Permaceo Noctus

TITLE: Permaceo Noctus

AUTHOR: StarfleetOfficer1

RATING: PG13 for language

DISCLAIMER: No copyright infringement intended.

SUMMARY: Mulder and the Scully family get more than they bargained for when they volunteer to help at a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve.

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L’ENFANT PLAZA

WASHINGTON, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

1800

“Uncle Mulder? What causes poverty?”

Matthew’s relatively innocent question caught Mulder off-guard as he untied the last sleeping bag and placed it on the camping mattress. He stood up from his squatting position and shook his head at his twelve-year-old companion.

“It varies,” he answered, and led the way back to the food court. They were on the upper level of the mall, walking past closed shops with their gates drawn and lights out. Sleeping bags lined the walkway, some cushioned by air mattresses and camping mattresses. The moving homeless shelter would find a new building every week, and this particular night required a bigger building than most churches could provide.

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“Some people get addicted to drugs or alcohol and spend all their money on those things, so they can’t pay rent. And they can’t hold down a job because the drugs and alcohol affect their performance,” Mulder continued, glancing down at Matt, who was paying rapt attention. “Sometimes people lose their jobs and can’t find new ones in time to pay their bills. Or they may have medical expenses that drain all their savings, and then lose their job on top of that. Sometimes people get a bad start, and their parents kick them out of the house when they’re young. They may never get on their feet after that.”

Matt nodded slowly, deep in thought.

“Then there are those who just can’t seem to deal with life. Some people’s parents never teach them how to manage money, how to go to work, how to try hard. They may grow up without parents at all, or they might grow up mostly on the streets, so it’s all they know. There are so many variations that it’s hard to pinpoint one reason,” Mulder finished.

“Well, there is one solution, I guess. Even if it’s short-term,” Matt said. “We help out.”

“That’s right,” Mulder agreed with a smile, and put his arm proudly around his nephew’s shoulders. “We’ve got plenty, so we’re volunteering what we’ve got — time and resources — to those who need a boost. We’re trying to help them get on their feet.”

“So that’s what the career center’s all about?” Matt asked. “They give help to people who never learned how to get a job and stuff like that?”

“They also give tutorials on how to find an apartment, and how to budget money. I want you to keep an eye out for a ‘new’ kind of homeless person.”

“Who’s that?” Matt asked, curious.

“Families. You’re going to see a lot of that here—whole families who have been foreclosed, who don’t have incomes because they’ve lost their jobs in this economy. Those people are usually the ones who use the career center. They know how to work and they may know how to save. But they need some advice as to how to rebuild their lives after everything fell apart.”

Matt was quiet for a moment. “What if our house burned down?” he finally asked.

Mulder remembered being his age, before his sister was taken. These thoughts were prevalent in his mind even then. Normal prepubescent kids thought about all the things that could go wrong and realized the multitude of things that could derail their lives.

Mulder squeezed Matt’s shoulders and then released him, and said, “You’d have a place to stay with your Aunt Dana and me. And your mom has insurance on the house and all the stuff inside, so it’d just be a little while before you got a huge check that would help you get started again.

This seemed to reassure the boy, because he nodded and stuck his hands in his pockets. “That’s good,” he said.

They arrived at the food court, which was bustling with volunteers. There were long rows of tables with food buckets available, a huge stack of plates, trays, and silverware, and servers ready to assist their homeless ‘customers’. Scully was preparing the tables, placing napkins at the center of each table as a finishing touch on a huge endeavor. Feeding over 200 people was no small task.

Tara, who was helping Scully, waved at her son and Mulder as they approached. “Are the sleeping bags all set up?”

“Everything’s good to go,” Mulder answered.

Just then, the mall rumbled. Matt looked around and asked, “What was that?”

Scully glanced at her watch. “There’s a huge Metro stop right below us and it’s on the hour. You’ve never felt that before?”

Matt pulled out his cell phone and checked the time, and while checking his emails, said, “Yeah, but I’ve never felt it rumble that much. Must’ve been the express.”

When Matt didn’t put the phone away, Mulder said, “You’re not gonna have time for that when they get here, Matt. If I were you, I’d go grab a granola bar because two hours from now you’ll be hungry.”

“You mean we won’t have time to eat?” Matt asked, shocked.

Tara laughed. “You’re barely going to have time to breathe. Once everyone’s served, we’ll eat the leftovers or eat what I brought. But not before then.”

Matt put his phone away despondently.

“Don’t worry, you won’t go hungry,” Scully reassured him. “Go get a snack now.”

He hurried away to the McDonald’s not far from where they stood, which was still open and manned with two teenagers. It was where the volunteers’ belongings were being kept. No food was being served, but the McDonald’s manager offered to keep it open for this event to volunteer his tables and chairs and the space behind the counter.

The Georgetown Moving Shelter representatives were manning the front doors of the mall, where about two hundred people stood in line outside awaiting entry. They would take their Moving Shelter ID’s that proved they were not offenders and were safe to admit, and then the individuals could enter the mall, grab a meal, watch a movie, visit the career center, or simply go to sleep. Tomorrow they would leave and go wherever they went for the day, and tomorrow night the shelter would have moved all their supplies to their next location. The location schedule was distributed at each of their evening locations and at the regional office, which was open all day for new members to register and obtain an ID.

The first wave of individuals were admitted when the representatives opened the mall doors and began counting. They were admitted in groups of twenty five every ten minutes, and went in order of arrival. As Matt obtained his granola bar, the first wave came through the front door. He stood for a moment in the McDonald’s, opening the wrapper and crunching down on the first bite, watching the twenty-five individuals enter the mall and present their IDs to the volunteers at the desk.

Numbers were entered in a laptop, which was secured to the folding table with a laptop locking cord. Matt saw one man eye that cord and it occurred to the twelve-year-old that he might want to steal it. It was worth a lot of money. He ate the next bite of his granola bar and watched, completely fascinated.

“Hey, dude, you better get over there if you’re serving,” a teenager behind the McDonald’s counter said, but Matt didn’t get the chance to answer him. Mulder’s voice cut through the crowd.

“Matt! C’mon!”

He pocketed the remaining half of the granola bar and ran over to stand next to Mulder, who handed him an apron and pointed to the tray next to his. “This isn’t Discovery Channel, it’s work. Start serving mashed potatoes, kiddo.”

Matt nodded, and tied the apron around his waist silently.

Soon there was a steady line of hungry homeless individuals seeking a warm meal and shelter for the night. At first hesitant as to what he should do, Matt soon got into a rhythm. A half hour into it, he was mimicking Mulder’s question as each person came through. “Mashed potatoes, Sir?” “Would you like mashed potatoes to go with that beef?” “Merry Christmas.”

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They heard another rumble, and this time Matt almost lost his footing and the table shook so violently that the tray almost slid off. Mulder grabbed it at the last second and shoved it back into place, pulling his hand away quickly and shaking it from the heat of the dish. “Are you okay?” he asked Matt.

Matt nodded, but looked worried. The homeless had frozen in place, as if bracing for impact. Many of the servers had as well, and it was Scully who said from not far away, “If that was the train, I’m starting to question the structural integrity—”

As she was speaking, Mulder’s eyes grew huge and he grabbed Matt and dove under the table in one swift motion. Scully stopped speaking and followed suit, although she couldn’t see what he was looking at. It seemed everyone else had a delayed reaction in comparison, because the screams only erupted a moment later.

One level below them where there were still shops, the floor had cracked down the center of the two story opening and begun to cave into the subway station below. The building shook violently and chunks of concrete flew in a plume of smoke as dust filled their nostrils.

Mulder was brought right back to that room in Pakistan that had collapsed around him, the dusty surroundings clogging his airway and making it impossible to see. The table came down on top of them, and Mulder shielded Matt with his body as best he could while attempting to shield his own head from the impact with his arms.

The marble floor beneath them cracked and crumbled into the center opening, but it didn’t cave completely. A tremendous roar filled the air, almost as a delayed sound effect. Mulder found himself screaming in pain from the sound alone, and that was before the smoke cleared enough for him to see the sight.

There in the opening of ground floor of the mall, only about a half a football field away from him, were two train cars at forty-five degree angles with each other. Sparks erupted from each car as chunks of concrete fell upon the wreckage. People cried out in anguish and fear. A baby cried. Someone screamed for help.

He recognized that voice. It was Scully’s. “Scully!” he screamed back, and tried to get up. The table on top of him fell away, and he dragged Matt up by his armpits, adrenaline ripping through his body. He was met with the sight of his five-foot-tall partner directly in front of him.

“Oh, Mulder, thank God…we thought…” she threw her arms around him and Matt simultaneously, and only seconds later Tara joined in.

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Matt stared at the wreckage in total shock, and Tara grabbed her boy and pulled him away, towards the almost untouched McDonald’s. The front entrance of the mall had been covered in debris that seemed to spew from the wreckage. The tables that had once held volunteers and the laptop that checked ID’s were now buried under enormous chunks of concrete and marble. Mangled doors could barely be seen where the mall entrance once was, and Mulder knew there were a lot of lucky bastards on the other side of that door who hadn’t been granted admittance yet.

The agents took only a moment to take in the sight and decide what had to be done. The escalators were impossible to navigate , and the elevators were not safe either. There was no way to get down there unless they were to attempt to get to the back stairwell. But there were people down there who needed help, who were trapped in that mangled train and wouldn’t receive help until it was too late.

The lights were flickering, but close to going out. Scully looked around her and saw that many of the homeless in the food court had been injured but just as many seemed to be okay. What she saw were no longer obligations or customers, but spare hands.

“Everyone listen up!” She screamed, and her commanding, high-pitched voice cut through most of the noise in the immediate vicinity. “If you aren’t injured, I need you to get to the McDonald’s! Gather in the McDonald’s if you’re not injured—you’re going to help us treat the people who are!”

People started to move, mostly the volunteers who took Scully’s command seriously and started gathering those who were otherwise standing still and awaiting instruction. Some of the homeless people were leading their friends into the McDonald’s as well. Others stayed behind with their injured friends.

Scully turned to Mulder. “We need supplies. Rope to rappel down there. Medical supplies. Flashlights. There’s a sporting goods store around the corner there—it should be untouched. Do you have your lock pick?”

He couldn’t help but smirk. “What do you think?” She nodded and he took off, stopping at the McDonald’s on his way to talk to Tara and Matt. “Matt, you have the best cell phone signal in this place. Can you call 911?”

Matt seemed dumbfounded for a moment, before he nodded and pulled his phone out. “What should I say?”

“Let me talk,” Mulder said after he had dialed.

“911 what is your emergency?”

“This is Special Agent Fox Mulder, ID 10131120. I’m in the L’Enfant Plaza Mall, upper level above the Metro Stop. There’s been a train collision. There are two train cars that came through the lower level roof of the mall and breached the shopping area. The main entrance to the mall is blocked off by rubble. We have about a hundred people in the mall right now for the Georgetown Moving Shelter, and I’m estimating about a quarter of them are injured and require immediate medical assistance. We haven’t seen any passengers emerge from the train.”

“I understand, Sir. I’m alerting the authorities right now. What is your status?”

“I’m uninjured. My partner and I are organizing relief efforts.” He began walking towards the sporting goods store. “What is your relief capability?”

“Until the proper authorities have assessed the structural stability of the station, I can’t tell you how soon we’ll be able to get to you. The rear entrance to the mall should be untouched by your description. That may be a way in. If you stay on the phone I’ll be able to get you updates in real time.”

He pulled his lock pick and began to work on the gate in front of the store while balancing the phone between his shoulder and ear. “Do you have any indication as to the cause? Any other calls that came in that would indicate a terrorist attack, a power grid malfunction, anything?”

Only two summers ago, two trains had collided on the Red Line because of a faulty sensor telling one train that the other was not on the track when, in fact, it was.

There was a pause. “I’m cross-checking right now,” the woman told him, and he successfully picked the lock and began working on the store’s glass door lock. “We’ve had three calls come in from Train 499, reporting a suspicious-looking man in a suit. I’ve got three separate descriptions here, all of them…not likely. There may have been lighting problems on the train before it crashed, Agent Mulder.”

“What were the descriptions?”

“The man is described in all three calls as wearing a DC Metro Rail Maintenance uniform, with white hair, and…depending on who gave the description, blue, green, or gray skin.”

Mulder’s upper lip twitched. “Why was he suspicious?”

“They describe the man as ‘pacing’ or ‘stumbling’ through the train cars. I don’t have any further details, but you and your partner may want to watch out for this man, if he survived the collision.”

“Thanks, I’ll pass that information on.”

“Agent Mulder, I’m reading a large electrical discharge on this line, I think we might—”

Her voice was replaced by a shriek that nearly broke Mulder’s eardrum. He let the phone clatter to the ground, and he winced in pain, finishing her sentence. “Lose the signal…” He picked the lock, and gained entrance to the store.

He picked up the phone from the ground and put it in his pocket, and then grabbed a backpack and began stuffing everything he thought they might need inside of it. He took plenty of batteries, duct tape, two large rolls of rope, as many flashlights and lanterns as possible, every first aid kit on the shelf, and an entire box of granola bars.

After lugging all the equipment back with him, he dropped it in the McDonald’s where Scully was organizing relief teams. She attempted to group the homeless with at least one volunteer as she told them how to organize the wounded—leaving the severely wounded where they were, assisting those who needed a bit of help, and instructing those who could to move under their own power into the McDonald’s.

Matt and Tara were huddled together against the ordering counter, where the two teenagers were fearfully watching the entire thing and awaiting instructions.

Scully turned the ‘floor’ over to her partner when she said, “I need five people to go stand by Agent Mulder. He’ll give you instructions on how to distribute supplies to people and make sure everyone has a flashlight and water when these lights go out.”

“I also need three able-bodied, strong adults who are going to go with me down there to the train to try to get people out of there, and another three to go with Agent Scully to the rubble by the door and start to help people there.”

Volunteers came in droves. It seemed among the homeless, willingness to help, or perhaps to just feel needed, was in abundance.

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L’ENFANT PLAZA

WASHINGTON, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

1900

The organization was fast and efficient. Teams were ordered back to the sporting goods store to get bottles of water, blankets, and more miscellaneous supplies. People were dispatched with flashlights to make sure everyone had one. Helmets and harnesses were secured, and Mulder led a team of two homeless men and one shelter volunteer in the rappelling effort. Scully donned a helmet herself and convinced Tara to do the same and to allow Matt to join as they began hand-shoveling debris out of the way of the main entrance and digging out volunteers and homeless people.

Things moved so quickly that Mulder didn’t get the chance to take Scully aside and explain their potential security risk. It was because he hadn’t explained that part to anyone that when he landed on the ground level, unclipped his harness, and drew his gun, that the volunteer with him gave him a questioning look. “What are you doing?”

Mulder glanced at the wreckage. “I want you three to stand back. We don’t know how this happened, and aside from it not being stable, there might be someone in there who caused this. I need to determine we’re not in any immediate danger.”

“Do you have reason to believe we are?” the man asked, but Mulder didn’t answer him.

He climbed through a potted plant and around an overturned bench to get to steady ground where he believed he could stand and look inside one of the train cars. Balanced on a piece of marble and some wooden rod whose origin Mulder couldn’t place, he stood on his tip-toes and looked in the broken windows. “Can anyone hear me in there?”

There was no answer. There was, however, a shift in his vision and for just a second, he thought he saw…

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“No way,” he whispered involuntarily. He was taken back to that basement where he had been trapped on New Years’ Eve ten years ago. Or that mental hospital where the nurse had shut him into the room and smiled sweetly, her green/gray skin exposing her for what she really was.

“Agent Mulder? What do you need up there?” one of the homeless people called from below.

Mulder shook his head in amazement and found himself saying, “I think we’re going to need some salt.”

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L’ENFANT PLAZA

WASHINGTON, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

1930

“Matty, give me a hand with this,” Tara said. She and Scully had tried to protect Matt from seeing too much gore. They had him rolling and pushing chunks of concrete off of the pile and away from the rubble. With the rest of the adults there also helping to dig people out, a twelve-year-old wasn’t desperately needed.

But as they got further into the pile, it was getting impossible for anyone nearby not to see the bodies and smell the stench.

Tara was gripping a large piece of plastic that might have been the folding table. Scully was on the other end of the pile tending to someone still trapped inside but alive. “Grab the other end there. That’s right,” she told her son. “Make sure you’ve got a good grip, both hands.”

They were wearing fleece gloves that came from the sporting goods store. They were already torn, but they were better than nothing.

“Pull out, not up. Okay? On three. One…two…three.”

The table came out of the wreckage and a few chunks of concrete fell down to fill its place. Matt’s eyes widened at what was revealed underneath. Almost unharmed and looking more like she was asleep than unconscious, was a little four- or five-year-old girl in a filthy pink snowsuit and knit cap.

He dropped to his knees next to her and began digging around her. Tara felt for a pulse and sighed in relief. “Dana!” she called.

Scully stood up from her squatting position next to a patient and walked over. Looking down, she immediately felt for a pulse and then lowered her head next to the girl’s mouth to hear her breathing. She nodded. “Pulse is strong, breath sounds good. So far no obvious injuries…the table may have protected her.”

“Like Mulder and me,” Matt said as he dug.

“Careful, Matt. Look at what might shift before you take anything away from the pile,” Scully warned.

He nodded.

She squatted next to him, one of her knees cracking at the movement. She smiled slightly when his head turned. “I’m fine, just getting old,” she joked.

She supported the little girl’s head and neck while Matt dug, and was prepared to pull her out by her armpits.

Matt and Tara were able to clear the debris on top of her and Scully quickly but carefully pulled her out and laid her down a few feet from the pile. She checked her pulse again and listened to her breathing. She then unzipped the snowsuit and began checking the little child’s body, looking for fractures or signs of internal damage. Underneath the snowsuit was a dirty once-white turtleneck that was slightly small for her, and under that was a T-shirt. Her underwear were clean, and so were her socks.

“She’s got some fresh bruises on her chest, and one on her forehead. No abrasions or broken bones,” Scully reported. “My guess is it’s a concussion and she’ll be fine. We need to figure out whose she is, though…”

“Is she homeless, or does she belong to one of the volunteers who just came in?” Matt asked.

Scully shook her head. “I don’t remember seeing her by the table…but then I don’t remember if there was a child over there or not. I honestly don’t know,” she said. Eye-witness testimony was notoriously incorrect, and Scully wasn’t about to guess as to whether she had seen the little girl by the table. It didn’t matter anyway. Either way, her parents were not available to claim her.

“Someone will have to stay with her,” Tara said. “Especially so they can give her water when she wakes up.”

“And keep her warm,” Scully said as she redressed the little girl. She adjusted the cap so it covered her small ears and then she snapped the top button on the snowsuit to give her the most warmth possible.

“I can keep an eye on her while I move the chunks of rocks and stuff,” Matt volunteered. “When she wakes up I’ll keep her company.”

Tara nodded. “That’s an excellent idea, Matt. I’ll carry her over there where it’s safer and you can look every time you walk by,” his mother told him, and he nodded in agreement.

“Agent Scully!” Someone called and waved her over. Scully gave Tara a departing smile and moved over to where the man was stooped over another person trapped underneath the pile.

As Tara carried the little girl over to a safer area, she reflected that this child was not much smaller than little Claire. Matt was probably seeing his sister in this child who was at best a volunteer’s unconscious little girl, possibly homeless, and at worst a new orphan.

As she put the child down in an alcove next to a water fountain, she noticed someone out of the corner of her eye and spun around, blocking the child and ready to defend herself. Who she saw, however, was Mulder coming over the railing.

She rushed over to help him clamber over the railing after he had climbed up the escalator and some rubble while belayed by a homeless man below. “Sorry, Tara, did I scare you?” he asked after both his feet were on the floor.

“I guess I’m a little jumpy,” she apologized. “What did you find down there?”

“No one inside the cars is moving. We need Scully down there to determine if they’re dead or just unconscious. I opened all the train car windows to vent them,” he said, but didn’t give her much detail.

She simply nodded and after he had unclipped himself they began to walk back toward the triage area.

“How many dead so far?” he asked.

Tara sighed. “Twelve…I think.”

“How’s Matt?”

“He’s working hard. He’s so brave…”

Mulder smiled and placed a comforting hand on Tara’s shoulder. “He’s a real trooper. If he gets tired, maybe he can work with Dana and do some first aid.”

“That’s a really good idea.”

“How are you doing?”

“I’m okay,” she said, and took a glove off to run her hand through her hair and get it away from her now-sweaty face. “I can’t believe this happened…”

Mulder nodded. “They’re going to eventually send Rescue in and then we’ll get the chance to rest. Thanks for helping out.”

She chuckled ironically. “I’d look like a fool sitting on the sidelines.”

They reached the triage area, where people were laying on blankets, coats, and mats and were organized according to severity of their injuries.

Scully looked up and saw Mulder, and held up one finger before turning back to a man’s hand, which she was carefully splinting.

Just then an argument that had previously been lost in the background noise of the rescue effort rose above the current sound level when a homeless man screamed, “YOU’RE A MOTHER-FUCKIN’ SHITHEAD, MAN!”

Mulder’s head turned just in time to catch the sight of one man tackle another to the dusty ground and begin wailing on him. He shook his head and muttered, “It was only a matter of time,” before he ran over to the two who were now rolling all over the dust and were in danger of going over the ledge.

“HEY!” He screamed, and grabbed one of the men. “HEY! STOP! Knock it off! Come on, knock it off! I mean it!” Another homeless man stepped in and pulled the other man away, and Mulder and he then stood to get the men even further from each other.

“He’s an asshole!” Mulder’s detainee declared, his expression one of intense hatred.

The other man simply spit blood and stood there with an angry expression on his face.

“What’s this about? You first,” Mulder added quickly, to make sure another shouting match didn’t ensue.

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“This asshole took my kid’s water bottle, man. He ain’t been helpin’. He been sittin’ on his ass, and ain’t nothin’ wrong with him. He ain’t hurt.”

Mulder turned to the other man. “Did you take this man’s water bottle?”

“I ain’t steal nothin’ wasn’t already mine,” the accused man promised.

Mulder shook his head. “I’ll get your kid another water bottle, okay?” he said to the man, and when he nodded he was about to release the man, but the accused man yelled, “Yeah, that’s right, ‘n if you come after me again, I gonna woop yo’ ass.” This resulted in Mulder having to tighten his grip on his detainee as he led him away from the loudmouth.

“Listen,” he told the man in a low tone, “I believe that other man is on drugs. You need to stay away from him. Okay?” Psychology told him that a calm tone and rational thought would deflect most people’s anger.

He released the man and he nodded, his expression still angry.

“There are more water bottles in that sporting goods store. Go get one for you and your kid. Can I trust you to do that?”

The homeless man shook his head. “Naw, man, ain’t nothin’ left in there. It’s been empty for a minute now.”

Mulder sighed. He looked around. “Go to the McDonald’s. If they’re out, then come find me and I’ll pick the lock on another restaurant so we can get more water.”

The man nodded and said, “I just tryin’ to defend my kid.”

“I understand. Just leave the law enforcement to us, okay?”

Again, the homeless man nodded and walked away. Mulder sighed and saw that the man who had detained the loudmouth was still holding him, awaiting Mulder’s return. He walked back over to the two and asked, “Is it true that you haven’t been helping?”

“Ain’t gonna do nothin’ if I don’t get paid,” the man slurred.

He knew it was irrational, especially since it seemed this man didn’t have use of all his faculties. But what he said really angered Mulder. He got close enough to smell the stench of alcohol and body odor, and said, “Look around, Buddy. You think any of us are getting paid?”

He shook his head before he got an answer, and turned to the man holding him. “Let him go.” He turned back to the detainee as he stumbled forward. “You sit down and shut up. If you don’t want to help, you don’t get to move around,” he ordered forcefully, and ‘helped’ the man sit down against the wall. “Stay there.” He walked away, taking a deep breath and trying to clear his head.

Scully intercepted him halfway back to the triage area. “What was that all about?”

“A bottle of water. How are we doing on supplies?”

“The sporting goods store is almost empty,” she said. “I’ve used everything I can get my hands on to fix people up…I even performed some minor surgery on one of our volunteers to extract a piece of glass from an artery. But I don’t want to use too much of what’s in those first aid kits, because once they’re gone, there’s probably not another sporting goods store in this mall.”

“At least not one we can get to,” Mulder stated. He glanced back at the pit where the trains were still. “I need to talk to you in private.”

She snorted. “Good luck. We’ve got about a hundred people in here, Mulder, and space is an issue.”

“We need to find a place to speak,” he reiterated. “Sooner rather than later.”

Seeing that he was serious, she nodded and looked around. “Let’s pick the lock on that Gymboree and go in the fitting room.” He smirked, and she rolled her eyes. “Oh, stop,” was all she said to him as she led the way to the children’s clothing store.

Once they were inside, Mulder pulled out Matt’s phone and his own. “There’s no reception anymore.”

“I know, it must be the train’s emergency broadcast that’s blocking it out.”

“That’s a possibility,” Mulder agreed. “But the other possibility is that someone sabotaged that train and that they’re jamming our signals.” The signature elevated eyebrow told Mulder that he was going to have to explain. “Just before I lost the signal, I got through to 911. It was over an hour ago now, and they still haven’t gotten personnel in here. Has anyone gone to the back entrance to see if it’s open?”

She shook her head. “It collapsed. The structural integrity of this mall is definitely questionable, Mulder. I’m a little leery of anyone rappelling down to the trains a second time…they may not be able to get back up, and I’m actually surprised you were able to.”

He sighed.

“But you didn’t tell me you got through to 911. What did they say?”

“They said there were three 911 calls on the train about a suspicious-looking man in a subway maintenance uniform. And there were some…strange…observations about his skin color.”

“What, was he Arabic?” Scully asked.

“No. I think he was a zombie.”

Mulder was always good at monotone comedy, but it didn’t appear to Scully that he was kidding. She stared at him, reflecting that even at a time like this, his mind never stopped thinking about the fantastic, and then formulated a response. “What in his skin color suggested that he may be among the living dead?” she managed to ask with just a slight twitch of her lip.

“Gray, green, and blue were the colors cited. And none of those fit on the normal skin color wheel. Now, provided the lighting in the train car was bad, and the man was drunk or ill, that would explain it. But that doesn’t explain what I saw.”

“You saw the zombie?”

“For just a second, yes.”

She shook her head. “Mulder, we haven’t tested the air quality down there. If you had just opened a window, you could have been breathing in fumes. And the lighting is terrible. And you’re high on adrenaline. And—”

“And I know exactly what I saw. He jumped up from the train car floor when everyone else was either unconscious or dead. And then he managed to get out of my sight and into the next train car, but we can’t reach it because it’s buried under the floor.”

“Doctor Scully!” a voice beckoned from outside the store. “We need you quick! There’s a guy with his head cut open real bad!”

She sighed, and stood up. “What did you see down there other than the zombie?”

“Unconscious or dead passengers. We can get them out, but it’s going to take some doing.”

She shook her head. “We have people we can definitely save up here—plenty of them. And the structural integrity of the building—”

“I agree, now that you bring up that point. No one goes back down. Especially not with a zombie down there. I’m pretty sure they don’t climb…”

Rolling her eyes, she exited the fitting room and rushed out to survey the situation. There was a homeless man across the food court, on the ground with a head abrasion. People were gathered around him but not getting too close.

She ran over, and Mulder followed closely behind. “Oh, God…I know that guy. That was the loudmouth guy that took some kid’s water bottle and started the fight.”

Scully looked behind for just a moment and frowned before she stopped in front of the man and stooped down, examining the damage. “The skull is fractured…torn open. Everybody get back!” She yelled. “Twenty feet at least! Jeremy,” she spoke to the volunteer closest to her, “Go find some tape or something and tape this area off.”

“You got it,” the man answered and ran away.

Scully turned back to Mulder. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

“It looks like an animal attack,” he commented in a low tone and squatted next to the man’s head. “I take it he’s dead?”

She just glanced at him, as if to say ‘what do you think?’ There was brain matter at the front of his scalp.

“Whatever was used to do this must have left a mess. But everyone’s walked all over the crime scene,” she said in annoyance.

Mulder looked around for the blood trail. “Right here. This way. I’ll follow it.”

“I’ll get Tara to guard this area while I treat the live patients. Be careful, Mulder. Take someone with you.”

He grabbed two spectators in the crowd who looked like they could handle backing him up and told them to follow him, and he drew his gun as he followed the blood trail.

Only moments later he came to a dead end, though. The blood trail seemed to end on the crevice of the drop that led to the train, and there was no body at the bottom.

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L’ENFANT PLAZA

WASHINGTON, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

2100

“Here you go,” Matt said, sitting down cross-legged in one motion next to the little girl, who was now sitting up against the wall. He handed her a water bottle he had obtained from the Mexican restaurant next to the McDonald’s. Scully had picked the lock about a half hour before then, as the McDonald’s was out of water.

Christmas music was playing on a radio not far away. They had opened one radio from the sporting goods store in the hopes of getting local information on rescue efforts, but reception was so terrible that it was either Christmas music or some kind of Russian talk show. It was better than nothing.

“Where’s my mommy?” The girl asked Matt again.

“Well, like I said,” Matt explained slowly and patiently, “we don’t know who your mommy is. We need you to tell us her name and then we can see if we can find her.”

“Her name is Mommy,” the girl insisted, and drank some water. She frowned. “My head hurts.”

“I know. I told my Aunt Dana and she said there’s no children’s Tylenol. Sorry,” he said apologetically. “Maybe she should come over here…” he stood up and waved her over, and she held up a finger, indicating that it would be a few minutes.

He sat back down. “Other than your head hurting, how do you feel?”

“I’m tired,” she complained. “I’m hungry too.”

“Do you want some apples? We’ve got some apples in the McDonald’s. I can go get some.”

She nodded, and added, “And a toy?”

He laughed. “Sure, I don’t think that’ll be a problem.”

A moment later, he returned with a package of apples from behind the counter and a small toy, which he took out of the plastic baggie for her. It was a stuffed monkey whose arms wrapped around to grip something. He showed her how it worked, and then handed it to her. “What are ya gonna call him?” he asked playfully.

“George,” she said immediately. “Like Curious George.”

“That’s a good name,” Matt agreed. “Hey, my name is Matt by the way. What’s yours?”

She frowned, and then looked up at Matt as if afraid of him. “I’m not supposed to say my name to strangers.”

“But I’m not a stranger. I’m a kid, like you. A bigger kid, but I’m gonna take care of you. So you can tell me your name.”

She seemed to consider her options before she decided to trust him. She ate an apple and wrapped the monkey around her index finger, and then said, “My name’s Chelsea.”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Chelsea,” Matt said, and extended his hand.

Chelsea stared at it for a moment before she realized that she was supposed to shake it. She took his hand and shook it once, and then let go. Matt grinned. “So how old are you?”

“I’m four, how old are you?” she asked.

“I’m twelve,” Matt answered.

“You’re very big,” she decided.

He laughed. “I’ve got a little sister who’s six. She’s just a little bigger than you. You kinda look like her.”

She shrugged, and ate another apple. “Where’s my Mommy?” she asked.

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He frowned. This was the third time she had asked the same question. He answered again, patiently and in the same tone. Thankfully Scully arrived and squatted down, smiling at the preschooler. “Hey, there,” she greeted. “I’m a doctor. My name is Dana. What’s your name?”

“You can tell her too,” Matt said. “She’s my aunt. She’s nice—she’s not a stranger.”

“My name’s Chelsea,” the little girl said. “And this is Matt,” she introduced.

Scully grinned. “It’s nice to meet you, Chelsea,” she said. “Do you mind if I shine a light in your eyes for a second? I want to give you a checkup.”

“My head hurts.”

“That’s what Matt told me. I’m going to make sure it’s going to get better. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Alright, now this won’t hurt but it might make you see some spots.” She shined the light in the girl’s eyes and made a funny face to make her look. Chelsea giggled in response. “Reactive but unequal. The right one is slightly bigger than the left one,” she said to Matt. “That means the concussion is more than just mild, but it’s not very dangerous.”

He nodded in acknowledgement. “She asked the same question a few times.”

“Sometimes preschoolers do that,” Scully told him. She then turned to Chelsea and explained, “I’m going to feel your head, okay? I want to see if there are any bumps.”

“Will it hurt?” Chelsea asked.

“It might hurt just a little bit, but you tell me if it does, and I’ll stop. Okay?”

“Okay,” she agreed.

Scully felt the girl’s head more thoroughly this time, and found a bump that was not there a few hours ago. The girl jumped and said, “Ouch!”

“I’m sorry,” the agent apologized and took her hands away. “I won’t touch that again.” She turned to Matt. “I think we found our culprit. Her head was probably hit in the front and the back during the crash. That could result in a relatively serious concussion for a young child. We want to keep an eye on her, keep her talking. Don’t let her go back to sleep.”

“She said she’s tired,” Matt said.

“Well, it shouldn’t be too much longer before we get Rescue in here. I want you to tell her a story, keep her up. Keep her talking. Just until we can get her in a CAT scan and make sure nothing’s been knocked around in there too badly. Okay?”

Matt nodded.

“Chelsea,” Scully said, and the girl made eye contact with her, “I want you to listen to Matt tell stories and I want you to stay awake. Okay? You’re probably tired, but you can’t sleep. It’s important that you don’t go to sleep until a doctor says it’s okay. Alright?”

She frowned, but nodded.

“Okay,” Scully patted her knee gently and stood up. “If you feel sick in your tummy, or you hurt anywhere else, you tell Matt, okay?”

She nodded again, and said, “Thank you, Doctor Dana.”

Scully smiled. The child was very cute, and was impossible not to smile at. “You’re very welcome, Chelsea. It was my pleasure. I’ll see you later.”

Chelsea turned to Matt and asked, “What stories are you gonna tell?”

Matt edged his way closer to the wall and leaned back, taking out a granola bar from his pocket and opening the wrapper. “Well, you know what tomorrow is?”

“Tomorrow’s Christmas,” Chelsea said.

“That’s right. I guess you’ve probably heard the story of Christmas, huh?”

“It’s a good story,” Chelsea said with a nod.

Matt laughed. “Yeah, it’s a really old story. Well, I’ll tell it like my Sunday School teacher told it. He’s pretty cool. So once upon a time, there was a mother named Mary, and she was going to get married to this guy named Joseph, but they weren’t married yet…”

Matt went on to tell the whole story in great detail, including Herod’s mandate that all the babies be killed, and the new family’s midnight journey away from Bethlehem, to Nazareth. He took a few liberties as well, adding some ninjas and a dragon for good measure.

He finished with, “And so the baby Jesus grew up with his parents and the next exciting thing didn’t happen until he was eleven and he ran away from home.”

“Wow,” she said. “I never heard anyone tell it like that before.”

“Who told it to you before?” Matt asked.

“My mommy. She told it to me when we was under the bridge. I liked under the bridge. But we had ta move because Mommy said there was mean people there.”

Matt was surprised. This little girl was homeless after all. Her mother and she had come here for a Christmas Eve dinner and possibly to get presents Christmas morning. The donations, he knew, were mostly destroyed. So now her only present was this little monkey he had taken from behind the McDonald’s counter. Tomorrow morning he would be home in his house, hopefully, if the rescue workers got there soon. There were presents under the tree already, and some that were unwrapped because Claire still believed in Santa Claus.

“What’s wrong, Matt? Why are your eyes wet?”

Matt looked down and used his dirty sweatshirt to dry his eyes. “I’m uh…I’m allergic to dust.”

“Does dust make you sad?”

He laughed, and looked up. “No…I mean…I’m just…” he stopped, and looked at this little girl. “I just wish we could all go home.”

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L’ENFANT PLAZA

WASHINGTON, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

2200

Scully stepped back and stretched her back, sighing and closing her eyes. That was it. The rubble on the upper level had been cleared as much as was possible without causing a structural collapse. There were fifteen bodies plus the one murdered individual. She counted forty people in the triage area, only eight of which needed medical attention immediately. Most of the people in the triage area were now simply resting from exhaustion.

She had inquired about the McDonald’s teenage employees turning on some cooking equipment and making some food, but Mulder and a few others had said that was a bad idea. Without knowing the condition of the pipes in the building, turning on any appliance that used gas was a terrible risk. She agreed. So they ate non-perishable food, raiding the McDonald’s, the nearly empty sporting goods store, and the Mexican restaurant. She eventually picked the lock on the Subway and some of the homeless seemed to take great pleasure in getting behind the counter and making sandwiches, especially the kids.

Mulder wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close to him, and she leaned her head into his shoulder. “What are things like on your end?” she asked, her eyes still closed.

“I’m thinking if Rescue takes much longer we might want to chance it and rappel down there. There are no signs of life in those two cars but if one of us could climb on board and get to the back of the train, there might be live passengers further back who are just trapped.”

She pulled away. “I know, Mulder, but it’s too dangerous. I’ve got two volunteers who are engineers who said that this building could come down if we dig any further into that rubble or even try to touch the back entrance. You realize how dangerous it would be to trust that pile of rubble down there to support your weight while you climb in a train that’s supported by the floor it crashed through?”

He sighed, and nodded.

“Any cell reception?”

“No. Matt’s phone got one bar a second ago and I tried to dial out but it went right back to no service. My phone’s completely dead.”

“Have you tried a text message?” Scully asked hopefully.

He frowned, and then his eyes popped open in recognition. “A text message uses less….bandwidth, or whatever…it might get through!”

He clicked Matt’s phone on and was about to attempt a text message when they heard a noise above. The ceiling was crumbling, and people started to scream.

Mulder grabbed Scully with his free hand and ran away from the ceiling, diving into the same alcove where Matt and Chelsea sat, next to the water fountain. It was the best hope they had if the ceiling completely collapsed.

Dust flew through the opening and the screaming and crying escalated until a large chunk of the ceiling was grabbed by two prying metal bars, and pulled away. They heard another blessed noise. Helicopter blades.

The screaming and crying turned into cheers. People leapt up and hugged each other. They jumped for joy, and then stopped just in case the floor caved in.

Mulder and Scully stood and jogged over to meet the first rescue worker who was lowering himself down with a cable from the helicopter.

Once down, he didn’t even have time to introduce himself. Scully pointed to the triage area and said, “I’ve got eight critical patients who need to be airlifted out of here immediately!”

He nodded and radio’ed it in. Mulder stood up on a chair and waved his arms to quiet everyone down as he began to explain evacuation procedures.

The rescue had begun.

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MULDER AND SCULLY’S CAR

WASHINGTON, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

2305

The last person was lifted out. The rescue operations were in full swing below. D.C. Police were taking over the murder investigation. Mulder and Scully could leave.

By that time they had installed temporary reinforcements on the front entrance and cleared out the rubble that blocked the door. They could see the outside for the first time since the crash.

Unlike most of the people who were trapped, the agents left by walking out the doors through which they came.

“When I signed up to volunteer helping those in need, I didn’t realize what I had agreed to,” Mulder joked as they walked toward their car. It seemed strange to him that they would go home by car only an hour after they had originally planned to go home. It was even stranger when they stepped into the clean Ford Taurus that had a full tank of gas and Scully’s unfinished Starbuck’s in the cupholder.

She stared at it as well, but didn’t say anything as they started the car and were serenaded with joyful Christmas music.

“It’s like two different worlds,” Mulder said finally. “Normally there’s something in between, isn’t there?”

“You mean a hospital visit?” Scully asked dryly, and earned a laugh from her partner.

“Hey, you’ve got to give me credit. I didn’t get hurt at all.”

“Aside from the cuts and bruises, you’re right,” she conceded. “But you did see a zombie.”

“I stand by my previous statement,” he defended himself adamantly. “And it’s probably still down there!”

She chuckled and shook her head. “Mulder, you never quit.”

He smiled at his partner and asked, “Would you ever really want me to?” When she didn’t answer, he continued, “And you don’t even know that the zombie wasn’t the one who caused the crash in the first place. He did have a maintenance uniform on, and in the absence of any indication of a terrorist attack, it’s only reasonable to conclude that it was a maintenance or technical issue.”

She sighed, and rested her head on her hand as her elbow sat upon the ridge of the car door. She closed her eyes.

“And the zombie obviously was the one who attacked that man, because the blood trail ended down in the rubble, but there was no body, not that we could find. Zombies apparently do climb, which means every movie we’ve seen is wrong…Scully? Are you listening to me?”

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TARA SCULLY’S HOUSE

GEORGETOWN, D.C.

DECEMBER 24th, 2010

2320

Matt had taken a shower and slipped into flannel pajama pants and a new sweatshirt. He was exhausted and had climbed into bed to go to sleep when his mother cracked the door and entered.

“Hey, Buddy? You asleep yet?”

“Just got in bed,” he answered.

She sat down on the edge of the bed and combed his hair back. “You doing okay?”

“I’m okay, I guess.”

“That was some pretty scary stuff we saw tonight.”

“I know. I’m not a baby, I can handle it.”

She smiled. He was just like his father in that respect—brave, but proud. “You did very well. I’m very proud of you, Matty.”

He smiled back at her. “I’m sorry your Christmas Eve kinda sucked. I know you wanted to teach me what it was like to spend time with homeless people, but I sorta got to anyway…”

She laughed. “Yes, I know. You got to spend more time with homeless people than you would have serving them dinner. So in that respect, it wasn’t such a bad night.”

“Well, that’s the idea, right, Mom? I mean, the story of Christmas Eve and how Jesus was born but all that bad stuff was happening all around him? Herod killing babies and Mary being just a teenager and them having to run to Nazareth and stuff? But since Jesus was born, it was a good night.”

With tears in her eyes and a smile on her face, she kissed Matt on the forehead and said, “You are such a blessing, Matthew.”

He closed his eyes and said, “But Mom…how can we enjoy tomorrow morning? That little girl’s mom is probably dead. We never found her. What will happen to her? How can we be happy with presents…how can we be happy at all, when we know there’s so much bad stuff out there that happens?”

Her smile turned sad, and she looked down. “There will always be people less fortunate than us. That’s why we try to do our part, and volunteer when we’ve got time, and give when we have spare cash. We do everything we can to live our lives and help others live theirs. But Matt…this is a hard lesson to learn…we can’t go through life being sad about all the bad things that are out there.”

“But—”

“Listen,” she said softly. “We cannot fix the world and make it perfect by denying ourselves everything we have. But we can make a difference one step at a time. One way to do that is to be as successful and happy as we can be, so we can take some of that happiness and success and give to others. By being sad and poor, we’re not helping anyone.”

He frowned.

“Another way to do that,” Tara continued, “is to never forget that sad feeling. To remember that sad feeling every time you feel greedy, or feel sorry for yourself. Because it will help you remember just how fortunate you are.”

He nodded finally, and closed his eyes.

“Go to sleep,” she kissed him again, and stood. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

And that’s what Christmas is all about, Tara thought. Love.

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