Summary: Mulder and Scully end up trapped in an intriguing and absurd ‘dream world’ while investigating the origins of the books Jumangi and Zathura.
Spoilers: Seasons 1-7
Disclaimer: Two weeks exclusive with VS16. No copyright infringement intended.
Original web date:21/05/2010
FRIDAY, MARCH 5, 2010
It was finally quiet. That was the only thought that was running through Scully’s brain as she sat in the slightly reclined passenger seat and stared out the window. The trees went by, Dave Matthews played on the iPod, and Mulder was for once not talking about weekend plans involving the investigation of a baseball found with high iridium content.
No, they were just relaxing. No plans. No ‘adventure’. Just a quiet Saturday and Sunday. All to themselves. She sighed, and incurred Mulder’s inquiring gaze. She smiled and said, “I’m looking forward to our break this weekend.”
“Me too,” he said, and reached over to take her hand. “I know we said we weren’t going to make plans, but I think I have something you’ll enjoy. It’ll only take an hour—and you brought it up, after all.”
Scully’s eyebrow slightly quirked. “What?”
“It’s a surprise. I want you to see it for yourself when you get there.”
Visions of dinners and movies and perhaps a spa treatment danced in Scully’s head. “When are we going?”
“Tomorrow morning, bright and early. We’ll get it out of the way in case you don’t like it. Then we’ll have the rest of the day to do whatever.
Her hopeful expression fell. “How bright and early, Mulder? We’ve gotten up at five am for the past five days.”
They had just wrapped up a complicated and strenuous case involving a kidnapped child. The girl had been held by a man claiming to be psychic. When things got ugly, Skinner had called them in and it was only by a stroke of luck or perhaps a miracle from God that they were able to rescue the child before the nutcase killed her. Seven hours ago, said nutcase watched as Mulder carried the little girl out of the basement where she was held. He had screamed that he would have revenge from beyond the grave. The paperwork that ensued just from Scully’s interesting method of subduing the guy was enough to last seven hours. But at least he’d walk around the prison with his legs spread out like a cowboy for the rest of his life.
“We’ll leave at 9. That’ll give me enough time to run, and you enough time to sleep in.”
She sighed. “How are you not exhausted?”
“From a psychological standpoint, it could be any number of things. Hyperactivity stemming from untreated ADHD, post traumatic stress disorder from childhood that instilled the habit of insomnia in my brain irrevocably, a genetic proclivity towards sleeping disorders, an exercise addiction that sets an internal clock within my cerebral cor—”
“Okay, okay, I won’t ask again,” Scully promised, and Mulder grinned at her.
He pulled into the driveway and they walked into the house. “I’m going to talk to my coordinator for the surprise tomorrow,” Mulder said. “I’ll make dinner when I’m done with the phone call—why don’t you put your feet up and watch some TV?”
“Okay. I think there’s a Hallmark movie on tonight.”
As he turned away from her in the hallway, he rolled his eyes and hoped something would come up that would save him from another chick flick.
“Stop rolling your eyes at me, Mulder!” Scully called from the family room as he headed into the study. He gave a little chuckle. Playfully, she added, “And wipe that smirk off your face!”
He closed the door to the study, and pulled out his cell phone. In another few moments, a female voice answered. “Yes, Agent Mulder?”
“Just wanted to make sure everything was all set for tomorrow. We’ll be there at 10 am.”
“Everything’s all set, we’re ready for you. The kids are excited to meet two FBI agents. And we’ve scheduled an hour for you to explore what you wish.”
“Great. Then I’ll see you at 10 tomorrow morning.”
“See you then. Goodbye, Agent Mulder.”
“Have a nice evening.” Mulder closed his phone, and smiled. Scully would love this. He knew she would.
GIBSON ISLAND, MARYLAND
SATURDAY, MARCH 6, 2010
“Please tell me you don’t want to buy one of these houses,” Scully said, mostly sarcastic, but there was a bit of fear that entered her voice when she saw that eager look on Mulder’s face.
“I don’t see a ‘for sale’ sign, Scully,” he answered her as they walked up the gravel path that led to the mansion they were about to enter. “It’s a little out of our price range, anyway.” He caught her skeptical expression and tried to give her a reassuring look. “This’ll be fun, Scully. Lighten up a little.”
“I just don’t want another ghost-chasing adventure, Mulder,” Scully cautioned.
“Don’t worry. Not a ghost in sight. At least, I don’t think there are any here…”
Scully rolled her eyes, and surveyed the house in front of them.
The Colonial Style home was three stories, with a four-car-garage, turnaround driveway complete with a fountain in the center, a neatly manicured back yard, and toys scattered everywhere. A Big Wheel was parked in its own space, indicated by little white painted lines in the driveway next to a bike rack. A swingset was in the backyard, and a Power Wheels vehicle was parked in its own little space on the other end of the driveway. Someone’s Razor scooter leaned against the steps leading to the front door, and Mulder stepped around it on his way up to the porch. The wrap-around porch was beautifully painted and well-manicured, with a swing and several rocking chairs. Mulder rang the doorbell, and a woman came to the door.
“You must be Agents Mulder and Scully,” she greeted with a smile. “I’m Linda Allsburg. So pleased you found the place—it’s a bit out of the way. Come in, come in,” she said, and it was then that the tension was dropped. Even surrounded by the extravagance of the marble floor and antique furniture in the foyer, the golden chandelier hanging from a two-story-high ceiling, and the lack of a single dust particle in sight, they felt at home. With short gray hair and LL Bean duck boots on her feet, and jeans and a turtleneck with rolled-up sleeves, this woman gave no pretence.
“My children are still upstairs. As I explained, Chris is away on business, so you won’t be able to speak with him. But everything’s in the attic—you’re free to take a look if you wish.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Allsburg. Will the children want to join us up there? I’m sure they’ve gone through the items a bit more extensively—they can probably show us around.”
“They’ll join you for a little while, but they both have homework to do when they’ve finished showing you the basics. If you’ll follow me upstairs, we can get you all to the attic.” She smiled at Scully’s expression as she put the two names together, and led the way up the stairs.
“Chris Allsburg? Mulder, how did you—” Scully began in a whisper, but Mulder shook his head with a smile, and indicated that she follow up the stairs.
Mrs. Allsburg stopped next to an intercom and spoke into it, “Greg, Anna, the FBI agents are here. We’re in the hallway in front of the stairwell.”
“Cool! We’re coming!” a little boy’s voice called through the speaker, and after a moment, two small children came around the corner and grinned in awe of the two agents.
The girl stepped forward first. “Hi, I’m Anna,” she said, and extended her hand. “I’m in the second grade.”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Anna. I’m Dana,” Scully said, shaking the girl’s hand first. Mulder took his turn next, and smiled at her. She seemed to give him a knowing look…but shifted her gaze away from him after a moment.
“I’m Greg,” the boy introduced, following his sister’s lead. “I’m only in kindergarten.”
“Well, that’s alright, we all have to start somewhere,” Mulder said with a smile, and shook the little boy’s hand. Scully shook his hand next, and Anna took off for the next staircase.
“Come on, we have to get up to the attic so we can show you all the important stuff!”
“You two go ahead first—I’m going to brief my partner on exactly what’s going on,” Mulder said with a smile, and the kids took off. “This was a surprise, Mrs. Allsburg—as I explained on the phone, Scully is a huge fan of the movie Jumanji, and we recently saw Zathura on DVD.” He turned to Scully. “I always thought it was a little odd that Mr. Allsburg, who had publicly stated he didn’t like children prior to the birth of his first, Anna, would choose a career of writing children’s books. When Jumanji came out it was a huge hit, and spawned a movie that brought in millions in profits. You mentioned when we saw Zathura that you wanted to know where the idea came from. Well, I think I may have found it.”
Scully gave him a skeptical expression, but he kept going.
“Mr. Allsburg wrote Jumanji before either of his children were born, and yet showed an incredible insight into the child’s psyche. When I read on the Internet that Alan, Mr. Allsburg’s brother, had recently passed away,” he gave a courteous nod to Mrs. Allsburg, “I was fairly certain I knew where the idea had come from.”
“Alan had Downs Syndrome,” Mrs. Allsburg said with a sad smile. “He was Chris’s older brother. He was sixty when he passed.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Scully said politely.
“Thank you. He was really a loving, caring soul. In his obituary,” Mrs. Allsburg continued, “Chris wrote that Alan loved stories—he used to make up stories that became the basis for many of Chris’s books.”
“And so I contacted Mrs. Allsburg,” Mulder stated, “In the hopes that she might have some of the original copies of what Alan wrote down.”
“He wrote down quite a lot. His personal effects are in our attic—the kids love to go up there and rummage through. The valuable articles are laminated and preserved. You’re both welcome to go up and take a look at the original inspiration. But keep in mind, I only have an hour. Greg has hockey at 11 and Anna has some reading to do. They’ll both need to come back downstairs after ten minutes or so—they’ve got to get a jump start on their homework before the afternoon gets crazy.”
Mulder smiled. “Thank you for giving us this opportunity. We’ll send the kids down in ten minutes.”
“Yes, thank you very much, Mrs. Allsburg,” Scully said with a smile. “We really appreciate it.”
She nodded, and walked away. There was something about the way she looked at them just before she turned away…nah, it was nothing. Scully headed up the stairs.
The attic wasn’t hard to find. A ladder extended from the third floor up to the small space where the children were already rummaging through an old-fashioned trunk.
“What you’ll want to look at are these papers here,” Anna said, setting them aside, “and a few other things in the trunk. The papers tell you the most about Uncle Alan, and all his great adventures.”
Greg nodded his agreement. “Uncle Alan was really cool—you’ll have a lot of fun up here. Anna and me, we stay up here for days!”
Anna laughed. “Not days, silly. You know we’re usually back downstairs after an hour or so. Speaking of which, we should get going! We have homework. Bye, Agent Mulder. Bye, Agent Scully.”
She rather abruptly grabbed her brother by the arm and dragged him out of the basement.
“Well, they behave rather oddly,” Mulder commented, and turned to the trunk.
“Okay, let’s have it,” Scully said, standing over him with her hands on her hips.
Mulder looked up innocently. “What?”
“Why are we here? What do you think is in this trunk? Do the papers take us to another world? Is there some kind of a magic artifact in there? Or are we looking at one man’s accounts of his own supernatural powers? What is it this time?”
Mulder stared at her blankly. “Scully, why would you think—”
“Oh, come on, Mulder. We drove an hour to get here on a Saturday. You must think there’s something more important in this trunk than the inspiration for a movie I happen to enjoy.”
“Two movies, and two books,” he corrected. “And there may be something of interest to the X-files in here, you never know. I’m just here for the experience,” he said with a smile.
She rolled her eyes and walked away a few steps. “Dammit, Mulder, I just wanted a nice, quiet, relaxing vacation, and now you’re here rummaging through a dead man’s trunk in search for some kind of…what, exactly? Just tell me, I guarantee you I won’t be surprised.”
He looked up from his search through the trunk, his eyes betraying a bit of insult. “I just wanted you to enjoy yourself. We’ve only got an hour anyway. What could happen in an hour?”
She shook her head, and walked over. She looked down at the trunk, and said, “It’s nothing but a bunch of laminated papers, a bathing suit, and an old cardboard box.”
Mulder was pushing some papers and clothing aside, to reveal the box at the bottom. “Here we go,” he said with a grin, and pulled it out. “This is it, Scully. We’ve got an hour.”
“Dormito?” She looked at it skeptically for a moment, and then it dawned on her. She chuckled, and shook her head. “No, Mulder. No. We’re not going to play this board game to transport ourselves into another reality. Even if it would happen to work, this is one X-file that I just don’t care about this weekend. I want to go home. I want to watch TV. I don’t want to file another report!”
“No reports. Just this board,” he pulled the board out of the box, and set some dice next to it, “And these dice. And some cards in this little slot. That’s it. An hour, Scully. Please?”
“You actually think it’s going to work? You dragged us all the way here so we could play a board game that you think is going to transport us to some kind of a secret reality that only Alan Allsburg knew about?”
“Well, in theory, if that was what I was really thinking, it wouldn’t matter. No one would believe Alan anyway. It would make a great book, though. Maybe a movie.” He smiled. “C’mon, Scully. One roll. If it doesn’t instantly do anything, we’ll call it quits and take off.”
“I can’t believe you, Mulder. You promised me no ghost chases.”
“Do you see any ghosts?”
“It’s an X-file! On the weekend!”
“It’s just a board game. How could a board game pull you into some other dimension? If you don’t believe in it, why would it hurt to try it out?”
“It would validate this quest you’re on to royally screw up my weekends,” Scully stated flatly.
Mulder looked down, at the game. He placed the die on top, and picked up the board, placing it neatly in the box. “Okay,” he said quietly, and put the lid back on. As he put the box away, Scully sighed. He looked insulted. And he had gone through a lot of trouble to get here. An hour’s drive, the arrangement of her getting to see Chris Allsburg’s home, a writer she greatly admired…
Aw, screw it. “One roll,” she said.
Mulder looked up, and a smile played at the corner of his lips. “You got it, G-woman,” he said, and picked up the box again. He got the board out and handed her the dice. “Prettiest people go first.”
She smirked, and rolled a three. She picked up a small metal piece that looked like a stick figure, and moved it three spaces. A card popped out of the little box in the center, and she picked it up, giving Mulder a slightly amused look. “Relax,” she read aloud. “The card says ‘relax.’”
Mulder shrugged. “Who knows what that means. My turn.” Mulder rolled a five. “Ha,” he said playfully, and moved his metal stick figure five spaces. He took the card that popped out. “The Final Frontier,” he read, and grinned. He got up from his cross-legged position on the floor and ran to the attic window, drawing the curtains to one side. “Yes! Yes! Oh, Scully, look!”
Scully went to the window, and looked out. They were orbiting Jupiter. She rubbed the window, opened the window, stuck her hand out, and discovered that not only was it not a hologram on the window, but that the air was not being sucked out of the room. She backed away slowly. “Mulder…what…what is this?”
“This,” he said with a grin, “Is Dormito.”
SATURDAY, MARCH 6, 2010
“Dormito,” Mulder said as he followed Scully down the attic stairs. “To be dreaming. It’s Latin.” He held the box lid in his hands as he stepped down the front stairs into the foyer, right behind Scully. “Doesn’t say where it was made, or the year of copyright. No toy company trademark. Wonder where they got it from…”
Scully opened the front door and looked out at the fantastic view of the solar system. Orbiting Jupiter, they could catch sight of some of Jupiter’s moons. “Isn’t it fantastic, Scully?” Mulder asked as he put the box down and stepped out onto the porch. “Come on,” he said with a smile. “It’s obviously safe. I’m not choking to death here.”
She eyed him, and then stepped over the threshold. “How did you do it, Mulder? Where’s the holographic generator? If I step off this porch, will I land on the Allsburg’s front lawn?”
Mulder shrugged. “I don’t know what happens if you step off, but I don’t plan on it.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her off, as she reluctantly complied. Together, they looked out at the starry, beautiful scenery. Mulder pulled her close to him. “Relax, Scully. It’s a game.”
“It’s…ridiculous, is what it is. There’s no way that game caused this.”
“Why not?” Mulder asked. “The kids sure acted funny. Maybe they knew this was going to happen.”
“Where did the kids go? Where did Mrs. Allsburg go?” Scully challenged.
“Where the rest of the planet went?” Mulder suggested. “Come on, let’s roll again.”
“No,” Scully said firmly. “No way. This is…” she shook her head. “I don’t know what this is, but I’m not playing into it.”
Mulder looked confused. “Why? What could it hurt?”
“How do we get back? Do you even know? We should be working on that, not playing some stupid game!”
“In the books and the movies, the kids had to play the game to get back to normal. And because one player dropped out, the older version of the other player was stuck in the game forever. Remember that?”
“Yes,” Scully said, “But this isn’t a movie! This is some kind of…trick! This could be dangerous!”
“I doubt it,” Mulder said skeptically. “Let’s just try it. It can’t hurt anything, can it?”
“It’s keeping us here longer!” She argued.
“Or it could get us back faster,” Mulder shot back.
They stared at each other in a silent face-off, each knowing that the other wasn’t about to give. Finally, Mulder said, “The card said ‘relax’. Have you ever thought that maybe it wanted to assure you that what was about to happen wasn’t dangerous?”
Scully sighed. “Let’s see what the next roll gives us. If it’s nothing productive, then we start working on finding where the ‘off’ switch is.”
Mulder grinned, and jogged back into the house. In another moment, both agents were in the family room with the board game on the pristine coffee table.
“Your roll, Scully,” Mulder handed her the dice.
She rolled a three, and moved her piece. Then she took a card. Her eyebrow ascended her forehead as she read, “It says ‘A plot.’ What does that even mean?”
Mulder, again, shrugged, but before he could roll, they heard a bang at the front door.
“What do you think that is?” Scully asked cautiously, fingering her gun as she rose.
Mulder approached slowly, and said, “A plot, maybe?”
Scully shook her head as Mulder looked out the window. He looked back at her and grinned. “Just like the movie.”
He opened the door, and there stood before them an astronaut in full gear. She flipped her visor and smiled as she stepped inside. Mulder closed the door behind her, and the astronaut worked on removing her helmet. “Could you give me a little help here?” they heard her voice from the microphone.
“Sure, what do you want us to do?” Mulder asked.
“Flip the red release on the back. Thanks. Okay, now go halfway down my back, on the side of the jet pack, there should be a yellow latch.” After about three more minutes, she had the suit completely removed. She smiled at her hosts. “Hi, I’m Kari.”
“I’m Mulder, and this is my partner Scully.”
“FBI?” Kari asked as she shook their hands.
Mulder nodded. “How did you know?”
“I’ve been expecting you people for weeks. We’ve got a real problem on our hands. Huge case—could have interstellar implications. Want to sit down and discuss it?”
Scully eyed her carefully. “Where did you come from? What organization do you represent?”
Kari flashed a gracious smile in Scully’s direction and pulled her ID out. “Commander Kari Fleinclock. I represent NASA’s Interstellar Investigations Division. Spent fifteen years in the Navy, though—I know my way around an X-65.”
“X-65? I’m sorry, I don’t know what that is,” Mulder said, but he couldn’t conceal the excitement in his eyes.
Kari laughed. “You don’t know what that is? Only the most famous interstellar Fighter Spacecraft available to the US Navy. NASA’s #1 defense against aggressive alien species.”
“I wasn’t aware NASA had interstellar capabilities,” Scully said dryly. “They can barely get enough funding for lights and running water.”
Kari raised her eyebrows, and asked, “Just what year are you from?”
“2009,” Mulder answered eagerly. “And what year is this?”
Kari groaned. “2109,” she said, and shook her head. “The game finally sends someone qualified, but it sends them from 2009? This is ridiculous. Those bureaucrats! First they raise the taxes on Iridium fuel cells and now this?”
“Well, let us have a crack at the case. See if we can help out. I mean, the game told us you were the plot.”
“It said nothing like that, Mulder. We got a card with ‘a plot’ written on it—that doesn’t mean—”
“For someone who likes the books quite a lot, Scully, you don’t seem to pick up on the clues,” Mulder chided lightly, and led the way into the family room. “Let’s talk about this case!”
Kari and Scully followed reluctantly. When they all sat down, Kari said, “I understand if you have no idea what’s going on here. It’s perfectly alright. I’ll go find someone else who’s been around in the last 100 years to see what’s been developing over in Alpha Centauri.”
They nodded, Mulder a bit more enthusiastically than Scully.
“Alpha Centauri was invaded fifty years ago by agents of the Black Teradon Fleet, known as the BTF in our language. The BTF’s mission is to position themselves as peaceful guardians with superior capabilities to developing species, and then usurp the local governments and place the planet under their territory. Alpha Centuari A’s orbiting planet Talapus was populated with an early-development species we’ve named the Talapians. They have their own language and were at about Earth’s equivalent of the medieval ages when we discovered them. They’re in NASA’s interstellar territory. The BTF tried to move in and take Talapus, and we refused because of what we call the Prime Directive.”
Scully sighed. “I think I’ve seen this Star Trek episode.”
Kari smiled. “A lot of our terminology actually came from science fiction. Those working on the projects were very passionate about sci-fi, and so its terms populated our profession. But anyway, Talapus was under our territory and we have jurisdiction according to Milky Way Law to approach Talapus when they reach spaceflight. We were planning on asking them to join NASA. They may want to join another Earth space agency, and they are always free to do so. But under the BTF’s rule, they would automatically become slaves of BTF agents.”
“So this started some kind of interstellar incident?”
“Yes, twenty-five years ago, it exploded into an all-out war. President Geraldo declared that the United States of America was officially at war with the BTF. And we’re backed by the European Union, South America, and Canada.”
“You’re saying that Earth hasn’t united?”
Kari laughed. “Like that’ll ever happen. But anyway, we’re at war with the BTF, and President Lynn currently has an agenda to launch CIA forces into BTF territory to gather evidence. Recently, an agent’s body was found orbiting Callisto—very close to here. It was clear he was dropped off by some mercenary or trader, but we couldn’t use satellite imaging to track where the perpetrator came from. We assumed the BTF had killed him and dumped the body outside Callisto as a sign that they won’t be fooled by our agents, but we noticed something distinctly…un-BTF-like.
“The BTF has no pictures. They work off of written word only. Their brains don’t process pictures as ours do. They can’t see the representation for the real thing. Therefore, when we found the NASA symbol carved into his chest, we assumed it wasn’t their doing. The pathologist found that the symbol was the cause of death—the drawing created a deep cavity, resulting in massive loss of blood. It was determined, in fact, that it resulted from such force that it couldn’t have been carved with humanoid hands. It had to have been from machinery.”
“Have you investigated your factories, where you manufacture your ships? Check to see if any were broken into…that any machinery was beamed out?” Mulder asked.
Kari chuckled. “No ‘beams,’ Agent Mulder. Just plain, old grappling hooks. My ship’s docked at the side of the house. You can see the logo is much too big to fit on one person’s chest. And it’s the standard logo for all NASA spacecraft. The smaller ones are painted on.”
“Is there any chance that the BTF may have replicated your logo and is using it to access NASA space? Or that another nation on Earth has done the same thing, attempting to undermine your war efforts against the BTF?”
Kari nodded at Mulder’s question. “Those are the possibilities we need to investigate. Efforts were already put forth to meet with Japanese Space Chancellor Gao, to no avail. And because Japan controls politics of the Asian Continental Space Program, the ACSP, no other country involved in the ACSP is willing to step forward and discuss the situation with us. So the Navy is about to send some Space SEALS into—Agent Scully, is something funny?”
“No,” Scully said, covering her smirk with her hand as she leaned her elbow against her knee. “I’m finding this fascinating.”
“I think she gets turned on by the prospect of Space SEALS,” Mulder explained with a smirk of his own. “Continue, Commander.”
“Kari, please,” Kari said, which only made Scully’s hidden smirk broaden. “Anyway, the Navy is about to send some Space SEALS into ACSP territory, hoping to uncover something incriminating so we can put all this to rest and have our battle out with the Japanese government. But the other option is that the BTF has indeed replicated our logo, and that is a much bigger problem. If they can replicate our logo, and copy our security signatures, they could masquerade one of their vessels as one of ours, and gain passage into the Sol System. So we’re going into BTF territory to determine if they’ve magically developed the ability to draw pictures, or if they’ve stolen our stuff.”
“Sounds exciting,” Scully said, still smirking.
“It should be pretty exciting, yes. Now I have to get down to this house’s basement to turn the engines on. We’ve got to get over to BTF territory and I need to check the fuel cell in this sucker and make sure we can warp.”
“Have fun,” Mulder said as Kari got up to go down to the basement. She found the basement door quickly and went down the stairs. When she was gone, Scully turned to Mulder. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Now I know you made this up, because only you could think of something so…”
“So what? So Star Trek and 24 combined?”
“But there are no terrorists involved, as far as I can see,” Mulder complained. “So it’s more like CSI than it is 24.”
“Are you still game?” Mulder asked with a grin.
Scully rolled her eyes, but Mulder could tell she wasn’t truly pissed off. She seemed just as intrigued by this strange world as he did. “You roll.”
Mulder rolled the dice, and moved his piece. He selected a card, and read, “‘Speed up plot, please.’” Then he grinned. “That’s exactly what I wanted, too. I totally do not want to spend six hours just getting to BTF territory and then another three days looking for our first—”
He was cut off by a lurching of the house. The coffee table slid away, the game dropping off of it and onto the floor. Scully clutched the couch, and Mulder tried to regain his balance, but it was no use. As the entire house shook, the agents were flung onto the floor. Objects flew everywhere. Trinkets were broken. A horrible racket from the kitchen told them that something large had fallen. And then suddenly, everything stopped.
Mulder looked up, and asked carefully, “You okay, Scully?”
Scully nodded. “You?”
“Fine. Where’s the game?”
“In this pile of crap over here. I was watching it. No telling where our pieces went…or our dice.”
“We’ll have to look around for them,” he said as he stood slowly.
Kari came up the stairs at that moment and grinned. “Sorry about the jolt, but we’re here in BTF territory. And we’re cloaked.”
“The Allsburg’s house is trashed—this is a disaster in here! I don’t think I’m going to find the dice…”
“The game won’t stay hidden for long. You need it to move forward,” Kari said. “Besides, you don’t have to roll for quite some time. Let’s go infiltrate the BTF main communications headquarters and plant some listening devices.”
Mulder and Scully both looked stunned. “You mean…we can just walk in and do that?” Scully asked. “Then what do you need us for? Why has the BTF not already been defeated in your war?”
Mulder looked at her in admiration. She was actually acknowledging the circumstances of the game. And she looked like she was into it.
Kari smiled. “That’s where you two and the game come in. We needed someone who could speed up the process.” She looked at Mulder. “Thank you.”
Mulder shrugged. “I’m impatient as hell.”
“Someone should stay here and guard the house. If I give you blueprints of the main base, can you two handle the infiltration?”
Mulder grinned at Scully, and then turned back to Kari. “Infiltration is our specialty.”
“Wonderful. Who would’ve thought two FBI agents from 2009 would actually be helpful…” she pulled a small device from her pocket that looked rather like a palm pilot. “This is your blueprint generator, as well as a locator for the best places to put listening devices. The game should give you any data you might need.”
“Do our weapons work here?” Scully asked.
“Well, there’s one way to find out,” Kari said. “Find something that won’t ricochet a non-energy bullet.”
“The house will reset itself like in the books, Scully,” Mulder said at Scully’s disapproving expression. “How else would Alan have been able to get away with going on these adventures?”
She still looked skeptical, and Mulder was feeling especially impatient, so he drew his gun and aimed it at the front staircase. A nice hole went right through the wood, and embedded itself in whatever was below the staircase.
“Mulder! You could’ve sent that bullet into a pipe—”
“Relax, Scully. Our weapons work. Now we know.” He put his gun in its holster non-chalantly and walked toward the front door. “So are we gonna plant listening devices or what?”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m going to find the game first. If we get captured, I don’t want to be stuck in some BTF prison cell with no way to move forward in the game.”
“Probably a good call,” Mulder muttered.
After only a few seconds, Scully found the dice and the game. The cards were concealed in a deck inside the plastic cover on top of the board, and Scully shook the board to be sure the cards hadn’t fallen out. By the sound of it, they hadn’t. The pieces were stuck on top of the game in their original places, and she stared at them in wonder. She tipped the board sideways and they stayed in the same place. “That’s incredible…”
“Were they fused to the board somehow? Or did the game compensate—”
“The game makes sure no one can cheat,” Kari said. “They’d be ejected if they did manage to cheat, but no one’s ever done it. Come on, you both need to get going.”
Mulder nodded in agreement, and led the way to the front door. A backpack that certainly wasn’t in front of the door before was waiting for them there, and it was just the right size for the board. Scully stuck the board in and tossed the dice after it, and then zipped the bag. They drew their weapons, and covered either side of the front door.
“Let’s do this,” Mulder said with a grin, and Scully couldn’t help a bit of a smile. She couldn’t help but think that this was more fun than lounging in front of the TV. But she’d never admit it to Mulder.
SATURDAY, MARCH 6, 2010
“That’s one,” Mulder said, as he stuck the listening device into the wall. It was absorbed instantly, and he pulled his map to find where the next one should be. They ducked into an alcove in the long, chrome-lined hallway. The space station had nearly identical architecture at all turns. It was exceedingly hard to find where one was, unless one had a picture. He wondered, in a society where pictures were nonexistent, how the BTF did it.
“Mulder, this is strange,” Scully said. “We haven’t seen one alien the entire time we’ve been here, and we’ve been on two floors now.”
Mulder shrugged. “Don’t speak too soon, Scully, or we’ll be running for our lives.”
“Maybe we should roll again. This is too easy.”
“Let’s just finish planting the listening devices, then we’ll roll.”
Scully agreed with a nod, and Mulder tapped the screen on his map. “Looks like the next spot is down this hall and up one level. There’s a vent here that we should be able to go through—”
He was cut off by a loud screeching noise coming from the map. Immediately, he dropped it and covered his ears, wincing in pain. Scully lost her balance as the sound penetrated her inner ear and the noise stunned her. It ceased suddenly, and was followed by a loud bang. They stepped out of the alcove, and the walls on either side of the hallway had closed off, trapping them in a small area.
“What the hell…?” Scully said, looking down at the map, which was now blank.
Mulder walked over to the wall and tapped it, ensuring it was indeed solid. Then he looked up for any detectable cameras, vents, or other potential hazards. When he couldn’t find any, he said, “Get the game out. We need to roll now.”
Scully agreed wholeheartedly and they had the game out of the backpack and on the ground in a matter of seconds. Scully rolled a four, and moved her piece. The card popped out and she read, “’The plot thickens.’ Damn it, that’s not helpful!”
“Why would the map have been blown?” Mulder asked, picking it up off the floor. “It’s either some kind of electrical interference coming from the station or it was blown from another source.”
“We need some way of getting out of—” a clicking noise interrupted Scully, followed by an announcement in a language they couldn’t understand. Scully hurriedly packed the game up just in time for smoke to start seeping through the ceiling and floors. The room was being flooded by whatever poison the BTF was pouring in, and at the same time, the map started screeching again.
They both pulled their shirts over their mouths and noses and looked around for a way out, when Scully noticed something about the screeching. It was getting more and more high-pitched. She looked at Mulder, and snatched the map from his hands. In one motion, she threw the map and grabbed Mulder’s arm, dragging them both down to the ground. It hit the wall that had closed them in from the rest of the hallway and an explosion ripped through the enclosed space.
Shrapnel imbedded itself all around them, but they weren’t injured. They rose quickly, and coughing as they made their way through the rubble, they came upon the chasm that separated their section of the corridor from the rest of the station. To their left, a huge hole in the wall exposed them to space.
“Come on, Scully, jump!” Mulder yelled, and grabbed her hand as they both leapt to the other end of the corridor. They stumbled upon impact and looked back to see the smoke-filled, gas-filled area in total shambles.
“Let’s get out of here,” Scully said, and Mulder agreed with a nod. They began to jog in the direction Mulder remembered as the way out. They could hear someone bark a command in another language not far off, and knew they were once again trapped.
But before they could turn back, the wall in front of them was suddenly vaporized and they stared not at space but instead at the porch of the Allsburg’s house. Kari was standing in the doorway. “Come on, jump on before we have to cloak again!”
They ran toward the opening and jumped onto the front stairs, stumbling up onto the porch and then through the door. An impact shook the ship as something blew up a room on the upstairs, sending burning rubble raining down on the porch. One piece broke through and extinguished itself on the porch. Kari quickly closed the door and said a voice command to the house/starship. “Engage cloak, warp 9, get us out of here!”
The house lurched again, and they scrambled for something to hold onto. When the house came to a halt, and everything was still, Mulder and Scully found their ears ringing as they slowly rose from the floor.
Kari began to chuckle, and Mulder looked at her with a puzzled expression.
“You two look like you’ve never blasted a hole through an enemy station before.”
Scully’s eyebrow rose, but Mulder simply asked, “Is it time to roll again?”
“That’s up to you. What did the last card say?” Kari asked.
“The plot thickens,” Scully rehearsed, with a bit of annoyance creeping into her voice. “By ‘plot thickens’, I didn’t exactly think ‘get trapped in an enemy space station, nearly choke to death, jump onto a house that’s really a spaceship and hurtle through space at God only knows what speed.’”
“Yeah, I hate when that happens,” Mulder joked.
Kari smiled at them, and said, “Well, we got a few listening devices planted, at least. That’s better than nothing. Next stop is the planet Crati. We have to interview some potential witnesses.”
“Interviewing witnesses. Here you go, Scully, it’s your time to relax,” Mulder said.
Scully rolled her eyes, and Kari said, “You probably won’t relax when you meet these people.”
“They don’t eat humans, do they?” Scully inquired.
“No. Plenty of cheese, though.”
“Then why won’t we relax?” Mulder asked.
THE PLANET CRATI
SATURDAY, MARCH 6, 2010
It seemed like they had reached Crati orbit hours ago. Scully, Mulder, and Kari sat at the nearly destroyed, dusty and wobbly kitchen table in the Allsburg’s kitchen, with electronic writing pads in front of them.
“What’s your mother’s mother’s maiden name, Scully?” Mulder asked.
Scully sighed, and stared at the ceiling. “O’Connell,” she answered finally. “What question is that?”
“109,” Mulder answered. “On form 5678-5bF, and the F is capital.”
Scully clicked through the forms. “Got it. What’s your mother’s mother’s maiden name, Mulder?”
“The hell if I know…oh, just make something up.”
“You can’t do that,” Kari interjected. “Think hard.”
“Frank,” Mulder threw something out there.
“If they find out you forged it, we’ll be thrown out,” Kari told him.
“At this point, I’m willing to take the risk,” he said, nearly at his wit’s end.
“Number 42, on form 1098-4cr,” Scully said, and waited until Mulder got there. “’Have you ever had contact with a multi-appendaged sentient life form not classified as humanoid in the Alpha Quadrant while on vacation?’”
“I don’t think you have…”
“There was the sentient octapus…”
“But that wasn’t on vacation.”
Mulder sighed, and put the electronic pad down. He stretched, and said, “I think I’m ready to roll again.”
“You think the game will fill out these forms for you?”
“Nothing could possibly slow this process down. There are fifteen forms in front of us and they’re just to gain permission to talk to the Prime Minister. And we think our government’s bad.”
Scully rolled her eyes, and agreed with a nod. Then she pulled the game out of the backpack and stuck it on the dusty kitchen table. She handed the dice to Mulder. “Your turn.”
Mulder rolled, moved, and took his card. ‘Political comedy, but make it fast.’ He showed it to Kari and Scully.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Scully asked, but the refrigerator started beeping at that moment, and Kari leapt up to answer it. She opened the freezer, revealing a holographic image of some humanoid alien’s face.
“Commander Kari Flienclock?” he asked.
“Yes, speaking. I’m here with FBI representatives, Agents Mulder and Scully. We’re all from NASA.”
“Fine, fine. I represent Prime Minister Kooga’s administration. My name is Public Affairs Minister Ooma.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Ooma.”
Ooma cringed, and looked at Kari with a pained expression.
Kari looked confused for a moment, and then recognition dawned on her face. “Oh! I sincerely apologize. I forgot the handsign. Allow me to start over.” When Ooma nodded, Kari placed her thumb in her ear, and expanded her fist to expose her thumb. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Public Affairs Minister Ooma.”
Ooma beamed. “Much better.” His smile faltered. “I regret to inform you that some of our protocol must be bypassed as the Kooga Administration has recently lost a bet to the Crati Moon population’s administration, and as punishment, must allow visitors to enter without completing paperwork, and speak directly to Prime Minister Kooga himself.”
Mulder jumped up. “Great! Let’s go!”
“I assure you we would never take methods so rash as to send you down without following proper procedure, for your own safety, of course. I will arrive in a ship to dock with your house in a few moments.”
Kari nodded, and placed her thumb in her mouth, extending her fingers out to him. Then she removed her thumb. “Thank you very much for your time, Public Affairs Minister Ooma.”
Ooma completed the same gesture, and then said, “You are most welcome.”
Kari closed the freezer door.
“They have pretty absurd protocols and customs,” Scully commented.
“The planet Crati has been steeped in bureaucracy for generations. It started with the elite social class taking over, and starting a government that controlled nearly everything while most of the people sat around, ate cheese, and discussed philosophy. Pretty soon, it had devolved into disaster, as they couldn’t export or import anything—no one was working. There were massive riots and the government was able to assume control again, this time mandating procedure for everything. Now the people of Crati can only engage in recreational activities that are state approved…and even their necessary biological functions are monitored by the Crati government.”
“I don’t even want to know how that works,” Mulder decided.
“Because everyone works for the government, one member of each family is responsible for supervising a certain function of the other members in the family…” Kari started, but then stopped, and smiled. “Let’s get ready to go. Remember, speak only when spoken to. Don’t move unless instructed to.”
They nodded warily, and followed Kari to the porch. Ooma was waiting in a shuttle when they arrived, and gave them a deep bow. Mulder and Scully followed Kari’s example and bowed back.
The ride down to Crati was mostly silent, to avoid having to go through any gestures or procedures for voicing certain comments.
They descended on a large building, but not before flying over at least fifty traffic jams below, all caused by citizens getting out of their cars and hovercraft, and performing strange rituals in the streets.
Ooma stuck his thumb on top of his head and then made a clicking noise before he said, “They are all completing the ‘I am angry’ protocol…it must be completed whenever one is frustrated or angry. Early morning traffic tends to put people on edge.”
Kari nodded, and whispered to Mulder and Scully, “If you want to make a comment, make sure you do what Ooma just did with his thumb.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Scully said, and Ooma turned sharply.
He placed his thumb in between his eyes, and told them, “There is no whispering allowed on Crati.”
Kari put her thumb in her mouth and then said, “I apologize for the Agents’ actions.”
Ooma didn’t respond. He simply landed the craft and opened the door. They were escorted through a series of corridors in the building after going through three rituals—one for opening the doors to the outside, one for closing them, and one for beginning their walk inside the building.
They finally faced the Prime Minister in a conference room of sorts. He looked like the rest of the Crati—humanoid, pale skin and a small ridge on his forehead, and bright blue eyes. He wore a tiny beret on his head.
He placed his thumb in his mouth and apologized immediately. “I sincerely apologize to my guests,” he stated.
Mulder and Scully glanced at each other. “For what?” Mulder asked.
“It’s Crati custom to apologize to everyone when they first meet,” Kari told them quietly, but was careful not to whisper. She turned to the Prime Minister. “We accept your apology on behalf of NASA.”
“These are odd circumstances for meeting,” Prime Minister Kooga said after gesturing that he would make a comment, “With no paperwork and such. However, it is good that the consequences of our bet with our moon weren’t worse. The last time we lost a bet, they destroyed our white flag factory, and our military was crippled for months.”
Mulder and Scully said nothing, for fear of missing a protocol.
“Of course, they haven’t conquered us for nearly three weeks—that’s an excellent record. This last bet was a friendly one.”
Mulder stuck his thumb on his head, clicked his tongue, and said, “We have some questions for you.”
Kari stepped forward, spun around, and stuck her thumb in the air as she asked, “Your flagship was seen surrendering to someone near Alpha Centauri A orbit around the same time that a BTF vessel dumped the body of one of the United States’ CIA operatives into orbit. We want to know what you saw.”
Kooga placed his thumb on his head and clicked, and then said, “We surrender to a new vessel every day. I have no record of this particular incident.”
Kari spun around again, and stuck her thumb in the air as she asked, “But it’s my understanding that the military keeps a record of every surrender they make, every day. Do you not have this record somewhere?”
Kooga went through the ritual, and then said, “The planet of Crati cannot get involved in other nations’ and planets’ affairs.”
Kari was about to spin around again when suddenly, the doors to the conference room burst open and an alien boy of about sixteen entered, carrying a small device that emitted extremely loud alternative rock music from Earth. Mulder recognized it as Linkin Park. It flooded the room, and the boy in the baggy clothing and backwards baseball cap nonchalantly walked up to Kooga and pulled a laser gun. Kooga immediately put his hands up, and said, “It is acceptable if you assassinate me.”
The guards did nothing, but Mulder and Scully pulled their guns on the boy.
“What is this? Who are you, and what do you want?” Mulder demanded.
“Yo, dawg, my name’s Javan, and I’m from the planet Tritan IV, and I’m the dude you’re lookin’ for. These guys don’t know nothin’ about what happened at Alpha Centauri A with that CIA dude. I saw it—I was the guy they surrendered to.”
“What are you…some kind of pirate?” Scully asked.
Kari nodded before he could answer. “He’s a Teen Tritan,” she said, and Mulder couldn’t help but smirk. Matt, Scully’s nephew, watched the TV show Teen Titans. “He roams the galaxy looking for music technology, and liberating any oppressed nations in his spare time. The Crati military vessel must have been a gold mine for music.”
Javan nodded enthusiastically. “I scored big on that one. Got a ton of music. And some cheese, too. No weapons, though.”
“Okay, why don’t you just lower your weapon…no need to assassinate Kooga. He’s got rituals to perform and I’m sure an assassination would create paperwork for three generations,” Mulder told the teen. “If you come with us, we’ll give you some more music and you can tell us what you saw.”
Javan shrugged. “Okay.” He lowered his weapon. “What kinda music?” he asked.
“You can have everything we’ve got,” Scully promised him.
“Let’s see what you’re carrying, and I’ll decide if I’m talkin’,” he told her.
They left in Javan’s ship to avoid following Crati protocols, and entered the Allsburg’s house once more. Javan parked himself on the nearly obliterated couch in the family room while Mulder brought a laptop over and opened up iTunes. He allowed Javan to look through, and when the teen had finished, he nodded, satisfied. “Okay. You got enough for me to talk. No hard feelings, dawg—music piracy’s a tough business. I got to have variety in my collection if I want to make it big and I had to be sure you weren’t pulling my Targus.”
Kari jumped in. “He means ‘yanking his chain,’ or ‘pulling his leg’.”
“So what did you see?” Scully asked him.
Javan leaned back. “Them BTF dudes were real bad-ass with their massive vessel. O’course, they didn’t bother with the Crati vessel. No one wants what Crati has except Teen Tritans and other music pirates. Maybe those dudes that think cheese is an aphrodisiac, back on Organa II. But anyway, yeah, the BTF dropped in out of warp, ejected the CIA dude’s body, and zoomed off. Weird thing was…they had a picture on the side of their vessel.”
“What did the picture look like?” Kari pressed.
“Well…it looked like a NASA logo, dawg. But it wasn’t no NASA vessel. Man, I don’t know much else. I got the hell outta there as soon as I took my spoils from the Crati military.”
“Any guess as to why Alpha Centauri A’s sensors didn’t pick this up?” Kari asked.
Javan shook his head. “No, dawg, no idea, promise, yo.”
“Okay, Javan. Thanks for your help. You can take our music and go.”
Javan pulled out a USB cord and hooked it up to his device. Mulder was amazed he had a connection for such ‘ancient’ technology. When the music was transferred, Javan got up and gave them a mock salute. “Always a pleasure doin’ business with ya.”
He left the house, boarded his vessel, and despite the fact that music isn’t normally heard in space, they could all hear Stone Temple Pilots blasting from the ship before the warp drive engaged.
SATURDAY, MARCH 6, 2010
“We have to get back to the Sol System,” Kari said urgently, and ran down to the basement. Mulder and Scully followed.
“Why, what’s going on?” Mulder asked.
“Quick, whoever’s turn it is, go now! The BTF have a vessel marked with the NASA symbol—that confirms our worst fear. They’re going to bypass our security by building a ship that looks just like one of ours. And they’ll destroy our planet!”
“I’ll get the game,” Scully said dryly. She walked over to her backpack and pulled the game out.
“What’s the matter, Scully? Earth being destroyed isn’t exciting enough for you?”
“It’s so predictable. I knew what the ending was going to be at the beginning. It’s just disappointing,” she said.
“It’s your turn. Maybe the game will turn it around for you.”
She smiled slightly. “Maybe so.” She rolled the dice, and moved her piece. Then she took her card. “’Unpredictability,’” she read. “Maybe you’re right—maybe it is about to—”
She was cut off by the ship going to warp drive, and they were thrown off the couch. The items in the Allsburg’s house flew around and Mulder and Scully were both thrown into a nearby window. It suddenly opened, and they nearly flew out before everything abruptly stopped. They dropped to the floor.
“Not the usual warp trip,” Kari said as she came up the stairs. “I think we’re off course. Let me check the fridge.”
She jogged into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, grabbed an apple, and nodded. “Yeah,” she called. “We’re about fifty lightyears off course. We’re right in the middle of BTF space.” Taking a bite of the apple, she pressed a button on the microwave. “I put the supercloak on but it won’t be long before our signature is spotted by someone.” She came into the room and sat down on the couch. “What did the game say?”
“Unpredictability,” Scully said, and ran a hand through her hair. “Does this count?”
Kari shrugged. “Eh, not enough. We need something else to happen.”
“Should I roll?” Mulder asked.
“The fact that the BTF aren’t attacking us yet tells me that the game wants us to do something with the fact that we’re here,” Kari reasoned. “So yes, roll, Mulder. Your rolls seem to complement each other. Which is a good thing, if you ask me. Sometimes you’ve got three players and the plot gets all messed up because they have different styles of playing.”
Mulder rolled a five, and moved his piece. Then he took his card. “’Monster of the week’,” he read. “What, are we going to find an X-file out here?”
Suddenly, a large, hairy beast collided with the window and started scratching and roaring outside.
“Oh, God. Space ants!” Kari said. She ran to the window, on the other side of the house and groaned. “We landed on a space ant mound!”
“Those things look more like wolves,” Scully said, exasperated, as she pulled her gun.
“We call them ants because they behave like ants. They’re just looking for food to bring back to their mound…”
“And you had to get ‘monster of the week,’” Scully complained to Mulder.
“Sorry!” he exclaimed. “Can you get us out of here, Kari?”
“I’m gonna fly us out of here and try to shake these things. But we’re supercloaked! How did they sense us?” She yelled as she ran down the stairs. Mulder took the front and Scully guarded the back as the ship lurched into impulse drive. Many of the large mound of hairy abominable-snowman-like creatures were shaken off the house by the movement, but a few remained. Mulder fired a well-aimed shot at one after it nearly scratched through the front door. It floated away in space. Scully fired two shots and wounded one, and killed another. There was one more, but it was trying to claw its way through the roof of the porch. Mulder opened the door and fired one shot, and then quickly closed the door as the beast rolled off, and was plastered to one of the front windows like a dead bug.
They gained enough distance from the mound, but Mulder saw something out the front window, past the dead beast, that made him scream, “Stop the house!”
Kari abruptly pulled the brakes and ran upstairs. “What?” She asked, just as Scully left her post guarding the back door and gave an inquiring look to Mulder.
“Look out there! Who is that?”
Kari got up against the window and looked out to see a blue humanoid child, about the size of a human six-year-old, riding a tricycle. When he pedaled, three small thrusters let out a bit of air, propelling him. “That’s a BTF child…but…what’s he doing here without his mother?”
“We’d better bring him in here. How can he breathe out there without any gear?”
“Jigro children don’t need to breathe oxygen except for two hours, every three days,” Kari explained. “The Jigro are a species inside the BTF. We should keep moving. If his mother shows up, we’ll be attacked.”
“We can’t leave a child out there,” Scully argued. “We’ll just take him home and drop him off close to where he lives, and then leave here before we’re detected.”
Kari considered it, and then nodded. “Okay. I’ll lure him in here.” She took her half-eaten apple and placed it on the front porch. Immediately, the little boy stopped cycling, sniffed space with small, blue, tentacle-like objects protruding from his nose, and then cycled toward them. “Jigro children love apples,” Kari explained.
The little boy left his tricycle on the porch as he picked the apple up, and then looked at the three adults standing in the door. “You’re human,” he said. “I’m not supposed to talk to humans.”
“Come on in here, and we’ll take you home to your parents,” Kari said.
The child looked petrified. “I’m not supposed to accept rides from strangers.”
“We won’t hurt you…and we have more apples,” Mulder reasoned.
The little boy thought about it. He nodded. “Okay. But I’ll have to melt your minds if you try to hurt me.” He walked past them, and straight toward the kitchen. “Where are the apples?”
“Right here,” Kari said, and opened the fridge. “What are you doing out here all by yourself?”
“Riding my trike,” he answered at first, and then frowned. “Actually, trying to escape. I ran away from home.”
“Why’d you do that?” Scully asked gently.
The little boy wiped his nose with his blue hand, and shrugged. “They know I’m different, and they already used me to make pictures for them. I don’t want to do that again—those pictures hurt someone.”
“You can understand pictures?” Kari asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I know, I’m Jigro, and Jigro don’t see pictures, but I do. That’s why they want to experiment on me. Can you take me to Earth instead of home? If I go to Earth, I’ll have asylum.”
Mulder thought something was off about this little boy. But he wasn’t going to voice his opinion until he confirmed his thoughts. “So we should probably set a course for Earth and get this kid out of here,” he suggested.
Kari nodded, and headed down to the basement to adjust the controls. Moments later, Mulder grabbed onto the small blue boy as they lurched into warp speed.
And once they came out of warp, the little boy squirmed in Mulder’s arms. “Let go of me,” he insisted.
Mulder complied, a somewhat confused expression on his face. As soon as the child was free, he pulled a small device from his pocket.
“What is that?” Kari asked him cautiously.
The boy smiled, and showed it to them. “It’s a camera phone. They’ll know what it is—they’re from a long time ago. Their time signature is really strong.” He pointed the phone at the three of them, and took a picture. Then he ran as quickly as he could down the stairs, and began frantically taking pictures of everything in the basement/engine room.
“Stop him!” Kari yelled, as she ran after him.
“Why are we stopping a child from taking pictures?” Scully asked as she followed closely behind.
“He’s Jigro—he’ll take the pictures back with him and interpret them. They’ll be able to exactly copy a vessel if he just tells them what he sees,” Kari said, and launched herself at the small boy. He moved quickly, though, and ran into the alcoves of the unfinished part of the Allsburg’s basement.
“But don’t they already have an exact replica vessel?” Mulder asked as he started searching.
“They do, but it’s nothing like a house. The game transports houses into superior fighting ships—none of the players are taken to the BTF territory, and they’ve been trying to get their hands on one of these things for generations.”
“Then why did we let him in the house?!” Scully protested.
“I didn’t think a child would be dangerous,” Kari said, and rounded a corner only to be confronted with a dead end of storage boxes and a furnace.
Mulder went through a doorway and pulled the switch to activate the lightbulb overhead, and when he did, he froze. “Um…I don’t think we’re dealing with a child here.”
Scully and Kari rushed to his location, and both froze in place as well. Before them was a massive blue creature that looked like something out of Predator, with massive fangs, yellow eyes, and a camera phone clutched in long fingers that ended in talons. The creature roared and they were blasted with slimy saliva and a gust of bad breath.
“RUN!” Kari screamed, and they all turned and ran as quickly as they could up the stairs. The creature took the steps six at a time and just as Kari and Scully made it through the door, it reached out with a massive, scaly arm and snatched Mulder into the air. He called out and tried to pull his weapon but it crashed to the base of the steps after the creature easily knocked it out of his hand.
“CLOSE THE DOOR!” Kari yelled, but Scully was lunging toward the creature.
Kari pulled Scully back with all her might and slammed the door shut, pulling out her weapon and sealing the lock in one smooth motion.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Scully demanded.
“Delaying it so you can get to the game and roll.”
“Are you out of your mind? It has Mulder!”
“And the only way you’re going to rescue him at this point is to roll! I’m going for reinforcements. I have to take one of the bedrooms.”
“I’m taking one of the bedrooms as a shuttlepod—there’s no time to get my suit on,” she said as she ran toward the main stairwell, taking the stairs two at a time. “I’ll be back in four minutes with reinforcements. We’re around Earth orbit!” She yelled from the top of the steps. “It shouldn’t be long! In the mean time, roll!”
Scully hesitated for just a second, and then in utter desperation, ran to the family room, and practically threw the dice on the board. She moved her piece quickly and then snatched her card violently. It read ‘C4.’ And she actually smiled.
Seconds later, there was a terrible roar and the house shook to the point where she was nearly thrown to the floor. Plaster rained as an entire section of the family room ceiling was wrenched off, and Scully squinted through the dust to see one of the Allsburg’s bedrooms flying away. Then the doorbell rang.
“Please be C4,” Scully said as she ran toward the door, and opened it to find a UPS package on the porch. There was no UPS man in sight, however much she wanted backup. She grabbed the package and ripped it open, leaving the front door hanging wide open. Inside was a charger and three stacks of C4.
She left the packaging on the floor as she ran back to the family room and stuffed the game, the C4, and the charger all in the backpack. She then checked her weapon and ran to the basement door. Standing back, she shot the lock off the door and kicked it in, and then proceeded to walk quietly down the stairs, surveying the area.
She immediately spotted Mulder, who was laying against the wall. He didn’t appear to be hurt at first glance, and she was grateful for that. He was just dirty as hell. His clothes were covered in some kind of slime.
He glanced over at her, and then nodded toward where the creature was. She nodded that she understood, and silently slung her backpack off her back on the stairs. In her pockets, she packed the C4 and the chargers. She then pulled the game out, and walked the rest of the way down the stairs with her weapon extended in front of her. She went directly to where Mulder was.
“Are you okay?” she whispered.
He nodded. “Give me the game. The creature’s around the corner in the furnace area, taking pictures,” he said.
“Get out of here,” she said, and handed him the game.
“I thought you said you were okay,” she whispered, frustrated.
“I’m fine…I’m stuck to the wall.”
She glanced at him, and realized that the slime on his clothes was like glue. He looked at her, helpless. She rolled her eyes, and said, “You’re going to have to take your clothes off.”
“Scullllly,” he whined in protest.
“If you can move your arms, take your clothes off!” she insisted, and then walked away with the C4 and the charger.
Rounding the corner, she spotted the creature. It turned quickly, roared, and then before her eyes, reduced itself to the size of the small boy they had naively granted asylum to.
“You wouldn’t blow up a small child, would you?” he asked, and looked up at her with innocent eyes.
“I’ve heard that one before,” Scully said angrily, and waited for the moment the child lashed out. As soon as he tried to launch the slime from his nose, and as soon as she could see the stream, she threw the C4-charger combination directly at his face. The slime/glue caught it, and it recoiled directly into the creature’s face. It fell to the ground from the impact, and Scully darted to the stairs. She caught Mulder by the arm just as he freed himself from his pant leg, and she reached down and grabbed the game as they ran up the stairs as quickly as possible. She hit the button on the detonator just as they made it through the basement door, and slammed it closed.
The door pushed against them as the explosion occurred, and they held it back with the full force of their two bodies.
When they looked up, they were met with the sight of Kari and five other astronauts in full battle gear, slowly lowering their weapons. Kari glanced at Mulder in his boxers and socks. “What happened to you?”
“Slime boy,” he muttered. “You think Chris Allsburg has any clothes in his bedroom?”
“I just flew his bedroom off the house,” Kari told him sympathetically as the astronauts tried not to let their eyes fall at waist level. “But you only have one more roll left. Why don’t you go ahead and take it?”
“Gladly,” Mulder said, and placed the board on the floor. He got down on one knee, and tossed the dice. He rolled a twelve, and he moved his piece. It hit the little cloud in the center, which was marked ‘Dormito’. “Hey, I think I won,” he said with a smile.
This time, two cards popped out of the box. He took them both and read the first one. “Conclusion,” he said. “That’s what it says. This one…it says ‘Thanks for playing. Play again and have a completely different adventure.’”
“If we’re done, then why are we still here?” Scully asked, and glanced at Kari.
“Oh, come on. You’ve read the books and seen the movies in the year 2009 and you still don’t know what to do?”
Mulder and Scully glanced at each other. Then one of the astronauts offered, “Why don’t you do what seems obvious?”
“Well…we would’ve done it by now if it was obvious, don’t you think?” Mulder asked, and the astronaut shrugged.
He glanced at the board.
“Dormito,” Scully said. “Say ‘Dormito.’”
Mulder smiled. “Oh, yeah! Dormito.”
Suddenly, their surroundings swirled and they felt as if they were falling. They called out each other’s names, but stopped when they heard music playing. It took them a moment to realize it was coming from a hazy image of Javan. He walked toward them on some kind of cloud-like floating object, and smiled as he raised his music player for them to see. “’Magic Carpet Ride’ by Steppenwolf,” he explained. “Hope you had a nice dream.” Then he vanished.
GIBSON ISLAND, MARYLAND
SATURDAY, MARCH 6, 2010
In fact, everything vanished. And then it all reappeared in the blink of an eye. They were sitting in the attic of the Allsburg’s home, the game between them, with both pieces on the start box.
“Excuse me!” They heard Linda Allsburg’s voice call up the stairs. “Agent Mulder, Agent Scully…are you finished? It’s been an hour and I need to get the kids to their afternoon activities.”
Mulder glanced at Scully. He was fully clothed, and slime-free. Scully was neat as a pin, and nothing seemed to be out of place from the Allsburg’s attic. Mulder picked the game up carefully, as if it would explode if he jostled it. “We’re coming down,” he called.
Scully stood up, and asked, “Mulder…what just happened?”
“I think we played the game, Scully,” he said.
“That must have been some kind of…mind trick, or we were drugged, or…”
“Or we played the game.” He placed Alan Allsburg’s other belongings back in the trunk, and closed the lid. “Let’s go.”
They approached the stairs, and Mulder pretended not to see Scully’s enthusiastic expression. “Mulder, I think I figured something out. Those cards…they were awfully convenient. They gave us exactly what we wanted, in the dream.”
Mulder paused close to the bottom of the stairs. “They did, didn’t they?”
She looked around cautiously, and once she saw that Mrs. Allsburg was nowhere in sight, she said, “The game doesn’t play itself—it gives you everything you want. It lets you control the story, just like you would in a dream.”
Mulder grinned. “Yep,” he said. “Another X-file solved.”
They descended the stairs, and met Linda Allsburg in the front hallway.
“Thanks so much for letting us explore Alan’s belongings, Mrs. Allsburg,” Mulder said.
“It was no problem,” she said with a smile. “I hope you enjoyed yourself. Sometimes, going through those stories of his, you can get caught up in your own little imaginary world.”
Mulder and Scully glanced at each other.
“Come back any time,” Mrs. Allsburg told them as she opened the door.
As they walked toward their car, Mulder said, “You realize what this means, Scully.”
“What?” She asked curiously.
“If the game gives you anything you want, then it could conceivably let you leave as well. And since you never asked to leave…you clearly didn’t want to.”
“That’s unfair,” Scully protested. “I was trapped—if I had known I could have escaped if I wanted to…that’s not…Mulder,” she complained.
Mulder chuckled. “I seem to remember that your first card read ‘Relax’…so you wanted to relax. And this is how you relax. With me, chasing monsters.”
She folded her arms, and stopped walking.
“And then there was the second card, that read ‘a plot’, which clearly meant that you wanted some kind of excitement. Then the third card read ‘the plot thickens’…Scully, this isn’t boding well for your ‘I hated this’ bit. Then there was the one that read ‘unpredictability’.”
“And then there was the one that read ‘C4’ and saved your slimy ass,” she countered.
He raised his eyebrows.
She sighed. “Okay, fine,” she said, as she started toward the car again. “I liked it. I loved it. I had a great time, and I really secretly enjoy chasing slimy monsters each week and saving your ass. I love not knowing what’s coming next and having to jump from space stations to people’s porches in the middle of space.” She got into the passenger seat, and when Mulder closed the door to the driver’s seat and looked over at her, expecting more sarcasm, she said, “Really.”
He grinned, and said, “Great! I have a new X-file for us to investigate on Monday. There’s a zoo video camera that caught sight of a large hairy beast stealing food from some of the zoo animals, and then escaping. Metro security cameras caught the same thing, escaping into a tunnel seconds before a train came through. It’s right here in DC, in our backyard.”
Her smile didn’t falter. “I can’t wait.”