Impact

15x03_title

Title: Impact

Author: Vickie Moseley and Martin Ross

Summary: When Mulder is offered a mens to keep Scully safe, will he follow the devil to hell and back?

Rating: Everyone

Category: X, MRS, SA, MA

Written for Virtual Season 15, two weeks exclusive.

Author’s notes: Thanks to Truthwebothknow for artowrk and beta!

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Prologue

Gas-N-Go

Mt. Vernon, WA

Nov. 13, 2007

10:45 pm Pacific Time

As Eric LaPortierre would tell his buds later, his first thought was they’d found out about the weed. Scott Massey was cool when it came to scoring some righteous chronic or a couple floor seats when Fallout Boy was in Seattle at the Paramount or over at the Tacoma Dome, but he bore the dreaded Mark of the Puss, and was known to fold under pressure.

“He’s lyin’, Dude, I mean Lady!” Eric choked as the short one flopped her ID on the counter between the ginseng supplements and the Teriyaki Chicken Jerky. He’d played it cool when the three suits cruised through the sliding door, the dudes peeling out respectively toward the porn mags and the now-graying SuperFranks and the chick closing in on Eric. He’d made them as cops the moment they came in, though they looked kinda like those guys, Will Smith and the ancient dude from that alien movie. Or maybe Secret Service — maybe Bush was in town, wanted a photo op with some working dude to get his Nielsen ratings or whatever up. That’s all he needed — Scott bopping in with a baggieful of bambalacha while Dubya’s rapping about the Middle East (Eric hoped not — he was totally hopeless when it came to geology).

Now, as he read (or rather, mouthed) the three letters on the Short Fed’s ID, Eric fought the instinct to hurl all over the FBI dwarf. Or midget – dwarves were the ones with the big heads, right? That brainstem Scott. They found the ganja in the wheel well of Scott’s van, and he’d narced him out. Fucking brainstem.

“I mean, how can I help you?” Eric managed, grinning as if his bladder were about to release. “We got Morleys two for one.”

“The videos,” the little chick demanded.

“Oh, man, you shoulda come in earlier, Dude, I mean, Lady. Shit goes real quick on Friday nights.” Eric glanced behind him at the meager DVD rack. “We got the Passion of the Christ left — it’s kinda hard to understand, but the ending really rocks . . .”

“The. Security. Videos.” The fed leaned in, looking like that evil Species babe. Actually, Eric realized, she was kind of a MILF — he’d had a jones for redheads ever since Tracy Carhartt’d gone submarine hunting with him behind the minimart the previous Saturday. “I need everything you’ve got for the last six hours. Everything.”

“It’s all, like, digital now,” Eric stated proudly, his confidence returning. “The tape thing blew up when Dwight on the hoot owl shift spilled a Zima all over it. Mr. Bhattan bought this totally extreme digital system with the money he saved by firing Dwight’s ass. . .”

“The videos,” Agent MILF growled. She looked like she might pull out a Magnum and bust a cap in him. Eric thought it was kind of hot.

“Hey, man, lady, whatever.” Eric practically knocked over the Doritos rack stumbling to the tiny corridor that housed the johns and Mr. Bhattan’s broom closet/office. He felt the woman’s heat signature trail him into the cramped command center. The clerk wiggled the mouse, and the Dancing SuperBurrito vanished. “My bro, he’s with the Geek Squad at the Best Buy near the mall. He set all this shit up. It is really wicked cool.” Eric’s finger paused over the left mouse button, and he looked up at the FBI babe. “Oh, shit. Mr. Bhattan’d probably want me to get some kinda warrant, like on Law and Order? He’d probably be pretty pissed if I didn’t at least ask, you know?”

To his astonishment, she smiled. “Eric?”

Eric’s jaw dropped. “How’d you know my name? Am I like in some kinda federal database or something?”

The agent leaned over and tapped his chest. The boy swallowed, the hair under his ponytail rising. Then he glanced down at his ID badge. “Oh. Duh. Yeah.”

“Eric?” the redhead repeated gently. “If you’d like, we can call your employer. It’s, what, only 10:48 p.m. I’m sure he won’t mind coming down. Or if it’s more convenient, we could drive over to Mr. Bhattan’s house and ask him personally. My colleagues could follow us.”

“Us?” Eric performed an instant inventory of his ’98 Tracer – Hawthorne Heights CDs, backup SuperStop vest, Cool Ranch Doritos, secret stash of fat boys in the driver’s door pocket… “Hey, you know what? I don’t guess Mr. Bhattan would care if I cooperated with you guys. I mean, he’s a real patriotic dude, you know? What do you wanna see?”

The agent nodded curtly. “Two men. Both in their thirties. They might have been arguing.”

Eric squinted. His head bobbed excitedly. “Yeah, yeah. It was about 9:30. They were bitchin’ at each other the whole time. The one guy was all, like, ‘Let’s go, hurry up, c’mon.’ The other one, the one with the big nose, he was like taking forever at the CornNuts.”

“CornNuts,” the agent murmured triumphantly.

“Yeah. The one dude kept sayin, ‘Just pick one.’ My gaydar went off like immediately. I think the one with the CornNuts was like the chick, you know?”

The redhead blinked. “Can you punch up the video around that time? The store and the parking lot?”

“No prob.” Eric’s eyes widened. “These dudes like serial killers?”

“Eric.”

“The video. Roger.”

Five minutes later, they watched two men enter the minimart in grainy black-and- white. The man the agent knew as Alex Krycek beelined to the soda case on the back wall. The other man, in clear view of the security camera, walked back to the restrooms, returning a few minutes later. He then strolled to the snack aisle, where, indeed, he honed in on the SuperStop’s selection of giant toasted corn kernels.

Krycek emerged with a pair of colas, mouthed something obviously peevish at his CornNut-obsessed friend, who showed him the hand. Krycek began to pace until his companion made a selection. The snackaholic dumped three bags on the counter before Eric – Regular, BBQ, and Chile-Lime, the agent assumed – and dug out his wallet. The transaction was completed, the man lingered for a second or two of smalltalk with Eric, Krycek turned heel and stalked out, and the customer soon followed, CornNuts in hand. Eric waved, and retrieved a magazine from under the counter.

“You know, it ain’t the way I swing, but they did make kind of a nice couple,” Eric suggested in real time.

“‘Big Uns,'” Scully read, squinting at the screen. Eric punched a key, and the desktop reappeared. “OK, punch up the parking lot. Same timeframe.”

Eric’s head bobbed, and he set to work, eager to please the new star of his adolescent fantasies for the next few weeks.

“Agent?”

The redhead turned. The larger of her two escorts was in the doorway, a paper towel fluttering in his hand.

“I, uh, had to, you know…,” the male agent explained with a slight stammer. “Well, anyway, this was sitting on the sink in the john.”

She grabbed the towel from his fingers and flipped it over. “‘Don’t follow us — I’ll explain everything later. Love, M.'”

“M,” the male agent pondered. “Hey, that’d be Agent Mul—”

Agent MILF’s head whipped up. Her colleague backed up a step. “That’s a reasonable assumption.”

“So, umm, what do you think? Ransom note?”

“Harbinger of death,” Special Agent Dana Scully growled. “I’m going to kill him.”

“Oh, wow,” Eric whispered.

 

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Georgetown University Track

November 13, 2007

Earlier that morning

It was going to be a glorious day in the District. The sky in the east was giving off a deep purple glow and the streetlights were just beginning to blink out when Mulder made his way to the track. In this quiet hour, before the campus managed to roll out of bed, he had full use of the facility and still only had a couple of blocks to go back to grab a shower and maybe catch a glimpse of his partner as she went about getting ready for the day.

She’d strangle him in his sleep if she knew how often he timed his runs so that he was just getting in the duplex as she was turning off the water and stepping out of the shower dripping wet. She wouldn’t mind that he was still coming up with fantasies that involved both of them naked, but she did object to the blast of cold air when he abruptly entered the steam-filled bathroom pretending complete innocence in his motives.

Going on four years of co-habitation and they still had it going on.

He smiled as he did a few stretches. He had a definite bounce to his step that had become more pronounced in the past few weeks. He would never admit that it had anything to do with his continued weekly sessions with that black ops psychiatrist Manville. Mulder put down his recent good humor to the demise of one of their more nefarious enemies, Charles Scully.

Now that Charlie was out of the picture, Mulder felt they were getting somewhere against the conspiracy to keep the American public in the dark about alien involvement in world affairs. Scully even seemed to be taking her brother’s death better than he had feared. One night just a week ago she had confided that Charlie had been dead for many years as far as she was concerned. Her biggest worry was her mother — now having lost three of her children. He had assured his partner that they would make certain Maggie had the time to grieve, but also that she would never be alone.

Mulder walked over to the track and popped a few vertebra in his neck. He started out at a slow and steady pace, gradually gaining speed. Before long, he was well into a sprint, doing a four and a half minute mile with ease. He dropped back to a jog and continued for another mile before ratcheting up to a sprint again.

He had been doing this routine for so long he no longer even bothered to count the laps around the track. It was all automatic, allowing his mind to concentrate on whatever it chose.

The holidays were coming up and he knew that would be a hard time for Maggie. The trip to the summerhouse had given him an idea. He was thinking that maybe they could go on a cruise, the whole Scully clan — what was left of it. Disney cruise lines were advertising every other commercial during football games. He had the money, it was a shame not to use it on something every one needed.

He made a mental note to call a travel agent and find out what dates were available.

He should also find out when Matty was out of school for winter break. Then he had to go dress shopping. Surely he could find a little red number like the dress Scully wore in his last ‘adventure’ on a cruise ship, the ill-fated voyage on the luxury liner Queen Anne. Maybe he could have the dress made. Maybe this time he could end the night peeling that dress off her silky pale shoulders rather than nursing a bruised jaw and taking a dip in the ocean. Maybe this time he could end up spending at least some of the mornings in bed with Scully rather than in ICU.

But there were the kids to consider, too. A cruise ship was fun for adults, but this was a family vacation. Matty and Claire had never been to Disney World, at least to his knowledge. Matty would love Space Mountain and he could see Claire’s face light up when she got to meet her favorite princess, Ariel. Oh yes, the perfect vacation for all of them. He was making his turn, his mind on the Magic Kingdom and the trip he and Scully had made to Florida five years ago when he noticed that he was no longer alone. Another runner had joined him on the track.

Mulder casually noted that the guy — for he had a lean, male body — wore a hooded sweatshirt that hid his face from view. There was a bit of a nip to the dawn breeze, but Mulder didn’t mind the cool air when he was running in the morning. Still, he decided to keep his distance, just in case this was an early morning mugging attempt. His gun was in the lockbox in the nightstand by his side of their bed, but if he had to, he could fight barehanded.

‘Bringing knuckles to a gunfight?’ his little Jiminy Cricket voice asked derisively. He was constantly amazed that when his little voice spoke to him, it always sounded like Scully. No, he wasn’t about to get involved in anything dangerous while running unarmed. Besides, he reminded himself, there were security cameras at both ends of the track. They were being watched. If it looked like trouble, the campus cops would be there in a flash. He relaxed a bit and broke out into another sprint, passing the stranger on one of the turns without a second glance. They ran for about another half hour, Mulder passing the stranger every time he would kick up to a sprint, then keeping half a track distance when he was jogging.

The alarm on Mulder’s watch chimed, telling him it was time to head home for his shower and Scully’s impromptu peep show. He jogged over to the bleachers where his water bottle and sweatshirt were waiting.

Gulping down three-fourths of the 32 ounce bottle and dumping the remaining liquid over his head, Mulder wiped his face on the corner of his shirt and pulled the sweatshirt on. The other runner was jogging over to the bleachers. As he approached, Mulder froze as he recognized the face. It was Alex Krycek.

 

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Krycek nodded to Mulder as if they were casual acquaintances. He pulled his own bottle of water from a gym bag a few yards down from where Mulder was standing and downed the contents in a matter of seconds. “Great day for a run,” he said calmly, wiping the sweat from his face. “What were you doing there — five minute miles?”

“Four and a half,” Mulder ground out. “What are you doing, Krycek? Are you following me? What do you want?”

Alex smiled brightly. “Settle down, Mulder. You aren’t a kid anymore. Too much stress and you’ll blow a gasket. Oh, wait, you’re seeing a shrink now, aren’t you?”

Mulder glared at the former agent for all of a minute, then wordless turned to leave. Krycek caught up with him easily.

“Sorry, hit a nerve, did I? Hey, everybody’s on Prozac these days, Mulder. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Then why don’t you go home and overdose on it,” Mulder suggested with a bitter smile.

“Ah, that’s no way to talk to an old friend.”

“You aren’t an old friend, Krycek. If you think you are, you really are delusional. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going home.”

“To the little wifey?” Krycek sneered. Mulder halted and turned to face him. “Sorry. I know you’re a bit touchy about that, too. But then why buy the cow when you get the milk — ”

Mulder’s fist shot out before Krycek could finish his sentence. The punched knocked the Russian back a few feet, but he stayed standing. “Nice right hook, Mulder,” he said, dabbing his bloody lip.

“What the hell do you want, Krycek. Or are you finally so far down the food chain that all you’re given to do is harass me?”

Krycek laughed out loud. “Mulder, lose the ‘ball and chain’ for a day and meet me at the lock house on the C&O canal.”

Mulder shook his head in bemusement. “You are seriously out of your mind, Krycek. I wouldn’t meet you anywhere unless it was to escort you through the gates of Hell.”

“Nah, that’s more your partner’s style. At least that’s what’s out on the grapevine. Stood by and watched her brother stung to death by a few hundred bees. Not that she didn’t do us a favor, mind you, but man — that was cold! I guess that nickname Ice Queen was for more than just the bedroom — ”

Mulder’s fist came up again, but this time Krycek was able to block him. “Pax, pax. Don’t defame the redhead. I get it. But Mulder, aren’t you even curious what I want to tell you?”

“If I said no, will you go away?”

“Here. Read this and then give me your answer.” Krycek dug through the pocket of his hoodie and pulled out a newspaper clipping.

“Meteor shower in Peru results in illness and death,” Mulder read aloud. He handed the clipping back to Krycek. “Old news. I saw this weeks ago. When the locals went looking they found the rock and a bunch of them got sick. Later, the public health officials were giving some party line that the illnesses weren’t related to the meteorites. It all died down till recently. Some of your comrades are going down there to retrieve the rocks.”

“A waste of time. The black ops boys retrieval unit has been to Peru and gone by now. There’s nothing left to find in the Andes. But Mulder. That wasn’t the only meteor shower. There’s been another one. Recently.”

That was enough to make Mulder stand up straighter. “Latin America?”

Krycek smiled. “Meet me at 10 — Lock house, C&O canal. And remember, this party is strictly stag. Don’t bring the missus.”

Mulder turned, then started back. It was worth being late to the office if he could start the day by kicking Krycek’s ass. But the Russian was already half way across the field, and the Georgetown U. cross-country team was taking their morning conditioning run. The double agent was lost in the crowd.

With a little less enthusiasm than when he’d arrived at the track, but his mind going a mile a minute, Mulder headed back home.

Act 1 scene 2

Mulder and Scully’s Townhouse

7:35 am

She was coming down the stairs as he entered the duplex. “You’re going to be late,” she told him, eyebrow raised at his tardiness.

“I’ll be quick,” he vowed and bounded up the steps two at a time. He stripped off his wet running clothes, dropped them in the hamper and stepped into the shower. The water was still running warm and he scrubbed himself down before stepping out again.

While shaving he considered telling Scully about the run in with Krycek. He thought about it all the time he was pulling on his clothes in the bedroom and by the time he was finishing the Windsor knot at his collar and brushing imaginary lint off his suit jacket shoulder he’d decided honesty was the best policy.

He found her in the kitchen, buttering a freshly toasted bagel. She nodded to his cup of coffee and handed him the bagel. “Eat up fast.”

“Scully, I wanted to talk — ”

“Oh, I almost forget to tell you — I have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon at 12:30.”

He had taken a big bite of the bagel, but her words stopped him cold. He had to choke down the mouthful of food.

“I’m sorry, Mulder. What were you going to say?” she asked when she noticed he had visibly paled at her announcement.

“Doctor?” he inquired finding no moisture in his suddenly tight throat. “What doctor?”

“Zuckerman, my oncologist. It’s time for my yearly check up. It won’t take long.” All the wind went out of his sails and he slumped against the counter. Her yearly check up. A once a year reminder that they were living on borrowed time. There was no cure for cancer — even the medical community euphemistically called it ‘remission’. He had to swallow twice to get the words out of his mouth. “Do you, uh, do you want me to go with you?”

“Mulder, that’s silly,” she said casually, as she put away the butter and the remaining bagels. “Why should the two of us miss work? It’s just a check up. Don’t look so worried.” She turned back to face him. “What were you saying before? You want to talk?”

There was no way he was going to mention Krycek at any time during the conversation — it would be like tempting fate. “Yeah,” he flubbed, scrambling for some reasonable subject matter. ” — um, about vacations. We can talk about it later.”

“Oh, all right. Well, I’m going to get my briefcase; I left it in the office upstairs. Meet you out at the car.” She reached up and kissed the side of his mouth, wiping away her lipstick with her thumb. “Ummn, buttery,” she grinned at him. “Hurry and eat so we can miss the traffic jam.”

He stood there for a full minute, eyes closed, just trying to remember to breathe. Finally, looking at the toasted bread in his hand with disgust, he dropped it in the garbage and headed out the back door.

FBI Headquarters

9:05 am

He was sifting through his morning emails when the call came through. Scully grabbed the phone before he had a chance, but he was pretty sure by her clipped reply what the caller had wanted.

“Skinner?”

“In five,” she replied.

“Five minutes to get up there? Either this is one important case or I screwed up the expense report again,” he muttered, pulling on his suit jacket.

“If it’s the latter, you’re also doing the dishes for the next week,” she informed him with a glare.

“No mas, no mas,” he pleaded with hands raised in surrender and followed her out the door to the elevator.

The elevator was crowded and it stopped at every floor, so they were pushing the time limit when they entered the Assistant Director’s outer office. Kim, his assistant, looked up and smiled at them.

“Relax, Agent Mulder. The expense report went through budget,” she said with a grin. Mulder ducked his head in acknowledgement and Scully rolled her eyes at him. “But you have to wait a minute. He just took a call from the Director.”

“Thanks,” Mulder said for both of them and they settled in on the couch. Mulder was jiggling his leg, crossing it and uncrossing it in nervous anticipation.

Finally, Scully’s hand landed not too softly on his kneecap and he jerked his head up to look at her.

“Mulder, please. You’re shaking the couch,” she whispered.

“Sorry,” he replied.

“What is wrong with you? Kim just as much as told us this isn’t a chewing out. You act like you’re preparing for bad news.”

How could he tell her that was exactly what he was doing? Except he wasn’t expecting the bad news to come from their boss. For some reason, he was worried sick about her appointment and no amount of mental reassurance could convince him it was needless. “Sorry, nervous energy,” he covered.

“Did something happen at the track today?” she asked, her head tilted so that the light from the hallway cast glimmers off her hair. He was about to speak, to tell her everything when the door to Skinner’s inner office opened and the man motioned them in.

They took their normal seats in front of Skinner’s desk. Before they’d even had a chance to address him, the Assistant Director slid a file folder across the polished surface. “This one has your names all over it,” he said with a scowl.

Mulder picked up the folder and flipped it open. After just a few moments of reading, he looked up in disbelief. “Exsanguinated hogs?” he asked disdainfully.

“And one farmer,” Skinner pointed out, adjusting the knot of his tie as if it were suddenly too tight.

“Sir — this . . . this defies description,” Mulder exclaimed, shaking his head.

“Mulder, if they can exsanguinate cows — ” Scully said with a shrug.

“Is April coming a bit early this year, Sir?” Mulder shot over to Skinner with a glare.

“Agent, I understand your . . . skepticism. But the fact remains that the local sheriff has requested our assistance — ”

” . . . and the field office in Springfield just couldn’t wait to pawn this off on DC,” Mulder sneered.

“Mulder, you have made it quite clear that exsanguination of farm animals with concurrent deaths of a human or humans falls under the jurisdiction of the X Files Division. Now, if you want to start cherry picking — ”

“Cherry picking!” Mulder retorted. “Fine, we’ll take it,” he said with a heavy sigh.

“Good,” Skinner said and glanced at his watch. “Your flight leaves Dulles at 12:30.”

Mulder shot a quick look at Scully, who shot him a look back. “Sir, is it essential that both of us travel to Illinois — together?” Mulder asked with more respect than he’d exhibited during the entire meeting.

“Is there a problem?” Skinner asked.

“Sir, I have an appointment this afternoon,” Scully explained. “My annual check up.”

Skinner sucked in a breath. “Oh, uh, of course you don’t want to miss that, Agent Scully. I see no reason for both of you to go out to Normal today. Agent Mulder, you can go out and assess the situation. If further investigation is warranted,” he said over Mulder’s snort, “you can call Agent Scully to join you.”

“Thank you, Sir. I appreciate your leniency,” Scully said quietly.

“Not a problem,” Skinner said, becoming deeply engrossed in a paper he’d pulled out of his inbox. “You’re both dismissed.”

Scully had to run to catch up with Mulder’s longer legs. “Hey,” she said, when he finally stopped at the elevator doors.

“Hey,” he replied, pulling on his bottom lip.

“Mulder, are you OK?” she asked tenderly, her hand on his arm.

He shot a look around them, they weren’t alone. He smiled down at her and patted her hand, then gently removed it from his arm. “I’m fine, Scully,” he said with a wan smile. He checked his watch before she could speak. “Look, I’m going to run by the house, pick up my bag and maybe be on time for a flight for once. I’ll take a cab to the airport — you keep the car for your appointment.”

“Yeah, sure,” she said hesitantly. When the elevator doors opened, she was pleased that everyone on the car got off and they were the only two people to enter. She waited for the doors to close before pulling him down in a quick kiss. “Have a safe flight.”

He got off at the main floor lobby. “Call me after your appointment,” he said and stepped off the elevator, then waved goodbye as the doors closed again. She couldn’t help but notice he was wearing his panic face.

C&O Canal National Park

Lock House

10:00

Mulder was chewing on a sunflower seed, watching the cyclists and joggers run passed him in the sunshine. The breeze was gentle, but still held the nip of fall he’d felt early that morning. He wasn’t surprised when he heard rustling of leaves behind him.

“‘Bout time, I was ready to head for home,” he told Krycek. “You have ten minutes. Talk.”

Krycek smirked. “I can do better than that. Here, read for yourself.” He handed the agent a thick manila folder.

Mulder pulled out a few of the clippings, skimming them quickly. “Anyone who came into contact with the meteorites became sick,” he recited. “One death, reportedly connected to the meteorites,” he flipped to another clipping. “Whoa,” he said, slowing down and reading more closely. He looked over at Krycek. “Spontaneous combustion?”

“An isolated case,” Krycek said dismissively. “Check the charts toward the back. Mulder rocked his head from side to side in annoyance. He found some pages that looked like translations of medical records. “Wait a minute — ” He narrowed his eyes and glared at the other man. “Is this your idea of a joke?”

Krycek shook his head. “I was skeptical at first, too. But I’ve been down there, Mulder. I’ve spoken to people. People who were sick before they encountered the meteorites came away cured. Look here,” he directed, flipping to a page near the back of the folder and handing it over to Mulder. “Read this one.”

“Nasopharengeal cancer — complete remission,” Mulder said aloud. He snapped the folder shut and handed it back to Krycek. “This is a load of crap, and you know it.”

“Mulder, why would I bother — this is too easy to check out,” the Russian reasoned.

“Look, there are cases, dozens of cases of illness and disorders that are vastly improved — most of the time they are cured! Think what this could mean!”

“It’s means you’re more of a fool than even I am,” Mulder sneered and started to walk away.

“Infertility — cured. Cancer — cured. All with just a touch of a rock from outer space. Can you really walk away from this, Mulder? Can you afford to walk away?”

“I can. I am,” Mulder said over his shoulder.

Krycek ran to catch up to him, slapping the folder in the crook of his arm. “And how is Agent Scully these days, Mulder?” he asked with a knowing look. At Mulder’s gapping silence, he continued. “There’s a phone number on that folder. Read the rest of the contents. Think about it. When you’re ready, call me. But remember, these things have a way of disappearing — sometimes right when you need them the most.”

Office of Dr. Omar Hofnagle, DVM

Normal, Illinois

10:36 a.m.

“Of course, the big money around McLean County’s in labradoodles and Persians — yuppie toys,” Dr. Omar Hofnagle admitted witheringly, leading Mulder toward his exam room. Mulder had decided a veterinary autopsy might provide a quicker lead than waiting for the county M.E. to schedule the late Ken Jenks, but a half-hour with the garrulous practitioner had him longing for a triple post-mortem in Scully’s cozy abattoir.

“Cloying, snipping, whining organisms. Don’t care for their pets, either,” Hofnagle cackled, and Mulder joined politely in, wondering vaguely where the vet kept whatever he used to put down horses. “Now, this is what I got into the business for,” Hofnagle continued, pushing into the austere cinder block room. A huge hog, bristly and cyanotic, lay on his side on a brushed steel table. Hofnagle slapped an inelastic ham. “Large animal practice – the meat and potatoes of veterinary science. Feeding the planet, keeping America’s farmers rolling…”

“As well as my bowels,” Mulder interrupted cheerfully. “Dr. Hofnagle, how about we discuss the other gray meat here? What killed Porky?”

Hofnagle stared at Mulder, then pondered the chow at Guantanamo and shook it off. “Well, as I’m sure you know, like the rest of the brood, as well as poor old Ken Jenks, she was exsanguinated. You ever seen anything like this?”

“Not around here. You know, the ancient Romans practiced a sacrifice called the suovetaurilia, in which a pig, a ram, and a bull were sacrificed to the deity Mars to purify the land.”

“Don’t know any ancient Romans around these parts,” the doctor grunted uncertainly. “And it was just the hogs. And Ken.”

Mulder shrugged. “Well, if it was that easy, you’d’ve called in an anthropologist, am I right? How about unusual phenomena. Any odd aerial sightings in the area? Electronic signals disrupted. Crop damage or, ah, strange configurations?”

Hofnagle’s jowls drooped. “Strange what?”

“Configurations. You know, uh, unusual, um, patterns…”

“Crop circles?” Hofnagle yelped. “Jet lag must have caught up with a vengeance, son. You think aliens did this?”

“Probably just wishful thinking. Was there a particular point of entry for the exsanguination?”

“Yup. Carotid, throat. It was like all chewed up. Same with the others. Except Ken — well, I don’t know about him — coroner wouldn’t let me get my hands, er, consult with him. And I can tell you, these porkers weren’t bled out by any Martians. Unless they shop at Sears. There were very clear tooling marks. Killer hacked away at the neck probably to cover whatever he used to suck out the blood.”

“You sure?” Mulder asked with a tinge of regret.

“Bet your ass,” Hofnagle sniffed. “Got eight seasons of CSU:Vegas on DVD.”

“You always deal with Jenks when he had a problem?”

“Jenny Romine, kid from U of I, my assistant, would do his herd health stuff the last few months. Maury Letrobe, my other assistant, took care of the Jenks’ dogs. Lab and a poodle. A poodle, for God’s sake,” he huffed.

“I’d like to talk to them, if they’re around.”

The vet crossed his arms. “Have to give you their cells. Jenny’s out at some state agroterrorism seminar down in Springfield, and it’s Maury’s day off. Real do-gooder – – volunteers at the Miller Park Zoo three times a week. I had to spend my time spaying kitties and weighing Pomeranians, guess I’d want something with some fangs and claws.”

“It’s not always what it’s cracked up to be,” Mulder sighed.

Miller Park Zoo

Bloomington, Illinois

11:02 p.m.

“Wildlife preservation,” Frieda Orenoski rhapsodized. “It’s the essence of veterinary science, the reason I do this.”

Frieda Orenoski was the physiological yin to Omar Hofnagle’s yang – muscular, leathery, and tanned, and if the bumper stickers on the sexagenarian zoo vet’s computer were any indication, no meat had ever leaked onto her potatoes. The Vietnamese potbellied pig in her embrace looked up at Mulder with a seemingly triumphant look in his eye, as if he could smell the rib tips the agent had wolfed after leaving Hofnagle.

“That’s great,” Mulder nodded insincerely as he dodged a group of tots beelining for Miller Park’s alpha pygmy goat. Once the porcine mutilations turned out to be of human origin, his fascination with the case had waned. “So, basically, Maurice Letrobe isn’t here.”

“Not for weeks now,” Frieda murmured. “He just started showing up late, then not showing at all. It was a shame – he was a real asset to the zoo. A lot of the volunteers are drawn to the mammals, to the furry, ‘cute’ creatures. If he hadn’t devoted his life to coddling pampered, inbred canines and felines, he could have been a brilliant herpetologist. No fear, but just the right amount of respect for the reptile temperament.”

Mulder started to compose his departure. “So, you got a number where I can reach him?”

Frieda released the swollen pig reluctantly and stood. “I have his app in the office. This way.”

Mulder nodded, reaching absently down to scratch the pig’s rough scalp. The feral oinker screamed, scuttling back into his stall.

“It’s the barbecue,” Frieda explained. “I could smell the stink of meat on you. Hey, great day out, eh?”

Normal Garden Apartments

Normal, Illinois

11:35 p.m.

Jennifer Romine apparently was hop scotching across the countryside, cutting a swatch through the local livestock, and Mulder gave up after three tries on her cell. Maury Letrobe lived near the Illinois State University campus, in a well-worn apartment complex on a tree-lined side street. Mulder figured the vet assistant had tired of his double-Doolitlean duties, but kept the cover of his zoo gig to keep his schedule at Hofnagle’s clinic light. As Mulder had expected, Letrobe’s voicemail had picked up a dozen times during the agent’s drive.

Apartment 8 was on the third floor. The door of Apartment 6 shook with L’il Kim, and Mulder could perceive the arduous cries of off-campus afternoon delight within Apartment 7, but 8 was silent. Mulder sighed and started to turn, when the smell hit him. Musty, organic, with a metallic edge. It was familiar – Mulder flashed on a dozen federal labs and, curiously, Woolworth’s.

Rats, he thought, not out of frustration but with a sense of deductive revelation. Mulder began to review his lock-picking options.

Kenneth & Karen Jenks Farm

RR2, Bloomington, Illinois

12:21 p.m.

“I have to believe it was Satanists,” Karen Jenks murmured as she settled into the armchair opposite Mulder. Outside the living room window, County Road 1500 North separated a scrubby front lawn from low, verdant rows of soybeans. “What they did to Kenny, to those poor animals.”

“Has there been a lot of that kind of activity around here?” Mulder inquired, gently fending off Karen’s affably deranged poodle. The weary widow shook her head absently. “We’re out in the middle of nowhere, miles outside town. The Rowans down the way had some kids set up a meth lab in their old barn, and the teenagers like to drag race on the county roads Saturday nights. Who knows? Anyway. How can I help you, Agent?”

Mulder glanced at the photos on the mantle of the Jenks’ utilitarian fireplace – lanky, handsome Ken in his seed cap, leaning out the cab of his John Deere as Karen leaned on his leg. Ken and his fellow producers flanking some ag secretary three or four appointments back. Karen holding a black-and-white creature with wide black eyes – a Madagascar lemur, Mulder recalled — outside a fenced enclosure.

“You and your husband visit Africa?” he inquired.

Karen frowned, then followed his eyes to the mantle. “Heavens. No. I’m a booster at the zoo, in town. Gets boring, sometimes, helping Ken with the hogs and doing the grain marketing.”

“I can imagine,” Mulder said. He was interrupted by the sound of tires on gravel outside. A dirt-crusted F10 pickup pulled to a stop next to an aluminum Morton building, and a lean, bearded young man jumped out. The boy stopped next to Mulder’s rental car, and he hesitated before mounting the porch.

“Hmm,” Karen said, her frown returning. “That’s…That’s the boy who works for our vet. Dr. Hofnagle’s probably sending one of his wife’s casseroles. I’m up to my butt in casseroles. Pardon me, I better see what he wants.” The farmer’s wife practically lunged for the door. Mulder followed, and when Maury Letrobe materialized in the doorway, the assistant vet glanced anxiously at her. He was a cerebrally outdoorsy man, the cuffs of his jeans dyed with red soil, his fingers clean but calloused.

“Uh,” he began articulately. “Hi, um, Mrs. Jenks. Sorry about Mr. Jenks.”

“Thank you, uh, Maury, right?” Karen stumbled artfully. “I appreciate your coming over.”

Maury blinked. “Uh, sure. Where is she?”

“She?”

“Um, Maggie. You left a message she’d been throwing up.”

“Wow,” Mulder breathed behind Karen. “A vet who makes doggie calls. Things sure are different here in the Heartland.”

“Well,” Maurice smiled.

“Well, why don’t you come in, Maurice?” Mulder continued. “I think you and Mrs. Jenks, and I have a lot to talk about.”

“Talk?” Maurice sputtered. “About what?”

Mrs. Jenks’ hand went to her eyes.

“About Karen milking your snake,” Mulder suggested. “Both figuratively and literally.”

**

“Why disguise a murder as a weirder murder?” Mulder posed as the widow and the vet settled in. “Once I realized we weren’t dealing with aliens or vampires or ancient Romans, the question became, why set up such an implausible murder scenario? Why exsanguinatie not only the victim but also a flock of pigs?”

“Herd,” Maurice muttered.

Mulder waved it away. “I think Mrs. Jenks got bored out here on the farm and got her groove on with the studly young veterinary assistance who handled her puppies. That’s why you both volunteered at the zoo – that was your rendezvous. Tuesdays with Maury. ‘Til you two retired to Maury’s musty love nest. Just you two and the rats.”

“Rats?” Maury whispered.

“Yeah, you could use, oh, maybe a few hundred pine tree fresheners in that little Love Shack of yours. The place was redolent with rodents. And there’s only one reason you’d stockpile the vermin. For food. Snake food. Frieda the Zookeeper was very impressed with your herpetological skills.” Mulder checked the driveway, then turned back to the dumbstruck couple.

“That red dirt on your jeans,” he continued. “You pick that up in Sedona, Arizona? There’s a company that sells tee-shirts dyed with it. And I’ll bet red dirt isn’t all you brought back from the desert. I found a passel of rattlers in your apartment. Along with boas and a few dozen other serpentine species. He taught you, didn’t he, Karen?”

Karen stared at the agent.

“He taught you to handle snakes, didn’t he? Maybe how to milk their venom, too. Maury didn’t realize he was handing you a way out of your marriage. You decided to get rid of Ken. Out in the country here, it wouldn’t be so strange for a farmer to get bitten by a snake. What did you do – set one loose in the hog pen at feeding time? Or extract some venom to inject into his system? And then you discovered some of your rattlers had flown the coop, right, Maury? Maybe Karen’d suggested she wouldn’t mind shedding her hubby. Except she didn’t realize the cops might be suspicious if they found Mr. Jenks pumped full of Western diamondback venom. Rattlesnake venom is a hematoxin – a bloodborne poison. You got out here too late – you couldn’t get rid of the body, so you had to remove the blood from the scene. Bet if we search the machine shop out there, we’ll find a pump or a vacuum with traces of Ken’s blood and venom in it.”

“You should’ve called me,” Maury chided.

“I did it for us, Baby,” Karen responded.

The room fell silent as Maury looked to Karen. Karen glanced at Mulder, then back at her boyfriend, who nodded.

“You kids are so transparent,” Mulder sighed. He reached into his jacket and withdrew his phone. Flipping it open, Mulder displayed the lit screen. Two heads turned as gravel crunched outside and two McLean County Sheriff’s units pulled aside Maury’s F-10.

“My partner says I’m not a team player,” Mulder admitted, rising. “But I like to think I’m capable of growth.”

McLean County Sheriff’s Department

Bloomington, Illinois

12:54 p.m.

“I am just really truly sorry about this,” Deputy Janine Crewson said for the eighth time, setting a paper bag and a waxed cup on the interview table. “This new system’s crashed three times since we got it last week. But the IT guy thinks we’ll have her up and running in no time. Then we can clean up the paperwork and get you over to the Holiday Inn.”

“Oh, boy,” Mulder forced a grin as he plucked at the bag.

The blonde deputy paused. “Oh, yeah, and there was a little mix-up with supper. The guy at Subpreme Sandwiches screwed up your order and gave you the Voracious Vegan instead of the Sicilian Mob o’Meat.”

“Ah.” Mulder looked up, stricken.

“So, OK then. Bon appetit.” The deputy vanished, leaving the agent to his vegetation.

Mulder tore into a mouthful of romaine and zucchini and reached into his briefcase for Krycek’s report. Five minutes later, the sandwich was gone and Mulder’s stomach was roiling as if he’d eaten half a Vietnamese potbellied pig with a side of pygmy goat. The contents of the thick file were, quite simply, earthshaking. Metastatic cancers chased into remission. The effects of catastrophic stroke reversed. Even a final stage AIDS patient scrubbed completely of the virus.

It was fantastic, a tale out of Michael Crichton by way of Stephen King. But the documentation appeared kosher, and somehow, Mulder knew Krycek was not leading him down a blind alley. Burping up a cloud of eggplant, he reached into his jacket pocket.

“Took you so long?” Krycek demanded before Mulder could ID himself.

“OK, you smug son-of-a-bitch,” Mulder grumbled. “It’s no Danielle Steel, but I have to admit it’s pretty compelling reading.”

“Lambert Airport, St. Louis. American Airlines. One business class ticket for an Oliver Wendell Douglas, in honor of your brilliant agricultural sleuthing. Great job with the pigs, Spooky.”

Omniscient bastard. “Bite me, Krycek.”

Krycek laughed nastily, and the line went dead. The interview room door edged open. “Hey, we’re back up,” Deputy Crewson sang. “We’ll have you in a room in no time.”

“Nice offer,” Mulder said. “But I need a ride to the airport.”

Lambert Airport

St. Louis, Mo.

2:13 p.m.

“Enjoy your wanding?” Krycek smirked from his post outside Starbucks as Mulder emerged from the security checkpoint, stuffing metal back into his pockets. Mulder regarded his nemesis balefully. “I could use my pull with Homeland Security to get you a cavity search.”

“Domestic life’s dulled your repartee, Skippy. C’mon.”

At the AA gate, they found a pair of seats away from the scattering of businessmen, seniors, and fashionably grungy kids seeking pilgrimage to the Pacific Northwest.

“There was another landfall, near Seattle,” Krycek informed Mulder. “It came in under the radar, but I know a guy in Tacoma has a small observatory.”

“I’ve got one testicle lower than the other,” Mulder commiserated. “I’m sure the scene’s been trampled by several hundred grad students who’ve never been laid.”

“This one fell off the coast. Island’s uninhabited.”

“Great,” Mulder sighed. “Well, at least Scully’ll be happy. Angelina was my original desert island choice.”

Krycek leaned back, glanced at Paris Hilton on CNN. “How is your far better half?”

“She’ll be delighted you asked. She’s OK, I guess. Still coming to grips with Charlie’s death.”

Krycek sneered. “Yeah, we’re all kind of broken up about the little shit. I were her, my only regret would be not pulling the trigger herself.”

“She’s not built like you, Krycek,” Mulder said.

“Yeah, that didn’t escape my attention. Though, sometimes, I wonder about you. Jesus, Mulder, we’re both getting too old for this shit. It’s never going to happen for me, but you’ve found the exit door. Maybe you ought to think about taking it, settling down.”

“Krycek,” Mulder yawned, “I think I liked you better when you were a vicious, sociopathic psycho.”

Act II

“You made the right decision,” Krycek said smugly.

“Let’s get one thing straight — I still consider you a traitor and a son of a bitch. And if I find out this is a wild goose chase I will happily beat the shit out of you and leave you behind to die. Are we clear on this?” Mulder sneered.

“Crystal,” Krycek answered bluntly.

Mulder glanced up at the boarding lounge announcement board and saw their destination. “Seattle,” he said casually.

“That’s as far as we’re going by plane,” Krycek explained. As he was about to continue, the announcement was made to begin boarding. They shuffled to the line, dutifully handed over their boarding passes, walked the long jet way that always reminded Mulder of a giant, metal and carpet umbilical cord and with very little difficulty found their row.

“You were saying,” Mulder prodded when they had settled into their seats. “It’s an island off the coast of Washington. Technically, it’s United States waterway. It’s uninhabited, unless you happen to count sea lions and some endangered bird species. It’s also volcanic and fairly active, even for that region. We’ll drive to the coast and rent a boat.”

“You honestly think I would trust you to steer me to an uninhabited island?” Mulder asked dubiously. “Why can’t we charter a plane?”

“No landing strip,” Krycek replied.

“What makes you so sure that’s where the meteorites landed?”

Krycek smiled. “I have friends in high places. Haven’t you ever heard of ‘Google Earth’, Mulder?”

Mulder frowned his displeasure.

“Look, the tracking stations got a pretty clear path of the trajectory and there were some hot spots on the island reported from the satellite pictures that night.”

“Hot spots on a volcano. Imagine my shock,” Mulder deadpanned.

“You know, you chose to come along, Mulder. I’m just the guide dog here. Seems to me you could have stayed home with the little ‘almost-wife’. While we’re on the subject, why haven’t you two pumped out a few Junior G-kids by now? Isn’t that what guys your age do — settle down and start a dynasty?”

“Shut the fuck up, Krycek,” Mulder growled.

“Oooh, touchy. The old six-shooter loaded with blanks, Mulder? Or is the problem with the missus?”

“Tossing you in a lava flow is looking pretty damned good from where I’m sitting,” Mulder said in a low, threatening voice around a mouthful of teeth for the benefit of the flight attendant serving drinks in the row ahead of them.

Krycek grinned and then feigned a yawn. “Look, once we get there we’ll be going non-stop. I suggest you make the most of this flight and get some shut eye.”

Mulder was still fuming as he closed his eyes against the rays of sunlight bouncing off the infinitesimal little cracks in the airplane window’s Plexiglas. But somehow, sleep found him.

He dreamed he was pulling into their parking space behind the duplex. He grabbed his briefcase out of the backseat and slammed the door. It must have been some kind of signal because the back door to the kitchen opened and a tiny girl, no more than four or five came running down the back steps.

“Daddy, Daddy, come see what I made!” the girl cried happily as she flung herself into Mulder’s arms.

Mulder dropped the briefcase to the ground and accepted the hugs and kisses, returning them in kind. “What did you make today?” he asked with a grin.

The child squirmed to be put down and grabbed his hand, tugging him forward. “I made a picture for your wall at work — where you put all the ‘portant papers,” she said proudly.

A young woman, college-aged, was standing in the kitchen, wiping her hands.

Mulder felt certain he had never seen her before but somehow she was familiar. “Sorry Mr. M. She got away from me.”

“That’s OK, Dani,” he replied.

“Dinner’s in the oven, the Squirt and I already set the table and if it’s OK with you, I need to head out. Class tonight.”

“Sure, sure,” he said with a nod of his head.

The little girl returned to the kitchen and handed him a piece of white card stock paper. She beamed up at him as he looked at the picture. It was a stick figure man with brown hair and glasses, and a little girl with flowers in her hand standing in a park with trees. There were square shaped boxes on the ground by their feet.

Above their heads were clouds and on one of the clouds was a stick figure woman with red hair smiling down on them.

“See, Daddy. I made Mommy smiling down on us from heaven.”

Mulder woke with a start, tears streaming down his face. He swallowed several times until he could feel his heart rate slow from its pounding beat in his ears. He chewed on his lip and stared out at the clouds, wiping the moisture from his face.

There would be no more sleep for him, not till they found those meteorites.

Act II scene 2

SeaTac International Airport

3:35 pm

One thing Mulder always appreciated about flying west was that at least it saved time. They had left St. Louis a little after one, they arrived in Seattle twenty minutes after three. At 3:30 they were standing at the Lariat counter using Mulder’s credit card to sign for a Jeep Cherokee to take them to the coast.

“The consortium doesn’t pay you?” Mulder asked derisively as he stuffed the card back in his wallet.

“Oh, like you’re going to fill out an expense report for this one,” Krycek snorted.

“You haven’t even turned on your cell phone since we left the plane. What’s the matter? Afraid your partner might tell you to get your ass home?”

“You drive,” Mulder said tossing Krycek the keys, ignoring the man completely. In the passenger seat of the car, he leaned back and stared out the window, not allowing himself to fall asleep again.

Finally, he could stand the silence no long. “What’s in this for you, Krycek?” he demanded. “What are you getting out of this?”

The Russian smiled. “Fame. Glory. A shit load of cash.”

Mulder continued to glare at him, not satisfied with the glib answer.

“What do you want from me, Mulder? You already have a low opinion of me. If I were to tell you that maybe I just want to see if this is manna from heaven – the way to cure the coming plague, would you believe me? No. So why bother?” He turned his attention back to the road.

“I just don’t get you,” Mulder said with a heavy sigh. “You kill, you steal, you double deal on a dime and yet you think you’re so noble.”

“Oh, and you’re so different,” Krycek snorted.

“I’ve never killed anyone in cold blood,” Mulder sneered, eyes narrowed.

“No. You just let them die in your wake,” Krycek shot back. “Or drag them along in the darkness. Which is the greater crime, my friend? A quick death or a slow, painful one?”

“Just drive,” Mulder ordered.

“That’s what I’m doin’,” the other man snarled.

They were approaching the coast and Mulder could smell the salty tang of the ocean ahead of them. Krycek pulled the car into a gas station convenience store. “We should get some food, the island doesn’t have a McDonald’s franchise,” he noted sourly.

Mulder pulled himself out of the car and headed for the store. Hours on the plane and now at least an hour in the car was making his back ache. When had he gotten so old that he couldn’t ride for days at a time?

A small bell chimed as he pushed open the door. He looked over at the attendant, a skinny kid in his early twenties. At his meaningful glance around the kid pointed to an alcove in the corner. “Restrooms are over there,” he said with a forced smile.

Mulder glanced behind him. Krycek was busy with gassing up the car. He walked toward the restrooms and quietly pulled out his cell phone, turning it on. It beeped and chirped and then chirped again. On the third chirp he looked down. Searching for network. It continued to search for network. Mulder sighed. They were too far away from a cell tower. He shut the offending object down a little more forcefully than the owners manual instructed and shoved it into his pocket again.

He stood in the bathroom, considering his options. Spying the paper towel dispenser next to the sink, he reached into his suit jacket pocket and extracted a pen. He pulled off a decent sized sheet of paper and composed his note to Scully. He knew his partner. If he hadn’t called in by dinnertime out east, there would be hell to pay.

Leaving the restroom with the paper towel note lying folded in half at the back of the sink, he wandered over to the snack foods selection. A quick glance told him that he was right in camera range. If Scully saw that he wasn’t bound and gagged, that he was free to move around, maybe it would alleviate some of her worry.

He didn’t bother to hide his identity at any point in the process of considering and finally picking a snack. Krycek had entered the store from getting the gas and was anxious to leave. Mulder ignored him and finally selected bags of corn nuts, even when sunflower seeds were within easy reach. He hoped she remembered his propensity to get sick on corn nuts. He hoped she’d see it as a warning.

By utilizing his credit card all along the trip he had no doubt that his partner would be able to follow their trail with her eyes blindfolded and both hands tied behind her back. The problem was, he didn’t want her going out to that island — not until he knew if this whole little escapade was a trap. He’d find the meteorites and bring one back to her. He patted the pocket that contained the evidence bag he’d thought to pack after he met with Krycek at the canal. Whatever they found would be safe in it.

“It’s not Au Bon Pain, for crissakes,” Krycek growled.

 

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“I got it,” Mulder said, fighting the urge to look up at the security camera. He sauntered over to the counter and laid the snacks down to be scanned. Paying with his credit card again, he smiled at the young man behind the counter, gathered the three bags and followed Krycek out to the car. He glanced at his watch. It was just a little before 5 pm.

“It’s going to be dark when we get there,” Mulder noted.

“I have GPS and we can get some flashlights,” Krycek replied. “If we wait, they’ll be gone,” he said again.

“I know, I know. I just don’t know if we want to spend the night on that island.”

“We can stay on the boat. We’re night fishing, remember?”

Mulder shrugged and settled in, watching the northwest coastline scenery whiz by.

Oak Harbor, WA

5:45 pm

Krycek pulled up to a parking space next to a weathered clapboard building proclaiming ‘boats for rent’. He looked over at Mulder and nodded out the passenger side window. “There’s a fishing and supply store across the way. Go get some rope, some flares, a couple of flashlights — ”

“A helicopter?” Mulder added hopefully.

Krycek rolled his eyes. “Meet me back here in thirty minutes.”

Mulder hauled himself out of the car and strolled across the parking lot and the little street. The harbor was fairly busy for the time of evening, and he saw many people carrying fishing gear and tackle toward the long boardwalk. He nodded to a few as he opened the door of the sporting goods store.

It didn’t take him long to gather supplies. He found an inexpensive day pack to hold all the gear and some energy bars and bottles of water were tossed in at the last minute. Again, his ‘Scully voice’ at the back of his mind was telling him to also pack a couple of the mylar blankets they had on racks at the check out counter, so he snagged two of them. All in all, he was better equipped than they usually were when they went out into the wilds together.

Mulder chewed on a hangnail as the clerk wearily scanned his items. God, how did he get himself in this mess? He knew Krycek was possibly the last person on the planet he should trust. Whatever happened to ‘trust no one’? He could hear Scully saying that as plain as day. But didn’t she go off with old Smokey once, when the stakes were high enough?

“That’ll be $143.59,” the clerk said. Mulder bit his lip hard. This trip was costing him a fortune. He handed over his Visa and signed the slip. The transaction over, he put everything in the day pack and hoisted it on his back then headed out the door to meet Krycek.

His companion was standing outside the boat rental, waiting for him. “You forgot your corn nuts,” he said blandly as he handed the snacks to Mulder. Mulder cringed slightly, but took off his pack and stuffed the bags in the one of the outer pockets.

“Do we have a boat?” Mulder asked, shouldering the pack again.

“Over there. The Gillian Ann. He’s gassing it up right now.” Krycek led the way over to where several fishing boats were moored. Theirs was an older model, but looked sea worthy. “Can you handle a boat?”

Mulder eyed the small vessel warily. “In a pinch,” he said. He thanked his lucky stars that his Scully voice had also reminded him to pick up some Dramamine while at the sporting goods store. A seasickness patch would have been preferable, but he would have to make do.

“Let’s cast off,” Krycek said with a resigned shrug.

As they made their way out of the harbor, the sun sank into the water, casting a beautiful orange path that Mulder, had he been feeling more fanciful, could have considered a yellow brick road. As it was, the light of the dying sun only stayed with them for a short time and as the shoreline disappeared, the gathering gloom increased.

The new moon gave off no light, but the stars were outstanding. The little boat sped along the mostly small waves, Krycek proving to be an able seaman from what little Mulder could ascertain. The Dramamine was doing a passable job of keeping the agent’s stomach contents in the correct place, but the downside was the sleepiness that was quickly becoming a problem. He sat down on one of the benches along the side of the boat and leaned back to find the constellations just to keep himself awake.

 

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It was so beautiful out on the water as the stars took command of the night sky without the glaring intrusion of the moon to steal their glory. He thought about how Scully would love to just sit there on that little boat, looking up at the stars. They didn’t get enough time to do things like that — just sit and look up at the night sky.

When they did have a night outside it usually involved a stake out or an ill-fated trip to the forest. So where was his beloved when he was soaking up the galactic panorama? Chasing his sorry ass across the continent, more than likely.

What was he going to say to her when he returned? How could he possible explain this latest ditch? The very reminder of the word caused him to cringe physically. He hadn’t ditched his partner in a good long while — at least not since they’d started cohabitating. Did it count as a ditch if he left her a note? Admittedly, the fact that the note was deposited on the sink of a men’s room in a gas station convenience store probably somewhat diminished its intrinsic value, but it was a note, nonetheless.

Mulder sighed. What was he really doing out here? Why in the world had he agreed to accompany one of their worst enemies on a fool’s errand? Rocks couldn’t cure people! Scully would be the first one to howl in derision at such a claim. If he were to mention that he was trying to cure her infertility — he could imagine how uncomfortable sleeping in the tiny unheated garage for the rest of the winter was going to be.

They had options. Scully had viable ova in storage, he had sperm — at some point in the not too distant future he could envision them preparing a nursery, going to childbirth classes, maybe even hiring a baby nurse. No, probably not. They would probably have to depend on Maggie or even the gunmen, assuming they could be trained to diaper a baby.

Now he was just being ridiculous!

No, it wasn’t even the fertility that was scaring him into running all the way across the country with a dangerous man. It was that damned appointment she’d had with her oncologist. Annual check up — that was a supreme joke. Who were they kidding? If the chip that he’d found had caused her remission, any change would mean death. There would be no cure, no last minute reprieve. Either it functioned as required or it didn’t. There was no warranty, no service contract. It was not returnable.

If her remission was a miracle, as he felt she truly believed, they didn’t really need a yearly reminder of the horror they had once lived through. But if, as the third possible option, the cancer had simply gone into hiding and was even now poising to make a reappearance . . . that was what he truly feared. If there was still a dark, evil presence in her blood cells that could turn on her in a heartbeat — he was more than willing to go to the ends of the earth and beyond to find a way to keep that evil from gaining control again.

That was why he was sailing across the starlit water with a sworn enemy. That was why he was willing to risk life and limb. If there was a chance that these rocks from the heavens had the power to keep Scully with him, healthy, whole, for as long as he could — nothing and no one would stop him from finding those rocks and bringing them home.

Act III Scene 1

FBI Headquarters

Washington DC

Same Day

2:15 pm Eastern Time

Scully juggled her purse, the brown paper sack and the grande mocha cappuccino as she struggled to get the right key into the lock on the office door. Where was Mulder when she needed an extra pair of hands? But then, since Mulder wasn’t around, she had the office all to herself, including the turkey Rueben with fat free 1000 Island and extra kraut presently residing in its deli bag and about to slip from her fingers.

She loved her partner with all her heart, but there were times, like when he was stealing bites from her lunch, or launching pencils at the ceiling tiles, or whining and shining those puppy dog eyes at her so that she would cave in and do the latest bureaucratic bullshit paper work that she wondered if maybe all the articles warning about office romances weren’t on to something after all.

But then again, hadn’t she was told him she wouldn’t change a thing, flukemen included?

The doctor’s office had been busy, as were most oncologists. The nurse had been apologetic, as usual. When Zuckerman arrived, he was looking slightly harried but smiled affectionately at her. “Ah, my little miracle,” he said, shaking her offered hand. “How are you feeling, Dana?”

“Great,” she told him, and it still amazed her that her words had never been truer. It had been ten years almost to the day since her remission from the cancer that was at one time a death sentence. Ten years and so much had happened. She found and lost a daughter, her partner had found and lost his sister. Perhaps the most important event happened quietly, in his apartment six years ago when they finally stopped tap-dancing around their relationship. There had been high peaks and low valleys in those ten years but again, she wouldn’t have traded them for the world.

“Well, we need to run the battery of tests, as always, but if I had to make a guess by just looking at you, I’d say we’re in for pretty much the same news we always get every year. Why don’t you change into that gown and I’ll call Stephanie in to take you down to x-ray.”

It had been over in the blink of an eye. Then came the difficult part. Because the blood work took time and the x-rays had to be read by the radiologist, she was left to dress and go back to the office to await final word on the results.

“Dana, you go relax — make that partner take you to a nice late lunch. Where is he? He’s usually in here complaining about the selection of magazines in the waiting room,” Stephanie asked as Dana finished dressing and was about to head for the door.

“We had a case come up at the last minute. He’s out in Illinois, but I expect him home tonight.”

“Well, then make him take you to a nice late dinner,” Stephanie countered. “Dr. Zuckerman will call with the results about 5. Should he call you at home?”

“Yes, thanks,” Scully confided. “I’ll be at home after 5:30. You have the number on my chart.”

“I see it here,” Stephanie nodded. “Well, have some fun.”

Once she was at the office, expense reports and end of the year vehicle reports were the last things she wanted to deal with. She sat down at the phone and listened intently to her voicemails. When she got to the one from Mulder, she sighed. He had a lead on the murder, he was going out to interview two possible suspects, yes he had back up. He might be late. The man could actually turn a molehill into a mountain. And now that meant he probably wouldn’t be home that night after all.

It was silly, and she was the first to admit that, but she needed to hear his voice, to speak to him. These yearly appointments always dredged up bad memories and she just needed Mulder’s often-humorous off-the-cuff report from the field to sweep the bad feelings away. She quickly dialed his cell phone. It rang directly to his voice mail.

She frowned at the receiver in her hand. That was odd. Mulder had just purchased a new cell phone and had been pleased at how long the battery was lasting. Unless he forgot to turn it on after he got off the plane at Bloomington-Normal. But that didn’t figure because he’d called her to leave the voicemail message. It didn’t make her feel any less uneasy to realize that she was probably over- reacting. She picked up the phone again and this time dialed the McLean County Sheriff’s Department. It was picked up almost immediately.

It was a relatively short conversation. The Deputy who answered was quick to inform Scully that her partner had been taken to the airport just an hour before.

That confused her a little, but she thanked the young woman and hung up. So maybe he decided not to stay and look into the case. That meant there was a good chance he was on a plane back home and his phone was off while he was in the air. She dialed his number again, this time leaving a message that she would be home after five and to call her as soon as he landed.

She hung up the phone and looked over at the reports she had planned to complete. Suddenly, that idea had lost all its original charm, if it had any. She remembered a sample she had taken to the lab a few days before and decided to go up and check on the analysis. She didn’t feel like sitting in a quiet empty office for the rest of the afternoon.

FBI Headquarters

Forensics Lab

6:05 pm Eastern Time

Scully chuckled at the joke one of the lab techs had just told on another pair of agents and glanced at her watch. It was after 6! She’d told Zuckerman’s office to call her at home and she’d told Mulder she’d be at home after 5. She could have missed both phone calls! She hurriedly made her goodbyes and almost knocked a few people down in her haste to get to the basement.

On a whim, she looked at the phone, but there was no message waiting indicated. She sighed and grabbed her purse, briefcase and jacket and headed out to the parking garage.

Sewer construction barricades and rush hour traffic were in full force and it took her nearly 20 minutes to get to the bridge across Rock Creek Park and then another 15 minutes to get to N street. By the time she pulled into the their parking space behind the duplex, it was nearly 6:45. She closed her eyes and shook her head. Knowing Mulder, when he couldn’t reach her at home he would either keep calling her cell phone or grab a cab.

She stuck her hand in her pocket as she ran up the back steps and pulled out her cell phone. No missed calls, no messages. That was odd, but it was possible that Mulder either had found a ride home or that his flight was delayed. She opened the door to the kitchen and made her way to the front of the house and the stairs to the second floor. When she got to their bedroom, she picked up the phone and found that Zuckerman’s office had called.

“I usually don’t leave a message but it seemed cruel to make you wait till tomorrow for the results, Dana,” she heard the oncologist’s message on their voicemail. “Everything checked out fine. You are fit as a fiddle. So I guess I won’t be seeing you again until next November. Hope you and Agent Mulder enjoy the holidays and if you need anything from our office just let us know. Take care and see you next year.”

The utter relief she experienced was nearly overwhelming. Scully sat on the edge of the bed and let a few errant tears of reprieve slide down her cheeks before wiping them away hastily. She let out a big breath and smiled. She couldn’t wait to tell Mulder. She knew he’d been worried as well and from the looks of him that morning after she’d reminded him of the appointment, he wouldn’t want to wait to hear the good news.

She tried his cell phone again as she changed into some soft fleece sweats and her slippers. Later, once he was home, she planned on an evening spent with the two of them ensconced in the big claw foot tub with a platter of cheese and crackers and a bottle of wine for sustenance. The fantasy playing through her mind caused a larger grin on her face that turned to a frown when she got her partner’s voicemail again.

“Mulder, where are you? Look, I know you were worried, but there’s good news. I just heard from Zuckerman’s office and the results are all great. I’m still in remission, no sign of the cancer. I’m planning a little celebration for two if you’re up for it after your big ‘pig’ adventure. Call me as soon as you get this, I’ll be waiting. Love you.” She clicked off the phone and decided to make herself a salad to tide her over until she heard from him.

3605 N Street

Georgetown, DC

7:30 pm Eastern Time

She knew it was stupid, but she couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling she had. She glanced at the clock on the DVR and bit her lip. Picking up the cordless phone in the living room, she dialed the office.

“Federal Bureau of Investigation, how can I direct your call?” the voice answered.

She recognized the voice instantly. “Corrine, hi, this is Agent Scully. Do you know if Kim Cook, AD Skinner’s assistant has left for the day?”

“Oh, hi, Agent Scully. I don’t think so, calls are still being taken at their office. I think all the A.D.s are working on the budget supplemental. Let me connect you.”

In a few beeps, she was on the line to Kim. “Hi, Kim, it’s Dana. I know this sounds silly, but can you tell me what airlines Mulder flew out to Illinois on this morning? He hasn’t turned up and I just wondered if he was stranded on a runway somewhere.”

“Sure, Dana. He’s on United to Chicago’s O’Hare and then United Express to Bloomington-Normal. Return flights are the same, but his ticket was opened ended, as always.”

“Thanks, Kim. I’ll try to track him down that way.”

“If you can’t find him, you know where to call,” Kim said breezily.

“I’m sure it won’t be necessary to call out the troops, but thanks, Kim.”

She switchhooked the phone and dialed the airlines from memory. “Hello, this is Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI, badge number JTT0331613. I’m trying to locate a passenger — Fox W. Mulder. He should have been on a flight from Bloomington, Illinois to Washington, DC tonight. Yes, I’ll hold.”

It only took a moment for the airline service representative to come back on the line. “You have no passenger listed on any flight to Washington, DC by that name,” Scully repeated slowly, the thought chasing around in her mind. “Could you check and see if that name shows up on any flight this afternoon or evening? Thank you.”

In a moment, the person returned. “He left Bloomington-Normal for St. Louis Lambert but then you have no record of him?” Scully reiterated what she’d just been told. “Is it possible for you to access Lambert Airport and tell me if a Fox Mulder was listed for any flight out of that airport this evening?”

It took a little longer, but the answer did not please Scully. “None whatsoever,” she said evenly. “Thank you, you’ve been very helpful.” She hung up the phone; her earlier good mood now completely vanished. “Damn him! When I find him, I’ll kill him myself!” She dialed the Hoover Building operator one more time. “Corrine, please put me into Assistant Director Skinner. I’m afraid we have a situation.”

Skinner was on the phone in a heartbeat. “Scully, what’s the emergency? Are you at the hospital?”

“No, sir, nothing like that — at least not yet. Sir, I can’t find Mulder. I got a voicemail from him this afternoon telling me that he was intending to stay out in Illinois a little longer than expected, but when I couldn’t get him on his cell phone, I called the Sheriff’s department. They told me they’d put him on a plane for home early afternoon. He should have arrived by now so I called Kim and checked the airlines. They show Mulder going to St. Louis but then he just disappears. He’s not listed on any flight into DC tonight.” She stopped talking long enough to pull much needed air into her lungs.

“Scully, it’s only a little after 8. The airlines probably just made a mistake or Mulder got a flight that diverted him to another airport before making it back here.”

“Sir, I thought of that. I specifically asked if he had been on _any_ flight out of Lambert International. They have no record of him leaving the airport.”

“Even so, mistakes are pretty common with those on line passenger lists, Scully. We really need to wait to see the actual passenger manifest from the flight crew to make a solid determination. Now I’m in the middle of a budget meeting, and God knows I’d love to be doing something else right now but I really think it’s premature. If you haven’t heard from Mulder by midnight, give me a call and we’ll see what we can find out. Until then, I really have to get back to this damned meeting.”

“Yes sir,” Scully said reluctantly. “I’m sorry I interrupted — ”

“Scully, it’s not a problem. Given Mulder’s past actions, I can understand your concern. But I think it might resolve itself if we just give it a little time.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” she said dully. “I’ll call you if I hear from him.”

“And I’ll call you if you haven’t called me. The way this is going, I’ll still be crunching numbers at the witching hour. Try not to worry, Dana.”

“Yes, sir. I will.”

She chewed on her lip again, thinking. Mulder had been acting funny all morning, but she’d assumed it was because of her appointment. Still, he’d acted like he wanted to talk to her when he got back from his run.

The little warning bells went off in her mind. How often had Mulder stumbled on an informant while taking his morning run? Too many times to count. And from past experience, she knew that Georgetown U. had installed security cameras at the track and bleachers. She ran upstairs to change into something a little more decorous than sweats and hurried out the door.

Georgetown University Campus Security

8:30 pm Eastern Time

“Agent Scully — something up?” asked the senior security guard when she presented her credentials to the guard at the desk. She’d become acquainted with most of the campus police since she and Mulder had moved to the neighborhood.

“Officer Zickus, hello. I was wondering if I could view your tape of the track this morning? I’m just looking for the time between 6:30 and 7 am.”

“Sure. Got it right over here.” Zickus pulled up a file on his computer monitor.

“Starting at 6:25 am,” he told her and clicked a few keys. The monitor was now a sharp and crisp image of the GU track. In the distance, she could clearly make out her partner with his usual gait and grace. But then another person came into the frame wearing a hoodie and keeping his face averted from the range of the camera. In a few moments, Mulder loped over to the bleachers for his cool down and some water. The other person made his way over as well. She watched as Mulder glanced warily at the other man, but continued with his cool down. Then, the other man moved closer to Mulder and they talked for a few moments. Mulder obviously wasn’t pleased with the direction of the conversation and started to leave a couple of times.

Finally, the other man said something and turned just enough to get his face into the camera’s range.

It was clearly Alex Krycek.

“Thanks, Officer Zickus. I’ve seen enough,” Scully said tersely.

“Do you want a copy of this?” Zickus asked.

“If it’s not too much trouble,” she replied, softening her tone. In a moment she had a shiny CD-Rom version of her partner’s morning encounter in one hand, her cell phone in the other and she was halfway to her car.

“Kim, tell AD Skinner that I’m on my way into the office. And let him know it’s time to call out the hounds.”

Act III scene 2

Unidentified island

36 miles north of Puget Sound, Washington

11:07 p.m. Pacific Time

“I see the cabana right there,” Mulder considered. “The tennis court would look great over by that volcanic outcropping. Oh, or maybe that volcanic outcropping. The pool would have to be aboveground, of course, unless you brought a few blocks of C-4.”

“Hey, Dane Cook,” Krycek snapped. “Shut the fuck up and help me unload this shit.” The “island” was little more that a rocky projection, the pinnacle of what Mulder recognized as a stratovolcano, composed of many layers of hardened lava and volcanic ash. Same as Mount Rainier. Given Krycek’s receptivity to his observations on Washington’s topography, seismic activity, and marine species, Mulder hadn’t shared that geological insight. Perhaps the Sasquatch discussion had been the last straw – that had been when Krycek had thrown Mulder’s cap into the inlet.

Mulder pulled his backpack from the boat and grunted as he strapped it on. “Well, at least it’s a small haystack, relative to Rhode Island.”

“Roughly 2.54 square miles,” Krycek noted. “If you can cut the schtick and the geektalk, we might be able to wrap this up by sunup.”

“Well, then, let’s rock-and-roll,” Mulder suggested, surveying the landscape of petrified magma. “Well, rock, anyway.”

Krycek hefted the ropes and equipment, then led the way.

**

After three hours of scouring the monotonous topography with Krycek’s modified Sigma SD10, Mulder had broken out the Yahoo and Cornnuts. The “hot mirror” had been removed from the digital camera to convert it to a heat-sensing monitor, but the sophisticated gadget had yet to read a heat signature amid the igneous nooks and crannies.

“Your buddy was positive about this?” Mulder inquired through a mouthful of chocolate grit. “He wouldn’t’ve decided to snag the rock for himself, would he? There is a growing black market for meteors, you know. Collectors flock to village markets in Mauritania to find falls harvested from the Sahara. I heard of a French drug dealer who got busted trying to round up a crew to ‘liberate’ a few of the choicer pieces from the London Natural History Museum. Maybe the temptation was just too great for your pal.”

Krycek chugged a Red Bull and set the can on the slab next to his natural throne. “My ‘pal’ once watched me systematically rupture every vertebra in the spine of a Yemeni arms dealer before castrating him with a Sears vice grip. I don’t think a few bucks off eBay would be worth pissing me off.”

Mulder popped the last oversized kernel. “You are a natural-born storyteller, Alex. I’ll bring the s’mores the next time. Let’s go.”

 

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Krycek’s original timetable had proven overly optimistic, even with minimal schtick. By 2 a.m. PST, they’d scoured only half the island’s surface. It was slow-going, passing the halogen torch and the Sigma back and forth as they scanned every quadrant.

“What’s the game plan?” Mulder finally broke the dark silence. “I mean, once we find the Miracle Meteor? This thing would be worth millions, maybe billions if its curative properties could be analyzed and replicated. You getting a finder’s fee from the Little Sisters of Charity?”

For a second, the shadow behind the glaring halogen spot was mute. “I know some people with the World Health Organization. People. . . people Marita trusted. People who wanted the same things she wanted. They’ll know what to do with this.”

Mulder turned back to the screen on the back of the Sigma, proceeding slowly. “It was rough, losing her, wasn’t it? You loved her, didn’t you?”

“Just focus on the mission, Mulder.”

“You may be an assassin, a thief, a liar, but you’re still human. You tried to help her save the world, save all of us.”

“Stop. Just stop.”

“Krycek, there’s nothing wrong with deali—Whoa, shit.”

“Stop, Mulder,” Krycek repeated, more urgently.

“No. I’ve got it,” Mulder breathed, eyes fixed on the slightly fluctuating glow in the viewfinder. “The meteor – I’ve got it. Your buddy might’ve been a little off, though – it’s a lot smaller than I imagined.”

“Mulder,” Krycek barked. “I said stop, damn it.”

Taken aback, Mulder looked up, blinking into the halogen beam. Krycek aimed the light toward his “partner’s” boots. A jagged lip of volcanic stone gaped two inches from Mulder’s toes. Mulder stared over the precipice into the inky darkness that seemed to last forever.

“Oh, yeah, stop,” Mulder nodded.

**

“You know,” Mulder began, “The day they had the Bureau rappelling finals at Quantico, I had just a scorching hangover. . .”

“Just focus, Mulder,” Krycek sighed ten feet below him. “There’s only about 25 feet to go. Remember, your right hand is the brake hand. . .”

“Oops.”

Krycek froze. “What did you say?”

“Oops. This thing. . .”

“What thing? Mulder?”

“The, uh, clippy thing, you know, that the rope goes through. . .”

“The carabiner. What about the carabiner? What the hell did you do, Mulder?”

“Nothing. Nothing really. The rope just seemed a little stuck, and I kind of adjusted – – ”

The rest was drowned out by the ominous sound of polyester Dacron slipping through leather and boots scuffing against rock. Shards and dirt showered into Krycek’s face as he glanced up. They were followed by Mulder. Krycek’s legs flailed as the agent’s bulk propelled them down the side of the crater.

 

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“Wuff,” Mulder grunted as they hit the stone floor. Krycek regained his grip in the last 10 feet, slowing their momentum, but the wind was still knocked out of him with the impact.

“Krycek,” the agent moaned after a few moments. Silence. “Jesus, Krycek.”

“Get,” Krycek finally whispered. “The. Fuck. Off of me.”

Mulder rolled off. Krycek cricked his neck and tested his limbs.

“And I always hoped it would be Scully on top,” the mercenary groaned.

Mulder climbed woozily to his feet. “You okay?”

“Nothing broken. Got a warm feeling in my shoulder, though…”

Mulder located the torch and then his pack. The Sigma was intact – the agent turned it on and pointed at the prone Krycek. He smiled. “Meteor at two o’clock.”

Krycek rolled to his feet, his aches and bruises forgotten. “Get the light on it.”

A halogen spot hit a softball-sized chunk of space junk, half-embedded in the stone. Krycek instinctively reached for the meteor, then yelped as his finger made contact. “You’re going to barbecue your good hand, Krycek — it’s still hot,” Mulder warned. “Allow me.” Propping the torch against a rock, he searched his pack, coming out with what looked like a night deposit bag. “Lead-lined,” he informed Krycek. “Didn’t know what kind of alien artifacts I might find in Normal.” Mulder slipped the bag over his hand and began to wiggle the exposed meteor. Finally, it worked free, and Mulder zipped it into the pouch. “Make up for falling on you?” he asked Krycek.

Krycek snatched the bag from Mulder’s fingers. “Not even close. Let’s get a few more pieces and get the fuck out of here. And this time, I’m on top.”

**

Gas-N-Go MiniMart

Mt. Vernon, WA

10:45 pm Pacific Time

Scully looked over at Eric and suppressed the urge to blow the living crap out of the gangly loser. Gaydar indeed. But the scrap of paper in her hand, affectionately signed ‘Love, M.’ had been the straw that broke the camel’s back and buried the poor beast under five hundred feet of hard-packed ice and snow. She closed her eyes as she crumbled the paper in her hand.

“Should we update AD Skinner?” Agent Mason asked fearfully. Scully could only assume that even this rather moronic new agent could smell the brimstone in the air.

“Yes,” she hissed. “And I want a copy of those tapes,” she growled back at Eric.

The poor guy looked like he was about to faint dead away — or get to the offending Mens’ room a little too late.

“Yessir, er, Ma’am, I mean,” he stuttered and hurried to find a blank disk in the battered Office Max special particle board desk. “Mulder used his credit card here,” Scully said, looking through the receipts of the days purchases in Eric’s cash drawer. She pulled out a receipt with her partner’s distinctive scrawl across the bottom.

“Maybe he’s leaving those as clues,” Mason suggested and got a dagger glare for his trouble.

“Agent Scully, a man matching Agent Mulder’s description was spotted about an hour ago at a sporting goods store at the docks in Oak Harbor — it’s just down the road from here,” Agent Grady said, pocketing his cell phone.

“Let’s get over there,” Scully said with a huff. “Any word on that helicopter?”

Grady shook his head. “No word yet. The Washington State Police said they’d call us as soon as possible.”

“As soon as possible,” Scully repeated through gritted teeth. “Why aren’t I surprised,” she muttered. “OK, well, keep on them.” As they ran out to the bucar, she kept running over what they’d learned. Mulder and Krycek were still together. They appeared to be headed to the coast — but for what? It had better not be a three-hour cruise, she cursed mentally.

It was a short ride to Oak Harbor. After reviewing the sporting goods stores surveillance tapes and determining that it was indeed Mulder who had purchased camping supplies and bottled water, the three agents canvassed the local businesses. It was a hit on the first door — a boat rental outfit that had just rented a small fishing boat to Mr. A. Arntzen, matching Krycek’s description to a tee. The old man who owned the rental fleet even commented that he wondered how the man was going to dock the boat with an artificial arm, but Mr. Arntzen had assured him that he had a friend traveling with him that could help when the time came.

“Did Mr. Arntzen say where they might be headed,” Scully asked, trying to keep a handle on her aggravation and worry.

“Oh, I know exactly where they’re headed. Know where they are right now, s’matter of fact,” the old man said with a straggle-tooth smile. “My son-in-law talked me into equipping all my boats with trackers. C’mon over t’here. I can show you rights where they be.”

Scully felt like she had just been handed a gift. The monitor was the most sophisticated object in the old rental store. It showed three blips out on the open water of the harbor.

“That. That right there. That be your men,” the old man said confidently, pointing a blip that was cruising far away from land.

“Where are they headed?” asked Mason. “They aren’t going to the open ocean, are they?”

Scully’s heart dropped but she kept her fears to herself. “No, no. There are plenty of little islands out that direction. Just little speed bumps, we call ’em. This is volcano country, son, even tho most of ’em are dead now — there are still a couple that pop up every time we have a good shake,” the old man assured. “They’re all too little to be any good to anybody, but sometimes you can get a good catch off’n ’em.”

“Somehow I don’t think this is a fishing expedition,” Scully mused aloud. “At least not the kind you’re talking about.” She turned to Mason, who was looking all too eager to please. “Contact the state police and see if they can get us a chopper. We might be able to catch up with them.”

“Don’t think so,” the old man replied before the young agent could answer. “Lookie over here.” An old computer monitor sat on a desk in the back of the room showing weather radar. “Storms coming in. I doubt you’ll get anybody to go out unless you can show that it’s an emergency. Then you’ll have to get the Coast Guard to do it.”

Scully pulled out her cell phone and lifted her eyes to the ceiling, seeking reinforcement. “Sir,” she said. “Do you have any contacts in the Coast Guard?”

Act IV

Unidentified island

2:45 am

The journey back up the crater wall was far more uneventful, though Mulder’s heart was pounding as Krycek hauled him over the lip. Then, as Mulder planted his boots on terra firma, Krycek dropped to his knees, grasping his shoulder. Mulder seized the halogen torch and directed the beam; Krycek’s face was white, covered in sweat.

“Jesus,” Mulder gasped. “What happened?”

“How do you feel?” Krycek croaked, struggling for his footing.

“How are you? Is it cardiac?”

“Mulder, answer me. You OK?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Tell me. You think it’s a heart attack?”

“It’s not like that,” Krycek snapped. “I feel…disoriented, and there’s a tingling, like an electrical current traveling through my arms and legs.” He pushed to his feet, wobbled, and landed flat on his ass.

Mulder peered back down into the crater. “It’s the meteor, Krycek – some kind of radiation or electromagnetic force.” He yanked the leaded bag from his pack. “I’m getting rid of this shit. We have to get out of here. Now.” Mulder hefted the parcel.

“No!” Krycek shouted even as the pain contorted his face. “You’re OK. It’s just ’cause I touched it. You’re OK; you’re safe. The rock’s secure. You’ve read the reports – you know what you have. It’s what we’ve fought for. What Marita died for. You did this for Scully, admit it. That’s the real reason you came to this godforsaken place, isn’t it?”

Mulder stared at Krycek, then at the bag and all the possibilities it represented. He looked to the star-littered sky, then stuffed the bag back into his pack. “OK,” he sighed. “Looks like I’m going to get that exercise Scully’s been ragging me to do. You ain’t heavy, bro, or at least I hope not.”

“That won’t be…Oh, fuck.” Krycek dropped back to the stone floor. It took Mulder nearly five minutes to wrestle Krycek into a fireman’s carry. He staggered away from the crater, his one-time sworn nemesis over his shoulders. “Mulder,” Krycek said gently as they retreated.

“Yeah.”

“You tell anybody about this, I will track you to the ends of this planet and feed you your own spleen.”

“Shucks. A Red Lobster gift card would be just fine.”

**

“What do you think this thing is, anyway?” Krycek groaned. He’d vomited a half-mile back, and the tingling in his shoulder was growing worse.

“I don’t know,” Mulder puffed, readjusting his parcel’s weight. “The electromagnetic spectrum is divided into electrical energy, radio waves, microwaves, infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays. That’s what we know about. Theoretically, there are other forces to either end of the spectrum that we can’t see, that may not operate under our physical laws. Maybe this meteor’s imbued with one of those forces. Maybe that force causes a realignment of molecules, matter, restoring order to chaos. Cancer, AIDS, tissue damage – it’s all physical chaos, matter out of order. Perhaps, like Scott Bakula, this meteor was sent to put right what once was wrong.”

Krycek hacked and muttered something.

“What?” Mulder prompted.

“I said, sorry I fucking asked.”

As Mulder’s back screamed and his knees threatened to lock, he hauled Krycek over a rise and stared out over the tranquil inlet.

“We’re hooooome,” the agent announced. Then the earth and Mulder parted ways. As the island heaved, the agent toppled, feeling his ankle twist and something pop inside his leg. Krycek rolled a dozen feet. “Earthquake,” Mulder whispered as the pain overtook him and a second wave hit.

**

The chopper landed with a thump of the tires, but the shaking continued long after the blades had slowed to a gentle whirl. The second round of shaking threatened to knock Scully off her perch on the bench in the back.

“I better get this bird back up in the air before we’re in the drink,” shouted the pilot, who fired up the engine again.

“No! Wait! I’m getting out here.”

“Look, Agent, um, whatever — you can’t get out here! We’re in the middle of an earthquake!” the Coast Guard officer sitting next to Scully said, grabbing her sleeve as the chopper rose in the air.

“My partner is down there! We _have_ to find him,” Scully screamed over the roar the rotors. “Land this thing now!”

“The shakin’ will be over in a just a few minutes,” the officer said calmly. “Besides, there’s no telling what damage this quake is doing around here. It would be better to look for them from the air.”

“But it’s still dark, we’ll miss them,” Scully yelled in return.

“They’ll hear us. If they need rescue, surely they thought to bring some flares.”

Scully’s eyes flew wide and she dug through her pocket. As luck would have it, she’d requested a copy of the charge slip Mulder had signed at the sporting goods store.

She pulled out her flashlight and scanned the items. Her chin dropped to her chest as the dread hit her right in the stomach. “No. They didn’t think to buy flares,” she said loudly.

It was all too much. The frantic cross country search, the storm, the earthquake. It seemed every force of nature was conspiring against her to keep her away from her partner.

“Ma’am, you got a call on the radio,” the co-pilot said, interrupting her thoughts.

“Says it’s urgent.”

“A call?” She accepted the co-pilot’s headphones and put them on her ears. “This is Agent Scully, how can I help you?”

“It’s us helping you, Dana,” came the quick reply.

“Byers? Is that you?” she asked. “I couldn’t get you guys. I left a message hours ago.”

“Sorry. We were on the roof checking out 17P/Holmes. Langly thinks it’s actually a spaceship. You’re message said Mulder was missing?”

“Yeah, he is. I’m in Washington State. Look, remember the watch I gave Mulder a few weeks ago for his birthday?” she asked.

“The one with the global positioning chip in it?” Byers replied. “Sure. We have coordinates as of an hour ago and then everything got wiggy.”

“It’s the transmission here, I’m sure,” Scully answered. “We just had an earthquake.”

“Electromagnetic fields, no doubt. But here, Scully, at least this can get you closer.”

He rattled off the coordinates as she scribbled them on the back of the sporting goods store receipt.”

“Byers, I take back every thing I was thinking when I got your answering machine earlier.”

“We aim to please.”

“Tell the others I really appreciate this — and the suggestion for the watch. Where are they, anyway?”

“Still up on the roof. There were a couple of girls who live across the alley on their roof and last I saw Langly was trying to rig up a gangplank. I’m here in case we need to call 9-1-1.”

“Good thought. Well, tell them thanks and thank you for calling.”

“Just find him, Scully. Hope he’s in better shape than when we fished him out of the ocean or when we got him out of Egypt.”

“Me, too,” she said. “Over and out.” She handed the radio headset back to the co- pilot and the coordinates to the pilot. “He was at this location an hour ago.”

“Gives us a place to start,” the pilot said with a nod.

They were just up in the air and circling toward the coordinates when Scully saw shadows moving in the beam of the choppers lights. “Wait, turn around! Back there — that rise! Shine the light over there!” she shouted to the pilot. The light caressed the rocks for a moment before falling on two figures, crumpled on the ground. One of the figures raised his hand to shield his eyes from the bright light of the chopper before dropping his arm and falling forward face first on the rocks.

“Get the gurneys ready,” Scully said tersely the officer with her. “Looks like our next stop is the nearest trauma center.”

 

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Oak Harbor Medical Center

Nov. 14, 2007

8:15 am Pacific Time

Scully had paced the same patch of flooring so many times she almost expected to find a groove in the tiles. Her bottom lip was raw from where she’d been biting it.

Once more she glanced up at the double doors leading to the trauma area, fully expecting nothing but the steel gray barrier between herself and her partner. But this time, luck was with her.

 

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“Ms. Scully?” The man standing in the open doors looked like he’d been on his feet at least as long as Scully, but he smiled at her anyway. “I’m Greg Moser, the resident assigned to your partner’s case.” The freckled young man with the bright shock of red hair couldn’t have been a day over 24. Scully drew in a breath and reached out to accept his offered handshake.

“It’s Agent Scully, or Dr. Scully,” she amended. Might as well establish the alpha female position as soon as possible, she mused silently.

“Oh, uh, sorry. OK, well, you’re here with Mr. Krycek . . .”

“Actually, I’m with Mr. Mulder. Mr. Krycek is . . . well I don’t think there is any one here for him,” Scully corrected. She knew full well how bitchy she sounded, but after the hell she’d been put through in the last 24 hours, she wasn’t going to give that rat bastard a heartbeat of compassion.

“Oh, OK, I see. So, uh, Mr. Mulder,” Moser said, flipping to the other chart in his hand. “Yes, here we have it. Um, we x-rayed his ankle — good news on that. It’s sprained, not broken. It’s pretty badly sprained and I’m prescribing crutches for the next two weeks. I know that’s longer than usual, but I think he’s going to need them. And I have a script for painkillers. But for today, I’d like to keep him under observation.”

“Observation? For a sprained ankle?” she objected.

“To be perfectly honest, the poor guy is just exhausted. We thought he was unconscious when he was brought in, but he responds to painful stimuli. He’s just beat. I figured a day to sleep it off might help. We can admit him now, release him at 7 am tomorrow and still come in under the 24-hour rule. Shouldn’t be a problem with your insurance. Then you two can fly home tomorrow. How does that sound?”

Scully sighed. It made sense, even if she really didn’t want to spend another minute in the Pacific Northwest. “I guess that will be fine,” she said wearily. “May I see my partner?”

“They’re wheeling him up to his room. He’ll be there in about ten minutes. He’s in 213, just off the elevators. Why don’t you give them a minute to get him settled in – – maybe grab a cup of coffee or some breakfast? Cafeteria’s just down the hall there.”

She nodded dully. Coffee — it sounded like heaven. Breakfast? When was the last time food passed her lips? She’d been hoping for wine and cheese last night — Shaking her head she started down the hallway. Before she got more than a few steps, her overactive guilt complex got the better of her.

“Dr. Moser? How is Mr. Krycek?” she asked timidly.

Moser smiled. “He’ll be right as rain. We were afraid we were dealing with radiation poisoning, but that didn’t pan out. Just a little virus, from what I could tell in his blood work. He’ll be up and running in no time.”

“Great,” she said flatly and turned to find that mythical cup of coffee.

Epilogue

Dulles International Airport

Nov. 16, 2007

11:21 am ET

Mulder adjusted the crutches under his arms and tried to catch up with his partner. Scully was gracefully doing a slalom of construction barricades that eternally littered the concourse, but he was certain her haste had more to do with her desire to get as much distance between them as possible.

He’d screwed the pooch and she was making sure he knew it.

When Mulder had come to at the hospital in Oak Harbor, Scully had been at his bedside, like always. She’d kissed him, tears still drying on her cheeks. She told him how much she loved him. And then, as only a true natural red head possibly could, she let him have it with both barrels. Somewhere in her nearly hour-long tirade, she managed to slip in that her recent medical test showed she was still very much in remission. After that, he sort of zoned out on her and didn’t listen that closely. It didn’t slow her down and only seemed to make her all the more zealous in her attack on his stupidity, as she called it. When the dust settled, she stopped talking to him all together, except when in the presence of his doctor or when telling him what flight number they were on and the gate they were using. It had been a long flight home.

His ankle was killing him. He was still peeved that Krycek had mysteriously disappeared from the hospital, but he’d expected that. At least Mulder was still in possession of the rock, tucked safely in the lead lined evidence bag in his backpack. He dutifully followed her out of the airport and into the short-term lot. She shot him a glare that froze his heart when she was charged the hourly rate for what had amounted to four days of parking. He mentally noted that he would have to start doing all the laundry unless he wanted to find she’d starched his boxers and shrank his socks.

As they headed in to the city, she took an exit he wasn’t expecting. “Aren’t we going home?” he ventured meekly.

“We’re putting this whole nasty business to rest — once and for all,” she informed him with a growl. After that he kept his own counsel until he saw they were entering the Hoover’s parking garage.

He quickly hobbled after her as she skirted agents and elevators and made her way to the Bureau labs. In minutes, she’d secured the pouch in an air-tight containment box and using the special gloves, she opened it. Slowly, she poured the contents into a waiting clear glass dish. Instead of the rock Mulder knew he’d place in the pouch, only copious amounts of sludge plopped out onto the dish. After watching Scully make more slides than he thought imaginable, he crawled over to a lab stool and waited. The thud of a shelf of papers hitting the counter woke him from a doze.

“Volcanic ash and sea salt,” she said grimly.

“What?” he asked, wiping sleep from his eyes. Damn those painkillers, he was tired all the time when he took them. “What are you saying, Scully?”

“I’m saying that your ‘Mars Rock’ is nothing more than very earthly volcanic ash and sea salt. Would make wonderful exfoliate for your feet, but it definitely isn’t going to cure anyone of cancer,” she said evenly.

He flipped through the pages, but couldn’t make heads nor tails of what he was seeing. “Scully — volcanic ash and sea salt wouldn’t make someone sick. You saw Krycek — you said his doctor thought he had been exposed to some kind of radiation.”

“But that isn’t what they found, Mulder. It was a virus. Now if you want to speculate on the origin of that virus — ”

“Scully, the rock he landed on was at the bottom of a crater,” Mulder objected. He picked up his crutches and painfully made his way over to the glass cube holding his find. “This isn’t the same stuff I put in there, Scully. He switched it. Somehow he must have switched pouches with me.”

Scully sighed and put her hand on his shoulder, turning him toward her. “Mulder, stop it. You were duped. Let it go.”

“Scully, he took it — ”

“Mulder, we don’t need it,” she said plainly. “I’m fine and it’s been ten years. Whatever cured me, whether it was the chip or a miracle or maybe even just your belief in me — it’s working. Stop looking for a cure, Mulder. I have my cure, right here.” She pulled him to her and kissed him tenderly on the lips. “C’mon. Let’s get you home so you can rest that ankle.”

“Will you lie down with me in our nice warm bed?” he whispered in her ear. For the first time in days she smiled at him. “Sure, Mulder. You know I always like the view from the top.”

Cascades Motor Lodge

30 miles outside Cheney, WA

The shower cut off and in just a few minutes, the door opened allowing steam to puff into the small bedroom. Alex Krycek emerged, toweling his hair roughly — with his newly growing left arm. Flexing the fingers of his left hand for the first time in eleven years he smiled. “Thanks, Mulder. I owe you one.”

the end.

 

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Impact by Vickie Moseley & Martin Ross

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