Agent Scully. How can I help you?”

“Agent Scully, I don’t know if you remember me. My name is Bambi Ivanov. You might remember my maiden name — Berenbaum.”

“Dr. Berenbaum, yes, I remember you. You recently asked my partner to look into some things for you.”

“Yes, I did. Fox told me he was on leave — I hadn’t heard. But he said it was all right for me to contact you. Did I catch you at a bad time?”

“No, uh, not at all. I was just getting in. Frankly there are some things I would like to talk over with you. Can we meet somewhere?”

“How about the botanical gardens on the Mall? Say in an hour?” Bambi replied.

“Make it an hour and a half — I still have to get to D.C. from Dulles,” Scully sighed.

“Oh, yes, construction season is still in full swing. Fine then. I’ll see you in an hour and a half.”

Between the construction and the traffic, Scully had no time to spare. She pulled into a parking garage near the Capitol Mall and hurried over to the botanical gardens. She saw Dr. Berenbaum standing by the entrance. As Scully approached her, the entomologist looked up and smiled. “Hello. You made it,” she said cheerfully, extending her hand.

Scully returned the greeting firmly. “Just barely. I was glad you called. I found out some things in Iowa and Kentucky. Maybe you can give me some information.”

Bambi smiled. “I must admit, I really didn’t expect much when Fox said you would be taking over the investigation. I sort of thought he was giving me the brush off. I guess I should have known better. I mean, after the incident in Miller’s Grove.”

Scully nodded ruefully. “I loved that coat,” she murmured. “Yes, Miller’s Grove. But I found out some information on a Japanese company by the name of–”

“OUCH!” Berenbaum slapped at the back of her neck. “Sorry. Something just bit … ”

Before Scully could react, Bambi’s eyes rolled back in her head and she dropped to the ground. Acting fast, Scully dropped down beside the fallen scientist and checked her breathing and pulse.

It wasn’t until she pulled back the woman’s eyelids to check for dilation that she recoiled in horror.

Swimming in Berenbaum’s unseeing eyes were pools of black oil.

Northeast Georgetown Medical Center

Critical Intensive Care Unit

Mulder burst through the doors to the CICU. He did a quick examination of his surroundings. Scully had quarantined Dr. Bernbaum in a private ICU unit. Through the condensation on the windows he noted the intubation and vital monitoring equipment surrounding the woman. “Jesus”, he whispered to himself.

As his eyes scanned the rest of the floor he finally spotted his partner conferring with several nurses at the end of the hall. She glanced in his direction and stepped away from her conversation to meet him in front of Bambi’s room.

“How is she doing?” he asked noting the weariness in her face even in the dim light as she approached him.

She shook her head rather glumly and his heart sank. Bambi had asked for his assistance and he’d handed her off to his partner partly because of the situation he found himself in but more so because she was the scientist, she had the expertise to follow that was being woven by an ever-increasing trail of related incidents. Didn’t mean he still didn’t feel responsible for the entomologist’s current condition.

“There’s no sign of anaphylactic shock here, what we’re seeing is a breakdown of bodily functions…”

“Caused by what?” Mulder asked the concern evident in his voice.

“By another organism, I think…” Scully glanced warily around them and then pulled Mulder into an adjacent lab room and closed the door.

“Something we’ve both seen before, Mulder,” she told him in a hushed tone. “Something is turning her own body against her. I think that once again we’re looking at a pathogen being carried by the bees that stung her, perhaps the same thing that killed Todd Grossbeck.”

She watched her partner’s eyes grow large with the information and its implication.

“The same virus that affected you?”

“I don’t know yet. But based on what I know about what happened to me, I’ve had them lower the temperature in the room and have her under a cooling blanket to inhibit the advancement of the pathogen.” Scully told him, looking in at Dr. Berenbaum. “It’s just a stop-gap measure, until I can isolate the cause and determine a course of treatment — I don’t know what else to do,” she admitted. “Without knowing what exactly it is we are dealing with here there isn’t much we can do.”

Hospital

Scully shook her head almost hopelessly, “There’s fasciculation and rhabdonyolysis in the muscle tissue, she’s oliguric, her platelet count is very low and we’re having a hard time keeping her BP up. I’m hesitant to start her on pressors but I may not have a choice.”

Mulder shook his head, eyebrows raised, indicating he needed a translation of all the medical jargon. Scully pursed her lips, trying to simplifying it all in her mind. “Symptoms one would see … more like in a neurotoxic venomous snake bite victim, or a combination of venomous snake bites, not someone exposed to a viral pathogen,” Scully sighed, turning to look across the hall into the unit. “I’m sorry, I know she’s a friend of yours but we’re running out of time. We’re dealing with something here we know very little about.”

“A virus? An *alien* virus?” Mulder concurred.

“It — could be, yes, but that’s not exactly something we can bring up here is it?” she whispered glancing through the glass door behind her partner out into the IC unit.

Mulder’s mind raced through the possibilities. “What about a vaccine? There — there must be some — some…” he stammered and then sighed in frustration. “We’re looking at bees carrying a virus again aren’t we?”

Before Scully could answer, he continued. “Bambi said Grossbeck was trying to communicate something to his co-workers when he died, ‘catsu’ or something like that. Katsuhiru, it has to be. Todd *was* on to something and someone murdered him to cover that up. What’s this guy’s name you mentioned? Stubbs?”

“Mulder, wait,” Scully reached out to touch her partner’s arm. “If you’re right and this Stubbs is trying to cover his tracks, why would he be leaving such an obvious trail?”

She could almost see the wheels turning in Mulder’s head. “Katsuhiru, the Gunmen traced all that scanner data back to them. They have their hands into high tech everything from pharmaceuticals to robotics. The guys were certain Katsuhiru was involved in what Jason Arman was trying to uncover, someone killed him too, remember?”

Oh, God, the incident at the college last spring, the direct cause for Mulder’s suspension. “Maybe we’re not dealing with Katsuhiru here,” he continued. “Maybe this is someone trying to sabotage their plan, that’s why he’s leaving the trail, to wave it in their face.”

It made sense in a way, Scully thought to herself, but did she run with Mulder’s investigative logic or use her expertise here and try and save the woman lying across the hall? Trying to play both sides of the partnership was exhausting, she sighed.

“God, I’m sorry, Scully,” Mulder reached out to pull his partner into a welcoming embrace.  “You look exhausted,” he told her softly.

Scully nodded wearily in his arms, acknowledging Mulder’s concern and then pulled back.  “Mulder, vaccines are created as a preventative measure, like a flu vaccine is designed to prevent you from getting the flu. I know what you’re thinking, but that’s not where we need to go here.’

“Scully, just — just listen for a minute and correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t some vaccines created with antibodies from someone who has survived an infection or is a, a — carrier?”

“They can be, yes.”

“So…,” Mulder reached out to place his hands on her shoulders. “I think we can safely say that what’s flowing through my veins isn’t exactly one hundred percent human — that fact goes all the way back to Dead Horse, Alaska…”

“No, Mulder. If — and I say *if* this is a virus, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the markers in your DNA from your exposure would be a match.”

“Isn’t that what his lab is for?” He asked, as he watched his partner roll her eyes in frustration.

“Scully. Listen to me for a minute, will you, please?” Mulder turned away from her and motioned to the chair behind them. “Sit down for minute, you look like you’re about to fall down.”

“Mulder, if I sit down, I’ll never get back up and we don’t have time for that.”

Mulder pursed his lips and nodded in agreement. “All right, just listen then,” he raised his eyebrows hoping to get her to agree.

“What?”

“You know, that my involvement in the X-Files was a very personal one. Yes, I thought it would further my investigations into the paranormal but more importantly I thought that these cases would lead me to understand what my Father had been involved in. Why his career took a one-eighty somewhere around my twelfth birthday and why he did what he did to his family and why it ultimately cost him his life,” he began to explain.

“Mulder, I know this is weighing heavy on you right now with the therapy you’re going through…”

He shook his head, “Let me finish, Okay?” He seemed calmer than she’d expected him to be.

She nodded for him to go on.

“We both know my Dad was a reluctant member of the Consortium. As our friend ‘Smokey’ so eloquently informed me, Dad eventually tried to step away from the group when he objected to their methods,” Mulder told her. “But more importantly, he wanted to expose their plans. The same crusade you and I have been on for the past, what — decade? That cost him my sister and ultimately destroyed our family. Whatever I may think of his actions, Scully, he was still my Father. And after all that’s been said and done, I honestly believe he did everything because *HE* thought it was the right thing to do. You and I have spent *years* trying to undo that work and now I’m not so sure that was the right path to take.”

Abhorred by what she thought he was suggesting Scully gaped at him, “You’re saying we should have been helping them instead of trying to destroy them?” Mulder, their methods…”

“No, no,” he raised his hands to reassure her. “I’m not saying that I support his involvement and I’m certainly not condoning their methods. But think about it, Scully. My Father realized in the beginning that the Consortium’s plan was *not* for shall we say — ‘the greater good of mankind.’ I don’t deny what my Father was a part of, but while his fellow members were all willing to side with the invading force hoping to save themselves, Dad and a rag-tag group of followers tried to take another route by finding a way to fight them by developing a vaccine. I guess you could say he got out-voted. All these years we’ve spent trying to expose the atrocities these men have been involved in haven’t gotten us anywhere, really; it’s still going on. You know it was well as I do, Scully,”

Mulder held her shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes. “Jason Arman, Todd, Bambi are just more evidence to add to the meaningless pile we already have. We need to find another way.”

Scully still looked at him wearily.

“I had a vaccine, Scully. I used it on you,” he smiled imploringly, and squeezed her right shoulder gently. “All I’m saying is that I think my Father had the right idea. You said it yourself, ‘How many lives can we save?’ Maybe that’s where our investigation should be focused.”

Scully still wasn’t sure she agreed with his logic.

These men, this new group of butchers who’d emerged from the rubble of the Consortium’s demise were just as barbaric, if not more so. Mulder was proof of that. Sensing her confusion, Mulder pursed his lips and nodded. “Scully, this war isn’t going to be waged in the desert half a world away, it’s going to be fought right here,” he motioned around the small lab they were standing in. “Maybe *my* destiny, if there is such a thing, isn’t to stop what my Father began, maybe it’s to help him *finish* it.” He searched her face looking for acceptance. “You’re the scientist, Scully: Find us an answer.”

Scully studied her partner’s beloved face. If one were to believe in fate or destiny, she would be willing to accept that that is what had brought the two of them together all those years ago. But Mulder believed in free will, in the choices that determined the course of their lives. She had chosen long ago to follow this man’s passion if for no other reason than she thought he was right.

“You’re serious about this aren’t you?” Scully asked him.

Mulder unbuttoned his right cuff and started to roll up his sleeve. “How much do you need?”

Scully reached out to stop him. “Mulder, trying to isolate the exact elements in your blood, if there even are any, doesn’t happen overnight. We haven’t even determined what we’re up against here. And — and what about this Katsuhiru?  They may very well be involved in some legitimate research but someone could be using it against them. We need to find out why. If this is a toxin in the bee venom it’s possible it’s not a result of the research but something this saboteur has created and its effects could be catastrophic.”

“All the more reason you need to find a cure, isn’t it?” Mulder insisted.

“Yes, of course,” she agreed. “But what I’m saying is that it might not be viral, perhaps we should be looking at anti-venom treatments instead.”

“Horse serum? It’s created the same way isn’t it? From the blood of horses exposed to snake venom?”

Scully smiled at the absurdity of his comment, “You’re not a horse, Mulder.”

“I’d carry you anywhere, Scully,” he told her along with a horrible excuse for a horse whinny and then watched her smile back at his attempt to lighten the mood. Mulder took her by the arm and lead her into a nearby room, fully equipped with tools for drawing blood. Happy he’d made her smile, he gave her a closed lipped grin, “Look, either way, it’s a place to start, isn’t it? In the meantime I think there’s another possibility,” he told her as he finished rolling his sleeve above his elbow.

Scully shook her head. “And that would be?”

“Krycek.”

“Krycek? How does he fit into this if you can even find him?”

“The vaccine I used on you in Antarctica. The man that gave it to me, he knew my Father. I think at one time, he was a part of his ‘rebel force’. He got this vaccine from someone else, though,” Mulder mused aloud. “The Russians I think, more specifically, Krycek. I was one of their test subjects as you well know. I’m sure what they used on me was an earlier version of that same vaccine. If we can get our hands on it maybe all it needs are some — finishing touches.”

Mulder sat down on a nearby stool and put his elbow on the counter, extending his arm as if he was some sort of sacrificial offering.

The argument was over.

Scully grabbed what she needed and swabbed her partner’s arm.

**

She stood studying the two vials of her partner’s blood in the empty lab. No amount of conjecture on her part would convince him otherwise and so to appease him she’d drawn his blood and then sent him on his way.

She couldn’t deny that he had in fact survived several exposures to what they had termed an “alien” virus. And she couldn’t deny that finding a cure was of the utmost importance.  But to her knowledge, Mulder had never been stung. If this was a pathogen or toxin related to the bee stings, perhaps the more logical place to look was in herself.

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

Georgetown

He hated leaving Scully at the hospital without answers, but there was nothing he could do there. He got in the car and made his way back to their home, taking the stairs two at a time to his office.

Mulder sat at his computer, staring at the inquiry line of the search engine. What should he type in there? Conspiracies R Us? Double-agents for Hire? Should he look up Alex K on Facebook?

It was so much easier when all he had to do was put a couple of strips of masking tape in the shape of an X on his living room window.

The little mail icon popped up on his bottom toolbar. Undoubtedly Frohike, looking for a quick game of Halo 3 — the pirated version. He shook his head, determined to ignore it, but on impulse he logged into his email account.

One piece of mail. Back before he cohabited with Scully, the porn spam alone took up 25 messages every time he logged on, but not any more. He really had been domesticated. Shaking his head again, he opened it even though the sender’s identity was blocked.

“TIDAL BASIN BY THE STREET 30 MIN.”

The header showed that the message had been sent just three minutes before. “Well, that was easy. And no messy, sticky residue to clean off the glass,” he mumbled as he reached behind him for his jacket and logged off the computer.

There was a chill autumn wind off the tidal basin making it easy to forget that the days were still seeing the low 80s.

Mulder leaned on the railing and looked across the water to the now glowing Jefferson Memorial. A quick glance at his watch showed that his contact was running late.

“How’s the mental health patient today?” a voice growled behind him.

Mulder spun around, hand on his hip — where his weapon should have rested. Krycek smiled evilly. “Well, at least the justice system works on occasion. Nice to see they took your toys away before shuffling you off to the nuthouse.”

“I’m strictly outpatient, Krycek. Unlike you, who is just homeless,” Mulder shot back.

“Funny. Real funny,” the Russian bantered casually, stepping forward to mimic Mulder’s stance at the rail. “So, I hear you got a lady friend in trouble.”

“What do you know about it?” Mulder hissed.

“Very little, actually,” Krycek said with a shrug.

“Oh, and I’m supposed to believe that,” Mulder scoffed.

“Despite our reputation, my associates don’t have their fingers in every tragedy that happens, Mulder.”

“Yeah, well this one happens to have your fingerprints all over it,” Mulder sneered. “But that’s not why I was looking for you.”

“Oh, really? You mean you’re after something other than ‘The Truth’?” Krycek snorted.

“I want the vaccine. The vaccine I was given in the gulag. The vaccine I used on Scully in Antarctica.”

Krycek chuckled bitterly. “And I’m supposed to be the North American distributor?”

“You have access to the vaccine! You used it on Marita before it all went to hell at El Rico!” Mulder yelled.

Krycek reached out with his good arm and grabbed Mulder by the collar, pressing him painfully against the railing. “Don’t you mention her name, you son of a bitch!” he spat out.

They glared at each other for several heartbeats before Krycek released his hold.

“I don’t have the vaccine,” Krycek admitted. “Besides, the vaccine we had wouldn’t work on this virus.”

“How do you know?” Mulder demanded. “You said you weren’t part of this tragedy.”

“Look, we didn’t cause it, but we have a pretty good idea what happened. And you aren’t going to find the vaccine you’re looking for because it doesn’t exist. Not yet, at least.”

“Then Dr. Berenbaum dies,” Mulder snarled. “I don’t accept that.”

“Well, you’re more than welcome to take that up with your shrink, Mulder,” Krycek said breezily. “Don’t go looking for the vaccine. Look for whoever let this plague loose on the planet. It will be time better spent.” He patted Mulder on the arm and disappeared into the darkening night.

As the Russian double agent blended into the shadows, Mulder pulled out his phone.

“Scully? How’s she doing?”

“I have her stabilized, Mulder. That’s about all I can tell you. Dr. Ivanov is here, he’s with her right now.”

“How much time do we have?”

“We’re doing the best that we can,” Scully told him, but he heard the desperation in her voice.

“Scully, Krycek contacted me,” Mulder said after a moment of silence.

“Did he have the vaccine?” she asked hopefully.

“No, at least he said he didn’t,” he replied. “Scully, how much time to you think she has?”

“Look, Mulder, I can’t tell you. But you can’t be worrying about this. Let me handle it. I have an idea, based on something you said earlier. Let me look into it,” Scully encouraged him. “For now, you need to stay out of this. If Skinner catches word that you’re actively working on a case that he approved for me–”

“– my ass is grass,” he answered mournfully.

“Succinctly put. And for the record, I like your ass as it is.”

“Duly noted,” he said, smiling. “Okay, I guess I have to leave this in your very capable hands. But Scully, if you need *anything*–”

“I know where you live, Mulder. Don’t worry. You’ll be the first one I call. Now, why don’t you go home and try to get some rest? I’m going to crash here tonight in the residents’ lounge, just in case I’m needed.”

“I understand. G’night, Scully. Get some sleep, you’ve been running all over the country.”

“And this is different from my usual schedule how?” she teased.

“Just get some sleep. I love you.”

“I love you, too, Mulder. I’ll call you tomorrow … or if there are any changes.”

Mulder disconnected the call and started for his car. If he couldn’t help Scully, maybe he could put the time in to figure out how to help himself out of the mess he was in.

Maryland University Hospital

Baltimore, Maryland

10:03 a.m.

“Hardly knew him?” Raymond Johnson barked, carefully dumping a containerful of sharps into a biomed barrel. “Bullshit.”

The trip from D.C. to Baltimore had been slightly over an hour — short enough to pass under his beleaguered partner’s radar screen if he didn’t surrender to the lunchtime temptation of a plateful of crab cakes.

A flash of the good ol’ fibbie ID and a few rumblings about Hannibal Lecter had the administrator scrambling to help.

Within a half-hour, Mulder had been introduced to one of the teaching hospital’s eldest employees.

Ray Johnson had been a young orderly when Dr. Lecter was “practicing” in the Psych Department, and his job description was the same three decades later. Johnson wheeled the barrel out of the bustling ER and headed toward Radiology, Mulder in tow. “Now, normally, back in the day, I never much noticed the comings and goings of the doctors and nurses.” The wheels stopped rolling momentarily, and the orderly flashed a rakish smile then continued.

“Well, guess I noticed some of the nurses, hear what I’m saying? Dr. Lecter, though, he was different. Gimme the time of day whenever we crossed paths, asked ’bout my kids, the like. Could tell he was genuinely interested, but the man still gave me the willies. Like I was a lab rat — like we all were to him. My instincts, maybe I shoulda went to doctor school, huh? Anyway, Dr. Manville, he and Lecter got real tight. See them all the time in the cafeteria, in the halls. Boy didn’t seem like the kiss-ass type to me, but if he followed Lecter around any closer, they’da had to remove his nose from Lecter’s ass by Caesarian, you know?”

Mulder perked. “Did they act furtive, secretive? Like maybe they were plotting something?”

“Actually, the doc seemed kinda, oh, guess you’d say amused by the boy. They’d be talking it up, and I’d see Lecter check his watch real subtle-like or kinda smirk at Manville,” Johnson seemed to be looking inwardly for a moment, his eyes losing focus. “When they came and took Lecter away after he tried to carve up your guy, I started wondering maybe was Manville involved in any of that psycho shit. You can imagine, it wasn’t any too smart for a young brother like myself to mention such thoughts to the professional staff. But when Manville left kinda sudden-like few years later, I wondered even more. Then time passed, my wife took off on me, and I just sorta quit wondering.”

Johnson stopped short of a hazmat-placarded door, raising a gray brow. “You got something on him? Think maybe he killed somebody, sliced and diced ’em? Maybe Doc Lecter gave him an appetite?”

“Nothing that dramatic — just a background check,” Mulder lied — sort of.

“Mm,” the orderly grunted, pushing ahead. “Figures. Way things are going these days, man’s probably up for some cabinet post.”

Baltimore Police Department

Detective Division

11:43 a.m.

Will Graham had lived in what Mulder hoped to be peaceful isolation over the decades since his traumatic encounters with Hannibal the Cannibal and Francis Dolarhyde, a serial killer dubbed the “Tooth Fairy” whom Lecter had supplied with Graham’s home address.

Graham, disfigured and emotionally shattered, had divorced himself entirely from the Bureau — none of his former colleagues, still on the job or retired, would or could provide Mulder with a number or address. He couldn’t afford to push it with the brass. Beyond that, Mulder wasn’t inclined to force ex-Agent Graham to re-explore those darker recesses for the sake of his own thus far “unfounded” suspicions.

A few agents Mulder had contacted who’d worked the Lecter case said they’d had little memory of Wallace Manville, though one, now engaged in apprehending marlin off the East Florida coast, grew distant and monosyllabic when Mulder mentioned his court-assigned counselor.

Frederick Chilton had been Chief of Staff at the Chesapeake State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where Lecter had been serving one of his nine consecutive life terms. Chilton had disappeared shortly after the Buffalo Bill case, following Lecter’s grisly escape, most likely a victim of the good doctor.

Lecter remained out there, in the world. Special Agent Clarice Starling had vanished apparently into the ether. Which had left Mulder with vague memories and loose ends. Raymond Johnson’s revelations thus excited and emboldened the agent.

“You know, I checked up on you,” Detective Phil Crosetti grinned, with a hint of gotcha in his nicotine-etched voice. “My late cousin Steve — God rest him — used to work Homicide with some ex-hippie flake, John Munch, who had some kinda run-in with you back in ’89. Your buddies put the clamps on the case for some reason, and all Munch would ever say was you’d been caught in some kinda uncomfortable situation.”

Mulder flashed on his first meeting with the Lone Gunmen and the embarrassing predicament that had brought he and Detective Munch together.

He’d worked one subsequent investigation with Munch, who, fortunately for Mulder, was indeed a “flake” who’d never asked any questions about the Susanne Modeski case.

Mulder had returned to the harried Baltimore squadroom and Crosetti’s wrapper-littered blotter.

Crosetti was a short but portly detective in his early sixties, probably close to turning in his papers. His pin-striped suit was loud and roughly 20 years out of date, and his unibrow matched his suspiciously jet-black comb-over. Crosetti sat back, savoring his guest’s awkward silence, then cackled. “Aw, shit, Agent, I’m just yankin’ you. Us guys down here in the bowels like to have a little fun with you spit-and-polish college boys when we can. But me? I got a cabin up in Mass waitin’ for me in about two months, so I’m in a real obligin’ mood. What can I do you for?”

Mulder relaxed. “Like I told you on the phone, we’re taking a look back at the Lecter case. There were some irregularities–”

“Don’t give a rat’s ass,” Crosetti sang cheerfully, grunting over his desk top for a thick battered manila folder. “That’s about everything from the ’75 case, one where Hannibal the Cannibal almost handed your boy Graham his own chittlins. Everybody wanted a piece of the Chesapeake Ripper case at the time, and when Graham tripped to Lecter, we got left out on the curb holding our dicks. But I worked the scene while they were patching up Graham, before the feds swarmed in, and we took enough souvenirs to keep the memory warm. Photographically, of course — what’s the saying? Leave nothin’ but footprints, take nothin’ but snapshots?”

Mulder winced at the blood spattered across Lecter’s otherwise aesthetically sterile office. Ironically, on the wall behind the doctor’s desk was a gruesome depiction of a man impaled with a selection of knives, daggers, and other deadly implements. A thick, ink-stained finger tapped the unfortunate man.

“That’s what tipped him, Graham, that is,” Crosetti noted. “‘The Wound Man.’ It was a drawin’ in some old medical journal in the 1500s or somethin’. Your guy saw it hangin’ in Lecter’s office and realized it matched the wounds in one of the Ripper’s victims. Pretty sharp, huh?”

Mulder stared at the yellowing crime scene photo with a mounting sense of déjà vu.

“I’d say take a picture,” Crosetti mused, “but you already got one.”

Mulder smiled and slipped the photo back into the file. “Just that I’ve seen that drawing before.”

To be precise, on the wall of Dr. Wallace Manville’s Washington office, to the immediate left of Manville’s much-vaunted, highly reflective doctoral degree.

Mulder handed the detective the envelope he’d convinced Hedger to surrender the previous afternoon. “I’ve got a few pictures I’d like you to look at, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, I don’t give a rat’s ass.” Crosetti sighed as he slipped the DCPD 8X10s from the envelope. “Shit. I was hopin’ for Angelina Jolie. This one of those two junkies got whacked down your way?”

“Yeah.”

“Only just the two so far? I mean, you guys aren’t necessarily thinkin’ serial yet, right?” The detective asked. “Could be a pissed-off dealer, some mutual lowlife friend, who knows. Sloppy job, though — took a little too much off the side, don’tcha think?”

“The ears were taken in both cases. Nice, surgical cuts, which isn’t as easy as you might think.”

“Jesus, I never thought that much about it, but shit, now I probably will. Thanks, Agent.”

Mulder chuckled. “That look like anything the Ripper ever did?”

Crosetti’s standard-issue chair creaked as he looked to the ceiling for his misplaced memories. “Well, you know, Hannibal the Cannibal was more into organ meat. No, I don’t think so. M.E.’s office would be able to print you a deluxe set, maybe even some wallet- size.”

“That’s okay,” Mulder assured him hastily, jacketing the grisly photo.

“Suitcherself,” Crosseti shrugged. “But you need anything else, feel free. Not like they’re gonna can me for letting you take a peek — I’ll just tell ’em you threatened to Gitmo my ass or somethin’. Not like I’d have to, the number of bodies I could dig up. ‘Sides–”

“You don’t give a rat’s ass.”

“Hey, you ain’t so dumb for a fed.”

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

Georgetown

4:06 p.m.

Mulder froze just inside the front door, one hand on the knob, the other on his key. Scully looked up from her laptop, glasses perched at half-mast. She cracked her neck as she regarded him with mild curiosity.

“You’re home early,” Mulder smiled, nonchalantly. “You’d called, I could’ve had a pitcher of appletinis ready.”

“Baby, you’re the greatest,” Scully grinned, obviously happy to see her partner back from his previous funk. She patted a couple of entomology texts on the counter beside her. “Just doing some research at this stage. Did you happen to know the queen bee may mate with up to 17 drones over a one- to two-day period of mating flights?”

“Talk about your mile-high club. Look, if you’re trying to hint for some afternoon delight, I think we’ve still got a bottle of honey in the pantry, and I could make some buzzing noises.”

“I think my head is buzzing already, thanks.”

“Any word on Dr. Berenbaum?”

She frowned. “I called the hospital about a half hour ago. Still no change in her condition. They’re giving her a new treatment I suggested, we’ll see if it does the trick.”

Scully leaned back, hooking an elbow over her chair back. “So what did the man of leisure do today?”

Mulder bee-lined for the fridge. He emerged with a Sam Adams. “Aah, just talked to a friend of a friend, looked at some art, had a little seafood…”

“That place with the you-know in, oh, you-know-where?” Scully murmured, distracted by something on her monitor.

“My guess is no. Why, you want to grab some thingies there tonight?”

Scully glanced up guiltily, pushing her chair back. “Mulder, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to get back — Skinner wants to have a strategy briefing with the DHS and USDA liaisons. I’m probably going to be there most of the night. This attack on an employee of the Department of Homeland Security has everyone freaked. I’m sorry.”

“I’m just a widow to the Bureau,” Mulder lamented pitifully, then smiled at her. “It’s okay. Maybe I’ll round up the guys, have a Pampered Chef party, see what paranoid skullduggery Frohike’s up to.”

“I feel better already,” Scully said, heading for the bathroom. “Gonna take a shower, then I’m out of here.”

“Okay,” Mulder called. He listened for the sound of rushing water, then unsheathed his cell phone and punched in a programmed number.

On the way back to town, Hedger’d called with the cell phone records for Tonya Ray and Maurice Felton.

Tonya had received a number of calls from her “manager” and, most likely, some johns she’d serviced on a freelance basis. The rest had been from the Soul Support offices and Dr. Wallace Manville.

Felton had fewer “friends”– only Burger Palace, Soul Support, and Manville had appeared on the fry technician’s call log.

“Dalai Lama Pizza. We’ll make you one with everything?”

“I’ll take an extra-small, with a side of Byers and Langly,” Mulder told Frohike. “What’s on the agenda tonight?”

“‘Dr. Who’ marathon from New Zealand, if Langly can hit the right satellite. Why, what’s up? We gonna stake out your friend, Dr. Evil?”

“No,” Mulder said defensively. “Scully’s working late, and I was thinking we could just take the van out and hit the town a little. Oh, and maybe you could bring the night vision goggles, a parabolic mike, some Doritos?”

“So we’re staking out Dr. Evil?”

“He may show up later. Or not at all tonight. In fact, he may not show up for several nights.”

“A moment, please.” Frohike clamped a palm over the phone. “Hey, you guys wanna go on a stakeout? Mulder says there could be a serial killer.” Mulder heard excited voices. “Okay, they’re down with it.”

“Game on, then.” Mulder folded the phone as Scully padded into the room, spilling over her towel, to Mulder’s delight.

“Who was that, your little friends?” she asked.

“Actually, I was wondering jus’ now if you’d like to meet my l’il frien’,” Mulder growled in his best Tony Montana.

The towel dropped to the floor. Scully turned, bent slowly to retrieve it, and swirled it over her head before tossing it onto the couch. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to get debriefed before my briefing. Just be sure and write everything down for Dr. Manville.”

Residence of Alta Jason

Washington, D.C.

9:23 p.m.

“Quit hoggin’ the rinds, Byers,” Langly groused, snatching the half-bag of cracklings from his bright-eyed colleague.

“Chicharrones,” Frohike amended haughtily from beside Mulder, adjusting the gain on the parabolic mike the boys had souped up for a hot Saturday night outside a Bulgarian embassy party. “Pig skin’s gone ethnic chic, pinche guay.”

“Bese mi asno,” Langly responded snarkily. “I watch Telemundo, too, El Chupacabra.”

“Boys,” Mulder intervened. “Don’t make me pull this van over. Oh, right, forgot. Pass the Cheetos.”

They’d been camped out in the rust-bucket Econoline for nearly a half-hour outside Alta Jason’s scabrous apartment building, rigging the surveillance gear and bickering over the cache of high-carb snacks they’d hauled along.

“Ah, Mulder?” Byers began. “I don’t mean to get ahead of ourselves, myself, but what precisely do we do if your psycho psychiatrist shows up? If you’re right, he has killed two people already.”

Mulder displayed his cell phone as he watched a woman in a ball cap and a baggy T lugging two grocery bags up the street. “DCPD on speed dial. I move in, with the locals right on my heels.”

The Gunmen glanced at each other. Frohike shrugged.

“What?” Mulder demanded. “Look, we’re just lacking a little concrete evidence here. But I can feel it — Manville’s going to make a move, if not tonight, then soon. I know it may sound a little paranoid…”

“Hey, dude, paranoid’s what we do,” Langly assured his friend. Then he frowned and adjusted his headphones. “We got game, guys.” He flipped a toggle. “Yeah, yeah, it’s me.” Alta sounded irritable, groggy. Just up from a nap, Mulder guessed, or just up. “God, you shitting me? I had enough of this bullshit yesterday. I’m clean right now, okay?”

Mulder straightened. “Okay, okay…”

The signal hissed as Alta sighed aggrievedly. “Oh, fuck. All right, come on up. Just don’t trip over the crackheads out front. Yeah, later.”

“That must be him,” Mulder breathed excitedly as the bag lady climbed the apartment house steps.

“What’s this dude’s motive, by the way?” Langly inquired.

“Hannibal Lecter started as a revenge killer who systematically killed the looters who’d murdered and cannibalized his sister during World War II,” Mulder started. “Then he appeared to graduate to a sort of Nietzschean/Darwinian ethic — his victims included a billionaire pedophile and a number of patients who ‘annoyed’ him. Weak, ignorant people who refused to recognize their insignificance.” Mulder licked cheese powder from his fingers. “What if Manville became Lecter’s protégé? He’s brilliant, enjoys playing head games with his patients. What if Manville volunteered at Soul Support solely to prey on the people he despised — the weak, the undisciplined?”

“And the mutilations?” Byers asked.

Mulder shrugged. It was, admittedly, the weakest link in his theory. “He took their ears because, in his darkly whimsical view, they were superfluous, unnecessary. They wouldn’t listen — not to family, not to the cops or the courts, and especially not to him. That would offend Manville.”

“So you’d recommend counseling, then?” Frohike rumbled dryly, popping another Red Bull.

Mulder’s carefully aimed Cheeto left an orange caste mark on the head Gunman’s head.

“Hey, Mulder,” Byers called. “This your guy?”

Mulder peered out the tinted window. Manville was wearing jeans, a logoless sweatshirt, a khaki windbreaker, and cheap running shoes, and he’d adopted a slouching, furtive posture aimed at reinforcing his street camo. But the height, the bearing, the aquiline nose… Mulder felt an exhilaration he hadn’t experienced in months.

“Game on, Dog,” he murmured.

“C’mon,” Byers sighed aggrievedly. “We’ve gone through this a dozen times. The Soviets replace Oswald with Alek, Alek hacks Kennedy, and lets himself get busted. Ruby then takes him out for the love of Mama Russia, and they did the old switcheroo. That’s why they IDed the remains as Oswald. Bada bing.”

“Bada bullshit,” Langly squeaked, his angular features awash in the glow of his laptop. “You think they just did a Copperfield, slipped him out of a secret pocket and into the coffin. You think they’d let the body out of their sight?”

“Who? LBJ’s FBI?”

Langley threw his hands in the air. “Oh, Jesus, not that again.”

“Shit.”

The pair turned to Frohike, who was staring slack-jawed at his souped-up, bootleg

“Blackberry.”

“Dude, you look like you heard they’re doing a sequel to ‘Daredevil’,” Langly said.

“My buddy in NSA IT. Mulder said Dr. Evil was hanging out with Evan Pym — you know, the black ops creep — so I asked him to do some intel. Turns out Frasier Crane was Dr. Strangelove.”

“He was a spook?” Byers breathed.

“Get Mulder,” Frohike ordered. Langly fumbled for the cell phone. That’s when harsh halogen light exploded into the van and the Gunmen found themselves suddenly peering down a quartet of gun barrels.

Mulder took the concrete steps two at a time, heart banging, his fingers teasing the butt of his weapon.

He’d hit Alta’s apartment just a minute or two after Manville — plenty of time for the psychotic shrink to smooth-talk her into a position of vulnerability. He’d have the weapon on him — there’d have been no reason to dispose of it. Manville would have thoroughly sanitized it, but the tooling marks — hell, his possession of the surgical instrument alone — would make the case. Mulder had contemplated calling Hedger, Skinner, but his credibility with law enforcement wasn’t riding really high these days. But the second he reached Alta’s floor, he’d signal the guys, and the cavalry would arrive to take Manville off his hands.

The junkie lived on the fourth floor, and Mulder sprinted up the worn wooden stairs practically without a sound. He plucked his phone from his jeans as he rounded the fourth floor landing.

“Agent Mulder,” Dr. Manville greeted, smiling, leveling a nine millimeter pistol at the bridge of Mulder’s nose. Rap pounded from down the hall, through Alta’s open door, but Manville’s tone was calm, sonorous.

Detective

“Please,” the doctor said, removing the phone from Mulder’s fingers. “Join us. You see,” Manville murmured, gesturing Mulder toward the open door, “Ms. Jason is a hardcore recidivist, much like Tonya Ray or Maurice Felton. Recovery is a remote — to some views, a hopeless — prospect.”

Mulder glanced back as he advanced slowly. “So, what, you surgically remove her from society? For what? The greater good?”

“Agent Mulder, you have a brilliant forensic mind. To have arrived here so quickly is, frankly, astonishing. But there’s much you don’t know. I’m going to ask you to remain silent, or the consequences could be dire. Do you understand?”

“I’m not going to allow that girl–”

“Hey! What the fuck?”

The slurred cry slashed into Mulder’s protest, and the agent froze, perplexed, as Manville moved past him.

“Agent! Now!” Manville barked harshly, and Mulder came to life, seizing the sidearm the doctor had curiously failed to confiscate.

The first thing the agent saw as he rushed through the doorway was Alta Jason on the floor before a nappy couch, palms before her face in a sluggish defensive posture. Manville had dropped into a crouch, his gun extended in both hands.

Between them, a figure brandished a long, glistening steel blade and a hypodermic needle at the cowering girl. The killer’s props — two grocery bags and a Senators cap — lay discarded nearby.

Alta’s assailant moved forward, oblivious to the therapist and his baffled FBI patient.

“Francine.” Manville called to the serial killer in an even but stern voice. Soul Support’s executive director wheeled, eyes wide and, strangely, irritated.

“Wallace?” Blade gripped in her iron fist, Francine Roeburt, Director of Soul Support, peered past the casual psychiatrist. “And what is *he* doing here?”

“There’s no purpose to this, Francine,” Manville suggested. “The police will connect that weapon to Tonya and Maurice’s deaths, and I’m quite certain your alibis for both — if you have alibis — will easily be broken. You’re not an experienced criminal, and your objective is now moot.”

Mulder kept his tongue with monumental difficulty.

Roeburt’s lips tightened, and her eyes were bright with fury. “How in the world did you work this out?”

“Well, obviously, there was the coincidence of Tonya and Maurice being my clients. That led Agent Mulder to suspect me, and, eventually, led me to you. I analyzed why my clients might have been targeted,” Manville explained almost melodically, “And I realized Agent Mulder had fallen onto the essence of the case. I’m assigned what he called the ‘hardcases’– the recidivist addicts, the near hopeless cases. The clients we’re least likely to hail as success stories. This was about percentages, wasn’t it, Francine? Tonya, Maurice, Alta — they tarnish the image of hope and redemption the media, the congressional appropriators, our donors expect. It was about improving the percentages, wasn’t it?”

Roeburt’s hiss chilled Mulder. “It was about the clients, Wallace, the clients! The ones we can bring back from the brink, the ones who choose life.” She jabbed the blade at Alta Jason, who whimpered. “Look at her. Her appointment was at, what, three today? and she’s already high! She’s a threat to every one of our clients who has a chance. So were Ray and Felton. They tap valuable resources and risk crucial funding!”

“Is that why you docked them, Francine?”

“Docked?” Mulder whispered.

Manville’s gun hand remained steady as his head turned microscopically. “In 17th Century England, even in 18th Century America, criminals were branded or docked through removal of the ears or other anatomical parts. I checked your circum vitae, Francine, and discovered your dual masters were in social work and forensic anthropology.  Beyond your more pragmatic motivation, you wanted to mark your victims, let the world know their shame.” For the first time, Mulder heard sadness seep into Manville’s words.  “Unfortunately, Francine, the world will know only what you’ve done. Please hand me the scalpel, and perhaps we can spare Soul Support some measure of destructive media coverage.”

Roeburt smiled, abruptly, serenely. “If it’s all over, Wallace, then I believe I’ll leave the world somewhat better for it.”

She lunged at Alta, and Manville’s finger tensed on the trigger. The girl shrieked, burrowing toward the couch, but the sound of her fear was smothered by a sharp explosion.

Francine Roeburt stumbled forward, onto the couch, hugging her bloody hand, her face contorted in hate.

Manville turned, regarding Mulder. The agent holstered his newly fired weapon. “Thank you, for Francine’s sake. I intended to kill her.”

Mulder smiled uncertainly. “Call it professional courtesy.”

Alta Jason’s Apartment

30 Minutes Later

“He was a spook,” Frohike told Mulder. “Well, a consulting spook, at least.”

Hedger had gone along with Manville’s suspicions, but had been thrown a curve when Mulder had trailed Roeburt and the doctor into the apartment building. His men had quickly contained the Gunmen, and stormed the apartment as soon as they’d heard the shot.

“Turns out the doc was onto Lecter before you guys,” the head Gunman continued as he watched the EMTs preparing Roeburt for transport. “That’s why he spent so much time with Hannibal the Cannibal — he was trying to size him up. The hospital administrator laughed him off when he suggested his top shrink was, what’s the clinical term? A raving kookaburra.”

“Yeah,” Mulder nodded. “I think that’s it.”

“But after you guys nabbed Lecter, the NSA caught wind of Manville’s diagnosis and offered him a sweet deal to come work for your uncle. Profiling terrorists, sizing up potential moles, that kind of thing.”

“Prospect must have fascinated him,” Mulder mused. “He wrote a couple papers on the terrorist psyche.”

“Well, the romance apparently was short-lived, ’cause Manville parted company with Pym on reportedly unfriendly terms. Must’ve known where the bodies were, though — nobody’s bothered him since he set up practice here.”

Mulder regarded his diminutive friend, who’d hung around after Hedger’d dismissed a shaky Byers and a defiant Langly. “Why didn’t you tell me you were doing your own background check?”

Frohike slapped the agent on the arm. “Had to watch your ass, buddy. You seem to be having some trouble finding it lately. Manana.”

Mulder blinked, and then grinned as the Gunman disappeared down the hall. He found Manville whispering with Hedger. The cop looked up, expression neutral.

“You stay available, Agent, hear?” Hedger grunted, turning to attend to his bleeding murderer.

“There’s a man,” Mulder murmured, “who’s seen one two many private eye flicks.”

“He’s actually quite astute, in a linear fashion,” Manville suggested.

“Jesus, don’t get all drippy and sentimental on me.” Mulder paused. “Why’d you let me make such a colossal ass of myself?”

“Colossal’s something of an overstatement.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me? About the NSA, about Lecter?”

“Agent Mulder, from what I’ve learned, people have been trying to lead you to the truth –their version of it — for most of your life. If I was to win your trust, you had to discover the truth for yourself, without my influence. I trusted your profiler’s skills.”

“Yeah,” Mulder chuckled sourly. “They came in really handy. My buddy the paranoiac beat me to the punch.”

“In and of itself a useful revelation,” Manville said.

“Just one thing,” Mulder ventured. “Why were you sharing a cappuccino with Evan Pym? I thought you guys were splits.”

“Somehow, Evan knew I’d been assigned to your case. He’s apparently taken quite an interest in you, in your work. He inquired as to your welfare, especially of late.”

“What did you tell him?”

The doctor smiled. “I simply suggested the same course of stress relief I recommended to you in our first session.”

Mulder stood transfixed for a second, then grinned broadly and trailed Manville into the bedroom.

Alta sat rocking in the center of her dingy flowered bedspread. The doctor was almost to the bed before the girl looked up with red-rimmed, unfocused eyes. She grinned.

“Well, shit,” Alta murmured, low and with astonishing clarity, considering her obvious condition. “House calls better not cost extra, Doc. I’m kinda tapped out, you can’t tell. Unless…” The addict’s smile disappeared as she patted the mattress beside her. Then, she glimpsed Mulder. “Okay, sure, both of you, then.”

Manville shook his head slightly. “I believe that would create a very complex problem in professional ethics. And Agent Mulder isn’t that enthusiastic for my company as it is.”

Something sparked in Alta’s eyes, and she stared off, toward the wall. “Then you’re not much fucking use, then, are you? Fuck off, Doc, and take ‘Fox’ and the storm troopers with you.”

“Hey,” Mulder protested, gently. “You’d be dead right now–”

She came off the mattress, breathing raggedly as she came nose to chest with Manville. “I guess I would be, wouldn’t I?  Fuck you very much, Doc. Now, find the fucking door.”

Manville nodded matter-of-factly, turned, and motioned Mulder toward the door.

“GET…THE…FUCK…OUT!!!” Alta screamed, panting, as the bedroom door splintered into its jamb.

“Lieutenant,” Manville called over her continued curses. “If there’s a possibility of leaving an officer — a female officer — for the evening?”

Hedger’s brow rose as he jerked his head toward the door. “You worried about her welfare, I’ve got a nice safe place she could depressurize overnight.”

Manville shook his head curtly, politely rejecting Hedger’s consultation. “I believe Ms. Jason would be far better served in her own environment tonight.”

The cop sighed. “You got the degree. Officer…”

“I’m sure she’ll see things differently tomorrow,” Mulder offered in the hallway.

As the therapist turned, Mulder met Wallace Manville for the first time. Manville smiled warmly, a touch of sadness in his mineral eyes.

“I’m going to break a cardinal rule of psychotherapy here, but I believe I can trust your confidence,” the doctor said. “Alta is the product — perhaps I should say the consequence — of a dysfunctional upbringing. An indifferent, emotionally abusive stepfather; a weak, co-dependent mother who enabled his cruel behavior toward herself, Alta, and Alta’s younger half-sister. Considerably younger, I should note.  By 14, Alta was already promiscuous, a problem drinker, half-addicted to pot, popping ritalin she purchased from an attention deficit classmate. Unfortunately, not an uncommon profile in Alta’s neighborhood. On her 15th birthday, while her mother was downstairs washing the evening dishes, Alta’s stepfather made an overtly sexual overture toward her. Alta’s half-sister, in the next room, heard the altercation that ensued and called for her mother. Mothers and daughters moved out that night.”

Mulder glanced back at Alta Jason’s apartment sadly as Manville continued with his discourse.

“Alta’s stepfather had been the family breadwinner — her mother was forced to take an apartment in an even more marginal neighborhood. The mother’s combined stress, depression, and misplaced resentment toward Alta led to a further breakdown of the family model, and, half out of economic necessity, half as a form of subconscious punishment, she left Alta’s half-sister in Alta’s care during the evenings while she ‘socialized.’ The police say the man down the hall — meth dealer, incidentally — left his door ajar to run some product down to a customer on the street. Alta’s half-sister was bored — that’s what Alta surmises — and saw the dogs in the open doorway. Her father had kept the family retriever when his wife left, and I suppose her nine-year-old’s curiosity got the better of her. I don’t know that you’ve ever seen what a pitbull can do to a child, much less two.”

Mulder closed his eyes.

“The upshot is, when the police were able to get an ID on the girl, they found Alta on the couch three doors away. She’d downed a half-bottle of Wild Turkey, and had managed to sleep through the entire episode.”

“No wonder,” Mulder managed, glancing back at the apartment door.

Manville followed his gaze. “Alta has been virtually paralyzed in that moment for the past eight years. In our sessions, she constantly relives it, pondering how she might have influenced the outcomes differently, how she might have saved her sister from a horrific death that might never have occurred if she hadn’t somehow attracted her stepfather’s unwanted attentions. The loss of her sibling has driven Alta to obsessive self-recrimination.”

Mulder’s eyes slowly opened. The hallway was suddenly silent.

“And every attempt to retrieve Alta from this abyss of self-flagellation only drives her into its depths. She resents those who would ‘save’ her. It amplifies her feelings of weakness, her powerlessness to save her sister.”

Mulder stared at Manville.

“Interestingly enough, Francine lost her brother, as well, several years ago. To cocaine — cardiac failure, to be precise. It’s what motivated her to help the addicted, to launch Soul Support. She allowed nothing to interfere with her mission, her obsession, if you will — not even the lives of those she set out to rescue.” Manville told him, hardly blinking. “Guilt can paralyze; it can distort. And misplaced guilt? Even worse — there’s no palpable, rational blame upon which to grasp. And until we can learn to pull ourselves out of that pit, we can’t accept the support…the strength…of others. Not even those we love.”

Suddenly, Mulder remembered to breathe. He swallowed repeatedly. “Skinner. What did…what did he tell you?”

Manville smiled, rising. “Very little, actually. Enough. But I’m exhausted, and I’m certain my wife is wondering what I’ve been up to. We can discuss this later. Let’s see how you see things tomorrow.”

Mulder nodded mutely until Manville’s blurred figure disappeared down the hall. He jumped as his cellphone echoed through the corridor. The agent fumbled it from his pocket, but the caller ID was illegible. His thumb found the correct key. “Mulder?” Scully yawned. “Tried to get you earlier, three or four times. I was beginning to worry … Mulder? Are you all right?”

Mulder squeezed his eyes shut, and took a slow, silent breath. His eyes opened, and he eased his grip on the phone.

“No worries,” Mulder laughed. “I’ll be a little late, okay? Don’t wait up.” He thumbed the phone off as if he were defusing a bomb.

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

Georgetown

7:03 a.m.

Mulder dropped the scoop back into the Folger’s canister, scrambling for the counter before the second ring could interrupt Scully’s slumber. If Scully had been alarmed or agitated by his misadventure the night before — or the misadventures leading up to it — she’d covered masterfully. She’d been solicitous, with few questions, but both Mulder and Scully quickly pled exhaustion and pledged to share intelligence the next morning. After the revelations of the previous evening, Mulder had been none too eager for the debriefing.

“Yeah,” he panted into the phone.

“Have you had your morning coffee yet, Agent Mulder?”

Manville’s affable calmness took Mulder by surprise. He dropped onto a stool. “You tell me.”

A soft affirmative chuckle. “Very good. I was wondering if you might like to get together. After last night’s excitement, perhaps you may have some additional questions or concerns?”

“Wow, sounds like a stone hoot.”

“I believe there’s a Starbuck’s a block from your apartment?”

“I believe there’s a Starbuck’s at the base of the Marianas Trench at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, but yeah, that’s right.”

“Of course, if you have other, more pressing business…”

Mulder glanced toward the darkened bedroom. “Gotta shower — grab me an apricot scone.”

Starbuck’s

Georgetown

7:51 a.m.

“I’m okay,” Mulder assured Manville, dunking his scone in his Grande Ubora. “Really.”

“Of course,” Manville toasted, smiling. Despite the hour, the doctor was groomed and dressed for a briefing in the Oval Office.

The doctor astutely surveyed the morning throng of cramming students and suits hardwired into their blackberries. “I wonder what Herman Melville would have made of all this. You’re aware the chain was started by an English teacher, a history teacher, and a writer? Who would have imagined Melville’s work would come to be associated with overpriced coffee and oversized muffins?”

Mulder brushed a few crumbs from his Stewie Griffith T-shirt. “They make a mean Great White Chocolate Mocha, though. You know, Scully’s dad was a big Melville buff — Navy man, called Scully Starbuck. She called him Ahab, that give you any idea who wore the deck shoes in that family? Shit, who am I to judge? My Dad was like something out of Dickens. Whoops, did I just trip the meter?”

“I’ll bill the Bureau. Besides, I thought I’d attempt to satisfy your curiosity today,” Manville offered. “You must have a number of questions. And I wanted to let you know: If my background is of concern to you, I’ll support your attorney’s request to assign another counselor.”

A slow smile formed on Mulder’s lips. “Actually, the fact you have a license to kill is kind of a point in your favor.”

“Had,” Manville said, gently. “And I never precisely pulled the trigger on anyone.”

Mulder glanced at the young baristas toiling behind the counter, then turned back to the psychiatrist. “I want back in the field, but I don’t want Scully or Skinner to worry about whether I have their back.”

Manville nodded.

“And maybe you could help me with a little problem Scully’s having. Wait, I’ll save you the trouble — ‘I thought I already was.'”

“Well, as we are off the clock…”

Manville followed Mulder’s tale of bees and biological weapons intently.

The story sounded fantastic enough even with Mulder’s omission of Nazis and extraterrestrials, but the therapist nodded and sipped his coffee unperturbed, as if his patient were discussing a particularly long and complex staff meeting. As Mulder concluded with Scully’s discovery of the Virginia paper trail, Manville leaned back, templing his fingers.

“I’d agree our man is personally motivated, and most likely is working alone or with a cell of similarly motivated individuals,” the doctor murmured. “His actions are simultaneously calculated and reckless, and opportunistic — in at least the Texas and Kentucky incidents. It would seem he was not so much testing his weapon as he was flexing his muscles, testing his power. He has a grandiose image of himself, but is at the same time subconsciously insecure about his own significance.”

“Obviously,” Mulder snorted. “Any guy who’d call himself ‘Stubb’ can’t be totally sure of himself.”

Manville smirked, then frowned. “Stubb. That’s the alias?”

“Yeah. Why?”

The doctor raised a finger in a silencing gesture. “Wait … No. It’s too coincidental…”

“What is?”

“‘Stubb’. It’s the name of a fictional character. In Moby Dick.”

Mulder released his cup and leaned forward.

“Starbuck was Captain Ahab’s first mate,” Manville elaborated. “Stubb was the second mate.”

“Shit,” Mulder whispered.

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

Georgetown

9:12 a.m.

“Where’ve you been?” Scully asked as Mulder shoved the door open, key still dangling from the lock. Her tone was casual — not suspicious, but curious, with a trace of concern.

“I tried to call–”

Scully tugged at her robe. “I let it roll over to the machine. Too bushed — I just got up. Why didn’t you leave a message?”

Mulder dropped onto the arm of the couch. His pale face was grave as he looked at her.

“Scully … I think Charlie’s involved in this.”

Scully’s coffee mug nearly tipped in her fingers. Instinctively, she caught herself. “My Char..? Him? In my case?”

Mulder related Manville’s Melvillean observation.

Scully set her coffee aside and dropped into Mulder’s armchair, pulling a blanket around herself, clasping her hands.

“Stubb. I was so wrapped up in the investigation, with your…?” Her voice trailed off. “But why? There’s no reason to this. Why would they do something so public, so senseless?”

“I don’t think there’s any ‘they,’ Scully,” Mulder said gently. “I think Charlie’s gone rogue. I can only imagine how Strughold and the others reacted to his screw-up last summer. I think it broke him, sent him over the edge.” A shadow crossed his face at the memory of his own ordeal. “I think this is all about revenge. Against them. Against the world.”

Scully’s jaw set, and something cold and primal glinted in her eyes. “Against *me*.”

She stood there for a moment, thinking. “But you said Krycek didn’t know anything about it.”

“Yeah, and then he told me to ‘find the man’ responsible for setting these bees loose. Scully, if Charlie went rogue–”

“Oh, god,” Scully moaned. “Oh, Mulder, this … this is …”

“I know. I know,” he agreed. “So, what do you want to do?”

“We have no proof to give to Skinner–” She was interrupted by the ringing of the phone.

They both lunged for it, but Scully came up the winner. “Scully.”

Mulder waited, while Scully muttered a string of ‘uh huhs’ and ended with a ‘yes, thank you’.

After disconnecting and putting the phone back on its charger, she tossed off the blanket. “That was the hospital. I have to get over there. Bambi’s out of her coma.”

Mulder blinked in surprise and quickly followed her up to the bedroom. “The new treatment — Scully, what did you give her?”

She was already pulling clothes out of the closet. “Oh, um, you were right, Mulder. It was something like a horse serum.”

“So, uh, who was the ‘horse’,” he asked, pleased with himself.

“Me.” Before he could react, she was in the bathroom. He followed right after her.

“What do you mean — you?”

“It’s pretty simple, actually. We did try your blood. I synthesized it and was about to administer it, but I thought about it and decided against it. Then I decided to try a sample of my blood. Mulder, remember, I was the one stung by the bee — not you.”

“Well, yeah, I guess …”

She stepped out of the shower, toweling her hair. “So, my blood worked.”

“Can we–”

“Synthesize it? To some extent. But so far, everyone affected has died before treatment has been available. If we can get to someone fast enough now… ”

“I don’t like the idea of you being a laboratory, Scully. I mean–”

“If we stop the release of the bees, it won’t be necessary.” She was drying her hair and turned around to kiss him. “It might have been my blood, Mulder, but it was your idea. Thank you.”

He caught her hand before she could hurry off. “Scully, about Charlie …”

“He has to be stopped. Once and for all.” She kissed him on the lips. “Gotta go. Why don’t you shower and we can figure out our next move. Oh, did Manville release you for duty?”

“Um, in a manner of speaking. Yeah, yeah, he did.” Mulder made a note to call the psychiatrist the minute Scully was out of hearing range, just to make sure.

Northeast Georgetown Medical Center

Her old friend and colleague Dr. Daly was there to meet her at the CICU. “Dana, I don’t know what you did — but it did the trick! Dr. Berenbaum’s cultures are vastly improved over two days ago. She awake, she’s breathing on her own — if I didn’t know you, I’d say her recovery was once in a lifetime!”

Scully blushed at the effusive praise and looked through the window of the room where Bambi was looking tired, but onsiderably improved.

Her husband, Dr. Ivanov, was smiling at her and holding her hand. At Scully’s knock, they both looked toward the door.

“Hey,” Scully said. “Glad to see you’re feeling better.”

Dr. Ivanov picked up his voice synthesizer and put it to his throat. “Dr. Scully, how can we ever repay you?”

Scully smiled again. “No repayment necessary. As I remember, you were both a great deal of help to us a few years back. Consider this just returning the favor.”

“Did you find it? What killed Todd? The bees?” Bambi asked hoarsely. Ivanov tried to shush her but she batted weakly at his hand. “I was attacked too, wasn’t I?”

“Yes, I’m afraid you were,” Scully admitted, standing near the bed. “But what I can’t figure out was why no one else on the Mall was affected. Was there anyone else around, someone nearby?”

“There was a man,” Bambi said, her brow furrowed in thought. “About your partner’s height and weight — red hair, cut short …”

Scully froze. “What was he wearing?”

“A uniform of some kind. I thought he must have worked for the garden. He bumped into me just before I saw you on the sidewalk.”

“Did he happen to have a name tag on his uniform? Did you see it?” Scully asked, sounding more desperate than she wanted.

Bambi bit her lip in concentration. “Stull … Stubb … something like that. I was going to ask him what time the garden closes but when I turned around he was gone.”

Their talk was obviously tiring out the recovering patient, so Scully took her leave. On the way out of the hospital, her phone rang. She glanced down and recognized a University of Maryland prefix.

“Scully,” she answered.

“Dana, this is Chuck. I got that email you sent me looking for anything I could find out about that Japanese corporation — Katsuhiru Inc.” Burks told her excitedly. “You won’t believe this, but we got a guy here in the engineering department on sabbatical from Yokohoma, did an internship with these dudes back in the late ’90s.”

“What did he tell you, Chuck?” she asked anxiously.

“Well, seems these guys were into some weird stuff. Did a lot of work with insect populations — but it was all very hush hush, if you know what I mean.” Chuck almost whispered at this point. “He didn’t actually get to see any research, but there were acres of hives near the plant. He saw something once — on an interior storage room. He said it said something about ‘Anubis’. He said it had something to do with the bees.”

“That’s good, Chuck, real good. Thanks!”

“Hey, any time, Dana! How’s Mulder doing with the shrink-man? Can this Special Agent be saved?”

“I hope so, Chuck. God knows I don’t want to do this without him.” Scully told him in confidence, worry evident in her voice.

“Well, I’ll think good thoughts your way.” Chuck told her, sounding enthusiastic, as always. “Good luck, Dana. Let me know if you need anything else.”

“I will, Chuck — we owe you. Oh,” she said shortly. “Look, I’ve got another call. Thanks again, Chuck.” She hit the receive button and answered again. “Scully.”

“Dana, hi, I thought I’d never find you,” Maggie Scully’s voice sounded over the phone line. “I’ve been leaving messages for a couple of days.”

“Oh, sorry, Mom. I’ve been on a case.”

“Yes, that’s what Fox said when I just talked to him.”

“Was there something important that you needed to talk about with me?” Scully asked as she was getting into her car.

“Well, yes. You remember the Balloonfest here in Baltimore. It starts today. Tara and I are taking the kids out to see the lift off,” Maggie informed her. “Matty wants to go up in one of the static line balloons and you know how Tara is afraid of heights. We were wondering if you and Fox might join us.”

“Balloonfest? Didn’t we used to go to that every year?” Scully asked absently.

“Yes, we did. When he was in port and able to go with us, Ahab loved to see the looks on your faces. We went every year.” Maggie laughed. “Well, every year until the year Charlie got stung by that wasp. Then we sort of skipped it. But Matty and Claire have never been and this time I bought plenty of Cutter insect repellent–”

It instantly clicked into place.

She knew where Charlie would strike next. “Look, Mom, I have to go. Don’t go to the festival! Please!”

“Dana, I … hear you. … by a … tower. … you back.”

“Mom! Mom, can you hear me? *Mom!*” When the line went dead, she cursed loudly, trying to get the key into the ignition.

Her phone rang again and she answered it frantically. “Mom!”

“Scully, no, it’s me,” came Mulder’s surprised voice. “Scully, Mom and Tara are taking the kids to a balloonfest–”

“Mulder,” Scully interrupted, “*That’s it!* Don’t you see? Charlie is the one who released the bee that stung Dr. Berenbaum! *She remembered him!* This festival in Baltimore — that’s where he’s going! Mulder — Charlie was stung at that very festival when we were kids. We have to stop him!”

“Scully, you have the car,” Mulder reminded her regretfully, worry etching his voice.

“If I come by to pick you up–”

“No, no … don’t worry about me, Scully. I’ll call the guys. You just get out there,” Mulder told her gravely. “I’ll get hold of Skinner and get some back up for you.”

“Mulder, we don’t know for certain–”

“Don’t doubt yourself now, Scully,” Mulder encouraged her, knowing how hard this whole ordeal was going to be for her. “If your gut is telling you Charlie’s there, then that’s where he’ll be. Just … please, be careful. You know what he’s capable of doing…”

Scully closed her eyes for a moment, thinking about her remaining family; her Mom and sister-in-law — innocently taking two small fatherless children for some cotton candy and to see colorful hot air balloons on a beautiful fall day. “I know he won’t hesitate to kill me or Mom and Tara and the kids. I understand that, Mulder,” Scully acknowledged gravely. “Look, Mulder, I have a quick stop to make on the way there, but I should be there in a little over an hour.”

“And I’ll be right behind you, G-Woman.” Mulder said, and then after a beat he added, “I love you, with all my heart.”

“I love you too, G-man.” Scully disconnected the line and then quickly dialed another number.

“Chuck, it’s Dana — there’s one more thing I need from you …”

Baltimore Balloon Extravaganza

4:35 p.m.

The day was perfect, a light breeze and unseasonably warm temperatures just brushing 80 degrees. The parking lot was crowded with cars and Scully flashed her badge several times to get past the gates.

Once parked and out of the car, she stopped at the information booth for a convenient map of the festival.

The festival was laid out in a large field. There were about 30 or so hot air balloons in the staging area being slowly inflated for lift off. Then, further away was a compact concession area with several tents and trailers selling everything and anything deep-fried or on a stick. In the far end of the area was a playground of giant balloon slides, moonwalks, clowns and face-painting, children’s games, crafts, pony rides, and a petting zoo, which was, unfortunately upwind of the concession area. Scully scanned the festival grounds, looking for her Mother — or her brother.

She spotted Tara’s blonde hair above the sea of toddlers at the petting zoo and was headed that way when a flash of red hair caught her eye.

Fair

The red hair belonged to a uniformed man with a hand truck holding two canisters of what appeared to be carbon dioxide for soda pop. He was making his way into one of the closed tents.

That alone was distinctly odd because the map showed no soda dispensers in that direction. Scully turned quickly and followed him, then hesitated for a moment as she saw him stop, look around and enter the tent.

Her heart was pounding because she was certain he’d seen her as she was barely 50 feet away, but apparently he hadn’t. Perhaps he was just not expecting to see her there.

That would definitely work to her advantage. Trying to forget who he was, Scully called up all her courage, Mulder’s love, honor and support, which she felt surrounding her, and her F.B.I. status and training.

Charlie was bending over one of the canisters, prying it open when Dana furtively entered the tent, gun drawn.

“Stop right there,” she growled, disengaging the safety on her automatic. “Move away from the canisters, Charlie.”

Fair2

Charlie looked up in surprise, then a feral grin spread across his face. “Hey! Well, look who’s here! My Big Sis! Long time no see? Hey, Dana, how’s the ole man? I heard they’re fitting him for a straight-jacket. You might have to go find another dick to swallow.”

Dana didn’t blink and she purposefully disassociated her relationship with the man and forced herself to remember who he had become. Not to mention the untold numbers he could murder with the horrors held in those tanks.

“Charlie, get away from that canister, *NOW*!” she repeated more forcefully.

He smiled at her, shaking his head, his hands still continuing to work at the canister. Charlie’s blue eyes glittered at her and she wondered, briefly, if she was seeing true madness or if he had just, somehow, turned out to be truly evil. “You know, I always knew it would come down to this,” Charlie snarled. “Is it worth it, Dana? Is that prick of a partner of yours worth it? To die like this? Wouldn’t you rather live –be part of something bigger–”

“Killing innocent people? Killing innocent *children*? What’s in it for you, Charlie?” Dana asked. “Tell me, *why*?”

“Fame,” he replied with a shrug, then a slight frown, his fingers continuing to twist a valve on the canister. “Well, … okay, maybe not so much the fame.” The smile was back on his face as quickly as it had gone. “How about money, Sis? The Japanese are really itching to get their babies back.” He rapped the canister with the knuckles of one hand and it was then that she heard the buzz. “This brief but highly effective demonstration will be all I need to convince them to give me big bucks. After that, I can just fade away — retire, if you will.”

“*I won’t*. Now, please, for Mom’s sake, will you come peacefully?” Dana’s voice was even, though she felt like she was begging.

For a split second a shadow passed over Charlie’s face. Then he narrowed his eyes and glared. “No. Not for Mom, not for you, not for Billy-Boy’s little brats — not for *anybody*.”

With a quick flip of his hand, Charlie tossed a piece of protective netting over his head.

The other hand loosened the bolt on the canister, the valve released and the mechanism popped off.

To Dana Scully’s horror, her little brother had released the bees. Without hesitation, a single shot rang out from Scully’s gun, the round hitting her brother right at the shoulder — exactly where she’d hit her partner over a decade before.

The impact knocked Charlie backwards and down into the dirt, along with the canister which was dispersing furious bees entirely too fast. Blood was pulsing from the wound.

Charlie looked first shocked and then stricken as reality began to set in; it took a moment for the pain to catch up to the event.

Charlie Scully looked up at his Big Sis in complete and total disbelief as he screamed and writhed in pain.

The bees, already hyper-excited by their sudden release from captivity, swarmed and attacked the nearest moving object — Charlie.

Dana watched sadly as dozens and dozens of the more-ferocious-than-usual insects burrowed into the gap in the protective fabric left by the bullet hole, stinging the man viciously.

Charlie

Terrible as it was, Dana could not look away from the sight. This was not the Charlie she’d played Cowboys and Indians with as a kid. He hadn’t play softball with her either.

He wasn’t the Charlie who she had adored and whom she thought had adored her.

This wasn’t Charlie Scully: This was a monster.

Tears welled in her eyes, but Scully adamantly refused to let them fall.

Within minutes, men in full protective Hazmat suits converged on the tent, careful to keep the flaps down. Scully was pushed toward a corner where she was pulled through the tent flaps, into a makeshift containment unit.

“Scully!” Mulder called, running over to her.

She turned at the sound of his voice and their eyes met. Mulder wasn’t certain what he was seeing in her eyes. He wanted to put his arms around her but he couldn’t.

They were separated by translucent plastic protective sheeting. “Scully, are you alright — were you stung?” he asked frantically.

She shook her head listlessly. “No. I’m fine. Mulder, Charlie’s–”

As she spoke, other men in protective gear were carrying out her brother’s body in a black body bag.

“Mulder, please — get Mom, Tara and the kids out of here.” Scully pleaded. “I don’t want them to see–”

Mulder nodded somberly. “They’re taking you to Bethesda, Scully. I’ll meet you there,” he assured her, reaching out his hand to touch hers through the plastic.

“I’ll see you soon, Mulder,” she assured him, feeling the warmth of his skin through the heavy gauge plastic.

Bethesda Naval Hospital

9:45 p.m.

Scully trudged down the hallway to the waiting room to find her partner sprawled on one of the sofas watching Sports Center.

“Hey,” she said, kicking Mulder’s foot.

He jumped to his feet, turned and instantly took her into his arms, holding her tight, reveling in the feel of her arms around him again. “Scully,” he whispered, kissing the crown of her head, then each eyelid, a temple and then her lips in frantic succession. “I was *so* worried. What took so long?”

“They ran a full battery of tests, Mulder,” she explained casually, then sighed. “I told them repeatedly that I wasn’t stung, and if I had been stung it would have affected me much sooner — but you know the military.”

He nodded and pulled her down to sit closely next to him. They sat in silence for a few moments, reconnecting. Mulder stroked her mussed hair, then he pulled her to him and gently kissed her lips.

When they pulled apart, their heads were bowed, eyes closed, foreheads resting against each other’s.

“So, I assume they were able to evacuate the festival?” Scully finally asked softly.

Mulder nodded slightly, then leaned back to look at her. “And they eradicated the bees,” he offered. “I talked to the M.E. Charlie had over 40 stingers, most of them right at his shoulder. You shot him, Scully.” His voice was gentle and he pulled her yet closer.

“He didn’t leave me any choice, Mulder. He would have opened the tent flaps and released the bees. I couldn’t let Matty and Claire–” She choked on her words, tears finally rolling down her cheeks, and allowed him to pull her head down to his chest where he stroked her hair.

“What I don’t understand,” Mulder stated softly, “is how you managed to avoid being stung. Scully, there were *hundreds* of bees in that tent.”

From her position at his shoulder she chuffed a laugh. “LSDM,” she said, though it was considerably muffled.

“‘Scuse me?” he asked.

She raised her head a fraction, just so that he could hear her clearly. “LSDM. Remember? Franklin County, Pennsylvania? Ed Funsch?”

“*That* LSDM? Scully, how? Why?” Mulder was astonished, blinking at her. “I knew I’d have to be careful of the bees. Since kevlar wouldn’t stop them, I stopped by U of Maryland on the way out to the festival–”

“So, do I need to keep all weapons away from you and not let you near any clock towers for a while?” he teased softly.

She shook her head slowly, her bottom lip suddenly trembling and she looked him in the eye, naked pain radiating from hers. “Mom. I have to tell her–”

“I, uh, I knew you would want her to know as soon as possible, Scully. Besides, she had to I.D. the body.” Mulder explained as kindly as he could.

“Oh God, no …” Tears flowed from her eyes anew. “Is she … oh God, Mulder — will she ever forgive me?”

He pulled her close and kissed her forehead. “I told her the whole story, Scully. At least this, the most recent part of it anyway. How Charlie was about to release a deadly and violent strain of bees on everyone at the festival. She understood what you did and why.” He leaned down to kiss her softly and looked at her closely. “Scully, I think she feels there’s nothing to forgive.”

Scully said nothing, only buried her face in the crook of Mulder’s neck, held on to him with everything she had … and cried her heart out for the little red headed boy of her childhood, *her* ‘Baby Charlie’, with the bright blue eyes and freckled cheeks…

EPILOGUE

Quonochautaug, Rhode Island

One Week Later

Scully pulled Tara’s van into the gravel driveway of the summer house. They had been on the road most of the day.

Claire, bless her heart, had conked out in the backseat next to her grandmother several hours ago and Scully noted that even the slowing of the vehicle didn’t awaken her.

“This is it?” Matthew exclaimed with a note of disappointment in his voice as he climbed from the rear seat and over Maggie to peer out the front windshield between her and Tara. Looking out the windshield with him, even Scully had to admit that the cottage was showing its age.

She wondered who had chosen the drab brown color so many years ago. Now that the amenities inside were highly improved they would have to do some updating of the exterior, but that could wait until next summer.

Scully ruffled her nephew’s hair, “I know it doesn’t look like much from here, but I think you’re going to like it here.”

“Why are we here again?” he asked as he stumbled back into his seat.

Scully wondered that herself. This was Mulder’s idea.

A weekend at the cottage, a much-needed escape from reality she thought as she caught her Mother’s reflection in the rear-view mirror. The past week had been hard. Mulder had come up here earlier in the week alone. He called yesterday to remind her to tell everyone to bring “old clothes” but wouldn’t commit to the reason for their necessity. Her partner’s new toy was parked in the driveway. When he’d told her he’d bought a ‘hybrid’ she’d had the momentary vision of the two of them cruising through the Virginia countryside in a cute little Prius.

That was until he’d pulled in with the Saturn SUV. A ‘family’ car? Complete with the additional rear seats. His priorities were obviously changing.

Parked in from of the SUV was a well-worn pickup truck with the name “R.J. Construction” stenciled on its door.

What was Mulder up to now?

“We’re here for a weekend ‘get-away’, Matthew, it’s like a mini-vacation,” Maggie told him catching her daughter’s eye in the mirror. Scully saw the sadness in her Mother’s face. “Well, come on everyone, let’s see if we can find Mulder,” she announced, releasing her seatbelt and opening the door.

After opening the rear hatch and distributing luggage to everyone, they headed for the cottage.

There was still no sigh of her partner.

‘Do not worry’, she thought to herself, unlocking the front door and letting everyone in. The breeze off the water behind the cottage greeted them immediately from the open French doors across the back of the room.

Mulder had to be somewhere.

“Mulder, we’re here!” Scully called.

After several more calls and no response she ended up at the back door with her hands on her hips, “Well, guess I’ll have to go hunt him down,” she told the rest of the group. “Matthew, why don’t you search the house, I’ll look outside.”

Tara nodded and patted Maggie on the shoulder, motioning her to follow, “We’ll go get the rest of the stuff from the car,” she said, grabbing her daughter’s hand.

Sliding the screen door open, Scully stepped out onto the patio. A pizza box and four empty beer bottles sat on the table.

After circling the house and still finding no sign of Mulder, she gave up and pulled out her cell phone and hit #1.

It took three rings but he finally answered. “Where are you, Scully?” was the greeting she got.

“That’s the question I was about to ask you! I’m standing on the patio, where are you, Mulder?”

“Walk toward the trees and down the hill. And Scully, could you bring me a clean T-shirt?”

It was hard to hear him, it sounded like a power saw in the background. “What are you doing?” she tried to ask him.

“Just come on down, you’ll see.”

“Come down where?” she mumbled to herself suddenly realizing she’d never been beyond the edge of the patio. As she turned to go back into the house to get Mulder a shirt, Matthew bounded up.

“I can’t find him anywhere, Aunt Dana, but there’s this cool loft up there,” he told her, pointing to the roof. “Do you think I can sleep up there?”

“We’ll see,” she answered knowing that was a decision Tara would have to make. “I’m going on an adventure to find Mulder, you want to come with me?”

“Where?”

“I don’t really know, that’s why it’s an adventure,” she smiled back at him.

After digging through the extra bag of clothes Mulder had asked her to bring and getting Tara, Claire and Maggie settled, armed with his t-shirt, Scully and Matthew headed out to find her partner.

Beyond the line of trees, the property dropped off in a gentle hill. To their left were stone steps that started down toward the beach ending at what appeared to be a large shed. New lumber was stacked in a pile in front of the building and several boards were leaning against its right side on a newly constructed walkway. When the sound of the power saw started up again, she and Matthew followed the steps down to investigate. Matthew immediately headed around the back of the structure on the boardwalk. As Scully followed him around the back of the building, a nice size deck that overlooked the bay came into view. It was hot for early October and she found the breeze off the water refreshing.

“Mulder?” Scully called once again.

“Down here! Look down over the railing!”

Scully turned at the sound of Mulder’s voice and looked over the railing that surrounded the walkway.

Mulder was standing below her looking up with a big grin on his sweaty face, his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses.

“Come on down,” he told them motioning toward the stairs that led down from the deck she and Matthew were standing on. Matthew bounded off in front of her. When she got to the bottom of the stairs, she realized that the building wasn’t a shed, it was a boathouse. Two big doors opened over the water that went in underneath the structure.

The new dock Mulder was standing on went out about twenty feet or so into the water. Matthew gave Mulder a high-five as he passed him and then wandered out onto the dock to where another man was working.

Scully just stood and observed her partner. His newly-tanned face and arms glistened with sweat, curling the edges of his hair and soaking the neckline of the t-shirt he was wearing. He had on khaki shorts and sneakers. An old leather tool belt sat low on his hips. He held a big nail gun in his right hand.

He could have been a pin-up for a male F.B.I. calendar, Scully thought, if there were such a thing. Too bad there wasn’t.

“Do you have a license to carry that thing?” she quipped motioning to the big gun.

Mulder chuckled and set the nail gun down behind him. The back of his t-shirt was also damp with sweat.

As he turned around he pulled the damp shirt off over his head and then proceeded to wipe the sweat off his face with it, reaching out to take the clean one from her while she winced at his ministrations.

As he struggled to pull the shirt on over his damp skin, Scully tugged on his tool belt. “And here I was being sarcastic when I told you I was going to buy you one of these things.”

“This one doesn’t have a pocket for a laser pointer though,” he replied, smiling at the memory. “It’s not mine, my grandfather was a carpenter; the shed is still full of his stuff,” he confessed motioning toward the upper half of the boathouse.

“So, What do you think?” he asked her. Scully looked around her. The boathouse was old and weathered but the decking and dock had been expertly crafted. “You did this?”

“Hey, if you’re takin’ a break here, I’m gonna put your nephew to work,” the man who had been working out on the dock came up and tapped Mulder on the arm. “He does good work doesn’t he?” he addressed Scully.

“Actully, *he* did it,” Mulder corrected, motioning to the other man. “I’m the go-for. Scully, this is R.J. …”

“Of R.J. Construction?”

“Ray Jassick,” R.J. corrected, reaching out to shake Scully’s hand. “An old beach friend from way too many summers ago.”

“Nice to meet you.”

R.J. was probably Mulder’s age but not quite as tall, with dusty blond hair, blue eyes and a carpenter’s tan. She could imagine them as two boys on the beach in their youth.

Someone obviously had a talent, she thought looking around at the project. “Mulder, you’ve been keeping things from me,” she joked. “I’m impressed.”

“Can I stay and help, Aunt Dana? Please?” Matthew called from the end of the dock.

“He’s okay, I could use another pair of hands,” R.J. replied with a smirk at Scully’s look of concern.

Mulder turned to look at his friend feigning a hurt expression. “We’re almost done for today, we’ll be up in what…” he glanced over at R.J. “Half an hour?”

Scully studied the three of them and then smiled an acknowledgement before turning to head back up to the house, “Well, then, I guess us ‘women folk’ will see about supper.”

Summer House

Just before Sunrise, The Next Day

The following morning they all found out the necessity for the old clothes. After an early breakfast, Mulder had put them all to work painting the newly refurbished  boathouse while he and RJ finished up the dock.

Weary by the end of the day, dinner had been a cookout and by the time they had washed up the dishes, it was almost dusk.

While Tara had gone off to try and wash the paint from her daughter’s exterior Scully decided to search out the boys.

Both Mulder and Matthew had disappeared shortly after clearing the table. Scully had thought they were up to something together until she spotted Matty engaged in some covert apple picking on the far side of the cottage. “Do you know…” she started to ask snagging one of the juicy fruits for herself.

“Uncle Mulder’s down on the dock,” Matty garbled out between bites. His fingers were already sticky with juice prohibiting any chance he had of keeping his dessert a secret.

“These are really yummy, aren’t they?” Scully smiled at him. “Why don’t you go in the house and get a basket from Grandma and fill it for the rest of us?”

While Matty headed back to the house, she started off across the yard and down the stairs to the boathouse.

Mulder was exactly where Matty had said he was, sitting on the end of the dock. He turned at the sound of her footsteps on the wooden surface and smiled a guilty smile. The sky beyond him was already turning a rosy purple, the first stars of the evening were appearing here and there and the calm water reflected the colors and points of light on its shimmering surface.

It really was beautiful.

“You reserve this show all for yourself or do you want to share?” Scully asked as she sat down next to him.

“Sorry, I should have told you I was coming down here,” he didn’t sound regretful.

“It’s okay, you were easy to find. I had help from my Junior Agent,” she told him, her lip curling in a gentle smile as she put her arm through his.

“Matty?”

“He’s always watching you, Mulder, even if you don’t realize it.” She studied his profile in the waning light as he smiled thoughtfully at her comment.

The glow from the sunset warmed his features but she could still see the effects time had made on his handsome face in the lines around his eyes as he squinted into the fading sunlight.

There was something on his mind.

She looked around them at the fruits of their labors, the old boathouse looked sharp with its new coat of paint and new dock.

Mulder turned to follow her gaze. “You do good work, too. All we need is the boat,” he told her.

“You get seasick, Mulder,” she chuckled.

“This isn’t a sea, Scully, it’s a lake. Besides, they have drugs for that.”

“The drugs that make you loopy? That’s just what I need, a First Mate who’s stoned.”

“Sometimes a little break from reality isn’t all that bad,” he told her, his voice taking on a serious tone as he gazed out across the water. She waited him out. “I always loved this place, Scully,” he finally confided.

“I know.”

He turned to look at her somewhat puzzled, “How do you know?”

“Because you kept it,” she told him matter of fact. “Of all the properties your family had, you kept this one. I know what happened here Mulder, but you must have had a reason for wanting to keep it.”

He smiled then and pulled her to him until she was nestled against his side, her head on his right shoulder. “This place belonged to my grandparents. Sam and I were here from the 4th of July until Labor Day, every summer,” he started to tell her, his voice soft against her hair. “This was our whole world then. There wasn’t anything your imagination couldn’t conjure up. Who would have thought we’d grow up to find there really were monsters out to get you?”

Scully slipped her hand into her partner’s and squeezed his fingers gently.

He looked down at their entwined fingers. “This is all going to come to a head one day. And I can’t help but think it’s going to be sooner than any of us thought.”

“What do you mean?” She hated the way he was turning the conversation. It was too beautiful and peaceful here to be talking of doom and gloom.

“The apocalypse, colonization, global warming, the coming elections, the latest winner of ‘Dancing with the Stars’, Simon Cowell repatriating, you name it,” he rambled. “X, whoever he really was, once told me I’d only win the war if I picked the right battles. I often wonder if he was talking about the ones you and I are trying to win or my own personal ones. How can I know?”

Scully pulled away from him not really knowing if he was serious and turned to look him in the eye. “I know you still have things that haunt you Mulder, so do I. But I think you already answered that. This little project, it’s a way of putting the past behind you for good. Taking a personal heartache and turning it into something new and wonderful for those you love. I want to thank you, for all of us,” she watched Mulder swallow hard at her words. “And as for those other battles, we have our own weapon now, science, the Truth … *our* Truth is in there, Mulder. I pray to God each and every day that we never have to, but now we know how we can turn and make a stand.”

She leaned in, trying to read his expression as he contemplated her words. The purplish- pink sky had given way to a deep cerulean blue and the stars had made their appearance in abundance across the heavens above them giving her a sense of the continuum of all things.

*A weapon*, Mulder thought to himself, carefully concocted from the years of manipulation to his partner’s DNA.

How could he have known all those years ago when Scully stepped into his office that she would ultimately be the weapon to win the war?  Perhaps he had picked the right battle after all. Mulder looked down at his partner and squeezed her close. “You okay?”

She nodded into his shoulder. “Yes,” she whispered. “I wish I understood, he was my little brother — I wish I knew why he did…”

“Don’t, Scully,” Mulder cautioned. “Don’t spend the rest of your life trying to figure out someone else. I know what that’s like; it’s no way to live.” Scully slid her arm behind her partner and hugged him tightly in return. She was so glad to hear him say that.

They were quiet for a few moments enjoying the sights and sounds of the night: the water lapping gently against the dock, the light breeze rippling the fall leaves and the ever- changing colors of the darkening sky.

“How’s Mom?” he finally asked quietly.

“Sad. Confused. Mulder, I couldn’t — I didn’t tell her everything that Charlie had done, but I did tell her some of it. She knows he was in a very dark place to be able to hurt all those people. I think … I hope she doesn’t blame me for his death.” He tipped her chin up to look into her eyes. “Do you? Do you blame yourself, Scully?”

She didn’t answer, just turned her head to watch the sun finally sink below the horizon.

“It will be okay,” he promised and kissed her temple near her ear.

Scully kissed his stubbled cheek, then looked up and found the North Star.

As Ahab had taught when she was a little girl, she closed her eyes and made a wish on the North Star — that the man she loved was right.

The District Club

Washington, D.C.

Date and Time Unknown

“He was a colossally, grandiosely, messianically small man,” Strughold murmured into his single-malt scotch as the oxblood leather creaked under him.

It was the most profound eulogy Charlie Scully would receive. Charlie’s obvious complicity in Bill’s death, in Mulder’s abduction and ordeal, had snuffed any vestigial feelings Maggie and Dana might have still subconsciously harbored.

Had he somehow survived his final encounter with his sister, he would never have survived the trip to whatever black hole the government had designed for him. Charlie would never dwell in the pantheon of the world’s most virulent terrorists and megalomaniacs — few would ever know of the Anubis progeny and how close the unbalanced young man had come to unleashing a new and potentially terminal plague on the planet.

Given the alternatives, Katsuhiru had “admitted” the theft years ago of several lots of its targeted hymenopteran insecticide, presumably by developing world black marketers.  The company had abandoned the program for fear its negligence would become public. The U.S. government would keep mum; Katsuhiru ultimately would pay billions in worldwide damages, and in turn would protect the secrets of the Consortium and the fate, for better or worse, of the world.

The Scarred Man waved a wrinkled hand. “The blame, my friend, is not yours alone. We should have attended to him a year ago, after the fiasco in Egypt. Young Charles was fixated on Agent Scully, on proving his significance to her, to his dead father. I failed to fully perceive his weakness. Ah well, peu importe. It is no matter. We must move on.” The Frenchman lifted his snifter of Calvados from the teak console at his elbow. “Do you remember, my friend, so many years ago? You and I, we put aside our differences for the sake of humanity, and you offered a toast. ‘Resistance is futile…'”

Strughold regarded his friend curiously, then smiled as he hefted his glass. “‘…but resignation is fatal,'” the Scarred Man concluded.

Strughold sipped his scotch, then rose. “Indeed, we must continue. We have no option but to persevere. Until tomorrow, my friend.”

“Oui, tout a fait.”

As the German boarded the club elevator for the lobby, the Frenchman’s eyes narrowed. He felt no surprise — he had suspected for some time. He felt little loss — despite their common bond, their familiarity, the Scarred Man had never lost sight of the atrocities Strughold had committed in the name of his race and how he himself had thrown in with the devil to save his species.

“Resistance is futile,” the Frenchman amended to the empty room, “but futility is our sole claim to salvation.”

Hotel Bellefontaine

Washington, D.C.

Strughold tossed his suit jacket onto the chaise next to the amply and lavishly stocked minibar and consulted the phone for messages. Of course, there were none: Charles Scully was considered Strughold’s failure, and his colleagues at least temporarily would distance themselves. At the same time, they recognized he was an even more formidable adversary than ally, and would soon be forgiven, if never completely forgotten.

Decades of research, of planning, of hoping gone — obliterated by the mad ego of a tiny man.

It was the sad, inevitable story of the species — worlds lost for the sake of petty gratifications and small-minded bigotries.

Conrad Strughold had known this, even as he did the foul bidding of that snarling, spitting cur Hitler.

Even after he threw in with the Frenchman — a sworn enemy of the Reich — the German  knew he would betray them all without pause. He was a survivor.

Strughold’s harsh laughter filled the room. He crossed the thick pile of the suite to the 19th story window, glancing briefly at the sprawling constellation of Washington at night before tugging the curtains closed.

Charles had performed admirably — Strughold had played his hatred for his sister, for the Consortium, for the race that in his fevered mind had reviled him, failed to reckon his power.

Strughold had not even been required to leave a trail for Mulder and Scully — Charlie’s puerile ego had done the work for him.

Strughold had merely to trust in Charles’ essential humanity. As he had with the frightened men who cowered in their clubroom. As he had with the servile executives and scientists at Katsuhiru.

As he had with the German, so many years ago. His own weakness had led him to an ignominious and anonymous death.

“Strughold” knew no weakness, though he had suffered a moment of uncertainty earlier, with the Frenchman. He was not a stupid man. He would bear watching, but he was manageable.

“Strughold” stepped into the lavatory and peered into the wall-length mirror.

The blood seemingly drained from his skin as his lips receded and his eyes swelled into two huge, black, slanted orbs. His thick, calloused fingers telescoped into long, facile appendages.

He stared at the face in the silvered glass. His face.

His “true” face.

Soon, the creature known as Strughold mused. Soon, this world would know his true face.

clip_image026_thumb.gif

THE END

The Anubus Phylogeny by VS Producers

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