Desperatus

desperatus poster art

Title: Desperatus

Author: Starfleetofficer1

Summary: Mulder and Scully are sent to the ruined city of Detroit to investigate a series of murders.

Category: X-file, mythology

Rating: PG-13

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Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended.

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LABORATORY OF DR. ALAN DESPER

3664 JOSEPH CAMPAU ST.

DETROIT, MI

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 1925

1000

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It was pouring rain outside Dr. Alan Desper’s laboratory. He leaned against the windowsill like a child, watching it pelt against the window as a brand-new Model T drove by very slowly. It was capable of higher speeds, but not in this weather.

“What incredible times we live in,” Desper said softly, stroking his pet on his lap. “They say these cars will one day completely replace the horse and buggy…and I believe them. Henry Ford found a practical way to make money and change the world.” He chuckled ironically. “Henry is a far smarter man than I.”

Desper and Ford had grown up together, but Desper continued along the academic track, while Ford had left home to be an apprentice after his mother died. They lost contact after that, and Desper hadn’t heard a thing about Ford until his first Model T was sold. He had found a way to make a vehicle that was cheap enough for the average family to buy. It didn’t require food or shelter, and could be left out in the rain. A horse required far more upkeep.

Desper glanced at his pocket watch and put it back in his vest, rising from his seat. “He’ll be here any moment,” he said to his pet, and the python bobbed its head and slithered off of the windowsill seat. The animal followed Desper, its tongue making a slithering noise in a specific pattern. Depser shook his head. “I’m sorry, Primo, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Please, don’t make this any more difficult than it already is.”

The python wrapped himself around Desper’s leg, nearly tripping him. As if disciplining a disobedient child, Desper sighed in frustration and pointed toward the basement door. “Go get Secundus, bring her up here. Now.”

Primo gently unwrapped himself and slithered toward the basement door, and then disappeared.

Desper rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, and began pacing. They were living in extraordinary times. After the Coolidge Administration avoided a massive depression in the early twenties, its methods of stimulating the economy had resulted in a boom. People were able to buy things they could never have dreamt of owning before. There was a technological explosion, as taxes were lowered to make it convenient to be a career inventor. Desper had taken advantage of the times like most men, but his research had attracted some unwanted attention. And now he was faced with a horrible predicament.

Someone rapped on the door. Desper took a deep breath and approached it slowly. He closed his eyes briefly before opening the only barrier between himself and this man he was so intimidated by.

He stepped across the threshold with soaking wet clothes and carrying a useless umbrella with a hole through the fabric.

Desper didn’t dare speak first. He watched as the man folded his broken umbrella and took his wool jacket and hat off. With a tight jaw and near-chattering teeth, he said in a thick German accent, “It’s February. You would think it would be snowing, considering how cold it is.”

“You’ll see snow before you leave Detroit, I’m sure, Sir,” Desper said, his own teeth nearly chattering.

“No matter. Do you have the snakes?”

It pained Desper to hear his pets referred to in such a manner. They were not merely ‘snakes.’ They were thinking, highly trained companions. And this man planned to use them for no good purpose, Desper was sure. “Yes, Sir.”

“Then let’s go see them. I’ll give you your check and be on my way.”

Desper nodded, his muscles tight. He gestured toward the basement door. “Right this way, Dr. Strughold.”

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LIGHT OF TOMORROW CHURCH

4466 JOSEPH CAMPAU ST.

DETROIT, MI

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 12th, 2011

1000

“—n’ I’ma Christian man, / Born inna this land, / Gotta make a move now, / n’ wow the crowd, / I’ma rebel I’ma star I’ma go so far, / I’ma blow through yo’ thoughts, / Like a .45 POW!”

“No violence,” an adult man’s stern but patient voice cut through the child rapper’s lyrics, but the beat from the ‘Stomp’-style trash cans and four chopsticks taped together on the church floor didn’t stop. The kids working percussion knew better than to halt in the middle of a freestyle battle.

The boy rapper knew the drill and without any protest, he jumped off of the stage made of plywood and held up by milk crates. Another slightly older boy took his place, and picked up with the same beat.

“Yeah, in 1995, / I was bap-tized, / Mah daddy took me to the church, / I was just a small-fry, / But in 1997, / Mah daddy went to heaven, / Gangs n’ drugs, / n’ some guy wit’ a knife in prison. / Mah momma work all day, / Ain’t no rent she can pay, / Mah brudda rob a store wit’ a stolen three-eighta’, / ‘Dis all come togetha, / to make mah life betta’, / ‘cause I realize now, / I got a choice inna matta’. / Mah da-ddy fought, mah dumb brudda got caught, mah uncle made the wrong guys angry, / ‘n got shot. Me, I’ma diff’rent dude, / ain’t got time ta be rude, / gotta get me a job, / n’ BUY some food. / Why ‘m I makin’ sense? / Why’ve I got a chance? / ‘Cause I got Jesus Chris’, / The center of mah life!”

The room roared in applause, and the teenager took a theatrical bow and jumped off stage. A teenage girl took his place, but the adult held up his hand and jumped on the stage before she could start.

“Ray-shawn, hold up a minute, man,” the instructor said, and the teenager stopped halfway between the stage and the audience of kids. “Come back up here.” The boy obeyed, and the instructor smiled as he took Ray-shawn by the shoulders and said, “You want to tell the youth group the big news?”

“Nah, man…”

The instructor wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Most of y’all probably know by now, but Ray-shawn has earned the money he needs to buy studio time. And he plans to do so right after…”

“Takin’ my GED test,” Ray-shawn finished quietly, but with a small smile on his face. It was clear he was proud of his accomplishments, but didn’t want to brag.

It was a safe environment, with kids he knew. They weren’t going to beat him up for success, but it was hard to break the mentality that had been drilled into him from a young age. It wasn’t safe to be better than your peers. The youth pastor, Greg, tried to break the kids of that way of thinking.

The kids clapped again, hooting and hollering words of praise. Ray-shawn jumped off the stage again and walked past his friends, toward his girlfriend in the back. She wrapped her hands around him and they embraced each other. They moved in for a kiss, but a look from Greg in the front of the room told them to leave it for after the freestyle battle.

The girl on stage was allowed to continue, and the kids with the trash can lids and chop sticks laid down a beat for her.

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The building was located on an otherwise abandoned street. Riddled with graffiti and urban decay around its exterior, the interior was lined with newly laid linoleum flooring and even sported working exit signs near the doors. It was renovated by hand, courtesy of the hard work and dedication of the Light of Tomorrow Youth Group and a very big check written by an anonymous donor.

Normally security was only necessary at night. The alarm system kept Greg and the Congregation pastor, Lina, apprised of each time someone broke in. It didn’t summon the police—they wouldn’t show up in this neighborhood, anyway, and the service of calling the police cost $99 a month. Instead, it sent a signal to Greg and Lina’s apartment next door, from which either of them could run outside and – ideally – intercept the burglars.

Today, however, there was a bit more security around the building. And there likely would be for a while to come. Two days ago, Greg had received a death threat. He had tried to keep the church and the youth group out of the news, but unfortunately some well-meaning blogger had caught wind of their freestyle religious rap battles, and wrote an entry about it. Somehow, it had gotten back to someone who had a problem with the idea, and now there was a guard posted at the door of the church sanctuary. The guard was Greg’s cousin, Ryland.

While most of the kids were engaged in the rap battle, Ryland was watching for suspicious activity and planned to make sure that Greg got next door safely. The kids weren’t supposed to know about the death threat, but most had figured out that something was going on. Ryland had been absent from the battles since two months ago, when Lina’s brother was gunned down in a drive-by.

In the end, though, it wasn’t Ryland who noticed what everyone else missed. It was an eleven-year-old girl named Kisha, who stood in the back of the audience and prayed her friends wouldn’t make her go up there with her Jesus rap. She stole glances at the clock on the wall, which everyone knew was off by ten to fifteen minutes, and it was during one of these glances that she saw the car out the window. And the gun.

She shrieked and froze, but was tackled by three-hundred-pound Ryland as the gunfire started.

Four, five, six shots, and then the squeal of tires. The kids had all hit the deck, some covered in the glass from the windows, others winged by the shots, and almost all in tears. Those that weren’t petrified had the cold, hard lust for revenge etched on their faces as they surveyed the room.

When Kisha squeezed herself away from Ryland she was able to see him, and she shrieked again. Ryland had been shot twice, once in the head, and once in the chest. She backed away on all fours before scrambling toward the door, running at top speed. She sobbed all the way out of the building, down the empty street, and into the overgrown grass in the empty lots around her. She continued to run until she tripped and fell in a small hole in the ground.

Covered in dirt and still sobbing hysterically, shaking uncontrollably and wailing out loud about what she had seen, she didn’t even notice that she wasn’t alone.

She suddenly heard a soft, gentle but sleek voice in her head.

“What’s wrong?” it asked, and Kisha felt something slither past her.

She jumped, and tried to get away.

“I won’t hurt you…I’m here to help. I only ask…what’s wrong?”

“Wh…where are you?”

“I’m right here. I’m a friend. I can help fix whatever’s wrong.”

“I…” she burst into tears again. “Please…please don’t kill me…”

“I vow never to harm you,” the soft voice said. “I will hunt down the ones who made you cry…and make them pay.”

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RENTAL CAR

DETROIT, MI

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14th, 2011

1305

“Well, I thought we’d been to every hellhole – literally – but this might just take the cake.”

Mulder smirked at his partner’s statement, glancing over at her for a moment before shifting his gaze back to the pothole-ridden road. “I don’t know, Scully. I think it still beats Victor Tooms’ cave.”

He heard her soft chuckle, and was instantly able to detect the taut anxiety in her body language. The way her grip tightened, how the tone of her laugh went up in frequency, how she quickly averted her eyes from his half of the windshield…she was trying not to think about Pakistan. Understandably so, considering their summer “vacation” was, most definitely, a more harrowing sojourn in hell than their explorations of Tooms’ cave.

And all my other near-death experiences, Mulder thought. For her, any of those is still a worse hellhole. Especially because she didn’t climb under that escalator shaft…

He smirked again at his last thought. There was a pause in the conversation. “You’re quiet,” he commented.

“This place is depressing.”

They were taking Route 3, Gratiot Ave, into the downtown area from Coleman A. Young International Airport. It was what Special Agent Terrance of the inner city field office had called “the scenic route.” Although it was a straight shot into the city, it offered Mulder and Scully a prime view of what they were getting themselves into. Detroit’s East Side neighborhoods had started going downhill in 1965 and hadn’t stopped their gradual decline in the past 45 years.

They passed decrepit buildings and abandoned cars, the occasional pedestrian and plenty of graffiti. They were on their way to the Detroit Field Office to collect the casefiles on the murders.

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“Wait a few decades until the wildlife grows through the pavement. Between the wild dogs, bears, and pythons, they’ll start selling safari tickets.”

Scully actually laughed at that one, the notion of a safari in the city of Detroit not entirely impossible, making it even funnier. “The tourism industry will get the city back on its feet,” she said, her laughter dying down. The fact that he was still cracking jokes told her that he wasn’t in full profiling mode yet. But he was close, and that was the real reason she was quiet.

When Skinner first approached them with the case, it was fairly straightforward. Multiple python attacks in Detroit had resulted in seven deaths total, all either John Does or known gangbangers. The latest deaths and the Detroit Police Department’s lack of an effective investigative division had led to the FBI’s involvement, and the strange nature of the attacks had led to the inevitable beckoning of the FBI’s most unwanted.

Another plane ride. Another rental car. Another case. That was how it had seemed to Mulder, until he dug just a bit deeper. The method of entry, the location, the use of pythons…it all pointed to a far more organized crime than a crazed herpetologist or zookeeper training snakes to attack people. And the more information he collected, the more the web grew in his mind, connections forming from the patterns. Those connections colluded to form a picture, and those pictures joined to form a collage. He knew he wasn’t even done building this profile, and he was already convinced of several things.

First, whoever trained the snakes to kill was extremely skilled. Second, the killings had everything to do with a miniature drama playing out in inner city Detroit, but nothing whatsoever to do with the snake trainer. And third, the case itself was important—not just to the FBI or the nation’s safety, but to the X-files, to their quest, and to the world.

So it was with good reason that he was slipping into profiling mode.

But it was also with good reason that Scully was worried. Before they left, Agent Terrance had warned them that they were to wear their vests at all times while in the East Side neighborhoods, where the murders had taken place. Mulder had balked at the order, insisting that it was ridiculous—even if it was that dangerous, they would be increasing their chances of a problem by identifying themselves as FBI. But Terrance had simply replied that the gangs already knew they didn’t belong in the East Side. The vests would at least communicate a threat of a counter-attack if they were killed.

They had been in threatening situations before. Demons, ghosts, the Consortium, alien attacks, terrorists, and angry, blood-thirsty mutants living in the woods all made the East Side gangs look like the Teletubbies. But with Mulder slipping into his profiling mode, the equivalent of putting blinders on his eyes, Scully was concerned that she would be the only one alert throughout the case.

“So what’s the first stop after the Detroit Field Office?” she asked.

“They’re going to take us to the scene of one of the crimes. It’s somewhere in the middle of nowhere…apparently it’s a mostly-abandoned area where someone decided to plant a church.”

Scully nodded. “Any news on the shooting victim…” she paged through the contents of her manila folder, “…Ryland Montoya?”

“No new signs of brain activity as of early this morning,” Mulder answered. “He’s probably not waking up. After we’re finished at the church, we’ll head to the hospital to see his family.” His cell phone rang at that moment. He answered, driving with one hand on the wheel. “Mulder.” After a moment, his expression changed to one of recognition. “Thanks for letting me know. We’ll be there in about twenty minutes. See you then.” He ended the call and placed the phone in the cup holder.

“Who was that?”

“Terrance. He said this may have just become a kidnapping case. A little girl who was in the church at the time of the shooting, Kisha Mathis, has gone missing. She’s been missing for forty-eight hours, and it was just reported in an hour ago.”

“The FBI is here to stay,” Scully said in a slightly sing-song voice. A kidnapping meant the FBI was no longer just covering for an undermanned police department—it had official jurisdiction.

A second glance at Mulder told Scully that he thought the news had deeper meaning. “Mulder? You have something?”

He shook his head. “Nothing definite yet…this fits into my profile, though. I need to know more about Kisha Mathis.”

“Does this change our first destination?”

“Yeah, Terrance wants to meet us at the scene of the shooting. He says there are people there waiting for us.”

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LIGHT OF TOMORROW CHURCH

4466 JOSEPH CAMPAU ST.

DETROIT, MI

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14th, 2011

1335

After driving down a mostly empty street, overgrown grass on either side for blocks with patches of sidewalk showing through and the occasional bent streetlamp or broken chain link fence, neither one of them expected such a populated block to pop up. The Light of Tomorrow Church was a recently painted, white brick building surrounded by a desolate wasteland. It was next to three very well-kept houses with mown grass, an intact fence on the outside, and locks preventing any intruders from entering. The church was otherwise surrounded by empty lots, their tall grass covering up whatever sidewalk and foundation used to be there.

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Despite its relatively isolated location, though, this end of Joseph Campau Street was the beginning of an entire block of populated land. There were well-kept houses behind the three that faced the church, extending at least two additional blocks deep. It was an oasis in a vast urban desert that had been devoid of people for quite some time.

There weren’t many cars driving through the East side on a cold February day, so they parked on the street outside the church, in front of the other unmarked black SUV that had to belong to Agent Terrance. “Mulder, this looks like it’s a no parking zone,” Scully said, but Mulder just gave her a ‘look’. The ‘no parking’ sign was bent at a forty-five degree angle to the ground, and was covered with graffiti.

“Somehow I don’t think anyone’s going to mind,” he said dryly as he exited the car. As soon as Scully shut her door, he pressed the lock button and they heard the ‘beep’ that indicated it had locked.

Mulder thumbed the button twice more as he walked toward the front door of the church. When they entered, they were again surprised. The church had brand new linoleum floors, lighting, exit signs, air conditioners and heaters, and had recently been swept. The entire building consisted of two floors and the stairs to their left were carpeted. It was clear the building once had been a house or apartment complex, but had undergone extensive renovations since its purchase by the church.

The lobby was well-decorated with two office chairs, a teacher’s desk, a CRT television that was painted neon green, and flyers everywhere for various events and reminders. They saw everything advertised from ‘free HIV testing, normal business hours, Mon-Fri’ to ‘babysitting/CPR class Tuesday 5-8’ to ‘Narcotics Anonymous Wednesday 6-8, free food’ to ‘GED prep Monday 4-6, snacks.’ There were numerous motivational posters with smiling faces of teenagers and encouraging messages, like, “I get my high from the Lord, not meth,” and “Things ALWAYS improve when you TRY.”

A man exited the door in front of them, interrupting the agents’ browsing. He was probably of Hispanic origin and wore glasses, a light jacket that said ‘Eminem’, and baggy jeans. “You two are the FBI agents joining Agent Terrance?” he asked.

Mulder nodded, and extended his hand. “Agent Fox Mulder, and this is my partner Special Agent Dana Scully.”

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“Greg Montoya. I’m one of the pastors here. It’s nice to meet you both. I’ll take you to the crime scene.” He led the way, opening the door with a combination and letting Mulder and Scully go first. They walked down a short hallway before entering in an unlocked door that led to a larger room. Before they ever entered, they heard music getting louder and discovered the source when they stepped into the worship area. A stage propped up on milk crates was at the front of the larger room, and about fifty folding chairs were stacked along the wall. On the plywood stage a small radio/CD player held together with duct tape was blasting music. It was plugged into an extension cord that ran to an unknown location under the stage.

Listening to the rap lyrics, Mulder heard the words ‘Jesus’, ‘God’, and ‘Saved’ at least five times in just a few stanzas. Teenagers were scattered around the room attending to various jobs: patching bulletholes in the drywall and linoleum, scrubbing the floors, and sweeping up broken glass from the shattered windows. A teenager outside was nailing plywood into the windowpanes until they could be replaced. “Agent Terrance said you guys had everything you needed, so we could start cleaning up. We started a couple hours ago. Agent Terrance is on the phone over there, and the other pastor of the church, Lina Hawgood, is right over there. We reported Kisha missing this morning.”

“You did? Not her parents?” Scully asked.

Greg shook his head, and dropped his eyes and looked away. Mulder recognized that as classic guilt. The trick now was figuring out why Greg felt guilty. “She lives with her mother, and when she ran out of the church after the shooting, we assumed she ran home. She lives about twenty minutes away on foot, and so I went over there after the cops were done here. Mrs. Mathis said she was watching TV.” He shook his head.

“What?” Mulder asked. “Was there reason to disbelieve what Mrs. Mathis reported?”

“Her head isn’t always clear,” Greg stated simply. “I should’ve insisted on seeing Kisha before I believed her.”

“Why didn’t you?” Scully asked.

“I had to get back here,” he said, slightly defensive. “Lina was by herself with Ryland gone—Ryland was working security and got shot. I felt bad leaving in the first place, but Kisha lives in a bad area and I wanted to make sure she got home safely. She was really upset after the shooting, and she ran out before most of us even got up off the floor.”

“Does this sort of thing happen often in this area?” Mulder asked.

Greg shrugged. “We get death threats and shit—crap—like that,” he corrected himself, glancing over his shoulder at a young teenager who smirked at his pastor’s slip-up. “Sometimes we get caught in gang crossfire, but that’s rare. If you haven’t noticed, there’s not a whole lot of people around to create security problems.”

“Why did you choose to build a church here in such a depopulated area?” Scully asked.

“’Cause I grew up in the East side,” Greg said, emotion clearly present in his voice as his normally practiced and professional tone turned slightly accented. “And I’ve seen what that kind of environment does to kids. It wasn’t much better twenty years ago, but then unemployment wasn’t 50% and the graduation rate wasn’t half of that. These kids live in this area still. They got no school to go to, parents got no jobs, they’re lucky if they got a house, much less a church. And there’s no way some kid with his older brother’s rusty bike is gonna ride twenty-five miles out of his way to go to some youth group where he doesn’t know anyone and gets beat up on the way out.”

“Word,” a young boy said from a few feet away. He was patching a bullethole in the linoleum.

“Plus this place teaches kids skills, gives them opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have. And gets ‘em off the streets.”

Mulder smiled. “It’s a great thing you and Lina have done here. We’re going to speak to Agent Terrance. We’ll let you know if we have any more questions.”

Greg nodded, and walked away to help his youth group do their work. “Sorry you asked?” Mulder asked Scully in a low tone.

She smirked in response.

“Agent Terrance,” Mulder greeted the man who was just ending his call. He extended his hand. “Agent Mulder, and this is my partner Agent Scully.”

“Nice to meet you in person,” Terrance said with a Michigan accent. He was a tall man, about Mulder’s height with a balding crown and a mustache. He wore a dress shirt and tie under his vest, all draped by an FBI jacket. “I’ll run down exactly what happened and then we can decide how we want to proceed. If you’ll follow me.”

They exited the general worship area out the back, and entered into a small church office. It was more like a conference room than anything else, with peeling paint on the ceiling and dusty chairs surrounding a circular table. Mulder noted the “Do Not Enter” sign on the door.

“The pastor indicated that this room was not yet renovated, so we can talk in here. Apparently they were in worship service when they experienced a drive-by shooting. Two days prior to that, Pastor Montoya received a death note taped to the church door. We’ve checked out Montoya’s past. He spent two years in Juvie and was released. No known gang connections. We think we’ve got the UNSUB in our morgue. Some whacked out kid on crack with anti-religious sentiments. That’s what we got from the notebook he had on him. The handwriting matched the threatening note.”

“So you think you’ve solved one crime but the solution gave you another UNSUB to look for.” Mulder said.

“Exactly. This kid died from a python bite. Toxin killed him,” he stated.

“Does the toxin match previous samples?” Scully asked.

He sighed, and leaned back. “We’re not convinced our results are reliable.”

“They found that the venom matched samples you had in storage from before the snake’s lifetime,” Mulder said.

Terrance frowned in confusion and surprise. “Yes, actually. How did you know?”

“We’ve seen something similar before,” Mulder said ambiguously.

“Exactly how old is the sample you had in storage?” Scully asked, skepticism present in her voice.

“The most recent samples matched the other attacks in the neighborhood. The earliest sample isn’t important,” Terrance tried to back out of answering.

“We’d like to know its age anyway,” Mulder said, and leaned forward. “Agent Terrance, I understand you don’t consider your results reliable. But have you thought about the possibility that someone might be cloning the snakes? That would be a perfectly plausible explanation for the sample’s age exceeding a python’s lifetime. Another plausible explanation would be that someone has old, stored samples of python venom and is injecting his victims with it.”

Terrance nodded slowly, and then accelerated his nod as his facial muscles relaxed. That told Mulder he was thankful for the way out. He didn’t have to look like a fool in front of DC’s visiting agents. “The earliest sample was from 1933. We haven’t expended any resources exploring that case, but if you think someone might have gotten a hold of an old sample and is cloning these pythons and training them to attack, then by all means, you can have full access to our archives.”

“Thank you, Agent Terrance. I’m sure my partner will be interested in examining that, and the bodies of the victims. But I’d like to talk to Mrs. Mathis and both of the pastors about Kisha. We’re going to be calling in reinforcements to back you up on the search for her, but I have some experience in Missing Persons,” he said, emphasizing the last two words as if he was referring to the title of a division instead of a personal quest, “and my professional recommendation is that you get an Amber Alert out immediately, and get on the news and state that we’ve got a solid lead, that we believe the kidnapper to be associated with the shooting, and that our profile indicates that he will turn in his friends to make himself look innocent.”

Terrance raised an eyebrow in an almost Scully-like gesture. “You have a profile of the kidnapper already?”

“Well, yes,” Mulder started to answer as he leaned back in his seat. The corner of his mouth twitched in slight humor as he continued, “but that isn’t it.”

Terrance simply stared at him, completely lost.

“I don’t think the kidnappers had anything to do with the shooting,” Mulder explained. “But the shooters, from what you said, have already had one of their friends attacked by a python. From what we know, they’re all minors. At least one shooter has anti-religious views, which tells me he probably fears religion more than he disdains it. He was probably raised to be at least slightly superstitious.” He could tell he was losing Terrance, so he wrapped it up. “My point is, Agent Terrance, that if we state on the local news that the shooters will turn their friends in, it makes an already suspicious crowd even more paranoid. They’re going to make mistakes. They may even turn themselves in. They’re inexperienced—if they had wanted to assassinate Greg, they would have stormed the unlocked front door and shot up the room. Instead, they drove by and shot through a basement window. They’re just kids. And they’re scared.”

Terrance nodded slowly. He then stood, a grateful smile on his face. He extended his hand. “Agent Mulder, you’ve helped already.”

He shook Terrance’s hand, but stated, “Don’t thank me yet. Let’s go talk to Lina and Greg, and then to Mrs. Mathis.”

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2616 E. CANFIELD ST

DETROIT, MI

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14th, 2011

1400

They drove through the East Side neighborhoods in two unmarked black FBI SUVs. Mulder sat with Lina Hawgood in the rear vehicle while the other vehicle led the way through the desolate part of town. Canfield Street was lined with crumbled sidewalks and tall, overgrown grass. One could no longer tell where some of the houses had once stood in the previously suburban neighborhood. What surprised Mulder was that here or there small communities of two or three houses would appear normal and well-cared for. Groups of people had banded together and taken care of the lawns and houses of abandoned areas, as well as their own houses. He reflected that in times of great desperation, it was always individuals who cared about their community who made a real difference.

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Three children on bikes crossed the street in front of them at one stop light, eyeing them nervously. One of the children wasn’t wearing a coat, despite the chilly winter weather and small blanket of snow on the ground. It occurred to Mulder at that moment that they looked more like gang bangers than FBI, in the large black SUVs with tinted windows.

Mulder had been grilling Lina on the subject of Kisha. The eleven-year-old was shy and most likely abused. She had used the church as an escape from her home life. Mrs. Shareesa Mathis was probably an alcoholic and drug addict. She had five children by five different men. She had a job at a gas station as an attendant, and the children were often left alone in the house while she worked multiple shifts. The gas station had fired her four times for failing to show up to work, but she had managed to get her job back each time.

They were currently living in a rundown house that should probably have been condemned. They paid $50 of monthly rent to the landlord next door, who had informed Kisha, the oldest child, that they were three months behind. Social Services had taken her children multiple times, but Shareesa had earned them back. Kisha rode her bike to the church or walked if one of her siblings had the bike. She stayed all day if she wasn’t in school, but she usually didn’t participate in any of the activities. She sometimes stayed the night at Lina’s apartment, and had asked Lina one night if she could stay permanently.

It sounded to Mulder that Kisha was a little girl falling through the cracks of a failing system. She wasn’t exceptionally bright or exceptionally behind in school. She wasn’t extremely skinny or heavy. She didn’t have the worst living conditions in the city, but certainly didn’t have the best. She was an average child, and no one was caring for her. So Greg and Lina had stepped in, and made sure that she and all the other children living in similar conditions had lunch at school, dinner at night, and a roof over their head every evening. They gave Kisha her backpack, clothes, and shoes. They also provided for her four younger siblings, using the donated items from their suburban sister church.

There was no guarantee what state Mrs. Mathis would be in when they walked in. Mulder doubted that Kisha’s mother was going to be helpful, but her siblings might. They were who he truly wanted to talk to.

As they pulled up to the run-down house, they saw an abandoned bus that looked like its manufacture date might have been in the ‘60s. It was in the overgrown lot next door to the Mathis’ residence, and had no wheels or windows. Mulder glanced at it suspiciously, and stored it away in his memory. Five children living next to an abandoned bus would likely make it a clubhouse, and if Kisha was going to return to someplace ‘safe’, that might be it. But then, it was very close to this collapsing house that was probably a prison for the child.

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The Mathis’ house was mostly boarded up. The front door was on brand-new shiny hinges, though, and Mulder glanced curiously at them as they approached the front porch. “We installed those three weeks ago,” Lina said. “Greg and some of the boys helped.”

He nodded, understanding now. “I can’t believe anyone lives here,” he said quietly, looking at the condition of the house. He doubted it was safe in some areas. The upstairs windows were bashed in and boards had not replaced them. Multiple bullet holes could be seen in the wood between the chips of peeling white paint. The porch was slanted, and he tested each step before actually stepping up. A tricycle could be seen in the side yard next to the collapsing fence. It was filthy but intact, and recent small handprints could be seen through the dirt on the yellowed handlebars.

“They may not live here for long,” Lina said. “Kisha told us Social Services paid them a visit only a week ago and said if they don’t find a way to fix up the place, they’re going to have to move again.”

“How many times have they moved?” Mulder asked before knocking on the door.

“Kisha lost track,” the pastor stated sadly.

Mulder knocked on the doorframe and faced forward, making sure to seem as unthreatening as possible. He was flanked by Terrance and Lina, and two other agents stood by the cars. He was aware that they didn’t exactly look friendly.

A woman answered after a brief wait. She was in her mid thirties, her hair tied up on her head and held there with a clip. The baby in her arms was wearing only a diaper as he sucked his thumb. She was wearing men’s cargo pants and a large t-shirt that looked like it could have used a run through the washing machine. Screaming children could be heard running around inside.

“Wha’ you want?” she demanded. “Y’all Social Services? ‘Cause I told them—”

“We’re not from Social Services, Mrs. Mathis. May we come in, please?”

“Y’all police? I don’t want no damn police—”

“They’re not police, Shareesa. You remember me? It’s Lina, the pastor down at the church?” Lina inquired, and gave Shareesa a winning smile.

The baby smiled back and waved his little hand. Shareesa squinted and then recognition hit her. “Oh! Lina! Why didn’t you say so?! Come in! Who all ya friends?”

Mulder opened the screen door and extended his hand. “My name’s Mulder, and we’re here to help find Kisha. Were you aware Kisha was missing?” He still couldn’t tell from her behavior if she was lucid, but it appeared she was and simply needed glasses. Glasses probably didn’t fit in a family’s budget if they had difficulty buying clothes and food.

“Kisha ain’t missin’. She just gone off with some friends or somethin’. She hard-headed, that girl. Don’t listen to no one, can’t control her. Always runnin’ off. Thank God for the church, tryin’a put some sense in her head.” She put the baby down, and he scampered away to find his siblings.

Mulder looked around. The house smelled of body odor, marijuana, and urine. The kitchen, where they had come in, was a mess. It was doubtful anyone had cooked or done dishes for a while. An opened package of Chewy Granola bars sat on the floor, and a box of water bottles from Meijer sat next to them. No doubt donations from the church. The floor was stained from mud tracked in with snow on people’s boots. There was no kitchen table, but there was a small end table with a few folding chairs strewn about it. There were windows installed on the downstairs, and the place was poorly heated but heated nonetheless. Mulder could see a rope holding a piece of plywood that blocked the stairway. That answered his question about anyone living on the unsafe second floor.

“What y’all need from me?” she asked. “I gotta be at work at four.”

“That’s fine, Mrs. Mathis. Do you mind if we ask the kids a few questions?” Mulder asked gently. He wanted to gain this woman’s trust.

“Don’t know what answers y’all gonna get outta them. But fine by me. Any of ‘em give ya trouble, let me know.”

Mulder nodded, even though he most certainly would not let her know. He was planning on making some calls after they were done here. He glanced at the filthy dishes in the sink and noticed fly larvae crawling all over one plate. Definitely going to call Social Services.

Shareesa then screamed at the top of her lungs, “Jared! Kareem! Anthony! Git over here!”

The yelling children became silent, but they ran over to her almost immediately. They were probably three, five, and eight. They were in various stages of getting dressed, the youngest in his dirty sleeper pajamas, the middle one in sweatpants and a t-shirt, and the oldest in jeans that were too small and a sweatshirt that was too big. They looked warily at the unfamiliar adults in the house. “Y’all answer they’s questions. I be watchin’ TV.” Shareesa then abruptly left without another word.

TV? How does this family have a TV?

Mulder’s thoughts were interrupted by the three-year-old’s little voice proclaiming, “I ain’t answer none questions from you!”

“Anthony, you remember me? Lina?” Lina asked as she squatted down to the little boy’s level and smiled. He stared, and then nodded. “I brought you something,” she said, and pulled a candy bar out of her pocket. His eyes lit up, and he reached for it. “No,” she said, pulling back. “I’ll give you the candy bar if you’re good. You promise?” He nodded, and she handed him the candy bar.

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Mulder pulled a chair up and sat down, and indicated that the boys should do the same. Agent Terrance, aware that he was an intimidating presence, backed up against the wall and said nothing.

Lina led the boys to chairs and handed the other two candy bars as well. They happily ate, clearly hungry. Mulder realized they were probably rationing the water and granola bars. He wondered if it was Shareesa who had made the decision to ration, or the children.

“Okay, what are your names?” Mulder asked.

“You a cop?” the eight-year-old asked suspiciously.

“Not quite,” Mulder answered. “I’m here to help find Kisha. You noticed she wasn’t here?”

“She gone off, mama said,” the five-year-old said. “And my name’s Kareem.”

Mulder nodded, smiled at Kareem, and extended his hand. The little boy took it. “It’s very nice to meet you, Kareem.” His aim was to make the five-year-old feel important. He looked at all three of them when he asked, “Where do you think she went?”

The boys shrugged.

“Well, where do you guys like to go when you’re outside? Do you have a favorite hiding place?”

“We go places,” the eight-year-old answered. His body language was defensive. He didn’t trust Mulder, and was attempting to etch an angry expression into his face. He was scared. Mulder’s heart went out to the little boy. With his sister missing, he felt that he was in charge of this family. His three younger siblings were too young to care for themselves.

“Does Kisha have any friends from school?” Mulder asked.

“Yeah, she friends with that boy Luke,” Kareem said, and finished his candy bar.

“Shut up, Kareem, ‘fore I pop you,” Jared threatened, and Kareem was promptly silent.

“Jared, that wasn’t nice,” Lina corrected firmly. “We’re trying to help you. Being mean will not help find Kisha. I know you’re worried about her and want to find her. If you want, you can come with us when we go to look. We might need your help.”

Mulder smiled and nodded. Having Jared’s help navigating the neighborhood would be useful, and it would get him out of this situation.

Jared seemed to consider it. He trusted Lina, having seen the fruits of her labor before. The door was broken, and it was Lina and Greg who had fixed it. They were hungry, and Lina and Greg brought food and water. Kisha sometimes spent the night with Lina and Greg. Their sister trusted them implicitly, and that was probably good enough for the eight-year-old.

But he didn’t trust Mulder. Social Services had come and taken them from their mother before. He had been fed and clothed while with them, but split up from his siblings. He would not willingly go again. “My brothers come or we don’t go,” he demanded.

“We can do that. We’ll bring your brothers with us,” Mulder promised. “And you know what? I’m going to make sure you get to stay together and when Kisha is found, you all go to a place where you’ll get a warm meal and a place to sleep, together. I promise.”

Jared looked at Mulder with distrust and even genuine anger, but he nodded cautiously. “Lemme get Toby.” He stood and walked away, searching for the baby.

Mulder turned to Terrance. “Get Social Services on the phone,” he said in a low tone. “Tell them the kids are in our custody for the next twenty-four hours, and then they can get involved. Get Jax in here, tell Porter to stay by the cars. We may get resistance,” he said, and Terrance nodded. Moments later, one of the other agents entered and Jared came back with the baby in his arms. “Lina, will you take some pics with your phone, please?” Mulder asked kindly, hoping that his tone would mask his purpose. They would need documentation as to why they took the children. She nodded.

Then Mulder decided to take the bullet. He led the way into the other room, following the noise of the television. Four cots were laid out on the family room floor and an ancient television with rabbit ears was propped on a cinder block against the wall. Shareesa sat on one of the cots with the remote in her hand, watching a movie. “Mrs. Mathis?”

“What, you done wi’ the kids?”

“Mrs. Mathis, the kids are going to help us find Kisha. They believe they know where she may have gone.”

“Y’all bring ‘em back when you done?”

“We’ll see. We need to speak with Social Services first.”

She turned around at that. “Y’all bring mah kids back, or I come after yo’ ass.” She stood up. “Y’all don’t take mah kids!”

“Mrs. Mathis, the children need a good meal and appropriate clothing for the weather. We’re going to keep them together and make sure they get all of that—”

She started to push past him to grab Jared, who had followed Mulder into the family room and was now staring wide-eyed at Terrance and Jax as they held his mother back. Mulder approached him and placed a comforting hand around his shoulders, leading him out of the family room as his mother screamed after them. “Y’all don’t take mah kids! I kill yo’ ass! I kill you!”

Lina got the kids into one of the vehicles. They didn’t have car seats so they settled on stuffing their winter coats underneath Kareem and Anthony. They held the baby in their arms. They hadn’t come prepared to take children, but Mulder had given the order and after what Terrance had seen in that house, he couldn’t blame him. But now they had to get out of there quickly if they were going to spare the children the sight of their mother running after them.

“Where are we going?” Jared asked. Mulder noticed he had slipped his hand into Anthony’s.

“We’re going to the FBI office first, and we’re going to find you some warm clothes and something to eat. Then after that we’ll let you lead the way while we drive around the neighborhood and look for Kisha. That sound good to you?” Mulder asked the boy.

Jared nodded, cautious and serious. The eight-year-old was still bearing the responsibility of ‘head of the family’ for his younger siblings, even though it appeared they were safe. Hearing his mother screaming death threats at the people he was now with probably didn’t help his opinion of the FBI.

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FBI DETROIT FIELD OFFICE

DETROIT, MI

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14th, 2011

1445

“You took four children out of their home without a court order?” Scully asked, raising an eyebrow. “How are you going to swing this one, Mulder?”

They were in the morgue, Mulder leaning against a counter as far from the body as possible and Scully in scrubs and an apron standing over an autopsied corpse that used to be a gangbanger.

“If you had seen the conditions those children were living in, you’d have taken them too. I think they need the CDC in there.”

“Be that as it may,” his partner countered, “you have to at least alert Social Services—”

“Already done. We have them for 24 hours because they’re potential witnesses.”

“Witnesses to what?”

“I think the oldest boy, Jared, might be able to lead us to Kisha. And the snake.”

Scully frowned. “You’re taking a little boy into the field? How old is he?”

“He’s eight. Just old enough to testify.” He sensed the need to change the subject before he was skewered. “What did you find?”

“The toxin did come from the same snake. And the victims all died from the same toxin. The problem is, while these samples match samples the Detroit PD has on their database dating back to 1933, the computer archives don’t list where those old samples came from. If we want a complete history, we’re going to have to find complete archives instead of the summaries they uploaded into the database.”

Finally, Mulder thought. Something he could do. “It sounds like we’re going to have to dig through some files,” Mulder said.

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DETROIT POLICE DEPARTMENT

DETROIT, MI

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14th, 2011

1530

The Detriot Police had been around longer than the FBI and were the first to investigate the toxin killings. On the drive over, Mulder had done some research on his phone’s internet and found out that the first killings took place in 1930, not 1933. On an urban legends website, he read that more than twenty people had been killed by trained pythons between the years of 1930 and 1941, but then the killings abruptly stopped. It was suspected that circus performers were to blame, and that at the start of World War II, many of them fled the city for fear of the draft. The police had lost track of the case amidst the wartime chaos, and none of the files had even been opened since the early 1950s.

When the agents arrived at the Police Department they were told that all police officers were unavailable. Mulder didn’t think it was just a line—he thought it was a truthful statement. Detroit had recently cut its investigations department, leaving the city with no formally titled detectives. The city was completely in the red financially and needed to cut everywhere it could, so police officers were unofficially commissioned as officers and detectives, and any cases worth investigating were either handled by the police or if needed, handed over to the FBI. Overtime was mandatory. The officers not on their patrols were understandably exhausted and busy with paperwork, and so a receptionist led the agents to the archives area.

“The top floor stops at about 1970, for anything earlier than that you’ll need to go down to the basement,” she told them, and then made a run for it. She too had an exorbitant amount of work to do and not a lot of time to do it. She definitely didn’t have time to help two FBI agents look up something from the 1930s.

They immediately went to the basement, boarding the elevator that looked like it had last been serviced in their target era. Scully’s grip on the handrail turned white-knuckled when the machine suddenly shook after nearly reaching their stop, and jumped the last foot down to the basement level with a ‘bang’.

“I think we’ll use the stairs heading back up,” Mulder commented, and they stepped into the catacomb-like basement level. It looked like one of the many government buildings Mulder had infiltrated, with lots and lots of files. The difference was that there was also lots and lots of dust.

The boxes of files were organized on shelves according to decade, and they reached the 1930s at the very end of one wall of files and Mulder actually had to bat away some cobwebs in order to access the area. There were only six boxes, the others having been lost or thrown out over time.

There was no table in the basement so Mulder used the empty shelf space and opened the box in front of them right there. He started paging through, looking for the target dates. “Here you go, Scully,” he handed her three files. “Should be somewhere in there.”

She also started paging through, and before Mulder had reached the next case, she said, “1930, 3664 Joseph Campau Street, a residence belonging to a Dr. Alan Desper.” She read on. “The description states that Desper lived alone, had some sort of laboratory in his house…he was an inventor.”

Mulder’s eyes widened at that.

“He was found with the same puncture wounds. They autopsied his body and placed a sample of the toxin in the files until they could test it against something,” Scully read. She looked up. “He must have had some money, and his family wanted this investigation. Or maybe he had some prominence in the community.”

Mulder agreed with a nod. “Detroit didn’t have that kind of money in 1930 to be expending resources on that extensive an investigation.”

She closed the file and went to the next one. “1931,” she read, and Mulder continued searching through the box. As she read on, he opened the next box and continued his search, pulling out a few more files.

After a half hour they had an extensive list of people who had been killed by snake toxin between 1930 and 1939. Mulder had moved onto the 1940s, which strangely enough had a shelf all to itself, considering the small quantity of files in the 1930s. He found three more attacks between 1940 and 1941, and then the attacks abruptly stopped. This confirmed the information that was loaded into the computer database.

As they walked toward the exit sign that led to a staircase in a dimly-lit alcove of the dungeon-like facility, Mulder said, “I think the next step has to be driving to each of those attack locations.”

“What makes you think you’ll find the snakes or Kisha at any of them, if none of the attacks were at the same location?”

“I want to take Jared with us.”

Scully glanced in his direction as they climbed the stairs under the flickering fluorescent light. As was typical with Mulder, his response neither answered her question nor struck confidence in her heart that he knew what he was doing. Half the time it seemed like he was shooting in the dark, hoping to hit something. But it was his impeccable record at hitting that something, oftentimes on the first try, that made her withhold her protest as they exited the police department and went back to the field office.

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WOODWARD AVE MARIOTT

DETROIT, MI

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14th, 2011

1945

Scully had driven for three hours with the eight-year-old, his brothers, and Mulder in the back of the SUV. Mulder quietly mapped out each attack location on a tourist map they picked up at a Seven Eleven. He drew radii around each dot, and colored in the areas where they overlapped.

His map was complete by the time Jared had identified every hide-out and clubhouse, every secret passageway and friend’s house, that Kisha frequented. He was interested to hear that the children sometimes went into the Desper residence, which was falling apart. They believed it was haunted but it was so dangerous in its decay that none of them had ever ventured past the kitchen. When they got back to the hotel and ordered pizza, Mulder was still staring at the completed map and comparing it to something on his laptop computer screen.

His silence was killing her. More than that, it was concerning her. He was definitely profiling, but this wasn’t his normal profiling mode. She noticed the distinct lack of yellow paper, which was a red flag in-and-of itself. He also hadn’t been at it long enough to get this engrossed. It usually took him days to get to this coma-like state she now observed him in.

After taking off her heels and getting into comfortable flannel pants and a v-neck t-shirt, she prodded into his hotel room through the open adjoined door and sat down on the couch next to him. “Hmm,” she got in response, a cross between a grunt and ‘hi’.

“Mulder,” she said softly, and placed her hand on the laptop keyboard, but didn’t depress any keys. “What’s wrong?”

“I hope nothing,” he responded, but his answer was so lame that he didn’t even bother justifying it. “I think we have a problem.”

Scully looked at the map and at his screen, and then she realized what he was doing. “Those don’t have much to do with this case, do they?” she asked while staring at the circles.

“No,” Mulder said, and looked at her with a worried expression. “This case had my Spidey-senses tingling from the beginning, Scully, but it’s worse than I expected. Of fifty-six attacks total, not counting the most recent ones, forty-eight of those correlate with X-files, both investigated and shelved.”

She glanced at his computer screen. “What’s this?” His partner asked.

“This is a secure link to those X-files,” he said, and minimized the window. “This,” he expanded another, “is the alien text you found in India.”

After Scully had stormed the half-collapsed hospital in India along with a marine unit who subsequently found and rescued Mulder, she had nearly stepped on a Toughbook that had survived in the rubble. The computer’s entire system was operating in some other language, which was later verified to be alien text that matched what they had seen before.

“What does that have to do with these cases?”

“The translation, or at least the best version we have, is a list of names. One of those names is “Strughold”, which would make any sane person run away all by itself. The rest of those names meant nothing to us, until now. Guess what forty-eight of them match up to?”

Scully’s eyes widened. “Python victims?”

“No. Not people. Street addresses of the attacks.” He pulled out the map. “Each of these locations,” he pointed to them one by one, “are all detailed from this alien text, Scully. What we found is connected to this case. But more importantly, this case is directly connected to Strughold’s operation. He’s using these snakes as…assassins. A cheap means of killing…I don’t know who. Failed experiments?”

“We have to get these results to Skinner. And we should leave, Mulder. The likelihood of something happening to us now that we’ve discovered this is—”

“We’re not leaving. At least not until we’ve gone into the details of each of these cases, and we still need to find that little girl.”

“You found overlapping areas between where Jared said she hung out and the attack locations—give that to Terrance, let him finish this. Don’t you think these results are more important than this case? You mentioned that these recent attacks were outliers on the map, that they didn’t correlate with the text.”

“They don’t, which is all the more reason why we should stay, Scully. This is the first time in over seventy years that one of these attacks hasn’t correlated with Strughold’s activities. Just a little too coincidental for me…”

“Strughold is trying to trap us, Mulder.”

He stood up. “He wanted me dead in India, Scully,” he said as he walked over to the window. “He wouldn’t have planned this if he thought I’d die in that God-forsaken place.”

Scully was silent for a moment. “Don’t you think he’s fully capable of coming up with a contingency plan? What can it hurt to set up something here just in case you came along? And it wouldn’t take much, Mulder. Pay some kid to piss off the wrong people, instigate a miniature gang war, cause a shootout, and then use his programmed snake to enact ‘revenge’ off the map from his previous experiments to attract the FBI and get you on the job. Then lure you to some abandoned area of the city and pay another kid to drive by and shoot you. Or both of us. He could go on experimenting and using the snakes to take out the failed experiments, or go on dealing in alien weapons and using the snakes to take out the dealers, or whatever else he was doing in this hellhole. And no one would be any wiser.”

Mulder turned. A smile played on the corner of his lips and he said, “Scully…”

“I’m getting tired of you asking me to marry you, Mulder,” she responded, and then started to chuckle.

He broke into laughter too, and sat back down beside her. He audibly sighed, and leaned back. She wrapped her arm around his shoulders and rested her head close to his. He stared at the map and computer screen and said, “This is culminating to something, Scully. I can feel it.”

She was silent for a moment. Then she whispered, “When it comes, we’ll face whatever it is together, okay?”

He pursed his lips together and nodded briefly. “Together,” he promised.

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3664 JOSEPH CAMPAU ST.

DETROIT, MI

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14th, 2011

2305

Let it never be said I don’t come prepared, Mulder thought as he walked down the street in jeans and ratty old tennis shoes, his hands shoved into the front pocket of his black hoodie, with the hood pulled over his head. From behind, one would never guess that he didn’t belong there.

Joseph Campau Street was one of the more populated areas of the East Side, but was surrounded by abandoned neighborhoods. It was almost like an oasis in the middle of the desert, but except for the northern end, it was an oasis that had seen better days. Just a few blocks from Greg and Lina’s church, the street was lined with houses in various stages of decay, but not a lot of empty lots.

There was no one around. Anyone with any sense knew to get behind their doors at this time of night, in this particular neighborhood. Mulder didn’t feel threatened, though, because he figured the major drug dealers and gang bangers would be in a more populated area this time of night. Abandoned neighborhoods were better used for crack houses and meth labs than they were for drive-by shootings.

He was looking for 3664 Joseph Campau Street, where it all began. Dr. Alan Desper’s historic house, where the scientist was experimenting on brain wave chemistry and the ability to communicate with animals. Obviously, it was incredibly relevant to the case.

It was also a major intersection on his map, combining historic attack sites with Kisha’s hangouts and Strughold’s street names. His plan was to collect evidence and leave, hopefully without Scully knowing that he hadn’t gone down to the gym because of his insomnia. He didn’t want her in this environment.

In the distance he could hear a siren wailing, and the stars were brilliant that night due to the lack of working street lights and the isolated nature of this street. Some dogs barked in someone’s yard not far from him. A baby in the house to his left cried, and a man and a woman screamed at each other from the top floor of a duplex to his right. Other than those sounds and sights, the neighborhood was deathly still.

After about a block, he found the decrepit house that used to be the home of a brilliant scientist. It looked like it hadn’t been inhabited for several years. In any other city, a building like this had to have been abandoned by ten or fifteen years, but looters would tear into a newly-abandoned building in Detroit and rip out every piece of metal existent, leaving it desolate as if it had been vacant for a decade.

Mulder walked the short distance to the front porch and tested each step before he mounted it. The door had once been locked with a padlock and a neighborhood watch sign was graffiti’d over on the window to his left. He couldn’t help but imagine how magnificent it had looked at one point. As he looked around at the surroundings and spotted a car upside-down without any tires in the side-yard, he also couldn’t help but wonder, What the hell am I doing here?

Nevertheless, he took a deep breath and entered the house, half expecting to be attacked by snakes. Instead he was met with total silence. He turned on his flashlight and its single ‘click’ sounded like a symphony. The kitchen was filled with dust and cobwebs, the holes in the half-rotted wooden floor showing through to the basement. If I fall through this floor and get stuck, Scully is going to kill me.

He walked slowly and carefully around the ancient refrigerator that was on its side on the kitchen floor. The thought occurred to him that he didn’t exactly know what he was looking for. There were no snakes here. No child. No signs of life, even. He expected there to be footprints on the dusty floor or fingerprints on the door, but there was not even a stray cat or a cockroach in this desolate place. He began to question his hunch. Perhaps the home of Alan Desper was a dud.

That’s when he heard it. It was extremely faint, but in the silence it was possible to pick up…music?

He stepped around the refrigerator again and stuck his head out the front door. The sound was gone. So it can’t be the neighbors down the street.

He closed the front door again and hopped over the fridge, heading to the back staircase. The sound was getting louder, but was still extremely faint. He shined his flashlight around, batting cobwebs with the mini-maglite and hoping he didn’t get a spider bite he would later have to explain to Scully.

The music could be some homeless person…he thought. The skeptical voice in his mind sounded like Scully’s, but whatever was driving his heart deeper into this darkness was stronger. He mounted the stairs one at a time, testing the creaking wood and stepping around areas with large holes. He reached the top floor and clicked his flashlight off, attempting to determine if there were any lights on.

There were none. In fact, he was enveloped in darkness so heavy that he could feel its presence. He was surrounded. His heart rate began to increase in frequency, and he attempted to slow his breathing. There was someone here. Or something…

The instant the thought sparked in his mind, he felt something slither past his leg, and a voice eerily identical to that demon he encountered in the Wisconsin boarding school entered his mind.

You’re in the right place if you’re looking to stop him…

“Who?” Mulder asked out loud, the volume of his own voice creating goosebumps on his arms and causing the hairs to stick up on the back of his neck.

You must ‘face the music.’ Before he arrives…

“Who are you talking about? Who are you?” Mulder demanded, attempting to put some resolve into his voice.

The only one of my brothers and sisters still fighting for justice.

Mulder clicked his flashlight back on, and spun around desperately, trying to catch his telepathic companion before he disappeared. “Are you one of Alan Desper’s experiments?” Mulder asked, starting down the corridor in the direction of the music. “Where is Kisha Mathis?! Where have you taken her?!”

A door at the end of the corridor creaked open, and a small face appeared close to the floor. Mulder shined his flashlight there instantly, and pulled his weapon. He lowered it as soon as he saw who it was. “Kisha…” he said softly. “I’m not here to hurt you. I’m with the FBI. I’m here to take you to a safe place.”

Kisha stared at him with wide eyes, and said nothing.

“Please don’t try to run away. I don’t think this place is safe to run around in. If you come with me, I’ll get you something to eat and some warm clothes. It’s cold here.” The music was getting louder, and Mulder realized there was a small iPod on the floor next to the child. He wondered where she got it.

They’re here! Mulder’s head exploded with the message, and Kisha ducked into the room instantly, diving into a closet and slamming the door closed. Mulder barely had a chance to get into the room with her and sweep up the iPod on the floor before he heard a hissing noise downstairs.

It was only seconds after that, not even long enough to get to the closet, before a barrage of snakes came flowing like water up the stairs and down the hall, directly toward him. He backed up, fired off a few shots, and shouted for Kisha to stay in the closet, but there was nothing more he could do. They divided in a great parting of the sea, at least fifty of them heading for the closet and another twenty surrounding him. The pythons, clearly trained, stopped when they formed a fence around him. Their fangs were the pickets and he stood stock-still, taking deep breaths and slowly raising his weapon. The hissing increased, now louder than a tree full of cicadas. One snake snapped at his weapon as a warning sign, and he realized he’d barely get a shot off before they killed him. But what else was he supposed to do?

The snakes by the closet had wound themselves around the doorknob and had pulled the door open, revealing an exposed Kisha inside. The little girl shrieked in terror and curled herself into a fetal ball on the floor.

I WILL NOT ALLOW IT! There was a screaming voice in his head, and a final snake dropped from a hole in the ceiling, breaking the circle that surrounded Mulder. In an instant, it recovered and shot toward the closet. Pythons surrounded the terrified eleven-year-old girl, and Mulder saw only one alternative to this situation. He was about to jump in front of her and take the brunt of the attack himself, but his companion was too fast. It was an enormous snake and had enough momentum to push Mulder out of the way as it leapt in front of Kisha and was almost immediately torn apart by the fangs of its fellow snakes.

Mulder watched and grimaced, realizing that in seconds, that would be Kisha’s fate as well. “Can you all understand telepathy? Do you all have that ability?!” he desperately asked. “Please, she’s just a child!”

You do not understand the intricacies of the business you find yourself in, came another voice, this one gravelly and low. He jumped when something unexpectedly slithered past him and wound itself around him. Oh, God, he thought. Scully really is going to kill me for this…

Kisha was begging, crying uncontrollably, streaming unintelligible pleas from her sob-ridden throat. She was petrified, hyperventilating, and Mulder was helpless to stop it.

The hissing was so loud that he could already feel his ears ringing. Then it happened. The first snake dove, and then another, and they all followed suit. Kisha’s screams of terror and pain turned into inhuman, primal screams of death. Mulder closed his eyes and held back his own sob at this child’s fate, when he was only ten feet away. Why? Why Kisha? Why a child?

The hissing was dying down. The snake released Mulder and let him slump to the dusty floor. Our business is done, the voice echoed in his head. They exited as they had entered. He scrambled into the closet and halted at the door, staring at the freshly mutilated corpses of a snake and what was a small child only moments ago. He sunk to his hands and knees and slammed his fist angrily into the wood as he yelled in emotional agony, letting his tears flow now.

There was not a single snakebite anywhere on his body, and he wanted nothing more than to transfer this child’s pain onto himself. He couldn’t move from his position on the floor next to these mangled corpses, and it grew silent and dark before long, the light from his dropped flashlight illuminating a small strip of the room but nothing more.

After some amount of time, his ears stopped ringing and he again heard the iPod, which was miraculously still playing in his hoodie’s front pocket. He took the small device out and paused it, halting the music. After he saw the screen, he did a double-take.

The album cover was an alien’s face, only instead of green or grey, the alien was bright-white. Behind the alien was a bright-white cigar-shaped UFO identical to the one he and Matt had seen in the forest. The song was entitled, ‘Ally’ and had no artist name attached to it. He stared, his tear-stained face now perplexed. Suddenly, he was angry. “If you’re our ally,” he started at a normal volume, and observed how his own voice rose in his rage, “Why did you let this happen?! We know you have healing abilities! So get down here and heal! Dammit! You’re just serving your own interests like everyone else!” He threw the iPod down on the floor, but it didn’t shatter. He wanted to slam his fist into the wall but he didn’t do it. Instead, he scooped up the iPod and stormed out of the room in one motion. He was going to call Terrance and Scully and report Kisha’s death.

He pulled his cell phone out but it had no signal inside the house, so he headed for the front door. He nearly tripped over the refrigerator and instead of just walking around, he kicked it as hard as he could. He shoved his phone in his pocket and kicked the fridge again, and again, and again, eventually screaming without even realizing it. He could feel his rage flowing from his chest as he pounded the old refrigerator. The door popped off and he kicked it clear across the room where it bounced against the wall and fell through some loosely-placed floorboards. It clambered to a halt in the basement, but Mulder kept kicking. He managed to kick the monstrosity of an old refrigerator into the wood of the kitchen cabinets before he exhausted himself and stumbled backward toward the door. He held onto the knob of the open door, supporting his weight with one shoulder on the door’s ledge. He bowed his head, leaning it against the wood and longing suddenly for a bed to slide down onto, so that he could collapse and fall asleep.

After another moment, he pulled his cell phone again and slowly walked outside into the cold. He hadn’t moved two steps before strong hands grabbed him from behind.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

LIMOUSINE

DETROIT, MI

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 15th, 2011

0100

Mulder couldn’t remember passing out. But then, he also couldn’t remember getting into a limousine. He didn’t hurt anywhere when he awoke, but he did find himself dizzy and disoriented. He stared at the ceiling of the limousine for a moment before he realized he was handcuffed to some kind of railing along the limo’s floor.

There were men in suits around him, but the lighting was so bad that he couldn’t identify any of them. As soon as one spoke, though, he knew exactly who it was.

“Has anyone ever told you, Mr. Mulder, that you have a knack for showing up where you don’t belong?”

“A few times,” he answered Strughold, shifting his weight so he could face the man. “What do you want? Why did you kill Kisha Mathis?”

“Because she knew what was going on…one of my rogues got to her before my others could stop him. And now, of course, you know as well.”

“So what, you’re going to kill me?”

Strughold chuckled. “Not today. I won’t be so merciful. I still need you, Mr. Mulder, like it or not. I know you certainly didn’t like it in Pakistan, and it’s likely you won’t like it now, either. How is your arm, by the way?”

Over the summer, a piece of glass had embedded itself in his bicep when his humvee was attacked in Pakistan. He was subsequently captured and tortured, under Strughold’s orders. “Why did you kill a little girl? No one would have believed anything she said!”

“She was merely a tool, Mr. Mulder. I took advantage of a situation that in any other circumstance would have dealt me a serious financial blow. Now that you’re here, you have the opportunity to guarantee her death was not in vain. What I am about to tell you is privileged information. There are those out there in the galaxy that would wish Earth harm.”

“I’m sure you play poker with them on Fridays.”

“You’ll be quiet while I’m speaking,” Strughold stated evenly. “There are those out there in the galaxy that would wish Earth harm,” he said in a freakishly soft German accent. He sounded to Mulder like he was giving a Hitler-esque speech to a bunch of Youth recruits. “Through my continued dedication to the preservation of this planet, I’ve secured a way to resist them. They will come preaching peace, and healing. They are lying.

“You see, Mr. Mulder, we are not so different. We reach for the same goals. We both want Earth to be safe. All I am doing is guaranteeing its safety. And I want you to join me.”

Mulder snorted. “You can’t be serious. You can do better than that.” He shook his head. “At this point, Strughold, I’ve been ignored by my employer, I’ve been threatened by a shadow government, when I exposed the shadow government they’ve tried to kill me at every chance they get, I’ve been on the run, I’ve had my family threatened, I’ve had my family killed, I’ve been captured and tortured…twice in the past five years,” the volume of his voice increased as his voice left its sarcastic pitch and took on an angry tone, “and I’ve watched you cheat, and steal, and lie, and murder innocents. I just saw you order a troop of fucking snakes to murder a little girl!” Despite the fact that his hands were tied down, he managed to sit up to his full height as he concluded vehemently, “So no, I’m not going to join you, you sick bastard. And I fucking disagree with you—we are nothing alike, and we never will be. I’ve gotten offers like this before, and if it’s one thing I’ve learned in the past twenty years, it’s don’t get in the devil’s debt. He tends to collect.”

Strughold was silent. It was likely that few of the men in the vehicle had ever heard someone speak to him in that tone.

“If you’re gonna kill me, do it now. Or let me go. But make up your fucking mind!” Mulder yelled.

Then a most curious thing occurred. Strughold’s lips curled to form a sinister smile. “Mr. Mulder,” he started, and paused. “You are a brilliant man. You’re quite right—I seem indecisive on the issue of whether to kill you. During the Bari Trasadi incident I had hoped we would be able to use your uniquely skilled mind to decipher the secrets of a weapon that could protect Earth. Unfortunately, you were unwilling to cooperate and you destroyed it. You nearly killed yourself…which would, of course, solve my dilemma. But I am faced with another decision. You are, as I stated before, uniquely gifted. In order to secure Earth’s safety, I may need your services. If the man is unwilling, however, there are few options left.”

Mulder’s mind raced. Where was Strughold going with this?

“For now, I will leave you alive. I’ve already procured what I need, but one can never have too many insurance policies, can he?”

He had no idea what the elderly man was talking about. He sounded almost senile.

“I will warn you, Mr. Mulder. Further investigation into this case will reveal nothing, will not progress your own quest to circumvent my goals, and may very well lead to your death. Or at the very least, your despair.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Strughold. If you’re going to let me go, let me go. If not, kill me. But please, do us both a favor and stop talking.”

The smile didn’t leave Strughold’s lips. He raised his hand in the slightest gesture, and the limousine slowed to just a few miles per hour. The side-door was opened, and one of Strughold’s guards roughly uncuffed him and unceremoniously tossed him out of the vehicle. He rolled to a stop on the ground as the limo took off again with squealing tires.

It was then that Mulder realized what he had just wished upon himself. He looked around at his desolate surroundings, burnt-out houses and cars rusted through. The post apocalyptic scene was chilling in the moonlight. Well…this sucks. He was stranded in the middle of the night with no gun, no cell phone, and no wallet, in Detroit. He began walking in one direction, knowing that eventually he would hit civilization, whatever that might mean.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

WOODWARD AVE MARIOTT

DETROIT, MI

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 15th, 2011

0500

“I’m here live in front of the scene of the tragic shooting of an FBI agent. Details are still coming in, but she was reportedly staying in the Woodward Avenue Mariott here in the city of Detroit as a consultant for a case involving—”

When Mulder finally stepped off the bus and into the chaos, he felt his stomach plummet. He saw FBI SUV’s, squad cars, countless news trucks, and a ton of civilians that seemed to have materialized out of thin air at the scene of a crime. The hotel was surrounded with yellow tape, and the manager was giving a statement on CNN.

All words were blocked from his mind after he heard ‘shooting of an FBI agent.’ He saw his vision graying along the corners and he felt dizzy, but he forced himself to stay upright and focused. He had no badge. He couldn’t gain access without someone to ID him. He looked like a gang banger, which wasn’t working in his favor. Neither was the large amount of blood on the front of his shirt, or the dust and dirt he was covered in. He was convinced it was these things that kept him from being mugged by the kids who had mugged the homeless man next to him at the bus stop.

He scanned the crowd for Terrance and finally tracked the man down. “Agent Terrance!” he called. The mustached man turned, and Mulder pushed his way over to him.

“Agent Mulder? What the hell happened to you? Did you get mugged? Are you hurt?”

He shook his head. “Where’s Scully?”

“She’s in the back of the van with our analysts. Some lunatic stormed the hotel and shot an FBI agent we had consulting for us on a white collar crime case.”

Mulder heard nothing after Scully’s location. He ducked under the tape and ran toward the SUV Terrance indicated, his tennis shoes screeching as he came to a halt and faced his partner. “Oh, thank God,” he breathed, and threw his arms around her.

“Mulder? What the hell happened to you?” her question exactly mirrored Terrance’s. “What’s wrong? Where were you? Did you go out running?”

“Scully,” he spoke quietly, “Kisha is dead. She was attacked by…it must have been seventy snakes in there. Her body is in Alan Desper’s old house. So is the snake that bit those gangbangers—it’s been a rogue for a while, now, and I think I know who was controlling it. But I couldn’t get back here sooner because I ran into our German friend,” he glanced behind him. “And I need to talk to you in private.”

Scully’s expression was blank, her mind still processing the amount of information he had just thrown at her. “Let’s get you inside, Mulder. Come on. It’s freezing out here.”

They walked the short distance from the FBI van to the hotel, where they entered and saw the forensic team collecting evidence from the two bodies on the floor—the gunman and the FBI agent who was shot.

“This wasn’t an accident, Scully,” he said, his voice low.

“I know,” she whispered. “Not here.”

To his surprise, she led the way to the Mariott’s restaurant. They navigated through the sea of empty tables and Mulder suddenly felt very dirty. It was the first time he had been in a warm, clean place in what felt like days, and he wanted so badly to step into a hot shower and wash away the stink of this case. But he had a feeling Scully was about to add to it.

They entered the vacant kitchen and Scully continued to walk to the back. Mulder’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Are you going to put me in the freezer? Because it might be faster to just tie concrete blocks to my feet.”

“This location has already been swept. Mulder…I received a communication before the shooting happened.”

He watched as she looked down. She pulled her iPod out of her coat pocket and handed it to him. He wasn’t entirely shocked to find the same album picture and song name, ‘Ally’. Then he pulled out the one he collected from Desper’s house. “Kisha had this with her,” he said.

“This is what you saw in the forest, isn’t it?” she asked.

He nodded.

“If they’re our allies, then why didn’t they stop the shooting?”

“Or Kisha Mathis’ death? I don’t know, Scully. Maybe it’s a warning? Maybe they tried to alert us to stop these things? Spoken language isn’t their chosen method of communication.”

She nodded slowly, her expression one of confusion and slight skepticism.

“Strughold kidnapped me. He tried to…” he laughed bitterly. “He tried to recruit me.”

Her face was full of concern, but her tone was slightly sarcastic. “Taking a page out of CGB Spender’s book? Not like him…”

“He’s planning something,” Mulder told her, his face creased with worry. He recounted Strughold’s words to him, word for word. Then he folded his arms across the front of his bloody, dirty hoodie. “This was a warning, Scully. Whether from our Allies or from Strughold…it’s no coincidence that an FBI agent was murdered here, and that the shooter took his life.”

She pursed her lips. “You should get cleaned up. We can talk about this tomorrow.”

“Well, that depends on what Strughold’s planning, doesn’t it?”

She had no answer for that.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

UNKNOWN LOCATION

DETROIT, MI

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 15th, 2011

0602

It was dark in his cell. He had been waiting for weeks, observing what was going on with the snakes. Some of the other animals had already been moved, but the snakes had merely gone down in number. Now they all disappeared at once.

The human subjects were being prepared for moving as well, including the infant in the cell across from him. He remembered reading about subjects of Nazi experiments, babies who were never held or loved, who died. He desperately wanted freedom for that infant in the cell across from him. But if that was impossible, then all he wanted was the chance to hold it, to save it from death.

The man in the cell next to him had only two sessions a day now. His had been cut to four. He watched carefully, waiting for indications that people were being moved, and tried to calculate when he would be.

The odd thing was, the baby’s sessions and his seemed to match up almost perfectly. He reasoned they would be moved together, within the next few days. And then he would make his move. His plan was well-formed. He had ten years to think about it, but the baby had added some complications. He would work them out. He would free that infant, and hide it from all who wished it harm. He would love it as his own.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

3664 JOSEPH CAMPAU ST.

DETROIT, MI

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16th, 2011

1200

“It’s a good thing you folks decided to stick around the extra day for processing the evidence. We really appreciate it,” Terrance said as he got out of the SUV and walked toward the abandoned, collapsing building. “You’ve been nothing but a huge help throughout this case. I just thought you’d like to see this before you go.”

“It’s been an enlightening case for all of us, Agent Terrance,” Scully said. She followed him to the backyard of Alan Desper’s old house. “But honestly we stayed the extra day to attend Kisha Mathis’ memorial service at the church as much as we did to see through the processing of the evidence.”

“Her siblings wouldn’t have been able to attend unless we brought them,” Mulder explained. The children had not been removed from FBI protective custody yet, but were scheduled to go into a foster home in Ann Arbor, which was a much better fate than Mulder thought they would see.

“Yeah, I got the pastors’ thank-you email this morning, actually. They wanted me to pass it on to you—I already forwarded it to your Bureau inbox, Agent Mulder. The two of them consider you two heroes.”

Scully saw Mulder’s jaw tighten, but neither one of them said anything. They had both spoken to the pastors the previous day, during the memorial service. It was touching how they both realized that Kisha’s death was not the agents’ fault, that Mulder had put himself in danger to rescue her, and that at least some good—the children’s new home—had come out of the disaster. Mulder was completely unwilling to accept their gratitude or even talk about Kisha with Scully. She hadn’t seen him shut down like that even after his return from the Bari Trasadi war. It deeply concerned her.

Terrance sensed that he had ventured into dangerous territory, so he moved back to the case. “We noticed some radiation readings when we started collecting evidence, so we followed the trail and started digging up this backyard…” the agent began, and opened the ratty old gate. Once he stepped aside, he revealed an excavation in progress. “We found this.”

Mulder and Scully stood and stared at what had been unearthed under the dirt. “It’s a lab,” Mulder stated in shock, looking at the small network of holding cells, tanks, and old equipment that made up an extension on Desper’s basement. “Is this Desper’s lab?”

“It might’ve been at one time,” Terrance said as he mounted a ladder and climbed down. “But we found human tissue in here, and it’s only been here a few days. They did a pretty good job cleaning up, but it looks like they left in a hurry. Whoever was here might’ve been here when you were upstairs, Agent Mulder.”

Scully mounted the ladder after him, and Mulder was the last to climb down. The mere presence of the place was making his skin crawl.

“One thing’s for certain, though. I think we found our snake breeding ground.” Terrance walked through the network of walls that looked more like ruins, and entered a holding cell with a small slot on the bottom. He nodded toward the floor and said, “I’ve never seen so much snakeskin in my life.”

Mulder looked away, unable to bear the sight of anything related to snakes. But when he did, he frowned and squinted in the next room. He headed over there immediately and found what had caught his eye. Something small and yellow on the floor under a chrome table…he ducked down on his knees, and pulled the object up with a latex glove. “A pacifier,” he stated.

“Apparently they were raising more than just snakes,” Scully offered.

“We’ll document everything for you guys,” Terrance said. “I wouldn’t want you to miss your flight—just wanted to make sure you saw it.”

“Thank you, Agent Terrance. You’ve been helpful too. Anytime you need something, just ask,” Mulder said, and shook the man’s hand.

Scully shook his hand next, and they departed up the ladder. “Have a good flight! Godspeed to you both,” Terrance called after them.

When they were out of earshot, Scully glanced at Mulder and said in a whisper, “I think we’re going to need it.” He responded only by leading her out of the backyard, his comforting hand on the small of her back. They got in the rental car and headed out of Detroit by the same route they came.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

JFK INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

WASHINGTON, DC

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16th, 2011

1900

The plane landed and Mulder pulled out his Droid as they decelerated and moved toward a terminal. His and Scully’s phones buzzed and bleeped to life as their screens lit up. As soon as the phones synced with the Android network the messages started coming through. In the past few hours while they were in the air, they had each received over fifty emails and ten voicemails. They glanced at each other before Scully said, “I’ll listen to the voicemails, you get the emails.”

They were right to assume that the onslaught of messages were related, and likely duplicated. Mulder opened his email in chronological order, starting with the first one from Terrance.

________

To: Fox Mulder <fwmulder@fbi.ic.gov>; Dana Scully <dkscully@fbi.ic.gov>

From: Jake Terrance <tpterrance@fbi.ic.gov>

Subject: [[CLASSIFIED]] Detroit locations

Attachments: detroitlocations.jpg

Agents Mulder and Scully,

Before your departure, I notified the general law enforcement community of Detroit of our discovery of the lab. Attached is a screengrab of a satellite photo of the progress that’s been made in just the past few hours. We received a suggestion shortly after you left, from an unknown source, that we use earthquake software to determine the location of these labs. It pulled up fifty seven locations when it tested geological data from the area against USGS database numbers. So far, we’ve uncovered eighteen labs from those fifty seven locations and we’re still digging.

Call or email with any questions or to discuss this matter.

Jake Terrance

Special Agent

Detroit Field Office

SECURITY STATEMENT C.2: This message was sent using the FBI Classified Intranet to Mobile system. It is not intended for general distribution or long-term storage. For security purposes, it will self-delete once closed. It will be viewable for thirty days from the FBI Classified Intranet, after which time it will self-delete. The FBI Classified Intranet is viewable by mobile device only through a WiFi connection to a law enforcement network. Failure to adhere to the mobile transfer laws or the attempt to recover this message once deleted will result in criminal charges.

______

Mulder opened the attachment and was shocked at what he saw. Eighteen locations that perfectly matched his map, as he photographically remembered it. “Scully,” he said, and turned to see that her face was paler than normal and she was staring at her phone as if it had just showed her something horrific. “What?”

“I received a message from Skinner an hour ago while we were in the air—Terrance sent the data to his office and Skinner distributed it to field offices around the US. Mulder…” she showed him her phone, where a map of the country was displayed with small X’s in every state, some clumped together and others scattered. They were almost too numerous to count. “These are laboratories that have been discovered in the past six months, abandoned. And that includes the thirty eight that were discovered in the past six hours since the message originally went out. We’re looking at a major operation here, Mulder. Bigger than we’ve ever seen before.”

People were disembarking from the plane, and because they were in the back, they had been granted a bit more time. However, the people in front of them as well as the two rows behind them had already entered the passageway to the terminal, and a flight attendant cleared her throat in a not-so-subtle way of telling them to leave.

They rose from their seats and silently exited, but once in the terminal Mulder’s phone beeped again. It was an email from the Lone Gunmen. He opened the attachment without even reading the email, half expecting what was coming. He had, after all, shared the events with them and asked them to search for laboratories.

He said nothing and passed the phone to Scully. She gasped. “My God,” she whispered.

He placed his hand around her shoulders as they moved toward baggage claim. “What are they planning?” she asked rhetorically.

She handed the phone back to him, and he glanced at the map of the world that displayed thousands upon thousands of locations. He shook his head as he cleared the screen and put the Droid back in his pocket. “Something’s going to happen soon, Scully. Strughold needs me, that’s why he tried to recruit me. That’s why he didn’t kill me. But whatever he needs me for…that’s what’s got me worried.”

They boarded the escalator to baggage claim, and Scully was silent until they got to the bottom. Then she said simply, “It’s got me worried too…”

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