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Evolved

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Evolved

By Martin Ross

**

Edgar Hoover FBI Building

Washington, D.C.

9:12 a.m.

 

“Sweet fancy Moses,” Mulder muttered. He blinked into the glare. “What in hell is this?”

“It’s called lighting,” Scully informed her partner, leading him stumbling across the threshold into the refurbished X Division quarters.

“As you can see, we’ve moved up in the world, though it took a budget cycle or so to make the move from the basement,” Clawson enthused, gliding about the tricked-out 10th floor suite like a Beverly Hills realtor. “State-of-the-art comms and logistical systems, top-of-the-line NSA firewalls backed by Pentagon-level biometric security. Real-time satellite uplinks, ultra-HD orthoimagery from nearly anywhere on the planet, with hundreds of GIS overlays…”

“Kinda bright,” Mulder observed, blinking rapidly and shielding his eyes. His guide stopped dead.

“You’ll have to pardon Mulder, Agent Clawson,” Scully purred. “Our former accommodations were better suited to Ozark cavefish or mushroom production.”

Clawson chuckled anxiously. “Of course. Dim, 30 degrees,” he called out. The room darkened, and the new X-Files chief beamed proudly.

Mulder removed his hand and scanned the space. “It’s still here,” he murmured.

The young agent breathed sharply, then grinned as abruptly and rested on the edge of a long table whose surface glowed with a dozen data displays. “Look, I know this has to be, well, jarring, Agent Mulder. I know you two operated way under the radar, on a practically non-existent budget. But after the revelations of the Bari Trasadi technology, of the, um, planned incursion, the X Division attracted a lot of high-level attention and high-profile resource commitments. All of this, Agent Mulder, is at your disposal. You have a virtually blank check.”

“Please tell me you didn’t get rid of the Mr. Coffee. I finally had the filter seasoned just right, and I could use a hot shot of caffeine about now.”

Clawson’s face fell, like a lost child whose refrigerator drawing had been repurposed as bus station toilet paper.

“Sorry, Agent Clawson,” Mulder sighed as he caught Scully’s glacial stare. “I’m just having a slight case of Rip Van Winkle Syndrome, along with a residual spatial/temporal hangover. This is…impressive. I’m sure I’ll be like a boy in a Sharper Image once I get back on the horse.”

“Speaking of which,” Clawson transitioned awkwardly. “How would you like to jump back into the saddle right now?”

Mulder brightened. “Giddyap. But, really, I wasn’t shitting about the coffee. I’m betting Keurig, right?”

 

**

 

The uniformed, sturdy young man rose from a sleek, neo-Scandinavian conference table and extended a heavily calloused but scrubbed palm toward Mulder and Scully. “Jason Smith. Ranger Jason Smith, National Park Service.”

Mulder transferred his Dark Italian Expresso and pumped the hand once. “Ranger Smith.”

It was a statement rather than a greeting. Scully shot him a warning glare as Clawson slid in behind a slim tablet.

“Ranger Smith—“ Clawson began. Mulder coughed, and the X Division Chief nudged a carafe of water toward him. “Ranger Smith has been assigned to Golden Mesa National Forest for the past two years. The forest covers roughly 980,000 acres in Northwest Arizona and Southeast Nevada, and includes the world’s largest stand of Engelmann spruce as well as significant populations of whitetail and mule deer, elk, antelope, turkey, coyote.”

“Bears?” Mulder ventured. Scully appeared to stretch her leg under the table. Mulder’s chair retreated a few inches.

“A few Ursus americanus, black bear, seasonally,” Ranger Smith drawled.

“They’re pretty intelligent, right, Ranger Smith? On average, I mean…”

Smith’s fish-out-of-water formality dissolved into millennial fervor. “Supposedly the smartest native nonhuman mammal in North America. Most biologists I’ve talked to rank them near the great apes or even a three-year-old human, far as IQ.”

“I’ve heard they can be quite a nuisance, especially to picnickers—?”

“Ranger,” Scully powered in, “what brings you to the FBI?”

Smith leaned forward. “Officially, I’m testifying before a Senate Interior subcommittee this afternoon, on Endangered Species Act funding. But we’ve had some kinda, well, hinky occurrences the last month or so at the park, and Sen. Matheson on the subcommittee suggested I speak to somebody here.”

Senator Rich Matheson Jr.’s father at one time had been Mulder’s influential insider rabbi, using his congressional clout at times to intervene on Mulder’s behalf and at times to draw Mulder and Scully further into the murky depths. Though their relationship had soured after some intrigue involving nanotechnology, Matheson Sr. had remained a backroom booster for the X-Files, and Mulder guessed he’d tapped whatever small reserves remained in the Skinner favor bank. For the National Park Service? Mulder was intrigued.

“Why don’t you tell us the nature of your problem?” Scully murmured.

Ranger Smith frowned, and glanced at Clawson, who shrugged. “Tell you what. Why don’t I show you? This was taken two weeks ago, by one of our guys out on a routine check.”

Clawson tapped the pad, and an image materialized on the screen behind Smith. It was a vertical, ill-lit shot – likely a smartphone photo taken near dusk – of a lush evergreen forest at ground level. Perhaps 30 yards from the photographer, a blurred figure moved between a pair of what appeared to be the prized Golden Mesa spruces. There was a familiarity to the hulking, seemingly furry figure and its lengthy stride, but yet something strikingly different.

“Hoochie mama,” Mulder whispered, his chair springing to its upright position.

“And boom goes the dynamite,” Scully sighed. “I’m going to regret this, I know, but aren’t Sasquatch sightings normally confined to the Pacific Northwest?”

“Climate change?” Ranger Smith attempted, as if he’d practiced the hypothesis during the in-flight TV package. “I mean, haven’t global temperature shifts screwed with species habitat, migration patterns, even among mammals? I mean, we’re recording avian and insect species I’ve never seen in the park before…”

Clawson rocked, scowling. “But wouldn’t global warming drive a cooler-climate species further north rather than into the Southwest? If Bigfoot exists, that is.”

Mulder was shaking his head. Scully forged ahead. “Not necessarily. If climate or other natural factors depleted other regional species, a carnivorous or omnivorous mammal might migrate far from its traditional range simply in search of new food sources. There are a number of minimally uninterrupted natural corridors in the West that could provide safe cover for, say, a migrating bear.”

“Bears?” Mulder sputtered. “C’mon, Scully, babe. Bears?”

“Pedals,” she announced, firmly.

Clawson and Smith waited as Mulder exploded in laughter.

“Pedals,” he finally wheezed. “Pedals the bipedal bear.”

“Bipolar?” Clawson queried.

“Bipedal – walking on two legs, fully erect in the boring way, just like an E-gyptian. Over the past two years, rural New Jersians have regularly spotted an American black bear with two apparently maimed front legs nicknamed Pedals walking upright near residential neighborhoods. Though global bear buffs petitioned wildlife officials to relocate the beloved bipedal bruin to a sanctuary, Pedals perished tragically last fall in what was believed to be a premeditated act of archery. You can find all the case particulars on the Rest In Peace, Pedals the Walking Bear Facebook page, hashtag #justiceforpedals, where I’m guessing my partner researched the phenomenon of dysfunctionally erect ursines between Pinterest pantsuit searches.”

Scully searched for words, abandoned the two that initially surfaced, and set her jaw. “If this bear were seriously incapacitated, it’s likely its pack—

“Black bears don’t usually gather in packs,” Ranger Smith interjected.

“It’s likely other free-ranging bears might see it as a weak, easily eliminated competitor,” she continued through her teeth. “Perhaps this animal fled its original habitat out of survival, or maybe its inability to capture wild food species drove it toward the national forest and humans. Especially if, on top of it’s…infirmity…it was shunned by the pac–, by other solo bears because of its unusual mutation.”

“At last,” Mulder crowed. “She acknowledges the elephant in the room. The white elephant.”

The quartet glanced again toward the screen, at the blurred, hulking, furry, white figure striding through the evergreens.

“It’s not unheard of,” Smith offered, possibly in Scully’s defense. “There’s a rare subspecies of the black called the Kermode bear, mostly in British Colombia. The indigenous community calls them ‘spirit bears’ because of their white or cream-colored fur, and some tourists confuse them for Ursus maritimus. Sorry, polar bears. They’re not albinos or related to the ‘blonde’ brown bears found in Alaska. In fact, common black bears sometimes bear, ah, give birth to a white cub. Like Agent Scully said, it’s like a mutation that just started breeding true in the Canadian population.”

“Guys, c’mon,” Mulder squeaked. “Those look like bear arms – uh, the arms of a bear – to you? Especially a maimed bipedal blonde bear’s arms? You think you can buy me a drink and mention spirit bears and I’ll give you my room key?”

Smith paused. “Well, actually, there is one key problem with your theory, Agent Scully. This isn’t the only specimen we’ve identified.” He nodded to Clawson, who clicked up a new image, this time an even-grainier still from time-stamped video footage. A similar hulking white furry figure outside a wood-framed structure, back to the camera, heading seemingly into the nearby wood.

“About a week ago, the main ranger’s station was burglarized, the rear door jimmied, and somewhere around $24,000 in equipment stolen. Electronic equipment – GPS receivers and transponders, RFID tracking gear, some new communications equipment we’d just got in last month.”

“Picnic paraphernalia?” Mulder deadpanned. This time, Scully’s toe connected.

“Nah, just the high-tech stuff, and neither the gift shop or the information building were touched.” Smith sighed. “Agent Clawson, can you zoom in on the, uh, creature, please?”

Clawson silently manipulated the touch-screen, and Scully squinted at a dark, rectangular object tucked under the figure’s arm. She could make out a contrasting logo at the center of the object. A white apple.

“More cyber-savvy than the aaaaverage bear,” Mulder posited.

“Obviously, we’re talking about a human culprit or culprits,” Scully stated. “We likely would have seen some viral video pop up, if the take from the ranger’s station hadn’t changed our Bigfoot’s plans. There had to be some trace evidence at the scene.”

Smith looked unhappy. “Yeah, there was. A few smudged prints here and there, and some hair apparently ripped out when the thief was disconnecting the laptop.”

“Well, then…”

“The prints were too smudged for an ID, but they were roughly twice the size of human fingerprints. And the hair, it was white and coarse – far coarser than normal human hair.”

“Of course, your thief probably used actual pelts for his ‘sasquatch’ suit,” Scully suggested. “DNA testing should at least pinpoint the species used, and maybe give you a lead to where he obtained the skins.”

“We had a rapid DNA test done at the state lab. And you were right – the hairs weren’t human. We were lucky, because they were, um, torn out by the roots. The follicles were intact. And fresh. The non-human follicles.”

Scully fell silent.

“’Sides,” Smith continued. “You see that trail sign the, uh, the suspect’s passing? It’s a six-foot sign, and as you can see, he, or she — sorry, ma’am — is easily two heads taller.”

“And what did the DNA test show?” Scully croaked.

“Inconclusive. At least relative to known North American species. We plan to expand the search to more exotic and foreign mammals.”

“Ah,” Mulder smiled with a significant glance toward Scully. He looked away quickly. “You won’t find it in any known wildlife database, Ranger Smith.”

“We’re back to Bigfoot?” Clawson asked neutrally, or as neutrally as he could muster.

“Bigfoot is soooo last year,” Mulder huffed. “What has two opposable thumbs, ambles like a sasquatch, and is as white as the driven snow? And it’s not Gary Busey.”

The ranger and the agents stared once again at the hirsute felon. “Mulder, please,” Scully implored. “That’s absurd.”

“Noo,” Mulder smiled, eyes all aglow. “It’s abominable.”

 

**

 

“So, what, we wait a week or so before we ask for a raise?” Scully suggested as the elevator doors closed.

“I just want my basement back,” Mulder murmured, punching the parking level button. “I mean, can you imagine what all that tech radiation could do to my manhood alone?”

Scully rode silently, arms crossed.

“OK,” her partner relented. “I guess maybe I was kind of a butt up there…”

“Right latitude, wrong longitude,” she corrected. “Clawson’s absolutely ecstatic to have you on the team, and all you can do is bitch about your life’s mission finally being validated? And that poor young ranger…”

“Ra-a-a-anger Smith,” Mulder sang. “Ranger Smith. C’mon, Booboo…”

Scully sighed deeply, then cracked. “Picnic paraphernalia?”

“A generation that’s forgotten its Hanna-Barbera is doomed to suffer obscure pop culture references.”

Scully shook her head, “Well, I will say, Yogi, you do seem to have regained some of your adolescent exuberance. I actually kind of like it. I’ve, well, I’ve…missed it.”

The pair rode in a comfortable, smiling silence to the underground garage.

“But an abominable snowman?” she demanded as the doors slid open

“A yeti,” he amended. “We are, after all, scientists.”

Scully turned him. “And this is the theory you plan to pursue?”

Mulder extracted his keys and beeped the locks on their nearby sedan. “Does a bipedal bear shit in the forest?”
Saint Petersburg

Russia

1874

 

“Nikolay Przhevalsky?” Inspector Starbak squeaked.

Inspector Fyodor Petrovich, Special Corps of Gendarmes, brushed a crumb of his lunchtime pastry from his open tunic with a lazy grin. He knew the skeptical, diminutive redhead would raise a brow at the subject of their latest investigation.

“Director Shuvalov himself authorized the inquiry,” Petrovich shrugged. For once, it was the truth of the matter, though the Corps’ director likely was motivated far more by politics than by any thirst for plumbing the unknown.

It was well-known in the ranks that Shuvalov months earlier had been dispatched to London on a mission to arrange a marriage between Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna and the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as to pave the way for the Russian invasion of the Central Asian Khanate of Khiva with minimal international damage to the Anglophile director’s reputation. Petrovich, too, had heard the rumors that high officials might be positioning Shuvalov for an honorary post outside any sphere of influence, and the former Ministry of Internal Affairs likely was using Petrovich and the Corps’ secretive Byuro Neizvestnykh Obstoyatel’stvakh to excavate any dirty laundry that might assure him a softer landing, possibly in a diplomatic post in his beloved London.

Petrovich did not care – he was aware politics and power drove most progress or inquiry, and what little justice to be had in this empire. He had researched with great interest Przhevalsky’s dossier, and was convinced there was a solid Bureau of Unknown Circumstances file here. Przhevalsky was an honored military scholar of noble Belarus birth who had distinguished himself as a scientist and explorer. In 1872, he had crossed into Tibet, collecting thousands of plant, bird, and insect species as well as 70 reptiles and the skins of more than a hundred mammals. Subsequently, Przehevalsky was awarded the Imperial Geographical Society’s Constantine Medal, promoted to lieutenant-general, appointed to the Tsar’s General Staff, and received the Order of St. Vladimir, 4th Class.

However, there was talk. Talk of strange deaths during the Tibetan expedition, of a secret cargo shipped by rail under armed guard from the mountainous hinterlands, of hushed experiments being conducted within the bowels of a university laboratory in Moscow. The truth, as Petrovich exhaustively reminded Starbak, was somewhere out there.

Starbak, considered too delicate for active military service (his boots could scarcely reach the stirrups of even a small cavalry steed), was, fortunately, versed in medicine and a number of burgeoning scientific disciplines, and besides was the first cousin of a distinguished admiral. He was a pragmatist, challenging Petrovich’ more fanciful hypotheses but loyal to the Byuro Neobychnykh Obstoyatel’stv and its impetuous commander.

“So, what is our next step?” Starbak sighed.

 

Mulder/Scully residence

Georgetown

 

“You’re going camping. Without us.” It was a matter-of-fact statement, and Mulder realized how Charlotte already was favoring her mother. At that thought, Charlotte turned grinning to Scully, then pivoted sheepishly back to Mulder. Mulder grinned; Scully rolled her eyes at her daughter’s transparent attempt to conceal her telepathic transgression.

“It’s a case, honey,” Scully murmured. “We’d be working most of the time, and Walter’s way too young to go tramping through the woods. Maybe when we come back, we can take a family trip to the Appalachian Trail. How’s that sound?”

“I want to see the snowman,” Charlotte pouted before she realized she’d slipped again. “Sorry. What is an abom–, abom–?”

Scully began to speak, but Mulder pulled the child onto the couch beside him. “Remember Kwame, the big gorilla we saw at the zoo last month?”

“He was awesome!” Charlotte cooed, and Scully was placated by her show of childlike exuberance.

“Yeah, well, nobody’s actually met one, but scientists think the abominable snowman, or yeti, may be kind of like a cousin of the great apes–, ah, gorillas and other big monkeys.”

“Well,” Scully injected smoothly. “In one genetic study, researchers matched DNA from hair samples found in the Himalayas with a prehistoric bear…”

“Don’t confuse the child,” Mulder admonished. “About a hundred years ago, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury led a British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition, and found footprints that looked just like a man’s.”

“Yeah, that’s dumbing it down,” Scully grunted.

“Howard-Bury’s guides – the guys who carried his bags and stuff – told him that the footprints belonged to The Wildman of the Snows, or ‘metoh-kangmi.’”

“‘Kang-mi’ was the guides’ word for ‘snowman,’ and ‘metoh’ means ‘man-bear,’” Scully elaborated. She smiled angelically at Charlotte’s dad. “As long as we’re giving her an immersion course in Tibetan…”

Mulder smirked back. “So, anyway, about 40 years later, Professor Frederic Wood Jones, an anthropologist— You know what an anthropologist is, honey?”

Charlotte yawned. Mulder jiggled her gently. “Professor Jones was a very smart man, and he took a good look at a yeti scalp—” He caught Scully’s eye. “He looked real hard at some yeti hair some guys at the local monastery’d found. He concluded definitively that the hair was not, I repeat not, from a bear.”

“Honey, daddy forgot that Professor Jones said the yeti hair actually came from an antelope. Or a big ox,” Scully added, locking eyes with Mulder.

“Of course, Jones was an anthropologist, not a geneticist, uh, sweetie, so he might have made a…”

“A big boo-boo, Yogi?” Scully inquired. The girl giggled without recognizing the artistry of her mother’s Don Messick characterization. “Charlotte, you want to watch Doc McStuffins until dinner?”

Charlotte looked eagerly to Mulder, who finally sighed and waved her on with a kiss to the forehead. She vanished.

“Mulder, I hope your cryptozoological infatuation isn’t going to interfere with your objectivity,” Scully said, closing her laptop and joining him on the couch. His arm snaked about her shoulder. “Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation. This is very likely some offshoot of the clown sightings epidemic – some idiot dressing up in a Halloween Warehouse ape suit.”

“An ape suit made out of unknown mammal fur? And the scale of the fingerprints found at the scene? If the thief were wearing a costume with gloves that size, how did he – or she – manipulate all those cords and electronic equipment in the ranger station?”

“I’m just saying, keep an open mind, Mulder. How do you suggest a yeti managed to wind up in the wilds of Arizona, anyway?”

“I’ve thought about that,” Mulder said. “The Bering Strait. No, bear with me, Scully. At its narrowest point, the strait is about 50 miles from Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, to Cape Denzhnev in Russia.”

“So we’re talking Michael Phelps? Height’s about right…”

Mulder breathed heavily. “I am talking Max Gottschalk. In 1913, Gottschalk became the first modern voyager to make it across the Bering Strait without a boat. He traveled from Siberia to the Big Diomede Island off the Alaskan coast. Via dogsled.”

“Twenty-five miles off the Alaskan coast,” Scully pointed out, placing a hand on Mulder’s thigh. “Big Diomede is almost halfway between Alaska and Russia. Yes, the strait is frozen from mid-December potentially until  June. Yes, the yeti, if such a creature exists, inhabits one of the planet’s most inhospitably frigid regions, so, yes, conceivably, a large, bipedal mammal with a sufficient level of dexterity might theoretically survive such a journey.

“But, Mulder, you still have to explain why such a creature would migrate so far from his native region – a region where he faced little or no predation or resource competition, mind you, undertake a potentially lethal trek across 50 or so miles of ice – if he took the shortest possible route, and eventually migrate hundreds of miles into a temperate ecosystem entirely removed from his original Himalayan habitat. Why the hell are you grinning?”

He squeezed her. “You Googled Max Gottschalk. You measured the distance from Russia to Big Diomede. You analyzed glacial depth and duration. You checked out my theory before I even raised it. Hey, why don’t you lock the door? For about three minutes or so…”

Scully suddenly jerked her hand from Mulder’s inner thigh. “Oh, my God, Mulder. You fell asleep in the middle of foreplay last night.”

“Sorry, Scully. It’s just, for one shining moment, you came over to the Force.”

“Oh baby, oh baby, Star Wars references…”

“I mean, it’s almost like we’re completing each other’s…” Mulder waited.

“Get Walter ready for dinner,” Scully grunted, disappearing into the hall.

“Like Obi-Wan and Luke,” Mulder mused.

 

**

 

“Gigantopithecus was quadrupedal,” Scully sighed, closing Hawking’s Black Holes and Baby Universes for the fifth time.

“Unless it ultimately evolved as a bipedal ape, like Oreopithecus,” Mulder persisted, nearly upsetting his ginger ale. “I’d say that over a few hundred thousand years, it might have had the time to perfect the technique.”

“There’s a reason he was called Gigantopithecus, Mulder. A mammal of such massive structure and weight likely would have as much difficulty as a Bengal tiger or a rhinoceros achieving a consistent upright posture.”

“Rhinoceros?” Mulder’s knee bumped his tray table. “Rhinoceros?”

“Jesus!” the bulky businessman at Scully’s shoulder barked. He rose unsteadily to his feet. “I thought, take the First Class bump, you’ve earned it. But no. Excuse me, Lady.”

Scully pressed back as Window Seat’s left hip caressed her shoulder.

“Think I just saw a couple of guys head back to the john,” Mulder advised, craning to peek down the aisle.

“I’m not going TO the john,” the businessman growled, squeezing free of Mulder’s knees. “I’m going to stand BY the john. There’s a difference. Til we’re wheels down.”

Mulder blinked as the man retreated, then looked to Scully. “He leave his pretzels?”

 

Travelers Inn

Fountain Hills, Arizona

4:43 p.m.

 

“Wow,” Scully breathed as she surveyed the vaulted lobby atrium, the extended teak registration desk, the off-lobby steak joint and sports bar, and a lobby-length mural depicting the founding of the Arizona territory. “Just…wow.”

“Things really have looked up — beats the mom-and-pop Bates Motels back in the day,” Mulder concurred, pocketing the room cards. “No need to check for bedbugs, homicidal Siamese twins, horny sheriffs, inbred hillbillies, invisible predators, or teen vampires. Oh, I am so looting the suite.”

“I do think a double would have been sufficient, Mulder.”

Her partner sighed. “You still don’t get the ‘consultant’ thing. If you don’t pad the expenses, the client doesn’t feel like he’s getting his money’s worth.”

“Well, then, let’s go hog wild, then. I saw a Lucky Boy right off the interstate. Monster-Size our fries?”

“And I saw a chupacabra at the Walmart,” Mulder mumbled, pivoting toward the steakhouse. Scully redirected him toward the elevator bank.

“Oh, shit,” he mumbled, simultaneously peering over and attempting to hunch down behind Scully’s shoulder.

“Mulder? What?”

“Scully. I see…dead people.”

 

**

 

“Ah,” Jose Chung beamed, closing the distance between himself and the agents with surprising speed. “The brilliant, insightful, and always aesthetically pleasing Special Agent Scully.” The author, draped in Eddie Bauer hiking togs and his de rigueur ascot, glanced up at Mulder. “Oh, my, you brought a friend.”

“I thought you were dead,” Mulder stated. “Extremely so, in fact.”

“In the words of Charles Dickens, rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.”

“With a pickaxe. And it was Mark Twain.” Mulder had viewed the crime scene photos during a weekend visit at former FBI profiler Frank Black’s Tacoma-area cabin. Researching a series of murders seemingly connected to the Selfosophy psycho-religious movement, Chung, self-acclaimed author of From Outer Space and the not-so-posthumous Doomsday Defense, succumbed or now seemingly succumbed to said axe blow, administered by an acolyte of the prognosticator Nostradamus.

“Twain was a plagiarist and a hack – didn’t even have the integrity to write under his own name,” Chung dismissed. “Luckily, my attacker was an even worse hack, literally. I sustained a mere flesh wound that penetrated a portion of my brain that, fortunately for the literate populace, was used only for olfactory sensation and Sudoku. I recuperated in a vegetative state for four months, learned to do the Word Jumbles and regain full motor function, and, voila, yours truly, dented but not defeated. Let me tell you: Never, ever allow a critic to get the upper hand.”

“Mr. Chung,” Scully began. “I’m…I’m truly gratified to see you still among the living. But could I ask what you’re doing here?”

Paleopalooza,” the author announced with a flourish Scully momentarily misinterpreted as a neurological dysfunction.

“That’s the working title, anyway,” Chung continued after his pause had produced the desired effect. “What do you think?”

“Speechless,” Mulder murmured.

“Delightful.” Chung turned to Scully. “I initially proposed You Say You Want a De-Evolution?, but my agent was concerned Yoko Ono or the Nike people might sue. But in either case, Chung is back, this time blowing the lid off the New Apocalypse.”

“What happened to the old one?” Mulder inquired.

Chung regarded him severely. “It would appear you eff-bombed THAT up by poking into trans dimensional vortices you had no business poking into. I was forced to ditch 543 pages of Jose Chung’s Alien Makeover — pure gold. But never fear: We remain good and verily screwed as a species.”

“How so?”

The author poked his huge glasses back into place, and peered about for the hotel bar. “I can’t discuss the Sixth Extinction without a second appletini. You’re buying – trust me, money well-spent. For me, at least.”

 

**

 

Chung smacked his lips as the second empty hit the scarred table. “So where were we? Ah, yes, the end of everything as we know it. Plus, you think we can get more of these cheese things?  They’re absolutely addictive.”

“Paleopalooza,” Mulder prodded, signaling the waitress.

Chung adjusted his ascot. “Let me ask you: Where do we get off? What makes us so goldarned special? Why does Homo sapiens get to be the Big Kahuna of Spaceship Earth?”

“Human sentience and self-awareness?” Scully suggested. “The ability to reason, to process needs, emotions, and societal objectives into viable, sustainable solutions?”

Mulder sipped his Coke. “Opposable thumbs? Bipedal locomotion? iPhone 7?”

“Precisely,” Chung commended. “We’re the capo di tutt’i capi of the animal kingdom primarily because we’re the only species impressed with its own PR. We define ourselves by wholly human criteria. Manual dexterity, technology, extreme snowboarding. Cockroaches have survived the last several extinctions on their strength of will and the rest of the planet’s table scraps. Our notions of collective civilization and engineering efficiency pale with respect to the hymenopteran insects. We have one-celled beasties living under ice floes and volcanoes, while humankind breaks out the sunscreen if the mercury hits 80 degrees.

“And our precious opposable thumbs have become lodged up our collective recti. Religious and political tyranny, genocide, virulent bigotry, environmental homicide, nationally televised groin injuries for cash prizes, Duck Dynasty, Pokemon, Kardashians? The host of The Apprentice has been elected leader of the so-called advanced world, and his TV gig’s gone to the former governor of California. And the KFC Bowl, for God’s sake? If that isn’t human de-evolution, then I’m not the New York Times’ bestselling nonfiction trade paperback author, November 10-15, 1996.”

“But the Information Age, space exploration, genetic research, nanotechnology,  biomedicine,” Scully protested.

“And what, pray tell, have we done with them? We’ve perfected a mechanism enabling individuals thousands of miles apart to instantaneously, in all caps, scream LIBTARD and NAZI at each other. The World Wide Web is a 24-hour adult book store with sticky keys. We can’t find our way out of a men’s room stall without GPS. We expend terabytes of digital information and code to create angry weaponized birds, and the millennial generation is convinced that anything worth saying is worth saying only in 140 characters or less. We’re collapsing under the weight of our sentient desire to one-up and distract ourselves, even as we reject the greatest scientific miracles of the modern epoch.

“We consult Jenny McCarthy about whether to vaccinate the kiddies against the next great plague, all the while Purel-ing ourselves to the point where a dirty lettuce leaf or an unwashed toddler might kill us. We’re reverting to Paleolithic diets an encephalitic Cro-Magnon wouldn’t touch, washed down with microbe-laden unpasteurized milk. We’re more terrified by gluten than by random mall shootings or global climate shifts, more scandalized by genetically engineered apples and stem cell therapies than by infant mortality or starvation in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s as if we’re virtually dry-humping extinction, de-evolving to zoological second-class status. It’s the Great Paleopalooza – the re-Neanderthalization of the species, and the soon-to-be-trademarked catchphrase of a modern generation. And, by the way, where is that girl with the cheese crackers?”

“Apocalypse, pools of blood, dogs living with cats, blah blah blah…,” Mulder recapped. “So you came out here to commune with Nature before the Big Lights Out?”

“I came here to document the dawn of the next great era in mammalian razzle-dazzle,” Jose Chung announced somberly. He reached inside his jacket, withdrew a Galaxy, and displayed a familiar, blurred, white, furry bipedal image on the screen. “There’s a new sheriff in town, Agent Mulder, and he’s got some awfully big shoes to fill. If he wore shoes.”

“We’re being replaced by the Abominable Snowman?” Scully drawled.

“Why should the hairless have all the fun?” Chung posed, touching his own liver-spotted scalp. “Your capriciously named Ranger Smith showed me the security feed of last week’s hairy hominid heist. They’ve evaded human detection for centuries, they’ve got us by a good three feet and the strength of four John Cenas, and now they have the technology.”

Mulder cackled, collecting a handful of newly delivered crackers. “The technology? The technology to locate lost yuppies in the woods, track spotted owls, and differentiate yuppie poop from spotted owl guano. All our yeti or whatever got away with was a really boring Radio Shack clearance sale.”

“Or did he?” Chung posed, sliding from the booth. “Sorry, appletinis tend to make me dramatically cryptic.” He plucked his MicroTherm StormDown Field Jacket from the hook above the booth. “Toodles.”

“Well, at least he gave us something to chew on,” Scully suggested as the server deposited the bill before Mulder.

Mulder displayed the check. “And we reciprocated. He put a room service cheeseburger and chocolate lava cake on our tab.”

 

Golden Mesa National Forest

Arizona

8:03 a.m.

 

“Breathtaking,” Scully murmured as she surveyed the blue ranges beyond the dense, evergreen, riparian expanse.

“Yeah, it’s really cool,” Mulder nodded, jerking his pack free from the rental’s rear compartment. “You remembered the BBQ sunflower seeds at the minimart, right?”

“C’mon, Ralph Waldo,” she sighed, shouldering her own gear and locking the SUV. “There’s Ranger Smith. And don’t even think it.”

The ranger bee-lined past a knot of Japanese twentysomethings in cryptic logo tees and cargo shorts scanning a relief map of the government preserve. “Agents, glad to see you made it out okay. Good flight?”

“Roomy,” Mulder supplied. “All ready to brave the wilderness.”

“Definitely, you should do that,” Smith grinned. “Though with those shoes, I think you may be relieved we can narrow down the wilderness we’ll need to brave.”

“Ouch,” Mulder complained. “Land’s End. Outlet, of course.”

“They’re really sharp. Nonetheless, this way, guys.”

The trio dodged an elementary school group, a clutch of elderly birders and a man-mountain in a Smokey the Bear Shirt up the wildflower-lined path to the main ranger’s station. The ranger led his federal companions past a crowded gift shop and a series of displays outlining Golden Mesa’s history, and into his tight but millennial-neat office. Smith slid in behind a pair of flat screen monitors.

“One of the guys is into unmanned aerial vehicles – drones – and he used a few local military connections to score us the use of a couple of micro drones equipped with new-gen thermal imaging cameras.”

“And boom goes the dyna—“

“Scully,” Mulder admonished. “Quit using Seth MacFarlane against me. Especially his failed spinoff work. Ranger Smi–, I mean, Jason, what’re we talking about here?”

“Armasight, with an AMRF2200 modular range finder and a 2X A-focal doubler.”

“Woof.”

Scully rapped Mulder’s shoulder. “Boys?”

“Uh, yeah,” Ranger Smith murmured. “OK, so I’m thinking we save those nice Land’s End boots and do a little aerial reconnaissance over a radius of maybe 10 miles both around the station and the second sighting location on Shiban Trail, which by the way, is about 23 miles due west. I figure that triangulates a fairly reasonable habitat range, at least for starters. That includes a key Salt River tributary – I figure they it, they, whatever, would want to be near a water supply. We spot a heat signature – and I’m assuming it’ll be a fairly obvious signature – then we can narrow down our search. Cool?”

“Wicked cool,” Mulder grinned.

“Yup,” Scully responded.

Smith nodded, opened the IR monitor window, and tapped in a few commands. “And…we’re off.”

Over the next 31 minutes, Mulder craned over the ranger’s shoulder, peering over miles of phosphorescent violet conifers broken occasionally by a winding stream or clearing. Mulder started a few times at red and yellow moving signatures, which turned out to be deer, wild horses, or hikers.

“By the way,” Mulder mumbled as he watched a pair of human signatures seemingly rubbing together against a spruce, “I put together a bipedal suspect list.  Assuming our burglar is mammalian – a fairly safe bet, than we narrow the known candidates to some kind of hominian ape,  a macropod like a kangaroo or wallaby, a steroidal kangaroo rat, a wicked huge  springhare, a colossal hopping mouse, or a seriously confused African ground pangolin. Though the extinct giant pangolin or ground sloth might fit our bill, if some pocket of the species managed to survive.”

“Apes and mice, plural, Agent, incidentally,” Smith corrected, piloting the droid away from the heat-generating fornicators. “A forensics prof at ASU was able to compare the security cam and cell phone videos and distinguish two separate, um, suspect yetis? Sorry, go on, Agent.”

“The absence of any arboreal or anchoring tail would appear to eliminate the marsupials, though Australian marsupials have shown an astonishing parallel evolution with their non-pouched mammalian brothers.” Scully noisily flopped her National Geographic onto a nearby table; Mulder refused eye contact. “Certain primates like the gelada baboon will go temporarily bipedal when moving between adjacent feeding ranges, and bears will fight in a bipedal stance, and in a rare case such as Pedals the Bipedal Bear, when injured.” Scully refused eye contact. “The spotted skunk has been known to stand on its rear legs when threatened. You wanna follow up on that one, Scully. Wow, you text your mom with that finger?”

Scully sprung from her chair. “I was pointing, Mulder. Look.”

Mulder and Smith turned back to the monitor, where a lanky, bipedal blood orange shape was moving briskly through a tree line adjacent to a river clearing.

“Thar she blows,” Mulder breathed. “Can you bring it down a little, not enough to spook it?”

Smith nodded excitedly, and the drone dipped a few dozen feet. The creature’s back was to the camera as it seemingly eviscerated an object with a fading signal Mulder assumed to be a fish. Then, suddenly, the “yeti” jumped and staggered. It dropped the alleged fish and raised its long arm to its head.

“Dude, fingers,” Mulder prodded Scully. She prodded back, more harshly.

“What’s it holding?” Smith interrupted, tapping the monitor.

Scully leaned in. “No,” she whispered as the “monster” began frantically waggling its fingers. “Oh, hell, no.”

Ranger Smith leaned back, shaving his jaw with his calloused fingers. “My guess is a 64-gig iPhone 5C, Black Otterbox case.”

“You got a good eye, Ranger,” Mulder marveled.

“Not really,” Smith sighed, yanking open desk doors and sifting through drawer clutter.  “I think it’s mine.”

“The more cogent question,” Scully suggested, “is who he – or she – talking to?”

 

**

 

Kingfisher Bend was a healthy 20 minutes from the ranger station, by ATV. Mulder was off the three-wheeler before it fully stopped, sidearm drawn. He crunched delicately through the pine needles, Smith and Scully in tow, crouching behind a Ponderosa pine as he reached the river clearing.  Smith ventured outside the canopy, peering about, his own rifle cradled at his side.

“I think it’s gone,” the ranger eventually ventured.

Mulder and Scully conducted a quadrant-by-quadrant sweep of the site, carefully avoiding non-vegetative surfaces that might offer up impressions. The park had been under a fire watch due to a lengthy dry spell, so the soil above the back was hard and unyielding, but Scully, clinging to the rocks above the embankment, soon shouted to the men. Mulder and Smith discovered her firing off a series of smartphone shots of a crisp footprint in the mud inches above the water line.

“I have a cast kit in my bag,” Smith volunteered, striding with barely constrained exuberance toward the ATV.

“15 inches maybe, 7-8 inches wide,” Mulder eyeballed. “Notice the big piggy and the piggy next door are nearly identical in size and spacing, while the remaining piggies are crowded. Classical Himalayan yeti.”

“As I don’t have a piggy database at my immediate disposal, I suppose I’ll have to take your word,” Scully grunted as she scrambled back to secure ground without Mulder’s assistance.

“The Sasquatch tracks recorded to date—”

“There aren’t enough allegeds on the planet to begin to address what’s wrong with that statement,” Scully lamented.

“—generally follow a human configuration, toes descending in size from Mr. Big to the pinkie. Fortunately, I do happen to possess a piggy database back at the hotel.”

“How I’ve begged for you to surf porn like the other guys,” Scully exhaled.

“My theory is the yeti’s toe distribution is designed especially for mountainous, ice-covered terrain, the two larger toes providing traction. Sasquatch doesn’t require that type of adaptation.”

Scully’s gaze shifted. “There’s something else Sasquatch doesn’t require.”

Mulder followed her scan to a shallow second impression three feet from the print. It was rectangular, perhaps two inches by 4, a small round void at one end, a slitted dimple at the other.

“Ranger Smith’s phone,” Mulder concluded. “Lacking pockets, our alleged cryptohominid had to set it down to snag his morning treat. Which, by the way…”

“For once, I’m ahead of you, Agent Mulder,” Ranger Smith called from above. He displayed a freezer-sized Ziploc containing a bloody, partially masticated trout. “Luckily, I took a couple units of forensics at the community college before changing majors. And, as I told you before, I got a DNA guy.”

Mulder gestured toward the iPhone print. “And a tracking device, providing the damned dirty alleged ape hasn’t trashed it. What’s kinda strange, though…”

His thought was interrupted as Scully whipped up, weapon in hand. “You hear that?” she whispered harshly. “Something’s in the trees, about 11 o’clock behind my shoulder.”

Mulder and Smith unholstered slowly, and needles, branches, and boughs began to snap and pop in the pines. Mulder cursed and scrambled to solid ground. Before Scully could gain traction, he’d disappeared into the woods, crashing through the foliage as he pursued the sound of flight and flashes of white ahead. Low branches slapped and pummeled Mulder as he picked up speed. As the trees thinned, he slowed in surprise as he realized his prey was human, rather than hominid.

“Hey!” Mulder shouted, eloquently. The slight figure — cloaked in a dirty white hoodie and matching balaclava – kept running. In a gesture he’d never have attempted in an urban pursuit, Mulder raised his gun and fired into the air. Without skipping a beat, the figure vanished into the next cluster of Ponderosas.

“Shi—!” Mulder roared as he resumed the chase, only to perform a perfect backflip and came to rest with a whump on a deceptively hard bed of pine needles.

“Mulder?”

Mulder opened his eyes to see white starbursts and the concerned faces of Scully and Ranger Smith hovering above him. He mumbled instructions. Scully and Smith exchanged glances.

“What?” Scully inquired, leaning closer.

“Shit.”

“Mulder, follow my finger with your eyes.”

“No, Scully,” Mulder moaned as he waved them off and rose to a wobbly sitting position. “Shit. On my shoes. I slipped on it. We need to bag them. I think maybe it’s yeti shit.”

 

**

 

As the ATV pulled off the trail into the graveled space beside the station, Mulder spotted it. He jumped out, wincing as he crunched barefooted into the rocks, and stared at the supersized bus parked illegally by the curb bordering the parking lot. A small mob of largely young and, dare he judge, nerdish visitors were clustered by the cab.

“MOTW,” Smith recited, gawking at the dripping moss-green legend on the side of the vehicle.

Monster of the Week,” Scully groaned. “The Knowledge Channel. ‘What you don’t know, we cover.’”

“Your partner should get checked out. Where’s he going?”

She sighed. “The circus just came to town, and Mulder wants to see the freak show. C’mon.”

By the time they reached the bus, Mulder had flashed tin and scattered the geek patrol. He was laughing and chatting with a tall, ruggedly telegenic twentysomething as his equally millennial crew debarked, a few bearing bulky equipment cases.

bo

“Hey, Scully, meet Bo Rodman,” Mulder grinned, possible concussion seemingly forgotten. “Bo, this is my partner, and Jason Smith — he’s kinda the sheriff around these parts.”

“Ranger,” Smith amended. “Can I ask what you guys doing here?”

Bo nodded at him and hopped down from the cab, nearly colliding with Scully. “Hey. I was just telling Fox, we’re looking to do an investigation of the Mesa Monster.”

“Investigation. Ah. And just how did you happen to hear of the ‘Mesa Monster’?”

Capped teeth emerged from Bo’s square jaw. “Well, we were doing a piece for the new season on some lake monster sightings over in Tortilla Flats…”

Mulder straightened. “Serpentine?”

“Focus,” Scully ordered.

“So we were packing up for lunch when Scot showed me this YouTube feed that’s just the shits.” He pulled his iPhone from a cargo pocket and clicked up a dark and grainy – and familiar – scene. Punching the play arrow, he reran Smith’s security feed.

“How’d they get that?” Smith demanded weakly.

“Oh, that’s just the teaser, Bro,” Bo assured him. He searched up a second video. “This one, we got Messaged directly, ‘bout a half-hour ago on our way up.”

Scully closed her eyes. Mulder looked at the ground.

“How’d they…?” Smith whispered as he stared at the aerial yeti footage.

“Must’ve hacked the drone,” Mulder suggested. “You, know, that video was taken as part of an ongoing federal… Oh, hell.”

“Yeah,” Bo empathized. “So, we certainly don’t want to disrupt your routine or anything, Ranger, but we already contacted the Parks Service, and I was wondering if you had a few minutes to sign some standard releases? Boilerplate stuff. We assume all liability for any damage, blahblahblah.”

“You got any theories?” Mulder asked.

Bo reluctantly glanced back. “Me?”

“Sure. I watch the show – you seem to actually have a reasonable grasp of zoology and folklore.”

“Two years at the San Diego Zoo. Intern. Well, community service, but hey…”

“So, any thoughts?”

“Well, you ever heard of the Mogollon Monster? Been sighted all over central and east Arizona for more than 100 years. Seven feet tall, red eyes, smells like dead fish or a skunk. Earliest reported witness said it had long white/gray hair and two-inch claws. Claimed it was drinking the blood of a dead cougar.”

“Someone was drinking, anyway,” Scully asserted. Bo shrugged.

“Heard there’ve been a lot more sightings by Indi–, Native Amer–, uh, indigenous peoples on a few of the Apache reservations, but good luck opening them up. We were onto a hot lead on a wendigo a year or so ago, and…”

“Thank you, Mr. Rodman,” Scully interrupted. “Here’s my card. Stay available.”

“Hellz, yea—” Bo began, but Scully was already marching back toward the ranger’s station.

 

**

 

Scully regarded Mulder and Smith neutrally as they appeared in the office doorway.

“In our defense,” Mulder began.

“Let’s move on, gentlemen,” his partner advised. “The cat, or bear, or protohominid is out of the bag, and by tomorrow, that drone footage likely will have gotten a few million hits. I’d say we have a narrow window before every…every Mulder…in a three-state area shows up here.”

“Already got my NSA guy tracking Jason’s phone,” Mulder diverted hastily. “Which brings me to something that hit me as a little bit off down by the river. Jason, you told me your phone was equipped with an Otterbox?”

Smith dropped into his chair. “Military-grade rubber. Eight million ways to trash your gear out here.”

Mulder nodded. “So why wasn’t it on your phone down on the riverbank? The impression we found was of a naked smartphone – no case.”

Smith mulled, then shook his head.

“I was thinking about something Chung said last night,” Mulder told Scully. “About yetis and human technology, and about why they might steal park equipment with little real practical value outside scientific applications. Why do you take your phone out of its case, Scully?”

A brow rose. “To…look at it? I don’t know…”

“To look at it. Examine it. Maybe to tinker around, pop the hood, see how it ticks?”

“What are you getting at, Agent?” Ranger Smith drawled.

“Reverse engineering.”

“Say what?”

“Look, say we have a creature with higher-than-average primate intelligence who’s moved further and further into man’s habitat. Or, more accurately, has been crowded out of its own. After a while, maybe this creature begins to explore the conveniences, the comforts, the social structure of the beast that’s gained dominion over its former territory, over the species. TVs, manmade heat and refrigeration, internal combustion, microwave ovens, planes, computers and cellphones. Technology – the key to Homo sapiens’ ascension through the zoological ranks.

“And who’s to say this is their first heist? I bet if we checked sheriff’s departments around the area, we’d discover a number of home or business break-ins, with thefts confined to gadgets, appliances, and devices.”

“And they’re, what?” Scully challenged. “Pirating them?”

“Learning, Scully. Catching up to the Industrial Revolution, the Atomic Age, and the Information Age in one sweeping move. Studying human tech in order to develop their own.”

“Reverse engineering…”

Mulder shrugged. “A-bomb – that’s what I’m calling him, her, it – was talking to somebody on the ranger’s phone. That guy in the woods wasn’t a lost birdwatcher. I think the yeti have an accomplice, a human accomplice. Look, Scully, you and I have dealt with some of the more radical eco-activists. What do they argue? How do they excuse acts of vandalism, even dangerous acts? Man’s continuing global clusterfuck. Maybe this guy’s trying to speed up Chung’s anticipated timetable for Man’s succession.” Mulder’s own phone buzzed; he held up a finger.

“Yeah,” he greeted. “Wow, great…What? What do you mean? Right now? You sure? Okaaay, thanks.”

Mulder ended the call absently, then silently examined a park map on the opposite wall.

“Mulder?” Scully prompted.

“Fox?” Ranger Smith attempted. Mulder looked up. “I mean, Agent Mulder?”

Mulder smiled lamely. “My buddy, he located your phone. No, Jason, you won’t need your jacket. It’s right here. At the station. C’mon.”

 

**

 

“Yup,” Mulder announced as he carefully pulled the smartphone, sans Otterbox, from the storage compartment of the ATV. “Well, we know one more thing about the yeti.”

Smith mournfully inspected the scarred casing, the cracked screen bearing a single, very large fingerprint. “What’s that, Agent?”

“He’s a world-class dick.”

 

Travelers Inn

7:23 p.m.

 

“Clawson angry?” Scully asked gently as Mulder pocketed his phone.

“Not as much as you’d imagine,” he replied, looking to his newly arrived Cowboy Cut ribeye for consolation. “He said Skinner was curious but philosophical about the social media leak, wondered how, why, and who would have hacked the drone camera. He asked how much I told the MOTW crew. Turns out they’re already running network promos on the great Mogollon Monster hunt. Oh, and Clawson sent his love.”

“That didn’t happen,” Scully stated.

“Nah.” Mulder sawed into his steak.

Scully picked at her Cobb salad. “So who did hack the drone?”

“Dunno,” Mulder ruminated. Literally. “Though I bet…nyom…it was our yeti-whishperer.”

“The man in the woods?”

“Hoodie Boy.” Mulder swallowed. “He wasn’t dressed like an Old Navy ninja for a romp through the gillyflowers. I think our yeti made our drone and called Hoodie Boy, who beat it out to the site, too late, to clean up any trace.”

“That makes no sense, Mulder,” Scully objected. “If he was trying to conceal the yeti’s existence, why release that video? Why even hack the video?”

“I think he was only interested in cleaning up the human trace – A-Bomb must’ve left the phone behind when he scrambled back to his hidey hole, and Hoodie Boy realized it when his calls went unanswered. Hoodie Boy retrieved the phone just as we arrived, then tried to throw us by planting it on the ATV while we were down by the river. If he wanted us off the yeti’s trail, he’d have wiped the phone. Incidentally, Smith’s doing a comparison of the smartphone print and the print found in the station after the theft. You wanna hand me the butter? Thanks.”

Mulder chewed and Scully stewed until a burst of laughter exploded across the dining room. Bo Rodman and his crew followed a petite blonde server to a corner table, settling in with a clatter. Bo spotted Mulder and saluted, talked briefly to a bearded man to his left, and worked his way through the Wednesday dinner crowd.

“Wonderful,” Scully muttered.

“The FBI’s most wanted!” the producer/monster hunter proclaimed, squeezing Scully into the corner of the booth. “So what’s the haps? Any good leads on our friend?”

“We can’t comment on a—”

“You want a beer?” Mulder invited. “Youch!”

Scully smiled innocently.

“Hellz yeah. Oh, don’t worry about them – they don’t listen to me half the time anyway.”

“Great.” Mulder signaled the waitress. “So, there’s a lake serpent in Tortilla Flats.”

“Sorry, boys,” Scully blurted. “I’ve got paperwork.”

“On what?” Mulder asked, withdrawing his legs.

Scully stared across the table as Bo helped himself to a chunk of ciabatta bread.

“On the thing, the classified thing,” she finally responded.

“Oh, that thing. See you upstairs.”

“Don’t hurry,” Scully recommended as Bo skirted out of the booth.

Bo and Mulder stared after her, then the agent turned with a smile. “Lake serpent.”

 

**

 

Scully froze in the bar entry. Jose Chung, winner of the 1987 Pasadena Speculative Non-Fiction Writer’s “Speckie” Award, waved her in with his glowing green martini.

“Please, allow me to order you one of these delightful concoctions,” the author cooed as she took the opposite stool. “I imagine it’s been a difficult day. As the millennials would say, you’re trending. Barmaid, un appletini, and another triple for me. Gracias.”

16144518_644837289034250_180541610_n

Scully leaned back. Quirky and narcissistic as he was, Chung was a somewhat comforting presence. “I will admit, I was a bit surprised not to find you at the park today. You missed quite a bit of excitement today.”

“It fortunately missed me, as well,” he said. “Besides, I’m what you might call a very indoorsy sort of fellow. Which reminds me – how is the unfortunate Agent Mulder? I understand he took a nasty blow to the noggin. Nothing permanently jogged loose or back into place, I trust?”

“Same old Mulder,” she smiled. Chung shrugged wistfully. “So how did you occupy your day?”

Chung beamed as the appletinis arrived. “Nostrovia!,” he toasted.

“That sounds suspiciously like a lead-in,” Scully suggested.

Chung’s eyes lit. “If I had a daughter, Agent,” he began, fondly, “she almost certainly would prove a bitter and erosive disappointment. She would lure me in with infantile babble and amateurishly endearing crayon drawings and A-minuses that should have been straight As, given her bloodline. Then, adolescence would set in, and more and more of my writing energies would be diverted to parent-teacher conferences, bail and juvenile court hearings, hanging about maternity wards and embarrassingly inept first-grade productions, and, ultimately, endless ‘There, theres’ as her own domestic bliss falls to ashes. As I reached the inevitable point of senescence, she likely would attempt to seize my literary power of attorney, posthumously publishing foolishly preserved manuscripts revealing – hypothetically, of course – old Dad’s penchant toward footwear fetishes. You are so much better than a daughter.

“And yes, that was by way of preface.” Chung sipped his appletini and toasted the barkeep. “Whilst you and Skippy were chasing through the forests primeval and racking up ‘Likes,’ I was engaged in cerebral pursuits at the local public library and a few frontier museums of dubious pedigree. Voila.”

Chung pushed a photocopy of a clipping toward Scully. It was stamped June 15, 1874, and in the purplish prose of the day outlined “the august visit of heralded Russian explorer and diplomat Nikolay Przhevalsky to our humble Valley.”

“’While the specific purpose and business of the esteemed Mr. Przhevalsky and his ensemble remain shrouded in secrecy,’” Scully read, “’the legendary former imperial soldier and naturalist was heard during his tour of the desert countryside to acclaim upon its grand beauty. Asked by this writer to elaborate upon his forays deep into the forbidding reaches of the Asian region, Przhevalsky offered a brief and succinct reply in his native tongue, which, unfortunately, his interpreter was unable to adequately convey in English.’”

“Przhevalsky was, to put it crassly and succinctly, a dick,” Chung noted. “And a racist and drunkard. One out of three, I suppose. I’ve found very few additional accounts of the tsarist bastard’s visit, which itself is significant.”

“It was unofficial, off the books,” Scully nodded. “Naturally, an imperial Russian VIP visiting a then-small Western community would be noteworthy and, I assume difficult to contain locally. At the same time, in those unconnected times, it was unlikely such an event would leak to state or national newspapers. You said very few additional accounts. What else do you have?”

Chung produced a soiled, creased, and yellowed photo. It depicted a haughty, mustachioed thirtysomething man with a Stalin-style cut and an impeccable, continentally cut suit and waistcoat, flanked uncomfortably by a group of what were clearly locals in Stetsons and fedoras. They were posing before a large paneled wagon with high spoked wheels. To the left and right of the Przhevalsky Fan Club were thick chains encircling the wagon’s body.

“Precious cargo,” Scully surmised. “Any indication why they needed the heavy security? And how does this relate to our, um, hairy friend?”

Chung drained his martini with a satisfied smacking. “Cue the balalaikas! Nikolay Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky was born in 1839 to a noble Belarusian family in the western Russian village of Smolensk. Like any good little Russian boy born to nobility, he was enrolled at the military academy at St. Petersburg, but he was destined to make maps, not war, and wound up a geography teacher at a military school in Warsaw.  In 1867, Nikolay actually asked to be shipped to Siberia to explore the Ussuri River basin along the Russian-Chinese border. That led to publication of the electrifyingly titled Travels In the Ussuri Region 1867-69 and a ticket to Central Asia – the Broadway of 19th Century Russian explorers.

“In roughly 1870, Przhevalsky and his merry little band of Russkies crossed the Gobi Desert, explored the upper Yangtze, and then, in 1872, crossed into – wait for it, wait for it – Tibet.”

“Ah.”

“You bet your sweet but stylishly demure little panties. Nikolay and the Boys surveyed more than 7,000 square miles, collecting more than 5,000 plants, 1,000 birds, 3,000 insects, 70 reptiles, and the skins of 130 different mammals, in addition to some key military intelligence. Our lad returns home to great fanfare, a promotion to lieutenant-general on the tsar’s general staff, and both the Imperial Geography Society’s Constantine Medal and the Order of St. Vladimir. Think a Grammy and a Tony, with a Golden Globes nod tossed in. He returns to the region in 1876 for four more expeditions, before catching a scorching case of typhus from the Chur River. They gave him a very nice statue in St. Petersburg, and named a horse, a gazelle, and five lizards after him. I should get one lizard named for me, God forbid!”

Scully sipped her cocktail thoughtfully before looking up. “If I get where this all is going…”

“Bingo!” Chung exclaimed, rousing the bartender. “Oh. Sorry. Please go on.”

“I assume your theory is that Przhevalsky returned from that first expedition with more than merely 5,000 plants, 1,000 birds, and 130 mammals.”

“Bingo! Agent Scully, I believe Nikolay made a discovery of far more import to the Empire than a spotted Nepalese hornet or a shaggy pony. After all, they don’t hand out those Orders of St. Vladimir like M&Ms, I assume. I believe that during his travels in Tibet, he heard the tales of a certain Himalayan behemoth, and like any dedicated scientist with a jones for fame and medals, decided to bag himself a yeti.”

Scully jumped at a roar of laughter from the nearby steakhouse. “No simple task, I’d imagine. And even if he succeeded, and managed to bring one back alive, why wouldn’t he have trumpeted his discovery? It would have made scientific history.”

Chung fell silent, arching a brow at his drinking companion.

“Agent,” he finally said. “You’ve seen some literally incredible things over the last 20 years. The existence of alien intelligence, evidence of uncanny human mental powers, giant flukelike men. But until the destruction of a trans dimensional rift on nationwide TV, these discoveries wound up buried under layers of government subterfuge and obfuscation. Why, pray tell, is that?”

He arched the other brow until Scully exhaled and slugged down the rest of her appletini.

“If you can’t civilize it, weaponize it,” Chung suggested. He grabbed for a cocktail napkin and his pen. “Say, that’s pretty good.”

 

**

 

Scully’s phone rattled on the nightstand as she slipped out of her jeans. She was halfway to it when she spotted a familiar visage on the muted room TV. She seized the remote and cranked the volume.

“Why are we so arrogant as to assume we’re alone among the intelligent apes?” Mulder challenged in extreme close-up. “Because we’re too clever to let a seven-foot, hairy hominid give us the slip? I think that says more about us than them, er, it. Right?”

Cue titles. “IT’S THE ONLY MONSTER ON THE FBI’S MOST WANTED LIST, AND WE’RE IN ON THE HUNT! BE THERE FOR THE SEASON PREMIERE OF MONSTER OF THE WEEK, IN TWO WEEKS ON THE KNOWLEDGE CHANNEL!”

Cut to mid-close-up Bo Rodman, hanging from MOTW bus cab. “I’m Bo. Join us for another expedition into the unknown! What you don’t know CAN hurt you!”

“Mulder,” Scully growled, silencing the set. She glanced down at her phone. CHARLIE2. Scully dropped onto the bed, staring at the display before hitting callback.

“Dana?” Even after the past few years, Charles Scully’s disembodied voice occasionally jarred her more than the face that mirrored her dead brother. The neurosurgeon’s tone betrayed a sanity, a peace that had eluded the tragically wayward young man of her Earth. The Charles Scully that could have been. Though her “brother” from another universe had become a trusted confidante and friend, that continued to torment Scully.

“Hey,” she nonetheless responded, breezily. “Sorry I missed you. Mulder was on cable.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah, wow.”

“Anyway, I checked the journals and talked to some of the guys at the Georgetown Zoological Cognizance Lab, and there doesn’t seem to be any physiological reason why your ape couldn’t have advanced from quadrupedal to bipedal locomotion. Bipedalism appears far more related to environmental adaptation than biological change. Ancient climatic shifts forced many early hominids out of the trees and onto grasslands. An erect structure, along with other defenses, helped them deter predators, and it’s been suggested bipedalism increased the amount of primate body surface exposed to favorable wind speeds and temperatures, helping dissipate heat that could slow their reactions. If you’re trying to tranquilize Mulder, you better look in a new direction.”

“Worth a try. Have a good time at the Smithsonian?”

Charlie’s clinical voice warmed. “She loved it, especially the aeronautics stuff. I still marvel at how you guys arrived at the same technology through such a circuitous route. Oh, and we stopped at a Korean taco food truck, Charlotte’s insistence. Hope it didn’t spoil her supper. Your mom already seems wary about me spending time with…”

“Charlie, stop it. You know it’s not you. You know that. It’s just…”

“I know. Give it time. Time heals.”

“Indeed. Though Mulder might want to hang out with his new friends a little longer.”

 

**

 

Scully started awake at the first thump. The red LED readout at her elbow read 1:43. A low rumble sounded from the suite’s main room, evolving into a rhythmic growl. She slid stealthily from under the comforter, sliding the bedside drawer silently open and extracting her Glock. Scully’s bare feet bore into the carpet, and she edged toward the doorway.

“Well, hey, you’re up,” Mulder grinned from the floor. “You din’t have to do…waking up. I gotta key, y’know, though the lock thing kept, you know, kept moving.” Mulder tried to remove the new shoe that had replaced his yeti-soiled Land’s End boot, but fell on his back in the effort and surrendered. “Hey, hey, as long as you’re already up…”

“Don’t even,” Scully sighed.

“No, no,” Mulder placated, using the coffee table to climb to his feet. “Jus’ let me find something to get these things off.”

“Whoa,” a voice erupted from the couch. Scully leveled her gun, and Bo Rodman’s head popped up above the sofa back and as quickly ducked behind the cushions. “I thought you said something about a…a…nightcap, dude.”

Mulder giggled. “Oh, shit, I, uh, forgot all about you. Scully, where’s the, you know, the minibar?”

His partner loudly thumbed off her safety.

“Yeah,” Mulder mumbled. “You prolly better go, Bro.”

 

**

 

“Can you drive any, I don’t know, softer?”

Scully’s foot twitched on the gas pedal.

“OK, OK, you’re still pissed, I got that,” Mulder said as saguaro and chollo and tractor trailers hurtled by. “Soooo, Przhevalsky bagged hisself a yeti for the tsar, who decided to, what, turn it into some kind of supersoldier?”

“I don’t think that’s what I suggested at all,” Scully replied. “Though Chung found some evidence that the imperial government might have been conducting some sort of covert research involving  Przhevalsky, who then turns up in Arizona with a mysterious cargo under lock and key. I’m not yet ready to concede he had a stowaway snowman in tow, but it bears further investigation. And what did you do with your evening, beyond wallowing in Coors and testosterone?”

“Actually, before we moved on to the entertainment portion of the program, Bo provided some interesting insights. Did you know he was the first-season host of Hack’d?”

“I think Downton Abbey was on at the same time…”

“So, they did this segment on drones, and it turns out it’s not that tough to hack a drone — non-commercial models particularly creates an unprotected wireless signal, and even with encryption, a group at Johns Hopkins discovered three different ways to send rogue commands from a laptop and crash the drone. Few months back, a Trend Micro security researcher demonstrated the Icarus Box, which lets you lock an operator out and hijack a drone or any other radio-controlled device that runs over the DSMx wireless transmission protocol. The major manufacturers have been rushing to release patches and updates, but a talented hacker could probably bypass those in a few moves. Same time, wireless IP surveillance cameras are pretty easy to hack, even by smartphone. So it’s not inconceivable our social media leaker either captured the live yeti feed or copied the video file.

“But either way, that requires some advanced planning on our hacker’s part, or at least some expectation of a hacking opportunity. But Smith’s plan to use the drones was kind of a last-minute thing.”

Scully turned at the arrowhead logo into the National Park, to find a lengthy queue of vehicles creeping toward the Golden Mesa visitor’s center. “I don’t quite get where you’re going with this.”

“Well, unless our hacker was waiting in a camper for a random drone to fly by in a vast wilderness area, how did he or she know any video would be available?”

“A prank?” Scully suggested, edging forward. “I mean, Mulder, you can buy a small drone for $50 bucks at a Walmart. A national park might seem the ideal place to get some aerial video, and some computer lab delinquent might think it was a hoot to hijack a few drones.”

“National parks are considered no-drone zones because of the noise, safety, and wildlife disruption issues, “ Mulder countered. “You can get hit for $50 to a few thousand if you get caught. So any illegal drone use likely would be confined to the more remote reaches of the forest – it’s unlikely a hacker would see any major opportunity here.”

“So where are you going with this?”

Mulder gestured toward the congested parking lot ahead. “It’s where we’re going, Scully.”

 

**

 

“Yesterday’s anonymous release of what may be the first major video of the Mogollon Monster has generated a standing room only crowd at Golden Mesa National Park,” Bo said, waving a hand toward the distant Superstition Mountains as a throng behind MOTW-emblazoned barriers stared on memorized. “This may be the largest audience we’ve ever witnessed in our quest to find America’s unknown creatures. Come along with us on the search for our Monster of the Week.” Bo released his abdominal muscles. “And that’s a wrap. Pack her up, and we’ll head up to King Crab Bend.”

“Kingfisher Bend,” Mulder corrected from the sidelines.

America’s Favorite Cryptozoologist whipped around with a broad grin, and approached palm aloft. “My Mulder from another mother! And, hey, Agent Dana! Man, you shoulda stuck around for the par-tay!”

“I feel like I was a part of it,” she said drily as Mulder delivered five. Bo turned to her, expectantly, then dropped his arm under Scully’s dead stare.

“Bo, bro, I wonder if you could do us a favor?” Mulder interjected.

“Dude, anything. You’re practically like family…”

“Well, family…” Mulder disclaimed, averting eye contact with Scully. He glanced at the mob behind him as a dozen smartphone cams fired off. “Can we talk on the bus?”

 

**

 

Ranger Smith nodded Mulder, Scully, and Rodman into the cluttered office, grimacing as an indication he was about to wrap things up.

“No, that’s not been substantiated,” he admonished patiently into the handset. “I can’t comment on that, you know that. Lemme get you the number for NPS Communications, OK?”

“Guys,” he finally beamed as he cradled the phone. “Sorry ‘bout that – been ringing off the hook all morning. Mostly local media, bloggers, weird support groups.”

“Yeah,” Mulder responded. “I noticed you’re really packin’ em in today.”

“Right? Damn social media – like a mob scene. Dr. Loracz had a hell of a time getting into the park today.”

“Hope we didn’t hold him up,” Scully said.

“Oh, no – he’s been on sabbatical for four month, and he was happy to help,” Smith dismissed. “I set him up in the wildlife lab – he brought a portable rapid DNA unit. Wanna head over there? Sorry, Mr. Rodman, but I don’t think–”

“Actually, we invited him along,” Mulder smiled. “Bo’s been a big help with the more ‘unusual’ elements of this case, as well as a few technical aspects. You know he used to host a show about hackers?”

Smith’s grin widened. “Don’t watch much TV.”

“Well, as part of that show, Bo learned a lot about the cyber universe – IP tracking, program code and tags. We wanted to get a line on how your drone video got into the public domain so quickly, and Bo’s got a regular data command post on his bus.”

“Good luck with that,” Smith laughed uncertainly. “I’ve heard it’s not so tough to hack a drone.”

“Yeah, that isn’t what happened,” Mulder chuckled back.

“Jason, isn’t a record crowd, especially a sustained crowd, a good thing for the park? I mean, we’re right up on budget hearings on the Hill, and I noticed Golden Mesa’s approps have been steadily shrinking over the past five years.”

“We’re low-hanging meat,” Smith countered.

“Fruit,” Mulder corrected.

“Yeah, that. Nobody cares about the Parks, especially when a microscopic slice of their tax dollar goes to maintain them. Wildlife preservation, the ecosystem, climate change – that’s like collateral damage to those Beltway guys.”

“But a little media buzz about some mysterious creature deep in the wilds might help whip up park attendance, which has been particularly low here over the last 10 years,” Mulder suggested. “Especially if you know a cable network production crew is in the vicinity. They broadcast the MOTW tip line at the end of every episode and on the website, so it was simple to lure Bo and the boys out.”

Smith sputtered. “What? Guys, seriously?”

Bo leaned forward. “Dude, you know that every .jpeg, every video file contains breadcrumbs you can use to trace it back to point of origin?”

“Huh.”

“Yeah. So I had our IT guy break down the code of that drone video we were sent, hoping I could give my buds here a lead on who sent it to me. And guess what I found, Bro?”

“Mm.”

“My guy expected to find some kind of complicated trail, like you’d see if a file was copied onto an external system and a dupe sent through a maze of IP addresses. But this .mpeg file was the original, Dude. You get me?”

“In other words, straight from the drone camera feed, first-gen,” Mulder said. “My guess is that in your rush to get the video out to MOTW – probably while you were bringing the drones back in and we were gearing up to get to the scene – you accidentally sent the original drone feed instead of a copy. The evidence should still be on your system.”

Smith’s eyes darted to his monitor, a calloused paw twitched toward the keyboard. His mouth formed an innocent grin, but his eyes weren’t in it, and he slumped back in his chair.

“Scooby Doo!” Bo exclaimed. “I should’ve known it was the friendly park ranger all along. If it weren’t for us meddling kids…”

“Bo, seriously, dude,” Mulder sighed. “Jason?”

“Shiiiit,” Smith moaned, making it four syllables. “Guys, I’m sorry. I guess I just saw a way to generate some public interest – like you said, I knew Mr. Rodman here would bust a nut over that video. I know it was wrong. I mean, I didn’t break any federal laws, did I?”

“Wait,” Bo broke in. “So this whole monster thing is one big fraud?”

“Yes,” Scully said, as Mulder shook his head.

“Why bring in the FBI if he simply wanted to get bodies into the park with a harmless video leak?” he posed. “Even if he’d staged the station burglary – which for reasons I am too hung over to repeat just doesn’t track – the federal government isn’t going to write off even a few thousand dollars of its overpriced gear. You guys will shoot a week or so of video, stalk through the pines with your night scopes, edit in a spooky soundtrack and a cryptically unsatisfying wrap-up. Fade to black, Cialis commercial.”

“Well, that’s kind of oversimplifying the process…” Bo protested.

“No, I think that thing we saw in the security and drone video is the real deal. And Jason knows it.”

“Well, we don’t actually—”

“Jason,” Mulder warned. “Only you can prevent pants fires. If it weren’t for being a little rusty, it would have hit me immediately. Your phone. No millennial – even a nature boy like you – can go 24 hours without their smartphone fix. Yet, you expected us to buy that you didn’t miss your stolen phone for a week?

“Now, either you’re as dumb as Scully says you are,” – Mulder waved off his partner’s protest – “or somebody flipped the script on you, and you had to think fast and sloppy on your feet when we realized Bigfoot had gone broadband.”

“He shouldn’t have even been able to get a signal in that part of the—” Jason’s lips clamped, then parted. “Look, he never gave me his name.”

Mulder smiled. “Maybe you are smarter than the average bear, Jason. Just barely.”

The ranger stared out the window at the wilderness beyond. “Wait a minute.”

“Here it comes,” Mulder murmured.

“That stuff about breadcrumbs and IP addresses and codes. That was a bunch of shit, wasn’t it?”

Bo shrugged. “Shit, I don’t know, bro.”

 

**

 

“Dr. Loracz?”

The slight, balding scientist continued to study the readout on the printer-sized box before him. Scully stepped further into the wildlife lab, a clutter of Pyrex, outdated gadgets and gauges, and thick zoology texts.

“Dr. Loracz?”

He turned, and jumped. The veterinary scientist grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, I was so focused on my work, I didn’t…notice… you.”

“Agent Dana Scully, Professor,” she smiled, flashing her ID. Loracz looked expectantly into the redhead agent’s face. Scully was accustomed to academic fanboy interest – she was a specimen they seldom seemed to encounter. “I understand you’re running the DNA samples we found yesterday.”

“Oh, yes,” Loracz said, eyes locked. “Nice to take the old RapidHIT out for a spin now and then. And, I have to say, the trip’s been highly worthwhile. Your creature left a significant amount of saliva on the Oncorhynchus apache you brought back – enough to get a fairly complete chromosomal profile. Let me see if I can laymanize this, Agent.”

“I’m a physician, Professor,” Scully supplied.

“Ah, well, great, then. So you know that Homo sapiens possesses 23 pairs of chromosomes, just like Neanderthals and Denisovians – an extinct human subspecies. Twenty-four pairs is the normal complement for every other known member of the family Hominidae, which as you know includes the chimps and great apes. Our donor sample has 25. Twenty-FIVE. Just like the earlier hair samples Jason submitted.”

Scully nodded. “And…uh…what about bears?”

Loracz squinted. “Pardon?”

“Would a…bear…maybe also have, ah, 50 chromosomes?”

“Heavens, no. Seventy-four – 37 pairs.” He chuckled. “Sorry. So we are fairly certain the donor is some form of hominid primate. But then we look at Chromosome 2, and we find that he – the donor was a male – is a horse of a different color.”

Scully frowned. Loracz grinned.

“I meant that metaphorically, of course.”

“Of course.”

“The donor is not a member of the family Equidae, a horse. That was simply a—”

“Got it,” Scully smiled forcefully. “Chromosome 2.”

Loracz fumbled absently with his reddened right ear. “Yes, yes, Chromosome 2 is the second-largest human chromosome, spanning more than 242 million base pairs. It’s thus a focal point for genomic comparison. And not only does its analog in this sample differ sharply from Chromosome 2, but it also contains DNA sequences I’ve never seen in any primate sample.”

“What do you think that means?”

“That the sample contained DNA sequences I’ve never seen in any primate sample.”

“Oh.”

 

**

 

“I got into the Park Service to try to do something, you know?” Ranger Smith said. “For the planet, you know? For the animals?”

Bo Rodman had been banished to his shoot with promises Mulder likely was not authorized to make. Mulder nodded sympathetically, nearly knee to knee with the ranger.

“Go on,” the agent murmured.

“Did you know 150 to 200 plants and animals become extinct every 24 hours?”

“Yes, I actually did.”

“Oh.” Smith blinked. “We did that shit. We’re doing that shit. It’s like a fucking shooting gallery out there, man. Hunters, poachers, malls, subdivisions, the oil companies, the rain forests. I mean, ripping out the rain forests, not—”

“Gotcha,” Mulder smiled, seeking to steer this back toward something resembling a criminal investigation.

“Yeah…so. The parks are the only place where they’re protected – wildlife, that is. But, like I said, nobody cares about that, or the parks. It’s just a matter of time. So when I got this call in D.C., the night after I talked to you guys, it blew my mind.”

Mulder leaned in.

“He didn’t give his name,” Smith lamented. “But he took credit for the station robbery. Well, he didn’t take personal credit.”

“The yeti did it.”

“Yup. I know, crazy, right?”

“Well…”

“So I tell him bullshit, and he tells me everything that got stolen, down to serial numbers. Then he asks if I’d like to help him keep the park open and protect an endangered species. You know, the…”

“Yeti, yeah.”

“I tell him I already talked to you guys, and he says even better.”

Mulder frowned. “The FBI, even better?”

“Yeah, right? So he tells me where to hide my iPhone, out by the trail, and tells me to get some drones in the air.”

“He wanted the yeti on video?”

“Right? He wanted you guys to see ‘The Island,’ he called it. Kept saying it — no fucking idea what he meant. Then he told me to make a copy of the video and send it to the TV guys. Except I kinda fucked that up, you know?”

“I know,” Mulder nodded, patting Smith’s knee.

 

**

 

Scully stopped halfway down the walk to the parking lot. “Mulder.”

The MOTW bus was still parked by the curb, still surrounded by nature lovers and lookie-loos. This time, however, the crowd was focused on an animated, obscenity-laced argument between Bo Rodman, a burly cameraman, and three yetis. Three small yetis, one with a thick East Coast accent.

“Now, THIS is what I’m talking,” Mulder grinned as he stepped up the pace with a hapless Scully in tow.

“Agents, great!” Bo shouted as Mulder stepped between the producer and the three erstwhile hominids, waving his ID. “Get these assholes out of here!”

“Who you callin’ asshole, dickweed?” the smallest, roundest, female yeti bellowed. Her Velcro fasteners tore as she pivoted to Mulder and Scully. “This asshole assaulted us!”

“That’s abominable,” Mulder deadpanned. “What, nothing? Okay, what happened? Bo, then the Beastie Girl.”

“Fran. Fran Giordano,” the little yeti snapped.

“Fran here and her two gorillas (Scully snorted despite herself) were sabotaging our shoot out on the trail,” Bo growled. “The guys’d found a set of big tracks leading into the woods, and these guys jumped them.”

The cameraman stepped in. “Wasn’t so much jumped us as—”

“Ryan,” Bo warned. Mulder nodded and turned to Giordano. “Just what kind of monkey business are you guys up to, Fran?”

Fran removed her yeti head to reveal an even more daunting scowl. “We’re with FINS.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Friends in Intervention for New Species,” she clarified in icy Bronx syllables. “We protect the hidden species Greenpeace and World Wildlife won’t.”

“A cryptid preservation activist group?” Scully pondered. “I never heard of you before. Are you a local chapter?”

Fran paused, then her jaw jutted. “We’re like, kinda, well, it. Kyle and Ozzie and me. I’m a post-grad in the ASU Environmental Sciences Department. One day, we were watching some video of unknown deep sea species in the Mariana Trench and it hit us, there’s no place where they can escape from us anymore. We’re already losing you know how many species a day?”

“Already saw that Powerpoint,” Mulder said.

“Well, smartass, imagine how long the Sasquatch, the tatzelwurm, the mokele-mbembe will last when we finally track them down? I mean, fuck, we even call them monsters, like they’re a human threat instead of a vital component of a sustainable ecosystem. We can’t stop commercial development, the destruction of the rainforests, overfishing, but we can try to slow down morons like this guy. All we did was scream and wave our arms around when his crew walked into our trap and maybe scare off the real Mogollon ‘Monster’ or whatever it is.”

Bo sneered. “Ever occur to you ecoterrorists that maybe exposure on Monster–, MOTW, might help raise public consciousness about these vulnerable and endangered creatures?”

Fran looked to her comrades, and the trio erupted in laughter.

“Yeah, Bro, that was kind of a stretch,” Mulder admitted.

 

Travelers Inn

3:10 p.m.

 

“’Curiouser and curiouser’…” Jose Chung mulled.

“Also Charles Dickens, I assume,” a barefooted Mulder grunted from the hotel bed. “Remind me again why you’re here?”

“Because, Agent Mulder, three heads are better than 1 ½,” the author suggested.

“I felt Mr. Chung might provide a little additional perspective,” Scully intervened. “After all, he may have established a historical explanation for the creature’s presence in the States.”

“Which poses even more questions. Why would a Russian explorer covertly bring a yeti to America? Even back in the 1870s, I’d think he’d have had some federal hurdles to clear, or at least a few rubles to spread around.”

Chung tipped his plastic cup of unauthorized minibar bourbon at Mulder. “Actually, Russia supported the Union in the Civil War, I suspect to protect the commercial ventures that popped up after the Russkies sold us Alaska. Horrible place – got Nanook’s Revenge from some bad seal meat. Quid pro quo, y’know – we likely would have let Przhevalsky bring a live Tyrannosaur in for the goodwill value. As for the Big Why, I believe I may have a working hypothesis. Teddy Roosevelt.”

Mulder rose to an elbow and raised a brow at Scully. She slumped behind her laptop.

“Theodore Roosevelt Jr., as we know, was a rugged outdoorsman and carnivore,” Chung continued, unbidden. “But he also was a crackerjack naturalist and wildlife lover from childhood, in a way far removed from the rumors about Grover Cleveland. Did you know he was essentially the father of the modern national parks system?

“Teddy was a weak child, asthmatic, but his pop, Teddy Sr., took him on family treks to Europe, Egypt, and ultimately, the Alps, where Teddy 2 caught the fitness bug, did his hitch in the military, and went on to murder many a hapless critter. Pop’d made his fortune in the plate glass biz and a New York philanthropist–”

“Wikipedia much?” Mulder yawned. But he was upright now, and Chung pressed on.

“Like Przhevalsky, Teddy was a soldier and naturalist with a yen to explore and plenty of yen from good old dad. Could these two wacky guys have hooked up somewhere along the way?”

He paused for effect. Mulder sighed loudly.

“You’re a very ungracious audience,” Chung scolded. “The answer, of course, is yes, or I would never have brought it up. Delving through Pop Roosevelt’s memoirs, I found that the Roosevelts bumped into Przhevalsky at a diplomatic do during a sojourn in London. Przhevalsky was an Anglophile in addition to any other philes he might have engaged in, and that toddling town was his favorite. Pops noted young Teddy was fascinated by Przhevalsky’s military strategies and East Asian expeditions, and nearly talked the Russky’s ear off, through an interpreter, of course, which must have been uber-annoying.”

“I empathize,” Mulder muttered, now resigned to raiding the minibar booze.

“Fact: Teddy knew Nikolay. Get me another Wild Turkey, that’s a good boy. Fact: Nikolay returned from Tibet with a mysterious cargo, which wound up here in the Garden State.”

“The Garden State’s New Jersey.”

“Fact: Pop Roosevelt was loaded. Fact: Nikolay obviously needed some pull and probably a couple boxcars, and, as I clarified in Point 3, Pops was loaded and connected. Ergo, Pop Roosevelt aided and abetted Nikolay Przhevalsky in smuggling and transporting an abominable snowman across the Continental Divide.”

Mulder belted his airline Bailey’s in one gulp. “First of all, most of those aren’t really facts, the way I understand facts. Second, that is some pretty hefty ergo-ing. You’ve taken two historical figures from roughly the same timeframe, jammed them together in a sloppy Forrest Gump narrative, and come up with a whopper that lacks plausibility, continuity, and any kind of logical motivation.”

“So you like my theory?” Chung asked.

“Actually, I’ve heard worse,” Mulder conceded, scrounging for another Bailey’s.

 

**

 

“Now that Dr. Seuss is gone, a little briefing and, if it won’t spoil supper, maybe a little debriefing?”

“That first one sounds good,” Scully responded. “The second sounds like a promise you and the Bailey’s can’t keep. Since you two already defiled the minibar, let me grab some cashews first.”

Mulder pouted, then bounced back onto the bed. “Fact: Ranger Smith’s anonymous accomplice apparently used a burner phone he or she’s now trashed. Fact: Anonymous actually wanted us on the case, wanted us as witnesses.”

“That’s not altogether surprising,” Scully said, struggling with the cashew bag. The bag exploded, and nuts rained across the carpet. She sighed and dropped into an armchair. “You’ve become a brand name for every…ah, those well acquainted with more esoteric scientific disciplines. Your reputation and indiscriminate social media use precede you. For whatever reason, Anonymous wants an audience, wants us to document the yeti’s existence. The creature’s existence, I mean.”

“Now I AM turned on,” Mulder smirked. “But why?”

“Maybe, and I hate to fuel the legend, but maybe he saw you as a potential ally – someone who could be trusted to protect, rather than exploit, the creature. What?”

Mulder popped off the mattress and rushed to Scully’s laptop. “Let’s go back to Przhevalsky. Przhevalsky the naturalist, not the soldier. Let’s say he happens on a yeti – maybe a colony of yetis – in the Tibetan wilds. He brings the creature back to Mother Russia in the hope of imperial glory and the pursuit of knowledge. But who’s he bring the beast back to? The imperialist military machine? A tsarist government steeped in espionage and expansionist dreams? Alexander II conquered Turkestan and pushed into Siberia and the Caucasus. Part of the reason he was so keen on Przhevalsky exploring Eastern Asia was to get a bead on China’s intentions. Maybe I had it right before – the tsar saw military potential in Przhevalsky’s incredible hulk. Or maybe Przhevalsky’s comrades planned to put A-Bomb Sr. on a dissection slab. Either way, Przhevalsky the naturalist, the conservationist, couldn’t go along with it.

“But what was he to do? Return the creature to its original habitat? Przhevalsky the soldier knew Tibet was a geopolitical hotspot — the British Empire was creeping from northern India into the Himalayas, the Emirate of Afghanistan and the Russian Empire were expanding into Central Asia, and Chinese authority loomed over the region. To his perspective, the yeti species could well be on its way to extinction, if not for his find.

“But then Przhevalsky remembers his London encounter with the young boy, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., with his keen interest in wildlife conservation and a rich daddy who doted on Teddy and indulged his frail son’s outdoor interests. The sparsely inhabited U.S. West might provide a safe, sustainable haven for a large species. And the rest is—”

“–baseless and fantasy-driven speculation,” Scully concluded. “Speaking of which, The Island. What do you think that means?”

“Maybe it’s a literal island,” Mulder said, tapping furiously away. He studied Google Maps. “Nah, no large lakes in Golden Mesa or the immediate area. My guess is typical narcissistic gameplay. Hoodie Guy wants us to know how clever he is, maybe aggrandizing his relationship with the yeti. The Island of Dr. Moreau, maybe? Moreau experimented with half-human beasts; Hoodie Guy seems to have developed some kind of mentor/master relationship with the yeti.”

The Island was Aldous Huxley’s last novel,” Scully ventured. “Kind of a riff on Brave New World – an ideal society that attracts the unwanted attention of the overpopulated outside world. Maybe the yeti are the ‘subjects’ of our guy’s imagined utopia. Goes along with your narcissism profile. And since you seem to be on a mad scientist kick, The Island’s inhabitants used artificial insemination and trance states for rapid advanced learning. Going with Mulderesque logic, maybe a similar technique was used to teach abominable snowmen to use a smartphone.”

”Seems a little obscure, Poindexter, though I’m happy that PBS membership is paying off for you. I’ll start surfing the Lit 101 angle. Unless, maybe, you’d be up for a little hooky…?

Scully smiled, knelt beside Mulder’s ear, and turned his face to hers.

“Read my lips,” she whispered, then mouthed three additional words.

“Little more efficient, I suppose,” Mulder considered as Scully headed toward the bathroom. Then she halted, turned.

“Yeah?” He rose eagerly, pulling at his T-shirt tail.

“No,” Scully stated, absently. “Mulder, get that drone video up.”

 

**

 

Fran and Kyle and Ozzie loaded their now-empty Gatorade jugs into their packs, having successfully completed FINS’ first major offensive op.

The dusky forest was now redolent of a smell that recalled for the organization’s commander the Newark bus terminal john at the end of a long day: Mingled urine, the lingering musk of a day in ape suits, and the sharp edge of pine.

“I don’t know how many times I can do this,” Ozzie complained, belatedly zipping up.

Fran wheeled on him, and despite his significant height advantage, Oz stepped off. “This is one of the frigging highest-traffic areas in the park – that stugatz Rodman’s not getting any monster footage tonight now that we’ve saturated the site. Sides, dude, I’ve heard you take a piss in the morning – like you’re puttin’ out a friggin’ forest fire. Anyways, we’re done for the night – time to vacate.”

Kyle snorted. Giordano scowled. “Sorry, Franny. Vacated, you know?”

“Friggin’ morons.” Fran slung her bag over her broad shoulders and headed for the trail head and the carefully hidden Vespas.

Vegan pizza was on the menu that night, so the trio crunched though the winding terrain at a brisk clip. But halfway down, on the fringe of a thick stand of Golden Mesa’s famous Englemann spruce, Fran clothes-pinned her companions and gestured for silence.

“Friggin’ shit,” she whispered hoarsely. “There it is. There it fucking is.”

Indeed, there it was. Seven feet of dirty cream fur, long limbs, and vaguely simian features, perhaps 10 yards off the trail, snacking on what appeared to be some form of shelf fungus from the bark of a nearby spruce.

“We gotta get this,” Fran breathed, almost orgasmically. “Kyle, your GoPro charged?”

Kyle’s eyes widened. “You mean video? He’s too far away. Besides, isn’t this like what Rodman’s doing? Exploitation?”

She grabbed the front of his jacket. “This is for, like, posterity, preservation. We may be the first humans to document a living, breathing, loving, caring whatever-it-is. And maybe we sell it to Channel 12 or Greenpeace or somethin’ and clear enough for those night-vision goggles Ozzie’s been whinin’ for. Rodman gets fucked over, and the cause gets some needed PR. Look, shithead – she’s eating mushrooms. She’s clearly a vegetarian.”

“Makes you so sure it’s a girl?” Kyle rasped.

“Cause, like you two, she ain’t got a set. Get the fuck down there.”

Kyle swallowed, then unholstered his GoPro Hero5, and began his descent into the grove, chanting a semi-religious, semi-profane mantra. He activated the camera as he stealthily approached the creature, praying his ninja-black ensemble would provide adequate cover. He framed the beast in the viewfinder and began to shoot in a wholly involuntary, trembling cinema verite style.

And then the forest was filled with Macklemores White Privilege II. “Shit,” Kyle gasped as, simultaneously, he fumbled in his jacket to silence the ringtone and the creature jumped with a wrenching scream. It spun and extended its arm accusingly toward FINS’ co-founder. A white arc of light connected the two, and Kyle spun twice before face-planting in the spruce needles.

jane

As his last synapses failed, he heard the monster crash through the forest to a backbeat of hip-hop and Vespas ripping dirt.

 

**

 

“Mess with Sasquatch, you wind up jerky,” Mulder muttered as he watched the sheriff’s men tote a bagful of Kyle up the incline to the trail. “Not a mark on him, Scully.”

“But his pupils are blown,” his partner murmured, pulling her jacket tight against the chill morning. “What are we talking about here?”

Ranger Smith had made the call roughly a half-hour after the Maricopa County P.D. rousted him from his lack of sleep, roughly an hour after the surviving members of FINS called 9-1-1 from an Apache Junction biker bar. A bond of guilt and fear of incarceration had formed between the ranger and the agent, and he eyed Mulder and Scully anxiously as he attempted small-talk with the deputies.

Suddenly, a deputy emerged from the trees waving an evidence bag. After an animated exchange, the cop relinquished the bag to Ranger Smith. Smith scrambled up the hill and extended the bag and the scored metal cylinder inside.

“Mag lite,” Smith puffed. “Thing had a flashlight?”

Mulder delicately plucked the bag from his fingers. “Yeah, let’s not put out an eye or a frontal lobe here. Look carefully, but don’t touch, Jason. What seems to be missing from this light?”

Smith glanced up with a frown. “The light. There is none. What is that thing?’’

“My guess,” Mulder drawled, examining the conical prong soldered in where the LED bulb originally had been, “is that this is some kind of very advanced electroshock weapon. Think the Mike Tyson’s grandmother of all tasers. Except where a taser is intended for generalized, temporary neuromuscular incapacitation, this mamma-jamma blows the central nervous system. The mydriasis, or blown pupils, was probably caused by disruption of the iris dilator and sphincter, or inner cranial pressure from the neural injury to the brain.”

“Thing had a taser?” Smith amended.

“A defensive weapon, I imagine. A very sophisticated one. Immediate and permanent incapacitation.”

“You mean, the guy, my guy armed that thing?”

Mulder glanced at the officers hauling the body bag up the dirt trail. “I think it’s more complicated than that. I’ll ask him when I see him.”

Smith’s brow creased. “And when do you expect to do that?”

“After the dinner hour, of course,” Mulder said. “We’re not animals.”

 

Morgan Dairy

6:54 p.m.

 

“Bought the place about two years ago, from the bank,” Scully reported, adjusting her seatback. “Close proximity to the state forest, livestock and agricultural facilities that could conceal whatever it is he’s up to.”

Mulder sucked on his shake as he watched the farmhouse up the hill.  “Reverse engineering. Chung was right about at least one thing: The yetis want technology. To study, to adapt. With human assistance.”

“Say I could possibly buy such an implausible premise. Why, Mulder?”

“Try preservation. If we subscribe to Chung’s theory, these creatures have been here for nearly 140 years. But what was once open range and woodlands is becoming a claustrophobic ecosystem, as commercial and residential development, expanded infrastructure, and urban sprawl crowd wild species. Golden Mesa is a stable environment. The original conspiracy with Smith was designed to draw attention to the park, boost attendance, and, I believe, introduce the yeti to the world, as an intelligent, identifiable, humanlike species. A species worthy of EPA protection, of activist support, of popular empathy. That’s why a public reveal was so important – to keep this population from falling into government hands and winding up in an underground lab somewhere.

“Somehow, he managed to develop a rapport with them, foster their intelligence and skills. Past studies have proven chimpanzees can use and combine tools in complex sequences and combinations, and new research indicates the Sumatran orangutan, the bearded capuchin, and the Burmese long-tailed macaque may be even more accomplished tool users. But say a primate species that’s developed parallel with Homo sapiens has evolved not only to use tools but to engineer tools, maybe even analyze human technology. What if their analytical abilities actually superseded ours, and we only won the primate derby because we happened on fire and the fulcrum first, lucked onto cultivating food and building shelter in a manner that enabled us to collectively establish civilizations, belief systems, and ultimately, explore technology. By the time Man staked and enforced his claim, the yeti had no room to grow.”

Scully eyed Chung’s rental, parked beside a huge fabricated farm shed. “So our friend’s essentially running a vocational school for exceptional hominids?”

“I think it may go beyond that,” Mulder said. “Okay, I’m going in.”

“We.”

Mulder shook his head. “Scully, I think the best approach here is to approach this guy geek-to-geek, rather than going in full commando. I don’t think those creatures are violent by nature, but they are large, strong, and essentially feral. I need his trust to maintain control of the situation.”

Scully slumped. “All right, Mulder. But if I don’t get some kind of high sign within the next 20 minutes, I’m bringing in county and state back-up and lighting the place up. Understood?”

“That’s my little helpmate,” Mulder called, plunging into the night.

 

**

 

Mulder flattened himself against the corrugated steel of the barn, clenching his Glock as he gently tried the knob of the reinforced door. It turned effortlessly, and a half-inch gap revealed only inky darkness.

He slipped inside, quickly pulling the thankfully lubricated door closed behind him. Mulder could see a seam of light above the concrete floor perhaps 20 feet away, and he crept toward it.

And a door opened, momentarily blinding the agent…

 

**

 

“It occurred to me that Ranger Smith’s visit to the X Division was a last-minute decision, after consulting with Sen. Matheson,” Mulder related, five minutes later. “We assumed you concocted this cockamamie plan to attract my attention, but when you called Smith that night, how could you possibly known he’d met with us, unless somehow I believed Matheson was a part of all this? He’s far more of a political animal than his dad, and I can’t believe this farkakte business is his style.

“But once Smith told you Scully and I were involved, you decided it would work to your advantage. To attract the real target of your attention. Jose Chung. He’d contacted you after the initial yeti footage leaked, doing research for his next book about the demise of the human species. You saw an opportunity to get the world’s attention. And since Scully and I had played a key role in From Outer Space, you figured we’d be willing to do his footwork.”

“You’re a bit more intelligent than Mr. Chung suggested,” Professor Loracz beamed.

“Gee, thanks. By the way, you know this is border tape, not duct tape?” Mulder jerked his right wrist free from the folding chair by way of illustration.

The scientist shrugged. “It was intended as a calming device, not a restraint.” Loracz made a clicking noise with his tongue, and a pair of towering figures materialized behind him. Not quite apelike, not wholly humanoid.

“Ah,” Mulder nodded, gawping at the currently pacific yeti. “Hey, guys.”

“Jose Chung is a visionary,” Loracz murmured. “I knew if anyone could see the importance of this discovery, of my work, it would be him. But I had to pick the right moment. You were a great help. Thank you.”

“Timing is everything, as I once told a young Ted Kaczynski,” a new voice acknowledged from the shadows of the huge space. “The good doctor invited me for the unveiling.” Standing now beside Loracz, the author subtly twirled a finger next to his right temple. One of the yeti rumbled subtly, and Mulder smiled in satisfaction for Scully’s sake.

“By the way,” Loracz inquired, “how did you arrive at me?”

“When my partner interviewed you, she assumed, to her somewhat narcissistic mind, that you were geek-crushing on her.”

“I was nothing but a gentleman.” Loracz seemed slightly hurt.

“Yeah, I know. It took a little while to put the pieces together. Word to the wise: Too much eye contact creeps the chicks, dude. But you weren’t looking at her eyes, were you? You were looking at her mouth, at her lip movements. Old habit. It took her a couple of tries to get your attention, which she attributed to Absent-Minded Professor Syndrome. Actually, you had trouble hearing her. And you started playing with your ear, which was red not with boyish ardor but with irritation. The irritation that can occur with infection from a cochlear implant. In some cases, meningitis can occur – an inflammation in the membrane of the brain.”

“There you go,” Chung sang. Mulder glared him into silence.

“I got the implant 15 years ago – I’d suffered complete hearing loss at five, and it was a virtual miracle,” Loracz confirmed. “But it’s had its share of side effects and malfunctions. It drops out on occasion.”

“Like in the woods, when you went to try to grab the phone your hairy pal had dropped in his escape,” Mulder nodded. “You didn’t even pause when I fired that warning shot into the air.”

“You discharged a weapon in a national park?” the scientist gasped.

“Let’s just stay on point, okay? Once I realized you’d at some point been hearing-impaired, I took a new look at the drone footage. It seemed as if your buddy was gesticulating wildly after he spotted the drone, but he was instinctively attempting to communicate with you non-verbally. The phone was for one-way use, right? I can’t imagine he could manipulate the touchscreen. You were probably using simple verbal commands to stage his appearance and have him flee the scene before he could arrive. I’m guessing you wanted Spooky Mulder to track the yeti here for whatever big reveal you were planning for Chung. But he panicked and left the phone. And then you panicked and ditched the phone in the ATV before leading me on a merry chase.”

“Once you came out with Jason and had your guns drawn, I knew you weren’t ready.”

“But now I am, although a tranquilizer dart wasn’t the greatest icebreaker. If you don’t mind…” Mulder lifted his free arm and began wriggling and flexing his fingers. The larger of the two yetis stiffened, then began to respond in silent gestures. “American Sign Language; ASL. Like the language Francine Patterson used to communicate with Koko the lowland gorilla. In the drone video, your guy was signing about a ‘monster bird’ about to attack him. Just now, I told him essentially that he smelled hella-funky. He suggested as much about me.”

“Patterson’s Gorilla Sign Language was a primitive modification of ASL,” Loracz argued, excitedly. “Koko learned more than 1,000 signs, but these two have learned roughly 2,000, and the rest are learning rapidly. Their cognitive capabilities are far more advanced than that of Gorilla gorilla. As you and Mr. Chung are about to discover.”

Mulder ripped the other arm free. “I already saw a pretty impressive display of their talents this morning.”

“The young man,” Loracz sighed. “I regret that, but he frightened Jane. Taking a life was very traumatic for her.”

“The lady monster,” Chung supplied. “For Jane Goodall. The big fella’s Darwin. Not TOO spot-on.”

“The supertaser – that was Jane’s or Darwin’s?” Mulder asked.

“That particular innovation’s was Jane’s, though, of course, I had to handle the engineering tasks.” Loracz looked back and smiled at the shorter yeti and smiled. Disturbingly, she smiled back. “Their brains are wired much differently than ours – they have a phenomenal aptitude for systems and system adaptation. Far more evolved than ours. They can see options and possibilities beyond our reasoning – it’s largely how they’ve managed to avoid contact with humans for hundreds of years.”

“Reverse engineering,” Mulder responded. “It’s why they stole that equipment from the park, as well, I assume from other area homes and businesses.”

“And from campsites and campers,” Loracz noted. “Amazing how many people seek to commune with nature but refuse to unplug from their tech. They stuck mainly to small thefts, seemingly inconsequential items. In their hands, however, they are far from inconsequential.”

“Like the combo mag lite/neural death ray? Ever thought about going QVC with that one?”

“As I said, that poor man’s death was deeply regrettable,” Loracz murmured. “But you haven’t seen anything yet. Do you need any help—”

Mulder tore his ankles free from the chair.

“Well, good,” the scientist smiled.

 

**

 

“Holy shit, Batman,” Mulder stated as Loracz ushered Chung and the agent into the barn’s workshop, Jane and Darwin in tow.

The yeti census tripled in one sweep of the room. A quartet of creatures glanced briefly up, then returned to their scrutiny of Kindles and fish finders and car batteries and humidifiers and toaster ovens. A jumble of electronics and appliances awaited inspection on a series of benches lining the south wall.

“Louis,” Loracz called gently. The smallest yeti turned, somewhat reluctantly. Loracz signed a brief request, and Louis (Leakey, Mulder assumed) nodded. Loracz beamed at the agent and the author, and waved them to the hominid’s workstation.

The veterinarian signed, and Louis poured a measuring cup of aromatic deep brown sludge into the reservoir of a Proctor-Silex coffeemaker, lightly tapped the “On” switch, and stepped back. In a few seconds, a stream of water, sparkling and crisply clear, flowed into the carafe. Loracz signed a rave review, pulled the full carafe from its now-deactivated heating element, and displayed it to Mulder.

“Yeah, actually, I’m good,” Mulder said.

“Microbe-free, chemical-free, zero heavy metals,” Loracz crowed. “Imagine the applications.  Solid waste treatment plants converted to effortlessly supply a city’s water.”

“Dian?”

Without turning, a female abominable waved a paw over the sensor of an RCA 51” flatscreen, and the LED array came alive with what appeared to be HD security video of a two-story home. Two boys were playing catch on a verdant lawn.

“Live feed?” Mulder asked. “Drone surveillance, hacked home security feed?”

“No hack, no drone, no wireless, no transmitters,” Loracz said. “Dian’s receiver captures over-the-air light rays and translates them into images with only a .009-second delay from a distance of 3,000 miles. Look behind the roof, Agent.”

Mulder blinked as he stared at the screen and the hazy outline of the St. Louis Arch.

“There’s a strip joint about a half mile in on the Illinois side, off I-55,” Chung provided without an ounce of mirth. “.009 seconds. Terrific. You never know what can happen on live TV. I still recall Charles Rocket dropping an F-bomb on SNL—.”

“Mr. Chung,” Prof. Loracz admonished. “You fail to garner the significance of this moment. In months, weeks, days, HOURS, our friends here have conquered frontiers in sustainability, security, survival using technology Homo sapiens took centuries to develop for the ultimate goal of toasting a pizza bagel, sexting personal reproductive organs, or watching cartoon bears pitch toilet tissue. This presentation was designed just for you. This intelligence, this evolutionary leap, this species — it must be preserved at all costs. But it will take those like you and Agent Mulder to ensure our friends a place in the human ecosystem.”

Chung placed a hand gently on Loracz’ shoulder. The yetis tensed, but the professor signed reassurance.

“My friend,” Chung began, softly but severely. “I garner the significance – I garner like nobody’s business. I’d give this all 500 stars on Yelp, and urge the Nobel Committee to suspend its newly outdated human eligibility requirements. It’s a miracle, a quantum step, a fundamental shift in the terrestrial paradigm. It’s also utterly terrifying.

“My friend Agent Mulder has shown me a photo of a young man whose brain was switched off by a $9.99 Ace Hardware flashlight. By a creature interrupted eating tree mold. Tree mold, death ray. That is not a natural progression, Dr. Loracz. That’s not good parenting. Which is understandable: We’ve pretty much botched every major effort to be responsible parents to this planet, to this species. It makes sense we’d truly screw the pooch with a special needs child, even a gifted one.”

Chung located a mag lite on the work bench, turned to Jane. Her eyes widened as held the instrument before her face, touched fingers to his forehead and drawing them down and forward, extending his pinkie and thumb.

The yeti looked to its companions, who stared back silently. Jane began slowly to sign, her apelike features creasing.

“I asked, why?” Chung reiterated as his fingers flew. He turned to a mute Mulder. “Tried to hit on Marlee Matlin at my agent’s house one time. Jane. Why did you make this thing?”

Jane paused, then signed furiously, her eyes moving between Loracz and Mulder. Loracz paled, then fumbled for a chair.

Chung nodded. “We certainly are. So, again, why?” The yeti’s eyes were immobile as she communicated with the writer. “Fair enough. That’s smart. What other smart things have you made?”

She turned again to the group, repeated Chung’s query. A silent group dialogue ensued. One of the yet-unidentified yeti’s turned toward a microwave – a small popcorn-centric model Mulder’d seen at Walgreen’s. The creature, a male (Mulder noted, impressed), explained in sober flourishes. He regarded Loracz’ back warily, but the doctor seemed to have retreated into his own world.

“I understand. Very good. Thank you.” Chung turned to Mulder. “Agent, I’m going to recommend we immediately leave the premises and immediately contact Homeland Security or perhaps the National Guard.” The author touched Loracz’ shoulder. “Doctor, why don’t you come along with us?”

The yeti whisperer looked up disconsolately. “What?”

“Come on,” Mulder repeated.

Loracz shook his head. “I had…no idea they felt this way. I only wanted to help them reach their potential, secure their survival. Now, well, now I can hardly leave them.”

“People will come,” Chung advised. “You might talk to your friends – it’ll probably be at least a half hour.”

Mulder took Chung by the shoulder. At the workshop door, the older man looked back. “Oh, and if you’re feeling peckish, I pass on the burrito.”

Scully burst in as they reached the barn exit, sidearm leveled.

“Put it in your pants,” Mulder advised. “We’ve overstayed.”

He caught Chung by the arm halfway across the yard. “Just what did they say? What’s that thing do?”

Chung peeked back at the barn. “Buy a copy, like everybody else.”

 

**

 

Mulder had just cleared DHS’ gatekeepers and Scully had reached the first asphalt road when the compressed explosion shook the car and a green glow momentarily illuminated the rear windshield. Scully slammed the brakes, and the agents craned back.

Chung shrugged. “The burrito schtick. Little too smart for the room, eh?”

 

From Jose Chung’s Paleopalooza:

 

A Monkey once danced in an assembly of the Beasts, and so pleased them all by his performance that they elected him their King. A Fox, envying him the honor, discovered a piece of meat lying in a trap, and leading the Monkey to the place where it was, said that she had found a store, but had not used it — she had kept it for him as treasure trove of his kingdom, and counseled him to lay hold of it. The Monkey approached carelessly and was caught in the trap; and on his accusing the Fox of purposely leading him into the snare, she replied, “Oh Monkey, and are you, with such a mind as yours, going to be King over the Beasts?”

 Aesop’s lesson in the dangers of unrefrigerated meat. My Uncle Oswaldo perished from complications arising from a leftover pork loin he’d illegally lifted from his neighbor’s Frigidaire following a 48-hour blackout. His dying words, uttered as my Aunt Lucinda watched Oswaldo’s remaining life and bodily fluids flow from his body: “I thought it couldn’t hurt you if it was already cooked!” Misplaced faith in technology; in badly served, ill-digested data.

 A cockroach survives three landlords, eighteen tenants, five resistance-bolstering fumigations, and the heels of a hundred human loafers, not to mention three or four global extinctions. A software engineer with a masters from UC-Berkeley and a mastery of Mandarin and conversational Spanish is flattened by the city Metro Number Nine as he voice-texts his wife “Pizza or Chinese? J” on his iPhone. What would our old Greek fable monger make of that one, had he been exposed to the horrors of pesticides, cellular technology, and urban mass transit?

 Like little Ralphie’s Schrodingerian Red Ryder BB gun that simultaneously subdues rustling polecats and produces cyclopean blindness, we have to ponder whether our bottomless pot of curiosity and our marvelous toys ultimately will guide us through Extinction No. 6, or under the wheels of the Number Nine Metro…

 

**

 

“Sen. Matheson sends along his thanks for your assistance with the National Parks matter,” Agent Clawson informed Mulder with the merest slip of dryness as the elevator doors enveloped them. “He told me you two likely saved thousands of lives.”

“Did he?” Mulder mused. “And how’d he arrive at that conclusion?”

Clawson indulged in a fleeting smile. “If the device that took out Loracz’ farmhouse was any indication, I suspect those toys you came across could have caused some significant damage.”

“Misfit toys,” Mulder murmured abruptly.

“Misfit toys?”

Mulder grinned. “That’s it. Loracz’ compound. The Island. Loracz had grown up exceptional, different, isolated, likely shunned by playmates and classmates. He likely shared a deep affinity with the yeti – forced into the shadows, wary of contact with humans. And when he discovered their technologically adaptive intelligence, it must have seemed a natural.”

Clawson frowned slightly as the elevator hummed downward. “I’m not tracking.”

“What was your favorite movie, TV show as a kid?”

The X Division’s director glanced sheepishly at Mulder. “I dunno. Okay. Wizard of Oz.”

Mulder nodded appreciatively. “I was a Trekkie. Scully was into Melville; she’s such a hot nerd. Loracz was an outcast, a boy with a brilliant mind and the inability to properly process the tools and resources necessary to fulfill his potential. He no doubt found himself in the company of other misunderstood, socially awkward, and very gifted people. And in the company of proto-hominid toymakers. Bumbles.”

The smile returned to Clawson’s face. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The Island of Misfit Toys. The bird that swam, the train with square wheels…”

“The microwave that blew an entire species out of existence.”

They rode in silence.

“I thought we were headed to Skinner’s office for my exit interview,” Mulder admitted as the elevator doors opened to a comfortably dim and familiar corridor.

“I told you, you’re golden,” Clawson assured, nodding toward the end of the glum hall. “This way, Agent.”

Mulder pulse quickened as his new chief slipped a key into the lock of the door of the office at the end of the basement corridor. As the door swung inward, he inhaled. Two fed-surplus workhorse desks flanked the west and north walls. Cork bulletin boards flanked one of the desks. Centered mathematically behind the desk was a poster, virgin no doubt straight out of the Amazon tube, but a twin for the print Karin Berquist had presented posthumously to Mulder.

“I Want To Believe,” Clawson read. “Well, we all do, Agent Mulder. I know this is something of a new world for you, and maybe you’ve experienced enough new worlds for a while. I thought you might appreciate a little bit of the old. And, speaking of…”

Clawson stepped aside, and Mulder stared at the device on the edge of the opposite desk.

“The original started a fire in the Art Theft breakroom,” the lead agent explained, patting the Mr. Coffee. “But I managed to find this on eBay.”

“Wow, just wow,” Mulder whispered. He scanned the serenely dim office with a smile. “And the files? They coming downstairs too, right?”

Clawson was silent for a moment. “Agent Mulder, we are, ah, actually a…paperless office…”

Mulder blinked.

“We have 256-gig expandable memory tablets for you and agent Scully, fully loaded and biometrically secured,” his young boss hastened. “It’s…the Bureau’s new…green initiative…”

Mulder finally nodded.

“Coffee?” Clawson offered.

 

**

 

“I am afraid we have no more room for you, either in steerage or in our rather cramped quarters,” Przhevalsky smiled coldly, as his stoic aide leveled a standard-issue Berdan rifle at Petrovich and Starbak.

The shipyards were virtually deserted that night, and the four stood silently on the frigid deck of the SS Vostochnaya Zvezda. Inspector Petrovich broke the tension with a sardonic laugh.

“There is no need of this drama,” the investigator suggested. “Please, Colonel, let us retreat from the cold.” Carefully, he pulled a bottle of clear liquid from his cloak. The Cossack did not move.

“I am aware of the nature of your latest unauthorized mission,” Petrovich continued. “I had a rather candid conversation with one of your Society colleagues from the Tibet expedition. It took only one bottle and the threat of his pension to persuade him to share his adventures. Then, there was the curious matter of the university’s new laboratory. Do cadavers require manacles these days? A half a bottle and a handful of rubles loosened the guard’s tongue. The shipyard watchman? Well, I am sorry to report I have only the one bottle remaining.

“Please, Colonel. Do not fear the loss of your pension. We are men of war, but also men of science, first, am I right? I have no wish to impede your journey, nor to report your infraction. The tsar will not miss one more ape, will he?” He directed the last toward the indeed hulking aide. Starbak sighed.

Przhevalsky’s arrogant mien dissolved. His thick mustache twitched. “And what would you propose, Inspector? Compensation for your expenses, plus perhaps some interest?”

Petrovich waved away the offer. “I propose we share a little vodka and a little Truth.”

 

**

 

The steamer’s hold was dimly lit, but Petrovich inhaled sharply as he surveyed Przhevalsky’s precious cargo. A dozen sets of not-quite human but startlingly expressive eyes met the inspector’s.

“They are young, more frightened of you I am sure than are you of them,” Przhevalsky reassured him. “The filthy Mongolians had murdered their mother, and then the ‘scientists’ at the university, well…”

“Yes,” Petrovich nodded. “Thank you for satisfying my impertinent curiosity. I wish you – all of you – a safe and uneventful voyage.”

 

**

 

What will be Man’s next evolutionary move, if the genetic tank isn’t already running on fumes? Homo sapiens sapiens in 125,000 short years has progressed from large rocks and sharp sticks to spears and slings and swords and muskets and tanks and atoms to racing randomly with scissors about this house we call Earth. Without GPS, we struggle to find the Home Depot. Without Yelp, we struggle to nourish ourselves. After a childhood of being harangued not to get into the car with strangers, we now hop into the first strange car we find on our phone, inebriated, alone, with that addled sense of optimism we as a species seem to embrace despite every contraindication.

 So where are we Ubering next, with science, God, or blind human impulse at the wheel?

 

**

 

“Where is he?” Charlotte whined with the drama only a five-year-old can convey.

Scully glanced up from her chopping with a smile. “Daddy’s new boss had a surprise for him, so he’ll be a little late, not too much. Hey, I heard you had a great time with Uncle Charlie at the museum while we were gone.”

“Yeah – it was sooo awesome,” she bubbled. “I liked the cavemen. They were kinda scary, but kinda smart, too. They figured out how to make fire happen.”

Scully’s knife paused in mid-carrot, then descended back into a staccato rhythm.

Charlotte paused. “Mommy? You OK? Why are you–? I mean, you look kinda sad.”

Scully glanced guiltily down at her empathetic child and ruffled her hair. “I’m fine, baby. I was just thinking about something from our trip.”

Charlotte nodded thoughtfully. “You gonna be mad at me if I tell you something?”

Scully scooped her daughter from the floor, planting a kiss on her broad forehead. “Never.”

“It’s Grandma. She’s scared.”

“Scared? About…what?”

“About Uncle Charlie. Isn’t that silly?”

Scully rocked Charlotte gently for a moment. “Of course it is. And now, my precious one, I have to make fire happen.” She turned to the stove, activated a burner, and eased her giggling girl to the floor.

Charlotte paused at the door. “Can we see a Christmas show tonight, if it’s on the Netflick?”

“Uh, sure. But Christmas is over, silly. Why?”

“I dunno,” the child sang. “I just feel like it…”

 

**
Oh, the places you’ll go!, Theodor Seuss Geisel once proclaimed. The good doctor lived through a Depression, two world wars and a nice cold one, The Bomb, Jim Crow, the civil rights era, Hitler, Stalin, McCarthy, Nixon, and New York socialite Kitty Carlisle during a particularly pitched battle of wits on To Tell The Truth. Geisel taught us a person’s a person, no matter how small, and, BTW, advocated slapping Japanese-Americans into internment camps, each one and all. One fish, two fish, potato, potahto…

 This little digression is simply to say

That humans are humans, any week, any day.

They drive blundering, blimpishly wherever they may,

And thump bumpily-bump over all in their way.

 

**

 

“It’s been like four hours — I think that dude was yanking our crank,” Stoner’s chick complained, as she scoured the woodland floor. “We’re gonna wind up dead.”

stoners

“We’re gonna wind up good and wrecked,” Stoner promised, stumbling over a pine branch and thumping his cranium on the nearest tree. He shook it off. “Guy’s an Indian, babe – full Apache. He knows his ‘shrooms. Red with white spots, remember…”

“All I know is I’m seriously jonesing for some Arby’s,” his old lady groaned, toeing aside a clump of ferns.

Stoner bent beside the Ponderosa that had nearly concussed him. “Babe, we locate the mother lode, I’ll take you to KFC and we’ll get our bucket on… OH, HELL, YES!”

She craned over his shoulder. Stoner began humming Spirit In The Sky as he yanked a Safeway bag from his back jeans pocket. He began carefully harvesting the small grove of smurfily colorful fungi from the forest bed.

His bag was soon inflated with Amanita muscaria, commonly known as “fly agaric.” As advertised by his Apache friend – actually an Armenian-American Ecstasy dealer from Bakersfield who’d found a whole new demographic with his indigenous mystic scam — A. muscaria was indeed a psychoactive fungus that liked to hang in pine, spruce, and other coniferous clusters. Muscimol, the active ingredient in the species, binds with muscarinic acetylcholine receptors leading to the excitation of neurons bearing these receptors – an interaction of little consequence to Stoner and his friend, the eastern Siberian shamans and old-school Indo-Iranians, or Lewis Carroll, whose toadstool-ensconced caterpillar may have had far more to impart to young Alice with Alice.

The amanita is a toxic fungus, though careful and expert preparation – including parboiling – can render the mushroom edible and edifying.

“Hey, let’s do a couple for the road,” Stoner suggested, tossing his girl one of the raw ‘shrooms and selecting a plump specimen for himself. He dangled it by the stem over his gaping and gap-toothed mouth.

“Wait,” his companion urged abruptly. “You sure these things are safe?”

 

Stoner examined his psychotropic snack. “Here. Gimme.” He retrieved her ‘shroom, smiled, and rubbed the dirt from the caps before returning hers. “Okay, bottoms up!”

“Dude, look!”

Stoner followed her trembling finger to a spot roughly three feet in front of his bent right knee.

“Awesome,” he whispered.

The small butterfly was resting on a clump of pine needles, its translucent bronze-fringed near-lavender wings fluttering delicately, almost as if in slo-mo. It was a Glaucopsyche xerces, but Latin niceties were lost on the pair. The Arizona forest grew silent and Time and Mind locked on the frail and ethereal creature, its antennae vibrating in the dry Southwest breeze.

In the middle of our porridge plates, there was a blue butterfly painted,” Stoner suddenly murmured. His friend looked up momentarily from the foraging insect. “And each morning we tried who should reach the butterfly first. Then the Grandmother said: ‘Do not eat the poor butterfly.’”

 The verse hung in the air as the butterfly alit.

“That was so…cool,” the girl breathed. “Dude, did you make that up?”

Stoner hoisted his bag. “Some shit I heard in community college. Banged the instructor.”

Fun fact: The pair had been the first humans since about 1943 to lay eyes on Glaucopsyche xerces. Development in the San Francisco Bay Area had fostered a population of ants that quickly supplanted the existing ants with whom the larval Xerces Blue had shared a symbiotic relationship. The symbiotic cycle broken, the Glaucopsyche dwindled to a small colony subsequently diverted by a Category 2 hurricane to a small vegetative island some 500 miles north of Marquesas Island.

The species thrived landlocked for more than 70 years in its new habitat, until an isolated but horrific and theoretically climate-related Category 5 tropical cyclone power-blasted the island free of all flora and fauna. A few survivors in the eye of the cyclone made landfall as the storm dissipated off the coast of Costa Rico, most succumbing within days to contact with automotive windshields, jeep tires, and unregulated bootleg pesticides applied liberally to farm fields.

The surviving trio was captured by a 12-year-old Los Angelean named Brian, whose Silicon Valley parents were green-vacationing near Puntarenas. The blue beauties somehow barely made it past Customs and found a new home in a four-foot terrarium off the glass-fronted living room. The father’s dual gambling and coke addictions one day brought a rain of semi-automatic fire down on their Valley home and liberated the last Glaucopsyche xerces. A semi-tractor trailer delivering crème-filled snake cakes ended one of the three; a second made it as far as Phoenix before a western diamondback dislocated by construction of a new casino/resort gobbled the feeding lepidopteran for last-resort sustenance.

An egg-laden third followed the currents ultimately to Golden Mesa National Forest, where it located a lush outcropping of the pines that had once sustained its kind. It lit on a cluster of pine needles in preparation to deposit its load and establish a new North American population when a pair of mammals strayed into the forest ostensibly in search of fungal nourishment. Alert to the perils in this exposed site, it set forth for a more isolated setting, but was drawn momentarily to the male mammal by the pheromones it was emitting in the presence of its female.

“Get it off me!!” Stoner screeched as the insect flitted about his face and shoulders. “Dude, get off me!!!” A meaty, McMuffin-stained palm slammed into the butterfly, which fell crumpled to the packed forest floor. A rubber-soled Goodwill sneaker incorporated it – and its eggs – into the pine needles and dirt.

“Shit,” Stoner panted as he snagged his bag of ‘shrooms. “I fucking HATE nature.”

 

**

 

What will be Man’s epitaph? He conquered Space, plumbed the deepest recesses of Cyberspace? He harnessed the awesome power of the Atom, the limitless energy of the Sun? He mastered Peace and Goodwill and an avocado that won’t go brown before he can tear his way into the tortilla chips? He ruled his domain with benevolent prudence?

  I suspect that when the day arrives, when our hunger for petrochemicals and designer cross-trainers turns this orb into the universe’ top water park, when we’ve weaponized every single-celled organism and obliterated every biped, quadruped, and finned vertebrate for hate, sport, and sushi, when our solar system’s prizewinning biology experiment is reduced to a 197-square-mile overflow parking lot, Man’s legacy will be, simply:

 Too smart for his own good.

chungs-book

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poster

UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

UNKNOWN TIME

prisoner

The detainee was led in thick, black wrist shackles down the catwalk’s metal grating, as he had been led so many times in the past.  Too many to count.  His emaciated form was barely recognizable to those who knew him “before.”

Any medical professional would have read starvation in his sunken blue eyes and thinning red hair, bulging stomach, and skeletal appearance.  Any trained psychologist could scan his body language as he trudged along and conclude that his spirit had been broken: The detainee was submissive, resigned to his fate, hopeless.

But if anyone had cared to establish prolonged eye contact, to truly search his soul, they would have seen a depth of intelligence, a breadth of spirit, and a capacity for love that transcended his situation.  They would have spied the very embodiment of hope.  Thankfully for him, no one had done that.  If they had, they probably would have thwarted his plan.

The young man in the white lab coat led him into the lab, accompanied by two guards, as per protocol.  It was late at night, and it was unusual to perform experiments of this sort at this hour.  But the guards didn’t question it.

One of the men stayed outside the lab and the other entered, standing as a sentinel by the door.  The young man’s face was obscured by the dim lighting in the lab.  He looked up, as if expecting the motion sensor to flick the lights on, but when it didn’t, he frowned and said, “We’re going to need light for this procedure.  Can you radio down to Engineering and ask them to come up and take a look at this?”

The guard nodded and pulled his radio from his shoulder to do just that.  Meanwhile, in the dark, the young man led the prisoner to the surgical table, helping him onto it and instructing him, “Lie back.  We’ll start just as soon as we have some light.”

The starving prisoner had very little strength to support his own frame, especially not with his hands cuffed.  He fell back onto the surgical table with a thud, and the experimenter proceeded to strap his legs into the X-like extensions of the surgical table.  He uncuffed his hands and strapped them in next, and then brought a dome to the prisoner.  He placed the transparent object over the red-haired man’s head, and began attaching electrodes through the holes in the dome and onto his forehead.  Then, while it was still dark, the young man surreptitiously placed a remote in the prisoner’s hand.

“Engineering should be here any minute, Sir,” the guard said.

The experimenter nodded.  “Excellent.”  He glanced at his prisoner, and through the dim lighting in the room, he caught the man’s barely perceptible smile.  He glanced at his watch, which illuminated 11:21 p.m. at the motion of his wrist.  “Then we can begin.”

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MULDER & SCULLY’S DUPLEX

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, MAY 15, 2013

2230

“I’m beat,” Scully said as she dumped her carry-on on the bed and flopped down next to it.  The agents had just returned from a case in rural Illinois after a five-hour flight delay.

Mulder heaved his suitcase into their closet and plucked Scully’s from the bed. “Skinner said he had a case for us in the morning, too.”

“So much for Hump Day,” Scully said, already half-asleep.  The Illinois sheriff had caught them only that morning in their quaintly no-frills hotel room, what seemed like a year ago now, and, regarding their state at the time, had offered that tongue-in-cheek observation about Wednesdays.

Despite his fatigue, Mulder chuckled and said, “Well, it could still be arranged.”  As he came back toward the bed, he plopped down next to Scully and said into her ear, “And I promise the rest of the week will seem like a breeze.”

She smiled and kissed him, but then forced herself to get up and get undressed.

Mulder soon followed, and the two climbed into bed not long thereafter.  They embraced one another gently, with the mood changing suddenly as Mulder inhaled sharply and rolled onto his back.  He began staring at the ceiling.

“Mulder?”

“Something weird…I don’t know…”

He was silent for a few moments, and Scully finally pressed him.  “Can you describe it?”

He shook his head.  “I don’t know.  It’s almost like I just saw…a flash of…memories.”

“A flashback?”

“No,” he said quickly.  “Not like that.  Not like anything I’ve ever experienced before.  Except…”

When he didn’t provide the expected information, Scully turned onto her side and looked into his eyes.  “I know that look, Mulder, and whatever it is that you’re trying to protect me from, I want you to stop it.  Tell me what’s going on.”

There was pain in his eyes as he finally brought himself to look at her and admit, “The last time I experienced something like that was…Egypt.”

Her concerned look remained steady as they both thought about the possible consequences.  Strughold had ‘ghosted’ Mulder eight years ago, and by injecting him with the black oil virus, activated within him an ability to communicate with the ancient life forms that mankind had for over a century burned for fuel.  The result was knowledge of things incomprehensible.  A repository of information and wisdom and answers from which Mulder never wanted to separate himself.  But it was Scully’s decision to essentially defibrillate his brain that had brought him back from what would have been certain death.

“What were the memories?” Scully asked him, her voice soft and slightly pensive.

Mulder shook his head.  “They were flashes.  I barely got it all — it was a lot.  Something about Andrew.  And what happened in the woods three years ago, with the Ally.”

“Skinner’s son Andrew?” she asked.

He nodded.

“Were these…good memories?  Or bad?”

He shook his head.  “A combination.”

The worry over what this meant gnawed at both of them.  Since the events in Egypt, Strughold had engaged in a series of seemingly unrelated schemes that pointed to, what? Some type of…world domination?  Mind control?  The erasure of human willpower?  He had some involvement in a mysterious scheme involving the training and control of pythons in inner city Detroit, which had resulted in the death of an innocent 8-year-old girl despite Mulder’s best efforts.  Strughold had some interest in the control of a powerful, ancient weapon, the Bari Trasadi, which had the capability to reduce entire cities to a cloud of dust.  However, his involvement with that infernal device was confirmed only by Mulder’s memory of seeing him in the basement of a Pakistani hospital while the agent was clinging to life by a thread.

The old Nazi’s inexplicable projects had seemingly diminished in frequency over the past few years, and Mulder and Scully had enjoyed almost three years without many wars or rumors of wars.

Until now.

They were silent for a moment, until Scully finally rubbed Mulder’s arm and said, “Well…why don’t we try to go to sleep?  We can talk about what this might mean in the morning… I don’t think we’re going to solve this tonight.”

He nodded in agreement, and gave her a kiss of gratitude.  Then the two began the effort to get to sleep.  They finally drifted off about twenty minutes after 11. As he passed into REM sleep, Mulder twitched slightly at a blip, an image of dark places and violence that failed to register in his depleted consciousness.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

MULDER & SCULLY’S DUPLEX

GEORGETOWN, DC

SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2015

0934

Mulder awoke slowly at first, the alarm clock’s blue LED coming into focus.  Then his eyes shot open and he swung his legs over the bed.  “Shit.  We’re late.  We overslept — we must have forgotten to set the alarm.  Scully–” he turned to her, still sleeping, and immediately noticed that her hair was different than it was when they went to bed.  It was longer, and a lighter color.  He shook his head.  What the hell?

“Scully!  It’s 9:30, we’re late.”

She rolled over, and said groggily, “‘s Saturday, Mulder.  I’ll get up in a minute.”

“What are you talking about?  It’s Thursday.  Skinner had that case for us — he wanted to see us this morning at 10.”  He stood up, draped the covers back over his side of the bed, and proceeded to nearly fall on his face after tripping over a pair of men’s size 12 tennis shoes.

“Dammit,” he said, and looked back.  They were brand new, and lay next to the box they came in.  He didn’t remember buying them.  He did, however, spot a smartphone on the dresser, and decided to settle the debate as to what day it was.  He plucked it up, disregarding the fact that he had never seen it before and assuming that Scully must have purchased it.

It was a Samsung Galaxy S6, with an enormous screen and the latest Android operating system.  Luckily, it operated roughly like his old S3.  He spotted the weather widget on the homepage, and it confirmed that it was indeed May 16, but it said Saturday.  “What’s going on here?” he muttered, and rubbed his eyes.

“You forgot what day it was?”

“I guess… I really could have sworn Skinner said tomorrow.”

“Maybe he said Monday,” Scully suggested.  “We were back late last night — you probably just forgot it was Friday.”

He shook his head.  But then he remembered Sheriff LaTraub’s words in Illinois after he walked into the hotel room that he and Scully had shared the previous night.  His photographic memory — and the joke he had made with Scully last night–didn’t let him forget.

“Most feds we’ve had here since my grandma thought she saw Dillinger eating meatloaf at the Main Street Diner. Just another boring Tuesday in the sticks, huh?”

Before Mulder could react, the sheriff pushed past into the room. Scully, bent over the bedside table, yelped and sprinted into the bathroom as Latraub turned discreetly toward the wall.

“Was gonna wish you a happy Hump Day,” the lawman murmured. “But I see I’m a little late.”

“How can it be Saturday?” he asked, and rubbed his forehead in confusion.  It was then that he saw Scully’s face.  She was obviously the same Scully…but different.  Older?  She definitely looked different.  And so did several other things.  To his right, he noticed that their 32″ HD LCD television had been replaced with a far thinner 40″, mounted to the wall instead of atop the dresser.  He spun, and stared at it.  Then he saw the shoes again, and a brand new suitcase sticking out of their closet.

“Are you okay, Mulder?” Scully asked, and got up slowly, approaching to him with a concerned expression.

“What year is it?” he asked somewhat abruptly, almost in a demanding way.

The worry deepened in her brow and she said as she took his elbow supportively, “2015.  Did you hit your head?  Talk to me, Mulder, what’s going on?”

“2015?” his eyes widened.  Memories of cases dealing with time travel and the alternate universe flooded back to him.  He staggered slightly and made his way back to the bed, where he sat down gingerly, with Scully at his side.

amnesia

“What year did you think it was?” she asked carefully.

He didn’t answer her question.  Instead, he demanded, “What happened yesterday?”

“We flew in from Florida after the Jacobs case.”

“Tell me about the Jacobs case,” he ordered her.

“You don’t remember it?  What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Just tell me about the Jacobs case,” he insisted.

“Lyndon Jacobs was a serial killer who murdered his victims by performing surgery on them.  He believed he was taking out stomach tumors.  He killed blonde-haired, blue-eyed, middle-aged women this way… he thought he was saving his mother.  We were called because of our joint study on serial killers with medical delusions and their connection to the black market medical industry.”

Mulder shook his head.  He didn’t remember any such study, but if this was truly 2015, he would have missed it entirely.  “That doesn’t sound like an X-file.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?” she pressed him.

He looked at her hesitantly, and said, “I don’t know if this is amnesia or time travel, Scully…I’m not sure what’s happening to me.  Last night, I told you I felt…a flash of memories.  Like in Egypt.  It scared us both.” He took her hand. “Last night, for me…it was 2013.”

She nodded, her caring, concerned expression not wavering.  It was almost as if she had expected him to say something like that.  “Okay,” she said, her tone strong.  “Okay, we’re going to figure out what’s happened.  It’s probably not…time travel…” she kept her tone non-judgmental and slow, as she would if he had a head injury. “Because otherwise, why would I remember you being right here at my side for the past two years?”

He nodded slowly.  “So…a brain problem, then?  Something’s medically wrong with my brain?”

“We’re going to find out,” she promised him.  “How are you feeling?  Do you have a headache?  Are you in any pain?”

He shook his head.  “No.  I feel fine.”

“You said last night you had a flash of…memories?”

“Yeah, but that was in 2013.  Don’t you remember?  We had just gotten back from the case in Peterson County, Illinois.  The genius kid that turned his sea monkey gene splicing experiment into a designer drug?  The plane was delayed five hours.  We got home and were exhausted…Skinner wanted to see us at 10 the following morning.  It was a Wednesday.  We were about to go to sleep, and then I had the…whatever it was.  You said we’d try to figure it out in the morning.”

It seemed to come back to Scully slowly, as it was a distant memory for her.  She nodded.  “And that’s the last thing you remember.”

He nodded, beginning to mirror her worried expression. “And you’re telling me that happened two years ago and I have no memory of anything that happened afterward.”

“You don’t remember our last case.”

“No.  Was I injured in the last two years?”

“No,” she said, her tone something between awe and surprise.  “The last two years have been very quiet.”

“Did we retire?” he asked, almost as a joke.

She managed a small smile.  “We’ve had fewer X-files lately.  The drawdown in work led Skinner to assign us to this one-year study of the medical black market — kind of a way to dig into the dead end of Strughold’s medical laboratories we discovered after the Detroit case.  We managed to raid all of the labs that showed up on the map afterward, but they’d all been closed down months previously.  We haven’t found the child that pacifier belonged to, but we know they’re keeping at least one detainee, probably more.  We haven’t made a whole lot of headway, but we published our results last year and ever since, we’ve been pulled regularly as a resource by the BSU.  We’ve had maybe…half…the number of X-files we would normally get.”

He nodded.  “I don’t remember any of it, Scully.  I remember Wednesday, May 15, 2013, like it was yesterday.  It was yesterday for me.”

She stood up and began inspecting his head, but found no bumps or bruises.  “Wait here, don’t stand up yet.”  She left and returned with a penlight, and she checked his pupils’ reactivity and eye tracking.  She clicked the pen light off and said, “Look straight at me…now, tell me how many fingers I’m holding up.”  She tested his peripheral vision by flashing various numbers here, there, and everywhere.  She then said, “I’m going to do a reflex test, see if your nervous system is affected.”  When his reflexes tested out, she checked him for a possible stroke by asking him to smile, hold his hands out, and close his eyes, and perform a heel drop test.  Everything checked out.  “Okay,” she said, and stood straight in front of him, all business.  “I’m going to make you an appointment with a neurologist I know…he’s excellent.  He’s the best I know.  He’ll do some tests and we’ll get to the bottom of this…amnesia or whatever, okay?”

Mulder nodded, his worried expression never leaving his face.

Scully reached over and took his hand.  “We’re going to solve this, Mulder.  I promise you, there’s an explanation, and we’ll find it.”

He nodded again.  Then he stood and embraced her, his mind spinning with this mystery, but trying to take solace in the fact that whatever had happened, Scully was still here with him, in his arms, standing by his side and willing to devote all she had to solving this case.

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GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER

GEORGETOWN, DC

SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2015

1530

“So how do you know this guy?” Mulder asked Scully as they sat waiting for Dr. Brent Picardo to return to their exam room.

“We reconnected last December at a Neurological Science conference I attended just before Christmas.  We had lunch to discuss his latest breakthrough work on Alzheimer Disease, and our recently published study on the black market medical industry,” Scully answered casually, sounding a little distracted.  Her mind was running through the possibilities of what could be afflicting her partner.

A slightly playful smile crept onto Mulder’s face as he probed, “Reconnected?”

She broke her gaze at Picardo’s poster of the human brain, and met Mulder’s eyes.  She realized after a moment that he was trying to feign jealousy.  She managed to return his smile and said, “We dated when we were in medical school, but it only lasted a week.”

“I see,” he said, the smile playing at his lips.

“Mulder, he’s very good, and it was really kind of him to squeeze us in on his day off.”

“Really kind,” Mulder echoed her words, and she rolled her eyes.

She was about to respond to his suggestion when the door opened.  Picardo entered with an air of calm he had crafted from years of dealing with terrified patients and their families.  “Mr. Mulder, Dana, thank you both for waiting.”

“Just Mulder, remember, Brent?” Mulder said, purposely placing a bit of emphasis on Picardo’s first name.  Scully shot him an annoyed glance.

Picardo didn’t seem to notice.  “Of course.  Mulder.  I’ll remember that.  We have some results–others we’ll have to wait for.  But I can tell you right now what Mulder doesn’t have.  You haven’t had a stroke.  You don’t have a brain tumor — my rush order on that CT scan was read by Radiology about five minutes ago.  You don’t appear to have had a seizure or have a seizure disorder.  I’ve got to study your results more extensively, but in the memory testing, you don’t have any problem forming new memories.

“Your short term memory is better than average — actually, among the best I’ve ever tested.  We’ll see over the next few weeks how your long term memory is.  We can’t jump the gun on that.  The blood panel will come back in the next couple of hours, and we’ll know if you have any pathogens or toxins in your system.

“To be honest, though, this is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  Most of the time, amnesia fits into a category of anterograde amnesia, which is when a person can recall past events with perfect clarity but can’t form new memories…which you can…or it’s retrograde amnesia, which is when you can’t recall anything that happened before a certain time.  That fits you better, but it’s usually not such a specific point of recall as it is in your case.  You’re not an alcoholic so we’re not dealing with Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Psychosis.  You’ve had no major trauma recently, and your brain shows no damage from trauma on our scans.”

“Could a past injury be causing this now?” Scully asked.  “He has a pretty extensive medical history, including brain surgery that was performed by a…black market…operation, in 2000.”

He shrugged.  “Honestly, Dana, I’m a pioneer in this field and I can tell you that we don’t fully understand the brain yet.  The illegal surgery might have something to do with it.  It might not.  That we didn’t even detect any abnormalities from it tells me that it’s less likely the cause.”

They nodded, dissatisfied but still grateful to know that it wasn’t the litany of other things Picardo had listed.

“What’s the likelihood of my memory returning?” Mulder asked.

“Since I’m not sure what we’re dealing with yet, I can’t answer that,” the doctor told him.  “But I can tell you that in most cases of memory loss, without an underlying progressive pathology like Alzheimer’s or a brain tumor, memory does return, if not completely, after the cause is discovered and resolved.  For instance, in traumatic amnesia, memory of the traumatic event can return in pieces years after the event.  Or in the case of transient global amnesia, the ability to form memories returns hours or days after the initial memory loss incident.”

Mulder nodded.

“One abnormality I did notice, Mulder, was during the memory testing we did with MRI and EEG monitoring.  The MRI picked up brain activity that I’ve honestly never seen before.  Something is going on, but your results were clear of pathology.  You performed every short term memory task with perfection, and in the long term memory recall testing, aside from the last 2 years, your memory recollection was also above average.  Now…we know from recent studies in gender identity disorders that MRIs show different white matter patterns for men and women.  We know that men and women think differently about different things, and we know that brain structure can even vary in individuals.  So this is nothing to be alarmed about…it’s just that this particular patterning is not something I typically see.”

“How would you characterize it?” Scully asked.

“Not pathological,” he said quickly.  “But simply…abnormal.  Mulder uses his brain, I suppose, differently than most people.  It could have to do with the illegal surgery, and the way his brain healed, but I doubt that because it was close enough to normal to not indicate any remapping that you’d see after a typical traumatic brain injury.  I think it’s probably the way Mulder’s brain developed throughout his life.  It could have something to do with this memory loss, but I sincerely doubt it.  If he’s gotten through 54 years without it being a problem till now, I suppose it’s possible but it’s highly unlikely that it would suddenly cause some form of severe, acute, atypical retrograde amnesia.”

They both nodded, but exchanged a glance that spoke volumes.  They knew their history.  There was a very real possibility that something from the past was now haunting them.

“So,” Picardo said as he pushed away from the office counter, “what I recommend is that you go home, take it easy for the next 24 to 48 hours — we’ll call you with the rest of the test results.  See if your memory returns in that time, and if it doesn’t, and the rest of your tests come up clear, then we’ll monitor it.  We’ll do regular memory testing to see if you’re retaining everything from this point onward, and see if we’re dealing with a progressive or stagnant illness.  I’ll also give you a referral for a colleague of mine.  Dr. Kenya Menier.  She’s a neurologist in with the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.  She’s a leading researcher on memory loss…she might have some ideas.”

They nodded again.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t give you something more concrete.  But it’s almost better that I couldn’t–the things I ruled out today, you really don’t want.”

“Thank you, Brent.  Thanks for taking time out of your day to see us like this,” Scully said.

“It was no problem.”  He shook Mulder’s hand, and then Scully’s.  “Let’s stay in touch on this.”

They left the office and headed to the car, Mulder’s expression almost unreadable.  When Mulder started the engine, Scully placed her hand on his forearm and asked, “Are you okay?”

“Heh,” he chuckled sarcastically, and looked straight ahead.  “No one seems to know the answer to that.”

“Brent is just one doctor.  And it’s good that he was able to rule out so much.  Maybe Dr. Menier will have the solution if he doesn’t.”

“Maybe.”

“I can’t imagine how frustrating this must be for you.”

“It’s just–” Suddenly, and without explanation, Mulder was no longer in the car.  He found himself lifting his chest from a grated floor.  He was wearing not the athletic pants and golf shirt he had thrown on that Saturday morning, but dirtied jeans and a filthy t-shirt—rags, really.  He was in some kind of…factory?  The lighting was dim, with red emergency lights lining the hallway next to a gargantuan machine of some kind.  Mulder wasn’t an engineer, but he thought the massive machine was some kind of engine or power generator.

He looked around, desperate for some answers.  Directly above him, on another grated catwalk hallway like the one beneath him but narrower, he saw the black marks of an explosion.  His ears were ringing a bit, but who could tell over all the noise of the motor?  Maybe that was why he fell — he had jumped.  But when had he jumped?  What day was this?  What year was this?

“Agent Mulder!” he heard a desperate cry, and his head spun.  Andrew?  He took off running as fast as he could down the catwalk, and then as suddenly as all of this started, he felt his body jolt like he had just exited from a near-sleep state in a boring meeting, and he looked over at Scully.

They were in the car.  He looked down at his clothes.  Athletic pants and a golf shirt.  And the new shoes.  It was 2015.  Saturday, May 16, 2015.  They had just been to the neurologist’s office.

“Mulder?  What just happened?”

“I…remembered something.”

“That’s great!” She looked enthusiastic.  “What was it?”

He described the memory to her briefly, and her face grew troubled.

“Do you remember this?  Or anything like it?”

She shook her head.  “No…I’m not sure what that was.”

He pursed his lips.  “Well…maybe Andrew knows.  We should contact him.”  When she closed her eyes, Mulder already knew what she was going to say.  He was silent for a moment, but finally asked, “When?”

“Last October.”

“How?”

She shook her head.  “They still don’t know.  He had just started Catholic seminary.  They found him in his room…autopsies showed no apparent cause of death.  It looked like brain function just…ceased.”

He closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.  “How’s Skinner?”

“Not good.  He believes there were other forces at work…and has launched his own private, personal investigation, unauthorized by the FBI.”

“We’re helping?”

“As we can,” she confirmed.  “Andrew’s journal entries leading up to his death were filled with feelings of foreboding.  Like a great evil was coming to the country.  He predicted mass starvation, death, wars, and calamities. He believed that he would not get through seminary before it all came to pass.  Now…speaking as a doctor…a feeling of impending doom is common among individuals who are about to suffer heart attacks–”

“But you said there was no apparent physical cause of death.”

“I performed a second autopsy at Skinner’s request and confirmed that, yes, he was a perfectly healthy 25-year-old man.  There’s no apparent physical cause of death.”

“This can’t be a coincidence,” Mulder told her.  “Andrew was part of what I felt last night–I mean, two years ago last night.  And just now…this vision, or whatever it was.”

“I agree, it seems like the two are related…”

“How likely do you think it is that I contracted Dhenge Fever and suffered memory loss versus this being tied to Strughold, Andrew, and colonization?  And the Ally?”

“We haven’t heard from them in five years.”

“They were part of what I felt last night. Well, my last night. You know what I mean…”

She nodded.  Part of her really wanted to believe everything he was saying, because it would mean that he didn’t have some debilitating, progressive memory disease.  It would mean she wouldn’t watch her lover slip away slowly over the next several years until he was a shell of his former self–something she had not been willing to fully consider but that had been nagging at the back of her mind since this morning.  If Strughold was responsible for this, and Mulder was not sick, as strange as it seemed, Scully would actually be thrilled.

“I think we should tell Skinner.”

“I agree,” Scully said.  “He’s going to have to know eventually.  But Mulder…know that this is not the same man you, well, that you remember.  He’s heartbroken…you’re going to bring up an extremely sensitive topic. He’s become almost obsessed with this personal investigation of his.”

Mulder managed a small smirk as he said, “Sounds like we might understand each other better than ever.”

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SKINNER’S HOME

ALEXANDRIA, VA

SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2015

1730

Assistant Director Walter Skinner’s bedroom had been transformed into some combination of a 1980s crime drama and an episode of CSI:Cyber, plus a bed.  The wall that once held a seascape now was nearly covered with a giant map of the world, dotted with plastic thumb tacks and strips of post-it-notes.  On the other side of the room, across from the uncharacteristically unmade bed, three desks had been pushed together to span the entire length of the wall.  Five large computer monitors were hooked up to two laptops and an iPad.  A 3 TB external hard drive sat on the desks as well.  The bedroom door was closed and dead-bolted with two newly installed locks.

Scully had called earlier that afternoon and said that they needed to talk, so Skinner invited his agents over for dinner to discuss whatever was troubling her and the latest developments in his personal investigation.

The Italian place around the corner, Illianos, was going to deliver dinner any moment.  And his agents would arrive soon, as well.  Skinner was hunched over his desk, fingering through a pdf document on his iPad that Byers had sent over.  It was 300 pages long and would probably take all night to read, but it was the complete collection of field notes from a physician who had worked with Dr. Nicholas Braden in 1972.  The madman’s coworker had dropped off the map, but the Lone Gunmen had recently found him accomplishing neuropsychology studies for a private lab in Luxemburg.  The field notes were from his latest studies on the brain waves of 300 patients with sleep disorders.

The doorbell rang.  His security monitor immediately came on and the Illianos delivery man’s bored-looking face stared back at him.  He sighed.  Dr. Korsakoff’s work would have to wait.  Lasagna and his agents were beckoning.

After Skinner threw the two deadbolts and unlocked the door handle, he closed the door behind him and re-engaged all locks, placing the key back in his pocket.  He jogged down the stairs and checked the other monitors around the house to ensure the delivery man didn’t have an unwanted friend hiding in the bushes.  Then he unlocked the door and opened it just enough to pay the guy and take the food.  Mulder and Scully arrived as he was setting it out on the table in the kitchen.

Skinner gathered the pile of mail from the table.  He had yet to go through it, and some of it was two weeks old.  He hadn’t been eating at the table, anyway.  He took the mail to the base of his stairs and placed the pile on the first step, then answered the door just as the bell rang again. “Sorry to keep you waiting, come in,” he hurried them in, and closed and locked the door behind them.  “I got caught up reading something Byers just sent over.  Dinner’s on the table.  Come in.”

skinner-grieving

Mulder immediately noticed a difference.  It was like talking to a different man than he remembered — which was, of course, to be expected, given the loss of his son.  This man was hesitant, almost nervous.  He was preoccupied, and there was a profound sadness and palpable loneliness, as soon as they walked in the door.  Skinner was like an alternate version of himself.  Mulder couldn’t help but wonder, in the back of his mind, if this was indeed an alternate reality even closer to their own than the one initially discovered at Glas-Glo Industries.  And then, of course, there’s the possibility that you do have some degenerative disease.  After all, isn’t the paranormal explanation exactly the thing you’d run to first, when it’s actually cancer or something?  Isn’t that exactly where you’d hide?

But he wouldn’t voice that opinion.  The hope in Scully’s eyes when he’d proposed his theory that this dealt with Andrew and Strughold and the Ally had been the best thing he’d seen since he woke up this morning.  He wouldn’t take that from her.

“Tell me what’s going on,” Skinner said, gesturing for them to sit down at the table.

Mulder opened his mouth to begin, but Scully jumped in.  “He can’t remember the last two years.  He woke up this morning thinking in earnest that it was May 16, 2013.  And he remembered May 15, 2013 with absolute clarity, like it really was yesterday.”

Skinner nodded and frowned in concern.  “Did you hit your head?” he asked.

Mulder shook his head.  “And I went to a neurologist this afternoon who confirmed it’s not any of the common medical conditions that might cause amnesia.”

“Let’s eat, and we can talk more about this.”  Skinner popped the top from his food, and then folded his hands and bowed his head.  Mulder paused awkwardly — he had never seen the Assistant Director pray over his food.  When he looked over at Scully, he was surprised to see her do the same.  It seemed more had changed in two years than he thought.

He respectfully waited for them to finish, and popped the lid on his entree only after Scully had.  They ate straight out of the aluminum trays in which the take-out Italian had arrived.  The lasagna was delicious, and Mulder ate it with the plasticware from Illianos and washed it down with tap water the AD had given to him in a plastic cup from Denny’s.  Apparently there were no clean dishes.

“So you said you went to the doctor and they don’t know what it is?” Skinner asked, concern tinging his voice but veiled by a seemingly constant preoccupied tone.

Mulder nodded, and Scully spoke again.  “One of the best neurologists in the area…probably even in the country, ran a battery of tests and was able to rule out just about everything that could cause acute amnesia.  His blood tests came back negative — there’s no toxin in his system.  The scans all showed normal brain function and no tumor.”

“Not exactly normal,” Mulder said.  “He said my brain waves were different than most people’s, but that it wasn’t pathological.”

Skinner looked between them and asked, “Brain waves?  Did they do any neuropsychology tests?”

Scully was surprised.  “As a matter of fact, they did.  The neurologist used an MRI and an EEG to track his brain activity while he performed a number of tasks, some of them more psychological than physiological.  Why?”

Skinner quickly swallowed the lasagna he was chewing and said, “Byers was able to track down Korsakoff.  He’s working on a sleep study with another neuropsychologist in Luxemburg.  Byers obtained 300 pages of field notes, most of it beyond my comprehension.  Maybe you could take a look at it?”

Scully nodded.  “Of course,” she said, hesitantly, and then steered the conversation back to Mulder. “We’re wondering if maybe Mulder’s amnesia doesn’t have as much of a medical cause as it does a…” she struggled to find the right words, that wouldn’t put him off.

“Paranormal one,” Mulder finished for her.

Skinner didn’t seem that interested.  He took another bite of lasagna.  “Why?” he asked when his mouth wasn’t that full.  He still seemed to Mulder to be perpetually distracted.

“Because…I’ve had two visions.  Once yesterday – er, May 15, 2013.  Scully remembers it, but nothing ever came of it.  The second, I had this afternoon.  I think it might have been the same vision, but the first time, it was accelerated beyond my ability to truly understand what was happening, except for a few general concepts.  The second time, it was much clearer.”

“And what was this vision?” Skinner asked, and took a drink of water to wash down the lasagna.

Mulder didn’t feel comfortable saying it.  This man was not quite a stranger, but he certainly knew him less than Scully did.

“Both times, he’s mentioned Andrew, Walter,” Scully said gently.

Now they had his full attention. “What did you see?  Tell me every detail,” the AD demanded.

Skinner’s lasagna grew cold as Mulder did his best to recall every single detail.  When he was finished, Skinner asked, “Do you think if we got a sketch artist to help you could recreate what you saw?  On a computer model, maybe?  Then we could run it through recognition software and find out what kind of motor it was, and what kind of facility it was…at least three levels, right?”

Mulder nodded.

“This is the biggest lead we’ve had,” he said, and stood, heading for the stairs.

“Walter, where are you going?” Scully asked, almost tiredly.

“I need to go upstairs and get a recorder so he can repeat what he said, just in case he forgets it again,” he said from halfway up the stairs.

When he was out of earshot, Mulder glanced at Scully and then at the stairs.  “Do you believe in this investigation of his?”  It was a question he probably should have asked in the car, or earlier in the day.

Scully closed her eyes briefly and then looked at Mulder, daring to say very quietly, “I hope for his sake that it’s worth believing in.”

He came back down the stairs at that point, and placed an old recorder on the table.  “If you don’t mind repeating everything again, Mulder…”

“Of course not, Sir,” he said, and began again.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

2321

Running.

His feet pounded the metal with a clanging loud enough to wake the dead.  His breath came in desperate gasps.  How long had he been running?

CLANG CLANG CLANG!

Pounding along, his joints aching…it felt like he had been running for hours but he knew he hadn’t.  He knew the soreness in his muscles was not endurance pain and the shortness of breath in his lungs was not from long distance running.  The facility just wasn’t that big.

The precious package in his arms was silent but provided warmth and comfort to him amongst the red emergency lights in this cold, unfeeling place.  The child was alive.  The heat of small, flushed cheeks against his bare chest confirmed that, and he held the blanket tighter to the babe.  This was the perfect age, the perfect time, to make his escape.

The catwalk was old and made him nervous.  Would it give way before they got out?

CLANG CLANG CLANG!

The desperate breathing continued.  The feeling of exhaustion threatening to overwhelm him, and he cursed the fact that he had been tied to a bed or kept in a tiny cage for months on end, leading to muscle atrophy, reduced lung capacity, and an overall lack of fitness.

“STOP!” someone roared, and he continued, his latest gasps coming out almost in sobs.  He had to clear the generator in the next few seconds.  He had to–if he didn’t, it would all be over faster than it began.

A shot rang out.  A bullet whizzed past his head as he neared the generator.  “IDIOT!  You’ll hit the child!” a furious man boomed.

CLANG CLANG CLANG!  Almost there.  Almost there…

Suddenly, a figure stepped out from behind the bend in the wall up ahead.  And he froze in his tracks.  Alex Krycek extended his gun, seemingly aiming right at him.  But which Alex Krycek was this?

He found out in an instant as what would have been a point-blank shot to his face whizzed by him and impacted one of the men behind him.  And he dove for the generator, clinging desperately to the swaddled bundle in his arms.

He crashed down onto the metal grating, his bare arms tearing open as they hit the unfiled burs of the industrial flooring.  The babe squealed in fear and possibly pain, and the hum of the generator promptly stopped.

The lighting disappeared.  The flooring was rusted and as he lifted his head to look in front of him, where Alex Krycek should have stood, he saw that there was nothing there.  Indeed, all three stories of the catwalk had been destroyed by some enormous horizontal impact — like a large machine had fallen into them.  He found himself staring into the black nothingness of the abandoned building.

He struggled to his feet, breathing heavily.  His chest heaved in and out, and he spun around, looking at where he had ended up.

The building was largely destroyed — the generator gone, the open abyss of the building leaving a haunting presence in its place.  The catwalk he was on thankfully still had a ladder a little way’s down, in the direction he had come.  He made his way carefully toward it, bobbing the baby up and down for comfort.  “‘S okay, little one.  It’s gonna be okay,” he reassured him.

He managed to hold the baby in one hand and climb down the ladder, sliding his free hand along the rusted sides instead of trying to cling to the rungs.  It creaked and groaned as he descended onto the next level of the catwalk, which led to another ladder.  Again, another careful descent, and he was finally on solid ground.  The concrete was covered in rat feces and muddy puddles from a leaking roof.  The light of a street lamp barely made it through a crack in the wall, and he carefully stepped over fallen plaster and debris to reach the rusted metal door at the other end of the building.

He stepped out into the open, and realized immediately that he wouldn’t be welcome here.  With red hair and pale skin, his bare chest exposing his emaciated form not ready for fighting, he was a target in this neighborhood which had clearly gone downhill.  The street was lined with boarded up, condemned houses and shops that made the place he had just exited seem like gentrification.

As he was walking rather quickly down the street, scanning the place for activity and not seeing a soul, he heard a voice behind him that made him freeze for the second time in minutes.  “Wait up.”

He turned, and saw Alex Krycek yet again.

“You made it through?” he asked.  It would have been a stupid question, if he wasn’t trying to figure out who, exactly, he was dealing with.

“Don’t worry, I’m not him.  There’s a Metro station about three blocks from here.”

He nodded, and began walking again.

“You should probably put on a shirt.”

“I need to get to my sister.”

“Take my jacket before we get on the subway.  So people don’t think you came from a prison camp.”

“I almost wish I did,” he said, and stopped walking just long enough to take Krycek’s offered jacket and slip it over his bare chest, then zip it.  Krycek handed the baby back to him, his PD badge now clearly displayed.  They resumed walking, and encountered no one on the way to the Metro.

They made their way down and bought tickets at the electronic kiosk.  Then the Metro came, and they boarded the green line.  They were the only ones on the train, because this was the very last stop on the line.  The train came in and went out again toward DC.

They sat in the back of the train and Krycek shielded his companion by allowing him the window seat.

The train started to move. “Do you think we actually did it?”

Krycek shook his head.  “I don’t know, Charlie.  I hope so.”

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MULDER & SCULLY’S DUPLEX

GEORGETOWN, DC

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0103

Mulder had the same dream again–running along the grate, trying to get to Andrew, whose voice was clearly yelling his name, calling for him…

And then the doorbell rang.  He sat up, a sense of foreboding building in his chest as he grabbed his gun from his nightstand.

Scully, beside him, did the same.  She glanced over at him and he studied her for just a moment, illuminated by the street light.  It streamed through the blinds in small, dim streaks, exposing the apprehension on his partner’s face.

“Wonder who that could be at this hour,” Mulder said in an almost humorous tone as he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up in his boxer shorts and t-shirt.  It was obvious to both of them that whatever it was, it couldn’t be good.

They went down together, Scully hiding in the family room adjacent to the front door and Mulder looking through the peep hole first.  His eyes widened, and the grip on his gun tightened.

Then he looked again.

Krycek was holding up a PD badge.  But he was next to…someone he never thought he would see again.  Mulder looked back at Scully, who was hunkered down behind the cover of the couch, just in case.

krycek-and-charlie-front-porch

His hesitation concerned her.  “Who is it?” she asked.

He shook his head.  “You’ll never believe it…”

“Try me.  Mulder, are we in danger or not?”

“I honestly don’t know.”

“Well make up your mind,” she hissed.  “They’re right outside.  What are we doing?  Who are they?”

“It’s Krycek–but he’s got a PD badge.  I think he’s from the alternate universe…and they’ve got a baby with them.”  He purposely left out Charlie’s name.  Mentioning it would not earn him any points.

“And who else?”

He adjusted his grip on his gun.  “Scully, I think he must be from the other universe.  He’s not who you think he is.’

Who else is outside our door?” she demanded in an urgent whisper.

“Charlie.”

Rage flashed in her eyes for a brief moment and she was lost for words.  Eight years ago, she had been forced to shoot her brother Charlie when he was about to release killer bees into an entire fair of innocent civilians.  He died as a result.  He had a hand in Mulder’s ‘ghosting’ and had been working with Strughold before his death.  Given Charlie’s crimes, Scully’s anger had not even slightly abated.

The doorbell rang again.

“Are we going to let them in?” Mulder asked her, leaving the decision up to her.  “I think they’re from the other universe, Scully.  I don’t think they’re the same people we think they are.”

She looked like she wanted to answer differently, but finally, she nodded her head just before the doorbell rang yet again.  Mulder opened the door, his gun behind his back.  He scanned the area for others, in case this was some kind of trick.

“Are you going to let us in?” Krycek asked, and pointed to his badge.  “You know who I am.”

Mulder didn’t say anything, but did step aside and allow them to enter.

Scully’s weapon was leveled at the pair, and Charlie didn’t look entirely surprised.

“I know who you think I am.  I’m not him.  He’s dead.”

Her jaw clenched.

“Look, I know we’re not your two favorite people in this universe,” Krycek offered.  “But we need your help.  That’s why we came.  And we wouldn’t have rung the doorbell if we didn’t think you would willingly listen.”

“Who’s the baby?” Mulder found his voice.

“It’s a long story,” Charlie said.  “Let’s move to a room without windows.  We can talk about it there.”

XXX

Shortly thereafter, the baby was asleep on the guest room bed while the adults gathered in the adjoining study to talk.  It was the only room without windows.

“We’ve come to enlist your help,” Charlie explained.  “I don’t know whether you’ll remember this or not, but not long ago, the entire planet was in danger of being invaded by extraterrestrial conquerors.”

“We’re familiar with Colonization,” Mulder said.  “We thought it was supposed to happen in 2012.”

He nodded.  “It was.  There are two things you need to know before you can fully understand why it didn’t happen.  The first is why this planet is a target at all.”  He looked between them. “Do you have any ideas?”

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other, and despite the serious circumstances, Mulder stated, “It becomes less and less apparent every time you watch a reality TV program.”

Charlie didn’t seem to get the joke.  He shook his head.  “The reason is the same reason why colonization was able to be delayed.  The same reason why Gibson Praise and Andrew Madden have the abilities they do.”

“What do you know about Andrew Madden?” Scully demanded.

Charlie was a bit surprised.  “That…he’s Walter Skinner’s son in at least two realities and that he has the ability to be in two places at once.  Or at least, so it seems.”

“He also passed away,” Mulder told him.  “Of unknown causes.  Last October.”

Charlie appeared angry, but Krycek didn’t look surprised or fazed.  “Damn it,” Scully’s brother swore, and then asked, “And Gibson Praise?”

“Last I checked, he was alive and well,” Scully said.  “It was last month that he emailed me.”

“Okay,” he said, and nodded.  “Okay.  In short, the reason for both of these boys’ abilities and for the delay of colonization…and the reason why Earth is a target…is that this planet is a hot spot for rips in the space-time continuum.”

Scully raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“It’s true,” Krycek said, as if his word would actually change their opinions.  “It’s the reason why you’ve been able to contact the alternate reality twice in the same lifetime.  It’s the reason for the majority of the crazy cases you investigate.  Think about it.  How much of what you’ve investigated could be explained by distortions of space and time?”

Mulder folded his arms.  “I think that kind of a claim needs some evidence.”

“Bellefleur, Oregon,” Krycek said.  “You lost nine minutes, didn’t you?”

Scully glanced at their nemesis’ look-alike suspiciously and asked, “If you came from the other reality, where you’re a police detective and Mulder is a professor, then how do you know about our cases?”

“It’s a long story,” he explained.  “But part of it has to do with why we’re here together.”

Charlie nodded. “I’m your brother, in the other universe,” he told Scully.  “But we’ve spent some time in this particular reality.  Me especially.  Strughold has held me prisoner for the past five years in this world.”

“Strughold captured you from the other reality and brought you here?” Scully asked, perplexed.  Though that did explain why Charlie looked like a survivor from Buchenwald.  “Why?”

“Partially because of my involvement in a military study involving people like Gibson Praise and Andrew Madden.  In the other reality, Dana, I’m a neurosurgeon, but I was recruited by the Navy to study those who demonstrate, for lack of better terms, clairvoyant abilities.  At first, I was glad to help with the experiments — the subjects were all willing, and the research was cutting edge.  I was learning things about the human mind that I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest speculation as a medical student.

“But then, as the experiments progressed, I began to realize what the program was all about.  They weren’t just studying those who naturally exhibited these abilities.  They had plans to alter minds to activate this ability in individuals they believed were capable of being switched on like machines.  And most of those subjects were children, whose parents provided consent but only because they didn’t understand the true nature of the experiments.”

“So how did Strughold even know about the alternate universe where you were involved in this?  And how did he capture you?”

“He’s known about the rips in the space-time continuum for years,” Krycek said.  “His plan was to find the right rip that would take him back in time, preferably to a time before the Syndicate ever formed or humanity ever started launching defenses against Colonization.”

“But that’s not what happened.  He found he couldn’t control the rips.  He thought he could, but his contraption failed, and he fell forward instead of backward, and … I suppose “sideways” as well, into our universe,” Charlie explained.  “He was trying to use something in 2010 in your time line called the Bari Trasadi.  It’s a–”

“We know what it is,” Mulder said immediately.  “We were involved in his attempts to use it.  I saw him…or at least I think I did.  I was barely conscious at the time.”

“Did you ever recover the device?” Charlie asked.

“No, we assumed it was destroyed, but we did recover a laptop with alien script on it.  Something we were never able to translate,” Scully said.

“The way the Bari Trasadi works is to displace objects through space and time.  The dust is actually imported from someplace in the future or past, and fills the space where the target used to be before the weapon was fired.  It’s an ancient device, alien in nature, and Strughold somehow got a hold of it — apparently through this event you two were involved in — and was going to use it to try to transport himself into the past.  Instead, he transported himself into the future, into our reality, through a rip in the space-time continuum.  That’s where he kidnapped me.  In 2015, in my universe.  Then he used a stable rip in Detroit, near the site where one of his labs used to be, to transport me and that baby back to 2011, in your universe.”

“Where did the baby come from?” Scully asked.  “Why is he important to Strughold’s plan?”

Charlie hesitated for a moment, and then looked at Krycek, who nodded.  “You have to tell them.”

The neurosurgeon folded his hands and leaned in.  “His time of origin — his birthdate — is complicated.  He was born five months from now, in October 2015.  But when we traveled back through time, to 2011, he retained his age.  He grew to be about four years old, and Strughold experimented on him in the meantime.  But I managed to escape, just by myself, to go back in time to 2011, where he was still a baby.  I kidnapped him and traveled forward, and literally undid everything Strughold had accomplished for the past four years.”

Mulder and Scully looked skeptical, but Scully still nodded and said, “And whose baby is he?  Why is he important?”  Mulder detected the fear in her voice, and realized that it didn’t take a rocket scientist — or a medical doctor with a penchant for physics — to realize that there were only so many reasons why her alternate’s brother would be bringing the baby to their condo at one in the morning.

“He’s yours,” Charlie said, as if he was bracing himself for impact.

“You mean, he’s theirs.  Not ours.  He’s your universe’s baby,” Mulder said immediately, almost protectively.  He knew how hard it was on Scully when their counterparts’ child found her way over to this universe, even for a time.  He didn’t want her to go through that pain again, and knew from the look in her eye that this was exactly what she feared.

But Charlie shook his head.  “No.  That baby never belonged in my universe, or in 2015.  He was born sometime in the future, but you two no longer exist in that timeline.  Well…you do,” he nodded to Mulder.  “But only if we retain what we’ve done, and avoid Strughold’s attempts to speed colonization.”

Scully’s eyes snapped to Mulder’s, and she shook her head.  “No — I want a DNA test, I need some proof.  You can’t expect me to just accept—”

“There’s no time for this,” Krycek said urgently.  “Whether you believe he’s yours or not doesn’t matter.”

“Why tell us at all, then?” Mulder insisted, his tone accusatory and almost threatening.  He wanted to reach over to Scully and hold her hand, but he was still trying to gauge this situation and figure out whether he needed his hands free for his firearm.  Something about Krycek made him uneasy, even with the reassurance that he was a detective from the other universe.

“Because if you’re going to protect him, you should know who he is,” Charlie answered, his soft, caring voice diffusing some of the anger in the room.  “Fox has a unique neural net — a connection of neurons in his brain — that enable him to experience mental jumps in time and space.  He has the same skills as many clairvoyants, but they aren’t as easily controlled, and they’re directly tied to extraterrestrial chemicals,” Charlie explained.  “Fox’s exposure to those chemicals in the past has led to jumps through space and time.  I think you both acknowledge this.”

“I’m sure no one told you, but in this universe, I like to be called Mulder,” the agent said, as if it were significant to this conversation of quantum shifts and alternate realities.

Charlie acknowledged with a nod, and continued his clinical explanation. “Most clairvoyants only experience mental jumps in space and time.  Their consciousness goes, but they stay here.  It’s near instantaneous and they come right back, because their consciousness is tied to their bodies.  The energy basically has to snap back to its origin like a rubber band.  It’s only long enough for them to perceive thoughts and images that their brains then process once they’re sent back here.  It’s suspected that everyone does this occasionally–hence a sense of recurrent deja vu in some people, the belief in others that they are reincarnated due to extremely specific memories from past lives, or even couples who draw very close to one another being able to mind-read.  It’s not that unusual.  What is unusual is that true clairvoyants can do this at will, and most people cannot.  But what this child can do is entirely different.  He can physically jump universes, or times, or both.”

Mulder and Scully exchanged a skeptical glance, and Mulder challenged, “Assuming the child actually has this ability, why do you think that means that he’s ours?”

Scully added defensively, “Just because you think Mulder’s exhibited a similar ability in the past is no reason to conclude we’re genetically related.”

Charlie was about to defend his assertion when Krycek cut in.  “We need to speed this along.  Strughold made this baby from Scully’s eggs and a manufactured artificial sperm from Mulder’s DNA.  He needed Mulder’s DNA because of his abilities, and Scully’s eggs because of her physiology.  This baby has the ability to move through space and time at will, or at least he will once he comes of age.”

Scully closed her eyes, and Mulder reached for her hand.  After what seemed an eternal silence, he looked up at Krycek and said, “We need a DNA test.  We can’t accept this until you provide some concrete proof.”

“We can test his DNA later,” Charlie said with a nod.   “We’re dealing with a very time-sensitive situation.”

Scully looked up, pulled her hand away from Mulder’s and met Charlie’s eyes.  “Just…answer this question.  How do you know this child can physically jump through space and time, if what you’re saying is true?  Are you saying Strughold experimented on him for his first four years of life?” she asked, her hands clasped together as she leaned forward in Mulder’s office chair.

“Strughold was almost done with the testing after four years,” Charlie answered, “He was able to confirm that the boy went back physically because of the Bari Trasadi.  Strughold still has the machine.  He taught your son to use it — you have to be physically present to use the thing in any place and time.  And that’s what he did.”

“What did he do?  What did he transport forward in time?”  Mulder asked.

“Oil,” Krycek answered for Charlie. “And lots of it.  The intelligent, alien, take over your body kind.”

“And this is what you claim you reversed,” Scully said, looking at her alternate’s brother. “You claim you went back to 2011 and stole the baby,” she continued still not daring to refer to him as their son, “and then you jumped forward, while he was still a baby, which changed space and time.  Colonization never happened because the black oil virus never arrived to infect the human population.”

“What about the other aliens?  The shapeshifters?  The supersoldiers?  How did you avert their invasion?” Mulder demanded.

“That’s more complicated,” Krycek answered.  “They’re still planning to colonize, but they can’t land without an infected population, and they certainly can’t land when everyone’s mining their major cities with magnetite.”

“Didn’t they already have enough black oil in 2015 to infect the human population?” Mulder asked.  “Why go back in time?”

Krycek actually smiled.  It was a little creepy.

“Have you heard of an alien race called the Ally?” Charlie asked. “At least, that’s what they told us to call them in our universe.”

Mulder and Scully both vigorously nodded their heads.  “Yes.  They’re a sort of telepathic alien species.  We had first contact with them in 2010.  I thought they might have some relation to Jeremiah Smith,” Mulder stated.  He didn’t mention the fact that the Ally seemed to play at least some role in whatever was happening with his brain.

Charlie nodded.  “The Ally are extremely powerful because they can already move, at least mentally, through space and time.  They also seem beneficent.  At least they seem to want to stop the Colonists from taking over any more worlds.  They’re able to telepathically connect with any intelligent being.  And as you might have figured out…at least some strains of the black oil virus are sentient.”

“So you’re saying…the Ally somehow brainwashed the black oil of the future?  So Strughold needed the black oil of the past?”

“Brainwash is the wrong word.  It was more of a negotiation resulting in a mutual agreement,” Charlie explained. “All the Ally did was make more information available to the black oil.”

Krycek stood and walked to the door.  “You know everything you need to know.  Now we’re wasting time.  Throw some clothes on and let’s get out of here.”

“Where are we going?” Scully asked.

We aren’t going anywhere together.  We’re leaving the baby with you,” Krycek told her as Charlie stood.  “And we need Mulder to come with us.  We’re going back to our universe.  We have unfinished business there.  You, on the other hand, need to get out of here.  Get in your car and drive as fast as you can to the address we give you.  It’s in Nevada.”

“That’s all the way across the country,” Mulder protested.

“Exactly,” Krycek addressed Scully instead of her partner.  “Take the kid to the address we give you, and he’ll be safe.  At least for a time.  Before you leave, you’ll want to swing by Georgetown University and pick up Gibson Praise.  You’ll need him with you on this.  If everything goes according to plan, those are the only instructions you’ll need.”

“Pack for a couple of days, Mulder,” Charlie told him before he headed down the hallway after Krycek.

“Wait,” Mulder stood.  “You haven’t given us any reason to trust you.”

“You’re right,” Charlie said, stepping back into the threshold.  “I haven’t.”  He stared at them for a moment, and allowed them to glance at each other.  “Make a decision now, because we don’t have a lot of time.”

Mulder looked into Scully’s worried eyes, and allowed his to dart quickly over to Charlie, just to communicate to the neurosurgeon that they needed a moment alone.  Charlie wisely left the threshold and Scully took Mulder’s hand.

“I don’t know what to think,” she confessed to him.

He nodded.  “I’m in the same place you are, but what they said makes sense.  It does tie everything we’ve seen together…and it makes sense out of what I’m going through.”

“I just don’t want to fall into another of Krycek’s traps.  How do we really know he’s from the other universe?  He seems more like our Krycek than theirs.”

Mulder nodded. “I wouldn’t put it past him.  But he’s making sense.  And I definitely don’t think this Charlie is our Charlie.”

She looked down, and then let her head fall against his chest.  He embraced her, and they stayed like that for a moment before she pulled away and said, “Be careful.”

He smiled.  “Always.”  Then he leaned in and kissed her.  Their embrace was gentle and caring, but communicated between both of them the danger into which they were about to enter.   They fully acknowledged this could be the last time they saw each other.  Such a moment had happened so many times before in their relationship that it almost seemed like a routine.  Their minds entered a ‘mode’ in which they knew this could be it, and were willing to take that risk because they knew the other was in the exact same emotional space.  It was a mutual understanding, akin more to two soldiers entering battle than two lovers departing.

Moments later, they were both downstairs, ready to leave with duffel bags and Scully holding a sleeping infant in her arms.  Before Krycek opened the door to the garage, Scully stopped him.  “Wait…you’ve told me almost everything about this child except for his name.”

Charlie was the one who answered. “Strughold didn’t name him.  He just called him by his number — Experiment 2026.  It’s up to you.  I’m sure whatever you come up with, it’ll be fine.”

A bit awkwardly, Scully nodded and followed Krycek out of their kitchen and into their attached garage.  The two agents separated as they went to their respective cars.  Mulder gave Scully one last embrace and a thoughtful gaze at the baby.  He kissed her quickly on the cheek and tried to break the mood between them by saying, in his characteristic deadpan, “Go to Vegas, Baby.”

Scully managed a smile, and said, “I’ll get back here as soon as I can.”

“I’ll do the same.  I love you.”

She closed her eyes, and seemed to hold the baby tighter to her chest.  Then she nodded, and forced herself to say, “I’ll see you soon.”

“Don’t buy a car seat with your credit card,” Krycek warned her, breaking the moment between them.  “Use cash.  In fact, don’t buy anything with your credit card.”

“I have enough cash for the trip,” she stated, and Mulder realized she had probably taken their emergency stash.  That was, after all, what it was for.

He nodded in approval, and opened the driver’s side door of Mulder’s car as Scully situated the sleeping infant in a laundry basket that she belted to the back seat.  It was the best she could do before she got to a Walmart.  Krycek beckoned Mulder to the driver’s seat of his car.  “Let’s go.”

“I’m driving,” the agent insisted somewhat irritably, and pushed his way past Krycek and into the driver’s seat.

The two cars pulled out of the driveway, and Scully stared at Mulder’s license plate and the little dent on the right rear bumper of his SUV as he turned left and drove away from their duplex.  She had been increasingly annoyed with the ugly old SUV for months, and was looking forward to getting a new car.  Now, as she turned right, she forced herself not to wonder if she’d ever see that little dent in the bumper again.

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MULDER’S CAR

ARLINGTON, VA

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0200

As Mulder took directions from Krycek that would take them very close to the Cemetery, he thought about all his two companions had told him and now had numerous questions swimming around in his mind.

“Charlie,” he summoned the neurosurgeon’s attention in the back seat, “you said this child is the only one who can physically move through space and time at will, and that everyone else with clairvoyance can only do so mentally.”

“That’s right, for the most part,” Charlie said.

“So explain to me how you supposedly went back in time to 2011 to kidnap him from Strughold, then brought him forward to 2015.”

“When I went back to 2011, my consciousness inhabited my body from that time period.  I didn’t physically travel backward.”

“So the child is actually the same child from 2011, but you’re just inhabiting the body of Charlie from 2015?”

“No.  I mentally traveled backward, but I physically traveled forward.  There is no more Charlie from 2015 in this universe.”

That explains why he’s not a zombie, Mulder thought.  Though the idea of disembodied consciousness traveling through time and space to inhabit a body from the future did explain some zombie phenomena.  He put aside the X-file implications and focused on the matter at hand. “So how did you do it?  And why isn’t Strughold going to do the exact same thing?”

“The reason I was able to do it was because of Andrew Madden.”

Mulder nearly stopped the car.  His eyes shot to the rear view mirror.  “What do you mean?” he demanded.

“I can’t scientifically explain it.  The closest I can come has to do with prime number theory and quantum mechanics — the idea that all matter can be manipulated by sound waves, or music, which is essentially just the way our brains perceive a mathematical equation.”

“In English,” the agent ordered.

“Turn left at the stop light,” Krycek instructed, sounding rather bored from the passenger’s seat.

As Mulder turned, Charlie tried to find words to describe the indescribable.  If only he had gone into physics instead of neurosurgery.  “I mentioned that most clairvoyants can manipulate time and space to send their consciousness forward or backward or sideways, though they’re not aware they’re doing it.  It’s instantaneous and their brains process whatever they see after they’ve already returned to their own minds.  Well, Andrew Madden has a different kind of clairvoyance that I can’t explain with neuroscience.”

“You’re saying he can send his body forward or backward or sideways, without being aware he’s doing it.  His consciousness is shared between two bodies?”

“Matter can’t be created or destroyed, so I can’t explain how he does it.  The matter needs to come from somewhere.”

“And you’re saying he was able to somehow do this for you, to send you through time with the child.”

“I suppose he was.  Like matter being sent forward or backward, with the Bari Trasadi, but without being replaced with dust from the other location.  I don’t honestly know what he did.  I know that he showed up in 2013, in the other timeline before I destroyed it by going backward. Strughold was just starting to teach the child how to use the Bari Trasadi.  I was being held prisoner.  He worked at the facility for almost two full years, and I never knew who he was until after the child was able to finally go back with the Bari Trasadi and return with the oil.  Then he introduced himself as Walter Skinner’s son, and explained that he had similar abilities to my own previous subjects, but that he was able to be in two places at once.”

“So he was a scientist,” Mulder clarified.  It sounded like Andrew Madden was actually from the other universe.  But 2013 was the last thing Mulder remembered, so it occurred to him that maybe Andrew was the reason he had jumped forward.

“A very bright one.  He explained he knew about my plan — my initial plan, not the one we eventually derived together.”

“Take this next right,” Krycek ordered, and looked out the window as they exited Jefferson Boulevard onto Marshall Drive, right next to Arlington National Cemetery.

“What was your initial plan?”

“It doesn’t matter, it was suicide.  It never would have worked.”

“So Andrew had a different plan?”

“Yes.  He helped me activate the areas of my brain that would send my consciousness backward —essentially, perform my own experiment on myself.  And once I was back in my body from 2011, I could kidnap the baby, and he was somehow able to come with me.”

“You’re saying he could travel through time and space.”

“Yes,” he affirmed, and continued, “And he was able to be right there in the lab with my unconscious body, in 2015, and also physically come back with me to 2011.  He and Alex Krycek are the reason I was able to jump forward with the infant.”

“But how did you jump forward?”

“Pull up here.  This is it,” Krycek said, and pointed to the Marine Corps War Memorial.

Mulder drove the car up to the memorial but couldn’t get too close, because the path surrounding the monument allowed only foot traffic.  “What are we doing here?”

“It’s a rip in the space-time continuum.  It leads to the other universe — our universe,” Charlie explained.

“If that’s true, then why hasn’t some tourist accidentally fallen in?” Mulder challenged as he parked the car.

“No, don’t stop here.  Drive up onto the curb and on the grass.  Through there,” Krycek said, and pointed.  “About twenty feet from that tree.”

“You want me to drive through this rip?”

“Yes.  And to answer your question, the reason no tourist has randomly fallen in is because they don’t last that long.  This one is only here for the next…” he looked at his watch.  “Twenty-three minutes.”

“Then how are we going to get back?” Mulder asked.

“We’ll catch the next train,” the ‘detective’ said as he pointed to the magical space in between two trees, just outside the foot path for the memorial.  “Drive.”

Mulder groaned as he drove his SUV onto the grass and toward the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima.

driving-into-the-singularity

“Drive slowly.  This has to be exact.  About a hundred feet from here, dead on,” Krycek ordered.

“You still haven’t told me how you jumped forward,” the agent told Charlie as they slowly approached the monument.

“It’s even more complicated than what I did tell you.  Suffice it to say, there’s a machine.  And when it’s turned on, it causes rips in the space-time continuum, just like this one.  I don’t totally understand it myself.  I just know it wasn’t intentional — it’s not what it was originally designed to do.  But we discovered what it does, and we took advantage of it.”

“Right…about…here,” Krycek said, looking at his phone.

“You can obviously detect these rips…” Mulder said. “Better tech than last time.”

Krycek didn’t comment.  Seconds later, they were looking at the same memorial, but the scenery around them had changed.  A tree was a little further to the right.  A bench had appeared where there was none before.  The biggest change, though, was that when they turned around to get back on the road, Mulder’s headlights illuminated a police squad car.

“Shit,” Mulder said, and Charlie groaned.

“It’s okay, take it easy,” Krycek said, and pulled his badge out.  Sure enough, the squad car’s lights did go on, and Mulder pulled over to the side.  “Leave the FBI badge out of this,” Krycek advised him.  “Let me handle it.”

A moment later, a Metro PD officer approached Mulder’s window and he responded by depressing the button only enough that the window descended about a third of the way.  He didn’t say anything by way of greeting.  The officer spoke first.  “Good evening, Sir.  Out for a late night spin?”

“Yes, Sir,” Mulder answered politely.

“Been drinking tonight?”

“No, Sir,” the agent’s answer was simple.

“You know why I pulled you over?”

Mulder didn’t answer, which of course made the officer uncomfortable.  The man was young, probably in his late twenties, and looked suspiciously at Charlie’s obscured form in the back for a moment before moving his eyes back to Mulder.

“You were driving on the grass.  Did you know you were on the grass?”

“Yes, Sir,” Mulder answered.

“Can I see your license and registration?”

“Officer, I believe I can clear some of this up,” Krycek piped up, and held up his badge in a slow, smooth motion so as not to startle the man.  “Detective Alex Krycek, Metro PD.”

“Sir,” the officer said immediately, in surprise.  “I wasn’t aware anyone from our department was going to be in this area tonight.”

“I could say the same thing to you,” Krycek shot back, polite professionalism never leaving his tone.

“I’m participating in a joint effort with the Arlington PD during third shift, Sir,” the young officer said.

“Then you should probably get back to it.  But good catch—we have civvie plates so of course you suspected us.  Just leave us to our business and we’ll leave you to yours, and we’ll forget this ever happened.  You didn’t already call it in, did you?”

“I’m afraid I did, Sir,” the officer stated.

“Then write it up as a verbal warning, and let us be on our way.  I promise you we’ll stay off the grass from here on out.”

“Yes, Sir.  I’m sorry to interrupt, Sir.  Should I notify the others that you’ll be operating in the area?”

“Our business is done here.  We’ll be out of this area for the rest of the shift.  Have a good night.”

“You too, Sir.”

Mulder rolled the window up as the cop went back to his car.  He glanced over at Krycek and actually complimented, “Smooth.”

“Let’s get out of here,” the “detective” said in brusque reply.

“Where are we going?” Mulder asked.

“To my office,” Krycek said.  “We need to track down Andrew Madden.”

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SCULLY’S CAR

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0200

Scully drove toward the university and pulled the car into a convenience store about a block from Gibson’s apartment.  Retrieving her cell phone from her jacket pocket, she dialed the young man’s number.  Young man.  Gibson was in the third year of his doctoral studies and teaching three classes.  He was Professor Praise now and few even recognized him as the chess prodigy of his childhood days.

Gibson answered on the second ring.  “How far away are you?” he asked before she could even get out a greeting.

“A block, block and a half,” she replied, instinctively knowing she needed to keep her answers short and cryptic.

“Meet me at the birthday place, fifteen minutes.  Drive by once and then pull around to the big tree,” he instructed.  “Are we on the same page?”

“I guess we are now,” Scully huffed.  She quickly disconnected the call and put the car into gear, checking for traffic, possible tails and anything out of the ordinary.  While glancing in the rearview mirror, she spared a moment to observe the baby, sleeping quietly in the basket.  She tried to remember the pictures in her mother’s massive scrapbook collection, searching for any resemblance to her much younger self, but realized that endeavor would have to wait for a more opportune time.

The ‘birthday place’ was a dive pizza parlor that Mulder had discovered not far from the Georgetown campus.  It served New York style pizza, the owner yelled at you if you asked for a knife and fork, and had one kind of beer on tap, Bud Lite, but it was now their favorite spot for Gibson’s birthday.  In the summer, there was outdoor seating, of a fashion, on an old, dilapidated picnic table beneath a huge oak tree at the back of the off-street parking lot.

She drove around the neighborhood for the allotted fifteen minutes, trying very hard to look like she was not just killing time.  Finally, she drove past the pizza place once, then went around the block and drove down the alley to enter the parking lot from the back.  Gibson stepped out from behind the oak tree and jumped into the car.

scully-gibson

“Take the 88,” he advised.  “Let’s not stop until we’re in Maryland.”

“I need supplies,” Scully said, eyeing the road as she got them on the interstate that ran through that part of the District.

Gibson glanced in the backseat and nodded.  “But it will be safer for everyone if we don’t go shopping inside DC,” he explained.

“Gibson, do you know what’s going on?” Scully demanded.  At his pained expression, she softened her tone.  “This is somewhat upsetting.  Sorry if I’m sounding a bit unhinged at the moment.”

The young man snorted a laugh.  “I’m sure!  Not something you expect to be told — not just that your significant other is a father of a child he never knew about, but that you’re a mother of the same child.”  He’d cut right to the heart of the matter, as always.  “You don’t have to worry, you know.  About Mulder I mean,” he added.

“He’s having these . . .”

“Dreams?  Not really dreams, actually.  It’s like, well, not to get all SyFy channel on you, but it’s like a rift in dimensions.”

Scully chewed the inside of her cheek.  “You’re getting confused as to which one of us you’re talking to,” she deadpanned.

“I know it’s hard for you to swallow, Scully.  Believe me, I could sense your frustration before you even called me.  And I can’t tell you exactly how I know what I know, but I do know that this is big, bigger than anything else you’ve dealt with.  And I know how vital it is that you believe it, or it just might blow up in your face.  All of our faces, for that matter.”

“Help me, then, Gibson,” she said through gritted teeth.  “Is this Krycek really from another dimension?”

Gibson chewed on his lip.  “I . . . I’m not sure.  I think he is.  I don’t get the same vibe from him that I got from ‘our’ Krycek.  But I’m not entirely certain.”

“How about Ch — the man claiming he’s my brother?”  She couldn’t bring herself to mention her brother’s name right now.  The wounds were still too deep; the betrayal, the lies…she could forgive Bill his stubbornness, but she could never forgive Charles.

Gibson looked over at her.  “He’s real, just not the one from this dimen — ”  He didn’t have a chance to finish that sentence when he jerked his head and stared out the back window.  “Scully,” he said anxiously.

“What?  What is it?” she responded, checking her side mirrors.  Suddenly the driver behind her turned on his brights and nearly blinded her in the glare from her mirror.  “Damn!” she cursed, and started to accelerate.  “There’s an exit ahead,” she said, glancing at Gibson.  “I’ll pull off — ”

“NO!” he all but yelled at her.  “No, it’s a trap.  Keep on this road.”

“Gibson, we’re on an interstate,” Scully chided.

“Hey, how long did OJ manage to stay driving?  Don’t get off now.”  He pulled out his cell phone and quickly dialed a number.  “Do you know who this is?”  There was a pause.  “I’m with someone, two someones, actually, and we’re in trouble.  I’ll text you our route.”  He pulled the phone away from his ear long enough to text the route.  Then he put the phone back to his ear and said, “You have it.”  The call ended and Gibson told her, “Stay on this road.  Help’s on the way.”

“We’re in a congested area,” she warned.

“But it’s late,” Gibson nodded to the digital display on the dash.  “It’s well after 1.  Not much traffic.”

“But there’s a hospital just up the road.  The shifts will be changing.  People will be getting off work,” Scully pointed out.  “And now there’s another car,” she added quietly.

“Can you make them out?” Gibson asked.

“SUVs.  Black.  Just what you’d expect.  How did they –?”

“They must have been waiting for you.  There could be any number of ways.  They might even have a tracker in your vehicle.”

“Damn it,” Scully cursed.  “Gibson, who did you call?”

“An old friend,” he said with a smile.  Just then, Scully heard the unmistakable sound of a police siren.

The black SUVs accelerated.

“Don’t let them sandwich us,” Gibson said in an urgent tone.

Scully accelerated in response.  Both hands gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles, and she stole a glance at her mirrors briefly before sharply cutting around a slower vehicle in the middle lane, and accelerating even more.  The siren grew closer, but Scully realized with relief that the law enforcement vehicle was tailing her would-be assailants, not her.

“I think we might have some hel—”

She didn’t finish her sentence before their car was slammed from the side.  Out of nowhere, an SUV had managed to roll up beside her.  She kept control of the car and braked sharply, allowing the offending vehicle to zoom forward for a moment just as it was trying to swerve into her for a second time and force them off the road.  The maneuver caused the SUV to veer into her lane, and anticipating such, Scully turned sharply around it and accelerated again.  A cop car sped past the offending SUV and managed to get into a protective position, right behind her, sirens wailing.  And now there were two more law enforcement vehicles on the road, catching up.

“Scully, punch the accelerator!” Gibson yelled suddenly, and she didn’t hesitate.

Just as the tires squealed and the vehicle lurched forward at its maximum acceleration, one of the black SUVs slammed into the cop car behind them, sending it hurtling off of the road and into a ditch.

There was another vehicle on the road up ahead, and Scully quickly switched lanes to avoid it.  Another black SUV had caught up to her, but the police were still on their tail.  One squad car made the mistake of trying to force the much larger car off the road.  Gibson watched it crumple like an accordion as it was sandwiched between the SUV behind and the one it had tried to impact.

“One SUV down,” he reported.  “Two more to go.”

Just then, another black SUV sped up the on-ramp beside them, but Scully was relieved to see that it had lights and sirens.  More backup had arrived.

The closest assailing vehicle drew up beside them, and Scully barely caught a glimpse of a passenger emerging through the sun roof with an M16.  “Gibson!” she called in alarm, but his head already was down.

Gunfire would have shattered her rear windshield if the law enforcement SUV hadn’t slammed its brakes and veered behind her at the last second, causing the assailant to lose his weapon and fall ungracefully back inside the car.  The offending vehicle was forced out of the lane, and struggled to keep control.  It swerved at just the wrong time, and a cop car sideswiped it violently, flipping it onto its side and ejecting the would-be shooter from his position in the vehicle.

The last SUV was gaining on them, though, even as the new law enforcement SUV sped away from the crash, to intercept.  One squad car remained behind at the crash while the other zoomed ahead to back up the lead.

The vehicle behind her flashed its brights, preventing either of them from spotting the passenger roll his window down and extend an Uzi.

“Sharp right!  Sharp right!” Gibson yelled, and ducked again.  Scully wasted no time, and veered into the middle lane just in time to have the shots miss their rear windshield.  She ducked instinctively as she heard the unmistakable sound of automatic weapons fire.  Another barrage of shots erupted as Scully swerved like a drunk driver.  They escaped unscathed.  On the third round, a shot punctured their rear passenger tire, and they ended up lurching sharply to the side of the road.  As soon as Scully hit the gravel at such an incredibly unsafe speed, they careened into a tailspin.  The car spun violently until the driver’s rear side slammed into the guardrail, and ended their high speed journey with the explosion of airbags all around.

Meanwhile, the remaining black SUV attempted to get away, but the pursuing SUV with lights and sirens was finally able to hit it at just the right angle to force it off the road, and into the same ditch as Scully’s vehicle, but a few hundred yards ahead.  In the distance, a brief firefight ensued.  Gibson could see Skinner using his slightly damaged SUV for cover as he exchanged fire with the driver.

Then, unexpectedly, the offending SUV erupted in a tremendous ball of fire, shrapnel propelled violently in every direction.  Skinner ducked behind his vehicle until it was over, somewhat in surprise that the hit men would rather blow themselves up than be arrested.  But there would be time to analyze their actions later.  Another two black SUVs pulled up at that moment with lights and sirens—they were FBI, not with the attackers.  His backup had arrived.

Skinner ran to Scully’s disabled car, his gun still firmly in his hand.  “Scully!” he shouted.  He pried open the door and found the agent conscious, but battling a quickly deflating airbag.  “Here, let me help you,” he directed.

“Get the baby!  Get the baby out!” Scully ordered, her voice frantic.

“He’s fine,” Gibson assured her from his position next to her.  His airbag deflated faster than hers and he was already half in the backseat.  The baby had been crying, but as soon as Gibson picked him up, he magically quieted and stared at him, wide-eyed.  “It’s OK, little one.  We’re all fine,” Gibson cooed.  The baby blinked and blew a spit bubble back at him.

By the time everyone was out of the car, Skinner was directing the agents around the crime scene.  Scully hefted the baby on one hip and surveyed the wreckage.  Skinner spotted her and walked over to her.

“Are you okay?”

She nodded, visibly shaken.  Her eyes were dilated and her hands shaking, but she was unscathed.

“We have to get you out of here,” Skinner told her.  “The press will be here any minute, and I don’t want your picture in the papers.”

“The car,” she noted, her car now quite inoperable.

“We’ll take one of those,” he assured her, and pointed to one of the newly arrived Bureau cars.

“We were on our way to pick up a car seat,” Scully said, her voice still shaking.  She was calming down quickly, but in the back of her mind, she realized she had previously been in near panic over the baby’s welfare.

Skinner nodded.  “Gibson, come with me,” he said, and Skinner left her side to run over to one of the DCPD squad cars.  She saw him say something to the officer who nodded and went around to the trunk of the car.  In minutes Skinner returned, carrying a child safety seat and a generic shopping bag.  “All District cars carry them for traffic accidents and emergencies,” he told her.  “C’mon, let’s go.  Agent!” he called, and the Special Agent on scene turned his head.  “I need your vehicle.  Get mine back to the Bureau.”  The man nodded, and gestured toward his Bureau car without question.

Scully looked into the bag Skinner had given her, discovering a package of baby supplies with the familiar red cross on the label.  She followed her superior to the car.  “What about Gibson?” she asked when the young man didn’t follow them, but remained nearby the agents who had arrived.

Skinner looked at her and shook his head.  “Scully, Gibson is a good friend and he wants to help, but he’s not much use in a firefight.  I instructed Elmore to take him home.  You are going with me.  You need protection.”

“Sir, I can’t expect you — ”

“Save it, Agent.  This is now a witness protection operation.  I’m going to personally see that you’re taken somewhere safe, both of you.”

“We were told to pick up Gibson because we’d need him on the way,” she argued, aware that Skinner had no earthly idea where they were going.

“It’s too dangerous.  I’m not going to put a civilian at risk, considering the resources these people have.  Stop arguing with me, Scully.  Get in the car.”

“I need to get to Mulder,” she said sternly.

“I’m not sure that’s the ideal definition of getting you to safety, but that was my plan.  Now please, get in the car so we can get on our way.”

“We need to head west,” she said, and opened the back door.

Skinner waited while she secured the baby in the car seat.  Then he got in the driver’s seat and pulled out on the highway.  They traveled in silence for a few moments before the assistant director finally spoke.  “Is . . . he?  She?  All right?”

“He doesn’t appear to be hurt, Sir,” Scully assured him.  “He’s falling asleep.”

“Good, good.”  Silence again.  He glanced over at her a few times before he asked, “So, uh, Agent . . . ”

Scully sighed.  “It’s a long story.  And Mulder should be here for most of it.  But basically, we were visited last night by two unexpected guests — Alex Krycek and . . . my brother, Charles.”

Skinner’s jaw tightened, but to his credit, he said nothing.

“They weren’t alone.  They had — ” she stopped and looked back at the baby in the carseat.  “This little one was with them.  Charles told us a story and I’m not sure how much I believe it, but with the problems Mulder was having . . . to be honest, it made as much sense as anything else I’ve heard or seen.”  Scully drew in another breath.  “Mulder’s amnesia, it might be related to interdimensional travel.”

“Interdimensional?” Skinner asked, non-plussed.

“Yes.  And possibly time travel, as well.  It’s very confusing but there is one person we’re sure is involved.”  At Skinner’s questioning glance, Scully spoke.  “Strughold.”

“Where is Mulder now?” Skinner asked.

“With Charles and Krycek.  They told us Strughold is trying to get the baby.  Mulder went with them and I was taking the baby to Nevada.  My hope is that they’ll meet us there.”

“Scully, who is this baby?  Where are his parents?”

Scully looked out the windshield and chewed on her lip.  “If Charles and Krycek are to be believed,” she said, ignoring Skinner’s snort, “the baby is mine.  And Mulder’s.”

“Yours.  Together,” Skinner said, not bothering to hide his incredulity.  “Scully, I’ve known you both for a long time and it would very much surprise me if—”

“The baby is ours, Sir,” she said, and he fell silent.  “I wasn’t sure until now.  During what just happened…I became certain.  I don’t know how I’m so certain, but I am.  And it’s not only possible that we could have a child together — and not know about him — but in light of my stolen ova and my late daughter Emily, it’s entirely plausible.”

“Scully, I . . . I don’t know what to say.  Krycek — how could you believe him . . . and your brother?  Your dead brother Charles?  The one who was going to murder hundreds of — ”

“Sir, it wasn’t ‘our’ Krycek.  It was the Krycek from — from a parallel dimension.  The one we’ve experienced on a couple of occasions.  As for Charles, he claimed to be from a different dimension, too.  I know it’s far-fetched, but how is it any different than anything else we’ve seen?” Scully said with a tired sigh followed by a prolonged yawn.

“Regardless, if we’re going to Nevada, you should try to get some sleep.  Take his example,” he said, nodding at the reflection of the baby in the rearview mirror.  “By the way, what’s his name?”

Scully licked her lips in her discomfort.  “He, uh, he doesn’t have one — yet.  I guess that’s up to Mulder and me.”

Skinner sighed heavily.  He glanced over at his tired agent, and then returned his gaze to the road.  “Get some sleep, Scully.  That’s an order.”

And without her consent, she fell into a deep yet troubled sleep.

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DC METRO PD OFFICE

WASHINGTON, DC

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0230

The three entered the police department precinct office with Krycek in the lead.  He immediately walked over to the front desk, where a uniform was leading a drunk man in handcuffs past a locked door into the booking area.  “Hey, how’s it going tonight?” Krycek asked the receptionist.

The woman was probably in her mid-thirties, and by the looks of things, she had not had an easy night.  She looked half asleep, and there was a fairly recent stain on the front of her uniform shirt.  “Alex, I didn’t know you were working tonight,” she said, and gave him a somewhat forced smile as she glanced at his companions.  “Who are your friends?”

“I’m doing a little overtime — they’re just some acquaintances,” he said smoothly. “I said I’d check something out for them — do you think you could grab me a list of the visitors from about 10 p.m. to midnight?”

“Sure, I can do that.”  He stood relatively close to her as she logged into her system, and then took a step back once she was searching.  He leaned on the counter and glanced over her shoulder through the glass that fronted the precinct’s main floor.  He managed to catch someone’s eye who waved, and he beckoned for them to come out into the waiting area.

Charlie glanced around at some of the characters seated in the precinct office at this time of night, but Mulder was watching Krycek.  Something about his behavior set off his profiling “spidey senses.”

Krycek’s coworker approached and said, “Alex, I thought you went home.  What are you doing here?”

“I’m checking something out for some friends.  Would you mind going to my office and grabbing the manila folder off my desk?  It should be to the left of the computer.  At least that’s where I think I left it.”

“Sure thing.  But I’m swamped.  I only have a minute and then I’m supposed to head to a scene.  If you need anything else, ask Jack.”

“Will do.  Thanks, man.”

“No problem.”

“Okay,” the receptionist said.  “Here’s the list.” She turned her computer monitor so he could see.  He glanced at it, but his eyes darted between what she showed him and the man he had sent back to his ‘office’.  He saw him round the corner, and then disappear.  Then he focused on the screen.  “No — none of them are on it.  Thanks, anyway, Sadie.”

“Yeah, not a big deal,” she said, and looked curiously at Mulder and Charlie.

It was another couple of moments before Krycek’s friend returned with a manila envelope.  “This is all I could find, and it wasn’t on your desk, it was on your shelf.”

“I might have put it in my file drawer after all. Sorry to hassle you.”

“No problem, but I have to take off.  See you later, Alex.”

Krycek caught the door as the man turned and left.  “I’ll just be a minute,” he said to Mulder and Charlie.  Mulder gave him a somewhat amused nod.

A silent half-hour later, Krycek returned and said, “I’ve got what we need.  Let’s take off.”

“See you later, Alex,” Sadie said from the desk, just as two officers entered with a belligerent, screaming man who was probably mentally unstable.

Krycek waved and led his two companions out of the precinct.  As they walked to Mulder’s car, Mulder held Krycek back with a hand on his shoulder.  Charlie turned when the two stopped, and the agent nodded to him.  “Go ahead, Charlie. I just have a question for Krycek.”

The neurosurgeon disappeared into the car, and Krycek turned to Mulder.  “What is it?  We don’t have a lot of time.”

“I want to know what your game is.  Why are you impersonating your alternate?”

The double-agent’s eye twitched slightly.

“You’re trying to figure out whether you should deny it or ask me how I discovered you, to buy some time to think of an excuse to tell me.  Who are you working for this time?” Mulder demanded.

Krycek said nothing, and Mulder rolled his eyes.

“You figured out the receptionist’s username and password when she did the visitor search for you.  You had to send that detective in to get something for you because you had no idea where your office was and didn’t want to look like a fool wandering around the precinct floor.  You didn’t call anyone by name.  Cut the crap, I know who you actually are.  Where is the real detective, and why do you really need Andrew Madden in this universe?”

“Look, Mulder, you might not believe me, but everything I’ve told you so far has been true.  Everything Charlie has told you is true.  The only reason why I need to be a detective instead of myself is because of Charlie.  It’s the only way he’ll trust me.  We had some…prior misunderstandings.”

“But he trusts the detective.  So he must know him.”

“He met him years ago — I don’t know how, exactly.  He recognized me right away when I met him in the other timeline — before he stole the child.  I followed him back to 2011.  To help him.  I’m probably the only reason why your son and Charlie survived the escape attempt.”

Mulder studied Krycek’s face, but knew he would glean very little from it.  “So where’s the detective?  Is he still alive?”

“He’s probably in his bed, sleeping.”

“You’re lucky he wasn’t working this shift or you might have run into him.”

“I took the chance.”

“Did you find out where Andrew Madden lives?”

“Yeah.  It was easy enough — he’s Skinner’s son in this universe, too.  He lives with his dad.  He’s a surgical tech for a pediatric neurosurgery unit at Georgetown Medical.  He’s fingerprinted because he works with kids.”

“Perfect,” Mulder said.  “Let’s go.”

“Just like that?  You trust me?”

“Hell, no,” the agent stated as he made his way to the driver’s side door.  “But Skinner’s home, and he already knows all of us — or our alternates, anyway.  He’ll answer the door.  He’ll listen to us.  He’ll wake up Andrew and we’ll get the show on the road.” He paused before he opened his door.  “But understand this, Krycek.  I won’t hesitate to kill you if you double-cross us.”

“I figured,” Krycek stated.  “I’m on your side, Mulder.”

“You’re on your side,” Mulder corrected him.  “You always have been.  I just hope whoever you’re working for has convinced you that your side isn’t Strughold’s side.”

With that, he opened the driver’s side door and got in the car.  The three headed to Captain Skinner’s home.

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CAPTAIN SKINNER’S HOME

ALEXANDRIA, VA

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0330

Mulder thought it was interesting that Skinner’s alternate chose to live in the exact same place as AD Skinner.  This universe was remarkably similar to their own, with a few noticeable changes.  Mulder fumbled with a confusing traffic light with two arrows pointing in opposite directions before turning onto the drive that would take them to the Captain’s house.

“Alex, you probably know the Captain the best of the three of us,” Charlie said.  “You should do the talking.”

Krycek was about to respond when suddenly, they heard a shrieking noise coming out of the sky.  Mulder ducked down to see what was happening above the windshield and just as he did, everything went black.

The echo of the shrieking and Charlie’s words still resounded in his head as he turned his body frantically, trying to get his bearings.  The world was black—nothingness surrounded him.  No light.  No sound.  He couldn’t even see his own body.  He could feel that it was still there—he moved his hand to touch his chest and felt his shirt.  It was the only verification that he still existed.

He felt no support under his feet, but he didn’t feel like he was falling, either.  This had happened only once before, years ago, when he and Scully traveled to the International Space Station on a mission arranged and directed by U.S. Navy Captain Charles Scully.

There, they had discovered a ship orbiting the Earth — the same alien ship Scully had discovered fifteen years ago, when Mulder had experienced his first “clairvoyant” episode.

“Hello?” He felt the vibration of his vocal cords, but couldn’t hear his own voice.  It was very disconcerting.

Then, suddenly, he heard noises—faint, but familiar.  He realized he was hearing his own dream, or vision, but in slow motion.  Light flashed around him, and he blinked and flinched in surprise.  The next time it happened, he caught a glimpse of what it was showing him.  Running.  The metal catwalk.  The next flash showed a glimpse of the machine.  And then he heard Andrew’s voice.  “Agent Mulder!” the young man cried, but it was slow and muffled, as if he was hearing it through a thick wall.

The world seemed to snap like a rubber band, and he found himself ducking in the car again, the SUV swerving into the wrong lane of traffic.  Mulder quickly moved back to the right, and shook his head.  The whistling was gone, replaced with a tremendous fire illuminating the night sky just blocks from their location.

“Shit!  That was a missile!” Charlie swore.

“Two guesses as to whose house it hit,” Krycek said, and pointed.  “Come on, Mulder, drive!  We have to see if there are any survivors.”

Mulder was in something of a shocked daze, but he managed to drive the car around the corner.  They could all hear sirens wailing in the distance.  If a missile got this close to DC airspace without interception, they all knew there would soon be a massive response in this area from every federal agency and military branch available.

“We have to move fast,” Charlie stated the obvious.

But there wasn’t really anywhere to go.  Debris littered the street, blocking their way to what remained of Skinner’s house.  The second floor was completely gone, replaced with shards of wood and plaster.  The exterior frame of the first floor was intact, but the entire second floor had caved in after the explosion, leaving a crater in the center of the house.  No one could have possibly survived.

“Let’s verify that Skinner was home,” Krycek said, and before Mulder or Charlie could argue with him to be reasonable, he was out of the car and running toward the house.  Mulder put the car in park and got out, running after him.  Charlie wasn’t far behind.

7-captain-skinner-house-bombing

The house was on fire, with smoke rising rapidly.  The three men paused just outside the blast radius, scanning the surroundings for any signs of life.

“One car,” Krycek said, and pointed to the burning vehicle in the driveway.  “Not two.  One.”

Neighbors began to gather in cautious curiosity.  “Hey!” one man yelled.  “What happened here?  Did you see anything?”

“Must have been a gas leak,” Krycek answered the civilian.  “I can smell it, can’t you?”

“Come on,” Mulder made eye contact with the “detective.”  “Let’s get out of here—we don’t want to crowd this area.”

They were about to make their exit when some woman screamed and pointed.  “Someone’s in there!  Oh my God!”

They spun fast enough to get whiplash, and followed her finger by the light of the flames to where she pointed.  Just inside the cratered house, in the front window, one could see a figure moving.  Mulder sprinted toward it, knowing they had very little time and that whoever launched that missile could very well have also flown a drone overhead to confirm the kill.  They had to get Skinner out of there before anyone realized he had survived.

Mulder plucked a rock from the yard and hurled it as hard as he could at the front window, shattering it on impact.  “Come on!” He screamed to who he hoped was Captain Walter Skinner.  The man didn’t argue, but stumbled toward the front window as quickly as he could.

Mulder, Krycek, and Charlie helped him through the window, and it was Charlie who immediately noticed that the neighbors were now recording the entire thing on their smartphones.  “Shit,” he whispered.  It would likely be on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter — or this universe’s equivalent — within minutes.

“We have to go!” Krycek said gruffly, and hurried the dazed and confused Skinner along his destroyed front lawn and down the street until they got to Mulder’s SUV.  He unceremoniously opened the back door and shoved the Captain in, and then the three men took off with tires squealing on the asphalt.

“What…who…” Skinner began to ask, and squinted, filthy fingers holding his head.

“Your house was hit by a missile,” Mulder told him as he drove down the back roads and tried to find roads with tree cover.

“Who…who launched a missile at my house?” Skinner demanded, sounding simultaneously angry, hurt, and confused.

“We need to know if Andrew was home,” Krycek told him, and spun around in his seat in the front.  Charlie, in the back seat next to Skinner, began examining the Captain for injuries.

“No…no, he was out.  He’s at a uh…some retreat, I think, with some friends.”

“Where?” Mulder demanded.  “Where were they going, do you know?”

“Something with the Church.  Uh…I don’t remember…” the Captain said, blinking.

“Look up at the car light,” Charlie said as he turned on the back seat ceiling light.  “I’m going to check your pupil reactivity.  Okay?” He moved his hand over the man’s eyes and studied his pupils.  “Equal and reactive.  Walter, do you remember if you hit your head?”

Skinner shook his head.  “No, I didn’t hit my head. I was in the basement when it happened. Who are you?”

“It’s me.  Charlie.  We met at…” Charlie paused.  He realized that the last time Walter saw him would have been more than ten years ago, at Dana and Fox’s Christmas party.  Even if he had erased the last five years of his captivity from history, he still wasn’t in this universe, making any new history.  He had effectively wiped himself out of the universe for the past five years.  “We met at Dana and Fox’s Christmas party a long time ago—I was only in town for a little bit.  I’m Dana’s brother.”

“Oh…” Skinner said, and shook his head in confusion at the absurdity of the situation.

“Try to think hard,” Krycek said.  “Sir.”

“About what?” Skinner asked, and turned in bewilderment to his underling.

“Where Andrew was going,” the ‘detective’ answered.  “Think hard, we need to get to him.”

“The people who took out your house are still after Andrew.  In fact, he was probably the target in the first place,” Mulder said as he made an illegal right turn onto a side street, narrowly avoiding an accident.  He had no idea right turns were illegal without an arrow in this universe, but was quickly educated by someone’s angry hand gesture.

“Why would they be after Andrew?” Skinner asked.  His voice was starting to shake, communicating to Charlie that he was coming down from an adrenaline high.

“It’s complicated,” Krycek told him.  “But it’s extremely important we stop these guys before they can harm Andrew.”

“I think…he was uh…” Skinner stumbled over his words, and seemed momentarily distracted with something out the window. “It was out in Maryland…um…Faulkner, I think.”

“What’s it called?” Krycek asked, and pulled out his phone.

“I don’t know…I think it started with an ‘L’…” Skinner said helplessly.

Krycek shook his head.  “I have no signal here, I can’t look it up.”

Your phone doesn’t work in this universe, Krycek, Mulder thought.  Because you’re not from here.  How long ‘til Charlie figures that out?  “Walter, do you have your phone with you?”

Skinner dug into his pajama pants pockets, and shook his head. “No, I left it on my night stand.  I just went to the basement to get batteries for the smoke alarm…it started beeping.”

Mulder tried the nav system on the SUV, and it miraculously was able to interface with some GPS satellite somewhere, and get a signal in the alternate universe.  Krycek took over the controls so Mulder could drive.  He searched for establishments with ‘Retreat’ in their name located in Faulkner, MD, and came up with one.  “Loyola Catholic Retreat?”

“That’s it,” Skinner said.

“It’s an hour south of here on the other side of the Potomac,” Krycek reported to Mulder.

“Find me a tunnel,” Mulder ordered.  “We have to switch cars.”  Sorry, Scully.  I know how much you liked this SUV…

“On it.”

“Why haven’t they bombed this car?” Skinner asked.  “If they bombed my house then they have to know we got into this car and drove away.”

They were quiet for a moment.  Charlie was the first to speak.  “They need one of us,” he stated.

Two guesses as to which one that is, Mulder thought bitterly as Krycek glanced sideways at him.

“Why?” Skinner demanded, the anger beginning to level the shakiness in his voice.  “What do they want?”

“Captain, you may not believe it,” Krycek stated as he turned around and faced Skinner, “But they want world domination.”

“And they had to bomb my house to get it?” the older man asked, completely bewildered.

“The best way we can keep Andrew safe is to get him in the same place as Mulder,” Charlie said.

“Got a tunnel on the way.  We’ll have to go past Andrews Air Force Base, though.”

“That’s okay.  Let’s just hope he doesn’t have the balls to launch a missile at a U.S. military establishment,” Mulder commented.

Krycek made a noise that was halfway between a snort and a grunt, and Mulder wasn’t sure what to think of that.  He figured Strughold was willing to destroy a lot more than a few Pakistani villages and a slum of Detroit in his quest.  He just hoped WWIII didn’t break out before they got to Andrew and, perhaps more importantly, back to Scully.

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SKINNER’S BUREAU CAR

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0400

Within an hour-and-a-half, they were far outside the District of Columbia and starting to see the broad expanse of piedmont that was the Maryland countryside.  Skinner glanced at the clock on the dashboard and then at his agent.

They passed an oasis, and Skinner switched lanes to pass a semi.  Just then, the baby stirred and began to cry.  The cry immediately awoke Scully, who turned around to look at him in concern.

“We just passed a stop, too,” Skinner commented.  “Next exit is probably in a couple of miles.  What do you think he needs, fed or changed?”

“Neither, Sir,” Scully’s voice was wrought with worry and she was wide awake.  Suddenly the baby began to cough in between his cries.  “He’s having trouble breathing.”

Skinner’s eyes shot from the windshield to the rear view mirror, and then over to Scully.  “What do you need?”

“You’re going to have to pull over so I can examine him.”

The assistant director pursed his lips in dissatisfaction. “Okay, but bring him into the front seat and examine him on your lap.  We have to keep moving.”

Scully turned on the dome light as Skinner made his way to the shoulder.

“Stay inside, don’t go out.  Just climb back there and do whatever you have to do to get him up here,” he ordered.

She obeyed, and was able to collect the distressed child and awkwardly climb back into the front seat.  Without waiting for Scully to put her seatbelt on, Skinner took off again while the baby’s cries came in short gasps, interspersed with coughing.

After several moments of Scully examining the infant’s chest, holding him carefully to try to open his airway, and examining his fingers, toes, lips, and eyes, Skinner couldn’t take it anymore.  “What’s wrong with him?  Do you think his lungs are underdeveloped?”

“No, he’s too old for that,” she rejected.  “I don’t know what the cause is, but it’s getting worse.  I need an ambulance.”

“No.  Absolutely not.  We can’t risk a 911 call.  Whoever’s after you will know your location immediately.  If you—“

“Sir, he’s using his accessory muscles to breathe, he’s got intercostal retractions, it won’t be long before he’s cyanotic — my child is in respiratory distress and he needs oxygen at the very least, possibly positive pressure ventilation.  I don’t care how you get an ambulance but you will get an ambulance for me in the next five minutes or—”

“Okay,” Skinner agreed, breaking off her frantic tirade.  “Okay,” he said again as he reached into his pocket.  “I have an idea.  Just…do whatever you have to do to care for him until then.  I think we can probably get you an ambulance in the next ten minutes.”  He swiped his smartphone screen and accessed his contact list.

“Five minutes,” she insisted, her helpless gaze never leaving the baby’s face.

“I’ll do my best,” Skinner said, and initiated a call.

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LOYOLA CATHOLIC RETREAT

FAULKNER, MD

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0435

It was a 2014 Chelsea Fusion.  Apparently, that was a luxury sedan in this universe.  Sleek black, leather interior, with a GPS and an on-board phone.  Its owner had been left perplexed and extremely irritated when Krycek flashed his badge and demanded the man exit the vehicle and turn it over for their “official” use.  He wasn’t entirely thrilled with the idea of using Mulder’s beat-up SUV to make it back home.   But he accepted the offer as his only option, which was a wise position for a wealthy person with a lot to lose, faced with multiple armed men, at least one of whom had a badge.  Just before he got into the old SUV, he commented that it was so old he didn’t even recognize the model.

“You realize we may have condemned that man to death,” Skinner commented as they drove away.

“Strughold won’t hit the SUV.  He thinks Mulder’s inside,” Krycek said.

They exited the tunnel and made their way to the Catholic retreat.  They encountered very little traffic along the way.

“Okay, Captain, what’s Andrew’s number?” Krycek asked, accessing the car’s phone.  As he plugged in the information, he told Skinner, “Tell him to meet us out in front.  We’re going to have to pull him into this car and take off as quickly as possible.”

Skinner nodded.

Andrew answered the phone, and surprisingly sounded wide awake.  “Dad?”

It occurred to Mulder that despite the fact that his universe’s Andrew was also adopted, he never called his father “Dad.”  It also occurred to him that there was no way Andrew in this universe could have known that it was Skinner calling.  The CID would have displayed the name of the car’s owner.

Skinner didn’t seem to notice.  “Andrew, I need you to do something for me.”

“Where should I meet you?”

It was truly as though he already knew what was about to happen.  “In the front of the retreat, so we won’t have to go past any gates or anything that could slow us down,” Skinner said firmly.  “And try to stay inside if you can.”

“There’s a building that connects with a land bridge to the front of the retreat.  I’ll use that, just as soon as I get there from here.”

“Where is ‘here’?” Mulder asked.

“My cabin.  Who are you?”

“A friend of your father’s,” Mulder answered briefly.  “We’ll see you in about ten minutes.”

“I’ll be waiting.”  And he hung up.

They were silent for a moment, and then Mulder eyed the rear view mirror and asked, “He knows, doesn’t he?”

Skinner hesitated for a moment, and then nodded.  “Probably.”

“Good,” Charlie responded. “That means natural talent transcends universes.   He’ll be able to help us.”

“What’s the plan after we pick him up?” Mulder asked.

“We have to get to the testing site, and if it’s shut down because of the reset I caused, then we’ll have to find one of Strughold’s labs,” Charlie said.  “Preferably one that still has electricity.”

“You mean Strughold set them up in both universes?  How do we know which one is still active?  Especially if you foiled his plans five years ago?” Mulder asked him.

Charlie was about to answer, when Krycek cut in.  “Leave that to me.”

Mulder glanced in the rear view mirror for a moment, and saw Charlie’s troubled expression as he stared at the back of Krycek’s head.

Captain Skinner looked between the men and said, completely confused, “Fox, I never thought you of all people would get wrapped up in something like this.  Does Dana know what’s going on?  Is she safe, or is she in danger too?”

Mulder thought about his answer for a moment, and the possible consequences.   It was important that they get Andrew secured in this car before Captain Skinner changed his mind about wanting to help them.  “It’s a long story.  Dana is safe for now, I hope.”

Skinner accepted that answer with a begrudging nod, realizing that more answers could be had at a later time.

They arrived within five miles of the retreat without incident, and Mulder asked them, “How do we want to do this?  Just drive by and hope he doesn’t try to take out the retreat with a missile?”

“Strughold probably doesn’t know where we are yet,” Krycek said.  “The faster we get there, the better.  And we’ll need to change cars again.”

Five minutes later, they swung by the front of the beautiful, picturesque retreat on the east of the Potomac.  Rolling hills and a quaint, well-lit log cabin visitor center greeted them with yellow-colored LED’s illuminating a welcome sign.  Andrew seemingly appeared out of nowhere near the visitor’s center, and opened the door while the car was still moving.  He squeezed into the back seat and they took off as quickly as they had arrived.

They were silent at first, except for Krycek’s brief directions for Mulder.  They had to get to this universe’s equivalent of that industrial plant.  Finally, Andrew spoke.  “I understand what we’re doing.”

Skinner looked at his son expectantly.

The twenty-seven-year-old met his father’s gaze with almost sad eyes.  “It’s what I’ve been talking about for months, Dad.”

The police captain shook his head.  “Andrew…I never doubted you knew something was about to happen…but please just explain it to me.”

8-captain-skinner-and-andrew

Mulder, Krycek, and Charlie all seemed to realize that this conversation was a continuation of a previous one, for which they were not present.  But based on what Mulder had put together, he understood perhaps better than either of his companions exactly what this universe’s Andrew was saying.

“If I do this…it might change everything.  I might not come back.”

“Andrew, what is going on?  Please, just explain it to me.  This is more than a general disenchantment with the world — you are clearly involved in something…” he looked at the other occupants of the car, “you’re all clearly involved in something complicated.”  Skinner looked back at Andrew.  “I trust you.  I just want to understand.”

Andrew smiled.  “Dad, if I could explain it fully in a meaningful way, I promise I would.  I was born with a special ability.  And so was…another person.  Very much like me.  And we’ve been in communication with each other.  And I know exactly what I need to do, to help save this world.  It sounds ridiculous,” he glanced out the window briefly, before turning back to Skinner.  “But it’s going to take both of us to do it.  He’s trapped, but if we work together, it’s possible he might be able to go home.  I want him to be able to do that.”

Skinner nodded slowly. “So this is a rescue mission.  Well, if you need resources, I can promise my own force,” he said, though from his tone, it seemed like he already knew his force would be wholly inadequate to the task.

“Thank you,” Mulder said, anyway.

Andrew spoke again.  “Dad, I’ll be protected by God.  Whatever happens is in His hands now.”

Captain Skinner clenched his jaw slightly, and forced himself to nod.  He could only pray his son was right.

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SKINNER’S BUREAU CAR

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0425

“Walter, he’s cyanotic.”

Skinner looked over briefly and punched the accelerator, as if that would help the situation.  He could tell Scully’s was near panic, her maternal instincts and medical expertise colliding.

It had been a lot longer than five minutes.  Scully had been monitoring the infant’s brachial pulse and rate of respirations as they continued driving.

“We’re getting there, just hang on,” Byers’ voice said through the speaker on Skinner’s phone.

Suddenly, a large Mercedes ambulance merged onto the highway, and its lights and sirens blasted.

“This is you?” Skinner demanded.

“One top-of-the-line ambulance for delivery.  Hot and ready,” Langly said cheerfully.

“What are the paramedics inside going to do?” the assistant director asked.  He switched into the far right lane and slowed down.

“Are you sure it’s equipped with pediatric airway management supplies?” Scully demanded before Langly could answer.

“It’s got everything you might need, Scully,” Byers promised.

“Who are the paramedics inside and do they have any idea that we’re going to commandeer the vehicle?” Skinner insisted.

“Well…they don’t know they’re about to be commandeered, exactly,” Frohike explained.

“What did you tell them?” the assistant director growled as they pulled into the shoulder and slowed to a stop.  The ambulance followed suit behind them.

“We hacked into their dispatch system and sent them instructions to intercept your vehicle and follow it off the road, then we patched their radio through to ours and made sure they thought they had answered dispatch.  They still don’t know they’re disconnected,” Byers broke the news to them.

“Great.  Now I’m going to have to hold a couple of paramedics at gunpoint and steal their vehicle,” Skinner’s tone was only mildly dissatisfied, as if he was dealing with a minor inconvenience.

“It might be better if we could convince them to surrender the ambulance willingly.  Then we wouldn’t have a hundred state troopers on our tail,” Scully protested.

“We’re got you covered, Skin-man,” Langly said.  “They’re gonna get instructions to leave the ambulance for you and take the Bureau car back to their station.  Just pull your badge and tell them you and Doctor Scully need the ambulance for some top secret government stuff.  They’ll call it in to dispatch to verify and we’ll send the instructions back.”

Skinner nodded.  If it didn’t work, there were more drastic measures they could take.

The baby gasped and coughed again, and Scully went for the door handle.  “I need in that ambulance now.”

“Just let me go first,” Skinner quickly exited before she could leap out.  “Stay here,” he ordered her firmly, and slammed the driver’s-side door.

Scully anxiously watched the side-view mirror as Skinner walked toward the two paramedics.  A brief negotiation took place.  She saw one paramedic use his radio to check with dispatch, and the other head back to the vehicle momentarily.  It seemed like all was going quite smoothly.

Without warning, the paramedic closest to the ambulance pulled a weapon.  “Shit!” Scully exclaimed in horror as she watched the man take a shot at Skinner.  Skinner seemingly anticipated what was about to happen.  He rolled out of the way before the man fired, but on the shoulder of a major highway, there was no cover.  The assistant director pulled his gun and started shooting back, running for the ambulance.  The unarmed paramedic was hopelessly confused and frozen in place momentarily, which was long enough for Skinner to realize he was not also a bad guy.  The assistant director tackled the younger man to the ground before he could be hit.  “Stay down!” he growled, and then crouched low, trying to use the ambulance for cover.

The gunman took a blind shot from behind the bus, and instead of hitting Skinner, it plunked into the Bureau car’s rear tire.  Skinner ducked down, aimed at the gunman’s feet from under the vehicle, and succeeded in taking the man down.  He bolted around and pressed his back against the side of the ambulance.  The man was yelling in pain, so he was conscious, but Skinner wasn’t sure if he was still armed.  Peering around the driver’s side rear end to see the man on the ground, he spotted the gun in his hand just in time to withdraw.  Another shot rang out, this one taking out the ambulance’s rear turn signal light and missing Skinner by inches.

“FBI!  Drop your weapon!” Skinner bellowed, and the paramedic fired at the ambulance bumper.  The assistant director realized at that moment that he was trying to take out the gas tank.  “Shit,” he swore, and took a deep breath. In one fluid motion, he pushed himself off from the side of the ambulance, rounded the corner, and landed two shots in the paramedic’s chest.  He felt his left arm sting, and stumbled back slightly, but paid it no mind.

He ran over to the now-unconscious medic and kicked the man’s weapon away from him.  Then he bent down to take his pulse.

“D…did you kill him?” his partner stuttered, making his way over to Skinner.

“I don’t know, I’m not getting a pulse,” the assistant director stated.  He looked up to see Scully running toward them, the baby in her arms.  He clenched his jaw in frustration at this situation and turned to the medic.  “Look, you stay here and see to him.  We need this ambulance immediately.”

The medic was now down on his knees, ripping open his partner’s shirt to assess the damage and start CPR.  “No, I need your help!  Get me the jump bag and the AED—we’re going to treat him or he’s going to die.”

“I don’t have time to argue with you,” Skinner stated firmly.  He opened the back of the ambulance, and Scully climbed in.  “I’m taking this ambulance.”

“If you leave me here with him without any way to treat him, you’ll have killed him!” the paramedic argued, and applied his hands to his partner’s chest.  He began compressions.  “Get me the AED!” he yelled.

But Skinner didn’t even respond.  “Scully, are you good to go?”

Scully was now digging through bulkhead compartments, looking for airway supplies.  “Yeah,” she said absently, and then did a double-take.  “Sir, you were grazed.”

Skinner glanced over at his right arm, found nothing, and then looked to his left arm to see a growing red stain on his sleeve.  “Damn it.”  He climbed into the ambulance and found some gauze and a sterile dressing.  “I’ll stop the blood flow and then I’m getting us out of here.”

“Let me do it, it’ll be faster,” Scully said, and put the baby down on the gurney.  It was a sloppy job, but it only took seconds for her to secure the pad on Skinner’s shoulder.  “Go,” she ordered her boss without even thinking about it.  Then she ripped open the pediatric airway kit she had found in the compartment.  She plugged the O2 supply in and had the nonrebreather mask over the infant’s face before Skinner slammed the ambulance bay doors shut.  She could only pray she wouldn’t have to switch him to a bag valve mask.

9-baby-in-distress

As they pulled away, Scully applied an SpO2 monitor and saw that the little guy was only at about 89% saturation.

“How’s he doing?” Skinner yelled back.

“It’s too early to tell.   I need a few minutes to monitor his oxygen saturation,” she replied.  “How’s your arm?”

“It’s fine,” came the dismissive response.  “Get everything you need to treat him and be prepared to abandon this ambulance in the next ten minutes.”

“What?  Sir—“

“Scully, they obviously know where we are,” his tone was thoroughly annoyed.  “They know what ambulance we have.  They sent that guy to kill us.  They knew about our plan early enough to hack the Lone Gunmen.  They hacked the Lone Gunmen.  Think about that for a minute.  We can’t use this vehicle for long.”

“Where do you propose we go?”

“I have an idea,” he said ambiguously.

Scully watched as the SpO2 monitor reported the infant’s pulse increasing and his saturation improving.  She closed her eyes in relief, and then pulled the pediatric trauma bag out from its compartment.  She opened it and began the task of stocking it with anything she thought they might need to treat her son.

Suddenly, something sparkled in the corner of her eye, and her gaze shot from the go bag to the baby.  He stared wide-eyed at something unseen as he was surrounded with pinpricks of light blinking in and out of existence.  As suddenly as the phenomenon seemed to start, the tiny raindrops of light seemed to evaporate into the air, and all returned to normal.

Scully breathed.  She didn’t realize she had been paralyzed, either by her own terror that something was about to harm her child, or by some otherworldly, unseen force.  Regardless, she could move now.  She practically fell onto the gurney next to the infant, and enveloped him in her arms.  Holding him there, she closed her eyes and reassured herself that he was safe.  Her chest had been clenched with sheer panic, and now was beginning to calm.  Her hands shook as she rocked her baby gently.

Hours ago, she had not even known of his existence.  And now, she was a basket case.  You’re just tired, she told herself, but she knew it wasn’t true.  She had formed an unshakable bond with this little boy.  She would do anything for him.

She gazed out the rear window of the ambulance, and thought, Let’s hope I don’t have to.

 

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INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

WASHINGTON, DC

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0600

The building was nestled in a run-down neighborhood similar to the one in Mulder’s universe.  However, the building itself looked almost as if it had been recently renovated.  Amid the boarded-up shops and burnt-out houses, the building’s giant steel doors were new, and a security light was on outside.  Yet there were no cars in the parking lot.

“What do you think?” Charlie asked anyone willing to answer. “Inhabited or not?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Krycek said.  “Either way, it’s the safest place we could possibly be.  He won’t strike here.”

Mulder looked skeptical.  “It seems this would be the first place he’d strike, if we have to be here to thwart his plan.”

The double agent shook his head.  “You don’t understand.  Just pull as close to that side door as possible.  When we’re in, I’ll explain everything I understand.  And Charlie can pick up the slack.”

It was a quick journey inside the building.  Mulder shot the lock on the door and they gained easy access.  It strangely had power, but was completely empty.  It looked like a plant of some sort, with a giant machine in the center, and three stories of catwalks surrounding it.  The shadow of the machine fell upon them.  The other side of the building was illuminated by a bright light that stood in contrast with the dim lighting of the rest of the facility.  Mulder instantly recognized the creepy solitude of this industrial complex.  This was in his visions.

10-big-giant-thing-1

“This place is not from this universe,” Charlie commented, and nodded toward a television monitor on the wall.  “We don’t have ‘Sony’ here unless I missed something while I was gone,” he said, pronouncing it incorrectly as ‘Sawny.’

“So what, the two switched?  And the one in my universe…” Mulder started.

“Came from here,” Charlie finished.  “Which is what you’d expect when he builds two in the exact same spot in these two universes.  Especially given what that does,” he indicated the machine. “It moves people forwards, backwards, and sideways.  It’s not surprising that when we activated it to rescue the child, it didn’t just move us sideways.”

Skinner looked terribly confused, but was quiet.

“It generates temporal hot spots,” Krycek explained.  “The three catwalk structures are to access them wherever they show up, because no one can seem to narrow that down to a specific enough location.”

“Strughold built this thing?” Muder asked, walking toward it.  He appraised the massive motor attached to the machine, and thought that it looked like it belonged in a Navy vessel.

“No, well, not alone,” Charlie stated.  He said nothing more.

“Can you operate it?” Mulder asked.

“To a point.  But we’re not going to be using it.  It sends people forwards, backwards, and sideways.  We don’t want to do any of that,” Charlie stated.  He appraised Mulder and Andrew.  “We want to send you two to another dimension, using Andrew’s ability.  And if this building is really the one I came from, then it shouldn’t be hard to resume my research.  My lab is over there,” he pointed to the second level, in the center of a catwalk, directly where Mulder saw himself in his vision.  “Let’s go.”

They climbed the stairs along the side, neglecting to use the vertical ladders that gave direct access to the catwalk.  “If this place is from my world, why didn’t the people who work here also get sent here?”

“I think they probably did,” Charlie admitted.

“I think I know they did,” Krycek stated, and Skinner bristled at that.

“Then where are they?” the police captain demanded.

Charlie’s face was grim as he opened the door to his lab, and saw what he expected to see.  Two guards on the ground, dead.

Mulder instantly drew his weapon, but Krycek placed his hand on the agent’s forearm and said, “Take it easy.  They’re all dead.”

“How do you know that?” Skinner and Mulder asked simultaneously.

Charlie walked over to a guard and turned him over, inspecting his eyes immediately.  He nodded, as if expecting to find what he saw.

“Because that’s what Strughold does when an operation fails,” Krycek stated. “Permanent severance. What’d you find, doc?”

“Bilateral petechial hemorrhaging, nose bleed, and ear canal bleeding, indicative of a massive, acute subarachnoid hemorrhage.  I’d have to use an opthalmoscope to confirm, but there are no other apparent injuries.”

“If he killed these men somehow…remotely…what’s to stop him from doing that to us?” Skinner asked.

“Because he needs us,” Andrew answered, and glanced at Mulder.  “He’s dedicated to finishing his plan.”

Mulder looked at Andrew, and suddenly put something together.  “You’ve been here before, haven’t you?”

“Not in person,” Andrew stated.

Charlie nodded toward an experimental table outfitted with restraints, and said, “We’ll send you one at a time.”

“Wait a second, I need to get a better understanding of what this plan is,” Mulder stated.  “You haven’t been exactly forthcoming with explanation.”

Krycek jumped in before Charlie could answer.  “Andrew’s been working with Charlie since Charlie started his research.”

“Is that true?” Skinner interrupted to ask his son, and Andrew said quickly, “Not in person.”

Krycek continued.  “He was the one who sent Charlie back to 2011 to steal that baby and that put a hold on Strughold’s research for long enough for us to get here and try to close down these portals before he can send the invasion force.”

“That’s the plan,” Charlie stated.  “Strughold is sending an invasion force through portals just like the ones opened by that machine.  But he doesn’t plan to act until he can get the black oil from the past.  Invasion won’t work unless his populace is docile.  That’s why he wants the child, or you, or Andrew—because he needs your natural abilities to go back and replace the black oil of the present.”

“And you’re hoping we can do what?” Mulder asked, sounding skeptical of this entire plan.

“Open a portal prematurely.  And then we can close it, effectively trapping the invasion force in limbo —ending the threat to this world, permanently,” Charlie finished.

“You want us to invite the alien invasion force,” the agent murmured, as if Charlie had suggested he hop the White House fence in broad daylight, and try to gain access to the President.  “You’re asking us to sign all our death warrants.”

“You don’t have to physically do anything.  This is all part of your clairvoyant ability — Andrew, you can explain this, can’t you?”

Andrew shook his head.  “Not really, no.”  Charlie gave him a pained look, and Andrew elaborated, “Look, I’m a surgical tech for a pediatric neurosurgeon.  You taught me everything I know about your research.  I can vouch for the fact that there is another dimension — a place where minds and bodies are in ‘limbo’ — and you can be trapped there.  I know that for a fact.  But I don’t know how any of this works, or whether we’ll be able to contact the…invaders.”  He looked to Mulder.  “I know it sounds crazy.  But I also know this machine works,” he indicated the dome-shaped machine hanging over the table.  “And that it only seems to work when I want it to.”

Mulder glanced between the two neuroscientists, and then at Skinner, who looked completely baffled, as if he were trying to decide if this was all a hokey dream.

Scully, you’re going to kill me for this, he thought.  He could almost hear her voice in his head now, telling him not to subject himself to any strange medical procedures.  But in spite of that, something else within him told him that this was the culmination of a lifetime of work.  The opportunity to end the threat to Earth…how could he pass that up?  At length, he nodded.  “Okay.  We’ll try it.”

Andrew stepped over to the table, and laid down on top of the straps.  “I’ll go first,” he said as Charlie pulled a dome-shaped machine down from its hanging position on a mechanical arm above the bed.  “And then I’ll help Mulder get there.”

Mulder nodded, and folded his arms uncomfortably.  Skinner pursed his lips and said, before the dome completely surrounded his son’s head, “Andrew—”

Charlie paused, and Andrew lifted his head off the table, meeting his father’s eyes.

Skinner closed the distance between them and placed his hand on Andrew’s shoulder.  “Be careful.”

Andrew nodded, and smiled before resting his head back down on the table, and allowing Charlie to place the dome over Andrew’s skull.  He began fishing electrodes through and sticking them onto Andrew’s scalp, pressing them down with a wooden dowel so the gel adhered firmly.

Then Charlie placed a remote in Andrew’s hand, and said, “When you’re ready.”

Andrew nodded, and closed his eyes.  They all waited.  Several moments passed, and none of them dared to make a sound, for fear of distracting Andrew.

Finally, Krycek shifted his weight and glanced outside the window on the door, making sure they were still alone.  Mulder frowned, and was the first one to speak.  “Maybe—”

It was dark.  Blackness surrounded him again, and he was in mid-sentence.  He felt his vocal cords move against his throat, but no sound emerged.  He was enshrouded in the velvety black of this dimension, devoid of sight, sound, and feeling, floating in nothingness.

And he heard a noise.  Yelling…

It was getting louder.

“Agent Mulder!”

Andrew…

He slammed down onto the grate, feeling the vibration of the full activation of the massive machine to his right.  He was back in this vision again.

His sight swam like an image underwater, and he struggled to rise.  He was wearing the same clothes he had worn before in this vision—filthy jeans and a t-shirt, and he realized for the first time that they were the clothes he had put on before leaving the house, after Krycek and Charlie came to their door.

So this is the future?

“Agent Mulder!” he heard Andrew cry, and wanted to reach him…but he couldn’t.  He couldn’t see the young man, but that wasn’t the real reason why he didn’t try to save Walter’s son from whatever peril he was in…

He felt a tug at his consciousness.  An irresistible pull.  In his mind’s eye, he could picture a tiny hand reaching down to him for help.  Longing for his presence, needing him to be there.  He had to leave.  He could not abandon the little soul to whom that hand belonged.

“Mulder!  NO!”

Andrew wasn’t calling for Mulder to save him.  He was calling to save Mulder.

But Mulder had made up his mind.  He reached out, subconsciously, to that little hand reaching down to him, and he snapped back into the black nothingness from which he had come.

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UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

UNKNOWN TIME

Just as quickly as he had latched onto that tiny hand reaching down to him in his subconscious, it was snatched away from him, and he slammed down hard onto an unforgiving floor.  He grunted at the impact, and looked around.

It was linoleum flooring; a cell.  A single bed with restraints.  A toilet in the corner.  A slot in the door through which food could be sent.  No sign of Andrew.  No sign of who that hand belonged to.

He stood, saw that he still had his weapon, and drew it.  The closer he got to the door, the less opaque the wall to his cell became.  It changed to completely transparent when he was next to it, whereas from the bed, it looked solid.

Through the transparent structure, he could see across the hall into the other cells.  And he immediately saw Andrew, strapped down to a bed so securely that it was doubtful he could move a muscle.  He was catheterized and had an IV drip. Electrodes attached to his skull monitored his brain activity on two massive monitors behind him.

Mulder noticed the bed moving.  It angled upward and to the side slightly, moving Andrew into a new position, before stopping.  He imagined this bed prevented blood clots by doing so.  He tried to get Andrew’s attention.

But it was to no avail.  The young man stared straight ahead with dead eyes.

Mulder tried the cell door.  It was locked, unsurprisingly, but it was worth the attempt. Occam’s Razor, after all.

There was an abrupt thud, and Mulder spun around, then lowered his gun.  There lay Andrew — wearing the same clothes Mulder had seen him in just moments before.  The agent shook his head and looked between the two, finally making the connection.

“That’s my universe’s Andrew in there, isn’t it?  And you’ve been communicating with each other?”

Andrew nodded, and looked around.  This was all wrong.  This was not where they were supposed to end up, at all.  His expression grim, he stood, and said, “Agent Mulder, we’re in trouble.”

“I kind of gathered that.  Where are we?”

“This is Strughold’s place.  And…it’s 2013.”

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AMBULANCE

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0500

In the depths of some invisible pool, surrounded by an infinite blackness, Scully floated.  She was lost…not just separated from everything and everyone she knew by lightyears, but also by what felt like eons.  Trapped somewhere on the edge of time and space, so far from the present, in both the future and past.

She was not frightened.  She felt no panic growing in the pit of her stomach.  No sense of dread weighing her down.  Despite being as far as one could possibly be from another human being, at that moment, she felt closer to Mulder.  She couldn’t explain how, but she could feel his presence.  A presence she had yearned for with an unmatched desperation and longing.  She had never been so heartsick over anything as she had in these last two years.  And now…to be only inches closer…even if she couldn’t see him, or feel him, or hear him. It was like a drop of water quenching her thirst.

“Scully!  Scully, wake up!”

Her eyes snapped open.  She blinked, and her eyes darted around.  “Sir…”

“Scully, are you okay?  Can you stand?”

She tried to get her bearings.  “Where am I?  What’s going on?”

He slung a bag over his shoulder, and picked up an infant with an oxygen mask on his face.  “Come on.  We have to get moving.”

“What’s happening?” she asked groggily, and struggled to stand.  He assisted her by pulling her arm, and then made his way out of the back of the ambulance.  “Sir, what happened?”

He turned.  “Do you really not remember anything?  This is just like Mulder, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Scully protested.  “What about Mulder?  Did you find him?”

“What’s the last thing you remember?” he asked as he hopped down, somehow maintaining his balance with the baby and the bag.  He then reached up with his free hand to help Scully, but she climbed down without assistance.

“I uh…” she seemed to struggle to find her last memory.  “I uh…I just got back from the Jacobs case.”

“Yesterday evening.”

“I guess.  What day is it?”

“It’s Sunday now, but we haven’t slept all evening, Scully.  We’re on the run from Strughold.  Twice now he’s sent men to kill you and your child.”

“My…my what?

Skinner turned, as if he needed to decide if she was actually serious.  He quickly decided she was, and turned around again, and continued leading her to the edge of a nature trail.  “It’s a long story.  One that I don’t even understand.”

“Sir, do you somehow think that this little baby is—”

“I don’t know what to believe.  But I know less than a half hour ago, you were sure of it.”

“What?  I told you this?  What happened to me?”

“I don’t honestly know.  One minute you were treating him, and by the time I pulled over and opened the back, you were passed out.  At first I thought you were just sleeping, but when I couldn’t rouse you I got worried.”

Scully frowned in confusion, and forced herself to put one foot in front of the other on the pitch-black nature trail, illuminated only by the scarce moonlight through the trees.  It occurred to her after a moment to reach into her pocket and withdraw her cell phone.   She turned on the flashlight app, and Skinner immediately turned around and ordered, “No!  Turn that off!”

She obeyed.

“I know where I’m going.”

They were silent for a moment.  Some animal made a noise and Skinner’s head snapped to the side.  The fingers of a gentle breeze brushed through the leaves on the trees.  Crickets chirped softly.

“Walter… Are we going to find Mulder?”

Scully’s question sounded almost like a hopeful plea.  There was something about the way she asked it that made the hair on the back of Skinner’s neck bristle.  “Not at the moment.  But eventually, yes.  Once this blows over.  I’m sure he’s working on resolving whatever it is that Krycek and Charlie came to discuss with you earlier this evening.”

“What?”

He sighed.  “Mulder and you apparently had visitors from the other universe this morning.  They explained something — which I don’t understand, myself — and then Mulder went with them.”

“Sir, Mulder’s been gone for two years.”

Skinner spun.  Through the dim moonlight, she could barely make out the worry lines on his forehead.   He paused for a moment, considering his next words carefully.  “Where did he go?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out for the past two years.  You’ve been helping me.  I’ve been searching endlessly.  Walter, we’ve been looking for him together.  Until…Andrew, of course.”

The assistant director’s fist clenched and he squinted in momentary agony. “I…think I have a theory…as to what is going on here.”

Scully shook her head.  “That makes one of us.”

“I think multiple realities are transecting.  I don’t even want to speculate why, or how.  But yesterday you came to me and said that Mulder woke up without his memories from the past two years.  You took him to a neurologist, and he found nothing wrong with him.  Beyond what you would expect would be wrong with Mulder.”

Scully didn’t smile at his dark attempt at humor.

“But then Krycek and Charlie showed up from the other universe.  They had this baby with them—a baby they insist is yours, and Mulder’s.  And now you think Mulder’s been gone for the past two years.  Scully, you once explained to me that for every possible outcome, a universe is created.  That there are infinite versions of the universe out there.”

“And you think they’re transecting.”

“It’s the only thing I can think would explain what’s going on.”

Scully’s next question underscored her willingness to accept his explanation without further question.  “How is Strughold involved?”

“I have no idea.  You knew more than I did, but you didn’t get a chance to fully explain before the baby started having breathing problems.”

“And now I’m…from another universe.  Or reality.”

“I don’t know,” Skinner admitted.  “I just know we can find refuge in these woods.”

“Where are we, Walter?”

“We’re near the spot where the Ally met Mulder six years ago.  My hope is that they’ll protect us from Strughold until this thing blows over.  I don’t think we’re going to be able to get to Nevada without being run off the road.”

She nodded, though he couldn’t see her behind him.  It was a lot to take in, but the reality of their situation didn’t allow for an emotional reaction.  As Scully looked up briefly at the starry sky, they left the trail and began trudging through the woods.

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UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

UNKNOWN TIME

The last thing he remembered was talking with Andrew — the alternate universe’s Andrew.  They had been in a cell together.  Then…gas?  Had gas flooded the room?

His vision was blurry, and his memory even fuzzier.

He was strapped down, fully immobilized.  Someone had catheterized him, and given him an IV.  An NG tube was inserted through his nose and down into his gastrointestinal tract.  He couldn’t see past the opaque wall of the prison cell or turn his head, but he could hear a motor to his right.  It only ran for few seconds, then stopped.  It’s 2013, he barely recalled.

“Mulder,” he heard Andrew’s voice in his head, and immediately recognized him as his universe’s Andrew.  He wasn’t sure how, but he did.

He couldn’t move his jaw, but he could answer in his mind.  It seemed his abilities were amplified now, so that they came naturally.

“What’s going on, Andrew?” he asked.

The young man’s answer, or perhaps the sincerity with which he said it, sent chills down Mulder’s spine.  “We’re in purgatory.”

Mulder didn’t respond at first.  He strained his eyes to get a look at the room, but nothing defining was within his field of view.

“Where are you?” the agent demanded, as if he could launch a rescue operation from his current position.

“Next to you.  In the bed beside yours.”

“Where’s your alternate?”

“He’s gone.  He was sent back to his universe.”

Mulder realized that it should be impossible for both Andrews to be in the same dimension together.  They had learned that from serial killer Ed Lukesh.  But Andrew had the capability of being in two places at once.  Why didn’t that ability prevent him from being pushed away?

Suddenly, Mulder’s bed turned.  The motor tilted the bed slightly, so his body weight was redistributed.  The mattress also shifted.  “Andrew, how long have you been here?”

“I don’t know,” the young man responded.  “There’s no way to keep track of time.  But I think several weeks, at least.  Though…in a way it feels like years.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

Mulder could feel the young man’s pained emotions as he stated, “Watching Walter at my funeral…”

Mulder closed his eyes.  It was probably October 2013.  Right after Andrew ‘died.’

“How did you get here?  How did we get here?”

Andrew seemed to pause and think, as if the few weeks he was here had erased the sequence of events from his memory.  “I came here to stop him.  You…chose to come here.  And the other Andrew followed you.  Until the rift destabilized.”

“That’s impossible.  We were supposed to be trying to access some other dimension—we were trying to find a way to open a portal and prompt the invasion force to come.  And then close it down while they were in transit.”

“The Ally was going to help you, too.  But you chose another path.

It occurred to Mulder that since both Andrews were probably in communication with each other, this might be an opportunity to gain intelligence.  “How much do you know about Strughold’s plan?  And about Charlie Scully?”

“I know this is going to sound insane, Mulder, but I’m not in control of my abilities.  I never have been.  When there’s a stressful situation, sometimes my abilities are turned on.  Otherwise, I’m just a normal guy.  I was about to start seminary.  I was going to become a priest.  I didn’t know who Strughold was or what his plan was—but I did know he was evil.  And that he was in communication with alien life.  That the Ally is against him.  And that he’s keeping me here to try to tap my ability.  Because only people like us can work his ancient machine.  But that so far, it hasn’t worked.  And I’ve talked with my alternate—I guided him through a situation…or he guided me…I’m not sure…everything blends together.”

“What situation?” Mulder demanded.

“Charlie Scully…he was a prisoner.  Like us.  Strughold was doing experiments on him for…years.  I know that isn’t possible—I know it doesn’t make any sense.  But honestly, it’s like it happened yesterday.  He was a prisoner for four or five years, kept either in a cage or strapped to one of these beds for months at a time.  And there was a boy…a little boy.  Four, maybe five years old.  He was going to destroy the world.  So…my alternate…or I…was with Charlie.  As a scientist, working for Strughold.  I’ve never been a scientist, Mulder.  But I knew things about neuroscience—I understood how Charlie’s machine worked.  And so I hooked him up to it, and together we went back years in the past.  We went back to when that boy was a baby, and we stole that child.  And then he escaped…and I was here.”

Mulder would have nodded if he could.  It was starting to come together, though he wasn’t sure exactly how the alternate Andrew had ended up back in his universe, safe and sound, if he was most certainly the one who had helped Charlie.  The alternate Andrew was a neurosurgery tech, after all.  Unless…the two were exchanging minds, and memories.  Could that explain his entire ability to be in two places at once?  He was not creating matter, after all, but he and his alternate became, temporarily, of one mind?  And were able to traverse space and time to materialize in two places at once, but unified in thought?  If his alternate died, would Andrew lose his ability?

It was an interesting theory, but it was not one that Mulder could afford to explain at the moment.  “What does Strughold do to us here?”

“Nothing.  He leaves us here, to rot.”

Mulder was surprised.  It didn’t make any sense.

“Well, nothing physically.  Mulder, I’ve never been so mentally exhausted in my life.  He will leave your body in this awful hell, and he’ll tax your mind until it almost breaks.”

Suddenly, a loudspeaker clicked on.  Mulder recognized the horrid voice immediately.  “Agent Mulder.”

Strughold’s emotionless tone caused the agent to shiver.

“This is the last you’ll hear from me in quite some time.  For the next year or so, I’ll be collecting data on your brain waves.  At that point, I’ll probably have enough data to begin to manipulate your abilities remotely.  Then we’ll try the Bari Trasadi again.  It’s so good to have you with us again.  Goodbye for now, Agent Mulder.”

Mulder didn’t say anything, but realized at that moment that his best chance for success in contacting the invasion force might lie in this vile man whose voice he heard on the speaker above him.  He had to learn how to probe Strughold’s mind.

The speaker clicked off, and the door suddenly opened.  Mulder couldn’t see who came in, but the footsteps were soft and lightweight.  He smelled perfume.  A woman?

Without saying anything, she injected something into his IV, and he felt the cool texture of the liquid joining his blood.  Within seconds, he felt very woozy, and his vision swam.  Then he was out.

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UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

UNKNOWN TIME

There were two worlds.  One hell, and one heaven. 

Hell was stagnant.  Motionless.  Timeless.  Without sensation, without feeling.  Blackness or incomprehensible shapes.  Any attempt to move was thwarted.  It was maddening.  It was eternal.

Heaven was dynamic.  He and Scully, working cases together.  They weren’t all X-files…no, Skinner had given them a new assignment.  So they could track down Strughold’s medical laboratories, and try to find the detainee, and the child.  They worked on a special project, investigating the black market medical industry, consulting with the behavioral science unit.  They attended Matt’s birthday party, and Mulder began teaching the teen how to drive.  They spent Christmas at Maggie’s house, and invited Skinner as he had nowhere to go, and no family to turn to in his time of grief.

Every so often, he was loosed from his bonds, tubes, and wires, and left in a drug-induced stupor on the floor of a holding cell, with Andrew.  Weeks of ‘exercise’ followed, in which he built up the strength his muscles had lost, and ate increasingly solid food after being weaned off the NG tube.  But once he had regained his strength, he would be heavily drugged again, and placed into the restraints for another eternity.

And he’d re-enter the euphoric dream where everything was normal.  Where he lived out his life with Scully, and the two solved cases, and took vacations, and spent time with family. 

Which life was real?  Were they both real?  How long would he be consigned to this purgatory?

These questions only stayed in his mind for a short while, because as soon as he started questioning his dual existence, his mind seeped into an inky blackness, and Scully and normalcy were snatched away from him.  So he was content to cling to that distant dream world of peace and prosperity, as long as was possible.

So he stayed, for some undetermined length of time, until he became aware of another.

It was not only he and Andrew in this situation.  There was another.  A presence.  A kind, gentle, innocent, soul.  A simple mind.  It was not well-defined, and it was always distant, just out of reach.  But several times, when he was ‘recovering’ in the cell after weeks of immobilization, he sensed it.  Not it.  Her.

Her presence grew as time went on.  She seemed stronger, mentally.  He couldn’t read her thoughts, at least not in the same way he and both Andrews could communicate with each other.  Nor could Andrew sense her presence at all.  But Mulder knew she was there.  And she knew he was there.

A tiny hand.  Reaching out for him. 

He would not let go.

11-mulder-in-psychic-purgatory

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INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

WASHINGTON, DC

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0700

An hour had passed.  Sunlight streamed through the windows of the complex, and Krycek and Skinner stood guard outside while Charlie monitored his equipment inside.  At one point, Krycek opened the door and asked his companion, “How long is this expected to take?”

“It’s hard to tell.  The machine detects their brain activity even when they aren’t here…it’s an effect of having an open portal nearby.  It’s like they’re tethered to this location.  But I’m not getting any change in the intensity of the signal.  They may be stuck in one location…”

“Do you know where they went, exactly?”

“They would have been mentally drawn toward the closest extraterrestrial life.  At least, Mulder would have.  That’s how his clairvoyance works.  It’s why Strughold wants him.”

“What if they were drawn right to Strughold, and they’re now captive?”

Charlie shook his head.  “It’s a possibility, especially given Andrew’s readings.”  He pointed to the EEG, where he said, “These p-waves are indicative of stress.  But Mulder…” he switched screens.  “His patterns are completely normal.  If they were drawn right to Strughold, they might be able to overpower him together, and use him to find out how to lure the invasion force into the wormhole.  We just need to stand ready to shut that machine down as soon as I get a signal that someone or something large is coming through.”

Krycek nodded.  “Okay, well, keep us updated.  I don’t want to be the last person to find out if ships start coming through a spot in the middle of this complex.”

“I’ll let you know when I know something,” Charlie promised.

Krycek closed the door, and Captain Skinner walked toward him across the catwalk, holding Krycek’s backup gun.  Somehow, despite the fact that he was still wearing his pajamas, the police captain managed to look intimidating.  “Still quiet.  No sign of anyone.  What do you think the chances are that this guy will send a missile right through this building and take out our entire operation?”  he asked.

Krycek shook his head.  “No way.  That machine is his only chance of completing his mission.  He’ll never strike this place.  There’s nowhere safer in either universe.”

Skinner still seemed a bit puzzled by that answer, but he was starting to put the pieces together, however unbelievable the story was.  He gazed at the humming machine for a moment before looking back at Krycek and asking, “You’re not my detective, are you?”

The double agent smiled.  He made eye contact with the captain as he said, very simply, “No.”

The older man nodded, and folded his arms, squinting slightly.  It struck Krycek how similar his mannerisms were to AD Skinner’s.  “Then who are you people?  And why have you chosen this world to stage this…conflict?”

“It doesn’t matter where this battle happens, Captain.  This world or mine.  It’ll affect both of us.  Temporal rips are everywhere.  It’d be just a matter of time before Strughold’s forces conquer one world and move onto the next.”

Skinner frowned.  “It’s just…a lot to take in.”

“You don’t have to believe me.  You just have to guard the place to protect your son.”

The captain nodded.  After glancing at the machine again, he walked away, toward the other end of the complex to keep an eye on the outside.

Once he was out of range, Krycek took out a cell phone from his jacket pocket.  He held the power button in and when the phone came online, he pressed the menu button just once.  It automatically made a call.

Before putting it to his ear, he walked around the corner, out of Skinner’s view.

“Are they in position?” a familiar voice asked him from the other end.  He could almost imagine Spender taking a long drag on his cigarette after he spoke.

“They’re out of sight.  I can’t confirm their position,” Krycek answered.

“Are you alone?”

“One of theirs is with us.  Skinner’s alternate.”

“He shouldn’t present a problem.  Find a way to deal with him, and proceed as planned.”

“Understood,” Krycek said, and ended the call.

Just then, a tremendous boom shook the entire complex.  It felt like a terrible but extremely short earthquake.  The machine in the center of the room began to whir and chug with intensity.  Krycek rounded the corner of the catwalk and looked around for Skinner.  He saw the police captain nowhere.

Charlie opened the door to the lab and demanded, “What’s going on?  The machine’s readings went completely off the charts.”

The building shook, and they heard the sound of steel buckling above them.

Krycek shook his head.  “I have no idea.”

Suddenly, a wail erupted in the distance, and they heard sirens.  Krycek immediately recognized the frequency and tone as his own world’s.  And Charlie immediately recognized that it was not his.

The neurosurgeon’s eyes widened, and he said, “We’re back in the other universe.”

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NEAR SHENENDOAH PARK

VIRGINIA

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0700

“I think this was close to where the Ally came,” Scully said, and spotted a faded, frayed bit of caution tape still tied to a nearby tree.

“Good.  My navigation skills haven’t been atrophied by sitting behind a desk for too long.  Let’s take a break.”  He put the bag down and sat on a log.  The baby was fast asleep.

“Let me check on him.  If he was having breathing problems before, someone should make sure he’s adequately perfused now.”  The sun was up now, but it was low on the horizon and hidden behind the trees.  She was still able to see the SpO2 monitor unassisted.  “He’s at 98%.  This is good.”

“Do you have any idea what might have been wrong with him before?”

She shook her head.  “I don’t remember what symptoms he was having.  I obviously saw an oxygen saturation bad enough to put him on a nonrebreather, but not bad enough to use more drastic measures.  What did I put in this bag?” she asked aloud, and unzipped it.  She inspected the contents, and said, “It looks like I was mostly concerned about maintaining his airway.  That must have been the only concern.”

Skinner was silent while Scully walked over to another log and sat down.  She sighed and looked up at the morning sky.  “How long do we wait here?  We should weigh the risks of staying in one spot versus encountering the Ally.”

“I want to give it no more than a half hour,” Skinner stated.  “That’s about how long it took to get us the ambulance, and that’s how long it took for Strughold to track down where we were.”

“And what’s the plan if they don’t come?”

“We leave.  We’ll exit through the north end of the park and break into a car, and start heading west again.”

She nodded in agreement.

“Why don’t you try to get some sleep, Scully?” Skinner offered.

“Why don’t I take him instead, and you can get some sleep?  You’ve been driving all night, from what you said.  I think it’s your turn.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but she was already up, reaching out to take the baby.

“No more than fifteen minutes,” he ordered.  “Then wake me up.”

“I’ll give you twenty,” she said, and looked at her watch.  “The longer you argue the less sleep you’ll get.”

He rolled his eyes, and slid down onto the ground to use the log as a pillow.  “Fifteen minutes,” he muttered as he closed his eyes.

She smirked, and picked up the bag that contained the oxygen supply.  She walked back over to the other log with the sleeping baby, and sat back down.  Gazing at his peaceful face in an errant ray of morning light breaking through the trees, she felt a warm feeling begin to grow in her chest.  She found that she couldn’t shift her eyes—she was glued to the sight of this little one sleeping in her arms.

She was only a minute into this wondrous reverie when she noticed the baby’s face was brighter—everything was.  She expected that the sun had just peeked above the tree line, but when she looked up, she nearly stumbled off the log.  She scrambled up and hissed, “Walter!  Wake up!”

Skinner was up in an instant, and drew his weapon.  Above them was a huge, cylindrical, glowing ship.  It was the same ship Mulder had claimed he had seen the Ally use.  But there was no communication forthcoming.

12-ship-arrives

“What do we do, Scully?  How do we communicate with them?” Skinner asked urgently.

Scully was about to answer, but she felt a growing sense of dread in the pit of her stomach.  It was accelerating in intensity, until she almost felt like she had watched a close relative die.  “I…don’t think that’s the Ally,” she said, and slowly knelt to place the baby gently on the ground, to free her hands so she could draw her weapon.

As soon as she had done so, the baby began to gasp again.  She looked down in horror, and saw his lips turn blue.  He was using his intercostal muscles to breathe.  “He’s in respiratory distress… Walter, help me!”

She dropped to her knees and quickly opened the bag.

“What can I do?” he asked, and put his gun down on the ground, looking desperately between the ship and the baby.

“Get the bag valve mask out of the bag, replace the oxygen line!” She ordered, and tore the mask off the baby’s face.  After taking his pulse, she began to give him two-finger CPR.  “Get the mask, get the mask!”

“Is this it?” Skinner asked helplessly, holding up what he thought was the object Scully was talking about.  She nodded, and took it from him with her free hand.  “Hold it over his nose and mouth like this.  Get a seal, you want to use both hands—no, actually, you take over, do compressions.  Two fingers, center of his chest, just like this.”  She switched roles with him, more confident in her own ability to get a good seal over the mask and apply the appropriate amount of pressure when squeezing the bag.

“What’s causing this?” the assistant director asked as he pumped the little chest with his index and middle finger.

“Children decompensate quickly.  They’re fine and then they’re really not fine,” Scully explained absently.  “He’s obviously got some kind of respiratory illness.  I don’t know what.  We might have to intubate him if we can’t get his pulse back up.  I’m going to put the AED on him just in case.”

Abruptly, the baby was surrounded by sparkles of light.  Blinking pinpricks of static energy, or glittering raindrops that evaporated immediately after coming into existence.  The light grew in intensity and the prickling increased in frequency until Skinner withdrew his hand sharply.  “Ow!” he exclaimed, and revealed a burn.

Scully watched in horror as the baby’s form began to fade from view. “No…no!” she protested helplessly, and soon he was invisible, shrouded behind the brilliance of trillions of tiny points of light.  “No!” Scully stood, and looked up at the glowing cylinder in the sky.  “No, damn it, you can’t have him!” she screamed frantically.  Skinner physically held her back as she prepared to launch herself in some illogical direction, as if she was going to fight the otherworldly thing that loomed above them.  And then the light surrounding the tiny form on the ground began to dissipate, and she collapsed to her knees beside what should have been her baby.  “No!” Her hands scrambled the dirt and leaves on the ground, preparing to dig for him.

“Scully, stop!” Skinner exclaimed, and dropped to his knees beside her.  “They took him!”

“No!” She protested in agony, her voice cracking with a sob.  “No, he’ll die…” she wailed, and Skinner enveloped her in his arms, holding her head to his chest.  “Please, no!”

“We’ll get him back,” he told her firmly as he held her close.  “I promise you, Scully.  We’ll get him back.”

13-losing-the-baby

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INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

WASHINGTON, DC

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0715

Captain Jonah Wales of the Metro PD pulled his squad car up to the base near the staging area at the front of the complex in one of the shadier parts of DC.  He stepped out just as a chunk of concrete fell from the roof and crashed to smithereens on the ground below.  “What’ve we got?” he asked his acting incident commander, Lt. Yuri Thoranov.  Wales would now assume command, according to the incident command structure of hostage situations.

“Sir, we have one hostile in the building.  Possible detonation of an explosive device caused this unusual cratering phenomenon,” the puzzled man indicated the wavelike form of the concrete surrounding the building.  “The hostile claims to have a hostage and an explosive device.  He insists on speaking with an FBI assistant director and an FBI special agent.”

“Structural integrity of the building?” Wales demanded.

“Destabilizing rapidly, Sir,” a very young-looking woman in tactical gear answered.

“Who are you?” Wales asked her.

“Sergeant James, Sir.  Safety officer on scene.”

“James, how much experience do you have with ordinance detonation?”

“Three tours in Iraq, Sir.  Explosives Ordinance Disposal Technician.”

He nodded.  She had instantly earned his respect, even though he had never met her before.  “All right.  In your opinion, how long before the building comes down?”

“Barring another explosive detonation, I would say it could last several hours.  Possibly until tonight.  I recommend we bring in an engineer to assess the foundational damage.”

“Thoranov, call in Fire Investigation.  Get an engineer to assess this building and determine how long we have before it comes down.  Have him coordinate with…James?”

She confirmed her name with a nod.

“Have him coordinate with James here.  Before you do that—“ he caught the lieutenant as he was about to pull out his radio, “I want to know about this UNSUB.  What do we know about him?  Who did he want to speak with?”

“I have it written down here, Sir,” Thoranov said, and produced an iPad with some hastily assembled notes.  “The responding officer took this down.  He hasn’t identified himself and we don’t have a visual yet.  Hostage Rescue is working on it.  He named these two individuals, though.”

“FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner and Special Agent Dana Scully.”  He summoned an officer nearby. “Okay.  Hey—you’re running Logistics?”

The young officer with the Logistics vest nodded, and walked over to Wales.  “Yes, Sir.”

He shoved the iPad at the young man.  “Figure out if these people are real, and if so, get in contact with them ASAP.”

“Yes, Sir,” the officer said with a nod, and returned to the logistics station on the base.

Wales placed his hands on his hips, and surveyed the building.  This was a hell of a way to start his morning.

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UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

UNKNOWN TIME

Anger.  Piercing anger that penetrated his consciousness and drove darkness into his bones.  He didn’t have to wonder where it came from.

He was sitting on the edge of the bed in his cell, wearing the same jeans and t-shirt he had worn for…months?  Years?  Decades?  He couldn’t see Andrew.  He wasn’t sure where the young man was.  Usually, during these ‘recovery’ periods, they were together in this tiny cell.  They had grown quite close, and Mulder found himself missing Andrew’s presence.

But this insidious roar of fury snapped him out of whatever self-pity he was experiencing, and he stood, reflexively wanting to defend himself.  Of course, there wasn’t much he could do in his condition.  He was down twenty pounds, at least, and most of that was lost muscle mass.  Every time he stood, he experienced orthostatic hypotension, and saw stars in his vision.  His reflexes were damaged, and his balance was horrible.  But still, he stumbled toward the wall, and it became transparent, allowing him to catch a glimpse of where Andrew was.

AD Skinner’s son was strapped to adjacent beds across the hallway.  The anger intensified in Mulder’s head, until it condensed into an infinitesimal sphere of hatred, manifesting finally as a tremendous, piercing shriek.

It only grew in volume and intensity, driving Mulder to clutch his head with both hands and fall to his knees in utter agony.  Across the hall, Andrew was seizing violently against his restraints.

Mulder’s vision grayed, then blackened, but instead of seeing nothingness, he saw another room.  A room like this one, with a tiny child in it, backing herself into a corner in terror of her captor.  Her fear began to replace the anger, and Mulder realized it wasn’t Strughold making that high-pitched, deafening, mind-imploding cry.  It was this child.  It was her fear emanating from her, manifesting itself like an ice pick through his eye.

14-charlotte-shrieking-telepathically

She reached with both arms into his consciousness, desperate for refuge, begging for Mulder to save her with tears of terror streaming down her cheeks.  Her petrified outreach to him impaled his heart and he found himself latched onto her consciousness, clinging to her protectively, because it was the only thing he could do.

But Strughold was physically alone with her, and his fury was mounting.  Mulder’s subconscious vision panned to the bed, where EEG wires laid, and a computer monitor flashed random images in rapid succession.  The lights in the room flickered intensely, and the windows were buckling, bowing inward.  The objects in the room began to shift toward Strughold.

His eyes turned inky black, and he held out one hand, stilling the objects in the room as he fixed his gaze on this child—the object of his fury.

Her eyes shot away from his, though, and toward an object on a table nearby.  Mulder’s vision panned again, and he gasped, even through the pain of her telepathic shrieking.  It was the Bari Trasadi.

In a split second, Strughold took out a gun, and aimed it at the child.

“NO!!!” Mulder’s voice reverberated through the telepathic scene as he screamed both aloud and in his head.  That one word summoned more mental strength than should have been possible.  His mind was suddenly clear, and with fists clenched, he arose from his kneeling position.  His declaration was ‘loud’ enough to jerk Andrew out of his seizing state, and leave him limp in his restraints.  The wall to his own cell bowed outward, as if his energy was too much for it to hold.

Even Strughold paused.  The fury running through everyone’s mind was momentarily extinguished, replaced with surprise and intrigue.

Mulder pounded the side of his fist into the wall as hard as he could and cried with desperation, “I’ll do it!  Use me!  Use me, you bastard!  LEAVE HER ALONE!” The anger evident in his plea rivaled that of his nemesis.  Even the child seemed slightly frightened by Mulder’s wave of uncontrolled, sheer rage.

And Strughold left the girl’s room.

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NEAR SHENENDOAH PARK

VIRGINIA

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

0730

Scully’s cell phone rang.  The sound of the high-pitched, vibrating tone sliced through her silent agony, and she withdrew from Skinner’s arms.  They had been kneeling in silence for what had to be ten minutes now, Scully’s heartbroken frame clinging to him like he was her last connection to anything familiar.

But now, apparently, someone was calling, and reality set in that they were still very much in danger, and should be on the run.  She didn’t recognize the number, and hesitated before accepting the call.  “Agent Scully,” she answered, her voice slightly hoarse.

“Agent Scully, this is Officer Styles with Metro PD.  I’m the Logistics coordinator working with the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team.  We have a situation in downtown DC.  There’s a hostile who has taken at least two hostages inside an unstable warehouse building, and he’s demanding to speak with you and an assistant director named Walter Skinner.”

“What?” Scully asked, shaking her head.  What else could go wrong today?  “Who is he?”

“We don’t have a positive identification for him yet, Ma’am, but we just got a visual.  I can email or text you his picture.”

“Do that.”

“Do you have hostage negotiation experience?” the young officer asked.

“Yes, but I’m not currently in a position to—“ Scully was interrupted by the sound of her phone receiving a text.  “Hang on, let me look at this picture.”

She pulled the phone away from her ear and opened her message.  Krycek’s face stared back at her, and she rolled her eyes.  Of course.

“—the HRT leader is requesting your presence, Ma’am.  I’m sure you could check with your superior officer and—“

“I’ll be down,” Scully cut the young man off.  “And so will Assistant Director Skinner.”

“We’ve been unable to reach the assistant director, Ma’am.”

“I can reach him,” she said.  “He’s my superior officer.”

“Oh.  How soon do you think you and the assistant director might be able to be on site?”

Scully sighed.  “It’s going to be four hours,” she said.  “Maybe a little less.”

“Ma’am, that’s a very long time.  Is there any way you could get here faster?  If not, we could patch you through to him digitally.”

“No.  I need to be on site.  Buy me four hours.”

“The safety officer on site is saying that the building might not last that long.”

“Then find a way to make it last that long.  Call me if you need anything else.”  Scully ended the call.

Skinner gave her an inquiring glance, and she explained, “Krycek’s taking hostages in downtown DC.”

“Of course he is,” the assistant director muttered snarkily, and stood.  “He’s asking to speak with us?”

“Yeah.  Why isn’t your phone on?”

“Strughold found us through my call to the Lone Gunmen.  I assumed it was compromised and turned it off.  You should turn yours off, too.  Come on, let’s go.”

He abandoned the bag of supplies and began walking toward the north end of the park.

“The ambulance is south, Walter,” Scully protested.

“And it’s possible Strughold has it surrounded right now.  Let’s go.  There will be a car parked in the north lot near the camp ground.  We’ll steal that and head back.  Plus, the north lot is closer than the ambulance.”

She sighed, and looked down at the bag.  Seeing the bag valve mask on the ground next to the empty spot where her baby should have been, she felt her heart wrench with emotion.  She forced herself to compartmentalize it, and followed Skinner out of the woods.
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UNKNOWN LOCATION

UNKNOWN DATE

UNKNOWN TIME

Surrounded in the technicolor world that was the Bari Trasadi, where he had been once before, he marveled at the incredible detail of the universe.  Not just his world, but other planets like it.  He could again see the awesome reality of infinite grains of sand on worlds without number.

Unlike his first time using this machine, however, he was not delirious.  He had been tortured for two years this time.  But his mind was clearer than ever.  He knew exactly what he had to do to save his family and the world. 

He could feel the child’s presence in his mind.  Both children were with him.  The baby boy and the four-year-old girl.  In the Bari Trasadi, he could see the intricate details of their minds.  In real time, he saw their neurons firing impulses, their developing brains absorbing and learning.  It was a wonderful sight to behold.

He could see every molecule in their bodies.  He could see Andrew and himself in the same manner, as well.  But most importantly, he could see Strughold, and the ship in which they all shared the same artificial atmosphere.  He could behold every particle of substance within this small space. 

15-mulder-bari-trasadi

And he could relegate it to the same oblivion occupied by all things targeted by the ancient weapon of Great Tragedy.  Though he initially felt some apprehension at this thought, he was reassured by some other force, some greater telepath than he, that this was the only way.  And that they would be watched over.  A feeling of warmth enveloped him, and he recognized the Ally’s presence.  Far from this being a Great Tragedy, it would be one of the most just actions ever performed by man.

Mulder closed his mind around the children and Andrew, encasing them and protecting them from the ensuing discharge of pure temporal energy.  And then without hesitation, he fired.

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INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

WASHINGTON, DC

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2015

1100

Five hours.  It was too long to wait.  It was only a matter of time before SWAT or HRT stormed this building.  When that happened, Captain Skinner and he could only hold off the grunts for so long.  Krycek had said from the beginning that this mission was time-sensitive.  He meant it.  Now, more than ever.

He already had the order from Spender.  Mulder and Andrew’s success was immaterial to the success of the overall mission.  They had opened this portal, and that was all he needed.

He approached the machine, not quite stepping over that threshold on the catwalk that would certainly transport him to the other universe again.  He held a spherical object he had recovered from a box on the first floor of the complex.  The door opened behind him, and he whirled on Charlie, pointing his gun directly at the surgeon.

They made eye contact for a moment, Charlie finally realizing who he was actually dealing with.  Who he had been dealing with all along.  “If you throw that mine, you’ll permanently disable the ability to move between universes. We’ll both be stranded here forever,” Charlie told him, studying his eyes.  Part of him was praying that he was wrong, and that this really was Detective Krycek, and not the double-agent he had overheard while he was a prisoner, making plans to destroy the portal between worlds.

“That doesn’t concern me,” Krycek said. “I’m already home.”

I should have known, he thought.  Why didn’t I see it before?

“Get back in the lab,” the double-agent ordered him, and waved his gun in that direction.  “Now.”

“I’m not going to stop you,” Charlie told him, his voice strangely resolute.  “What you’re doing is…it makes sense.  It’s well worth the sacrifice.”

“I’m glad you agree,” Krycek said.  “But forgive me if I don’t trust you.  Get back in the lab.”

Charlie nodded once, thinking that perhaps he didn’t want to witness the moment that an entire alien species was eradicated from the universe.  “I’ll…I’ll go monitor the machine.  You might end up bringing the building down.  You realize that?”

“There’s no other way to ensure this planet is never colonized.  You know that, and I know that.”  He nodded toward the door, and Charlie obeyed finally.

At the exact moment that Krycek threw the deadly mine, Mulder, Andrew, and a young child seemed to materialize from nowhere in various locations along the catwalk.

The machine in the center of the room buckled inward, its metal walls imploding in on itself.  Krycek looked desperately at the machine and then at the party that had just appeared, and yelled, “RUN!”

They wasted no time.  Andrew and Krycek escaped quickly, but the little girl had materialized behind the others. The machine exploded in a blue, emanating sphere of energy.  The catwalk buckled, just as the engine erupted in a second firework of black and orange.

Above and below them, catwalks were destabilizing, and Mulder grabbed the petrified child and ran.  Even as his tired legs pounded the grating beneath him, he knew he would not make it in time.  Andrew ran toward them, and the catwalk destabilized again under Mulder’s feet, shifting almost at a twenty degree angle, downward.  Metal screeched, groaned, and scraped as it gave way.

Summoning all of his energy in one last desperate act, Mulder threw the screaming four-year-old child as hard and high as he could.  A tremendous SNAP broke the last weld on the catwalk, and the agent tumbled downward feet-first into a heap of collapsing metal and smoldering shrapnel.

Andrew collapsed backward against the grating with the four-year-old in his arms, hugging her like the precious cargo that, in a more cosmic sense, she was.  He looked downward and screamed, “Agent Mulder!”

But there was no answer.  Meanwhile, the building’s foundation began to shake.  Plaster fell from the ceiling, and cracks emanated from where the machine used to sit in the center.

XXX

Outside, a stolen 1998 Honda Civic pulled onto the scene.  A badge was flashed and Assistant Director Walter Skinner and Agent Dana Scully gained access immediately.  They wasted no time, rushing toward the building as it buckled and creaked in protest of the massive explosion that had just taken place.

16-scully-at-hostage-crisis

“You can’t go in there!” Captain Wales yelled, grabbing Skinner’s arm before he got far.  “I don’t care who you are, that building’s coming down!”

“Mulder is in there!” Scully yelled.

Skinner spun to stare at her.

“I don’t know how I know, but I know he’s in there, Walter.”

The assistant director nodded once, immediately accepting what she said as Gospel.  He turned and found the HRT commander.  “You!  Come over here!” he ordered.

“Yes, Sir!” the man said as he jogged over.  “Are you AD Skinner and Agent Scully?”

“Yes,” Skinner answered quickly.  “Can you get us into that building?”

“That building is unstable.  My safety officer says no one should go within ten feet of it, not even Rescue at this point,” Wales argued.

Skinner ignored him, and stared expectantly at the HRT commander.

“I agree with the Captain, Sir, that building is no longer suitable for occupation.  We’ve withdrawn from all operations.”

An ear-piercing shriek erupted as metal scraped against metal and another support began to buckle.

“I’ve got an agent in there,” Skinner told the commander.  “I need to get him out.  I’m ordering you to resume rescue operations.”

“We can’t just walk right into an active hostage situation,” Wales said. “I don’t know who you think you are, but you can’t waltz onto this scene and—”

“Can you get me in there or do I need to find someone who can?” the assistant director bellowed at the beleaguered hostage rescue team leader.

The man pursed his lips and finally nodded.  “Okay, Sir.  We’ll take volunteers from the Rescue team if Captain Wales will allow it.  We’ll go in for five minutes.  That’s it.”

Wales reluctantly nodded his agreement, and Scully ran over to the HRT staging area.  She resisted the urge to take complete command of the situation, and allowed the team’s commander to announce to them what was happening.  Wales sent a Rescue team over to them, and soon they had twelve people ready to move in.

“The hostile isn’t an unknown factor,” Skinner briefed them quickly as they walked toward the collapsing structure.  “Agent Scully and I are acquainted with him.  He’s an ex-operative.  He probably won’t fire on us, but there are no guarantees.  Don’t let him out of your sight, but don’t treat him as a priority here.  We need to get our agent out.”

“He’s a Caucasian male, fifty-four years old.  He’s got brown hair.  He’s 6’1”, weighs about 190 lbs.  His name is Agent Mulder,” Scully told them.

“Got it, Ma’am.  Anything else we should know about him or anyone else who might be in the building?”

“No.  Let’s move in before this thing comes down,” she responded.

“Samuels, Koller, take the west side entrance.  Robinson, Kim, Yaj, take the east.  Everyone else, you’re with us.  Simple search and extraction.  If the hostile engages, fire back but extracting the hostages is the priority.  If he runs, they’ve set up a perimeter, he won’t get far.  If we cannot secure the hostages in five minutes we will withdraw.  Ready?”

A chorus of ‘Yes, sir’s’ followed the HRT commander’s orders.  “Move in!  Go, go, go!”

Scully and Skinner hung back with the less heavily-armed PD Rescue team and let the HRT go in first.  Krycek did not fire on them when they entered, which told Scully that the hostage scenario was probably just a way to buy them some time in this building to complete whatever they were doing.

She stepped inside, and was taken aback at the sight in the center of the room.  A giant…vortex?…in space; a swirling, multi-colored spectacle of light…growing smaller by the second.  Twisted metal lined the walls, embedded in a pile of wreckage on the floor.  A fire had started at the base of the wreckage, or perhaps it was burning itself out.  Either way, the PD Rescue team had brought an industrial extinguisher and immediately got to work.

There were no hostiles in sight, but up on the catwalk, Scully immediately recognized a face she didn’t think she’d ever see again.  “Andrew,” she breathed.

Skinner muscled past her and stared through the smoke and twisting space to look upon what Scully saw.  He stood paralyzed, not quite believing it.

“Walter!  Dana!” the young man called, and stood on the unsteady catwalk.  It creaked underneath him.  It was then that Scully noticed a small child beside him, and Charlie came into view shortly afterward.

“Mulder’s down there!” Andrew yelled, and pointed to the pile of wreckage.  Scully’s stomach somersaulted.

“Where’s the hostage taker, son?” the HRT commander demanded from his position on the ground level.

“I don’t know where he went,” Charlie answered for Andrew.  “He’s not here anymore, he left!”

Five of the HRT members began digging through the wreckage.  Walter ran to the corner of the warehouse, where a two-story ladder on wheels was positioned against the wall.

“Help me with this!” he yelled, and Scully ran to his aid.  Mulder was trapped under the smoldering wreckage, but there was little she could do about it until the HRT managed to cut through the worst of it.  But she could save this little child, and Andrew.

Skinner and Scully awkwardly manhandled the wheeled contraption to the catwalk, and it was barely tall enough.  For some reason, an inner drive seemed to propel Scully up that ladder and toward this sobbing little girl with dark hair and hazel eyes.  She reached her arms upward, and Andrew passed the child down to the agent.  Skinner was right behind her, and said, “I’ll take her.” He then handed her to a member of the Rescue team who was at the foot of the ladder, and he ran out of the building.

Andrew climbed over the railing and dropped down to the ladder, and then quickly descended the rest of the way, right into Skinner’s waiting arms.  They embraced tightly, allowing themselves only a moment to ensure that the other was indeed real, and not a hallucination.  Then the building shook violently, and a support creaked in protest.  Charlie nearly fell from the catwalk on his way over the railing.

“Go, get out of here!” Scully turned and yelled to Skinner and Andrew.  She did her best to steady the ladder at the ground level as Charlie nearly stumbled on his way down.

“The building’s coming down!  If you can’t get through that thing in the next minute, leave it!” the HRT leader screamed to his man with the saw.

“We have to go!  Come on, let’s go!” one of the Rescue team members yelled to Scully, but she refused to budge, and shook his arms off of her shoulders.  “Mulder’s going to need a doctor — I’m a doctor.  You go!”

On the far end of the building, a metal support caved and a wall crumbled, taking plaster and rebar with it and filling the room with a massive cloud of smoke and dust.  The singularity was almost a pinprick of light in the center of the room now.

The saw shut off, and the HRT member yelled, “I’m through!”

“Pull, pull, pull!” another man yelled, and six strong rescue workers ripped twisted metal from the top of the pile, exposing Mulder’s face.

Scully wanted to climb in right there, but one of the PD Rescue workers held her back.  “Let me go first, I’ll take his pulse and report back to you.  That metal’s sharp and I’ve got the turnout gear.”

Another hideous shriek erupted from a metal support, this one closer to them.

“One minute!  One minute and we’re out!” the HRT commander seemed to reassess his original estimate, now that they had found Mulder.

The saw was re-engaged, and parts of the catwalk separated easily further down the pile.  The PD Rescue worker in turnout gear turned back to Scully after having his fingers on Mulder’s neck for far too long, and finally nodded.  She nearly let out a sob of relief.

“We freed his legs!” someone yelled.  “I need a clamp, we’re gonna bend this metal back and pull him out!”

Just then, sparkles of light caught Scully’s eye.  She turned, and saw tiny spots growing in frequency and intensity on the filthy ground next to her.  Her eyes grew wide and she squatted down, looking desperately between the rescue attempt and the miracle about to happen at her feet.

Her hands hovered above the specks of light as they became a solidified, intense glow, and then dimmed in intensity until their opaque brilliance was replaced with the sight of her infant son.  She let out something between a sob and a surprised exclamation of joy, scooping him up and holding him close to her chest.  As she looked up, the rescue workers were pulling an unconscious Mulder out and onto a backboard for a rapid extraction.

“Evacuate!  Evacuate!” The HRT commander boomed, and the team hurried out of the building as another metal beam creaked in protest.

They moved to the perimeter, Scully heading straight for the ambulance at Mulder’s side.

Skinner appeared suddenly, and held out his arms.  “Scully, let me take the baby.  You can work on Mulder.”

She absently handed the infant to her superior, and climbed into the ambulance with the paramedics.  “I’m a doctor, and I know this man’s history well,” she quickly qualified herself as the leader of this operation.  “You take C-spine,” she ordered one of them.  “You,” she turned to the other, “get him hooked up to an EKG to get his vitals.  He’s breathing and he’s got a pulse, but stand by with the AED,” she ordered.  “Get me a nonrebreather at 15 liters per minute.  I’m going to do a rapid trauma assessment.”

The medics’ practiced hands moved to action, and Scully assessed no apparent head trauma.  Miraculously, the catwalk support beams had formed something of a cocoon to protect him from the brunt of the wreckage.  She detected at least one cracked rib and demanded, “What’s his BP?”

“100/70, Ma’am,” the paramedic reported.

“That’s low for him—let’s watch it.  He might be bleeding internally.”

“Heart rate is 100,” the medic continued.  “SpO2 at 97% on nonrebreather.”

“He’s not in shock yet, then,” Scully concluded, and detected no pelvis fracture.  However, she got down to his legs and immediately detected a break.  “Shit.  Closed fracture of the left femur…” she reported, and performed a quick test on his knee to determine if he had also torn a ligament.  “Damn it.  ACL and probably the PCL are out.”  She moved further down, and reported, “No obvious fracture to the tibia or the foot.  Okay, get a collar on him,” she ordered the medic not holding C-spine.  “Still, treat it like a suspected spinal fracture, because we don’t know what we can’t see.  Let’s get a splint on this leg.  Watch his vitals — with a rib and femur fracture he could very easily go into shock.  Start an IV; we need to get his fluids up.”

She tried to reassure herself that he was stable, and in much better condition than she thought he would be.  Though he looked completely emaciated, with muscle wasting and a hint of possible Kwashiorkor’s malnourishment, his vitals were remarkably good, and his injuries were not devastating. Not for Mulder’s medical history, anyway.

“We’re five minutes out from the hospital.  Do you want to make the call in to the ER?” one of the medics asked her as he applied the collar.

“Yeah, hand me the radio when you make the connection.  What ambulance is this?  How do you identify yourselves?”

“Just say we’re W-200.”

She was completely professional, without a hint of emotion in her voice as she stated into the headset, “ED, this is Dr. Dana Scully with W-200, five minutes out with a 54-year-old male, chief complaint of crush injuries to the lower left femur and knee.  At least one broken rib on the left side.  Vitals are slowly dropping with BP 95/65, heart rate 110, SpO2 95% with O2 therapy,” she read the monitor, “Have a trauma surgery team standing by; I suspect he may go into shock.”

She heard an affirmative reply and handed the headset back to the medic.  “You got that IV in?” she demanded.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“0.9% Saline drip,” she ordered.  “Let’s try to get that BP back up.”  She unconsciously rubbed Mulder’s shoulder, and felt her stomach twist as she felt little muscle.  He was mostly skin and bones.  “Hang in there, Mulder,” she said softly.

Soon, they pulled into the ambulance bay at the ER.  The doors were swung open, and she hopped out ahead of the gurney.  She gave the run-down to the yellow-gowned ER staff waiting for them at the entrance.  When she was finished, one doctor asked, “Any head trauma?”

“We need a portable CT to confirm, but I don’t think so,” Scully responded.  “His vitals are dropping — we need to find out where the bleed is.”

“Any possible toxins, drugs, any pertinent medications or conditions we should know about, allergies?” the physician on call asked.

“I don’t know about possible toxins — he was kept somewhere and he looks severely malnourished.  Possible Kwashiorkor’s — I felt abdominal distension but saw no signs of a hematoma in that area.  No allergies to medication, no pertinent medical conditions, no current prescription medications.  He’s an FBI agent—he’s my partner,” she added the last briefly, as a last minute thought.

“Blood type?”

“O negative,” Scully answered.

“Closed femur fracture and knee trauma, possible cranial or cervical trauma, possible thoracic trauma.  Let’s get a portable CT and X-ray.  I want a CBC and blood panel, drug screen, BGL reading, abdominal ultrasound.  Call the blood bank; get some O negative up here.  Call Ortho, we need a consult on this leg.  Have trauma surgery standing by in case radiology finds something,” the physician ordered.  “Dr. Scully, you are welcome to stay.  Would you like to stick around or wait in the waiting area?”

“I’ll stay, thank you,” she responded.

“Then you need to gown up, please,” he said with an air of authority and practice that was not overbearing, but definitely let Scully know who was in command of this operation.

She obeyed, and was soon dressed with the appropriate personal protective equipment.

“BP is 90/60, heart rate is 120, SpO2 down to 93%.  Pulse is weak and thready,” a nurse reported.

“Crap.  Where the heck is radiology?  Give him 20 cc’s of Epi,” the physician ordered the nurse. “Switch to positive pressure ventilation.”

They pulled his nonrebreather mask off and applied a bag valve mask instead.  Just then, radiology came in with the portable CT, x-ray, and ultrasound.  The bedside radiographs didn’t take long, and the results were uploaded onto the computer nearby.  Scully’s eyes were glued to each screen as the physician flipped through them and said, “I’m not seeing any cranial or cervical trauma.”

“No, it looks clear,” Scully agreed.

“No apparent hemorrhage in the thoracic cavity. This all looks good to me.”

“What’s that?” the agent asked, and pointed to what she thought looked abnormal.

“It could be a bone fragment, you’re right, but it’s nowhere near the vital organs.  Could have come from the rib fracture.  We’ll engage trauma surgery when they come down here.  Now let’s take a look at that leg — I think we’ll find our bleed there.”

Scully nodded, trying to sound calm as she said, apprehensively, “Probably.”

He switched screens, and scrolled through a few images.  “Okay, definitely a compound, lower shaft, spiral fracture to the left femur.”

“I agree,” Scully stated. “I’m still not seeing a bleed.”

“Let’s switch to contrast…and…yep.  There you have it.” He turned around and asked, “Hey, did the surgical team say they were coming?”

“We paged them,” the nurse said.

“Call again.  This guy needs to get up there ASAP.  The fracture nicked his femoral artery.”

“Vitals are back to 100/65, SpO2 at 96%, heart rate 105,” another nurse reported.

“I’ll take it.  Get me a—”

“Sorry we’re late, what’s the run-down on this patient?” a woman asked as she entered the trauma suite.  She brought with her a small contingent of med students on their surgical rotation.

The physician on call pulled up Mulder’s CT and x-ray images and began giving a history.  He ended with, “Dr. Scully here is his FBI partner, and she’s been lending a hand.”

“This is a patient we immediately book an OR for,” the woman told her students.  “We’re going to make the call up to the floor and have them ready to receive us.  His vitals are stable for the moment but he’s been shocky so we’re going to keep an eye out for that.  Mr. Raju, now that he’s a surgical candidate, what might we want to do to his intravenous fluid intake?”

“Switch him from 0.9% saline to a Ringer’s Lactaid solution?”

“Are you asking me or telling me, Mr. Raju?”

Scully rolled her eyes, unwilling to put up with this delay in Mulder’s care.  “I’ll call up to the OR and let them know,” she offered, but the ER physician was already at the phone.

Despite the fact that it felt like hours to Scully, the surgical team prepped Mulder and brought him up to the OR in a matter of minutes.  She was not invited to scrub in, so she found herself relegated to the waiting room.  If it had seemed like a long wait before, it became an eternity now.  But he was back.  After two years of dreaming of his return, it had finally happened.  And her baby had been returned to her.  And Skinner’s son was back.  And Charlie…

She didn’t know what to think about that.  Who was he?  Was he the same person who had tried to kill thousands of people?  Who had arranged for Mulder’s capture and torture?  Who had done Strughold’s bidding?

She leaned back in the chair, her arms folded, her head against the wall behind her.  She was exhausted.  It didn’t take long before she drifted off.

XXX

“Dana,” Walter’s voice awoke her suddenly, and she sharply inhaled, her eyes darting around in alarm.  “Sorry to startle you.  Are you okay?  Any word on Mulder?”

She looked up at her superior, holding her baby in his arms with Andrew at his side.  “No…,” she answered, and rubbed her eyes.  “No, how long have I been asleep?” she glanced at her phone, but it wasn’t on.  She realized she’d never turned it back on since the hostage situation.

“I’m not sure; we just got here,” he answered, and sat down.  “He’s been sleeping pretty consistently since he reappeared,” he indicated the baby, and handed him to her.

She accepted him readily into her arms, and stared at Skinner’s son.  “Andrew…where were you?  How did Mulder find you?”

“We were held together for the past two years in one of Strughold’s facilities. It was…pretty bad there,” he responded.  “Walter was about to check me into the ER to get an IV — he thinks I’m dehydrated and malnourished.  I wanted to see you first.”

She looked confused.  “Did you say two years?”

“It fits with why you thought he was gone for the past two years,” Skinner offered.  “Obviously in whatever reality they were just in, he was.”  In the Assistant Director’s confusion about this situation, his explanation ended up sounding like one of Yoda’s prophecies to Scully.

“I never said Mulder was gone for two years,” Scully responded, shaking her head. “Did I?  I mean, I have memories of us working cases together.  I remember the past two years.  They happened.  How could Mulder have been…” Her voice trailed off, and she studied Andrew’s figure.  He was severely underweight, just like Mulder.  What if he was telling the truth?  Would Mulder awaken with no memory of the past two years, but instead of the amnesia he had experienced two days ago, he would recall whatever hell Andrew had just been through?

“I’m going to get him down to the ER.  Scully, keep us updated.  Turn your phone on.”

“But what if Strughold—”

“He’s gone,” Andrew promised her.  “Mulder destroyed him.”

There was something about the way he said “destroyed” that made her realize that there truly was no possibility of his return.  He was gone.  He was finally gone.

Skinner and his son stood, though Andrew’s weaker frame nearly stumbled and his father had to catch him.  “Come on, let’s go,” the assistant director ordered, and led the young man away.

“Thank you,” Scully called after him, and he turned and nodded with a brief smile.

As she prepared to continue to endure an endless wait, she turned her gaze down to her sleeping baby.  He had already experienced such a rough start.  They weren’t sure when his birthday was, or if it even existed in this universe, but that didn’t make him any less hers.  Any less theirs. 

Suddenly, her thoughts turned to the little girl that had been there in the warehouse.  Where was she?  She wished she had asked Skinner and Andrew before they left.  The logical answer was that Social Services had been called as soon as the child was medically examined and cleared.  But that wasn’t good enough for Scully.  She pulled her phone out, and turned it on again.  She reflected as the logo spun and the operating system started up that if she could figure out where the girl was before Mulder was out of surgery, she would actually leave the hospital and go to pick her up.  Never before had anything motivated her to abandon her bedside vigil for Mulder.

She looked down again at her son, and a warm feeling blossomed in her chest.  She hadn’t gained just one child over the past twenty-four hours.  She’d gained two.

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EPILOGUE

MULDER AND SCULLY’S DUPLEX

GEORGETOWN, DC

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2016

1100

The doorbell rang, and Mulder arose from the couch.  A Christmas tree adorned their family room, with a little village underneath and a train looping continuously around a track.  A five-year-old girl sat mesmerized, watching it go ‘round and ‘round, her imagination taking her to a faraway land where that little village existed.  Her twenty-month-old brother banged blocks together across the floor, and Mulder stepped over him to get to the door.  The bell rang again.

“Who is it?” Scully asked from her loft study above.  She was reading patient care reports, even though it was her day off.

“Not sure yet,” Mulder answered.  He looked out the peep hole and frowned, but opened the door.  A young-looking man with blonde hair and a cheap suit stood on their porch.  Mulder wondered in annoyance if he had seen the “No Soliciting” sign.  “Can I help you?”

“Agent Mulder—I mean, Mr. Mulder—I’m Agent Clawson with the FBI.”  He showed his badge.  “May I come in?”

“Sure,” Mulder’s reply was just a bit unfriendly, but he did step aside and grant the young man entrance.

“Mr. Mulder, I don’t mean to intrude on your family time on a Sunday, so close to Christmas, so I’ll make my stay brief.  Is there any way Dr. Scully is at home?”

Mulder could feel Scully rolling her eyes on the loft above them.  “Yes,” she nonetheless answered, sparing him the undesirable task of anticipating her response.

“If I could speak to both of you, that’d be great.”

clawson

She descended the stairs, and when she rounded the corner, she spotted little eyes peeking from behind the couch.  “Charlotte, you and Walter keep playing.  We’re going to talk in the kitchen.”

“Okay, Mommy,” the five-year-old answered.

“I’ll keep this brief, I promise,” Clawson said.  He followed Mulder into the kitchen.

“Can we offer you anything?  Water?”

“No, Dr. Scully, I’m fine, thanks.”  With that, the three sat down at the table.  “I’m coming here personally instead of calling or sending an email.  I’d like to request a meeting with the two of you and Assistant Director Skinner.”

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other.

He pulled his phone out, and accessed something.  “Two months ago, a couple died when their Ford Fusion crashed into their house.  The thing was, it crashed into the second story, fifteen feet off the ground.  Their backyard is twenty feet long with an eight-foot wall.”  He showed them his phone screen, which displayed a crime scene photo of a black, 2014 Ford Fusion embedded in the second-story rear wall of the family’s home.  “On Thanksgiving Day, a pool appeared in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  Simultaneously, Mr. and Mrs. Roland of Las Vegas awoke to find a giant hole in their backyard.”  He showed them two more pictures, this time of a pool that had seemingly relocated from its suburban location to a much more rural one.  “Two and a half weeks ago, a man rescued his two-year-old from falling four stories from an escalator in Water Tower Plaza in Chicago.  This is security footage, and the speed hasn’t been altered.”  He displayed a video that showed a man levitating, it seemed, to slow his descent as he caught his child in mid-air.

Scully watched Mulder’s expression carefully.  He showed no outward sign of excitement, but she could see a spark in his eye.

“Given the fact that these events have not stopped since you two managed to close the rift in time and space that was causing these events to happen in the first place, Assistant Director Skinner believes he has the evidence necessary to justify re-opening the X-files division.”

“So…what, he wants us back?  Why didn’t he just call?” Mulder asked.  They saw Skinner and Andrew regularly.  They had named their son after him.  They had just seen each other the other day, and he had made no mention of this.  Mulder had to wonder why.

Suddenly, Scully’s phone vibrated.  She turned on the screen and saw a message from Skinner.  ‘Expect an Agent Bryce Clawson.  Eager guy wants to pitch an idea.  Let me know if you hate it, and I’ll make him leave you alone.  He can be trusted.’  She showed it to Mulder, and he smirked.

The man had probably rushed over minutes after getting the OK from Skinner, which the Assistant Director likely gave over the phone, on a Sunday, from home, days before a major holiday.  That would be the only reason the text had arrived after Clawson had already rung the doorbell.

“Mr. Mulder, I’ve been assigned as the lead agent on the X-files, and the expectation is that the division is going to grow.  But I don’t have the expertise I need to truly understand these cases and these phenomena.  I can’t run this division if I don’t understand what I’m looking at.  I spoke with AD Skinner, and he at first said that you two didn’t want to be bothered anymore…but he eventually agreed to a meeting where we would discuss a possible consulting role.  If you two were interested.”

“A consulting role,” Scully repeated.

“Tell me, Clawson, was it?” Mulder asked, and the young man nodded.  “What do you think is causing these phenomena?”

“With the rift closed, I honestly don’t know.  But my first thought would be that the actual closing of the rift might have created a ripple effect in space and time, and if we go looking for them, we’d be able to find more of these events over the past year and a half or so.  Also, there’s the possibility that there’s another rift, at which point the planet might be threatened again by the Colonists.  Even though Strughold was destroyed, there might be others, like the Shapeshifters, for instance, who are unaccounted for.”

The corner of Mulder’s mouth twitched.  This man was well-informed, and obviously was willing to suspend disbelief and consider all possibilities.  Scully knew Mulder’s interest was piqued, but apparently the former agent had one final test.

“I think I have it on pretty good authority that the alien threat is eradicated, at least for a while.  Charlotte, sweetie, come over here, please.”

The little five-year-old happily trotted over, and climbed up on her daddy’s lap.  “Hi,” she greeted Agent Clawson.

“Hi,” their guest drawled, a bit confused.

“Charlotte, do you remember how we talked about the Special Things that happened on the ship, and how we can only talk to certain people about the Special Things?”

She nodded.  “Other people get scared or worried or confused,” she said.

“That’s right,” Mulder encouraged her.  “Agent Clawson is one of the people we can talk to about the Special Things.  He knows most of the story,” he explained, and she grinned in excitement.  “But he doesn’t know what happened to the other aliens after the bad alien died.”

“Oh, I can tell him that,” Charlotte said cheerfully.

“Go ahead.  Tell him what happened.”

“After Daddy made the Bari Trasadi get rid of the bad alien’s ship, the bad man went away to the dark place forever.  He can never get out.  He’s stuck there.  And the other aliens were going to come here, but they only wanted to come here because of the big rip in space.  And since Krycek closed the big rip in space forever, then the other aliens knew they wouldn’t get what they wanted here,” she explained.

“And…what did they want here?” Clawson asked, dumbfounded and incredibly intrigued by this little girl.

“They want to send their ships everywhere.  But they can’t do that if the big rip is gone.”

“Agent Clawson is worried that little rips might bring the aliens back.  What do you think, Charlotte?  Do they want to come back?”

“No, not for little rips,” she said.  “They’re not big enough to do what they wanted.”

“What did they want to do?”

“Take over and kill everyone,” she said simply.  “They wanted to send their ships everyplace.  But if the rips are little, they can’t send their ships through them.  They’ll go someplace else.”

Clawson adjusted his posture on his chair and studied Charlotte’s mesmerizing hazel eyes.  “Can you talk to them, Charlotte?”

She smiled and nodded.  “Yep.  But not unless they’re here.  They’re too far away now.   Walter can, too, but he doesn’t understand what they think yet.”

“Walter…Skinner?”

“No, our son,” Scully said.  She was a little displeased that Mulder thought it prudent to trust this man with such private information about their children.  But, then again, Skinner had vouched for him.

Clawson seemed to consider his next words carefully.  Mulder realized he probably wanted to ask whether Mulder and Scully had these seemingly supernatural powers as well, if both of their children did.  But he thought better of it, and instead asked, “So, will you meet with myself and AD Skinner?”

“When is this meeting?” Scully asked.  “I have a work schedule.”

“Well, it would be at your convenience, but I was thinking about the 23rd or the 24th.”

“You can get your mom to watch the kids,” Mulder suggested.

He’s caught the bug, Scully realized.  She hadn’t seen him so energetic and eager since they retired.  She could hardly say no to that.

At Scully’s somewhat reluctant nod, Clawson stood with a victorious smile.  “Thank you so much for your time.  I’ll set up a Doodle to coordinate schedules and hammer down a time.  Can I get your contact info?”

“Sure, let me know when you’re ready, and then I’ll take yours as well,” Mulder said.  He readily gave away both of their email addresses, and then opened up his address book to create a new contact.

“Oh, you don’t need to do that,” Clawson said, and smiled. “Just pull up your barcode scanner.”  Mulder fumbled for a moment with his menu, finding his barcode scanner.  Clawson held out his phone, and when Mulder scanned the QR code on Clawson’s screen, the young agent’s contact information instantly downloaded into a newly-created contact.  “It’s called BoBL,” he explained.  As they walked to the front door, Clawson said, “I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to working with you.”

He stuck out his hand, and Mulder shook it first.  “I’m sure this will be a mutually beneficial relationship.”

“Let’s just take this one step at a time,” Scully responded as she shook his hand, but Mulder knew that tone.  She was already in, too.  “Thanks for coming.  We’ll see you in a few days.”

When he left, Mulder looked to Scully, and she simply laughed.  “Mulder, you look like a kid in a pet shop.”

“Can we keep him, Scully?  Can we, can we, please?” he joked.

She rolled her eyes.  “I have a job.  I can’t consult for the FBI and work a 10 hour shift five days a week.”

He took her hand, and led her into the family room.  Charlotte walked alongside them, their thoughts enough to keep her interested and quiet while they spoke.  It was one benefit to having a semi-telepathic child.  She had little use for television when her parents’ emotions and the occasional errant thought provided hours of entertainment.  She sat on the family room floor, cross-legged, and watched them like most children watched cartoons.

“Scully, since we retired…have you been happy?  Really happy?”

“No, not like before,” Charlotte answered for her, and Scully turned to her five-year-old.

“What did we talk about?” her mother scolded.

“Oops.  I’m sorry, Mommy.  I can listen but not answer for you.”

“If you can’t, then you’ll go to your room so we can’t hear your answers and we can have a real conversation.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mommy,” she said, and sat on her hands.

Mulder smirked.  “The kid speaks the truth.”

Scully sighed.

“What’s making you reluctant?” he asked her, and took her hand.  “I want what you want.  But you have to explain to me why you aren’t jumping at this chance.  I thought we retired because there were no more X-files.”

“Mulder, we retired because we had an infant and a four-year-old overnight.  And now we have a toddler and a five-year-old.  It’s not that much different.”

“No,” he agreed.  “But…”

“You’ve never been satisfied,” she answered for him.

“No — that isn’t the right word.  I’ve never been…intrigued.  Scully…” he paused, mulling his next words carefully.  Charlotte sat impatiently, rocking back and forth and fidgeting.  Walter continued to construct a tower of blocks near the Christmas tree, oblivious to the conversation.

“I was lost for two years.  I wasn’t, but I was.  Then, I came back and everything was different. My entire life’s work — our life’s work — was done.  I have more now than I ever thought I could have.  I’m the richest man alive.  I just…I want to be intellectually stimulated.  I want a puzzle to figure out.  And…I think you want that, too.”

She studied his eyes.  Mulder’s experiences from 2013-2015 were a bit of a mystery.  He remembered both realities — both the memories he’d lost for a time, of working cases with Scully, and continuing normal life, and the memory of being tortured for two straight years.  His body bore the marks of that harsher reality, suffering significant malnourishment.  But no one recalled his disappearance except for Andrew.

Even in the past year and a half, Mulder had remained a man caught between two worlds.  Feeling he should continue his work, when there was no work to continue.  Being forced to transition to being a father overnight was taxing.  Despite his infinite love for his children, there were days when Scully could tell he was really struggling with not having somewhere to go in the morning.

And now, the opportunity to fix that deficit had fallen right onto their lap.  What was holding Scully back?  She even had to ask herself that question.

“She’s afraid you’ll get hurt, Daddy!” Charlotte blurted out impatiently, and then immediately looked like she had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.  “Sorry!  I’m sorry!  I’ll go up to my room.”  She scurried up the stairs.

Scully let out an exhausted and somewhat embarrassed chuckle.

“You know I’m past the age limit for field agents.  If anything, they’d send you out.”

She nodded.

“I’m going to be careful.  I promise.”

With a laugh, she rebutted, “You’ve said that before.”

He simply smirked.

“Mulder…it’s not just a fear that you’ll get hurt…” she glanced over at Walter.  “If we do this, they’ll become targets, too.”

“I doubt it, with Strughold out of the picture.”

“But Krycek isn’t.  And neither is Spender,” she countered.  “And chances are, they’re bored in retirement, too.”

He laughed at that.

“When he was taken, it was like a piece of me went with him.  I didn’t even have proof that he was mine, but I knew, and his loss was one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced.  If he hadn’t sent himself back, I know I wouldn’t be the same, Mulder.”

Charlotte had told them the baby was lost in space and time when Mulder closed the rift, instead of being sent back with everyone else.  He had found his own way back, through an innate “scent,” per se, of Scully’s presence.  He had found her as a single pinprick of light in an infinite expanse of darkness, and he had used his ability to send himself back into her arms.

Mulder understood her worry that something could forcibly take these two precious children from them.  And they were worth a lot more than his sense of intrigue.  “I think they’ll be safe,” he told her.

“How can you say that?” she argued.  “You have no idea what Krycek or Spender might try to do—”

“For what purpose?  Strughold’s dead.  The galactic power struggle is over.  All that’s left is…science.”

He purposely chose to characterize it as something that fascinated her.  She knew it, and she smiled in response.  “Okay, Mulder.” She took his hands in hers.  “Let’s keep searching.  Let’s keep looking for answers.  Let’s find the truth.  Together.”

He grinned, and pulled her into a hug.  Then, with a boyish enthusiasm, he whispered in her ear, “The Truth is Out There.”

17-ending

The One that Got Away

TITLE: The One That Got Away

AUTHOR: Jo-Ann Lassiter

EMAIL: JoLassi555@cs.com

RATING: PG13

CLASSIFICATION: MSR

SUMMARY: Has Scully fallen for another man?

DISTRIBUTION: Post anywhere.

NOTES: Written for VS10. Mulder and Scully are a couple.

DISCLAIMER: Just borrowing them, Chris. Thanks for the loaner.

Saturday, April 5

Hyatt Regency Grand Ballroom

Washington, D.C.

9:16 p.m.

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.” The harsh whisper held traces of frustration, annoyance and petulance.

“It’s not as if I had any choice, you know.” The tiniest bit of anger tinged the whispered reply.

“*You* were the one he invited. Not me.” An unspoken chuckle could most definitely be heard this time.

“And I invited you.” The response was equally as smarmy.

His eyebrow raised. “Do you call ‘You’re coming with me’ an invitation?”

She mulled it over a second or two, then smiled sweetly. “Yes.”

“You would,” he grumbled.

“Agent Scully,” a deep, smooth voice called. “Dana.”

She looked up into the smiling face of the devastatingly handsome Jason Alden III, their host–and grandson of the director of the FBI. “Jason,” she breathed. “Thank you for inviting me.”

A not-too-discreet cough from Mulder brought her out of the daze Jason Alden’s presence always seemed to put her in.

“Oh.” She indicated the man sitting beside her with a toss of her head. “This is my partner.”

When Jason raised an eyebrow, her mouth opened in a totally different kind of ‘oh’ as the blue in his eyes appeared to deepen. My God, he was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

“Fox Mulder,” Mulder said loudly, sticking his hand out right in front of her face and obstructing her view of the blond Adonis.

Distaste practically dripping from his mouth, Alden allowed only the briefest touch of his fingers on Mulder’s before pulling back and brushing them off on his pants leg. The man lost a great deal of his appeal with that demonstration of rudeness. The sour look on his face caused his features to distort into something profoundly repugnant.

Then his attention was off Mulder and back on her, and the transformation was nothing short of amazing. All the looks were once again in place, the charm was turned back on, and Scully found that her infatuation had not only faded, it had coalesced into revulsion.

“Would you grant me the honor of a dance?” he asked.

She heard Mulder’s hard swallow beside her. He’d obviously noted her fascination with the man, and she knew he was dying inside. Nonetheless, a few seconds earlier she wouldn’t have cared. Although she knew it would have killed him, she would have gone off and left him thinking he’d lost her to another man. Or, at the very least, he would know that he was not, as she had so often told him, the love of her life. She would have gone and left him without a second thought. She knew this for a fact.

She also knew that it would have been against her will. Mulder *was* the love of her life, and she would never knowingly hurt him like that. As she opened her mouth to turn down Alden’s proposal, Mulder lurched to his feet with a hastily uttered, “Excuse me,” and dashed out the French doors behind them.

“As I was saying, dear Dana…” She felt her control slip away as she nodded and allowed herself to be pulled up into Jason’s arms.

As he swept her onto the dance floor, her eyes were drawn to Mulder’s sorrowful face looking in from the other side of the window. His hair was plastered to his face, the wind buffeted him, and lightning flashed behind him.

She couldn’t help but think, though, that the rain falling upon him was not the reason why his eyes were wet.

**

Mulder shivered, telling himself that his desire to experience a lightning strike firsthand had nothing to do with the vision of Scully in another man’s arms.

He didn’t understand it. Yes, she’d seemed enthralled by the man when he first made an appearance, but that seemed to diminish after Mulder’s ‘introduction’ to the oily bastard. He was sure Scully had seen the loathing the other man didn’t even try to hide when he looked upon Mulder, and that it had turned her off.

Yet she hadn’t hesitated to accept the asshole’s invitation to dance after Mulder, suddenly possessed of an intense need for fresh air, had escaped outside. Sadist that he was, though, he had to watch her departure from the room. From him.

He’d barely noticed the storm into which he’d stepped. His rapt attention had been on the way she practically glided over the parquet floor, wrapped in the arms of a man who wasn’t him.

Right before she’d disappeared from sight, she’d locked eyes with him for a very brief few seconds. It was at that moment, when he detected not one glimmer of the love she said she felt for him, that he decided to die.

**

It was as she danced a waltz unerringly in the arms of the most gorgeous man in the world that Scully began to have her suspicions.

She didn’t know how to waltz.

Yet she whirled and swirled and floated across the floor as if she’d done it all her life. Remarkable, she thought at first, how easily she had picked up on the flow and rhythm of the music. She smiled at Jason.

Since they’d begun, he’d not once taken his eyes from hers. The attention he was lavishing on her was flattering, and so unusual to be coming from someone other than Mulder.

Mulder.

Her eyes darted to the little alcove in which they’d been sitting when Alden had intruded upon them. Was Mulder still out in the rain? The wintry weather was finally gone, but it had been cool enough that they’d needed their coats.

Now it was dark, cold and raining; he was outside in only his suit jacket. And she was tripping the light fantastic to a dance she didn’t know with a man she didn’t like?

What the hell?

With a snarl, she turned back to the man holding her possessively, and before he could seduce her again with those hypnotic–hypnotic!–eyes, she took aim and blackened one of those baby blues.

Gasps of horror and exclamations of surprise were expressed when Alden’s tanned and buff body hit the ballroom floor. As she was exiting the room, she heard the director’s appalled and condemning, “Agent Scully!” just before the room exploded in applause and female catcalls of “Good for you, honey!” and

“It’s about time!” She heard one or two “Slimeball’s” before the scene faded from her hearing as she left the room.

She walked straight to the last place she’d seen him, and without hesitation threw open the doors. There was no one on the veranda, and she was about to go back inside when she saw him.

He was standing in the middle of the perfectly-cut grass, easily the tallest thing on the lawn, arms extended over his head as if reaching–

“Mulder!” she yelled, hitching up her dress, vaulting over the wall and racing toward his shivering form. Barreling into him at full speed, she knocked him flat on his back; he blinked in dismay and tried to look away from her. “Hypnosis,” she said before he could engage in any more self-flagellation. “That bastard was hypnotizing me.”

He blinked, and when his gaze met hers, she nodded in confirmation. “It’s true,” she told him.

“Then you…” He swallowed a few times, and she could see him fighting back tears.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “Once I realized, though, I made sure not to make eye contact with him.”

“How…?” he asked, as she helped him to his feet and they walked back to the house.

She smiled in remembrance. “It was you. I thought of you, and that broke the spell.” Her grin widened as she recalled how she’d left Alden. “Then I decked him.”

His mouth fell open in awe. “The director’s grandson? You hit him?”

She nodded. “He won’t be hypnotizing any unsuspecting females for at least a few days. Not with the shiner he’s going to have.”

“But the director’s grandson, Scully. What’s going to happen to you for hitting the director’s grandson?” He helped her up onto the terrace, and then launched himself up and over the railing.

She shrugged. “If the cheers and jeers I heard in there are any indication, I wasn’t the only one he tried his little deception on.” He followed her inside although she could sense his reticence.

“Is there any way to get our coats and get out of here without going through that room?” He indicated the grand ballroom, which had thinned out considerably since her departure.

She looked around. Other than the door through which they’d just come, no other exit presented itself.

He sighed in defeat. “Let’s get it over with.”

**

She was assaulted as soon as she walked through the door. As the director and his wife made a beeline for his partner, Mulder stepped in front of her.

“It’s all right, Mulder,” she said softly, taking hold of his arm and gently pushing him out of harm’s way. “I’m not sorry for what I did, and I’m going to tell him so.”

He let his admiration and pride for her shine through in his gaze; smiling very slightly, he moved to stand behind her.

“Director,” she said, as he came to a halt before her. “Ma’am,” she nodded to the woman with him.

“Agent Scully,” the director said, his eyes taking in their sodden forms. “I’d like to apologize for Jason’s behavior toward you. I had no idea he’d been practicing… seducing… women.”

“Thank you, sir,” his partner said. “Er… is he all right?”

“He’s fine,” the director’s wife said. “Although…” Her eyes twinkled. “…you may have put a crimp in his style for the next few weeks.”

“And his mother will see to it that his style is permanently crimped after that,” the director growled.

“Uh… yes, sir,” Scully said, and Mulder could tell that she was at a loss as to how to respond next.

“Sir, if you don’t mind, Agent Scully and I have to be going. We, uh…” He held out one dripping arm.

“Oh. Of course, Agent Mulder.” The man nodded to both of them. “Good night, Agents.”

Resting his hand in his spot on Scully’s back, Mulder guided her to the coat check in the foyer. Several women stopped his partner to offer their thanks and/or congratulations for finally putting Alden in his place.

When they were safely out the front door, alone under the awning, Scully whacked Mulder on the arm with her purse. “Don’t think I don’t know what you were doing out there in the rain.”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” he said, meeting her eyes momentarily before looking away. “Although I can’t say the thought has never crossed my mind, I can honestly say that since we’ve been ‘together’ I have never once felt the urge to ‘off’ myself.”

“What do you think happened?” she asked softly.

“I think he affected me, too. I don’t know if it was an offshoot of what he was doing to you or if it was deliberate. All I know is that I felt despondent; not quite suicidal, but not about to interfere if nature wanted to take me out.” He looked into her eyes. “But I couldn’t leave you. I guess a part of me was hoping that you’d rescue me.” He smiled. “And you did.”

Grabbing onto his rear end, she squeezed it possessively. “You bet your mighty fine ass, I did.” She pulled him off the bottom step, back into the rain.

He sidled up to her, letting her feel what she could do to him with one well-placed touch. “You keep that up, and I won’t be responsible for my actions,” he breathed, rubbing himself against her hip.

Squirming out of his embrace, she tugged him–rather forcefully–toward the parking lot. “Come on, Flash. That human lightning rod of yours is about to see a few sparks.”

The End

He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass.

Old Testament, Psalm lxxii. 6.

Feedback gratefully accepted by Jo-Ann at JoLassi555@cs.com

Thanks for reading!

Tell Me Again, Scully

Title: Tell Me Again Scully

Authors: FoxfireX and Girlie_girl7

EM: Foxfirex_00@yahoo.com, Girlie_girl74@yahoo.com

Date: 03-30-03

Rating: G

Category: MSR, MT

Spoilers: Nothing past JS

Archive: anywhere

Disclaimer: Fox owns ’em

Summary: Mulder and Scully and a mermaid, what more

can we say.

~ Tell Me Again Scully ~

“Tell me again, Scully, why we’re going all the way to Diamond Lake, Arkansas.”

“Mulder, I already explained it on the plane.”

“I know. I just like hearing you believe in mermaids.”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far, I just wanted to choose the least dangerous and most enjoyable case for us to investigate.  There’s a small cabin on a small body of water where hopefully very soon my small body will be pressed against yours.”

“I like the way you think.” He shot her a sidelong glance, while keeping his eyes on the map and the road. Navigating wasn’t something he was used to doing, it was usually her job. But she wanted to trade

places, so he humored her. Little did she know that they were in danger of getting completely lost, as he had a bad habit of just not paying that close attention to maps.

“I thought you might. We haven’t had a break in so long I’ve forgotten what it’s like not to work.” She smiled lazily at him.

He could plainly see the small lines around her eyes, and the faint bruising under them. She was tired. They’d been pushing themselves too hard lately, he thought they were somehow trying to make up for being involved. They were so afraid that their work would slide because of the attention they were paying to each other but they were working themselves into the ground.

What neither of them realized was they hadn’t paid attention to anything but each other in years, eons before they began having a physical relationship. They were the only ones that didn’t see it.

“The legend goes that at the turn of the century, two young lovers living in the mountains around Diamond Lake were separated by their families.”

“Sort of a Hatfields and McCoys type thing?” Mulder mused.

“I don’t know Mulder, just listen, will you?”

“Okay.” He said contritely. She knew better.

“Anyway. The two young lovers decide to each paddle to the middle of the lake to meet, where they won’t be detected. A storm blows up and overturns the raven-haired woman’s canoe and she drowns, leaving her lover to slowly go mad.”

“I like that story.” Mulder responded, after a heartbeat passed.

“I knew it was right up your alley.” Scully smiled again, this time the corner of her mouth turning up like a woman with a secret.

“You mean the going mad part, don’t you.”

“I didn’t say that.” A giggle escaped as she spoke.

“Sure, make fun of the certifiable. Just remember, you sleep with me.”

“Every chance I get, G-man, your lack of saneness doesn’t scare me. To get back to the story, every night the locals swear a half- woman, half-fish can be seen slicing through the water looking for her lover.”

“Which half? Turn here.”

“Which half, what?”

“Which half is fish, and which half is woman?”

“Mulder. What difference could that possibly make.” She slid him another look, this one without the smile.

“It could make a huge difference. Okay, okay, since I am playing your typical role, what makes this an X-File, Scully?” Mulder turned the map around in his hands, wondering if it would make more sense upside

down.

“Directly it isn’t. But local kids keep trying to find the mermaid and end up drowning in the lake. Local PD had decided to put an end to this nonsense one and for all. Besides, I managed to finagle us a nice little cabin on the lake.” She raised an eyebrow suggestively at him.

He loved it when she used her eyebrow for good and not evil.

“Scully, I like the way you finagle.”

“Mulder just admit it, you’ve gotten us lost.” They had been driving along winding roads, skirting the lake but so far had no luck finding the one that lead to their cabin.

“I am not lost. I am…temporarily misdirected. Have a little faith, Scully.”

Up ahead an old rusted out pickup truck was parked along side of the road, it might have been a Dodge, at one time, but was so badly patched, it looked like a hybrid of several makes. Next to it stood three men, deep in conversation.

“Hey Jim, what time did that guy say he’d be here? We’ve been waiting nigh on an hour.” Tom, the youngest of the group and the one with the worst attitude was losing his patience.

“Relax, will ya? He said he’d be here with the semis. He’ll be here.” Jim replied, leaning negligently on the door of the truck with his arms folded.

“Good thing we ran into them AK47’s in Natches, weren’t it, Jim?”   Jake asked, sniffing and wiping his nose. Jake always had a runny nose a fact that drove Jim nuts and he was the dim bulb of the group, which was a distinct honor. Jake paced the edge of the road. Keeping a nervous eye out. He was the first to spot the late model sedan creeping toward them. “Jim?”

“Who the hell is that?” Tom demanded angrily.

“Sure ain’t our contact, that’s fur damn sure.” Jim replied with an edge to his voice. No one drove this road; these people must be lost.

The car slid to a stop next to the trio. The window slid down and a man’s face appeared from behind the tinted glass. “Hey you fellas wouldn’t happen to know how to get to Waterline road, would you?”

Tom spoke up. “Ya missed it ’bout a quarter mile back. Turn around and look fer a dirt road to the left. Take it until it dead ends and that’ll be Waterline. Ya’ll lookin’ for the cabins down there?”

“Um yeah. Hey thanks.” Mulder rolled his window back up. Scully swung the car around.

“What do you think they’re doing out here, Mulder?” She watched them in her rear view mirror.

“Stop right there, Scully. We’re looking for a mermaid and a quiet place to go skinny-dipping. We’re not here to look into suspicious looking hillbillies. This is as close to a vacation as the X-Files gets, don’t go looking for trouble.” Scully smiled at him and rolled her head to the side to pop her neck. Relaxing. That was not something she was used to.

She found the road and turned, at the end of the dusty drive they found another road crudely marked as Waterline and turned down what looked like a cow path. The path ended at a small clearing.

Mulder jumped out of the car, and headed toward the first small building nearest them. “This must be the office, I’ll get the key.”

Scully exited the car and surveyed their surroundings. Quiet, near the water, just what she wanted. She could make out three small cabins through the trees, separated by at least one hundred yards. Skinny-dipping. She had to admit the idea had merit.

Loading the guns into the bed of the truck, the trio covered them with a tarp and jumped in the cab. Tom fired up the engine, and turned around, taking the dirt road he had sent the strangers down an hour before.

“Where we goin’ Tom?” Jake asked. He was tired and hungry, waiting all this time for the man with the guns to show up.

“I want to check out those two what asked fer directions. They don’t look like they belong out here. It’ll just take a minute.” Tom knew just where to pull the truck so he could cut through the dense trees

and slip unobserved to the edge of the clearing near the Waterline Cabins.

The mountain men crouched down, watching the cabins for some sign of life. “Who you think they are, Tom?” Jake whispered.

“I dunno. Feds like as not. Bet someone done ratted on us.” Tom glanced around to make sure both the other men were down and hidden from view.

“What we gonna do iffen they are Feds?” Jim asked, spitting a stream of tobacco juice into the brush nearby.

“Kill ’em. Both of ’em.”

Mulder carried their bags into the cabin. He had to admit, for such a rural area it was well maintained. “Look Scully,” he said turning on the faucet in the kitchen, “running water.”

“Good, cause I’m going to go wash up, then we can figure out what we’re going to do for dinner.” She grabbed her smallest case and headed for the bathroom.

Mulder watched her go. He considered joining her in the shower, but figured there wasn’t going to be enough room for him alone in there, much less two of them. He stepped out the front door and closed his eyes, absorbing the quiet solitude their location afforded.

A twig snapped somewhere behind him. He turned slightly and listened, but didn’t hear anything else. He continued a few steps toward the lake, stretching his arms above his head. He was wearing his black

leather jacket, as the air was cooling quickly the later it got. He was also wearing his gun strapped to his narrow waist, on a clip on his jeans.

The setting sun glinted off the warm chestnut of his hair. As Mulder arched his back his T-shirt pulled taut across his shoulders and upper chest.  Here he stood, looking like an image from a fantasy when

Scully glanced out the bathroom window to see what he was doing. Her hair was wrapped in a towel and she was struggling not to bump into the sink, walls or towel rack in the tiny bathroom.

Scully hesitated briefly, content to watch the beauty of her lover before she finished up and went in search of her hair dryer. As she turned, Scully just missed seeing the three men creep out from the

edge of the woods where Mulder was standing.

Tom had not missed the gun strapped to Mulder’s waist, either. That had solidified the idea in his head that these two weren’t here on vacation, and needed to be dealt with.

Mulder closed his eyes again just for a moment, and was grabbed from behind.

He was crudely blindfolded, and tossed into what he assumed was the bed of a truck. Someone sat near him, to forestall any ideas of jumping while en route. A strip of cloth replaced the rough hand that had covered his mouth when they grabbed him. He could tell it wasn’t tied well, he was moving it with his jaw.

The truck came to a stop several minutes later and he was hauled out and dropped on his feet. The blindfold came off and the three men he had asked directions of stood before him. The back of the truck was covered with a tarp that hid something. From sitting on it he wasn’t sure what it was, but he wouldn’t be surprised to find that they were guns.

Mulder’s hands remained unbound, and he spit the gag from his mouth. They were still at the lake, how far from the cabin he wasn’t sure but they stood at the water’s edge while the sun dipped from the sky.

Jake, Tom and Jim surrounded Mulder. His hazel eyes flashed from one to the other, but he remained unmoving.

“We know why you’re here.” Jake said, taking a step closer to Mulder’s right side.

“You’ve got it wrong. I have no interest in your ‘activities’. Whatever they are.”

Tom stepped in, grabbing Mulder’s left arm, and jerking it behind him. The pain was quick and sharp, but Mulder made no sound. His teeth clenched, the telltale muscle along his jaw jumped but he managed to

keep his outward calm demeanor.

“You lie. You’re a fed, an’ so is that lil’ red-head that’s with you.”   Jim said. He took position in front of Mulder, balling his hands into fists that Mulder kept an eye on. He was fairly certain he was about to get his ass kicked but good.

“We are FBI, but we’re not here investigating you.” Tom jerked up again on Mulder’s arm, the socket threatening to give way. “I’m telling you the truth.” He panted a few times, blowing out through the pain. He’d die here, he decided, before he let these backwoods thugs know they were scaring the hell out of him.

“Jake, go git the boat.” Tom yelled. Jake jumped to do his bidding, running off around a bend. Mulder spared him little thought, keeping his eye on the remaining two. They, no doubt, were going to beat him

senseless, at the least. They might even kill him here, and dump him overboard on the lake.  That  prospect didn’t hold much charm for him.

“Look, I can see that privacy is very important to you all. I can promise you one thing, if I don’t come back the one thing you aren’t going to have is privacy. The FBI will come looking for me, I guarantee it.” He could hear the roar of the small engine attached to the boat coming for him. If he could stall them long enough maybe Scully could find him she’d at least be armed.

“Let ’em come. We’ll kill s’many as we can, then take to the hills. Ain’t a fed in this country who can find us if we don’t wanna be found.” Tom pushed Mulder into the boat, Jim following close behind.

Jake navigated the fishing boat out into the center of the lake, where he knew it was deepest. He stopped and cut the engine.

Scully pulled her phone from her pocket. She’d lost track of Mulder over an hour ago, and so far came across no sign of him. She skirted the edge of the lake, hoping to find footprints or something. “Help me

out here, Mulder, you were the Indian Guide, not me.” She muttered impatiently to herself.

A rustle in the underbrush startled her, but after pausing a moment, she decided it was an animal that had no intent of eating her so she went on.

From the brush, a pair of glowing green eyes watched the woman search for the man she loved. The being hiding behind a felled tree knew exactly what was happening to the woman’s mate, but she felt

uncertain. Should she help? She feared discovery, her green eyes narrowing; she would have no peace here if she was found, but knowing the pain of love separated, she had her answer. She would help, and

hope she could still remain undetected by the outside world.

This is it, Mulder thought. Fight now or die. He braced himself for battle, as he was sitting in the center of the boat unbound. The men were talking among themselves, presumably over the best way to kill

him.  Mulder shifted his weight onto his toes, wondering if he should try to take them all on or just jump overboard and swim for shore.

Suddenly, his phone rang.

The same phone that hadn’t worked worth a damn way up here rang as clear as day, making him jump and causing the three stooges to grab their guns. They apparently weren’t accustomed to the chirp of a cell.

“It’s for me.” Mulder deadpanned.

“Answer it, and make who ever it is believe that everythin’ is hunkey dory, you got that?” Jim pointed his gun for emphasis.

“What in th’ hell are ya doin’? Just let it ring!” Tom yelled.

“It’ll buy us some time, if whoever it is he talks to thinks he’s alive and doin’ fine.” The other two nodded, but dubiously.

“Mulder.” He said into his cell, crouching now and keeping an eye on the dim trio.

“Mulder, where are you? I’ve been…” Scully’s voiced faded for a moment. Their connection was not good and might not last.

“Scully, listen to me. Get off this mountain. Get somewhere safe call out the Calvary, go, now..”

Tom reached out and slapped the phone from Mulder’s grasp, it fell to the floor of the boat, still on. “Damn it! I tol’ you not to let him talk on that durn thing. Now look! That other fed’ll git away.” Tom

reached a meaty fist back and slammed it into Mulder’s face, splitting his lip.

Mulder spat blood, but he also managed to notice that the phone had not been switched off, lying on the floor. In a moment of desperation, or inspiration he wasn’t sure he started saying goodbye to Scully.

“I’m sorry Scully!” He shouted quickly as Tom grabbed his arms and pushed him back down to a sitting position. “They’re going to kill me, baby, and I’m sorry. I love you, never forget that.”

“Shut UP!” Jim roared, searching on the bottom of the boat for the phone. Jake cocked his gun and pointed it at Mulder’s head.

Mulder never missed a beat, if he was going to eat lead soon, so to speak, he was going to at least say goodbye to the woman he should have married a long time ago. “You have to get off this mountain

Scully, don’t stay to look for me. Do this for me, go!”

On the other end of the phone Scully’s brow furrowed, tears slid down her cheeks and her mouth worked silently. She knew he didn’t have the phone any longer and couldn’t hear her. She also knew he was about to die as she listened. She looked around desperately, walking to the edge of the water but having no idea where he was or if she could even swim that far.

At that moment, something came out of the bushes, brushed past her leg and splashed into the water. She didn’t get a clear look at it, but she had the feeling it had long hair, like a woman. No woman could

move that fast, though, or take off that smoothly into the water.

Jim found the phone and searched its panel for the ‘off’ key.

“Leave it on.” Jake said, in a shaky, high-pitched voice. “Let her hear him die.” Oh no. That was not what Mulder wanted. Not this, Scully would never be able to shake it, he knew her too well. “Be a man, you little shit. Turn off the phone.” He growled at Jim, Mulder had to make him switch it off.

Scully wouldn’t turn off her phone.

Scully heard most of the exchange, the connection getting fuzzy as someone was moving Mulder’s cell phone around. She could hear him screaming for her to turn off the phone and leave.

How could she do that? She wanted to, she knew she was just waiting to hear the shot that would end his life, but how could she cut off the last moments of her connection to him? How could she turn off the phone when she could still hear his voice? The voice she heard night after night on the phone when he couldn’t sleep for all those years. The voice that so recently she had come to love as he called her name while making love to her.

Across the cool, dark surface of the water Isabella skimmed silently. She could sense where the boat was sitting she knew these waters like no one else ever could. She created virtually no wake behind her and

counted on the element of surprise.

As she neared the boat, she picked up speed. Her only chance to make it in time was to go quickly and hit the boat with all her might, and hopefully dislodge its occupants.

Jake began to squeeze the trigger and time slowed to a crawl for Mulder. No way, at this range would Einstein there miss him. No way he was going to survive being shot from this range with that caliber. His

eyes glazed over, thinking of Scully, her creamy skin, her soft lips, her tiny, strong hands. No matter what came after this life it would be his own personal hell being away from her.

Something crashed into the side of the boat, flipping it onto its side in a heartbeat, throwing its occupants into the water. Mulder was so surprised, at first he didn’t think to start swimming for shore. He broke the surface of the water and blinked rapidly to clear his eyes. He could see Jake and Tom flailing wildly. Evidently they couldn’t swim.

The boat had a hole in the side and was sinking fast. The only man able to tread water was Jim, and he had the bad fortune not to swim clear of his partners before they grabbed on to him in hopes of being

saved. All three sank to the bottom, Mulder knew that would be the last of them. He spun in the water, trying to determine which direction he should take to shore when an arm circled his waist and he was tugged sharply to the left.

His first instinct was to fight, thinking somehow one of the mountain men had managed to grab him. Orientation set in, however and he realized that he was being pulled along at an amazing pace. The water was slapping him in the face, filling his mouth and making it difficult to see so he extended a hand and touched cool, slippery skin next to him. It almost felt like, well, a fish. He managed half an

amazed chuckle when his mouth filled with water again and he began to sputter.

The mermaid they had come to find was saving his butt. Scully was going to love this.

As Mulder and his mermaid rescuer neared the shore, she slowed. His feet found purchase in the sandy bottom and he stood, squinting in the darkness to see her. For a moment she raised her torso out of the

water, droplets sliding down her bare breasts. He could just glimpse the area around her waist where the skin took on a definite scale appearance, when she turned and left.

“Mulder!” Scully sobbed, hearing a commotion near the waters edge she ran to it to find him standing soaking wet knee deep.

He turned just in time to catch her as she launched herself into his arms, she was crying and clinging to him, asking if he was hurt, asking how he got there.

“Shhh I’m okay, Scully, don’t cry. She saved me.”

Scully wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. Mulder was walking toward the shore, carrying her slight weight against his chest, “Who, who saved you?”

“The mermaid. You should have seen her, Scully…”

“Mulder.” Scully’s voice warned. “Not again.”

~ The End ~

Tears Like Raindrops

Title:  Tears Like Raindrops Fall

Author:  Fox’s Chickadee

E-Mail: FoxyFoxChickadee@yahoo.com

Summary:  Thunder and lightening bring back bad memories  for poor Mulder.

Spoilers:  None

Rating:  PG-13

Category:  MSR, MT

Disclaimer:   I wish I owned these two beautiful characters.  But  they belong only to each other.

Archives:  I’d be so thrilled!  Let me know so I can come and visit!

Feedback:  Please!  It feeds my muse.  And without food, my muse can’t work.

Thanks: To my very best friend and beta, Jen, who gave me the courage to  actually go ahead and write.

Jenjen, you do so rock!

Disclaimer:  Fox William Mulder and Dana Katherine Scully are the creations and property of Mr. Chris

Cater, esq, AKA Surfer Dude.  This story is just for fun, and no infingement is intended.

Mulder flinched at the loud boom of thunder, his arms cradling his  aching midsection.  Mulder could feel the layers of bandage wrapped  tightly around his ribs.  The window suddenly lit up with a flash of

lightening, it’s light highlighting more bandages on Mulder’s hand as  he held the curtains back to look at

the driving rain outside.

Thunder always made him think of his father.  Not only because of the  many times his father derided him for his childish fear of the claps  and clatters, but also for the few words of comfort:

“The thunder can’t hurt you, Fox.  It’s the lightning that strikes you  dead.”

But that wasn’t true with his father.  The pain of the slaps and blows  was great, but the sting of the cruel words hurt as well.

The furious storm called up many memories from his childhood, but the  pain in his hand was linked to one particular event.   His eidetic  memory played the scene out before him as if it were yesterday. Dad was  burning some documents in the fireplace, and he asked Fox to tend the  fire.

Fooolishly, the boy had added an oversized chunk of wood.

“Get that out NOW,” Dad had snarled at him.  Without thinking, Fox had  reached in to pull off the log, burning his hand in the process.

“What a dope.”  Dad was right, too.  He was a dope.  Too stupid to use  the poker, and afraid of thunder to boot.

Mulder counted the seconds between the electrical flashes and the  booming noise that followed, and the number should have reassured him.

It should have, except he was a feeble little sissy boy.  He squeezed his eyes shut to hold back the

tears.

“Mulder, is something wrong?” Scully asked, looking up from her notebook.  She’d come over to his place so they could catch up on their paperwork.   He’d warned her about the predicted thunderstorm, but she’d smiled and  told him she wasn’t afraid of a little rain.

“No,” he managed to answer in a choked whisper.

“When I was a little girl, I used to be afraid of the thunder,” Scully  said.

Mulder shuddered.  Suddenly, he felt cold.  He let go of the curtains,  turning to face Scully.  He shivered, holding his arms protectively  around him.

“My dad explained that we were safe inside the house.  He taught me how  the lightning rod worked,” she continued.

“And you were a girl,” Mulder added, almost beneath his breath.

“Oh, I suppose boys aren’t afraid of anything,” Scully answered lightly.

“They shouldn’t be,” Mulder said, turning his face away.

“Mulder, what’s wrong?  Do you need more pain medicine?” Scully asked.

“I’m fine.  My hand hardly hurts at all,” Mulder said.

“But what about your ribs?”

Mulder blushed.  The injury to his ribs embarrassed him, because it  proved what a wimp he was.  He should have been able to subdue their  suspect yesterday without getting himself hurt.  Weak sissy boys let  bad guys overcome them, breaking their ribs in the process.  Mulder had  fought the man as he tried to burn evidence in a woodburning stove,  burning his hand badly trying to pull the vital pages out of the

fire.   Maybe if his fire phobia hadn’t made him hesitate, Mulder might have been  able to overpower the big man.

The suspect had other ideas though, as Mulder howled in pain at his burned fingers.  The man had jumped on him, his whole weight at one point pressing on Mulder’s ribs.  Mulder squeezed his eyes shut as he remembered the awful sound of his ribs cracking loudly.

“Oh they’re okay,” he answered carefully, wincing in pain as he tried to  take a deep breath.

“Mulder…” Scully said, frowning at him.  “You’re in pain.  Do you need the bandages to be tighter?”

“No, I think they’re tight enough.”  Mulder coughed, yelping at the  stabbing pain in his chest.   Suddenly, he remembered another case of  broken ribs when he was a kid.  His father had become so angry with  him that he had pushed him aside roughly, throwing Fox into a heavy wooden cabinet.

“Fox, you stupid idiot!” Bill Mulder had shouted as his big hands  grasped Fox’s arms, shaking him hard

before tossing his son aside  like a rag doll.  “I told you not to leave your basketball in the living room.”

Mulder squeezed his eyes shut, yet again, as he fought tears.  If he hadn’t been so clumsy, he wouldn’t have broken his ribs, not then and not now.

“Mulder, you need to eat something,” Scully said, bringing him back to the present with her soft, gentle

voice.  “I’m going to get you  some soup.”

“I’m not hungry, Scully.” he said.  The idea of eating anything  nauseated him.

“You have to keep up your strength.”  Scully walked away, going into the kitchen where Mulder could here her banging pots and pans.  The whirr of the can opener entered his ears.

“All ready,” she said, carrying a bowl, spoon and napkin back into the living room.  “Come on, Mulder, eat up.”

He sat at the table and Scully placed the steaming bowl of soup in front of him.  Mulder looked down at

the thick yellow broth, swimming with chicken pieces and noodles.

Mulder reached for the spoon with his bandaged right hand, grimacing in pain as he tried to hold the utensil.  It slipped from his clumsy fingers, splashing soup on the table.  Scully watched him, her eyes filled with pensive emotion.

Mulder tried picking the spoon up with his left hand, but it felt awkward.  He brought a spoonful of soup up to his mouth, but it spilled down his shirt.  -Damn it.  I can’t even eat soup without screwing it up.- he

thought.

“Oh, Mulder,” Scully said.  “Let me help you.”  She dabbed at the soup dripping off his chin with the napkin.  “I should have realized you’d have trouble eating with your bandage.”

Scully raised a spoonful of soup to Mulder’s mouth.  He closed his eyes as he swallowed, humiliated at

being fed like a baby.  Spoonful after spoonful trickled down his throat until he felt like choking.

He turned his face, before she could put another spoonful into his lips. “No more, Scully.  Please.  I

can’t eat any more.”

“Do you feel sick?” she asked, concern painting her beautiful face with sadness.

“No, I’m fine.  Really,” he lied as he pushed away from the table.  His ribs ached terribly.  He paused

for a moment, afraid that he might pass out.  How humiliating would that be? he wondered.  He made his way to the couch, carefully lowering himself onto the cushions.  Grateful that he hadn’t fainted, he leaned back and watched as a flash of lightening lit up the sky beyond the window.

He couldn’t let Scully know what was really bothering him.  If she knew what a screw up he was, she wouldn’t love him anymore.  Why would a woman as beautiful and perfect as Dana Katherine Scully want a pathetic looser like him?  No, he had to keep those terrible memories of his father to himself.

“Mulder, why don’t you lie down?”  Scully’s voice was soft and gentle, and the touch of her hands on his

shoulders filled the cold void inside him with warmth.

He leaned against her as she lowered him back onto the couch, but then a stab of  white-hot pain from his ribs brought him back to the harsh but undeniable fact that he couldn’t even lie down and take a nap without screwing up.

The pain made him grown, and the grown started him coughing and coughing, which made the pain even worse.  But even worse than the cough and the pain were the look he saw in Scully’s eyes.

“Fox William Mulder, I expect you to tell me the truth,” she said sternly but not angrily.  “I am your doctor and I need to know when you are in pain.”

Mulder could only nod weakly he didn’t have the heart to lie to her.

“You must take your pills for pain and the medicine to stop your cough or you will not get well and heal,”

Scully chided him.

He squeezed his eyes shut, as he always did when he had to hold back his tears.  He could only hope that

Scully understood how sorry he was that he had lied to her.

Scully gave him two big pills to swallow, and then two spoonfuls of thick, bitter cough syrup, but he didn’t complain.

“Now I want you to rest,” she said.  This time when she helped him lie down, it did not hurt as much and

he did not cough.

“I think I’m all better,” Mulder said confidently.

“I’m glad, but still you should rest,” Scully said.

The medicines were making Mulder’s head feel funny, but most of all he felt good.  The storm seemed to be dying down too.

“The thunder isn’t scary any more.”  When Mulder realized what he had just said, his face turned red.

He covered his face with his hands, so Scully couldn’t see how embarrassed he was, and so that he wouldn’t have to see the look of pity and disgust that she would surely be wearing.

Gentle hands peeled his hands from his face, and Scully’s gentle voice was without pity or disgust.

“Thunder and lightning can’t hurt you here.  But it is okay to feel afraid,” she said.

“For a girl, maybe,” he whispered.  He could not hold back his tears.  The hurt of his shame was more than the hurt of his hand or his midsection, and the shame of showing his shame before Scully made it hurt even more.

“Who told you that, Mulder?  Who made you feel that you were wrong to feel afraid?”  Scully’s voice was angry, but Mulder sensed that the anger was not aimed at him.

“He was just trying to make me grow up strong,” Mulder tried to explain.

“You were just a little boy.  He should have comforted you and made you feel safe, the way my father did,” Scully said.

Somehow the strong medicines had unlocked Mulder’s lips and his heart.

“I’m a clumsy wuss.  No wonder he was ashamed of me.”

“Fox William Mulder, I wouldn’t stand for that from anyone else, and I certainly won’t stand for it from

you.”  Scully was even angrier than before.  “You are a strong brave man, the bravest man I’ve ever known.  I can’t stand the way he hurt you, because…. because I love you.”

Mulder felt warm tears on his cheek, but this time they were Scully’s tears.  She hugged him hard, but

somehow it didn’t hurt, even where his ribs were sore.  Mulder felt secure in the warm circle of her arms in a way he’d never felt before.

She loved him.  She had even said it out loud.  Although he was happy, he still couldn’t quite believe

his good fortune.

“I hope you never change your mind about me, Scully,” he said.  “There are things about me that you don’t know yet.  He sighed, thinking again about all the times he’d failed, all the people he’d disappointed.

“I’ll never change my mind,” Scully said, smiling a warm smile.  And to his surprise, she began to sing.

“That’s beautiful, Scully,” Mulder said.  He’d heard the song before, but it had never meant more to him

than it did right now.

I don’t care who you are Where you’re from What you did As long as you love me.

The End

Author’s note:  I’m not a big Backstreet Boys fan, but I borrowed  “As Long As You Love Me” because the

opening line of this song  could have been written for Mulder and Scully:

Although loneliness has always been a friend of mine

I’m leavin’ my life in your hands

Rain and Shine

Title: Rain and Shine

Author: Caroline McKenna

Summary: There’s nothing like nature to settle an argument.

Rating: PG

Spoilers: minor ones for Triangle.

Category: Pretty harmless… MSR and a little A. We’ll save the MT for later.

Archive: Written for I Made This Productions Virtual Season 10 project. They have full rights

for two weeks and after that, let me know where you’re taking it so I can visit.\

Disclaimer: They aren’t mine, you know that. Don’t rub it in.

Feedback: Of course!

Email: cmckenna1121@yahoo.com

Author’s notes: Thanks to all the wonderful people at MR who really kept me writing. You know, I had

no intention of doing a rain fic… my muse was on vacation in Florida or somewhere. One day, though,

at rehearsal it started raining really hard, and all 50 cast members grew silent. It was really

magical. Anyway, nobody really cares… LOL. Thanks to the ever-wonderful Vickie for the speedy beta!

“Come on, Scully! It is completely plausible!” Mulder argued, rising from one of the red plush

seats that decorated the theatre. The building was empty, closed off by yellow police tape to

authorize an FBI investigation.

“You honestly think that a ghost replaced the prop knife for a real one?” Her left eyebrow raised in

a way that Mulder was all too familiar with.

He knew she was probably right. One of the cast members had probably taken the retractable knife

and put a kitchen knife in its’ place, but there was something tickling at his brain. Something

didn’t make sense, didn’t fit. Everybody liked Jen Wills; she was one of the most popular actresses

on the Broadway circuit and there was nobody to argue that she was made for the role of Nancy in

the musical “Oliver!” Mulder had to agree. To see the petite woman on stage belting out “As Long As

He Needs Me” was pretty amazing.

At first, when Scully suggested going to the theatre, he was more than a little reluctant. For

some reason, watching ten year old boys sing, dance, and pick people’s pockets didn’t appeal to

his sense of classic entertainment. Scully had talked him into it, however, whispering

seductively into his ear about what she would do when they returned to the motel.

“Well, yeah,” Mulder defended himself, although weakly. He knew that it all sounded crazy, but then again, half of what came out of his mouth sounded crazy. Insanity wasn’t always considered a bad thing, at least not by certain redheaded FBI agents. Mulder grinned at the thought. Even though Scully did not believe all his theories- *any* of his theories, she still believed in him. She believed in him enough to trust him with her heart, her mind, and her body.

“Care to elaborate on that, Mulder?” She moved closer to him with her hands on her hips, challenging him.

“Well,” he began uneasily, “There wasn’t a crumb of evidence of any foul play…”

“Mulder, a woman was murdered.”

“Besides that. The table where the dummy knife was found was absolutely spotless. We have no concrete suspects…” he trailed off.

“So you automatically jump to ghosts?” she asked sarcastically.

Mulder smiled sheepishly, and turned his head away, afraid to answer.

“That is so typical, Mulder,” she scolded, “We could have been back to the hotel hours ago. I need a good night’s rest, I’m still suffering from jetlag. But you wouldn’t think of that, would you Mulder? Of course not.”

“That time of the month again, Scully?”

The look on her face told him that he had definitely said the wrong thing. Mulder knew he was in deep shit.

But she didn’t say anything for a good thirty seconds. “Mulder, when women are angry, they aren’t always PMS-ing.” Her tone was calm, and controlled, almost too much for Mulder’s liking.

“Look, Scully, all I’m saying is why must you always contradict me? I’m not only talking about now. I mean, I know this ghost thing is bogus, but it’s *all* the time. I can never get a word in edgewise without you shoving some kind of scientific fact down my throat.” He had tried to keep composed, he really had. It hadn’t worked very well.

“Me?” Scully practically screeched, “*I* never believe *you*? Mulder, what kind of drugs are you on?”

He interrupted her, “Drugs! You always assume I’m on drugs…”

Scully ignored him and kept talking, “You are the one who never believes me. If I don’t go along with your theory, you ditch me and usually end up in the ICU…”

Their conversations overlapped painfully, the clamor of their voices, each so different, so perfectly opposite that they almost harmonized.

“Every time I say something you don’t like you assume I’m on drugs. Why can’t you ever accept that maybe I mean when I say?”

“…and then I sit there for three days, worrying myself sick, until you come out of whatever coma you’re in only to sit and worry some more while you’re entering surgery…”

“Because sometimes I do mean it, Scully. After the Queen Anne or whatever that damn boat was… what I said, I meant it. But I know you don’t believe me, you never do…”

“Of course when you come out of surgery, you treat me like I’m… I don’t know, precious or something and of course I love that, but when you’re all better, you go back to your normal ditching self…”

A deafening clap of thunder echoed through the theatre, shaking the ground and rendering the two agents silent. They remained that way as the droplets of rain began to echo off the tin roof. The soft pitter patter sped up and became louder, filling the whole room with the sound of spring.

Mulder could feel his anger ceasing with each bead of water to bounce off the roof. For the first time, he was glad the theatre didn’t have enough money to afford a new roof that year. The sound was calming, soothing to a point.

He glanced at Scully out of the corner of his eye.   She appeared relaxed as well, her eyes closed and her lips curving up, just listening to the glory of nature.

Mulder sat on the edge of the stage as the rain died down to only a pitter or a patter once in a while. Scully joined him, an expression of contrition on her face.

“Mulder, I’m sorry..”

“I’m sorry, Scully…”

He broke into an earsplitting grin. They thought too much alike.

“You first,” he offered courteously.

“Mulder, I’m sorry for yelling at you and, you know, accusing you of ditching me. I know you haven’t done that in quite some time, and I really do appreciate the effort.” She avoided his eyes, looking down at the dirty stage floor.

As much as he was glad to hear her apology, her original, bitter words still rang in his ears.

“…worrying myself sick…”

“I’m sorry for making you worry, Scully. You know that the last thing I want is to bring you pain. And I guess I didn’t mean it when I said that you don’t listen to me. You listen to me more than anyone else ever has. I love you,” He took her hand. Everything was going to be fine.

“I know. I love you too Mulder, but I guess that goes without saying.”

“And Scully?” Mulder smiled.

“Yes, Mulder?” she responded.

“I do think you’re precious,” he said, referring to her earlier comment. He hadn’t totally tuned her out, after all. He had heard every word that she said, and had also heard the insecurity behind it.

“Thank you. And, by the way, I did believe what you said after the Queen Anne.”

“That’s good to hear, Scully.”

“Come on, Mulder,” Scully dragged him to his feet and then brought her face to his, quickly kissing his lips. “We’ve got a case to crack, ghost or no ghost.”

“Aww…” Mulder complained. He had hoped that they could go back to the hotel and… make up.

“In the morning.” Scully smiled.

~end~

Prairie Interlude

TITLE:  Prairie Interlude

AUTHOR: J. Millington

EMAIL: varmstro@earthlink.net

ARCHIVE:  Please ask.

DISCLAIMER:  Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox. No copyright infringement is intended.

FEEDBACK:    Gratefully accepted.

DISCLAIMER:  Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox. No copyright infringement is intended.

More J. Millington fanfic is available at: http://home.earthlink.net/~varmstro/

***********

Prairie Interlude

by J. Millington

varmstro@earthlink.net

Normally a long drive through the flat Kansas prairie land was too boring for words.

Normally she’d almost be willing to shoot her partner again in order to take the driver’s seat from him.  The only thing more boring than driving through the flatlands was watching it pass by, endless and unchanging, while someone else drove.

Scully glanced over at her partner’s white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, could almost hear him grind his teeth in concentration over the steady thwack-thwack-thwack of the wipers.  A gust of wind caught them broadside and shoved the car to the shoulder before Mulder could wrestle it back onto the road.  Nope, this was definitely one time when she had no problem with letting the manly man drive.

She switched the radio on again, hoping they were within range of a station now.  Grainy static, then a

clear voice, “Another rainy day here in the heartland.  Look out for a bit of wind from time to time, folks.”

“No shit,” Mulder mumbled.

Scully turned the dial.  A country singer cheerfully sang out, “‘Cause I love a rainy night, Yes I love a rainy night, Ooh I love a rainy night.”

“Eddie Rabbit?  Oh, please,” Mulder said.

She turned the radio off.  “I’m impressed, Mulder.  I didn’t know your appreciation of American music

included county singers.”

He spared her a grin.  “After all these years together, there’s still plenty that you don’t know about me.”

“Such as how you’re going to get us to Wichita in time to make our flight?”

“I’m a man of mystery, Scully, not a miracle worker.  Maybe with this storm front moving through the flight will be delayed.”

“I hope so.”  She shuddered. ” I hate taking off during bad weather.”

“You cover it well, though.  Except for the gouges your nails leave in my arm when you mistake it for your armrest.”

“I do not.”

“Sure you do and I’ve got the scars to prove it.  I’ve just never. . .”  He squinted and leaned forward.  “Is

hat what I think it is?”

She stared through the downpour and caught a glimpse of flashing lights up ahead.

******

Mulder rolled to a stop at the road block but waited to roll down his window until the Kansas state patrolman was at their vehicle.  As soon as he rolled it down the wind picked up and blew straight into the car.  Mulder took the full force of the water, wiping his sleeve across his face in a futile attempt to dry off the worst of it.

“Sorry, folks, but the bridge up ahead is washed out.  You’ll have to turn around..”

Scully leaned in towards the driver’s side window.  “We have to catch a flight out of Wichita in two

hours.  What’s the best way around?”

“Well, the quickest route, and the best road conditions under the circumstances, would be to double back to Highway 183, take that north to 54 and then straight in to Wichita.  But that’s going to add another 55 or 60 miles.  No way you’re going to make your plane.”

“He’s right, Scully.”  Mulder let out a sigh.  “That was the last flight out to D.C. tonight.  Officer, can

you recommend a motel in the area?  Looks like we might as well sit this one out until tomorrow.”

“Glad to hear you say that.  This is no kind of weather for trying to get anywhere in a hurry.  Back just before Coldwater there’s a decent motel.  Kind of old fashioned, but the man who runs it keeps it up pretty well.  Good luck,”

“Thanks,” Mulder said as he rolled up his window, “this just  keeps getting better and better.”

Scully fished through her briefcase for the cell phone and the useless plane ticket.  “Might as well try to switch our flight to tomorrow.”  She punched in the number for airline.  And punched her way through the automated menu, finally getting “the next available representative will be with you” message.  The scratchy strains of “Come Fly with Me” was grating on her nerves when a live voice come on.  Scully tried to explain what she needed as the signal broke up.

Lightning flashed nearby followed by a boom of thunder.  The connection was lost and she flipped the phone closed in frustration.  It would just have to wait until she could call from the motel.

******

The motel was easy to find, it’s orange and pink neon light cutting through the gloom.  The parking lot

looked full but the word ‘vacancy’ was thankfully still lit under the words Great Plains Inn and Cafe.

The lights in the cafe were, unfortunately, dim.  The tiny office was tacked onto a larger building, probably the owner’s living quarters.  The front desk was empty and Mulder gave the bell on the counter a gentle tap.

“Just a minute,” came a voice from behind the office door.  When the door opened an elderly man came out, followed by the echoes of canned laughter and a mouthwatering beefy aroma, stew or pot roast or

something equally delicious.

“You two sure look a sight. Reckon you need a room.”

“Two rooms if you have them,” Mulder said.

“Oh, sorry.  Thought you were a couple.” He gave a nod to Scully.  “Didn’t mean to presume, ma’am.”

“No problem.” Scully said pulling out her identification.  “We’re with the FBI.  On our way back to Wichita we got caught in the storm and now it looks like the bridge up ahead is washed out.”

“Well it looks like your luck is going to get better.  I have two rooms left, directly across from the office.  Normally they rent out last, since they’re closest to the highway, but I don’t believe they’ll be much traffic tonight.”

It only took a minute to register.  When they were done Mulder cast a longing glance in the direction of the darkened cafe.  “Looks like the cafe is closed for the evening.  Is there somewhere else we could get something to eat?”

“Well, there’s the Belleflower Restaurant in Coldwater, but I think they would be closed by the time you got there.  And the convenience store on the higway has some premade sandwiches.”  He shook his head.  “Listen, the kids have been on their own for fifteen years but Myra still cooks like she’s got a houseful of teenagers to feed.  If you don’t mind beef stew, I can bring you a bowl when it’s done.  Should only be a half hour or so.”

“Are you sure?” Scully asked.  “We wouldn’t want to put you out.”

“You’d be doing me a favor, to tell the truth. Saving me from leftovers.”  The man smiled and handed them their keys

******

The room wasn’t bad.  The old motel was one of those ancient motor courts, a u-shaped arrangement of tiny cabins with carports between where guests could park their cars.  This one had a well-maintained vintage quality, from the sturdy maple furniture to the quilt on the bed, it felt cozy.  Almost like a bed-and-breakfast.

The bathroom was pink and green ceramic tile, straight out of the forties but clean and well lit.  Good. She needed to call the airline.  She needed to call her dentist and reschedule an appointment.  And one of them really needed to call work and let them know they would be delayed in getting back to the office.

But all that could wait.  The first thing on Scully’s agenda was a nice, long bath.  Hopefully the hot water

heater was as wonderful as the rest of the accommodations.

For much of her life it seemed like she needed to be in tight control.  Her father had certainly demanded discipline.  Her work in forensic science demanded exacting attention to detail.   And playing counterpoint to Mulder’s sometimes wild leaps of intuition required a kind of balance that could take

its toll.

That’s why she savored baths.  Complete privacy and gallon upon gallon of warm and soothing water.  In the bathtub the only thing she was required to do was close her eyes and soak. Preferably in scented

bubbles.

When she finally emerged from the steamy room she felt more relaxed than she had in days.  So what if the drive had been hell.  So what if they’d missed their flight.  Right here and now she was warm and clean and comfortable.  She was just pulling on her robe when there was a knock on the door.  Peering through the peephole she saw Mulder carrying a covered tray.

When she let him in he leaned in close and sniffed her hair.  “You smell really nice.  I see your time was  well spent.”  She suspected he was curious about her indulgence in baths.  “All you had to do was ask and I would have been glad to scrub your back.”

“Mulder, sometimes a women just needs a little ‘me’ time.  Speaking of smelling good. . .”  She breathed

deeply.

He set the tray down on the table.  “Mr. Greene delivered this a few minutes ago.”

“Mr. Greene?  Husband of Myra?”

“Yeah, and lucky beneficiary of her culinary skills.”   He took off the cover and grinned.  “I may be wrong, but I think these biscuits are homemade.”

She inhaled deeply.  Not only were the biscuits homemade, but the stew smelled better than her Mom’s

best.  And was that apple pie?  Hell with the diet, if she was forced to take this tiny, out-of-the-way vacation, she was determined to enjoy it.

While they ate the conversation drifted; Scully’s mom’s apple pie, plans for the upcoming weekend, an outrageous movie that Mulder wanted her to see.  Anything but work.  As she watched him laugh she realized that she hadn’t seen Mulder this relaxed in a very long time.

Finally she sat back and sighed deeply.  Reaching for the remote, she switched on the television, while

Mulder opened the door to put the tray out for the Greenes to collect.

“Hey, Scully.  You’ve got to come and look at this.”

She pulled her robe tighter around her body against the draft.  “Mulder, close the door.”

Instead he picked up her coat and handed it to her.  “Hurry.  Trust me, it’ll be worth it.”

She draped her coat over her shoulders and peaked around the door.  “Oh, Mulder,” she gasped.  In the

distance balls of light skipped and danced across the horizon.  “Is that. . . .?”

“No,” he laughed.  “Ball lightning.  Concentrated collections of plasma that slowly dissipate in the atmosphere.  Often associated with thunderstorms.”

They watched the show for several minutes until a bolt of lightning streaked through the middle of the

glowing spheres.  They vanished and the thunderclap was almost deafening.

“Wow.”

Mulder laughed.  “Wow?  For a woman with a distinguished undergraduate degree in physics, I didn’t think nature would be able to amaze you with such a simple trick.”

She put her arm around Mulder and leaned into his warm embrace.  “The simple tricks of nature are often beautiful enough to rate a ‘wow’.  Besides, after all these years of chasing lights in the sky with old Spooky, maybe I’ve learned to appreciate the simple things a little bit more.”

He gave her a squeeze and pulled her back inside.  Sitting side-by-side on the bed, they watched the local weather report.

“More rain.  What a surprise.”  Scully didn’t really sound too upset.  “I guess we really should see about

getting a flight out tomorrow.”

“I know,” Mulder sighed.  “But right now I can’t think of anyplace I’d rather be.”

“Who would have thought that Coldwater, Kansas was the perfect vacation spot.”

“Vacation?”  He laughed.  “I don’t know if I’d go that far.  But this interlude is just what I needed.”

Thunder rattled the small building.  Mulder got up and opened the window, letting in the clean, fresh air.

“I know what you mean, Mulder,” Scully said, joining him by the window.  “Sometimes it’s good to just stop and take a step back.”

He held her close.  “You’re right about that.  Sometimes you need to take time to stop and smell the ozone.”

The end